Category Archives: Travel

Planning for Unified

Courtesy of

This week the entire country decends upon Sacramento, CA for the 2018 Unified Wine and Grape Symposium. This is, by far, the largest wine focused trade show in the US. All the suppliers for anything having to do with grapes or wine are in attendance and one can easily just attend the exhibit halls and not see the entire show space. I like to attend the talks though. It starts on Tuesday with the Keynote luncheon. These talks are separate from the show itself which starts Wednesday but it never fails to be inspiring and full of good information. Tomorrow’s speaker is Gina Gallo of the winemaking giant Gallo. Gina is known to have been one of the driving forces behind repositioning the company towards higher end wines so her insight into the industry I’m sure will be interesting. After last year’s luncheon with wine writer Eric Asimov, I walked away with close to 10 pages of notes. To save my hand, I’ve brought my SurfacePro this year and fully anticipate getting some good information again.

Another one of my favorite highlights is the “State of the Industry” talk which kicks off the main part of the symposium on Wednesday morning. Having any one of the speakers present their information to you would cost you well beyond the price of an admission ticket but the panel of people that they assemble for this gives a very detailed look at the state of the industry in California. Although global issues are touched on it is a CA driven talk but there are always good parallels to be gleaned. Since CA makes up 90% of the wine industry in this country, knowing where CA is going gives good insight into where the market is going.

The rest of the day is split into “tracks” with multiple sessions being held at the same time for viticulture, winemaking, and marketing. It never fails that I end up wanting to go to two or three talks the happen at the same time and need to make a game day decision.

Thursday tends to be a lighter talk day with less in depth subjects so that usually ends up being my trade show day. You MUST go to the trade show with a plan. Inevitably, one will run into a bunch of friends and colleagues and it will take three times as long as you expect to cruise down each aisle as you find people to catch up with you haven’t seen in years.

The social aspect of the show cannot be discounted either. Planning one’s dinner and after party schedule is almost as hectic as planning what you want to see at the show itself. The bars at the two main hotels, The Sheraton Grand and the Hyatt Regency, are guaranteed hang out spots for after late night activities. I have often wondered if they prepare for this week like generals preparing for battle. Getting a room at one of these hotels is a feat in itself since they are snapped up within seconds of being released. I felt it was a major accomplishment to have gotten a room at the Hyatt for this year’s show. I’ve never been on top of it enough to have booked one of these rooms before without being a speaker.

However you look at it, Unified is one of the key meeting of the minds of the US wine industry. Regardless of your geographic location, there is a wealth of information here for anyone who wants it.

Photo from

And The Winner is…

I have just returned from the last trip to China as part of the second Ningxia Winemakers’ Challenge.  This final trip was so much fun because we were able to finally meet up with the other winemaker contestants, most of whom I had not seen since the first trip in September of 2015.  We spent a few days in Yinchuan, attending government events and the annual Wine Expo.  After that, we all flew to Beijing for the final judging and awards ceremony.

Going into the judging, I was happy with my wine.  It reflected the challenging aspect of the competition but also was a testament to perseverance that was needed to adapt to the “challenge” aspects.  These included a total language barrier, limited time (in my case) to attend to the wine, non-standard vineyard practices, as well as social and cultural isolation particularly during the first few weeks during harvest.  The 10 judges were all professionals, led by China Agricultural University professor Ma Huiqin and Master of Wine Andrew Caillard.

They announced the silver medal winners first and I was surprised to hear Lansai called first!  I was so excited to have won a medal for this even after all the hard work and dedication of both myself and the winery team.  There were 10 total silver medals awarded with many of my favorite people joining me on the stage.

After another course of dinner, we finally learned the gold medal winners.  They were Justin Corrans of South Africa,  Tony Kalleske of Australia, Brent Trela, a fellow American, Slavina Stefanova of Sweden, and Sarah Williams of the UK.  Each and everyone of these amazing people were a pleasure to get to know and totally deserving of the highest honors.  I was so excited for everyone and there was lots of hugging and congratulations all around.

We finished out the night at the hotel bar catching up and reminiscing over our time in Ningxia.  On Wednesday, many winemakers traveled to other cities within China for the competition road show while I spent a few leisure hours in Beijing with my winery owner, Ms Zheng prior to boarding my flight home.  We are in harvest already and I didn’t want to miss too much of it.

See the full coverage and complete list of judges and all the winners here.



Ningxia Winemaker Challenge: Part 2 – Post ML

It’s been a week since I returned from China after flying over to check on my wine there.  This trip was much faster than my previous trip and I packed quite a bit more into the 8 days that I spent there.  My first three days were spent in Beijing, where I taught a WSET Diploma Unit 5 class for Fongyee Walker’s Dragon Phoenix Wine Consulting.  One of those days I took some time for myself and toured the sights of Beijing, including a trip to the fantastic Great Wall of China at Mu Tian Yu and the Summer Palace.


The Summer Palace

After my first few days in Beijing, I spent 4 days in Ningxia.  My first order of business upon landing in Ningxia was to find out how my wine looked.  Remember, last time I tried it only one tank was pressed off and the second tank was pressed on the day I flew back home.  I hadn’t tried it at all since Malolactic had finished and I had no idea how it was adapting to the barrels.  I didn’t even know what shape the used barrels were in when the wine was added to them.  I had left detailed instructions on how to soak the used barrels using a Potassium Metabisulfite and Citric acid solution and could only pray that everything would be ok.  Fortunately, everything looked very good.  The wine is taking to the new barrels quite well and to my surprise this is the treatment that appears to be helping the wine the most.  My DAMY barrels are showing beautifully!  Having never used DAMY in the past I was skeptical at first but I was able to taste some Ningxia wines from 2014 which were being aged in new DAMY barrels and this profile seems to help support the Ningxia terroir quite well.  The used barrels are all French and are helping the wine as well however they are old enough that very little oxygen transmission is taking place which is leaving the wine a little tight and reductive at this point.  Nothing a quick rack wouldn’t get rid of however.  The portion that I left in tank, to hedge my bets a bit just in case the barrels were a disaster, is clearly not as mature as the wine in barrels but it has retained its fresh, fruitiness which should add a nice component to the blend.  Overall, I’m quite happy with where the wine is at the moment.  When I come back in the summer, I’ll be able to get a clear picture of what I want to blend for the final competition.


Mr Wu, the winemaker of Lansai Chateau, gets barrel samples for us to taste

 The rose needed some work to be prepped for bottling.  All of the Ningxia wines tend to have quite seedy tannins, even if the wines had very little seed contact including the rose.  I did a fining trial and also bumped the SO2 a bit so that the winery could bottle it shortly.  I’m interested to see how it turns out and also how it sells since the Rose trend that has caught the rest of the world has yet to catch on in mainland China.  My friend, Jose Hernandez, was also in Ningxia at the same time so we were able to tour about a bit and go see some of the other wineries in the area including Chandon Ningxia, Jiabeilan, and a quick visit to Yuan Shi both for their lab services and tasting the 2015 vintage from barrel.  The visit to Jiabeilan was quite fun since I was able to meet the legendary Ningxia winemaker, Zhang Jing.  She was very open, answered questions, and allowed us to taste all of her wines including a very interesting Chardonnay that had the acid of a cool climate but slightly tropical fruit of a warmer climate.


Jose and Zhang Jing of Jiabeilan

 My partner winery in Ningxia, Lansai Chateau, is almost finished.  They have done quite a bit of work since I was there in the fall and it is easy to see how much of a destination they are planning it to be.  The guest rooms are almost finished as is the separate kitchen and the Chinese gardens.  Soon there will be tasting rooms and a restaurant available to allow people to visit and enjoy the wines where they were made.  The winery has been designed to be a showplace and I’m sure it will live up to that hope with every detail put in place.

The entryway of Lansai Chateau with Helan Mountains in the background


The garden of Lansai Chateau under construction

 After leaving Ningxia, I went back to Beijing to have dinner with our Constellation representative, Berny Yang, more sightseeing including the Temple of Heaven and the Pearl Market, and teach another class for Dragon Pheonix Wine Consulting, this time on Constellation and branding of the Robert Mondavi family of wines. Jose and I also got together with Grape Wall of China writer and Canadian expat, Jim Boyce, to go on a wine sales tour of Beijing.  We visited a general supermarket, specialty supermarket, high end wine shop, and casual wine shop to get a sense of what the market looked like in Beijing, how wines were being sold and what was trending.  See last week’s post on the China wine market for more information from that tour.

All in all it was a very successful trip and I look forward to my next trip during the summer.


Tiles on the Temple of Heaven