Introducing Erbamat!

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It’s quite possible you have never heard of the Erbamat grape variety. Before last month, I’d never heard of it either. However…starting with the 2017 vintage, Erbamat (a white variety) will be allowed for use in the wines of the Franciacorta DOCG.

Franciacorta, as all serious wine students know, is a super-serious (read: Traditional Method) sparkling wine produced in Lombardy. The normale version requires a minimum of 18 months of lees aging; this goes up to 60 months minimum for the riserva. And the grapes are totally no-nonsense: up until now, the only grapes allowed for use in Franciacorta DOCG are Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, plus Pinot Bianco (but only up to 50%).

This will change soon, as the Italian ministry of Agriculture and the Franciacorta DOCG consortium have announced a change to the Disciplinare di Produzione that will allow the use of the Erbamat grape variety. This change should become effective with the wines of the 2017 vintage, assuming the amendment’s publication in the Gazzetta Ufficiale (Official Journal).

When the new regulation goes into effect, the Erbamat grape variety will be allowed to comprise up to 10% of a Franciacorta DOCG wine produced with Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, and up to 50% of the blend if used alongside Pinot Bianco. The grape is appreciated for its late ripening characteristic and neutral flavors, but primarily for its ability to retain high levels of malic acid, even in warm temperatures and despite its tendency to ripen late.

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The Erbamat grape has been grown in the areas in and around Lombardy since at least the sixteenth century, however, it seems it has always been a minor grape variety and was in danger of becoming extinct about a generation ago. Before its recognition in the wines of Franciscorta, it was not allowed for use in any of the DOC or DOCG wines of Italy. However, it been used in some interesting blends bottled at the “vin” (table wine) level of categorization, such as the Erbamat/Trebbiano blend known as Perlì produced by the Comincioli Winery in Brescia.

Following a 1982 study in which the grape was described by Professor Attilio Scienza as”capable of producing wines of extraordinary acidity and freshness,” several producers in Franciacorta began some experimental plantings of Erbamat. The experiment, it seems, turned out well.

References/for more information:

Post authored by Jane A. Nickles, CSE, CWE – your blog administrator

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One more for the Languedoc: the Pic-Saint-Loup AOC

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As of February 17 of this year, Pic-Saint-Loup is France’s newest official appellation d’origine contrôlée (AOC) wine region! If the name sounds familiar, the area (found within the Hérault and Gard departments in Southwest France) has been an approved subzone of the Languedoc AOC and somewhat known for its blended-variety red and rosé wines.

According to the website of the INAO, Pic-Saint-Loup (sometimes written as Pic-St-Loup or Pic St-Loup) is now a stand-alone AOC, approved for both red and rosé wines. The first Pic-Saint-Loup AOC designations will show up on wines from the 2017 vintage.

The red wines of the Pic-Saint-Loup must be at least 12% alcohol by volume and be comprised of a minimum of 50% Syrah. A measure of either Grenache Noir or Mourvèdre is required, and small amounts of Carignan, Cinsault, Counoise, and Morrastel (known elsewhere as Graciano) are also permitted.

The requirements of the Pic-Saint-Loup rosé AOC are similar, but the required amount of Syrah is set at a minimum of 30%. A proportion of Grenache Noir or Mourvèdre is still required (as many of the wines of the Languedoc are traditionally blends); Carignan, Cinsault, Counoise, and Morrastel are allowed in the mix as well.

So, what is next for the Languedoc? No one can say for sure…place your bets! But for now, welcome to the world Pic-Saint-Loup AOC!

References/for further information:

Post authored by Jane A. Nickles, CSE, CWE – your blog administrator

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And then there were Twenty (Côtes du Rhône-Villages subzones)

..As of just a few days ago (November 25, 2016) the National Institute for Appellations of Origin (INAO) of France announced the promotion of three communes (villages) within the Côtes du Rhône-Villages AOC area to the status of “Côtes du Rhône-Villages with a specific subzone indication” (or, to put it more simply, as new official subzones of the AOC). The new subzones are: Sainte-Cecile, Suze-la-Rousse, and Vaison-la-Romaine. With this change, there are twenty approved subzones of the Côtes du Rhône-Villages AOC. Most of the twenty subzones produce red, white, and rosé wines, although a few are only approved for red and rosé.

The newly designation subzones will be able to market their qualifying wines with the term “Côtes du Rhône-Villages” followed by the name of their commune and the “AOC” designation beginning with the release of the wines of the 2016 vintage.

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The last such change in the specific geographical designations allowed for use with the Côtes du Rhône-Villages appellation occurred in 2015, when the former subzone of Cairanne was promoted to a separate AOC designation (announced by the INAO in March of 2015 and approved by the EU in June of 2016 for the 2015 vintage onward). This change lowered the number of Côtes du Rhône-Villages AOC subzones from 18 to 17.

For the record, the twenty subzones of the Côtes du Rhône-Villages AOC (as of December 2016) are as follows:

  1. Chusclan
  2. Gadagne
  3. Laudun
  4. Massif d’Uchaux
  5. Plan de Dieu
  6. Puyméras
  7. Roaix
  8. Rochegude
  9. Rousset-les-Vignes
  10. Sablet
  11. Saint-Gervais
  12. Saint-Maurice
  13. Saint-Pantaléon-les-Vignes
  14. Sainte-Cécile
  15. Séguret
  16. Signargues
  17. Suze-la-Rousse
  18. Vaison-la-Romaine
  19. Valréas
  20. Visan

References/for more information:

  • http://www.syndicat-cotesdurhone.com/static/upload/5/img_58413fcd625db.pdf
  • http://www.vitisphere.com/actualite-84055-Trois-nouveaux-Cotes-du-Rhone-Villages-avec-noms-de-communes.htm

Post authored by Jane A. Nickles, CSE, CWE – your blog administrator

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New Zealand Wine Regions: It’s (almost) Official!

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If you are a fan of crisp, clean, cool-climate wines, you no doubt adore New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc. You might even be able to tell the story of Cloudy Bay Vineyards, founded as recently as 1985, as one of a small group of wineries to venture into Marlborough and quickly establish one of the leading wine-producing areas in the New World while practically “inventing”  a new style of Sauvignon Blanc along the way.

As a true New Zealand wine aficionado, you can probably tell the story of the establishment of vineyards in the Gimblett Gravels area of Hawke’s Bay, where the combination of the soil, the geography, and the climate create one of the few areas in this small, maritime nation where thick-skinned, heat-loving red grapes like Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah can ripen consistently.

If you are really into New Zealand wine, you can probably tell the story of “sunny” Nelson (located on the western side of the Southern Alps), Gisborne (the “Chardonnay capitol of New Zealand”), and Central Otago Pinot Noir, produced in the southernmost commercial wine-producing region in the world.

But did you know…all of the wine regions of New Zealand are “unofficial”? Winemakers certainly use them, and serious students of wine study them, and in 2006 the New Zealand Parliament, via the Geographical Indications (Wine and Spirits) Registration Act of 2006, created a registration system and scheme for wine and spirit geographical indications. However, the act was never brought into force and the geographical indications remained “unofficial.”

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That began to change last night—November 16, 2016—when the Geographical Indications (Wine and Spirits) Registration Amendment Act was passed by the New Zealand Parliament. This new law will enter into force during 2017, allowing for the registration of a set of internationally recognized and protected geographical indications in New Zealand.

According to Philip Gregan, CEO of New Zealand Winegrowers, “the Geographical Indications (Wine and Spirits) Registration Act will be a significant advance for the New Zealand wine industry. Our Geographical Indications—the names and places where our wines come from— are at the very heart of the New Zealand wine story and this new law provides an additional level of protection for them.”

New Zealand wine regions—it’s almost official!

For more information, see the website of the New Zealand Winegrowers

post authored by Jane A. Nickles…your blog administrator

Welcome to the World, Appalachian High Country AVA!

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On October 27, 2016, the Alcohol and Tobacco Trade and Tax Bureau (TTB) of the United States government approved the country’s 239th American Viticultural Area (AVA): The Appalachian High Country AVA. The new AVA, which encompasses some segments of the famed Appalachian Trail, includes portions of northeastern Tennessee, northwestern North Carolina, and southwestern Virginia; encompassing eight counties across the corners of the three states. The AVA will be effective as of November 28, 2016.

The new AVA covers a 2,400-square-mile area and currently contains 71 acres of planted and producing vines, 21 commercial vineyards, and 10 wineries, including the New River Winery, Spencer Mountain Winery, and Watauga Lake Winery. The new AVA is not located within any established viticultural area, but it shares a portion of its eastern border with the Yadkin Valley AVA of North Carolina.

According to the petition, the Appalachian High Country AVA is a unique wine growing area based on the following characteristics:

map via: https://www.regulations.gov/document?D=TTB-2016-0003-0003

map via: https://www.regulations.gov/document?D=TTB-2016-0003-0003

Elevation: Elevation in the new area falls between 1,338 and 6,260 feet above sea level, with the majority of the planted areas in the 3,000–6,000 foot range, with an with an average vineyard elevation of 3,206 feet.

Climate and weather:  The area within the new AVA is significantly cooler; the average annual temperature of the proposed Appalachian High Country AVA is, on average, between 2 degrees and 8 degrees (F) cooler than the surrounding areas.  The proposed AVA is classified as a Winkler Climate Region I/II; the Yadkin Valley AVA to the west is classified as a Winkler Region III/IV.

Soil: There are 26 different soil types found within the new AVA; of these, two (Watauga-Clifton-Chandler and Clifton-Chester) are found only within the proposed viticultural area. In layman’s terms, these soils feature a deep, loamy, well-drained sub-soil over granite and gneiss bedrock.

Over 24 different grape varieties are currently grown in the area which include vinifera varieties (led by Cabernet Franc, Merlot, and Viognier); and hybrids (led by Marquette, Marechal Foch, and Seyval Blanc).

Welcome to the World, Appalachian High Country AVA!

To read the original petition, as well as all amendments and comments regarding the establishment of the Appalachian High Country AVA, click here.

post authored by Jane A. Nickles…your blog administrator

Welcome to the World, Willcox AVA!

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Welcome to the World, Willcox AVA!

On September 12, 2016, the TTB announced the establishment of the Willcox American Viticultural Area (AVA). This 526,000-acre area is located in southeastern Arizona within Graham and Cochise Counties. The Willcox AVA is not located within or adjacent to any other viticultural areas.

A range of grapes are grown in the area, with a major nod to Bordeaux and Mediterranean varieties. Some of the stars of the region seem to be Viognier, Tempranillo, and Mourvèdre. There are currently approximately 21 commercial vineyards, 18 wineries, and a total of 454 acres planted to vine (with 650 additional acres planned for the near future) within the Willcox AVA area. The newly-established AVA status will be effective as of October 12, 2016.

Willcox is Arizona’s second AVA.  The first, the Sonoita AVA, was established in 1984. Sonoita, located south of Tucson, is just one county over and about a one-hour drive from the Willcox AVA.  The Sonoita AVA is unique in that it includes vineyards at elevations of up to 5,000 feet above sea level; these are some of the highest-elevation vineyards in North America.

The new Willcox AVA is a relatively flat area located within a broad, shallow basin surrounded by higher mountains and mountain ranges. These include the Chiricahua Mountains, Dos Cabezas, Pinalenos, Dragoon, Little Dragoon, and Winchester Mountains. Over time, the geologic activity of the region has moved or disrupted many of the streams, creeks, and rivers of the area, creating a “closed basin.” This closed basin is reliant upon rainfall to re-charge its underlying aquifer, as opposed to the area surrounding it which has year-round (or seasonal) creeks and streams.

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The soils of the Willcox AVA are mainly alluvial and colluvial and composed of loam made up of nearly equal parts sand, silt, and clay. These loamy soils retain enough water to hydrate the vines while allowing sufficient drainage through to the aquifer. The soils are referred to as the Tubac, Sonoita, Forrest, and Frye soil types, and are not found to a great extent in the area surrounding the AVA.

This area of southeast Arizona is known to have a dry (arid) climate, with the most significant amounts of rainfall typically occurring in July and August. This aridity places stress on the vines during much of the growing season, slowing vegetative growth and adding complexity to the grapes.

Consumers should begin to see wines labeled with the Willcox AVA available within the next two years. Also of note: wine growers in Arizona have a third AVA in the works—the Chiricahua Foothills. This petition has not yet been “accepted as perfected” by the TTB, but it should be interesting to see what develops in the future!

Welcome to the world, Willcox AVA!

post authored by Jane A. Nickles…your blog administrator

Welcome to the World, Champlain Valley of New York AVA!

Welcome to the World, Champlain Valley of New York AVA!

New York SWE Map 2016On Monday, August 22, 2016, the TTB published a final ruling establishing the Champlain Valley of New York AVA (American Viticultural Area). The new AVA will be effective as of September 21, 2016. The new AVA does not lie within or contain any previously established viticultural area.

In the original petition for the AVA, submitted in May of 2013 on behalf of the Lake Champlain Grape Growers Association, the area was described as “a long, narrow, relatively flat valley on the western shore of Lake Champlain.” The AVA is located in in Clinton and Essex Counties in New York State, near the Adirondack Mountains and the border with Vermont. The area within the AVA is approximately 82 miles long, and 20 miles wide at its northernmost and widest point (along the New York-Canadian border). The region narrows to approximately 5 miles wide at its southern edge. 

There are currently six bonded wineries (including Amazing Grace Vineyard & Winery, Elfs Farm Winery & Cider Mill, Stonehouse Vineyard, and Vesco Ridge Vineyards), 11 commercial vineyards, and just over 15 acres of commercial vines within the boundaries of the AVA. There are plans to establish 63 additional acres of vineyards in the near future.

The original proposal was noteworthy due to the fact that one of the arguments in support of the “distinguishing features” of the Champlain Valley of New York AVA is its short growing season and cold climate, both of which are conducive to growing cold-hardy North American hybrid grape varieties (such as Frontenac, La Crescent, and Marquette) but not necessarily grapes of the vinifera species.

With this new arrival, the total number of AVAs in the United States is now 237. For an updated copy of the SWE wine map of New York State, click here.

post authored by Jane A. Nickles…your blog administrator

The Wine Region Shuffle: Summer 2016 Updates

Here are a few recent updates to the ever-changing landscape of wine region rules and regulations!

Rosazzo Abbey (Abbazia di Rosazzo) in Friuli

Rosazzo Abbey (Abbazia di Rosazzo) in Friuli

The 334th DOC: In July of 2016, the Italian Ministry of Agriculture officially approved Italy’s 334th DOC: The Friuli DOC. This region has not yet been approved by the EU, but it is not believed that this should be merely a formality, and Italy has approved use of the term beginning with those wines released from the 2016 vintage. As we previously reported, the new DOC will cover the entire southern half of the Friuli–Venezia Giulia region (the northern half being rather mountainous and alpine and not generally suitable for viticulture).

The new Friuli DOC encompasses all of the area of the six previous DOCs of the region. The DOC will produce red, white, and sparkling wines from a range of grape varieties. Still while wines may be produced as a blend (Bianco) or labeled as one of the following varieties: Chardonnay, Friulano, Malvasia, Pinot Bianco, Pinot Grigio, Riesling (which may include Welschriesling), Sauvignon Blanc, Ribolla Gialla, Gewürztraminer (Traminer Aromatico) or Verduzzo Friulano.

Still red wines may also be produced as a blend (Rosso) or varietally-labeled as Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Pinot Nero (Pinot Noir), or Refosco dal Peduncolo. A red wine labeled as “Cabernet” will contain a minimum of Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, and/or Carmenère.

Sparkling (Spumante) wines may be produced using the Charmat or Metodo Classico production methods, and may be produced using any combination of Chardonnay, Pinot Blanc, Pinot Grigio, and/or Pinot Noir grapes. Unique to the Friuli DOC is the production of varietally-labeled sparkling wines (either Charmat of Metodo Classico) wines made using the Ribolla Gialla grape variety; this particular wine is not approved for production in any of the other DOCs of the region.

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Expansion of the Sta. Rita Hills AVA: On August 22, 2016, the TTB approved the expansion of the Sta. Rita Hills AVA by 2,296 acres (930 ha). The ruling becomes effective on September 21. The newly-approved area expands the original boundaries of the AVA on its eastern side. The move is summarized in the petition as follows: “the proposed expansion would move a portion of the AVA’s existing boundary further to the east, to a road within a north-to-south canyon, named “Cañada de los Palos Blancos,” located west of Buellton.”

The Sta. Rita Hills sits in the western portion of, and mostly within, the larger Santa Ynez Valley AVA (which is in turn part of California’s Central Coast AVA).  The Sta. Rita Hills AVA was originally approved in 2001 and, as many California wine lovers know, the name was shorted to “Sta. Rita Hills” from the original “Santa Rita Hills” in order to avoid a conflict with Viñas Santa Rita, an established producer of Chilean wines.

The expansion has been in the works since March of 2013 when the original petition was filed on behalf of the owners of Pence Ranch and John Sebastiano Vineyard, both of which are located within the new boundaries of the Sta. Rita Hills AVA. The main grapes grown in the area covered by the new AVA boundaries are Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. There is a small amount of Grenache and there are plans to plant Syrah in the near future.

The petition for the expansion was not without controversy, as evidenced by the large number of comments filed on the TTB’s docket; two comment periods were allowed which generated over a total of 118 comments. The controversy mainly centered on the climate of the expansion area. As Sta. Rita Hills is known as a cool climate region, it was argued that the areas to the east—and therefore further inland—did not share the same cooling influences. However, the TTB determined that the climatic differences were minimal. There were also arguments about differences in soil–you can read the very interesting comments for yourself on the TTB Docket.

Read the press release here: TTB expands the Sta. Rita Hills AVA

post authored by Jane A. Nickles…your blog administrator

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Welcome to the World, Tip of the Mitt AVA!

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In August of 2015, the TTB received a petition from the Straits Area Grape Growers Association proposing the establishment of the “Tip of the Mitt” AVA on Michigan’s Lower Peninsula. As announced on July 21, 2106, the new Tip of the Mitt AVA has been approved and will be effective as of August 22, 2016.

The 2,760 square mile AVA (American Viticultural Area) is bordered by Grand Traverse Bay, Little Traverse Bay, and Lake Michigan to the west; the Straits of Mackinac to the north; and Lake Huron to the east.  The AVA includes the counties of Charlevoix, Emmet, Cheboygan, Presque Isle, Alpena, and Antrim Counties (or portions thereof).  There are currently 41 commercial vineyards and 8 wineries in the area. There are now just 94 acres of commercial vineyards, although there are plans for an additional 48 acres to be planted in the next few years.  The AVA is not contained within any existing AVAs.

According to the petition, the unique features of the AVA include its climate and soils. The surrounding lakes, straits, and bays provide a moderating effect on the climate, making the area slightly warmer, less prone to freezing temperatures, and with a slightly longer growing season than the areas to the south.

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The soils in the area are comprised mainly of coarse-textured glacial till (a mixture of clay, sand, gravel, and boulders). The soils within the Tip of the Mitt AVA have much higher levels of organic matter and water-retention capacity than those to the south, so one challenge of wine growing in the area is to control moisture accumulation and the vigor of the vine canopy. A positive aspect of the soils within the AVA is that they heat slowly in the spring, which effectively delays bud break until the greatest risk of spring frost has passed

The term “Tip of the Mitt” refers to a common nickname used for the area, referring to the mitten-shaped landmass of Michigan’s Lower Peninsula. (For reference, the mid-eastern region is often identified as “The Thumb.”)

The Tip of the Mitt is the fifth AVA in Michigan. The others include the Lake Shore Michigan AVA, the Leelanau Peninsula AVA, the Old Mission Peninsula AVA, and the Fennville AVA.

Click here to read the TTB documents concerning the establishment of the Tip of the Mitt AVA

Click here for more information on Michigan Wines from the Michigan Grape and Wine Industry Council