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.





A Few of my Favorite Scarps

Devil's Tower

Devil’s Tower

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

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

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

The Niagara Escarpment

The Niagara Escarpment

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For more information please contact Jane Nickles, our Director of Education and Certification at:



SWE Takes Minneapolis!

MinneapolisSWE will be hosting a Minneapolis Mini-Conference on Thursday, September 18th! This event will take place at the at The Westin Minneapolis, located at 88 South 6th Street, Minneapolis, MN, 55402.  Sessions will meet in the hotel’s “Manufacturing Room” and will run from 1:00pm to 4:00pm.

The sessions for this mini-con will include:

1:00pm to 2:15pm – Sexy, sensuous and seductive – Now that’s Italian!!! 

Presented by Neill Trimble, CSW – Join us on a romp through the vineyards of Italy where we taste palate titillating wines from Piedmont,  Veneto and Tuscany – among others.  We will recount some fascinating stories such as how Gavi got its name, how Romeo and Juliet had a role to play in Soave and do you know when the first vintage of Brunello was born.  We will reveal this and much, much more!

2:45pm to 4:00pm – The Secret Life of Pinot Noir

  • Presented by Jane A. Nickles, CSS, CWE
  • Pinot Noir…it’s temperamental, it ripens too early, it has thin skin and it’s just Secret life of Pinot Noirplain complicated. It’s been called the heartbreak grape, and we’ve probably all been burned.  At the same time, the  delicious, haunting flavors of a good Pinot Noir – including include cherries, berries, smoke, spice, earthiness, brambles, truffles (and that’s just the beginning) – can inhabit your memory like a permanent smile. Join “Miss Jane” Nickles,  SWE’s Director of Education, for a tasting of some excellent examples of this finicky wine and an exploration of the “secret life” of Pinot Noir.

Members can join us for an incredible day as we taste and learn about wines from around the world. To RSVP, please contact Jessica Morse: This event is open and free to all current members of the SWE; non-members may register for a $50 fee.

Click here to return to the SWE Homepage.



Conference Preview: The History of California in Six Glasses

Today we have a guest post from Michael Wangbickler. Michael will be presenting his session, The History of California in Six Glasses, next month at SWE’s 38th Annual Conference in Seattle, Washington. Read on to hear a bit about the history of California wine!

father serraThe story of the California wine industry is replete with interesting characters, historical milestones, and wacky situations.

Indeed, the history of wine in California is tied to the history of modern California itself. It all began with the Spanish colonization of the area. During the 18th Century, Spanish missionaries led by Franciscan friar Junípero Serra Ferrer established a series of missions ranging from San Diego to Sonoma. And, of course, the one thing that is absolutely necessary for Catholic mass is nor a chapel or church, but WINE for the sacrament. It was the friar, monks, and their parishioners who first discovered that California provided ideal conditions for the making of good wine.

It wasn’t until the 19th century and immigration of other Europeans that California wine became a commercial proposition. The discovery of gold in 1848 in the Sierra Nevada Mountains brought an influx of fortune seekers from around the world. The discovery preceded the annexation of California from Mexico by only about a month, and the following year saw the population of the state explode. While a few made their fortunes, many did not. But, one fact was certainly true… they were a thirsty bunch.

It was a ready and open market for alcohol that spurred many of the early pioneers in the business to plant a few acres and start making wine for the “forty-niner” gold prospectors and others who followed in their wake.

Most of the early stuff was produced from a random assortment of grapes drawn from buena vista winerycuttings brought from back east or the “mission” grapes brought by the Spanish. That is, until a Hungarian-American traveler, writer, town-builder, and pioneer winemaker named Count Agoston Haraszthy came onto the scene. In the early 1850s, he established a small vineyard in San Francisco to satisfy local demand, but found the area ill-suited to grape production due to the foggy weather. Finding his way 50 miles north of the Golden Gate to the town of Sonoma, he bought a vineyard in 1857 and named it Buena Vista, meaning beautiful view.

But the self-named Count wasn’t satisfied with only owning a vineyard, oh no. He wanted the whole state to be a new Garden of Eden for grapes. In 1858 he penned a “Report on Grapes and Wine of California,” which was published by the California State Agricultural Society. With practical advice for planting vines and making wines, it encouraged the planting of grapes throughout the state. In later years, Haraszthy’s “Report” was recognized as the first treatise on winemaking written and published in California, and praised as the “first American explication of traditional European winemaking practices.”

napa californiaIn 1861, Haraszthy made a trip to Europe to investigate the best European vine-planting and winemaking practices and to gather cuttings of European vines. He traveled through France, Germany, Switzerland, and Spain before returning to California with more than 100,000 cuttings of more than 350 different varieties of vines. His efforts in this regard solidified California as a future wine powerhouse and set the stage for those that followed. Too bad he eventually “disappeared” in a Crocodile-infested swamp in Nicaragua. But that’s another tale.

While today we tend to think of Napa Valley as the best that California has to offer, the early pioneers settled in other areas, such as Sonoma and Livermore. In 1882, three Czech brothers named Korbel built a winery in western Sonoma County and began making sparkling wine, one of the earliest wineries to do so. A year later in 1883, Carl Wente planted 43 acres in Livermore Valley and began a legacy; Wente Vineyards is still owned and operated by the fourth and fifth generation of the Wente family. Their contributions to California wine include the Wente clone of Chardonnay, which is widely planted throughout the state and the backbone of many great wines from many producers.

Others followed and carried the industry into the 20th Century… Georges de Latour, André Tchelistcheff, Cesare, Peter, and Robert Mondavi, and Ernest and Julio Gallo are but a few of a long list of names of individuals whose vision, determination, and spunk have made California wine what it is today.

M wangbicklerThis article is but a teaser of some of the subjects we will cover in my conference session titled “The History of California in Six Glasses.” We will taste wines from some of these historic producers, explore what each signifies in their contribution to the California wine industry, and generally have a great time exploring the lives of some of the business’ most interesting characters.

Before moving to wine country a decade ago, Michael Wangbickler knew virtually nothing about wine. Undaunted, he threw himself into learning everything he could about the subject and now holds a Diploma in Wine & Spirits (DWS) from the Wine and Spirit Education Trust (WSET) and is a Certified Wine Educator (CWE). Mike currently holds a position at Balzac Communications and Marketing in Napa, California. In addition, he also sits on the Board of Directors for the Drink Local Wine organization. Michael’s session will be presented on Friday, August 15th at 3:00 pm.


August SWEbinars: The Insider’s Guide to the CSW Exam!

Insiders guide for blogAs part of our ongoing series of CSW-prep SWEbinars, we are offering a very special session in August titled “The Insider’s Guide to the CSW.” If you are currently pursuing the CSW Certification, or considering the CSW as your next stage of professional development, this session is for you!

This online workshop will cover all aspects of the CSW, including what the test covers, how difficult the test is, what type of questions to expect, the resources available to students, and how long SWE recommends for study before sitting the exam. This session is led by Jane A. Nickles, CSS, CWE (SWE’s Director of Education). You will have a chance to ask any and all questions about the CSW – she’ll answer just about any questions save for “what are the answers?”

distillation blogOur series of CSS-related “Spirited SWEbinars also continues August! This month we are pleased to offer a session on Spirit Production, based on chapter 1 in the CSS Study Guide and beyond.

This session, led by Gary Spadafore, CSS, CWE, is sure to be fascinating for CSS students and fans of spirits alike! Join us to learn about distiller’s beer, feints, washbacks, and reflux – and definitely join us if you are a CSS aspirant who doesn’t know those terms!

SWE’s SWEbinar series is unique in that it is offered free-of-charge, and open to the public! We also try to accomodate all schedules by offering sessions on weekdays and weekends, as well as daytime and evening hours. If you have a topic you would like to see addressed, or a time-of-day that would work for you, please let our Director of Education, Jane A. Nickles, know via email at

SWE...we might just be the most accessible wine education on earth!

SWE…we might just be the most accessible wine education on earth!

Login Instructions: At the appointed time, just click on the link. There is no need to register in advance.  Links will be attached to the date and time announcement of each session in the list below and will go “live” a few days before the scheduled date.

When the SWE Adobe Connect homepage appears, click on “enter as a guest,” type in your name, and click “enter room.” Remember that each session is limited to 100 attendees, and that several of our past sessions have reached capacity. We are hoping to avoid this issue in the future by offering more SWEbinars, but its still a good idea to log on early!

  • If you have never attended an Adobe Connect event before, it is also a good idea to test your connection ahead of time (just click on the link).

August 2014:

If you have any questions, please contact Jane Nickles:

Click here for the 2014 SWEbinar Calendar


The Gin is In

Fig 4-10 A Classic Gin and TonicLive, tomorrow (Wednesday, June 4, 2014) at noon central time…SWE is happy to present a SWEbinar all about Gin!

The session is perfect for cocktail lovers, spirits enthusiasts, and most of all…CSS Candidates. If you want to be “up” on Gin before we begin, be sure and read Chapter 3 in your CSS Study Guide before hand.

We’ll be talking about how gin is made, some of the crazy, obscure botanicals that go into its production, the various types of gin, and some of the classic cocktails in which gin has a starring role! This session will be led by Hoke Harden, CSS, CWE. Hoke is a wealth of knowledge and an experienced spiritis educator – we are in for a treat!

So pour yourself and Gin and Tonic, a dry Martini, or a refreshing Gin Rickey, and let’s talk gin!

Login instructions and a link to the Gin Classroom are found below.  If you have any further questions about our Gin SWEbinar (or any of our other SWEbinars), please contact Jane Nickles at:

Fig 11-7 Tom CollinsLogin Instructions:  At the appointed time, just click on the link.  (Links will be attached to the date and time announcement of each session in the list below and will go “live” a few days before the scheduled date.) When the SWE Adobe Connect homepage appears, click on “enter as a guest,” type in your name, and click “enter room.” 

Remember that each session is limited to 100 attendees, and that several of our past sessions have reached capacity.  We are hoping to avoid this issue in the future by offering more SWEbinars, but it is still a good idea to log on early!

If you have never attended an Adobe Connect event before, it is also a good idea to test your connection ahead of time.

Link to the Classroom: Wednesday, June 4 – 12 Noon Central Time – The Gin is In – SWEbinar on Gin – CSS Chapter 4  

Click here to view our 2014 SWEbinar Schedule.


June 2014 SWEbinars!

Swebinar in the grassJune 2014 SWEbinars

Our series of CSS and CSW review SWEbinars continues in June! These sessions are free and open to the public!

This month we are pleased to host a session on Gin (chapter 3 in the CSS Study Guide). This is sure to be a fascinating session for CSS students and cocktail fans alike! Gin is a traditional spirit with a ribald history, and as such it is enjoying renewed popularity in today’s “craft cocktail” scene. The Gin session will be held on Wednesday, June 4th at 12 Noon central time.

For CSW students, Jane Nickles CSS, CWE, will be hosting two sessions all about the wines of Italy (chapter 10 in the CSW Study Guide). Jane’s sessions are entitled “The Italian Grape Game” and will be a lively way for you to test your knowledge of Italy’s wines and wine regions. You are advised to read and study chapter 10 of the CSW Study Guide in advance – this is glass-to-glass competition! These sessions will be held on Saturday, June 7th at 10 am central time and Friday, June 20th at noon central time.

Below you will find the details on these sessions, as well as the links to each of the sessions.

Login Instructions:  At the appointed time, just click on the link.  (Links will be attached to the date and time announcement of each session in the list below and will go “live” a few days before the scheduled date.) When the SWE Adobe Connect homepage appears, click on “enter as a guest,” type in your name, and click “enter room.”  Remember that each session is limited to 100 attendees, and that several of our past sessions have reached capacity.  We are hoping to avoid this issue in the future by offering more SWEbinars, but it is still a good idea to log on early!

SWebinar in the gardenIf you have never attended an Adobe Connect event before, it is also a good idea to test your connection ahead of time.

June 2014:

Click here for the 2014 SWEbinar Calendar

If you have any questions, please contact Jane Nickles:


Conference Preview: On the Wine Routes of Europe with Thomas Jefferson

Today we have a guest post from Linda Lawry, CWE, DWS. Linda is always one of the most popular speakers at our SWE Conferences. In this postLinda tells us a bit about her upcoming conference session entitled “On the Wine Routes of Europe with Thomas Jefferson.”

TJWine from long habit has become indispensable to my health.”           – Thomas Jefferson

Thomas Jefferson, third President of the United States, was a multi-faceted genius whose numerous areas of expertise ranged from architecture to zoology.  His passion for wine, while largely  neglected by historians, is one of the most fascinating aspects of his persona.

Jefferson’s journals and correspondence contain many references to wine, including detailed critiques of the wines he tasted.  He may, in fact, have been American’s first wine critic.

In 1787, while he was living in France as a representative the Untied States government, Jefferson took a three-month tour of many of the wine regions of France, Italy, and Germany.  He traveled incognito, so that he could learn what life was really like in these regions, and so that he would not have to spend his time in formal dinners with the aristocracy. He sought out vine growers and winemakers as well as the “common man and woman” living in the various wine regions.

Monticello, Thomas Jefferson's Virginia Plantation

Monticello, Thomas Jefferson’s Virginia Plantation

Lucky for us modern-day wine lovers, Jefferson kept an extensive diary of his adventures in the wine regions of Europe, charting his travels as well as his opinions on quality and character of the inns, the food, the architecture, and of course, the wines he tasted. His diaries are a fascinating insight into the wine world of the 18th century, and of the character and persona of this complex and charming man.

At the 2014 SWE conference in Seattle this August, I will give a program on Jefferson’s European wine adventure. We will taste wines from the regions he visited, including some of the very same wines he tasted back then, which (lucky for us), are still being produced today.

Linda Lawry, CWE, DWS, is the Director of the International Wine Center in New York City. She is also on the faculty of New York University, where she has been teaching the Wine and Spirits Studies course in the Department of Nutrition and Food Studies since 1997. She is a member of the Board of Directors of the Society of Wine Educators, a member of Les Dames d’Escoffier, and program co-chair of the Culinary Historians of New York. Linda graduated with honors from the New York Restaurant School, holds the WSET Diploma, and is a Certified Wine Educator.

Linda’s session, “On the Wine Routes of Europe with Thomas Jefferson,” will be held on Thursday, August 14, at 1:15 pm as part of the 38th Annual Conference of the Society of Wine Educators.

Click here to return to the SWE Main Website.


By Popular Demand: New CSW Online Prep Class Online Starts June 16!

wine online 8Due to the overwhelming response to our first guided, 12-week, online review course for CSW Candidates, we will be offering another class section, starting on June 16th. This class will be led by SWE’s Director of Education, Jane A. Nickles, CSS, CWE.

The course will include weekly “live online” course sessions (tentatively scheduled for Wednesday evenings at 7:00 central), reading assignments, workbook assignments, and “check-out quizzes.”  Required textbooks include the 2014 CSW Study Guide and Workbook. The course is free for Professional Members of SWE who have a current CSW Exam Credit.

Participants will be limited to the first 100 qualified applicants, so if you are interested in this opportunity please send an email to Miss Jane at:

Please note that the class will take a short “hiatus” the week of August 10 -16, when we will all be at the SWE Conference!

Click here to return to the SWE Website.

Conference Preview: The Art and Science of Bourbon Whiskey

John Breckon, CSS

John Breckon, CSS

Today we have a Conference Preview from John Breckon, CSS, and Cameron Bogue. John and Cameron will be giving their session, The Art and Science of Bourbon Whiskey, on Friday, August 15th at 1:15 pm. Read on for John’s preview of the session…it sounds like a riot, and I – for one – will be there! 

Read on to hear what John and Cameron have to say about their session…

Cameron Bogue, "The Other"

Cameron Bogue, “The Other”

When you love bourbon you jump at opportunities to share your passion and “ah-hem” have a little taste with friends.  So when the Society of Wine Educators asked their CSS alumni to speak with some of their peeps we said “hell yeah!”  We’re Bourbon-loving hospitality professionals that love to share our passion for Bourbon with the unsuspecting public.

One of us, John Breckon, CSS, passionately represents, educates, and promotes Brown-Forman spirits.

The “other,” Cameron Bogue, is a veteran in the bar industry…Cameron’s career began last century tending bar in Whistler, BC, Canada. His passion for adventure led him across the globe discovering new bar techniques, flavors, and reinvigorating his desire to create delicious new cocktails.

John and Cameron -  "The Fabulous Bourbon Boys"

John and Cameron – “The Fabulous Bourbon Boys”

Given the current New World/Old world whisky/whiskey craze, we thought we’d have some fun and present the “ying and yang’ of bourbon whiskey to you all. We call our presentation “The Art and Science of Bourbon.”

This is an educational and fun seminar that will expand your knowledge of Bourbon, distinguish the legends and lore and allow you to have a taste of Woodford Reserve bourbon neat, stirred, and as James Bond prefers…shaken.

Cameron will present these three different drink expressions/styles so your palate can experience and explore the wonderful range of flavors and mouth-feel that this awesome spirit can deliver…Bourbon-licious!

We hope to see you there, cheers!

For more information on SWE’s 38th Annual Conference, click here.

To return to the SWE Website, click here.