Category Archives: Travel

Unified Recap 2015

Another Unified has come and gone.  This year’s talks were excellent and I found myself torn on several occasions trying to decide which to attend.  The Keynote speaker luncheon was extremely interesting from Kendall-Jackson Family President, Rick Tigner, who gave us all insight into how that company views it’s place in the wine world; “A Real Estate company who has wineries and makes wine to buy more real estate.”  His talk was a nice review of my past few years studying for the MW exam.  It was good to know that my observations were shared in the industry.

I ended up going to the Alcohol in Balance seminar although I also really wanted to go to the Marketing talk on “Content is King” at the same time.  As a winemaker, I felt I should attend at least one winemaking talk, right?  This talk covered the reasons behind the push towards lower alcohol wines including social responsibility, lower calories, and lower alcohol in general for serving size purposes. While certain critics who have given high marks to high alcohol wines were mentioned (no names being named of course), I found it interesting that the panelists avoided talking about the critics who praise the wineries that lean towards lower alcohol.  Some of the panelists were driven by market demand and others by philosophy to produce wines of more restraint and “freshness” as Steve Matthiasson, a Napa grower and winemaker, put it.  There was quite a discussion around vineyard yields and how they are not directly correlated to quality.  There also seemed to be a very vocal segment of the panel and audience that believe that Napa is currently undercropped as a whole, leading to vine imbalance, leading to needing increased sugars year after year to reach “ripe” flavors.

The State of the Industry was enlightening as always.  There was lots of speculation as to what the strengthening dollar will do to the industry as this makes American wines more expensive to purchase in other countries.  Mike Veseth pointed out the interesting correlation of “Gold, Black Gold, and Bordeaux” explaining that the Gold, Oil, and Bordeaux markets are very similar to each other and all three seem to be up or down together.  Being “Green” is still something to strive for and is becoming more important according to Veseth. The global wine market was discussed including the implosion of the UK “Monopsony” due to the rise in UK import duties on wines.  In the US, if your wine is above $12.00/ 750mL you are probably doing ok but below that times are tough.  It is the market of volume and small margins which is not doing very well and slowly losing market share to the upper tier wines.  Prosecco and Portugal have had good years in the US both showing excellent growth.

Jeff Bitter gave us an overview of the California grape supply which echoed what Veseth had highlighted with the price points.  If you are selling to wineries who sell above $12/750 you are probably ok, unless you are growing Merlot which is still having a tough time.  If you are selling to wineries making wines below $12 you are probably hurting, potentially thinking about pulling your vineyard, and eyeing alternative crops unless you are selling to Gallo’s Barefoot. Bitter highlighted this by saying nearly 2/3 of all vineyards pulled in California’s central valley are wine grapes and over the past 4 months over 22,000 acres have been pulled.  It is a trend he does not see slowing down anytime soon.  On vineyards being planted, the nurseries report that nearly 1/3 of all vineyards going in the ground are Cabernet Sauvignon.  Cabernet glut in the making anyone??  Pinot Gris is also making a run with projected increases in acres of up to 23% over the next three years.

Jon Fredrikson then came up to cover the US wine market.  He also preached the “tale of two markets” however his split was at $9.00; above is ok, below is hurting.  He also stated that 75% of wine by volume is in the “below $9″ range in the US market.  He said everyday wines are getting stiff competition from non-wine products and are suffering from changing demographics in the marketplace.  Craft beers sales surpassed sales of sub-$10 wines in 2012 and do not show any signs of slowing down according to Fredrikson.  The rise of “Craft” beers and spirits in addition to the lower domestic wine production due to the short 2010 and 2011 vintages have caused the sales of wines to flatten out in 2012 and 2013.  More and more restaurant beverage lists branch out to include beer pairings and specialty cocktails put together by “rockstar mixologists” and Cider is also skyrocketing, both of which are eating into the wine marketshare.  This talk finished with the announcement of DFV Wines being named Winery of the Year.  Congrats to them!

One of the more off the radar talks I attended was one covering Regulatory issues facing wineries from DTC, Social Media, and 3rd party sales channels.  I know, I know, not the most exciting stuff but the talk proved very enlightening.  The panel, made up of lawyers John Trinidad and Kristen Techel, TTB representative Theresa McCarthy, and Jeff Carroll of Ship Compliant, covered a wide range of legal issues, most of which I had never really contemplated.  The largest warning I can give from the information in this talk is to those of us personally involved in the wine industry.  MAKE SURE YOU HAVE A LEGAL DISCLAIMER ON ALL SOCIAL MEDIA AND/OR BLOGS DIFERINTIATING YOUR PERSONAL SITES FROM YOUR COMPANY.  Did I type that loud enough?? Mine is located on my “About Me” site if you need an example.  If you don’t have this protecting you and your company affiliation is listed or talked about in your profile, the TTB could treat your personal site as a company site which means it would fall under the TTB regulations for industry advertisements, tied house laws, and other issues.  Yes, its a stretch, and yes, likely small producers and obscure employees of even large wineries would be ok but do you really want to take that chance? I don’t!  There was tons of good info in this talk and I highly recommend trying to get a recording of it if you didn’t attend.  It was definitely the least attended of all the talks I went to however, it was eye-opening.

This year was fantastic and I can’t wait for next year!

 

Cruising the Finger Lakes, NY

Continuing on the Finger Lakes theme from last week’s post, this week I wanted report on a recent trip to the area.  I spent a total of 3 days in the region driving around and getting to know the area again.

One thing that I can say for sure is that it is an incredibly relaxing place to spend time.  Even in the “cold” by California standards, it was nice to bundle up and sit on an Adirondack chair overlooking Canandaigua Lake at my hotel.

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The first day in the area I was shocked to see zero snow on the ground particularly after the well documented epic snows in Buffalo recently.  However, one thing has not changed about the weather in upstate NY and that is if you don’t like the weather wait 5 minutes and it will change.  The next day brought 12 inches of snow while I was otherwise occupied inside.

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One of the most exciting places that I visited was the relatively new New York Wine and Culinary Center which did not exist when I lived in the area almost 9 years ago.  The place is fantastic and very homey with an excellent restaurant upstairs called “The Bistro”.  I had the pulled pork sandwich which was so good it would make any Southerner stop to check that they were indeed outside of the South.  It came with house made chips (the American kind) and a carrot based slaw.

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I paired it with the Ravines 2011 Pinot Noir which confirmed all of my suspicions that Pinot Noir has a place in the future of the Finger Lakes.   The Center itself is split into two stories, the top being taken up by the Bistro and the bottom housing an information center, gift shop and wine shop.  I visited the later and stocked up with a Chateau Frank Sparkling Wine, Hermann J Wiemer Dry Riesling, Zugibe Gewurztraminer, and a bottle of the above Pinot Noir that I was so enamored with.  In the gift shop, I found a book, recommended by my server in the Bistro, by Evan Dawson called Summer in a Glass highlighting the movers and shakers of the Finger Lakes.  It is a lovely read and I devoured most of it on the flight back.  I was excited to see some of my former class mates and colleagues mentioned as well as some of my previous winemaking mentors and some that were new to me entirely.  I highly recommend getting it if you are looking for more information about the region and it was clear that Dawson has the upmost respect and sincere personal relationships with each and everyone of his subjects.

I finished off with a visit to my old winery home, Thirsty Owl Wine Company, for the Cayuga Lake Wine Trail Christmas party.  It is refreshing to find that even after all my time in California, I still think that my former boss and now friend, winemaker and vineyard manager, Shawn Kime, is a genius with Riesling.  The Thirsty Owl Dry Riesling is delicious and I was fortunate enough to get a sneak peek at the 2014 Rieslings as well as the Gewurztraminer and Traminette (which actually smells and tastes a lot like Torrontes).

It was a fantastic trip which made me want to make sure to have time on my calendar soon to go visit some of the winemakers in Dawson’s book as well as some of my other friends in the area.

 

 

Wandering Through Germany: Part 3 – Mosel

Our final stop in Germany was, of course, the Mosel. None of the pictures prepared me for the sheer beauty of these vineyards. Steep slopes dug into rock with little but rock for soils in the best sites. Iconic German architecture reminiscent of Oktoberfest in quaint villages tucked along the stunning, swiftly flowing river was a sight to behold.

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Our first stop was to Weingut Willi Schafer, an unassuming building tucked away in a relatively residential looking villiage, where we were hosted by Andrea Schafer. We tasted several bottled wines first then toured the cellars afterwards to taste the most recent vintage.

2004 Graacher Domprobst Riesling Spätlese – Stone and Chalk

All flinty and minerally with a linear palate that is weighty and lean at the same time. Lemon lime fruit and a hint of white flowers with 70g/L residual sugar cut through with racing acidity.

2012 Graacher Domprobst Riesling Spätlese – Zesty and Fruity

Warmer fruit than the 2004 with fresh apricot, lime zest but continuing with minerality on the palate, 70 g/L residual sugar and racing acidity.

Andrea told us that the most recent vintage (2013) was more suited for the off-dry style due to a high level of botrytis influence. “We make the wines but nature decides what style we will make.” They try to interrupt the fermentation at the right time to achieve the proper balance in the wines. “When you have too much sugar you lose the elegance and the terrior.” We asked for her interpretation of the different styles of Riesling and she gave us the following.

Kabinett – Light and fresh in style with less richness than Spätlese.

Auslese – More honeyed notes and a very rich style.

Spätlese – A lighter more spritzy style than Auslese but with extra richness and depth above Kabinett.

There were two top highlights of my trip to Germany.  The first was an amazing dinner with Dr. Uli Fischer of the Neustadt Research Institute with awesome food and conversation that ranged far beyond wine to economics, philosophy, sports, politics, religion, and every other topic under the sun.

Our next stop in the Mosel was definitively the other top moment.  We were treated to a personal tour of Weingut Dr. Loosen with Ernie Loosen.Dr. Loosen Arch

 He first took us for a quick jaunt around their vineyards in his Range Rover. They own 10 hectares split into 184 different parcels, the smallest of which is 15 vines. This is of course thanks to the Napoleonic code that affected both Germany and Burgundy very similarly. The government in Germany, however, is trying to remedy the situation by introducing a “reorganization”. They are killing several birds with one stone in typically efficient German fashion. Each vineyard involved must have buy in by a majority of the owners of the vines. The owners agree to give up a maximum of 10% of their land to the government to build roads to traverse the steep slopes for machinery to be more easily moved about. The government builds the roads and regrades the slopes to allow for mechanization with crawlers. Each of the owners then gets a consolidated section of the slope equal to 90% of the number of vines they owned prior to the consolidation. The upside is the vines are now all together rather than spread out over the slope and are able to be mechanized to some extent. The un-reorganized slopestake 2-3,000 manhours per ha and the reorganized slopes take 1/3 of that time. The downside is that it is expensive costing $30-40,000 for the vines however the government is subsidizing this and offers the ability for the owners to pay the balance with a 10 year interest free note which is held by the government itself. With a labor shortage being the biggest problem in the Mosel any level of mechanization is helpful. It takes a single crew a full day to pick the equivalent of 1.5 acres because of the treacherous slopes. Standing on top of them I wondered why anyone would be willing to haul grapes up and down them.  Another downside? How can you be sure the vineyard will not be changed?  Ernie assures us that not all slopes will go through with this plan just for this reason but it is a huge undertaking for those that have.

Website size NC and Ernie Loosen

After our vineyard tour we went back to the tasting room and went through several amazing wines.

Dr Loosen 2012 Riesling Trocken Blauschiefer (Blue Slate) – Zesty and Fruity

Very elegant and fruity with a subtle minerality. Flavors of white peach and apple with zesty linear acid. Fermented with indigenous yeast in a 1000 Liter Füder with 12-24 months on lees.

Dr Loosen 2012 Riesling Troken Rotschiefer (Red Slate) – Zesty and Fruity

More spicy and floral, almost Gewurztraminer like with fresh acid and a rich palate balanced by a steely mineral backbone.

Ernie stated that these two wines needed lots of air to show their best and generally needed to be open for 3 days to fully experience the flavors.

He is also working on lots of different winemaking techniques in the winery such as extended lees contact as well as different types of fermentation vessels. He offered as an example where after the 3rd century the Romans switched to oak barrels for fermentation because they showed better quality than the amphoras. “We need to learn the old ways so we can make them better” when talking about reviewing ancient winemaking practices.

Erdener Pralat Wines

Dr Loosen 2011 Erdener Prälat Riesling Alte Reben Reserve– Unbelievably Unique

Fruit from 120 year old vines planted on a steep, rocky red slate filled, southern facing slope of the Mosel fermented in neutral oak and aged on lees for 12 months. This wine is highly complex with intense aromas of white flowers, peaches, and slate with a rich sweet profile with enough acid for a dry finish. The palate brings spiciness reminiscent of pepper and cinnamon with intense weight. GO FIND IT!!! It’s amazing and a wine which every winelover should experience once at least!

Dr Loosen 2011 Erdener Prälat Riesling Alte Reben – Zesty and Fruity

Restrained nose with flavors melon and tropical fruit with all the richness on the palate of the sweeter translation above. The finish brings more mineral characters and additional tropical fruit notes with slightly less spicy intensity than the reserve.

Dr Loosen 2012 Erdener Prälat Riesling Auslese (Gold Capsule) – Zesty and Fruity

Amazing intensity for fruit with pineapple, melon, grapefruit, and honey complemented by an equally intense rich palate which is weighty and long. It is sweet at 110g/L but is easily balanced by the zesty 9 g/L of acidity!

All in all it was an amazing day and a fitting end to a whirlwind trip through Germany’s three wine regions. I can’t wait to go back to spend more time getting to know the wines and the people who make them.

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