SWE Conference Recaps 2016: Day One


The first day of our 40th Annual SWE Conference started with a bang!

Spain’s Single Vineyard Estates: In Nora Z. Favalukas’ session on Spain’s Single Vineyard Estates, attendees started out their tasting with a Gramona III Gran Reserve “Lustros” Cava from 2007, followed by a 100% Garnacha Tinta from the Somontano DO.

This was followed by a single-estate Finca Valpiedra Rioja DOCa Reserva 2009, Numanthia Toro Tinto DO 2009, an impressive Mustiguillo Quincha Corral Vino de Pago 2012, and Mas Doix Doix Vinyes Velles 2012 from DOQ Priorat (among others).

Click here to download the Tasting Sheets-Spain’s Single Vineyard Estates-presented by Nora Favelukas, as well as the handout from the session here: Spain’s Single Vineyard Estates-presented by Nora Z Favelukes.


Bordeaux – Napa Valley Seminar and Tasting: Mary Gorman-McAdams, MW, DWS, of the Bordeaux Wine Council, accompanied by Connor Best, CSW, of Napa Valley Vintners and Linda Lawry, DWS, CWE, of the International Wine Center presented a “compare and contrast” session which pitted Bordeaux wines alongside Napa Valley Wines. After a detailed introduction, three groups of wines were tasted side-by-side: the first round showcased Sauvignon Blanc-based white wines, followed by a flight of Cabernet Sauvignon-based red wines, followed by another flight of reds dominated by Merlot.

You may download their presentation, which includes details on the wines sampled here: Bordeaux-Napa Valley Comparative Tasting-presented by Mary Gorman-McAdams, MW, DWS.


Stellenbosch: Seven Wards or More? Quick! Can you name the 7 wards of the Stellenbosch District? Surely, the attendees of Jim Clarke’s session, “Stellenbosch—Seven Wards, or More?” can! After a slide show highlighting the beauty of South Africa’s winelands and the unique features of the Stellenbosch Region, attendees embarked on a tasting tour of the seven wards.

The wines included Lanzerac Chardonnay from the Jonkershoek Valley and Rudi Schultz Syrah from the Bottelary Ward.

For more information on the 7 wards and the wines tasted during the session, click here: Stellenbosch-Seven Wards or More-presented by Jim Clarke. For more information on the wines, click here to download the: Tech Sheets from Jim Clarke’s Stellenbosch session


American Rum: From Pirates to Pineapples: We may never know for sure where the first rum was produced, but most experts agree that the likely birthplace of rum is Barbados—and we do know for certain that the first written record of the use of the term “Rum” was in 1658, concerning the legal recording of a Barbados planation sale that included “four large mastrick cisterns for the liquor for rum.”

But here’s an interesting twist—as discovered by attendees of David Singer’s session entitled “American Rum: From Pirates to Pineapples, its History and Innovations”—the first American distillery was located in Providence, Rhode Island 1684 (although Boston quickly became the center for American rum production).

To learn more about American rum—including Privateer rum and delectable rum produced in Hawaii—click here: American Rum from Pirates to Pineapples-presented by David Singer CWE, CSS


Climate, Grapes, and Wine: Understanding Terroir Influences in a Variable and Changing Climate was the topic covered by Gregory V. Jones, Professor of Environmental Science and Policy at Southern Oregon University.

Dr. Jones gave attendees an overview of the changing wine map, noting that commercial vineyards and wineries are now located in such non-traditional areas as India, south China, Beijing, and Vietnam (among many others). The reasons behind these burgeoning areas were also discussed, and include the change from national to international economics, changing demographics, growing demand, the never-ending search for the “next new thing,” and—perhaps—the role of climate change. To read the fascinating science behind these ideas, click here to download the slide deck for this session:Climate, Grapes, and Wine-presented by Gregory Jones

We will be posting additional conference recaps in the next few days. In addition, we are building our permanent archive of notes from the 2016 SWE Conference-click here! If you are a conference speaker who would like to share your materials, please contact Jane A. Nickles at jnickles@societyofwineeducators.org


Welcome to the World, Tip of the Mitt AVA!


In August of 2015, the TTB received a petition from the Straits Area Grape Growers Association proposing the establishment of the “Tip of the Mitt” AVA on Michigan’s Lower Peninsula. As announced on July 21, 2106, the new Tip of the Mitt AVA has been approved and will be effective as of August 22, 2016.

The 2,760 square mile AVA (American Viticultural Area) is bordered by Grand Traverse Bay, Little Traverse Bay, and Lake Michigan to the west; the Straits of Mackinac to the north; and Lake Huron to the east.  The AVA includes the counties of Charlevoix, Emmet, Cheboygan, Presque Isle, Alpena, and Antrim Counties (or portions thereof).  There are currently 41 commercial vineyards and 8 wineries in the area. There are now just 94 acres of commercial vineyards, although there are plans for an additional 48 acres to be planted in the next few years.  The AVA is not contained within any existing AVAs.

According to the petition, the unique features of the AVA include its climate and soils. The surrounding lakes, straits, and bays provide a moderating effect on the climate, making the area slightly warmer, less prone to freezing temperatures, and with a slightly longer growing season than the areas to the south.


The soils in the area are comprised mainly of coarse-textured glacial till (a mixture of clay, sand, gravel, and boulders). The soils within the Tip of the Mitt AVA have much higher levels of organic matter and water-retention capacity than those to the south, so one challenge of wine growing in the area is to control moisture accumulation and the vigor of the vine canopy. A positive aspect of the soils within the AVA is that they heat slowly in the spring, which effectively delays bud break until the greatest risk of spring frost has passed

The term “Tip of the Mitt” refers to a common nickname used for the area, referring to the mitten-shaped landmass of Michigan’s Lower Peninsula. (For reference, the mid-eastern region is often identified as “The Thumb.”)

The Tip of the Mitt is the fifth AVA in Michigan. The others include the Lake Shore Michigan AVA, the Leelanau Peninsula AVA, the Old Mission Peninsula AVA, and the Fennville AVA.

Click here to read the TTB documents concerning the establishment of the Tip of the Mitt AVA

Click here for more information on Michigan Wines from the Michigan Grape and Wine Industry Council

Conference Preview: Amazing Sake and Cheese Pairings

Today we have a Conference Preview from Toshio Ueno, certified Master of Sake. Toshio describes his session “Amazing Sake and Cheese Pairing,” to be presented at SWE’s 40th Annual Conference, and tells us about his journey to becoming a Master of Sake.


Yes, Sake can be paired with cheese. If you think SAKE should only be paired with Japanese food, think again. Through Sake’s unique multiple parallel fermentation using Koji (microbe) and yeast, Sake retains a good deal of lactic acid – which everyone know is also a main component of cheese. In this seminar, let’s discover how different style of cheeses and Sakes can be paired, to give you an idea for your next Sake & Wine pairing dinner.

Toshio Ueno is certified Master of Sake, Master Sake Sommelier, and Shochu Sommelier. Toshio is currently the only person in the world to hold Master of Sake (酒匠), Master Sake Sommelier (日本酒学講師), and WSET Sake Educator diploma. Born in Japan where his family has grown Koshu grapes for generations, Toshio grew up helping in the family business from a young age.

Following his college education in the US and employment at an international trading company in Tokyo, Toshio joined Chateraise, a pastry and wine company as Director of Sales. There, he was put in charge of overseeing the personal wine collection of the company’s president, which intrigued him to enter the world of wine stewardship and research. Toshio joined Mutual Trading Company in 2002, where he is Manger of the Business Development Department in marketing Japanese foods, Jizake, and Shochu to the mainstream American trade. With his passion and expertise in Jizake, Shochu, and Wine, Toshio aims to further promote Japanese food and Sake cultures to new, international audiences.

He has been Vice President & Executive Instructor at Sake School of America, which offers two Sake classes (Sake Adviser, Sake Sommeliers). Toshio has taught over 800 students since 2010 and has been a guest lecturer at Culinary Institute of America at Greystone, Napa Valley College and Cal Poly Pomona Collins College of Hospitality. Most recently he has lead a sake and shochu Master Class at the “Taste of Japan” at 2016 Culinary Institute of America Sommelier Summit in Napa.

Toshio’s session will be offered on Thursday, August 11th at 1:30 pm as part of SWE’s 40th Annual Conference.


Conference Preview: Super Tuscany!

Today we have a Conference Preview from Paul Poux, CSW. Paul gives us an update from Tuscany, where he has been busy preparing his session “Super Tuscany” session for SWE’s 40th Annual Conference.


Hello from Tuscany, where I have been doing wine ‘research’ for my seminar next month. As you can imagine, it’s a terrible burden but I was glad to make the sacrifice. I started in Chianti. What a fascinating place this is, with history at every turn: the 1716 proclamation establishing the first Tuscan wine zones in Chianti and Carmignano; a Castello-now-winery in Chianti once owned by the family whose daughter was painted by Leonardo, perhaps you have heard of her, Mona Lisa; and the Castello di Brolio, once owned by Barone Ricasoli (I learned it’s pronounced Ri CAH soli), who laid down what he considered the definitive recipe for Chianti in the 1800s, one that even today seems remarkably prescient.

There is more recent history too: a sharecropper-like system for agricultural workers that existed in the area until after World War II; and the development of the straw basket on Chianti bottles, which made this Sangiovese-based wine fashionable for some but concealed a not very good wine underneath. How Chianti developed, changed, and certainly improved is a focus of my seminar.

I was also fascinated by my visit to Montalcino to learn more about Brunello. Brunello is world famous now but just 60 years ago circumstances were very different for both the wine and this now gorgeous hilltop town.


My last visit was to explore the Super-Tuscans, both in Chianti and in the Bolgheri area, which is by the coast. These bold thinkers wanted to make the best wines they could, whether part of the current DOC system or not, and the world took notice.

What about the wines themselves that we will be tasting? My seminar is one of the last, after lunch on Saturday when many of you could be tired of tasting; however I recommend you pace yourselves during the previous days so you can fully appreciate my lineup! I don’t want to give too much away, but I am excited about the wines. This delicious mix will include a couple of superstars and a couple of surprises, but all will be interesting!

Ciao and see you there!

Paul’s session, entitled “Super Tuscany” will be offered on Saturday, August 13th at 1:15 pm as part of SWE’s 40th Annual Conference, to be held in Washington DC. Here’s how Paul describes the session: In the 1960s, Chianti from Italy was incredibly popular in the US and other countries, and quality suffered. A few producers inside and outside Chianti dared to break with wine law and tradition to make better wine – and critics and consumers noticed. The emergence of a new kind of Italian wine, the Super Tuscans, reverberated throughout Tuscany and Italy, leading to important changes in wine law and wine styles, including Chianti. Taste wines Paul -headshotfrom throughout Tuscany that have been part of this fascinating history.

Paul Poux, CSW finds joy in combining food, wine and travel. Paul provides wine education ‘experiences’ to Millennials, and to the rest of us, for wine brands and regions. Paul also does marketing and sponsor management for food and wine festivals around the country.

Paul’s favorite wines are Amarone and Muscadet. Tell him yours at paul@pouxcompany.com.



Conference Preview: The Role of Viticulture in the Evolution of Napa Valley Wines


Today we have a Conference Preview from Remi Cohen. Remi’s session is entitled “The Role of Viticulture in the Evolution of Napa Valley Wines.” Read on to hear how she describes this session!

Napa Valley is a leader in viticulture and winemaking, producing some of the highest quality wines in the world.  As all truly great wines reflect their origins in the vineyard, the evolution of Napa Valley winemaking can also be understood by examining changes in vineyard practices over the years.  Join us on Thursday, August 11 at 3:15 p.m. as we explore how vineyard practices have evolved over the last 50 years, and how these changes have affected the wines produced in the region.

Napa Valley has a rich and storied history of viticulture that began when George Calvert Yount was the first to plant grapes in Napa Valley in 1839 using cuttings from the Sonoma mission.    The earliest vineyards utilized simple designs based on missionary or European styles.  This was mostly head-trained vines on a wood post and fields were planted to mixed varietal blends.  Commercial wineries flourished from the 1860’s, when Charles Krug created the first commercial winery in 1861, through to Prohibition.


After the Repeal of Prohibition, the Napa Valley wine and vineyard industry witnessed another resurgence, and one that has not stopped as Napa continues to flourish as a leader in global viticulture and winemaking.

In 1968, Napa County created America’s First Agricultural Preserve, a land-zoning ordinance that established agriculture and open space as the best use for the land in the fertile valley and foothill areas of Napa County. This set the stage for the development of an industry over the next fifty years.  It is interesting to explore how vineyard practices have changed over the course of the next fifty years, and how that has affected wine styles in Napa Valley.

A typical vineyard in Napa Valley in 1975 had vines that were minimally-trained, with vigorous vines that with minimal canopy management. The vines and rows were spaced far apart, and most of the rows were oriented north to south or east to west.  The vineyard floor was heavily cultivated by discing. Often the vineyard was dry-farmed with minimal inputs.  Minimal grape thinning occurred.  Harvest occurred once the grapes achieved 22 to 23 Brix.

By 1995, a lot had changed in viticulture in Napa Valley.   Vineyard acreage had grown by over 30% and Cabernet Sauvignon acreage had nearly doubled. Vines were tightly-trained to a vertically-shoot positioned trellis and heavily manicured.  Vine shoots are tucked, hedged, have laterals and even leaves removed around the clusters.  The vine and row spacing narrowed dramatically so vine density per acre was much higher.  The vineyard floor often had permanent cover crops or at least permanent cover crops in the alternate rows.


Drip irrigation was used in most vineyards.  Significant crop thinning was used to achieve stylistic and yield goals.  Harvest was at a much higher Brix, often ranging from 24 Brix all the way to 29 or even 30 Brix.

These dramatic changes in viticultural practices made a big impact on the wine styles that were produced from these different vineyard settings.  In my presentation, we will explore how these different viticultural practices impacted wine style from 1975 to 1995. Further, we will look at how current vineyards are being planted, and why, from using traditional techniques to more modern approaches. What does a typical vineyard look like in 2015?  What did a typical Napa Cab taste like in 1975, 1995, and how has that affected the style of wines we see in Napa now?

Remi’s session, “The Role of Viticulture in the Evolution of Napa Valley Wines” will be presented on Thursday, August 11 at 3:15 pm as part of SWE’s 40th Annual Conference. The session will include the opportunity to taste a range of wines from iconic Napa Valley producers that exemplify the differences in vineyard practices and wine style.


Remi Cohen is the Vice President and General Manager of Lede Family Wines, encompassing Cliff Lede Vineyards in the Stags Leap District of Napa Valley and FEL Wines in the Anderson Valley. In her role, Cohen directs the winemaking process from vineyard to bottle and is responsible for top quality, small-lot winemaking that is expressive of appellation and terroir. In addition, she is a brand ambassador and oversees the distribution of all wines throughout the domestic and international markets.

Born and raised in East Brunswick, New Jersey, Cohen migrated to the West Coast and attended U.C. Berkeley where she received a degree in molecular and cellular biology. Subsequently, she enrolled in the Viticulture and Enology program at U.C. Davis, where she received her Master’s Degree.  Later, Cohen completed her M.B.A. at Golden Gate University in San Francisco.

Cohen is an advocate of sustainable farming practices and has hosted lectures on sustainability and winegrowing at venues including U.C. Berkeley, U.C. Davis, the Commonwealth Club, Society of Wine Educators, and the American Society of Enology and Viticulture. In addition to writing a column for Vineyard & Winery Management, Cohen is on the board of the Napa Valley Grapegrowers and president of the Stags Leap District Winegrowers Association.


Conference Preview: Stellenbosch: Seven Wards, or More?

Cape Dutch architecture in Stellenbosh

Cape Dutch architecture in Stellenbosh

Today we have a conference preview from Jim Clarke who tells us the story behind his session “Stellenbosch: Seven Wards, or More?” Read on to hear the story of Stellenbosch!  

In my position with Wines Of South Africa I go to South Africa a couple times each year. Many wine industry folks assume I spend my time in Cape Town. It’s a wonderful city, and I’m always glad to do so, but I actually spend the bulk of my time in Stellenbosch; Cape Town may be the capital of the Western Cape, but Stellenbosch is the capital of the wine region. It’s home to 171 of the Rainbow Nation’s 566 producers, and has more vines and more vineyard land than any other district. Most of the country’s winemakers and viticulturalists study there, either at Stellenbosch University or at Elsenburg Agricultural College. It’s no accident that the WOSA’s offices are located there. 

Stellenbosch is small, a town rather than a city by most standards; it swells from 155,000 people to 184,000 when the University is in session, and for the visitor the town’s center is concentrated in just a few blocks. But the city is almost as old as Cape Town; Jan Van Riebeeck founded the latter in 1652, and his successor as Commander, and eventually first Governor of the Cape Colony, Simon Van Der Stel, founded Stellenbosch just 27 years later.  

Not a modest man, Van Der Stel named the city after himself – Stellenbosch means “Stel’s wood” or “Stel’s forest” – and his name adorns two of the three mountains that define the district’s shape, Simonsberg and Stellenbosch Mountain (the third being Helderberg, “Clear Mountain”). Incidentally, among Van Der Stel’s other contributions to the South African wine industry was the planting of 10,000 vines at his estate in Constantia in 1685, which became the home for the famous, eponymous wine later in the 18th and into the 19th centuries. 

Along the Cape Wine Route in Stellenbosch

Along the Cape Wine Route in Stellenbosch

Stellenbosch gained even more trees and a nickname, the City of Oaks, thanks to Stel’s policy of planting oaks along the streets of town. (How many trees? They’re so common that there’s a saying about what makes a “true” “Maty,” as the University students are called: they’ve kissed someone by the Eerste River, which runs through town; they’ve failed a class; and…they’ve been hit on the head by an acorn). Planting of vines, which would quickly become more important, happened at the same time.  

Stellenbosch has many estates that date back to the 17th century: Rustenberg dates to1682; Welmoed, today home to Stellenbosch Vineyards, to 1690, and Lanzerac to 1692. Many still display the typical Cape Dutch architecture of the period: imagine the front of a whitewashed Amsterdam townhouse, with its rounded gables, if it was no longer hemmed in by neighbors, allowing it to expand on both sides, all topped with a thatched roof. 

These and other early wine estates sprouted along on the alluvial fans of the mountains I mentioned earlier. The slopes provide good exposures and the soils, decomposed granite shed from the mountains over millennia, aren’t very fertile, making them perfect for winegrowing. Stellenbosch’s wine estates extend from the Simonsberg’s south-facing slopes, 25 km from False Bay, to the far side of the Helderberg, where Vergelegen, another classic founded in 1700, lies just 8 km from the water. Plantings began in the Bottelary Hills, on the far side of the town center from Stellenbosch Mountain, in the 18th century.  

Vineyards in Stellenbosch

Vineyards in Stellenbosch

Even some of the valleys like Banghoek (the pass to Paarl and Franschhoek) and Jonkershoek saw vines planted early on as well, but many of these were planted over or neglected when the South African wine industry faltered, first due to phylloxera at the end of the 19th century and then from a depression brought on by World War I. With the end of apartheid, renewed contact with the outside world both expanded the market for South African wines and brought a new perspective to viticultural practices. This inspired innovators like Neil Ellis to explore and replant these valleys and bring them back into prominence. 

There are few Stellenbosch locations suitable to viticulture that aren’t planted with vines these days. Perhaps the last spot to be filled in were the orchards that Madame May de Lencquesaing, former owner of the Second Growth Chateau Pichon Comtesse de Lalande purchased and began planting in 2003 to create Glenelly.  

Stellenbosch’s long, rich history means its producers have been exploring the terroir for centuries; they’ve discovered a tapestry of growing conditions that make Stellenbosch capable of great wines of all sorts – sparkling Methode Cap Classiques, fresh Sauvignon Blancs and Chenin Blancs, and even Riesling on the white wine side, and complex Bordeaux and Rhone varieties (and yes, even Pinot Noir) among the reds.  

The Simonsberg-Stellenbosch ward has become one of the premier homes of Pinotage – fittingly, as the variety was developed nearby at the University in the 1920s. Given how diverse South Africa’s Winelands are in their total, it’s only appropriate that the most important region there show similar range – South Africa in microcosm. And what does one do when one comes to Africa? Explore. 

Dornier Wine Estate in Stellenbosch

Dornier Wine Estate in Stellenbosch

Jim Clarke’s session, entitled “Stellenbosch: Seven Wards, or More?” will be held on Thursday, August 11th at 1:30 PM as part of SWE’s 40th Annual Conference. Here’s how Jim describes this tasting session: The home of South Africa’s wine industry, Stellenbosch is the most explored terroir in South Africa, sub-divided into seven wards with some areas, such as the Helderberg, yet to have an official ward designation. Simonsberg-Stellenbosch seems particularly suited to Pinotage, while the Blauwklippen Valley leans toward powerful Syrahs, and the Banghoek Valley has made a name for its Chardonnays. Wines of South Africa’s Marketing Manager Jim Clarke will explore Stellenbosch’s terroirs, highlighting the strengths of each and explaining why these ward names don’t appear on labels as much as they should.


The Wine Law Shuffle – Changes in Austria

Lake Halsstatt

Lake Halsstatt

Good things are happening in Austria–and they mean changes in the wine law! As of June 14, 2016, a series of updates and revisions to the existing Wine Law of 2009 were passed. The resulting changes are a bit far-reaching, but I’ll do my best to simplify them, and present them one concept at a time.

#1: Changes in the appellations of the Burgenland Quality Wine Region: The subregions of Neusiedlersee, Neusiedlersee-Hügelland, Mittelburgenland and Südburgenland have been eliminated. In the future, Qualitätswein produced in these areas will be labeled with the regional appellation of Burgenland.

The only remaining subregions of Burgenland are the four DACs: Neusiedlersee DAC, Leithaberg DAC, Mittelburgenland DAC or Eisenberg DAC.

#2: Change in the name of the Süd-Oststeiermark subregion of Steiermark:  The Süd-Oststeiermark subregion of the Steiermark Quality Wine Region will now be known as Vulkanland Steiermark, in homage to its volcanic past.


#3: Planned recognition of outstanding single vineyard sites: Plans are in place to legally designate certain high-quality single vineyards. Once designated as such, a wine may pronounce this designation on the label by the use of the term “Ried” before the name of the vineyard. Ried (plural: Rieden) is a term unique to Austria and is not used in Germany.

#4: Further designations for the Kamptal, Kremstal and Traisental DACs: The wines of Kamptal, Kremstal and Traisental DACs will be further classified according to a three-tier quality ladder, beginning with Regional, and moving up to Village and Single Vineyard wines. Each step “up the ladder” will specify minimum alcohol content as well as other quality indicators.

#5: Changes in the use of the term Ausbruch: The term “Ausbruch” will now be considered synonymous with the term Trockenbeerenauslese, defined as a level of the Prädikat requiring a minimum 30° KMW with the majority of the grapes affected by botrytis. Even more newsworthy is the fact that the term will only be allowed to be used in connection with the wines of the city of Rust, making the term a protected indication for Ruster Ausbruch. No other wines may use the term.

The Vienna State Opera House

The Vienna State Opera

#6: Changes in the laws concerning Austrian Sekt (Sparkling Wine): The new laws set out quality designations and strict regulations for Austrian sparkling with a designation of origin. These wines may be labeled as Austrian Sekt or Österreichischer Qualitätsschaumwein, and must specify one of the following quality terms: Klassik, Reserve, or Grosse Reserve. In the case of Klassik and Reserve wines, the region of origin many not be more specific than “Austria” (Österreich). In the case of Grosse Reserve wines, the region of origin may be a federal state and municipality or part of it and the term geschützte Ursprungsbezeichnung (Protected Designation of Origin) or g.U. Grosse Reserve wines will be allowed to be labeled as a single vineyard (Ried) wine. Each of the quality designations– Klassik, Reserve, and Grosse Reserve–will have an accompanying set of standards as to methods of production, lees aging, alcohol minimums and styles.

For much more information, see the Wines of Austria website.

post authored by Jane A. Nickles…your blog administrator

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Conference Preview: Spain’s Single Vineyard Estates


Today we have a conference preview from Nora Favelukes who tells us about her session entitled “Spain’s Single Vineyard Estates.” Read on to hear the story behind Nora’s session!

What do Pago Negrelada from Abadía Retuerta, Emeritus from Dominio de Valdepusa, Centenarias from Mas Doix, Quincha Corral from Mustiguillo, Finca Valpiedra from Bujanda, III Lustros from Gramona, Secastilla from Viñas del Vero and Numanthia from Numanthia have in common?

They are all Single Vineyard wines from Spain’s top wineries and will be showcased at my seminar for the Society of Wine Educators (SWE)’s 2016 Conference this upcoming August!

Old World – New World

When using the terms “Old World” to refer to traditional European winegrowing regions and “New World” to refer to winegrowing regions in countries colonized by these Europeans, are we taking into account merely geographic attributes? Or is it also about their differences in style? Lighter body, earthy and mineral wines vs. riper, full-bodied, fruit forward wines? Or is it about traditional methods of winemaking vs. modern vineyard management and vinification techniques? What a conundrum!


In the mid- nineties, I visited Bodegas Faustino in Rioja, Spain, and for the first time I was exposed to the earthy complex aromas and flavors of Rioja wines. I have a vivid memory of their 1964 Gran Reserva. This superb wine opened my eyes and heart to the magnificence of traditional winemaking at its highest level. At that time, I knew for sure the difference between Old World and New World wines.

In 2010, when I started to travel extensively throughout Spain and to work with individual wineries – Co-ops and DOs – I realized that there was more to Spain than what I had seen in my previous visits. There was a new wave of dynamic producers making high quality and modern style wines across all regions. Welcome to the New World of Spanish Wines!

In this “New World”, rigid laws regarding authorized varietals and aging restrictions enforced by the regional DO’s are broke. Producers are now testing the true potential of their unique indigenous grapes, planting international varieties, searching for the best terroirs and practicing new vinification and aging techniques to produce the wines they envision.

A Word from the Protagonists

In preparation for my session, I interviewed several iconic figures responsible for this new era.

Carlos Falcó, Marqués de Griñón–Chairman and Founder of Grandes Pagos de España

Carlos Falcó, Marqués de Griñón–Chairman and Founder of Grandes Pagos de España

I spoke with Carlos Falcó – Marqués de Griñón, a fascinating Renaissance man. Predestined to follow a career in the military, he went against his family’s wishes and became an agricultural engineer with the goal of producing a Grand Cru wine in Spain. A pioneer in the modernization of Spanish viticulture and winemaking, Carlos Falcó is responsible for the creation of the “Vinos de Pago” Designation of Origin and chairman and founder of Grandes Pagos de España. “In 1974, I planted Cabernet Sauvignon cuttings in Dominio de Valdepusa, our estate dating back to 1292 –a risky undertaking as it was illegal at that time to plant international varietals. In 2002, Dominio de Valdepusa was granted the first PAGO denomination. By 2003, it was ratified by the European Union, the first Spanish estate to receive such recognition, only previously obtained by Romanée-Conti in Burgundy and Sassicaia in Toscana,” Carlos recalls. “Both my friend Mariano García from Vega Sicilia and I objected to the status quo in winemaking at that time and in 2000, we founded Grandes Pagos de Castilla to face the many challenges we were experiencing; among them, restrictions on exports for smaller producers. In 2003, we changed its name to Grandes Pagos de España to include single vineyard estates from all around the country. Today, our organization counts with 29 winery members. Now, I am doing the same for Spanish Extra Virgin olive oils,” he adds.

Bodegas Mustiguillo–Bobal Bush Vines

Bodegas Mustiguillo–Bobal Bush Vines

I found a similar drive in Antonio Sarrión from Bodegas Mustiguillo. His family has grown grapes in Utiel, Valencia for many generations but had never made wines before. This changed with Antonio –an economist by trade who became a leading producer of high quality wines in his region and an authority on Bobal. “I started to produce wines with a fresh new eye and a clear vision of the style of wine I wanted to achieve. I explored Bobal’s potential by cutting bunches from the vines during spring time. I remember hiding from my father the leftover grapes; otherwise, he would have been very upset to see me throwing them out,” he shares. Antonio mentioned how difficult it was to sell high-quality Bobal wines at that early stage, especially being outside the DO’s umbrella. Today, he is focused in developing new and innovative ways to produce Bobal wines and grow Mustiguillo’s international markets.

Finca Valpiedra Soils

Finca Valpiedra Soils

Farmers since 1889 and pioneers in Rioja, the Martínez Bujanda family has always believed that quality starts in the vineyard, and consequently focused their attention on the search for the best terroirs in privileged Spanish enclaves to produce wines true to the character of the local varieties. “We are proud owners of 495 acres between Rioja Alta and Alavesa, 198 of which are located in a very special geographical area where the River Ebro creates a meander with terraces and a mantle of alluvial boulders and calcareous stony soils that provide great drainage,” explains Diego Martínez, Bujanda’s Commercial Director. “In this vineyard with vines ranging from 45 to 110 years old (many of them pre-phylloxera), we decided to create a Chateau wine. Therefore, in 1994, we launched our first vintage of Finca Valpiedra and in 1997, we built the winery – a true example of the Familia Martínez Bujanda’s pioneering spirit.”

Abadía Retuerta

Abadía Retuerta

Abadía Retuerta, a 12th century monastery located in the heart of the Duero Valley, is today home to one of Spain’s most spectacular wineries. Records show that vineyards existed since 1315, but none were found in 1988 when the current owners decided to restore this historical monument and build a Michelin star luxury hotel-restaurant and to start producing top wines.  “Our 440+ acres of vineyards with diverse soils, altitude range and orientation to the sun were divided into 54 different plots to produce wines with distinctive character,” reveals Enrique Valero, Abadía Retuerta’s CEO. “Our philosophy is based on a great respect for our thousand-year-old tradition, historic legacy and the relationship between our surroundings and our people,” he says.

An Invitation

Join Nora Z. Favelukes on this fascinating journey through Spain’s four corners to find wines and stories that bring forth to this new chapter of Spain’s wine industry.  Four valuable expert testimonies and eight extraordinary wines are just a highlight of what it is yet to come at the Society of Wine Educators’ 40th Annual Conference.

This seminar will be held as part of SWE’s 40th Annual Conference at the Mayflower Hotel in Washington, DC – August 11th   at 11 am.

Conference Preview: Exploring the Backroads of the Côte d’Or

Photo credit: Don Kinnan

Photo credit: Don Kinnan

Today we have a SWE Conference preview about the “Exploring the Backroads of the Côte d’Or” session to be held on Saturday, August 13th. The presenter for this session is Don Kinnan, CSS, CWE.

Why pay for glamor?

Who can afford to pay hundreds of dollars for premier and grand cru wines like those from Gevrey-Chambertin, Chambolle-Musigny, Vosne-Romanée, and Volnay?  Even at the village-level classification, wines from these villages can easily exceed $60 a bottle, especially if coming from a notable producer.

There is a kinder, gentler side to Côte-d’Or pricing, if you are willing to explore the backroads.  Burgundy insiders have long known that certain lesser-known Côte-d’Or appellations can provide wine experiences at the level of their more illustrious neighbors, and at a fraction of the price.  Appellations which come to mind are Marsannay, Fixin, Pernand-Vergelesses, and Savigny-lès-Beaune.  There are others but we will focus on these four for our upcoming session at this year’s SWE Conference, Exploring the Backroads of the Cote d’Or.

Vineyards of Fixin - photo credit: Don Kinnan

Vineyards of Fixin – photo credit: Don Kinnan

A recent winesearcher.com review showed village wine pricing as follows:

  • Marsannay Rouge– less than $20/bottle
  • Fixin Rouge–$30/ bottle
  • Pernand-Vergelesses Rouge–$34/ bottle
  • Savigny-lès-Beaune–$37/ bottle
  • Gevrey-Chambertin–$57/ bottle
  • Chambolle-Musigny–$66/ bottle
  • Vosne-Romanée–$60/ bottle
  • Volnay–$60/ bottle

The price differential can be much greater at higher classification levels.  One might ask why such a differential exists if quality is nearly comparable.  The explanation is not always simple.  Ultimately, pricing is a function of the market.  Supply and demand normally drive pricing of a product.  With regard to these wines, supply is a relatively fixed number, determined by AOC regulations and vintage variables.  Demand, on the other hand, is influenced by many factors, including wine critic reviews, product distribution, promotion, and availability, celebrity endorsement, and peer recommendation.

Photo credit: Don Kinnan

Photo credit: Don Kinnan

Does the fact that Napoleon’s favorite wine came from Gevrey-Chambertin and that a current vintage of Romanée-Conti from Vosne-Romanée is selling for $13,000/bottle create demand or add glamor to these appellations?  Perhaps so.

Conversely, who can even pronounce or spell Pernand-Vergelesses?  Yet, Pernand-Vergelesses has 42 acres of the prestigious Corton-Charlemagne Grand Cru vineyard within its communal boundaries.  Certainly this is a testimony to the high general terroir quality of the village’s vineyards.

Thus, while Pernand-Vergelesses has substance, it lacks glamor.  Similar circumstances apply to Marsannay, Fixin, and Savigny-lès-Beaune.  For many Burgundy wine lovers, these relatively obscure wines appellations are waiting to be discovered.  Burgundians themselves have long cherished these less renowned wines, savoring them while reserving their more expensive brethren for special occasions.

During our session at the conference, we will delve into the back stories of these overlooked appellations, and taste some excellent examples which exude their unique substance.  Come join us.  Don’s session, Exploring the Backroads of the Côte d’Or, will be presented on Saturday, August 13th at 3:00 pm as part of SWE’s 40th Annual Conference, to be held in Washington DC.