Guest Post: On the Wines of Colorado

Vineyards in Grand Junction, Colorado

Vineyards in Grand Junction, Colorado

Today we have a guest post from Justin Gilman, CSW, who tells us about the blossoming wine industry in his adopted state.

Colorado’s wine industry began back in 1890 when then-Governor George Crawford planted roughly 60 acres of vines in the Grand Valley near Palisade. Just over a decade later, there were over a thousand Colorado farms involved in grape growing.

These days, the majority of Colorado’s wine production is focused in the West-Central part of the state, near the town of Grand Junction. Colorado currently boasts two AVAs: Grand Valley and West Elks. About 75% of the state’s one hundred-plus wineries are located in the Grand Valley AVA while the remaining 25% are in the West Elks AVA.  Other growing regions include McElmo Canyon, Montezuma County, South Grand Mesa, Freemont County, Olathe County, and Montrose County.

Colorado’s continental climate coupled with its famous high elevation means that grapes grown here receive a tremendous amount of sunlight with minimal cloud cover. However, the grapes also benefit from an excellent diurnal temperature variation – meaning the sunshine and heat help to unlock sugars during the day; and the exceptionally low temperatures help to retain acidity at night.

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Colorado’s elevation, foliage and mountain ranges have been compared to that of Northern Italy’s Alto-Adige region. With the highest wine growing elevation in North America, (Grand Valley 4,000-4,500 ft. and West Elks up to 7,000 ft.) these chalky and loam soils see as many degree-in days as Napa, Tuscany and Bordeaux in a shorter period of time.

The grape varieties grown here are on par with other wineries across the country. Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Chardonnay and Moscato are staples, with some experimentation of blends between wineries. Rhône varieties do particularly well in Grand Valley, and Tempranillo is showing great promise in the West Elks AVA.

As in any wine country, Colorado wineries offer a wide range of products. Taking advantage of the sunny skies and over 300 days of yearly sunshine, some Colorado wineries create consumer-friendly wines leaning on slightly higher sugar levels. Softer Cabernets, Chardonnay/Moscato blends and plenty of sweet fruit wine options like that of Carlson Vineyards Cherry & Peach wine to St. Kathryn’s “Apple Blossom” and “Golden Pear” are popular wines, known for being friendly to a beginner’s palate.

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Some of the best wines in the state are produced by Ruby Trust Cellars of the Castle Pines area. Ruby Trust Cellars, led by owner Ray Bruening and winemaker Braden Dodds have produce wines with rough-and-ready names such as “Gunslinger”, “Fortune Seeker” and their recent addition “Horse Thief”. Located roughly 20 miles South of Denver, Ruby Trust puts out a handful of limited production blends and single varietal wines that have caught the eye of some well-known critics. Sourcing fruit from growers in Grand Junction, Ray and Braden uphold the highest integrity when creating their wines. Retailing just over $30 a bottle, their wines are individually numbered with labels reminiscent of the historical mining era of Colorado. Ruby Trust is considered amongst Colorado’s best, found in selected Aspen and Vail restaurants and resorts, as well as specialty wine shops throughout the Denver area.

Colorado has also embraced the idea of the “urban winery,” including Bonaquisti Wines, located in Denver’s Sunnyside neighborhood. Bonaquisti Wines proudly declare themselves to be procurers of “Wine for the People!” With wine in kegs, refillable growlers, and live music every Friday night, it seems like they are living up to their motto quite well.

photo via http://www.theinfinitemonkeytheorem.com/about

photo via http://www.theinfinitemonkeytheorem.com/about

One of the most intriguing wineries in Colorado is undoubtedly the Infinite Monkey Theorem. (The name is derived from the theory that a monkey striking typewriter keys for an infinite amount of time will, eventually, create the works of Shakespeare.) Founded by Ben Parsons, the winery was originally housed in a graffiti-covered Quonset hut. While the business is now housed in a 20,000-square foot warehouse, they still tend to do things (shall we say) a bit differently, and feature such items as wine in cans and a “bottles and bacon” gift pack.

Yearly, Colorado’s best wines are judged at the Governor’s Cup in Denver, and an alternate event with growing popularity, the Denver International Wine Competition. The Governor’s Cup focuses on Colorado Wines, presented by the Colorado Wine Board, to discover the “Best of the Best” in Colorado, while the Denver International Wine Competition welcomes any wine with the potential of being distributed in Colorado. Previous winners of the 2014 Governor’s Cup include Canyon Wind Cellars 2012 Petit Verdot, Grand Valley AVA, $30 and Boulder Creek Winery, Boulder, 2013 Riesling, Colorado, $16.  The 2015 top scorers include Bonacquisti Wine Company – 2013 Malbec, (American) and Bookcliff Vineyards 2014 Viognier, Grand Valley AVA.

The Colorado wine industry is consumer friendly and each year is continuing to grow by leaps and bounds, striving to be traditionally focused. For the future, the industry is focused on minimizing blends, gradually creating more structure- driven wines, and slowly educating the consumer palate – a noteworthy goal in a state known for its beer consumption. Given the terroir, and talent, and these noted goals, the future looks bright for the Colorado wine industry.

Justin Gilman, CSW is the Store Manager/Buyer for Jordan Wine & Spirits, a leading retailer in Parker, Colorado, located in Denver’s South Metro area.  With over 15 years in alcohol beverage retail, in the major markets of Orange Co., and Los Angeles California, he now resides in Denver Colorado, where his skill set as an operator and buyer are utilized for both retail and as a consultant in the industry.

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Big Controversy over Little Rocks at the TTB

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Today we have a guest blog from Brenda Audino, CWE, who brings us up-to-date on the latest controversy at the TTB!

This is a follow-up to the blog “Oregon, Washington, and the AVA Shuffle: It’s Complicated”.  As noted, the newly created appellation “The Rocks of Milton-Freewater” created some controversy. The controversy is not about the validity of the appellation itself – just about everyone agrees that “The Rocks” is a unique region. The controversy arises in who amongst the wineries will ultimately be able to use this new AVA on their wine labels.

Here is a refresher regarding the Rocks of Milton-Freewater AVA: it is a sub-AVA nested within the larger multi-state Walla Walla Valley AVA, which is also nested within the much larger multi-state Columbia Valley AVA.  The Rocks of Milton-Freewater AVA resides solely within the borders of Oregon, while the larger multi-state AVAs are predominately in Washington State while crossing over the border into Oregon.  The controversy with this new AVA is that since it is entirely within the borders of Oregon, wineries must also be in Oregon in order to use the AVA on a wine label.  Most wineries who call the Walla Walla AVA home are located in the state of Washington.  This means that even if the winery owns vineyards or sources fruit in The Rocks of Milton-Freewater they will not able to utilize that The Rocks of Milton-Freewater AVA on their labels

The comments received by the TTB during the “open comment” period concerning this inability to use The Rocks of Milton-Freewater AVA were deemed valid by the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) and worthy of consideration.  This means that the TTB acknowledges that the current regulations would require wine that is fully finished in Washington and made primarily from grapes grown within The Rocks District of Milton-Freewater AVA to be labeled with the less specific “Walla Walla Valley” or “Columbia Valley” or “Oregon” appellations of origin.

USDA Map of The Rocks District

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On February 9, 2015 the TTB created a new proposed rule to address these specific concerns that were raised regarding this new AVA.  This new proposed rule is titled “Use of American Viticulture Area Names as Appellations of Origin on Wine Labels”.

The TTB proposes to amend its regulations to permit the use of American Viticulture area names as appellation of origin on labels for wines that would otherwise quality for the use of the AVA name except the wines have been fully finished in the state adjacent to the state in which the viticultural area is located rather than the state in which the labeled viticultural area is located.

The TTB goes on to note that the purpose of an AVA is to provide consumers with additional information on wines they may purchase by allowing vintners to describe more accurately the origin of the grapes used in the wine.

The TTB does not believe this new ruling will cause consumer confusion since multi-state AVAs allow the wine to be finished in either state.  They believe consumers are aware that appellation of origin is a statement of the origin of grapes used to make the wine and it would not be confusing or misleading if a single state AVA were finished in an adjacent state.

I don’t know if the TTB had any idea of the amount of comments this “fix” to the AVA system would generate, but this proposal opened up an entire flood of opposing views.

During the comment phase there were a total of 41 submissions. Out of these 41 comments there were 16 “For”, 18 “Opposed”, 6 “recommended a change to the proposal” and 1 “suggested an extension of the comment period”.

The “For” comments ranged from “providing consumers better knowledge of the origin of grapes”, “fair competition and accurately reflect origin of wines”, “increase business opportunities”, “where grapes are grown is more important than where wine is finished” and “grape shortages in adjacent states”.

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The “Opposed” comments ranged from “confusion for consumers”, “support for local economy”, “the term ‘adjacent state’ is too broad, “undermines state labeling laws”, “large business will transport more grapes to take advantage of AVA names” and “creates deceptive labeling”.

The comments that “recommended a change to the proposal” felt that the following wording on the proposal –“wines have been fully finished in the state adjacent to the state in which the viticultural area is located rather than the state in which the labeled viticultural area is located” – is too broad and encompassing.  This, the commenter believes, has the potential to dilute current AVA status by transporting grapes across long distances.  They recommended a change to the proposal to include “Wines finished in either state of a multi-state AVA can utilize any Sub-AVA that is nested within this multi-state AVA.”  This would enable the wineries of Washington to utilize The Rocks of Milton-Freewater AVA, but not Willamette Valley AVA.  This in effect would narrow the scope and alleviate many of the concerns raised by the commenters.

Unfortunately, I don’t have an end to this story.  The comment period is now closed and the final ruling by TTB won’t be released until April 2016.  For now though, if you want to find a wine from The Rocks of Milton-Freewater, you will need to search for an Oregon winery.

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: Asia’s Hidden Gem

Our author in the Yamanashi Vineyards, admiring the Koshu grapes.

Our author in the Yamanashi Vineyards, admiring the Koshu grapes.

Today we have a guest post from Joshua Kalinan, CWE. Joshua tells us about a fascinating trip he took to Japan’s Grace Winery!

Due to my interest in wines, I have started to explore non-traditional wine-producing regions such as in Japan, India, and Bali.  The present knowledge of such regions is often limited in textbooks, so I decided that the best way to learn would be to visit and to see for myself these regions and how they are able to produce excellent wines and even win awards in international wine competitions.

My first stop on this tour is Yamanashi Vineyards, run by the Misawa Family and located in Akeno-cho, prefecture of Yamanashi, Japan. This beautiful location is on the main island of Honshu.

From the famous Shinjuku station, I took a one and a half hour train ride from the concrete jungle of Shinjuku to the scenic countryside of Kofu.  It is also the same station that one has to stop in order to visit Mount Fuji.Yamanashi Perfecture is also famous for its red apples, peaches and table grapes.

From Kofu station, I was picked up by one of Ms. Misawa’s staff who drove me to Katsunuma Region where the vineyard is located. I was introduced to Ms. Ayana Misawa who, despite her busy schedule took time to introduce me to her vineyard.  She also introduced to her vineyard dog that bears the same name as the Koshu grapes.  She is the only female Japanese winemaker to have made a name in the male-dominated world of Japanese wine. Her father, Mr. Shinekazu Misawa, owns Grace Winery.

Joshua, Ms. Misawa, and Koshu the Winery Dog

Joshua, Ms. Misawa, and Koshu the Winery Dog

Ms. Misawa showed me the training system, which is known as VSP (Vertical Shoot Positioning) where the Koshu grapes are trained. According to Ms. Misawa, by adopting VSP the berries are more concentrated.  Beside the signature Koshu grapes other varietals such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, and Petit Verdot are also grown on the Misawa vineyard.  The soil structure consists of a mixture of clay and chalk with well-draining soil.

Misawa vineyard has 13.6 ha (33 acres) of vines grown at an elevation of about 700 m (2,300 feet). This region has its longest sunshine hours from April to October, which is necessary to ripen the grapes. I visited in October, when the harvest has started earlier previous years.

Ms. Misawa patiently gave me tour of all the different types of grape varieties, its terroir and the ridge system where these varieties are planted.  After the tour of the vineyard, we toured the winery where I had the chance to see their state-of-the-art stainless steel fermentation tanks.  Ms. Misawa also showed me their new French barriques that are being used for Chardonnay, rosé, and the red varietals such as Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. The signature Koshu is usually fermented in stainless steel tanks to preserve the fruit and its freshness.

The grand finale of my tour was a tutored tasting of the following wines:

  • 2012 Grace Gris De Koshu – This wine won the Gold medal at the Decanter Asia wine award for 2013.
  • 2012 Grace Koshu Torriibira Vineyard
  • 2012 Cuvee Misawa Koshu Akeno Vineyard
  • 2011 Grace Chardonnay
  • 2012 Grace Rosé – This is a serious, dry rosé made using Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc.
  • 2009 Cuvee Misawa Rouge – This is a full-bodied, Bordeaux-style blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. .
Ms. Misawa leading Joshua Kalinan through a tasting of Grace Winery wines.

Ms. Misawa leading Joshua Kalinan through a tasting of Grace Winery wines.

After tasting a myriad of wines, I came to a conclusion that Grace Winery wines are suited for an Aperitif, as well as being food- friendly wines.  My take-home lesson was not to underestimate the potential of these wines that have made a mark in international wine competitions.

Another interesting lesson is the ability of these wines to match with Asian cuisine, which can be trickier than pairing to western foods. This is more so for the Koshu wines where they are let to rest on its lees for five months before bottling which gives an extra dimension of richness and delicate aromas.  The fine characteristics of these wines are a perfect match not only for Japanese cuisine such as sushi and sashimi but also Chinese cuisine such as tofu dishes.

The key characteristics of Koshu lie on the watery lemon yellow appearance and the nose of citrus fruits of Yuzu (Japanese Yuzu), white peaches, and white flowers.

Without the kind assistance of Ms. Misawa, I would not have had the chance to add more knowledge to my wine adventure.  I would like to conclude that after this unforgettable visit, I have come to describe Koshu wine as “the Sauvignon Blanc of Asia” and, of course, “Asia’s Hidden Gem”.

Click here for more information on Grace Winery, Yamanashi Vineyards, and the Koshu grape variety.

Joshua Kalinan, CWE has been involved in wine education for more than 10 years in Singapore.  He achieved his CWE qualification in July 2014 and has since been busy tweeting his his interest in wine and wine and food pairing. In addition to the CWE, Joshua is a Certified Sommelier with the Court of Master Sommeliers , UK; a Certified Wine Professional via the Culinary Institute  of America, and a Certified Sake Sommelier with the Sake Sommelier Association of the UK. In his free time, Joshua loves to cook and pair wines with his favorite cuisine.  You can follow joshua @winetimesg on Twitter.

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Conference Preview: Agave Intensive…No, Really!

Agave arthurToday we have a conference preview from Arthur Black. Arthur tells us about his session entitled “Agave Intensive – No, Really!” Read on to see what this session has in store…

Do not overlook the often-abused word, “Intensive” in the title of this seminar. Those unfamiliar with agave-based spirits are welcome to come play with us, as Agave Intensive is comprehensive and builds upon itself, but the material covered is hard core and the spirits tasted are serious, amazing, beautiful and some of the most “spiritual” spirits on the planet.

Imagine walking through an orchard in the highlands of Oaxaca at 8,000 feet elevation with a palenquero who points towards a Sierra Negra sub-species of agave and tells you that his grand father planted it over 35 years ago and he has walked past it everyday of his life and in two weeks time he will harvest, cook, ferment and distill it. Yeah, welcome to the world of artisanal mezcal and “other” agave-based spirits.

Most spirit aficionados and even trade persons have never had the pleasure nor are they familiar with mezcals based on the agave species Tobala or Cuixe, nor those which have been percolated through dead animals and distilled in amphora, nor know the likes of the obscure Mexican distillates Sotol, Bacanora and Raicilla. To experience such spirits is a rare trip into oddity, beauty and meditation. For many reasons, which will be covered in this Agave Intensive discussion, these works of art are the world’s most laboriously crafted and transcendent spirits in the world.

agave arthur 2Outside of its manifestation as spirit, the agave plant alone is fascinating enough. Its entrenched in the mores of Central American-Mexican culture with no shortage of myth, lore and cultural utility. The agave plant is simultaneously the source of the Americas’ first fermented beverage and first distilled beverage. These sharp, monocarpic, pointy plants can grow to be larger than a small car and some species can take decades to mature. One mezcalero once told me, “these ancient plants are what the dinosaurs ate!”

In this seminar, we will taste mezcal from Michoacan and Oaxaca, made from Cuixe (which grows three meters tall), Tobala, Mexicano and Espadin, as well as mezcal de ollo from one palenquero outside of Sola de Vega. Of course, you can’t have an agave discussion without tasting pechuga! We will taste and discuss the Dasylirion based Sotol from Chihuahua,   in addition to Espadin based Bacanora from Sonora.

Arthur Black is one of few young beverage industry educational leaders in the country, acquiring many titles and accreditations over 15 years of intense study. Arthur is the Corporate Wine and Spirits Sales Manager for RNDC, a leading national wholesaler of fine wine and spirits. In addition to his role at RNDC, Arthur is a Certified Specialist of Wine, a Certified Spanish Wine Educator, a Certified French Wine Educator, a Certified Sake Specialist, Certified Spirits Specialist, Advanced Sommelier, and Level 1 Cicerone. Arthur is also the founder of the non-profit, Indiana Craft Beverage Association, an educational and promotional body dedicated to driving quality beverage programming in trade in Indiana and the Mid-West.

Arthur’s session, “Agave Intensive – No, Really!” will be held on Thursday morning, August 13th as part of SWE’s 39th Annual Conference, to be held in New Orleans.

 

 

 

 

Conference Preview 2015: Four Decades of Three Palms

Photo via: http://www.duckhorn.com/Our-Story/Vineyards/Three-Palms

Photo via: http://www.duckhorn.com/Our-Story/Vineyards/Three-Palms

Today we have a guest post by Pete Przybylinski – Sr. VP of Sales and Strategy at Duckhorn Wine Company. Pete gives us the story of the Napa Valley’s Famous Three Palms Vineyard. Pete will be sharing his story – and the wines of Three Palms – at SWE’s NOLA Conference on August 13, 2015.

It’s not easy to say whether Duckhorn made the Three Palms Vineyard famous, or whether it was the other way around. Three Palms, situated at the northern end of the Napa Valley along the Silverado Trail, has been a star in the world of California wine since Duckhorn made its first vintage in 1978.” – Robert Whitley, October 2014

“[Three Palms] the best Merlot I have ever tasted, at least from outside Bordeaux’s Right Bank.” – Nick Passmore, May 2013

May 13th, 2015, was a very special day for all of us here at Duckhorn Wine Company. After 37 years of making wine from its coveted grapes, we proudly announced that we acquired the 83-acre Three Palms Vineyard from our longtime friends, and renowned winegrowers, Sloan and John Upton. As someone who has been with Duckhorn Wine Company for 20 years, both personally and professionally, it is incredibly gratifying that the vineyard that has always been synonymous with Duckhorn Vineyards finally took its rightful place as the crown jewel of our estate program.

Three Palms Vineyard is deservedly legendary. By almost any estimation, it is one of a handful of Napa Valley’s greatest vineyards, and is, without question, the most important Merlot vineyard in North America. Our history with Three Palms goes back to our inaugural Three Palms Vineyard Merlot in 1978. We released that inaugural vintage at the then high price of $12.50, because we wanted people to understand that it was a Merlot of exceptional quality. This iconic wine helped pioneer luxury Merlot in California, and played a pivotal role in establishing it as one of North America’s great premium varietals.

“As recently as 1978, Merlot was rarely bottled in California as a varietal wine. Duckhorn changed that. Their single-vineyard bottling from northern Napa Valley’s Three Palms Vineyard showed the heights that this grape, in the right hands, could achieve.” – Michael Apstein, April 2014

San Francisco's Coit Tower

San Francisco’s Coit Tower

For those familiar with San Francisco and its famed Coit Tower, Three Palms has a history that predates its renown as a winegrowing site. In the late 1800s, the land that is now home to the vineyard was a residence for famed San Francisco socialite Lillie Hitchcock Coit. She called her home Larkmead, and it was there that she hosted legendary parties and numerous celebrities of the time. She left her mark on San Francisco in the form of Coit Tower. She also left her mark in Napa Valley in the form of three lone palm trees, which were all that remained from her estate after the house fell into disuse after Lillie died in 1929, at the age of 86.

In 1967, the 83-acre property was acquired by brothers Sloan and John Upton. The following year, they began planting it to Pinot Noir, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Chenin Blanc. The site, which is located on the northeast side of Napa Valley, is in an alluvial fan created by the outwash of Selby Creek where it spills out of Dutch Henry Canyon. As a result, Three Palms is covered with volcanic stones washed down from the canyon over the centuries. The soil—what there is of it—is rocky and well drained, causing the vines to send their roots far, wide and deep to find the necessary nutrients and water. The stones in the vineyard aid the vines by absorbing the sun’s heat during the day and radiating it back to the plants during the night. This protects the vines during frost season, and helps to ripen the fruit. “People thought we were nuts,” recalls Sloan. “City slickers planting a vineyard amongst the rocks!” Time and a great deal of very hard work proved these people wrong.

“It has long defied the conventional wisdom that Merlot thrives in cooler climes but comes off dull and flabby in warmer areas. Three Palms is at the warm end of the valley, yet it consistently produces remarkable Merlot that combines firm structure with power and grace.” – Robert Whitley, October 2014

Over the years, as the Uptons grew to understand the site’s almost otherworldly ability to make profound Merlot and Bordeaux-varietal red wines, the Pinot Noir and Chenin Blanc were T-budded to more Merlot, as well as Cabernet Franc, Malbec, and Petit Verdot. Like any great vineyard, Three Palms has suffered a few setbacks and losses. In 1990, the vineyard began to show the serious effects of Phylloxera, so the long and arduous task of replanting began—the final phase of which was completed in 1999. And in 1992, the vineyard suffered the loss of one of its 105-year-old palm trees. The Upton brothers hosted a brief ceremony in which a 40-foot Washington palm was planted in its place, and since then, many of us have affectionately nicknamed the vineyard 2-1/2 Palms.

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But mostly the story of Three Palms has been a testament to the phenomenal nature of this famed vineyard, and its ability to produce wines as remarkable for their structure and complexity, as for their vibrant and alluring red fruit. There are many things that contribute to the greatness of the vineyard: the meticulous farming, the Spartan bale loam soils that send the roots down as much as 18 feet in search of nutrients, the unique warm up-valley location, and more. 

“Over the years, we’ve listened to the quiet voice of the vineyard, and learned what works. Part of that is about farming Three Palms for the right reasons, for love of the land, not ego. That’s a vision we have always shared with the people of Duckhorn.” -Sloan Upton

In 2011, we inked a deal for the exclusive rights to the grapes from Three Palms Vineyard, and three years later, we took over the farming. When Sloan and John decided it was time to sell, purchasing the vineyard was the natural next step. Not only has the Duckhorn Vineyards story always been tied to the story of Three Palms, our long friendship with Sloan and John has been one of the wine industry’s most successful and enduring partnerships. We are honored that they are entrusting us to carry on their life’s work, and to carry their great legacy forward. 

“The iconic flagship wine that began Duckhorn’s success in 1978 is the Merlot Three Palms Vineyard, one of the first single-vineyard Merlots produced, and no doubt an inspiration for the Merlot boom in the 1980s. This has always been one of the benchmark wines for this varietal.” – Robert Parker, October 2013

While this blog has focused on the history and significance of Three Palms Vineyard, in my August 13th “Four Decades of Three Palms” conference session, I look forward to sharing more about our relationship with this vineyard, and its evolution. As we taste through some of our finest vintages spanning four decades, this will include details about changes in terms of vineyard practices, rootstock, use of oak in our winemaking, and the varying degrees of alcohol and acid in the wines—all of which have changed dramatically in the last 35 years. I am also looking forward to talking about the evolution of our marketing and sales strategies for this great vineyard and its wines, as these too have evolved dramatically over the years.

I hope to see you there!

Pete’s Session – “Four Decades of Three Palms” will be held on Thursday, August 13th, at 8:45 am as part of the Society of Wine Educators’ 39th Annual Conference, to be held in New Orleans.

 

Conference Preview 2015: How Cool is the Cape?

Camps Bay Beach and Lion Head Mountain in Cape Town, South Africa

Camps Bay Beach and Lion Head Mountain in Cape Town, South Africa

Today we have a Conference Preview from Jim Clarke about the cool-climate wines of South Africa. Yes, you read that correctly – the Cape, in spots, is Cool! Read on for information on the cool-climate wines of South Africa, and Jim’s upcoming conference session!  

When I was studying to become a sommelier, I was often asked the question, “Do you go there to surf or to ski”? It was intended as a quick way to remind oneself if a winegrowing area was a warm region or a cool one.  It’s a handy mnemonic – albeit one that unfortunately underlines American’s poor sense of geography -maybe they can’t find Austria on a map, but they’ve seen Austrian skiers in the Olympics on TV, so: cool climate!

For the climate of South Africa, we think of surfers – possibly being attacked by those crazy great whites that leap right out of the water – so: warm climate. (For a less morbid surfing encounter, check out Bernard Le Roux, winemaker at Zorgvliet, being knocked off his board by some dolphins at last year’s Vintner’s Surf Classic.)

If you look closer, however, you’ll notice something else about those South African surfers: the wetsuits. There’s nothing warm about the water off the coast of South Africa – after all, the next stop on your way south would be Antarctica! The ocean currents that cool the vineyards of South Africa come up from Antarctica. There are penguins happily inhabiting the Cape Peninsula to prove it!

Sommeliers often sum up the Cape’s climate as “Mediterranean,” but there’s a lot more to it than that. While I suspect South Africa’s Olympic ski team sounds as likely a competitor as Jamaica’s bobsledders, in the right spots vines find it plenty cool enough. Some parts of South Africa are specifically cool enough for reds like Pinot Noir; or lighter, peppery styles of Syrah (many, nonetheless, inexplicably labeled “Shiraz”) and for whites such as Sauvignon Blanc, Gewurztraminer, or even Riesling.

African Penguins on Boulders Beach, near Cape Town in South Africa

African Penguins on Boulders Beach, near Cape Town in South Africa

Even warm areas such as an arid, mountainous landscape, once may encounter a change of conditions if one moves just a few meters in the right direction. For example, the Jordan Winery lies atop a dome-shaped hill in Stellenbosch. On north-facing slopes (away from the cold winds, and toward the sun) they grow Cabernet Sauvignon alongside Syrah and Chardonnay; but one south-facing slope right in the middle of the Chardonnay vineyard is cool enough to produce and elegant and balanced Riesling.

More importantly, however, especially in a time where the market is trending toward more acid-driven, lower-alcohol wines, are the regions where cool spots are not the exceptions but the rule. Constantia – South Africa’s most famous historic wine region – is one example. Located just a few miles from Cape Town, this region produced sweet wines in the 18th and 19th centuries that were the envy of Europe, lauded by the likes of Baudelaire and Napoleon. Today this small region of a dozen or so producers is focused on Sauvignon Blanc, though some make elegant Chardonnays, and some reds in the southern (but more north-facing) part of the district. All the Constantia vineyards are just a few miles from the penguins and sharks (and more relevantly, the winds) of False Bay.

Most of South Africa’s other cool climate areas don’t have the history and pedigree of Constantia, largely because of regulations and a quota system during much of the 20th century that discouraged plantings there (cool climates can be more challenging to work in, so why not simply plant in warmer, higher-yielding spots?). That changed in 1992, just as apartheid was crumbling, and many would-be winegrowers started exploring.

Stellenbosch Vineyards in the shadow of Table Mountain

Stellenbosch Vineyards in the shadow of Table Mountain

The Cape South Coast region was largely developed at this time, and is now a source of some of the country’s most esteemed wines. Districts within the region each have their own character. In Elgin, apple orchards were replaced with grapes, and the bowl-shaped basin proved effective at capturing cool air from the ocean just a few miles to the south. Near Hermanus, where whales come so close to shore they can be easily viewed while standing on the shore, the narrow Hemel-en-Aarde Valley draws in the cool air, and the vineyards there produce South Africa’s most consistently lauded Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays.

The west coast, north of Cape Town, also has its own wind-battered vineyards, notably the two “D’s” Durbanville and Darling, both devoted largely to Sauvignon Blanc, both not far from the beach. Which – surfing mnemonics aside – makes sense.

We humans go to the beach to cool off, right? Well, so do South Africa’s grapes.

Jim Clarke is the U.S. Marketing Manager for Wines of South Africa (WOSA), a levy-supported organization devoted to promoting South African wine exports. Previous to joining WOSA Jim was a sommelier in New York City, running the wine programs at Megu New York for five years and then the Armani Ristorante for two. In addition, he writes about wine, beer, and spirits for a number of publications both trade and consumer; his pieces have appeared in the World of Fine Wine, Details, the San Francisco Chronicle, and elsewhere. Jim has spoken or lectured at a number of events including TexSom and the American Wine Society Conference.

Jim’s session on the cool-climate wines of South Africa, entitled “How Cool is the Cape” will be held on Thursday, August 13th at 8:45 am as part of the 39th Annual Conference of the Society of Wine Educators.

 

Conference Preview: Let’s Talk Turkey: Discovering the Charms of Turkish Wine

Today we have a guest post from Annie Edgerton, CSW. Annie tells us about her recent trip to Turkey, and gives us a preview of her 2015 SWE Conference session on Turkish Wine! 

Photo via http://www.kavaklidere.com/en

Photo via http://www.kavaklidere.com/en

Recently I (somewhat randomly) chose the beautiful country of Turkey as a vacation destination. Normally when making international travel plans, I would opt for places with historically significant wine regions, but the travel package to Turkey was too great to pass up—so I said, “Well, they probably make at least some wine in Turkey, right?”

How was I to know… they make some truly amazing wine in Turkey!

Sure, the grapes are unfamiliar: Narince, Öküzgözü, Kalecik Karası, Boğazkere, Syrah… oh wait – that one you know. Yes, international grapes like Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon and Sauvignon Blanc—even Sangiovese and Tempranillo—grow well in Turkey, but it’s the quirky native grapes that shine and are completely deserving of awareness around the rest of the world.

So, why haven’t we all gone nuts over Turkish wine like we have over Greek wine (with its similarly hard-to-pronounce local grapes) or for wine from other niche countries like Lebanon and Bulgaria? Two reasons: Identity and Awareness.

In terms of identity, Turkey is a primarily Muslim country, albeit a relatively liberal one. So many outsiders just assume no one will drink wine, let alone make wine there. NOT TRUE! But most Turks opt for beer, or the local anise-flavored spirit rakı, so it’s even hard to get locals excited about their country’s wine. For awareness’ sake, exports to the US are low, and our market is already flooded with outside-of-the-norm bottlings with powerful champions.

Photo via http://www.kavaklidere.com/en

Photo via http://www.kavaklidere.com/en

While in Turkey, I was able to arrange a visit to Kavaklidere, the country’s largest winery—large in volume and production. It is the only Turkish winery with three centers for grape processing, which reduces the time picked grapes spend in transport from far reaches of the country. (Most Turkish wine regions are in the western half of the country, although there are a few notable areas in the conflict-ravaged east.) Their portfolio consists of forty-nine different wines (yes, that’s a lot!) ranging from basic entry-level wines up to multiple award-winning prestige offerings, and including semi-sweet, sparkling, and even fortified selections.

I won’t bore you with details about the little old ladies who come in to destem the grapes by hand, or the length of maceration time for each grape, or the storage capacity of their tanks… but I will say that the effort and desire to run a modern facility that produces wine which could be competitive in an international market is quite strong. My contact Mr. Önur Özgül said with almost a fervor, “This is where wine came from in the beginning. Wine is a culture in Turkey; we need to develop this culture.”

Kavaklidere does export twenty percent of their production, mostly to Turkish restaurants in other countries. They would certainly like to raise brand awareness at home, but Mr. Özgül said their “goal is to present our wines in international markets, not only in Turkey.” And recently, their efforts have intensified and paid off—over the past six or seven years, they’ve attended more and more international wine competitions, and the medals have started to pile up.

In addition, Kavaklidere is proud that in a historically male-dominated society, both their prior and current winemakers are women, and also that their company’s team is mostly young with many women members. It is a vibrant, modern group, passionate and ready to bring Turkish wine to the world.

In my seminar, “Let’s Talk Turkey,” we will taste through an array of fascinating indigenous grapes (and some international ones,) giving a first-hand look at the unique terroir and bounty of this storied land.

So many Wineaux have gone gaga over Turkish wines once we’ve had the privilege of tasting them, and are doing what we can to encourage awareness, importing, and distribution. It may seem like a bit of an uphill battle, but once I had the idea to share Turkish wines with my fellow SWE members, I honestly couldn’t wait. I hope to see you all at the seminar, and I look forward to acquainting you with the delectable wines from Turkey.

AnnieAnnie Edgerton, CSW, has been working in the world of wine for over 20 years. She is a wine appraiser and consultant, and a wine educator and writer. You can read her musings on her blog: wineminx.blogspot.com, find more information at www.WineMinxAnnie.com, like her on facebook at “Wine Minx” and follow the tweeting @WineMinxAnnie. Annie’s session, “Let’s Talk Turkey – Discovering the Charms of Turkish Wine” will be presented on Wednesday, August 12th at 1:15 pm during SWE’s New Orleans Conference. Cheers, Wineaux!

 

Guest Post: A Trip to Mendoza

Photo credit: Justin Gilman

Photo credit: Justin Gilman

Today we have a guest post from Justin Gilman, CSW who went on the wine-travel “bucket list” trip of a lifetime to Mendoza, Argentina. Read on to hear about this high-altitude wine region, from the ground up!

I traveled to Mendoza on April 13th as a guest of the “Familia Zuccardi” family winery.  I had been introduced to this family winery years ago, carried numerous labels and all along the way, discovered more about their quality wines.  I’ve attended the “Mendoza Masters” seminars in Denver led by winemaker Sebastain Zuccardi and importer Winesellers LTD.  I was excited and anxious to meet the family, become familiar with Mendoza, and experience these great wines at the source.

The trip began in Denver, and onto Miami.  An 8-hour long flight down to Santiago, Chile was the grunt of the trip.  All along I had anticipated the notable flight over the Andes Mountains.  Anyone who has made wine their carrier knows about the Andes and the important role they play to Argentina wine.  As simple as it sounds, you don’t realize just how real the mountains are until you experience it for yourself.

Our plane landed in Santiago around 7am.  The sun wasn’t up yet, and it was pitch black outside the window.  The pilot announced he would land with autopilot because of the dense fog prohibiting any sort of vision to the runway.  Shortly after we landed, standing at the gate, the sun came out and exposed a marine layer of which we couldn’t see 50 feet outside the airport window.  This had caused our connecting flight to be slightly delayed to Mendoza.

The flight over the Andes brought a new perspective on time and distance.  Literally climbing, then diving down over the mountains on a 45 min flight.  The Andes below were vast.  Mountain tops sharp and jagged at the highest points.  Winds blow the peaks clean and the wind chill easily froze any existing moisture the weather provided. You can easily see where glaciers melt and the runoff slowly descends down the mountain.  Small lakes form in craters and some parts of the mountain looked smooth from the distance – most likely shaped by extreme winds over time.

Photo credit: Justin Gilman

Photo credit: Justin Gilman

On the Eastern side of the mountains descending, we didn’t see ocean fog, but cumulous nimbus clouds contoured into every nook of the mountain.  This was a picturesque definition of “Rain Shadow”.  The Andes are measured at 310 miles wide at its farthest points and 4,300 miles long. The average height is 4,000 feet.  This mountain range is longer than the U.S. is wide (excluding Hawaii and Alaska).  Cumulus clouds max out at around 3,300 feet.  These clouds never cross over these massive peaks.  This experience has allowed me to completely understand the effect of the Cascade Mountains in Washington and the role they play to that wine region as well.  Living in Denver, I’m used to flying over the Rockies going to and from the West Coast.  Somehow, the jagged peaks of the Andes seemed much more dominant.

The “Santa Julia Winery” in Maipu was our first stop.  This is the family’s large production facility that has sustainable and organically farmed grapes.  The Zuccardi family is one of the largest producers in Argentina, meanwhile keeping a humble, small family mentality.  They are 2nd in sparkling wine production, making both charmat and traditional method styles.  The honesty and transparency to their wines, along with commitment to sustainability and organics were quickly displayed.  Producing entry-level wines with native yeasts and labeling wines honorably with their family name was refreshing.  The location has two “farm to table” restaurants on site, “Casa Visatante” and “Pan & Oliva”, both catering different styles of culinary genius.  They produce olive oil and have a spirit still for brandy. They are well under way with Solera aging for their Port style wines.

The Santa Rosa Vineyard is among the family’s largest acreage.  It has been in the family and helped the Zuccardi’s learn and become who they are today.  The family knows where they’ve been, where they are, and clearly has a vision for the future.  The Santa Rosa Vineyard dedicates 1 hectare to numerous plantings of experimental or as they say “Innovacion” grapes.  Nero D’Avola, Albarino and even Mersalan (a cross between Cabernet Sauvignon/Grenache) are planted, along with many more.  Each year, the two best are bottled and sold in the tasting room.  These grapes are monitored and progress is considered for the Valle de Uco vineyards.

Photo via http://www.zuccardiwines.com/145/Fotos/

Photo via http://www.zuccardiwines.com/145/Fotos/

The Maipu winery has clearly been the anchor for the family since the 1960’s with each new generation benefiting from the last.  It’s reaching production capacity and the family is aligning its future behind the addition of the new Valle de Uco winery set for completion in September 2015.

The week progressed like the perfect storyline.  Starting with family history and their bulk facility on the first day, then escalated to the new winery and top tiers over night.  I had seen, tasted and carried these quality wines, but visiting the new winery on this day was mind blowing.  In my 15 years in the industry, I’ve never witnessed such attention to detail and commitment to terroir on such a large scale.

The next day we drove almost an hour to the “Altamira Vineyard” site.  The elevation for this vineyard area is 3,412-3,772 feet. Uco Valley is one of the world’s highest wine growing regions, with over 80,000 hectares planted between 3,000-3,900 feet and plenty of sunlight.

We started the day with the winery geologist “Martin”, and it was clear that his mission first and foremost was to explain in detail, the terroir of the Uco Valley, as well as introducing us to the philosophy going forward.  Martin had aerial terrain maps and technology graphs to explain why the vineyard was planted the way it was.  Blocks and rows were planted after using electric mapping in the soil to determine soil density, help determine erosion and gather more info as to which varietals were best suited on particular blocks.  Blue colors were less dense with red being extremely dense.

The highlight of this visit was his explanation of alluvial rocks scattered throughout the vineyard.  Glaciers melt atop of the Andes and the runoff carries down the soil and nutrients to the valley floor.  The point at the base of the mountain, in which the soil spreads out is known as an “alluvial fan” or “alluvial zone”.  Topographical maps clearly show green, thriving soil and moisture at the end of these zones and much less moisture at the beginning of these patterns.

Photo via: http://www.zuccardiwines.com/145/Fotos/

Photo via: http://www.zuccardiwines.com/145/Fotos/

Martin took us into the vineyard and removed alluvial rocks from holes dug within 50yds of one another.  He mentioned roughly 400 holes had been dug over a few years’ time to completely understand what was taking place along the surface of the vineyard block.  Explaining that there was a film of calcium deposit on the rocks, he rubbed his palm on a medium size rock and clearly the white coating from the rock transferred to his palm, leaving a bare spot on the rock.  He then asked for participants to do the same and lick our palms.  We did.  The taste was clearly salty.  He had explained to us earlier that this was a reaction to elements in the soil and limestone coating the rock.  Calcium deposits in water drift to the bottom of the ocean through pressure.  Over time, the layers of deposits consolidate and create a hard mass.  He explained that the fossilized rocks in his office were proof that rocks traveling down from the top of the Andes to the valley floor were evidence that the top of the Andes Mountains were once underwater.  These are the things you hear, but of course have a stronger realization when you’re there looking at fossils.

After the vineyard tour we were lead to the new winery building.  It has been in use for two years, though still under construction.  In fact its first harvest began without the roof on the building.  The new winery is made from the same rocks scraped from under the foundation.  Binding clay and sediment soils from the nearby Rio Negro River used with alluvial rocks to make the walls of the building.  No two walls are the same.  It was explained that from a distance, the profile of the winery roof blends into the Andes Mountain behind it and that the path from the front door will mimic the “alluvial fan” of the mountain base.  It will not be landscaped, but left to develop with the terroir.  Weeds, erosion, grass and flowers will occur naturally.

We ventured into this amazing structure.  Plans were discussed for an open kitchen with a concrete oven, and a huge 6ft rock they discovered while digging into the plans for a 10,000-bottle wine cellar would remain in place.  Concrete eggs a long time ago were decided to be the fermenters of choice.  More stable fermentation temps and the fact that stainless steel fermenters discharge a slight electric current influencing the wine just were two reasons behind the change.  State of the art made with what nature has given, we were all astounded.

Photo via: http://www.zuccardiwines.com/145/Fotos/

Photo via: http://www.zuccardiwines.com/145/Fotos/

We tasted four different samples of 2014 Malbecs.  Samples were chosen to display extreme differences in terroir.  From soft and grapey in clay soil, to minerally/chalky in alluvial rock.  The Altamira showing a slight ‘forest floor’ and moist dirt on the nose and in the glass, similar to Oregon Pinot Noir, but with Malbec.  One of the samples came from the “Gualtallary Vineyard”.  Very much a point of focus in the future, this region seems to be up and coming and on their radar.  Located Southwest of Tupungato, Gualtallary is even higher elevation of 3,937-4,921 feet and different soil compositions of course, meaning extreme “terroir-ists” can remain excited about possibilities for time to come.   We sampled both 2014 and 2015 wines displaying these extreme differences in terroir.

Sebastian and his family are passionate about terroir, and determined enough to break the mold stylistically of what we see every day with Malbec, Torrontés and Cabernet Sauvignon coming from Argentina.  The mass exodus of Malbec over the years to America seems to have thinned out quality and damaged Argentina’s reputation in some circumstances.  This trip was truly insightful and has given me an extreme appreciation of terroir and diversity of varietals grown in Argentina, not to mention seeing the potential first hand.  The family has tremendous integrity and dedication to organic practice.  I look forward to returning to the new winery after its completion and possibly visiting other wineries both big and small, to help further my knowledge of this region that is much, much more than just Malbec.

Justin Gilman, CSW is the Store Manager/Buyer for Jordan Wine & Spirits, a leading retailer in Parker, Colorado, located in Denver’s South Metro area.  With over 15 years in alcohol beverage retail, in the major markets of Orange Co., and Los Angeles California, he now resides in Denver Colorado, where his skill set as an operator and buyer are utilized for both retail and as a consultant in the industry.

For more information on the Familia Zuccardi and their wines, visit their website here.

 

 

A Lime Thunderstorm – #SauvBlanc Day

“It’s like standing naked in a lime thunderstorm.”

38044013_lThat’s the way I described New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc – one of my favorite styles of wine – for a long time. The phrase relates a myriad of sensations. First of all – the thrill of being naked outside (just admit it). Second, the crackle of lightning – makes the hair on the back of your neck stand up, makes your entire body stand and deliver, and leaves a slight mineral scent in the air. The cold rain lashing your flesh – the whole point of being naked in this scenario is to feel the cold rain on your belly. Finally, the limes – exploding like flavor bombs on impact.

I’ve used that line for decades and it still rings true. However, the wine industry in New Zealand has matured a bit since the mid-1980s “Sauvignon Blanc shot heard ‘round the world,” when Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc was first introduced and immediately set the standard for a “new style” of Sauvignon Blanc. While I still encounter –and love – the “lime thunderstorm” style of NZ SB, nowadays you may also encounter a creamy wine with the influence of malo-lactic fermentation, a white Bordeaux-style blend, an oaked version, a wine with lees aging, or a sparkling Sauvignon Blanc as well.

Sauvignon Blanc has actually been planted in New Zealand since 1973, and was beginning to be produced at commercially-relevant levels by 1979. Sauvignon Blanc is grown in all of New Zealand’s viticultural regions, and accounts for the following super-statistics:

  • 67% of NZ Vineyard Plantings (by hectare)
  • 72% of NZ Wine Production
  • 86% of NZ Wine Exports

New Zealand SB grapes

New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc’s reputation as a tongue curler is well-documented – and much beloved.  This is not a wine for the wine newbie, the wine wimp, or the vinous faint of heart.

Even the New Zealand Winegrower’s Association admits it, and uses the following terms to describe their SB:

  • Pungently aromatic
  • Explosive flavors
  • Bell pepper and gooseberry
  • Passion fruit, tropical fruit
  • Fresh cut grass, tomato stalk, grapefruit, and lime…

By the way, one of the lovely things about standing naked outside in a lime thunderstorm is the way that the lively (to say the least) acidity of NZ SB pairs with food. Tastes and flavors in “trendy” cuisine seem to grow bolder and bolder every year, and I’ve 29900002_xlencountered some extremely acidic ceviches, salads, sauces, and marinades for seafood and other proteins. Acidic foods such as these can overwhelm many wines, but the zing of NZ SB holds its own and may even taste better (to some palates) when paired with crisply acidic food – the more snap, crackle, and pop the better.

For my #SauvBlanc Day, I’ll be indulging in a lovely Russian Jack Sauvignon Blanc (from Martinborough) – paired with some tangerine-paprika marinated tilapia served on a bed of lemon-asparagus risotto. What are your plans?

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

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Guest Post: Are the Wine Gods Mad at Burgundy – Or What?

Wine Gods 1Today we have a guest blog post from Wine Educator Don Kinnan, CSS, CWE – who asks an excellent question: Are the wine gods mad at Burgundy, or what?

Four vintages in succession of meager volumes and circumstances which would challenge the intestinal fortitude of even the most courageous among Burgundy vignerons.  That is what we have seen.

Let’s take it year by year.  Leading up to 2010, a killing freeze occurred on the evening of December 21, 2009, inflicting severe damage to the vines.  This, together with a cold, wet flowering period resulted in a very small crop.  The end result was, in vintage 2010, an average of 25% fewer grapes than normal.   But, at least, the quality was excellent.  (Parker Vintage Rating 93-96 Pts)

Vintage 2011  –  The Wine Spectator characterized 2011’s growing season as “chaotic”.  “Summer occurred in April and May, the year challenged growers with heat, drought, rain, and vine maladies.  It ended with an early and quick harvest.”  After sorting, yields for most were down 20-30% from the norm.  (Parker Vintage Rating 90-91 Pts)

Vintage 2012  –  According to the Wine Spectator, “everything that could go wrong, went wrong, with the exception of rot.  The quantity was reduced by 30% in the Cote de Nuits to 50% in the Cote de Beaune.  The silver lining was that, after the losses due to frost, poor flowering, mildew, and removal of sunburned berries, the grapes left on the vines ripened nicely.  (Parker Vintage Rating 91-93 Pts)

Wine Gods 2Vintage 2013  –  The Wine Spectator reported low yields due to a wet spring,  poor flowering , severe hail in the Cote de Beaune, and fungal diseases in August.  At harvest time, for many, it became a race between ripeness and rot.  After sorting the grapes, the result was a very low volume harvest.  Allen Meadows, the Burghound, says most good wines are “plump, forward, with exotic aromas, round flavors and soft acidities that provide early accessibilities”.  (Vintage not yet rated by Parker)

Some recent data from the BIVB shows the impact of 4 years of reduced production volume on  market supply.  Exports in 2014 were down 12.8% by volume from 2013.  Prior to harvest in 2014, winery stocks had reached their lowest levels in 20 years.

What does this all mean to those of us who like to drink Burgundy wines?  Strong demand and short supply translates into higher prices.  But there may be some relief in sight.

Vintage 2014 produced reasonable volumes and excellent quality, “the best since 2009” said one grower.  Jasper Morris MW and noted author is quoted as saying “with regard to the 2014 vintage, we are talking quality and enough of it to stabilize the market and take pressure off pricing.”

—maybe the wine gods have eased their wrath.

Don KinnanDonald P. Kinnan, CSS, CWE has been in the fine wine trade for over 30 years. In 1985, after a successful military career, he joined Kobrand Corporation as a sales manager and, in 1992 was promoted to Director of Education. As such he was responsible for Kobrand’s wine and spirits education programs nationwide for over 20 years.  Don is a long-time member of the  the Society of Wine Educators and former member of the Society’s Board of Directors and Executive Committee.

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