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

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

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Congratulations to our First Class of Certified Spirits Educators!

During our 2015 conference in New Orleans, the Society of Wine Educators administered the first ever Certified Spirits Educator exam to a group of leading industry professionals.  Six candidates successfully demonstrated superior theoretical knowledge through multiple choice and essay questions, tasting acumen through accurate blind identifications and rationales, presentation skills to a targeted audience, and proof of responsible beverage service.  For more information on the rigors of this exam click here.

Please, meet and congratulate the first group of official Certified Spirits Educators!



Hoke Harden, CSW, CSE, B.N.I.C. Certified Cognac Educator, and French Wine ScholarAn enthusiastic lover of wine and spirits, Mr. Harden left a career in academia to follow his other muse for the last 27 years, trekking around the world to the great producing regions. Recently referred to as a veritable walking omnibus of wine and spirits knowledge, he has experienced every possible facet of the world of wine and spirits as a retailer, restaurateur, bartender, buyer, wholesaler, supplier, marketer, critic, writer, competition judge and an educator. He is currently with Elixir Vitae Wine & Spirits Consultants, a member of the Society of Wine Educators, Wine & Spirits Instructor at Mt. Hood Community College, and a Master Instructor with the French Wine Academy.

Hoke on the CSE Exam: The new Certified Spirits Educator program is a highly complex self-study program offered to professional spirits educators and industry professionals; the equivalent to the Society’s highly acclaimed Certified Wine Educator. Other programs dabble in spirits or include ancillary courses in the basics; the CSE focuses singularly on the world of spirits.

daubenmire, experts photos shoot, 2014

daubenmire, experts photos shoot, 2014

Linda Pettine, CWE, CSELinda Pettine is an Associate Professor for the College of Culinary Arts, Providence Campus, Johnson & Wales University. She has been at Johnson & Wales University since 2000, where she teaches in the Beverage & Dining Service Department. She was recognized for her teaching skills with the Beverage & Dining Services Department Service Award in 2001 and Teacher of the Year in 2007.  With over 20 years of industry experience, Ms. Pettine operated and managed fine dining restaurants in the south suburbs of Boston before joining the faculty at Johnson & Wales. Prior to that, she was a sales associate at Branded Liquors in Westwood, Mass. Linda is an active member of the Society of Wine Educators, Women Chef’s & Restaurateurs, and the USBG. She is a Certified Wine Educator, Certified Specialist of Spirits, and a Certified Hospitality Educator. Pettine recently became a Certified Cognac Educator and is certified through the Ėcole du Vin as an international Bordeaux educator. She holds degrees from Massachusetts Bay Community College, North Adams State College, and Johnson & Wales University.

Linda on the CSE Exam: I am fortunate in my like that I have had the opportunity to pursue my passions, “wine and spirits”.  The time and effort studying for the CSE exam was rigorous and demanding utilizing a variety of study techniques and tasting formats.  However, when you are passionate about the subject, it seems less like work and more like a journey.  I am thrilled to have arrived at my destination!



Lisa Graziano CSW, CSELisa Graziano grew up with a German father and Irish-American mother in Los Angeles, California. An education in beer, wine and spirits came with this upbringing. She has pursued the study of wine and spirits seriously for the past eight years, earning both Certified Specialist of Wine and Spirits from the Society of Wine Educators, and currently works as a retail hand seller for Gallo Fine Wines and consults for Bottle Shop 33 in Denver. Her current passion is craft spirits and educating people about them – and she’s obviously great at it!

Lisa on the CSE Exam: The CSE exam was certainly challenging!  I ate, slept, studied and tasted spirits intensely for three months to prepare.  The SWE online Spirits Academy was a helpful tool in preparing for the exam as was the list of iconic spirits and suggested reading list. 



Harriet Lembeck, CWE, CSEHarriet Lembeck is a prominent wine and spirits educator and writer. She is President of the Wine & Spirits Program, headquartered in New York City, and was the Director of The New School Wine Classes for their 18-year duration. She has revised and updated the textbook “Grossman’s Guide to Wines, Beers, and Spirits”, is a favorite speaker on wine and spirits at SWE Conferences, and is a contributing editor to Beverage Dynamics Magazine.

Harriet on the CSE exam: I think that the Certified Spirits Credential is very important for those who teach spirits as well as wine, and for those who already have the Certified Wine Educator credential, it completes the picture. The test was very comprehensive. Multiple choice questions (not as easy as one might think), writing an essay, and then completing two differently-styled tastings made for a long day, but each element was necessary for a candidate to illustrate familiarity with the subject of spirits.



Ira Norof, CWE, CSEIn 1976 Ira’s wine & spirits career began in a retail wine shop.   As his knowledge and passion for the product grew, he eventually became a Sommelier in a Beverly Hills Restaurant.   In 1983, he was hired by Southern Wine & Spirits of California, and in 1996 he was named the Director of Education.  His illustrious career has taken him to visit most of the major wine regions in Europe and the Americas.  He attained the CWE (Certified Wine Educator credential) in 1999.  He holds a diploma from the Bordeaux Wine School and is a certified International Bordeaux Educator, as well as a certified Cognac Educator as ordained by le Bureau National Interprofessionnel du Cognac. He is a guest lecturer at Cal Poly Pomona’s School of Hospitality each semester. Ira served as the President of the Society of Wine Educators from 2010 – 2013 and has been on the Board of Directors of the Los Angeles Chapter of the AIWF and was a member of the Bon Appetit Tasting Panel.  Ira remains actively involved in many wine-related charity events throughout the country.

Ira on the CSE exam: I am privileged to have been part of the first CSE exam and will continue to mentor within our California organization on both wine and spirits education. We have over 200 CSW and/or CSS certified employees in the state as well as 4 CWEs. I look forward to help increase those numbers in the coming months.



Jane A. Nickles, CWE, CSE, MBA – “Miss Jane” is the Director of Education for the Society of Wine Educators and in charge of all educational materials such as study guides, workbooks and online courses as well as exams and certification instruments.  In the past two years, she has introduced SWEbinars, ebooks, online prep classes, our blog, and computer-based testing to SWE.  Before working for SWE, she  created and taught wine classes for 20 years at Le Cordon Bleu Colleges, was the 2012 Banfi award winner for best score on the CWE exam, won the 2008 WOSA wine essay award (the prize for which was a 2-week tour of the winelands of South Africa), and has published countless textbooks and journals, including the latest editions of the SWE Study Guides.

Miss Jane on the CSE exam: Over the past few years, the CSS program has grown rapidly, and we have received an increasing number of requests for more in-depth programs and a higher level certification in spirits. One could even say the CSE was created due to popular demand!

Congratulations to our new CSEs! Now…who will be next?

From Napa to Massachusetts…Wine!

Martha's Vineyard

Martha’s Vineyard

Today we have a guest post from Brenda Audino, CWE about what she’s been up to in Massachusetts!

What does a Napa wine professional do during a stay in Boston?  Attend a wine festival of course!  This may be the opposite coast of the United States in terms of wine, but wine is produced in all 50 states -and Massachusetts is definitely in the game.

Before attend the festival, let’s look at a little primer on Massachusetts wine industry….

Recognition of the Massachusetts wine industry started in 1614 when the Dutch explorer Adriaen Block noticed wild grapes growing on an island off the Massachusetts coast.  He then named the island “Martha’s Vineyard” in honor of his daughter Martha.

History similar to this shows that wild grapes grew all over Massachusetts, but it took Ephraim Wales Bull of Concord, Massachusetts (near Boston) to develop the Concord grape in 1849.  He named the grape in honor of his home town.  The Concord grape is an American Vitis abrusca grape with pronounced fruity flavor and dark thick skin.  It is leading table grape variety in the United States, popular as refreshing juice, and makes the perfect jelly to go with peanut butter.

Unfortunately for wine production, the Concord grape is not as sweet as Vitis vinifera; plus it is very high in acid and has a “foxy” aroma.  In order to make a wine with enough alcohol to be stable, sugar (in the form of chapatalization) generally has to be added.  After fermentation, Concord-based wine is usually finished with some degree of residual sugar to balance the acidity and try to mask the “Foxy” aromas.

Vitis labrusca Concord

Vitis labrusca Concord

Today, Massachusetts’s still grows Vitis labrusca, but the area is also having success with Vitis vinifera and French hybrids.  Winemakers are busy handcrafting wines from grapes, fruit, berries, honey and flowers in a myriad of styles.

There are two specific American Viticulture Areas (AVAs) that call Massachusetts home; Martha’s Vineyard AVA and the Southeastern New England AVA (shared with Connecticut and Rhode Island).

The Martha’s Vineyard AVA includes all the land on the islands of Martha’s Vineyard and Chappaquiddick.  This AVA was established in 1985, but not without quite a bit of controversy.  Owners of a famous vineyard with the same name in California felt it could dilute their brand.  Federal regulators ruled in favor of the AVA stating historic evidence that viticulture was practiced going back as far as 1602.  The maritime location of these islands helps create a slightly warmer climate than nearby coastal regions and the growing season is almost three weeks longer.

The Southeastern New England AVA was created in 1984 to include the coastal areas of Massachusetts, Connecticut and Rhode Island.  This AVA is heavily influenced by the Atlantic that helps to moderate the temperatures of the vineyards.

Most vintners in both areas have the best success with cold-climate vitis vinifera and French hybrid grape varieties.  The most common grape varieties include:

  • Vitis vinifera: Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Riesling, Gewurztraminer, Pinot Blanc and Pinot Gris
  • Hybrids: Vidal Blanc and Cayuga

Enough background, now to the tasting at “Crush Wine Festival”…

Crush Wine Festival

This festival was held in large tents at the Marshfield Fairgrounds near Boston.  There were 17 wineries present out of the 25 total wineries in Massachusetts according to the Massachusetts Farm Winery and Growers Association.

The selection of wineries exhibited a good representation of wines using local vinfera and hybrid grapes, imported grapes (mostly from California, Chile and Washington State), fruit, berries, honey and even maple syrup.  Most of these wineries were very small, family owned operations.  One of the larger winery still only produced 300 cases per year!

I spent a lovely afternoon tasting wines, talking with the winemakers and enjoying the Massachusetts weather.  By the end of the day I had a new appreciation to the wines these family owned wineries were producing.

Here is my un-official “Best of” at the festival.

photo via:

photo via:

Best Local Vitis Vinifera Grape Wine: Aaronap Revolution Road RedThis is a blend of Merlot and Cabernet Franc grown in Southeastern New England AVA.  Aromas of black cherries, raspberries and forest floor.  Classic Bordeaux style wine in both aroma and flavor.

Best Local Hybrid Grape Wine: Mineral Hills Winery Seyval Blanc – A semi-dry crisp wine with aromas of lemon and melon.  French Hybrid grapes (reds – Frontenac, Chamborcin, Whites – Cayuga, Seyval Blanc) are grown on their Goddard’s Red Hen Farm along with apples and berries.  They also make their own Mead!

Best Fruit or Berry Wine: Raven Hollow Winery Strawberry Rhubarb – Grown entirely on their own farm, this semi-sweet blush wine bursts with strawberry flavors and yet has crisp acidity.  Great chilled on a hot New England afternoon.

Best (only) Mead: 1634 Meadery – Hard to believe that this meadery has only been open for 12 weeks.  Dan Clapp, head Meadmaker, was an avid brewer and sometimes winemaker.  While on vacation in Denmark he brought back a bottle of Mead for his wife.  After several years of sitting on the shelf they finally opened it and were hooked.  He has been experimenting with Mead ever since.  Puritan Pride Mead is made with local wildflower honey, fermented dry and aged in American Oak.

Best use of Maple Syrup: Aaronap Forest Gold Maple Wine – Vermont maple syrup is diluted to about 50%. Champagne yeast is used for the fermentation.  The heady aromas of maple, cinnamon and clove.  Would be great over vanilla ice cream!

photo via:

photo via:

Best Hard Cider: Far From the Tree Cider – Locally grown apples (no sugar, water or acid added) using techniques from the 1700’s.  These ciders are anything but mainstream! The assortment of ciders resemble craft beers pushing the envelope of creativity. Nova is an off-dry hopped cider, Sprig is a dry hopped mint cider, Roots is a dry New England Cider and Rind is a Saison cider with orange and coriander.  I loved all of them!

Although even I must admit that  Massachusetts can’t compete with Napa in regards to its grape growing climate, the enthusiastic and talented winemakers I met at this festival are doing some great things with what nature gives them.  Mass. produced wines add to the many reasons to visit Massachusetts!

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!

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A New PGI – Ratafia de Champagne!

photo via:

Quick! If you are a CSW, tell me – what is Pineau des Charentes? If you are a CSS, answer me this: What is Pommeau de Normandie?

The answer to both questions is: a sweet, fortified, wine-based beverage, typically referred to in the European Union as a Vin de Liqueur.*

Now, here’s my next question: What is Ratafia de Champagne?

Answer: A Vin de Liqueur, produced in the Champagne region that – after an 800-year history of production – just received its first-even PGI status as of August 27, 2015. Bottles of Ratafia de Champagne, alternatively known as Ratafia Champenois, will be eligible for PGI status as of the 2016 release.

The new PGI is actually part of a larger project, begun back in June of 2014 when a group representing distillers, wine growers, and wine producers in the Champagne region created an organization known as the “Association of Producers of Spirits of the Champagne Geographical Indication” (Boissons Spiritueuses Champenoises). Among the goals of the group was to obtain PGI status for Marc de Champagne, Fine de Champagne, and Ratafia de Champagne. PGI status was obtained for Marc de Champagne in January 2015; the PGI for Fine de Champagne was approved in February 2015.

The regulations for Ratafia de Champagne PGI specify that the product is produced using the three main grapes of the Champagne region – Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier, and Chardonnay. The juice that will be fortified and made into Ratafia is pressed after the juice to be used in the area’s famous sparkling wine is pressed – during the first part of the final – or rebèche – pressing.  The juice is then fortified with grape-based brandy of the region, which is also produced from the rebèche juice.  Production of Ratafia de Champagne will be limited to 15 million bottles – about 6% of the total output of the AOC – per year.

*More specifically, Pineau des Charentes is a Vin de Liqueur produced in the Cognac (Charentes) region of France, from must freshly pressed from the allowed grapes of the region. The must is fortified with Cognac, and the resulting beverage – at 16–22% alcohol by volume – is aged for at least 18 months, with a minimum of 12 in oak.  Being produced from unfermented must, Pineau des Charentes can also be classified as a mistelle.

*Pommeau, also technically a mistelle, is made in the Calvados region with unfermented apple juice, fortified with one-year-old Calvados. The resulting mixture, which has 16-18% alcohol by volume, is then aged in oak barrels for a minimum of 14 months.

Post authored by Jane A. Nickles – your blog administrator!


And the Grand Award Goes to…Cristina Mariani-May of Banfi Vintners!

Christina Mariani-May accepts SWE's Grand Award on behalf of Banfi Vintners

Cristina Mariani-May accepts SWE’s Grand Award on behalf of Banfi Vintners

As part of the Society of Wine Educator’s 39th Annual Conference held in New Orleans, the Society’s Annual Grand Award was presented to Cristina Mariani-May of Banfi Vintners. Ms. Mariani-May is the youngest daughter of John F. Mariani, Junior. Together with her cousin James Mariani, she currently serves as the co-CEO of Banfi Vinters, and represents the third generation of family leadership in the company founded by their grandfather, John Mariani, Sr.

Granted annually to a deserving wine industry leader for lifetime achievement, the prestigious “Grand Award” has in the past been presented to such wine luminaries as Robert Mondavi, Sandro Boscaini, Jancis Robinson, Warren Winiarski, Carol Meredith, and Mike Grgich, among others.

“The Society of Wine Educators is proud to present Cristina Mariani May, as the co-CEO of Banfi Vintners and its public representative, with the SWE Grand Award for 2015,” said Edward Korry, CHE, CSS, CWE, President, Board of Directors, Society of Wine Educators. “Banfi Vintners has been and is a model for wine education worldwide in terms of its commitment, outreach, and generosity.”

Banfi Vintners was founded in 1919 by John F. Mariani, Sr., who named the company after his Aunt Teodolina Banfi. Mariani’s sons John, Jr. and Harry expanded the company’s Italian import portfolio to Germany, Switzerland, and France starting in the mid-1950s, before introducing the immensely popular Riunite Lambrusco, which has topped the imported red wine category over the past four decades.

In 1978, the Mariani family founded Castello Banfi in Montalcino, Tuscany, Italy’s most honored estate and the inspiration for a renaissance in Tuscan winemaking, and in 1988, began working with the family leadership of Concha y Toro, catapulting that brand to its own leadership position and introducing Americans to Chilean wine.



Castello Banfi is internationally acclaimed for its clonal research to improve upon the region’s historical Brunello di Montalcino, and making premier quality wines that are low in sulfites and histamines. It was the first winery in the world to be awarded international recognition for exceptional environmental, ethical, and social responsibility (ISO 14001 and SA8000) as well as an international leader in customer satisfaction (ISO 9001:2000).

Encouraged by their success in business, the Mariani family established the Banfi Foundation and from its earnings contributes to leading national charities and higher education through scholarships, fellowships and grants-in-aid. To promote greater knowledge of the fine wines of Europe and the US, the Foundation has endowed the Banfi Chair of Wine Education at Cornell University and provided funding for a Chair of Economics at Colgate University themed to the American economy and the importance of the free enterprise system. In addition, each year the Foundation provides scholarships for students at select hospitality and business colleges to travel to Italy for seminars on that nation’s wine and food culture.

Barbera goes Solo in new Nizza DOCG

Nizza map via:

Nizza map via:

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

It’s time for Nizza Barbera to take its rightful place in center stage!

Effective as of the 2014 harvest, the consortium that oversees wine laws for Asti and the Monferrato Hills in Piedmont promoted Nizza Monferrato and 18 surrounding villages (comuni) from a mere subzone of the Barbera d’Asti DOCG to a DOCG of their own: the autonomous Nizza DOCG.  This promotion deserves particular attention from the wine community because it highlights the evolution of many European wine appellations, as well as Italy’s insistence to snub its nose at the EU’s DOP.

The most obvious marker of the Nizza DOCG is that all the grapes must be grown within a delineated geographic zone, which was already established, along with Tinella and Colli Astiani, as a subzone of Barbera d’Asti DOCG Superiore    The new DOCG gets a bit particular, however, as every vineyard destined for the Nizza DOCG must be registered with the Consortium and tout particular soils and exposures.  Vines must be entirely estate, planted on the slopes of hills facing south-east to south-west. The required density is at least 4,000 vines per hectare, and harvest must be done entirely by hand.   This limits the total vineyard acreage of the DOCG to 250 ha (620 acres) – roughly the total area of Chateau Margaux.

In the winery, there are additional controls in place to ensure quality and to differentiate the Nizza DOCG from the greater Barbera d’Asti DOCG.  Perhaps most importantly, Nizza must be 100% Barbera compared to the 90% for Barbera d’Asti.  Yields are capped at 3.1 tons per acre, and there is a minimum ageing of 18 months (6 in barrel) before the wine is released to market.  Finally, there is an organoleptic and laboratory analysis to make sure the finished wine has met the standards put forth by the Consortium. An interesting facet of this analysis that the minimum requirement of 26 g/L “dry extract.”



If you don’t place importance on minutiae, then the take-home is that Piedmont is dedicated to making some serious Barbera. Furthermore, it adds to the modern trend that “controlled” regions in Europe are tightening their quality standards, and promoting sub-regions to higher categories when – perhaps – their neighbors have suffered from over-production or unscrupulous producers.  Other examples of this trend include Chianti Classico’s addition of the Gran Selezione category of quality, and the breakup of the Coteaux de Languedoc into individual AOC’s (blog post to come).

In the case of Nizza, if the year or producer’s bounty is not up to par, then the wine can be de-classified to Barbera d’Asti DOCG, Monferrato Rosso DOC, Piemonte Barbera DOC, or Piemonte Rosso DOC, thus allowing the image of Nizza to stay intact.

We also must be amused by Italy’s complete rejection of the EU’s Denominazione di Origene Protetta terminology because there is no means of distinguishing between the DOC and DOCG tiers.  As we know, with the re-organization of the EU’s agricultural standards, it was left open for individual producer-countries the two systems of nomenclature. Italy was thus allowed to continue to apply for new DOCGs – as is apparent with Nizza – the newest, and the 74th.  Perhaps…Tinella and Colli Astiani will be next?

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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

photo via

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:


2015 SWE Scholarship Winners!

Congratulations to the 2015 Winners of the Society of Wine Educators’ scholarship for hospitality students!   

These six deserving culinary/hospitality students will receive the opportunity to take the CSW exam (and in one case, the CSS as well) and be provided with the following benefits:  A one-year membership to SWE, The CSW Study Guide, the CSW Workbook, one year of access to the online Wine Academy, the opportunity to take our online prep class, and the opportunity to take the CSW/CSS Certification Exam.

Dana Bergen Pic2Dana Bergen of the University of South Carolina (Nominated by Sandy Strick): During a twelve year accounting career, Dana utilized the hospitality industry as her creative outlet by leading several planning committees for company social functions, moonlighting with a catering company, and even owning her own personal chef business. When her husband was transferred from Atlanta, Georgia to Columbia, South Carolina, she took the opportunity to change careers by studying for a master’s degree in International Hospitality and Tourism Management from the University of South Carolina.  Dr. Sandy Strick, her wine professor and mentor, inspired her to explore the world of wine in many ways.  As a part of her academic wine education, she achieved Introductory Sommelier, and participated in the 2012 Banfi Scholastic Wine Tour in Tuscany, Italy. Dana feels honored to be one of the lucky recipients of the 2015 CSW Scholarship and wants to express her gratitude to all who continue to inspire her.



Mariah (Ellie) Skinner of the University of South Carolina (Nominated by Sandy Strick): Ellie Skinner was born and raised in Jacksonville, Florida. She is currently a senior at the University of South Carolina and will be graduating in August 2015 with a Bachelor’s Degree in Hospitality Management. In the fall of 2013, Ellie took a specialty course covering the wines of Napa Valley. This class sparked her interest, and led her to enroll in two more wine courses; including the “Specialty in Sonoma Wines” and the “Advanced Wine Course.” This summer, Ellie is interning at Wente Vineyards in Livermore, California. She looks forward to beginning her studies for the Certified Specialist of Wine Exam, and learning about the business side of the wine industry during her internship with Wente.


DanaHeadshotDana Warnecke of Purdue University (Nominated by Richard Ghiselli): Dana Warnecke is currently a senior in the School of Hospitality and Tourism Management at Purdue University. Post-graduation, she plans on further developing her knowledge of the hospitality industry through participating in a hotel management training program.  She is most passionate about traveling, food & beverage operations, and event anagement. Dana is very excited to build her wine industry knowledge and looks forward to learning how the world of wine impacts the hospitality industry as a whole.


MOrganMorgan Charde of the University of Delaware (Nominated by Robert Nelson): Morgan Charde is a 2015 graduate of the University of Delaware’s Hotel, Restaurant and Institutional Management department. Upon taking Dr. Robert Nelson’s Beverage Management class, she found a passion for  wine studies. She has spent the past year working to teach a Wine Seminar Series and lead an Educational Wine Dinner at the University’s student-run restaurant. Morgan  has also spent time traveling to different vineyards around the country and over the summer visited Italian vineyards with the Banfi Vintners Scholarship Trip. This August she will be attending the Culinary Institute of America’s Greystone Campus in Napa in pursuit of a certificate in Wine and Beverage Studies. Outside of her wine studies, she enjoys the culinary arts, watching “Law and Order,” and spending time with her family and dog in her hometown of Syracuse, New York.

Alexandrea 1Alexandrea Innes of Johnson & Wales University (Nominated by Ed Korry): Alexandrea Innes is finishing up her academic career at Johnson & Wales University in Providence, Rhode Island where she is pursuing a bachelor’s degree in Culinary Arts and Food Service Management as well as the Sommelier minor. Alexandrea is currently working in the Tasting Room at Carolyn’s Sakonnet Vineyards as well as at Bottles Fine Wine in Providence. This year, she received the Kopf Student Achievement award and will be going on a trip sponsored by Kobrand to wineries in California, France, and Italy. Alexandrea would like to express her gratitude for the many opportunities that have opened up due to her education with the Society of Wine Educators.  

Michelle MonetMichelle Malott of California State Polytechnic University, Pomona (Nominated by Dr. Margie Jones): Michelle Malott is a 2015 graduate of Collins College of Hospitality Management at California State Polytechnic University, Pomona. After taking the “Wines, Beers and Spirits” course and completing the Court of Master Sommeliers’ Introductory Course, she found a passion for the beverage industry. Michelle was Dr. Margie Jones’ student assistant her senior year.  As a student assistant, she had the opportunity to help select wine and beers for the classes and create learning materials for her peers. In an independent study course she had the unique opportunity to create a tutorial on wine and food pairing as well as etiquette that was used to train the students enrolled in the college’s Restaurant at Kellogg Ranch.  This experience only furthered her interest in the educational segment of the beverage industry.  Michelle plans to pursue a Masters Degree in Enology and Viticulture. Michelle’s other interests include exploring the world through culture, language, taste and the study of yoga. She looks forward to completing the Certified Wine Specialist exam and appreciates this special opportunity.



Conference Preview: Torrontés – Argentina’s Iconic Grape

Today we have a conference preview from Nora Z. Favelukes and Leslie Gevirtz, who tell us about a fascinating trip they took to Argentina, as well as the Torrontés grape variety and the amazing wines it produces in Argentina.



In March 1987, I found myself in a small car with the son of Arnaldo Etchart, the producer of some amazing, prize-winning wines from Bodegas Etchart. The young man was speeding up over rock formations and roaring through canyons while I held on for my dear life, keeping one eye open just to see the breathtaking scenery. We were heading to the Calchaqui Valley – Salta’s main winemaking area. I was going there to coordinate a visit for the television producer Burt Wolf in advance of a video project of his.

Two-and-a-half-hours later, we arrived at Cafayate, a charming town with cobbled streets, low-rise houses painted white on the outside and topped with red roofs, a main square with the Church on one side and the City Hall on the other – typical of colonial times.

Guided by Jose Luis Mounier, Etchart’s winemaker at the time, I was formally introduced to Torrontés, Salta’s specialty and the favorite white wine of most Argentineans. As we visited vineyards and toured the wineries, I became enamored of this highly aromatic, delicious wine. The highlight of the visit was a 6-years-oak-aged Torrontés, an experiment Jose Luis was working on to evaluate the effects of oak and aging on this grape. I was pleasantly surprised and intrigued.



From then on, I was hooked. I love their intense sweet aromas of jasmine, lychee and stone fruits. The wines have a high acidity; spiciness and they’re dry. It is a tricky wine, Torrontés – it captures you with the sweet aromas of fruit and it awakens your palate with its acidity, powerful flavors, and dry finish.

Truth be told, I really only preferred the ones from Salta for the elegance, the high acidity, and the intensity of the aromas. The Torrontés from the other regions were OK, but nothing to write home about. They were rustic and the bitter notes at the end of the palate were more pronounced. However, things improved during the 1980’s with the modernization of the Argentine wine industry, new vineyard management techniques, and new technology; and the quality of Torrontés improved significantly.

For me, my “Aha!” moment came over five years ago when Alberto Antonini, one of Argentina’s most prominent flying winemakers, introduced the Nieto Senetiner Reserva Torrontés in New York City. It was “Helloooo”.

It had the fruitiness, the acidity, and the complexity that I love in what is a fun wine. So when I tasted it and saw that this wine was from Mendoza, I jumped! I knew that the levels of wine making and vineyard management had hit new heights.




I have also been continually amazed by the techniques that winemakers are mastering. Every year as part of my duties for the Wines of Argentina, I travel with sommeliers to Argentina – and every other year we go to Salta. So over the last eight years I have seen the evolution of this uniquely Argentine varietal. It is a natural crossing of Muscat of Alexandria and Criolla Chica – a grape brought by the Spanish in the 16th century. There are three different clones: the Riojano, Sanjuanino and the Mendocino. Of the three, the Riojano is the most widely planted and produces higher quality wines.

Again as part of my duties, I coordinate a Comprehensive Tasting of Argentine Wines with Stephen Tanzer at the Argentine Consulate in New York.  We generally taste 400 wines – and it is what I call a democratic tasting. It is open to all the wineries – big and small. They are all given the same chance to be tasted by Tanzer.

Now, I consider it my duty to taste the wines before Tanzer, just to make sure they are correct. But with some wines, I like to taste a little longer, so to speak. With so many wines, I usually just do it by the aromas. If the nose is good, the wine is good. And, if the aromas are superb I give it my full attention… and that happened with Colomé Torrontés 2014. This one was different. It was good, as it usually is, but something was different from its previous vintage, more interesting in a good way. So, I called the winery to find out what was going on. It seemed that for the first time they were blending Torrontés grapes from two vineyards at different altitudes. And, the effect was very noticeable, the wine was extremely aromatic and at the same time, had a new complexity.



Then last November, I tasted Susana Balbo’s Barrel Fermented Torrontés and I was just floored.  I knew then that I had to do a seminar on Torrontes. I have to show, not tell. So, we are going to have the wine in my seminar because I have to teach about this.  Torrontes showed me that the stereotype – as being always young and fresh and fruity – was shattered. This is coming from someone who doesn’t usually like wood in white wine. I usually find that the oak overpowers the fruit, but here it does something magical. The oak treatment is so subtle, adding to the elegance a new complexity and texture.

So now that Torrontés has matured, I want to re-introduce and share this evolution with my fellow members of the Society of Wine Educators Conference 2015. It’s almost a revolution.

Nora Z. Favelukes is the founder of QW Wine Experts, an international consulting company based in the United States dedicated to brand building, strategic marketing and public relations of imported fine wines. For the past seven years, QWWE has been  responsible for the Wines of Argentina branding account. Nora also teaches on classes on South American and Iberian Peninsula wines at New York City College of Technology, Brooklyn, NY. In 2006, she received the “Outstanding Industry Professional Award” by New York City College of Technology. Nora is also a member of SWE’s Board of Directors.


Understanding Wine’s Eco-Evangelists – Conference Preview



Today we have a guest post from Jordan Cowe, CWE. Jordan gives us a little background on his upcoming Conference session on Wine’s Eco-Evangelists!

Wine’s Eco-Evangelists have a problem, a big one:  For every person who supports what they do, there’s at least 2 or 3 more that are skeptics.

When I was first diving into the world of Eco-Friendly viticulture I held a fairly skeptical – if not cynical -view of the whole area. If I were to distill my thoughts from that time on the field down to what I thought of it, I would have defined my experiences with the three main areas of eco-wine as follows:

  1. Sustainability: A marketing buzzword used by nearly every winery in existence with little to no meaning left.
  2. Organics: A mix match of regulations aiming to achieve some unknown goal by making wines that were often fairly unimpressive.
  3. Biodynamics: A new age cult. Period. Seriously what’s up with these guys?

The reality is these are unfair assessments, but they are commonly held views on the subjects. Over time I have had chance to work for and speak with producers using these approaches and have realized that there’s a lot more happening here than it seems. What is really happening is a communication problem, people just don’t believe what they’re being told. Whether it’s overuse in marketing, disbelief in the actual benefits or simply getting a giggle out of the more mystical aspects, each area of eco-wine has to fight to overcome skeptics, even among fans of the wines and sometimes staff.



Sustainability truly has become a marketing buzzword, making it hard to distinguish who is truly embracing sustainability and who is just using it to help their brand. The biggest questions here become: If it’s good for the environment and quality does it really matter why they’re doing it? What exactly are they doing, do they detail their practices? At this point you can make a judgement for yourself, or taking it a step further several regional associations have developed their own sustainability certification to help ensure the word really means something.

For organics the idea is well meaning, reduce the use of synthetic chemicals in favor of more natural compounds. Part of the problem here has been the mix of certifications and awkward terms used across the field. Over time there has been increased standardization of practices, advances in understanding of the effects of organic compounds themselves and in general an improvement in the quality of the wines being produced. Like any field it can take time to figure out how to do it right and with maturity will come great strides. In the meantime how do you approach the fears about viability or even functionality and communicate the benefits.

At the far end of the eco spectrum is biodynamics, and a beast of a topic it is. I will be quite frank and say at the core of its ideology it does contain a fair amount of mysticism but the mystical aspects are relatively unrequired for certification. The ultimate goal with biodynamics today is to bring balance to the farm and related ecosystems. Some producers fully embrace the mystical side of biodynamics, but the more you get to know producers it would seem many have simply the accepted system itself with the knowledge that it does appear to produce a healthier farm and better wines, they aren’t worried about why. Some of the largest producers are in fact actively trying to pin down a scientific basis for the practices realizing that the mystical explanations can hurt the movement.



The focus with all three of these ideologies is to create better wines while having a positive impact on the environment. This is ultimately a noble goal, and one that is often achieved, with many of the world’s top vineyards meeting the criteria for one of these categories whether they publicize it or not. Many of their communication problems come down to their existence as ideologies, proponents view the topics as often very black and white, all or nothing proposals. This makes finding a common ground with which to explain their ideas to outsiders difficult. Combine this with some aspects that are relatively unexplainable and you have a problem on your hands.

Through my interactions with producers I’ve increasingly realized this communication gap is a big problem and have set out to examine the topics in depth to find out for myself what they are really all about. As an outside observer I’ve examined the good and the bad in these topics, I’ve looked at the scientific basis behind some of the more esoteric practices and I’ve set out to find a way of conveying the basis of these ideas while avoiding the easy mystical or just because answers. Through a better understanding of these ideals I hope to enable more wine lovers to be eco-evangelists, to appreciate the hard work and experimentation that goes into making outstanding wines in an environmentally conscious manner.

At the heart of it how can anyone be opposed to producers wanting to make better, more exciting wines all the while helping the environment? But do they actually have a positive impact on the environment? Are the ideas practical or is it just witchcraft and anecdotal evidence? How do you decipher all of the conflicting ideas and information out there?



Join me at this year’s annual conference in New Orleans for my session “Wine’s Eco-Evangelists: Saving the world one glass at a time, ” where I will aim to remove the fog covering eco-friendly viticulture and winemaking philosophies and explain what each of these areas of the wine world actually entail. We will taste through some key producers from exciting regions in the world of eco-viticulture and judge for ourselves if the wines live up to the hype that they earn.

Jordan Cowe is a Certified Wine Educator and Sommelier from Niagara Falls, Canada. As an independent educator Jordan focuses primarily on educating wine professionals and developing a friendly, open minded approach to wine service and sales. Eco-wines are just one of the many interests Jordan has within the world of wine, his focus strongly directed toward the unusual and esoteric topics. Jordan’s other works and previous presentations can be found on his website at