News from France: Three New AOCs on the Docket!

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The Institut National de l’Origine et de la Qualité (INAO) has been busy lately, and three new AOCs for French Wine have been approved. They are: Côte d’Or AOC (Burgundy), Corrèze AOC (Southwest France/Nouvelle-Aquitaine), and Vézelay AOC (Burgundy/Yonne). All three of these new AOCs are awaiting final approval from the European Union.

Corrèze AOC: The newly-announced Corrèze AOC is located in the Corrèze Department, situated in Southwest France (Nouvelle-Aquitaine), somewhat inland (east) of Bordeaux. A portion of the Corrèze AOC was previously recognized as the Vins de la Corrèze IGP. The Corrèze AOC is approved for red wines based on Cabernet Franc with the possible addition of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. Other approved wines include a sweet, dried-grape “straw wine” produced from the allowed varieties of Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Chardonnay, and/or Sauvignon Blanc. Wines approved for production under the subzone “Corrèze-Coteaux de la Vézère” include dry reds produced from 100% Cabernet Franc and dry whites produced from 100% Chenin Blanc. There are currently 185 acres (75 ha) divided among 45 growers planted to vines in the Corrèze AOC.

Vézelay AOC: The newly-recognized Vézelay AOC is located in the southern portion of the Yonne department in Burgundy, and includes the hillsides along both sides of the Cure River (a right tributary of the Yonne River). Four communes— Asquins, Saint Père, Tharoiseau and Vézelay—are included in the region. Vézelay was previously an approved subzone of the Burgundy (Bourgogne) AOC. The Vézelay AOC is approved for dry white wines only, produced from 100% Chardonnay. There are currently 225 acres (90 ha), divided among 25 growers, planted to vines in the AOC.

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Côte D’Or AOC: The Côte D’Or AOC, finally approved by the INAO after more than twenty years of squabbling, represents a new regional appellation for Burgundy wines. The new AOC covers about 2,470 acres (1,000 ha) of area and basically combines the Côte de Nuits and Côte de Beaune areas of production. The Côte D’Or AOC is approved for dry red wines produced from 100% Pinot Noir and dry white wines produced from 100% Chardonnay.

In other news, the EU has approved an AOC for Ail violet de Cadours (Purple Garlic of Cadours), as well as a Protected Geographical Indication (PGI) for Charolais de Bourgogne (beef from the grass-fed Charolais cattle of Burgundy).

References/for more information:

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

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Guest Post: Reflections on SWE’s 41st Annual Conference

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Today we have a guest post from Jim Laughren, CWE who gives us his impressions of last week’s SWE Conference. 

Reflections on SWE’s 41st Annual Conference from Jim Laughren, CWE

The 2017 Portland Conference of the Society of Wine Educators was one of the best events I have ever attended, a sentiment that I realize I have expressed more than once in past years. Unquestionably, Shields and the SWE Home Office crew, as well as the Executive Committee and Board Members work extremely hard to maintain the high standards of the conference. They assure that personable, qualified speakers present sessions of genuine interest and, occasionally, enlightenment. All as it should be, and usually is.

But like most SWE members, I have attended many wine seminars and conferences through the years, some excellent, some good, some that could have been missed. Speakers have ranged from teachers of outstanding ability to others less adept, even if equally enthusiastic. And of course, there’s been the random bonehead or ego maniac at the podium, no doubt to make us appreciate the good ones even more.

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This year, however, in flipping through conference pics and paying closer attention to my surroundings in sessions that I attended, an overlooked aspect of SWE’s program came clearly into focus. I’ve often felt that the Society conference is unique but other than “bigger” and “more” I wasn’t sure why. Lots of wine gatherings and seminars feature prominent speakers; incredible lineups of wine are practically de rigueur.

What, if anything, truly sets the SWE conference apart from all other such conclaves? The answer, I have come to realize, is the audience.

Not the fact that we rub elbows with other aficionados or that one needn’t have more than a serious interest in things vinous to be included, not even that it’s practically impossible to tell the professionals from the amateurs among those in the crowd, though all such aspects are wonderfully important. What’s truly unique about this conference is the number of speakers and presenters who delight us at their session, only to slip quietly into the audience at the next.

Look around—the MS and the MW and the industry headliner who all dazzled at their own presentations are sitting in everyone else’s sessions, whether led by a newly minted CSW or an uncredentialed student of some other region or aspect of wine.

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Go to almost any wine conference open to both pros and the public and your only sighting of the big shots and of the headline speakers is while they pontificate from on high. They simply don’t mingle with the masses at most of these events.

Yet, the SWE’s own cadre of big names and big credentials—and we’ve got them: MWs and MSs and DWSs and CWEs and industry mavens enough to shake a stick at—attend our annual conference as much to receive as to give, to learn as well as to share. By their very presence they remind us that wine is a gigantic subject, one that no single person or palate can or will ever understand completely. It’s the mystery of wine, of what it is and what it’s been and what it will become that these students of the grape accept and acknowledge by their willingness to slip into the crowd and be one with all of us in our quest to learn and enjoy and appreciate.

So next year as you settle in to your various sessions, take a gander around the room. And realize that winos extraordinaire who have spent the last ten or twenty years pursuing credentials, in serious study, the industry movers and shakers, are just as interested in the topic about to be explored as you are. An MS here, and there another. An MW across the room. Give them a smile or a thumbs-up, say hello between sessions.

Remember, at most venues these are the people who speak and split. At the Society of Wine Educators, they’re here, like the rest of us, to learn and to listen; to meet and network and revel in all that is wine. Not many places where the audience is as keen on the subject as the instructors. And that, I suspect—the quality of our educational offerings as evidenced by the quality of our audience—is a big part of what raises the Society of Wine Educators Annual Conference above the competition.

20861780_1639272976105688_4465641786469263325_oSee you next year.

Jim Laughren, CWE—Chicago, Illinois—8/17/17

About the author: Jim Laughren, CWE is the founder of WineHead Consulting in Chicago. He has been buying, selling, drinking, trading, collecting, sourcing, importing, distributing, studying, consulting, and writing about wine for most of his life. He is the author of ‘A Beer Drinker’s Guide To Knowing & Enjoying Fine Wine,’ a Kirkus ‘Indie Book of the Year’ in 2013, and has a second book, ’50 Ways To Love Wine More,’ scheduled for release this year. He travels frequently to wine regions around the world and greatly enjoys expanding wine’s “customer base” by introducing new drinkers to the pleasures of the fermented juice.

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Guest Post: Learning Lompoc

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Learning Lompoc, or, my Visit to the Lompoc Wine Ghetto

By Candi, CSW

Today we have a guest post from a frequent contributor who we have learned to know and love by the pseudonym “Candi, CSW.” Today, Candi takes us along on a tour to a wine warehouse area affectionately known as the “Lompoc Wine Ghetto.” Read on! 

I have made several tasting trips to Santa Barbara County in the past. Los Olivos, Santa Barbara-based tasting rooms, Santa Ynez Valley, and Solvang are among prior destinations.

However, until this year, I had never been to the Lompoc Wine Ghetto. The name “Ghetto” was intriguing enough to warrant further research. Looking at a few websites, it seems that the Lompoc Wine Ghetto acquired the name from an early tenant. It is considered a term of endearment and has been adopted by Lompoc as a way to promote the destination.

Driving into Lompoc, one of the first signs I saw pointed me to the Wine Ghetto. The setting is an industrial park/warehouse area, complete with gravel parking lots. There seemed to be at least a dozen wineries, and a few craft breweries. Some of the wineries have tasting rooms with regular hours. Others are by-appointment only. I chose to visit one of each—Palmina and Kitá, respectively.

Photo via: https://www.instagram.com/palminawines/

Photo via: https://www.instagram.com/palminawines/

I had wanted to visit Palmina Wines during prior visits to the area, but their tasting room schedule did not match up with our travel schedule. This year, I visited on a Saturday. There were regular hours scheduled, and I arrived shortly after Palmina opened in an attempt to avoid the crowds. This worked well; by the time I left it was getting busy.

My interest was due to Palmina’s focus on Cal-Ital. I am a big fan of Italian varietals and have found few domestic wineries that make Italian-reminiscent wine with Italian grapes. At Palmina, I hoped to add to my list. They feature two tasting flights—one is their traditional line of wine, and the second, La Voix, is their elite level (and thus more expensive). I opted for the former, but was graciously offered a few other wines as a bonus.

The most interesting wine tasted was a sparkling Nebbiolo, served in frosted flutes. Had price been no object, I would have purchased a bottle. My frugal soul, however, was calling. For purchase, I gravitated to the traditional line. This brand met my Italianate criterion. First, a rose’ of Sangiovese, Dolcetto and Barbera. A Dolcetto and a vineyard-specific Barbera were my other picks. The tasting fee was waived with my purchase. Service was very good; the staff patiently, helpfully, responded to my detailed (OK, geeky) questioning. I would visit again.

My appointment at Kitá Wines, made about a month in advance, was interesting, educational, and the best-organized by-appointment tasting I have ever experienced. The setting is a warehouse—so discreet I had to ask for directions. A small sign, a door, and a buzzer. I rang at the appointed time. I was greeted by the young lady in charge of marketing for the winery. She apologized that the vintner would be late, but she was ready to start the tasting. She was well-organized. A table had been set up, a glass for her and one for me, and bottles of water. Eight opened wine bottles at the ready. Detailed tasting information, about a page long, for each wine. The tasting notes were a take-away item for me. Perfect for my notes.

Photo via: http://kitawines.com/

Photo via: http://kitawines.com/

My server seemed a bit sheepish about the $10 tasting fee. She noted, as I had already learned, that the fee is waived with a 2-bottle purchase. I explained that I believed their policy was quite reasonable and, further, that I had researched the winery and would not have made an appointment was I not prepared to purchase. She was quite happy with my response, and we proceeded to take our time.

I learned that the Kitá Wines brand is part of the Chumash enterprise, which includes other hospitality industry product lines. Among these are hotels and restaurants. So the Chumash tribal council has an oversight and leadership role. Interesting trivia: the wine label had to be approved by the tribal council of about 130 people. Classy label, that.

What about the vino? Each of the wines was solid, interesting, and purchase-worthy. I was most interested in the wines created from the Camp 4 Vineyard. This vineyard is Chumash-owned.

My white choice was a 2013 Grenache Blanc. I ordinarily would not purchase a 2013 vintage in 2017, but this was still extraordinarily fresh, juicy and lively in its presentation. And a varietal favorite with few good domestic examples found before.

I also bought the 2013 Spe’y red blend. This wine is a blend of Grenache, Syrah and Carignane. Not the usual Rhone-style blend. The Carignane added backbone; the wine was balanced, complex and layered. Too fascinating to pass up.

My third and final choice was the 2013 Syrah. The attraction here was softer tannins than I often experience with this varietal. Plus a finish that seemed to go on for minute after minute. Overall impression: unusual and compelling.

Toward the end of my visit, the vintner did indeed arrive and provided further information on the aging potential of each wine. And, for the first time ever, I witnessed a vintner driving a forklift. Clearly, a small operation with everyone pitching in. And making very nice wine as well.

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After two tastings, I had to have a break for safety before driving. Fortunately, I had the foresight to pack a picnic lunch. It seems that the Lompoc Wine Ghetto has no food service facilities, although some of the wineries wisely offer a bit of food. But visiting a restaurant would have required driving. While I enjoyed my picnic, I had the opportunity to observe the Saturday afternoon crowd. As the afternoon wore on, the noise level rose such that, even in the parking area, I could detect people having a good time. Most interesting to observe and a validation of my own strategy. Have food, hydrate, and take my time before hitting the road.

I had one more stop on my way back to my hotel. Captain Fatty’s Craft Brewery, located in yet another warehouse, this time in Goleta. I am not a beer drinker, but I do have my CSW skills. A project of mine is transferring matching-type skills to craft beer, which my husband enjoys. I wanted to purchase something he could not get in our home location, and had done my research. In my experience, finding a craft brew tasting room that offers beer in 12-ounce packaging is not common. Most of these facilities feature 22-ounce bottles and growlers, as well as beer on tap.

Captain Fatty’s featured freshly-canned beer, 12-ounce cans, in six packs. This packaging is perfect as a take-home gift. One of the six-pack choices was their Beach Beer, a Pilsner-style lager. My husband avoids bitter beer, which rules out most IPAs. I believed the Beach Beer was a match. Turns out I was correct: the beer rated 2 thumbs up.

Overall, a most successful day. Wines for both of us to enjoy, and an unusual brew for a gift. The wine will be enjoyed. The beer is almost gone. Cheers!

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Guest Post: New York State’s Hudson River Region AVA

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Today we have a post from JoAnn DeGaglia, CSW, CS. JoAnn takes us on a journey to New York’s Hudson River Valley and the Hudson River Region AVA.

Eleven thousand years ago the entire northeast coast of the United States, including New York State, was covered by a two-mile-thick sheet of ice known as the Laurentide Ice Sheet. As the glacier melted and receded, it reshaped the land beneath into the beautiful landscape we know today of hills, mountains, and complex, varied soils—a perfect place for grapes, vines, and fruit cultivation.

Part of this landscape includes the Hudson River—one of the great waterways of North America. The Hudson River runs 315 miles from its source at Lake Tear in the Clouds, located in Adirondack Park. The river runs north to south and eventually drains into the Atlantic Ocean between New York City and Jersey City. It is the river’s moderating effect on the area’s continental climate (thanks to tidal flow and winds that sweep upriver from the Atlantic) as well as the “river effect” that makes it possible to grow grapes at all in the Hudson River Valley.

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The Hudson River Region AVA (established July 1982) covers an area that extends roughly within the confines of the river valley proper and it includes all or some of several counties: Columbia, Dutchess, Orange, Putnam, Rockland, Sullivan, Ulster, and Westchester. The AVA encompasses 224,000 acres, with about 450 acres planted to wine grapes among 49+ bonded wineries.

The Brotherhood Winery is the oldest winery in the area and the oldest continuously operating winery in the United States. The winery’s earliest first vineyard was planted by William Cornell in 1845 in Ulster County and still exists as part of the Benmarl Winery (located in Marlboro).

The wine making industry in the Hudson Valley has survived war, revolution, blights, extremely challenging weather, and prohibition. This AVA is a survivor and one of the most innovative and diverse areas of viniferous cultivation in the Northeast. The Valley has been known for making great white wines like Seyval Blanc, Chardonnay, and Riesling as well as award winning Sparkling wines.

Much time and effort has gone into finding a Hudson Valley signature red grape. Doug and Mary Ellen Glorie of Glorie Farm Winery, along with Linda Piero and Bob Bedford of Hudson Valley Wine Magazine have established the “Hudson Valley Cabernet Franc Coalition” which is a group of Hudson Valley grape growers, winery owners, winemakers, and supporters that are committed to establishing a Cabernet Franc brand identity for the Hudson River Region.

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Hudson River Valley Cabernet Franc is appreciated for its mouthwatering savory, bell pepper-like flavors and medium to high acidity. Cabernet Franc is typically lighter than Cabernet Sauvignon, making a bright pale red wine that adds finesse and lends a peppery perfume when blended with more robust grapes as it is done in Bordeaux.

Given the climate and soil here in our Hudson Valley, it comes as no surprise that Cabernet Franc has emerged as heir apparent for red wine greatness. It’s even been confirmed by science, at Highland, New York’s Hudson Valley Research Lab—a non-profit organization dedicated to supporting research and development for growers in the Hudson Valley. In 2008 Senator William J. Larkin helped to secure funds for the lab to plant a one-acre vineyard with 27 varieties of grapes with the purpose of learning what really grows best in the area. Through these trials, Peter Jentsch, a Research Entomologist and Cornell Cooperative Extension Educator, found that Cabernet Franc kept emerging as the stand out variety.

Cabernet Franc has a significant number of clones which gives growers a range of choices and allows winemakers the ability to combine clonal varieties in order to add complexity to their finished wine—giving each winemaker the ability to truly create their own style of wine using Cabernet Franc.

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Recently, the Hudson River Valley has exploded with wineries, distilleries, breweries, and the production of (Hard) Apple Ciders. In our colonial period, apple orchards were plentiful and easier to obtain than grains. As a result, hard cider quickly became one of America’s most popular beverages. The Hudson River Valley area offer great food, beautiful scenery, and delicious local beverages—so it is a great time to visit…and if you already live here, get out and Uncork New York!

JoAnn DeGaglia, CSW, CS teaches wine appreciation classes all over the New York, including the Hudson River Valley. JoAnn’s writings may be found on Facebook on the “The Wine Lovers Journey through the World of Wine” page.

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Conference Preview: Way Beyond Bubbles—Terroir, Tradition and Technique in Conegliano Valdobbiadene Prosecco DOCG

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Photo Credit: Alan Tardi 

Today we have a conference preview from Alan Tardi. Alan is an ambassador of Conegliano Valdobbiadene as well an a James Beard Award-winning author. Read on!

One of the things I love most about being professionally involved with wine (besides drinking it, of course!) is that no matter how much you know, there is always something new to learn and discover. Take Prosecco, for example, the quintessential Italian bubbly: Everybody in the wine-drinking world knows it — some even dink it on a regular basis without giving it a second thought. But most people, even many wine professionals, don’t really know that much about it, partly because they don’t even realize there’s much to know.

While everyone knows Prosecco, many don’t realize that there are actually three of them, much less what the differences are between them are. Prosecco DOC, created in 2009, encompasses a huge production area extending over two regions of northeastern Italy and accounts for more than 80% of all Prosecco produced. Colli Asolani Prosecco DOCG, also created in 2009, is a tiny area in the province of Treviso that was traditionally known for its still wines.

Conegliano Valdobbiadene Prosecco DOCG consists of 15 small municipalities in the hills about an hour north of Venice. Vines have been cultivated here for hundreds if not thousands of years, and this is where the wine we now know as Prosecco was originally born.

But that’s just the beginning.

Photo Credit: Alan Tardi

Photo Credit: Alan Tardi

The tiny growing area of Conegliano Valdobbiadene has an amazing diversity of terrior and microclimate, which you can actually taste in the wines, especially ones that are made from a single-village or vineyard. Besides the primary grape variety called Glera (formerly known as Prosecco), there are a number of other extremely interesting native varieties, which contribute unique character to the wines they show up in, even in very small quantities. While the vast majority of Prosecco is made sparkling in an autoclave (a technique that was perfected over a century ago for this area’s winemaking at the enology school in Conegliano), did you know that Prosecco can also undergo its second fermentation right in the bottle?

And did you know there’s a rare type of Prosecco that does not have any bubbles at all?

There’s actually a treasure trove of surprising things in Conegliano Valdobbiadene Prosecco just waiting to be explored, and that’s what we’re going to do in a session at this year’s SWE Conference called Way Beyond Bubbles: Terroir, Tradition and Technique in Conegliano Valdobbiadene Prosecco DOCG. (S1A)

Following a brief look at the history of Conegliano Valdobbiadene, the geological makeup of the area, and key features of the appellation, we will dive in to a comprehensive comparative tasting of 10 extraordinary wines in five flights of two that will demonstrate numerous unique features of Conegliano Valdobbiadene Prosecco including rare “Tranquillo’ (still wines), native grape varieties, single vineyard and single village designations (‘Rive’), autoclave vs. second fermentation in bottle (both in the classic method with disgorgement, and the traditional method with the yeasts still in the bottle), the influence of terroir on wine, and the impact of  residual sugar and different ways to use it (or not).

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Photo Credit: Alan Tardi

Overall, this will be an eye-opening experience for any wine lover and a must for wine educators.

Look forward to seeing you in Portland!

Alan Tardi was named first ever US Ambassador of Conegliano Valdobbiadene in January 2015. His first book, ‘Romancing the Vine: Life, Love and Transformation in the Vineyards of Barolo’ (St Martins Press, 2006) won a James Beard Award for Best Wine and Spirits Book of 2006. And a new book, “Champagne, Uncorked: The House of Krug and the Timeless Allure of the World’s Most Celebrated Drink” (Hachette/PublicAffairs 2016) recently won a Gourmand Best in the World Award in the French Wine category.

Alan’s session, Way Beyond Bubbles: Terroir, Tradition and Technique in Conegliano Valdobbiadene Prosecco DOCG will be held on Saturday, August 12, 2017 at 8:45 am as part of the Society of Wine Educator’s 41st Annual Conference, to be held in Portland, Oregon.

In Memoriam of SWE Member Michael Bryan (1966-2017)

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Michael James Bryan, founder and managing partner of the Atlanta Wine School and wine emporium Vino Venue, left this life on July 9, 2017 surrounded by his family following a long battle with cancer.

A Certified Sommelier and longtime member of the Society of Wine Educators, Michael was an eloquent speaker, superb instructor, and mentor to many. His inspiration and enthusiasm helped thousands of people to evolve as oenophiles.  He founded the Atlanta Wine School in 2003 and brought Vino Venue into being in 2012.  Vino Venue embodied Michael’s talent, knowledge and passion in the wine and culinary world as an Atlanta destination for dining, wine tasting, and private events.

Michael was a 1989 graduate of the University of Georgia’s Terry College of Business and a member of the Phi Gamma Delta fraternity.  He held certifications from many internationally-recognized organizations, including: Certified Specialist of Wine from The Society of Wine Educators; Certified Sommelier from the Court of Master Sommeliers, Advanced Certificate (with Merit) from the Wine & Spirit Education Trust of London, Spanish Wine Educator from the Spanish Wine Academy, and International Bordeaux Wine Educator from L’Ecole du Vin in Bordeaux.

Michael’s love for wine education ran deep, and he was passionate about sharing his knowledge with others. You could sense it when he led a wine class, when he talked a customer through the wines in Vino Venue’s Enomatic machines, or when he took a group through wine regions such as Bordeaux, Oregon, or Tuscany.

Michael was also passionate about music, travel and life in general. He was a genuine, generous, ambitious and loving soul. He lit the room up with his presence.  He was optimistic and courageous in the face of cancer until the very end. His perseverance and positive attitude were inspiring.

Michael was born in Oklahoma City in 1966, son of Dorothy Hall Bryan and Larry James Bryan. He is survived by his parents and his wife Lelia Lee Bryan; daughters Willa Napier Bryan, Mackenzie Hidell Bryan and Berkley Kelleher Bryan; brother Dustin Lee Bryan; and step-mother Diana Marie Bryan.

Michael’s life will be celebrated according to his wishes with a party in Atlanta for his friends and family on Sunday, August 13.  In lieu of flowers, please consider donations to the Sarcoma Foundation of America at curesarcoma.org or to The Willa Bryan Education Trust, care of Mason Bahr LLP, 155Technology Pkwy #400, Peachtree Corners, GA 30092.

Conference Preview: Basque Adventure

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Today we have a conference preview from Carl Etcheverry, CSW. Carl tells us about his travels through the Basque Country in Spain, and along the way, introduces use to some of the wines that will be poured at his upcoming conference session, “A Basque Adventure.”

There is a grape that grows along the dramatic Atlantic Coastline of Bay of Biscay in the province of Gipuzkoa. This green grape—known as Hondarribi Zuri—is grown by a group of small local family farms, and is used in the production of Txakoli.

Txakoli is typically a white wine (although red and rosado versions exist), and it has been produced in Spain’s Basque Country since as far back as Medieval Times. Centuries later, in the 16th century, Basque sailors took barrels of Txakoli with them while hunting whales or fishing for cod in the cold waters of Newfoundland in order to prevent scurvy on their long journeys.

The Denominación de Origen for Getariako Txakolina created in 1989 was extended in 2008 from the three original villages (Getaria, Zarrautz and Aia) to include the whole of the region of the Gipuzkoa Province. Today the Getariako Txakolina DO spreads over 430 hectares (only half them planted with vines). The annual wine production represents 4 million bottles.

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During my trip to the region, I was lucky enough to visit the Talai Berri winery. Founded in 1992 by Bixente Eizagirre Aginaga, Talai Berri is one of the 30 bodegas in the Gipuzkoa Province and one of 11 located in the village Zarautz. The family estate is 30 acres (12 hectares), and is the only Bodega in the area to have onsite a weather station (a very helpful tool to manage to tend the vineyards). The estate practices sustainable farming methods, and fermentation and ageing of the wine is done in stainless steel vats (no oak). The camino that guides pilgrims to Santiago de Compostella passes through the vineyard.

In 2000, Talai Berri was the first winery to produce a red version of Txakoli, using the red Hondarribi Beltza variety. The Hondarribi Zuri (white) and Hondarribi Beltza (red varietal) represents each 50 % of the vines planted.  The Bodega Talai Berri produces around 90,000 bottles of white, 6,000 bottles of rosado, and 3,000 bottles of red wine per year.

The early morning drive from Saint Etienne-De-Baigorry to the Talai Berri winery in Zarautz took me through thick fog while crossing the dangerous Col d’Ispeguy (1000 meters mountain pass) where I encountered wild horses appearing like ghosts in front of the car. In this region, where 1,870 millimeters (73 inches) of annual rainfall is the norm, the flowering apple trees compete with the vines for the scarce rays of sunshine. After this 3-hour drive, I finally arrived one minute in advance of my appointment scheduled at 9:30 am! That morning, I skipped breakfast to leave early and neglected to drink water.

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When I arrived at the entrance door, I looked pale and green olive. My hostesses welcomed me at the winery with a bottle of Txakoli and kindly brought plates filled with specialties from the fishing village of Getaria: anchovies, fresh tuna and marinated peppers.

I toured the vineyards guided by Itzear, one of the two daughters running the family estate. I noticed that the vines were pruned and trained with the double Guyot System, avoiding the more productive Pergola System commonly used for the production of Albariño in the region of Rías Baixas.

Walking through the rows of vines, I noticed some mildew (a white powdery fungus) covering some of the leaves. Vineyard workers were removing leaves, making sure that there is a good aeration between the feet of the vines to prevent the development of rot caused by the high humidity level.

Back at the tasting room, I enjoyed a glass of white Txakoli: The wine had a luminous pale gold robe, a moderate still nose, with aromas of lemon and green apples on the palate. The wine was precise, ultra-crisp, with a long, mouthwatering finish. I also tasted their Txakoli Rosado (3 hours of skin contact), a Rose “de Coupage” with an orange hue, bracing acidity and gentle aromas of clementine. The Txakoli made with the Hondarribi Beltza (red) variety had a rather pale red robe and strawberry flavor.

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My “Basque Adventure” journey to discover the wines of my ancestors started rather well. This quest of identity through wine brought me to the heart of the Basque culture—from the Annual Solstice Celebrations in the coastal town of San Sebastián, to the Bodegas Ochoa in the Navarra Kingdom and then through the deep inland desert landscapes of Rioja Alavesa (Bodegas Remelluri), finally ending in the rolling hills and green pastures of Irouléguy on the French side (Domaine Brana and Domaine Arretxea).

Carl’s session, “A Basque Adventure,” will be presented on Thursday, August 10, 2017 at 10:30 am as part of the 41st Annual Conference of the Society of Wine Educators, to be held in Portland, Oregon.

Conference Preview: Chenin Blanc—South Africa’s Flagship Grape?

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Today we have a conference preview from Jim Clarke, the U.S. Marketing Manager for Wines of South Africa (WOSA). Jim gives us some background on the Chenin Banc grape in South Africa as an introduction to his upcoming conference session entitled “Chenin Blanc: South Africa’s Flagship Grape?”

Chenin Blanc, especially old vine Chenin, may be the most exciting and confusing grape in South Africa. If you’ve had traditional, Francophile wine training, you think of Chenin Blanc as a cool climate variety. After all, its French home, the Loire Valley, is one of the country’s more northerly regions, and the wines there are renowned for their high acidity, so much so that 60% of the region’s Chenin goes to sparkling wine production, and many of the still wines require a bit of residual sugar for balance. South Africa’s Chenin is mostly planted in warmer areas, where it is prized for keeping its freshness despite the heat.

Historically, South Africa is nonetheless no stranger to Chenin Blanc with a hint of sweetness, but that was more the result of market demands than growing conditions. South Africa pioneered cool-temperature fermentations in the 1950s, and the technique lends itself to (among other things) producing light, off-dry whites very affordably. By the mid-1960s, the world’s biggest packaged (i.e. non-bulk) brand, Lieberstein, was a South African product made in just that style.

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That’s hardly what we’re talking about when we crow about South African Chenin today, though. Much like the way white Zin kept some of California’s best Zinfandel vineyards from being ripped up so that eventually discerning producers would realize they were capable of so much more, the best part of those innocuous off-dry wines like Lieberstein was that they helped preserve a now vital part of South Africa’s vinous patrimony.

Today, those old vines are yielding exciting wines in the hands of forward-thinking winemakers. Chenin Blanc is South Africa’s most planted variety, but it’s still only 18.5% of the country’s plantings. When it comes to old vines, however, Chenin dominates the scene. There are 998 hectares of old vine Chenin Blanc in the Western Cape; compare that to Pinotage, number two in old vine vineyards, at just 189 ha.

How old is old? The Old Vines Project, dedicated to protecting this heritage, says at least 35. That cut-off is about both the nature of the vines, and of the farmers who grow them. At 35, yields tend to lessen significantly, and a farmer might well decide that it’s time to replant, if his or her primary concern is getting a decent tonnage. One of the main goals of the Old Vines Project is to convince farmers that, when worked properly, these vineyards yield higher-quality grapes. These, in turn, can merit premium prices, justifying leaving the vines in the ground. At the same time, the Project works to connect these farmers with winemakers who appreciate the quality grapes and are glad to pay for them.

Rosa Kruger, a journalist-turned-viticulturalist and founder of the Old Vines Project, has led the way with documenting and helping preserve these vineyards since 2002. After work in Stellenbosch and in Cape Point, she moved to Swartland, and her work there with Eben Sadie helped push his name forward as one of the country’s top winemakers. While Rosa is often associated with Eben and the “young guns” of South African winemaking, she also works closely with Anthonij Rupert, a larger producer with four separate brands. Rupert has actually provided the majority of the backing for the Old Vines Project.

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The Project itself was initially little more than a catalog of old vine vineyards, eventually documented and shared with the world on their website, iamold.co.za (currently being revamped). In 2016 Kruger took a director’s role, and day-to-day operations have been handed to Andre Morgenthal, former Communications Director for Wines of South Africa, and Jaco Engelbrecht, a viticulturalist specializing in resuscitating old vineyards. In addition to their work in the vineyards, this has allowed them to raise awareness of the program further abroad, staging tastings in London and elsewhere.

As the Project moves forward, future goals include making sure that today’s 20-30-year-old vines make it to old age. That means reaching out to a much wider range of farmers and encouraging them to think about the future. Ultimately the economics have to work, and that means that old, cheap wine image (not so prevalent in the U.S., but still a problem in some European markets, South Africa’s largest) has to be finally put to bed. This doesn’t mean South African wines will cease to be good values; with the exchange rate as it is, South African wines will continue to over-deliver. Old vines are just one tool that allows the South African wine industry to do so at a high level rather than just on the bargain shelf, and that’s nowhere more apparent than in their Chenin Blancs and Chenin Blanc-based blends.

Jim Clarke’s session—Chenin Blanc: South Africa’s Flagship Grape?—will be presented on Friday, August 11th at 10:30 am as part of SWE’s 41st Annual Conference, to be held in Portland, Oregon.

It’s Official: Twelve Cava de Paraje Calificado Zones Announced!

Photo via: http://www.docava.es/en/gallery/ii-excellence-cava-awards/

Photo via: http://www.docava.es/en/gallery/ii-excellence-cava-awards/

Last week, on July 13, 2017, Isabel García Tejerina —the Spanish Minister of Agriculture, Fishing, Food and the Environment—announced the first 12 zones to have earned the designation of Cava de Paraje Calificado (Qualified Estate [Zone] of Cava).

The first 12 designated zones and the anticipated wines are as follows. It is a bit confusing as the name of the zone is sometimes/sometimes not the same as the proposed name of the wine, but we’ve tried to make it clear. In any case, the name of the zone is listed first (and highlighted in bold), followed by the name(s) of the wines, and then the producer.  Links are provided for all the producers.

  • Torelló Zone, the name of the wines are Gran Torelló and 225—produced by Can Martí de Baix
  • Turó d’en Mota Zone, the name of the wine is Turó d’en Mota—produced by Recardo
  • Serrall del Vell Zone, the name of the wine is Serral del Vell— produced by Recardo  
  • Vallcierera Zone, the name of the wine is Mirgin—produced by Alta Alella  
  • La Capella Zone, the name of the wine is La Capella—produced by Juvé & Camps
  • Can Sala Zone, the name of the wine is Casa Sala—produced by Agrícola Casa Sala/Freixenet
  • La Pleta Zone, the name of the wine is La Pleta—produced by Codorníu
  • El Tros Nou Zone, the name of the wine is El Tros Nou—produced Codorníu
  • La Fideuera Zone, the name of the wine is La Fideuera—produced by Codorníu
  • Claror Zone, the name of the wine is Can Prats—produced by Vins el Cep
  • Font de Jui Zone, the name of the wines are Enoteca, Cellar Batlle, and Ill Lustros—produced by Gramona
  • Terroja Zone, the name of the wine is Sabaté i Coca Reserva Familiar—produced by Sabaté i Coca/Castellroig

The newly-designated wines are scheduled to hit the market towards the end of 2017; it seems the last step in the process is the design and approval of new labels to designate the Cavas de Paraje Calificado status of the wines.

The application process for Cavas de Paraje Calificado is still open, and more estates may be designated in the near future.

References/for more information:

 

Conference Preview: The Uco Valley—Terroir in Focus

Martin Kaiser & Marcos Fernandez

Martin Kaiser & Marcos Fernandez

Today we have a conference preview from Nora Z. Favelukes, president of QW Wine Experts. Nora tells us about a “Terroir in Focus” research program based at the Doña Paula Winery in Mendoza, Argentina, and gives us a preview of a presentation entitled “Uco Valley: Terroir in Focus.”    

It’s the Soil that Makes the Difference: Doña Paula Winey, located in Argentina’s Mendoza province, is the test area for a unique study: the Terroir-in-Focus Research Program. This program is dedicated to better understanding the influence of the climate and soils on Malbec. Wine Expert Nora Z. Favelukes visited with Martin Kaiser and Marcos Fernandez, Doña Paula’s Head Viticulturist and Winemaker, and gathered the following enlightening insights.

An Estate with Multiple Conditions: Founded in 1997, Doña Paula rapidly became one of Argentina’s leading producers and exporters of estate-bottled wines. Grapes are sourced from their 1,700 acres of vineyards planted in Luján de Cuyo and Uco Valley—Mendoza’s premier wine regions—at altitudes ranging from 3,280 to 4,400 feet above sea level. These vineyards experience diverse weather conditions and have a great variety of soils—from deep clay loam to alluvial.

Limestone is Key: For the past eleven years, Martin Kaiser has devoted a great deal of his time conducting extensive research throughout Argentina’s terroirs: “While traveling, from the northern to the southern wine regions, I assessed the impact of the diverse climate and soils on each grape variety”, Kaiser narrates briefly. Back at Doña Paula, he piloted a study of over  1,000 pits that showed that limestone is quite common in the region but the effect of its presence is only relevant in cool climate regions (such as the highest areas of Uco Valley) where the fruit shows more ripened flavors when compared with grapes grown in soils with less limestone. Martin adds “Once we identified plots with high content of limestone, we harvested and vinified the grapes separately. I was surprised how limestone positively affects the quality of wines!”

Martin Kaiser explaining—with twigs and flags—the effect of climate and altitude at the highest point of the Alluvia Vineyard in Gualtallary

Martin Kaiser explaining—with twigs and flags—the effect of climate and altitude at the highest point of the Alluvia Vineyard in Gualtallary

Each Malbec is Different: Chief Winemaker, Marcos Fernandez explains that in the past three years he has conducted over 300 micro-vinifications with his team to better understand the impact of the soil on the wines. “The best micro-vinifications were the ones with grapes sourced from calcium carbonate (limestone) and rocky soils. These grapes produced intense wines, with great minerality and sharp tannins” Marcos added, “Our Malbec fruit has enhanced ripened flavors compared with soils with less limestone. Each of our vineyards gives a distinctive aromatic footprint to the Malbec.”

Martin Kaiser and Marcos Fernandez will present their session, “Uco Valley—Terroir in Focus: An In-Depth look at its diverse soils” on Friday, August 11th at 10:30 am as part of SWE’s 41st Annual Conference, to be held in Portland, Oregon. Martin and Marcos will share with us their findings while doing a comparative tasting of Uco Valley Malbec samples:  same vintage, identical vineyard management and vinification techniques. What is the difference? The soils!