Wine Articles VIII
|Wine Articles VIII|
|23 feb 2011|
Facebook e-commerce: the next big thing?
Reuters, by Alistair Barr- Apr 5, 2012
(Reuters) - A group of e-commerce start-ups, backed by some of the tech world's most pedigreed financiers, are betting that Facebook Inc can become an e-commerce powerhouse to rival Amazon.com Inc and eBay Inc.
As the world's largest social network hurtles toward a $5 billion initial public offering, it will come under more pressure from Wall Street to find new sources of profit growth and reduce its reliance on advertising, which accounted for 85 percent of its 2011 revenue.
Some entrepreneurs and investors increasingly think "f-commerce" - meaning e-commerce on Facebook - is the answer. Start-ups such as BeachMint, Yardsellr, Oodle and Fab.com are coming up with novel ways to persuade Facebook users to not just connect with friends on the social network, but to shop as well.
Backed by tens of millions of dollars from venture capital firms like Accel Partners and Andreessen Horowitz, and other big investors like Goldman Sachs, these start-ups are pushing out shopping apps, hosting online garage sales and testing out new business models on Facebook.
"E-commerce is a huge category with very strong tailwinds and it's a natural move for Facebook," said Sam Schwerin of Millennium Technology Value Partners, which owns Facebook shares and has a stake in BeachMint.
Amazon revolutionized online shopping by crunching lots of customer and purchase data to come up with relevant, personalized recommendations. In the same vein, Facebook's combination of data, analytics and payment technology could fuel the next generation of e-commerce, Schwerin said.
Harvard MBA David Fisch, a former executive at eBay's StubHub online tickets business, oversees Facebook's e-commerce efforts, working with retailers to build social commerce businesses on the platform.
"People have always shopped with their friends; now they expect it online," Fisch wrote in a December blog. "Companies who think differently about social will find success."
Fisch declined to comment, but investors said Facebook understands the importance of having an e-commerce strategy.
"It's a big imperative for them," said Theresia Gouw Ranzetta of Accel Partners, an early backer of Facebook. "They understand it's an important strategic benefit for them to make e-commerce players successful on the platform."
BIG BRAND STORES FLOP
Facebook had 845 million monthly active users at the end of 2011, far higher than Amazon's 164 million active accounts or the eBay online marketplace's 100 million active users.
But despite that huge base, Facebook is primarily a way to connect with friends, and not an online shopper's first destination. Big retailers including J.C. Penney, Gap and Nordstrom had previously set up stores on Facebook but shut them after generating few sales.
That has not stopped venture capital firms from pouring money into rookie companies they think have cracked the code.
There is a lot of buzz about Fab.com, which has amassed 3 million users who broadcast purchases via a "bought" button that advertises their shopping habits to friends. Fab built its user base in part by offering $5 a month to those who agree to share their Fab purchases and favorites on Facebook. Chief Executive Jason Goldberg said "tens of thousands" opted in.
BeachMint co-founder Diego Berdakin said his company had set up a live video event called StyleMint.tv last holiday season featuring a brief appearance by Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg's sister, Randi Zuckerberg. For about two hours, they showcased BeachMint products that people could buy with one click.
More than 50,000 Facebook users watched the show and a "huge percentage" bought something, Berdakin said, adding, "At the time, it was the biggest day in our history in terms of sales."
Yardsellr, started in 2010 by former eBay manager Danny Leffel, organizes people into 3,000 communities, or "blocks," based on common interests. When someone posts a product for sale, it is sent to the news feeds of people in that block and purchases can be made with a few clicks.
Gross merchandise sales, a measure of the value of products, has been growing about 30 percent a month, according to Leffel. "Social commerce could be bigger than eBay," he argued.
Then there's Oodle, a start-up headed by Craig Donato, who runs Facebook's official marketplace, which boasts more than 3 million unique monthly users. When buyers and sellers post items, their Facebook identities are attached, giving users more confidence in the transactions, Donato said.
For now, Facebook is making money mostly by selling ads to merchants trying to target potential customers. But many experts say it is a matter of time before the eight-year-old social network will ask for a cut of shopping transactions, or seek other ways to profit.
They point to Facebook's relationship with online games developer Zynga Inc as an example. Facebook takes a 30 percent cut of revenue generated from the sale of virtual goods used to play Zynga games.
Gamers pay for those virtual goods using Facebook Credits, a virtual currency that could eventually be used to buy physical goods, according to some Internet entrepreneurs.
"Facebook has a huge opportunity to monetize e-commerce," said Christian Taylor, chief executive of Payvment, a startup that operates thousands of Facebook stores. "They have the infrastructure and team to pursue that."
Others downplay the potential for Facebook Credits, saying physical goods offer much thinner profit margins than virtual products.
"The 30 percent model is great for products with near-zero cost of goods sold," said Kevin Hartz, head of ticketing start-up Eventbrite, which works closely with Facebook. "But selling a TV with thin margins, that model will just not apply."
Nevertheless, if e-commerce on Facebook takes off, many expect the social network to find a way to make money off it.
"When you build on top of a platform like Facebook, there is always the risk that the platform provider decides to change the rules later on," said Laura Valverde of Beetailer, which runs more than 3,000 stores on Facebook.
"We have seen this with Facebook Credits and games. So, once social commerce fully takes off, it will only be natural that Facebook tries to benefit one way or another from it."
(Editing by Edwin Chan, Tiffany Wu and Bob Burgdorfer)
Pancho Campo looks outside wine after ‘disgusting attacks'
Harpers, by Richard Siddle - 05 April 2012
Pancho Campo MW of the Wine Academy of Spain is switching his business away from wine trade-only events in part response to the "deeply upsetting" attacks he and his family have suffered in recent months.
Campo admitted to Harpers he needed to step out of the wine industry's "limelight", following the fierce criticism levelled at him from some quarters over the alleged access to Spanish wineries given to US wine critic Jay Miller and the Wine Advocate.
The controversy resulted in the Wine Advocate's Robert Parker conducting a review of Miller and Campo's business arrangements.
Campo said he looked forward to the results of the report, which is expected soon, so that he and his family could "move on" from what he described as the "disgusting attacks" on himself and his close family.
"This is a family business and we want to grow and be proud of what we do. The attacks received have been deeply upsetting and very personal, not only about myself but members of my family, which they do not deserve."
He said it had left a "bitter taste" after all the good work he felt he and his team had done in building up the Climate Change and Wine Future events. He did not rule out running similar events in the future, but said his focus was no longer just on the wine trade.
Specialist lifestyle events company Chrand Management has bought the Wine Academy of Spain to help run a series of consumer events featuring gastronomy, sport, wine and culture. Campo, who maintains a small shareholding in the academy, said he was excited by his first two events set to run side by side in Barcelona in October.
The Barcelona Experience event, taking place between October 21-23, will give people the chance to train with ex-Barcelona football stars and former Spanish tennis player Arantxa Sánchez Vicario, as well as take part in gastronomic dinners, specialist wine tours and tastings.
This follows a separate event on October 20, where Campo has invited former US vice-president Al Gore to be the keynote speaker at the Green Economy Forum aimed at all business areas. "This is going back to what we used to do in sport and lifestyle events as well as wine. We are bringing them altogether in a new blend for consumers to enjoy."
Red wine may block fat cells
Brian Wallheimer, Purdue University
Thu, 2012-04-05 09:59
Red wine, grapes may prevent obesity.
A compound found in red wine, grapes and other fruits, and similar in structure to resveratrol, is able to block cellular processes that allow fat cells to develop, opening a door to a potential method to control obesity, according to a Purdue University study.
Kee-Hong Kim, an assistant professor of food science, and Jung Yeon Kwon, a graduate student in Kim's laboratory, reported in this week's issue of the Journal of Biological Chemistry that the compound piceatannol blocks an immature fat cell's ability to develop and grow.
While similar in structure to resveratrol – the compound found in red wine, grapes and peanuts that is thought to combat cancer, heart disease and neurodegenerative diseases – piceatannol might be an important weapon against obesity. Resveratrol is converted to piceatannol in humans after consumption.
"Piceatannol actually alters the timing of gene expressions, gene functions and insulin action during adipogenesis, the process in which early stage fat cells become mature fat cells," Kim said. "In the presence of piceatannol, you can see delay or complete inhibition of adipogenesis."
Over a period of 10 days or more, immature fat cells, called preadipocytes, go through several stages to become mature fat cells, or adipocytes.
"These precursor cells, even though they have not accumulated lipids, have the potential to become fat cells," Kim said. "We consider that adipogenesis is an important molecular target to delay or prevent fat cell accumulation and, hopefully, body fat mass gain."
Kim found that piceatannol binds to insulin receptors of immature fat cells in the first stage of adipogenesis, blocking insulin's ability to control cell cycles and activate genes that carry out further stages of fat cell formation. Piceatannol essentially blocks the pathways necessary for immature fat cells to mature and grow.
Piceatannol is one of several compounds being studied in Kim's laboratory for its health benefits, and it is also present in different amounts in red grape seeds and skin, blueberries, passion fruit, and other fruits.
Kim would like to confirm his current finding, which is based on a cell culture system, using an animal model of obesity. His future work would also include determining methods for protecting piceatannol from degrading so that concentrations large enough would be available in the bloodstream to stop adipogenesis or body fat gain.
"We need to work on improving the stability and solubility of piceatannol to create a biological effect," Kim said.
The Purdue Research Foundation funded the work.
Do You Have a Good Palate?
Wine Spectator, Matt Kramer- April 3, 2012
Some years ago I moved into an apartment in San Francisco, one of those arrangements with two units per floor with a connecting deck.
I was spending a week painting the apartment, and my neighbor, who shared his apartment with his brother, stopped by to invite me over to their place for a glass of wine. I thanked him and said that I'd be over after I cleaned up a bit.
When I went over, I was handed a glass of wine. It was a Napa Cabernet, if I recall correctly. I tasted the wine and said nothing.
"So, what do you think of this wine?"
"It's all right," I replied, as neutrally but politely as I could.
This was not the expected response. I soon learned that they worked in restaurants, liked wine and considered themselves knowledgeable. They were put out.
"Well, what do you know about wine?"
As good luck would have it, lying on the coffee table was a copy of Wine Spectator. Saying nothing, I reached over and opened it to the page with my column (which sports a mug shot of you-know-who), turned the magazine around and pushed it toward them.
You can imagine their reaction. We all laughed heartily and bonded on the spot. Ever since, we've all dined out on that story.
I mention this only because it's one of those ridiculous situations where it would seem that you could "prove” that you have a good palate. Of course, having a column in a wine magazine proves nothing of the sort, but it's a credential of a kind.
This brings me to today's headline: "Do You Have a Good Palate?" Allow me to answer that. Most folks decide that you have a good palate when your judgment of a wine agrees with theirs.
Given this, you can reasonably ask: Does such a thing as a "good palate" even exist? Or is it all just a matter of consensus?
I do believe that such a thing as a "good palate" exists. And no, I don't think it's all a matter of whether you and I (or anybody else) concur in our respective opinions. So what, then, makes for a good palate?
The usual expectation involves taste acuity, the ability to play "I Spy" all day long, spotting the scent of blackberries, red currants, coffee (light roast or dark) and a seemingly endless array of precise-seeming descriptors.
Understandably, a lot of folks think that this ability to tease out all these "distinctions" is what makes for a good palate. Put bluntly, it ain't so. It's a bit of a parlor trick, really. Anyone can do it by paying attention to the smell and taste of what's around us (chalk dust, strawberries, pencil shavings) and then applying those remembered associations to what's in your glass. It does, however, remind us about what is so wonderful about wine: namely, that unlike, say, orange juice, it offers such shadings.
"A genuine good palate has both the capacity and the experience to deliver good judgment. It's not enough merely to weigh a wine. Instead, the question is: What does it add up to?"
The other parlor trick that most people associate with a "good palate" is the ability to identify a wine blind, i.e., to name the variety, the producer, the village, the vintage and the color of the winemaker's socks without seeing the label.
Now, I'm the first to admit that it sure is impressive to see this trick performed well. But if you ask just about any really experienced wine drinker, especially professionals, you'll soon discover that, to a man and woman, this pull-the-rabbit-out-of-the-hat ability is viewed with envy but with little belief that it's the defining feature of a "good palate." Calling the wine blind is not so much a trick as it is a matter of considerable experience allied with an admirable ability to focus on "landmarks" within a wine that reveal its pedigree.
In fairness, it's not nothing. You do need to have been around the wine block to pull it off with any frequency. You also need to be almost surgically analytical, slicing away all extraneous, distracting elements of the wine (such as "Gee, this really tastes good") to get at the "giveaway" elements that will help you identify the wine.
As many successful blind tasters will attest, the process can be surprisingly swift, resulting in what's often described as a "click" of recognition. (My experience, for what it's worth, is that your first guess is likely your best guess.)
But being a great blind taster doesn't mean you have a "good palate," any more than being a technically proficient surgeon necessarily makes you a good doctor. I'll always remember asking Larry Stone, a sommelier of extraordinary accomplishment and the best blind taster I've ever known, if he'd ever met anyone better at blind tasting than himself. (By the way, Stone is returning to his former position as sommelier of Charlie Trotter's in Chicago for that restaurant's swan song last few months before it closes Aug. 31.)
Larry replied that he indeed had met a better blind taster. "Who?" I exclaimed in genuine surprise.
"Oh, you don't know him," he replied. "I'd never met him before either. We were at a big tasting where the labels were covered and this guy just went down the line, bang, bang, bang, saying ‘Mouton '82,’ ‘Ridge Montebello '75,’ and so forth. I'd never seen anything like it.
"But then," Larry continued, "after the tasting I introduced myself to the guy and we got to talking. And I quickly realized something: He had no ability to describe a wine. Or even analyze a wine. If he hadn't had it before, he was lost. He couldn't put words to a taste or analyze a wine. He just had this crazy-good ability to remember everything he had ever tasted and file it away in his head. It was impressive as hell but didn't show any understanding of wine."
So what, then, makes for a good palate? Many features are at work. Larry Stone believes, with reason, that you cannot have a good palate without the ability to properly analyze a wine. "If you can't recognize whether a wine has low or high acidity—and some people can't, it seems—then you can't have a good palate. You've got to be able to properly analyze a wine and be able to put words to it."
That noted, I would submit that a genuine good palate has both the capacity and the experience to deliver good judgment. It's not enough merely to weigh a wine, as it were. Instead, the question is: What does it add up to?
It's not enough to accurately analyze. You have to have insight. And to acquire that takes not just experience, but also an ability almost to empathize. (This is why someone can have a good palate for, say, Cabernet but not for Pinot Noir.)
Insightful palates find the (sometimes hidden) thrill of a wine, that electric spark that makes it stand out from other, seemingly similar, wines. How many times have you tasted with someone who has just such an insightful palate and, after hearing his or her appreciative discussion, returned to the wine and seen it anew? It's happened to me many, many times.
Judgment and insight are the hallmarks of a good palate. Everything else is a technicality.
When wine means backache
3 Apr 2012 by Jancis Robinson/Syndicated
Wine is made in the vineyard, as we are increasingly told. But by whom?
One absolutely crucial aspect of wine production that is, curiously, hardly ever written about is vineyard labour. Wine needs grapes which need vines which need people to ensure that they are persuaded to grow in a way beneficial to wine production as opposed to climbing at random up trees, posts and the like. And once a year grapes need to be picked, often with care, sometimes with sunstroke, and usually with backache.
Despite widespread recession and high levels of unemployment in much of the world, and despite the glamour that now attaches to wine, it has in recent years become more and more difficult to recruit agricultural labourers in general, including vineyard workers - which has potentially serious consequences for the future of wine production.
Even in the UK where I live and where one of our most chronic social problems is long-term unemployment, and especially the dearth of prospects for young people, those fittest and arguably best suited to demanding manual outdoor labour, farmers have the utmost difficulty persuading Britons to go out into their fields and have generally had to rely on itinerant immigrants from eastern Europe. The nub of the problem is the very low going rate for agricultural pay, exacerbated by quite how physically demanding the job is.
In France only the very top estates and/or those with the most hard-working and loyal troupe of friends, family and workers can rely on any consistency among those who pick their grapes. Burgundy is the wine region most famous for the extent to which even the wine superstars get their hands and boots dirty by working in the vineyards. But they can't do everything themselves. Even a Burgundian vigneron as well respected as Anne Gros of Vosne-Romanée told me how, in 2010, her harvest was spread out over such an extended period that she simply had to rely on whomever the contractor could supply on a given day for a given vineyard.
It is hardly surprising that the proportion of French grapes that are picked by machine continues to rise each year, even though one would expect the widespread unemployment in southern Europe might translate into increasing numbers of potential grape pickers moving north each autumn, as was traditionally the way. A group of workers might start in the earliest-maturing vineyards of Roussillon and gradually move north towards the latest harvest in the Loire valley, always visiting the same estates.
Further east, and with some of the world's steepest and most difficult-to-work vineyards in the Mosel Valley, German vintners have for years had to rely on eastern Europeans to take over from the increasingly elderly native Germans with experience of vineyard work. Poles and now Romanians regularly invade German vineyards for the annual grape harvest, some of them leaving their own farms back home to be cared for by migrants from even more straitened economies such as those of Belarus or Moldova. This phenomenon is not unknown in Iberia, where, at least until Spain's short-lived economic boom, Spaniards would migrate north to pick crops in France while an increasing proportion of the work on Spanish farms has been done by immigrants from North Africa - who have also been employed by Italian farmers.
American vineyards, and especially those in California, have long provided the most dramatic lesson in dissociation between wine production and viticulture. For almost as long as California has had a flourishing wine industry it has depended utterly on the skills of a Mexican labour force whose knowledge of vines, vineyards and viticulture generally far outstrips that of those whose names are on the labels. Mexican skills and speed of tasks such as picking and grafting have a worldwide reputation and, only partly thanks to well organised unions, pay rates for vineyard workers here tend to be rather better than elsewhere. We have even seen over the last decade or so the emergence of some wineries actually owned and operated by the descendants of Mexican families who arrived in California as itinerant vineyard labourers, and an increasing number of California wine producers are now explicitly acknowledging the role played by their hugely experienced vineyard managers.
This is why Mexicans in search of vineyard work determinedly migrate north, whether legally or, very often, not. South American vineyard workers have been notoriously downtrodden, even if not perhaps quite as dramatically as South Africa's farmworkers were until recently. Persisting social structures in Argentina and particularly Chile have traditionally restricted vineyard ownership to a small, economically privileged elite, although this is starting to change, accelerated by the arrival of so many vineyard investors from more socially liberal Europe, attracted by relatively low land costs and predictable weather. But the average South American vineyard worker is very much less likely to see themselves not just as an employee but as part of a winemaking team than, say, their Australian counterparts.
Australian wine producers may have an admirably democratic attitude towards those they employ in the vineyard, but the problem is, even more than in Europe and North America, an acute shortage of vineyard labour. The Australian bush is famously under-populated and in recent years pointed bamboo coolie hats and carefully swathed Asian scarves have become commonplace sights in Australia's vineyards as the wine industry has leant more and more on labour from the likes of Cambodia and Vietnam, countries with long traditions of skilled agricultural workers.
For all these reasons, the technology industry has in parallel worked hard to develop ways of mechanising regular vineyard tasks, not just picking but pruning, pre-pruning, lifting canopy wires, trimming, and even banking up vines in preparation for particularly cold winters. (The mass migration from country to city in China is already having implications for the burgeoning wine industry there, for example.) But, as was proved in Coonawarra in South Australia, fine wine viticulture can often be too sensitive and complex to mechanise completely. And this is likely to be accentuated as the world learns to cope with increasingly unpredictable weather patterns.
So I see sourcing of vineyard workers as a serious and pressing problem for the world's wine producers, wherever they are. It seems inevitable to me that the cost of vineyard labour will have to increase - and we consumers will have eventually to pay for it.
Millionaire splurges on luxury bubbly
4th April, 2012 by Martin Crummy
A Saudi millionaire is reported to have paid US$136,000 for a six-litre bottle of Champagne in Dubai over the weekend.
The man bought the Methuselah of Louis Roederer Cristal in the early hours of Saturday morning for him and his friends.
The vintage bottle is believed to be one of three available worldwide. There are, apparently, two other bottles for sale at nightclubs in New York and London.
The unidentified Saudi national was described by bar staff as a ‘well educated gentleman… who spoke several languages and ordered the bottle in French.’
It is reported that the Cristal bottle was from the 1990 vintage originally intended for the Millenium celebrations.
The manager of the club refused to reveal anymore of the evening’s bill, saying only that it was “very high” and included a “luxurious dinner”.
It was confirmed that the Dubai club bought the Champagne at Christie’s auction house in London at a cost of around US$93,000.
This Champagne has always done particularly well at auction – in January a magnum of Louis Roederer Cristal brut rosé 1985 doubled its high estimate to settle on £748.
'Mixed' findings from Bordeaux 2011
Harpers, by Gemma McKenna - 03 April 2012
Initial reports from tastings of the Bordeaux 2011 vintage are mixed - with strict selection and “smart winemaking” some excellent wines have been produced, while others have been less successful.
The British wine trade has decamped to the region for a hectic week of meeting negociants and chateaux and tasting their latest offerings.
Stephen Browett, chairman of Farr Vintners, visited the Northern Médoc and in particular the appellations of St Estèphe, Pauillac and St Julien yesterday. He blogged: “What is becoming very clear to us is that 2011 is a very mixed vintage. This is certainly not one of those years when wine-makers could let nature take its course. Far from it. There was a really challenging growing season full of complications and difficulties. It seems that those who had the biggest problems to face have vineyards in the Northern sector of Pauillac and the Southern part of St Estèphe.”
He said Cos d’Estournel had an excellent 2011 “but not without massive sacrifices in the selection process”. There will only be 9,000 cases this year - half the amount of last year and a third of what was produced a decade ago, said Browett. “By contrast, there will be 21,000 cases of Pagodes which is consequently a very good second wine indeed.”
Lay & Wheeler’s Nick Dagley blogged: “It would be fair to say that right bank seems stronger than left, with clay and limestone Merlot working well and some great Cabernet Franc. Also some good surprises from less ambitious but sure to be good value wines and an interesting line up of Médocs who have already pre-released prices, including the excellent Beaumont.”
Bibendum’s Juel Mahoney said despite 2011’s challenging weather, winemakers have adopted the “‘when you have lemons, make lemonade,’” philosophy. “They have produced small quantities of good fruit, with strict selection and smart winemaking they have made some very good grand vins.”
She singled out Chateau Palmer’s grand vin as “the team favourite of the day in the Left Bank”, describing it as “unctuous and velvet with great texture and plenty of ripe, classy fruit”. “It was not only a technically good wine, but it also had charm,” she said.
But others didn’t live up to expectations - such as the Lafite-Rothschild. “It is a very good wine. However, tasting it was a bit like watching a technically brilliant tennis player who plays all the shots but who does not really connect to the emotion of the game. Excellent, but not thrilling,” she said.
Will Lyons of the Wall Street Journal expects “price falls and probably value” from the vintage. But the Independent’s wine critic Anthony Rose is less confident of significant changes in pricing. “On a scale of 1 – 10 what are the realistic chances of Bordelais coming down by 50% or less for #bdx11?,” he tweeted.
As online reviews and tweets about the vintage started to gather momentum, Gavin Quinney, owner of Chateau Bauduc, warned via Twitter: “Worth remembering that at this stage, the more you talk up #bdx11, the more it will cost consumers.”
Craft Wine : What the Wine Industry Can Learn from Craft Beer
April 2, 2012 by Jules Van Cruysen
The wine market is crowded. There are thousands of wineries jumping up and down screaming, ‘ME, ME, ME!!!’, all trying to tell a story about what makes them different. It’s a story that wine buyers and potential customers are getting bored of.
It is not the top tier of producers we are talking about – those making truly fine wine. While fine wine has problems of its own, there will always be demand for the best of the best, whatever the price. Neither is it the industrial wine producers, for whom style trumps substance, who use cold hard cash to open the right doors and who, largely, cater to the lowest-common-denominator drinker.
The producers I am talking about cover the middle ground – independent, small- to medium-sized producers making good everyday wine.
Who are they competing with for shelf space, for by the glass listings, for column inches? Not fine wine, and not corporate industrial wineries – they’ve already bought that shelf space, those listings and that media attention. In truth they are competing with their neighbors – other independent producers.
Now, take a look at the beer market according to The Brewers Association. Overall beer sales by volume are decreasing every year, yet the market for craft beer is stronger than ever. It has grown by figures between 7 and 12 percent for the past couple of years. To put it simply, craft beer is making huge gains in a sector that is contracting.
How are craft beer producers doing this? The answer is simple – they have mobilized their consumers around a set of shared principles to advocate on their behalf – not only to drink craft beer, but to demand it at restaurants, bars and liquor stores and to force it into the hands of family and friends.
To get an idea of this, watch this video. If only wine lovers were that passionate and driven! Those are real consumers and, even more powerfully, front line sales people. And how have craft brewers achieved this?
Innovation, colaboration and risk taking.
To Greg Koch, CEO and co-founder of Stone Brewing in San Diego, wineries have to be genuinely innovative, if they are to succeed in the same manner that craft breweries have. He states that for wineries who want to embrace a craft beer ethos of innovation, style and collaboration, the trick “is to actually do those sort of things!” He believes that the success of the craft brewing industry is due to the fact the “the true differentiation was in the beer itself.” He poses the question: “What does true innovation look like in the wine world?”
Koch encourages small wineries to look at their larger competitors for cues about “what not to do”, particularly when it comes to sales and marketing. He also points out that, from the get go, craft brewers wanted to be authentic – which to him means being authentic in every part of your business practice, not just your product.
More than any industry today, the craft brewing industry is one that celebrates collaboration – that recognizes that a win for one craft brewer is a win for entire industry. This collaboration is taken to its logical conclusion – it is now the norm for craft beer brewers to get together and brew one-off collaborative brews – exchanging ideas, techniques and skills for the betterment of all involved.
While this does happen in the wine industry, it is the exception and not the rule, and it tends to be concentrated at the very top tier – you all know the names. This is despite the fact that collaboration happens every day in the wine industry – winery one sells grapes to winery two, for example – and no one seems very keen to be public with it.
The consumer is smart enough to understand that the reason winery one sells grapes to winery two is not that the fruit isn’t very good, but rather that it just isn’t suited to making the type of wine winery one wants to make or that the vineyard produces more wine than winery two can sell.
Why can’t those two (or more) wineries use their collective marketing power to sell wine for both or all of the producers involved? One great example of this from my neck of the woods is the 2010 Riesling Challenge. The idea is simple – give 12 fantastic winemakers the same fruit and then see what they come up with. The wines are released in packs of 12, one from each winemaker. This forces a winery’s customers to try other like-minded producers’ wines – but it also means that those 11 other sets of consumers may be trying wine from an unknown or off-the-radar producer. Beyond that, the media spin-off from a collaboration also raises the profile of the producers, as well as exposing others to the message they are trying to communicate in a exciting, fun way.
Collaboration also happens on an international scale. It is pretty normal for winemakers from different regions to visit others and work in other wineries over harvest time. Why not make collaborative wines – small scale, one off wines that push the boundaries as craft beer collaborations do – with all parties taking a share to sell in their respective cellar doors and on their mailing lists? For Mikkel Borg Bjergsø, the Danish ‘Gyspsy Brewer’ who brews beers for his brand Mikkeller at different craft breweries in Europe as well as in the UK and USA, international collaboration brews were important in gaining name recognition in new markets, thanks to the prestige of working with a well-known and respected local brewer.
The craft beer industry is also one that takes risks. Luke Nicholas, owner of Epic, a New Zealand craft brewer who specializes in hoppy pale ales and lagers puts it quite simply: “Try new things. It’s great, following tradition and making wine that everyone else is making, but why do that when someone or many others are already doing it? Do something unique, own that space.”
He also acknowledges that there are other challenges for wineries – that beers can be brewed several times a year, ingredients for making a unique product sourced from anywhere in the world, while turnaround is generally a lot quicker. However, wineries also have advantages, he points out: “the special thing wineries have going for them is the geographic location and the wine maker as a personality.”
That connection to a place, as well as to the people who make the product is becoming increasingly important, not just for wine lovers, but for average eaters and drinkers as well. For the craft beer industry, it means social and corporate responsibility with a special emphasis on having a craft brewery being a positive force in the community. As Greg Koch states: “I think that if you want to be important in the community, you have to be important to the community” and more than that, it has to be “a natural part of who you are as an entity.”
The biggest risks the craft beer industry took have paid off, big time. Craft brewers chose to collectively define themselves against the status quo of mainstream industrial brewers’ “fizzy yellow beer” that still represents the majority of the beer market. In doing so, they created the market for craft beer. To seize this opportunity, wineries have to be prepared to do the same – collectively differentiating themselves against mass-produced industrial wine, but also teaching the consumer what they do stand for – in many ways, the same principles as the craft breweries.
How those principles are to be interpreted is up to the collective of producers who embrace them. Obviously this may entail some commercial risk. But isn’t doing nothing even riskier?
Which Comes First – the Winery or the Farm?
March 12, 2012 by Kristina Anderson
How many of us haven’t, at some point, fantasized about leaving it all to go run a winery? This dream always seems to entail lunch shared with friends and family, a light dish accompanied by a bottle of one’s own red wine, eaten al fresco and overlooking breathtaking views of one’s own vineyards. A labor of love? Yes. An idyllic life? Maybe.
There seems to be an innate tendency to idealize farm life. This author’s own father moved his family from urban Chicago to a working Wisconsin dairy in pursuit of the pastoral. In spite of coming to learn how misplaced this dream was for her family, thirty years later the author conveniently found herself in ignorance of the fact that wineries are farms, too. And while they must live in the day-to-day reality of working a farm, many of these winery owners are finding clever ways to seek the idyllic life.
Julie Johnson, winemaker and owner of Tres Sabores in Napa Valley, recently shared how she has integrated the vineyards into their larger farm business. “All I’m really looking for is an authentic Napa Valley reality that resonates for my family and our guests and works for us in an earth-wise and financially viable way,” she comments. She established the winery in 1999, she adds, “as a natural offshoot of wanting to explore the dynamics of the land. Establishing a winery helped to keep the energy on site, especially since we live here as well.” It also helped pay homage to history; as the story goes, her lands were used to grow petite sirah as far back as pre-prohibition times.
Johnson’s is just one in a growing number of vineyards across the country who call themselves farms and who are producing more than wine as part of a more integrated approach to farming. Chris Hall, General Manager of Napa’s Long Meadow Ranch, relates: “Our integrated organic farming system includes world class estate-produced olive oil, a substantial herd of grass-fed Highland cattle, an organic vegetable garden, and an egg-producing poultry flock. We even breed and work our own Appaloosa and POA (Pony of America) horses and keep two teams of Haflinger draft horses.” The aim, according to Hall, is to create a modern, commercially successful version of the family farm, while at the same time being acknowledged as a purveyor of fine food.
Lise Ciolino, owner of Montemaggiore in Sonoma County, explains, “Through the years, we’ve realized that we needed a poly-culture since multiple crops lead to fewer pests and diseases. Crop diversification also means huge risk reduction when one considers the unpredictability of Mother Nature. We’ve realized animals can play a huge role in providing fertilizer, cultivation, and weed control—in addition to food. Our goal has become making our small family farm a complete ecosystem—farming organically, growing multiple crops, and raising different types of animals.”
Brook Drummond, General Manager of Skipstone in Alexander Valley, CA points out that, to Owner Fahri Diner, a third generation olive farmer from Cyprus, “it’s really important that the estate operates in a symbiotic relationship with nature.”
Don Coe, Managing Director at Black Star Farms in Michigan suggests the land—and industry competition—dictated Black Star’s model. “We farm 160 acres—not all suitable for grapes –so we have a mix of vineyards, orchards, hayfields, pastures, woodlots, other fruits and vegetables, etc. all growing for processing by our various on-farm businesses and retailing directly to consumers,” he says. “For us it creates our unique selling point. We knew that there would be rapid growth of the wine industry and we wanted to ensure that we would be a ‘must see’ winery. We do this through the breadth of our offerings: a winery, distillery, creamery, inn, restaurant and vineyard café, bakery, farm market, stables and farm animals. All of which celebrate the bounty of the land and the artisans who produce the products from the land. We support and practice value added agriculture and agricultural tourism as well as offering something of interest to all of our visitors. The most important aspect of our business remains the winery and all the other businesses are here to support the winery.” Coe points out, “the idea was to have our wines benefit from the regional food movement and vice versa. When you enjoy the Raclette cheese with our wine you know that the cows were grazing on hillsides facing the vineyards and the two products, that pair so well together, are an expression of place.”
Getting “back to nature” is a common theme that runs throughout this integrated farm-winery model, and it usually means growing other crops and raising livestock. “The plantings I’ve established at the ranch myself—pomegranates and citrus, herbs, cover crops, and decorative landscaping—augment the health of the vineyards,” says Johnson about Tres Sabores. She’s at work restoring a large grove of olives planted over 130 years ago. She also raises sheep and guinea fowl as a source of manure (for fertilizer) and as a way to deal with the material side-products of wine production. Rather than pay one company to cart away the seeds, stems, and skins after pressing, and the barrel lees removed during clarification, and then pay another to return later with the compost required for fertilizing the vineyards, Johnson instead makes use of the byproducts by layering them with the sheep’s manure to create her own, rich compost. That’s just one benefit to owning the sheep. “[Another] side benefit to the critters,” she notes, “is that they’re entertaining, often very sweet to be around, and are terrifically tasty when cooked and served with wine. Everything has a consequence: having a farm winery means that I marshal those elements into a system that really works in an integrated way.”
This is no small feat. As Montemaggiore’s Ciolino points out, “Having a complete farm means understanding additional crops and animals—and understanding how to leverage their benefits! Instead of just understanding vineyard design, grapevine pests and diseases, and vine pruning methodologies, we must also understand olive tree pests and diseases, pruning of olive trees, olive harvest methodologies, and olive oil pressing technology. Having sheep and chickens means that we must understand animal husbandry, pests, diseases, and nutrition.” For all the hard work, the payoff is worth it. “Farming is a 24/7 business. You are always working, but it’s never a job,” she says, pointing out that she feels their family farm provides a healthy, fulfilling lifestyle for the whole family.
In a world of mass consumption and growing landfills, this “back to the earth” approach is a gentle reminder to consider our connection to our food sources. Sarah Cahn Bennett, co-owner of Navarro Vineyards, notes, “As a society, we have forgotten how to farm, process, and preserve. Not that everyone out there should go raise sheep, or can tomatoes, but go produce something, realize how much work it is, and what the value is, question how sustainable you think it is. We are so dependent as a society on just running to [a grocery store] and picking up dinner.” Navarro Vineyards incorporates cover crops between vines to reduce sedimentation and encourage beneficial insects, raises dairy cattle for its creamery, and uses sheep and chicken as a fossil-fuel-free method of mowing, suckering, and limiting pests. Chickens, apparently, provide “some of the best manure out there and work great at debugging vineyards, “ she says, “but aren’t really mowers.”
That’s where sheep enter the picture. Deborah Walton, the owner of Canvas Ranch in Petaluma, CA, has been leasing out Babydoll Southdown sheep to Sonoma and Mendocino wineries for years. She chose this particular breed for three reasons: they are small (only 24 inches at the shoulder) and therefore easier to handle, can be used for both wool and meat, and were on the endangered species list. After receiving a grant to test these sheep on the vineyards at California Polytechnic State University, a business was born.
Walton admits that many wineries hesitated to “get into the whole new arena of farming by owning sheep. So, I offered to simply loan the sheep for 3-4 months to graze and then bring them back to home pastures for the summer and fall to breed, have their lambs, and care for our property.”
Babydoll Southdown sheep are a rare breed, and it follows that they would be pricey. Even so, Walton has found wineries have been increasingly interested in purchasing the lambs to raise for meat as well as for their ability to work the vineyards. Navarro Vineyards raises Babydolls to graze in the older vineyards throughout the growing season, allowing the farm to use the sheep almost 10 months of the year. They chose the sheep because “they are herbivores that can live with very little outside input,” says Bennett. “We are grape growers but we spend a lot of time fussing over our ground covers and growing grass anyway. Sheep are very gentle of the vines. They also graze with minimal erosion concern which is good for our hillside and help controls fire danger.” For Ciolino, the decision was easy: “Cows would rip out the grasses, roots and all, making a bit of a mess. Goats on the other hand, would eat everything in the vineyard including the fence posts and irrigation hose. So, sheep are a natural choice for vineyard floor management.”
One of the reasons wineries seem to exist outside the realm of traditional farming is perhaps the fact that wine has always been seen as a luxury good. Wine grapes quickly lose their magic when paired alongside more banal crops—let alone with sheep manure. To produce your own applesauce is quaint, to produce your own wine is elite. Wine is so standalone, that is seems both sacrilegious and funny for wineries to produce anything but the elixir of the gods.
But what if this weren’t the case? What if we came to think of grapes for wine as just any other crop? As Johnson explains, “I don’t subscribe to the ‘wine as hallowed elixir’ hype. A gift of the gods—yes!—but only in the context of being able to really enjoy the beverage with great food and fine friends. I figured that it made absolute sense to be a winegrower who also supplies some of the other ingredients for the table.” Sarah Cahn Bennett says, “to me wine is something you enjoy with food, and farms are food. Being a winemaker and enjoying wine is exciting, but it’s only part of the experience. Food is a big part as well.”
All this raises the question: which comes first, the farm, or the winery? Do we call these types of places farms with winery components, or do we say that some wineries also operate as farms? Wine with its infamous markup and income potential probably does mean the farm’s vineyards will inevitably reign supreme. It really depends on the farmer, and how she wants to identify herself. Will this newest generation of vintners be able to reconcile the status of being a vintner with the day-to-day lifestyle of running a working farm? Or will they remind us that there is no real difference?
Sunny Site + Gravity Flow = Quality Pinot Noir
Copyright © Wines & Vines
When Richard Blair discovered Pinot Noir and became inspired to grow grapes that would make a great wine, he did what many people do: He planted the family farm. In his case, however, the family had 300 acres of farmland in the foothills of southeastern Pennsylvania. “Unfortunately, not much of the land was suitable for quality grapegrowing,” Blair told Wines & Vines. “The slopes weren’t right, and too much was northeast facing.” In 1998 he planted 8 acres of winegrapes high on a hillside at 1,050 feet—and, most importantly, facing south. He put in varieties appropriate for cooler Pennsylvania sites: Pinot Gris, Chardonnay and (his personal favorite) Pinot Noir. What he didn’t realize at the time was that while his hillside Rockland Vineyard faced the right direction, the woods surrounding it limited the amount of sunshine available to the grapes. Initially Blair sold some of his grapes, and then in 2004 he opened a small winery at the Rockland Vineyard. He might have stayed right where he was with a small winery and 8 acres of vines, but his eldest daughter, Missy, had also been bitten by the wine industry bug. She encouraged Blair to find a vineyard site that would allow the winery to expand in the future. “I definitely learned it is best to find the site for growing quality grapes and not to plant the farm,” Blair says with a smile. Greenwich Vineyard He made numerous trips to France—especially Burgundy—and to Oregon to learn from growers and winemakers working with Pinot Noir and other grapes in somewhat cool and cloudy environments. “I came back from trips to Oregon in 2005 and 2006 knowing what I needed to find,” Blair stated. He placed an ad in a local farming publication for sloping farmland that faced south. While he had several responses, most farmers seemed somewhat directionally challenged, and the land available was definitely not facing south. When Blair first saw the property he would eventually buy, it was covered in a half-foot of snow. After searching the Internet for geologic and weather data, taking soil samples and appraising its viability for growing grapes, Blair bought 35 acres in April 2007. The land now known as the Greenwich Vineyard (pronounced the Pennsylvania Dutch way: “Green-witch”) was 300 feet lower than Blair’s home vineyard, totally open with no woods, and the 10°-15° slopes faced southeast, south and southwest. Blair firmly believes that sites like his Greenwich Vineyard bring out the quality of the grapes. “It’s not just the growing-degree days,” he states. “It’s all about the increased amount of sunshine from early morning to late afternoon. If you can find a good site for Pinot Noir, I think we can do remarkable things with Pinot Noir on the East Coast.” By May he had planted 10 acres, and has added approximately 5 acres each year since then. A total of 23 acres are now planted with Chardonnay, Pinot Gris, Riesling, Gewürztraminer, Cabernet Franc, Syrah and Pinot Noir, and he is considering planting some Sauvignon Blanc this year. The winery With the vineyard site planted, Blair turned his attention to designing his winery. One Oregon winery he visited particularly inspired him. The three-tier, gravity-flow winery at Penner-Ash Wine Cellars in Newberg, Ore., appealed to Blair because of the potential for gently handling the grapes as they were moved from picking lugs to fermenting tanks, and the wine from barrel storage and finally bottling. The hillside Greenwich site was ideal for building a gravity-flow winery. Blair, who worked in the family real estate development and construction company Blair and Son Inc., now located in Paoli, Pa., outside Philadelphia for many years, designed the basic plan, while the finishing details were done by a local architectural firm, Home Field Advantage, in Pottstown, Pa. The top level is the main entrance into the winery and consists of the tasting room, a kitchen, offices and an outside covered tasting pavilion. Grapes also come in from the vineyard at this level, and lugs are dumped into the destemmer-crusher or directly into fermentors on the middle level. The lowest level is built into the hillside and contains the stainless steel tank room, the barrel room, a bottling area and finished bottle storage. Because the building is based on bedrock, there is no heat in the lowest level. The natural geo-thermal temperature remains between 55° and 65°F in the barrel room, while the storage room gradually shifts from a low of 40° to a maximum of 70°F in the summer. The winery was built in 2009-10, with Blair acting as his own general contractor. The facility opened in summer 2010 and is now producing 12,000 gallons of wine. Initially, Blair handled everything from growing the grapes through making and bottling the wine. He soon realized, however, that he prefers to be in the vineyard and leave the winemaking to his consultant, Catherine Peyrot des Gashons, and her assistant, Hilary Gary, who does cellar work and some wine marketing. Peyrot des Gashons, who graduated from the University of Bordeaux, has worked at wineries in Burgundy and Oregon and currently lives in Philadelphia. Gary worked as a financial planner and now is both learning from Peyrot des Gashons and participating in the enology program at the Harrisburg Area Community College. All grapes are handpicked into lugs, which are delivered to the top level of the winery 2 tons at a time. Some of the whites are fermented as whole clusters, while others go through the PMH crusher-destemmer that Blair bought from More Wine in California. Chardonnay goes directly into barrels for fermentation. Primary fermentation occurs on the second level in 1-ton bins and in variable-capacity tanks ranging in size from 1 to 5 tons, which Blair purchased from GW Kent in Ypsilanti, Mich. Various strains of yeast are added to the different lots of wine depending on the varietal and style of wine that Blair is planning to make. Punch down is done hydraulically by a special piece of equipment by the SK Group, which Blair found in France and purchased through Pleasantville, N.Y.-based Prospero Equipment Corp. It takes approximately five minutes to punch down a cap using this equipment. Pressing is done using the 35-hectoliter press manufactured by SK Group and sold by Prospero Equipment. Blair believes that vari ety in barrels is the best way to achieve a balance of flavors, and consequently he has acquired barrels from a variety of sources including Dargaud & Jaegle Tonnellerie (from Premier Wine Cask), Tonnellerie Cadus from Bouchard Cooperages and Seguin Moreau. Chardonnay is the only variety that Blair ferments in oak. He uses 228- and 400-liter barrels for the Chardonnay and, depending on the season, leaves it in the barrel for seven to 10 months. All of his other wines are fermented in open-top fermentors; Pinot Noir is then put in French oak (90%) and Hungarian oak (10%) for between nine and 13 months. Cabernet Franc, Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot are left in French and Hungarian oak for between 11 and 15 months. Because the winery is gravity flow, Blair does not own a must pump. When he does pump a wine—from tank to the bottling line, for example—he uses a Liverani pump from Prospero. His hoses are all 1.5 inches. Blair’s bottling line is one not usually found in the wine industry. He acquired the line from SBC Bottling and Canning Group in Chicago, Ill. It has a five-spout filler and does between 700 and 800 bottles per hour. The winery receives its bottles in bulk from Hauser Packaging. After the wine is bottled, it is stored as clean skins in wire cages that Blair imports from France. Cardboard cases are used only for transporting wine from the winery to restaurants or Blair’s other tasting rooms. The challenges Winegrowing east of the Rockies offers numerous challenges; along the entire East Coast including Pennsylvania, hurricanes are an annual problem. Growers prepare by applying appropriate sprays throughout the growing season, but the intensity and duration of different storm systems can have a major impact. The harvest in 2011 was more difficult than most. Hurricane Irene arrived with strong winds and many inches of rain; it was followed within a week by Hurricane Lee. “Our vineyard survived Irene okay,” Blair reported, “but Lee stayed around for a week, and grapes started to rot. As a result, we didn’t pick half the vineyard.” However, Blair reports that his Chardonnay, Pinot Gris, Riesling and Gewürztraminer were fine. Later red varieties such as Cabernet Franc and Syrah had 11 days of sunshine that helped color accumulation, and those wines are coming along nicely. Marketing is another challenge, although major metropolitan population centers are not far away. Blair is located just west of Allentown, Pa., 70 miles from Philadelphia and less than four miles south of Interstate 78, a highway that feeds directly into New York City about 100 miles east. The winery belongs to the Berks County Wine Trail, a group of eight wineries that sponsor four weekend events during the year: Wine and Chocolate in February; Food of the World, April 21-22; Christmas in August, Aug. 4-5; and Wine and Cheesecake Pairings, Oct. 6-7. As many as 1,000-1,200 customers come to visit the winery during the Wine and Chocolate weekend, while the other weekend trail events attract about 600 people. In addition, Blair holds winemaker dinners once a month at the winery, which can seat up to 60 people. Future plans At some point, Blair plans to add more vineyard acreage at the Greenwich Vineyard site. He has 20 acres in vines now and could add between 5 and 9 more acres in the future, possibly adding some Sauvignon Blanc. Although the winery was constructed less than two years ago, Blair already has plans for its expansion. “I’d like to add a cut-and-cover cave to use for product storage—both barrels and finished product,” he said. The tasting room, which currently is approximately 1,000 square feet, also is proving to be too small. The covered patio outside the tasting room may be enclosed while a new, larger patio is added closer to the vineyard.
Italian wine now 22% of global market
Decanter, 19 March 2012
After a record-breaking export year, Italy now has nearly a quarter of the global wine market, according to the latest statistics.
National statistics agency ISTAT reported exports of Italian wine rose by 12% to more than €4.4bn.
Exports by volume were also up, by 9%, to 24m hectolitres, giving Italy a 22% share of the global wine market, the agency said.
The US was the most significant export market in value terms, followed by Germany and the UK, while Germany was the leading importer of Italian wine by volume.
Prosecco led the charge with a surge in shipments of more than 17% to the US, ISTAT added.
Giovanni Mantovani, director general of Veronafiere, which organises the annual Vinitaly trade fair, said there had been ‘a growth of professionalism’ among Italian producers of all sizes.
‘So, alongside great names, it is now easier to find small producers who are appreciated in restaurants and wine bars around the world,’ Mantovani added.
‘Everyone finds their own channel or market niche based on their potential.’
Italy outstripped France to become the world’s biggest wine producer in 2010 – the last year for which figures are available – bottling nearly 5bn litres of wine.
More than 4,200 producers are due to exhibit their wines at Vinitaly, which is held on 25-28 March in Verona.
Bordeaux 2011: Merlot succeeds in 'unpredictable' year
Decanter, 16 March 2012
The first London tasting of 2011 right bank wines has confirmed oenologist Denis Dubourdieu's comments that the vintage is as varied as the bizarre weather patterns that produced it.
In his annual report the renowned consultant talks about the ‘unpredictable consequences’ of the incredibly hot spring, cool July, rainy August and Indian summer.
Winners this year are Merlot-based wines on clay and limestone soils, Cabernet Sauvignon on gravel and clay-gravel, the botrytised sweet wines of Sauternes and Barsac, and the whites of Pessac.
Cabernet Franc, when it worked, was exceptional, Dubordieu said.
Producers from St Emilion and Pomerol and their neighbouring appellations, in London yesterday for the Cercle Rive Droite 2011 tasting, agreed.
‘It was the best year ever for Cabernet Franc,’ Paul Goldschmidt, owner of St Emilion Grand Cru Classe Chateau Le Prieuré said.
One of the oddest factors in the ripening cycle, across Bordeaux, was the spring, which saw temperatures in the high thirties – ‘true summer weather’ as Dubourdieu calls it.
Then came a summer characterised by ‘persistent drought’, including a heat spike of 40C for two days in June which roasted grapes on the vine. Up to 20% of the Cabernet crop was lost, the Merlot faring better, possibly because its wide leaves provided protection.
August rain then swelled grapes, diluting the flavours in some areas, followed by ferocious hailstorms at the beginning of September, devastating vines in St Estephe especially.
This was followed by an Indian summer, with a ‘spectacularly dry’ September.
On the right bank, in areas where clay and limestone predominates, producers are pleased with their Merlot – Dubourdieu recalled tasting ‘delicious Merlot grapes from clay and limestone soils’.
But, he warned, ‘Merlot grapes from gravel soils were not nearly as good, and those from sandy or silty soil were downright disappointing.’
Right bank producers say it was a difficult vintage to ripen, and one requiring a good deal of work in the winery, extensive sorting, and the powerful tannins needing particularly gentle extraction.
‘Those that tried to extract more flavour ended up with dry, astringent wines,’ Alain Raynaud, who consults for some two dozen properties on the right bank, said.
‘It was a winemakers’ vintage,’ Helöise Aubert from Vignobles Aubert, owners of eight properties including St Emilion Grand Cru Classe Chateau La Couspaude, said. ‘The Merlot was very successful but you had to have a very smooth extraction to be gentle with the tannins.’
Raynaud added, ‘It was a very strange year. At the beginning of summer we seemed to be on the verge of disaster, our grapes burnt by the sun. But those berries that were left gained in intensity.’
Making the Switch
March 2012- Copyright © Wines & Vines
What to know when pursuing mechanical winegrape harvesting.
It’s faster, it’s cheaper, and proponents claim the quality has never been better. In fact, some say machine-harvested grapes often arrive at the winery in better condition than hand-harvested fruit. But what does a grower need to know to make the switch? What are the costs and potential savings, and what preparation is necessary in the vineyard? As machine harvesting grows more prevalent, Wines & Vines is talking to growers and other experts to gain a better understanding of what vineyard owners and winemakers should know if they want to use the method. Cheaper and faster Like everything in the vineyard, the cost of machine harvesting depends on a host of variables. Yet most sources we interviewed said machine harvesting costs about a third to half of what it costs to hire a crew to hand-pick grapes. John Ledbetter, a partner and CFO of Lodi, Calif.-based Vino Farms, said it generally costs about $40 to $50 per ton to harvest with a machine. To pick the same grapes with a hand crew, it would probably be closer to $100 per ton. Add to that the cost of the tractors and trucks still needed with a hand crew, and the cost is closer to $150 per ton. Vino Farms manages more than 13,000 acres in 10 California counties stretching from Sacramento County in the northern Central Valley to Santa Barbara County on the Central Coast. Most of the company’s acreage is machine harvested. Ledbetter said machines are faster and far more efficient. Two to four people operating machines can replace a crew of 60 to 70 laborers. “It’s pretty easy to do the math on that,” he said. Ledbetter said that some of the early harvesting technology was pretty rough on the vines. A few decades ago, he said, you could tell a machine had gone through by telltale signs of battered vines and torn canes. “Today, with the technology that’s out there, you have to get out of your truck to see if the vines were picked by machines.” The new technology is also being embraced by the next generation of winemakers, whom Ledbetter said have seen the advantages of machine harvesting. Towle Merritt is a viticulturist with Napa, Calif.-based Walsh Vineyard Management Inc., which operates the new Pellenc Selectiv’ Process Harvesters. In a general example, not including hauling and with the assumption that grapes are being picked into half-ton bins, he said the Pellenc system will average $140 per ton, while a hand-harvesting crew would average $385 per ton. (Those costs also include loading area, ground support and night harvesting as a constant.) Merritt said the machines may require 90-120 minutes of cleaning, service and set up to be ready for the next shift. Once at a vineyard, they can be picking about 30 minutes after warming up. In comparison to a hand crew, the machines are not just faster but also require less supervision and extend the working day. Merritt said the machines can average about 1.25 acres per hour. The main interest in Walsh’s machines has been quality, Merritt said. The top priority for clients in the Napa and Sonoma area is to preserve the condition of their grapes. “Saving money at harvest doesn’t work at all if we cannot meet our clients’ high wine quality expectations. Our clients are specifically requesting Pellenc Selectiv’ Process Harvesters. We have other harvesters available to our clients, but many do not want to use them. The economics gets them to the door; the technology and quality of harvest pushes it over the top, no matter what the headline is in the business section.” On the Central Coast Gregg Hibbits, general manager at Mesa Vineyard Management, based in Templeton, Calif., said Mesa owns seven harvesters and manages five more. The company uses nine Gregoire machines, two from Braud and one Pellenc. He said costs for machine-harvested fruit tend to average $300-$350 per acre. When compared to hand harvesting, which Hibbits said can run $150-$200 per ton, machines are often the cheaper option. He added that growers should be aware that new machines with equipment like onboard destemmers can yield fruit so clean that they may lose money on total weight. Mesa mainly farms large properties, so Hibbits said he will park a machine at the vineyard until harvesting is finished. He said the company does some custom harvesting, and Hibbits said he likes to have at least 24-hour notice. He admits, though, that harvest is often “organized chaos,” and he’ll just shoot for noon on the scheduled day to pick. On the Central Coast, Hibbits said machine harvesting has gone mainstream, and only the smallest vineyards (one to two acres) are still harvested by hand. Greg Kovacevich, owner of Santa Rosa, Calif.-based Vineyard Ops Inc., said he gained a few new clients for machine harvesting during the past vintage because of a lack of labor. He said many of his clients already have long-term agreements that spell out whether to harvest with machines or not as well as the responsibilities of the harvester and grower. Contracts can vary based on what costs the growers and wineries may be willing to shoulder, such as hauling the harvested grapes. Kovacevich said he prefers just to harvest and leave the hauling to his clients. Kovacevich said growers need to determine if their property can be harvested with machines and if the winery on the receiving end can process machine-harvested grapes. He said many of his machines get scheduled at large vineyards for the duration of harvest. In between those larger picks, Kovacevich said he likes to fill in the gaps with custom harvest jobs for growers with vineyards in the range of 20-30 acres. He prefers to visit a vineyard in the winter or spring to get a sense of the terrain, but if a grower calls him and needs a machine, he can probably arrange for one the same week, sometimes with just 24-48 hours notice. “Harvest is so fast and furious, it’s really difficult to make too many long- range plans,” he said. While he can run the machines at any time of the day to pick, he prefers to operate at night, when it’s cooler. Vineyard Ops has six Braud machines and can harvest from Lake County to the Central Coast. In past vintages, Kovacevich said he’s gone from Healdsburg to Paso Robles and can be set up to run in 20 hours. “When you’ve only six weeks to make 90% of your revenue, you make it happen,” he said. 90% in New York Dr. Timothy E. Martinson, senior extension associate with Cornell University, said that even in New York—the birthplace of the mechanical grape harvester in the United States—some growers were skeptical of machines. These were owners of smaller vineyards who prided themselves on producing premium grapes. However, as technology improved from some of the first-generation Chisholm-Ryder machines to harvesters with gentler processing methods, more growers opened up to the methods. And it takes just a few challenging vintages for growers to see the benefit of harvesting in terms of acres per hour rather than days. “That seems to change a lot of minds about it.” Now Martinson estimates that more than 90% of the region’s winegrapes are harvested with machines. In addition to being cheaper and quicker, Martinson said the machines enable growers to manage the varying ripening patterns of the many different varieties of grapes in the state. Some trellis styles like split canopy, Lyre trellis and head-trained vines do not work with machine harvesting. Older wires, posts and sprinklers may not be able to hold up to machine harvesting. And just like other vineyard machines, harvesters can be limited when the ground is saturated after heavy rain. While the harvesters continue to improve, many hillside vineyards remain inaccessible. Machines may require fewer workers, but operators need to be trained to drive the machines and coordinate the speed of the harvesting apparatuses, machines and ancillary trucks or tractors. Operator must dial in Mark Neal, owner of Napa Valley vineyard management company Jack Neal and Son, owns two Pellenc harvesters. “They’re beautiful machines, and they do a great job,” he said. “It does a fantastic, clean job, and if you have the right operator that’s dialed in correctly, it makes all the difference in the world.” Neal said he has seen an increase in demand for machine-harvested fruit, and that’s largely because quality has improved. “It’s not always 100% the answer, but the quality aspect of the machines is something a lot of people need to look at.” Some of the newest machines feature sorting systems on board, but one limitation to mechanizing can arise if a grower has to contend with rot or other crop problems. “At some point you have to accept a hand crew going through and selecting out clusters or sending a machine through that picks everything,” said Dr. James Wolpert, viticulture and extension specialist for the University of California, Davis. The challenge of mechanically harvesting fruit infected with Botrytis has been one of the reasons that the method has not caught on in Oregon, said Kevin Chambers, chief marketing officer for Oregon Vineyard Supply, which includes the vineyard management company Results Partners. He added that grower concerns for quality also have limited the spread of mechanical harvesting. “First off, most of Oregon’s production is focused on the highest quality portion of the production spectrum. In that vein, mechanically harvested fruit has always been viewed as suspect. Some larger growers (or) wineries have moved in that direction to reduce costs, but they find that the machines aren’t used enough to amortize the cost, so the savings are suspect.” Chambers also observed that many of the state’s vineyards are located on steep hillsides and were established with trellising that makes mechanized harvesting difficult. “I do think there will be a place for mechanical harvesting in Oregon, but it needs to be planned from the start.” Big initial costs New machines can cost around $350,000, and even used machines can fetch prices of $100,000. Wolpert, the UC extension viticulturist, said that demand could outstrip the supply of available machines. The benefit of quicker mechanized harvesting is obviously lost when a machine can’t get to your vineyard in time. How demand will balance supply in the next few years remains to be seen. “The question is how in sync will that be.” While Virginia is home to a fast-growing wine industry boasting nearly 200 wineries and almost 300 vineyards, Virginia Tech’s Dr. Tony Wolf said he believes only one winery has a mechanical harvester. “Some of us have talked about cooperative ownership or custom harvesting, but nothing has been done on that here,” he said. “We don’t have economic models to inform us what size vineyard or what grapes are valued at to justify a harvester.” Wolf also reiterated concerns about dealing with rot. “Sure, it’s one thing to use the harvester to beat a hurricane with a few days’ advance notice—if the grapes are nearly ready to harvest anyway. But if the grower is willing to accept some loss to rot in return for higher wine quality potential of the remaining fruit, she will be forced to go in and sort the fruit at harvest; something the machines don’t do a good job with.” Merritt, of Walsh vineyard management, said buying a new harvester is a serious undertaking. “Buying new technology harvesters is very capital intensive. One should consider that having one harvester is not a robust business plan. Other considerations are the learning curve, equipment transporter requirements and having mechanics that can work on them,” he said. “We see this as a highly specialized business with economies of scale playing a big factor in keeping down costs and quality of service high. Owning the harvester is 50% of what is needed to be successful; the other 50% is the hard part.” In California’s Central Valley, more than 95% of all the region’s grapes are harvested by machine, and Nat DiBuduo, president of Allied Grape Growers, expects that number to rise to 99%. When asked if that trend will likely cont inue through the rest of California, Wolpert is unambiguous, saying, “Yes, no doubt about it.”
Wine Barrel Process Cuts Risk of Brett
15 March 2012-Copyright © Wines & Vines
Oregon woodworker says Brettanomyces contamination reduced with shaved and toasted barrels.
A shave and a tan may be a prescription for eliminating Brett-contaminated barrels, according to studies performed by ETS Laboratories on behalf of a Salem-based barrel company. Founded in 2009 by master woodworker Todd Dollinger, Rewine Barrels LLC refurbishes wine barrels by shaving 3/16-inch (about five millimeters) from the staves and then toasting the exposed wood to restore the barrel’s original flavor profile. Tests this winter by ETS Laboratories in St. Helena, Calif., confirmed that Rewine’s patent-pending process could rid used barrels of Brettanomyces contamination. “Brett” is a conundrum for many winemakers: Some find a touch in Pinot Noir attractive, but the barnyard characters that the yeast imparts are not generally welcome at the dinner table. A Brett-contaminated barrel is even worse, laying the foundation for all-out spoilage. By shaving used barrels and then toasting them with dry, radiant heat for two hours—rather than steaming or washing them—Rewine appears to have cleaned up contaminated barrels and made them good as new. How it works Peter Salamone, technical manager for Laffort USA and technical consultant to Rewine, believes the key lies in the fact Rewine toasts barrels at 400°F for two hours, During the process, the exterior of the barrel typically reaches a temperature of 190°F. “There’s no organism, not even thermal vent bacteria, that will survive 190°F-plus temperature for over an hour,” Salamone told Wines & Vines. “Treating it longer than 20 minutes actually drives all of those bad components out and enables the toast to refurbish the barrels to like-new status. The chemicals volatilize and come out of the wood.” To verify the results, Salamone took six barrels from a willing winery, then asked the winery to wash three of them according to its own best cellar practices. The other three went to Rewine for refurbishing. Three new barrels of the same make and toast served as controls. The barrels were then analyzed by ETS. Those treated according to winery best practices returned microbe counts in the range of 100,000 per milliliter, while Rewine’s treatment virtually eliminated bacteria. “Best cellar practices didn’t disinfect or clean the barrels very well,” Salamone said. The next phase of Salamone’s trial will examine the character of wines made in the refilled barrels, with an eye to microbial and flavor development. Salamone ultimately hopes to present the results in a formal article. In the meantime, Dollinger circulated a sheet at February trade shows to drum up winery interest. Winemaker experiences Brad Ford, winemaker at Illahe Vineyards in Dallas, Ore., said he accepts Brett as a fact of winemaking life. Illahe, launched in 2006, has a stock of about 80 to 100 barrels and aims to make wine as naturally as possible. It doesn’t engage in cross-flow filtration to address Brett contamination, so any process that eliminates it from barrels is welcome. “We are a natural winery,” Ford said. “I believe I’m adding Brett to my barrels when I put wine in them, so this process means I’m not worried about it already being there at the start.” Ford said the barrels that Rewine refurbishes contribute flavors similar to when they were new, something confirmed by John Grochau of Grochau Cellars in Portland, Ore. “Some of the toasting flavor profile is already innate in the barrel from the original coopering,” he said. Grochau has worked with Rewine since 2009, when he introduced a line of affordable wines to address the prevailing economic environment. “I wanted to see if I could lower my costs a bit and still produce some good quality wine,” he said. “By and large, I try to earmark them for my lower price points, but I do put one of those barrels into every vineyard lot.” He believes that shaving 3/16-inch off the staves promotes a faster aging period, allowing him to bring some wines to market faster. “One of my lower price-point wines is a very quick-to-bottle red wine. It’s seven months in barrel,” Grochau said. “Shaving 5 mm, and working with 22 mm staves, I would imagine we’re getting a little bit better air flow through the barrel, and perhaps even a quicker aging of the wine. That’s another part of my equation that I see as a benefit.” The barrels are holding up fine, Grochau added, and refurbishment has extended the life of the 300 barrels in his cellar. He treats the refurbished barrels cautiously, however, stacking them no more than three high. Salamone, for his part, believes Rewine’s process is good news for wineries, whether they use it to simply refurbish barrels or eliminate Brett. “There’s a lot of 50,000-barrel cellars where 12,000-plus barrels a year are being scrapped out,” Salomone said. “You could conceivably recycle 80% of that. If you’re refurbishing 10,000 barrels, times $800 savings, that’s $8 million per year you can just put right back in your pocket.” Or, he suggested, wineries could opt initially to purchase more expensive barrels, because they could count on doubling their life through refurbishment down the road. “This is a paradigm change in how cellars will manage their oak,” he said. “You can increase your budget for new oak, be cause you can then refurbish it at a fraction of the price.”
Croatia and the New New World
Decanter, 9 March 2012
When will the New World stop being called the New World? Maybe when there is a New New World to take its place.
A trip to the Zagreb Wine Festival convinced me that we are, in fact, about to see that New New World, and that it is called Eastern Europe.
I got a fascinating sense of what is going on viticulturally recently, by visiting the Zagreb wine festival, which gathers together the best producers from Eastern Europe. This year’s event took place in Zagreb’s Museum of Contemporary Art, and was organised by the dynamic duo Ingrid Badurina Danielsson and Irina Ban Vakosavic.
The break up of old Yugoslavia and the emergence of countries such as Croatia 20 years ago have given the wine industry a new dynamism. In the past many of the grapes headed straight to the co-operatives, but now individuals are relishing their chance to make their name and to experiment with both international and indigenous varieties. Wherever I went in the fair I was met by young enthusiastic winemakers, showing off wines that were new in many ways.
Croatia has two major regions, 12 sub regions and 71 appellations. There are 17,000 winegrowers and 800 producers growing 60 varietals, the major three being Grasevina, Mavazia and Plavac Mali (which means little blue and is the ancestor of the Zinfandel grape). The three account for 47% of what is under vine.
What struck me most was the freshness and acidity in both whites and reds. There were some terrific examples of terroir-driven wines with delicious freshness and minerality. I particularly enjoyed Kozlovic Malvazija 2009 from Istria which reminded me of when I first tasted Pieropan’s Soave, a wonderful texture, very elegant with depth of fruit and refreshing minerality,
For the reds the combination of Merlot and indigenous grapes such as Babic, Teran or Plavac Mali were successful and had a delicious black-cherry bite, like some of the wines of Northern Italy. My star red was the 100% varietal Gracin Babic 2008, a pugnacious earthy wine with full mulberry fruit, crisp acidity and bags of character.
The problem came with some reserve wines, when power and oak handling strangled any sense of place. One winemaker told me he left his grapes on the vines three weeks longer for his reserve wine; it showed in the contrast between his delicious, drinkable regular selection and the reserve’s extracted dead fruit.
What is exciting is that the raw material is here and, as important, the determination. I will definitely be going back--with some of the best winemakers only having two or three vintages under their belt, there is a lot to look forward to.
Mixing Tanks With Air
Wines & Vines, March 2012, by Laurie Daniel
Winemakers like Pulsair for cap management and mixing blends.
During the most recent harvest at Silver Mountain Vineyards in California’s Santa Cruz Mountains, a compressor pumped air into hoses connected to three evenly spaced valves near the bottom of a 4,000-liter tank of fermenting Pinot Noir. There was a blub, blub, blub sound of air bubbles, then the fermenting juice erupted through the cap of skins at the top of the tank. It was Pulsair technology in action. Simply put, Pulsair uses large bubbles of compressed air or another gas to mix a tank. The bubble can be introduced from the top of a tank, using a probe, or through other mechanisms at the bottom of the tank. Wineries large and small use it for cap management—as a substitute or adjunct to pumping over or punching down in red wines—or to combine a blend. Jerold O’Brien, Silver Mountain’s owner, likes Pulsair for several reasons and uses a portable unit on all his reds. “Rising bubbles of air are absolutely the most gentle way to mechanically mix,” says O’Brien, who doesn’t use pumps at his 6,000-case winery. In addition, the process is less labor intensive than his other cap-management regimen, which he calls a “drain over” because the juice is drained from the tank into bins, which are hoisted with a forklift, then drained through a hose over the cap and back into the tank. Not exactly new Pulsair technology was introduced to the wine industry about 25 years ago—the company calls its wine system “pneumatage”—but not much has been written about it. O’Brien and other winemakers who are fans of the process talk about how gentle it is, resulting in wines with supple tannins. Pulsair also allows winemakers to aerate the must, which helps with healthy fermentations, mitigates reduction issues and assists with even distribution of any additions to the tank. Some say that the process even helps blow off excess alcohol. The technique of using a bubble of air to mix things was developed about 30 years ago by Dick Parks, who was looking for a way to gently mix some salmon eggs. He went on to establish Pulsair Systems Inc., based in Bellevue, Wash., which now has customers in more than 40 countries and a variety of industries. The oil industry is Pulsair’s biggest customer, but in 1985, Parks got in touch with Doug Gore, now executive vice president for Ste. Michelle Wine Estates, who at that time was red winemaker at Chateau Ste. Michelle in eastern Washington state. “For some reason, (Parks) got fixated on wine and grapes and (whether Pulsair could) work in a winemaking context,” Gore says. Gore says he tried Parks’ device, which involved piping the compressed gas under stainless steel discs at the bottom of the tank, on some square, open-top concrete tanks, but it didn’t work properly. “It’s the geometry of it,” Gore says. Pulsair did, however, work “wonderfully well” on some 2- to 3-ton open-top tanks. “That was the start of it,” he says. Parks, meanwhile, experimented with the technology at some other wineries, refining it as he went along. Gore became winemaker for Ste. Michelle’s Columbia Crest, and when that winery installed some new stainless tanks, he got in touch with Parks. “We’ve used it ever since for mixing our large tanks” during blending, he says. For that purpose, inert gas, usually nitrogen, is used. Gore says that Pulsair is turned on when the tank is 85% to 90% full, and “by the time it’s filled, your tank is mixed.” Use with portable wand These days, Columbia Crest, which has annual production of about 2 million cases, also is using Pulsair in some of its red wine fermentations, says current winemaker Juan Muñoz Oca. Pulsair capability is built into 15 of Columbia Crest’s blending tanks, but for fermentations, the winery uses a portable system with a wand that’s inserted through a racking valve. The wand is moved so that a pulse of air is dispensed toward the side of the tank close to the operator, in the middle and on the far side. Muñoz Oca says that one person watches from above the tank to make sure the whole cap gets wet. He uses it only on open-top fermentors; the other tanks, he says, have only a small opening on top, so “you can’t see the burp.” Pulsair is available in a variety of configurations, says Skip Brunhaver, Pulsair’s head of sales for the western United States. There are several compact, hand-held models suitable for use on bins and small tanks. The next step up, he says, is a wheeled “wine cart” with multiple valves and a controller. A portable unit that’s big enough for a 20-ton tank, he says, costs a little less than $4,500, plus accessories and the cost of any necessary modifications to the tank. The top of the line is a Pulsair system with permanently installed injection valves and a computer system. Brunhaver says that such a system for eight tanks or more would cost about $5,000 to $6,000 per tank, including the computer. That’s the type of system that will be installed at Villa San-Juliette’s new winery in Paso Robles, Calif. Winemaker Adam LaZarre plans to use a fixed, computerized system on a variety of tank sizes. “I’m going to outfit everything with Pulsair,” he says. A primary reason is the labor-saving aspect. “I’m a one-person show in the winery,” he says. He also liked the results he saw when he worked with the technology at Monterey Wine Co., a custom-crush facility in King City, Calif. LaZarre says he compared some Pulsair lots with wines that had been put through pump overs. He thought that Pulsair provided better tannin management because extraction could be more carefully controlled. The system he is installing can be switched between using compressed air and inert gas, so he also plans to use it for blending and making additions to tanks. “I’m going to use it as often as possible,” he says. Automated versions save labor The labor-saving aspect can be huge with the automated systems: You just program how often and for how long you want the air pulses. Brunhaver described a large winery, which he wouldn’t identify, that installed a Pulsair system in 40 tanks. The winery was able to cut 11 workers from each of two shifts. But for many wineries, the main reason for using it is the gent leness of the process. That’s why Luisa Ponzi, winemaker at Ponzi Cellars in Beaverton, Ore., likes it. Although she doesn’t use Pulsair every year, she employs it for vintages “where that use of air is important (because of reduction issues), or I want to be more gentle” because the grape clusters are fragile. She also uses it for mixing additions into her white wines. “It’s really a great tool,” she says. However, she notes that it’s possible to overuse it. Too much can strip color and aromatics, she says. “There’s a learning curve at first.” Brunhaver acknowledges that overuse of Pulsair can be a problem. If you run it for too long, he says, “you make mush out of the wine.” Brunhaver also says that the process, used properly, provides more uniform extraction and eliminates hot spots in the fermentation tank. Winemaker Neil Collins, for one, hasn’t seen much of a downside. Although Collins, winemaker for Paso Robles, Calif.-based Tablas Creek Vineyard, says he was a skeptic at first, he now sees Pulsair as a good tool. “It seems to be gentle and effective. We’ve seen absolutely no detriment,” he says. “Wines come out soft and supple.” Videos of a small Pulsair unit being used for winemaking are posted on pulsair.com and pneumatage.com.
Copyright © Wines & Vines
The secret of a great wine list? Keep it short
Decanter, 8 March 2012
Restaurant wine lists should be slim, seasonal and pared-down, Decanter’s guest columnist Tom Harrow – aka The Wine Chap – argues this month. Harrow, whose website winechap.com reviews and recommends restaurant wine lists around the world, reckons the days of 40-page wine lists are over.
‘Who wants to linger over a 40-page restaurant wine list?’ he asks. ‘Two people and a …200-bin list means either a hasty choice or one person staring at the wall for 15 minutes.’
Harrow quotes Xavier Rousset MS of London restaurants Texture and 28:50, who has said that it’s easy to create a great large list but the real skill lies in creating a great small one.
He approves of such restaurants as Copenhagen’s Noma, voted the best in the world in 2010, listing ‘oddities and also-rans’ rather than tried and tested favourites. Noma offers more ‘Blaufränkisch than Bordeaux on its modest list’, he notes.
Lists should not only be short but rapidly-changing, Harrow says – a strategy that means lower price mark-ups as it requires less stock, and wines shifting more quickly.
‘Consumer choice moves from mulling over which of 20 Riojas to try, to trusting the wine buyer to have one really good one – and then returning to try another as the list is updated.’
Camel Valley and Ridge View top latest blind test
Thursday 8 March 2012 Decanter, by Richard Woodard, and Adam Lechmere
English sparkling favourites Camel Valley and Ridge View came out ahead in a major tasting of 94 sparkling wines – most of them from the UK - held in London last week.
Rosé styles and traditional Champagne varieties were also clear favourites at the second annual UK sparkling wine tasting organised by Stephen Skelton MW, with Jancis Robinson MW, Steven Spurrier and Essi Avellan MW on the judging panel.
But the four non-UK sparklers among the 94 wines tasted fared less well with the panel of 12 judges.
Of the four non-UK wines, the only one to finish in the top 20 was Sainsbury’s Blanc de Blancs from Duval-Leroy at 19. Nicolas Feuillatte Rosé NV was 35th, Domaine Chandon’s Green Point in Australia’s Yarra Valley was 43rd and Lanson Black Label NV 88th.
Skelton said the non-UK entrants had done much worse than last year. He added, that he appreciated that four wines against 90 ‘is hardly a fair fight, but the non-UK wines were selected for quality...and there was no intention to make them appear as second-class citizens.
‘The fact is that the best UK sparkling wines have better fruit, better acidity and greater length than wines grown in warmer climates.’
In a tight round of scoring where only two points separated the top 43 wines, Camel Valley’s Pinot Noir Rosé Brut 2010 was a relatively clear winner, 0.25 points ahead of Ridge View Grosvenor 2009.
Ridge View wines occupied eight out of the top 25 places, while Camel Valley, Breaky Bottom and Chapel Down all supplied three wines each out of the top 30.
The top 18 were all UK wines made from traditional Champagne varieties, and seven of the top 11 were rosés.
In general, wines made from non-Champagne varieties were less successful, although Breaky Bottom’s Cuvée John Inglis Hall and Cuvée Brian Jordan – both made from Seyval Blanc – made the top 30.
Rude or Righteous?
Wine Spectator, 6 March 2012
The vexing issue of what's right, wrong or just borderline in wine etiquette
So what would you do? Here was the situation: My wife and I were invited to a private dinner in the home of new acquaintances. This couple is very much interested in wine—indeed, they attend Wine Spectator's Wine Experience every year—and take pride in their wine collection.
Let me reiterate that we didn't know these people very well. I had met the husband just recently, and until this dinner had never met his wife. My wife, for her part, hadn't met either of them. So we’re not talking here about old friends whom one knows well.
The dinner party started smoothly and we all seemed to be enjoying ourselves. But when the first wine, which our hosts were quite proud of, appeared at the table it was unmistakably (to me, anyway) corked. But nobody said anything.
Here lies the dilemma: In such a situation, do you say something? Or, even though you are sure you're correct, do you keep your gob shut? (As you might imagine, I often have a problem keeping me gob shut.)
What if no one else at the table says anything, not even a discreet, diplomatic question along the lines of, "Is this the way this wine is supposed to taste?" I've used just that construction on other occasions, but since I was the acknowledged "expert" at this dinner, asking such a question would have seemed a little odd.
I decided that because our hosts were very interested in wine—and seemed to be reasonable sorts—I would suggest that the wine was corked. I said as much, trying to put it as mildly and gently as possible. The hosts retasted and agreed that something was not quite right. Then came a brief discussion about whether to find another bottle of the same wine, which would have taken some time. I urged them to instead move on to the next wine, knowing that they had many wines in reserve for dinner that evening.
Was I right to say something? Would you have said something? I frequently find these problems of what might be called "wine etiquette" to be perplexing, even vexing.
For example, I was surprised to read in Wine Spectator's anonymously-written Ask Dr. Vinny feature that "it’s considered rude to invert an empty bottle of sparkling wine in an ice bucket." Really? This was news to me. I've long inverted the empty Champagne bottle in an ice bucket in a restaurant. How else would the server know that we had finished the wine (and might want another bottle)?
According to Dr. Vinny, "There’s no particular reason other than that it’s just seen as improper. After all, we don’t flip over our dinner plates or upend our wineglasses when we’re finished."
Frankly, I don't see why it's rude or improper. Am I missing something here?
These issues of wine etiquette seem to be all around us. For example, if your host hands you the wine list at a restaurant and asks you to make the selection—this happens to me all the time and I'll bet anything it happens to you too—what's the etiquette in deciding how high-priced a wine to choose? I mean, can you really say to the person who's picking up the bill that evening, "So, Susie, how much do you want to spend on wine?" That seems to me to be inappropriate, to say nothing of putting the host on the spot.
On the other hand, as the person asked to choose the wine, you are on the spot. My approach, for what it's worth, is to look for wines that are inexpensive and preferably on the weird side. That way I can turn to the table and say, "I've chosen a couple of wines that you’ve probably never tasted or even heard of. They're not very expensive, but I think you'll enjoy how different they are."
I like to think that the person picking up the tab is silently grateful for my frugality. But for all I know, the host may have wanted a grand California Chardonnay that cost $100 on the list—and could care less about the expense—while I wrongly subjected everyone to a lively, if less dramatic, Spanish Albariño for $35.
Then there's the question of what to do with wines people bring when they arrive at your house for dinner. I often bring wines to other people's homes and make a firm point of declaring that these are gifts and that my host should not feel any obligation to open the wines that evening. That seems to me to be the polite thing to do. Yet my wife and I have had guests who’ve said no such thing, and I've often wondered whether they were disappointed—or worse—that I didn’t pour their wines that evening. Should I have asked if they wanted their wine served? Am I rude not to inquire?
Here's yet another example: What if, in a restaurant, you would like to try a wine in a differently shaped glass than the one in which it was served? I am a major offender (if that is the word) of this sort of thing. Maybe I've spent too much time with Georg Riedel, but I am deeply impressed with the difference the shape of the glass makes to the scent and taste of a wine.
Very often when we are dining at what I call a "wine serious" restaurant, I will ask for a different glass than the one I have been presented with. And yes, I will do this when other people besides my wife are present at the table. Is this wine geekery? Yes, I suppose it is. But is it rude or inappropriate?
My answer to that last question is that it depends upon who else is at the table. Believe me, I didn't do this when I went out to dinner with my parents. They had no interest in wine.
But if the other people at the table are interested in wine, then why not? I recognize that it's an added complication for the restaurant and the server, but a "wine serious" restaurant has just such a variety of glassware for just such an inquiry. But maybe such "geekery" is best saved for the privacy of your own home and shouldn't be pursued in a public space. You tell me.
Of course, there are all sorts of other minor wine etiquette matters, such as:
Decanting: I leave that up to the sommelier.
Smelling the cork: I never do it. You can no more tell the quality of a wine by smelling the cork than you can the quality of a shoe by smelling the sock.
Calculating the tip on a bill chockablock with expensive wines: If the service is good, I leave a tip of 25 percent on the food and then a generous pourboire—just the right word here I think—on top of that.
If you're the person handed the wine list, should you try to ensure that others at the table—especially the women, who often seem to be ignored at such moments—also be handed a wine list? Or at least each couple? I try to do this, but often restaurants simply don't have enough lists to go around.
All of these matters, and more, are part of modern wine life. Is there an invariable etiquette to dealing with these situations? Or is it strictly a case-by-case basis? Have you found yourself perplexed, flummoxed or embarrassed in situations such as I've described? Are you, like me, not quite sure what is or isn't rude? (I spent my formative years in New York, where "rude" is a relative notion.)
It might surprise you to know that even a so-called wine expert finds himself walking on what often feels like a social quicksand. What's a wine guy (or gal) to do?
U.S. and Europe Have Different Definitions of Organic Wine
Wine Spectator, February 24, 2012
A fight over labeling leaves American producers at odds over the meaning of organic, even as the European Union allows added sulfites
What is the difference between certified “organic” wine and wine “made with organic grapes” in the United States? As far as the contents, added sulfites—up to 100 parts per million, or 1/2000th of an ounce in a glass—and that’s it. But on the label, only the former can display the easy-to-understand, green USDA Organic seal that helps producers attract customers seeking “green” products. The distinction has sparked a battle between winemakers over what organic wine should be.
The U.S. standards differ from new rules in the European Union, which as of the 2012 harvest will allow winemakers to use the label "organic wine." (Previously, only "wine made from organic grapes" was permitted.) In early February, an EU committee agreed upon standards for organic winemaking practices—including the allowed addition of some sulfites.
Due to the discrepancy, “organic wine” has been left on unequal footing in a three-year trade agreement, signed Feb. 15, recognizing the U.S. and EU organics programs as equivalent. Most products certified in either the United States or European Union can be marketed as organic in both places starting June 1, eliminating the need to get a second set of certifications. American “made with organic grapes” wines can soon be sold as organic in Europe, but European “organic wine” bottlings with added sulfites will still need to carry the “made with organic grapes” label in American markets. (The same problem persists in U.S. agreements with Canada, which has allowed added sulfites in organic wine since 2009).
“If we could put everyone into the same category who is using 100 percent organic grapes, there could have been about 800 more winemakers around the world who could get into the U.S. market and use the USDA organic seal,” said Paolo Bonetti, president of Organic Vintners, a Colorado-based importer who feels the National Organic Program’s labeling regulations for wine are confusing consumers and stunting growth. With more volume, it would be easier for retailers to devote a section to organic wines.
Rankled by the U.S. rules, Bonetti and three California wineries who specialize in organically grown wines—backed by 35 other businesses and 60 individuals—petitioned the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) in April 2010 to allow all wines made entirely from organic grapes to be labeled “organic,” regardless of whether the preservative sulfur dioxide is added.
Quibbling over a widely used preservative, the group claimed, discourages more winegrowers from embracing organic certification and eschewing synthetic fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides and fungicides in favor of more natural methods. “Without the USDA Organic seal, many consumers don’t understand that it’s an organic product,” said Bonetti, who filed the petition with Barra of Mendocino, Paul Dolan Vineyards and Redwood Valley Cellars. If consumers won’t pay a premium for the organically grown wines, as they do with organic milk, Bonetti said, “there’s no incentive for farmers doing really good work.”
Although an NOSB committee originally approved the petition, the full board voted 9 to 5 to reject it in December 2011, after another coalition of organic winemakers and distributors—including Frey, LaRocca Vineyards, the Organic Wine Works and Organic Vintages—argued to keep the standards the same. They were backed by the Minnesota-based Organic Consumers Association, which collected more than 10,000 signatures opposing the petition.
“If you’re going to call something organic across the board, whether it be wine or bread or pasta sauce, you should try to keep the standard to the highest level,” said California winegrower Phil LaRocca, who has been making no-sulfite-added organic wines for 30 years and helped develop the original standards.
Sulfur dioxide, a naturally occurring compound, is permitted in organic vineyards as a non-toxic fungicide. Added during wine production or bottling, it protects against oxidation and microbes, keeping wine fresh, stable and free of flaws throughout shipping and non-refrigerated storage. A small but growing number of producers make no-sulfite-added wines, however, most winemakers believe some sulfites are essential to making quality wine for commercial distribution.
LaRocca and his group consider the form of sulfur dioxide added to wine to be synthetic, which violates the principles of organics. “Our fear is that this would open the door to other issues. Why couldn’t a breadmaker say they would like to use calcium propionate as a preservative in their breads?” asked LaRocca. He acknowledges that making wine without sulfites is not easy but feels the “made with organic grapes” label is a fair way to accommodate the producers who do so.
In the United States, both “organic wine” and wine “made with organic grapes” are made from grapes only from certified organic vineyards and are produced in certified wineries. But the former have less than 10 parts per million of sulfites, accounting for those that occur naturally during the fermentation process, while the latter can contain added sulfites up to 100 parts per million, well below the 350 parts per million allowed in conventional wine. (The “contains sulfites” label is required because some asthmatics have adverse reactions; while many other people blame sulfites for headaches and allergic responses, these may be caused by histamines and tannins in the wines.)
In contrast, the new EU rules for “organic wine” allow a maximum of 100 parts per million for red wine (compared to 150 for conventional reds) and 150 parts per million for whites and rosés (compared to 200 for their conventional counterparts). Sweet wines are allotted an extra 30 parts per million as more sulfites are typically needed to prevent residual sugar from fermenting in the bottle. Canada allows up to 100 parts per million in its organic wines.
When it comes to the distinctions between organic food labels and wine labels in the United States, even sophisticated organic shoppers can get confused, Bonetti believes. In both cases, “organic” must contain 95 percent organic ingredients, allowing for processing aids for which there are no organic options. However, in the organic foods category, the “made with …” label means the item is only required to have a minimum of 70 percent organic ingredients. For example, a salsa made with organic tomatoes but conventional onions couldn’t be “organic” salsa but rather “made with organic tomatoes.”
Because wine is essentially a single-ingredient product, any wines that just say “made with organic grapes” are entirely organic grapes. A wine that contains up to 30 percent non-organic grapes would have to be labeled with another category—“made with organic grapes and non-organic grapes”—and the grapes must be different varieties, such as 70 percent organic Cabernet Sauvignon and 30 percent non-organic Merlot. (Wines with less than 70 percent organic ingredients can only list that in an ingredients statement, with the corresponding percentage.)
For now, Bonetti is taking a break from the time and expense of trying to change the regulations, concentrating instead on educating customers about organics, labeling and sulfites. But he’s not ruling out a petition rematch in the future. “If someone gives me $40,000 to $50,000,” he added, “I will do it all again in five years, when the 15 board members are all new.”
Bordeaux chateaux boycott Chinese names poster
Decanter, 1 March 2012
Christie’s China has become embroiled in a ‘misunderstanding’ with Bordeaux over translations of chateau names into Chinese.
Last week Christie’s announced it would publish a poster showing Chinese names for nearly all the 61 chateaux of the 1855 classification.
Although this is not the first time it has been done – Ch’ng Poh Tiong, Decanter columnist and publisher of the Singapore Wine Review, set up a phonetic translation system in 2008 – Christie’s head of wine for China, Simon Tam, implied it was official, with written approval from all but a handful of properties.
Now the Conseil des Grands Crus Classés en 1855, as well as a number of chateaux, are refusing to have anything to do with the poster, claiming they did not approve the translations.
The issue of trademarks in China is fraught with pitfalls, they say, with many names awaiting approval from the Chinese authorities.
‘This is a very sticky subject at the moment, and no one has the right to officially make any statement until all our requests and the registration have been confirmed by the Chinese office of trademarks,’ Philippe Delfaut, managing director of Chateau Kirwan told Decanter.com.
Delfaut has boycotted the poster, and Sylvain Boivert, director of the 1855 Classification, told Decanter.com he had the names of at least 17 chateaux that had not given their approval.
Boivert also said the 1855 had given approval ‘for the [Christie’s] catalogue, not for the poster’.
Speaking from Singapore, Tam insisted he had never said this was an official translation.
Moreover, he said, the situation was 'a misunderstanding' due to the fact Christie’s had appended the Chinese characters for the word ‘chateau’ to the approved names, making them two to three characters longer and therefore unfamiliar.
Corinne Conroy, marketing director at Chateau Brane Cantenac, accepted this explanation but said, ‘Nonetheless, we did not wish for the name to look longer. On the contrary, we have been advised by our various importers to keep our Chinese name as short as possible so that it would be easier for the customers to read and remember. This is why we chose the three-character translation that I recommended.’
Tam told Decanter.com he appreciated it is ‘a touchy subject’ but he would not withdraw the poster, of which 500 had been printed to be distributed to the chateaux for en primeur week on 1 April.
Wine experts' ratings may be a wash for many consumers
Penn Stae University, March 1, 2012
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- Not all wines are created equal; neither are all wine tasters.
A wine expert's acute sense of taste may mean that expert ratings and recommendations are irrelevant to wine consumers who were not born with the ability to discern small differences in a broad range of tastes, according to a team of international researchers.
"What we found is that the fundamental taste ability of an expert is different," said John Hayes, assistant professor, food science, and director of Penn State's sensory evaluation center. "And, if an expert's ability to taste is different from the rest of us, should we be listening to their recommendations?"
In a taste test, wine experts showed more sensitivity to tastes than average wine consumers.
Hayes said that the participants sampled an odorless chemical -- propylthiouracil -- that is used to measure a person's reaction to bitter tastes. People with acute tasting ability will find the chemical -- also referred to as PROP, or prope -- extremely bitter, while people with normal tasting abilities say it has a slightly bitter taste, or is tasteless.
The researchers, who reported their findings in the current issue of the American Journal of Enology and Viticulture, said that wine experts were significantly more likely to find the chemical more bitter than non-experts.
"Just like people can be color blind, they can also be taste blind," said Hayes.
Hayes, who worked with Gary Pickering, professor of biological sciences and psychology/wine science, Brock University, Ontario, Canada, said that the acute taste of wine experts may mean that expert recommendations in wine magazines and journals may be too subtle for average wine drinkers to sense.
The researchers also found that people who were more adventurous in trying new foods were also more willing to drink new types of wines and alcoholic beverages, but this food adventurousness did not necessarily predict wine expertise. While wine experts were more likely to try new wines and alcoholic beverages, Hayes said they were not more likely to try new foods.
Wine critics typically rate wines on a 100-point quality scale that incorporates a range of characteristics, including tartness, sweetness and fruitiness, varietal typicity and over all liking, among others. Their descriptions of the wines can be specific, highlighting grapefruit or grassy notes, or the balance of sugar and acid. However, according to Hayes, average wine consumers probably cannot discern these subtle differences between wines. While prior experience matters, biology seems to play a role.
Prior to the taste test, the researchers passed out short questionnaires to determine the involvement in the wine industry of 330 participants at wine-tasting events in Ontario. Based on the answers to the questionnaire, they divided the people into two groups: wine consumers and wine experts. Approximately 110 of the participants indicated that they were professional winemakers, wine writers, liquor control agents and wine judges and were classified as wine experts. The researchers classified all the other participants as non-experts.
"Statistically, the two groups were very different in how they tasted our bitter probe compound," said Hayes.
Hayes said that previous studies have shown that biological factors may explain the acute taste of experts. Many wine experts may be drawn to careers in the wine industry based on their enhanced ability to taste. While learning plays a role in their expertise and other factors matter, such as how they communicate their thoughts and opinions on wines, some wine experts may have an innate advantage in learning to discern small differences in wine.
"It's not just learning," said Hayes. "Experts also appear to differ at a biological level."
Does Nitrogen Cause Pinot Leaf Curl?
16 Feb 2012, by Andrew Adams
Researchers analyze mystery ailment at Sonoma County Grape Day.
Santa Rosa, Calif.—In the past three years, the vine sickness Pinot Leaf Curl has struck more often and with greater severity in Sonoma County’s valuable Pinot Noir vineyards. The ailment also can affect Pinot Blanc vines and has been observed less frequently in Pinot Meunier. Pinot Leaf Curl, or PLC, appears during spring; symptoms can range from stunted or distorted leaf growth to severe instances in which an entire shoot and node can die. Rhonda Smith, University of California extension advisor for Sonoma County, made the ailment a focus of Sonoma County Grape Day on Feb. 16. She said she wanted to draw attention to the sickness and explore a possible relationship between the disease and nitrogen. She said the disease, which has been found in every Pinot Noir region of California, is known to be more common during cold, wet springs. Dr. Doug Adams, a professor of viticulture with UC Davis, joined Smith on the panel. Adams said that when vines enter dormancy, they store nitrogen to support growth in the coming spring and summer. When the growing season arrives, the plants convert the stored nitrogen into a form that can be metabolized by the plant. The nitrogen compounds used during this process can also yield putrescine. Elevated levels of putrescine can be toxics to vines, he said. Is putrescine the culprit? The next step, Adams said, is to find a 100% asymptomatic Pinot vineyard and determine “normal” levels of nitrogen compounds. Then researchers can evaluate if symptomatic tissues contain elevated levels of putrescine. “You can find putrescine in most plants, but only in trace amounts,” Adams said. Various terms have been used to describe PLC. Smith said the condition was known, but it has not been a major problem until recent years, when Sonoma County growers began to become concerned by the increased incidence and severity of symptoms. Smith said the condition can reduce crop loads, but it was hard to discern how much of an effect it may have had on the 2011 harvest totals because of losses from botrytis and other, more common pests. Smith also wanted to draw growers’ attention to the fact that while PLC can sometimes look like botrytis, it is a wholly separate condition. She said PLC first weakens tissue, and then opportunistic botrytis finds a way to attack the vine. Therefore, Smith stressed that fungicide applications do not work on PLC. There appears to be some variation in clonal susceptibility for PLC: When present in a vineyard, the condition tends to be found in mature blocks, and mild symptoms can occur in up to 80% of vines, Smith said. Symptoms to watch According to a report written by Smith, symptoms of PLC can range from mild to severe. Onset occurs early in the growing season, most commonly when three or more leaves separate from the shoot tip. The leaves then appear to “bend or fold downward across the middle of the blade, perpendicular to the main vein”—hence the descriptive “leaf curl” name. The vines will appear to have “broom-like growth” with multiple lateral shoots pushing at all nodes, with abnormal leaves until a single lateral becomes dominant. Mild symptoms are often limited to darkened or necrotic regions on the underside of leaves. In a severe case of PLC, the necrotic region will extend to the petiole: Both the blade and petiole abscise from the shoot. If that is a cluster-bearing node, the disease can reduce crop load.
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Muscat Wines Steal Sauvignon Blanc's Slot
14 Feb 2012, Wines & Vines
Sweet, low in alcohol and low-priced, these varieties are cheap to grow by Paul Franson sweet wines Muscats racked up 2.8 million 9-liter case equivalents in the 52 weeks ending Jan 22. Napa, Calif.—It wasn’t that long ago that Pinot Grigio (Pinot Gris) displaced Sauvignon Blanc as the second most popular white wine variety in the United States. Now Sauvignon Blanc has ceded its third place status to fast-growing Muscat wines. Chardonnay remains by far the best-selling wine, red or white. Symphony IRI reports that volume sales of Muscats, generally labeled Moscato, racked up 2.8 million 9-liter case equivalents in the 52 weeks ending Jan 22. For that period, Sauvignon Blanc sales were 2.77 million cases. Muscat sales grew at 70%, while Sauvignon Blanc grew at only 7%; total table wine volume was about 84 million cases, and total table wine sales were $6 billion during the period, according to Symphony IRI. By dollars, Sauvignon Blanc remained in third place with $265 million compared to $186 million for Muscats. This reflects the low retail prices of the most popular Muscats: The average price per bottle was $8 for Sauvignon Blanc vs. $5.54 for Muscat. However, Muscat dollar sales are also growing at 70%, so the variety will likely climb to third place by revenue this year. Like Pinot Grigio, which rose from nowhere to raging popularity in the past decade, Muscats originated in Northern Italy. Patterned somewhat after elegant Moscato d’Asti or Asti, formerly called Asti Spumante, the most popular wines are low in alcohol, frizzante (mildly bubbly) and slightly sweet, with the characteristic floral “grapeiness” of Muscat grapes. The wine is most popular with younger drinkers, but it also appeals to the multitudes that don’t like drier wines: Those who might have chosen White Zinfandel or sweet cocktails. Moscato’s popularity among urban hip-hop and rap performers fueled interest among millennial-generation drinkers. Rap star Drake gave a shout-out to Moscato in his song “Do It Now,” and DJ Khaled, Kanye West, Lil’ Kim and Waka Flocka Flame have all mentioned it in songs or videos. “Real Housewives of Atlanta” reality star NeNe Leakes is creating a “Miss Moscato” line. The varietal has also become a popular club drink mixed with vodka. Muscats have been on the market for some time, including the more upscale ($25 list for 375ml) Robert Mondavi Moscato d’Oro—the most-requested wine in the winery’s tasting room—and St. Supéry’s $16 Moscato, which regularly sells out, has its own wine club and limits on purchases. But like many other wine trends, the recent phenomenon seems to have started with E. & J. Gallo. Gallo introduced Barefoot Moscato in 2008 in response to customer requests for a sweeter, light-bodied wine, according to Stephanie Gallo, vice president of marketing. The wine retains more than 6% residual sugar and a modest alcohol level close to 9%. Gallo has depended on word-of-mouth and some social media, but it hasn’t promoted the wine through advertising, yet Barefoot is now the top Moscato in the U.S., and the company’s Gallo Family Vineyards version ranks third. The company also produces and imports Moscato under at least seven brands, with more coming. E. & J. Gallo’s Mirassou Winery has expanded distribution of its California Moscato to all 50 states. First launched into key U.S. markets last April, the Moscato is priced at about $12 per bottle, comparable to Mirassou’s other wines. Trinchero’s Sutter Home is in second place and also offers variations including Sutter Home Bubbly Moscato and Pink Moscato, Terra d’Oro Moscato and Trinchero Family Estates Moscato. Trinchero also blends Muscat into its popular white wine, Mènage a Trois. Altogether, Gallo is estimated to produce 4 million cases per year, Trinchero 3 million. Most are inexpensive wines, but wines in the teens are also selling well. Jumping on the bandwagon, Australia’s Yellow Tail introduced its version last April, and the brand sold 330,000 cases by the end of the year; it is expecting twice that this year. As with Pinot Grigio, although the craze may have started with Italian wines, U.S. producers are now driving the market. They’ve scooped up all the Muscat they can find—typically ordinary Muscat of Alexandria also used as a table grape—and growers enthusiastically have been planting the prolific grapes. It typically produces more than 20 tons per acre, a necessary yield to produce wines that can sell for less then $5 per bottle. Until the vines mature, U.S wine companies are importing wines from all over the world where Muscat is grown, including Italy. Because Muscat grapes are so fragrant, many producers blend in neutral varieties like French Colombard to extend the volume. The Moscato craze has been compared to that for wine coolers or today’s sweet red blends, but it might be like White Zinfandel, which still remains strong if less popular than in the past; or Pinot Noir, rosés, or Pinot Grigio, which appear to have legs. One thing is for sure: Growers are planting Muscat as fast as they can, particularly in the San Joaquin Valley, where yields are high.
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