Category Archives: Travel

Small Bites: My Quick News Roundup!

There is so much to talk about from the past few weeks while my family and I have been relocating across the country!  I decided to break them down into small bites…

Bite 1: Arsenic Anyone?

I really don’t want to give this story any more time than it takes for me to acknowledge it however Alder Yarrow from Vinography.com did an amazing post telling you why exactly you shouldn’t be worried about this and instead of trying to reinvent the wheel, please read his post here.

Bite 2: WE’RE HERE!!!!!

We arrived into the beautiful and chilly state of New York last weekend and are now settling into our new house.  Currently one entire room is devoted to unpacked, empty boxes but once those get hauled away tomorrow we should be in fairly good shape as far as moving in is concerned.
 

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I started my new job last week and while it is a dramatic change from Robert Mondavi, it should present a good challenge.  Back in January, we closed on 12 acres on the shores of Seneca lake and I went out that day to put “Posted” signs up.  Upon our return last weekend all but 1 of the 6 signs were torn down.  I’m hoping it is just a combination of wind and extreme cold but I can’t help but be worried that the former owner of a nice deer stand on our land may have had something to do with it.  Our goal is to clear much of the land this summer once the soil dries out some from all the snow this winter.  That way we can start to see where our future house and vineyards will go! We are very excited about this new phase of our lives.

Bite 3: Vintage 2015 Update

New York: It’s cold.  It has been VERY, VERY cold this winter.  I’m a little concerned that we may not have many grapes to make wine with from the western side of the state.  Even though we got another 3 inches of snow this morning, signs of spring are everywhere.  Those 3 inches were mostly melted away by mid afternoon.  Robins are showing up and Canadian Geese can be heard flying overhead, heading North.  Maybe we’ll be close to budbreak around the middle of May.

Napa:  Budbreak is everywhere and frost season is in full swing according to a friend of mine.  There has still been very little rain so the area is poised for a 3rd consecutive drought season.  Again, I wouldn’t want the be the grower that has to choose between protecting what crop they may have this year and saving water so that they can ripen that crop.

Those are the bites for the week!  Happy growing season everyone!

 

Vancouver International Wine Festival Observations

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I LOVE Vancouver.  If I had to choose an international city to live in , it would be a toss up between Paris and Vancouver.  I also love talking about wine to people and the Vancouver International Wine Festival gave me the opportunity to do that in such great surroundings.  I learned several amazing things at the festival this past week.

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1) Robert Mondavi is credited with starting the festival.

Many people came up to me to let me know this fact.  He is very well respected here and one person even credited him with being the catalyst for Vancouver’s thriving wine and food scene that is has today. This further cements my belief that Mr. Mondavi was a force to be reckoned with and full of boundless energy and passion for sharing wine with people.  I only hope that I can live up to at least half of that for my career.

2) Canada has some startlingly good wines.

From the austere and crisp Benjamin Bridge sparkling wine (Light and Bubbly) to the ripe and luscious Burrowing Owl Cabernet Franc (Spicy and Smoky) that we had with dinner last night, to the elegant and intense Inniskillin Ice Wine (Sweet and Luscious),  Canada has some amazing wines to offer and we rarely see them in the rest of the world. I find with most countries to which I travel the best wines are the ones that are found domestically and Canada is no different.

3) The Vancouver International Wine Festival is Fantastic!

It is well organized, well run, and has enough representation from all countries that you feel you have indeed sampled a large portion of the world of wine but not so large that one can easily be overwhelmed.  One of my MW study partners, Matt, and I had enough opportunities in between pouring to run around and work on our blind tasting skills with virtually every style of wine we would need in the room.  Ice was never too far away and rinse water was plentiful.  There were enough people emptying spittoons that they never were more than half full at any given time.  This year’s country of focus was Australia and admittedly, while I am not a huge Shiraz fan, the wineries really put on a good showing with lots of Rieslings, Chardonnays, Semillons, Cabernets, and Bordeaux blends to get a good sense of what is going on down under.

There were also non-wine related observations…

4) Leather pants appear to be back in style.

I counted no less than 15 individuals sporting leather pants.  You see one person and you assume they are quirky and perhaps a bit non-conformist.  You see two people, and you think vaguely wonder if it is protection from the still slightly chilly wind.  You see 6 people and you wonder if you missed a fashion article on how the new trend for spring is leather leggings.  You see 15 people and it is pretty certain that the leather pant/legging is here for the season.

5) There are many types of VIWF visitors.

There are those which are jaded and wander the rooms glancing above your heads at the signs, peering over the shoulders at the people currently being served at your table, with a non-interested aloof look that suggests they are wondering what they are doing among the rest of the rabble in the room.  There are the interested tasters who resolutely work the room picking and choosing from the different wines and occasionally asking questions.  There are the people with plans and are on a mission announcing at their arrival that they are ONLY tasting Pinot Noir today! There are the new to wine tasting visitors that don’t realize they are supposed to be spitting and within 20 minutes of the start of the tasting they are already weaving about and you end up spilling wine on them because they can’t hold their glass steady enough and you are trying to pour the smallest amount possible without looking like you are trying not to serve them.  There are other winery representatives, taking a break from their own booths to tour around the room. Then there are my personal favorites, the avid enthusiasts, that have great questions and generally will come with one to 3 other avid enthusiasts.  Once these types find out one is a winemaker, you’d best be on your top game! “How do you know when to pull a wine out of barrel?” “What is the meaning of neutral oak?” “What’s the difference between Napa Valley and Carneros?” “What process do you use to determine your blends?”  I love these folks.  It makes my time at the table very exciting.

I loved my time in Vancouver this week and it was a fitting finale to my time as the red winemaker for Robert Mondavi.  At the end of this week, my family, and I are driving out of Napa bound for New York.  I can’t believe it has gone by so quickly!  Don’t worry though.  I still have plenty of blogging left in me!  Stay tuned for next Monday!

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!