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

photo via

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.

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Big Controversy over Little Rocks at the TTB



Today we have a guest blog from Brenda Audino, CWE, who brings us up-to-date on the latest controversy at the TTB!

This is a follow-up to the blog “Oregon, Washington, and the AVA Shuffle: It’s Complicated”.  As noted, the newly created appellation “The Rocks of Milton-Freewater” created some controversy. The controversy is not about the validity of the appellation itself – just about everyone agrees that “The Rocks” is a unique region. The controversy arises in who amongst the wineries will ultimately be able to use this new AVA on their wine labels.

Here is a refresher regarding the Rocks of Milton-Freewater AVA: it is a sub-AVA nested within the larger multi-state Walla Walla Valley AVA, which is also nested within the much larger multi-state Columbia Valley AVA.  The Rocks of Milton-Freewater AVA resides solely within the borders of Oregon, while the larger multi-state AVAs are predominately in Washington State while crossing over the border into Oregon.  The controversy with this new AVA is that since it is entirely within the borders of Oregon, wineries must also be in Oregon in order to use the AVA on a wine label.  Most wineries who call the Walla Walla AVA home are located in the state of Washington.  This means that even if the winery owns vineyards or sources fruit in The Rocks of Milton-Freewater they will not able to utilize that The Rocks of Milton-Freewater AVA on their labels

The comments received by the TTB during the “open comment” period concerning this inability to use The Rocks of Milton-Freewater AVA were deemed valid by the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) and worthy of consideration.  This means that the TTB acknowledges that the current regulations would require wine that is fully finished in Washington and made primarily from grapes grown within The Rocks District of Milton-Freewater AVA to be labeled with the less specific “Walla Walla Valley” or “Columbia Valley” or “Oregon” appellations of origin.

USDA Map of The Rocks District


On February 9, 2015 the TTB created a new proposed rule to address these specific concerns that were raised regarding this new AVA.  This new proposed rule is titled “Use of American Viticulture Area Names as Appellations of Origin on Wine Labels”.

The TTB proposes to amend its regulations to permit the use of American Viticulture area names as appellation of origin on labels for wines that would otherwise quality for the use of the AVA name except the wines have been fully finished in the state adjacent to the state in which the viticultural area is located rather than the state in which the labeled viticultural area is located.

The TTB goes on to note that the purpose of an AVA is to provide consumers with additional information on wines they may purchase by allowing vintners to describe more accurately the origin of the grapes used in the wine.

The TTB does not believe this new ruling will cause consumer confusion since multi-state AVAs allow the wine to be finished in either state.  They believe consumers are aware that appellation of origin is a statement of the origin of grapes used to make the wine and it would not be confusing or misleading if a single state AVA were finished in an adjacent state.

I don’t know if the TTB had any idea of the amount of comments this “fix” to the AVA system would generate, but this proposal opened up an entire flood of opposing views.

During the comment phase there were a total of 41 submissions. Out of these 41 comments there were 16 “For”, 18 “Opposed”, 6 “recommended a change to the proposal” and 1 “suggested an extension of the comment period”.

The “For” comments ranged from “providing consumers better knowledge of the origin of grapes”, “fair competition and accurately reflect origin of wines”, “increase business opportunities”, “where grapes are grown is more important than where wine is finished” and “grape shortages in adjacent states”.



The “Opposed” comments ranged from “confusion for consumers”, “support for local economy”, “the term ‘adjacent state’ is too broad, “undermines state labeling laws”, “large business will transport more grapes to take advantage of AVA names” and “creates deceptive labeling”.

The comments that “recommended a change to the proposal” felt that the following wording on the proposal –“wines have been fully finished in the state adjacent to the state in which the viticultural area is located rather than the state in which the labeled viticultural area is located” – is too broad and encompassing.  This, the commenter believes, has the potential to dilute current AVA status by transporting grapes across long distances.  They recommended a change to the proposal to include “Wines finished in either state of a multi-state AVA can utilize any Sub-AVA that is nested within this multi-state AVA.”  This would enable the wineries of Washington to utilize The Rocks of Milton-Freewater AVA, but not Willamette Valley AVA.  This in effect would narrow the scope and alleviate many of the concerns raised by the commenters.

Unfortunately, I don’t have an end to this story.  The comment period is now closed and the final ruling by TTB won’t be released until April 2016.  For now though, if you want to find a wine from The Rocks of Milton-Freewater, you will need to search for an Oregon winery.

Post authored by Brenda Audino, CWE. After a long career as a wine buyer with Twin Liquors in Austin, Texas, Brenda has recently moved to Napa, California (lucky!) where she runs the Spirited Grape wine consultancy business. Brenda is a long-time member of SWE and has attended many conferences – be sure to say “hi” at this year’s conference in NOLA!

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Conference Preview: Is there a Doctor in the House?

Today we have a conference preview from Matilda Parente, MD. Tilda’s conference session will address something we are all interested in – the connection between wine and health! Read on for her comments on red wine headaches!

red wine headacheWine Headaches: Is Malo the Culprit?

Wine headaches have been recognized for millennia. Celsus (circa 25 BCE – 50 CE) wrote about head pain brought on by drinking wine in a medical encyclopedia from the Roman age. In the late 1700s, the English physician Fothergill described migraines triggered by certain foods and drink including chocolate, cheese and wine.

More than 200 years and countless headaches later, many questions about wine headaches remain unanswered despite the widespread occurrence of different types of wine intolerances, estimated to affect from 7% to perhaps 40% of individuals. As a wine professional, you probably field questions about what causes such reactions and what can be done to avoid or prevent them.

Guests often claim that their headaches are brought on only by red wine. For others, it’s white wine. Or bubblies. Some find that dessert wines do them in. Others cite high-tannin wines while a few more may blame a certain grape varietal or perhaps an entire continent. Some people claim to not experience headache with organic wines or while on vacation, usually in Europe.

As a wine professional, how can your answer your guests’ questions in a way that makes sense of these conflicting anecdotes and remain true to what the emerging science tells us?

Moving beyond sulfites, which have long been granted a reprieve as the wine headache culprits, consider biogenic amines (BA). These carbon- and nitrogen-containing compounds made from amino acids are present in various fermented foods and beverages, including wine, beer, cider, certain cheeses, processed meats, anchovies and other fermented or soured foods such as sauerkraut, buttermilk and pumpernickel bread.

22362387_lBA are found in all living things and are essential for many processes. In humans, BA function in brain development, cell growth and the immune response. However, when consumed in large amounts, or by individuals unable to break down BA or in people on some medications or with certain conditions, high amounts of BA may overwhelm the body’s ability to degrade them, causing headache and other symptoms such as flushing, itching, skin rash, burning or swelling of the mouth region, runny nose, high blood pressure, elevated heart rate, shortness of breath or asthma, gastrointestinal upset or, in extreme cases, circulatory collapse.

The major biogenic amines in wine are histamine and tyramine along with the unpleasant-sounding putrescine and cadaverine, two biogenic amines that have been linked to spoilage, mostly in fish and foods.

Where do the biogenic amines in wines come from? Some are present in the grapes themselves, the levels of which may vary with the grape variety, vintage, and different viticultural practices and conditions. Yeast may also produce some BA during the alcoholic fermentation, with levels varying according to the starter yeast type or strain. BA formation can also depend on the winemaking temperatures, maceration time and pH levels. Allowing the wine to rest sur lie increases BA levels, as can the barrel aging and storage of wine.

Recently, scientists from various wine-producing countries have found that the concentration of biogenic amines in wines soars during malolactic fermentation (MLF, or ‘malo’). That conversion process, a near-universal practice in red wine production, uses lactic acid bacteria to convert tart malic acid to the softer lactic acid, decreasing acidity and helping to ensure better microbial stability in the wine.

The bacteria that have been associated with increased BA production during malo can produce an enzyme called decarboxylase that enables BA formation from the amino acids present in the wine.

Although many white wines and rosés do not undergo MLF, the process is often used in Chardonnay production, which also imparts a buttery flavor to the finished wine due to the formation of diacetyl, a MLF reaction by-product.

The potential health issues associated with biogenic amines are coming under closer scrutiny, especially over the past decade. The European Food Safety Authority has brought focus to the presence and levels of biogenic amines in fermented foods and beverages, including wine and beer. The EFSA is encouraging further research into this area, including the establishment of safe levels for histamine and tyramine, the most medically important BA, mostly as applied to foods.

red wineAs for wine, the International Organisation of Wine and Vine (OIV), an intergovernmental scientific organization, issued a 2011 statement regarding good vitivinicultural practices to minimize BA production that may affect future wine imports to its 43 member states.

The OIV recommendations include the following to minimize BA production:

  • Selective harvesting and rigorous sorting with minimal transport delays
  • Avoiding high-pH musts and the triggering of spontaneous MLF
  • Avoiding lees maturation with risky musts (low acidity, high temperature)
  • Controlling lactic bacteria with lysozyme (an enzyme) and/or sulfur dioxide
  • Using starter yeast strains for alcoholic fermentation that are less prone to BA production
  • Inoculating with bacteria that have no or low decarboxylase activity to begin MLF
  • Using bentonite as a fining agent to remove proteins

The highest levels of BA are associated with certain foods rather than wine. However, during the course of a meal, several BA-containing foods or beverages may be consumed at one sitting, which may overwhelm a susceptible individual’s ability to process these substances.

The concentration of BA in wines from different countries may range from only a few milligrams per liter to 50 mg/l or more. For comparison, dried anchovies contain 348 mg of histamine per kilogram (about 2.2 pounds) with certain aged or fermented cheeses containing about 62 mg/kg (EFSA data, 2009).

Some countries have already established recommended upper limits for histamine in wine, ranging from 2 mg/l in Germany to 10 mg/l in Switzerland.

Clearly, Celsus was on to something. Hear more about these and other prime suspects in wine headaches, possible avoidance strategies, surprising findings about hangovers and plenty of good news about the wine-health connection from head to toe in New Orleans at my Is There a Doctor in the House? presentation on wine and health at this year’s Society of Wine Educator’s annual conference on Thursday, August 13th at 10:30 am. See you in N’awlins!

TildaMatilde Parente, MD, CSW is a board-certified physician and the director of wine at a southern California culinary school. She is a member of the Renaud Society, a wine judge and the author of Resveratrol (Woodland Publishing, 2009 and 2011 in Spanish) and Healing Ways: An Integrative Health Sourcebook (Barron’s Education Series) to be released this Fall.

She blogs at Tweet her @winefoodhealth.


Guest Post: Asia’s Hidden Gem

Our author in the Yamanashi Vineyards, admiring the Koshu grapes.

Our author in the Yamanashi Vineyards, admiring the Koshu grapes.

Today we have a guest post from Joshua Kalinan, CWE. Joshua tells us about a fascinating trip he took to Japan’s Grace Winery!

Due to my interest in wines, I have started to explore non-traditional wine-producing regions such as in Japan, India, and Bali.  The present knowledge of such regions is often limited in textbooks, so I decided that the best way to learn would be to visit and to see for myself these regions and how they are able to produce excellent wines and even win awards in international wine competitions.

My first stop on this tour is Yamanashi Vineyards, run by the Misawa Family and located in Akeno-cho, prefecture of Yamanashi, Japan. This beautiful location is on the main island of Honshu.

From the famous Shinjuku station, I took a one and a half hour train ride from the concrete jungle of Shinjuku to the scenic countryside of Kofu.  It is also the same station that one has to stop in order to visit Mount Fuji.Yamanashi Perfecture is also famous for its red apples, peaches and table grapes.

From Kofu station, I was picked up by one of Ms. Misawa’s staff who drove me to Katsunuma Region where the vineyard is located. I was introduced to Ms. Ayana Misawa who, despite her busy schedule took time to introduce me to her vineyard.  She also introduced to her vineyard dog that bears the same name as the Koshu grapes.  She is the only female Japanese winemaker to have made a name in the male-dominated world of Japanese wine. Her father, Mr. Shinekazu Misawa, owns Grace Winery.

Joshua, Ms. Misawa, and Koshu the Winery Dog

Joshua, Ms. Misawa, and Koshu the Winery Dog

Ms. Misawa showed me the training system, which is known as VSP (Vertical Shoot Positioning) where the Koshu grapes are trained. According to Ms. Misawa, by adopting VSP the berries are more concentrated.  Beside the signature Koshu grapes other varietals such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, and Petit Verdot are also grown on the Misawa vineyard.  The soil structure consists of a mixture of clay and chalk with well-draining soil.

Misawa vineyard has 13.6 ha (33 acres) of vines grown at an elevation of about 700 m (2,300 feet). This region has its longest sunshine hours from April to October, which is necessary to ripen the grapes. I visited in October, when the harvest has started earlier previous years.

Ms. Misawa patiently gave me tour of all the different types of grape varieties, its terroir and the ridge system where these varieties are planted.  After the tour of the vineyard, we toured the winery where I had the chance to see their state-of-the-art stainless steel fermentation tanks.  Ms. Misawa also showed me their new French barriques that are being used for Chardonnay, rosé, and the red varietals such as Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. The signature Koshu is usually fermented in stainless steel tanks to preserve the fruit and its freshness.

The grand finale of my tour was a tutored tasting of the following wines:

  • 2012 Grace Gris De Koshu – This wine won the Gold medal at the Decanter Asia wine award for 2013.
  • 2012 Grace Koshu Torriibira Vineyard
  • 2012 Cuvee Misawa Koshu Akeno Vineyard
  • 2011 Grace Chardonnay
  • 2012 Grace Rosé – This is a serious, dry rosé made using Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc.
  • 2009 Cuvee Misawa Rouge – This is a full-bodied, Bordeaux-style blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. .
Ms. Misawa leading Joshua Kalinan through a tasting of Grace Winery wines.

Ms. Misawa leading Joshua Kalinan through a tasting of Grace Winery wines.

After tasting a myriad of wines, I came to a conclusion that Grace Winery wines are suited for an Aperitif, as well as being food- friendly wines.  My take-home lesson was not to underestimate the potential of these wines that have made a mark in international wine competitions.

Another interesting lesson is the ability of these wines to match with Asian cuisine, which can be trickier than pairing to western foods. This is more so for the Koshu wines where they are let to rest on its lees for five months before bottling which gives an extra dimension of richness and delicate aromas.  The fine characteristics of these wines are a perfect match not only for Japanese cuisine such as sushi and sashimi but also Chinese cuisine such as tofu dishes.

The key characteristics of Koshu lie on the watery lemon yellow appearance and the nose of citrus fruits of Yuzu (Japanese Yuzu), white peaches, and white flowers.

Without the kind assistance of Ms. Misawa, I would not have had the chance to add more knowledge to my wine adventure.  I would like to conclude that after this unforgettable visit, I have come to describe Koshu wine as “the Sauvignon Blanc of Asia” and, of course, “Asia’s Hidden Gem”.

Click here for more information on Grace Winery, Yamanashi Vineyards, and the Koshu grape variety.

Joshua Kalinan, CWE has been involved in wine education for more than 10 years in Singapore.  He achieved his CWE qualification in July 2014 and has since been busy tweeting his his interest in wine and wine and food pairing. In addition to the CWE, Joshua is a Certified Sommelier with the Court of Master Sommeliers , UK; a Certified Wine Professional via the Culinary Institute  of America, and a Certified Sake Sommelier with the Sake Sommelier Association of the UK. In his free time, Joshua loves to cook and pair wines with his favorite cuisine.  You can follow joshua @winetimesg on Twitter.

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Conference Preview 2015: Blighty Bubbles – Can English Sparkling Wines compete with the Best?

BlightyToday we have a 2015 Conference Preview from Sarah Malik, CWE who tells us about her session on “Blightly Bubbles – English Sparkling Wine!”

The history of English wine production dates back to the pre-Roman times. England had strong ties to Italy and France and therefore saw no real need to make wine. Ever since the Romans invaded England in 43 AD England has seen continual but often sporadic wine production up to this current day, but it has only really been in the 15-20 years that the wine production has been more prolific. 

This past year, 2014 interim reports from the winemakers predicted that this was going to be one of the best years ever for English sparkling wine. The UK has just released its production records and the 2014 predictions appear to be spot on with 47,433 hectolitres being produced (approximately 6.3 million bottles) which is a 42% increase in volume from the previous year. This was a very different story from 2012 when Nyetimer, one of England’s largest estates, announced it was making no sparkling wine due to the difficult growing season.  

Blighty bubblesAcross the country, the quality is also proving to be excellent. Bob Lindo of Camel Valley Vineyard in Cornwall has even declared 2014 “The Vintage of Dreams.” Mardi Roberts, from the Ridgeview Sparkling Wine Estate added, “The base wines are already fantastic, and we truly believe that 2014 will be a vintage to remember.” 

Julia Trustam Eve, Marketing Director of EWP (English Wine Producers) has said of the 2014 vintage, “Over the last years, we seem to be continually breaking our own records – and the 2014 figures surpass everything. There’s no doubt about it – English wines really are on an upward trajectory. As if to prove her statement, in December 2014, the IWC (International Wine Challenge) awarded 26 medals to English wines, with three English sparkling wines from the county of Sussex winning gold.  

This session will showcase some of the best sparkling wines England has to offer. England has no “official” analysis of the styles of wine produced, but estimates from the EWP (English Wine Producers) and the UKVA (United Kingdom Vineyards Association) prove that sparkling wine now makes up two-thirds of production. Chardonnay and Pinot Noir are the most planted varieties in the country, with 230% growth in the last 8 years. 

Blightly Bubbles 2Sarah Malik is an Associate Professor at Johnson and Wales University in Charlotte, NC. Her focus is wine education. She worked Bass Charrington Breweries and West Midland Taverns in the UK before joining Hilton International and Queens Moat Houses as a Food and Beverage Manager. She eventually moved to Switzerland where she taught for five years in Hotel Consult, Le Bouveret and DCT in Lucerne, Switzerland. Sarah has received a Sommelier Diploma from the International Sommelier Guild, and has completed WSET Diploma with Merit and is a certified WSET Educator. She holds the CSS, CSW, and CWE certifications from the Society of Wine Educators, where she has been a member for many years. 

Sarah is also an International Bordeaux Wine Educator and has successfully completed the Napa Valley Wine Educators Academy. Recently she participated in the Banfi Vintners Scholastic Trip to Italy and has just spent one week in Napa Valley visiting numerous vineyards. 

Sarah’s Session, “Blighty Bubbles – Can English Sparkling Wines compete with the Best?” will be held on Wednesday, August 12 at 3:00 pm as part of the 39th Annual Conference of the Society of Wine Educators.



Conference Preview: Agave Intensive…No, Really!

Agave arthurToday we have a conference preview from Arthur Black. Arthur tells us about his session entitled “Agave Intensive – No, Really!” Read on to see what this session has in store…

Do not overlook the often-abused word, “Intensive” in the title of this seminar. Those unfamiliar with agave-based spirits are welcome to come play with us, as Agave Intensive is comprehensive and builds upon itself, but the material covered is hard core and the spirits tasted are serious, amazing, beautiful and some of the most “spiritual” spirits on the planet.

Imagine walking through an orchard in the highlands of Oaxaca at 8,000 feet elevation with a palenquero who points towards a Sierra Negra sub-species of agave and tells you that his grand father planted it over 35 years ago and he has walked past it everyday of his life and in two weeks time he will harvest, cook, ferment and distill it. Yeah, welcome to the world of artisanal mezcal and “other” agave-based spirits.

Most spirit aficionados and even trade persons have never had the pleasure nor are they familiar with mezcals based on the agave species Tobala or Cuixe, nor those which have been percolated through dead animals and distilled in amphora, nor know the likes of the obscure Mexican distillates Sotol, Bacanora and Raicilla. To experience such spirits is a rare trip into oddity, beauty and meditation. For many reasons, which will be covered in this Agave Intensive discussion, these works of art are the world’s most laboriously crafted and transcendent spirits in the world.

agave arthur 2Outside of its manifestation as spirit, the agave plant alone is fascinating enough. Its entrenched in the mores of Central American-Mexican culture with no shortage of myth, lore and cultural utility. The agave plant is simultaneously the source of the Americas’ first fermented beverage and first distilled beverage. These sharp, monocarpic, pointy plants can grow to be larger than a small car and some species can take decades to mature. One mezcalero once told me, “these ancient plants are what the dinosaurs ate!”

In this seminar, we will taste mezcal from Michoacan and Oaxaca, made from Cuixe (which grows three meters tall), Tobala, Mexicano and Espadin, as well as mezcal de ollo from one palenquero outside of Sola de Vega. Of course, you can’t have an agave discussion without tasting pechuga! We will taste and discuss the Dasylirion based Sotol from Chihuahua,   in addition to Espadin based Bacanora from Sonora.

Arthur Black is one of few young beverage industry educational leaders in the country, acquiring many titles and accreditations over 15 years of intense study. Arthur is the Corporate Wine and Spirits Sales Manager for RNDC, a leading national wholesaler of fine wine and spirits. In addition to his role at RNDC, Arthur is a Certified Specialist of Wine, a Certified Spanish Wine Educator, a Certified French Wine Educator, a Certified Sake Specialist, Certified Spirits Specialist, Advanced Sommelier, and Level 1 Cicerone. Arthur is also the founder of the non-profit, Indiana Craft Beverage Association, an educational and promotional body dedicated to driving quality beverage programming in trade in Indiana and the Mid-West.

Arthur’s session, “Agave Intensive – No, Really!” will be held on Thursday morning, August 13th as part of SWE’s 39th Annual Conference, to be held in New Orleans.





Conference Preview 2015: Four Decades of Three Palms

Photo via:

Photo via:

Today we have a guest post by Pete Przybylinski – Sr. VP of Sales and Strategy at Duckhorn Wine Company. Pete gives us the story of the Napa Valley’s Famous Three Palms Vineyard. Pete will be sharing his story – and the wines of Three Palms – at SWE’s NOLA Conference on August 13, 2015.

It’s not easy to say whether Duckhorn made the Three Palms Vineyard famous, or whether it was the other way around. Three Palms, situated at the northern end of the Napa Valley along the Silverado Trail, has been a star in the world of California wine since Duckhorn made its first vintage in 1978.” – Robert Whitley, October 2014

“[Three Palms] the best Merlot I have ever tasted, at least from outside Bordeaux’s Right Bank.” – Nick Passmore, May 2013

May 13th, 2015, was a very special day for all of us here at Duckhorn Wine Company. After 37 years of making wine from its coveted grapes, we proudly announced that we acquired the 83-acre Three Palms Vineyard from our longtime friends, and renowned winegrowers, Sloan and John Upton. As someone who has been with Duckhorn Wine Company for 20 years, both personally and professionally, it is incredibly gratifying that the vineyard that has always been synonymous with Duckhorn Vineyards finally took its rightful place as the crown jewel of our estate program.

Three Palms Vineyard is deservedly legendary. By almost any estimation, it is one of a handful of Napa Valley’s greatest vineyards, and is, without question, the most important Merlot vineyard in North America. Our history with Three Palms goes back to our inaugural Three Palms Vineyard Merlot in 1978. We released that inaugural vintage at the then high price of $12.50, because we wanted people to understand that it was a Merlot of exceptional quality. This iconic wine helped pioneer luxury Merlot in California, and played a pivotal role in establishing it as one of North America’s great premium varietals.

“As recently as 1978, Merlot was rarely bottled in California as a varietal wine. Duckhorn changed that. Their single-vineyard bottling from northern Napa Valley’s Three Palms Vineyard showed the heights that this grape, in the right hands, could achieve.” – Michael Apstein, April 2014

San Francisco's Coit Tower

San Francisco’s Coit Tower

For those familiar with San Francisco and its famed Coit Tower, Three Palms has a history that predates its renown as a winegrowing site. In the late 1800s, the land that is now home to the vineyard was a residence for famed San Francisco socialite Lillie Hitchcock Coit. She called her home Larkmead, and it was there that she hosted legendary parties and numerous celebrities of the time. She left her mark on San Francisco in the form of Coit Tower. She also left her mark in Napa Valley in the form of three lone palm trees, which were all that remained from her estate after the house fell into disuse after Lillie died in 1929, at the age of 86.

In 1967, the 83-acre property was acquired by brothers Sloan and John Upton. The following year, they began planting it to Pinot Noir, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Chenin Blanc. The site, which is located on the northeast side of Napa Valley, is in an alluvial fan created by the outwash of Selby Creek where it spills out of Dutch Henry Canyon. As a result, Three Palms is covered with volcanic stones washed down from the canyon over the centuries. The soil—what there is of it—is rocky and well drained, causing the vines to send their roots far, wide and deep to find the necessary nutrients and water. The stones in the vineyard aid the vines by absorbing the sun’s heat during the day and radiating it back to the plants during the night. This protects the vines during frost season, and helps to ripen the fruit. “People thought we were nuts,” recalls Sloan. “City slickers planting a vineyard amongst the rocks!” Time and a great deal of very hard work proved these people wrong.

“It has long defied the conventional wisdom that Merlot thrives in cooler climes but comes off dull and flabby in warmer areas. Three Palms is at the warm end of the valley, yet it consistently produces remarkable Merlot that combines firm structure with power and grace.” – Robert Whitley, October 2014

Over the years, as the Uptons grew to understand the site’s almost otherworldly ability to make profound Merlot and Bordeaux-varietal red wines, the Pinot Noir and Chenin Blanc were T-budded to more Merlot, as well as Cabernet Franc, Malbec, and Petit Verdot. Like any great vineyard, Three Palms has suffered a few setbacks and losses. In 1990, the vineyard began to show the serious effects of Phylloxera, so the long and arduous task of replanting began—the final phase of which was completed in 1999. And in 1992, the vineyard suffered the loss of one of its 105-year-old palm trees. The Upton brothers hosted a brief ceremony in which a 40-foot Washington palm was planted in its place, and since then, many of us have affectionately nicknamed the vineyard 2-1/2 Palms.



But mostly the story of Three Palms has been a testament to the phenomenal nature of this famed vineyard, and its ability to produce wines as remarkable for their structure and complexity, as for their vibrant and alluring red fruit. There are many things that contribute to the greatness of the vineyard: the meticulous farming, the Spartan bale loam soils that send the roots down as much as 18 feet in search of nutrients, the unique warm up-valley location, and more. 

“Over the years, we’ve listened to the quiet voice of the vineyard, and learned what works. Part of that is about farming Three Palms for the right reasons, for love of the land, not ego. That’s a vision we have always shared with the people of Duckhorn.” -Sloan Upton

In 2011, we inked a deal for the exclusive rights to the grapes from Three Palms Vineyard, and three years later, we took over the farming. When Sloan and John decided it was time to sell, purchasing the vineyard was the natural next step. Not only has the Duckhorn Vineyards story always been tied to the story of Three Palms, our long friendship with Sloan and John has been one of the wine industry’s most successful and enduring partnerships. We are honored that they are entrusting us to carry on their life’s work, and to carry their great legacy forward. 

“The iconic flagship wine that began Duckhorn’s success in 1978 is the Merlot Three Palms Vineyard, one of the first single-vineyard Merlots produced, and no doubt an inspiration for the Merlot boom in the 1980s. This has always been one of the benchmark wines for this varietal.” – Robert Parker, October 2013

While this blog has focused on the history and significance of Three Palms Vineyard, in my August 13th “Four Decades of Three Palms” conference session, I look forward to sharing more about our relationship with this vineyard, and its evolution. As we taste through some of our finest vintages spanning four decades, this will include details about changes in terms of vineyard practices, rootstock, use of oak in our winemaking, and the varying degrees of alcohol and acid in the wines—all of which have changed dramatically in the last 35 years. I am also looking forward to talking about the evolution of our marketing and sales strategies for this great vineyard and its wines, as these too have evolved dramatically over the years.

I hope to see you there!

Pete’s Session – “Four Decades of Three Palms” will be held on Thursday, August 13th, at 8:45 am as part of the Society of Wine Educators’ 39th Annual Conference, to be held in New Orleans.


Conference Preview 2015: How Cool is the Cape?

Camps Bay Beach and Lion Head Mountain in Cape Town, South Africa

Camps Bay Beach and Lion Head Mountain in Cape Town, South Africa

Today we have a Conference Preview from Jim Clarke about the cool-climate wines of South Africa. Yes, you read that correctly – the Cape, in spots, is Cool! Read on for information on the cool-climate wines of South Africa, and Jim’s upcoming conference session!  

When I was studying to become a sommelier, I was often asked the question, “Do you go there to surf or to ski”? It was intended as a quick way to remind oneself if a winegrowing area was a warm region or a cool one.  It’s a handy mnemonic – albeit one that unfortunately underlines American’s poor sense of geography -maybe they can’t find Austria on a map, but they’ve seen Austrian skiers in the Olympics on TV, so: cool climate!

For the climate of South Africa, we think of surfers – possibly being attacked by those crazy great whites that leap right out of the water – so: warm climate. (For a less morbid surfing encounter, check out Bernard Le Roux, winemaker at Zorgvliet, being knocked off his board by some dolphins at last year’s Vintner’s Surf Classic.)

If you look closer, however, you’ll notice something else about those South African surfers: the wetsuits. There’s nothing warm about the water off the coast of South Africa – after all, the next stop on your way south would be Antarctica! The ocean currents that cool the vineyards of South Africa come up from Antarctica. There are penguins happily inhabiting the Cape Peninsula to prove it!

Sommeliers often sum up the Cape’s climate as “Mediterranean,” but there’s a lot more to it than that. While I suspect South Africa’s Olympic ski team sounds as likely a competitor as Jamaica’s bobsledders, in the right spots vines find it plenty cool enough. Some parts of South Africa are specifically cool enough for reds like Pinot Noir; or lighter, peppery styles of Syrah (many, nonetheless, inexplicably labeled “Shiraz”) and for whites such as Sauvignon Blanc, Gewurztraminer, or even Riesling.

African Penguins on Boulders Beach, near Cape Town in South Africa

African Penguins on Boulders Beach, near Cape Town in South Africa

Even warm areas such as an arid, mountainous landscape, once may encounter a change of conditions if one moves just a few meters in the right direction. For example, the Jordan Winery lies atop a dome-shaped hill in Stellenbosch. On north-facing slopes (away from the cold winds, and toward the sun) they grow Cabernet Sauvignon alongside Syrah and Chardonnay; but one south-facing slope right in the middle of the Chardonnay vineyard is cool enough to produce and elegant and balanced Riesling.

More importantly, however, especially in a time where the market is trending toward more acid-driven, lower-alcohol wines, are the regions where cool spots are not the exceptions but the rule. Constantia – South Africa’s most famous historic wine region – is one example. Located just a few miles from Cape Town, this region produced sweet wines in the 18th and 19th centuries that were the envy of Europe, lauded by the likes of Baudelaire and Napoleon. Today this small region of a dozen or so producers is focused on Sauvignon Blanc, though some make elegant Chardonnays, and some reds in the southern (but more north-facing) part of the district. All the Constantia vineyards are just a few miles from the penguins and sharks (and more relevantly, the winds) of False Bay.

Most of South Africa’s other cool climate areas don’t have the history and pedigree of Constantia, largely because of regulations and a quota system during much of the 20th century that discouraged plantings there (cool climates can be more challenging to work in, so why not simply plant in warmer, higher-yielding spots?). That changed in 1992, just as apartheid was crumbling, and many would-be winegrowers started exploring.

Stellenbosch Vineyards in the shadow of Table Mountain

Stellenbosch Vineyards in the shadow of Table Mountain

The Cape South Coast region was largely developed at this time, and is now a source of some of the country’s most esteemed wines. Districts within the region each have their own character. In Elgin, apple orchards were replaced with grapes, and the bowl-shaped basin proved effective at capturing cool air from the ocean just a few miles to the south. Near Hermanus, where whales come so close to shore they can be easily viewed while standing on the shore, the narrow Hemel-en-Aarde Valley draws in the cool air, and the vineyards there produce South Africa’s most consistently lauded Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays.

The west coast, north of Cape Town, also has its own wind-battered vineyards, notably the two “D’s” Durbanville and Darling, both devoted largely to Sauvignon Blanc, both not far from the beach. Which – surfing mnemonics aside – makes sense.

We humans go to the beach to cool off, right? Well, so do South Africa’s grapes.

Jim Clarke is the U.S. Marketing Manager for Wines of South Africa (WOSA), a levy-supported organization devoted to promoting South African wine exports. Previous to joining WOSA Jim was a sommelier in New York City, running the wine programs at Megu New York for five years and then the Armani Ristorante for two. In addition, he writes about wine, beer, and spirits for a number of publications both trade and consumer; his pieces have appeared in the World of Fine Wine, Details, the San Francisco Chronicle, and elsewhere. Jim has spoken or lectured at a number of events including TexSom and the American Wine Society Conference.

Jim’s session on the cool-climate wines of South Africa, entitled “How Cool is the Cape” will be held on Thursday, August 13th at 8:45 am as part of the 39th Annual Conference of the Society of Wine Educators.


Conference Preview 2015: Psych Up with Tim Gaiser!

Exam AnxietyToday we have a Conference Preview from Tim Gaiser, MS about test anxiety – something Tim has witnessed first hand many times over his long and much-lauded career as a wine educator. Read on for information on Tim’s upcoming conference session!  

“Over the last 20 years I’ve coached and examined thousands of students. One of the most concerning things I’ve noticed in that time is that some students simply don’t test well.  Often, regardless of how well they’ve prepared for an exam, their anxiety level is so high that they simply can’t function at their best – much less function at all.  This could be the cruelest of fates as some remarkably talented students are never able to pass an exam simply because their stress level is too high.

In the past year I’ve worked with a group of students using various strategies that have proven effective for dealing with test anxiety as well as building confidence and helping them to bring their very best self – their “A game” – when needed.   In my session we’ll cover some of these strategies including EFT (Emotional Freedom Technique), Spin Dynamics, Submodalities, Clearing the mechanism, the Circle of Excellence.”

Tim Gaiser 9_23_13128343Tim Gaiser is an internationally renowned wine expert and lecturer. He is one of 175 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 His client list includes Fosters Global Wines, Diageo, American Express, Evian, Pepsico International, Fiduciary Trust, Franklin-Templeton, Morgan Stanley, and Wells Fargo. 

Tim has written for a number of publications including Fine Cooking Magazine and Sommelier Journal. He also writes for numerous wine and spirits clients including Champagne Perrier Jöuet, Wines of Germany and the Portuguese Cork Quality Association. Gaiser 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.

Prior to developing his wine expertise, Tim received an M.A. in Classical Music. He played classical trumpet as a freelance professional and as an extra with the San Francisco Opera until 1988.

Tim’s session, “Psych Up: Strategies for Dealing with Test Anxiety” will be held on Wednesday, August 12th at 3:00 pm as part of SWE’s 39th Annual Conference.


Conference Preview: The Spectrum of Wine Flavors

Today we have a Conference Preview about a fascinating session to be presented by a father-and-daughter team, Stephen and Maria Ghiglieri. 

Figure 3-4 Harvested Cabernet SauvignonSession Title: The Spectrum of Wine Flavors: How Viticultural and Pre-Fermentation Practices Effect Wine Aroma and Taste

We’ve all heard the statements: “Great wines are made in the vineyard” or “there are no great winemaker’s just great grapes”. Our view is from another saying: “great grapes don’t grow or make great wine by themselves”. It’s the close partnership between the grower and winemaker that yields great wine.

Our discussion and tasting will explore how the decisions made by these partners affect wine flavor. We will consider the influences of terroir plus water, canopy and nutrient management on specific wine flavors and examine what defines a “great grape”. In addition we’ll discuss how color and flavor are affected by harvest decisions and pre-fermentation fruit handling.

We think Harold McGee and Daniel Patterson said it best in their 2007 New York Times article “Talk Dirt to Me”: “We don’t taste a place in a wine. We taste a wine from a place — the special qualities that a place enables grapes and yeasts to express, aided and abetted by the grower and winemaker”.

Figure 5-1 White Grapes in a CrusherAbout the speakers:

Steve Ghiglieri, CWE was the Plant Manager for Anheuser-Busch at their Houston Brewery until he retired in 2009. During his 28-year career with the company he held a number of positions including Brewmaster and Director of International Brewery Operations where he was responsible for operations in China, Philippines, Brazil, Argentina, and multiple locations in Europe and Canada. He is a graduate of the University of California at Davis where he earned his BS in Fermentation Science and MS in Food Science.

Growing up with Stephen Ghiglieri as her father, Maria Ghiglieri’s exposure to the wine and beer industry started early, but it wasn’t until 2011 while living in Chicago that she became serious about enhancing her wine knowledge. After being introduced to the SWE she earned her CSW in 2013 and is currently studying to take the CWE exam. She has been a wine judge at the Houston Livestock and Rodeo Wine competition for the past two years. Maria is a graduate of the University of Washington in Seattle.

Stephen and Maria’s session, “The Spectrum of Wine Flavors: How Viticultural and Pre-Fermentation Practices Effect Wine Aroma and Taste” will be offered as part of the 39th Annual Conference of the Society of Wine Educators to be held this August in New Orleans. The Ghiglieris’ session is scheduled for Thursday, August 13th at 8”45 am.