Guest Post: A Trip to the Ramona Valley AVA

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Today we have a guest post from SWE member Jan Crocker. Jan has just completed our CSW Online Prep Class and is planning on taking her CSW exam next month. Wish her luck!

Jan works on the “front line” of the wine industry as a beverage steward in an upscale grocer in Southern California. Read on as Jan shares about her recent trip to the Ramona Valley AVA.

Whenever I discuss California wine with wine shoppers at work, nearly all mention Temecula, since it’s extremely familiar to oenophiles in Orange County, California. I can also count on several folks each day singing the praises of the Napa Valley (“isn’t that where the greatest wines in the world come from?” they invariably comment), as well as Paso Robles and Sonoma.

However, because I relish exploring obscure wine varieties and regions—that’s why I’ve been a wine nerd for more than 15 years, after all—I’m genuinely excited about watching the emergence of a certain young American Viticultural Area that’s fast gaining acclaim among local wine writers, professionals and judges.

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With that, I’ll present the 162nd AVA in the United States: the Ramona Valley AVA.

As the third AVA in the sizable South Coast “super AVA” at 33.1 degrees north, the Ramona Valley celebrated its 10th anniversary in January 2016. The region itself is 14.5 miles long and nine and a half miles wide, and is home to 25 bonded wineries within its 89,000 acres over 139 square miles. (Note to wine nerds everywhere: the other two AVAs located within the South Coast AVA are the San Pascual Valley, founded in 1981, and the Temecula Valley, founded in 1986.)

Located about 35 miles northeast of San Diego in north-central San Diego County, the Ramona Valley is a destination famed for its balmy climate throughout the year. On the other hand, the area is no stranger to scorching summers, with daytime temperatures often above the century mark. Winters, by contrast, are brisk, with afternoons reaching the mid-60s and nights often dipping below freezing. Small wonder: Ramona is exactly 25 miles east of the Pacific Ocean, and 25 miles west of the Colorado Desert. Rainfall is moderate, with roughly 16 inches each year.

Julian, the historic burg famed for its apple pies and winters with light snow, is a mere 22 miles east of Ramona and more than 4,200 feet above sea level.  (That’s why I describe the Ramona Valley’s climate as “Mediterranean, with an asterisk.”)

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Grapes thrive as a result of the Ramona Valley’s vineyard elevation: about 1,400 feet above sea level. At least two of the region’s wineries sit at nearly 2,000 feet at elevation.

Indeed, the Ramona Valley’s neighboring mountains, hills, and rocks are a force in defining the character of the region’s wines. The Cuyamaca Mountains, Mount Palomar, and Vulcan Mountain are the “high points” of the steep inclines surrounding the valley. At the western portion of the region, 2,800’ Mount Woodson does its part as a rain shadow by keeping the Pacific Ocean’s trademark fog and chill at bay.

Let’s get back to those rocks.

During each of the four visits my husband and I have made to Ramona, we’ve never failed to be wowed by the huge boulders and striking rock formations along picturesque Highway 67, the only path leading into the region. On our first trip in early 2015, I hummed “The Flintstones” theme as we approached those monster rocks, since many of them resemble Bedrock, the cartoon’s setting. The closeness of those boulders, however, kept us alert: We fervently hoped that we’d be spared one of our home state’s signature earthquakes during our drive.

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Granite dominates the geological landscape, either in its original form as rocks or boulders or within the region’s loamy soil as decomposed granite. (During our four days in the region this August, we also spotted milky and rose quartz, as well as some tiny flakes of pyrite, during our “personal tours” of the 11 vineyards we visited.)

Granite’s presence also makes itself known in Ramona Valley wines: Of the 100 or so wines from the region that my husband and I have tasted in the last year and a half, all have an elegant flintiness and a backbone of minerality that’s riveting.

Southern California’s “soft chaparral” is the garrigue that shows up in Ramona Valley’s wines, reds especially. Many of my tasting notes include “sage and rosemary,” so it’s no mystery  to find that flora in the region’s natural landscape, along with wild oak, toyon, chamise and numerous species of cacti.

Local winemakers embrace the Ramona Valley’s terroir, planting varieties that develop deep flavors as they echo the area’s climate, soil types and ever-present breezes. John Saunders, the proprietor/vineyard manager/winemaker at Poppaea Winery, mentioned that a few local enologists have identified “at least 11 different microclimates” within the 139-square-foot valley, so the range of wine grapes compatible to those potential “mini-AVAs” is broad – and speaks to the stunning diversity of the region.

Red varieties flourish, especially those with their roots (no pun intended) in France, Italy and Spain. To that point, two wineries – Poppaea Winery and Principe de Tricase – are planted to white and red varieties spanning the length of Italy. Not surprisingly, Tempranillo craves the region’s sunshine and wide diurnal swings.

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Other growers and winemakers opt for Rhone varietals, as Syrah, Grenache, Mourvedre and Viognier flourish in similar conditions in the Ramona Valley: rocky and barren soils, ample sunshine and a steady, moderating breeze, albeit without the destructiveness of the mistral. Woof ‘n Rose Winery was planted to Grenache Noir in 2004, with consultation from fifth-generation winemaker Marc Perrin of Château de Beaucastel—as well as Grenache rootstock from the French vineyard. Ramona Syrahs showcase a brooding, deep style much like their Cornas or St. Joseph cousins; those from Ramona Ranch Winery and Eagles Nest both offer elegant, haunting scents and flavors with earthiness and garrigue.

Wine fans searching for varieties above and beyond their tried-and-true classics will have a field day with offerings from the region. During our four days in the Ramona Valley, my husband and I visited 11 of the region’s 25 wineries, tasted 82 current releases – and had the good fortune to try six varieties we’d never before had the opportunity to taste: Alicante Bouschet, Refosco, Aleatico, Fiano, Sangrantino and Bolizao. Tannat, the pride of Madiran, is a featured variety at Ramona Ranch Winery, one of the wines my husband and I enjoyed thoroughly.

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There’s no wonder why proprietors Marilyn and Steven Kahle at Woof ‘n Rose take pride in their Alicante Bouschet, the gorgeous teinturier: It’s generous, opulent, complex and undeniably enjoyable – and, my husband and I thought, a varietal that red fans would love if they tried it.

Speaking of Refosco: When was the last time we wine fans tasted one other than from their original northern Italian homes of Friuli or Trentino? Mike Kopp, proprietor/vineyard manager/winemaker at Kohill, offered us a barrel tasting of his signature Refosco, which nearly brought us to our knees.

Although heat-loving red varieties have a joyous home in the Ramona Valley, many whites do as well. Wine fans who enjoy their Chardonnays most when they’re flinty and zesty will appreciate the mineral influence of Mount Woodson and the nearby Cuyamacas; the elegant Chards featured at Lenora and Eagles Nest showcase that sculpted, sinewy quality as a counterpart to the variety’s richness.

Our Guest Blogger: Jan Crocker!

Our Guest Blogger: Jan Crocker!

It’s impossible to overlook how well Mother Nature took care of us during our four days during the first week of August. During each of our visits to the 11 wineries, every proprietor, winemaker and vineyard manager gushed over the gorgeous weather that week—sunny, of course, but with soft breezes. It’s usually blazing hot, “about 100 degrees at this time of year,” our winery hosts pointed out. “But it’s only in the high eighties. Isn’t it beautiful?”

We couldn’t have agreed more. And the Ramona Valley AVA’s future looks equally gorgeous – with the distinct likelihood that California wine fans will soon discover its current excellence and stunning future.

Photo Credits: Jan Crocker

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Conference Preview: Stellenbosch: Seven Wards, or More?

Cape Dutch architecture in Stellenbosh

Cape Dutch architecture in Stellenbosh

Today we have a conference preview from Jim Clarke who tells us the story behind his session “Stellenbosch: Seven Wards, or More?” Read on to hear the story of Stellenbosch!  

In my position with Wines Of South Africa I go to South Africa a couple times each year. Many wine industry folks assume I spend my time in Cape Town. It’s a wonderful city, and I’m always glad to do so, but I actually spend the bulk of my time in Stellenbosch; Cape Town may be the capital of the Western Cape, but Stellenbosch is the capital of the wine region. It’s home to 171 of the Rainbow Nation’s 566 producers, and has more vines and more vineyard land than any other district. Most of the country’s winemakers and viticulturalists study there, either at Stellenbosch University or at Elsenburg Agricultural College. It’s no accident that the WOSA’s offices are located there. 

Stellenbosch is small, a town rather than a city by most standards; it swells from 155,000 people to 184,000 when the University is in session, and for the visitor the town’s center is concentrated in just a few blocks. But the city is almost as old as Cape Town; Jan Van Riebeeck founded the latter in 1652, and his successor as Commander, and eventually first Governor of the Cape Colony, Simon Van Der Stel, founded Stellenbosch just 27 years later.  

Not a modest man, Van Der Stel named the city after himself – Stellenbosch means “Stel’s wood” or “Stel’s forest” – and his name adorns two of the three mountains that define the district’s shape, Simonsberg and Stellenbosch Mountain (the third being Helderberg, “Clear Mountain”). Incidentally, among Van Der Stel’s other contributions to the South African wine industry was the planting of 10,000 vines at his estate in Constantia in 1685, which became the home for the famous, eponymous wine later in the 18th and into the 19th centuries. 

Along the Cape Wine Route in Stellenbosch

Along the Cape Wine Route in Stellenbosch

Stellenbosch gained even more trees and a nickname, the City of Oaks, thanks to Stel’s policy of planting oaks along the streets of town. (How many trees? They’re so common that there’s a saying about what makes a “true” “Maty,” as the University students are called: they’ve kissed someone by the Eerste River, which runs through town; they’ve failed a class; and…they’ve been hit on the head by an acorn). Planting of vines, which would quickly become more important, happened at the same time.  

Stellenbosch has many estates that date back to the 17th century: Rustenberg dates to1682; Welmoed, today home to Stellenbosch Vineyards, to 1690, and Lanzerac to 1692. Many still display the typical Cape Dutch architecture of the period: imagine the front of a whitewashed Amsterdam townhouse, with its rounded gables, if it was no longer hemmed in by neighbors, allowing it to expand on both sides, all topped with a thatched roof. 

These and other early wine estates sprouted along on the alluvial fans of the mountains I mentioned earlier. The slopes provide good exposures and the soils, decomposed granite shed from the mountains over millennia, aren’t very fertile, making them perfect for winegrowing. Stellenbosch’s wine estates extend from the Simonsberg’s south-facing slopes, 25 km from False Bay, to the far side of the Helderberg, where Vergelegen, another classic founded in 1700, lies just 8 km from the water. Plantings began in the Bottelary Hills, on the far side of the town center from Stellenbosch Mountain, in the 18th century.  

Vineyards in Stellenbosch

Vineyards in Stellenbosch

Even some of the valleys like Banghoek (the pass to Paarl and Franschhoek) and Jonkershoek saw vines planted early on as well, but many of these were planted over or neglected when the South African wine industry faltered, first due to phylloxera at the end of the 19th century and then from a depression brought on by World War I. With the end of apartheid, renewed contact with the outside world both expanded the market for South African wines and brought a new perspective to viticultural practices. This inspired innovators like Neil Ellis to explore and replant these valleys and bring them back into prominence. 

There are few Stellenbosch locations suitable to viticulture that aren’t planted with vines these days. Perhaps the last spot to be filled in were the orchards that Madame May de Lencquesaing, former owner of the Second Growth Chateau Pichon Comtesse de Lalande purchased and began planting in 2003 to create Glenelly.  

Stellenbosch’s long, rich history means its producers have been exploring the terroir for centuries; they’ve discovered a tapestry of growing conditions that make Stellenbosch capable of great wines of all sorts – sparkling Methode Cap Classiques, fresh Sauvignon Blancs and Chenin Blancs, and even Riesling on the white wine side, and complex Bordeaux and Rhone varieties (and yes, even Pinot Noir) among the reds.  

The Simonsberg-Stellenbosch ward has become one of the premier homes of Pinotage – fittingly, as the variety was developed nearby at the University in the 1920s. Given how diverse South Africa’s Winelands are in their total, it’s only appropriate that the most important region there show similar range – South Africa in microcosm. And what does one do when one comes to Africa? Explore. 

Dornier Wine Estate in Stellenbosch

Dornier Wine Estate in Stellenbosch

Jim Clarke’s session, entitled “Stellenbosch: Seven Wards, or More?” will be held on Thursday, August 11th at 1:30 PM as part of SWE’s 40th Annual Conference. Here’s how Jim describes this tasting session: The home of South Africa’s wine industry, Stellenbosch is the most explored terroir in South Africa, sub-divided into seven wards with some areas, such as the Helderberg, yet to have an official ward designation. Simonsberg-Stellenbosch seems particularly suited to Pinotage, while the Blauwklippen Valley leans toward powerful Syrahs, and the Banghoek Valley has made a name for its Chardonnays. Wines of South Africa’s Marketing Manager Jim Clarke will explore Stellenbosch’s terroirs, highlighting the strengths of each and explaining why these ward names don’t appear on labels as much as they should.

 

Guest Post: Field to Glass – The Re-emergence of the American Farm Distillery

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Field to Glass… The Re-emergence of the American Farm Distillery – by Elizabeth Miller, CSW, CSS

Estate-bottled.  Terroir.  In the wine world these have long been terms that evoke respect for certain bottles and fetch higher prices.  It’s significantly less typical to see an estate bottled spirit, where all the variables of production occur in the same location… until recently!  Thanks to the reemergence of the farm distillery, gazing out from the distillery tasting room on a field of grains is now a more common experience for the spirits lover.

The movement goes by many names: grain to bottle, farm to glass, field to bottle.  Whichever the term, distilleries are now embracing farming and producing real land-based products.

Every bottle starts at the beginning: the base ingredient.  If you are a distiller in the United States or a famous whiskey producing country like Scotland and Ireland, you likely do not grow your own base ingredients or even source it close to your distillery.  You say to your broker, “I need this grain, or that botanical.”  The farm distillery eliminates that degree of separation.

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However, at Coppersea Distillery in Ulster County, New York, fallow and weed-choked pastures have been reclaimed for grains that produce their corn, bourbon, rye and barley whiskey. We really shouldn’t be surprised!  The farm distillery is the natural outgrowth of the craft distilling renaissance.  It’s becoming difficult to choose from the explosion of spirits choices at your favorite bar or retailer.  Favorable state legislation plus a powerful locavore movement has produced a boom in distilling licenses throughout the country.  Of those new craft distilleries, the American Distilling Institute found over 10% now are farm distilleries that either grow their own base ingredients or source them from local farms.

While the farm distillery seems new, it’s really a return to the beginning.  Long before the first American commercial whiskey distillery was founded in 1783 in Louisville, Kentucky, farmers were finding extra profits in their grains.  European colonists had arrived to America with the practice of whiskey making, and distilling bumper crops was both profitable and efficient.  The spirits could be stored almost indefinitely and it was easier to store and transport compared to enormous bales of grain.

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Breadbasket regions became home to hundreds and hundreds of distilleries.  In New York, where more than 1 million bushels of barley were being harvested in the 19th century, over 1000 farm distilleries flourished. Prohibition, however, ended this era, and the breadbasket regions of American ran dry… until today.  The Staley Mill Farm & Distillery in New Carlisle, Ohio—family owned since 1818—ran their handmade copper still long before Prohibition.  In the next few years, their 160-acre farm will yield organic corn and rye to fully supply their resurrected distillery.

The farm distillery is not the easy street.  There are substantial time and financial investments in purchasing seeds, field conditioning and procuring equipment.  Carefully planned harvesting, drying practices, finely calibrated humidity control, storage and transportation are all crucial to the final product and the bottom line – but the risks are worth it!

A farmer distiller has complete creative control, and can introduce something previously attributed only to wine: terroir.  Dave Pickerell, formerly Master Distiller at Maker’s Mark and Whistle Pig, is currently with Hillrock Estate Distillery in the Hudson Valley Highlands where 100 estate-owned grain fields surround the craft distillery.  In the Whiskey Advocate in 2010, Pickerell wrote of the uniform expression of whiskey by most of the major distillers, who all buy commodity grain.  His vision of the future includes “new expressions of whiskey… representing a new sort of terroir, where true geographical differences in the U.S. can not only be expressed but also clearly differentiated.”

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Spirits lovers can expect a continued deeper connection to the land in their bottles, from one corner of the United States to another.  In Colorado’s North Fork Valley, the Jack Rabbit Hill and Peak Spirits farm and distillery is practicing biodynamic farming.  The Barber family celebrates six generations on their 158 year-old farm in Schoharie Valley, New York.  Their distillery turns out their 1857 Vodka from not only their own potatoes but also the property’s spring water.  Estate owned malt houses and the propagation of heirloom grains are just a few perks we should expect from the growing farm distillery movement.

The next time we open a bottle, we can expect so much more, thanks to the reemergence of farm distilleries.  We can expect the taste of history, the taste of America and true taste of fields of grain.

Elizabeth Miller is the General Manager of Vintology Wine & Spirits and the Associate Director the Westchester Wine School in Westchester County, NY.  She has very happily traveled extensively throughout New York State visiting farm and urban distilleries.  Her blog ‘Girl Meets Vine’ is found at http://www.elizabethmillerwine.com/girlmeetsvine.

 

Arizona Wines are gaining recognition—Imbibe and take notice!

Today we have a guest post from Darla Hoffmann, CSW. Darla tells us about a pointed conversation she had with two gentlemen in a wine shop. Well, a conversation she might have had…

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While browsing the aisles of a local wine shop, I couldn’t help but overhear a conversation between two overly confident men.  I heard one of them say “Arizona must be proud of their wines because they are awfully expensive.  Do they even think they compare to California?”

Being a lover of Arizona wine, I had to be sure they had the facts. So, I said “Excuse me gentlemen, allow me to enlighten you on the wines of this beautiful State…

First, you should understand that from Prohibition until the 1980s it was illegal to make wine in Arizona.   The young industry has sparked so much interest that supply fell somewhat below our demand.  After all, youth can be exciting and innovative, but it still has its struggles.

Second, Arizona needs more fruit!  Status-driven wine, winemakers’ experience, and newer equipment all take time to build, and the funding isn’t as prevalent as it is in many other regions.   However, the growing recognition, along with the incredible agricultural base and culture, is driving an enormous amount of support and investment in Arizona vineyards.  Maynard Keenan, vocalist for a Grammy Award-winning progressive metal band, has invested heavily in providing Arizona with the tools it needs to become a serious wine producing region. The University of Arizona and Yavapai College have teamed up and are quickly spearheading a strategic plan for our emerging wine industry. Wine is even playing an intricate role in Arizona’s tourism and economic development too!

Maynard James Keenan - Don't mess with Arizona Winemakers. photo by deep_schismic

Maynard James Keenan – Don’t mess with Arizona Winemakers. photo by deep_schismic

There are three main wine growing regions, all lying in the majestic hills of the northern and southern parts of Arizona at elevations of 3,800-6,000 feet.  Sonoita-Elgin is the oldest producing area and the only official AVA. These vineyards produce white, blush, and some of the spiciest, full-bodied robust reds in all of Arizona!  The high desert mountain plateau enjoys a climate and growing season similar to Rioja, Spain.  Furthermore, expert vintners have compared the soil to that of Burgundy, France.

The Willcox region produces reds, whites, sweet wines and dessert wines. Syrah and Sangiovese are popular varietals cultivated in the soil rich with ash from ancient volcanoes. The soils and the climate resemble the viticultural areas of both the Rhone Valley in France and Mendoza, Argentina.

Finally, the Verde Valley, north of Phoenix, is bursting with vineyard growth, fine restaurants, tasting rooms, and hotels.  The volcanic past of the Verde Valley and the drainage of the Verde River has created a mineralized, slightly alkaline soil just challenging enough to produce distinctive flavors in grapes.  Italian varietals like Malvasia, and Nebbiolo are just some of the grapes that experience excellence here.  Long warm summers, cool nights and an old world style of winemaking make some of the finest rich full bodied wines.   Similar to the South of France, Spain and Italy, the growing season temperatures can reach 100 degrees during the day but drop substantially at night.

With 942 acres under vine, growers use altitude to exploit the benefits of these sizeable diurnal temperature changes.  It’s equally interesting to know that Arizona shares a similar latitude and range of microclimate, as that of Israel and Syria, which are growing tremendously as some of the most exciting wine producing countries in the world!

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Arizona now enjoys 83 bonded wineries some of which are gaining national recognition.  Some recent accomplishments include 2 wines earning 90 points by Wine Spectator: 2010 Page Springs Cellar’s Colibri Syrah Clone 174, and 2010 “The Burning Tree” Syrah from Colibri Vineyards. Both of these wineries are located in Southern Arizona.

Arizona Stronghold was also awarded the Class Champion Double Gold at the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo™ 2013 Rodeo Uncorked! International Wine Competition for its 2010 Mangus, a Sangiovese blend.

So yes, Arizona is quite proud of their wines!  However, like I said the industry does need more support.  My hubbie and I adopted our own little Grenache vine at the Southwest Wine Teaching School to show our support.  Go to southwestwinecenter.org to check it out.   Lastly, since Arizona wines are quite young, we are not for certain how the wines will mature.  This is a project for us all!   I recently purchased 2 bottles each of Rancho Rossa Grenache 2008, Dos Cabezas El Norte 2011, Fire Mountain Erath 2011 and Pillsbury Diva 2013. My plan is to drink one bottle of each this year, and wait 5 years to drink the second bottle.  Well, I’ll probably drink the 2008 in 2 years! Having shared that, I urge you to taste Arizona wines now, lay some down for later and explore all of the possible changes the future might bring to these wines!”

Darla Hoffman, CSW

Darla Hoffmann, CSW

Whew. Ok, so I never really said any of this to the gentlemen in the wine shop.  But thank you for letting me get it off of my chest!

Darla S. Hoffmann, CSW is the Sole Proprietor of About Wine in Phoenix, AZ.  The focus of her business is wine education and marketing, i.e. tastings, classes and promotions. Darla is a Certified Specialist of Wine, Hospitality Beverage Specialist, and Professional Member of the Society of Wine Educators. She is a member of The Wine Century Club where membership requires having tasted 100 grapes. She is Basic Title 4 Certified under the Liquor Law Training of ABC.

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Little Leaps and Tiny Bounds: Expansion of the Willamette Valley AVA

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Oregon’s Willamette Valley AVA, first established in 1983, just got a little bit bigger. Actually, it just got a teeny-tiny bit bigger, having been expanded by 29 square miles—from approximately 5,360 square miles to approximately 5,389 square miles (even the TTB calls this an approximation). This represents an increase of 0.5%. The TTB approved the rule expanding the AVA on March 3, 2016, and it will become official on April 4th.

The expansion area is located at is southern end of the established AVA. The newly designated areas fill in some of the viticultural “no-man’s-land” located between the southern end of the Willamette Valley AVA and the north/northeast boundary of the Umpqua Valley AVA.

While 29 square miles out of a total 5,389 might not sound very significant, it is highly significant to two wineries that own vineyards in newest section of the AVA. These two wineries, King Estate and Iris Vineyards, can now bottle a good deal of their wine under the Willamette Valley AVA—an obvious benefit to the reputation (and likely price point) of the wine.

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Interestingly enough, the application for the expansion of the AVA detailed the features of the expansion zone that are similar to the original AVA (whereas most AVA applications only try to differentiate themselves from the surrounding areas). Here is what the author of the petition, Steve Thomson (Executive Vice President of King Estate Winery) had to say about the area:

Topography:  The expansion area is, like the established AVA, composed of rolling hills between the Coast Range Mountains (to the west) and the Cascade Mountains (to the east) at elevations ranging from 500 feet to 1,200 feet. By contrast, the region outside the expanded AVA is much more rugged, mountainous, and at higher elevations.

Watershed: The expansion area is located within the watershed of the Willamette and Siuslaw Rivers, as is the established AVA. The region to the south of the expansion area is located in the watershed of the Umpqua River (as is the Umpqua Valley AVA).

Soils: The soils in the expansion area are mainly comprised of the same types of soils found in the established Willamette Valley AVA, including Willakenzie, Dupee, Jory, Bellpine, and Peavine. The area outside of the new boundaries of the AVA is mainly comprised of different soil types (although it does contain some Peavine soils).

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Climate: The climate of the expansion area in terms of annual mean temperature, precipitation, and degree days—while slightly cooler than the average of the established Willamette Valley AVA—is much closer to the overall climate of the Willamette Valley AVA than it is to the climate data of the Umpqua Valley AVA or its surrounding  areas.

This is a minor adjustment to the boundaries of an existing AVA—even the TTB, in its calculated legalese admits that it is “not a significant regulatory action” and “will not have a significant economic impact on a substantial number of small entities.” However, we are guessing that Iris Vineyards and King Estate will be doing some serious celebrating, and it is always good to have a reason for cheer.

So…we’d like to say “Welcome to the brotherhood of AVAs” to the new 29 square-mile region of the Willamette Valley AVA!

Click here to access the original documents concerning the Expansion of the Willamette Valley AVA Ruling  via the Federal Register of March 3, 2016

post authored by Jane A. Nickles…your blog administrator

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Searching for the Origins of Fermented Beverages

Today we have a guest post written by David Glancy, MS, CSS, CWE. David dives into the ancient origins of wine and beer, and tells us about an upcoming event at his San Francisco Wine School. Read on!

Photo of Dr. Patrick McGovern by Alison Dunlop

Photo of Dr. Patrick McGovern by Alison Dunlop

Archaeologists have never been so cool. Dr. Pat (Patrick McGovern) is the Scientific Director of the Biomolecular Archaeology Project for Cuisine, Fermented Beverages, and Health at the University of Pennsylvania Museum in Philadelphia. He is often referred to as the world’s leading archeologist of fermented beverage, a career path my high school counselor failed to mention. When he’s not in his office at the University of Pennsylvania he is often wandering the Caucasus from Russia to the Middle East, or exploring a tomb in Egypt or a new dig in some remote mountain in China. And between all of these places he has found the oldest scientifically verified fermented beverage and wine (for now). Who knows what else he might find as he keeps digging.

That beer is old! In 2004 Dr. Pat and his colleagues documented the oldest fermented beverage. They carbon dated and DNA tested scrapings from pottery shards. It turns out that China’s thirst for beer is not new (#1 beer consuming nation). This beer dated back to 7,000 BC and was found at a Neolithic Chinese site called Jiahu. It is in southwestern Henan Province, China, on the east slopes of Fuliu Mountain. It was a grog made from rice, grapes and/or hawthorn fruit, and honey. Sam Calagione, brewer/owner of Dogfish Head Brewery in Delaware has made an interpretation of this ancient brew with Dr. Pat as a consultant.

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The birthplace of wine made from grapes seems to be from the Caucasus. The Greater Caucasus stretch from Russia through the Georgian Republic to Armenia and Azerbaijan with stops in between. The Lesser Caucasus include Turkey and Iran, but ancient winemaking seemingly wandered from there to the Mediterranean with noted production in modern day Iraq, Lebanon, Israel, Jordan and Egypt.

Dr. Pat and his colleagues found the oldest wine, too. Once again, they were digging, scraping and lab testing. The wine residue they found dated back to 5,400 BC and was found at another Neolithic site (Hajji Firuz) in the northwestern Zagros Mountains of Iran. Six jars of the same shape, each with a volume of about 9 liters, were found lined up and set into the floor of a “kitchen” in a square mudbrick house.

Here is an overview of several of the wine producing countries of the Caucasus and Middle East.

  • An Armenian Wine Renaissance is under way. There are over 100 grape varieties being grown today in Ararat, Armavir and other regions of Armenia but much attention is being paid to an ancient variety, Areni Noir. Grape growing and winemaking were minimal after Armenia’s independence from the former Soviet Union, but today small producers are breathing new life into the industry from Armenian nationals to flying winemakers like Paul Hobbs.
  • Georgia has over 500 grape varieties being grown today and the industry is growing. By far the most widely planted variety is Rkatsiteli, a white grape. There are also several variations of a white grape called Mtsvane. The leading red grape is Saperavi. Wine is made in Kakheti and many other regions of Georgia.
  • Lebanon has continued to make wine despite many years of warfare. Winemaking has been practiced in the Bekaa Valley for over 6,000 years. There are roughly 40 wineries and Chateau Musar is one of the most famous. Many international grape varieties are grown here along with the local Obaideh and Merwah.
The Golan Heights Winery; Katzrin, Israel

The Golan Heights Winery; Katzrin, Israel

  • Israel also has produced wine for thousands of years though most of their 100+ wineries started in the last few decades. The five official wine regions are Galilee-Golan, Shomron, Samson, Judean Hills and  Negev. Production has shifted from white to red wine from many varieties including Bordeaux and Tuscan grapes.
  • Palestine is producing wine against all odds. There is minimal production despite thousands of years of history of growing grapes here. The few vineyards are in the area around Bethlehem and Hebron in Palestinian territories between Israel and Jordan. Baladi, Dabouki, Jandali and Hamdani grapes are the main focus.
  • Turkey largely focuses on indigenous grapes. Sultaniye, Öküzgözü and Bo€azkere grapes are the most widely grown but Shiraz is also widely planted. There are over 1 million acres of vineyards in this large country but a good deal produces fresh and dried fruit, not just wine. There are over 600 unique grape varieties here and the majority of the vineyards are in the region of Thrace, along the Sea of Marmara, near Greece and Bulgaria.

All of these topics and more will be covered in depth at the upcoming Cradle of Wine Civilization Event at the San Francisco Wine School, to be held in South San Francisco on March 13. The day’s events will include 4 seminars, 14 panelists and speakers from around the world, wines from Armenia, Egypt, Georgia, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Palestine, and Turkey; a multi-cultural lunch with the winemakers, walk-around grand tasting, and an ancient brews happy hour. Click here for more information!

 

 

 

 

Welcome to the world, Lamorinda AVA!

Hillsides of Contra Costa County at sunset

Hillsides of Contra Costa County at sunset

On Wednesday, February 24, 2016, the TTB approved the establishment of the Lamorinda AVA. The Lamorinda AVA is located in Contra Costa County, California, and includes part of the cities of Lafayette, Moraga, and Orinda. (California residents might recognize this area as part of the “East Bay.”) The new AVA is entirely contained within the San Francisco Bay Area AVA, which is itself entirely contained within the Central Coast AVA.

The new AVA covers a total area of nearly 30,000 acres,  much of it encompassed by suburbia,  but it is also home to 46 commercial vineyards with a total of 139 acres of vines. According to the original petition (filed on behalf of the Lamorinda Wine Growers Association in 2013), each individual vineyard is small – perhaps 5 acres or less – due to both the citified infrastructure and the hilly terrain.  In addition to the established vineyards, there are three larger commercial vineyards at various stages of being planned or established in the area; these might soon add another 130 acres of commercial vineyards to the region. There are currently six wineries operating in the area.

According to the petition, the unique features of the Lamorinda AVA include its soil, topography, and climate:

  • Topography: The terrain consists mainly of moderate-to-steep hills with narrow valleys. In contrast, areas further inland are much more rugged, and areas to the west are both flatter and at lower overall elevations.
  • Soils: The soils of Lamorinda tend to be thin, with high levels of clay and sand. In contrast, soils in the surrounding areas tend have more sedimentary and volcanic elements.
  • Climate: The Lamorinda area is, overall, warmer than the areas to the north, south, and west due to the presence of hills that block the cooling influence of the Pacific Ocean.  It is, however, cooler than the region located further inland, to its east.

Note: The name Lamorinda is a portmanteau from the names of the three cities that make up the region: Lafayette, Moraga, and Orinda.

Welcome to the world, Lamorinda AVA!

For more information:

Post authored by Jane A. Nickles…your blog administrator

 

Saké…A Practical Guide

Today we have a guest post from Mark Rashap, CWE who, fresh from a holiday trip to Japan, gives us a practical guide to sake. Enjoy!

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I hope you were able to read, enjoy, and garner some sight from my previous saké post, Tasting Saké from a … Champagne Perspective.  Focusing more on the sensory perception and the metaphorical side of saké, I left the practical and general explanation of saké for this post.  I hope to distill the pertinent information about the uniqueness of production, variety of styles, and different classifications that are important for any beverage professional in the US to know and understand.  For a more comprehensive yet still manageable guide, I would recommend John Gaunter’s The Saké Handbook.

Let us first tackle the differences in production from that of wine and beer.  First and foremost, all fruit, during their ripening cycle, naturally produce fermentable sugars (glucose and fructose).  This is obvious because when you taste fruit before fermentation, it will be sweet on the palate.  Grains are made up of starches, or long chain carbohydrates, that must be broken down through a process called saccharification.  In beer production, this is done in the mash by mixing water and grain, mostly barley, at various relatively high temperatures.  Enzymes in the grains are activated to break down the starches, then the sweet liquid is cooled so alcoholic fermentation can occur.  In saké production, rice grain cannot go through saccharification on its own, so a mold called Kōji-Kin (the Kōji is steamed rice plus the Kōji-Kin) is added and, under very controlled circumstances, winds up permeating the entire batch (or Moromi).  Because this saccharification happens at temperatures equivalent to those for alcoholic fermentation, both processes can and must happen simultaneously in the same vessel.

You might read very detailed accounts of how the Kōji is made, such as being cultivated in small slotted boxes and moved around every hour. All this is done so the mold is properly developed and consistently permeates the entire Kōji.  Additionally, a yeast starter, or Moto, occurs separately to ensure a healthy yeast population.  However, don’t let all this Japanese pomp and circumstance confuse you; all these processes are done simply to create a batch that has fully functioning saccharification and fermentation at the same time.  Every brewery does things slightly different, but this is the take home point.

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Let’s review: rice is polished (more on this later).  It is washed, soaked, and steamed.  Part of it goes to the Kōji and part of it goes to the yeast starter.  These two separate batches are incrementally combined along with more water to ensure consistent mixing.  Saccharification and fermentation occur simultaneously for anywhere between 18-32 days.  It is pressed, usually filtered, usually watered back from 20 to 16 percent ABV, usually pasteurized twice, and bottled.  Violá!  When any of those “usuallys” don’t occur, there is a different name described below.

Now that you have the general idea of production, let’s talk about some variations and classifications.  All saké is classified as either Junmai, which means strictly made from water, yeast, kōji, and rice, or as Honjōzō, which has a small amount of brewer’s alcohol added just before pressing.  In my tastings, Junmai saké tends to have more delicate, pure, and subtle flavors, and Honjōzō sakés tend to be a bit fuller and rougher around the edges which might be desired in some situations.

The next uber-important variation of production is the amount of polishing before the brewing takes place.  With the varieties of rice commonly used for premium saké production, there are proteins, fats, and minerals occupying the outer layers of the rice grain that tend to cause off flavors in the finished saké.  Therefore, the outer layers are polished away to reveal the pure starches in the center of the grain.  It is easy to get confused by the percentage that is removed vs. the percentage left behind, so it is a good idea to get in the habit of referring to the polish as a percentage of what is left behind because that’s how the Japanese categorize it (called the Seimaibuai).  So, table rice will have a polish leaving 90% rice behind, cheap saké will be 80%, and most general saké is 70%.  Now for the important terms:  Ginjo is 60-50% left behind, and Daiginjo is between 50-35%.  So, the yields can be very low, and for the very best sakés only 35% of the grain remains after polishing!

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So, to reinforce our understanding of this, within the Junmai (no distilled alcohol added) category: 70-60% grain remaining is simply called Junmai, 60-50% is Junmai Ginjo, and 50-35% is Junmai Daiginjo.  Within the category of Honjōzō (which is brewed with added distilled alcohol), simple Honjōzō is 70-60%, Ginjo (notice you don’t say Honjōzōginjo, it’s just Ginjo) is 60-50% polish, and Daiginjo is 50-35%.  I supposed you need to taste the difference between all these different categories for yourself for it to really sink in; do it comparatively just like when you’re trying to grasp the difference between Burgundy and Cali Pinot Noir.

Now there are a myriad of other styles, most of which are quite obscure, but there are a number worth detailing:

  • Nigori (cloudy):  this is saké that is unfiltered or filtered using a rough mesh.  The rice sediment left behind does give a sweeter profile.
  • Taru Saké: Sake which is aged in cedar barrels and has a woodsy aroma
  • Namazaké: unpasteurized saké.  This must be kept cold or else a haze and undesirable aromas will form.  It is thought of as fresher and livelier.
  • Tokubetsu (special):  bottles do not have to indicate what is special, but is usually a higher grade seimaibuai (polish) or special variety of rice.
  • Genshu: saké to which no water was added to bring down the alcohol to 16%.  These usually have 20% alcohol and have more robust flavors.  Popular as Genshu on the rocks.

It is easy to get wrapped up in all the minor details making understanding saké seem like an unattainable goal.  However, I believe that the information in this post will be a great foundation around which you can start to recognize the most important production terms on the label and make an educated guess as to what will be in the glass.  Of course, just like wine, we need to not be afraid of a different language, taste a wide variety of saké styles, take notes, and retain that information.  I hope that will be fun and rewarding!

MarkPost authored by Mark Rashap, CWE. Mark has, over the past ten years, been in the wine world in a number of capacities including studying wine management in Buenos Aires, being an assistant winemaker at Nota Bene Cellars in Washington State, founding his own wine brokerage, and working for Texas-based retail giant Spec’s as an educator for the staff and public.

In August of 2015, Mark joined the team of the Society of Wine Educators as Marketing Coordinator to foster wine education across the country.

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

What about Washington?

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Today we have a guest post by an anonymous writer, who we know by the name Candi, CSW. Candi has developed respect for and enjoys the wines of  Washington State, and after reading her piece, we know you’ll have an appreciation for the wines of Washington State as well!

What about Washington?

When it comes to United States domestic production, many of us know that California continues to make the majority of our wine. And it’s easy to get caught up in the multitude of imports into the United States as well. But what about another key wine-producing state, number 2 or 3, depending on the source? I’m talking, of course, about Washington.

A Few Facts and Figures

Here’s an overview of the Washington’s wine “state of the state”. Please note that some of the information is based upon the 2014 Grape Crush Report.

  • Most of the industry has developed over the past 40 years, so it is relatively young compared to some areas.
  • Growth since around 1987 has been substantial. At that time, there were about 100 wineries. Now there are more than 850.
  • Wineries are predominantly small, family producers; these comprise about 800 of the 850 wineries.
  • Five varieties account for more than 75% of all wines produced. These include, in order of production, Riesling, Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Syrah. More than 40 varieties are produced, however.
  • White wine production (53%) slightly exceeds red wine production (47%).
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    There are 13 appellations. The Yakima Valley appellation, established in 1983, is the oldest. The newest AVA, Ancient Lakes of Columbia Valley, was recognized in 2012. By comparison, the Napa Valley AVA was established in 1981.

  • Grapevines are typically grown on their own rootstock. The state generally experiences a winter freeze that reduces the risk of some pests, including phylloxera.
  • The predominant soil, loess, is so fine-grained that many vineyards require cover crops to keep the soil in place.

Dominant Varieties: Key Impressions

I recently had the opportunity to taste the wines of more than 15 producers. More than 40 wines were tasted, representing the 2011 through 2014 vintages. My overall impressions, based upon the tasting, are listed below. This may give you are a few ideas on ways to  get an exposure to what Washington has to offer.

  • Consider Riesling. These presented as fresh, floral, fruity, sometimes with a hint of minerals. Further, Rieslings seemed consistently good.
  • Chardonnay was also impressive, and with citrus aromas and flavors predominant. The typical acidity would bode well for pairing with a variety of foods.
  • Merlot clearly expressed Washington and AVA terroir. These wines were generally bolder, and more full-bodied, than many California examples. Think wines reminiscent of Chilean Merlot and even Carmenère. Note: that comparison IS a compliment!
  • Cabernet Sauvignon has the broad range of appeal similar to the state’s Chardonnay. Unlike some new world Cabernets, this wine can be more subtle and softer than the Washington Merlot.
  • Syrah appeared to be more terroir-specific than some Cabernets. Frequently spicy, a bit smoky, and full-bodied.

Wines, especially Chardonnay, Merlot and Cabernet, seem to be available in a wide range of prices. A bonus: wines often over deliver considering their price, so they appeal to those, like me, who seek value. And these varieties would make great party wines, too!

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For those seeking “splurge” or special occasion red wines, look to Red Mountain AVA for Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah and red blends. A splurge for white wine lovers: Bordeaux Blends of Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon.

May I Recommend?

The next time seafood is on the menu, think of a Washington Riesling if the dish is light. Something a bit heavier, maybe fatty fish? Consider a Washington Chardonnay.

When you want to pair a wine with strong cheese, lamb chops, or beef, look into a Washington Merlot, Cabernet, or red blend.

Cheers, and enjoy!

Guest Post: Why Wine Educators Should Study Emerging Regions in the U.S.

Today we have a guest post from Dr. Dwight Furrow, a Professor of Philosophy, wine educator, author (and more) who lives in San Diego. Dr. Furrow is here to sing the praises of the new, unusual, and lesser-known wine regions of the United States.

Portugal's Douro River, with Oporto in the background

Portugal’s Douro River, with Oporto in the background

Wine is fascinating for many reasons but the stories of how wine regions continually adapt to the vagaries of nature and the inertia of culture to improve quality are among the most compelling aspects of wine. The story of France’s recovery from the phylloxera epidemic, the birth of the Super Tuscans, Napa’s transformation into a quality wine region after prohibition and their surprise showing at the Judgment of Paris, the dangerous trek down the Douro River to bring Port to market before locks were built, the heroic struggle to make wine in Lebanon’s Bekaa valley—all great stories that inform our wine lore.

Most of us who study wine have focused on the famous, established regions and for good reason as that is where the quality is. It takes many years to find the right match of soil, varietal, climate and cultural knowledge to make quality wine and many of these regions have had centuries to experiment.

Yet, as I travel around the U.S. visiting lesser known wine regions there are fascinating stories developing that may provide insight into the production of quality wine. In Oregon’s Willamette Valley last summer after many successive days over 100 degrees, the talk inevitably turned toward what to do if their climate keeps warming. Of course, every wine region in the world is asking this question but Oregon has placed a big bet on spare, mineral-driven, cool climate Pinot Noir. Will they be happy with 14.5% alcoholic fruit bombs or will they be ripping out Pinot Noir and planting Syrah in 5 years?

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The American South is an unlikely climate for growing wine grapes. The high humidity means rot and Pierce’s disease will destroy vitis vinifera vines. Yet these challenges have led to the development of non-vinifera and hybrid varieties that can thrive in warm, humid environments. Will Blanc deBois and Lenoir produce wines to compete with Chardonnay and Cabernet? They have a long way to go but quality is rapidly improving helped along by careful site selection, better vineyard management, and pest and disease research at local universities. Some Virginia and Missouri wineries are committed to developing the indigenous Norton grape into something lovers of European wines will crave. I have tasted several that might pass for an off-beat Syrah of modest quality in a blind tasting. Careful oak-aging seems to be the key to controlling vegetal and nut aromas that can taste odd.

Texas wine regions have to deal with deep winter freezes, scorching summer heat, acidic soils in some parts of the state, humidity in the East and drought in the West. Can Cabernet Sauvignon find its place amidst that adversity? Perhaps. A Texas winemaker told me that current experimentation with clonal variations will establish Cabernet Sauvignon as the go-to grape in Texas.

Can you grow wine grapes in the desert? In Southern Arizona’s high desert where temperatures drop off a cliff at night, varietals such as Tempranillo, Grenache, Mourvèdre and Sangiovese, which thrive on long days of full sunlight and large diurnal temperature swings show great promise. Here, one of the challenges is to get vines to carry a smaller fruit load in order to restrict yields.

Vineyards in New York's Finger Lakes AVA

Vineyards in New York’s Finger Lakes AVA

And of course the Northern tier states from Idaho to New York are experimenting with ways of dealing with hard freezes and late frost. In short, there is rampant experimentation going on, each region a crucible of innovative research all driven by a dedication to producing the quality needed to compete in an increasingly competitive wine market. In the future, all this experimentation will lead to new flavor expressions.

Is the quality there yet? No, at least not consistently. There are pockets of excellence and oceans of mediocrity. All of these emerging regions face a shortage of grapes to keep up with the growth in wineries as well as public perceptions that quality wine grapes can be grown only in California. But given their energy and enthusiasm, and the skyrocketing advances in wine science, it’s reasonable to expect that some of these regions will prove capable of consistently producing wines of great character.

The traditional wine regions are justly famous for their fully developed wine traditions. But there is no reason to think that we’ve already discovered all the best wine regions or that traditional wine regions will remain so. At any rate, climate change is likely to scramble the wine map in unpredictable ways.

For wine educators interested in the nuts and bolts of viticulture there may be no better classroom than these emerging regions of the U.S.

DwightDwight Furrow is Professor of Philosophy at San Diego Mesa College specializing in the aesthetics of food and wine, and owner of the blog Edible Arts.

He is the author of American Foodie: Taste, Art and the Cultural Revolution and is Senior Wine Educator for The Sommelier Company, a company of wine professionals that provide a variety of services to the food and beverage community.

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