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 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.


Conference Preview: Explore Aquavit, the Spirit of the Nordics!

Copehnagen, Denmark

Copenhagen, Denmark

Today we have a SWE Conference preview about the “Explore Aquavit, the Spirit of the Nordics” session to be held on Saturday, August 13th. This session will be led by Christer Anders Olsen:

Aquavit has been the national spirit of Sweden, Norway, Denmark, and Iceland for more than 500 years. We can truly call it the Spirit of the Nordics.

The first known mention of Aquavit dates back to the year 1539, when the Archbishop of Trondheim, Norway received a letter and an offering of “Aqua Vitae” from loyal supporters in Bergen. The letter boldly stated that “Aqua Vitae,” the water of life, had the power to cure “any illness within, from which man might suffer”. And so the spirit quickly gained popularity.

Today, Aquavit is a thriving category in the Nordic countries. The beloved Aalborg Taffel Akvavit is the No. 1 selling spirit products across all categories in Denmark, and the Aalborg range has been broadened to include a large series of Aquavits intended for both food-pairing and mixology.



Iceland’s Aquavit tradition relates to that of Denmark, while Swedes love their milder, often sweeter Aquavit for all festive occasions, including mid-summer parties, crayfish dinners, Christmas dinners, or your neighbor’s informal invite.

Linie Aquavit is the flagship spirit of Norway, is available in the United States. In Norway we have witnessed an Aquavit revolution over the last 30 years and there are now almost 200 (!) different Aquavits for sale in the market. The category is steadily growing its share–outperforming gin, whisky and vodka.

Outside Scandinavia, including in the United States, Aquavit has remained largely unknown and unexplored by both professionals and consumers alike. Misunderstood even. Consequently, the Nordic spirit has not received the attention it deserves. Until now.



Recently we have started seeing a surge for Aquavit in trend-setting mixology environments around the world. Look up the menu of bars such as The Artesian in London, five-year consecutive winner of “Best Bar in the World” by Drinks Magazine International, and you will find Aquavit in cocktails.

Explore award-winning New Nordic Cuisine by renown chefs such as Claus Meyer of Copenhagen and you will find Aquavit as a key ingredient in dishes as well as a neat drink to pair with the flavor profile of his food. New Aquavits made by domestic micro-distilleries in the U.S. are popping up in large numbers. And in Portland, OR there is even an annual Aquavit Week that celebrates the spirit in cocktails and mixed drinks of all sorts, started by voluntary enthusiasts.

“If gin and whisky had a baby, it would be Aquavit”, a bartender funnily stated while mixing his drinks. Aquavit is such a versatile and unexplored category–it is similar to gin from a distillation point of view (instead of juniper berries we use caraway seeds and a number of other herbs and spices for flavor).  It is similar to whiskies and dark spirits from a barrel maturation point of view.

AALBORG JUBILAEUMS AKVAVIT: the most-known export brand in the Aalborg family. Milder and softer, based not on caraway but dill seeds and coriander.


In Norway, by law all aquavits must go through a wooden barrel maturation process.  Sherry barrels, port barrels, madeira barrels, and others are used. In Denmark, Iceland and Sweden, however,  Aquavit is rarely matured and remains a clear spirit. Even the base alcohol is different, where Norway uses potato-based spirits other countries rely on grain-based alcohol.

And we haven’t even mentioned yet that we ship some of it around the world on vessels that cross the equator twice on their journey from Norway to the U.S. through the Panama Canal, to Australia, Singapore, Japan, to USA and back across the Atlantic…

Come meet the world’s biggest Aquavit producer and explore Aquavit with us! The session, “Explore Aquavit, the Spirit of the Nordics,”presented by Christer Anders Olsen, will be offered on Saturday August 13 at 1:15 pm as part of SWE’s 40th Annual Conference! Learn about the diversity of the category and understand what makes the Nordic Aquavits you can get in the USA so different.

About the products in the pictures:

  • LINIE AQUAVIT: barrel-aged according to Norwegian tradition. Matured at sea across the world for four months
  • AALBORG TAFFEL AKVAVIT: the eternal Danish classic, caraway forward with a delicate aftertaste of citrus
  • AALBORG JUBILAEUMS AKVAVIT: the most-known export brand in the Aalborg family. Milder and softer, based not on caraway but dill seeds and coriander.

Conference Preview: Mindset and the Millennial Learner

Today we have a SWE Conference preview about the “Mindset and the Millennial Learner” session to be held on Friday, August 12th. The presenters are Sarah Malik DWS, CWE, CSS; and Dr. Alistair Williams:


The Millennials–also known as Generation Y–are a new generation of student learners who are so different from previous generations that one has to understand how their minds truly work to allow effective instruction and learning.

This is the generation responsible for major shifts in the beer, wine and spirit industry that should affect the way many companies are approaching sales and marketing. Millennials are responsible for 42% of all wine consumption in the United States. In terms of both the beverage industry and beverage education, this is a generation that should not be taken for granted.

The teaching methods that work for millennial learners include flipped classrooms, social media, blogs, engaging visuals, and interactive learning. Now, we need to move to integrate these techniques into the world of wine, spirits, and beer education.

This session is going to emphasize the importance of millennials within the beverage industry as well as the unique characteristics they bring to the classroom. We intend to demonstrate how to facilitate learning in order to engage the interest of the millennial learner in order to make time in a classroom a more meaningful experience for everyone involved.

The conference session audience will take the role of the millennial and participate in a typical classroom environment with interactive instruction and assessment. It is your turn to be a millennial learner!

Alistair Williams, Ph.D–Alistair Williams holds a Doctorate in Hospitality Marketing from Leeds University and a master’s degree in the analysis of consumer decision process from the University of Huddersfield. Williams has worked in the hospitality sector internationally both in the industry and academia. He is currently a professor at Johnson and Wales University Charlotte where he teaches Marketing, Brewing Arts, and Spirits and Mixology.

Sarah Malik, CSS, CWE, DWS–Sarah Malik is an Associate Professor at Johnson and Wales University in Charlotte, NC. Her focus is wine education. She joined the faculty at Johnson & Wales University Providence in 1995, after completing a teacher job exchange. In 2003 she was honored as teacher of the year. Prior to that, she worked Bass Charrington Breweries in the UK before joining Hilton International and Queens Moat Houses as a Food and Beverage Manager. She eventually moved to Switzerland where she taught for five years in Hotel Consult, Le Bouveret and DCT in Lucerne, Switzerland. Sarah is also an International Bordeaux Wine Educator and has successfully completed the Napa Valley Wine Educators Academy. Ms. Malik’s education includes BTEC HND Hotel Management and Institutional Catering Manchester Metropolitan University and a UKMasters of Business Administration from Oxford Brookes University UK.

Mindset and the Millennial Learner will be presented on Friday, August 12th as part of SWE’s 40th Annual Conference in Washington, DC.

Conference Preview: Northern Reaches – A Time to Shine for Canadian Wine


Today we have a conference preview from Jordan Cowe, CWE. Jordan, a favorite presenter for SWE’s SWEbinars and conferences alike, tells us about his session titled Northern Reaches: A Time to Shine for Canadian Wine.

The sun is setting over the water and the temperature is dropping bringing a bit of relief to a 100°F day in the vineyard. Sitting here, surrounded by Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon, it is hard to believe that we are in Canada. Where I am, at Canada’s southernmost point, I’m on the same latitude as friends out in northern California, and there region I am in charts heat units that compare to those of Napa Valley.

Canada might be associated with the frigidly-named icewine, and many Americans cross our border expecting snow and polar bears–but our growing regions aren’t nearly as cold as most people think they are!

Growing wine in Canada is complicated; every step of the process is at the will of Mother Nature and what she gives us. Year after year we learn more and more about how to handle nature’s surprises and to produce wines that are now rivaling the best from around the world. The summer of 2015 was unusually cool throughout Ontario, yet patience and knowledge allowed some growers to continue ripening all the way through November–this produced outstanding wines that may serve as a benchmark vintage for quality.


This success followed the winters of 2014 and 2015 where we saw the coldest temperatures in about 30 years. Such low temperatures (negative 30°) would spell disaster for most regions, and while we suffered losses, precise vineyard practices and modern technology have allowed many of our vines to survive and our vineyards to continue.

The wine regions that dot Canada from coast to coast have faced similar problems. Out in British Columbia on Canada’s west coast, the regions closer to the coast can suffer the effects of mild and rainy summers while on the other side of the province the Okanagan valley can be a hot, dry near-desert like growing environment. If you cross the country to the Atlantic Provinces you find relentlessly driven producers in Nova Scotia finding small pockets of land that are just right for grape growing and, against all odds, are producing absolutely outstanding sparkling wines and dry white wines.

For all the things that are said about Canadians, the one that is always forgotten is our resilience and determination in the face of winter.


As a nation, we are very well-known for our outstanding, centuries-old beer and whisky industries; so, in comparison, our wine industry is an infant. Gaining our first international awards and recognition in the early 1990s and only recently showing up on anyone’s radar, Canadian wines are still largely unknown. From Chardonnay and Riesling in the whites to Pinot Noir, Cabernet Franc, Syrah and more in the reds, Canada is producing outstanding wines that next to nobody has tried.

Take the opportunity to join Jordan to taste and learn about some of the hidden gems produced in this only sometimes frozen corner of the world at this year’s SWE Conference. Jordan Cowe is a Certified Wine Educator from Canada’s Niagara Region. A lover of the unusual and misunderstood areas of the wine world he is right at home in with Canadian wines which continually give him an opportunity to break expectations and expose students and guests to something new. Jordan’s session will be held on Saturday, August 13th at 10:30 am.


Conference Preview: What is so Great about Oak?


Today we have a Conference Preview  about a session to be presented by Dr. Robert Sechrist. Robert’s session is titled “What is so Great about Oak”? Read on for some very interesting thoughts about oak–it is pretty impressive–and its impact on the flavor of wine and spirits.

I love oak.  It looks great whether it is furniture, paneling, ships, barrels or still in the tree.  I admire the lone oak standing tall amid a field for its symmetry, strength and perseverance.   I am not the only one. Ancient Celtic peoples of northern Europe were apparently the first to revere the oak for these same properties.

The Celts integrated the oak into their daily lives and their pantheon of gods.  Ancient Celts observed the oak’s massive growth and impressive expanse. They viewed oak as a cosmic storehouse of wisdom embodied within its towering strength.  To them the oak was to be honored for its endurance, and noble presence. Oak became broadly symbolic of the good side of human behavior.  The list of traits associated with oak is impressive: Life, Strength, Wisdom, Nobility, Family, Loyalty, Power, Longevity, Heritage, Honor, Humble beginnings, Patience, Faith, Endurance, and Hospitality.  Because of these traits, meetings between warring parties often took place in the shade of an oak tree.  These trees are commemorated.  In 1999, the Connecticut Charter Oak was pictured on the quarter. In 2004, Congress declared the Oak the national tree.


The traits attributed to oak are justified.  Oak is a keystone genus.  Wherever it grows it is the dominant species; depended on by numerous other plants, animals, and fungi for their lives.  Mistletoe grows parasitically on oak trees.  Can one imagine oak trees without squirrels?  Birds build nests in them and from their twigs.  Insects thrive amongst their branches.  Mosses and mushrooms often surround them.  The wild vines climb their branches.

The vine and the oak have much in common.  They are both prized by humans for their properties and practical uses.  Oak symbols are as common as vine and grape symbols in our society.  The vine is the symbolic plant of Mediterranean Europe and the oak the symbolic plant of Northern Europe.  Wine associated with Dionysus intoxicates drawing the god within.  Oak attracts lightening showing the power of the gods to rend and destroy the strongest living thing in the Celtic world.

Both oak and vine are native to the northern hemisphere in the 30 to 50 degrees of latitude band.  They are pollenated without the aid of insects.  The two genera are non-specialized and hybridize easily.  Where they grow, they are keystone species.  Tree and vine have experienced devastating invading insect infestations: Phylloxera attacking vines and the Gypsy Moth attacking oaks.  They both are sources of tannin.


We all know wine and spirits interact with oak to modify the flavors and aromas of the liquid. The modifications are difficult to pin down because each product employs just one of the oak options.  We are generally not privy to products from one vineyard, or batch, exposed to a variety of oak treatments.  In the upcoming presentation participants will taste corn whiskey made at the Disobedient Spirits Distillery in Homer City, Pennsylvania treated with two oak species (French & American) at three toasting levels (Medium, Medium+, and Heavy) each.  In addition, the same corn whiskey is treated with hickory, pecan, and mesquite woods to allow participants to experience the effects of non-oak woods.  There will, of course, be a white whiskey as a control.

Dr. Robert Sechrist, CSW earned his doctorate in Geography from Louisiana State University in 1986. That same year he joined the faculty at Indiana University of Pennsylvania. He was originally was hired to develop and implement Geographic Information System courses, and in 1999 created and started teaching a new course—GEOG261: the Geography of Wine. Since then, Dr. Sechrist has taught the course over forty times, while focusing his academic research on the statistical and geo-spatial analysis of wine databases. Robert is the current chair of the Association of American Geographer’s Wine, Beer, and Spirits specialty group, and in 2012, began a “second career” as a craft distiller with the formation of Disobedient Spirits LLC. His session, “What is so great about Oak”? will be held on Saturday,  August 13, 2016 at 3:00 pm, as part of SWE’s 40th Annual Conference.







Announcing Cava de Paraje Calificado!

Pedro Bonet at the announcement of the new category (Photo via

Pedro Bonet at the announcement of the new category (Photo via

On Monday, June 13th, the consejo regulador of the Cava DO held a press conference at a Barcelona landmark– el Palau de la Música Catalana (the Palace of Catalan Music)–to announce to the world their new category of Cava DO wines, Cava de Paraje Calificado (Qualified Single Estate Cava).

This new category of sparkling wines (within the existing Cava DO) is reserved for single-vineyard, estate-produced wines. The intention of the category is to bring prestige to meticulously produced Cava, crafted from grapes from a “smaller area approved especially as extraordinary and unique for its soil and climate conditions.”

Wines bearing the seal of Single Estate Cava will need to abide by all of the basic rules of the Cava DO in regards to grape varieties, production methods, sweetness levels and the like, and will have the following more specific qualifications as well:

  • Vines must be at least 10 years old
  • Grapes must come from a vineyard whose entire production is dedicated to Single Estate Cava
  • Grapes must be hand-harvested and must be transported to the winery intact
  • Maximum production of 8,000 kg per hectare (equivalent to 8.8 tons per hectare [as opposed to 12 tons per hectare for other categories of Cava])
  • Musts may not be chaptalized or acidified
  • Minimum acidity 5.5 grams per liter (per cuvée)
  • Minimum of 36 months of sur lie (in-bottle) aging
  • Brut-level sweetness or drier
  • Complete traceability from vine to shelf
Photo via

Photo via

According to Pedro Bonet, chairman of the Cava Regulatory Board, Single Estate Cava “has been created in order to place cavas at the top of the quality wines pyramid and to do justice to its quality of this sparkling wine.” It not yet clear when we may expect to see Cava de Paraje Calificado on the shelf, but when we do, it will certainly be a reason to celebrate. Salud!

References/For more information:

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