The Society of Wine Educators

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The Society of Wine Educators is a membership-based nonprofit organization focused on providing wine and spirits education along with the conferral of several certifications. The Society is internationally recognized, and its programs are highly regarded both for their quality and relevance to the industry. 

The Mission of the SWE is to set the standard for quality and responsible wine and spirits education and professional certification. 

Smoke Gets in Your…Wine?


This year has been rough in terms of wildfires in and around wine country. Most notably, harvest was interrupted in mid-September by the third in a series of devastating wildfires around Lake County.

As such, we’ve had quite a few questions directed our way about how this might affect the wines of the regions affected by these fires. We’ve all heard of smoke taint – so is this something we need to be worried about?

It is a relatively new area of study – in 2003, wildfires in Eastern Victoria, Australia motivated researchers to begin studying the chemical backdrop and the variables associated with this increasingly dangerous phenomenon.  The Australian Wine Research Institute (AWRI) and Washington State University (WSU) have led the way in publishing the most up-to-date and applicable research on this topic.  Although much of this research is geared toward the winemaker/ producer, it is of interest to wine educators and other wine professionals as well.

For starts, smoke taint is the general term given to a host of volatile phenols, with the most important being as follows:

  • Guaiacol (smoky)
  • 4-methylguaiacol (spicy)
  • Eugenol (clove)

These same phenolics can be introduced into wine via ageing in heavily toasted oak.  Typical recognitions thresholds for these molecules are quite low; we can pick out the “ashtray” and “camp fire” aromas at concentrations as low as 23-27 micrograms/L or parts per billion (ppb).


Complications can arise due to the fact that these molecules can be present in a wine in bound form, meaning the smoky character may not reveal itself until after alcoholic fermentation, malolactic fermentation, or even after extended bottle ageing.  In addition, once this smoky character shows, it will always intensify with time in the bottle.

Studies concerning smoke in the vineyard have so far been inconclusive, and have yet to determine the minimum exposure time and concentration of smoke that vines can tolerate before it noticeably affects the wine.  However, it is known that the flavors collect in the skins and the flesh just below the skin in addition to translocating from the leaves.  This greatly influences winemaking techniques once the fruit is brought into the winery.

When – in the growing cycle – the vines are exposed to smoke has proven to be one of the most important factors in pin-pointing the risk.  The AWRI has identified three categories for the sensitivity and likelihood of smoke uptake throughout the growing cycle:

  • During and before flowering there is little risk;
  • From early fruit set to three days post-verasion there is low to medium risk;
  • Post-verasion to harvest there is high risk.


It has also been proven that there is no risk to carry over smoke taint from one growing season to the next, and that the smoke character does not vary with smoke from different types of wood or fuel.  Studies originally showed that the smoke uptake varied by variety, with Merlot and Sangiovese being more susceptible.  However, recent studies under controlled conditions have shown that variety does not matter.

Berries and wine can be tested for levels of smoke taint, and there are several techniques that can be implored to minimize the effects.  These include the following:

  • First and foremost, fruit must be hand harvested and leaves must not enter the fermentation vessel.
  • Skin contact must be limited, as this is where the volatile compounds are found.
  • Cold soak, extended maceration, and aggressive pressing should be avoided.
  • Fruit must stay as cold as possible.
  • Reverse osmosis is often used to reduce smoke taint, but has been found to be not entirely reliable as it does not address the “bound” form of the chemicals.
  • Other techniques such as aggressive filtering are useful to a degree, but need to be used with caution in order to avoid stripping the wine of desirable flavors as well as the unwanted smoky character.
  • There is some anecdotal evidence that the use of flash détante may allow guaiacol to volatize and burn off.

Most wineries will keep the tainted wine separate, then either blend back in a declassified wine program, or bottle separately marketing the wine as having a smoky character – which some customers appreciate.


As drought becomes more endemic in a variety of wine regions around the world, the risk for smoke infected wine – and its financial impact on the wine industry – is on the rise as well.  As industry professionals, we must be aware of the regions and vintages where there was a verified risk of smoke taint.  These include:

  • Victoria, Australia: 2003 and 2007 were devastating, and 2009 saw traces of smokiness.  2008 in Mendocino County, California: Effects were noticeable in 2008
  • Washington State: 2012 and 2015 were fiery years for Washington State, particularly the Lake Chelan AVA
  • Lake County: Most recent, and near to our hearts, 2015 saw harvest interrupted and substantial damage to vineyards around Guenoc. Thankfully, it appears that the major growing areas around Clear Lake were spared.

We’ll keep trying to learn more and lessen the likelihood that wild fires will taint our wine.  In the meantime, we’ll trust our favorite winemakers and producers not to put defective wine in the bottle.


MarkPost authored by Mark Rashap, CWE. Mark has, over the past ten years, been in the wine world in a number of capacities including studying wine management in Buenos Aires, being an assistant winemaker at Nota Bene Cellars in Washington State, founding his own wine brokerage, and working for Texas-based retail giant Spec’s as an educator for the staff and public.

In August of 2015, Mark joined the team of the Society of Wine Educators as Marketing Coordinator to foster wine education across the country.

Are you interested in being a guest blogger or a guest SWEbinar presenter for SWE?  Click here for more information!



Guest Blog: Exploring Germany’s Mittelrhein



Today we have a guest blog from Lucia Volk, CSW, reporting from Germany, where she is visiting the lesser known wine regions.

If you are a fan of Riesling, you undoubtedly know the Rheingau. The Rheingau is home to  Germany’s prestigious, over 1,000-year-old Schloß Johannisberg, where late harvest (Spätlese) was allegedly invented. You probably also know the neighboring Rheinhessen, Germany’s largest and most productive wine area.

Next to those Riesling wine super-powers, the Mittelrhein region, which the German Wine Institute ranks second-to-last by size – only Hessische Bergstrasse is smaller  has to struggle to be noticed. It does not help that regional wine advertisement budgets in Germany are pegged to acres cultivated, or that the Mittelrhein extends into the jurisdiction of two German states, Rhineland Palatinate and North Rhine Westphalia, that do not always agree politically. Depending on the size of the harvest, the Mittlerhein region contributes somewhere between 0.3 and 0.5% to Germany’s wine total. Let’s face it: even within Germany, Mittelrhein Riesling is an insider wine.

Castle Reichenstein

Castle Reichenstein

Most of this lesser-known region – almost 85% – consists of terraced slate slopes that require manual labor, and yields are low. Because of the extra labor hours required per acre cultivated, it can be difficult to find a successor for a Mittelrhein winery after a vintner retires. The overall area under wine has fallen from 1,800 acres in the early 1970s to approximately 1,100 now.

Fortunately for wine lovers, the numbers are beginning to hold steady.  About 70% of grapes planted are Riesling, another 10% go to Müller-Thurgau and Kerner combined, 10% to Pinot Noir, and the remaining 10% to Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc, Dornfelder, Portugieser and others. In other words, the Mittelrhein is primarily a place for white wine lovers, although Pinot Noir acreage is on the rise.

Historically, the Rhine river separated the Roman Empire from the realm of the Gauls. The Romans planted the first vines in the region, and they built the first fortifications, a tradition that was adopted by German nobility in the Middle Ages. Fortresses, castles and and customs towers – the Rhine river was an important trading route – line the hilltops.  These historical remains – many carefully restored, others in ruins – create the backdrop for the “Romantic Rhine.“ Tourists can book river boat trips, with scheduled stops for guided castle tours and subsequent wine tastings. Because of its cultural and historical significance, the Mittelrhein valley was designated a UNESCO world heritage site in 2002 , thirteen years before Champagne and Burgundy received similar badges of distinction.

The Rhine River is responsible for the favorable growing conditions in most of Germany’s northern latitude vineyards. Already at its source, close to Lake Constance, grapes are under cultivation, and if you follow the stream you will be able to taste, in succession, Baden, Pfalz, Rheinhessen, and Rheingau wines, before you reach the wine growing limit (for now) at the Mittelrhein. Mild winters allow for early buds in spring and extended sunshine permits ripening into October, resulting in unique aromas that are difficult to replicate in Riesling vineyards elsewhere.

Bopparder Hamm, part of the Mittelrhein’s Loreley Bereich (photo by Lucia Volk)

Bopparder Hamm, part of the Mittelrhein’s Loreley Bereich (photo by Lucia Volk)

The picturesque Mittelrhein geography was created at the end of the Devonian Age – 360 million years ago – when what used to be the bottom of the prehistoric ocean rose up all at once, and the water subsequently had to cut a path through the rocks. The Anbaugebiet  Mittelrhein is divided into two districts (Bereiche): the larger Loreley** between Bingen and Koblenz in Rhineland Palatinate, characterized by slate and greywacke soils, and the smaller Siebengebirge between Neuwied and Bonn in North Rhine Westphalia, which also contains volcanic rock and loess.

Eleven larger sites (Großlagen) are divided up into 111 vineyard sites (Einzellagen). The soil is nutrient-poor and well-drained, so roots go deep.  With the exception of irrigating freshly planted vines, most Mittelrhein winemakers dry-farm, although irregular rainfall over the last decade has some winemakers worry about the increasing stress levels of their vines. A quarter of the harvest turns to Prädikatswein, and the rest to Qualitätswein.  Deutscher Wein or Landwein production is negligible.

You can still find cooperatives that produce Mittelrhein wines, a tradition that dates back to the late 1800s, when phylloxera devastated most of the region’s vineyards.  But more commonly, you now find small family wineries that trace grape production back for several generation, as well as new ventures of enterprising young winemakers.

Photo Credit: Lucia Volk

Photo Credit: Lucia Volk

For instance, Peter Jost and his daughter Cecilia today run the Toni Jost winery, named after Cecilia’s grandfather.  Their prized Einzellage is the Bacharacher Hahn, which overlooks the Rhine outside the town of Bacharach. The word Hahn translates to rooster, which decorates the Jost label, but the vineyard’s name probably stems from Hain (=grove). Founding members of the VDP – Verein Deutscher Prädikatsweingüter – their estate comprises 40 acres, not all of them on the Mittelrhein, and they produce almost 100,000 bottles a year, predominantly Riesling.

Following VDP regulations, their vineyard sites are ranked according to their potential for excellent, terroir-specific wine. Additionally, Cecilia recently introduced Devon-S (S for Schiefer=slate) Riesling that brings white flowers to the nose, offers stone fruit in the glass, and finishes with pronounced Mittelrhein minerality. If you do not know what rock tastes like, Devon-S will take you there.

In the middle of the Mittelrhein, Florian Weingart makes his wines in premium Einzellagen between Boppard and Spay, especially Engelstein  and Ohlenberg. Dedicated to the local soil, he searched historical records for documentation of former vineyard sites – areas that had gone wild – and spared no effort to rehabilitate the most promising among them.

Florian Weingart on camera for Terry Theise’s Leading between the Vines documentary (photo by Lucia Volk)

Florian Weingart on camera for Terry Theise’s Leading between the Vines documentary (photo by Lucia Volk)

On 11 acres, he produces around 45,000 bottles of wine in a regular year.  In 2014, when late rains and pests ruined much of the Riesling crop, it was closer to 30,000. He coaxes each of his wines to develop his own character, using ambient yeast, if possible, and he allows them to finish fermenting early, if that is what the yeast decides to do. If his wine cannot obtain a certain (legal) quality level, because of it, he will rename (and effectively declassify) it. A philosopher in his spare time, he has started writing a Modern Ethics of Wine based on his “less is more“ winemaking principles.

The town of Leutesdorf in the Siebengebirge Bereich of the Mittelrhein claims to be the last big bastion at the northern Riesling frontier. Here, wine technician Marc Josten and enologist Torsten Klein acquired vineyards in the famed Einzellage Gartenlay, where they produce both Riesling, and, in a bold move, Sauvignon Blanc. Their first wines were introduced in 2012, when they were still a garage winery in Remagen, operating out of rented space.

Lucia 4For their Sauvignon Blanc and some of their Riesling, they employ traditional, large oak barrels. While Riesling, Pinot Gris, and Sauvignon Blanc comprise 75% of their total production, they also grow 25% Pinot Noir in vineyards in the neighboring Ahr region, a red-wine stronghold. Altogether, they work about 14 acres. They focus exclusively on dry wines, and promote food pairing events jointly with local restaurateurs. Josten & Klein were the prestigious Gault&Millau Wineguide’s 2013 Discovery of the Year.

A relatively recent initiative specific to the region is the Mittelrhein-Riesling Charta. Participating winemakers agreed on a unified front label for their bottles, which shows the Charta grape symbol, the names of one of the categories – Handstreich, Felsenspiel and Meisterstück – and the two words: Mittelrhein and Riesling. Winery-specific information can be found on the back label. If the categories remind you of an Austrian classification system, you are correct. The Mittelrhein group consulted with Wachau wine producers who use similar designations and production guidelines for a variety of their wines.


Rather than focus on terroir (i.e. Bacharacher Hahn) or ripeness category (i.e. Kabinett or Spätlese), the Mittelrhein-Riesling Charta promotes flavor profiles: light, easy-to-drink, food-friendly (= Handstreich, metaphor for “spontaneous, quick action”); medium, balanced, expressive, good on its own or with a meal (=Felsenspiel, “rock play”); or full-bodied, quite dry, deeply aromatic and lingering (=Meisterstück, “master piece”). With this approach, the Charta members avoid the traditional sweet, medium-dry, or dry labels that suggest sugar (and alcohol) levels matter most in wine. Think of the Charta as a new generation of Mittelrhein winemakers jointly re-thinking and re-branding what they think is important about a segment of their Riesling production. All of them continue to offer traditionally labeled bottles.

Next to well-known German Riesling exporters Leitz, Dönhoff, Dr. Loosen, Deinhard/Von Winning, or Schloss Johannisberg, winemakers along the UNESCO world heritage valley have an undeniable underdog status. You will not find Mittelrhein wine in many stores in the United States, but what wine drinker does not like the occasional treasure hunt for a rare bottle? For an authentic Mittelrhein Riesling experience, book a boat trip down the Romantic Rhine, open a bottle on the sun deck, and count the castles as you go by.

**The name for the Bereich Loreley derives from a famous promontory on the Rhine river near St. Goarshausen. Because of the narrow fairway, accidents were not infrequent before modern navigation technology. Poet Heinrich Heine turned the site of captains’ misfortune into a metaphor for unrequited love: the beautiful, blond Loreley perched on her rock, singing her siren’s song, while forever staying out of reach, caused men to lose their bearings, if not their lives.  In English, it sounds like this.

Lucia Volk, CSW, is working on a manuscript on the lesser known wine regions of Germany. This summer, she discovered vineyards in Berlin, excellent Pinot Noirs along the Elbe and the Ahr, and phenomenal Riesling wines on the Mittelrhein. Her first SWE blog described the re-emerging wine region of Saxony.

Are you interested in being a guest blogger or a guest SWEbinar presenter for SWE?  Click here for more information!

What’s New in Ningxia?

Photo of Helan Mountain vineyards used with permission of Indigo Communication

Photo of Helan Mountain vineyards used with permission of Indigo Communication

The Ningxia Hui (pronounced Neen-sha H-way) Autonomous Region of China is located about 500 miles west of Beijing. The Ningxia region has proved to be one of China’s most promising areas for viticulture and wine production, and as such is the focus of significant investment. China’s first official appellation, the Eastern Foot of Helan Mountain Wine Region is located here, and several international companies have interests in this zone.

Ningxia has, by some counts, over 50 wineries making a range of wines using Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Gernischt (the local name for what has recently been confirmed to be Carmenère), Chardonnay, Riesling, Syrah,  and other grapes. This includes some of the highest quality wines in China, some of which are starting to win medals at international competitions.

The area is basically an alluvial plain of the Yellow River, situated on the eastern edge of the Gobi Desert, south of Mongolia. Due to centuries of agriculture, the soil here has been depleted to a fine type of loess soil, highly susceptible to wind and water erosion. Viticulture is encouraged due to its affinity with such marginal conditions, and to help prevent further erosion in this area.

Thoroughly landlocked, Ningxia has a true continental climate, with significant day/night and summer/winter temperature variations. Summertime temperatures into the 80s F (upper 20s C) are assuaged by the altitude of the vineyards, which typically approach 4,000 feet (1,200 meters) above sea level. The winters are long and very cold, however, which means that many vines must be buried under an insulating layer of dirt in order to survive.

Map of China - Wine GrowingThe months of December through February also see negligible precipitation; rainfall is concentrated in summer months, reaching only 8 inches (194 mm) annually. Irrigation is necessary for agriculture, and early methods to divert water from the Yellow River, which flows through much of Ningxia, were developed during the Xia Dynasty (2100 – 1600 BC) and expanded in later periods.

In 2013, Ningxia established a classification modeled after the 1855 Classification of Bordeaux. There are five classes or “growths.” The first ten properties have been selected as so-called 5th growths; these wineries will be eligible for promotion to a higher rank every two years. The stated intention is to have wines at all five tiers in due course. The classified properties must adhere to Ningxia’s regional regulations requiring that only 75% of the grapes must be grown in the region, and that 85% are to be from the vintage and grape variety stated on the bottle (as reported by Wine Spectator).

Moët Hennessy’s newly completed Chandon winery, which released its first wine in 2014, is located in Ningxia, and provides a notable exception to the dominance of still red wines in Ningxia and throughout China. The regional government has announced an ambitious development plan for Helan Mountain East, increasing acreage to 165,500 acres (67,000 hectares) by 2020. There are possibly as many as 100 leases that have been granted for new wineries in various stages of construction. The companies in this locale include Xixia King, Helan Mountain (Pernod Ricard), Helan Qing Xue, Chateau Yunmo, Silver Heights and Changyu.

China recently was confirmed to have the second largest vineyard acreage of any country in the world, following Spain and ahead of France and Italy. By last count (according to the 2015 report of the International Organization of Wine and Vine (OIV)), China now ranks #5 in consumption and #8 in production of wine, worldwide.

It’s yet to be seen what’s on the horizon for Ningxia – and the rest of the Chinese wine industry as well!

Post authored by Jane A. Nickles – SWE’s Director of Education and Certification –

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South Africa Expands its Wine Repertoire

Bo-kaap Neighborhood in Cape Town, South Africa

Bo-kaap Neighborhood in Cape Town, South Africa

South African wine is serious…serious about shedding its bulk/fortified/ co-operative-made reputation of the past, serious about producing world-class wines from modern producers, serious about protecting its heritage grapes, and serious about regulating its high-quality wines and spirits. (Try some South African pot still brandy for a real treat.)

South African wines are regulated and controlled via the WSB – the South African Wine and Spirit Board.  They regulate the grape varieties that may be used (102 at last count), the regions, districts, and wards that represent geographical indications (99 at last count), labeling requirements and other legalities, and – a true quality control if ever there was one – also taste, sample, and approve every product that earns the right to bear their seal.

THE WSB regulates and approves wines according to “class.” To be approved, a wine needs to meet the parameters of one of these 45 pre-defined categories. Some examples of these categories include dry wine, noble late harvest wine, sweet natural wine (in these regulations, “natural” means non-fortified), tank-fermented sparkling wine, and bottle-fermented sparkling wine. Categories that are somewhat unique to South Africa include Cape Ruby – a young, fruity, fortified wine and Cape White – made from non-Muscat varieties and oak-aged for at least six months.

View of Cape Town from the waterfront

View of Cape Town from the waterfront

Six new classes of wine, approved on August 21, 2015, are now among the 45 approved categories of South African wine. These newcomers were proposed to the WSB over two years ago by the Swartland Independent Group – a group of young winemakers working in the Swartland District. Swartland is a rugged district, despite being only an hour’s drive north of Cape Town. Swartland is one of the newer winemaking regions of South Africa, and has rapidly developed a reputation for unique wines in addition to high-quality wines of the more conventional styles.

For the record, the six new categories of South African Wine are:

  • Skin-macerated white: A white wine fermented and macerated on its skins for at least 96 hours, should be light golden to deep orange in color.
  • Extended barrel-aged white/gris: A wine produced from white or gris grape varieties, aged in oak casks at least 2 years, should show a golden or amber hue, and have a nutty, oxidative character.
  • Natural pale: An unfortified white wine matured in oak casks under flor yeast for at least two years.
  • Watsonia Tabularis - Unique member of the Fynbos (Cape Floral Kingdom) growing atop Table Mountain
    Watsonia Tabularis – Unique member of the Fynbos (Cape Floral Kingdom) growing atop Table Mountain

    Methode Ancestrale: A slightly sparkling wine made from fermenting must which completes its fermentation while stored in the bottle in which it is sold.

  • Alternative white/red: A dry white with a gold or amber color, or a dry red with a light red to deep purple color.
  • Sun wine: A white wine that has undergone maderization; must be pale gold to deep gold in color.

To download the entire set of regulations, which include the list of 99 approved grape varieties, the entire cast of categories and spirits regulations as well, click here for the: Wine and Spirits Regulations – South Africa WSB

Post authored by Jane A. Nickles, your blog administrator –

Are you interested in being a guest blogger or a guest SWEbinar presenter for SWE?  Click here for more information!

Meet the Board: Lorraine Hems

Lorraine Hems having a good time at the Masked Ball at this year's SWE Conference

Lorraine Hems having a good time at the Masked Ball at this year’s SWE Conference

Last August, at our annual conference, SWE welcomed its new Executive Committee and Board of Directors.  While many of our board members have served for quite a few years, there are also some new faces in the group as well.  Today we’d like to introduce you to one of our new board members, Lorraine Hems…and thank her for her service to the Society!

Lorraine Hems, CSS, CWE, is a newly-elected member of the SWE Board of Directors. Lorraine has been in the wine and spirits industry at the retail, wholesale, and educational levels for over 30 years. She currently teaches wine and spirits studies as a full-time lecturer in the Department of Hospitality and Tourism Management at the Rochester Institute of Technology in Rochester, NY.

Lorraine is also a Certified Bordeaux Educator with L’Ecole du Vin de Bordeaux/SOPEXA. She stays active in the wine industry through various roles with SWE, Women for WineSense, and the American Wine Society that have included volunteering, teaching at local events, and presenting at national conferences. In 2012, she received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the National Chapter of Women for Wine Sense.

Lorraine is an active advocate for the wines of the Finger Lakes, the area she calls home. Even though she is lucky enough to live in such a lovely wine region, she still enjoys travelling, particularly while checking  the various wine regions of the world off of her “spit bucket” list while presenting and judging at wine and spirits competitions throughout the world.

Welcome, Lorraine!

Connecting the Bubbles: The Méthode Marlborough

image via:

image via:

The most successful people in the wine industry, whether they are conference speakers, teachers, or salespeople, are skilled at drawing connections and parallels within the world of wine.  Tying regions, styles, history, and current events together is thought provoking and shows a deeper understanding of the world around us.

On the surface, this post is about the newish Méthode Marlborough; however, the subject also brings into play the greater world of sparkling wine world, as well as the on-going debate of New World vs Old World.

The Méthode Marlborough is a society, created in September 2013, in order to promote the high-quality Traditional Method sparkling wines produced in Marlborough. The requirements for a Mèthod Marlborough sparkling wine include:

  • Produced using 100% Marlborough grapes
  • Made in Marlborough and exclusively produced using the Traditional Method of sparkling wine production
  • Made using the traditional Champagne varieties of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Pinot Meunier
  • Aged in the bottle, on the lees, for a minimum of 18 months

There are currently 10 producers that are making this style of wine and have joined the club:

  • Allan Scott
  • Cloudy Bay Vineyards
  • Hunter’s Wines
  • Johanneshof Cellars
  • Lion
  • Nautilus Estate
  • No. 1 Family Estate
  • Spy Valley Winery
  • Summerhouse Wine Company
  • Tohu Wines
photo via:

photo via:

These wines are just now beginning to show up on store shelves. The first-ever Méthode Marlborough sparkler to be released was No. 1 Family Estate’s Assemblé, which was sabered in celebration on August 14th 2015.

It is perhaps fitting that No. 1 Family Estate, owned by Daniel Le Brun, was the first winery to release. Le Brun is, after all, part of a Champenois family, and has produced this style of Traditional Method sparkling wine from the three Champagne grapes in Marlborough since the winery was established in 1999.

This is impressive coming from a region that specializes in – and stakes its reputation on – Sauvignon Blanc. In fact, 77% of all the vineyards in Marlborough grow Sauvignon Blanc, and some of it is used to create delightful (if, admittedly, simple) Charmat method sparkling wines.

As lovely as these Charmat method sparkling wines are, it is just this type of wine from which the Méthode Marlborough producers are trying to distance themselves. South Africa was the first new world region to recognize the need to differentiate their quality sparkling wines, and, in 1992, created the Cap Classique Producers Association. However, Cap Classique rules are a bit less stringent that those of the Méthode Marlborough is attempting to do: Cap Classique can come from anywhere in the large, diverse Western Cape Geographical Unit, the lees-aging requirement is only 12 months, and they allow the use of Sauvignon Blanc and Chenin Blanc in addition to Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.

image via:

image via:

Perhaps – and this is where the “Old World/New World” aspect of this discussion begins – a set of Old World-style quality controls is ever more important in a category of wine where the production methods can be elusive, the grapes in the blend are a mystery, and vintages are rarely discussed or disclosed. Time spent on the lees, which is a major component of a finished sparkling wine’s flavor, is also not discussed. Essentially, we’re missing the what, where, when, and why of the wine. (Thankfully, the who is published on the label.)

Controls such as these are built into the production standards of the DOCs and the AOCs of the Old World, so the customer at least has a good idea of what they are getting in the bottle, and adherence to their standards is mandatory if the producer wants to use their “stamp of approval” on the label. However, in the case of New World producers bonding together for a marketing and consumer-driven end, admission to the club is voluntary.  As such, there will always be “rebels” who refuse to join – perhaps because they believe their brand is stronger that of the association – such as Kim Crawford’s “Fizz,” produced using the Traditional Method from Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.

The topic brings up many questions. Will these New World quality alliances that imitate Old World appellations will stand the test of time.  How much do we rely on the Canadian VQA or the San Rafael DOC in Mendoza over individual brands? Will more regions around the world band together to “guarantee” quality in the nebulous world of sparkling wine?  (I’m keeping my eye on England, Brazil, and Tasmania.)

We wait with curious minds and palates as the ten producers of Méthode Marlborough captivate our attention – and we promise to bring the bubbles, no matter what.

For more information:

MarkPost authored by Mark Rashap, CWE. Mark has, over the past ten years, been in the wine world in a number of capacities including studying wine management in Buenos Aires, being an assistant winemaker at Nota Bene Cellars in Washington State, founding his own wine brokerage, and working for Texas-based retail giant Spec’s as an educator for the staff and public.

In August of 2015, Mark joined the team of the Society of Wine Educators as Marketing Coordinator to foster wine education across the country.







Meet the Board: Jorge Hernandez


.Jorge Hernandez presenting at the 2013 Conference of the Society of Wine Educators

Last month, at our annual conference, SWE welcomed its new Executive Committee and Board of Directors.  While many of our board members have served for quite a few years, there are also some new faces in the group as well.  Today we’d like to introduce you to one of our new board members, Jorge Hernandez…and thank him for his service to the Society!

Jorge Hernandez is a newly elected member of the Board of Directors for the Society of Wine Educators. Jorge is the National Director of Wine and Spirits Education for Deutsch Family Wine & Spirits, responsible for conducting educational seminars for all aspects of the beverage alcohol industry and the public at large. 

Jorge has been a passionate wine educator since 1983, when he hung out his shingle in an independent wine consulting business known as “Palate for Hire.” This led to employment with R.H. Philips, Kendall Jackson’s Artisans and Estates, Seagram’s Chateau and Estate Wines Company, and Diageo. In the early and mid 1990s, Jorge also wrote and recorded a series of fine wine radio spots that were broadcast weekly in Connecticut, New York, and New Jersey. 

Jorge was born in Colombia, but is proud to have traveled to all 50 of the United States, as well as Washington DC. In his free time, he enjoys playing music – particularly stringed instruments such as the guitar and ukulele, and writes original musical compositions as well.

Welcome to the board, Jorge Hernandez!  

Uisce Beatha Eireannach Goes Legit!

Dunguaire Castle, County Galway

Dunguaire Castle, County Galway

Ok, for the record, Uisce Beatha Eireannach – Irish whiskey – has always been legit! However, soon, the legal standards that regulate the spirit will be greatly expanded and enhanced.

As every good CSS student knows, Irish whiskey has been defined and regulated since 1980 by the Irish Whiskey Act.

The Irish Whiskey Act of 1980 is a fairly concise document – no more than one page long – and states that Irish whiskey must:

  • Be distilled in Ireland from a mash of cereal grains
  • Be distilled to an alcoholic strength of less than 94.8% alcohol by volume (189.6 proof)
  • Be distilled in such a way so that the distillate has an aroma and flavor derived from the materials used
  • Contain no additives except for water and caramel coloring
  • Be stored in wooden casks in Ireland for no less than three years

The act further goes on to define blended Irish whiskey as a spirit which must be comprised of at least two different distillates. And that’s it!

However…as of October 30, 2015, a new set of technical standards will be implemented in accordance with the European Union requirements for the PGI status of Irish whiskey.

These standards expand upon the Irish Whiskey Act of 1980 and include the following regulations:

  • Irish whiskey must be bottled in Ireland or, if not bottled in Ireland, it must be shipped off the island in inert bulk containers and subject to company controls and strict verification to ensure the safety and integrity of the product.
  • Irish whiskey is not allowed to be exported from Ireland in any type of wooden container.


These new regulations also provide definitions for the following types of Irish whiskey: 

Irish Malt Whiskey: Irish malt whiskey must be made from 100% malted barley. The wort is separated from the solids before fermentation. Irish malt whiskey must be distilled in pot stills. The traditional practice is to use smaller pot stills in order to encourage complex flavors and a full, oily texture, however, there are no requirements as to the size of the still.  Irish malt whiskey is traditionally triple-distilled, although double distillation may be used.

Irish Grain Whiskey: Irish grain whiskey is produced from a mash containing a maximum of 30% malted barley. The remainder is made up of unmalted cereal grains – typically maize, wheat, or barley. The mash typically does not undergo any separation of the solids from the liquids before distillation. This type of whiskey is continuously distilled using column stills.  Irish grain whiskey may have either a light or a full flavor profile, depending on the cut points and other techniques employed by the distiller.

Irish Pot Still Whiskey:  Irish pot still whiskey is required to be produced using a mash containing a minimum of 30% malted barley and a minimum of 30% unmalted barley. The remainder of the mash may be either malted or unmalted barley, and may include up to 5% other unmalted cereal grains (usually oats or rye). The wort is separated from the solids before fermentation. This type of whiskey must be batch distilled in pot stills. The traditional practice is triple-distillation in large pot stills, although double distillation may also be employed and there are no requirements as to the size of the still. 



Blended Irish Whiskey: Blended Irish whiskey is a blend of two or more different whiskey types, which must be made in accordance with the standards stated above, and which may include Irish malt whiskey, Irish grain whiskey, and/or Irish pot still whiskey. The whiskeys that make up the blend may also be chosen from different distilleries, ages, types of cask finish, and flavor profiles in order to achieve the desired flavor and consistency.  Blended Irish whiskey tends to be smooth and mellow with a range of flavors, and a light, silky mouth feel.

So on October 30, 2015 (and maybe every other day of the year), raise a glass – of Jameson, Tullamore DEW, Kilbeggan, or whatever you choose – and toast your friends “Sláinte mhaith!”

Post authored by Jane A. Nickles, your blog administrator

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The AVA Shuffle: Introducing the Squaw Valley-Miramonte AVA!

The 2015 harvest at Sierra Peaks Winery - via

The 2015 harvest at Sierra Peaks Winery – one of 3 wineries in the new Squaw Valley-Miramonte AVA

There’s a new AVA in town!!

Officially established on September 8, 2015, the Squaw Valley-Miramonte AVA is located in California’s San Joaquin Valley and snuggled safely into the foothills of the Sierra Nevada Mountains.

But before we move on, let me clarify a few things that this AVA is NOT:

  • Despite the name Squaw Valley, this is NOT the famous ski resort, host of the 1960 Winter Olympics (The ski resort of the same name is actually located about 300 miles away, near Lake Tahoe).
  • Despite the fact that the AVA is indeed located in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada Mountain Range, this new AVA is NOT part of the Sierra Foothills AVA.  The southern end of the Sierra Foothills AVA is actually about 50 miles – and at least two counties – away. (Keep in mind that the Sierra Nevada Mountain Range is over 400 miles long.)

So now we can turn to a few things that are indeed true concerning this new AVA:

  • The new viticultural area covers approximately 44,690 acres in Fresno County, California. The area is mostly rural and located in the foothills about 40 miles to the east of the city of Fresno.
  • Approximate location of the new Squaw Valley-Miramonte AVA

    Approximate location of the new Squaw Valley-Miramonte AVA

    The AVA is located along the highway to Sequoia and Kings Canyon National parks. (Sequoia Sequoia National Forest is the home of the giant Sequoias, considered to be among the largest trees, and the largest living organisms, on earth).

  • The area currently has 2 wineries and 3 commercial vineyards totaling about 7.5 acres, including Sierra Peaks Winery , Riffelhoff Winery, Buttercup Vineyards,  and Purgatory Vineyards. The region grows mostly warm weather varieties.
  • The topography of the AVA varies from the gentle rolling hills of the lower elevations to steep and rugged hillsides covered with boulders and oak woodlands as on travels east.
  • Elevations range from 1,600 to 3,500 feet with slope angles measuring from 15 to 40 percent, which generally requires all vineyard work – including harvesting – to be done by hand.
  • Other distinguishing features of the AVA include cooler daytime temperatures and warmer nighttime temperatures than the surrounding San Joaquin Valley, and significantly more rainfall than the surrounding valley (but less than the forest to the north).

You can catch the full details – straight from the TTB – just click to read the document concerning the:  Establishment of the Squaw Valley-Miramonte Viticultural Area

Welcome to the world, Squaw Valley-Miramonte AVA!

Post authored by Jane A. Nickles, your blog administrator.

Meet the Board: Valerie Santoro

Last month, at our annual conference, SWE welcomed its new Executive Committee and Board of Directors.  While many of our board members have served for quite a few years, there are also some new faces in the group as well.  Today we’d like to introduce you to one of our new board members, Valerie Santoro…and thank her for her service to the Society!

Newly elected SWE Board Member Valerie Santoro, CSS, CSW

Newly elected SWE Board Member Valerie Santoro, CSS, CSW

Valerie Santoro, CSW, CSS is a newly elected member of the Board of Directors for the Society of Wine Educators. Valerie is the Director of Training at Great Lakes Wine & Spirits (GLWAS), Michigan’s largest distributor of alcoholic beverages, supplying over 6,500 wine, 1,500 spirit, and 1,000 beer items, and servicing all 83 Michigan counties.  Valerie is also a Certified Specialist of Wine and a Certified Specialist of Spirits, with a B.S. in Viticulture and Enology from Michigan State University.

Valerie has always been interested in wine, from her earliest memories of red wine served with the family dinner meal, night after night.  Here interest grew when she first attended Michigan State University, with the intention of studying Botany. However, one day while walking through the Plant & Soil Building, she passed a plaque on the wall that read “Viticulture Lab” and was intrigued! She applied for a got a job in the Viti Lab analyzing fruit and berry samples for the local and the school’s research plots.  This led to helping out in the research winery and not much longer, Valerie was in love with wine and switched majors to Viticulture and Enology.

Prior to working for GLWAS, Valerie worked in wholesale wine sales, and while she enjoyed the work (and the travel opportunities it afforded), she found that here favorite part of the job was the “ah-ha moments” her customers would experience during staff and customer trainings. In her current job, Valerie is in charge of staff training in wine, spirits, and business, and handles on-boarding as well.

In her “spare” time, Valerie is an avid hiker, cyclist, gardener, wife, and mother to two active children. Her daughter and son are both soccer players, and members of youth orchestra – that is, when they aren’t trying to talk their mother into playing a round of Minecraft.

Welcome, Valerie!