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!

 

Welcome to the World, Los Olivos District AVA!

One of the windmills of Solvang, California

One of the windmills of Solvang, California

Today, the TTB established the approximately 22,820-acre Los Olivos District viticultural area in Santa Barbara County, California. The new AVA, which becomes “official” on February 22, 2016, is wholly located within the Santa Ynez Valley AVA, and is positioned in the area between the Ballard Canyon AVA (to the west) and the Happy Canyon of Santa Barbara AVA (to the east). The towns of Solvang, Los Olivos, Ballard, and Santa Ynez are within the boundaries of the new AVA.

There are currently 47 commercial vineyards and a total of 1,120 acres of vines within the new AVA.  The area is mostly planted to Bordeaux and Rhône varieties, as well as Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. There are 12 bonded wineries in the area, including  the Brander Vineyard,  Beckmen Vineyards, and Roblar Winery.

Fred Brander of Brander Vineyards spearheaded the effort to get the AVA approved, submitting a revised, 26-page petition in March of 2013. According to the petition, the “distinguishing features” of Los Olivos as compared to the surrounding areas include its topography, soils, and climate:

  • Topography: The Los Olivos AVA is mostly flat terrain, with a gentle sloping southward towards the Santa Ynez River. The surrounding area has higher elevations and steeper hills.
  • Climate: The flatter topography of Los Olivos allows the area to have higher amounts of sunshine (due to less fog) and rain (due to the lack of the rain shadow effect that the surrounding areas experience). The region, being 30 miles inland from the ocean, is quite warm duriless influenced by the morning fogs and cooling influence of the coast, allowing Los Olivos to become warm during the day and cool at night.
  • Firestone Vineyards in the new Los Olivos District AVA

    Vineyards in the new Los Olivos District AVA

    Soils: The majority of the soils in the Los Olivos AVA are well-drained alluvial soils, mostly fine sandy loam and clay. The soils of the surrounding areas are less fertile, drain faster, and are of a different soil class.

The petition contains a good deal of information in the “name evidence” section, including a connection with the historic Rancho Los Olivos. Additional name evidence cited includes the historic Hotel Los Olivos (now known as Mattei’s Tavern) , the Los Olivos Grand Hotel (Fess Parker’s Wine Country Inn), the Los Olivos Café and, of course, the connection with the 2004 Academy Award winning movie Sideways.

Click here to access the new AVA’s Docket on the TTB Website.

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

Tasting Saké from a … Champagne Perspective

Today we have a guest post from Mark Rashap, CWE. Mark has some insights about tasting saké in the context of the language of Champagne, and shares some of his adventures from his latest trip to Japan.

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Saké has always been sort of an enigma for me.  I’ve liked it and attended many classes and conference seminars on it; however, there’s something utterly confusing about the dizzying Japanese characters and multitude of production techniques.  It has always seemed like I’ve lacked the vocabulary for describing the subtle and elusive flavors, as well as not being able to correlate those flavors to a particular place or terroir.

Here’s where the enigma deepens: is this not essentially our goal as wine tasters? We try to see how the terroir speaks to us out of the glass, discern whether it is typical or atypical of that region, attempt to understand why by digging into the growing and production techniques, and the world goes on.

Saké, however, abides by different rules and should be thought of more in terms of “house style” instead of terroir, not unlike the large negociant houses in Champagne.  In fact, the more I thought of saké in terms of Champagne, the more insight I gained in understanding this ethereal beverage. With this understanding, I was able to develop a vocabulary around which to describe sakes previously elusive aromas and flavors.

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This is not to say that a sense of place is not important in sake. Granted, the rice, albeit from specified varieties grown for saké, does not have to come from any region in particular and is often shipped all around the country.  However, certain saké breweries (Kura) have congregated around areas known for pure and reliable water supplies, such as the Fushimi area in south Kyoto and the mountainous area of Niigata.  Additionally, there is some regional component to the Saké brewer (Toji) guilds.  Nevertheless, there are no AOC–type rules to preserve regionality or history, and we can confidently say that the mark of the Toji is the most defining factor in the quality and subtlety of the final product.  This is not unlike the Negociant houses of Champagne priding their flavor and style around the blending skill of Chef de Cave or their unique house yeast strain.

Real Japanese Saké, or Nihonshu (technically “saké” is just the Japanese work for alcohol in general), has an identity crisis in the US.  The process is most similar to brewing beer; however, the lack of carbonation, alcohol content, potential complexity of flavors, and ability to pair with various food align more with wine.  However, when we start seeing descriptions such as nuts, red fruit, flowers, and yeastiness in describing a clear and pristine liquid, it is all to reminiscent of Champagne.  I’m particularly talking about Junmai, which does not have alcohol added and consists of only rice, water, yeast, and kōji (the mold that converts the starch in rice to fermentable sugar), and Ginjōshu, meaning the rice was polished, removing 40-65% of the outer layer of rice (this is where the impurities are found).

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John Gaunter, one of the best resources on Saké in the English language, writes in his Saké Handbook, “A vast number of words describe the kaori, or fragrance of a saké.  These are often simple fruit, flower, or rice-like sensations, with esters, earthy tones, and herbal notes as well.”  Additionally, he frequently uses terms such as “austere” on one end of the spectrum and “gentle and soft” on the other, Krug vs Perrier Jouët perhaps?

In relationship to acidity in sake (which is much lower than in the world of Champagne), Gaunter writes, “a higher acidity often makes a sweeter saké taste more dry, while a lower acidity can make a saké seem heavier on the palate.”  Sounds like the acidity/dosage balance that Champagne winemakers strive for come disgorgment time.  In the Saké Handbook, Gaunter gives over 50 recommended sakés with descriptions and for each and every one, you could replace the word saké for Champagne, and it would still make sense.

This link to Champagne really helped me in a recent visit to the Fushimi district of Kyoto, where I tasted almost all of the 17 breweries there.  I am constantly befuddled and enamored by the sakés (and Champagnes) that show the red fruit and plum aromas commonly found in the villages of Aÿ, Ambonnay, and the greater

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Montagne de Reims.  I found the Shoutoku brewery with their famous Junmai’s to pertain to this style.  Furthermore, I tasted many sakés that showed an austerity, earthiness, chalkiness, and white flowers that is haunting and quintessential of Les Mesnil Sur Oger and the greater Cotes de Blanc.  Kinshi Masamune pertaining to this camp.  Practically ever saké I tasted reminded me of something in the world of Champagne, either a village or producers or flavor I tasted once upon a time.

As wine professionals, we should strive to continuously improve our vocabulary in the way that makes sense for us.  Whether this means using Ann Noble’s Wine Aroma Wheel or Matt Kramer’s intangibles of insight, harmony, and surprise.  In my opinion, studying Champagne and learning to describe it, which should be an absolute pleasure for all of us, trains us to bridge these lexicons and identify the tangibles of yeast, nuts, floral and fruit components as well as speaking in metaphor, because there is an undeniable other-worldliness of Champagne.  To my knowledge, I have never read of the saké-Champagne link before and can consider it an original concept.  My only hope in writing about this is that it helps you engage in the world of saké with a certain familiarity and comfort, ultimately allowing you to further explore its complexity of flavors and aromas.  I’d love to hear if you agree!

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!

 

Welcome to the World, Eagle Foothills AVA!

Approximate location of the Eagle Foothills AVA

Approximate location of the Eagle Foothills AVA

Welcome to the world, Eagle Foothills AVA!

The Eagle Foothills AVA, which was announced via a notice by the TTB on November 25, 2015, is officially the first AVA to be located entirely within the State of Idaho, effective today—December 28th, 2015.

While serious students of wine will note that Idaho already has an AVA within its boundaries—the large  Snake River Valley AVA—a portion of that AVA is shared with the state of Oregon. The Eagle Foothills AVA is the first AVA Idaho can claim solely for itself.

The new AVA, located entirely within the Snake River Valley AVA, is spread across approximately 50,000 acres of land. Tucked up against the eastern edge of the Snake River Valley AVA, the southern border is located approximately 25 miles north/northwest of Boise, Idaho’s capital city. The new AVA encompasses the area between the towns of Eagle (to the south) and Emmett (to the north) in Gem and Ada counties.

A main feature of the Eagle Foohthills AVA is its proximity to Prospect Peak, a mountain in the Snake River Range that reaches over 4,800 feet in elevation. The hills that form the best vineyard areas in the AVA are south-facing slopes that enjoy afternoon sunshine coupled with evening shade.

The Snake River hear the Idaho/Oregon border

The Snake River near the Idaho/Oregon border

The climate is cool overall, thanks in part to the elevation, along with the down-sloping winds coming off the mountains and foothills. These combine to make the climate in the Eagle Peak AVA significantly cooler than the surrounding area. The degree days at 3 Horse Ranch Vineyard (currently the only winery operating in the new AVA) average  2,418—making this a Region I area according to the Winkler Scale.

There are currently just over 70 acres planted to vine, with a total of 16 vineyards in the area. There are plans for more than 450 additional planted acres in the near future. Grapes planted in the area include Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Malbec, Petit Verdot, Syrah, Grenache, Mourvèdre, Pinot Gris, Chardonnay, Viognier, Roussanne, and Sauvignon Blanc.

The establishment of the Eagle Foothills AVA is a credit to Martha Cunningham, co-owner (along with her husband, Gary) of 3 Horse Ranch Vineyard. The Cunninghams bought their ranch and began planting grapes nearly two decades ago. A few years ago, Martha happened to read a suitability analysis written by Dr. Greg Jones of Southern Oregon University for the Idaho Wine Commission. She realized the area in the Eagle Foothills had a unique terroir, and with the help of Dr. Jones and Dr. Clyde Northup (of Boise State University) filed the original AVA Petition in February of 2013.

The Eagle Foothills AVA is the fourth new AVA to be established in 2015. Do you know the other three?

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

References:

2015 Harvest Report: North America

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Today we have a guest post from Mark Rashap, CWE. Mark completes his three-part series on the 2015 harvest with a report on the harvest season in North America.

In two previous blog posts, we discussed the 2015 harvest in France, as well as the major regions of the rest of Europe.  In these posts, I described my method of remembering and mentally archiving vintages around the world by comparing them to the particulars of Bordeaux.  Through this technique, I find it is easy to draw similarities between regions. For instance, in 2010, regions all over Europe has results similar to those found in Bordeaux—which led to great phenolic ripeness with maintained acidity.

However, in 2007, there was a lot of variability and many regions differed from the cool rainy conditions of Bordeaux—in particular, there was very hot and arid weather in Piedmont and Tuscany.

Perhaps, this method of “compare and contrast” will help you remember and make sense of vintages. Or, perhaps, you approach the topic in an entirely different way—in which case we would love to hear about it!

This final installment of our three-part series on the 2015 harvest will cover the Americas and beyond. As such, there are certainly many parallels in the quality and nature of the 2015 harvest between North America and the great regions of Europe.  Most notably, this is one of the earliest harvests in recent memory.  Grapes came in 2-3 weeks early in most regions of California and Washington State, but only about a week early for Oregon and the Finger lakes.  As far as quality, almost all regions reported an excitement about balanced ripeness, tannin, and acidity.

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    Napa Valley:  The California Wine Institute reported that Napa Valley saw one of the earliest harvests of the last 30+ years.  Very little rainfall during the entire summer sped up ripeness.  Yields were extremely low, in part due to the drought, but mostly due to a cold and wet May which disrupted flowering.  The past 3 years have been quite productive for the vines, so this year was somewhat due for a light crop. In some cases the crop was 25%-50% lighter.  Cameron Perry, winemaker at Groth Vineyards and Winery, noted that the quality, however, for Cabernet is exceptional with big fruit flavors, ripe tannin, and high color pigmentation.

  • Sonoma County: The Russian River Valley was no different with harvest starting as early as August 14th.  Ripeness for the Pinot Noir was excellent with moderate retention of acidity.  The Zinfandel in Sonoma and Mendocino, in particular, benefitted from the mild nighttime temperatures.
  • Paso Robles: In Paso Robles, Tablas Creek Vineyard published an average yield of 2.01 tons/ acre, which was similar to 2009.  The intensity and quality was similar to that vintage as well.
  • Southern California: Vineyards throughout Santa Barbara saw the same story of very low yields due to drought and poor fruit set, but very high quality.
  • Oregon: Oregon’s Willamette Valley saw a different story altogether with healthy yields all around. Chehalem Wines reported a 150% crop load over last year.  In some cases, the valley’s Pinot Noir ripened in a typical “California style” with potential alcohol surpassing 14 degrees.  A very dry summer gave way to light rains in August which revitalized vines.  Perhaps, the vintage will be criticized for low acids.
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    Washington State: According to Tim Narby of Nota Bene Cellars , 2015 was a year when everything became ripe at once.  The summer was extremely hot and berries were very small, but vines did not seem to balk with minimal “raisinated” berries and total yields for the state setting the record for largest in state history.  Many wineries I spoke with were very excited about the quality, rich flavors, phenolic ripeness, and balanced acidity of the grapes.

  • New York: In the Finger Lakes, Cornell University Extension reports there is a lot of hope despite the tough year, which included a brutally cold winter, late frosts, torrential rains in June, and a hot July and August. Thankfully, conditions for harvest evened out, which created an excellent possibility of even ripening and extended hang time.  On Long Island, a dry harvest season has minimized fear of rot and allowed grapes to evenly ripen.
  • Texas: In Texas, winemakers are excited about a quality harvest after a very difficult 2013 and 2014.  Yields are healthy despite severe flooding in May and June bringing danger of molds and rot.

I hope that you have enjoyed and appreciated looking at a wide array of regions in a summary format.  Of course, it is up to us to delve deeper into the variability of what occurred in each microclimate and terroir as these wines reach the market and we are either selling them or teaching using them as examples.  I hope you’re excited as I am to taste these 2015 wines as they are released!

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!

References