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


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

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

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

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


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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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


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.


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!





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!


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.


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!


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!

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.


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.


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).


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


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!


Guest Post – Build Your Library – the Martini Version!

Last week we had a guest post from Harriet Lembeck CWE, CSE who told us about some us about some excellent wine books to build your library – or give as gifts. This week, we complete the series with “The Martini Version” – as well as a few suggestions for sipping!

The Intel:

Harriett GinGin: The Manual—by Dave Broom (Mitchell Beazley, $19.99 [hard cover]). Dave Broom answers questions about gin that you haven’t thought of yet. Production, contributions of assorted botanicals, comparison of international gins, mixers, and cocktails are all here. Flavorings are divided into four camps: juniper, citrus, spice and floral.

In the second part of the book, over 150 gins are used to produce the same four cocktail recipes, with the results used for comparison and scoring. You can learn which brands go better with tonic and which with bitter lemonade. Each gin gets a page, listing country of origin, proof, main botanicals, and a rating based on how well it works in a Martini.


Harriet vermouthVermouth: the Revival of the Spirit that Created America’s Cocktail Culture—by Adam Ford (The Countryman Press, $25, 240 pages [hard cover]). You will be an aromatized authority after reading this book.

It takes 75 pages of the history of Vermouth and its production all around the world to get to Vermouth in the US, also discussed. Medicinal uses of wormwood (vermut – get it?) and many ailments—both real and imagined—cite cures by Vermouth’s wormwood. A study of vermouth in the US includes historical notes and cocktail recipes. There are beautiful photos of old vermouth posters.


And to sip…

Harriett apostoles ginPrincipe de los Apostles Mate Gin, Argentina (Southern Starz, Inc.), $35.00 retail: A unique style of gin flavored with yerba mate, eucalipto (eucalyptus), peperina (a type of mint native to Argentina), coriandro (coriander seed) , and pomelo rosado (pink grapefruit). Mate is as beloved by the Argentines as coffee is to the US.

This Argentine gin moves away from traditionally-styled, more juni per -centric flavored gins. It is dry, full, earthy and balanced, and has a savory quality that makes it great for cocktail party foods. It’s fantastic with freshly squeezed grapefruit juice (preferably pink), but goes well with Bitter Lemon soda as well.

Harriett portobello road


Portobello Road No. 171 Gin, London, 42% abv, $42 retail: No. 171 Portobello is the Notting Hill address of a popular London Bar known as the Portobello Star.

Upstairs from the bar is London’s Ginstitute, which offers classes in-depth glasses in gin, including the history of gin, the sensory evaluation of gin (gin tasting, if you prefer), an up-close-and-personal experience with botanicals, and a chance to make a personalized gin formula and do-it-yourself gins.

All this experience paid off when the professors created their own and brought it to market in a swing-top bottle. Loaded with botanicals, this gin is flavored with angelica, cassia, lemon peel and coriander in addition to juniper berries. Very aromatic and citrusy, in the London Dry style, it has good fresh flavors that come to life when mixed in a drink. Students of gin based in the United States can now try this gin in their own cocktails.

Harriet Noilly Prat

Noilly Pratt is the ideal dry vermouth for cocktails—at least, that is, according to David Broom’s ranking of vermouth for use in cocktails (and that’s a pretty good predigree).

Although the recipe remains a secret, the brand has cites chamomile, gentian, nutmeg, and bitter orange peel in its original dry white vermouth. A typical Marseilles-style vermouth, Noilly Pratt is noted for its oxidative, lightly wooded flavor.

This article was originally published in Beverage Dynamics Magazine – reprinted with permission!

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


Harriet Lembeck is a CWE (Certified Wine Educator) and a CSE (Certified Spirits Educator – a new designation). She is President of the Wine & Spirits Program, and revised and updated the textbook Grossman’s Guide to Wines, Beers and Spirits. She was the Director of the Wine Department for The New School University for 18 years. She can be reached at h.lembeck@


Harvest Report 2015 – Europe


Today we have the second part of a three-part series on the 2015 harvest, authored by Mark Rashap, CWE.

In a previous blog post, I outlined the 2015 harvest for the major growing regions of France, and described my method of remembering and mentally archiving vintages around the world by comparing them to the particulars of Bordeaux.  Through this technique, it is easy to draw similarities, such as in 2010 regions all over Europe followed Bordeaux with great phenolic ripeness with maintained acidity.  Likewise, in 2007 there was a lot of variability and many regions differed from the cool rainy conditions of Bordeaux with very hot and arid weather in Piedmont and Tuscany.  Perhaps, you remember and make sense of vintages in an entirely different way, and we would love to hear about it!

As for the chatter around the 2015 vintage for the rest of Europe, it seems like this year will go down as a relatively easy vintage to remember.  Most regions experienced conditions similar to those of Bordeaux, including extreme heat and drought in the summer months, which advanced ripening and harvest 1-2 weeks.  There were rains and a cooling off of temperatures in either late August or early September which saved the grapes from the raisin character and lack of acidity that afflicts very warm vintages, such as 2003.

The following reflects the pertinent info we should file away to remember in the coming  years when these wines are being released.


In Spain, Wines of Rioja reported that harvest was wrapped up officially by October 13th which makes this year the earliest harvest on record.  Alcohols were slightly above average, and the health of the berries and lack of disease and mold in the vineyard are making producers very excited.  Other than a short heat wave in the beginning of July, Ribera del Duero did not experience the extreme heat that Rioja did.  Rainfall was average, and the diurnal shifts in September were remarkable, allowing great phenolic ripeness.

In Galicia, La Voz de Galicia, a local newspaper, reported that 2015 is a year that many wineries were able to make noble rot and late harvest Albariño because of the perfect level of humidity.  There were adequate rains in the Spring and almost no precipitation during the summer which is rare for Galicia.  Quantities are the third largest in recorded history.

In Cataluña, the DO summarizes the same story: harvest 2 weeks early, heat in summer promoted phenolic ripeness, health of the grapes was perfect.

In Portugal, Quinta do Vallado published that the winter was drier than usual, and this continued through the summer.  There was not excessive heat through the summer, but the drought slowed vegetative growth putting the energy into reproduction, the berries.  Harvest was 1-2 weeks early, then Sept 15th saw rains which dried out quickly allowing an extended harvest.  2015 is expected to be a vintage year for Port.


In Piedmont, Pietro Oddero, seventh generation of the Oddero winery in La Morra, described how copious rainfall in the winter and spring was essential in supplying the water table to get through the drought and heat of June and July.  Skins were thicker and yields lower than normal years.   Rains in late August saved the Nebbiolo harvest allowing acidity to be maintained.  Comparisons are being made to the excellent quality of 2010.

In Tuscany, Francesco de Filippis, agronomist, owner of Cosimo Maria Masini, and biodynamics specialist agreed that 2015 has incredible potential because of the rains in September.  Francesco’s vineyards typically do better in warmer years because of the moisture retaining organic humus; however, his vineyards were incredibly stressed until the rains invigorated them.  July was hotter than 2003, and he could not remember a drier summer.

In Germany, often vintages do not reflect the rest of Europe, but in 2015 there were a lot of similarities.  The German Wine Institute declared that the grapevines were able to withstand the heat and drought of June and July.  Occasionally, temperatures were breaking the 40°C ceiling, but there were rains in early August that provided long needed relief.  Sugars are on average a lot higher than normal with no need to de-acidify.  Ripeness and quantity for Pinot Noir is exceptional, this might be the year for German reds to make their mark.

The 2015 report will continue with a review of North America in the coming week!

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!


Amrut and the Elixir of Life


India is a large consumer and producer of whisky. Many of the best-selling whisky brands in the world are produced and, for the most part, consumed in India. However, the definition and regulations concerning whisky in India are not the same as those used by the United States or the European Union. As such, much of the “whisky” produced in India is at least partially made with molasses-based neutral spirits. The best-selling brands of these whiskies include Officer’s Choice, McDowell’s No. 1, Royal Stag and Imperial Blue.

However, true whisky produced from grains and following standards equal to those employed by the United States and the European Union is produced in India and exported throughout the world. The first producer to make a true grain-based whisky in India was Amrut Distilleries. The company, located in Bangalore, was founded in 1948 by Neelakanta Jagdale.

In 2004, after producing rum and other spirits for several decades, Anmut Distilleries released a single malt whisky, made from 100% barley. Known simply as Amrut, it was ceremoniously first released in Glasgow, Scotland. This was followed by releases throughout much of Europe as well as Australia, North America, South Africa, and Asia.

The name Amrut comes from a Sanskrit word which may be translated as “nectar of the gods” or, as the company translates it, “elixir of life.” The story of the name, from Indian mythology, is as good as it gets: As the gods and the Rakshasas (the demons) churned the oceans using Mount Meru as a giant churner, a golden pot emerged from the waters containing the elixir of life. This elixir was called “Amrut.”  (Western cultures would equate the “elixir of life” as the “fountain of youth” or “infinity formula.”)

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Amrut is made from 100% barley. Most of the barley used is grown in India, however, for peated versions, some peated barley is imported from Scotland. The whisky is double-distilled in large pot stills before being diluted to 125 proof and aged in oak barrels for four years or longer. Surinder Kumar, the master blender at Amrut Distilleries, has estimated that because of climate differences, one year of barrel aging in India is equal to three years of aging in Scotland.

Amrut single malt whisky quickly became famous after being reviewed well by several well-known and respected whisky critics and publications. To name just one, Amrut Fusion Single Malt (based on a blend of Indian and Scottish barley), released in 2010, was named “World Whisky of the Year” by Malt Advocate magazine.

Amrut single malt whisky is now released in over 10 styles, including those aged in ex-Sherry barrels, those aged in ex-Bourbon barrels, peated versions, non-peated versions, cask-strength bottlings, and single barrel bottlings. There’s also a version called “Greedy Angels” (referring to the annual 10-12% “angel’s share” evaporation due to the tropical climate of the Bangalore distillery) that sounds amazing.

The distillery currently produces 4 million cases of liquor a year, including approximately 10,000 cases of Amrut single malt. Amrut is available in over 30 countries, including the UK, Canada, Japan, the US, and Australia. And for the adventurous traveler, the distillery tours look great!


Post authored by Jane A. Nickles – SWE’s Director of Education and Certification –

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2015 Harvest Report – France


As wine professionals, we often get to field questions from either the public or colleagues about the state of the industry.  In the months of October and November, there’s no hotter topic than the quality of the harvest in the Northern Hemisphere.  Even though we won’t get to taste these wines from bottle for another couple of years (or maybe even more), there’s something rejuvenating and challenging about grasping how the climactic factors might be reflected in the wines.

As we all have our own techniques for compartmentalizing, comparing, and remembering the quality of vintage by region, I’ll lead you through my thought process, which does not follow the chronological flow of harvest, but digs into a few regions and compares them against the others.

For me, I understand and remember vintages starting with Bordeaux, mostly because there is a lot of good data due to the financial impact of the vintage (prices can vary drastically based on good or bad reports) and partially due to being passionate about the region.

Francois Thienpont, owner of the Négociant Wings and brother of winemaker Nicolás Thienpont, reported that conditions in Bordeaux were ideal during flowering, setting the stage for perfect fruit set.  The summer was incredibly hot, which advanced veraison and

harvest a few weeks earlier than normal.  Francois stated that very gentle rains and a slight cooling off of temperatures in August and September were just what the vines needed; the acidity was maintained unlike 2003 for the dry reds of both right and left banks.  Hugo Bernard, heir to Domaine de Chevalier (in Pessac-Léognan), reported that acidity was lower for dry whites, but ripeness and alcohol were excellent.  Hugo admitted these whites might see less time in oak while in the winery, but further tasting will dictate this decision.  Botrytis set in perfectly for the sweet wines of Sauternes.

In Burgundy, harvest was finished by early September, which is a few weeks earlier than normal. High temperatures in July and water stress thickened skins and promoted ripeness; gentle rains and cooler temperatures in August helped to maintain acidity. For the first time in 4 years hail did not affect the yields of the great vineyards of the Cotes d’Or; however, there was minimal hail damage in Chablis and surrounding areas of Auxerrois. Overall, quality is very high; quantity is low but not as low as 2011-2014.


In Champagne, all indicators point to a fantastic 2015. The CIVC published the pick dates a few weeks earlier than usual, as well as granting permission to some properties to harvest even earlier. Many producers are excited, claiming that this one of the best vintages in the last 20 years. The CIVC also published the lowest permitted yields in the past 10 years.

In the Rhône Valley, a very hot July gave was to a cooler August.  Domaine de Mourchon published that rains saved the grapes rather than promoting rot, with cool mornings in September making cold maceration easy.  There should be good concentration in the wines, with balanced acidity.

The Loire Valley follows Bordeaux with warm summer, rains in September that dried quickly and allowed the grapes relief and to finish ripening with good acidity.

Alsace often has different conditions than does Bordeaux  – such as in 2007 and 2011 which were difficult for Bordeaux but excellent for Alsace.  For 2015, the CIVA reports huge ripeness and potential alcohol and are allowing acidification for the first time since 2003.  Many grand cru vineyards reached sugar levels that will not be possible to ferment to dryness.  Botrytis is also very scarce, meaning than many producers are opting for passerillage (drying the grapes or passito) in order to make sweet wines.

Stay tuned for a continued 2015 harvest report for the rest of the great regions of the Northern Hemisphere.  We would love to hear how you remember and file away the quality of the vintage by region.  Do you need a system, or can you just remember the particulars?  Do you use Burgundy as your anchor for comparison?  Do you remember regions as they are harvested chronologically?

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!


Smoke Gets in Your…Wine?


This year has been rough in terms of wildfires in and around wine country. Most notably, harvest was interrupted in mid-September by the third in a series of devastating wildfires around Lake County.

As such, we’ve had quite a few questions directed our way about how this might affect the wines of the regions affected by these fires. We’ve all heard of smoke taint – so is this something we need to be worried about?

It is a relatively new area of study – in 2003, wildfires in Eastern Victoria, Australia motivated researchers to begin studying the chemical backdrop and the variables associated with this increasingly dangerous phenomenon.  The Australian Wine Research Institute (AWRI) and Washington State University (WSU) have led the way in publishing the most up-to-date and applicable research on this topic.  Although much of this research is geared toward the winemaker/ producer, it is of interest to wine educators and other wine professionals as well.

For starts, smoke taint is the general term given to a host of volatile phenols, with the most important being as follows:

  • Guaiacol (smoky)
  • 4-methylguaiacol (spicy)
  • Eugenol (clove)

These same phenolics can be introduced into wine via ageing in heavily toasted oak.  Typical recognitions thresholds for these molecules are quite low; we can pick out the “ashtray” and “camp fire” aromas at concentrations as low as 23-27 micrograms/L or parts per billion (ppb).


Complications can arise due to the fact that these molecules can be present in a wine in bound form, meaning the smoky character may not reveal itself until after alcoholic fermentation, malolactic fermentation, or even after extended bottle ageing.  In addition, once this smoky character shows, it will always intensify with time in the bottle.

Studies concerning smoke in the vineyard have so far been inconclusive, and have yet to determine the minimum exposure time and concentration of smoke that vines can tolerate before it noticeably affects the wine.  However, it is known that the flavors collect in the skins and the flesh just below the skin in addition to translocating from the leaves.  This greatly influences winemaking techniques once the fruit is brought into the winery.

When – in the growing cycle – the vines are exposed to smoke has proven to be one of the most important factors in pin-pointing the risk.  The AWRI has identified three categories for the sensitivity and likelihood of smoke uptake throughout the growing cycle:

  • During and before flowering there is little risk;
  • From early fruit set to three days post-verasion there is low to medium risk;
  • Post-verasion to harvest there is high risk.


It has also been proven that there is no risk to carry over smoke taint from one growing season to the next, and that the smoke character does not vary with smoke from different types of wood or fuel.  Studies originally showed that the smoke uptake varied by variety, with Merlot and Sangiovese being more susceptible.  However, recent studies under controlled conditions have shown that variety does not matter.

Berries and wine can be tested for levels of smoke taint, and there are several techniques that can be implored to minimize the effects.  These include the following:

  • First and foremost, fruit must be hand harvested and leaves must not enter the fermentation vessel.
  • Skin contact must be limited, as this is where the volatile compounds are found.
  • Cold soak, extended maceration, and aggressive pressing should be avoided.
  • Fruit must stay as cold as possible.
  • Reverse osmosis is often used to reduce smoke taint, but has been found to be not entirely reliable as it does not address the “bound” form of the chemicals.
  • Other techniques such as aggressive filtering are useful to a degree, but need to be used with caution in order to avoid stripping the wine of desirable flavors as well as the unwanted smoky character.
  • There is some anecdotal evidence that the use of flash détante may allow guaiacol to volatize and burn off.

Most wineries will keep the tainted wine separate, then either blend back in a declassified wine program, or bottle separately marketing the wine as having a smoky character – which some customers appreciate.


As drought becomes more endemic in a variety of wine regions around the world, the risk for smoke infected wine – and its financial impact on the wine industry – is on the rise as well.  As industry professionals, we must be aware of the regions and vintages where there was a verified risk of smoke taint.  These include:

  • Victoria, Australia: 2003 and 2007 were devastating, and 2009 saw traces of smokiness.  2008 in Mendocino County, California: Effects were noticeable in 2008
  • Washington State: 2012 and 2015 were fiery years for Washington State, particularly the Lake Chelan AVA
  • Lake County: Most recent, and near to our hearts, 2015 saw harvest interrupted and substantial damage to vineyards around Guenoc. Thankfully, it appears that the major growing areas around Clear Lake were spared.

We’ll keep trying to learn more and lessen the likelihood that wild fires will taint our wine.  In the meantime, we’ll trust our favorite winemakers and producers not to put defective wine in the bottle.


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!



A Lime Thunderstorm – #SauvBlanc Day

“It’s like standing naked in a lime thunderstorm.”

38044013_lThat’s the way I described New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc – one of my favorite styles of wine – for a long time. The phrase relates a myriad of sensations. First of all – the thrill of being naked outside (just admit it). Second, the crackle of lightning – makes the hair on the back of your neck stand up, makes your entire body stand and deliver, and leaves a slight mineral scent in the air. The cold rain lashing your flesh – the whole point of being naked in this scenario is to feel the cold rain on your belly. Finally, the limes – exploding like flavor bombs on impact.

I’ve used that line for decades and it still rings true. However, the wine industry in New Zealand has matured a bit since the mid-1980s “Sauvignon Blanc shot heard ‘round the world,” when Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc was first introduced and immediately set the standard for a “new style” of Sauvignon Blanc. While I still encounter –and love – the “lime thunderstorm” style of NZ SB, nowadays you may also encounter a creamy wine with the influence of malo-lactic fermentation, a white Bordeaux-style blend, an oaked version, a wine with lees aging, or a sparkling Sauvignon Blanc as well.

Sauvignon Blanc has actually been planted in New Zealand since 1973, and was beginning to be produced at commercially-relevant levels by 1979. Sauvignon Blanc is grown in all of New Zealand’s viticultural regions, and accounts for the following super-statistics:

  • 67% of NZ Vineyard Plantings (by hectare)
  • 72% of NZ Wine Production
  • 86% of NZ Wine Exports

New Zealand SB grapes

New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc’s reputation as a tongue curler is well-documented – and much beloved.  This is not a wine for the wine newbie, the wine wimp, or the vinous faint of heart.

Even the New Zealand Winegrower’s Association admits it, and uses the following terms to describe their SB:

  • Pungently aromatic
  • Explosive flavors
  • Bell pepper and gooseberry
  • Passion fruit, tropical fruit
  • Fresh cut grass, tomato stalk, grapefruit, and lime…

By the way, one of the lovely things about standing naked outside in a lime thunderstorm is the way that the lively (to say the least) acidity of NZ SB pairs with food. Tastes and flavors in “trendy” cuisine seem to grow bolder and bolder every year, and I’ve 29900002_xlencountered some extremely acidic ceviches, salads, sauces, and marinades for seafood and other proteins. Acidic foods such as these can overwhelm many wines, but the zing of NZ SB holds its own and may even taste better (to some palates) when paired with crisply acidic food – the more snap, crackle, and pop the better.

For my #SauvBlanc Day, I’ll be indulging in a lovely Russian Jack Sauvignon Blanc (from Martinborough) – paired with some tangerine-paprika marinated tilapia served on a bed of lemon-asparagus risotto. What are your plans?

Post authored by Jane A. Nickles – SWE’s Director of Education and Certification –

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