A New PGI – Ratafia de Champagne!


photo via: http://www.champagne-courtillier.com

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: http://www.viniastimonferrato.it/en/the-wines/barbera-dasti/general-notes.html

Nizza map via: http://www.viniastimonferrato.it/en/the-wines/barbera-dasti/general-notes.html

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?

For more information:

Guest Post: On the Wines of Saxony

The city of Dresden, on the Elbe River

The city of Dresden, on the Elbe River

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

Suggested further reading:


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 http://www.oenosity.com.

Announcing the CWE Candidate Manual!

CWE ManualSWE is happy to announce the publication of our latest text on the subject of wine and spirits education, The 2016 CWE Manual for Candidates

The 124-page book is unlike anything we have published before and is intended as a guide to help candidates successfully prepare for the Certified Wine Educator (CWE) Exam. The book contains seven chapters as well as several appendixes.  The main topics of the chapters are as follows:

Chapter 1 – Introduction to the CWE Exam: An overview of the various components of the exam, the objectives of the exam, and what to expect on test day.

Chapter 2 – The Multiple-Choice Exam:  Study tips, suggested study focus, test day advice, and an 85-question multiple-choice practice exam.

Chapter 3 – The Essay Exam: Advice on how to study and practice for timed essay questions using the “five-step” method of essay construction, exercises for creating the various parts of an essay outline, multiple “practice” essay questions, advice on writing well, and test day tips. Sample essay outlines and sample (successful) essays.

Chapter 4 – The Varietal/Appellation Identification Exam: Advice on semi-blind tasting, 24 iconic wines (presented in four suggested practice flights of 6 wines each) detailed for typical profile with tasting sheets for you to fill in your own observations, a list of suggested wines for study, benchmarks for wine styles, and test day advice.

Chapter 5 – The Logical Tasting Rationale: Detailed information on how to complete a wine tasting note using SWE’s Logical Tasting Rationale, sensory and technical definitions of all of the terms used on the tasting note, sample tasting notes, and test day advice.

CWE FaultsChapter 6 – The Faults and Imbalances Identification Exam: Background information on the faults and imbalances, instructions on how to use the SWE faults kit (or make your own), a sample tasting exercise, sensory benchmarks for each fault, and test day advice.

Chapter 7 – The Presentation Skills Demonstration: Information on learning objectives, a template for creating presentation outlines/abstracts, a sample presentation outline, and advice on oration, organization, the use of supporting materials, and audience engagement.

The CWE Manual for Candidates is available for purchase now on the SWE Website. The cost is $50 for members/$100 for non-members. If you have any questions or comments, please contact Jane Nickles, our Director of Education and Certification.  jnickles@societyofwineeducators.org

Good luck with your studies!

New Map of the Willamette Valley



We just added a new map to our collection!

We’re already hard at work on our 2016 update for the CSW Study Guide, and we’ve created this new map of the AVAs of Oregon’s Willamette Valley.

Other new features in the upcoming study guide include an update on the Nizza DOCG, the new Fountaingrove District AVA in Sonoma County, Oregon’s “The Rocks” AVA, and a new chapter on the wines of Asia.

To download a picture or pdf of the Willamette Valley wine map, click here.


Guest Post: On the Wines of Colorado

Vineyards in Grand Junction, Colorado

Vineyards in Grand Junction, Colorado

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

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

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

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



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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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