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!

 

Guest Post – Build Your Library – the Martini Version!

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

The Intel:

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

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

 

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

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

 

And to sip…

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

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

Harriett portobello road

 

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

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

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

Harriet Noilly Prat

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

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

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

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

Harriet

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

 

Guest Post: Build your Library for the Holidays and Beyond!

Today we have a guest post from Harriet Lembeck CWE, CSE who tells us about some excellent wine books to build your library – or give as gifts – for the holidays and beyond!

With books like these, you can increase your knowledge, grow your confidence and be a wine-and-spirits resource for your customers!

The Best of the Reference Books

Harriet oxford companionThe Oxford Companion to Wine, Fourth Edition—by Jancis Robinson MW and Julia Harding (Oxford Companions, $65.00, 912 pages [hard cover]). Two years plus a lifetime in the making, this completely revised edition lists, up front, 300 completely new entries (in case you doubted that you need this now) totaling over 4,000 entries, spread over a million words. No detail goes un-scrutinized, clichés are exploded, and the list of over 180 contributors is a Who’s Who of wine industry greats.

In addition to the hard copy version, it is available as an e-book, and also may be found on Jancis’ “Purple Pages” member-only section of her website. When you need something quickly, this enormous book is completely searchable on line.

Harriet wines of franceWines of France, a Guide to 500 Leading Vineyards—by Benjamin Lewin MW (Vendange Press, $45, 670 pages [hard cover]). Here is a comprehensive listing of the most important French vineyards. The first 375 pages review 10 regions, along with a look at the current state of, and challenges to, France’s wine country. The balance of the book has detailed profiles of the best producers, especially of you want to visit, or carry their wines in your store. Illustrations are gorgeous, and make you want to start packing.

harriet charles curtisThe Original Grand Crus of Burgundy—by Charles Curtis MW (Wine Alpha, $19.99, 257 pages [soft cover, including two Appendices, Bibliography and detailed index]). A scholarly study here, where Charles Curtis has researched treatises on Burgundy vineyards from 1855 and earlier; and reconciles these historical tracts with today’s AOCs.

The treatises, from authors such as Dr. Jules Lavalle, Dr. Denis Morelot and André Jullien, were written in French, which Curtis had to translate.

If you’ve been hazy about lieu-dits, climats, and crus, they are clarified here. This book journeys through Burgundy  commune by commune, and inspires you to research your own purchases more thoughtfully.

Harriet rogerAnswers to Wine Questions from Real People, 2nd edition—by Roger C. Bohmrich MW (Kindle, $4.99 [compatible with other devices as well]). This is not trivia, and this book covers a great range of topics. With this in your tablet, you can answer questions quickly and smartly.

Bohmrich covers topics like knowing which wines will be sweet or dry, and how one can tell; how wine is made at all; how to describe a wine; the significance of ratings; wine and health; wine storage; wine service and reasons for decanting; wines of the US and the world, and lots more. When consumers seem shy about asking, you can jump in with answers.

Regional Wine Stories

harriett bertrandWine, Moon, and Stars: A South of France Experience—by Gérard Bertrand (Abrams, Books, $18.95, 202 pages, soft cover [includes Bibliography and Photo Gallery]). Gerard Bertrand is a winemaker and a philosopher, connected to the soils of Languedoc-Roussillon, which he respects with biodynamic farming. He discusses wine tasting in the context of history and culture.

A pyramid-shaped drawing shows layers of increasing wine quality along with increasing prices, and another pyramid diagrams Pleasure, Taste, Emotion and Message. The “Quantum Wine” chapter is based on quantum physics and the energy of matter. Reading about his estates will help you better understand their unique terroirs.

harriett hudsonGrapes of the Hudson Valley and other Cool Climate Regions of the United States and Canada—by J. Stephen Cassicles, with a Foreword by Kevin Zraly and and a Preface by Eric Miller (Flint Mine Press,$29.99, 272 pages [large format, soft cover]). Saying that there are no pure grapes, Steve Cassicles explains the significance of hy- brids to the cooler worlds of northeastern US, the Midwest, the Pacific Northwest and Canada.

Discussions of grape varieties include genetic make-up, growing characteristics and wine- making possibilities – all from the standpoint of the hybridizer. Biographies of these hybridizers and their viticultural creations are fascinating. Even if you don’t have wines from hybrids in your store, your customers may still want info about them.

Harriet bubblesFrom Bubbles to Boardrooms: Serendipitous Stories From Inside the Wine Business—by Michaela Kane Rodeno (Villa Ragazzi Press, $25 from its online bookstore, 291 pages [soft cover]). Michaela Rodena has been in the wine business for 40 years, as an entrepreneur, corporate director, consultant, and grape grower.

Chapter headings include: Start-ups are Such Fun, Every Boardroom is Different, Be Careful What you Promise, A Wine of Our Own, How to Build a Winery, Engaging with Consumers, Market Intelligence, Everyone Reports to Some- one, Rookie CEO Thinking, Back to Bordeaux, Learning About Wine, Phylloxera, The Wine Auction, The Patron Saint of Lost Causes, The Things We Do To Sell Wine, and Finding One’s Successor. A Glossary of French wine words is useful.

Continuing Education

Harriet how to makeThe Way to Make Wine: How How to Craft Superb Table Wines at Home, 2nd edition—by Sheridan Warrick (University of California Press, $24.95, 278 pages [soft cover]). While home wine making is not for everyone, this book contains a wealth of excellent information for all wine professional.

Part Two, especially the section on “Making Even Better Wine,” gives insight into purchased fine wines. A section on yeast helps explain the mystery surrounding native yeasts. Discussions of wine styles, grape ripeness, malolactic fermentation, residual sugar and the careful use of sulfur dioxide provide clarity.

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

Harriet

 

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

 

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

 

 

 

Insights into Insightful Wine Writing

...

Today we have a guest post from Mark Rashap, CWE…

In today’s Information Age, online opinions, tasting notes, blogs, and general wine writing have become omnipresent. This is both good and bad for readers looking for reliable information.

There is such a broad range of quality in this collective literature – from bragging about tasting an iconic wine (which does the reader no good) to describing a conversation with a winemaker in a unique wine region (which can inspire and serve as an informational resource).  I’m not suggesting that everything we write and put into the virtual world must be ground-breaking or a brilliant philosophical essay.  However, I do think that we can demand more from our own writing, strive to improve our own appreciation of wine, and serve as insightful mentors for folks scouring the internet looking for answers to questions they didn’t even know they had.

When I teach a wine class, whether it is an advanced theme or basic wine appreciation, I am never content with students describing a wine simply in terms of “I like it” or “I don’t like it.”  This tells me nothing about the wine’s character nor the student’s tastes and experiences on which we can build; in effect, it stops the conversation.

...

Instead, I try to encourage students to be honest with themselves and get into the “why” and the “how” of what they’re describing.  In fact, for beginners, I believe that “I don’t know” is a much better thing to say in describing a wine than “I don’t like” because it implies that that there is an underlying “something” that, with practice and instruction, one may be able to grasp.

Perhaps even knowledgeable and experienced wine professionals could do a better job in writing about the why and how they think about a wine, a region, or a vintage, instead of rattling off 3-5 descriptors that are similar to the last ten wines described with the score being the only differentiating factor.  All wines—at least all of quality—have a particular fingerprint that makes them unique from the next, and it would be beneficial to the reader if the critic would attempt to penetrate that unique aspect.

In Matt Kramer’s recent publication True Taste (2015), he gives a succinct history of wine writing and offers some theories as to how we have become so homogenized when it comes to describing and rating wines.  He goes on to describe 7 abstract qualities around which he believes all wines should be judged: Harmony, Texture, Layers, Finesse, Surprise, Nuance, and Insight, which he correlates to writing tasting notes and overall wine appreciation.  As he defines it, “Experience + Thought + Synthesis = Insight.”  I think this is a brilliant way to judge wine writing, as well as interactions with the wine professionals who work in restaurants or retail outlets.  If one shows a high level of insight, I believe it is worth going back to that wine shop or that restaurant, or continuing to read that blog.

...

Kramer emphasizes that experience—although it is to some degree required—is not the only characteristic of someone worth listening to.  Visiting Bordeaux for 20 years straight and compiling 20 years’ worth of tasting notes simply provides us with a lot of data.  On the other hand, the thought process built around those notes—such as synthesizing soil variations with vintage character and the internal workings of the winery—now, that is the real juicy stuff a reader wants to digest.

As wine professionals, we must demand insight from ourselves, our writing, our teaching, and from others.  When teaching, I try to reinforce to young and enthusiastic wine lovers that experience is not everything, and that not everybody extracts the same amount of knowledge from each experience.  One year of critical tasting, with close attention paid to drawing correlations from all the factors that have gone into making a wine is worth more than a lifetime of drinking first growth Bordeaux.

Blogs, social media, and open source platforms for wine reviews allow us access to so much information that was previously unavailable.  We can now get news and harvest updates from wineries directly from their Facebook, Twitter, and blog pages.  However, there is a temptation to produce content just to occupy space in the social media sphere whether we have something to say or not.  Let’s collectively resolve to ask ourselves to delve a little deeper in describing wines and the condition of appreciating wine.  We will indeed learn more from asking these questions ourselves, and just might be able to nurture the younger and savvier wine community as well!

MarkPost authored by Mark Rashap, CWE. Mark has, over the past ten years, been in the wine world in a number of capacities including studying wine management in Buenos Aires, being an assistant winemaker at Nota Bene Cellars in Washington State, founding his own wine brokerage, and working for Texas-based retail giant Spec’s as an educator for the staff and public.

In August of 2015, Mark joined the team of the Society of Wine Educators as Marketing Coordinator to foster wine education across the country.

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

 

Guest Blog: Exploring Germany’s Mittelrhein

.....

…..

Today we have a guest blog from Lucia Volk, CSW, reporting from Germany, where she is visiting the lesser known wine regions.

If you are a fan of Riesling, you undoubtedly know the Rheingau. The Rheingau is home to  Germany’s prestigious, over 1,000-year-old Schloß Johannisberg, where late harvest (Spätlese) was allegedly invented. You probably also know the neighboring Rheinhessen, Germany’s largest and most productive wine area.

Next to those Riesling wine super-powers, the Mittelrhein region, which the German Wine Institute ranks second-to-last by size – only Hessische Bergstrasse is smaller  has to struggle to be noticed. It does not help that regional wine advertisement budgets in Germany are pegged to acres cultivated, or that the Mittelrhein extends into the jurisdiction of two German states, Rhineland Palatinate and North Rhine Westphalia, that do not always agree politically. Depending on the size of the harvest, the Mittlerhein region contributes somewhere between 0.3 and 0.5% to Germany’s wine total. Let’s face it: even within Germany, Mittelrhein Riesling is an insider wine.

Castle Reichenstein

Castle Reichenstein

Most of this lesser-known region – almost 85% – consists of terraced slate slopes that require manual labor, and yields are low. Because of the extra labor hours required per acre cultivated, it can be difficult to find a successor for a Mittelrhein winery after a vintner retires. The overall area under wine has fallen from 1,800 acres in the early 1970s to approximately 1,100 now.

Fortunately for wine lovers, the numbers are beginning to hold steady.  About 70% of grapes planted are Riesling, another 10% go to Müller-Thurgau and Kerner combined, 10% to Pinot Noir, and the remaining 10% to Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc, Dornfelder, Portugieser and others. In other words, the Mittelrhein is primarily a place for white wine lovers, although Pinot Noir acreage is on the rise.

Historically, the Rhine river separated the Roman Empire from the realm of the Gauls. The Romans planted the first vines in the region, and they built the first fortifications, a tradition that was adopted by German nobility in the Middle Ages. Fortresses, castles and and customs towers – the Rhine river was an important trading route – line the hilltops.  These historical remains – many carefully restored, others in ruins – create the backdrop for the “Romantic Rhine.“ Tourists can book river boat trips, with scheduled stops for guided castle tours and subsequent wine tastings. Because of its cultural and historical significance, the Mittelrhein valley was designated a UNESCO world heritage site in 2002 , thirteen years before Champagne and Burgundy received similar badges of distinction.

The Rhine River is responsible for the favorable growing conditions in most of Germany’s northern latitude vineyards. Already at its source, close to Lake Constance, grapes are under cultivation, and if you follow the stream you will be able to taste, in succession, Baden, Pfalz, Rheinhessen, and Rheingau wines, before you reach the wine growing limit (for now) at the Mittelrhein. Mild winters allow for early buds in spring and extended sunshine permits ripening into October, resulting in unique aromas that are difficult to replicate in Riesling vineyards elsewhere.

Bopparder Hamm, part of the Mittelrhein’s Loreley Bereich (photo by Lucia Volk)

Bopparder Hamm, part of the Mittelrhein’s Loreley Bereich (photo by Lucia Volk)

The picturesque Mittelrhein geography was created at the end of the Devonian Age – 360 million years ago – when what used to be the bottom of the prehistoric ocean rose up all at once, and the water subsequently had to cut a path through the rocks. The Anbaugebiet  Mittelrhein is divided into two districts (Bereiche): the larger Loreley** between Bingen and Koblenz in Rhineland Palatinate, characterized by slate and greywacke soils, and the smaller Siebengebirge between Neuwied and Bonn in North Rhine Westphalia, which also contains volcanic rock and loess.

Eleven larger sites (Großlagen) are divided up into 111 vineyard sites (Einzellagen). The soil is nutrient-poor and well-drained, so roots go deep.  With the exception of irrigating freshly planted vines, most Mittelrhein winemakers dry-farm, although irregular rainfall over the last decade has some winemakers worry about the increasing stress levels of their vines. A quarter of the harvest turns to Prädikatswein, and the rest to Qualitätswein.  Deutscher Wein or Landwein production is negligible.

You can still find cooperatives that produce Mittelrhein wines, a tradition that dates back to the late 1800s, when phylloxera devastated most of the region’s vineyards.  But more commonly, you now find small family wineries that trace grape production back for several generation, as well as new ventures of enterprising young winemakers.

Photo Credit: Lucia Volk

Photo Credit: Lucia Volk

For instance, Peter Jost and his daughter Cecilia today run the Toni Jost winery, named after Cecilia’s grandfather.  Their prized Einzellage is the Bacharacher Hahn, which overlooks the Rhine outside the town of Bacharach. The word Hahn translates to rooster, which decorates the Jost label, but the vineyard’s name probably stems from Hain (=grove). Founding members of the VDP – Verein Deutscher Prädikatsweingüter – their estate comprises 40 acres, not all of them on the Mittelrhein, and they produce almost 100,000 bottles a year, predominantly Riesling.

Following VDP regulations, their vineyard sites are ranked according to their potential for excellent, terroir-specific wine. Additionally, Cecilia recently introduced Devon-S (S for Schiefer=slate) Riesling that brings white flowers to the nose, offers stone fruit in the glass, and finishes with pronounced Mittelrhein minerality. If you do not know what rock tastes like, Devon-S will take you there.

In the middle of the Mittelrhein, Florian Weingart makes his wines in premium Einzellagen between Boppard and Spay, especially Engelstein  and Ohlenberg. Dedicated to the local soil, he searched historical records for documentation of former vineyard sites – areas that had gone wild – and spared no effort to rehabilitate the most promising among them.

Florian Weingart on camera for Terry Theise’s Leading between the Vines documentary (photo by Lucia Volk)

Florian Weingart on camera for Terry Theise’s Leading between the Vines documentary (photo by Lucia Volk)

On 11 acres, he produces around 45,000 bottles of wine in a regular year.  In 2014, when late rains and pests ruined much of the Riesling crop, it was closer to 30,000. He coaxes each of his wines to develop his own character, using ambient yeast, if possible, and he allows them to finish fermenting early, if that is what the yeast decides to do. If his wine cannot obtain a certain (legal) quality level, because of it, he will rename (and effectively declassify) it. A philosopher in his spare time, he has started writing a Modern Ethics of Wine based on his “less is more“ winemaking principles.

The town of Leutesdorf in the Siebengebirge Bereich of the Mittelrhein claims to be the last big bastion at the northern Riesling frontier. Here, wine technician Marc Josten and enologist Torsten Klein acquired vineyards in the famed Einzellage Gartenlay, where they produce both Riesling, and, in a bold move, Sauvignon Blanc. Their first wines were introduced in 2012, when they were still a garage winery in Remagen, operating out of rented space.

Lucia 4For their Sauvignon Blanc and some of their Riesling, they employ traditional, large oak barrels. While Riesling, Pinot Gris, and Sauvignon Blanc comprise 75% of their total production, they also grow 25% Pinot Noir in vineyards in the neighboring Ahr region, a red-wine stronghold. Altogether, they work about 14 acres. They focus exclusively on dry wines, and promote food pairing events jointly with local restaurateurs. Josten & Klein were the prestigious Gault&Millau Wineguide’s 2013 Discovery of the Year.

A relatively recent initiative specific to the region is the Mittelrhein-Riesling Charta. Participating winemakers agreed on a unified front label for their bottles, which shows the Charta grape symbol, the names of one of the categories – Handstreich, Felsenspiel and Meisterstück – and the two words: Mittelrhein and Riesling. Winery-specific information can be found on the back label. If the categories remind you of an Austrian classification system, you are correct. The Mittelrhein group consulted with Wachau wine producers who use similar designations and production guidelines for a variety of their wines.

...

Rather than focus on terroir (i.e. Bacharacher Hahn) or ripeness category (i.e. Kabinett or Spätlese), the Mittelrhein-Riesling Charta promotes flavor profiles: light, easy-to-drink, food-friendly (= Handstreich, metaphor for “spontaneous, quick action”); medium, balanced, expressive, good on its own or with a meal (=Felsenspiel, “rock play”); or full-bodied, quite dry, deeply aromatic and lingering (=Meisterstück, “master piece”). With this approach, the Charta members avoid the traditional sweet, medium-dry, or dry labels that suggest sugar (and alcohol) levels matter most in wine. Think of the Charta as a new generation of Mittelrhein winemakers jointly re-thinking and re-branding what they think is important about a segment of their Riesling production. All of them continue to offer traditionally labeled bottles.

Next to well-known German Riesling exporters Leitz, Dönhoff, Dr. Loosen, Deinhard/Von Winning, or Schloss Johannisberg, winemakers along the UNESCO world heritage valley have an undeniable underdog status. You will not find Mittelrhein wine in many stores in the United States, but what wine drinker does not like the occasional treasure hunt for a rare bottle? For an authentic Mittelrhein Riesling experience, book a boat trip down the Romantic Rhine, open a bottle on the sun deck, and count the castles as you go by.

**The name for the Bereich Loreley derives from a famous promontory on the Rhine river near St. Goarshausen. Because of the narrow fairway, accidents were not infrequent before modern navigation technology. Poet Heinrich Heine turned the site of captains’ misfortune into a metaphor for unrequited love: the beautiful, blond Loreley perched on her rock, singing her siren’s song, while forever staying out of reach, caused men to lose their bearings, if not their lives.  In English, it sounds like this.

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. Her first SWE blog described the re-emerging wine region of Saxony.

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

Guest Post: Holiday in Champagne!

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 Champagne Region!

Holiday in Champagne!

Photo of the Argence Fountain in Troyes by Serge Collana, via Wikimedia Commons

Photo of the Argence Fountain in Troyes by Serge Collana, via Wikimedia Commons

If you haven’t thought of Champagne as a holiday destination, now’s the time! The Champenois, with tourist boards in both La Marne and in Aube to the south, are ready for you and your family.

Champagne symbolizes success, celebration, joy, and prestige. It also symbolizes sharing, and has done so since the time that King Clovis, the first French King, was crowned there in 481. Today, at least 30 crowned Kings later, the Champagne industry employs 30,000 people.

A visit to Champagne will show you new signs on touristic routes, new hotels, oeno logical museums, timbered churches, the Lac du Der (an artificial lake in the Argonne Forest, which regulates the water flow of the Seine) where you can ride in small boats, plus six UNESCO World Heritage Sites in the départements of the Marne. And don’t forget the famed 3-star Restaurant Les Crayères, established by the now-retired, renowned chef Gérard Boyer.

Structuring Your Visit

Start your trip as I did, with a flight to Charles De Gaul (CDG) airport in Paris. Then, board the TGV high-speed train towards Strasbourg, and get off 30 minutes later at the first stop, the Gare (station) Champagne-Ardennes, a region of NE France.  Then a short taxi or bus ride will take you to the center of Reims, about 20 minutes away.

Nearby, the cellars of the House of Taittinger are built on the site of the old, destroyed L’Abbaye de Saint Nicaise. The first level has remains from the Thirteenth Century, while the second level dates to the Third Century, with its Gallo-Roman chalk pits (crayères), dug by the Romans. The temperature in the cellars is a constant 20 degrees Celsius, and the humidity is 80%.

In World War I, the cellars were used as bomb shelters for families. FYI – the aromatic ‘Brut Reserve’ is the same as Taittinger’s ‘La Francais’ in the US. Personally, I feel that nothing can surpass the latest expression of Comtes de Champagne Blanc de Blancs 2005, a Champagne that is never released until it is 10 years old.

The entrance to Dom Caudron (note the wooden presses and the mural of vineyard work) photo by Bill Lembeck, CWE, CSS

The entrance to Dom Caudron (note the wooden presses and the mural of vineyard work) photo by Bill Lembeck, CWE, CSS

In the Marne Valley, where 66% of the Champagne vineyards are located, you would enjoy a visit to the Champagne cooperative Dom Caudron, in Vrigny. In 1929, a priest named Aimé Caudron had the first press in the village. Since 2010, this is a cooperative with 75 grower-members. In this part of the Marne Valley, the Pinot Meunier grows very well, with many hectares of old vines.

Dom Caudron specializes in that grape, and they produce exceptionally fruity 100% Pinot Meunier Champagnes in different styles (Note: there are about 16 companies in the area producing 100% Pinot Meunier Champagnes). Dom Caudron still uses antique wooden presses, and has a small museum with a short film on vineyard work. Their “Prediction” rosé Champagne, Le Meunier au Singulier, is fruity and rich. The back label tells the harvest date and the disgorgement date, among other information.

Champagne Charlier, in the Vallée de la Marne, is a small, family-owned Champagne house – a “single grower” in today’s parlance. This category has been brought to the fore by wine importer Terry Theise, starting around the year 2000. It is now quite familiar and acceptable to serve Champagnes that are not exclusively from the famous houses.

At Champagne Charlier, they use their own grapes, do not buy any grapes, and do not sell any grapes. Their Champagnes are sold mostly in France, but some go to Belgium, England, Japan, and Italy. All of their Champagnes are aged in large oak casks from Alsace. There is no stainless steel. An oversize cask has been converted to a charming sitting room for a few people. My favorite Champagne, made mostly with Chardonnay, is their fragrant Cuvée Spéciale Club Millésimé 2004, produced from the oldest vines that have the smallest yields. The property is very decorative – with carved barrels, painted murals, and copious flowers.

A walk down the Avenue de Champagne in Épernay shows large buildings and mansions owned by many of the most prestigious Champagne houses – one right after the other. It begins at the Tourist Office, and continues for 1 km, on both sides of the wide street.

Leaving the Marne for the Aube

Flasks of liqueur for dosage at Drappier - photo by Bill Lembeck CWE, CSS

Flasks of liqueur for dosage at Drappier – photo by Bill Lembeck CWE, CSS

A visit to Urville, in the Aube, takes a little over an hour. While there, a visit to Drappier should not be missed. The home and furnishings and cellars are exquisitely mounted. Those wine cellars were built in 1152 by Cistercian monks, and the Drappier family has been cultivating the vineyards for the last two centuries. The Jurassic-era Kimmeridgian soil is like that of the Grand Cru Chablis. The white chalky soils, many former oyster beds, are best for Chardonnay, while the little valleys with stones and minerals further north are best for Pinot Noir.

Michel Drappier is the seventh-generation winemaker. His son is studying enology, while his daughter is hand-selling Drappier Champagnes with the importing company Dreyfus-Ashby in New York. Wines are made in the original stone cellars. Right now, there are 30,000 liters in wood for the reserves. A large egg-shaped barrel is being studied. Michel says it is the most perfect shape. Currently, it is the only one in Champagne.

The entire vineyard is organic, and one-third of it has now been certified. Even the Martinique sugar cane used for the dosages is organic. These dosages, incidentally, are aged for 15 to 25 years in Limousin oak tanks. It gets thick and concentrated, and one drop per bottle is all that is necessary. These “liquors” are stored in glass demijohns, some for more than 50 years. Further, Michel is using less sulfur, to reduce chances of reduction in

Pierre Auguste Renoir's "Dance in the Country" - photo via Google Art Project

Pierre Auguste Renoir’s “Dance in the Country” – photo via Google Art Project

his wines. He ferments at very low temperatures, noting that longer, cooler fermentations result in smaller bubbles.

Michel Drappier is aiming to be Carbon-zero, and solar power provides 55% of his electricity needs. Further, he uses 99% recycled glass, cardboard and wood, and 85% soda glass from the north of Paris.

The Drappier “Grande Sendrée” 2006, with almost equal parts of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, gets six years of bottle aging before release. Incidentally, this Champagne has been matched with Renoir’s painting “Dance in the Country” as part of a collection of ten independent Aube Champagnes matched to ten Renoir paintings.

Last Stop: Les Riceys

The municipality of Les Riceys, which consists of three villages, has three specific AOC/ AOP designations: Champagne (designated in 1936); Coteaux Champenois (designated in 1970) and Rosé des Riceys (designated in 1947). This region is so far from Reims and Épernay that it never had any of its vineyards designated as Grand- or Premier-Crus.

Nevertheless, still red wines from Les Riceys are used by other Champagne producers when making rosé Champagnes. Nicolas Feuillatte Cuvée Palmes d’Or Rosé, for example, is made from Pinot Noirs from the village of Bouzy (using 50%) for power, and from Les Riceys (50%) for fine aromas. Champagne Morize Père et Fils Brut Réserve and the Morize Rosé des Riceys 2011 are very fruity examples of those appellations. They go so well with food that they are often referred to as ‘gastronomic rosés.’

Wrap up your tour with a visit to the medieval city of Troyes, which was laid out like a Champagne cork. Illuminated red hearts proclaim this a “city of love.”

.

.

Harriet Lembeck, CWE, CSE 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!

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.

.

.

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.

.

.

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.

.

.

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.

.

.

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.

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

Big Controversy over Little Rocks at the TTB

.

.

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

.

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”.

.

.

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