Conference Preview 2015: Four Decades of Three Palms

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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.


Conference Preview: Let’s Talk Turkey: Discovering the Charms of Turkish Wine

Today we have a guest post from Annie Edgerton, CSW. Annie tells us about her recent trip to Turkey, and gives us a preview of her 2015 SWE Conference session on Turkish Wine! 

Photo via

Photo via

Recently I (somewhat randomly) chose the beautiful country of Turkey as a vacation destination. Normally when making international travel plans, I would opt for places with historically significant wine regions, but the travel package to Turkey was too great to pass up—so I said, “Well, they probably make at least some wine in Turkey, right?”

How was I to know… they make some truly amazing wine in Turkey!

Sure, the grapes are unfamiliar: Narince, Öküzgözü, Kalecik Karası, Boğazkere, Syrah… oh wait – that one you know. Yes, international grapes like Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon and Sauvignon Blanc—even Sangiovese and Tempranillo—grow well in Turkey, but it’s the quirky native grapes that shine and are completely deserving of awareness around the rest of the world.

So, why haven’t we all gone nuts over Turkish wine like we have over Greek wine (with its similarly hard-to-pronounce local grapes) or for wine from other niche countries like Lebanon and Bulgaria? Two reasons: Identity and Awareness.

In terms of identity, Turkey is a primarily Muslim country, albeit a relatively liberal one. So many outsiders just assume no one will drink wine, let alone make wine there. NOT TRUE! But most Turks opt for beer, or the local anise-flavored spirit rakı, so it’s even hard to get locals excited about their country’s wine. For awareness’ sake, exports to the US are low, and our market is already flooded with outside-of-the-norm bottlings with powerful champions.

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Photo via

While in Turkey, I was able to arrange a visit to Kavaklidere, the country’s largest winery—large in volume and production. It is the only Turkish winery with three centers for grape processing, which reduces the time picked grapes spend in transport from far reaches of the country. (Most Turkish wine regions are in the western half of the country, although there are a few notable areas in the conflict-ravaged east.) Their portfolio consists of forty-nine different wines (yes, that’s a lot!) ranging from basic entry-level wines up to multiple award-winning prestige offerings, and including semi-sweet, sparkling, and even fortified selections.

I won’t bore you with details about the little old ladies who come in to destem the grapes by hand, or the length of maceration time for each grape, or the storage capacity of their tanks… but I will say that the effort and desire to run a modern facility that produces wine which could be competitive in an international market is quite strong. My contact Mr. Önur Özgül said with almost a fervor, “This is where wine came from in the beginning. Wine is a culture in Turkey; we need to develop this culture.”

Kavaklidere does export twenty percent of their production, mostly to Turkish restaurants in other countries. They would certainly like to raise brand awareness at home, but Mr. Özgül said their “goal is to present our wines in international markets, not only in Turkey.” And recently, their efforts have intensified and paid off—over the past six or seven years, they’ve attended more and more international wine competitions, and the medals have started to pile up.

In addition, Kavaklidere is proud that in a historically male-dominated society, both their prior and current winemakers are women, and also that their company’s team is mostly young with many women members. It is a vibrant, modern group, passionate and ready to bring Turkish wine to the world.

In my seminar, “Let’s Talk Turkey,” we will taste through an array of fascinating indigenous grapes (and some international ones,) giving a first-hand look at the unique terroir and bounty of this storied land.

So many Wineaux have gone gaga over Turkish wines once we’ve had the privilege of tasting them, and are doing what we can to encourage awareness, importing, and distribution. It may seem like a bit of an uphill battle, but once I had the idea to share Turkish wines with my fellow SWE members, I honestly couldn’t wait. I hope to see you all at the seminar, and I look forward to acquainting you with the delectable wines from Turkey.

AnnieAnnie Edgerton, CSW, has been working in the world of wine for over 20 years. She is a wine appraiser and consultant, and a wine educator and writer. You can read her musings on her blog:, find more information at, like her on facebook at “Wine Minx” and follow the tweeting @WineMinxAnnie. Annie’s session, “Let’s Talk Turkey – Discovering the Charms of Turkish Wine” will be presented on Wednesday, August 12th at 1:15 pm during SWE’s New Orleans Conference. Cheers, Wineaux!


Guest Post: A Trip to Mendoza

Photo credit: Justin Gilman

Photo credit: Justin Gilman

Today we have a guest post from Justin Gilman, CSW who went on the wine-travel “bucket list” trip of a lifetime to Mendoza, Argentina. Read on to hear about this high-altitude wine region, from the ground up!

I traveled to Mendoza on April 13th as a guest of the “Familia Zuccardi” family winery.  I had been introduced to this family winery years ago, carried numerous labels and all along the way, discovered more about their quality wines.  I’ve attended the “Mendoza Masters” seminars in Denver led by winemaker Sebastain Zuccardi and importer Winesellers LTD.  I was excited and anxious to meet the family, become familiar with Mendoza, and experience these great wines at the source.

The trip began in Denver, and onto Miami.  An 8-hour long flight down to Santiago, Chile was the grunt of the trip.  All along I had anticipated the notable flight over the Andes Mountains.  Anyone who has made wine their carrier knows about the Andes and the important role they play to Argentina wine.  As simple as it sounds, you don’t realize just how real the mountains are until you experience it for yourself.

Our plane landed in Santiago around 7am.  The sun wasn’t up yet, and it was pitch black outside the window.  The pilot announced he would land with autopilot because of the dense fog prohibiting any sort of vision to the runway.  Shortly after we landed, standing at the gate, the sun came out and exposed a marine layer of which we couldn’t see 50 feet outside the airport window.  This had caused our connecting flight to be slightly delayed to Mendoza.

The flight over the Andes brought a new perspective on time and distance.  Literally climbing, then diving down over the mountains on a 45 min flight.  The Andes below were vast.  Mountain tops sharp and jagged at the highest points.  Winds blow the peaks clean and the wind chill easily froze any existing moisture the weather provided. You can easily see where glaciers melt and the runoff slowly descends down the mountain.  Small lakes form in craters and some parts of the mountain looked smooth from the distance – most likely shaped by extreme winds over time.

Photo credit: Justin Gilman

Photo credit: Justin Gilman

On the Eastern side of the mountains descending, we didn’t see ocean fog, but cumulous nimbus clouds contoured into every nook of the mountain.  This was a picturesque definition of “Rain Shadow”.  The Andes are measured at 310 miles wide at its farthest points and 4,300 miles long. The average height is 4,000 feet.  This mountain range is longer than the U.S. is wide (excluding Hawaii and Alaska).  Cumulus clouds max out at around 3,300 feet.  These clouds never cross over these massive peaks.  This experience has allowed me to completely understand the effect of the Cascade Mountains in Washington and the role they play to that wine region as well.  Living in Denver, I’m used to flying over the Rockies going to and from the West Coast.  Somehow, the jagged peaks of the Andes seemed much more dominant.

The “Santa Julia Winery” in Maipu was our first stop.  This is the family’s large production facility that has sustainable and organically farmed grapes.  The Zuccardi family is one of the largest producers in Argentina, meanwhile keeping a humble, small family mentality.  They are 2nd in sparkling wine production, making both charmat and traditional method styles.  The honesty and transparency to their wines, along with commitment to sustainability and organics were quickly displayed.  Producing entry-level wines with native yeasts and labeling wines honorably with their family name was refreshing.  The location has two “farm to table” restaurants on site, “Casa Visatante” and “Pan & Oliva”, both catering different styles of culinary genius.  They produce olive oil and have a spirit still for brandy. They are well under way with Solera aging for their Port style wines.

The Santa Rosa Vineyard is among the family’s largest acreage.  It has been in the family and helped the Zuccardi’s learn and become who they are today.  The family knows where they’ve been, where they are, and clearly has a vision for the future.  The Santa Rosa Vineyard dedicates 1 hectare to numerous plantings of experimental or as they say “Innovacion” grapes.  Nero D’Avola, Albarino and even Mersalan (a cross between Cabernet Sauvignon/Grenache) are planted, along with many more.  Each year, the two best are bottled and sold in the tasting room.  These grapes are monitored and progress is considered for the Valle de Uco vineyards.

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Photo via

The Maipu winery has clearly been the anchor for the family since the 1960’s with each new generation benefiting from the last.  It’s reaching production capacity and the family is aligning its future behind the addition of the new Valle de Uco winery set for completion in September 2015.

The week progressed like the perfect storyline.  Starting with family history and their bulk facility on the first day, then escalated to the new winery and top tiers over night.  I had seen, tasted and carried these quality wines, but visiting the new winery on this day was mind blowing.  In my 15 years in the industry, I’ve never witnessed such attention to detail and commitment to terroir on such a large scale.

The next day we drove almost an hour to the “Altamira Vineyard” site.  The elevation for this vineyard area is 3,412-3,772 feet. Uco Valley is one of the world’s highest wine growing regions, with over 80,000 hectares planted between 3,000-3,900 feet and plenty of sunlight.

We started the day with the winery geologist “Martin”, and it was clear that his mission first and foremost was to explain in detail, the terroir of the Uco Valley, as well as introducing us to the philosophy going forward.  Martin had aerial terrain maps and technology graphs to explain why the vineyard was planted the way it was.  Blocks and rows were planted after using electric mapping in the soil to determine soil density, help determine erosion and gather more info as to which varietals were best suited on particular blocks.  Blue colors were less dense with red being extremely dense.

The highlight of this visit was his explanation of alluvial rocks scattered throughout the vineyard.  Glaciers melt atop of the Andes and the runoff carries down the soil and nutrients to the valley floor.  The point at the base of the mountain, in which the soil spreads out is known as an “alluvial fan” or “alluvial zone”.  Topographical maps clearly show green, thriving soil and moisture at the end of these zones and much less moisture at the beginning of these patterns.

Photo via:

Photo via:

Martin took us into the vineyard and removed alluvial rocks from holes dug within 50yds of one another.  He mentioned roughly 400 holes had been dug over a few years’ time to completely understand what was taking place along the surface of the vineyard block.  Explaining that there was a film of calcium deposit on the rocks, he rubbed his palm on a medium size rock and clearly the white coating from the rock transferred to his palm, leaving a bare spot on the rock.  He then asked for participants to do the same and lick our palms.  We did.  The taste was clearly salty.  He had explained to us earlier that this was a reaction to elements in the soil and limestone coating the rock.  Calcium deposits in water drift to the bottom of the ocean through pressure.  Over time, the layers of deposits consolidate and create a hard mass.  He explained that the fossilized rocks in his office were proof that rocks traveling down from the top of the Andes to the valley floor were evidence that the top of the Andes Mountains were once underwater.  These are the things you hear, but of course have a stronger realization when you’re there looking at fossils.

After the vineyard tour we were lead to the new winery building.  It has been in use for two years, though still under construction.  In fact its first harvest began without the roof on the building.  The new winery is made from the same rocks scraped from under the foundation.  Binding clay and sediment soils from the nearby Rio Negro River used with alluvial rocks to make the walls of the building.  No two walls are the same.  It was explained that from a distance, the profile of the winery roof blends into the Andes Mountain behind it and that the path from the front door will mimic the “alluvial fan” of the mountain base.  It will not be landscaped, but left to develop with the terroir.  Weeds, erosion, grass and flowers will occur naturally.

We ventured into this amazing structure.  Plans were discussed for an open kitchen with a concrete oven, and a huge 6ft rock they discovered while digging into the plans for a 10,000-bottle wine cellar would remain in place.  Concrete eggs a long time ago were decided to be the fermenters of choice.  More stable fermentation temps and the fact that stainless steel fermenters discharge a slight electric current influencing the wine just were two reasons behind the change.  State of the art made with what nature has given, we were all astounded.

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Photo via:

We tasted four different samples of 2014 Malbecs.  Samples were chosen to display extreme differences in terroir.  From soft and grapey in clay soil, to minerally/chalky in alluvial rock.  The Altamira showing a slight ‘forest floor’ and moist dirt on the nose and in the glass, similar to Oregon Pinot Noir, but with Malbec.  One of the samples came from the “Gualtallary Vineyard”.  Very much a point of focus in the future, this region seems to be up and coming and on their radar.  Located Southwest of Tupungato, Gualtallary is even higher elevation of 3,937-4,921 feet and different soil compositions of course, meaning extreme “terroir-ists” can remain excited about possibilities for time to come.   We sampled both 2014 and 2015 wines displaying these extreme differences in terroir.

Sebastian and his family are passionate about terroir, and determined enough to break the mold stylistically of what we see every day with Malbec, Torrontés and Cabernet Sauvignon coming from Argentina.  The mass exodus of Malbec over the years to America seems to have thinned out quality and damaged Argentina’s reputation in some circumstances.  This trip was truly insightful and has given me an extreme appreciation of terroir and diversity of varietals grown in Argentina, not to mention seeing the potential first hand.  The family has tremendous integrity and dedication to organic practice.  I look forward to returning to the new winery after its completion and possibly visiting other wineries both big and small, to help further my knowledge of this region that is much, much more than just Malbec.

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.

For more information on the Familia Zuccardi and their wines, visit their website here.



A Lime Thunderstorm – #SauvBlanc Day

“It’s like standing naked in a lime thunderstorm.”

38044013_lThat’s the way I described New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc – one of my favorite styles of wine – for a long time. The phrase relates a myriad of sensations. First of all – the thrill of being naked outside (just admit it). Second, the crackle of lightning – makes the hair on the back of your neck stand up, makes your entire body stand and deliver, and leaves a slight mineral scent in the air. The cold rain lashing your flesh – the whole point of being naked in this scenario is to feel the cold rain on your belly. Finally, the limes – exploding like flavor bombs on impact.

I’ve used that line for decades and it still rings true. However, the wine industry in New Zealand has matured a bit since the mid-1980s “Sauvignon Blanc shot heard ‘round the world,” when Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc was first introduced and immediately set the standard for a “new style” of Sauvignon Blanc. While I still encounter –and love – the “lime thunderstorm” style of NZ SB, nowadays you may also encounter a creamy wine with the influence of malo-lactic fermentation, a white Bordeaux-style blend, an oaked version, a wine with lees aging, or a sparkling Sauvignon Blanc as well.

Sauvignon Blanc has actually been planted in New Zealand since 1973, and was beginning to be produced at commercially-relevant levels by 1979. Sauvignon Blanc is grown in all of New Zealand’s viticultural regions, and accounts for the following super-statistics:

  • 67% of NZ Vineyard Plantings (by hectare)
  • 72% of NZ Wine Production
  • 86% of NZ Wine Exports

New Zealand SB grapes

New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc’s reputation as a tongue curler is well-documented – and much beloved.  This is not a wine for the wine newbie, the wine wimp, or the vinous faint of heart.

Even the New Zealand Winegrower’s Association admits it, and uses the following terms to describe their SB:

  • Pungently aromatic
  • Explosive flavors
  • Bell pepper and gooseberry
  • Passion fruit, tropical fruit
  • Fresh cut grass, tomato stalk, grapefruit, and lime…

By the way, one of the lovely things about standing naked outside in a lime thunderstorm is the way that the lively (to say the least) acidity of NZ SB pairs with food. Tastes and flavors in “trendy” cuisine seem to grow bolder and bolder every year, and I’ve 29900002_xlencountered some extremely acidic ceviches, salads, sauces, and marinades for seafood and other proteins. Acidic foods such as these can overwhelm many wines, but the zing of NZ SB holds its own and may even taste better (to some palates) when paired with crisply acidic food – the more snap, crackle, and pop the better.

For my #SauvBlanc Day, I’ll be indulging in a lovely Russian Jack Sauvignon Blanc (from Martinborough) – paired with some tangerine-paprika marinated tilapia served on a bed of lemon-asparagus risotto. What are your plans?

Post authored by Jane A. Nickles – SWE’s Director of Education and Certification –

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Guest Post: Are the Wine Gods Mad at Burgundy – Or What?

Wine Gods 1Today we have a guest blog post from Wine Educator Don Kinnan, CSS, CWE – who asks an excellent question: Are the wine gods mad at Burgundy, or what?

Four vintages in succession of meager volumes and circumstances which would challenge the intestinal fortitude of even the most courageous among Burgundy vignerons.  That is what we have seen.

Let’s take it year by year.  Leading up to 2010, a killing freeze occurred on the evening of December 21, 2009, inflicting severe damage to the vines.  This, together with a cold, wet flowering period resulted in a very small crop.  The end result was, in vintage 2010, an average of 25% fewer grapes than normal.   But, at least, the quality was excellent.  (Parker Vintage Rating 93-96 Pts)

Vintage 2011  –  The Wine Spectator characterized 2011’s growing season as “chaotic”.  “Summer occurred in April and May, the year challenged growers with heat, drought, rain, and vine maladies.  It ended with an early and quick harvest.”  After sorting, yields for most were down 20-30% from the norm.  (Parker Vintage Rating 90-91 Pts)

Vintage 2012  –  According to the Wine Spectator, “everything that could go wrong, went wrong, with the exception of rot.  The quantity was reduced by 30% in the Cote de Nuits to 50% in the Cote de Beaune.  The silver lining was that, after the losses due to frost, poor flowering, mildew, and removal of sunburned berries, the grapes left on the vines ripened nicely.  (Parker Vintage Rating 91-93 Pts)

Wine Gods 2Vintage 2013  –  The Wine Spectator reported low yields due to a wet spring,  poor flowering , severe hail in the Cote de Beaune, and fungal diseases in August.  At harvest time, for many, it became a race between ripeness and rot.  After sorting the grapes, the result was a very low volume harvest.  Allen Meadows, the Burghound, says most good wines are “plump, forward, with exotic aromas, round flavors and soft acidities that provide early accessibilities”.  (Vintage not yet rated by Parker)

Some recent data from the BIVB shows the impact of 4 years of reduced production volume on  market supply.  Exports in 2014 were down 12.8% by volume from 2013.  Prior to harvest in 2014, winery stocks had reached their lowest levels in 20 years.

What does this all mean to those of us who like to drink Burgundy wines?  Strong demand and short supply translates into higher prices.  But there may be some relief in sight.

Vintage 2014 produced reasonable volumes and excellent quality, “the best since 2009” said one grower.  Jasper Morris MW and noted author is quoted as saying “with regard to the 2014 vintage, we are talking quality and enough of it to stabilize the market and take pressure off pricing.”

—maybe the wine gods have eased their wrath.

Don KinnanDonald P. Kinnan, CSS, CWE has been in the fine wine trade for over 30 years. In 1985, after a successful military career, he joined Kobrand Corporation as a sales manager and, in 1992 was promoted to Director of Education. As such he was responsible for Kobrand’s wine and spirits education programs nationwide for over 20 years.  Don is a long-time member of the  the Society of Wine Educators and former member of the Society’s Board of Directors and Executive Committee.

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The Georgia of Wine and Walnuts

Traditional carved wooden balconies in the Old Town of Tbilisi, Georgia

Traditional carved wooden balconies in the Old Town of Tbilisi, Georgia

Today we have a guest post from renowned Wine and Spirits Educator Harriet Lembeck. Read on to hear about Harriet’s recent wine trip to the Republic of Georgia! 

If you really care about wine, you should think seriously about making the journey to the country of Georgia. You will experience true hospitality, tradition, wine-making, and still be close enough to the Black Sea’s famed resorts when you are ready to relax. And if you like to ski, there are the slopes of the Caucasus Mountains right there as well.

FYI, I have just returned from a visit, and saw no sign of any of the unrest that’s been in the news lately. There is instead a sense of calm and welcoming.

To the Georgians, a guest is a gift from God. And the best way to greet a guest is to serve one’s own wine, made from one’s own grapes. No patch of land goes vacant, and grapes grow on what elsewhere might be a lawn. Further, every home winemaker has a still, and he will also pour you his clear pomace brandy, or Chacha.

If you go to a Georgian banquet, dishes will be continually placed on the table, and nothing will be cleared until the end — in case the guest might want a little more of anything! Walnuts are the preferred stuffing for confections, fruits, vegetables and even boned fish. Meals are leavened with toasts. The toastmaster shows gratitude for the Creator, for food, for friendships, for all the women, for beauty, for love, for people who have passed away, and for the children looking to the future.



Historical Significance

Georgia is referred to as the “Cradle of Wine,” as wine has been made there continuously for the last 8,000 years (The Georgians say “8,000 Vintages”). There was very early winemaking in Greece, Cyprus, Turkey, Crimea, Armenia and Moldava, but all evidence points to at least 6,000 BCE, if not before, for the first propagation of wine grapes — in Georgia — in the Fertile Crescent.

Records show 525 grape varieties, including clones, of which 440 are still in use. Do not despair — even if you go there and taste a lot of wines, you are not likely to come across more than twenty, if that many. The white Rkatsiteli and the red Saperavi are the most prevalent, but you may see some international varieties as well.

Historically, this tradition was interrupted for about seventy years, when Russia took over between 1921 and 1991. The Russians knew that banning the production of wine was hopeless in Georgia. “Georgia is synonymous with wine,” it is said. But with wine permitted, the Russians were more interested in high volume than in quality, and after three generations, much of the fine wine tradition was lost. Many of today’s winemakers are now working to restore it.

The city center of Tbilisi

The city center of Tbilisi

There are 10 main wine regions in Georgia, which contain 18 smaller Protected Denominations of Origin (PDOs). The majority of wineries and growers are in the Kakheti Valley, very close to Tbilisi. Going from east to west, you will pass through Imereti and other central and western wine regions. Summers are hot, but spring or fall are perfect times to visit.

Your first stop should be Tbilisi, and once there, you should go to the Vino Underground Wine Bar, which has the largest selection of organic and/or “bio” Georgian wines. Also go to the Azarpesha Wine Restaurant, named for a long-handled drinking bowl, for a traditional meal. You may meet partner and ex-pat American John Wurdeman in either place. He is an articulate moving force in reclaiming Georgian traditions in wine, food, polyphonic music and dance, and is also the founder of Pheasant’s Tears Winery. 

All About Qvervis

Wine has been traditionally fermented and aged in qvevris (kvevris), or large clay pots that are bur ied in the earth. They are shaped something like Roman amphorae, but the amphorae re- main above ground. When people buy older houses, it is not unusual to lift up the floor- boards and find buried qvevris below. Many winemakers are using qvevris now, though some do use stainless steel or oak barrels, and some use both. To learn about qvevris, you should not miss a visit to Twins Old Cellar in Napareuli Village in the Telavi district. I dubbed it “Qvevri School.” The twin brothers have set up an oversized qvevri display to honor their parents.

Previously, the Soviets had taken over their winery, and their father died in prison. The property was eventually returned.  They have made an outdoor room-sized qvevri, reached by a ladder. Once inside, you feel as if you are standing in an enormous qvevri. The clay walls are marked showing levels of internal activity as a wine ages and solids reach the

Georgian Qvervi - Photo by By Levan Totosashvili, via Wikimedia Commons

Georgian Qvervi – Photo by By Levan Totosashvili, via Wikimedia Commons

bottom of this curve-sided vessel. The twins have 107 qvevris in use, restoring a tradition that was almost lost. [Note: Besides creating a wine museum, they also have a dozen guest rooms, should you decide to visit and stay over.] With renewed interest in ovoid, clay fermenters, some qvevris are being produced in the United States. A Texan, Billy Ray Mangham of Sleeping Dog Pottery and his team, have a “Qvevri Project.” Andrew Beckham, a potter and winemaker in Oregon has his own “Amphorae Project.” Also, a potter on the outskirts of Austria is now making qvevris. Further, there is increased experimentation with ‘the concrete egg’ – concrete egg-shaped tanks made in Burgundy. The Emiliana Vineyards, from Chile, has made a very big investment in them for their winery in Casablanca.

Among other sites, concrete eggs are used in the Glenora Winery, the first Farm Winery in the Finger Lakes, NY. In 2013, UNESCO recognized qvevris and qvevri-winemaking, and placed them on the “Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.” Qvevris last for a very long time. They are not discarded when they are no longer useful, but are respectfully leaned against garden walls.

Inspired to visit? Click here to download some  Tips for a Successful Wine Trip to the Republic of Georgia from Harriet Lembeck

HarrietHARRIET LEMBECK, CWE, CSS, is a prominent wine and spirits educator. She is president of the renowned Wine & Spirits Program, and revised and updated the textbook Grossman’s Guide to Wines, Beers and Spirits. She was the Director of the Wine Department for The New School University for 18 years. She may be contacted at

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

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Flash Détente: Making Red Wine Redder

Brenda flash 2Today we have a guest post from Brenda Audino, CWE. Brenda tells us about her brush with Flash Détente – very interesting!

I recently tasted a modest (read inexpensive) wine that had a bright purple hue and Jolly Rancher fruit aromas.  I enquired whether the wine had undergone Carbonic Maceration as it seemed to fit that profile.  It was explained to me that although the results are similar, this particular wine was produced using Flash Détente technology.  Being ever curious, I wondered what is Flash Détente; when, why and how is it used in the wine production.

To explain Flash Détente, we need to understand that one of the principal goals in producing red wine is the extraction of color and flavor from the skins.  This extraction is usually achieved by a combination of maceration and fermentation. Here is a review of three popular means for extraction including the new (to me) Flash Détente.

Classic maceration is achieved at low temperatures of 24-32°C (75-90°F) requiring extended contact between the juice and grape skins.  The fermentation process, while producing alcohol, also extracts the polyphenols from the skins.  One of the byproducts of fermentation is the release of CO2 which raises the skins to the surface forming a floating cap.  This floating cap is subject to acetic bacteria as well as other contaminates and, if left exposed to the air, can turn the entire batch into vinegar.  A floating cap also does nothing to extract further color and flavors into the juice.  It is therefore necessary to mix the skins back into the juice by one of many processes (punch down, pump over, rack and return, etc.)

Thermo-vinification uses heat to extract color and flavors from the skins.  The crushed grapes are heated to 60-75°C (140-167°F) for 20 to 30 minutes.  The must is then cooled down to fermentation temperature.  This process gives intensely colored must because the heat weakens the cell walls of the grape skins enabling the anthocyanins to be easily extracted.  This process can result in the wine having a rather “cooked” flavor.

Brenda flash 1While I was researching these technologies, I recalled a previous visit to Château de Beaucastel where I learned that make their iconic wine using a modified process of Thermo-vinification.  At Château de Beaucastel, the grapes are de-stemmed and the uncrushed grapes are passed rapidly through a heat exchanger at 90°C (194°F) which only heats the surface of the grapes, not the juice.  The heat is sufficient to weaken the cell wall of the grape skins enabling for easier extraction of anthocyanins, since the juice is kept cool the wine is less likely to have any cooked flavors due to this modified process.

Flash Détente is essentially an evolution of the traditional thermo-vinification method.  The process involves a combination of heating the grapes to about 82°C (180°F) and then sending them into a huge vacuum chamber where they are cooled.  During this cooling process the cells of the grape skins burst from the inside making a distinct popping noise.   Similar to traditional thermo-vinification, this process enables better extraction of anthocyanins and flavor compounds.

The Flash Détente process creates a steam that is diverted to a condenser.  This steam is loaded with aromatic compounds including pyrazines (vegetal, green pepper and asparagus).  Because vapor is removed, the sugar level increases in the remaining must.  The winemaker can choose to work with the higher sugar levels or dilute back down by adding water.  Most winemakers discard the condensation or “Flash Water” as the aromatics are usually highly disagreeable.   The winemaker now has multiple choices.  The flashed grapes can be pressed and fermented similar to white wine, the must can be fermented with the skins in the more traditional red wine production manner, or the flashed grapes can be added to non-flashed must that underwent classic maceration and then co-fermented.

Flash technology differs from traditional thermo-vinification because the traditional method does not involve a vacuum and there is no flash water waste produced.  Winemakers who are familiar with both methods have noted that the tannin extraction with thermo-vinification is less than Flash Détente.  Winemakers also note that Flash technology is better for removing pyrazine aromas.

Brenda flash 3In Europe during the early years of flash technology, it was mainly used for lower quality grapes or difficult vintages that had problems needing fixed.  Now the use of this technology is expanding its application to all quality levels of the wine industry.

According to Linda Bisson, a professor of viticulture and enology at UC Davis and one of the researchers working on the project, enologists are looking at what characteristics are lost or retained per grape variety.  They are also looking at the character and structure of tannins in flashed wines.  Bisson states that turning flashed grapes into a standalone wine is possible, but most winemakers see it as a tool for creating blends.  “It’s something on your spice rack to blend back in.”

The use of Flash Détente can be surmised as “It’s an addition to traditional winemaking, not a replacement.”

What are your thoughts on technology in the wine industry?  Does technology improve the wine or make it more homogenous?  

Photos and post by Brenda Audino, CWE. After a long career as a wine buyer with win 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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