Guest Post: The Lone Star Burns Bright for Texas Wine (part two)

This is part two in Elizabeth Miller’s tale of touring and tasting through the Texas Hill Country. For part one, click here. 

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Rivers and lakes are known to form great wine regions, and for the next visit in our Texas Hill Country tour, we headed out to Lake Travis, just northwest of Austin.  Perched on the lake is a parcel of land, an amphitheater like valley with gently sloping land, with a creek running from north of the property and ending in Lake Travis.  That creek’s namesake, Flat Creek Estate Winery and Vineyard, calls this area home.

I met with owners Madelyn and Rick Naber who lived in several regions of the US, including California, before setting in Texas. Once in central Texas, they began to notice that the pace of housing development was accelerating drastically, with developers snatching up premier property in the Lake Travis area.  In 1998, the Nabers purchased an idyllic 80 acres on the lake, with a commitment to maintain its use as a sustainable agricultural endeavor.

For the Nabers, April fool’s Day in 2000 became a legend (but in this case, it was no joke). On that day, 60 people planted 6,000 vines on 6 acres, thus beginning commercial grape growing at Flat Creek Estate.  Later, the endeavor grew to 20 acres of vineyards, a wine production facility, a wine tasting room, and a restaurant.  Many of the varieties planted at Duchman—including Sangiovese, Montepulciano and Tempranillo—also thrive at Flat Creek Estate, along with several Portuguese Port varietals.

photo of Flat Creek Estate via: http://www.flatcreekestate.com/flat-creek-photos.html (Peary Photography)

photo of Flat Creek Estate via: http://www.flatcreekestate.com/flat-creek-photos.html (Peary Photography)

Madelyn and Rick sat down with me to share their wines, popping their 2014 Super Texan.  This wine is based on the Italian Super Tuscan concept and features a blend of Italian and non-Italian grapes.  At Flat Creek, they start with Texas Hill Plains AVA fruit, blending Sangiovese with Tempranillo and Syrah (although the blends may vary by year).  The Nabers shared with me that their 2003 Super Texan was awarded a Double Gold in the San Francisco International Wine Competition, marking the first time a Texas red wine was awarded this prestigious accolade.

Another outstanding wine and indicator of Flat Creek’s full viticultural and winemaking potential is their Port VII.  The Flat Creek Estate Port is crafted from traditional Portuguese port wine grapes grown on the estate specifically for this purpose.  Each vintage is aged in oak barrels and then added to the Port Solera which includes multiple vintage years spanning 2002 through 2014.  Bottled in 2015, the Port VII is rich dark chocolate, blackberry, sweet spices and prunes.  What a winemaking undertaking!

The Future of Texas Wine: All of my conversations at Duchman Family Winery and Flat Creek Estate hovered around the current state of Texas wines.  What are the challenges?  How do they overcome these challenges?  What is the fullest potential of Texas?

photo of Flat Creek estate via: http://www.flatcreekestate.com/ (Peary Photography)

photo of Flat Creek estate via: http://www.flatcreekestate.com/ (Peary Photography)

Even though Texas is one of the top ten wine-producing states in the United States, it is still grappling with an underdog status.  Much of this is self-imposed, because when the industry started anew after Prohibition in the 1970s, many producers were pushing for sweeter profiles and easier sells like Merlot, Chardonnay and Cabernet—and in Texas, many of these varieties suffer from climate challenges you’d never find in Napa Valley.  Today, Texas winemakers are focusing more on terroir appropriate varieties, and learning how to manage weather challenges that seem to be the norm.

These days, the Texas wine industry is about unlimited possibilities.  With 170+ million available acres in a state the size of France, there are so many places to make great wine.  The current acreage is likely to explode in coming years.

However, as any Texan will tell you, Texas’ greatest asset is its people.  Those who make wine are bold and ambitious in a young industry.  Those who promote wine are realizing the fullest potential of Texas wine.  As Rick Naber wisely told me, “Until you get sommeliers to wrap their arms around Texas, nothing is going to happen.”

Learn about Texas and other emerging wine regions in Elizabeth’s December 7th SWEbinar: Wednesday, December 7, 7:00 pm central time – Emerging Wine Regions of the US – presented by Elizabeth Miller, CSW, CSS.  Who knew that Texas had such a long history of wine production, and that the state grows more Vitis species that any other region on earth?  Or that one of Virginia’s oldest wineries is exporting its wine to China.  Did you know that Idaho has some of the highest elevation vineyards in the country, or that one of the best domestic Méthode Champenoise wines comes from New Mexico?  This webinar covers the lesser known wine producing states, their terroirs, grapes and future growth.  Elizabeth Miller is a retailer whose home state of New York is a successful emerging wine region.

 

Guest Post: The Lone Star Burns Bright for Texas Wine (part one)

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Today we have a guest post from Elizabeth Miller, CSS, CSW. Elizabeth tells us about her recent trip to the Texas wine country.

“Nature seemed to have intended Texas for a vineyard to supply America with vines.” -Stephen F. Austin

The “Father of Texas” saw the potential…. the future of Texas wine.  Stephen F. Austin came to Texas with the first colonizing families in the early 1800s.  When he made that statement, he likely didn’t expect two centuries would pass until the Texas wine industry would begin to reach its full potential.

Today, a tourist can drive just a few miles out of the city of Austin, the namesake of Stephen F. Austin, and find a burgeoning wine scene… not quite there, but on its way to becoming a major American wine region!  I took that drive recently to visit the bold new producers that are making Texas one of the most exciting and underrated wine destinations in the country.

photo of Duchman Winery via: http://duchmanwinery.com/winery-gallery/

photo of Duchman Winery via: http://duchmanwinery.com/winery-gallery/

There is another timely impetus for my Texas travels: I am presenting a SWEbinar on December 7th “Emerging Wine Regions of the US.”  In the webinar promo, I tease: “Who knew that Texas had such a long history of wine production, and that the state grows more Vitis species that any other region on earth?”  I had research to do, and my curiosity was piqued!

A Long Lone Star History: With most of today’s Texas producers under a decade old, it’s easy to forget that the history of the Texas industry dates back to the 1600s!  One of the earliest vineyards planted in North America lies in Texas, planted by Franciscan priests in 1662.   As European settlers followed, the industry developed, and by 1900 Texas had more than twenty-five wineries.  However, just like everywhere else in America, Prohibition brought an end to this momentum.

It wouldn’t be until the 1970s that Texas would witness a revival of its wine industry.  It was a bit of a later start, compared to California, but commercial vineyards and wineries started popping up.

On my journey into Texas wines, I was happily led to Duchman Family Winery and Flat Creek Estate. These two wineries are among the 350-plus Texas wineries that are changing that are, slowly but surely, changing the public perception about Texas wines.

Duchman Family Winery: To begin our visit, we left the pavement of urban Austin for the rolling hills and ‘peaking’ vineyards of Driftwood, Texas.  For our first stop, we arrived at Duchman Family Winery’s beautiful Italianate villa and were greet by Jeff Ogle, the estate’s General Manager. The Duchman winery story began, Jeff told us, in 2004 when Drs. Stan and Lisa Duchman founded the winery with an aim for world-class winemaking.  They hired Dave Reilly—a native Texan—as their winemaker, and quickly started seeing their wines medal in some of the most prestigious wine competitions.  They have become one of the most renown and quality minded producers in Texas.

photo of Duchman Winery via: http://duchmanwinery.com/winery-gallery/

photo of Duchman Winery via: http://duchmanwinery.com/winery-gallery/

Given the infant state of Texas, Duchman’s motto is not to be taken lightly:  100% Texas Grapes, 100% Texas Wine…and 100% Texas Farmers.  A day will come, hopefully sooner rather than later, that all Texas labeled wines will be from 100% Texas fruit.  Texas is not quite there yet, as the demand for grapes exceeds the current acreage of the productive vineyards (which is growing, but not quite there yet).

Duchman is growing grapes in two of the state’s 8 AVAs: Texas High Plains and Texas Hill Country.  The Texas Hill Country AVA is one of the largest AVA in the US, covering 9 million acres and as such, it has a number of unique microclimates. Many wineries and a good deal of wine tourism are located within this area. The Texas High Plains AVA is located up in the Texas panhandle, where the climate is very cool and dry, with an elevation of 3,000-4,000 feet.

Back in the tasting room at Duchman, we started with the 2015 Duchman Family Vermentino, crisp, nuanced, truly a world class palate.  Another Italian variety, Montepulciano, has been produced at Duchman since almost day one.  In tasting the 2012 Duchman Family Montepulciano, I realized why it’s one of the most popular wines in their selection, with balanced acidity, rich blackberry, plum, and aromas of vanilla and spice.  There is no true consensus on which grape is the grape of Texas, but tasting these varieties would stand the test in a global blind comparison!

Parting from Duchman was not without another Texas lesson: the wine growler.  That 2015 Montepulciano walked out the door with us in a 750ml growler.  Growlers typically make us think of beer, which has historically been approved by federal regulations.  In Texas, Whole Foods has been a promoter of keg wine and in reusable containers, and helped pave the way for the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau to rule in favor of wine growlers.  Only two states, Oregon and Texas, specifically allow retailers and wineries to fill growlers with wine for sale off-premise.  Personally, I hope this legislation comes to New York State.

photo of Duchman Winery via: http://duchmanwinery.com/winery-gallery/

photo of Duchman Winery via: http://duchmanwinery.com/winery-gallery/

Our Duchman Family Winery growler traveled quite a bit and proved the quality of Duchman’s winemaking.  After the tasting room, we immediately headed to the nearby Salt Lick BBQ, a Texas Hill Country BBQ restaurant with recipes that have roots back to the wagon trains in the mid-1800s!  That Montepulciano shined with the rich slabs of barbecue.  Surprisingly, we didn’t finish the growler, and some Montepulciano accidentally made its way back to New York in our checked suitcase, where a few days later, it was discovered and tasted.  Would you know, the Duchman Family Winery Montepulciano held up through the travels, and it was delicious!

Learn about Texas and other emerging wine regions in Elizabeth’s December 7th SWEbinar: Wednesday, December 7, 7:00 pm central time – Emerging Wine Regions of the US – presented by Elizabeth Miller, CSW, CSS.  Who knew that Texas had such a long history of wine production, and that the state grows more Vitis species that any other region on earth?  Or that one of Virginia’s oldest wineries is exporting its wine to China.  Did you know that Idaho has some of the highest elevation vineyards in the country, or that one of the best domestic Méthode Champenoise wines comes from New Mexico?  This webinar covers the lesser known wine producing states, their terroirs, grapes and future growth.  Elizabeth Miller is a retailer whose home state of New York is a successful emerging wine region.

Check back in a few days for part two of Elizabeth’s tour of Texas Hill Country wineries!

Guest Post: Aged Syrah: a Treasure, a Tasting, a Tribute

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Today we have a guest post by an anonymous writer, who we know by the name Candi, CSW. In this essay, Candi tells us a touching story of family, friends, remembrances, and how the appreciation of wine can bring us all together! We thought this was perfect to share at the beginning of the holiday season!  

During a recent vacation, my husband and I stayed at the home of a dear relative. Our gracious host opened his wine collection to us. My job as the family geek: to select wines to enjoy in the evenings during the visit. It’s a tough job, I know, but someone has to do it.

His “cellar”, so to speak, is a cool basement with quite adequate storage for wine. So within an hour of our arrival, one of us is clearly ready to check out the vino. All three of us go downstairs.

A bit of background here. Our relative is a young widower. About five years ago, his wife passed away before her time. I remember how pleased she was when the family geek enjoyed wines that she had selected.

So there I am, sitting on the carpeted floor of the basement, carefully going through all of the bottles while the men folk are standing behind the bar, out of my way during an important mission. There are 30 to 40 bottles total; almost all of these are relatively sweet wines, including some dessert wines and some wines that blend other fruits with grapes. That is consistent with our host’s palate; he prefers sweeter vino.

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Most usually, I am described as an introvert who avoids being the center of attention. But as I pull out two bottles that are clearly outliers in this particular collection, I can’t help it. I either exclaim joyfully or squeal. Take your pick. Of course, the men folk are both surprised and greatly amused at this point.

There are two, ahem, well-aged Syrahs in the collection. One is a 2003 California wine from a major, well-known producer. Another is a 2005 Australian Shiraz from a vintner that is on my list to try. Since I know my host quite well, I am well aware that it is unlikely that he chose these wines. But I remember who was quite the fan of Syrah.

Up come the two bottles. And, as I suspected, our host confirms that these are wines selected by his deceased wife, probably within a year of her death. One even has the original price tag with the wine shop listed.

I apparently have a very good relationship with our host. He made perfectly clear that he had no intention of drinking the wine, as it was not to his taste. He truly wanted us to enjoy them, however. My husband and I do like Syrah. In the past, we have enjoyed 6- to 8-year old versions. It’s also a fact that compared to most of the other wines in the collection, these were the best matches for my husband and me.

So be it. We would have aged Syrah. I found what I consider to be the equivalent of buried treasure. Except it’s even better – it’s wine! I stood the two bottles upright in anticipation of future evenings on the trip.

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After a full day of sightseeing, we got takeout food for a relaxed evening in. Syrah- friendly menu, of course. First up: the 2003 California Syrah. The rather dry cork comes out with some difficulty, in two big pieces. This requires two different types of corkscrews and two operators, but we were determined.

The wine is, as expected, a bit brownish. Distinct legs. Aromas are faint, muted, but there. And the wine is clearly past its prime. Like so many reds made with decent fruit, however, it is still drinkable. Not fresh, not juicy, but drinkable. Over two evenings, we enjoy our tasting experience with a 13 year-old Syrah. And, we reminisce about the young woman who purchased the wine. And we share other family memories.

We depart for the rest of our trip with the 2005 Aussie Shiraz. It has a screw top for ease of opening during the trip, our host insists, I can’t turn it down. On the last night of our trip, we stay at a hotel convenient to the airport for the next day’s departure. Complete with a refrigerator and microwave. One of our favorite restaurants near the airport features bison. Shiraz and bison seemed a perfect pairing.

Takeout, again. Have to relax and enjoy our last night….

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Two different bison entrees chosen and hauled back to the room. I anticipate another wine past its prime, but drinkable, if we are lucky.

We were fortunate; I was wrong. The wine was not past its prime. It was excellent. Fruit- forward, long finish, an excellent dinner pairing. At 11 years old, the wine was the oldest under screw cap I have ever experienced. The wine was so delicious that I will most definitely buy a few future vintages. Just for confirmation purposes, of course.

Tragically, our relative lost a wife. All of us lost a friend and a kind soul. With respect to wine, I lost a kindred spirit with a similar palate. Somehow, I think she is okay with my husband and I enjoying her last two bottles, and I will always remember those wines, with full appreciation of their significance.

Here’s to good memories. Cheers!

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

Alternative Grains in American Whiskey

Today we have a guest post from Lisa Graziano CSW, CSE. Lisa tells us about a new trend—using alternative grains in American Whiskeys!

Triticale in the fields

Triticale in the fields

Whiskey can be made from any kind of grain.  Most whiskeys use a majority of malted barley—but it does not have to be this way! The All-American favorite, Bourbon, is required to consist of a minimum 51% corn; generally, the remainder of the mash bill will be wheat, rye and/or barley.

Happily, the craft spirits movement in the U.S. is booming and as a result there is a lot of experimentation going on throughout American whiskey culture.

Enter exotic grains to the mix.  Quinoa, touted lately as power grain for its health benefits, also makes a fine whiskey.  Triticale, a wheat-rye hybrid developed in Scotland and Sweden in the late 1800s, is also being distilled with excellent results.  Oats are being distilled along with the less-common red and blue corn varieties.

How do these different grains affect the flavor of the whiskies made from them?

Let’s start with quinoa.  Feisty Spirits in Colorado makes a 100% quinoa-based whiskey which delivers a nose that is grainy with hints of chili peppers.  The flavor is actually somewhat gin like with some chili pepper and rich grain aspects on the finish.  This whiskey is aged ever-so-briefly in oak barrels—it’s actually called a “barrel rinse,” to be specific.

Quinoa fields in Ecuador

Quinoa fields in Ecuador

Feisty Spirits, located about 65 miles north of Denver, specializes in exotic grain whiskies making everything from quinoa, triticale, and cocoa-ginger whiskeys to a red, white, and blue corn whiskey that is limited production and distributed around the fourth of July.  Dry Fly Distilling out of Washington State and Corsair Distillery located in Tennessee and Kentucky also make exotic grain whiskies.

Triticale whiskey gives aromas of golden raisins on the nose and when aged in neutral barrels conveys flavors of caramel, honey and raisins with a smooth sweet finish.  It is more like an Irish whiskey, and both Feisty Spirits and Dry Fly Distilling make triticale whiskies.

If you like oatmeal, you need to try an oat whiskey.  These spirits exude a nutty oatmeal quality and a rich creaminess that is delightful.  Koval Distillery out of Chicago and High West Distillery in Utah both make nice examples of oat whiskies.

photo via: http://blog.balconesdistilling.com/

photo via: http://blog.balconesdistilling.com/

For different corn whiskies turn to Colorado and Texas.  Balcones Distilling in Waco, Texas makes a Baby Blue Corn Whiskey and Feisty Spirits makes an assortment of red, white, and blue corn whiskies.  Blue corn gives flavors of sweet hazelnuts and is softer than the red and white varieties.  Red corn gives flavors of caramel corn and is drier on the finish than its counterparts.

Another trend in whiskey making is using hops.  It was bound to happen at some point—the craft beer movement has finally spilled over into whiskey!  Feisty Spirits makes a Hop Schnapps and Corsair Distillery makes Hop Monster Whiskey.  These spirits really mess with your nose—smells like beer, tastes like whiskey!  They have great aromatics and a dry finish with various flavors depending on what kind of hops are used and how they are brewed.

For an interesting read and an education in exotic grains in whiskey go to the book “Alt Whiskeys” by Darek Bell, owner of Corsair Distillery.  He gives a partial list of alternative grains that includes many of which I have never heard!  (E.g.:  Teff, Fonio, Job’s Tears and Emmer, to name a few.)  He also includes the recipes for many of his whiskies with the caveat that “Home distilling is illegal in the US. Period.”

With craft spirits hitting their stride now is the time to try some of these unique offerings made from grains you would never have expected to be made into whiskey.   Slainte!

Lisa Graziano has been in the wine and spirits business for the past 10 years.  Originally from Los Angeles, California she previously worked as a professional harpist and realtor.  She is one of the first to earn the CSE certification and having grown up in a European household has a nearly lifelong education in beer, wine and spirits!

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

Guest Blogger: High Altitude Wines and Shangri-La

The Altura Maxima Vineyard photo credit: http://www.bodegacolome.com/

The Altura Maxima Vineyard photo credit: http://www.bodegacolome.com/

Today we have a post from JoAnn DeGaglia, CSW, CS. JoAnn takes us on a trek to some high-altitude vineyards, and even to the legendary land of Shangri-La.

Mountain vineyards have numerous challenges. To get a feel for this, consider the typical challenges faced by all vineyards—such as like power supply, water, and environmental impact, erosion—and multiply them. Then, add in the fact that everyone is working on the side of a steep, difficult (and maybe dangerous) site, and that the complex climate conditions affecting a vineyard site are amplified in the mountains above the fog line. On the brighter side, high elevation sites do receive much more sun with lower heat accumulation and but higher diurnal temperature fluctuations. But then there’s this: pressure from insects, birds, rodents and wild animals is much more intense in remote mountain locations. Like I said—it’s a challenge.

The highest vineyards in the world are in Argentina in the Salta region located in the Altura Maxima vineyard at 9,849 feet (and some claim it is even higher). This “extreme” vineyard produces grapes with a very think skin, resulting in rich, tannic wines with complex flavors. The first vintage of Altura Maxima wine was released in 2012 by Bodega Colomé (part of the Hess Family Estates). That wine—Colomé Altura Maxima 2012—is 100% Malbec and priced at $125. It might sound like a lot—until you realize that only 165 cases (six barrels) were produced. Bodega Colomé also grows small amounts of Torrontés, Pinot Noir, Merlot, Syrah, Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay in their ultra-high altitude Altura Maxima vineyard.

The Winery at Bodega Colome - photo via http://www.bodegacolome.com/

The Winery at Bodega Colome – photo via http://www.bodegacolome.com/

Here in the U.S. we look to areas like Lake County AVA (with vineyards at 2,000 to 2,400 feet), Howell Mountain (1,600 to 2,400 feet), Spring Mountain (2,000 feet), Mount Veeder (400 to 2,600 feet), Atlas Peak (1,400 to 2,600 feet), Diamond Mountain (1,200 to 2,200 feet) and Sonoma Mountain (600 to 2,400 feet) as examples of high altitude viticulture. Howell Mountain was designated as Napa Valley’s first sub AVA, and is well-known for its high-altitude Cabernet Sauvignon. The region’s volcanic ash–red clay soil, delightfully infertile, produces intense wines from small berries. In the end, the altitude and rocky, dry soil conditions create complex, tannic and concentrated wines with firm structure, incredible varietal intensity, and excellent aging properties. Cabernet Sauvignon is King of the Mountain but Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Zinfandel and Chardonnay excel as well. Who is up on Howell Mountain? Charles Krug, Cade, Cakebread, Duckhorn, Robert Foley, La Jota, and Pine Ridge—to name a few.

The world of wine evolves and changes with each passing year with more regions discovering wine, both as consumers and producers. Each of these new areas brings a new dimension to the world of wine. One in particular caught the eye of Karen MacNeil, author of The Wine Bible enough to make her declare that “the Book of Cabernet has just been rewritten.” The wine she is talking about is made in Shangri-La. Really. The wine is 2013 Ao Yun (Tibetan for Proud Cloud), produced in the Himalayas just 50 miles from the border of Burma. This area is within the Yunnan Province in the far southwest of China. The areas “Three Parallel Rivers” region (now a National Park) was made famous as the mythical Shangri-La in James Hilton’s novel Lost Horizon. The Vineyard is at 8,500 feet, and the air is so thin that fermentation doesn’t quite work like it does as we may know it. Karen MacNeil described the wine like this: “Drinking it makes you feel like you’ve been pulled down into the dark body of the earth itself. There is a sense of delicious corruption to the wine.”

Ao Youn is 90% Cabernet Sauvignon and 10% Cab Franc, bottled at 15% alcohol by volume. It should be (or will soon be) available at Sherry Lehman’s in New York and Wally’s in Los Angeles.

We can never overestimate the contributions made by the pioneers, innovators and artists of the wine making world. So get out there and open that mountain wine—climb high, my friends.

JoAnn DeGaglia, CSW, CS works as Brotherhood Winery, “America’s Oldest Winery.” In addition, she teaches wine appreciation classes at libraries all over the Hudson Valley as well as with Ned Towle at the Westchester Wine School. JoAnn’s writings may be found on Facebook on the “The Wine Lovers Journey through the World of Wine” page.

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

 

Guest Post: Moonshine Goes Modern!

Today we have a guest post from Harriet Lembeck, CWE, CSE. Harriet tells us the story of how she came to deliver a lecture of Moonshine for this year’s 40th Annual SWE Conference, and tells us how it went!

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Why Moonshine?

I was recently invited to judge Moonshines for The Fifty Best, an on-line Wine and spirits ratings magazine, whose website gets over 1 million monthly page views. Through the process, I learned that Moonshines are diverse, varied, and so interesting, and I wanted to share this info. Publisher and Founder William Rosenberg was kind enough to give me the contact info for the Gold and Double-Gold medal winning Moonshines, so that I could create this presentation with the best of the examples.

“Moonshine” is a catchall name for un-aged white whiskies, usually distilled from corn. As I learned from going through the 14 that we tasted at the Conference, contrary to that casual definition, some Moonshine happens to be aged, and others aren’t even made with corn!

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According to David Fleming, Executive Editor of Market Watch, Impact and Shanken News Daily, demand for Moonshine leveled off in 2014 after an initial rise in 2012. While the big spirits brands may be leveling off, there is no drop in enthusiasm from the top players, and also the smaller producers. Many are going upscale, playing to sophisticated tastes, and trying to lose the “hokey” character. Many are craft distillers. Others still package in jars and jugs.

Distilling moonshine is a simple process, requiring only 4 main ingredients: corn, sugar, yeast and water. Barley, rye, or fruits may be used, and even hogfeed is not unheard of. Simple pot stills do the job. Further, there is little emphasis on aging or maturation. Some future Bourbon producers are making Moonshine to tide them over, while waiting for their Bourbon to finish aging.

From George Washington, who built a grist mill in 1770, and returned to Mt. Vernon, VA (where he planted Indian corn and rye) in 1797 after his Presidency; through the Whiskey Rebellion (which occurred after Alexander Hamilton showed Congress that it could use its power to tax [repealed in 1801]); through Prohibition (1920 -1933); and to today – when distilling is now legal, distillers’ taxes are collected, and distillation is done in daylight, and not “by the silvery moon” – Moonshine has been part of Americana.

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If you want to learn how to distill nowadays, and your grandfather is no longer around to teach you, there is Moonshine University in KY, where a 5-day Distiller Course will set you back $5,000-$6,000. Students say it is definitely worth it. Colin Blake, its Creative Director, warns that any illegitimate distilling flirts with breaking more than 100 state and federal laws. Small wonder that students gladly pay their tuition!

In order to get an official definition of Moonshine, I turned to the ‘Standards of Identity for Distilled Spirits and Amendment’ (Code of Federal Regulations – Chapter 4: Class and Type Designations), and – surprise – there is no regulation for Moonshine! I saw an ‘Amendment’ from February 2013, and I thought a definition would be there, but it turned out to be for Caçhaca, a type of rum, and a distinctive product of Brazil.

So there is no legal definition for Moonshine, and I believe that’s how everyone wants it! The taxman is very happy that he can collect taxes without being threatened!

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For our SWE Moonshine tasting, Bill Lembeck reduced all the proofs by 50% with high-quality bottled water. We ditched the crackers, and served organic, unsalted popcorn. In addition, Bill created the artwork, with a bottle shot superimposed on its home state for each moonshine. Click here to download a pdf of our guided Moonshine tasting, including tasting notes for the 14 different products tasting during: harriet-lembecks-moonshine-tasting-notes-august-2016

One final note: Attendees were loved this session, and were impressed with the uniqueness of the topic, and the range of products tasted!

HarrietHarriet 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@ wineandspiritsprogram.com.

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

 

Guest Post: Montefalco Sagrantino

Montefalco, Italy

Montefalco, Italy

Today we have a guest post from Steve Armes. Steve is a wine-loving artist who resides in Irving, Texas. In this article, Steve takes us along on a trip to Montefalco, in Italy’s Umbria province, where he discovers the lovely countryside and architecture of the region – in addition to the area’s wine.

“In the horse race that is the Italian wine scene, the field is populated by the usual suspects. In the straight, Brunello di Montalcino leads by a length, followed by Amarone and Barolo in a dead heat. You can bet across the board on these. But my money is on a dark horse that is on no one’s preferred list: Montefalco Sagrantino.  Focus on the backstretch and look for this wine to finish in the money.

Montefalco (mountain of the hawk) is a small town tucked away in central-eastern Umbria, half way between Spoleto and Assisi. Encircling this walled city are 250 magical acres where God, man and Mother Nature collaborate to produce a little-know grape that is about to shift our wine paradigm: Sagrantino.

Although the origin of the grape is unclear, with some researchers attributing its birth to Asia and others to Greece, this variety is quickly becoming Italy’s next rock star. We know that behind every great grape is a sublime terroir, and this is no exception. Montefalco is surrounded by the Apennines, and its playground is an admixture of clay with limestone and sand. The hot summers there are ameliorated by a cooling breeze known as la tramontana (the north wind). The grape is ancient, but its reputation is young. How, in this what-have-you-done-for-me-lately wine universe is this possible? The answer is one of vinification.

57044157 - italian vineyard in autumnal foliage and sagrantino grapes

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Unlike Brunello di Montalcino, which was sitting around in the cellars of Tuscany waiting for enologists to stumble upon it in the late 70s and make it an overnight sensation, Sagrantino languished in obscurity. Vintners often made Sagrantino in the passito style, drying the berries on straw mats prior to fermentation, making them raisin-like, which increased the sugar and the resulting alcohol content—the latter often exceeding 14%. But as wine cognoscenti will aver, the 1970’s brought a great change to the juice universe and tenacious growers of this region were determined to bring out the grape’s full potential. Discarding the older methods, visionaries of vinification began to make the wine in the secco or dry style, transforming it from a sweet wine into a bold and tannic contender. The wine would earn DOC status in 1979, and DOCG status in 1992. The Montefalco Sagrantino DOCG is approved for both dry (secco) wines and passito wines with between 80 and 180 grams/liter of residual sugar.

Sagrantino, with its deep garnet color, foretells a nose of blackberry, violets, and other floral scents. The palate reveals itself to be full of plum, lingering earthiness, and spice with a finish that will make tannin-lovers go wild. In its dry (and most popular) form, it can be a big, big wine. The grape is one of the most tannic of extant varietals, and will pair with a range of dishes as well as with spicy entrees. Or, savor it alone and decipher its amazing complexity and balance. It cellars well for at least a couple of decades, and in most versions, can profit from being opened and allowed to breathe for hours.

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Those of us who have sipped our way through Italy know that the best Italian wines can be costly. But the manna from heaven in this promised land called Italy is that these premiere wines are also produced in a junior version which is made affordable by either an admixture of lesser grapes or a shorter aging period. Examples are Amarone/Ripasso, Brunello di Montalcino/Rosso di Montalcino, and Vino Nobile di Montepulciano/Rosso di Montepulciano. Following suit, Sagrantinos await the wine enthusiast in 3 forms:  The passito style, which is still available, the secco Montefalco Sagrantino , both of which contain 100% Sagrantino, and the Montefalco Rosso DOC, which contains 10-15% Sagrantino blended with Sangiovese or other grapes. The dry Sagrantino di Montefalco is aged for 37 months, including 12 in oak. The sweet version is also aged for 37 months (with no minimum requirement for oak). Montelfaco Rosso DOC has a minimum aging requirement of 18 months (30 for the Riserva, which includes at least 12 months in oak).

To trek through Italy is to make un giro di gusto, a taste tour. In Montalcino, the world revolves around Brunello. In Montepulciano, vino Nobile flows from the tap. And anyone who has taken an excursion through Tuscany is familiar with the strada in chianti, and the tour bus from Florence to Siena that stops in Greve so tourists can consume Chianti Classico, the delectable poster child of Italian wine. But the people of Umbria have been taking notes. What they have learned is that tourists long to travel through the rustic campagna to discover for themselves the next great culinary Arcadia. It seems that the Umbrians know what is coming, so they have created La strada del Sagrantino. All roads leading to Montefalco host signs with the best logo I have seen of all Italy’s strade del vini (wine trails).

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As you encounter the fare in the area, you will find that their world revolves around the grape (as in Montalcino). There are lenticchie (lentils) soaked in Sagratino, cheeses produced in similar fashion, so that the rind is the garnet red of the wine, even Sagrantino jelly. Walk into a shop in Montefalco, and they will be only too happy to offer you a sample of Sagrantino, but will also force upon you salumi e formaggi  (salami and cheese). Typically, shops will have about 15 to 20 different bottles of Sagrantino di Montefalco and 8 to 10 rossos. We saw few passito or sweet versions, but they are certainly available. As we gravitated toward the rossos, we were quickly told that they were misti (meaning “blends”), and we assured them that we understood. The rossos start at around 12 Euros, and the Sagrantinos begin just over 20 Euros. The 250 acres that spawn Sagrantino do not allow for a large yield, so the wine will likely stay in limited supply. And even though some prescient grapesters are experimenting with it in Tuscany, it will perforce be a different wine, for the elements that make up terroir differ  from mile to mile, if not from acre to acre.

As I wade through the travel magazines and blogs, I see that Tuscany is no longer the destination du jour, and that Puglia and Sardegna are the new hot spots, which is fine in my opinion, for I will continue to frequent Tuscany, hoping to find fewer tourists there. But the unavoidable truth is that Umbria, and Montefalco in particular, is going to be on the short list of savvy travelers. This region, known for such attractions as Lake Trasimeno, a popular sporting destination, and Assisi, the best-preserved medieval walled city in Italy, is poised to become the next Mecca for eager globe-roamers. Information is available from the Associazione Strada del Sagrantino, Piazza del Comune n.17 06036 Montefalco, telephone 0742 378490, email info@stradadelsagrantino.it.

Although it is unimaginable now, growers of Sagrantino nearly plowed the vines under, intending to replace them with more profitable varieties. But they didn’t. And thus they have given us Sagrantino di Montefalco, the best Italian wine you have never heard of, saving it from being the best Italian wine the world would never know.

Come to think of it, the Italian wine world really isn’t like a horse race. Horse races are loud, frantic and fast. Italian wine is more like a leisurely afternoon stroll through the dappled sunlight on a dirt path that separates the olive groves from the vineyards, the breeze carrying the ancient aromas of growth, fruit, and rebirth. And the Italians have caught it all and put it in a bottle.

Copyright Steve Armes 2009

Steve Armes is a classically trained painter who travels to Italy to paint the landscape. He is an ardent student of wine, with a particular interest in Italian wines. You may see his work at www.stevearmes.com. He lives in Irving, TX.

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Guest Post: Vinifera is the new Black

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Today we have a guest blog post from Elizabeth Miller, who takes a step back and looks at Vitis Vinifera from the “big picture” point of view. Read on – its very interesting!

Congratulations wine regions of America, you made it!  You’ve graduated from being an emerging wine region and are now enjoying widespread commercial success and the respect you deserve.

How did you do it?  By mastering Vitis vinifera.

In the American wine industry, vinifera is the new black.  A wine lover might take this for granted, until he or she realizes the bounty of non-vinifera native grapes growing on the American land mass.  Despite this, it seems that only through mastering the imported vinifera that a wine region earns commercial success and respect.  I must ask: why does making it in America mean making vinifera?

Vinifera in a Land of ‘Other’

From sea to shining sea, the Lower 48 is a deluge of wine grapes, with the widest variety of wild grapes on the globe.  Of the eight species of grapevines in the Vitis genus noted for wine, six are native to North America, while only vinifera is native to Europe.  Despite the numbers game, the powerhouse species from across the pond is viewed as the most legitimate amongst all the grapevines in America.

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The Path to Success

America is now producing more wine than ever, and wine is made in all 50 states. Since the 1960s the modern industry has been born anew and grown rapidly.  In my research in preparation for an upcoming Society of Wine Educators webinar “Emerging Regions of the US”, a pattern became quite clear…

First, Vitis vinifera is planted in a young wine region.  This decision is greeted with a mix of optimism and skepticism, and many people are dubious that vinifera can grow in a particular place or climate.  Over time, viticulturists and winemakers learn about how vinifera interacts with a specific place, how best to cultivate it, and what authentic palate will be expressed from the region’s terroir.  Then the magic happens!  Articles are written, gold medals are bestowed, and the emerging region starts seeing sales in larger markets—first state, national, maybe even international!

Sometimes this path to success has a pioneer.  In the 1800s, Agoston Haraszthy introduced many new vinifera varieties to California, and 125 of them are still found in California today, earning him the title “Father of Modern Viticulture in California.”  We know how it turned out for California!

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On the opposite coast, Dr. Konstantin Frank advocated for planting vinifera in the cold region of upstate New York in the 1960s, despite opposition.  Riesling became an early winner.  As I discussed in a recent Society of Wine Educators webinar, “I’m in a New York State of Wine”, the state rapidly grew and achieved national renown just a few decades later.

Many states are poised to leap into the limelight… with vinifera in hand.  Grapevines have grown naturally in Texas along rivers and streams for thousands of years.  The industry began on a commercial scale in the 1970s and today it’s ranked sixth nationally in number of wineries.  The land bears one of the most diverse arrays of grapevines on earth, yet, the commercial industry is 99% vinifera!

What’s Going On?

To understand why the imported Vitis vinifera has emerged as the king in a sea of native species, we can look at several factors:

  • Vinifera is tried and true.  Humans are known to have interacted with vinifera as far back as the Neolithic period.  The Latin root of the word literally means “wine-bearing.”  The idiosyncrasies of making wine with vinifera have been fine-tuned for several thousand years.  Physiologically, its skin thickness, sugar, alcohol content, and phenolic compounds make for a readily fermentable and universally palatable product.
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    American wine traditions came from Europe.  The “old world” has been drinking wine and creating traditions for centuries.  When European settlers came to the American continent, they brought their vinifera with them.  While initial plantings of vinifera in the untested American climates resulted in many early failures, the sense of the superiority of vinifera as a wine grape remained.  Traditions like the 1855 Bordeaux classification were in essence effective marketing schemes.  They contributed to the sense that the apex of viticultural excellence reaches back to medieval Europe and Vitis vinifera.

  • Other vitis species taste different.  In the early days of American wine, settlers didn’t appreciate just how different American grapevine species were.  They tried to make wine from the native grapes but found their flavors and textures off-putting and unfamiliar.  Vitis labrusca, in particular was deemed “foxy”, and not in the good way.  The early misunderstanding of native species left a lingering and tainted reputation, and today some consumers and sommeliers will not even pay a wine produced from a native grape variety.
  • Native grape cultivation is fairly new.  In the global race of grape cultivation, vinifera has a several thousand-year head start.  In contrast, the identification of native grape species in America has only occurred in the last few hundred years.  Due to the low demand for these native grapes, there is very little incentive to study them, and very few are in commercial cultivation.  Until native grapes’ viticulture, vinification and styles are understood, only vinifera will be viewed as legitimate.
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The Future of Vitis in America

Undeniably, Vitis vinifera has carried many American wine regions from obscurity to international fame.  Yet, what might the Vitis scene be of the future?

Might an influential native grape emerge?  A possibility could be Norton, a grape cultivar from Vitis aestivalis, grown widely through the Mid-Atlantic and Midwestern states. It has even begun to be grown in California.  Norton’s cultivation dates back to the early 1800s, and it’s a candidate for a real contender on a global stage.  It produces deeply-colored red wine with mouth-filling texture, ages very well, and has been compared to Zinfandel.  It is also the cornerstone of the Missouri wine industry, whose current reputation pales in comparison to its pre-Prohibition standing when it was the second-largest wine-producing state in the nation!  Could a non-vinifera grape like Norton find market power for itself and for Missouri?

Another thing to consider is what happens when Vitis vinifera fails. From the 1990s through the start of the millennium, the Colorado industry grew quickly.  Its winemakers have enjoyed a growing reputation for Riesling and Cabernet Sauvignon.  Unfortunately, that time also saw several fierce damaging freezes in a land of brutal winters, finicky springs, and some of the highest elevation vineyards in the Western hemisphere.  Grape growers are now looking at more resilient hybrids which can produce great wines but are unfamiliar to Americans.  Might a larger market embrace them, and then Colorado, in the future?

For the foreseeable future, though, Vitis vinifera is staying in style!

Elizabeth Miller is the General Manager of Vintology Wine & Spirits and the Associate Director the Westchester Wine School in Westchester County, NY.  She will present a SWEbinar “Emerging Regions of the US” on Wednesday, December 7th, and 7:00 pm central time.  Her blog ‘Girl Meets Vine’ is found at http://www.elizabethmillerwine.com/girlmeetsvine.

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Guest Post: A Trip to the Ramona Valley AVA

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Let’s get back to those rocks.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Our Guest Blogger: Jan Crocker!

Our Guest Blogger: Jan Crocker!

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

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

Photo Credits: Jan Crocker

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Conference Preview: Thinking Like a Grapevine

Today we have a guest post from Jonah Beer, the Vice President of Winery Operations at Frog’s Leap. Jonah tells us about his “Thinking Like a Grapevine” session at SWE’s upcoming Annual Conference.

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Grapevines are living, sentient beings with their days and nights consumed by concern for vital life choices. Critical choices like: when to color and sweeten their fruit to attract birds in order to spread their seed, or when to break bud in the spring, or when to start storing energy for the next season. These are critical decisions a vine makes each and every day.

So how does a grapevine make these decisions? They do so by taking information from their environment. They measure the angle of the sun, the phase of the moon, the tug of the planets, the temperature and moisture content of the soil and the kind of chemical signals soil organisms are giving off. It knows when the birds visit, it’s on familiar terms with surrounding insects and their life stages, and it takes a cue from the acorns falling off the nearby oaks. In short, everything in its environment is a clue.

But what happens so often in most modern-day vineyards? The vines are lined up, their branches forced into restrictive trellising and their growing tips are cut off. They are exposed to toxic pesticides and fed strong, synthetic fertilizers. They are forced to drink water when they are not thirsty. Birds are discouraged, insects are killed, and the oak tree is cut down. So much of modern farming is dedicated to removing the very information that these plants need to succeed.

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How do we at Frog’s Leap seek to think like a grapevine, and support the natural cycle of the plant, instead of restricting it? Through thoughtful implementation of watchful practices that aim to complement what’s happening in nature. We know that healthy, vibrant, microbial-dense soil will better absorb the winter rains and provide for the nutritional and water needs of the plant all year long. We’ve learned that if we maintain biodiversity through cover crops and insectary borders that the vine will be able to communicate with other plants and bugs in a meaningful way. We see that when we tend our vineyards respectfully, humbly and with care that our vines are better able to use their canes and leaves to measure the angle of the sun, the length of the day and warmth of the evening air.

All of the data that is accentuated for the vine through our farming yields some very important differences and qualities in our vineyards and wines. Namely, we have longer lived vines with deeper roots, healthier wood and a transparent connection to place. Our wines develop rich flavor at lower alcohol, preserve their natural acid and showcase a delicate balance between fruit and earth characters. Through farming we’ve forged a real, meaningful and deep connection between biology and geology and our hands-off winemaking allows for the complete picture of terroir to shine through.

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With this backdrop, the seminar Thinking Like a Grapevine—given as part of SWE’s upcoming 40th Annual Conference—will explore the reasons that our farming choices are not radical concepts but rather the very basics of what can be done to reunite a vine with its environment. We’ll discuss research into the effects of irrigation on the grapevine’s ability to clearly and distinctly measure seasonal change and to make critical life choices. We’ll delve into the three major hormones that dictate bud-break, fruiting and ripening and the predominant environmental factors that influence them. We’ll seek to understand the evolutionary impetus of pyrazine, malic acid and veraison. We’ll examine the way all of these things can and should influence wine style, character and longevity. In short, we’ll spend an hour or so thinking like a grapevine.

Oh. And we’ll sample a vertical of Frog’s Leap Cabernet Sauvignon spanning 25 years….

  • 1988 Frog’s Leap Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon
  • 1993 Frog’s Leap Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon
  • 1998 Frog’s Leap Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon
  • 2003 Frog’s Leap Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon
  • 2008 Frog’s Leap Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon
  • 2013 Frog’s Leap Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon
Jonah Beer

Jonah Beer

About the author: In 1998, a fortunate tour and tasting at a Napa Valley winery– Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars – landed Jonah Beer his first opportunity in the wine industry: glass washer. He took the job and over the course of two and one-half years had worked his way through the company up to Director of Sales and Marketing. It was at this point that Jonah met John Williams, Owner and Winemaker at Frog’s Leap, while the two represented the Napa Valley as a part of a delegation traveling through Canada. The two kindred spirits hit it off right away and a friendship and business relationship was formed.

In 2003 Jonah made his way from the “other Leap” to formally join the Frog’s Leap team as General Manager. Jonah spent his first two years learning everything he could from Mr. Williams about the unique way Frog’s Leap grows its grapes and makes its wines, a learning process that continues today. From organics and dry-farming to running a profitable yet “green” business Jonah has become a devotee of the “Frog’s Leap way.” Today he is running the winery alongside John as Vice President of Winery Operations which offers him the opportunity to work in all aspects of the process: from vineyard to bottle and beyond.

Jonah’s session, “Thinking Like a Grapevine” will be held on Thursday, August 11, 2016 at 11:00 am as part of the 40th Annual Conference of the Society of Wine Educators.