Have You Heard About Furmint?

Today we have a guest post from renowned Wine and Spirits Educator Harriet Lembeck. Read on to hear Harriet’s take on Furmint!

If you haven’t already heard about Furmint – Furmint is the grape that makes the famed sweet wine Toakaji.

Aszu (‘dried up’ or ‘dried out’) grapes

Aszu (‘dried up’ or ‘dried out’) grapes

When Samuel Tinon, a sweet-wine maker in Bordeaux, decided to move to the Tokaji region of Hungary, he was ready to make wine from its Aszu (‘dried up’ or ‘dried out’) Furmint grapes — grapes attacked by the desirable botrytis cinerea, or noble rot. These grapes are so concentrated that they have to soak in vats of young wine to dissolve their flavors. But when Tinon moved to Tokaji, botrytis was decreasing in his newly chosen region.

Expecting to make Aszu wines at least three times in a decade, the number of opportunities dropped to a little more than two times in a decade, and sometimes less than that. Due to climate change, a great deal of rain meant either no crop at all (as happened in 2010), or harvesting all of the Furmint grapes earlier — not waiting in the hopes of harvesting Aszu grapes — and therefore making dry white wines from earlier-picked grapes instead.

Asked about an apparent climate change, Tinon says: “We can’t see warming. What we see are erratic vintages with severe or extreme conditions — hot or cold, wet or dry. In the past, Tokaji Aszu was harvested at the end of October and the beginning of November, with botrytis and high sugars. This is still happening, but more often we have to change our production to dry Furmint wines without botrytis with an earlier September harvest, bigger crop, more security, more reliability and with a chance to get your money back.”

Tokaji vineyardWith winters becoming a bit warmer like in 2014, the fruit-fly population is able to ‘over-winter,’ and begin reproducing very early in the season, causing the spread of bad rot. This was told to me by Ronn Wiegand, MW, MS and Publisher of ‘Restaurant Wine,’ who is making wine with his father-in-law in Tokaji.

Ironically, Comte  Alexandre de Lur Saluces, owner of Château de Fargues and former co-owner of the fabled Château d’Yquem, said that although his area is getting warmer and drier, he feels that “global warming could be a help for Sauternes, and enable any of those who chaptalize these wines to avoid the practice.” He continues, “Many people in Sauternes are  producing dry white wines. Their production is increasing, and even Château d’Yquem is producing more dry wine.”

Hungarian winemakers from Tokaji are increasing dry white wine production as well. A new website, www.FurmintUSA.com, was created by 12 member wineries that presented a Furmint tasting in Sonoma, CA in November 2014. The Blue Danube Wine Company, which imports many wines from all over Hungary, has six producers from Tokaji that are producing dry Furmint wines (many from single vineyards). Martin Scott Wines imports Royal Tokaji’s dry Furmint wine, coming from the company co-founded by Hugh Johnson and Ben Howkins, in London. These wines are all delicious, showcasing the minerality of volcanic soil.

Considering that in 2014, Hungary abolished the categories of Tokaji Aszu 3 and 4 Puttonyos (baskets of Aszu grapes), leaving only the sweeter 5 and 6 Puttonyos examples, the door has been opened for Dry Szamorodni. This rich, dry white (amber colored) wine produced from Furmint grapes has a portion of grapes which have some botrytis co-fermented to dryness, and also uses some flor yeast, giving the wine some fino or amontillado Sherry-like flavors.

This wine is very laborious and time consuming to produce. The 2007 Tinon Dry Szamorodni is the current vintage in the market, released after a minimum of 5 years of aging. This is a unique wine, a keeper, and is important to the history of Tokaji, linking the modern dry wines to the traditional Aszu wines.

If you haven’t tried it – you should!

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 hlembeck@mindspring.com.

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

Tour de Blog 2015

Tour de blog 2014 aWelcome to the Tour de Blog 2015! 

We’ve been busy adding lots of resources here at Wine, Wit, and Wisdom, and thought we’d let you know about some of them.  Hopefully, you will find some of these helpful in your studies, or with the classes you are teaching!

Wine and Spirits Maps! If you are studying for the CSW, CSS, CWE, CSE, or planning on teaching a class, SWE’s wine and spirits maps are available on-line.  This makes for very convenient studying from your mobile device, or as a printable resource. All of our maps are available as web pages, jpegs and pdfs. Whether you are looking for the wine maps from the 2015 CSW Study Guide, wine maps from the 2014 CSW Study Guide, or the spirits maps and diagrams from the 2015 CSS Study Guide, we have it all here for you! (Please note, we are happy to consider copyright permission for current members of SWE who wish to use our maps and diagrams for teaching purposes, or for publication in newsletters or websites – please email the home office for more information.)

Tour de blog 2015 dWine and Spirits World Updates! Fountaingrove, Pignoletto, Nizza, the Rocks…If you are trying to keep up with the ever-changing world of wine and spirits, we have a great resource for you! Not only do we try to post blog articles about the latest changes in the wine and spirits world, we also keep a running record of all the changes that have gone into effect (or that are rumored to be enacted soon) on our “Study Guides Update” pages.  If you are interested in keeping up with the world of wine, click here for our CSW Update page. If you are interested in the latest changes in the world of distilled spirits, click here for our CSS Update page.

SWE Conference Abstracts: If you missed our 2014 Conference in Seattle, or even if you attended and would like to refresh your memory, you can find recaps of many of the conference presentations at our 2014 Conference recap page. Many of our presenters were gracious enough to provide us with their power point presentations or handouts, and you can access them here.

Wine and Spirits Links! The SWE Blog provides one of the most comprehensive lists of links to quality wine and spirits websites available on the internet.  For instance, did you know that a database called “E-Bacchus” lists every AOP/PGI wine in the European Union? And its daddy database, the European Union’s department of Agricultural and Rural Development lists every AOP and PGI-designated agricultural product, from tour de blog 2015 bWalnuts from Périgord, Lavender Oil from Haute-Provence, and Chickens from Bresse (not to mention all the cheeses).  Whether you are researching Fitou or Fino, Madeira or Modena, you’ll find useful links on our site. Click here for our wine links page. If you are more interested in Plymouth gin or Polish Vodka, click here for our spirits links page.

The complete SWEbinar calendar! Our SWEbinar series is going strong! We have monthly offerings on all types of exam-related wine and spirits offerings and a great group of presenters. We also offer our popular “Insider’s Guide to the CSW Exam” and “Insider’s Guide to the CSS Exam” on a monthly basis. If you are in the process of studying for one of these exams, or even just thinking about it, you’ll want to tune it. Click here for information on the current month’s SWEbinars, and click here for the complete annual calendar.

Online Prep Classes: If you are interested in attending an online prep class for the CSS or the CSW, you’ll find detailed information on the class format, as well as contact information to sign up for a class, on our Online Prep Class Information Page.

Tour de blog 2105Workbook Answer Keys: If you are using a CSW Workbook, you can conveniently download the answer key here. Just be sure to download the correct version!

Guest Bloggers and Guest Presenters: We are always looking for guest bloggers, as well as guest presenters for our SWEbinar series. If you’d like more information, please click here!

Detailed Information on Pearson Vue Testing Centers: If you are confused about how to sign up for a Pearson Vue Exam, just click here for detailed instructions. If you’d like to read a first-hand account of a satisfied (and successful) exam candidate who took their exam at Pearson, just click here!

Contact information for the SWE Home Office! If you need to speak with a customer service representative, need help navigating the catalog, or have a question for our educational and certification team, just click here for contact information.

It’s our goal to become your trusted source of wine and spirits news and knowledge…if there is anything else you would like to see us tackled here on the blog, just let us know!



So many wine books, so little time…

Books and red wineToday we have a guest blog from Certified Wine Educator, Brenda Audino. Brenda shares with us a topic that is dear to the hearts of wine lovers the world over….books about wine!  

In the pursuit of greater wine knowledge I have found the greatest expense to be in the wine.  It takes a lot of wine bottles to truly “understand” the nuances of each wine region both great and small.  The second largest expense for me have been the wine books.  There are an endless amount of books covering everything from encyclopedic to specifics; from terroir to marketing.  I have found though that even with an extensive wine library there are a handful of books that are my “go to” selection in starting any wine related research.

I have categorized my wine library into three main categories; general reference, specific area (viticulture, vinification, and wine region) and wine themed pleasure books.  This categorization enables me to quickly gather the books I need.

Of course, the list of my favorite wine books includes the CSW Study Guide – but I assume that is that same for all of you as well!

So, here are a few of my favorite books and why they are always next to me at my desk:

The Oxford Companion to Wine – 3rd Edition, Jancis Robinson: This is definitely encyclopedic and not one I would recommend to read from cover to cover.  Excellent resource in digging deeper into a subject.   Fair warning though, in each entry there will be reference to other sections and these refer to even more sections that can keep you flipping pages for hours.

The World Atlas of Wine – 7th Edition, Hugh Johnson & Jancis Robinson: This book is quite large, but not overly daunting to read through a chapter or two a week.  The info graphs are clear and assist in the understanding of the corresponding text.  While there is beautiful photography throughout, my favorite part of this book must be the maps!  They have a high level of detail, but are also easy to review.

booksHow to Pronounce French, German, and Italian Wine Names; Diana Bellucci: Although I dislike butchering foreign wine names in the privacy of my own brain, when it comes to speaking them out loud it is extremely important to get the pronunciation correct.  As a wine educator it is critical!  I have quickly come to realize that my two years of French in high school did little to prepare me in my wine career.  This book with its easy to understand techniques helps me get as close to the true pronunciation without having to be fluent in all of these languages.

Understanding Wine Technology; David Bird, MW:  I am not a winemaker and even though I have visited many wineries nothing can be said for the hands-on experience working day in day out guiding a wine from vine to bottle.  This book, though, for me, gives the information needed to gain a glimpse into the science behind the wine.  This book covers a broad range from the mysteries of the vineyard, the components of grapes, producing and adjusting the juice (must), complexities of fermentation and the winemaking process, quality control and assurance.

Wine Grapes, Jances Robinson, Julia Harding, & José Vouillamoz: This is my newest “wine geek” book.  Detailed origins, viticultural characteristics, where it’s grown and what its wine taste like on every grape imaginable along with many more that I never heard of.  This is a tomb of a book, but completely satisfying to heave out for research on individual grapes.  Jancis Robinson has released several pocket guides on wine varieties and this book feels like the culmination of all of these works with details of over 1300 different varieties. The Pinot pedigree diagram is more complete than my own family tree!  The pictures of grape varieties look like pieces of frame-worthy art.  This is a book I can (and do) get lost in.

Wine & War, Don & Petie Kladstrup: The story of how wine played a role in France’s fight during World War II.  The narrative follows five winemaking families from France’s key wine-producing regions of Burgundy, Alsace, Loire Valley, Bordeaux, and Champagne and their struggles to save the heart and soul of France.  I found this an enjoyable and lively read after a day of studying.

Books and wine fire placeI now realize that I can and will have a lifelong mission to study and learn more about wine.  I am also interested in what others find useful in their pursuit of knowledge.  What are some of your favorite “go to” books that you use in your education journey?

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!

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

Oregon, Washington, and the AVA Shuffle: It’s Complicated.

It's complicatedWinemakers in Oregon rejoiced on February 6, 2015, when the TTB finally approved the The Rocks District of Milton-Freewater AVA in Umatilla County, Oregon.  The Rocks, as you may recall, is a tiny area located entirely within the large, dual-state (Oregon/Washington) Walla Walla Valley AVA – however, it resides 100% within the state of Oregon.

During the public comment period for the approval of the AVA, it became clear that most of the wineries that grow grapes within the new AVA are actually located across the state line in Walla Walla, Washington – which makes sense, as Walla Walla is only about 10 miles away.

Keep in mind that The Rocks District of Milton-Freewater AVA is a single-state AVA, located entirely in Oregon. Here’s where it gets interesting:  under current TTB labeling requirements, even if 100% of the grapes in a particular wine are grown in The Rocks District, if the wine is produced at a winery located just ten miles away but in Washington State, the wine will not be allowed to use The Rocks District AVA as its region of origin. This is due to the current law that states that in order use an AVA as a wine’s appellation of origin, the wine must  “be fully manufactured and finished within the State containing the named region.”

The TTB – bless their hearts – have determined that this is indeed a problem.  Several commenters stated that it makes no sense that they could truck their grapes 200 miles away to a winery facility in Oregon and use The Rocks AVA, but if they truck their grapes 10 miles north to their winery in Walla Walla, they cannot.  In response, the TTB “determined that the concerns raised in the comments have merit.”

Therefore, the  TTB has proposed an amendment to its regulations in order to allow wines to be labeled with a single-State AVA name as an appellation of origin if the wine was fully finished either within the State in which the AVA is located or within an adjacent State.

This proposed rule is now up for public comment, and will remain so until April 10. At that point, the proposed rule will – or will not – move forward to the next stage! The outcome is yet to be seen, and as we know – it’s complicated.

You can read the details of the proposed change on the TTB website

Post authored by Jane A. Nickles, your blog administrator

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

The Vodka War

Vodka and red caviarPlease don’t throw sour grapes at me for saying this: it is merely a quote. But here goes, “Would the French like Champagne to be distilled from plums, and would the British accept whisky from apricots?”

The answer is “obviously not” – but the question was asked in earnest by Richard Henry Czarnecki, a member of the European Parliament representing Poland. The time was 2007, and the occasion was the end of a heated debate in what is now known as “The Vodka War.”

Vodka has, for centuries, been produced and consumed by the countries of the “vodka belt” – Poland, Belarus, Ukraine, and Russia; the Baltic States of Latvia, Estonia, and Lithuania; and the Nordic states of Finland, Sweden, Norway, and Iceland – many of whom are now members of the EU. These vodkas are traditionally made from grains or potatoes, with the majority made from a mix of grains; and some of the finest examples are made from potatoes – particularly Poland’s unique, high-starch Stobrawa  variety.

Then along came Cîroc – a unique French beverage distilled from grapes, produced in a neutral style, and branded as vodka. In response, the European Union proposed to revise their regulations on distilled spirits, and split the vodka product group into several categories based on raw materials and in some cases, flavor.

European ParliamentThis did not go over well with some members, and on February 20, 2006, Poland – with the backing of the EU vodka belt countries and Germany – demanded that the EU definition of “vodka” be restricted to those spirits produced from grains, potatoes, or sugar beets.  Vodka, they claimed, was entitled to the same protections as to base ingredients and manufacturing processes as those awarded whiskies and brandies, and as such, should be granted the same assurances as to the quality and originality of the product.

Alas, this was not met without resistance, and the other EU producers of vodka, such as France and the UK, not to mention the non-traditional vodka producers of the rest of the world, countered with an argument that said that such restrictions would dissuade innovation and competition, and could be seen as an attempt to monopolize the vodka market by the Vodka Belt countries. The United States even threatened a trade war via the World Trade Organization.

Horst Schenllhardt, MEP from Germany, suggested a compromise: the EU definition of vodka could be written so as to include those products distilled from (1) cereals and/or potatoes, and/or those produced from (2) “other agricultural raw materials.” Those vodkas produced from “other agricultural raw materials” – such as grapes, carrots, or onions – must be labeled with a statement “produced from grapes” (or whatever the raw material may be). This proposal, referred to as the “The Schnellhardt Compromise,” passed, and is the law of the European Union today.

The Vodka Belt

The Vodka Belt

Poland, however, is not appeased and has responded by forming the Polish Vodka Association. The PVA, under the leadership of President Andrzej Szumowski, vows to protect the legacy of Polish Vodka. As of January 13th, 2013, a Polish law was passed defining Polish vodka as a product made exclusively in Poland, from Polish-grown grains or potatoes. Bottles meeting these criteria will be able to display a “Polska Wódka/Polish Vodka” symbol on their labels, as well as the official PGI for Polish Vodka.

Post authored by Jane A. Nickles, CWE, CSS – your blog administrator.

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





Welcome to the World, Fountaingrove District AVA!

Figure 16-13 Sonoma County

One more AVA for Sonoma County!

Last Wednesday – on February 18, 2015 –  the TTB issued a final ruling authorizing the Fountaingrove District Viticultural Area in Sonoma County. The new AVA covers 38,000 acres, of which 500 acres are currently planted to vines.

The AVA is located northeast of the city of Santa Rosa. The name “Fountaingrove” was proven to have a historical connection to the region – although not because it is currently the name of a housing district in the area. It turns out that, in the late 1800s, northern California was something of a haven for religious and utopian experimentation. As such, a gentleman named Thomas Lake Harris, who called himself the leader of the “Brotherhood of the New Life,” established a utopian community in Sonoma County, and named it Fountaingrove. The community thrived for a while, largely due to the success of the Fountain Grove Winery, but was exposed as “scandalous” in 1891, when Alzire Chevallier, a journalist for the San Francisco Chronicle, secretly joined the group and then wrote a scathing article about the group’s “practices.”

As for the new version of the Fountaingrove District – that of Sonoma County’s newest AVA – it stretches somewhat from the Russian River Valley in the west, through Chalk Hill and to the border between Napa and Sonoma. As soon as an official map is released, we’ll update our CSW maps as well.

Welcome to the world, Fountaingrove District AVA!

You can read the pertinent details on the TTB website.

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



The Toe, the Shin, and the Heel – all at Vino 2015!

today we have a guest blog from Sharron McCarthy who was lucky enough to attend Vino 2015 last week! Read on for a first-hand account!

sharronLast week the Italian Trade Commission welcomed wine writers, retailers, restaurateurs, distributors and winemakers from all over the world to Vino 2015 – Italian Wine Week. Touted as the “grandest Italian Wine Event Held Outside of Italy,” the event hosted over 200 producers and importers from some of Italy’s most important viticultural regions, with a focus on Southern Italian wines.  Over 60 Italian wine producers were part of the Vino Direct program, debuting a vast selection of wines available for the first time in the United States.

Vino 2015 was filled with seminars, tastings, and events highlighting the extraordinary wines of Italy -including the lesser appreciated (but magnificent) wines of Calabria, Campania, Puglia and Sicilia. These regions form the lower portion of the country, and are often described as the toe, shin, and heel of the “Italian boot.”

We learned that 90% of the land of Calabria – the toe of the Italian boot – is mountainous with steep hills. This rugged terrain does not prevent the mysterious Gaglioppo grape (possibly indigenous or possibly of Greek origin) from producing delightful reds like Cirò as well as a rare mountain red wine known as Savuto DOC.  Dry white wines from Calabria are generally based on the Greco grape variety – the gift of the Greeks – as is the rare, sweet appassimento wine produced from it known as Greco di Bianco.

Campania – the shin of the boot – is also known as “Campania Felix” or “The Happy Countryside.” Campania offers us wines produced from her splendid volcanic soils.  Founded as a Greek colony in the 8th century BC, the Greeks brought vines to Campania that live on today as the white grape varieties known as Falanghina and Greco. Campania is also known for another capativating white variety known as Coda di Volpe – the “Tail of the Fox.” The grape is said to be so named as the clusters of grapes  form a shape that reminds one of the tail of the fox! A wine sometimes referred to as the  “Barolo of the South” is produced here as well – but you might know it better as the great Taurasi, born of the  Aglianico grape variety (the Italianized name for Hellenico).

ItalyPuglia – the heel of the boot – is home to a sun-drenched coast and two seas, the Adriatic and the Ioanian!  Puglia’s wines benefit from the brilliant sun and sweeping sea breezes.  Most of the leading red wines of Publia include a at least a portion of Primitivo – so named as it matures earlier than the other leading red grapes of the region such as Uva di Troia and NegroAmaro.  Intriguing but obscure white grapes like Impigno, Verdeca and Asprino are found in this beguiling region.

Sicilian wines have long been popular throughout the world. This triangle-shaped island, the largest in the Mediterranean, boasts more than 32 different grape varieties.  The Arab conquest of this seductive island left it with a sweet tooth and magnificent, sweet wines to satisfy it. Some of the well-known sweet wines of Sicily include Marsala, Malvasia delle Lipari and luscious versions of Moscato.  Catarrato, Inzolia, and Grecanico are prominent whites while reds such as Nero d’Avola, Nerello Mascalese and Frappato have quite a following.  In the 1990’s grapes like Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah and Chardonnay made their way to this ancient land and have inspired new traditions for modern tastes.

For more information on the wines featured at this event as well as producers seeking importers, please visit the website of Vino 2015 here. 

Our guest blogger, Sharron McCarthy, CSW, is the Vice President of Wine Education for Banfi Vintners, as well as being a past president and current Director Emeritus of the Society of Wine Educators.

Saturday SWEbinar: The Insider’s Guide to the CSS Exam

Fig 11-2 CosmopolitanIn honor of the recent publication of our 2015 Certified Specialist of Spirits Study Guide, we will be offering – for the first time – an “Insider’s Guide to the CSS Exam.” This too will become a monthly installment. If you have questions about the CSS Exam, have just started the to study, or are still a cocktail-enthusiast who is “thinking about” getting certified, you’ll find the answers to all your questions at the “Insider’s Guide”! The Insider’s Guide to the CSS Exam will run on Saturday, February 21st at 10:00 am central time.

SWE’s SWEbinar series is unique in that it is offered free-of-charge, and open to the public! We also try to accomodate all schedules by offering sessions on weekdays and weekends, as well as daytime and evening hours. If you have a topic you would like to see addressed, or a time-of-day that would work for you, please let our Director of Education, Jane A. Nickles know via email at jnickles@societyofwineeducators.org

Login Instructions: At the appointed time, just click on the link. There is no need to register in advance. Links will be attached to the date and time announcement of each session in the list below and will go “live” a few hours before the scheduled date.

CSS Study GuideWhen the SWE Adobe Connect homepage appears, click on “enter as a guest,” type in your name, and click “enter room.” Remember that each session is limited to 100 attendees, and that several of our past sessions have reached capacity. We are hoping to avoid this issue in the future by offering more SWEbinars, but its still a good idea to log on early!

  • If you have never attended an Adobe Connect event before, it is also a good idea to test your connection ahead of time (just click on the link).
  • If you are having any trouble with your Adobe Connect connection, please see our SWEbinar Trouble-shooting page.

Link: Saturday, February 21st – 10:00 am central time – The Insider’s Guide to the CSS Exam  This is one for the Spirits Crowd! presented by Jane A. Nickles, CSS, CWE  (Link will go “live” a few hours before the scheduled date/time.) We’ve just published a new CSS Study Guide, and a new workbook is on the way. In other words, it’s a whole new world for the CSS! Join our Director of Education, Jane A. Nickles, and learn what to expect from the new CSS!

If you have any questions, please contact Jane Nickles: jnickles@societyofwineeducators.org

Click here for the 2015 SWEbinar Calendar

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


Following the Rocks: The Making of an AVA

Rocks NewIt seems that new AVAs are popping up all over – from the 11 new AVAs within Paso Robles late last year, to wines being produced using the latest when did that happen AVA.  It led me to wonder: Just what is the process to create a new AVA?

To start my research, I did a quick read of the “Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) American Viticultural Area (AVA) Manual for Petitioners.” Trust me on this – its heavy on the legalese so I read it – so you don’t have to!

Here are the basics:

The Law: The Federal Alcohol Administration Act (FAA Act) authorizes the Secretary of the Treasury to prescribe regulations for the labeling of wine, distilled spirits, and malt beverages.  The FAA Act provides that any such regulations should, among other things, prohibit consumer deception and the use of misleading statements on labels and provide the consumer with adequate information as to the identity and quality of the label product.  This includes the regulations pertaining to the establishment of American Viticultural Areas (AVA) and the use of AVA names on wine labels.

The Definition: As defined by the TTB, an AVA is a distinct grape-growing region having distinguishing features, a name, and a delineated boundary established by the TTB.  The use of an AVA name on a label allows vintners and consumers to attribute a given quality, reputation, or other characteristic of a wine made from grapes grown in a certain area to its geographical origin.

The Steps: Anyone can petition for a new AVA, but there are specific steps and criteria involved.

  • Name Evidence – the proposed name must directly relate to the proposed AVA location, but avoid conflict from similar geographical locations or existing brand names.
  • Boundary Evidence – explain why the boundary of the proposed AVA is drawn the way it is.
  • Distinguishing Features – explain the distinguishing features of the proposed AVA that supports the name and boundary of the AVA.
  • If the proposed AVA is located within an existing AVA, the proposed AVA must identify attributes that are consistent with the existing AVA, but also explain how the proposed AVA is distinct from the existing AVA to warrant recognition as a separate AVA.

The Petition: Once the TTB receives the petition they determine if it meets all the above requirements as well as sufficient evidence to authorize a new AVA. The petition is then published and the public is invited to comment on the proposed AVA.  This period of comment usually lasts about 60 days.  Once closed the TTB takes these comments into consideration prior to the final ruling.

Oregon updated Feb 2015The AVA petitioning and rulemaking process frequently takes multiple years to complete.

So now that we have covered the basics, I wanted to take a closer look at a proposed AVA , The Rocks District of Milton-Freewater and follow its process.

Proposed AVA “The Rocks District of Milton-Freewater”

First a review of the official “Petition to establish The Rocks District of Milton-Freewater.”

The Proposal: The proposed establishment of The Rocks District of Milton-Freewater AVA was first posted on February 26, 2014.  This new proposed AVA encompasses 3770 acres that feature very rocky soils.  The area currently contains approximately 250 acres of vineyards and three wineries.

The Evidence: The Name evidence is covered with “The Rocks District of Milton-Freewater” that locally refers to the cobblestone rich vineyard soils of the Walla Walla River alluvial fan known as “The Rocks.” I found it interesting that not only were publications submitted as evidence, but also numerous internet sources.

The Boundary evidence was devised to enclose the central part of the Walla Walla River alluvial fan that features this unique basalt cobblestone soil.  Within the proposed AVA boundary, the cobblestones appear readily at the surface whereas areas outside the proposed AVA boundary the soil is typically silt loam without cobblestones.

The Distinguishing feature must be the rockiness of the soils.  It is stated that 97% of the ground within the AVA boundary are fist-sized, river-smoothed basalt cobblestones.  These stones stretch down several hundred feet and are so heavy and densely packed that crowbars are needed to plant vines.  Back in 2009 when I was in Walla Walla there was great excitement by the winemakers about the quality of fruit they were getting from “The Rocks”.  The official petition states that the area has been famous for the fruitfulness of it’s stony soils for over 100 years.  Syrah is the star of this new AVA with bold, earthy aromas locally referred to as “The Rocks funk.”  The wines are savory and meaty with additional notes of olive, floral, and mineral.

Since this proposed AVA resides within Walla Walla Valley AVA, the author of the petition had a delicate balance of showing the uniqueness of this proposed AVA while still maintaining its rightful place within the existing AVA.

RocksThe Twist: One aspect of this proposed AVA that stood out; is that it is solely located in Oregon, while Walla Walla Valley AVA is located primarily in Washington with some cross over into Oregon.  This aspect also brought about the most public comments during the AVA petition process.  Since this sub-AVA does not cross the Washington state border only wineries with an Oregon production facility will be able to use “The Rocks” on their labels, even if the winery is located within the larger Walla Walla Valley AVA.

The petition names 19 wine producers that have vineyards within the proposed AVA although only three of these producers have winery facilities within the proposed AVA.  I anticipate more wineries will establish facilities here due to the AVA requirements.

The Verdict: At last the Final Verdict!  The TTB has given the proposed “The Rocks District of Milton-Freewater” AVA approval.  The AVA lies entirely within the Oregon portion of Walla Walla Valley AVA which, in turn, lies within the Columbia Valley AVA.  The TTB filed the ruling on February 6, 2015 and will publish this approval in the Federal Register on February 9. 2015.  The new AVA will become effective 30 days from the published date.  I predict we will soon see some exciting wines using the “The Rocks District of Milton-Freewater AVA” on their label!

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!

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

Guest Post: From New York Grapes to the CWE!

Joe's wife, Isabelle, harvesting Frontenac Gris last fall.

Jeff”s wife, Isabelle, harvesting Frontenac Gris last fall.

Today we have a guest post – all about the long and winding road to wine certification – from Jeff Anderson. Jeff first realized his passion for wine through home winemaking, and he is now studying for his CSW. Jeff intends to pursue the CWE and create a “third career” as a wine educator. Read on for more of Jeff’s story!

Home winemaking – like so many other things – can take on a life of its own. My home winemaking is way out of control and just as I think that I’m back in charge, I get an award or a compliment from someone that matters and I’m off again.

What do I have to blame for this obsession?  I can think of three things: First, I won a gold medal for my Sangiovese in the 2006 International Winemaker Magazine Contest. Second, In 2008 I won an award from a regional chapter of the American Wine Society for a Nebbiolo I made from a “Barolo” kit. Third, a neighbor in her 80s informed me that a glass of my wine allowed her to get the first good night’s sleep she’d had in a while. After all that – it was over. I was all about the wine. I even forgot how to make beer.

Now that my passion for winemaking has grown, I’m contemplating a second or third career as a wine educator. As a first step, I’ve begun my studies for the Certified Specialist of Wine (CSW) certification.

As I start out in pursuit of wine certification, I have come to realize just how much it would help to have some specific experiences in your background. It would be great, for instance, to be a wine merchant with an inventory of imported wines and overseas contacts.  I would imagine that differences in vintages and blends would be much clearer to a wine merchant or salesperson than they must be to the average person.

Bear Mountain Bridge in the Hudson River Valley

Bear Mountain Bridge in the Hudson River Valley

It would also be nice to have majored in geography. This really hit home when I started to tune into SWE’s free SWEbinars. A few courses in geology, Romance languages, organic chemistry, and history would help fill in some gaps as well. And for all you folks who tell people you are “just” a server in a restaurant, all of your time serving wine, spirits, or even beer will be a big help to you in your wine studies. Of course, a white tablecloth restaurant with a multiple-page wine list would be ideal, but keep in mind that every little bit helps.

As a member of the Society of Wine Educators, I really appreciate the excellent resources available to members who, like me, are on the path to certification. The webinars are lively, the pre- and post-tests available on the online Wine Academy are challenging, and the Study Guide reinforces how much I still need to know. There is also a cellphone app for trivia quizzes organized according to white, red, sparkling, and dessert wines as well as spirits.

I was astounded to see how broad the subject of wine and winemaking is.  It is virtually like learning a new language.

My experience – as a small scale grape grower and winemaker – has allowed me to learn and really understand quite a few things about this magical liquid called wine. For instance, I know why a winemaker might leave stems in the must, pick grapes before they are ripe, or use some white grapes in a red wine.  And malolactic fermentation – it’s not exactly fermentation – I really get that.

Our grape-growing adventures are located in the area around Albany in upstate New York, where we grow cold hardy grapes for wine.  We are surrounded by a fast-growing group of wineries in the Upper Hudson Valley Wine Trail. They are very promising, make exciting wines, and are proud to count some excellent winemakers among the group.

But it’s all too easy to focus on the grapes you grow and wines you make – and forget there is an enormous body of knowledge about hundreds of wine around the world. Take my advice, and break out of your comfort zone – it’s a wide world of wine!

There you have it. All I need to do now is learn everything about wine that everybody else knows! Now, that doesn’t sound so hard – does it?

JJeff Anderson Bioeff Anderson is a lecturer in Criminal Justice for Sage College in Albany New York.  Previously he held a variety of positions in juvenile justice and criminal justice and consulted with the National Institute of Corrections and the National Drug Court Institute.  He is an award-wining amateur winemaker and grows grapes along with Amorici Vineyard in Valley Falls, New York – on the Upper Hudson Valley Wine Trail. He is a member of the Society of Wine Educators and is preparing for his first certification test. He can be contacted on Twitter as @Garagist.