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.

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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.

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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.

Its Official! The Rocks of Milton-Freewater is (almost) an AVA!

USDA map of the Rocks of Milton-Freewater AVA

USDA map of the Rocks of Milton-Freewater AVA

After a long and winding road to approval, the TTB just today voted to approved Oregon’s 18th AVA, the 3,770-acre “Rocks District of Milton–Freewater” American Viticultural Area.

Located in Umatilla County, Oregon, the new AVA is entirely within the existing Walla Walla Valley AVA, which straddles the Oregon-Washington State border and is, in turn, located entirely within the Columbia Valley AVA.   Known for its rocky soil, the new AVA is located where the Walla Walla River flows out of the foothills of the Blue Mountains on its way to the Walla Walla Valley.

The AVA, which includes part of the town of Milton-Freewater, is located entirely within the state of Oregon – which means that many of the wineries that currently use the grapes of the area are located in Washington State and therefore, according to current laws, might not be able to use the AVA on their labels. How this shakes out is yet to be seen. 

The TTB will publish its final ruling on Monday, February 9th, with the rule (and the AVA) becoming effective on March 11, 2015. To read the final ruling, click here.

Stay tuned for more information!

A Few of my Favorite Scarps

Devil's Tower

Devil’s Tower

To look at it, a scarp seems like the edge of the world – and, in a manner of speaking, it is. The term “scarp” technically refers to the wall of bare rock that makes up the cliff-face of an area of land that stands much higher than the land that surrounds it. For an extreme example, think of the Devil’s Tower in Wyoming. Quebec City’s Cap Diamant – those gorgeous sheer cliffs just in front of the Château Frontenac dividing the upper section of the town from the Saint Lawrence lowlands below – is a more typical example.
The uplifted area of land sitting above a scarp is known as an escarpment, although the two terms tend to be used interchangeably, except perhaps by geologists. A good way to describe an escarpment is basically as an area of the earth where the elevation changes suddenly. Escarpments are often found along the ocean shore, such as the Devil’s Slide area of California’s Highway One.

Escarpments are also found on dry land. Inland escarpments, where the ground is separated into two level land surfaces divided by a sheer cliff wall, may be formed by erosion, the action of rivers or streams, via seismic activity, or a combination of these forces. And – which makes it interesting for us – many of the world’s wine regions are built around escarpments.

Escarpments created by erosion are generally composed of different types of rock or rocks from different geologic eras.  Erosion creates the two levels of land as one of the types of rock erodes much faster than the other. One well-known example of an escarpment formed by erosion is the Niagara Escarpment.

The Niagara Escarpment

The Niagara Escarpment

The capstone of the Niagara Escarpment is a type of limestone (dolomite rock, or dolostone), while the underlying rock is a more easily erodible shale.  The Niagara escarpment is famous for the Niagara Falls, which is the part of the escarpment where the Niagara River plunges over the side. We wine lovers also appreciate the region as the home of the Niagara Escarpment AVA – located along the edge of the ridge, and home to 17  wineries.

Escarpments formed by seismic action are created when a fault displaces the ground surface so that one side is higher than the other. Examples include Africa’s Great Rift Valley and Australia’s Darling Scarp. The Darling Scarp cuts through the wine-growing regions of Western Australia and forms a distinct dividing line between the Perth Hills region, which sits atop the escarpment, and the Swan District, which resides below. The difference in climate between the two next-door neighbor regions due to the resulting change in elevation is striking. The Swan District, resting on the plains below, has a warm-to-hot Mediterranean climate.  The Perth Hills, perched above, is characterized by cooler nights, lower temperatures overall, and a harvest that typically begins 10 days to 2 weeks later than its warmer neighbor.

Other escarpments can be found along ancient river valleys, where a river, over the centuries, carved the landscape into a terrace. The Huangarua Scarp, found in New Zealand’s Martinborough wine region, is one example. The Huangarua Scarp is home to several wineries, including Craggy Range and the appropriately named Escarpment Vineyard. The highest uprise of the Huangarua Scarp, at about 150 feet higher than the surrounding area, is believed to have been formed over 250,000 years ago.

"Caprock Escarpment Garza County Texas 2010" by Leaflet - via Wikimedia Commons

“Caprock Escarpment Garza County Texas 2010″ by Leaflet – via Wikimedia Commons

The Caprock Escarpment, found in west Texas and eastern New Mexico, was formed via a combination of erosion and water. The top layer of the area is composed of caliche, a type of calcium carbonate that resists erosion. The erosion of the softer underlying stone was aided over the millennium by the action of rivers and streams. The Caprock Escarpment is an abrupt, 200-mile long ridge that divides the high plains area known as the Llano Estacado from the surrounding rolling terrain of the Great Plains below. In some places, the Caprock Escarpment rises more than 1,000 feet above the surrounding plains. The Texas High Plains AVA, covering almost 8 million acres of land, sits atop this huge plateau. The outline of the AVA follows the contour of the ridge at an elevation of 2,800 feet, and extends north and west. At its highest point, the elevation of the Texas High Plains AVA reaches 4,100 feet. The AVA currently has about 4,000 acres of vines and is home to over 75 mostly family-owned vineyards and at least 8 wineries.

Burgundy’s Côte d’Or, Sancerre in the Loire Valley, and Australia’s Murray Darling region are a few of the many other wine regions affected by scarps and escarpments. To learn more about scarps (and rías, and slopes, and benches) join us on Friday, January 23rd and Wednesday, January 28th for our SWEbinar entitled “Rías, Benches, Slopes, and Scarps – Physical Geography in the Vineyard.”

For more information please contact Jane Nickles, our Director of Education and Certification at: jnickles@societyofwineeducators.org

 

 

Mount Aconcagua and Her Namesakes

Aconcagua 1It’s higher than Mount Kilamangaro and Mount McKinley. It could easily lose Europe’s highest mountain – Mont Blanc – in its shadow. It provides irrigation and (of course) elevation for some of the finest wine regions in Chile and Argentina.

If that isn’t enough to impress you, consider this: it is the highest mountain in all of the Americas, the Western Hemisphere, and the Southern Hemisphere. It touches the sky at 22,837 feet above sea level, and one has to travel over 10,270 miles – to Asia – to find a higher mountain.

We’re talking about the highest mountain in the Andes – Mount Aconcagua. It is a dream destination for mountain climbers, especially if you consider that the mountain’s northern approach is considered by mountaineering standards to be an “easy route.” It’s considered a “non-technical” mountain climb, meaning that one can make it to the summit without ropes, axes, or pins. Be careful, though – with an atmospheric pressure of only 40% that of sea level, strong winds, electrical storms, and a potential low temperature of -13°F (-25°C), you are advised to be careful.

Mount Aconcagua is located in Argentina’s Mendoza province, very close to the border between Mendoza and San Juan. The mountain and its surroundings on the Argentine side are part Aconcagua 2of the Aconcagua Provincial Park. The summit is about 70 miles west and a bit north of the city – and vineyards – of Mendoza.

To the west, the summit of Mount Aconcagua is located about 5 miles from the international border with Chile. The Aconcagua wine region on the Chilean side of the border is actually named for the river that flows from the summit of the mountain to the Pacific Ocean. The Aconcagua viticultural region has three sub-regions: The Aconcagua Valley, the Casablanca Valley, and San Antonio Valley.

The Aconcagua Valley is located about 40 miles north of the city of Santiago and forms a narrow east-west valley along the path of the river. The area is classified as an “Entre Cordilleras” (between the mountains) climate area. The area receives only about 8 inches of rain a year, so irrigation from the river is essential. Mount Aconcagua towers over the region, which has a long history of red wine production. Cabernet Sauvignon is the widely planted grape, followed by Merlot and Carmenère.

The Casablanca Valley is located about 7 miles north and to the west of the Aconcagua Valley. The Casablanca Valley is well-known as a “costa” (coastal) climate region, and enjoys the cool, foggy mornings and maritime influence of the Pacific Ocean. Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc are by far the most widely planted grape varieties here, accompanied by plantings of white aromatics such as Gewurztraminer, Pinot Gris, and Riesling. Small amounts of red grapes, particularly Cabernet Franc, Merlot, and Pinot Noir, are planted as Aconcagua 3well.

Located south of the Casablanca Valley and, at points, as close as 2.5 miles from the ocean, the San Antonio Valley is also a “costa” climate region. The San Antonio Valley is a relatively new wine region known for crisp, mineral-driven Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc, as well as cool-climate expressions of Pinot Noir and Syrah.

Click here to view  SWE’s 2015 Wine Map of Chile

The Goddess and the Roasted Grape

ErbaluceThe goddess Albaluce – the love child of the Sun and the Dawn – was not happy. It seemed many of her followers in the enchanted land of Caluso were desserting her in favor of a new religion known as Christianity. As she sat down and shed her tears, a grapevine grew and brought forth sweet grapes with a bright copper hue. Eventually, these grapes became known as Erbaluce in her honor.

Great story, isn’t it?  Or perhaps we should simply refer to it as what it is – a legend, that, while surely fiction, does at least let us know that Erbaluce is an ancient grape. We also know – somewhat for sure – that the grape is native to Piedmont, which has written records of the grape dating back to 1606. These days, it rarely ventures far from home, and is an allowed variety in just a handful of DOC/DOCGs – all of them in Piedmont.

Erbaluce’s unique copper color – sometimes accompanied by pink highlights as the grape ripens – has given rise to the nickname Uva Arrostita, or “roasted grape.”  Modern science, through DNA profiling, has revealed that Erbaluce is closely related to another Piedmont native, Cascarolo Bianco, although who exactly begat whom is not clear.

Erbaluce is cultivated in a variety of provinces in and around Turin, but is most associated with the town of Caluso. Even here, however, it is a rarity – at last count, there were less than 800 acres – and its wines are seldom seen out of the region.

erbaluce 2Erbaluce di Caluso was granted DOC status in 1967, and was promoted to DOCG in 2011. The disciplinare allows for dry white wines, sparkling wines, and sweet wines – all produced with 100% Erbaluce grapes. The dry white wines go by the name Erbaluce di Caluso, while the sparkling wines, appreciated for the fresh fruit character and mineral aromas – are known as Caluso Spumante.

But the real star is Caluso Passito – a sweet, dried grape wine with a minimum of 7% residual sugar, 12.5% alcohol, and 36 months of aging (48 for the Riserva).  Caluso Passito is known for its aromas of apple, vanilla, citrus, honey, and almonds –and while I’ve only had it once  – I’m betting it would make an excellent match with a simple dessert of gorgonzola, dried fruit, and hazelnuts.

Note: Erbaluce is an allowed (majority) grape variety in the following wines, all produced in Piedmont:  Canavese DOC, Colline Novaresi DOC, Coste della Sesia DOC, Erbaluce di Caluso DOCG, Piedmont DOC

The website of Azienda Vitivinicola Giacometto Bruno has a lovely description of their Caluso Passito.

The Central Otago Gold Rush

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Wine students are well aware of the effect that California’s Gold Rush (1848-1855) had on wine production in northern California – namely, that between 1856 and 1857, gold fever turned into vine fever, and winegrape plantings in the area more than doubled!

However, did you know that Central Otago had a gold rush of its own?

It all began in May of 1861, when gold was discovered in an Otago Valley now known as Gabriel’s Gully. The site is located about three kilometers from the town of Lawrence, close to the Tuapeka River.  The discovery at Gabriel’s Gully was the largest gold strike ever for New Zealand, and quickly led to a rapid influx of foreign prospectors to the area – many of them veterans of the recent gold rush in California, as well as similar finds in the gold fields of Victoria, Australia.

One such miner, named Jean Desire Féraud, was of French descent – from a wine-making family in Burgundy, no less. Upon his arrival in Otago, Mr. Féraud quickly made a fortune from gold – so much so that the location of his lucky strike, located on the west bank of the Clutha River, is now known as Frenchman’s Point.

Jean Desire Féraud, via centralotagowine.com

Jean Desire Féraud, via centralotagowine.com

With his newly-found riches, Mr. Féraud bought 100 acres of land and planted orchards, herbs, and vineyards. He also built a winery, known as Monte Christo. Most of the wine was sold locally, but one batch – believed to be Pinot Noir from the 1879 vintage – won a third-place medal in the “Best Burgundy” category at an 1881 competition in Sydney.

Despite this success, Féraud’s efforts were not enough to win over the locals – most of them miners and farmers who preferred whisky and beer – to the love of wine, and Féraud soon sold the winery.  It was purchased by James Bodkin in 1889, and the property remains in the Bodkin family to this day.

Thus, the first wave of wine production in Central Otago was short-lived, and, as we all know, the modern wine industry took until the 1990s to really get going. It does, however, seem like Mr. Féraud knew what he was doing, as Pinot Noir is now the leading red grape of New Zealand. And Central Otago, famous for being the southernmost wine region in the world, is equally well-known for its fragrant, intense, silky Pinot Noir. To wine lovers, and hopefully to the legacy of Jean Desire Féraud, that’s as good as gold.

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