Guest Post: Vinifera is the new Black

.

.

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.

.

.

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!

3

3

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.
  • .

    .

    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.
.

.

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.

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

 

Guest Post: A Trip to the Ramona Valley AVA

.

.

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.

.

.

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.”)

.

.

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.

.

.

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.

.

.

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.

.

.

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

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

 

 

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.

...

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.

...

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.

...

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.

Guest Post: Wine Yields Knowledge (and Wonderful Things)

Our guest author - Darla Hoffmann, CSW

Our guest author – Darla Hoffmann, CSW

Today we have a guest post from Darla Hoffmann, CSW. Darla tells us about how wine has opened up the world to her in knowledge and experiences. I am sure we can all relate!
The only thing I don’t like about wine is the snobby stereotype that comes with it. The nose is far too significant in wine tasting to keep it in the air.   Yes, there are people who swagger around spewing out the names of obscure winemakers, but in my opinion there are very few experts.  I like to call myself a student because wine opens up a pathway to so many other exciting subjects.   When I read about wine, I find myself learning about art, history, food, geography, topography, and legends.  Wine has truly taken me on a journey of family and culture.

As one of the many culprits in the development of a wine’s style and character, let us sink into the soil.  Alluvial soils are materials that have been transported by river and deposited. Most alluvial soils contain silt, sand and gravel and are highly fertile.  Limestone chalk, a soft, cool, porous, brilliant white, sedimentary, alkaline rock encourages grapes with a relatively high acid level. It also allows the vine’s roots to penetrate and provides excellent drainage while at the same time retaining sufficient moisture for nourishment.  Volcanic soils are often very rich in nutrients and hold water well because of their volcanic ash content. These soils are called andisols, and they are often very young, and acidic depending on which type of volcano they come from.

The Laurence Dunham tasting room in Scottsdale

The Lawrence Dunham Winery tasting room in Scottsdale

I had the pleasure of doing a tasting at award winning Lawrence Dunham Winery in Arizona.  I learned that their vineyard sits upon land created via the volcanic explosion from the Turkey Creek Caldera over 16 million years ago.   One thousand times greater than the 1980 eruption of Mount St. Helens, the Turkey Caldera eruption laid down two thousand feet of highly silicious ash and pumice. I find it fascinating that this calamity made it possible to grow some of the world’s most elegant grapes.  Take another sip and let’s mosey over to the baking section.

My guess is that an expert baker living at 5,000 feet must be a person who enjoys a good challenge.  The Lawrence Dunham Vineyard lies at these high elevations which is perfect for grape growing but not so much for rising dough. Apparently Peggy Fiandaca, owner of LDV, makes a mean chocolate chip cookie yet struggles to master the right time and temperature. Air pressure is lower up in the hills which requires longer baking time.  Legend has it this is the reason mountain dwellers make flat bread.  A little factoid I might have never stumbled upon if it weren’t for my love of the grape!

This love of the grape is even helping me get through this election season.  I know—never talk politics while drinking!  However, I have to imagine one of the most prestigious honors a winemaker can receive is to have their wine served at the White House.  Another local winemaker in Arizona, Sam Pillsbury of Pillsbury Wines, previous owner of Dos Cabezas Wineworks, had his wines poured twice at State Dinners.  That subject guided me through the halls of the White House, drink in hand.  Well, via the book “Mint Juleps with Teddy Roosevelt” by Mark Will Weber.

The gardens at Monticello

The gardens at Monticello

There is actually a long history of wine drinking amongst our nation’s presidents.  George Washington, a lover of Maderia wine, made his own liquor and by 1799 his Whiskey distillery was the single most profitable part of the plantation at Mount Vernon.  Thomas Jefferson, probably the largest lover of wine amongst our leaders, spent half of his life trying to make wine without success at Monticello, his estate in Virginia.  A wine involved scandal took place during the James Monroe administration, when 1,200 bottles of Burgundy and Champagne were charged to an account earmarked for furniture.  I would love to know who kept a bottle!  Herbert Hoover had a large elaborate wine cellar, but rumor has it his wife gave it all away before the end of Hoover’s single term.  Ouch.  You may or may not be surprised to learn that Richard Nixon was known to drink the expensive stuff while serving the mediocre wines to his guests.  And, the man that gave our Grand Canyon its national monument status, Theodore Roosevelt, was a light drinker but preferred a Mint Julep or Martini.  Obama?  He likes beer.

I think it is fair to say that art and winemaking are interchangeable— a creation ending in a masterpiece.  Sprinkle a little history into the mix and you have an educational treat. Art history, my favorite elective in college, always seems to shows its face when I am reading about wine.  While devouring an article on climate change and English sparkling wine, I learned about a joint venture between French Champagne house Taittinger, and a UK distributor.  Due to global warming and similar climate they will be planting grapes in Kent by 2017.  What does this have to do with art history?  Well, this same article taught me about Marianne.  When a French Influence is mentioned in an article they always seem to give credit to their dignitaries.  Did you know, that starting in 1969, Brigitte Bardot, actress, singer, and fashion model became the official face of Marianne (who had previously been anonymous) to represent the liberty of France?  Marianne is a national symbol of the French Republic, an allegory of liberty and reason, and a portrayal of the Goddess of Liberty. Marianne is displayed in many places in France and holds a place of honor in town halls and law courts. She symbolizes the “Triumph of the Republic”, a bronze sculpture overlooking the Place de la Nation in Paris.  Dionysus would be proud!

Mount Aconcagua, Argentina

Mount Aconcagua, Argentina

Let’s fly south for a moment and talk about a place with the driest desert in the world and the highest peak in the Americas.  Chile anyone?   Wine takes me to Chile and Argentina quite often as they are up and coming regions where the wines are becoming quite notable.  The hot dry valley of Aconcaqua, one of Chile’s northern wine regions, produces impressive Cabernet Sauvignon that won’t break the bank.  Aconcagua, often referred to as the “Stone Sentinel,” is the highest peak in South America, the highest peak in the world outside of Asia, and one of the Seven Summits.  My love of the outdoors has this destination on my bucket list.  Can’t you just feel the sunshine?  Yes, I’m gone to South America in my mind.

Well, this is just a small tasting of knowledge. Wine can take you East, West, North and South from the highest of elevations to the valley floors of the world, all in one article.   I hope you learned something you didn’t already know.  If not, uncork a bottle and see where it leads you.

Our guest author, Darla S. Hoffmann, CSW is the Sole Proprietor of About Wine in Phoenix, AZ.  The focus of her business is wine education and marketing, i.e. tastings, classes and promotions. Darla is a Certified Specialist of Wine, Hospitality Beverage Specialist, and Professional Member of the Society of Wine Educators. She is a member of The Wine Century Club where membership requires having tasted 100 grapes. She is Basic Title 4 Certified under the Liquor Law Training of ABC.

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

The Numbers, in Perspective – All about that Yield

...

While math might not have been your favorite subject in school, you most likely find the need to use math at least sometimes, even in the study of wine! 

Last week, Mark Rashap, CWE gave us some excellent explanations of some wine-related mathematical conversions as they pertain to area, volume, and weight. In this second installment of “The Numbers, in Perspective,” Mark will tell explain the mathematical calculation behind yields. Hold on, this won’t hurt a bit….

All about that yield: how much wine can that vineyard produce? Sometimes, it is all about yield. As every good wine student knows, yield is where we start getting into a factor of quality.  There is some evidence that the lower the yield, the higher the quality, within a certain range—and that’s a great debate for another time and place. As for the math, pure and simple, in the United States, we most often refer to vineyard yield in terms of tons per acre. In Europe, it is most often expressed as hectoliters per hectare.  As tons=weight and hectoliters=volume, it is not possible to come up with an exact conversion. However, we can find an equivalency to give us a way of comparing the two systems.

Consider this: Cornell teaches that 1 ton of grapes will yield 150 gallons of wine, or 5.67 hl.  If we consider that is per acre and convert to hectares, we have our factor: 1 ton/acre = 14 hl/ha

...

Using this factor, we can have some fun comparing yields per region.  I always think of 4 tons/acre as entry into the quality realm of wine. According to Robert Craig, this is the approximate yield of the valley floor AVAs of Napa. Using our conversion factor, we can calculate that 4 tons/acre = 56 hl/ha. Considering that 55 hl/ha  is the maximum  yield for Bordeaux AOC, and the maximum for Bordeaux Superior AOC is 50 hl/ha, we can see that the two areas have very similar yields.

In the mountainous vineyards of Napa, yield is closer to 2.5 tons/ acre, an equivalent of 35 hl/ha.  On the extremes, I’ve seen yields as high as 10 tons/acre (140 hl/ha) in the Central Valleys of California and Chile, and yields as low as 5 hl/ha in the Priorat which equates to 1/3 of a ton per acre!

Here are a few more permitted yields, just for fun:

  • Bourgogne AOC (white): 68 hl/ha
  • Bourgogne AOC (red): 60 hl/ha
  • Corton-Charlemagne (Burgundy Grand Cru) AOC (white): 58 hl/ha
  • Montrachet (Burgundy Grand Cru) AOC (white): 48 hl/ha
  • Corton (Burgundy Grand Cru) AOC (white): 48 hl/ha
  • La Romanée (Burgundy Grand Cru) AOC (red): 38 hl/ha
  • Corton (Burgundy Grand Cru) AOC (red): 35 hl/ha
  • Alsace AOC (white): 80 hl/ha
  • Alsace AOC (red): 60 hl/ha
  • Sommerberg (Alsace Grand Cru) AOC (white): 55 hl/ha
  • Beaujolais AOC (red) 60 hl/ha
  • Morgon (Beaujolais Cru) AOC (red) 56 hl/ha

Sometimes, it truly is…all about that yield!

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!

The Numbers, in Perspective

Today we have a guest post by Mark Rashap, CWE. Read on as Mark gives us some advice about the numbers…

...

One of the most challenging and rewarding aspects of being a wine professional is that we must master a multitude of academic fields.  Often, in addition to “wine expert,” educator, and salesperson, we play the role of chemist, biologist, linguist, geologist, and historian. Other roles that we have to assume on a fairly regular basis include mathematician and statistician—and this does not sit well with many people!

In light of this situation, I thought it would be fun and handy to compile some of the more useful conversions that every wine professional should know and understand.  What follows includes some strict mathematical conversions, some industry averages, and some hints for their interpretation.

How big is that vineyard? One of the first steps in understanding a wine producer, estate or region is to understand just how big the vineyards are, and how they compare with others. In order to do this, it is imperative to know the following: 1 Hectare = 2.5 acre (it’s actually 2.47, but we can’t do that in our head).  To convert hectares to acres, the quick math is to double the number, then add half of the original number.  Paulliac, at an average of 1,200 Ha equates to about 3,000 acres.

  • Try it yourself: If there are 800 ha in Pomerol, and 2,000 acres in Walla Walla, which is bigger?  (The answer: they are about the same!)
...

How much wine is in that container? Thankfully, most people are used to measuring wine in liters…particularly 750 ml. However, sometimes we need to deal with larger numbers, especially in terms of barrels, shipments, or tax reports! Wine professionals should keep in mind that that 1 gallon = 3.785 L, and the traditional European wine barrel (barrique) is 60 Gal or about 225 L. This equates to 300 bottles of the standard 750 ml size.

How much do those grapes weigh? In the US, we still use pounds to measure the weight of grapes coming from the vineyard.  Much of the rest of the world uses kilograms, so we should know that 1 Kilogram = 2.2 pounds (and 1 pound = 0.45 kg). If we are talking about a truckload, it will be useful to know that there are 2,000 pounds to the ton. A metric ton is 1,000 kilograms, which equals 2,200 pounds—otherwise known as a metric ton or tonne.

I am sure that is enough calculation for now. However, keep an eye on the blog – we’ll follow up with a look at calculating yield, temperature, and rainfall—in perspective.

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!

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!

 

 

 

 

What about Washington?

...

Today we have a guest post by an anonymous writer, who we know by the name Candi, CSW. Candi has developed respect for and enjoys the wines of  Washington State, and after reading her piece, we know you’ll have an appreciation for the wines of Washington State as well!

What about Washington?

When it comes to United States domestic production, many of us know that California continues to make the majority of our wine. And it’s easy to get caught up in the multitude of imports into the United States as well. But what about another key wine-producing state, number 2 or 3, depending on the source? I’m talking, of course, about Washington.

A Few Facts and Figures

Here’s an overview of the Washington’s wine “state of the state”. Please note that some of the information is based upon the 2014 Grape Crush Report.

  • Most of the industry has developed over the past 40 years, so it is relatively young compared to some areas.
  • Growth since around 1987 has been substantial. At that time, there were about 100 wineries. Now there are more than 850.
  • Wineries are predominantly small, family producers; these comprise about 800 of the 850 wineries.
  • Five varieties account for more than 75% of all wines produced. These include, in order of production, Riesling, Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Syrah. More than 40 varieties are produced, however.
  • White wine production (53%) slightly exceeds red wine production (47%).
  • ...

    There are 13 appellations. The Yakima Valley appellation, established in 1983, is the oldest. The newest AVA, Ancient Lakes of Columbia Valley, was recognized in 2012. By comparison, the Napa Valley AVA was established in 1981.

  • Grapevines are typically grown on their own rootstock. The state generally experiences a winter freeze that reduces the risk of some pests, including phylloxera.
  • The predominant soil, loess, is so fine-grained that many vineyards require cover crops to keep the soil in place.

Dominant Varieties: Key Impressions

I recently had the opportunity to taste the wines of more than 15 producers. More than 40 wines were tasted, representing the 2011 through 2014 vintages. My overall impressions, based upon the tasting, are listed below. This may give you are a few ideas on ways to  get an exposure to what Washington has to offer.

  • Consider Riesling. These presented as fresh, floral, fruity, sometimes with a hint of minerals. Further, Rieslings seemed consistently good.
  • Chardonnay was also impressive, and with citrus aromas and flavors predominant. The typical acidity would bode well for pairing with a variety of foods.
  • Merlot clearly expressed Washington and AVA terroir. These wines were generally bolder, and more full-bodied, than many California examples. Think wines reminiscent of Chilean Merlot and even Carmenère. Note: that comparison IS a compliment!
  • Cabernet Sauvignon has the broad range of appeal similar to the state’s Chardonnay. Unlike some new world Cabernets, this wine can be more subtle and softer than the Washington Merlot.
  • Syrah appeared to be more terroir-specific than some Cabernets. Frequently spicy, a bit smoky, and full-bodied.

Wines, especially Chardonnay, Merlot and Cabernet, seem to be available in a wide range of prices. A bonus: wines often over deliver considering their price, so they appeal to those, like me, who seek value. And these varieties would make great party wines, too!

...

For those seeking “splurge” or special occasion red wines, look to Red Mountain AVA for Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah and red blends. A splurge for white wine lovers: Bordeaux Blends of Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon.

May I Recommend?

The next time seafood is on the menu, think of a Washington Riesling if the dish is light. Something a bit heavier, maybe fatty fish? Consider a Washington Chardonnay.

When you want to pair a wine with strong cheese, lamb chops, or beef, look into a Washington Merlot, Cabernet, or red blend.

Cheers, and enjoy!

Guest Post: Why Wine Educators Should Study Emerging Regions in the U.S.

Today we have a guest post from Dr. Dwight Furrow, a Professor of Philosophy, wine educator, author (and more) who lives in San Diego. Dr. Furrow is here to sing the praises of the new, unusual, and lesser-known wine regions of the United States.

Portugal's Douro River, with Oporto in the background

Portugal’s Douro River, with Oporto in the background

Wine is fascinating for many reasons but the stories of how wine regions continually adapt to the vagaries of nature and the inertia of culture to improve quality are among the most compelling aspects of wine. The story of France’s recovery from the phylloxera epidemic, the birth of the Super Tuscans, Napa’s transformation into a quality wine region after prohibition and their surprise showing at the Judgment of Paris, the dangerous trek down the Douro River to bring Port to market before locks were built, the heroic struggle to make wine in Lebanon’s Bekaa valley—all great stories that inform our wine lore.

Most of us who study wine have focused on the famous, established regions and for good reason as that is where the quality is. It takes many years to find the right match of soil, varietal, climate and cultural knowledge to make quality wine and many of these regions have had centuries to experiment.

Yet, as I travel around the U.S. visiting lesser known wine regions there are fascinating stories developing that may provide insight into the production of quality wine. In Oregon’s Willamette Valley last summer after many successive days over 100 degrees, the talk inevitably turned toward what to do if their climate keeps warming. Of course, every wine region in the world is asking this question but Oregon has placed a big bet on spare, mineral-driven, cool climate Pinot Noir. Will they be happy with 14.5% alcoholic fruit bombs or will they be ripping out Pinot Noir and planting Syrah in 5 years?

...

The American South is an unlikely climate for growing wine grapes. The high humidity means rot and Pierce’s disease will destroy vitis vinifera vines. Yet these challenges have led to the development of non-vinifera and hybrid varieties that can thrive in warm, humid environments. Will Blanc deBois and Lenoir produce wines to compete with Chardonnay and Cabernet? They have a long way to go but quality is rapidly improving helped along by careful site selection, better vineyard management, and pest and disease research at local universities. Some Virginia and Missouri wineries are committed to developing the indigenous Norton grape into something lovers of European wines will crave. I have tasted several that might pass for an off-beat Syrah of modest quality in a blind tasting. Careful oak-aging seems to be the key to controlling vegetal and nut aromas that can taste odd.

Texas wine regions have to deal with deep winter freezes, scorching summer heat, acidic soils in some parts of the state, humidity in the East and drought in the West. Can Cabernet Sauvignon find its place amidst that adversity? Perhaps. A Texas winemaker told me that current experimentation with clonal variations will establish Cabernet Sauvignon as the go-to grape in Texas.

Can you grow wine grapes in the desert? In Southern Arizona’s high desert where temperatures drop off a cliff at night, varietals such as Tempranillo, Grenache, Mourvèdre and Sangiovese, which thrive on long days of full sunlight and large diurnal temperature swings show great promise. Here, one of the challenges is to get vines to carry a smaller fruit load in order to restrict yields.

Vineyards in New York's Finger Lakes AVA

Vineyards in New York’s Finger Lakes AVA

And of course the Northern tier states from Idaho to New York are experimenting with ways of dealing with hard freezes and late frost. In short, there is rampant experimentation going on, each region a crucible of innovative research all driven by a dedication to producing the quality needed to compete in an increasingly competitive wine market. In the future, all this experimentation will lead to new flavor expressions.

Is the quality there yet? No, at least not consistently. There are pockets of excellence and oceans of mediocrity. All of these emerging regions face a shortage of grapes to keep up with the growth in wineries as well as public perceptions that quality wine grapes can be grown only in California. But given their energy and enthusiasm, and the skyrocketing advances in wine science, it’s reasonable to expect that some of these regions will prove capable of consistently producing wines of great character.

The traditional wine regions are justly famous for their fully developed wine traditions. But there is no reason to think that we’ve already discovered all the best wine regions or that traditional wine regions will remain so. At any rate, climate change is likely to scramble the wine map in unpredictable ways.

For wine educators interested in the nuts and bolts of viticulture there may be no better classroom than these emerging regions of the U.S.

DwightDwight Furrow is Professor of Philosophy at San Diego Mesa College specializing in the aesthetics of food and wine, and owner of the blog Edible Arts.

He is the author of American Foodie: Taste, Art and the Cultural Revolution and is Senior Wine Educator for The Sommelier Company, a company of wine professionals that provide a variety of services to the food and beverage community.

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

 

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!