Conference Preview 2016: CWE Boot Camp


Boot Camp. It’s the perfect way to describe the 9-hour day in store for those Certified Wine Educator (CWE) aspirants who have signed up for the Pre-Conference session that is (officially) known as the  “CWE Preview.”

According to its creator, Jane Nickles, the CWE Boot Camp/Preview does not cover a huge amount of what she calls “facts and figures, names and dates, grapes and places.” These types of things, she believes, are better off learned in long-term, “quiet-time” study sessions with books, notepads, websites, and flashcards.

Instead, the jam-packed day will entail getting up and moving about, mocking the faults, essay domination, and something she calls “Speed Dating for Wine.”

The day begins with a one-hour session called “Wrangling Resources.” This section, focused on study skills, is designed to prepare candidates to make the best use of their study time by using the proper study techniques and the proper study materials. Also included is a discussion of test-taking skills and strategies for multiple-choice exams.


Next up is what Jane calls “Breaking Bad.” This is an up-close and personal experience with wine faults. Attendees will get to know each wine fault in the CWE exam’s line-up by learning how the faults arise, how they can (potentially) be cured or avoided, and most importantly—what they look, smell, and (for the brave) taste like in an affected wine.

Following this section (and right before lunch), the candidates will be able to “Mock the Faults” by participating in a practice exam mimicking the actual CWE Faults and Imbalances exam.

After lunch the seminar will focus on the dreaded essay exam. In a session called “Five Easy Steps to Essay Dominance,” candidates will learn to pick the best essay question to attack, and create a sample essay outline using a 5-step method of essay design.

The next portion of the day begins with “Speed Dating for Wine.” The class will divide into small groups and while seated at small round tables, will learn to quickly analyze and spot the identifying features of 24 different iconic wines (divided into 4 flights of 6 wines each).  A previous participant says that this session could be titled “So, tell me what makes you special, Ms. Merlot.”

The day will wrap up with two “Test Flights.” These test flights are practice exams mimicking the Varietal/Appellation Identification test portion of the CWE exam.


The CWE Preview will be held on August 9, 2016 as part of the Pre-Conference activities at SWE’s 40th Annual Conference, to be held in Washington, DC. The CWE Preview may be purchased on the SWE website catalog and store.

This preview session includes a copy of the CWE Candidate Manual as well as a 90-page session notebook including lecture notes, tasting templates, essay exercises, and an 85-item sample CWE multiple-choice exam. Session leader Jane A. Nickles currently serves as SWE’s Director of Education and Certification and is the 2012 Banfi Award Winner for the highest annual score on the CWE Exam.

For more information, please contact Jane Nickles –


Conference Preview: Diamonds in the Rough

Photo Credit: Consorzio di Tutela del Vino Conegliano Valdobbiadene

Photo Credit: Consorzio di Tutela del Vino Conegliano Valdobbiadene

Today we have a Conference Preview on a session to be presented by Alan Tardi. Alan’s session is entitled “Diamonds in the Rough: The Many Facets of Conegliano Valdobbiadene Prosecco DOCG”

Prosecco is enjoying an incredible boom in popularity throughout the world, a meteoric rise that has not yet reached its peak. But most consumers—and even many wine professionals—have no idea what it really is.

Most people think of Prosecco as a ‘simple’ (as in without much character), pleasant, easily quaffable, inexpensive alternative to Champagne. And it is—but there is much more to this quintessentially Italian sparkler than that.

First of all (unlike Champagne) there is not just one Prosecco appellation but three: two of them—Prosecco DOC and Asolo Prosecco DOCG—were created in 2010 at the same time that the classic area of Prosecco production was upgraded from DOC to DOCG and renamed Conegliano Valdobbiadene Prosecco after its two principal towns. Needless to say, the new name throws a big obstacle before most consumers who are simply looking for a nice bottle of bubbly, and the multiple appellations yet another. But the confusion (which many retailers are not adequately equipped to clarify for their customers) obscures a critical fact: there is an enormous, fundamental distinction between DOC and DOCG that has to do with the growing area.

The new DOC covers an extensive area encompassing two regions (Veneto and Friuli), nine provinces, and 556 towns, and much of it is in flat areas that can be mechanically worked, all of which provides much higher yields at a much lower cost. On the other hand, the tiny Conegliano Valdobbiadene area—consisting of 15 small municipalities—is completely up in the hills, many of which are so steep they are difficult to stand up in, and accessible only on foot.

Prosecco Paesaggio

Prosecco Paesaggio Photo Credit: Alan Tardi

The Dolomite Mountains located right behind Conegliano Valdobbiadene form a protective barrier from harsh northern temperatures while the Piave River valley in front of it stretches south to Venice and the Adriatic Sea, creating a unique combination of continental and Mediterranean climates. Moreover, due to complex geologic events, there are numerous different soil types and microclimates within this small area.

The time required to work the vines in this area is extremely high—more than four times higher than in the valley—and most of it is done by thousands of independent farmers tending tiny family plots who supply grapes to the 183 wineries. Over the centuries, these farmers have handcrafted the vineyards to the contours of this dramatic and complex landscape, creating a unique synergy between humans and nature. It is not unusual to find old vines (many over 100 years old) here, and besides the predominant Glera (formerly known as Prosecco) it is also possible to find indigenous varieties such as Verdiso, Perera and Bianchetta Trevigiana.

But this is just the beginning.

Though most Prosecco is made in an autoclave—a technique that was perfected in the late 1800s at Italy’s oldest enology school in Conegliano—not all of it is. The autoclave was not really diffused throughout the area until the post-war resurgence of the1950s and ’60s. Before that, winemakers made still wine, albeit with a natural tendency to re-ferment in bottle (like in Champagne).

Photo Credit: Alan Tardi

Photo Credit: Alan Tardi

While spumante made in autoclaves accounts for nearly 95% of the Prosecco on the market today, many producers continue to make both still Prosecco (known as “tranquillo”) and sparkling wines with second fermentation in bottle in the traditional method leaving the sediment is left inside (“Col Fondo”). Other producers are also experimenting with the Classic Method of second fermentation in bottle with disgorgement.

Finally, though Prosecco has developed the reputation of being a wine that should be consumed as young and fresh as possible, preferably within one year of the vintage, this is not necessarily always the case.

There is much more to Prosecco than meets the eye, and new developments are continuing to taking place as producers search for new (or old) and better ways to express their unique terroir and long winemaking tradition.

The session, “Diamonds in the Rough,” will offer a unique opportunity to explore many different and little known facets of Conegliano Valdobbiadene Prosecco through a lineup of unusual wines, many of which are not currently available in the US. To begin with we will have the extremely rare opportunity to sample the four principal indigenous grape varieties of Prosecco side by side in still form. After that we will taste a Prosecco made from a single parcel located inside a Rive (a single village appellation); a Prosecco made from selected grapes of extremely old vines; an extra-brut classic method Prosecco from the famed Cartizze subzone, and another re-fermented in the traditional Col Fondo method. We will cap off this survey with a very special surprise demonstrating that Prosecco does not necessarily have to be drunk within a year.

All in all, this not-to-be-missed session will offer an enlightening glimpse into a fascinating region that is bound to change your opinion of the world’s most popular sparkling wine.

Alan Tardi in the vineyards at Pasquale Catanzariti

Alan Tardi in the vineyards at Pasquale Catanzariti

Alan Tardi, former NYC chef and restaurateur, has long worked as a freelance journalist authoring articles about wine and food for numerous publications including The New York Times, Wine & Spirits Magazine, The Wine Spectator, Decanter, Sommelier Journal and Food Arts. In 2003, Alan moved to the village of Castiglione Falletto in the heart of the Barolo region in Piedmont, Italy, where he spent years working in the surrounding vineyards and wineries through all phases of the growing and production process. In 2009, Alan began frequenting the Conegliano Valdobbiadene region. After developing a rapport with many local farmers and producers, as well as principals of the governing Consortium, Alan was named the first-ever US Ambassador of Conegliano Valdobbiadene in 2015. His book, Romancing the Vine: Life, Love and Transformation in the Vineyards of Barolo (St Martins Press, 2006) won a James Beard Award for Best Wine and Spirits Book of 2006. His new book on the other sparkling wine “Champagne, Uncorked” was published in late spring 2016.

Alan’s session “Diamonds in the Rough: The Many Facets of Conegliano Valdobbiadene Prosecco DOCG” will be presented on Friday, August 12, at 8:45 am as part of SWE’s 40th  Annual Conference.

Conference Preview: Not all Cavas are Created Equal


Today we have a Conference Preview on a session to be presented by Tracey Ellen Kamens. Tracey’s  session is entitled Not all Cavas are Created Equal. 

The last time the Society of Wine Educators held its annual conference in Washington, D.C., I took my cue from the conference theme of “Red, White & Bubbles” and championed the sparkling wines of the “good ole USA.” I’m still a big fan of sparklers, but this time, I will turn my attention to Cava!

While Cava and Champagne are both Traditional Method sparklers that begin with the letter “C,” that’s generally where the comparison ends. We tend to think of Champagne as a high quality wine, while Cava might be cheap and cheerful, but that’s about it.

For a long time, I, too, never thought particularly highly of Cava. But, more recently, I had the opportunity to visit Catalonia, and, once there, was pleasantly surprised by the care and concern that went into the production of these sparkling wines at several of the producers we visited.


Moreover, Champagne and Cava have a lot more in common than meets the eye, at least when looking at production by the numbers—as shown in the accompanying graphic.

The more I tasted the wines at places like Augusti Torello Mata, Juve Y Camps and Recaredo, I began to realize that high quality Cava is not an oxymoron. In fact, in some cases, dare I say it– the terms “Cava” and “luxury” might actually exist side by side.

After further exploration, I learned that these producers are breaking the rules, or rather, they are exceeding them by leaps and bounds, with lowered yields, longer aging and many other commitments to quality grape growing and winemaking.

Admittedly, not all Cavas are well made–with the oceans of Cava washing up on U.S. shores each year, there is still a lot of so-so Cava out there. But, if we are honest–just as there are better-made Champagnes and better-made Proseccos (particularly Prosecco Superiore)–it’s hard to paint all Cavas with a single bad brush.

Still not convinced? Of course, the proof is in the tasting. Come join me for my presentation at this year’s SWE conference (Friday, August 12 at 10:30 AM) to taste for yourself, where the line-up will include wines from:

  • Alta Alella
  • Augusti Torello Mata
  • Can Recaredo
  • Casa Sala
  • Gramona
  • Juve Y Camps
  • Pares Balta
  • Perelada
  • Vins El Cep

Tracy Ellen Kamens is a wine educator, writer and consultant who combines her passion for teaching with her love of wine. In addition to serving as president of Wine TEKnologies, Tracy currently serves as a Wine Expert for Wine Ring, Inc, a consumer-oriented app. She is an Ambassador for both the Napa Valley Vintners and the Crus Bourgeois du Médoc and is a frequent presenter at international wine conferences. Tracy has written for various publications including Palate Press magazine and The SOMM Journal and was a Fellowship Recipient for the Professional Wine Writers’ Symposium. She holds a doctorate of education from the University of Pennsylvania, the Certified Wine Educator credential from the Society of Wine Educators and the Wine & Spirits Education Trust’s Diploma of Wine & Spirits.

Tracey’s session—Not all Cavas are Created Equal—will be held on Friday, August 12, 2016 at 10:30 am pm as part of SWE’s 40th Annual Conference, to be held in Washington, DC.


Conference Preview: Betting on Malbec – The Different Terroirs of Cahors

Today we have a Conference Preview on a session to be presented by Bertrand Vigouroux, owner of the Georges Vigouroux Company in Cahors. Bertrand’s session is entitled Betting on Malbec: The Different Terroirs of Cahors.

2012 Harvest in Cahors - Photo Credit: Bertrand Gabriel Vigouroux

2012 Harvest in Cahors – Photo Credit: Bertrand Gabriel Vigouroux

It is astounding that there is so little information to be found on Cahors, the birthplace of Malbec—it’s difficult to find, even on trade websites and in wine literature. This is one of the main reasons why wine professionals flock to the SWE Annual Conference—there is information presented that can only be learned in person and from the winemakers who are actually creating history!

One of those winemakers, Bertrand-Gabriel Vigouroux, is the current generation of a family who has been making wine in Cahors since 1887—first as négociants and, since 1971, as growers.  Today, Bertrand and his family own four different properties—each with a distinct terroir—and are finally understanding the innovations that are necessary allow the Malbec to fully express itself.

Cahors is the undisputed birthplace of Malbec with records of Malbec existing in the area since around 50 BC.  The wines of this area in the Southwest of France were known worldwide as early as the 13th century—partially due to England’s King Henry II marriage to Eleanor of Aquitaine and partially because the wines of the time were thought superior to that of Bordeaux.

The Malbec-based wines from Cahors had to pass through the port of Bordeaux to be shipped to the major markets of the time, and was often added to the Bordelaise Claret to make it richer.  This led to Malbec being planted in Bordeaux, and eventually, to the imposition of heavy taxes on the wines coming from Southwest France—while Bordeaux wines were given preference in shipping. This continued until the end of the French Revolution in 1799.

During the 19th century in France, Château de Haut-Serre, currently owned by the Vigouroux family, was often found alongside First Growth Bordeaux on restaurant menus around France.  However, after Phylloxera the growers of Cahors were slower to replant, delayed by an inability to match a favorable rootstock with the Malbec vine.  Furthermore, the vineyards of Southwest France were ravaged by the frost of 1956, making producers believe that Cahors might not be the place to make high quality wine.

Autumn view above the Pont Valentré, Cahors

Autumn view above the Pont Valentré, Cahors

However, Georges Vigouroux, Bertrand’s father, believed that Malbec still had a future and purchased the original Haut-Serre vineyard, which had gone fallow.  The replanting was not an easy task, taking 3 years, and requiring specialized machines to break up and pulverize meter-wide rock, which is typical on what is known as the “slopes” of Cahors.

The next property Georges purchased, in 1983, was the famous and picturesque Château de Mercuès, with its vineyard and castle which sit on an entirely unique terroir.  At this property, Bertrand and his father are experimenting with high density plantings and other innovations.

The family continued with the purchase of Château Leret-Monpezat on what is known as the “plateau” of Cahors, characterized by limestone-clay soil.  Finally, Bertrand-Gabriel bought their latest vineyard, exploring slightly outside Cahors, on the slopes of Calignac overlooking the Garonne valley.

As we progress as wine professionals, it is our never–ending quest to keep up with the appellations, regions, and regulations as they continuously evolve. In this session, Bertrand-Gabriel Vigouroux will help us understand these divisions of Cahors while tasting his various properties.  Cahors is in the middle of a renaissance, and our presenter is one of the pioneers!

Bertrand Gabriel Vigouroux

Bertrand Gabriel Vigouroux

Bertrand-Gabriel Vigouroux trained in accounting and management, then enology in Toulouse. At age 23, he joined the family business in control of four separate estates and wineries: Château de Haute-Serre, Château de Mercies, Château Leret-Monpezat, and Château Tournelles.

Bertrand has introduced innovative and quality-centered work methods to the operations, such as high density re-planting, grassing between the vines, leaf thinning, yield control, and in-depth experimentation with oak regimens and fermentations.

Bertrand’s session—Betting on Malbec: The Different Terroirs of Cahors—will be held on Friday, August 12, 2016 at 3:00 pm as part of SWE’s 40th Annual Conference, to be held in Washington, DC.

Conference Preview: Climate, Grapes, and Wine

Today we have a 2016 SWE Conference Preview on Gregory Jones’ session entitled “Climate, Grapes, and Wine: Understanding Terroir Influences in a Variable and Changing Climate”


If there were ever an opportunity to grasp the complexities of climate change’s effect on viticulture, it is during this session with world-renowned climatologist Gregory Jones. Gregory conducts applied research for the Oregon wine industry as well as many other viticultural areas around the world, as well as working as professor and research climatologist at Southern Oregon University.

In the realm of wine education, we are constantly asked how climate change will alter what we know to be the pillars of what we teach.  Will Cabernet continue to grow in Bordeaux?  Will we continue to see our vineyards migrating to the north, and to higher elevations?

Gregory believes that climate change is not just about the warming of the world’s vineyards, but a variability that is truly starting to affect the concept of terroir. Completing his PhD at the University of Virginia, Gregory wrote his dissertation on the climatology of viticulture in Bordeaux and has contributed to or has been cited in almost every substantial climate study conducted in the last 15 years.  He even contributed to the 2008 Nobel Prize Winning Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Report!

In a recent publication, Gregory states that the ideal climate—in terms of heat degree days, precipitation, heat spikes, and the like—is only ideal when considered in the context of a particular grape variety.  Furthermore, this optimum climate allows the vine a more equitable growth cycle which synchronizes with what he terms the four ripeness clocks—sugar accumulation, acid respiration, phenolic ripeness, and fruit character.

He goes on to say that the grower and the wine professional can no longer rely on tried-and-true ideas of “ideal climates: due to the variability derived from large scale atmospheric and oceanic interactions, El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO) being one of the most prominent examples.

Finally, Gregory always ties all the info back to what is important to the wine professional as well as where we are headed as an industry.  This is a session not to miss.

Gregory V. Jones

Gregory V. Jones

Gregory V. Jones is a professor and research climatologist in the Department of Environmental Science and Policy at Southern Oregon University who specializes in the study of climate structure and suitability for viticulture, and how climate variability and change influence grapevine growth, wine production and quality. He conducts applied research for the grape and wine industry in Oregon and many regions worldwide and has given hundreds of international, national, and regional presentations on climate and wine-related research. He is the author of numerous book chapters and other reports and articles on wine economics, grapevine phenology, site assessment methods for viticulture, climatological assessments of viticultural potential, and climate variability and change impacts on wine production. Gregory’s session, “Climate, Grapes, and Wine: Understanding Terroir Influences in a Variable and Changing Climate” will be held on Thursday, August 11, 2016 as part of SWE’s 40th Annual Conference, to be held in Washington, DC.  

Conference Preview: Advanced Tasting Strategies


Today, Tim Gaiser, MS gives us a preview of his upcoming SWE Conference session: “Advanced Tasting Strategies: Cause and Effect and Objective Factors.”

The path to becoming a professional taster is a complex one that requires a great deal of practice, repetition, and focus. In the beginning stages, a student has to memorize a tasting grid, acquire knowledge of common wine faults, and learn the major markers for classic grapes and wines.

Beyond the basics there are two things every student must learn to take their tasting to the next level. The first is the concept of cause and effect; why a given wine looks, smells, tastes, and feels the way it does. Cause and Effect is based on two factors, environment and winemaking technique.  Practically any wine will offer aromas and/or flavors that are directly related to one or both.

The second criteria every student must learn to become a proficient taster can be called “signatures.” These signatures are some two dozen or so elements including pyrazines, rotundone, stem inclusion, botrytis, and terpenes. They come from various sources but must absolutely be learned and memorized by the student in order to consistently identify major grapes and wine styles. In my seminar we’ll use a set of wines to illustrate and focus on both concepts—and help improve olfactory and palate memory in the process.

Tim Gaiser, MS

Tim Gaiser, MS

Tim Gaiser is an internationally renowned wine expert and lecturer, and is one of230 individuals worldwide to ever attain the elite Master Sommelier wine title. Over his 25-plus year career Tim has taught thousands of students in wines and spirits classes at every level as well as developing wine education programs for restaurants, winery schools and wine distributors. He has experience in all phases of the wine industry – online, wholesale, retail, winery, and restaurant – including stints at Heitz Wine Cellars in the Napa Valley and Bix and Cypress Club restaurants in San Francisco, and Virtual Vineyards/the original  Tim has served as the author and lead judge for the Best Young Sommelier Competition and the TopSomm Competition, the two major American sommelier competitions. Considered one of the leading wine tasters and educators, Gaiser was recently featured in the Think like a Genius Wine Master training product, created by the Everyday Genius Institute.

Tim’s Session, “Advanced Tasting Strategies: Cause and Effect and Objective Factors,” will be presented as part of SWE’s 40th Annual Conference (to be held in Washington, DC) on Friday, August 12th at 4:45 pm.

Conference Preview: Calling All Colheitas

Today we have a guest post from Paul Wagner, who tells us what to expect at the session entitled “A Short History of Time in a Glass: Colheita Ports over 50 Years” at this year’s SWE Conference in Washington DC. It sounds fantastic!


The vast ancient cellar in Oporto was full of barrels marching off into the shadows, each covered with the light dust that had gently accumulated over decades of aging.  As my eyes adjusted to the dim light, I began to make out chalk marks on the barrel heads:  1997, 1983, 1957, 1966, 1934, the list went on and on, as did the cellar.  I wandered around for a few minutes.  There seemed to be thousands of barrels here.  And at least one of those barrels had the date 1952:  the year I was born.

What wine lover’s heart wouldn’t quicken with that experience?

And yet these wines are rarely mentioned by wine experts.  Very few people—even wine experts—have tasted through these wines in any kind of depth; and a comprehensive tasting of these wines is simply not available via a single winery.

But at this year’s SWE national conference, the wineries of Sogevinus:  Kopke, Barros, Burmester and Calem, will provide a stunning tasting of Colheita Ports going back more than fifty years.   They have the largest inventory of Colheita Ports in the world.

It is an experience not to be missed.


Let’s put these wines into context and perspective: there are basically two kinds of Port: Ruby and Tawny.  (We won’t mention white Port here, because it’s similar but made with white grapes.)

Both Ruby and Tawny Ports share the same classic grape varietals: Touriga Nacional, Touriga Frances, Tinta Roriz, Tinto Cao, Tinta Barroca, and a few others. It’s once the grapes are picked that the difference between Ruby and Tawny begins to become clear.

Ruby Ports are focused on fruit.  As young wines they spend little time in barrel, and are bottled quickly and released in time to capture their lively, fruity character. Basic Ruby Ports are a blend of vintages, but the very best Ruby Ports are deeply concentrated wines that can age for decades.  They are identified early in their lives, kept as separate lots by vintage, and released as Vintage Port.  Only a few years in each decade are good enough to make Vintage Port.

Tawny Ports, on the other hand, are focused on complexity.  These are wines that spend their lives not in the bottle, but in barrel.  The simpler Tawny Ports are blended and released at three years of age. Then come the more interesting wines: Tawny Ports “with an indication of age” that can be ten, twenty, thirty, and even forty years old.


And the greatest of all Tawny Ports are the Colheita Ports:  Tawny Ports that are not blended, but come from a single harvest (which is what Colheita means in Portuguese) and have been aged in barrel at the winery ever since.  And they can live longer than you or I.  There is something inexplicably seductive about walking through a cellar full of barrels of Colheita Ports.

And while Ruby Ports provide rich fruit flavors, Tawny Ports give us an incredible depth of complexity, where the fruit fades back to blend in with notes of caramel, vanilla, dried apricots, toffee, cinnamon, tea, almonds, dates, hazelnuts,…the list is endless and enchanting.

While Ruby and Vintage Ports should be consumed within a few days of opening, to capture the fruit in the wine, Tawny Ports can live a few weeks after the bottle has been opened.  This makes them much more successful as wines in a restaurant setting, and even at home.  It’s a rare couple that can finish off a bottle of Vintage Port over two or three days.  But a bottle of Colheita from the year of their wedding can be enjoyed over the course of a few weeks of memorable dinners.


And while other Ports are bottled in a modern bottling line, Colheita Ports are usually hand bottled in the Port houses of Vila Nova da Gaia—each bottle hand-filled, hand-corked, hand-labelled, and carefully hand-dipped in wax for the capsule.  And each is then hand-stenciled with a white painted label as well.

At this year’s conference, Tania Oliveira will lead a tasting of Colheita Ports from the wineries in the Sogevinus Portfolio.  She is a gifted speaker with great charm and a collection of older Colheita Ports that will take your breath away.  And one of her wines just might be from the year of your birth. Tania’s session will be held on Thursday, August 11 at 3:pm, as part of SWE’s 40th Annual Conference.

Conference Preview: Thinking Like a Grapevine

Today we have a guest post from Jonah Beer, the Vice President of Winery Operations at Frog’s Leap. Jonah tells us about his “Thinking Like a Grapevine” session at SWE’s upcoming Annual Conference.


Grapevines are living, sentient beings with their days and nights consumed by concern for vital life choices. Critical choices like: when to color and sweeten their fruit to attract birds in order to spread their seed, or when to break bud in the spring, or when to start storing energy for the next season. These are critical decisions a vine makes each and every day.

So how does a grapevine make these decisions? They do so by taking information from their environment. They measure the angle of the sun, the phase of the moon, the tug of the planets, the temperature and moisture content of the soil and the kind of chemical signals soil organisms are giving off. It knows when the birds visit, it’s on familiar terms with surrounding insects and their life stages, and it takes a cue from the acorns falling off the nearby oaks. In short, everything in its environment is a clue.

But what happens so often in most modern-day vineyards? The vines are lined up, their branches forced into restrictive trellising and their growing tips are cut off. They are exposed to toxic pesticides and fed strong, synthetic fertilizers. They are forced to drink water when they are not thirsty. Birds are discouraged, insects are killed, and the oak tree is cut down. So much of modern farming is dedicated to removing the very information that these plants need to succeed.


How do we at Frog’s Leap seek to think like a grapevine, and support the natural cycle of the plant, instead of restricting it? Through thoughtful implementation of watchful practices that aim to complement what’s happening in nature. We know that healthy, vibrant, microbial-dense soil will better absorb the winter rains and provide for the nutritional and water needs of the plant all year long. We’ve learned that if we maintain biodiversity through cover crops and insectary borders that the vine will be able to communicate with other plants and bugs in a meaningful way. We see that when we tend our vineyards respectfully, humbly and with care that our vines are better able to use their canes and leaves to measure the angle of the sun, the length of the day and warmth of the evening air.

All of the data that is accentuated for the vine through our farming yields some very important differences and qualities in our vineyards and wines. Namely, we have longer lived vines with deeper roots, healthier wood and a transparent connection to place. Our wines develop rich flavor at lower alcohol, preserve their natural acid and showcase a delicate balance between fruit and earth characters. Through farming we’ve forged a real, meaningful and deep connection between biology and geology and our hands-off winemaking allows for the complete picture of terroir to shine through.


With this backdrop, the seminar Thinking Like a Grapevine—given as part of SWE’s upcoming 40th Annual Conference—will explore the reasons that our farming choices are not radical concepts but rather the very basics of what can be done to reunite a vine with its environment. We’ll discuss research into the effects of irrigation on the grapevine’s ability to clearly and distinctly measure seasonal change and to make critical life choices. We’ll delve into the three major hormones that dictate bud-break, fruiting and ripening and the predominant environmental factors that influence them. We’ll seek to understand the evolutionary impetus of pyrazine, malic acid and veraison. We’ll examine the way all of these things can and should influence wine style, character and longevity. In short, we’ll spend an hour or so thinking like a grapevine.

Oh. And we’ll sample a vertical of Frog’s Leap Cabernet Sauvignon spanning 25 years….

  • 1988 Frog’s Leap Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon
  • 1993 Frog’s Leap Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon
  • 1998 Frog’s Leap Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon
  • 2003 Frog’s Leap Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon
  • 2008 Frog’s Leap Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon
  • 2013 Frog’s Leap Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon
Jonah Beer

Jonah Beer

About the author: In 1998, a fortunate tour and tasting at a Napa Valley winery– Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars – landed Jonah Beer his first opportunity in the wine industry: glass washer. He took the job and over the course of two and one-half years had worked his way through the company up to Director of Sales and Marketing. It was at this point that Jonah met John Williams, Owner and Winemaker at Frog’s Leap, while the two represented the Napa Valley as a part of a delegation traveling through Canada. The two kindred spirits hit it off right away and a friendship and business relationship was formed.

In 2003 Jonah made his way from the “other Leap” to formally join the Frog’s Leap team as General Manager. Jonah spent his first two years learning everything he could from Mr. Williams about the unique way Frog’s Leap grows its grapes and makes its wines, a learning process that continues today. From organics and dry-farming to running a profitable yet “green” business Jonah has become a devotee of the “Frog’s Leap way.” Today he is running the winery alongside John as Vice President of Winery Operations which offers him the opportunity to work in all aspects of the process: from vineyard to bottle and beyond.

Jonah’s session, “Thinking Like a Grapevine” will be held on Thursday, August 11, 2016 at 11:00 am as part of the 40th Annual Conference of the Society of Wine Educators.

SWE Conference Registration is Open!


Wouldn’t it be great to be able to hear Bill Deutsch, founder of Deutsch Family Wine and Spirits, talk about his insights into the wine business? How would you like to spend a Thursday afternoon comparing and contrasting the wines of Napa Valley and Bordeaux along with Mary Gorman-McAdams, MW? How does a debate on minerality in wine – led by Master of Wine Roger Bohmrich sound? Would you like to sit in on a session on “Advanced Tasting Strategies” led by Tim Gaiser, MS?

If this sounds intriguing, you can experience all of this and more at SWE’s 40th Annual Conference, to be held August 11–13 in Washington DC. Click on this link for more information!


Welcome to the World, Lewis-Clark Valley AVA!

The Snake River in Idaho

The Snake River in Idaho

Welcome to the World, Lewis-Clark Valley AVA!

This week the TTB approved a new AVA—the Lewis-Clark Valley AVA. The new American Viticultural Area will become official on May 20, 2016.

The Lewis-Clark AVA surrounds the area where the Clearwater River runs into the Snake River—before the Snake River meets the Columbia on its way to the Pacific Ocean. The new AVA, which overlaps Idaho and Washington State, covers portions of Nez Perce, Lewis, Clearwater, and Latah Counties in northern Idaho and Asotin, Garfield, and Whitman Counties in southeastern Washington.  This is the third AVA for Idaho, and number 14 for Washington State.

The new AVA covers a total of 479 square miles (306,650 acres)—with about 72% located in Idaho and 28% in Washington State. At the present time, the area is home to three bonded wineries as well as 16 commercial vineyards with a total of 81 acres currently planted to vine, with 50 more acres planned in the next few years.

As part of the approval of this new AVA, the boundary of the 11,370,320-acre Columbia Valley AVA was amended and made smaller by approximately 57,020 acres. This move avoids any overlap of the Lewis-Clark Valley AVA with any other existing AVAs.

Clarkson, Washington (to the left) and Lewiston, Idaho (to the right)

Clarkson, Washington (to the left) and Lewiston, Idaho (to the right)

The name of the AVA is derived from Lewiston, Idaho, and Clarkston, Washington—two towns that face each other across the Snake River within the boundaries of the region. These towns were named in honor of the famous explorers, Meriwether Lewis and William Clark, who traveled through this area in the early 1800s.

The topography of the new AVA consists mostly of canyon walls, low plateaus, and bench lands formed by the Snake and Clearwater Rivers. The boundaries of the AVA follow the 1,970 foot (600 meter) contour, with all of the area inside the AVA at an elevation of 1,970 feet or lower. The areas outside of the AVA are significantly cooler and include the Palouse High Prairie to the north, the heavily forested Bitterroot Mountains to the east, the Blue Mountains to the west, and the Craig Mountains (which include the protected area of the Hells Gate State Park) to the south.

There are over 80 different soil types in the area of the new AVA, however, the majority (over 95%) are Mollisols soils—defined as being comprised mainly of decomposed organic matter from the varieties of perennial grasses that grow along the banks of the rivers. The Mollisols soils are mixed with fine-grained, wind-blown particles known as loess soil. The area generally has a thin layer of topsoil due to year of river erosion; this thin layer of topsoil over the bedrock subsurface limits the possible depth of the vine’s roots, thus limiting fertility of the soil—which makes it ideal for wine grapes.


For more information, see the Lewis-Clark Valley AVA docket on the TTB website.

post authored by Jane A. Nickles…your blog administrator

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