The Georgia of Wine and Walnuts

Traditional carved wooden balconies in the Old Town of Tbilisi, Georgia

Traditional carved wooden balconies in the Old Town of Tbilisi, Georgia

Today we have a guest post from renowned Wine and Spirits Educator Harriet Lembeck. Read on to hear about Harriet’s recent wine trip to the Republic of Georgia! 

If you really care about wine, you should think seriously about making the journey to the country of Georgia. You will experience true hospitality, tradition, wine-making, and still be close enough to the Black Sea’s famed resorts when you are ready to relax. And if you like to ski, there are the slopes of the Caucasus Mountains right there as well.

FYI, I have just returned from a visit, and saw no sign of any of the unrest that’s been in the news lately. There is instead a sense of calm and welcoming.

To the Georgians, a guest is a gift from God. And the best way to greet a guest is to serve one’s own wine, made from one’s own grapes. No patch of land goes vacant, and grapes grow on what elsewhere might be a lawn. Further, every home winemaker has a still, and he will also pour you his clear pomace brandy, or Chacha.

If you go to a Georgian banquet, dishes will be continually placed on the table, and nothing will be cleared until the end — in case the guest might want a little more of anything! Walnuts are the preferred stuffing for confections, fruits, vegetables and even boned fish. Meals are leavened with toasts. The toastmaster shows gratitude for the Creator, for food, for friendships, for all the women, for beauty, for love, for people who have passed away, and for the children looking to the future.

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Historical Significance

Georgia is referred to as the “Cradle of Wine,” as wine has been made there continuously for the last 8,000 years (The Georgians say “8,000 Vintages”). There was very early winemaking in Greece, Cyprus, Turkey, Crimea, Armenia and Moldava, but all evidence points to at least 6,000 BCE, if not before, for the first propagation of wine grapes — in Georgia — in the Fertile Crescent.

Records show 525 grape varieties, including clones, of which 440 are still in use. Do not despair — even if you go there and taste a lot of wines, you are not likely to come across more than twenty, if that many. The white Rkatsiteli and the red Saperavi are the most prevalent, but you may see some international varieties as well.

Historically, this tradition was interrupted for about seventy years, when Russia took over between 1921 and 1991. The Russians knew that banning the production of wine was hopeless in Georgia. “Georgia is synonymous with wine,” it is said. But with wine permitted, the Russians were more interested in high volume than in quality, and after three generations, much of the fine wine tradition was lost. Many of today’s winemakers are now working to restore it.

The city center of Tbilisi

The city center of Tbilisi

There are 10 main wine regions in Georgia, which contain 18 smaller Protected Denominations of Origin (PDOs). The majority of wineries and growers are in the Kakheti Valley, very close to Tbilisi. Going from east to west, you will pass through Imereti and other central and western wine regions. Summers are hot, but spring or fall are perfect times to visit.

Your first stop should be Tbilisi, and once there, you should go to the Vino Underground Wine Bar, which has the largest selection of organic and/or “bio” Georgian wines. Also go to the Azarpesha Wine Restaurant, named for a long-handled drinking bowl, for a traditional meal. You may meet partner and ex-pat American John Wurdeman in either place. He is an articulate moving force in reclaiming Georgian traditions in wine, food, polyphonic music and dance, and is also the founder of Pheasant’s Tears Winery. 

All About Qvervis

Wine has been traditionally fermented and aged in qvevris (kvevris), or large clay pots that are bur ied in the earth. They are shaped something like Roman amphorae, but the amphorae re- main above ground. When people buy older houses, it is not unusual to lift up the floor- boards and find buried qvevris below. Many winemakers are using qvevris now, though some do use stainless steel or oak barrels, and some use both. To learn about qvevris, you should not miss a visit to Twins Old Cellar in Napareuli Village in the Telavi district. I dubbed it “Qvevri School.” The twin brothers have set up an oversized qvevri display to honor their parents.

Previously, the Soviets had taken over their winery, and their father died in prison. The property was eventually returned.  They have made an outdoor room-sized qvevri, reached by a ladder. Once inside, you feel as if you are standing in an enormous qvevri. The clay walls are marked showing levels of internal activity as a wine ages and solids reach the

Georgian Qvervi - Photo by By Levan Totosashvili, via Wikimedia Commons

Georgian Qvervi – Photo by By Levan Totosashvili, via Wikimedia Commons

bottom of this curve-sided vessel. The twins have 107 qvevris in use, restoring a tradition that was almost lost. [Note: Besides creating a wine museum, they also have a dozen guest rooms, should you decide to visit and stay over.] With renewed interest in ovoid, clay fermenters, some qvevris are being produced in the United States. A Texan, Billy Ray Mangham of Sleeping Dog Pottery and his team, have a “Qvevri Project.” Andrew Beckham, a potter and winemaker in Oregon has his own “Amphorae Project.” Also, a potter on the outskirts of Austria is now making qvevris. Further, there is increased experimentation with ‘the concrete egg’ – concrete egg-shaped tanks made in Burgundy. The Emiliana Vineyards, from Chile, has made a very big investment in them for their winery in Casablanca.

Among other sites, concrete eggs are used in the Glenora Winery, the first Farm Winery in the Finger Lakes, NY. In 2013, UNESCO recognized qvevris and qvevri-winemaking, and placed them on the “Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.” Qvevris last for a very long time. They are not discarded when they are no longer useful, but are respectfully leaned against garden walls.

Inspired to visit? Click here to download some  Tips for a Successful Wine Trip to the Republic of Georgia from Harriet Lembeck

HarrietHARRIET LEMBECK, CWE, CSS, is a prominent wine and spirits educator. She is president of the renowned 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 may be contacted at hlembeck@mindspring.com.

This article was originally published in the article was originally published in
Beverage Dynamics Magazine - reprinted with permission!

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

Flash Détente: Making Red Wine Redder

Brenda flash 2Today we have a guest post from Brenda Audino, CWE. Brenda tells us about her brush with Flash Détente – very interesting!

I recently tasted a modest (read inexpensive) wine that had a bright purple hue and Jolly Rancher fruit aromas.  I enquired whether the wine had undergone Carbonic Maceration as it seemed to fit that profile.  It was explained to me that although the results are similar, this particular wine was produced using Flash Détente technology.  Being ever curious, I wondered what is Flash Détente; when, why and how is it used in the wine production.

To explain Flash Détente, we need to understand that one of the principal goals in producing red wine is the extraction of color and flavor from the skins.  This extraction is usually achieved by a combination of maceration and fermentation. Here is a review of three popular means for extraction including the new (to me) Flash Détente.

Classic maceration is achieved at low temperatures of 24-32°C (75-90°F) requiring extended contact between the juice and grape skins.  The fermentation process, while producing alcohol, also extracts the polyphenols from the skins.  One of the byproducts of fermentation is the release of CO2 which raises the skins to the surface forming a floating cap.  This floating cap is subject to acetic bacteria as well as other contaminates and, if left exposed to the air, can turn the entire batch into vinegar.  A floating cap also does nothing to extract further color and flavors into the juice.  It is therefore necessary to mix the skins back into the juice by one of many processes (punch down, pump over, rack and return, etc.)

Thermo-vinification uses heat to extract color and flavors from the skins.  The crushed grapes are heated to 60-75°C (140-167°F) for 20 to 30 minutes.  The must is then cooled down to fermentation temperature.  This process gives intensely colored must because the heat weakens the cell walls of the grape skins enabling the anthocyanins to be easily extracted.  This process can result in the wine having a rather “cooked” flavor.

Brenda flash 1While I was researching these technologies, I recalled a previous visit to Château de Beaucastel where I learned that make their iconic wine using a modified process of Thermo-vinification.  At Château de Beaucastel, the grapes are de-stemmed and the uncrushed grapes are passed rapidly through a heat exchanger at 90°C (194°F) which only heats the surface of the grapes, not the juice.  The heat is sufficient to weaken the cell wall of the grape skins enabling for easier extraction of anthocyanins, since the juice is kept cool the wine is less likely to have any cooked flavors due to this modified process.

Flash Détente is essentially an evolution of the traditional thermo-vinification method.  The process involves a combination of heating the grapes to about 82°C (180°F) and then sending them into a huge vacuum chamber where they are cooled.  During this cooling process the cells of the grape skins burst from the inside making a distinct popping noise.   Similar to traditional thermo-vinification, this process enables better extraction of anthocyanins and flavor compounds.

The Flash Détente process creates a steam that is diverted to a condenser.  This steam is loaded with aromatic compounds including pyrazines (vegetal, green pepper and asparagus).  Because vapor is removed, the sugar level increases in the remaining must.  The winemaker can choose to work with the higher sugar levels or dilute back down by adding water.  Most winemakers discard the condensation or “Flash Water” as the aromatics are usually highly disagreeable.   The winemaker now has multiple choices.  The flashed grapes can be pressed and fermented similar to white wine, the must can be fermented with the skins in the more traditional red wine production manner, or the flashed grapes can be added to non-flashed must that underwent classic maceration and then co-fermented.

Flash technology differs from traditional thermo-vinification because the traditional method does not involve a vacuum and there is no flash water waste produced.  Winemakers who are familiar with both methods have noted that the tannin extraction with thermo-vinification is less than Flash Détente.  Winemakers also note that Flash technology is better for removing pyrazine aromas.

Brenda flash 3In Europe during the early years of flash technology, it was mainly used for lower quality grapes or difficult vintages that had problems needing fixed.  Now the use of this technology is expanding its application to all quality levels of the wine industry.

According to Linda Bisson, a professor of viticulture and enology at UC Davis and one of the researchers working on the project, enologists are looking at what characteristics are lost or retained per grape variety.  They are also looking at the character and structure of tannins in flashed wines.  Bisson states that turning flashed grapes into a standalone wine is possible, but most winemakers see it as a tool for creating blends.  “It’s something on your spice rack to blend back in.”

The use of Flash Détente can be surmised as “It’s an addition to traditional winemaking, not a replacement.”

What are your thoughts on technology in the wine industry?  Does technology improve the wine or make it more homogenous?  

Photos and post by Brenda Audino, CWE. After a long career as a wine buyer with win Liquors in Austin, Texas, Brenda has recently moved to Napa, California (lucky!) where she runs the Spirited Grape wine consultancy business. Brenda is a long-time member of SWE and has attended many conferences – be sure to say “hi” at this year’s conference in NOLA!

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

One More for the Rhône

Vineyards in Cairanne - photo by Samuel Lavoie via Wikimedia Commons

Vineyards in Cairanne – photo by Samuel Lavoie via Wikimedia Commons

Earlier this month, the INAO approved a new AOC in the southern Rhône, to be known as AOC Cairanne. Winemakers are expected to be able to use the designation starting with the 2015 vintage.

Carianne was formerly one of the 18 or so villages that were entitled to append the name of their village onto the Côtes du Rhône-Villages designation. The region is known for red, white, and rosé wines produced from the typical blend of southern Rhône varieties (min. 50% Grenache + min. 20% combined Syrah/ Mourvèdre for reds and rosés;  min. 80% any blend of Grenache blanc, Clairette, Marsanne, Roussanne, Bourboulenc, or Viognier for the whites.)

The new AOC regulations will require hand harvesting and sorting either in the vineyard or the winery, and a organics-level maximum level of added sulfites. The new designation is yet to be approved by the EU, however, no obvious obstacles are expected.

Have You Heard About Furmint?

Today we have a guest post from renowned Wine and Spirits Educator Harriet Lembeck. Read on to hear Harriet’s take on Furmint!

If you haven’t already heard about Furmint – Furmint is the grape that makes the famed sweet wine Toakaji.

Aszu (‘dried up’ or ‘dried out’) grapes

Aszu (‘dried up’ or ‘dried out’) grapes

When Samuel Tinon, a sweet-wine maker in Bordeaux, decided to move to the Tokaji region of Hungary, he was ready to make wine from its Aszu (‘dried up’ or ‘dried out’) Furmint grapes — grapes attacked by the desirable botrytis cinerea, or noble rot. These grapes are so concentrated that they have to soak in vats of young wine to dissolve their flavors. But when Tinon moved to Tokaji, botrytis was decreasing in his newly chosen region.

Expecting to make Aszu wines at least three times in a decade, the number of opportunities dropped to a little more than two times in a decade, and sometimes less than that. Due to climate change, a great deal of rain meant either no crop at all (as happened in 2010), or harvesting all of the Furmint grapes earlier — not waiting in the hopes of harvesting Aszu grapes — and therefore making dry white wines from earlier-picked grapes instead.

Asked about an apparent climate change, Tinon says: “We can’t see warming. What we see are erratic vintages with severe or extreme conditions — hot or cold, wet or dry. In the past, Tokaji Aszu was harvested at the end of October and the beginning of November, with botrytis and high sugars. This is still happening, but more often we have to change our production to dry Furmint wines without botrytis with an earlier September harvest, bigger crop, more security, more reliability and with a chance to get your money back.”

Tokaji vineyardWith winters becoming a bit warmer like in 2014, the fruit-fly population is able to ‘over-winter,’ and begin reproducing very early in the season, causing the spread of bad rot. This was told to me by Ronn Wiegand, MW, MS and Publisher of ‘Restaurant Wine,’ who is making wine with his father-in-law in Tokaji.

Ironically, Comte  Alexandre de Lur Saluces, owner of Château de Fargues and former co-owner of the fabled Château d’Yquem, said that although his area is getting warmer and drier, he feels that “global warming could be a help for Sauternes, and enable any of those who chaptalize these wines to avoid the practice.” He continues, “Many people in Sauternes are  producing dry white wines. Their production is increasing, and even Château d’Yquem is producing more dry wine.”

Hungarian winemakers from Tokaji are increasing dry white wine production as well. A new website, www.FurmintUSA.com, was created by 12 member wineries that presented a Furmint tasting in Sonoma, CA in November 2014. The Blue Danube Wine Company, which imports many wines from all over Hungary, has six producers from Tokaji that are producing dry Furmint wines (many from single vineyards). Martin Scott Wines imports Royal Tokaji’s dry Furmint wine, coming from the company co-founded by Hugh Johnson and Ben Howkins, in London. These wines are all delicious, showcasing the minerality of volcanic soil.

Considering that in 2014, Hungary abolished the categories of Tokaji Aszu 3 and 4 Puttonyos (baskets of Aszu grapes), leaving only the sweeter 5 and 6 Puttonyos examples, the door has been opened for Dry Szamorodni. This rich, dry white (amber colored) wine produced from Furmint grapes has a portion of grapes which have some botrytis co-fermented to dryness, and also uses some flor yeast, giving the wine some fino or amontillado Sherry-like flavors.

This wine is very laborious and time consuming to produce. The 2007 Tinon Dry Szamorodni is the current vintage in the market, released after a minimum of 5 years of aging. This is a unique wine, a keeper, and is important to the history of Tokaji, linking the modern dry wines to the traditional Aszu wines.

If you haven’t tried it – you should!

HarrietHARRIET LEMBECK, CWE, CSS, is a prominent wine and spirits educator. She is president of the renowned 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 may be contacted at hlembeck@mindspring.com.

This article was originally published in the article was originally published in
Beverage Dynamics Magazine - reprinted with permission!

Oregon, Washington, and the AVA Shuffle: It’s Complicated.

It's complicatedWinemakers in Oregon rejoiced on February 6, 2015, when the TTB finally approved the The Rocks District of Milton-Freewater AVA in Umatilla County, Oregon.  The Rocks, as you may recall, is a tiny area located entirely within the large, dual-state (Oregon/Washington) Walla Walla Valley AVA – however, it resides 100% within the state of Oregon.

During the public comment period for the approval of the AVA, it became clear that most of the wineries that grow grapes within the new AVA are actually located across the state line in Walla Walla, Washington – which makes sense, as Walla Walla is only about 10 miles away.

Keep in mind that The Rocks District of Milton-Freewater AVA is a single-state AVA, located entirely in Oregon. Here’s where it gets interesting:  under current TTB labeling requirements, even if 100% of the grapes in a particular wine are grown in The Rocks District, if the wine is produced at a winery located just ten miles away but in Washington State, the wine will not be allowed to use The Rocks District AVA as its region of origin. This is due to the current law that states that in order use an AVA as a wine’s appellation of origin, the wine must  “be fully manufactured and finished within the State containing the named region.”

The TTB – bless their hearts – have determined that this is indeed a problem.  Several commenters stated that it makes no sense that they could truck their grapes 200 miles away to a winery facility in Oregon and use The Rocks AVA, but if they truck their grapes 10 miles north to their winery in Walla Walla, they cannot.  In response, the TTB “determined that the concerns raised in the comments have merit.”

Therefore, the  TTB has proposed an amendment to its regulations in order to allow wines to be labeled with a single-State AVA name as an appellation of origin if the wine was fully finished either within the State in which the AVA is located or within an adjacent State.

This proposed rule is now up for public comment, and will remain so until April 10. At that point, the proposed rule will – or will not – move forward to the next stage! The outcome is yet to be seen, and as we know – it’s complicated.

You can read the details of the proposed change on the TTB website

Post authored by Jane A. Nickles, your blog administrator

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The Vodka War

Vodka and red caviarPlease don’t throw sour grapes at me for saying this: it is merely a quote. But here goes, “Would the French like Champagne to be distilled from plums, and would the British accept whisky from apricots?”

The answer is “obviously not” – but the question was asked in earnest by Richard Henry Czarnecki, a member of the European Parliament representing Poland. The time was 2007, and the occasion was the end of a heated debate in what is now known as “The Vodka War.”

Vodka has, for centuries, been produced and consumed by the countries of the “vodka belt” – Poland, Belarus, Ukraine, and Russia; the Baltic States of Latvia, Estonia, and Lithuania; and the Nordic states of Finland, Sweden, Norway, and Iceland – many of whom are now members of the EU. These vodkas are traditionally made from grains or potatoes, with the majority made from a mix of grains; and some of the finest examples are made from potatoes – particularly Poland’s unique, high-starch Stobrawa  variety.

Then along came Cîroc – a unique French beverage distilled from grapes, produced in a neutral style, and branded as vodka. In response, the European Union proposed to revise their regulations on distilled spirits, and split the vodka product group into several categories based on raw materials and in some cases, flavor.

European ParliamentThis did not go over well with some members, and on February 20, 2006, Poland – with the backing of the EU vodka belt countries and Germany – demanded that the EU definition of “vodka” be restricted to those spirits produced from grains, potatoes, or sugar beets.  Vodka, they claimed, was entitled to the same protections as to base ingredients and manufacturing processes as those awarded whiskies and brandies, and as such, should be granted the same assurances as to the quality and originality of the product.

Alas, this was not met without resistance, and the other EU producers of vodka, such as France and the UK, not to mention the non-traditional vodka producers of the rest of the world, countered with an argument that said that such restrictions would dissuade innovation and competition, and could be seen as an attempt to monopolize the vodka market by the Vodka Belt countries. The United States even threatened a trade war via the World Trade Organization.

Horst Schenllhardt, MEP from Germany, suggested a compromise: the EU definition of vodka could be written so as to include those products distilled from (1) cereals and/or potatoes, and/or those produced from (2) “other agricultural raw materials.” Those vodkas produced from “other agricultural raw materials” – such as grapes, carrots, or onions – must be labeled with a statement “produced from grapes” (or whatever the raw material may be). This proposal, referred to as the “The Schnellhardt Compromise,” passed, and is the law of the European Union today.

The Vodka Belt

The Vodka Belt

Poland, however, is not appeased and has responded by forming the Polish Vodka Association. The PVA, under the leadership of President Andrzej Szumowski, vows to protect the legacy of Polish Vodka. As of January 13th, 2013, a Polish law was passed defining Polish vodka as a product made exclusively in Poland, from Polish-grown grains or potatoes. Bottles meeting these criteria will be able to display a “Polska Wódka/Polish Vodka” symbol on their labels, as well as the official PGI for Polish Vodka.

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

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

 

 

 

 

Welcome to the World, Fountaingrove District AVA!

Figure 16-13 Sonoma County

One more AVA for Sonoma County!

Last Wednesday – on February 18, 2015 -  the TTB issued a final ruling authorizing the Fountaingrove District Viticultural Area in Sonoma County. The new AVA covers 38,000 acres, of which 500 acres are currently planted to vines.

The AVA is located northeast of the city of Santa Rosa. The name “Fountaingrove” was proven to have a historical connection to the region – although not because it is currently the name of a housing district in the area. It turns out that, in the late 1800s, northern California was something of a haven for religious and utopian experimentation. As such, a gentleman named Thomas Lake Harris, who called himself the leader of the “Brotherhood of the New Life,” established a utopian community in Sonoma County, and named it Fountaingrove. The community thrived for a while, largely due to the success of the Fountain Grove Winery, but was exposed as “scandalous” in 1891, when Alzire Chevallier, a journalist for the San Francisco Chronicle, secretly joined the group and then wrote a scathing article about the group’s “practices.”

As for the new version of the Fountaingrove District – that of Sonoma County’s newest AVA – it stretches somewhat from the Russian River Valley in the west, through Chalk Hill and to the border between Napa and Sonoma. As soon as an official map is released, we’ll update our CSW maps as well.

Welcome to the world, Fountaingrove District AVA!

You can read the pertinent details on the TTB website.

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

 

 

The Toe, the Shin, and the Heel – all at Vino 2015!

today we have a guest blog from Sharron McCarthy who was lucky enough to attend Vino 2015 last week! Read on for a first-hand account!

sharronLast week the Italian Trade Commission welcomed wine writers, retailers, restaurateurs, distributors and winemakers from all over the world to Vino 2015 – Italian Wine Week. Touted as the “grandest Italian Wine Event Held Outside of Italy,” the event hosted over 200 producers and importers from some of Italy’s most important viticultural regions, with a focus on Southern Italian wines.  Over 60 Italian wine producers were part of the Vino Direct program, debuting a vast selection of wines available for the first time in the United States.

Vino 2015 was filled with seminars, tastings, and events highlighting the extraordinary wines of Italy -including the lesser appreciated (but magnificent) wines of Calabria, Campania, Puglia and Sicilia. These regions form the lower portion of the country, and are often described as the toe, shin, and heel of the “Italian boot.”

We learned that 90% of the land of Calabria – the toe of the Italian boot – is mountainous with steep hills. This rugged terrain does not prevent the mysterious Gaglioppo grape (possibly indigenous or possibly of Greek origin) from producing delightful reds like Cirò as well as a rare mountain red wine known as Savuto DOC.  Dry white wines from Calabria are generally based on the Greco grape variety – the gift of the Greeks – as is the rare, sweet appassimento wine produced from it known as Greco di Bianco.

Campania – the shin of the boot – is also known as “Campania Felix” or “The Happy Countryside.” Campania offers us wines produced from her splendid volcanic soils.  Founded as a Greek colony in the 8th century BC, the Greeks brought vines to Campania that live on today as the white grape varieties known as Falanghina and Greco. Campania is also known for another capativating white variety known as Coda di Volpe – the “Tail of the Fox.” The grape is said to be so named as the clusters of grapes  form a shape that reminds one of the tail of the fox! A wine sometimes referred to as the  “Barolo of the South” is produced here as well – but you might know it better as the great Taurasi, born of the  Aglianico grape variety (the Italianized name for Hellenico).

ItalyPuglia – the heel of the boot – is home to a sun-drenched coast and two seas, the Adriatic and the Ioanian!  Puglia’s wines benefit from the brilliant sun and sweeping sea breezes.  Most of the leading red wines of Publia include a at least a portion of Primitivo – so named as it matures earlier than the other leading red grapes of the region such as Uva di Troia and NegroAmaro.  Intriguing but obscure white grapes like Impigno, Verdeca and Asprino are found in this beguiling region.

Sicilian wines have long been popular throughout the world. This triangle-shaped island, the largest in the Mediterranean, boasts more than 32 different grape varieties.  The Arab conquest of this seductive island left it with a sweet tooth and magnificent, sweet wines to satisfy it. Some of the well-known sweet wines of Sicily include Marsala, Malvasia delle Lipari and luscious versions of Moscato.  Catarrato, Inzolia, and Grecanico are prominent whites while reds such as Nero d’Avola, Nerello Mascalese and Frappato have quite a following.  In the 1990′s grapes like Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah and Chardonnay made their way to this ancient land and have inspired new traditions for modern tastes.

For more information on the wines featured at this event as well as producers seeking importers, please visit the website of Vino 2015 here. 

Our guest blogger, Sharron McCarthy, CSW, is the Vice President of Wine Education for Banfi Vintners, as well as being a past president and current Director Emeritus of the Society of Wine Educators.

Following the Rocks: The Making of an AVA

Rocks NewIt seems that new AVAs are popping up all over – from the 11 new AVAs within Paso Robles late last year, to wines being produced using the latest when did that happen AVA.  It led me to wonder: Just what is the process to create a new AVA?

To start my research, I did a quick read of the “Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) American Viticultural Area (AVA) Manual for Petitioners.” Trust me on this – its heavy on the legalese so I read it – so you don’t have to!

Here are the basics:

The Law: The Federal Alcohol Administration Act (FAA Act) authorizes the Secretary of the Treasury to prescribe regulations for the labeling of wine, distilled spirits, and malt beverages.  The FAA Act provides that any such regulations should, among other things, prohibit consumer deception and the use of misleading statements on labels and provide the consumer with adequate information as to the identity and quality of the label product.  This includes the regulations pertaining to the establishment of American Viticultural Areas (AVA) and the use of AVA names on wine labels.

The Definition: As defined by the TTB, an AVA is a distinct grape-growing region having distinguishing features, a name, and a delineated boundary established by the TTB.  The use of an AVA name on a label allows vintners and consumers to attribute a given quality, reputation, or other characteristic of a wine made from grapes grown in a certain area to its geographical origin.

The Steps: Anyone can petition for a new AVA, but there are specific steps and criteria involved.

  • Name Evidence – the proposed name must directly relate to the proposed AVA location, but avoid conflict from similar geographical locations or existing brand names.
  • Boundary Evidence – explain why the boundary of the proposed AVA is drawn the way it is.
  • Distinguishing Features – explain the distinguishing features of the proposed AVA that supports the name and boundary of the AVA.
  • If the proposed AVA is located within an existing AVA, the proposed AVA must identify attributes that are consistent with the existing AVA, but also explain how the proposed AVA is distinct from the existing AVA to warrant recognition as a separate AVA.

The Petition: Once the TTB receives the petition they determine if it meets all the above requirements as well as sufficient evidence to authorize a new AVA. The petition is then published and the public is invited to comment on the proposed AVA.  This period of comment usually lasts about 60 days.  Once closed the TTB takes these comments into consideration prior to the final ruling.

Oregon updated Feb 2015The AVA petitioning and rulemaking process frequently takes multiple years to complete.

So now that we have covered the basics, I wanted to take a closer look at a proposed AVA , The Rocks District of Milton-Freewater and follow its process.

Proposed AVA “The Rocks District of Milton-Freewater”

First a review of the official “Petition to establish The Rocks District of Milton-Freewater.”

The Proposal: The proposed establishment of The Rocks District of Milton-Freewater AVA was first posted on February 26, 2014.  This new proposed AVA encompasses 3770 acres that feature very rocky soils.  The area currently contains approximately 250 acres of vineyards and three wineries.

The Evidence: The Name evidence is covered with “The Rocks District of Milton-Freewater” that locally refers to the cobblestone rich vineyard soils of the Walla Walla River alluvial fan known as “The Rocks.” I found it interesting that not only were publications submitted as evidence, but also numerous internet sources.

The Boundary evidence was devised to enclose the central part of the Walla Walla River alluvial fan that features this unique basalt cobblestone soil.  Within the proposed AVA boundary, the cobblestones appear readily at the surface whereas areas outside the proposed AVA boundary the soil is typically silt loam without cobblestones.

The Distinguishing feature must be the rockiness of the soils.  It is stated that 97% of the ground within the AVA boundary are fist-sized, river-smoothed basalt cobblestones.  These stones stretch down several hundred feet and are so heavy and densely packed that crowbars are needed to plant vines.  Back in 2009 when I was in Walla Walla there was great excitement by the winemakers about the quality of fruit they were getting from “The Rocks”.  The official petition states that the area has been famous for the fruitfulness of it’s stony soils for over 100 years.  Syrah is the star of this new AVA with bold, earthy aromas locally referred to as “The Rocks funk.”  The wines are savory and meaty with additional notes of olive, floral, and mineral.

Since this proposed AVA resides within Walla Walla Valley AVA, the author of the petition had a delicate balance of showing the uniqueness of this proposed AVA while still maintaining its rightful place within the existing AVA.

RocksThe Twist: One aspect of this proposed AVA that stood out; is that it is solely located in Oregon, while Walla Walla Valley AVA is located primarily in Washington with some cross over into Oregon.  This aspect also brought about the most public comments during the AVA petition process.  Since this sub-AVA does not cross the Washington state border only wineries with an Oregon production facility will be able to use “The Rocks” on their labels, even if the winery is located within the larger Walla Walla Valley AVA.

The petition names 19 wine producers that have vineyards within the proposed AVA although only three of these producers have winery facilities within the proposed AVA.  I anticipate more wineries will establish facilities here due to the AVA requirements.

The Verdict: At last the Final Verdict!  The TTB has given the proposed “The Rocks District of Milton-Freewater” AVA approval.  The AVA lies entirely within the Oregon portion of Walla Walla Valley AVA which, in turn, lies within the Columbia Valley AVA.  The TTB filed the ruling on February 6, 2015 and will publish this approval in the Federal Register on February 9. 2015.  The new AVA will become effective 30 days from the published date.  I predict we will soon see some exciting wines using the “The Rocks District of Milton-Freewater AVA” on their label!

Post authored by Brenda Audino, CWE. After a long career as a wine buyer with Twin Liquors in Austin, Texas, Brenda has recently moved to Napa, California (lucky!) where she runs the Spirited Grape wine consultancy business. Brenda is a long-time member of SWE and has attended many conferences – be sure to say “hi” at this year’s conference in NOLA!

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Guest Post: From New York Grapes to the CWE!

Joe's wife, Isabelle, harvesting Frontenac Gris last fall.

Jeff”s wife, Isabelle, harvesting Frontenac Gris last fall.

Today we have a guest post – all about the long and winding road to wine certification – from Jeff Anderson. Jeff first realized his passion for wine through home winemaking, and he is now studying for his CSW. Jeff intends to pursue the CWE and create a “third career” as a wine educator. Read on for more of Jeff’s story!

Home winemaking – like so many other things – can take on a life of its own. My home winemaking is way out of control and just as I think that I’m back in charge, I get an award or a compliment from someone that matters and I’m off again.

What do I have to blame for this obsession?  I can think of three things: First, I won a gold medal for my Sangiovese in the 2006 International Winemaker Magazine Contest. Second, In 2008 I won an award from a regional chapter of the American Wine Society for a Nebbiolo I made from a “Barolo” kit. Third, a neighbor in her 80s informed me that a glass of my wine allowed her to get the first good night’s sleep she’d had in a while. After all that – it was over. I was all about the wine. I even forgot how to make beer.

Now that my passion for winemaking has grown, I’m contemplating a second or third career as a wine educator. As a first step, I’ve begun my studies for the Certified Specialist of Wine (CSW) certification.

As I start out in pursuit of wine certification, I have come to realize just how much it would help to have some specific experiences in your background. It would be great, for instance, to be a wine merchant with an inventory of imported wines and overseas contacts.  I would imagine that differences in vintages and blends would be much clearer to a wine merchant or salesperson than they must be to the average person.

Bear Mountain Bridge in the Hudson River Valley

Bear Mountain Bridge in the Hudson River Valley

It would also be nice to have majored in geography. This really hit home when I started to tune into SWE’s free SWEbinars. A few courses in geology, Romance languages, organic chemistry, and history would help fill in some gaps as well. And for all you folks who tell people you are “just” a server in a restaurant, all of your time serving wine, spirits, or even beer will be a big help to you in your wine studies. Of course, a white tablecloth restaurant with a multiple-page wine list would be ideal, but keep in mind that every little bit helps.

As a member of the Society of Wine Educators, I really appreciate the excellent resources available to members who, like me, are on the path to certification. The webinars are lively, the pre- and post-tests available on the online Wine Academy are challenging, and the Study Guide reinforces how much I still need to know. There is also a cellphone app for trivia quizzes organized according to white, red, sparkling, and dessert wines as well as spirits.

I was astounded to see how broad the subject of wine and winemaking is.  It is virtually like learning a new language.

My experience – as a small scale grape grower and winemaker – has allowed me to learn and really understand quite a few things about this magical liquid called wine. For instance, I know why a winemaker might leave stems in the must, pick grapes before they are ripe, or use some white grapes in a red wine.  And malolactic fermentation – it’s not exactly fermentation – I really get that.

Our grape-growing adventures are located in the area around Albany in upstate New York, where we grow cold hardy grapes for wine.  We are surrounded by a fast-growing group of wineries in the Upper Hudson Valley Wine Trail. They are very promising, make exciting wines, and are proud to count some excellent winemakers among the group.

But it’s all too easy to focus on the grapes you grow and wines you make – and forget there is an enormous body of knowledge about hundreds of wine around the world. Take my advice, and break out of your comfort zone – it’s a wide world of wine!

There you have it. All I need to do now is learn everything about wine that everybody else knows! Now, that doesn’t sound so hard – does it?

JJeff Anderson Bioeff Anderson is a lecturer in Criminal Justice for Sage College in Albany New York.  Previously he held a variety of positions in juvenile justice and criminal justice and consulted with the National Institute of Corrections and the National Drug Court Institute.  He is an award-wining amateur winemaker and grows grapes along with Amorici Vineyard in Valley Falls, New York – on the Upper Hudson Valley Wine Trail. He is a member of the Society of Wine Educators and is preparing for his first certification test. He can be contacted on Twitter as @Garagist.