Conference Preview: Torrontés – Argentina’s Iconic Grape

Today we have a conference preview from Nora Z. Favelukes and Leslie Gevirtz, who tell us about a fascinating trip they took to Argentina, as well as the Torrontés grape variety and the amazing wines it produces in Argentina.



In March 1987, I found myself in a small car with the son of Arnaldo Etchart, the producer of some amazing, prize-winning wines from Bodegas Etchart. The young man was speeding up over rock formations and roaring through canyons while I held on for my dear life, keeping one eye open just to see the breathtaking scenery. We were heading to the Calchaqui Valley – Salta’s main winemaking area. I was going there to coordinate a visit for the television producer Burt Wolf in advance of a video project of his.

Two-and-a-half-hours later, we arrived at Cafayate, a charming town with cobbled streets, low-rise houses painted white on the outside and topped with red roofs, a main square with the Church on one side and the City Hall on the other – typical of colonial times.

Guided by Jose Luis Mounier, Etchart’s winemaker at the time, I was formally introduced to Torrontés, Salta’s specialty and the favorite white wine of most Argentineans. As we visited vineyards and toured the wineries, I became enamored of this highly aromatic, delicious wine. The highlight of the visit was a 6-years-oak-aged Torrontés, an experiment Jose Luis was working on to evaluate the effects of oak and aging on this grape. I was pleasantly surprised and intrigued.



From then on, I was hooked. I love their intense sweet aromas of jasmine, lychee and stone fruits. The wines have a high acidity; spiciness and they’re dry. It is a tricky wine, Torrontés – it captures you with the sweet aromas of fruit and it awakens your palate with its acidity, powerful flavors, and dry finish.

Truth be told, I really only preferred the ones from Salta for the elegance, the high acidity, and the intensity of the aromas. The Torrontés from the other regions were OK, but nothing to write home about. They were rustic and the bitter notes at the end of the palate were more pronounced. However, things improved during the 1980’s with the modernization of the Argentine wine industry, new vineyard management techniques, and new technology; and the quality of Torrontés improved significantly.

For me, my “Aha!” moment came over five years ago when Alberto Antonini, one of Argentina’s most prominent flying winemakers, introduced the Nieto Senetiner Reserva Torrontés in New York City. It was “Helloooo”.

It had the fruitiness, the acidity, and the complexity that I love in what is a fun wine. So when I tasted it and saw that this wine was from Mendoza, I jumped! I knew that the levels of wine making and vineyard management had hit new heights.




I have also been continually amazed by the techniques that winemakers are mastering. Every year as part of my duties for the Wines of Argentina, I travel with sommeliers to Argentina – and every other year we go to Salta. So over the last eight years I have seen the evolution of this uniquely Argentine varietal. It is a natural crossing of Muscat of Alexandria and Criolla Chica – a grape brought by the Spanish in the 16th century. There are three different clones: the Riojano, Sanjuanino and the Mendocino. Of the three, the Riojano is the most widely planted and produces higher quality wines.

Again as part of my duties, I coordinate a Comprehensive Tasting of Argentine Wines with Stephen Tanzer at the Argentine Consulate in New York.  We generally taste 400 wines – and it is what I call a democratic tasting. It is open to all the wineries – big and small. They are all given the same chance to be tasted by Tanzer.

Now, I consider it my duty to taste the wines before Tanzer, just to make sure they are correct. But with some wines, I like to taste a little longer, so to speak. With so many wines, I usually just do it by the aromas. If the nose is good, the wine is good. And, if the aromas are superb I give it my full attention… and that happened with Colomé Torrontés 2014. This one was different. It was good, as it usually is, but something was different from its previous vintage, more interesting in a good way. So, I called the winery to find out what was going on. It seemed that for the first time they were blending Torrontés grapes from two vineyards at different altitudes. And, the effect was very noticeable, the wine was extremely aromatic and at the same time, had a new complexity.



Then last November, I tasted Susana Balbo’s Barrel Fermented Torrontés and I was just floored.  I knew then that I had to do a seminar on Torrontes. I have to show, not tell. So, we are going to have the wine in my seminar because I have to teach about this.  Torrontes showed me that the stereotype – as being always young and fresh and fruity – was shattered. This is coming from someone who doesn’t usually like wood in white wine. I usually find that the oak overpowers the fruit, but here it does something magical. The oak treatment is so subtle, adding to the elegance a new complexity and texture.

So now that Torrontés has matured, I want to re-introduce and share this evolution with my fellow members of the Society of Wine Educators Conference 2015. It’s almost a revolution.

Nora Z. Favelukes is the founder of QW Wine Experts, an international consulting company based in the United States dedicated to brand building, strategic marketing and public relations of imported fine wines. For the past seven years, QWWE has been  responsible for the Wines of Argentina branding account. Nora also teaches on classes on South American and Iberian Peninsula wines at New York City College of Technology, Brooklyn, NY. In 2006, she received the “Outstanding Industry Professional Award” by New York City College of Technology. Nora is also a member of SWE’s Board of Directors.


Understanding Wine’s Eco-Evangelists – Conference Preview



Today we have a guest post from Jordan Cowe, CWE. Jordan gives us a little background on his upcoming Conference session on Wine’s Eco-Evangelists!

Wine’s Eco-Evangelists have a problem, a big one:  For every person who supports what they do, there’s at least 2 or 3 more that are skeptics.

When I was first diving into the world of Eco-Friendly viticulture I held a fairly skeptical – if not cynical -view of the whole area. If I were to distill my thoughts from that time on the field down to what I thought of it, I would have defined my experiences with the three main areas of eco-wine as follows:

  1. Sustainability: A marketing buzzword used by nearly every winery in existence with little to no meaning left.
  2. Organics: A mix match of regulations aiming to achieve some unknown goal by making wines that were often fairly unimpressive.
  3. Biodynamics: A new age cult. Period. Seriously what’s up with these guys?

The reality is these are unfair assessments, but they are commonly held views on the subjects. Over time I have had chance to work for and speak with producers using these approaches and have realized that there’s a lot more happening here than it seems. What is really happening is a communication problem, people just don’t believe what they’re being told. Whether it’s overuse in marketing, disbelief in the actual benefits or simply getting a giggle out of the more mystical aspects, each area of eco-wine has to fight to overcome skeptics, even among fans of the wines and sometimes staff.



Sustainability truly has become a marketing buzzword, making it hard to distinguish who is truly embracing sustainability and who is just using it to help their brand. The biggest questions here become: If it’s good for the environment and quality does it really matter why they’re doing it? What exactly are they doing, do they detail their practices? At this point you can make a judgement for yourself, or taking it a step further several regional associations have developed their own sustainability certification to help ensure the word really means something.

For organics the idea is well meaning, reduce the use of synthetic chemicals in favor of more natural compounds. Part of the problem here has been the mix of certifications and awkward terms used across the field. Over time there has been increased standardization of practices, advances in understanding of the effects of organic compounds themselves and in general an improvement in the quality of the wines being produced. Like any field it can take time to figure out how to do it right and with maturity will come great strides. In the meantime how do you approach the fears about viability or even functionality and communicate the benefits.

At the far end of the eco spectrum is biodynamics, and a beast of a topic it is. I will be quite frank and say at the core of its ideology it does contain a fair amount of mysticism but the mystical aspects are relatively unrequired for certification. The ultimate goal with biodynamics today is to bring balance to the farm and related ecosystems. Some producers fully embrace the mystical side of biodynamics, but the more you get to know producers it would seem many have simply the accepted system itself with the knowledge that it does appear to produce a healthier farm and better wines, they aren’t worried about why. Some of the largest producers are in fact actively trying to pin down a scientific basis for the practices realizing that the mystical explanations can hurt the movement.



The focus with all three of these ideologies is to create better wines while having a positive impact on the environment. This is ultimately a noble goal, and one that is often achieved, with many of the world’s top vineyards meeting the criteria for one of these categories whether they publicize it or not. Many of their communication problems come down to their existence as ideologies, proponents view the topics as often very black and white, all or nothing proposals. This makes finding a common ground with which to explain their ideas to outsiders difficult. Combine this with some aspects that are relatively unexplainable and you have a problem on your hands.

Through my interactions with producers I’ve increasingly realized this communication gap is a big problem and have set out to examine the topics in depth to find out for myself what they are really all about. As an outside observer I’ve examined the good and the bad in these topics, I’ve looked at the scientific basis behind some of the more esoteric practices and I’ve set out to find a way of conveying the basis of these ideas while avoiding the easy mystical or just because answers. Through a better understanding of these ideals I hope to enable more wine lovers to be eco-evangelists, to appreciate the hard work and experimentation that goes into making outstanding wines in an environmentally conscious manner.

At the heart of it how can anyone be opposed to producers wanting to make better, more exciting wines all the while helping the environment? But do they actually have a positive impact on the environment? Are the ideas practical or is it just witchcraft and anecdotal evidence? How do you decipher all of the conflicting ideas and information out there?



Join me at this year’s annual conference in New Orleans for my session “Wine’s Eco-Evangelists: Saving the world one glass at a time, ” where I will aim to remove the fog covering eco-friendly viticulture and winemaking philosophies and explain what each of these areas of the wine world actually entail. We will taste through some key producers from exciting regions in the world of eco-viticulture and judge for ourselves if the wines live up to the hype that they earn.

Jordan Cowe is a Certified Wine Educator and Sommelier from Niagara Falls, Canada. As an independent educator Jordan focuses primarily on educating wine professionals and developing a friendly, open minded approach to wine service and sales. Eco-wines are just one of the many interests Jordan has within the world of wine, his focus strongly directed toward the unusual and esoteric topics. Jordan’s other works and previous presentations can be found on his website at

Conference Preview: Is there a Doctor in the House?

Today we have a conference preview from Matilda Parente, MD. Tilda’s conference session will address something we are all interested in – the connection between wine and health! Read on for her comments on red wine headaches!

red wine headacheWine Headaches: Is Malo the Culprit?

Wine headaches have been recognized for millennia. Celsus (circa 25 BCE – 50 CE) wrote about head pain brought on by drinking wine in a medical encyclopedia from the Roman age. In the late 1700s, the English physician Fothergill described migraines triggered by certain foods and drink including chocolate, cheese and wine.

More than 200 years and countless headaches later, many questions about wine headaches remain unanswered despite the widespread occurrence of different types of wine intolerances, estimated to affect from 7% to perhaps 40% of individuals. As a wine professional, you probably field questions about what causes such reactions and what can be done to avoid or prevent them.

Guests often claim that their headaches are brought on only by red wine. For others, it’s white wine. Or bubblies. Some find that dessert wines do them in. Others cite high-tannin wines while a few more may blame a certain grape varietal or perhaps an entire continent. Some people claim to not experience headache with organic wines or while on vacation, usually in Europe.

As a wine professional, how can your answer your guests’ questions in a way that makes sense of these conflicting anecdotes and remain true to what the emerging science tells us?

Moving beyond sulfites, which have long been granted a reprieve as the wine headache culprits, consider biogenic amines (BA). These carbon- and nitrogen-containing compounds made from amino acids are present in various fermented foods and beverages, including wine, beer, cider, certain cheeses, processed meats, anchovies and other fermented or soured foods such as sauerkraut, buttermilk and pumpernickel bread.

22362387_lBA are found in all living things and are essential for many processes. In humans, BA function in brain development, cell growth and the immune response. However, when consumed in large amounts, or by individuals unable to break down BA or in people on some medications or with certain conditions, high amounts of BA may overwhelm the body’s ability to degrade them, causing headache and other symptoms such as flushing, itching, skin rash, burning or swelling of the mouth region, runny nose, high blood pressure, elevated heart rate, shortness of breath or asthma, gastrointestinal upset or, in extreme cases, circulatory collapse.

The major biogenic amines in wine are histamine and tyramine along with the unpleasant-sounding putrescine and cadaverine, two biogenic amines that have been linked to spoilage, mostly in fish and foods.

Where do the biogenic amines in wines come from? Some are present in the grapes themselves, the levels of which may vary with the grape variety, vintage, and different viticultural practices and conditions. Yeast may also produce some BA during the alcoholic fermentation, with levels varying according to the starter yeast type or strain. BA formation can also depend on the winemaking temperatures, maceration time and pH levels. Allowing the wine to rest sur lie increases BA levels, as can the barrel aging and storage of wine.

Recently, scientists from various wine-producing countries have found that the concentration of biogenic amines in wines soars during malolactic fermentation (MLF, or ‘malo’). That conversion process, a near-universal practice in red wine production, uses lactic acid bacteria to convert tart malic acid to the softer lactic acid, decreasing acidity and helping to ensure better microbial stability in the wine.

The bacteria that have been associated with increased BA production during malo can produce an enzyme called decarboxylase that enables BA formation from the amino acids present in the wine.

Although many white wines and rosés do not undergo MLF, the process is often used in Chardonnay production, which also imparts a buttery flavor to the finished wine due to the formation of diacetyl, a MLF reaction by-product.

The potential health issues associated with biogenic amines are coming under closer scrutiny, especially over the past decade. The European Food Safety Authority has brought focus to the presence and levels of biogenic amines in fermented foods and beverages, including wine and beer. The EFSA is encouraging further research into this area, including the establishment of safe levels for histamine and tyramine, the most medically important BA, mostly as applied to foods.

red wineAs for wine, the International Organisation of Wine and Vine (OIV), an intergovernmental scientific organization, issued a 2011 statement regarding good vitivinicultural practices to minimize BA production that may affect future wine imports to its 43 member states.

The OIV recommendations include the following to minimize BA production:

  • Selective harvesting and rigorous sorting with minimal transport delays
  • Avoiding high-pH musts and the triggering of spontaneous MLF
  • Avoiding lees maturation with risky musts (low acidity, high temperature)
  • Controlling lactic bacteria with lysozyme (an enzyme) and/or sulfur dioxide
  • Using starter yeast strains for alcoholic fermentation that are less prone to BA production
  • Inoculating with bacteria that have no or low decarboxylase activity to begin MLF
  • Using bentonite as a fining agent to remove proteins

The highest levels of BA are associated with certain foods rather than wine. However, during the course of a meal, several BA-containing foods or beverages may be consumed at one sitting, which may overwhelm a susceptible individual’s ability to process these substances.

The concentration of BA in wines from different countries may range from only a few milligrams per liter to 50 mg/l or more. For comparison, dried anchovies contain 348 mg of histamine per kilogram (about 2.2 pounds) with certain aged or fermented cheeses containing about 62 mg/kg (EFSA data, 2009).

Some countries have already established recommended upper limits for histamine in wine, ranging from 2 mg/l in Germany to 10 mg/l in Switzerland.

Clearly, Celsus was on to something. Hear more about these and other prime suspects in wine headaches, possible avoidance strategies, surprising findings about hangovers and plenty of good news about the wine-health connection from head to toe in New Orleans at my Is There a Doctor in the House? presentation on wine and health at this year’s Society of Wine Educator’s annual conference on Thursday, August 13th at 10:30 am. See you in N’awlins!

TildaMatilde Parente, MD, CSW is a board-certified physician and the director of wine at a southern California culinary school. She is a member of the Renaud Society, a wine judge and the author of Resveratrol (Woodland Publishing, 2009 and 2011 in Spanish) and Healing Ways: An Integrative Health Sourcebook (Barron’s Education Series) to be released this Fall.

She blogs at Tweet her @winefoodhealth.


Conference Preview 2015: Blighty Bubbles – Can English Sparkling Wines compete with the Best?

BlightyToday we have a 2015 Conference Preview from Sarah Malik, CWE who tells us about her session on “Blightly Bubbles – English Sparkling Wine!”

The history of English wine production dates back to the pre-Roman times. England had strong ties to Italy and France and therefore saw no real need to make wine. Ever since the Romans invaded England in 43 AD England has seen continual but often sporadic wine production up to this current day, but it has only really been in the 15-20 years that the wine production has been more prolific. 

This past year, 2014 interim reports from the winemakers predicted that this was going to be one of the best years ever for English sparkling wine. The UK has just released its production records and the 2014 predictions appear to be spot on with 47,433 hectolitres being produced (approximately 6.3 million bottles) which is a 42% increase in volume from the previous year. This was a very different story from 2012 when Nyetimer, one of England’s largest estates, announced it was making no sparkling wine due to the difficult growing season.  

Blighty bubblesAcross the country, the quality is also proving to be excellent. Bob Lindo of Camel Valley Vineyard in Cornwall has even declared 2014 “The Vintage of Dreams.” Mardi Roberts, from the Ridgeview Sparkling Wine Estate added, “The base wines are already fantastic, and we truly believe that 2014 will be a vintage to remember.” 

Julia Trustam Eve, Marketing Director of EWP (English Wine Producers) has said of the 2014 vintage, “Over the last years, we seem to be continually breaking our own records – and the 2014 figures surpass everything. There’s no doubt about it – English wines really are on an upward trajectory. As if to prove her statement, in December 2014, the IWC (International Wine Challenge) awarded 26 medals to English wines, with three English sparkling wines from the county of Sussex winning gold.  

This session will showcase some of the best sparkling wines England has to offer. England has no “official” analysis of the styles of wine produced, but estimates from the EWP (English Wine Producers) and the UKVA (United Kingdom Vineyards Association) prove that sparkling wine now makes up two-thirds of production. Chardonnay and Pinot Noir are the most planted varieties in the country, with 230% growth in the last 8 years. 

Blightly Bubbles 2Sarah Malik is an Associate Professor at Johnson and Wales University in Charlotte, NC. Her focus is wine education. She worked Bass Charrington Breweries and West Midland Taverns in the UK before joining Hilton International and Queens Moat Houses as a Food and Beverage Manager. She eventually moved to Switzerland where she taught for five years in Hotel Consult, Le Bouveret and DCT in Lucerne, Switzerland. Sarah has received a Sommelier Diploma from the International Sommelier Guild, and has completed WSET Diploma with Merit and is a certified WSET Educator. She holds the CSS, CSW, and CWE certifications from the Society of Wine Educators, where she has been a member for many years. 

Sarah is also an International Bordeaux Wine Educator and has successfully completed the Napa Valley Wine Educators Academy. Recently she participated in the Banfi Vintners Scholastic Trip to Italy and has just spent one week in Napa Valley visiting numerous vineyards. 

Sarah’s Session, “Blighty Bubbles – Can English Sparkling Wines compete with the Best?” will be held on Wednesday, August 12 at 3:00 pm as part of the 39th Annual Conference of the Society of Wine Educators.



Conference Preview: Agave Intensive…No, Really!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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





Conference Preview 2015: Four Decades of Three Palms

Photo via:

Photo via:

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

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

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

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

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

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

San Francisco's Coit Tower

San Francisco’s Coit Tower

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

I hope to see you there!

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


Conference Preview 2015: How Cool is the Cape?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stellenbosch Vineyards in the shadow of Table Mountain

Stellenbosch Vineyards in the shadow of Table Mountain

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

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

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

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

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


Conference Preview 2015: Psych Up with Tim Gaiser!

Exam AnxietyToday we have a Conference Preview from Tim Gaiser, MS about test anxiety – something Tim has witnessed first hand many times over his long and much-lauded career as a wine educator. Read on for information on Tim’s upcoming conference session!  

“Over the last 20 years I’ve coached and examined thousands of students. One of the most concerning things I’ve noticed in that time is that some students simply don’t test well.  Often, regardless of how well they’ve prepared for an exam, their anxiety level is so high that they simply can’t function at their best – much less function at all.  This could be the cruelest of fates as some remarkably talented students are never able to pass an exam simply because their stress level is too high.

In the past year I’ve worked with a group of students using various strategies that have proven effective for dealing with test anxiety as well as building confidence and helping them to bring their very best self – their “A game” – when needed.   In my session we’ll cover some of these strategies including EFT (Emotional Freedom Technique), Spin Dynamics, Submodalities, Clearing the mechanism, the Circle of Excellence.”

Tim Gaiser 9_23_13128343Tim Gaiser is an internationally renowned wine expert and lecturer. He is one of 175 individuals worldwide to ever attain the elite Master Sommelier wine title. Over his 25-plus year career Tim has taught thousands of students in wines and spirits classes at every level as well as developing wine education programs for restaurants, winery schools and wine distributors. He has experience in all phases of the wine industry – online, wholesale, retail, winery, and restaurant – including stints at Heitz Wine Cellars in the Napa Valley and Bix and Cypress Club restaurants in San Francisco, and Virtual Vineyards/the original His client list includes Fosters Global Wines, Diageo, American Express, Evian, Pepsico International, Fiduciary Trust, Franklin-Templeton, Morgan Stanley, and Wells Fargo. 

Tim has written for a number of publications including Fine Cooking Magazine and Sommelier Journal. He also writes for numerous wine and spirits clients including Champagne Perrier Jöuet, Wines of Germany and the Portuguese Cork Quality Association. Gaiser has served as the author and lead judge for the Best Young Sommelier Competition and the TopSomm Competition, the two major American sommelier competitions. Considered one of the leading wine tasters and educators, Gaiser was recently featured in the Think like a Genius Wine Master training product, created by the Everyday Genius Institute.

Prior to developing his wine expertise, Tim received an M.A. in Classical Music. He played classical trumpet as a freelance professional and as an extra with the San Francisco Opera until 1988.

Tim’s session, “Psych Up: Strategies for Dealing with Test Anxiety” will be held on Wednesday, August 12th at 3:00 pm as part of SWE’s 39th Annual Conference.


Conference Preview: The Spectrum of Wine Flavors

Today we have a Conference Preview about a fascinating session to be presented by a father-and-daughter team, Stephen and Maria Ghiglieri. 

Figure 3-4 Harvested Cabernet SauvignonSession Title: The Spectrum of Wine Flavors: How Viticultural and Pre-Fermentation Practices Effect Wine Aroma and Taste

We’ve all heard the statements: “Great wines are made in the vineyard” or “there are no great winemaker’s just great grapes”. Our view is from another saying: “great grapes don’t grow or make great wine by themselves”. It’s the close partnership between the grower and winemaker that yields great wine.

Our discussion and tasting will explore how the decisions made by these partners affect wine flavor. We will consider the influences of terroir plus water, canopy and nutrient management on specific wine flavors and examine what defines a “great grape”. In addition we’ll discuss how color and flavor are affected by harvest decisions and pre-fermentation fruit handling.

We think Harold McGee and Daniel Patterson said it best in their 2007 New York Times article “Talk Dirt to Me”: “We don’t taste a place in a wine. We taste a wine from a place — the special qualities that a place enables grapes and yeasts to express, aided and abetted by the grower and winemaker”.

Figure 5-1 White Grapes in a CrusherAbout the speakers:

Steve Ghiglieri, CWE was the Plant Manager for Anheuser-Busch at their Houston Brewery until he retired in 2009. During his 28-year career with the company he held a number of positions including Brewmaster and Director of International Brewery Operations where he was responsible for operations in China, Philippines, Brazil, Argentina, and multiple locations in Europe and Canada. He is a graduate of the University of California at Davis where he earned his BS in Fermentation Science and MS in Food Science.

Growing up with Stephen Ghiglieri as her father, Maria Ghiglieri’s exposure to the wine and beer industry started early, but it wasn’t until 2011 while living in Chicago that she became serious about enhancing her wine knowledge. After being introduced to the SWE she earned her CSW in 2013 and is currently studying to take the CWE exam. She has been a wine judge at the Houston Livestock and Rodeo Wine competition for the past two years. Maria is a graduate of the University of Washington in Seattle.

Stephen and Maria’s session, “The Spectrum of Wine Flavors: How Viticultural and Pre-Fermentation Practices Effect Wine Aroma and Taste” will be offered as part of the 39th Annual Conference of the Society of Wine Educators to be held this August in New Orleans. The Ghiglieris’ session is scheduled for Thursday, August 13th at 8”45 am.


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

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

Photo via

Photo via

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

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

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

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

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

Photo via

Photo via

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

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

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

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

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

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

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