Guest Post: On the Wines of Saxony

The city of Dresden, on the Elbe River

The city of Dresden, on the Elbe River

Today we have a guest post from Lucia Volk, CSW. Lucia shares with us her interest in and discovery of the wines of Saxony!

If you have had your fill of Rieslings and Pinots from the Mosel, Rheingau, Rheinhessen and Pfalz – and find yourself in the mood for a different kind of German wine – let me draw your attention east, to the re-emerging wine region of Saxony!

Upstream and downstream from the city of Dresden, with its many baroque palaces, churches, cobble stone streets, and numerous museums, are about 1,100 acres of vineyards. These vineyards are part of the Sachsen region, which ranks 11th in size among Germany’s thirteen wine regions. The Elbe River and the hills along both sides helps create the weather and soil conditions that make wine growing possible at 51 degrees latitude. Officially, the wine region of Saxony stretches from Pillnitz in the south to Diesbar-­‐Seußlitz in the north, along roughly 60 miles of Elbe, which then continues on to Hamburg and the North Sea.

Equestrian portrait of August II the Strong (1670-1733) - Old Masters Gallery

Equestrian portrait of August II the Strong (1670-1733) – Old Masters Gallery

Saxony’s glorious history involves a late 17th century duke-turned-king by the name of August the Strong, whose claim to fame (among many other things) is breaking horseshoes with his bare hands. He loved the good life (when he wasn’t going to war), and sponsored palaces with gardens, plazas and fountains; and filled museums with art. He hosted lavish parties and, of course, he needed wine. The historical record shows that within decades of his reign, 4,000 acres of vines were under cultivation by up to 8,000 wine makers – vastly more than Saxony’s current holdings.

The 1888 phylloxera infestation did much to reduce the vineyard acreage – two world wars, real estate development, and the state-planned economy of the German Democratic Republic did the rest. 1990, the year of Germany’s unification, is often considered as the starting point of Saxony’s wine revival. The eastern-most German wine region holds much promise with many young winemakers eager to catch up to the much more established wine regions in the southwest of Germany.

Wine producers along the Elbe currently come in three kinds: privately owned wineries, which include the prestigious – and Saxony’s oldest – Schloss Proschwitz as well as small innovators with 5-15 acres of each; the state-owned winery in historic Schloss Wackerbarth with nearly 250 acres and 100 employees; and the Wine Cooperative Meissen (Winzergenossenschaft Meissen) with 360 hectares and 1,500 participating part-time growers. The production volume varies accordingly, from 8,000 to 600,000 to one million bottles a year. Due to steep slopes and challenging growing conditions – late frosts in spring time, dry summers, and cold and wet harvest seasons – none of the producers above can expect a high yield, regardless of their vineyard locations or the grape varietals. If necessary (and feasible in terms of staffing) vineyards are harvested two or three times to give more grapes the opportunity to ripen fully.

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Grapes grown in Saxony are mostly white (85%):  Müller-Thurgau, Riesling, Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris, and Traminer are the most widely planted; Bacchus, Muscat, and some Chardonnay are minor white grapes. Pinot Noir and Dornfelder lead the reds;  Portugieser, Regent, and Schwarzrieslings can be found as well. A large part of the production is made into sparkling wine, following various production methods. Single-variety still wines come in the usual choices from dry to sweet, from Landwein to Trockenbeerenauslese. Cuvees are also offered, for instance, Traminer along with Riesling, or Pinot Noir plus some Portugieser. Premier vineyards are Seußlitzer Schlossweinberg, Proschwitzer Katzensprung und Radebeuler Goldener Wagen.

Schloss Proschwitz is Saxony’s oldest private winery, with its own castle and artistocratic owner Prinz von der Lippe.  A renowned restaurant and upscale bed and breakfast invite guests to stay for a while. Still wines, sparklers, and liqueurs are on the shelves, each category in dazzling varieties, from a 13 Euro bottle of Müller Thurgau to a 58 Euro bottle of Pinot Noir. Many of its vineyards were originally owned by the church, most of the wine was made for mass. The church lost ownership over many of its estates to secular, liberal movements in Germany; later, the von der Lippe family lost its vineyards to state socialism, and only in 1990 did they begin to buy back what the family used to own. The winemaker hired to bring Schloss Proschwitz back to its old prominence was Geisenheim graduate Martin Schwarz, who recently started his own “wine manufacture,” as he calls it. In his able hands, Saxon grapes turned to refreshingly dry, aromatic, earthy wines. If you never had Müller-Thurgau you liked, you might find one here.

photo via http://www.schloss-wackerbarth.de/deutsch/erlebnisweingut/

photo via http://www.schloss-wackerbarth.de/deutsch/erlebnisweingut/

Erlebnisweingut  Schloss  Wackerbarth  translates  to  “adventure  vineyard”  on Wackerbarth’s website. It is a winery that offers a full schedule of paired food, music, dance and theater events throughout the entire year, Christmas and New Year’s included. Guests can walk around expansive grounds with a historic palace and brand new restaurant, wine bar, cellar, and shop.   With a seasonally adjusted staff of   plus/minus 100, Schloss Wackerbarth bottles up to 600,000 bottles a year, the majority sparkling wine.  On its premises, only traditional method, hand-riddled sparklers are made, a process visitors can witness from the tasting room overlooking the storage cellar facility.   Another Geisenheim graduate, Jürgen Aumüller, took charge in 2002, dividing his attention between his cuvees (mostly for sparkling wine, but also for still) and single-variety wines.   The state of Saxony   owns the winery, and with the help of substantial investment of the Saxony Development Bank in the early 2000s; Schloss Wackerbarth now represents the new way of doing wine business on the Elbe river.

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Founded in 1938 as Saxon Wine Cooperative (Sächsische Weinbaugenossenschaft), renamed the Wine Cooperative Meissen in 1955, and currently led by a woman winemaker, Natalie Weich, the cooperative produces half of Saxony’s wine, a million bottles per year on average. The vineyard holdings span the entire Elbe region, from Pillnitz to Diesbar-­‐Seußlitz. You can find an interactive map (in German) on the cooperative’s website. Cooperative production historically allowed people to share production facilities and spread production risks. Grapes were an additional source of income, and under state socialism, an additional source of goods to trade. Grape quality was historically sacrificed to grape quantity, as producers were paid by weight they delivered. Those days are mostly days of the past, as producers realize that they need to compete with national and international standards. Wines from the cooperative regularly win gold, silver and bronze medals in the annual Federal German Wine Awards (DLG -­‐-­‐ Deutsche Landwirtschafts-­ Gesellschaft).

The natural beauty and regional history of the Elbe valley are already reasons for a visit. If you enjoy hiking and biking, you will be able to fill your vacation with memorable activities – but be sure and leave time to schedule wine tastings throughout. And you will want to leave space in your suitcases to bring some home!

Lucia Volk, CSW, is working on a manuscript on the lesser known wine regions of Germany. This summer, she discovered vineyards in Berlin, excellent Pinot Noirs along the Elbe and the Ahr, and phenomenal Riesling wines on the Mittelrhein.

Suggested further reading:

 

Guest Post: On the Wines of Colorado

Vineyards in Grand Junction, Colorado

Vineyards in Grand Junction, Colorado

Today we have a guest post from Justin Gilman, CSW, who tells us about the blossoming wine industry in his adopted state.

Colorado’s wine industry began back in 1890 when then-Governor George Crawford planted roughly 60 acres of vines in the Grand Valley near Palisade. Just over a decade later, there were over a thousand Colorado farms involved in grape growing.

These days, the majority of Colorado’s wine production is focused in the West-Central part of the state, near the town of Grand Junction. Colorado currently boasts two AVAs: Grand Valley and West Elks. About 75% of the state’s one hundred-plus wineries are located in the Grand Valley AVA while the remaining 25% are in the West Elks AVA.  Other growing regions include McElmo Canyon, Montezuma County, South Grand Mesa, Freemont County, Olathe County, and Montrose County.

Colorado’s continental climate coupled with its famous high elevation means that grapes grown here receive a tremendous amount of sunlight with minimal cloud cover. However, the grapes also benefit from an excellent diurnal temperature variation – meaning the sunshine and heat help to unlock sugars during the day; and the exceptionally low temperatures help to retain acidity at night.

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Colorado’s elevation, foliage and mountain ranges have been compared to that of Northern Italy’s Alto-Adige region. With the highest wine growing elevation in North America, (Grand Valley 4,000-4,500 ft. and West Elks up to 7,000 ft.) these chalky and loam soils see as many degree-in days as Napa, Tuscany and Bordeaux in a shorter period of time.

The grape varieties grown here are on par with other wineries across the country. Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Chardonnay and Moscato are staples, with some experimentation of blends between wineries. Rhône varieties do particularly well in Grand Valley, and Tempranillo is showing great promise in the West Elks AVA.

As in any wine country, Colorado wineries offer a wide range of products. Taking advantage of the sunny skies and over 300 days of yearly sunshine, some Colorado wineries create consumer-friendly wines leaning on slightly higher sugar levels. Softer Cabernets, Chardonnay/Moscato blends and plenty of sweet fruit wine options like that of Carlson Vineyards Cherry & Peach wine to St. Kathryn’s “Apple Blossom” and “Golden Pear” are popular wines, known for being friendly to a beginner’s palate.

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Some of the best wines in the state are produced by Ruby Trust Cellars of the Castle Pines area. Ruby Trust Cellars, led by owner Ray Bruening and winemaker Braden Dodds have produce wines with rough-and-ready names such as “Gunslinger”, “Fortune Seeker” and their recent addition “Horse Thief”. Located roughly 20 miles South of Denver, Ruby Trust puts out a handful of limited production blends and single varietal wines that have caught the eye of some well-known critics. Sourcing fruit from growers in Grand Junction, Ray and Braden uphold the highest integrity when creating their wines. Retailing just over $30 a bottle, their wines are individually numbered with labels reminiscent of the historical mining era of Colorado. Ruby Trust is considered amongst Colorado’s best, found in selected Aspen and Vail restaurants and resorts, as well as specialty wine shops throughout the Denver area.

Colorado has also embraced the idea of the “urban winery,” including Bonaquisti Wines, located in Denver’s Sunnyside neighborhood. Bonaquisti Wines proudly declare themselves to be procurers of “Wine for the People!” With wine in kegs, refillable growlers, and live music every Friday night, it seems like they are living up to their motto quite well.

photo via http://www.theinfinitemonkeytheorem.com/about

photo via http://www.theinfinitemonkeytheorem.com/about

One of the most intriguing wineries in Colorado is undoubtedly the Infinite Monkey Theorem. (The name is derived from the theory that a monkey striking typewriter keys for an infinite amount of time will, eventually, create the works of Shakespeare.) Founded by Ben Parsons, the winery was originally housed in a graffiti-covered Quonset hut. While the business is now housed in a 20,000-square foot warehouse, they still tend to do things (shall we say) a bit differently, and feature such items as wine in cans and a “bottles and bacon” gift pack.

Yearly, Colorado’s best wines are judged at the Governor’s Cup in Denver, and an alternate event with growing popularity, the Denver International Wine Competition. The Governor’s Cup focuses on Colorado Wines, presented by the Colorado Wine Board, to discover the “Best of the Best” in Colorado, while the Denver International Wine Competition welcomes any wine with the potential of being distributed in Colorado. Previous winners of the 2014 Governor’s Cup include Canyon Wind Cellars 2012 Petit Verdot, Grand Valley AVA, $30 and Boulder Creek Winery, Boulder, 2013 Riesling, Colorado, $16.  The 2015 top scorers include Bonacquisti Wine Company – 2013 Malbec, (American) and Bookcliff Vineyards 2014 Viognier, Grand Valley AVA.

The Colorado wine industry is consumer friendly and each year is continuing to grow by leaps and bounds, striving to be traditionally focused. For the future, the industry is focused on minimizing blends, gradually creating more structure- driven wines, and slowly educating the consumer palate – a noteworthy goal in a state known for its beer consumption. Given the terroir, and talent, and these noted goals, the future looks bright for the Colorado wine industry.

Justin Gilman, CSW is the Store Manager/Buyer for Jordan Wine & Spirits, a leading retailer in Parker, Colorado, located in Denver’s South Metro area.  With over 15 years in alcohol beverage retail, in the major markets of Orange Co., and Los Angeles California, he now resides in Denver Colorado, where his skill set as an operator and buyer are utilized for both retail and as a consultant in the industry.

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Big Controversy over Little Rocks at the TTB

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Today we have a guest blog from Brenda Audino, CWE, who brings us up-to-date on the latest controversy at the TTB!

This is a follow-up to the blog “Oregon, Washington, and the AVA Shuffle: It’s Complicated”.  As noted, the newly created appellation “The Rocks of Milton-Freewater” created some controversy. The controversy is not about the validity of the appellation itself – just about everyone agrees that “The Rocks” is a unique region. The controversy arises in who amongst the wineries will ultimately be able to use this new AVA on their wine labels.

Here is a refresher regarding the Rocks of Milton-Freewater AVA: it is a sub-AVA nested within the larger multi-state Walla Walla Valley AVA, which is also nested within the much larger multi-state Columbia Valley AVA.  The Rocks of Milton-Freewater AVA resides solely within the borders of Oregon, while the larger multi-state AVAs are predominately in Washington State while crossing over the border into Oregon.  The controversy with this new AVA is that since it is entirely within the borders of Oregon, wineries must also be in Oregon in order to use the AVA on a wine label.  Most wineries who call the Walla Walla AVA home are located in the state of Washington.  This means that even if the winery owns vineyards or sources fruit in The Rocks of Milton-Freewater they will not able to utilize that The Rocks of Milton-Freewater AVA on their labels

The comments received by the TTB during the “open comment” period concerning this inability to use The Rocks of Milton-Freewater AVA were deemed valid by the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) and worthy of consideration.  This means that the TTB acknowledges that the current regulations would require wine that is fully finished in Washington and made primarily from grapes grown within The Rocks District of Milton-Freewater AVA to be labeled with the less specific “Walla Walla Valley” or “Columbia Valley” or “Oregon” appellations of origin.

USDA Map of The Rocks District

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On February 9, 2015 the TTB created a new proposed rule to address these specific concerns that were raised regarding this new AVA.  This new proposed rule is titled “Use of American Viticulture Area Names as Appellations of Origin on Wine Labels”.

The TTB proposes to amend its regulations to permit the use of American Viticulture area names as appellation of origin on labels for wines that would otherwise quality for the use of the AVA name except the wines have been fully finished in the state adjacent to the state in which the viticultural area is located rather than the state in which the labeled viticultural area is located.

The TTB goes on to note that the purpose of an AVA is to provide consumers with additional information on wines they may purchase by allowing vintners to describe more accurately the origin of the grapes used in the wine.

The TTB does not believe this new ruling will cause consumer confusion since multi-state AVAs allow the wine to be finished in either state.  They believe consumers are aware that appellation of origin is a statement of the origin of grapes used to make the wine and it would not be confusing or misleading if a single state AVA were finished in an adjacent state.

I don’t know if the TTB had any idea of the amount of comments this “fix” to the AVA system would generate, but this proposal opened up an entire flood of opposing views.

During the comment phase there were a total of 41 submissions. Out of these 41 comments there were 16 “For”, 18 “Opposed”, 6 “recommended a change to the proposal” and 1 “suggested an extension of the comment period”.

The “For” comments ranged from “providing consumers better knowledge of the origin of grapes”, “fair competition and accurately reflect origin of wines”, “increase business opportunities”, “where grapes are grown is more important than where wine is finished” and “grape shortages in adjacent states”.

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The “Opposed” comments ranged from “confusion for consumers”, “support for local economy”, “the term ‘adjacent state’ is too broad, “undermines state labeling laws”, “large business will transport more grapes to take advantage of AVA names” and “creates deceptive labeling”.

The comments that “recommended a change to the proposal” felt that the following wording on the proposal –“wines have been fully finished in the state adjacent to the state in which the viticultural area is located rather than the state in which the labeled viticultural area is located” – is too broad and encompassing.  This, the commenter believes, has the potential to dilute current AVA status by transporting grapes across long distances.  They recommended a change to the proposal to include “Wines finished in either state of a multi-state AVA can utilize any Sub-AVA that is nested within this multi-state AVA.”  This would enable the wineries of Washington to utilize The Rocks of Milton-Freewater AVA, but not Willamette Valley AVA.  This in effect would narrow the scope and alleviate many of the concerns raised by the commenters.

Unfortunately, I don’t have an end to this story.  The comment period is now closed and the final ruling by TTB won’t be released until April 2016.  For now though, if you want to find a wine from The Rocks of Milton-Freewater, you will need to search for an Oregon winery.

Post authored by Brenda Audino, CWE. After a long career as a wine buyer with Twin Liquors in Austin, Texas, Brenda has recently moved to Napa, California (lucky!) where she runs the Spirited Grape wine consultancy business. Brenda is a long-time member of SWE and has attended many conferences – be sure to say “hi” at this year’s conference in NOLA!

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 Mendoza

Photo credit: Justin Gilman

Photo credit: Justin Gilman

Today we have a guest post from Justin Gilman, CSW who went on the wine-travel “bucket list” trip of a lifetime to Mendoza, Argentina. Read on to hear about this high-altitude wine region, from the ground up!

I traveled to Mendoza on April 13th as a guest of the “Familia Zuccardi” family winery.  I had been introduced to this family winery years ago, carried numerous labels and all along the way, discovered more about their quality wines.  I’ve attended the “Mendoza Masters” seminars in Denver led by winemaker Sebastain Zuccardi and importer Winesellers LTD.  I was excited and anxious to meet the family, become familiar with Mendoza, and experience these great wines at the source.

The trip began in Denver, and onto Miami.  An 8-hour long flight down to Santiago, Chile was the grunt of the trip.  All along I had anticipated the notable flight over the Andes Mountains.  Anyone who has made wine their carrier knows about the Andes and the important role they play to Argentina wine.  As simple as it sounds, you don’t realize just how real the mountains are until you experience it for yourself.

Our plane landed in Santiago around 7am.  The sun wasn’t up yet, and it was pitch black outside the window.  The pilot announced he would land with autopilot because of the dense fog prohibiting any sort of vision to the runway.  Shortly after we landed, standing at the gate, the sun came out and exposed a marine layer of which we couldn’t see 50 feet outside the airport window.  This had caused our connecting flight to be slightly delayed to Mendoza.

The flight over the Andes brought a new perspective on time and distance.  Literally climbing, then diving down over the mountains on a 45 min flight.  The Andes below were vast.  Mountain tops sharp and jagged at the highest points.  Winds blow the peaks clean and the wind chill easily froze any existing moisture the weather provided. You can easily see where glaciers melt and the runoff slowly descends down the mountain.  Small lakes form in craters and some parts of the mountain looked smooth from the distance – most likely shaped by extreme winds over time.

Photo credit: Justin Gilman

Photo credit: Justin Gilman

On the Eastern side of the mountains descending, we didn’t see ocean fog, but cumulous nimbus clouds contoured into every nook of the mountain.  This was a picturesque definition of “Rain Shadow”.  The Andes are measured at 310 miles wide at its farthest points and 4,300 miles long. The average height is 4,000 feet.  This mountain range is longer than the U.S. is wide (excluding Hawaii and Alaska).  Cumulus clouds max out at around 3,300 feet.  These clouds never cross over these massive peaks.  This experience has allowed me to completely understand the effect of the Cascade Mountains in Washington and the role they play to that wine region as well.  Living in Denver, I’m used to flying over the Rockies going to and from the West Coast.  Somehow, the jagged peaks of the Andes seemed much more dominant.

The “Santa Julia Winery” in Maipu was our first stop.  This is the family’s large production facility that has sustainable and organically farmed grapes.  The Zuccardi family is one of the largest producers in Argentina, meanwhile keeping a humble, small family mentality.  They are 2nd in sparkling wine production, making both charmat and traditional method styles.  The honesty and transparency to their wines, along with commitment to sustainability and organics were quickly displayed.  Producing entry-level wines with native yeasts and labeling wines honorably with their family name was refreshing.  The location has two “farm to table” restaurants on site, “Casa Visatante” and “Pan & Oliva”, both catering different styles of culinary genius.  They produce olive oil and have a spirit still for brandy. They are well under way with Solera aging for their Port style wines.

The Santa Rosa Vineyard is among the family’s largest acreage.  It has been in the family and helped the Zuccardi’s learn and become who they are today.  The family knows where they’ve been, where they are, and clearly has a vision for the future.  The Santa Rosa Vineyard dedicates 1 hectare to numerous plantings of experimental or as they say “Innovacion” grapes.  Nero D’Avola, Albarino and even Mersalan (a cross between Cabernet Sauvignon/Grenache) are planted, along with many more.  Each year, the two best are bottled and sold in the tasting room.  These grapes are monitored and progress is considered for the Valle de Uco vineyards.

Photo via http://www.zuccardiwines.com/145/Fotos/

Photo via http://www.zuccardiwines.com/145/Fotos/

The Maipu winery has clearly been the anchor for the family since the 1960’s with each new generation benefiting from the last.  It’s reaching production capacity and the family is aligning its future behind the addition of the new Valle de Uco winery set for completion in September 2015.

The week progressed like the perfect storyline.  Starting with family history and their bulk facility on the first day, then escalated to the new winery and top tiers over night.  I had seen, tasted and carried these quality wines, but visiting the new winery on this day was mind blowing.  In my 15 years in the industry, I’ve never witnessed such attention to detail and commitment to terroir on such a large scale.

The next day we drove almost an hour to the “Altamira Vineyard” site.  The elevation for this vineyard area is 3,412-3,772 feet. Uco Valley is one of the world’s highest wine growing regions, with over 80,000 hectares planted between 3,000-3,900 feet and plenty of sunlight.

We started the day with the winery geologist “Martin”, and it was clear that his mission first and foremost was to explain in detail, the terroir of the Uco Valley, as well as introducing us to the philosophy going forward.  Martin had aerial terrain maps and technology graphs to explain why the vineyard was planted the way it was.  Blocks and rows were planted after using electric mapping in the soil to determine soil density, help determine erosion and gather more info as to which varietals were best suited on particular blocks.  Blue colors were less dense with red being extremely dense.

The highlight of this visit was his explanation of alluvial rocks scattered throughout the vineyard.  Glaciers melt atop of the Andes and the runoff carries down the soil and nutrients to the valley floor.  The point at the base of the mountain, in which the soil spreads out is known as an “alluvial fan” or “alluvial zone”.  Topographical maps clearly show green, thriving soil and moisture at the end of these zones and much less moisture at the beginning of these patterns.

Photo via: http://www.zuccardiwines.com/145/Fotos/

Photo via: http://www.zuccardiwines.com/145/Fotos/

Martin took us into the vineyard and removed alluvial rocks from holes dug within 50yds of one another.  He mentioned roughly 400 holes had been dug over a few years’ time to completely understand what was taking place along the surface of the vineyard block.  Explaining that there was a film of calcium deposit on the rocks, he rubbed his palm on a medium size rock and clearly the white coating from the rock transferred to his palm, leaving a bare spot on the rock.  He then asked for participants to do the same and lick our palms.  We did.  The taste was clearly salty.  He had explained to us earlier that this was a reaction to elements in the soil and limestone coating the rock.  Calcium deposits in water drift to the bottom of the ocean through pressure.  Over time, the layers of deposits consolidate and create a hard mass.  He explained that the fossilized rocks in his office were proof that rocks traveling down from the top of the Andes to the valley floor were evidence that the top of the Andes Mountains were once underwater.  These are the things you hear, but of course have a stronger realization when you’re there looking at fossils.

After the vineyard tour we were lead to the new winery building.  It has been in use for two years, though still under construction.  In fact its first harvest began without the roof on the building.  The new winery is made from the same rocks scraped from under the foundation.  Binding clay and sediment soils from the nearby Rio Negro River used with alluvial rocks to make the walls of the building.  No two walls are the same.  It was explained that from a distance, the profile of the winery roof blends into the Andes Mountain behind it and that the path from the front door will mimic the “alluvial fan” of the mountain base.  It will not be landscaped, but left to develop with the terroir.  Weeds, erosion, grass and flowers will occur naturally.

We ventured into this amazing structure.  Plans were discussed for an open kitchen with a concrete oven, and a huge 6ft rock they discovered while digging into the plans for a 10,000-bottle wine cellar would remain in place.  Concrete eggs a long time ago were decided to be the fermenters of choice.  More stable fermentation temps and the fact that stainless steel fermenters discharge a slight electric current influencing the wine just were two reasons behind the change.  State of the art made with what nature has given, we were all astounded.

Photo via: http://www.zuccardiwines.com/145/Fotos/

Photo via: http://www.zuccardiwines.com/145/Fotos/

We tasted four different samples of 2014 Malbecs.  Samples were chosen to display extreme differences in terroir.  From soft and grapey in clay soil, to minerally/chalky in alluvial rock.  The Altamira showing a slight ‘forest floor’ and moist dirt on the nose and in the glass, similar to Oregon Pinot Noir, but with Malbec.  One of the samples came from the “Gualtallary Vineyard”.  Very much a point of focus in the future, this region seems to be up and coming and on their radar.  Located Southwest of Tupungato, Gualtallary is even higher elevation of 3,937-4,921 feet and different soil compositions of course, meaning extreme “terroir-ists” can remain excited about possibilities for time to come.   We sampled both 2014 and 2015 wines displaying these extreme differences in terroir.

Sebastian and his family are passionate about terroir, and determined enough to break the mold stylistically of what we see every day with Malbec, Torrontés and Cabernet Sauvignon coming from Argentina.  The mass exodus of Malbec over the years to America seems to have thinned out quality and damaged Argentina’s reputation in some circumstances.  This trip was truly insightful and has given me an extreme appreciation of terroir and diversity of varietals grown in Argentina, not to mention seeing the potential first hand.  The family has tremendous integrity and dedication to organic practice.  I look forward to returning to the new winery after its completion and possibly visiting other wineries both big and small, to help further my knowledge of this region that is much, much more than just Malbec.

Justin Gilman, CSW is the Store Manager/Buyer for Jordan Wine & Spirits, a leading retailer in Parker, Colorado, located in Denver’s South Metro area.  With over 15 years in alcohol beverage retail, in the major markets of Orange Co., and Los Angeles California, he now resides in Denver Colorado, where his skill set as an operator and buyer are utilized for both retail and as a consultant in the industry.

For more information on the Familia Zuccardi and their wines, visit their website here.

 

 

The Georgia of Wine and Walnuts

Traditional carved wooden balconies in the Old Town of Tbilisi, Georgia

Traditional carved wooden balconies in the Old Town of Tbilisi, Georgia

Today we have a guest post from renowned Wine and Spirits Educator Harriet Lembeck. Read on to hear about Harriet’s recent wine trip to the Republic of Georgia! 

If you really care about wine, you should think seriously about making the journey to the country of Georgia. You will experience true hospitality, tradition, wine-making, and still be close enough to the Black Sea’s famed resorts when you are ready to relax. And if you like to ski, there are the slopes of the Caucasus Mountains right there as well.

FYI, I have just returned from a visit, and saw no sign of any of the unrest that’s been in the news lately. There is instead a sense of calm and welcoming.

To the Georgians, a guest is a gift from God. And the best way to greet a guest is to serve one’s own wine, made from one’s own grapes. No patch of land goes vacant, and grapes grow on what elsewhere might be a lawn. Further, every home winemaker has a still, and he will also pour you his clear pomace brandy, or Chacha.

If you go to a Georgian banquet, dishes will be continually placed on the table, and nothing will be cleared until the end — in case the guest might want a little more of anything! Walnuts are the preferred stuffing for confections, fruits, vegetables and even boned fish. Meals are leavened with toasts. The toastmaster shows gratitude for the Creator, for food, for friendships, for all the women, for beauty, for love, for people who have passed away, and for the children looking to the future.

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Historical Significance

Georgia is referred to as the “Cradle of Wine,” as wine has been made there continuously for the last 8,000 years (The Georgians say “8,000 Vintages”). There was very early winemaking in Greece, Cyprus, Turkey, Crimea, Armenia and Moldava, but all evidence points to at least 6,000 BCE, if not before, for the first propagation of wine grapes — in Georgia — in the Fertile Crescent.

Records show 525 grape varieties, including clones, of which 440 are still in use. Do not despair — even if you go there and taste a lot of wines, you are not likely to come across more than twenty, if that many. The white Rkatsiteli and the red Saperavi are the most prevalent, but you may see some international varieties as well.

Historically, this tradition was interrupted for about seventy years, when Russia took over between 1921 and 1991. The Russians knew that banning the production of wine was hopeless in Georgia. “Georgia is synonymous with wine,” it is said. But with wine permitted, the Russians were more interested in high volume than in quality, and after three generations, much of the fine wine tradition was lost. Many of today’s winemakers are now working to restore it.

The city center of Tbilisi

The city center of Tbilisi

There are 10 main wine regions in Georgia, which contain 18 smaller Protected Denominations of Origin (PDOs). The majority of wineries and growers are in the Kakheti Valley, very close to Tbilisi. Going from east to west, you will pass through Imereti and other central and western wine regions. Summers are hot, but spring or fall are perfect times to visit.

Your first stop should be Tbilisi, and once there, you should go to the Vino Underground Wine Bar, which has the largest selection of organic and/or “bio” Georgian wines. Also go to the Azarpesha Wine Restaurant, named for a long-handled drinking bowl, for a traditional meal. You may meet partner and ex-pat American John Wurdeman in either place. He is an articulate moving force in reclaiming Georgian traditions in wine, food, polyphonic music and dance, and is also the founder of Pheasant’s Tears Winery. 

All About Qvervis

Wine has been traditionally fermented and aged in qvevris (kvevris), or large clay pots that are bur ied in the earth. They are shaped something like Roman amphorae, but the amphorae re- main above ground. When people buy older houses, it is not unusual to lift up the floor- boards and find buried qvevris below. Many winemakers are using qvevris now, though some do use stainless steel or oak barrels, and some use both. To learn about qvevris, you should not miss a visit to Twins Old Cellar in Napareuli Village in the Telavi district. I dubbed it “Qvevri School.” The twin brothers have set up an oversized qvevri display to honor their parents.

Previously, the Soviets had taken over their winery, and their father died in prison. The property was eventually returned.  They have made an outdoor room-sized qvevri, reached by a ladder. Once inside, you feel as if you are standing in an enormous qvevri. The clay walls are marked showing levels of internal activity as a wine ages and solids reach the

Georgian Qvervi - Photo by By Levan Totosashvili, via Wikimedia Commons

Georgian Qvervi – Photo by By Levan Totosashvili, via Wikimedia Commons

bottom of this curve-sided vessel. The twins have 107 qvevris in use, restoring a tradition that was almost lost. [Note: Besides creating a wine museum, they also have a dozen guest rooms, should you decide to visit and stay over.] With renewed interest in ovoid, clay fermenters, some qvevris are being produced in the United States. A Texan, Billy Ray Mangham of Sleeping Dog Pottery and his team, have a “Qvevri Project.” Andrew Beckham, a potter and winemaker in Oregon has his own “Amphorae Project.” Also, a potter on the outskirts of Austria is now making qvevris. Further, there is increased experimentation with ‘the concrete egg’ – concrete egg-shaped tanks made in Burgundy. The Emiliana Vineyards, from Chile, has made a very big investment in them for their winery in Casablanca.

Among other sites, concrete eggs are used in the Glenora Winery, the first Farm Winery in the Finger Lakes, NY. In 2013, UNESCO recognized qvevris and qvevri-winemaking, and placed them on the “Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.” Qvevris last for a very long time. They are not discarded when they are no longer useful, but are respectfully leaned against garden walls.

Inspired to visit? Click here to download some  Tips for a Successful Wine Trip to the Republic of Georgia from Harriet Lembeck

HarrietHARRIET LEMBECK, CWE, CSS, is a prominent wine and spirits educator. She is president of the renowned 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 may be contacted at hlembeck@mindspring.com.

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

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

Flash Détente: Making Red Wine Redder

Brenda flash 2Today we have a guest post from Brenda Audino, CWE. Brenda tells us about her brush with Flash Détente – very interesting!

I recently tasted a modest (read inexpensive) wine that had a bright purple hue and Jolly Rancher fruit aromas.  I enquired whether the wine had undergone Carbonic Maceration as it seemed to fit that profile.  It was explained to me that although the results are similar, this particular wine was produced using Flash Détente technology.  Being ever curious, I wondered what is Flash Détente; when, why and how is it used in the wine production.

To explain Flash Détente, we need to understand that one of the principal goals in producing red wine is the extraction of color and flavor from the skins.  This extraction is usually achieved by a combination of maceration and fermentation. Here is a review of three popular means for extraction including the new (to me) Flash Détente.

Classic maceration is achieved at low temperatures of 24-32°C (75-90°F) requiring extended contact between the juice and grape skins.  The fermentation process, while producing alcohol, also extracts the polyphenols from the skins.  One of the byproducts of fermentation is the release of CO2 which raises the skins to the surface forming a floating cap.  This floating cap is subject to acetic bacteria as well as other contaminates and, if left exposed to the air, can turn the entire batch into vinegar.  A floating cap also does nothing to extract further color and flavors into the juice.  It is therefore necessary to mix the skins back into the juice by one of many processes (punch down, pump over, rack and return, etc.)

Thermo-vinification uses heat to extract color and flavors from the skins.  The crushed grapes are heated to 60-75°C (140-167°F) for 20 to 30 minutes.  The must is then cooled down to fermentation temperature.  This process gives intensely colored must because the heat weakens the cell walls of the grape skins enabling the anthocyanins to be easily extracted.  This process can result in the wine having a rather “cooked” flavor.

Brenda flash 1While I was researching these technologies, I recalled a previous visit to Château de Beaucastel where I learned that make their iconic wine using a modified process of Thermo-vinification.  At Château de Beaucastel, the grapes are de-stemmed and the uncrushed grapes are passed rapidly through a heat exchanger at 90°C (194°F) which only heats the surface of the grapes, not the juice.  The heat is sufficient to weaken the cell wall of the grape skins enabling for easier extraction of anthocyanins, since the juice is kept cool the wine is less likely to have any cooked flavors due to this modified process.

Flash Détente is essentially an evolution of the traditional thermo-vinification method.  The process involves a combination of heating the grapes to about 82°C (180°F) and then sending them into a huge vacuum chamber where they are cooled.  During this cooling process the cells of the grape skins burst from the inside making a distinct popping noise.   Similar to traditional thermo-vinification, this process enables better extraction of anthocyanins and flavor compounds.

The Flash Détente process creates a steam that is diverted to a condenser.  This steam is loaded with aromatic compounds including pyrazines (vegetal, green pepper and asparagus).  Because vapor is removed, the sugar level increases in the remaining must.  The winemaker can choose to work with the higher sugar levels or dilute back down by adding water.  Most winemakers discard the condensation or “Flash Water” as the aromatics are usually highly disagreeable.   The winemaker now has multiple choices.  The flashed grapes can be pressed and fermented similar to white wine, the must can be fermented with the skins in the more traditional red wine production manner, or the flashed grapes can be added to non-flashed must that underwent classic maceration and then co-fermented.

Flash technology differs from traditional thermo-vinification because the traditional method does not involve a vacuum and there is no flash water waste produced.  Winemakers who are familiar with both methods have noted that the tannin extraction with thermo-vinification is less than Flash Détente.  Winemakers also note that Flash technology is better for removing pyrazine aromas.

Brenda flash 3In Europe during the early years of flash technology, it was mainly used for lower quality grapes or difficult vintages that had problems needing fixed.  Now the use of this technology is expanding its application to all quality levels of the wine industry.

According to Linda Bisson, a professor of viticulture and enology at UC Davis and one of the researchers working on the project, enologists are looking at what characteristics are lost or retained per grape variety.  They are also looking at the character and structure of tannins in flashed wines.  Bisson states that turning flashed grapes into a standalone wine is possible, but most winemakers see it as a tool for creating blends.  “It’s something on your spice rack to blend back in.”

The use of Flash Détente can be surmised as “It’s an addition to traditional winemaking, not a replacement.”

What are your thoughts on technology in the wine industry?  Does technology improve the wine or make it more homogenous?  

Photos and post by Brenda Audino, CWE. After a long career as a wine buyer with win Liquors in Austin, Texas, Brenda has recently moved to Napa, California (lucky!) where she runs the Spirited Grape wine consultancy business. Brenda is a long-time member of SWE and has attended many conferences – be sure to say “hi” at this year’s conference in NOLA!

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

Have You Heard About Furmint?

Today we have a guest post from renowned Wine and Spirits Educator Harriet Lembeck. Read on to hear Harriet’s take on Furmint!

If you haven’t already heard about Furmint – Furmint is the grape that makes the famed sweet wine Toakaji.

Aszu (‘dried up’ or ‘dried out’) grapes

Aszu (‘dried up’ or ‘dried out’) grapes

When Samuel Tinon, a sweet-wine maker in Bordeaux, decided to move to the Tokaji region of Hungary, he was ready to make wine from its Aszu (‘dried up’ or ‘dried out’) Furmint grapes — grapes attacked by the desirable botrytis cinerea, or noble rot. These grapes are so concentrated that they have to soak in vats of young wine to dissolve their flavors. But when Tinon moved to Tokaji, botrytis was decreasing in his newly chosen region.

Expecting to make Aszu wines at least three times in a decade, the number of opportunities dropped to a little more than two times in a decade, and sometimes less than that. Due to climate change, a great deal of rain meant either no crop at all (as happened in 2010), or harvesting all of the Furmint grapes earlier — not waiting in the hopes of harvesting Aszu grapes — and therefore making dry white wines from earlier-picked grapes instead.

Asked about an apparent climate change, Tinon says: “We can’t see warming. What we see are erratic vintages with severe or extreme conditions — hot or cold, wet or dry. In the past, Tokaji Aszu was harvested at the end of October and the beginning of November, with botrytis and high sugars. This is still happening, but more often we have to change our production to dry Furmint wines without botrytis with an earlier September harvest, bigger crop, more security, more reliability and with a chance to get your money back.”

Tokaji vineyardWith winters becoming a bit warmer like in 2014, the fruit-fly population is able to ‘over-winter,’ and begin reproducing very early in the season, causing the spread of bad rot. This was told to me by Ronn Wiegand, MW, MS and Publisher of ‘Restaurant Wine,’ who is making wine with his father-in-law in Tokaji.

Ironically, Comte  Alexandre de Lur Saluces, owner of Château de Fargues and former co-owner of the fabled Château d’Yquem, said that although his area is getting warmer and drier, he feels that “global warming could be a help for Sauternes, and enable any of those who chaptalize these wines to avoid the practice.” He continues, “Many people in Sauternes are  producing dry white wines. Their production is increasing, and even Château d’Yquem is producing more dry wine.”

Hungarian winemakers from Tokaji are increasing dry white wine production as well. A new website, www.FurmintUSA.com, was created by 12 member wineries that presented a Furmint tasting in Sonoma, CA in November 2014. The Blue Danube Wine Company, which imports many wines from all over Hungary, has six producers from Tokaji that are producing dry Furmint wines (many from single vineyards). Martin Scott Wines imports Royal Tokaji’s dry Furmint wine, coming from the company co-founded by Hugh Johnson and Ben Howkins, in London. These wines are all delicious, showcasing the minerality of volcanic soil.

Considering that in 2014, Hungary abolished the categories of Tokaji Aszu 3 and 4 Puttonyos (baskets of Aszu grapes), leaving only the sweeter 5 and 6 Puttonyos examples, the door has been opened for Dry Szamorodni. This rich, dry white (amber colored) wine produced from Furmint grapes has a portion of grapes which have some botrytis co-fermented to dryness, and also uses some flor yeast, giving the wine some fino or amontillado Sherry-like flavors.

This wine is very laborious and time consuming to produce. The 2007 Tinon Dry Szamorodni is the current vintage in the market, released after a minimum of 5 years of aging. This is a unique wine, a keeper, and is important to the history of Tokaji, linking the modern dry wines to the traditional Aszu wines.

If you haven’t tried it – you should!

HarrietHARRIET LEMBECK, CWE, CSS, is a prominent wine and spirits educator. She is president of the renowned 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 may be contacted at hlembeck@mindspring.com.

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

So many wine books, so little time…

Books and red wineToday we have a guest blog from Certified Wine Educator, Brenda Audino. Brenda shares with us a topic that is dear to the hearts of wine lovers the world over….books about wine!  

In the pursuit of greater wine knowledge I have found the greatest expense to be in the wine.  It takes a lot of wine bottles to truly “understand” the nuances of each wine region both great and small.  The second largest expense for me have been the wine books.  There are an endless amount of books covering everything from encyclopedic to specifics; from terroir to marketing.  I have found though that even with an extensive wine library there are a handful of books that are my “go to” selection in starting any wine related research.

I have categorized my wine library into three main categories; general reference, specific area (viticulture, vinification, and wine region) and wine themed pleasure books.  This categorization enables me to quickly gather the books I need.

Of course, the list of my favorite wine books includes the CSW Study Guide – but I assume that is that same for all of you as well!

So, here are a few of my favorite books and why they are always next to me at my desk:

The Oxford Companion to Wine – 3rd Edition, Jancis Robinson: This is definitely encyclopedic and not one I would recommend to read from cover to cover.  Excellent resource in digging deeper into a subject.   Fair warning though, in each entry there will be reference to other sections and these refer to even more sections that can keep you flipping pages for hours.

The World Atlas of Wine – 7th Edition, Hugh Johnson & Jancis Robinson: This book is quite large, but not overly daunting to read through a chapter or two a week.  The info graphs are clear and assist in the understanding of the corresponding text.  While there is beautiful photography throughout, my favorite part of this book must be the maps!  They have a high level of detail, but are also easy to review.

booksHow to Pronounce French, German, and Italian Wine Names; Diana Bellucci: Although I dislike butchering foreign wine names in the privacy of my own brain, when it comes to speaking them out loud it is extremely important to get the pronunciation correct.  As a wine educator it is critical!  I have quickly come to realize that my two years of French in high school did little to prepare me in my wine career.  This book with its easy to understand techniques helps me get as close to the true pronunciation without having to be fluent in all of these languages.

Understanding Wine Technology; David Bird, MW:  I am not a winemaker and even though I have visited many wineries nothing can be said for the hands-on experience working day in day out guiding a wine from vine to bottle.  This book, though, for me, gives the information needed to gain a glimpse into the science behind the wine.  This book covers a broad range from the mysteries of the vineyard, the components of grapes, producing and adjusting the juice (must), complexities of fermentation and the winemaking process, quality control and assurance.

Wine Grapes, Jances Robinson, Julia Harding, & José Vouillamoz: This is my newest “wine geek” book.  Detailed origins, viticultural characteristics, where it’s grown and what its wine taste like on every grape imaginable along with many more that I never heard of.  This is a tomb of a book, but completely satisfying to heave out for research on individual grapes.  Jancis Robinson has released several pocket guides on wine varieties and this book feels like the culmination of all of these works with details of over 1300 different varieties. The Pinot pedigree diagram is more complete than my own family tree!  The pictures of grape varieties look like pieces of frame-worthy art.  This is a book I can (and do) get lost in.

Wine & War, Don & Petie Kladstrup: The story of how wine played a role in France’s fight during World War II.  The narrative follows five winemaking families from France’s key wine-producing regions of Burgundy, Alsace, Loire Valley, Bordeaux, and Champagne and their struggles to save the heart and soul of France.  I found this an enjoyable and lively read after a day of studying.

Books and wine fire placeI now realize that I can and will have a lifelong mission to study and learn more about wine.  I am also interested in what others find useful in their pursuit of knowledge.  What are some of your favorite “go to” books that you use in your education journey?

Post authored by Brenda Audino, CWE. After a long career as a wine buyer with Twin Liquors in Austin, Texas, Brenda has recently moved to Napa, California (lucky!) where she runs the Spirited Grape wine consultancy business. Brenda is a long-time member of SWE and has attended many conferences – be sure to say “hi” at this year’s conference in NOLA!

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

The Toe, the Shin, and the Heel – all at Vino 2015!

today we have a guest blog from Sharron McCarthy who was lucky enough to attend Vino 2015 last week! Read on for a first-hand account!

sharronLast week the Italian Trade Commission welcomed wine writers, retailers, restaurateurs, distributors and winemakers from all over the world to Vino 2015 – Italian Wine Week. Touted as the “grandest Italian Wine Event Held Outside of Italy,” the event hosted over 200 producers and importers from some of Italy’s most important viticultural regions, with a focus on Southern Italian wines.  Over 60 Italian wine producers were part of the Vino Direct program, debuting a vast selection of wines available for the first time in the United States.

Vino 2015 was filled with seminars, tastings, and events highlighting the extraordinary wines of Italy -including the lesser appreciated (but magnificent) wines of Calabria, Campania, Puglia and Sicilia. These regions form the lower portion of the country, and are often described as the toe, shin, and heel of the “Italian boot.”

We learned that 90% of the land of Calabria – the toe of the Italian boot – is mountainous with steep hills. This rugged terrain does not prevent the mysterious Gaglioppo grape (possibly indigenous or possibly of Greek origin) from producing delightful reds like Cirò as well as a rare mountain red wine known as Savuto DOC.  Dry white wines from Calabria are generally based on the Greco grape variety – the gift of the Greeks – as is the rare, sweet appassimento wine produced from it known as Greco di Bianco.

Campania – the shin of the boot – is also known as “Campania Felix” or “The Happy Countryside.” Campania offers us wines produced from her splendid volcanic soils.  Founded as a Greek colony in the 8th century BC, the Greeks brought vines to Campania that live on today as the white grape varieties known as Falanghina and Greco. Campania is also known for another capativating white variety known as Coda di Volpe – the “Tail of the Fox.” The grape is said to be so named as the clusters of grapes  form a shape that reminds one of the tail of the fox! A wine sometimes referred to as the  “Barolo of the South” is produced here as well – but you might know it better as the great Taurasi, born of the  Aglianico grape variety (the Italianized name for Hellenico).

ItalyPuglia – the heel of the boot – is home to a sun-drenched coast and two seas, the Adriatic and the Ioanian!  Puglia’s wines benefit from the brilliant sun and sweeping sea breezes.  Most of the leading red wines of Publia include a at least a portion of Primitivo – so named as it matures earlier than the other leading red grapes of the region such as Uva di Troia and NegroAmaro.  Intriguing but obscure white grapes like Impigno, Verdeca and Asprino are found in this beguiling region.

Sicilian wines have long been popular throughout the world. This triangle-shaped island, the largest in the Mediterranean, boasts more than 32 different grape varieties.  The Arab conquest of this seductive island left it with a sweet tooth and magnificent, sweet wines to satisfy it. Some of the well-known sweet wines of Sicily include Marsala, Malvasia delle Lipari and luscious versions of Moscato.  Catarrato, Inzolia, and Grecanico are prominent whites while reds such as Nero d’Avola, Nerello Mascalese and Frappato have quite a following.  In the 1990’s grapes like Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah and Chardonnay made their way to this ancient land and have inspired new traditions for modern tastes.

For more information on the wines featured at this event as well as producers seeking importers, please visit the website of Vino 2015 here. 

Our guest blogger, Sharron McCarthy, CSW, is the Vice President of Wine Education for Banfi Vintners, as well as being a past president and current Director Emeritus of the Society of Wine Educators.

Guest Post: From New York Grapes to the CWE!

Joe's wife, Isabelle, harvesting Frontenac Gris last fall.

Jeff”s wife, Isabelle, harvesting Frontenac Gris last fall.

Today we have a guest post – all about the long and winding road to wine certification – from Jeff Anderson. Jeff first realized his passion for wine through home winemaking, and he is now studying for his CSW. Jeff intends to pursue the CWE and create a “third career” as a wine educator. Read on for more of Jeff’s story!

Home winemaking – like so many other things – can take on a life of its own. My home winemaking is way out of control and just as I think that I’m back in charge, I get an award or a compliment from someone that matters and I’m off again.

What do I have to blame for this obsession?  I can think of three things: First, I won a gold medal for my Sangiovese in the 2006 International Winemaker Magazine Contest. Second, In 2008 I won an award from a regional chapter of the American Wine Society for a Nebbiolo I made from a “Barolo” kit. Third, a neighbor in her 80s informed me that a glass of my wine allowed her to get the first good night’s sleep she’d had in a while. After all that – it was over. I was all about the wine. I even forgot how to make beer.

Now that my passion for winemaking has grown, I’m contemplating a second or third career as a wine educator. As a first step, I’ve begun my studies for the Certified Specialist of Wine (CSW) certification.

As I start out in pursuit of wine certification, I have come to realize just how much it would help to have some specific experiences in your background. It would be great, for instance, to be a wine merchant with an inventory of imported wines and overseas contacts.  I would imagine that differences in vintages and blends would be much clearer to a wine merchant or salesperson than they must be to the average person.

Bear Mountain Bridge in the Hudson River Valley

Bear Mountain Bridge in the Hudson River Valley

It would also be nice to have majored in geography. This really hit home when I started to tune into SWE’s free SWEbinars. A few courses in geology, Romance languages, organic chemistry, and history would help fill in some gaps as well. And for all you folks who tell people you are “just” a server in a restaurant, all of your time serving wine, spirits, or even beer will be a big help to you in your wine studies. Of course, a white tablecloth restaurant with a multiple-page wine list would be ideal, but keep in mind that every little bit helps.

As a member of the Society of Wine Educators, I really appreciate the excellent resources available to members who, like me, are on the path to certification. The webinars are lively, the pre- and post-tests available on the online Wine Academy are challenging, and the Study Guide reinforces how much I still need to know. There is also a cellphone app for trivia quizzes organized according to white, red, sparkling, and dessert wines as well as spirits.

I was astounded to see how broad the subject of wine and winemaking is.  It is virtually like learning a new language.

My experience – as a small scale grape grower and winemaker – has allowed me to learn and really understand quite a few things about this magical liquid called wine. For instance, I know why a winemaker might leave stems in the must, pick grapes before they are ripe, or use some white grapes in a red wine.  And malolactic fermentation – it’s not exactly fermentation – I really get that.

Our grape-growing adventures are located in the area around Albany in upstate New York, where we grow cold hardy grapes for wine.  We are surrounded by a fast-growing group of wineries in the Upper Hudson Valley Wine Trail. They are very promising, make exciting wines, and are proud to count some excellent winemakers among the group.

But it’s all too easy to focus on the grapes you grow and wines you make – and forget there is an enormous body of knowledge about hundreds of wine around the world. Take my advice, and break out of your comfort zone – it’s a wide world of wine!

There you have it. All I need to do now is learn everything about wine that everybody else knows! Now, that doesn’t sound so hard – does it?

JJeff Anderson Bioeff Anderson is a lecturer in Criminal Justice for Sage College in Albany New York.  Previously he held a variety of positions in juvenile justice and criminal justice and consulted with the National Institute of Corrections and the National Drug Court Institute.  He is an award-wining amateur winemaker and grows grapes along with Amorici Vineyard in Valley Falls, New York – on the Upper Hudson Valley Wine Trail. He is a member of the Society of Wine Educators and is preparing for his first certification test. He can be contacted on Twitter as @Garagist.