Here’s a recap of the week’s happenings and news in the wine industry:
- This Saturday, February 25th, is “Open That Bottle Night.” The night has been designated for those of us who have been holding on to a bottle for that ‘special occasion’ which has never come. So make Saturday your ‘special occasion,’ wander into your cellar and open that bottle and drink it!
- Skinnygirl, Bethanney Frankel, one of the biggest drinks industry success stories in 2011 expands to wine next month. She will introduce three low-calorie California wines priced at $15 each: a red blend made primarily with Syrah, a white blend made primarily from Chardonnay and Pinot Grigio, and a rosé blend featuring Grenache and Syrah. Each of the 2011 vintage wines will check in at 12 percent alcohol and 100 calories per 5-ounce serving.
- 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. Muscat’s market share has grown by almost 85% in the last year.
- University of California, Irvine Extension recently announced “The Great American Wine and Food Revolution”, a six-week online course from April 2 to May 13. With the proliferation of ethnic cuisine and cross-cultural combinations, such as Mexican/Korean or Japanese/French, and unusual “gastro-fusion” dishes that are finding their way into the mainstream society, acclaimed wine expert and course instructor Marlene Rossman will show course participants how to identify mutual elements that create the perfect pairing of wine and food.
Last week we hosted our Cult California Wine Throwdown featuring owner/winemaker of The Scholium Project, Abe Schoener. We have had the pleasure of getting to know Abe and his unique wines over the last couple years and have come to appreciate his truly unique approaches to the winemaking process.
The Scholium Project represents an experimental and educational approach to wine. Abe approaches each wine as a project, trying to emulate those in the industry whose methods and wines he admires.
Abe’s background begins at the famed Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars where he interned during a sabbatical from teaching at St. John’s College. While at Stag’s Leap, Abe worked with John Kongsgaard. After Stag’s Leap he continued to work with John at Luna Cellars, then White Rock Vineyards. In 2005, he made his first Scholium selections: Naucratis and Cena Trimalchinos.
Scholium wines are all sourced fruit from the best vineyards for the specific grape varietals in each wine. Grapes often found in the wines include Cabernet Sauvignon, Petite Sirah, Syrah, Merlot, Zinfandel, and Cinsault on the red side. And white varietals including Verdelho, Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, and Gewurztraminer.
The Scholium Project offers a large array of wines to explore, each one is not for everyone but they are all wines to challenge your thinking and evaluation of what your mind thinks a ‘standard’ style of each grape is. We always say that the Scholium wines can make red drinkers love white and white lovers drink reds.
Barry Waite purchased his Yountville Ranch in 1999 for the primary purpose of raising his beloved horses. The name is after his first two Arabian endurance horses, Tamborina and Bayamo. But the fertile Yountville land called to him and before long he was planting grapes alongside the pastures, the Deux Chevaux Vineyards. He teamed up with winemaker Thomas Brown for his inaugural vintage and has been rocking since then. Brown has an impressive background in the wine industry including a little project known as Schraeder ($350/bottle).
Thomas Brown brought on “apprentice,” Mike Smith to help with the production of Tamber Bey. Smith is no slouch though, he has worked for a number of labels including Myriad. Barry later added a property in Oakville where they have been making a single vineyard Cabernet. The Tamber Bey wines overachieve given the price/quality ratio. Barry has strived to keep his price points reasonable, since this is not his primary business. These wines are under the radar and not submitted to press for ratings, relying on more word of mouth and delivering a high quality product. They make 3 wines: 2 from the Yountville and one from Oakville, all 100% estate wines.
It’s no secret that while Bordeaux’s temperatures have been rising, California has been struggling for sunny days. I hadn’t thought much of France’s weather conditions, since we have been so focused on Napa given our recent trip until the topic was brought up by Juelle Fisher, Fisher Vineyards, at a recent tasting we had with them. The discussion was that if France endured warmer temperatures similar to typical Napa weather, and vice versa would we experience a stylistic flip-flop in Cabernet from the two regions?
As most of us know, there is a lot that influences the style and flavor of a finished wine: land (most importantly), grapes/clones, viticulture, winemaking, climate, and weather. So would a change in weather conditions change a wine so much that it actually reflects another region all together? I would venture to say no, but it would make an impact. How interesting would it be to see a fully-ripe, higher alcoholic Bordeaux and a restrained, complex and earthly Napa Valley Cabernet? The French (and more likely British) would surely freak out but it is full to imagine.
Yes, the weather situations in both regions are going to present growers and winemakers with problems they have only read about. Each region will have a different approach and different technologies to correct those problems, but I do expect that the 2010 and 2011 vintages from both regions will be a unique spin on the typical styles that is sure to interest the curious wine consumer.
I’ve dug up a video from our trip out to Napa at our visit to Barnett Winery. Here we talk about the differences in vineyard management on a hilltop/mountain vineyard versus being down in the Valley. Some beautiful views on this one! And as a sidenote, we just brought in Barnett’s Chardonnay and Pinot Noir which can be found here and here!
We’re continuing our travels throughout Napa County and while visiting one of our favorite vineyards (Hestan Meyer) yesterday, we found a little pocket that we never knew existed. Wooden Valley, although not a recognized AVA, is a unique microclimate housing a few vineyards that specialize in Cabernet (another one you might know is Altamura). The temperatures are much warmer (it was 95 vs. 85 yesterday) than Napa Valley itself. Take a look…
We just arrived in Napa, finishing our short (but awesome) tour of the Central Coast of California. The trip dispelled a lot stereotypes I had of the region. After visiting Napa (located north of the Central Coast), I thought that area was way too hot to grow Pinot Noir. But after exploring the area morning, noon and night and donning too many sweaters to count; I found the area has the perfect growing conditions for Pinot – warm summer days and cool (very cool) summer nights. Take a look at our first episode of Wine Not? We’ll add more throughout the trip and over the next few months. We promise, our camera skills will improve
P.S….out-takes video to come!
This weekend Al and I leave for a two-week long “research” trip to investigate vineyards from Santa Barbara to Sonoma. We’re also using this trip to kick off a new video/photo blog section we like to call Wine Not? Wine Not? will feature the answers and information about wine and the industry that you’ve always been dying to know. We won’t reveal too much more, but see below for a sneak peek on some of the topics we will be covering over the next month.
Upcoming Wine Not? Topics
- Can you really open a wine bottle with your shoe?
- What does a grape bunch look like?
- What’s the difference between California and European wine?
Al and I will be departing for what has become our bi-annual exploration of California wine country. In our two weeks of meetings and wine tasting we’ll travel through Santa Barbara, Monterey, Napa, and Sonoma. On the itinerary? Some old favorites and top sellers and places that we have always wanted to visit. What is more important than our actual plans and meetings, however, is what I can our ‘free’ time to explore the undiscovered. With that in mind, I thought a post on some tips on planning a wine country trip to California (or any other wine production region) was in order.
1. Leave “FREE” time: Yes, it is important to see Domaine Chandon or Robert Mondavi once in your lifetime…but do not let those bigger types of wineries dominate your days. Our go-to plan, start out with a bigger winery in the morning each day and talk to the tasting room managers, they’ll give you the secrets to the small, hidden gems and sometimes even set you up with tasting.
2. Four wineries a day, no more: There is a point, for everyone, where you cannot taste anymore wine. We’ve found, in general, that comes at four wineries. Pick three to four to visit a day, take the extended tour and tasting, enjoy and then go have a nice, big meal.
3. Pack snacks: More and more wineries offer cheese and appetizers at their tasting rooms. But you will be tasting a lot of wine. Keep the car full of crackers and sparkling water to keep your palette (and head) clear.
4. Splurge for the expensive tasting: A $100 tasting fee sounds like a lot. But trust me, if a winery is charging a large tasting fee there is a reason for it. It is awesome, and they don’t want everyone invited to it. So go, it may be the best tasting of your life.
5. Do not sign up for the Wine Club: Most wineries would kill me here, but if you have a great experience at a winery take the information for the wine club home with you. Think about it for at least one week and then, if you want, sign up. I see too many people (like myself) get caught up in the fun of the tasting room experience and arrive back home with more club memberships than they can count on one hand. Wine clubs are a financial and culinary commitment, make sure you can afford (and drink) all that wine that you agree to purchase.
Recently I read an article from Inside Scoop in San Francisco about local restaurants serving wine out of a keg? I have to admit at first, I was a bit taken back. I mean this is wine we are talking about being tapped and served by the glass. But after further thought, maybe this isn’t such a bad idea?
Let’s be honest, most wines by the glass at restaurants are crap, swill if you will. Sutterhome and Coastal Vines, no matter how you serve them, will never be a premium product. But a good go-to glass at the bar? Sure, and you bet restaurants will continue to serve it for years and years. Most of these bottles are opened when ordered, and then kept in a cooler and served over the next few days or until the bottle is empty. The only problem with this process is that you are dealing with a product (wine in general) that is really only suppose to last a day or two at most after its opened. If you are that person that orders a glass of White Zin on day three, your wine is not as good as it was on day one…fact.
So back to the keg. A keg provides a cool and oxygen-free environment for the wines. There is no more bottle waste for restaurants and consumers are getting a fresh glass every time. The non-waste issue gives restaurants more flexibility on their wine-by-the-glass list by reducing the potential cost of lost inventory if say a Gruner Veltliner is not the most popular wine on the list. Not to mention the environmental issue of reducing all that material (bottles, corks, foil) by switching to a reusable resource.
Disturbing at first, yes. But kegs in the wine industry may just make an appearance outside of San Francisco yet, and might have a positive impact on the industry.