IMG_2147.JPG

The Wine Styles of Summer

When the weather gets hot, sometimes people feel very limited by the wines they can drink. White wines are typically a “go to” since they can be served chilled.  However, Rose wines can make an excellent option as well as lighter style reds.  This past week I was at the Cornell Club in New York City talking about this very subject.  It was a great tasting with around 50 very interactive people.  We covered not only summer wine styles but went into wine an food pairing, the reasons for ancient cultures’ additions of wine to water as well as my current views on the challenges of marketing wine in Asia.  I won’t go into the full discussion here but I will tell you.

Ruffino Prosecco, NV, Italy – Light and Bubbly

This is a great go to wine for the summer.  It is reasonably priced, deliciously crisp, and has a light body that even the most discerning of wine drinkers will enjoy on a hot day.  It also works well for those summer cocktails that call for something bubbly.

Ravines Dry Riesling, 2014, Finger Lakes, NY – Stone and Chalk

This is one of my favorite Rieslings from the Finger Lakes.  Bright acid and a dry palate make this wine perfect for humid summer night sipping.  The aromatics are very minerally and the fruit shows up on the palate as a mix of tropical and stone fruit.

Etude Rose of Pinot Noir, 2014, Carneros, CA – Zesty and Fruity

This rose comes from one of my favorite Pinot Noir vineyards in California, Grace Benoist Ranch.  I was fortunate enough to make wine from this vineyard in 2010 although it didn’t end up getting in a bottle by itself.  This rose is full bodied with crisp acid and lovely flavors of ripe strawberries and peaches.  It is a great wine for a meatier summer dish that would be too savory for a white wine but when a red would be too heavy.

Christophe Pacalet Fleurie, 2013, Beaujolais Cru, France – Elegant and Floral

Beaujolais some times gets a bad rap because of the Nouveau phenomenon however many of the Cru level producers are turning out very respectable wines that are delicious in the summer with a light chill on them.  The tannins on this wine are soft and supple with a light palate and floral nose.

Cooper’s Creek Pinot Noir, 2013, Hawk’s Bay, New Zealand – Elegant and Floral

This was a surprising wine.  Of all the regions within New Zealand, Hawk’s Bay would be my last pick for Pinot Noir. It is considered a warm spot in a cool climate ideally suited for Bordeaux varieties and Syrah, particularly from the Gimblett Gravels area. However, high up in the hills, there are Pinot Noir growers who are working with this variety at high altitudes. It is very similar in style to Carneros with dark, juicy fruit and moderate acid for a Pinot Noir which tends to be higher overall as a variety.  The soft tannins also allowed it to take a slight chill for the tasting without losing any of the complexity of the wine.

Finally, one can not really talk about things to drink in the summer time without talking about Beer!  I was on vacation in the Poconos, where I spent the rest of the week while not in NYC, and nearby was this fantastic Craft Brewery called Shawnee Craft.  I became quite enchanted with their Biere Blanche, an unfiltered “Belgian-style wheat beer” with a citrusy nose and wheat driven palate.  They also had live music on Friday night that consisted of a talented guitarist with moderate singing ability and two percussionists, making for a lively jam session.

I miss the beer.  Perhaps they ship?

 The cheese selection in Eataly in NYC was amazing by the way. I though I would share!

Winemaker 2 Winemaker: Jan Matthias Klein of the Mosel

Although Jan Klein initially did not have plans for going into the family business once decided, he went after it with boundless enthusiasm.  With experience in multiple wineries all over the world, from New Zealand and Australia to France and many different places in Germany plus education in Marketing and Sales, Klein brings a well rounded knowledge to running his family’s 1,150 year old winery legacy.  He was gracious enough to sit down and answer some of my questions this past week.  I’m sure you are going to love the answers as much as I have!

sho_006_1110_2138

NC: As the 7th generation to be the caretaker of Staffelter Hof, did you just know you were destined for the wine industry or did you want to explore other career options before settling

JK: Well, I did know that it was my destiny when I realized that both of my brothers weren’t interested at all to go that way. Towards the end of highschool I had many interests that I was keen to pursue, especially languages and mathematics. When I finished high school I sensed that my parents were really hoping I would be the one to continue the family legacy. They never pushed me in my decisions but nonetheless I knew that it was now up to me make a important decision.

I chose to do a two year apprenticehip in viticulture & winemaking working in two different wineries, an organic one in Rheinhessen and a premium steepslope focused one in Mosel. During that time I became more and more fond of this profession, working in nature, controlling every step of the production process, hard but very fulfilling work it was. After the two years were over I studied Wine Marketing and economics to broaden my knowledge to successfully run our family business. After internships in wineries in France, New Zealand and Australia where I also managed to learn two languages fluently, I returned back home in 2005 to follow in my ancestors big footsteps.

NC: With such a great history to your winery, how do you balance the need to respect tradition with the need to constantly improve and innovate to remain relevant?

JK: We of course use the history in our communication a lot. There’s not so many 1,150 year old wineries around! In contrast to that our labeling is rather modern but with a twist that gets us to talk about the history of the winery again. In the vineyard, we work 100% organic and are starting trials for going biodynamic using over 100 year old methods for treating plants & soils. Also in the cellar it’s pretty basic (which is in a way modern now again) with no big fancy machines or additives to the wine (no enzymes, finings etc.), that way we could even label our wines as vegan, which is very trendy at the moment. Innovation is mainly important when comes to finding new ways to market your wines such as using Social Media, doing private tasting parties, or wine markets in different countries.

NC: The Mosel is one of the most iconic and dramatic wine growing regions in the world. What is the most challenging aspect of growing high quality wine there, particularly Riesling?

JK: To be honest the most challenging part is to make enough money to feed your family. With production cost over four times higher than in flat vineyards. And when you’re aiming for higher quality your looking generally at lower yields which makes this effect even stronger. For someone who only works in steep slopes it’s almost impossible to get by when he’s not famous and gets high enough prices for his wines. The model that works quite well is a mix of flatter vineyards, where you can use machines for the entry level and steep slopes for the premium wines, which is also how our winery is set up. Producing high quality is not a real challenge in the Mosel area, the biggest challenge is whether you can sell it at a high enough price that makes the effort you put in worthwhile.

NC: Can you describe your philosophy on winemaking in haiku ?

JK: With wine from grapes

in harmony with nature

life is fulfilling

NC: Many German winemakers are moving back to extremely traditional winemaking for Riesling including skin contact, native yeasts and large oak casks for fermentation. Do you feel this is important for your wines and if so why? Do you also use modern techniques and if so what are the most important for your process?

JK: I think the reason for this is that it often works better and gives you more exciting results. Mosel unlike many other wine regions lives from its diversity, and it shows best when you’re leaving the industrial path of winemaking. For me the art of making great wine means to keep it as pure as possible, and when you work hard in the vineyard and harvest good fruit it’s actually quite easy to make wine with nothing but grapes and little bit of SO2 to keep it stable in the bottle and enjoyable for many, many years. I use selected yeast strains for my entry level wines in order to have product consistency from vintage to vintage because wild yeast ferments which I use for all premium wines vary a bit more with the flavors and style you get eventually. I also mainly use stainless steel tanks to keep the wine most pure and not affected by oak. Oak only comes into play for special traditional style wines I make. Last but not least I invested in a computerized fermentation control which automatically helps me avoid that ferments either go to fast or warm or both, without it being necessary for me to check each tank twice a day. It is a great luxury to have to save 2 hours of work per day during harvest when you’re having very long days already and have very important decisions to make.

NC: How do you achieve the delicate balance between sweetness and acid in your wines? Do you wait for the yeast to stop the fermentation on their own or do you stop the fermentation through some other means to retain a balanced level of sugar?

JK: Several methods come into play. For dryer styles, I often work with maceration on skins to extract flavor and minerals that will buffer the acidity in a natural way and make for a better balanced wine. For the sweeter styles we usually stop fermentations by cooling down and adding SO2 at the sugar levels that we think harmonize best with the individual acidity of the vintage. In low acidity years we usually pick grapes for sweet wines earlier, when the acidity is still higher and also whole bunch press to get a leaner more acidic style

NC: If you could make wine anywhere else in the world besides the Mosel, where would you go?

JK: Portugal, I’ve actually just planted some white Portuguese indigenous grapes in a steep slope here in Mosel.

NC: Early in your career was there a single person who you felt was an important inspiration for your style or did you pull from multiple sources?

JK: I had several older friends whose wine styles and approach to viticulture I liked, most inspiring for me have been my friendships with swiss winemaker Daniel Vollenweider who started a Mosel winery from scratch in 2000 and Thorsten Melsheimer, one of the best and most authentic organic/biodynamic producers in Mosel.

NC: Do you have a winemaking mistake in your past that you remember to this day?

JK: Not really, but you can avoid screw-ups by not rushing yourself, not working too long hours (>15hrs), not doing three things at the same time and of course by pulling the mixer back before pulling it out of the tank.

NC: If you could share only one or two things with younger winemakers, what would be the most valuable pieces of knowledge or experience that you pass on?

JK: Be authentic, don’t listen to the press, don’t care about ratings too much, do your own thing!

NC: Are you working on any exciting projects now that you would like to share?

JK: Theres two very different projects I’m a part of right now:

First is the BERGRETTUNG initiative, where we rescue old steep slope vineyards from getting abandoned, because the former owner are giving up on them because of hard work/too low income. – check www.klitzekleinerring.de/en

And then I have created a Riesling based summer drink called MARI. It’s a blend of sparkling Riesling with Yerba Maté tea and elderflower sirup. It’s very refreshing and has some natural caffeine from the tea as well. – check http://www.jointhelama.com/en/start/

Jan’s wines are available at Acker Merrall Stores in NYC, through Crystalline Selection, and in Florida at GOS Wine & Spirits

 

The Five Whys of the Civil War and What We Can Learn From it in the Wine Industry

Hang on for the ride here folks…

For a full disclaimer, I am Southern. I’m proud to be Southern but the South has a dark stain on its past that no one should be celebrating or proud of. This is a post I have been thinking about for quite a while but it has become far more relevant in the past week with the tragic events in Charleston and the vast political rhetoric that followed it. Originally, the thought started to form in my mind when the Occupy movement started gaining steam all over the country during the Great Recession while we were living in Napa. Then we were only a short car ride away from two cities, Oakland and San Francisco, which had major camps of occupiers so I essentially had a front row seat for that.

Anyway…

For those of you not familiar with the Five Whys technique, it is an excellent way to get to the root cause of a problem. It is a SixSigma technique outlined on their website here.

According to the site the Five Whys, is most useful “when problems involve human factors or interactions.” There are few problems greater than the outbreak of war so be patient with me here as I explore the Five Whys of the Civil War. What does this have to do with the wine industry? To quote Elle Woods from the movie Legally Blonde, “I promise, I have a point.”

Why #1 – Why Did the Civil War Start?

On April 12, 1861 the first shots were fired which kicked off the Civil War. These shots were fired in Charleston, SC directed at Fort Sumter which was located in the Charleston Harbor. After secession, South Carolina and the newly formed Confederate States had asked the Union armies to abandon the forts in the Harbor and tensions were running high.

Why #2 – Why Did the States Secede?

If you read through the entire Declaration of Secession for South Carolina, the cause of the declaration is the idea that somehow the other states had broken the trust and agreements on which the United States were founded and they were upset that the central government now had the authority to mandate laws that would be beyond what they had originally agreed to. This is the state’s rights argument. Unfortunately for the South, the platform they chose to build the state’s rights argument on was Slavery.

Why #3 – Why did the Southern States Choose to Build a State’s Rights Case with Slavery?

Economics my dear Watson! Doesn’t it usually come down to money? Cornered and faced with the complete destruction of their economy, the Southern States did what most people would probably do in the face of imposed financial ruin. They fought back. USHistory.org puts it this way…

“The sudden end to the slave economy would have had a profound and killing economic impact in the South where reliance on slave labor was the foundation of their economy. The cotton economy would collapse. The tobacco crop would dry in the fields. Rice would cease being profitable.”

The institution was wrong. However it was the way it had always been done and the South didn’t see any other options.

Why #4 – Why Was Slavery so Important to the South’s Economy?

The majority of farming was accomplished with slaves. Once slavery was taken out of the picture there was no way to maintain the vast farms and plantations. Working the land personally was considered “beneath” the gentile way of life that the southern states had established for themselves. There was no one willing to work the land so they had slaves to do it for them. There also was no economic force for the south outside of the production of cash crops; Cotton, Tobacco, Indigo, and Rice mainly. It was nearly a monoculture with a single main industry and smaller sub industries supporting it. This led to a set up that was doomed to fail.

HA! It didn’t even take five whys to get the root causes of the Civil War.

This was the problem. It was an entire economy, built on one industry, relying on one type of worker to support the rest of the population of the area.

Here’s my point…

So let’s now fast forward 154 years to present day and take a good look at how the food industry in this country is set up, focusing mainly on the wine industry since that is the industry I’m most familiar with. Let me be very clear. I am not comparing the hideous institution of slavery to the immigrant labor force we have today. Just the dependence on this particular workforce with little viable alternative. I’m sure there are legal and illegal immigrants represented. I don’t want to pick on any particular area but for the purposes of this comparison, let’s take Napa County. Agriculture is the main industry of Napa County and of that Agriculture I think it is safe to say that it is mostly vineyards and wineries. The next industry is hospitality however the hospitality wouldn’t exist if the vineyards and wineries were not there. The vineyards and wineries are currently owned by a mix of different entities; private individuals who either have been in the valley for generations and inherited their land, wealthy new comers wanting a piece of the idyllic lifestyle, or corporations who specialize in the wine and beverage industry. All of this is possible because we are able to find semi-skilled immigrant labor who are willing to work hard, dirty, difficult jobs to make ends meet. Many are transient, living in farm labor camps during the season and following different crops around the state. Most are just barely making ends meet and living transitory lives to continue working as much as possible. Strawberries in the spring, Lettuce in the summer, grapes in the fall, etc…

Napa is an entire economy, built on one industry, relying on one type of worker to support the rest of the population of the area. Do you get why I’ve been thinking about this for a while?

During the Occupy movement when unemployment was at its highest, the vineyards and wineries struggled to find enough workers to accomplish the tasks needed to keep the vineyards in top shape. The labor contractors managing the crews were rumored to be leaving jobs if they heard that someone across the valley was paying slightly higher for the same work. Meanwhile, I was watching newscasts everyday of people camping in downtown Oakland and San Francisco, complaining about how they were out of work and couldn’t find work because the 1% was keeping them down. I couldn’t help but wonder why we didn’t send buses down to the cities to pick up these folks and solve two problems at once. One winery on the central coast actually went so far as to try to hire an “All-American” harvest crew.  John Salisbury posted ads to try to find additional help for the harvest. He had 80 inquiries for jobs. Forty came in to fill out applications. From that group 22 were selected for interviews and only 18 actually showed up. They hired all 18 and that dwindled quickly down to 7 who made it through the whole season plus they were 3 times as expensive as migrant labor and extra slow compared to the immigrant crews. He was back to hiring migrant crews after that.

Then we have the immigration debate to add to this mix. The proverbial governmental mandate that could radically change how we bring in immigrant labor to this country to work doing jobs that the domestic population has nearly zero interest or skill in doing. Depending on how it is handled it could have huge implications to the cost of our food supply chain throughout the country. Right now people are interested in purchasing cheap food and with cheap food comes the cheapest labor that the economy can deliver and at this time that is based on migrant labor.

Here comes my frustration with our current political atmosphere in which politicians are too busy rehashing and debating the rhetoric of a war that happened 150 years ago rather than focusing on a similar economic set up of our food industry today. I would love to tell them the same thing that I would tell a Southern redneck talking about the “War of Northern Aggression.” Get over it! We have bigger fish to fry in the here and now before history repeats itself. Hopefully it can be a more positive outcome this time.