Category Archives: Musings

Some Good News for 2020…

I don’t know about everyone else but I’m ready to put up the Christmas decorations and call it a year!  Generally speaking, this has not been a great year for anyone.  A global pandemic, murder hornets, mass layoffs, recession, all our favorite restaurants closing, no travel when everyone really could use a vacation, no get togethers or hanging out with friends.  Even the hurricanes have pet hurricanes this year. Then to cap it off massive wildfires that have affected CA, WA, and OR with a smoke plume which has now made its way all the way to Europe!  Yep, no way around it, this has been a tough year.  So I thought I would share some of the good news in my world in the hopes that if we all focus on the small, good things that have happened this year, maybe we’ll all feel a little bit better.

First of all, smiling babies make everything better!

My youngest son was born in May at home and the past few months have been both a blessing and a challenge as they always are with a new baby.  He was born at home, which I was nervous about at first but I had an amazing midwife to help me through it.  Even up until I went into labor, I had always thought that I would end up in the hospital for the birth however when he decided to come on, he came quickly and I was eternally grateful I had set up for a home birth “just in case” the COVID situation at the hospital made me too uncomfortable to go. He is the single best thing to have happened to our family this year and everyday when I get to see his smiling face, it feels like everything is right with the world even though its falling apart in many ways.  Forever more, going forward, when we talk about this year, I want to be very careful to make sure he knows how good he made this year for us when it was so challenging.

The other good things showed up this week!  First, we found out that our 2016 Trestle Thirty One Riesling won a gold medal and was the second highest scoring Riesling at the Sommeliers Choice Awards 2020.  This was our first competition that we entered and I couldn’t be happier with the result! After working so hard for so long, it is always good to get validation that you are going in the right direction.

Speaking of going in the right direction, I also found out this week that I have made the list of the top 101 Wine Writers of 2020 from Corking Wines in the UK.  This was utterly shocking because I so rarely think of myself as a wine writer but rather a winemaker who writes.  Still, the list is an amazing compilation of who’s who that I cannot help but be incredibly humbled to have even been considered much less actually granted a spot.

Corking Wine’s founders, David Beswick and Yvonne Holmes said, “We are so pleased to award Nova with our Top 101 Wine Writers of 2020, in recognition of the fantastic content she has produced for her blog. Nova’s extensive industry knowledge and passion for her work shines through in each stylish article that she writes. The result is a fascinating insight into the world of wine.”
So a great thank you for that and I hope to be able to keep producing great wine and writing about doing so for a long time to come…

What is it like being a woman in wine?

Before everyone cringes and has the “OMG we’re going over that dead horse again” reaction, just hear me out.

This past weekend I was fortunate enough to lead a red wine blending seminar at the Women for Winesense Grand Event in Geneva, NY.  We had a good time and I feel that the 17 people who attended got a sense of what we, as winemakers, go through on nearly a daily basis.  The stress of finding the right mix, the impatience and nervousness of waiting to see how a blend is received and for a few, the joy of triumph as their blends were selected as the top few.

After the blending seminar, our small group rejoined the rest of the conference goers for a lunch with a key note speech by Karen MacNeil.  Her talk focused on what it means to be a woman in the wine industry.  She made several interesting comments during the talk, many of which I agreed with and others that made me wonder if she was right.  One such topic including pointing out that women have yet to really reach parity with men at the top management of major companies.  While the facts are undeniable that men maintain the majority of senior leadership, I have to question if it is truly a failure of companies to recognize and promote women or if it is more ourselves as women shying away from roles beyond a certain level.  MacNeil also seemed to believe it was women holding ourselves back.

She also read a quote only referencing a well known woman winemaking consultant stating that that woman had found that the most successful women winemakers tended to dress more masculine, have short hair or hair pulled back, and adopted a “manly” attitude to better fit in.  The quote seemed to be saying that this particular woman felt that maintaining a womanly demeanor was instant career suicide in our industry.  Being a woman who likes to get dressed for the occasion whenever possible, I didn’t exactly agree with this concept.

This got me thinking about my time in the industry and what I have encountered.  I learned quickly during my time in Napa that at public events if I dressed up, particularly in heels, nearly everyone assumed I was either sales or marketing.  Therefore I adopted a habit to dress up from the waist up and jeans and vineyard boots from the waist down.  This look, while odd, got the point across to most people.  My husband even mentioned at one point “Why don’t you just dress like a winemaker?”  I laughed and  responded, “I am a winemaker. Therefore, however I dress is dressing like a winemaker!”

“Why don’t you just dress like a winemaker?”  I laughed and  responded, “I am a winemaker. Therefore, however I dress is dressing like a winemaker!”

I’ve had more than one occasion where I’ve been spoken over in a meeting, had my opinion dismissed, or been completely ignored.  I’ve even been told that I don’t know what I’m talking about from a male colleague and I’ve been told that my passion is dangerous by a female colleague.  I’m not sure either would have said the same to a man.  I was told by someone, after I had my son, to not bother sitting the MW exam that year due to the natural shrinking of a woman’s brain which occurs during and after pregnancy. I’ve also been mentored by some of the most generous people in the industry both male and female.  These people have given me advice on my career even if what was in my best interest would make their lives more difficult.  It is these mentors I hope I can become more like.  I strive everyday to be less like the former colleagues and more like the latter.

In the end, I’m not convinced it is a male vs female issue anymore.  I think it may be more those who are self confident vs those who feel threatened.  The lack of women in leadership may be because the women who would be most qualified are making a choice to maintain some level of work life balance.  It may be that those women who can have it all, are choosing to have it all by still being routinely home for a family dinner every night rather than storming the global business world.

I’m always trying to run the gambit of how things will be perceived to avoid labels of being “soft” or the dreaded “B” word.

So what is it like to be a woman in the wine industry?  I can only speak from the perspective of a winemaker.  It’s being aware that the clothes you wear project an image of who you are to people who don’t know you. Having to pick outfits with care balancing a desire to appear feminine with socially acceptable norms for winemakers wear, particularly for industry events.  Being in meetings waiting patiently for a moment to speak with the hope that you’ll have a voice when the time comes. Pouring wine for people, knowing full well that they had no idea you are the winemaker behind it, while mentally arguing with yourself about how pompous you would sound if you just said “I’m the winemaker.”  Always trying to run the gambit of how things will be perceived to avoid labels of being “soft” or the dreaded “B” word.  Just assuming that you’ll always end up making some one mad just by existing where ever you happen to be and trying not to take it too personally.

That is what it’s like being a woman in the wine industry today.

En Vogue: Misconceptions About Natural Wines

The subject of natural wines is a very subjective one.  Who defines what “natural” means?  One winemaker’s “natural” wine is another winemaker’s concocted swill all depending on where one stands on the strictness of what the definition of natural is.  While Organic and Biodynamic are easier to define due to their respective certification programs, they are still so misunderstood by the vast majority of consumers that there are completely misinformed beliefs being circulated by the general populace.  I have a passion for Biodynamic wine growing.  It is my dream to one day have my own Biodynamic vineyard because I truly believe there is something special in these types of wine. It is sad that most people don’t understand the differences between conventional, organic, and Biodynamic farming however, I was excited to see, over the holidays, that a mainstream publication, Vogue, decided to tackle this subject (Read the full story here).  I had hoped that the writer would have demonstrated a sound grasp of all three methods and could dispel some of the myths that are out there.  Unfortunately, it was yet again riddled with blatant misunderstandings and errors.   The title alone made me cringe.

No Chemicals: This Is the Most Natural Wine You Can Drink

No Chemicals.  Really?  Can someone please let the common man know that everything.  LITERALLY EVERYTHING is made up of chemicals.  Wine is no exception and is generally made up of the following CHEMICALS.

85% Dihydrogen Monoxide (That is water for the folks who missed the class in High School chemistry on chemical naming)

13% Ethanol (or the alcohol part of the drink)

1% Glycerol ( A sugar alcohol compound that adds viscosity and mouthfeel)

0.4% Organic Acids (Tartaric, Malic, Lactic, Citric, Succinic, etc..)

0.1% Tannins and Phenolic Compounds ( Color, Texture, Mouthfeel)

0.5% Other Chemicals

The great infographic was found at Compound Interest and they dive much further into this topic for red wines if you really want to geek out.  I think their estimation of the average alcohol is probably a little low hence the changes to my list above.

Assuming I give the article the benefit of the doubt about the Chemical issue…

(because after all, those of us who know wine, know this person was referring to the 3 classes of chemicals that fall into Pesticides, Herbicides, and Fungicides), the second sentence made me groan.

“Composting instead of using pesticides?”

These two actions are not interchangeable or on an either/or type of set up.  Composting is the process of turning organic waste and other natural matter into nutrient and beneficial, microbially rich soil amendments.  Using Pesticides is the process of using a chemical to kill a desired pest or range of pest.  You can do both or neither but they are not directly connected.  The author may be referring to the Biodynamic preparations which DO need to be put through the process of composting in various containers (cow’s horns, stag’s bladders, farm animal skulls, etc.) using different herbs or ingredients for at least one season before they can be added to a spray to either be applied to the soil or directly to the vine.  It should be noted that elemental sulpur (a Chemical) is used as a fungicide and is allowed in Organic, Biodynamic, and conventional viticulture.  Hopefully this clears up the misunderstanding of the second sentence of the article.  Reading on…

“Fermenting with native yeasts? Such practices were the domain of eccentrics and hippies.”

AND everyone prior to 1857 when Louis Pasteur discovered that yeast were actually what was fermenting the wine.  Personally, I love a good native ferment, however you have to have extremely clean and healthy fruit to have it go well.  Not everyone is blessed with such great fruit particularly at the value or premium end of the wine market.  Usually the “native” yeasts used today in most wineries are some form of a cultured yeast that was released into the microflora before the winery decided to start doing “native” ferments.  Of course that also doesn’t take into account that a wide number of popular strains of cultured yeasts were just native yeasts that were identified for particularly good characteristics and produced for everyone to purchase.

“The philosophy behind this grassroots winemaking movement is to let Mother Nature do most of the work in the vineyard and to intervene as little as possible in the cellar. In other words: no chemicals on the grapes and as few additives as possible in the bottle.”

Trust me.  Viticulture is working with Mother Nature but she doesn’t do jack when it comes to working in the vineyard beyond blessing a grower with good weather or bad.  Biodynamic and Organic wine growers work HARD.  These growers have to be constantly vigilant looking for problems.  They have to walk they rows everyday to assess vineyard health. The effort it takes to keep up with a lunar calendar, alone, is not for the faint of heart.  If we left it up to Mother Nature, the vines would be climbing trees instead of trellises and the birds would make off with whatever fruit the vines were able to produce.  The very fact that we have decided to train a vine takes it out of the realm of natural and into human intervention.  The sentence in the article sounds great but it does make it sound like these types of wine just make themselves.

Then I got to these two sentences and it made me want to hurl my phone across the room…

“Modern winemaking relies on ingredients like commercial yeasts and enzymes to ferment the wine, as well as additives to deepen its color, enrich its texture, boost its acidity, and sweeten its taste. What’s more, pesticides and herbicides have become commonplace in the vineyard. Many vintners spray their grapes not only to kill pests and disease, but as a routine preventative measure even when nothing at all is wrong with them.”

Chemicals are the second highest cost in vineyard management next to labor.  No one in their right mind, conventional, organic, or biodynamic just sprays the vineyard because nothing is wrong with it.  Generally the spray is because an infection has been spotted or because a crazy storm is coming and you know if you don’t spray you will lose your entire crop to mildew.  Yes, it is preventative in most cases because if you wait until something is wrong, you are too late and the quality of wine will suffer.

The article goes on to quote Catherine Papon-Nouvel of Clos Saint-Julien in Bordeaux, Elisabeth Saladin in the Rhône valley, and Thiébault Huber, in Burgundy who all explain their rationale for their preferred growing methods quite beautifully.  Their passion is clear, as are most growers and winemakers who follow these strict methods of making wine.  It was a moment of great joy for me to read after the initial misconceptions in the article.

Then we delve back into the rest of the article.

“Natural wines can be funky,” says Caleb Ganzer, head sommelier at La Compagnie des Vins Surnaturels, the New York outpost of a Paris bar. As in: earthy, floral, redolent of mushrooms. “They can be briny or tart. Sometimes they’re fizzy. Unfiltered wines can be cloudy. Or they can taste just like conventional wines. You’ve probably had one without knowing it.”

This is my main problem with “natural” wines.  It’s the thought of the end consumers that they have to accept flaws in the wine because they were made naturally.  Well made Natural Wine should taste as good or better than conventionally made wine. Otherwise it is just flawed and it was the winemaker’s choice to let it be flawed.

I appreciate a strong philosophy but when philosophy becomes Dogma and it leads to a drop in quality then what’s the point of your philosophy.

There.  I’ll get off my soapbox now.

If you want to read a great article about Organic and Biodynamic wines please click here for Winerist.com’s comprehensive descriptions.