The “New” New Zealand

Queenstown, Otago

Queenstown, Otago

If you’ve been following the wine news (or even some of our posts here at Wine, Wit, and Wisdom), you know that New Zealand is in the process of formalizing its geographical indications for wine and spirits. It is a long and interesting tale, but here is the gist:

New Zealand’s Geographical Indications (Wine and Spirits) Registration Act of 2006 created a registration system for wine and spirit geographical indications and allowed for the scheme of regions and subregions currently in use; however, the act was never brought into force. Fast forward ten years to November of 2016, and a revised law, the Geographical Indications (Wine and Spirits) Registration Amendment Act,was passed. As a result, the 2006 Act entered into force in July of 2017. Soon thereafter, applications for geographical indications began to be filed with the New Zealand Intellectual Property Office.

Mount Maunganui (suburb of Tauranga, Bay of Plenty)

Mount Maunganui (suburb of Tauranga, Bay of Plenty)

Three geographical indications—New Zealand, South Island, and North Island—were immediately approved as “enduring indications.” Several other applications for wine regions (geographical indications) and subregions (known as “local geographical indications”) have been submitted—many of these have been approved, and some are still pending. Geographical indications (excluding enduring indications) will need to be renewed after the first five years, and every ten years thereafter.

One of the newly-approved geographical indications is Marlborough. Here’s an update on the area:

Accounting for over 59,000 acres (24,100 ha), the Marlborough region on the South Island is home to over two-thirds of all of New Zealand’s vines and grape production. The region is heavily planted to Sauvignon Blanc (47,000 acres/19,000 ha) and in many ways has shaped the explosive growth in New Zealand wine overall. Marlborough is also the largest producer of Pinot Noir in the country, with much of the region’s 6,400 acres (2,600 ha) of Pinot Noir is made into sparkling wine. Chardonnay, Pinot Gris, Riesling, Gewürztraminer, and Viognier are grown here as well.

Blenheim, Marlborough

Blenheim, Marlborough

Cloudy Bay, which gave its name to a now-famous Sauvignon Blanc producer, and Clifford Bay are both situated along the coast of Marlborough.  The Marlborough Region can be considered to have three separate areas (unofficial subregions), from the Wairau Valley in the north, to the Awatere Valley further south, and the Southern Valleys on the inland side.

  • Wairau Valley: The Wairau Valley (known by the Maori as Kei puta te Wairau—the place with the hole in the cloud) is one of New Zealand’s sunniest places. The region is known for stony, alluvial soils and a cool climate that tends to become drier as one heads inland.
  • Awatere Valley: The Awatere Valley is located to the south of the Wairau Valley, stretching inland from the coast into the Kaikoura Ranges. This is one of the coolest, driest, and windiest areas of Marlborough—and many of the vineyards have some elevation.
  • The Southern Valleys: Located inland, the vineyards of the Southern Valleys—consisting of the Omaka, Fairhall, Brancott, Ben Morvan and Waihopai Valleys—wind and wrap around the surrounding hills. The area has a great diversity in terms of mesoclimates and soils, but does tend to heavier, more clay-based soils than the areas closer to the coast.
Auckland

Auckland

Other geographical indications of the “New” New Zealand that have been approved (as of November 15, 2017) include Hawke’s Bay, Gisborne, Matakana (a subregion of Auckland), Waiheke Island (also a subregion of Auckland), Northland, Wairarapa, and Canterbury. More are sure to come, and we’ll be posting them as they are announced here.

References/for more information:

  • https://www.iponz.govt.nz/about-ip/geographical-indications/register/
  • https://www.nzwine.com/en
  • https://www.nzwine.com/en/our-regions/marlborough/

Post authored by Jane A. Nickles, your blog administrator

Guest Blogger: Book Review—The Wines and Foods of Piemonte

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Today we have a guest post and book review brought to us by Harriet Lembeck, CWE, CSE. Read on as Harriet reviews a beautiful book about the wine and food of Piedmont, Italy!

Book Review: The Wines and Foods of Piemonte—text and photos Tom Hyland, maps by Alessandro Masnaghetti

If you are planning a trip to Piemonte, this book is a must. If not, once you read Tom Hyland’s book, you will be clamoring to go with this in your backpack. Hyland informs you about grapes not often seen in the US, such as the red Ruché, Freisa, and Pelaverga, and the white Timorasso. His book covers reds, whites, sparkling and dessert wines.

This book covers the well-known wine regions, and will fill in your current knowledge with all types of delicious tidbits. For instance, did you know…

  • Barolo DOCG is produced in eleven neighboring communes—and within the area there are several dozen crus (legally recognized nenzioni geografiche aggiuntive [geographical designations])—each of which may be described as a unique terroir.
  • The Alto Piemonte—with its borderline continental/Mediterranean climate—contains the little-known Boca DOC, which produces an acid-driven Nebbiolo-based red wine that is delicious while still young.
  • The Montalbera Winery in Castagnole Monferrato produces as many as four versions of Ruché a year, which may include a stainless steel-fermented version, an oak-aged version, and a passito version.

Hyland’s writing is very graceful and readable, and a large glossary fills in definitions, that if he stopped to explain, would slow up the flow of his story. Interviews with winemakers and chefs are most informative. Hearing different producers argue for single vineyard wines versus wines from blends of vineyards, or hearing discussions of the use of small barrels versus large barrels, helps to explain the complexity of these wines from Piedmont.

A list of recommended wines, restaurants, local foods, and further suggested reading all combine to make this book invaluable to travelers, wine students, and lovers of Italian wine as well.

Bibliographical details: The Wines and Foods of Piemonte Text and Photos Tom Hyland, Maps by Alessandro Masnaghetti, University of Nebraska Press,  208 pages, paperback. Available on Amazon.com

HarrietHarriet Lembeck is a CWE (Certified Wine Educator) and a CSE (Certified Spirits Educator – a new designation). She is President of the Wine & Spirits Program, and revised and updated the textbook Grossman’s Guide to Wines, Beers and Spirits. She was the Director of the Wine Department for The New School University for 18 years. She can be reached at h.lembeck@ wineandspiritsprogram.com.

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Estonian Vodka, now a Protected Geographical Indication

Map of the Baltic States

Map of the Baltic States

Earlier this month, the Baltic country of Estonia was approved for its first protected geographical indication (PGI), as awarded by the European Union. The product of choice is Estonian vodka. Vodka has a documented history of production in the area of Estonia that dates back to the 1400s.

According to regulations, PGI-indicated Estonian Vodka must be produced entirely in Estonia using raw materials grown in Estonia and Estonian water. Estonia now joins Poland, Lithuania, Finland, and Sweden as EU countries that have PGI status for their vodka.  An application for Norwegian vodka is pending.

The Estonian city of Tallinn

The Estonian city of Tallinn

A trip to Estonia might be in order, if only to taste the vodka and experience what the Lonely Planet website considers one of the “best value” destinations for 2018. While you are there, you can visit the old town center of Tallinn—one of Europe’s most complete walled cities, the Kumu Gallery—a 7-storey limestone, glass, and copper art museum, and the Great Guild Hall—built in 410 and housing historical exhibits documenting the history of the Baltics through art, music, literature, language, stamps, and coins.

References/for more information:

Post authored by Jane A. Nickles, your blog administrator

 

New York State of Whiskey: Empire Rye

Empire Rye logo via: www.empirerye.com

Empire Rye logo via: www.empirerye.com

It all started at a craft spirits conference in late 2015, during that hour when all of the best work gets done at a conference: the late-night, after-hours drinking session.

It seems that at a particular table, a group of New York State craft distillers had gathered and the conversation turned towards the state’s nascent craft whiskey industry. According to Tom Potter, founder of New York Distilling Company, a group of them “shook hands, and decided to do something” to differentiate and protect those distillers using local products and high-quality craft production methods.

Not long after, the Empire Rye Whiskey Association was born. According to their website, the association intends to be “an homage to New York State’s pre-Prohibition rye whiskey-making heritage and a testament to the ingenuity and industriousness of its contemporary distillers.”

The standards for a whiskey to be labeled as an “Empire Rye” include the following:

  • The mash bill must include a minimum of 75% New York State-grown rye grain (which may be any combination of raw or malted)
  • It must be distilled to no higher than 160 proof
  • It must be aged for a minimum of two years in charred, new oak barrels—and placed into the barrel at no more than 115 proof
  • It must be produced entirely at a single New York State distillery—including mashing, fermentation, distillation, and barrel maturation—and made (excepting maturation time) in a single distilling season (January 1 through June 30 for the spring season, or July 1 through December 31 for the fall season)
  • Products so produced may display the “Empire Rye” logo on the bottle.
  • A product made from the Empire Rye whiskeys of more than one NY distiller may be created and labeled as “Blended Empire Rye”
Photo Credit: Empire Rye/Facebook

Photo Credit: Empire Rye/Facebook

Empire Rye is not a protected geographical indication, nor is it defined by state or federal law—for now, it remains a trademark and certification mark used by members of the Empire Rye Whiskey Association. But who knows what the future may bring? This is some tasty whiskey.

Examples of Empire Rye are widely available up and down the east coast of the USA. I was also able to locate three examples on retail shelves in central Texas (each bottle I found was priced in the $40 to $50 range). For those in other locations, online retailers or a trip to New York might be your best bet.

Members (and whiskeys) of the Empire Rye Whiskey Association (as of October 2017) include:

References/for more information:

Post authored by Jane A. Nickles, your blog administrator

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Guest Blogger: The Empordà Wine Region (Part Two— The Contemporary History)

Today we have a guest post from Laura Masramon. Ms. Masramon is a personal sommelier and a member of the DO Empordà Wine Route. This is the second part of our two-part series on the wines of the Empordà DO, located on the Mediterranean Coast in Spain’s Costa Brava (Catlonia).  Click here to read the first part of the series: The Ancient History of the Empordà Wine Region.   

Photo via: Ruta del Vi Empordà

Photo via: Ruta del Vi Empordà

After the phylloxera crisis, it took several generations—until the 1930s—for wine-growing in Empordà to begin once again. In the early days, the farmers were hard-pressed for money and had to join forces. This was the origin of the local wine and olive oil cooperatives, some of which are still in operation today and open to public, such as the Celler Cooperatiu d’Espolla (1931), Empordàlia (1947) and Cooperativa Agrícola de Garriguella (1963).

The tourists arrive: With the arrival of the tourist boom in the 1960s, many farmers decided to move to the coast and go into tourism. They left the countryside to create a first-rate tourist destination, the Costa Brava.

Charming restaurants and hotels were built to attract visitors. Nowadays Empordà gastronomy is famous all over the world. Restaurants like El Bulli, run by chef Ferran Adrià, revolutionised modern cuisine for over two decades. Another reference in the area is El Celler de Can Roca (designated “Best Restaurant in the World” in 2013 and 2015 by the British magazine Restaurant. In fact, the province of Girona boasts the highest number of Michelin stars per capita. The best way to enjoy Empordà wines is with the local gastronomy. 

Photo via: Ruta del Vi Empordà

Photo via: Ruta del Vi Empordà

Beginning in the 1990s, a group of young wine experts returned to the farms. Their grandfathers had preserved very old vines, some of which were over a hundred years old. The new generations used these vines and their expertise to create unique, authentic wines. At present their wines are on their way to excellence.

These young oenologists seek to revive the regional varieties to the point of mastering them and understanding them in depth. Thus they obtain wines that express the terroir of the Empordà. They are modern wines but at the same time they speak to us of those 2,700 years of history. Some wineries opt for classic fermentations in stainless-steel vats with ageing in 225-litre and 300-litre oak casks and finish by leaving the wine to rest in bottles with natural corks. Other wineries experiment with methods of fermentation and ageing in amphoras, biodynamic crops and natural wines. 

Tramuntana wines: The DO Empordà is a small area with 2,000 hectares (4,900 acres) of vineyards and some 50 wineries. This part of the country is strongly influenced by a dry wind that comes from the north of Europe, the tramuntana, which batters the vines violently with gusts of up to 120 km (75 miles) per hour. The sea breeze however counteracts its effects and hydrates the grapes, allowing a slower ripening of the fruit and a more balanced vine.

Photo via: Ruta del Vi Empordà

Photo via: Ruta del Vi Empordà

The Empordà DO has a mosaic of different terrains stretching in small vineyards between the Mediterranean Sea and the foothills of the Pyrenees. The soils are predominantly granite and slate, sand and silt. Some vineyards cling to terraces of schists and slate. Others grow on clay, pebbles and gravel. There are vineyards facing north, south, east and west. There are vineyards by the sea, on the Empordà plain or lining the hillsides. In addition to this infinite number of terrains there are a large variety of grapes. The most dominant are Garnacha Blanca, Garnacha Gris, Garnacha Tinta, and Carignan (Mazuelo/Cariñena) , as well as the recently discovered but clearly very old White Carignan (Cariñena Blanca) variety.

The predominant red wines have a bright colour with aromas of ripe fruit; in the mouth they are full-bodied, with round, rich tannins thanks to being aged in barrels. The whites can be light, fresh and perfumed when made with Macabeo or Muscat of Alexandria. They can also be unctuous and warm when made with Garnacha Blanca and Garnacha Gris and fermented in barrels.

Garnatxa de l’Empordà: One of the jewels of Mediterranean culture which has so far been preserved is the traditional Garnatxa de l’Empordà,  a natural sweet wine aged by the solera system (that is, in barrels that are never completely emptied, in which successive grape vintages are blended). These wines are exposed to years of oxidative ageing, yet still retain the acidity and sweetness of the grape. They are exquisite wines, with highly concentrated aromas of candied fruits like vine peaches and dried apricots, nuts like almonds and walnuts, roasted aromas like coffee and reductive aromas like honey. In the area there are wine cellars with very old ageing barrels, with the oldest ones dating back to 1860.

Photo via: Ruta del Vi Empordà

Photo via: Ruta del Vi Empordà

The Empordà DO regulatory council was officially recognized in 1975.  Come visit!

Laura Masramon is Personal Sommelier and member of the DO Empordà Wine Route.  She is also co-director of the wine branding seminars Marca Vi and Vivid Enoconference. More information may be found on her website, Lauramasramon.com.

References/for more information:

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Guest Blogger: The Empordà Wine Region (Part One—The Ancient History)

Cap de Creus

Cap de Creus

Today we have a guest post from Laura Masramon. Ms. Masramon is a personal sommelier and a member of the DO Empordà Wine Route. In this first part of a two-part series, she tells us about the ancient beginnings of the Empordà DO, located on the Mediterranean Coast in Spain’s Costa Brava (Catalonia).

In the far north-eastern tip of Spain—bordering the south of France—there is a natural area formed by the end of the Pyrenees as they disappear into the Mediterranean Sea. At this point of the northern Costa Brava, known as Cap de Creus, the mountains create idyllic little creeks with crystalline, turquoise waters. Between the sea and the mountains lies the Empordà plain. Three natural parks cover much of the area.

Wine has been made in this part of the Mediterranean coast since winemaking first began. However, up until just a few decades ago, most of the wine was sold for local consumption, and Empordà wines were not known outside the region. Nowadays, all that has changed.

The Empordà is an emerging region for both its wines and its wine tourism. Every year there is a rise in the number of new vines planted and old vines recovered, in the number of new wineries and the number of tourists visiting the area that want to taste the new wines.

The Dalí Theater in Figueres, Spain

The Dalí Theater in Figueres, Spain

However, wine is not the Empordà’s only attraction. It is a dream land, a refuge for Catalans seeking inspiration. It is the land of artists like Salvador Dalí, a source of creativity and a place for resting and communing with nature. Despite attracting a large number of tourists, particularly in summer, this region has managed to preserve the beauty of its countryside in the face of urban development. It has small villages that live on tourism, farming and culture.

Greco-Roman wine culture: The origin of the word Empordà comes from the Greek village of Empúries. The archaeological remains of this village have revealed grape seeds from 2,700 years ago as well as commercial letters written on sheets of lead with orders for wine. Wine amphoras have even been found off-shore, onboard sunken ships with the cork stoppers and the wine inside them still intact.

The Romans also inhabited these lands and extended the Empordà wine trade throughout Europe, just as the emperor Marcus Aurelius Probus (232-282 AD) ordered when he said: “may the citizens plant vines and become rich”. Vine growing has always been synonymous with prosperity, culture and wealth.

Even today, a tour of Costa Brava may include a visit to the Greek and Roman ruins of Empúries, an archaeological site from over 2,000 years ago, with remains of trade and vine growing. 

Sant Pere de Rodes-Photo via: Ruta del Vi Empordà

Sant Pere de Rodes-Photo via: Ruta del Vi Empordà

Monasteries, vine terraces and stone wine cellars:  The Greeks and Romans left an indelible mark but their age came to an end. In the Middle Ages, local monks grew vines on the slopes of Cap de Creus, in the surroundings of the magnificent Benedictine monastery of Sant Pere de Rodes (9th-19th centuries). The cultivation of vines on these arid, stony, steep terrains was hard work but the money that they made from selling wine enabled them to be self-sufficient.

The old 17th-century wine cellar at the monastery of Sant Pere de Rodes can still be visited today.

The great wine-growing crisis gave the cork industry a boost: Just before the famous phylloxera plague crossed the Pyrenees and began devastating all the vines, Empordà wine experienced its golden age. The wine was exported to Europe and the former Spanish colonies in America. The arrival of phylloxera, in 1879, brought about the most terrible modern crisis and the villages became impoverished. In place of vines, olive trees and cork oaks were planted. Costa Brava is currently one of the most important regions in the world for the production of corks. One of the most original wine tourism offers is to see cork being collected. This activity only takes place in June and July and is available at certain wineries. 

It took several generations for vines and wine production to return to the region, as we will soon see in part two of this series: The Contemporary History of Empordà Wine. Stay tuned!

About the author: Laura Masramon is Personal Sommelier and member of the DO Empordà Wine Route.  She is also co-director of the wine branding seminars Marca Vi and Vivid Enoconference. For more information on Laura, see her website. 

References/for more information:

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Guest Post: MONTANA—The Last Best Place for Grapes?

Today we have a guest post from Linda Coco, CSW. This is Linda’s second post in a series about Montana wine. (Click here to read the first.) Today, she tells us about her adventure at the Montana Grape and Winery Association’s Conference, and attempts to answer the question: Is Montana the last “best” place for grapes? 

MONTANA! It’s Big Sky Country, the Treasure State, and Land of the Shining Mountains. A river runs through its dense forests. Wheat crops flourish on vast prairies, and cows outnumber people 3 to 1. The fourth largest state in the union is renowned for its glaciers and grizzlies…but grapes? Is Montana the Last Best Place for vineyards?

This is the question I posed to attendees that recently gathered at the Montana Grape and Winery Association conference, now in its third year. This gregarious group of grape growers and winery owners collectively answered a hearty and affirmative YES! And it truly is with affirmative heart that those affiliated with Montana’s promising wine industry perseveringly pursue their passion in a challenging climate where Mother Nature’s dalliances with Father Winter often deliver meteorological mayhem.

Tom Eggensperger (Photo Credit: Linda Coco)

Tom Eggensperger (Photo Credit: Linda Coco)

TOM and BINA EGGENSPERGER of Thompson Falls have been growing grapes since 2010 when they started with 25 vines of Marquette, a crossing with Vitis vinifera and Vitis riparia developed at the University of Minnesota.  In 2012 they added 75 more vines and debuted their first vintage in 2014. 2016 was a banner year with a harvest of 725 pounds, double the amount from the previous year. His label “Silcox” is inspired by Mt. Silcox, a well-known peak in Thompson Falls named after the first regional forester in northwest Montana. The Eggensperger’s winery, GUT CRAIC is an homage to Tom’s German heritage and Bina’s Irish roots. It translates to “Good Fun” and is an apt name that reflects Tom and Bina’s infectious enthusiasm and friendly demeanor.

The Eggensperger’s Silcox is 100% Marquette and their wine embodies the classic profile of the grape which is a grandson of Pinot Noir and a cousin of Frontenac, another cold-hardy grape planted in Montana. The Silcox 2016 is unfiltered and sulfite free. I was enamored with its deep maroon hue, fruity bouquet and high notes of cherry and strawberry punctuated with black pepper and spice. Tom and Bina used a yeast strain to lower acidity then aged the wine for six months in medium toast American oak and a malolactic bacteria inoculation.

After several satisfying sips followed by a flurry of note scribbling, I walked to the next winemaker’s table display. Tom followed me, eyes twinkling, and eagerly asked, “So what did you think of the Silcox?” I answered honestly with a broad smile, totally incapable of maintaining any journalistic neutrality. “It was sensational! I’m impressed!”

Ken Schultz of Hidden Legend Vineyard (photo credit: Lina Coco)

Ken Schultz of Hidden Legend Vineyard (photo credit: Lina Coco)

KEN SCHULTZ of Hidden Legend Winery is a sensation himself. Clad in a kilt and highland boots, he makes quite an impression standing next to his winery’s logo, a burly Viking. Ken launched into the world of wine as a teenager. His uncle, a research scientist, made wine and Ken was so fascinated by the process, he presented his 8th grade science project on fermentation. In 1975, he began making wine as a hobby, sourcing native grapes from the Great Lakes region. In 1979, he and his wife moved to Montana where they began producing mead, eventually including their sons in the business.

Today, in addition to making mead, the Schultz’s make wine sourced from grapes grown in Montana. Their wine line-up features several cold-hardy grapes: Marquette, Frontenac, Frontenac Gris, St. Pepin, Marechal Foch and La Crescent, a relative of St. Pepin. Their catchy labels, savvy marketing and charisma attract a loyal following. But it’s the contents in that alluring bottle that brings in the awards.

One of their award winning wines is Skalkaho White made from St. Pepin grapes in a Rhine off-dry style. The 2014 vintage won a gold medal in the Indy International Wine competition. The 2015 vintage won a silver medal in the Tasters Guild International Wine Judging and a bronze medal in the Finger Lakes International Wine Competition.

Allen Ranch Somerset Wine (photo credit: Linda Coco)

Allen Ranch Somerset Wine (photo credit: Linda Coco)

ROD and LINDA ALLEN, who live just a few miles from the Schultz family, have sold their grapes to the Schultz’s and have partnered with them in producing award winning wines. Their Allen Ranch Somerset wine took 2nd place in the conference’s people choice competition. Though known as a table grape which is cold hardy to -30 degrees, they’ve created a lovely wine from it that is fruity, slightly effervescent, and much like a Riesling in its flavor profile.

Rod is a graduate of University of California, Davis, renowned for its viticulture and enology programs. Linda is his avid vineyard keeper (and wine taster!) and a font of information on cold hardy grapes.

“St. Pepin is not self-pollinating so Frontenac Gris is often chosen to grow alongside St. Pepin since they flower at the same time. Marechal Foch and Marquette grapes are wildly prolific and spread like crazy,” Linda explained, gesturing widely with her arms. “But Petite Pearl is much more mannerly.”

North Slope Vineyard Petite Pearl (photo credit: Linda Coco)

North Slope Vineyard Petite Pearl (photo credit: Linda Coco)

Indeed, the well behaved Petite Pearl is meeting with great success in Montana. SAM and CATHERINE BERGMAN of Billings, Montana, own North Slope Vineyard founded in 2013. The windswept south central portion of the state suffers especially blustery winters, and it was during one of these challenging seasons that Sam delved into research about growing grapes. On his in-law’s plot of land, he was determined to show Mother Nature who’s boss.

“My goal is making a great quality wine,” stated Sam as I savored North Slope Vineyard’s 2016 Petite Pearl. As first time conference attendees, Sam and Catherine were unaware that they needed to bring several bottles for the competition. I was fortunate to sample the last few drops from the last of the two bottles they had brought as Catherine quipped, “Don’t you love our fancy label?”

Never judge a book by its cover, as the adage goes, and indeed I was quite impressed with the complexity of their wine. A medley of blackberry, raspberry, leather and chocolate sang on the palate in perfect harmony.

It’s no surprise that Sam and Catherine took the People’s Choice first place award in the red category. What perhaps came as a surprise was how impressed I was at the caliber of wine presented at the conference. Montana is better known for its craft beer and microbreweries which understandably take the limelight. But stay tuned! Montana is gearing up to make its mark in the wine world.

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Linda Coco, CSW

This won’t be the last word from the Last Best Place!

Linda Coco, CSW is a “Roads Scholar” with a passion for road-tripping across the great state of Montana and beyond, learning all she can about the people and places she explores. When not behind the wheel, she enjoys cooking, writing, and hosting wine tastings for her vivacious group of oenophile friends, “The Wining Women of Whitefish”. She’s a self-proclaimed “edutainer”, aiming to entertain while educating, because learning about wine ought to be fun! Share in the fun at her blog, “It’s a WINEderful Life.”

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

 

Guest Post: Montana Wine’s Fantastic Five

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Today we have a guest post from Linda Coco, CSW. Linda tells use about five specialists—from plant researchers to extension agents to cold-climate grape experts—she dubs the “Divine Wine Super Heroes” of Montana’s growing wine industry. After you read her article, I am sure you will agree!

Montana sits between the 45th and 49th parallel north, just within the temperate latitude for vineyard planting. But because of its short growing season and harsh winter temperatures (snow has been recorded every month of the year), grapes are slow to ripen and are at risk of winter kill. Vineyards are concentrated in Northwest Montana, many hugging the pristine shores of Flathead Lake, the largest freshwater lake west of the Mississippi. Thanks to the lake’s moderating influence and the surrounding slopes of the Mission and Salish Mountains, Mother Nature’s temperature tantrums are tempered. Other vineyards are nestled in “banana belts” where warmer temperatures and lower elevations provide a more hospitable environment.

While Montana grape growers in the roughly 45 vineyards across the state have each carved out their ideal geographical niches, they have consulted with specialists to help hone their craft and guide their endeavors. I’ve dubbed these experts the DIVINE VINE SUPER HEROES, the caped grape crusaders who are noted scholars in their respective fields. They wield their collective expertise, granting grape growers the extra edge needed to maintain viable vineyards in cold climates.

Dr. Patricia McGlynn (photo courtesy Dr. Patricia McGlynn)

Dr. Patricia McGlynn (photo courtesy Dr. Patricia McGlynn)

PATRICIA McGLYNN, the Montana State University extension agent for Flathead County, is the GRAPE GROWER GURU. Instrumental in forming a grape grower advisory panel which evolved into the Montana Grape and Winery Association, she also wrote and was awarded two grants to establish the Cold Hardy Wine Grape Trials in 2011. Four plots were planted to test 10 wine grape and 2 table grape varieties. The research trial just concluded providing helpful data on the feasibility of establishing a viable grape industry in the state.

ZACH MILLER is an assistant professor and superintendent of the Montana State University’s Western Agricultural Research Center located in Corvallis, Montana. He has traveled the globe conducting research in plant and pest ecology. His mission is to serve agricultural producers in his region, guiding them in the latest technology and methods of producing high-value specialty crops. His role as the AMAZING AG ADVOCATE is a bounteous boost to local grape growers.

Larry Robertson (photo credit: Linda Coco)

Larry Robertson (photo credit: Linda Coco)

LARRY ROBERTSON, a soil conservationist for the Natural Resources Conservation Service, is also a grape grower and vineyard owner in Polson, Montana. He has been working closely with Dr. Miller at the Western Ag Research Center on the technical aspects of cold-hardy grape growing. In addition, he provides technical and financial assistance to Montana grape producers. He advocates careful irrigation and water management in successfully growing grapes in the state’s challenging terroir. His expertise and incessant practice of his craft deems him the SAGE OF SOIL.

HARLENE HATTERMAN-VALENTI, a professor at North Dakota State University, has conducted research on cold-hardy grape varieties since 2001 when the ND state legislature allowed for commercial wineries. Though her emphasis is on weed science and not plant pathology, she is a veritable GRAPE DISEASE SLAYER for her astute diagnosis and treatment of the most common Montana vineyard ailments: black rot, powdery mildew and downy mildew.

Linda Coco and Tom Plocher

Linda Coco and Tom Plocher (photo credit: Linda Coco)

TOM PLOCHER, co-author of the book, Northern Winework: Growing Grapes and Making Wine in Cold Climates, is the GRAPEVINE WHISPERER. A retired staff scientist at the corporate laboratory of Honeywell International, he mentored under the venerable Elmer Swenson, the pioneering cold-hardy grape breeder. Tom now devotes his time to creating cold-hardy wine grapes in Hugo, Minnesota, ravaged by winters even more wretched than Montana’s. His Petite Pearl, Crimson Pearl, and Verona grapes were bred to hold dormancy with delayed bud break and are being successfully grown in Montana vineyards.

Both Tom and Larry conducted a pruning workshop during the conference. Larry recently took over a vineyard on Finley Point in Polson, Montana. Believed to be one of the oldest Montana vineyards originally planted with Pinot grapes, Larry is now nurturing Marquette, Verona and Petite Pearl grapes. Tom advised the workshop attendees in how to best prune these cold hardly grape varieties and was bold enough to hand a brown thumb like me, a.k.a. the Serial Plant Killer, a pair of pruning shears!

Patricia, Zach, Larry, Harlene and Tom are the FANTASTIC FIVE of Montana’s up-and-coming grape industry. Montana’s climate would otherwise be the wrath of grapes if not for the expertise of these grape crusaders. They indeed are a treasure of the Treasure State. Paired with the passion of Montana’s vineyard owners and winemakers, the Big Sky Country has the potential for making a big mark in the wine world.

The grape growers and winery owners certainly sing the praises of the FANTASTIC FIVE and I in turn praise the growers’ and winery owners’ dedication and dogged devotion to their dream of nurturing great grapes destined for great wine. Coming from all walks of life and seasons in life, many of them husband/wife dynamic duos, I was duly impressed with their craft. Because my educational focus is more on the “A.D.” side of the industry – ACTUAL DRINKING, I was delighted to macerate in the “B.C.” angle of wine – BEFORE CONSUMPTION.

coco rose 4Linda Coco, CSW is a “Roads Scholar” with a passion for road-tripping across the great state of Montana and beyond, learning all she can about the people and places she explores. When not behind the wheel, she enjoys cooking, writing, and hosting wine tastings for her vivacious group of oenophile friends, “The Wining Women of Whitefish”. She’s a self-proclaimed “edutainer”, aiming to entertain while educating, because learning about wine ought to be fun! Share in the fun at her blog, “It’s a WINEderful Life”.

Stay tuned later this week when Linda sends us an update from the third Annual Conference of the Montana Grape and Wine Association. She’ll introduce us to a kilt-and-highland boot wearing winemaker, a wine named Gut Craic (“Good Fun”), and a grape known as Petite Pearl.

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Rioja Rocks on! Village-specific Wines Approved for the Rioja DOCa…

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The Rioja DOCa has taken another step in its process of modernizing its wine regulations as well as allowing for more information, particularly involving geographical indications, on the labels of its finest wines. This process came to light last June when the Consejo Regulador  de la Denominación de Origen Rioja approved wines of  Viñedos Singulares, effectively allowing the wines of the region to be labeled with the name of a specific (“singular”) vineyard.

As of August 11 (2017), another change has been confirmed with the approval of the use of specific pueblo (village) names as well. Wines produced from the grapes of a specific village will be known as Vinos de Pueblo. Vinos de Pueblo will be required to be labeled under a unique brand name to differentiate them from a producer’s standard Rioja DOCa wines. According to the Drinks Business website, the first three villages to be approved for use as Vinos de Pueblo are Samaniego, San Vicente, and Haro.

In addition, the sub-zones of the Rioja DOCa, well-known to wine students as the Rioja Alta, Rioja Alavesa, and Rioja Baja, will now be known as simply “zones” (zonas). The standards for the use of a  zone-indication on a wine label have also been loosened a bit—a minimum of 85% of the grapes are now required to be grown in the specified zone.

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In summary, the wines of the Rioja DOCa are now allowed to labeled with the following geographic  information:

  • Specific zone (Rioja Alta, Rioja Alavesa, Rioja Baja)
  • Approved single estate/vineyard (Viñedo Singular)
  • Specific village (Vinos de Pueblo)— Samaniego, San Vicente, or Haro

Click here for a nice infographic representing the hierarchy of these new categories: La Nueva Clasificacion de Vinos de Rioja

As of the August changes, Quality Sparkling Wines are now approved for production under the Rioja DOCa, with details on production requirements to follow. And…the changes are still coming, as a revision in the definition for the use of the aging terms Reserva and Gran Reserva is scheduled to come into effect in early 2019.

References/for more information:

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

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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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