Category Archives: Uncategorized

from Vineyard & Winery Management (some months back)

Toto, I’ve a Feeling We’re Not from Kansas Anymore

It’s a reasonable enough solution; you’re trying to start a winery and you need grapes. And let’s say you live in the Midwest. You could choose some unfamiliar hybrid grapes from a local farmer you just met or…go shopping in California. Or Washington. Or Pennsylvania. Or any place that has proven grapes with familiar names like Chardonnay or Cabernet.

Maybe it would be better, if you were an intrepid Midwest winemaker to, say, learn about Valvin Muscat, how it’s flavorful but has a name that sounds part grape, part machinery. Wait, the TTB now lets you label Valvin Muscat as just plain Muscat?? Okay, bad example. Say it’s Traminette or Ravat 34. Who the hell wants to sell a wine called Ravat 34? If you have the option of buying some Zinfandel, why would you go to the trouble of learning about Ravat 34, finding a grower that knows the first thing about growing it, talking to ten different neighboring wineries in the vain hope of finding someone who will share with you their yet unreported success with Ravat 34 and then coming up with a name for your wine other than Ravat 34?

It’s not an unusual choice. But decisions have to be made if you are to run a business. Perhaps the name of your wine should be “Hobson’s Choice”, perhaps not. Perhaps you should take the easy road and buy some grapes or even some wine from someone else and name your wine “Cabernet Sauvignon”.

So you see why wineries have so frequently chosen the latter course. Today the bulk trade is growing aggressively, not only in the U.S., but throughout the world. According to The Drinks Business, the bulk wine category accounts for 38.6% of global wine exports, while bottled wine represents 54.3% of global exports and sparkling wine is at 7.1% (even as fizz continues to sparkle in sales growth). There’s no duplicity in shopping for wine or grapes to supplement your own production; if nothing else, it’s a natural development of a burgeoning global marketplace for wine. As that market grows and the number of players increases, there are efficiencies to be achieved when differing players find and hone their particular strengths, each bolstering others in the chain.

But wine is not a chain or a widget; everyone knows that. The history of American wine sales is replete with examples of large beverage companies that assumed making and selling wine was little different from, say, selling Pepsi. For Pepsi (or Coke or such others), it was a hard-earned lesson and they quietly retired the field.

When we buy a bottle of wine, we like to believe that we are buying something real, something authentic. The very basis of the Denomination of Origin system is to provide a buyer a sense of authenticity; that the wine is truly from a place. The DO concept (or AOC or AOP or AVA or GI or what you like) exists throughout the world in versions that may be draconian or that may be little more than window dressing, it is true. But the message inferred is the same to a consumer: by printing a place name on the label you are telling me that this comes from a special place, and the wine should carry specific characteristics as a result.

Which requires us to venture rather farther out on the limb, where things get wobblier. Roquefort cheese is a particular thing from a particular place and, according to French law, it must embody those particulars in its production, its origins, its smells and tastes. When we say that a Zinfandel comes from Paso Robles, we are making the self-same claim. It’s generally warmer there than in many other coastal California sites, but it is near the coast nonetheless. So its character should reflect those climatic influences in ways that make that Zinfandel special in specific ways, and different from a Zinfandel grown a hundred-fifty miles to the northeast in Modesto.

But climate is as mercurial as the latest election poll; and the wine industry bases its hierarchical pricing upon the notion that certain places tend to make good wine year in and year out not only because of their climatic situation but because of their soils too. We will merely snake along that slippery slope for today (to mix our metaphors) by saying that reasonable people disagree on the issue of soil influence. I’d like to kick a couple of boulders down the slope by pondering how centuries of experience, offering us specific soil characteristics in wine can be summed up as mere winemaking tricks. How is it that Chablis’ remarkable oyster shell aromas are due to sulfur usage, as some narrow-minded pendants are wont to insist, but who am I to say?

Let’s just agree to pretend for a moment that certain places on the planet give us certain kinds of wine. If mere winemaking trickery were enough to create hundred-dollar wines, well, surprise, everybody would do that. It is not so. Certain places are special for a myriad of reasons.

And the last fifty years have seen new wine from new lands around the world offering proof that we have not yet exhausted the possible combinations of vineyards and grapes. Only a few miles from Rome, outside the little town of Montefiascone, is a plot of Merlot that makes delicious, remarkable wine. It was planted about twenty-five years ago by one of the geniuses of Italian wine, Ricardo Cotarella, so winemaking has something to do with it. But the land that is modern Italy has been dedicated to wine for three millennia or so, and they’re just now finding a spot that makes great Merlot? I would state it thusly: if Rome still hasn’t figured out where its best prospects lie for certain highly regarded grapes, why are we so critical of early efforts with, say, Geneva Red or Brianna, two of the Midwest’s potential winners? Give it time; give it time.

But my circuitous argument lands here: unless you plant grapes of your own, in your own place, how will you ever know if there is such potential? How will you ever discover something great? Those wineries which rely upon purchased grapes from elsewhere cheat themselves, their neighbors and their children of a future all their own. And should California fall into the sea, as predicted by Hollywood, where will they turn for their source material? Having starved their own state’s farmers of the grape business, those farmers will have moved on to more lucrative crops, and the opportunity to conjoin a particular farmland to a particular grape, hopefully conserved and watched over by succeeding generations, each learning from their predecessors, this too will be lost.

It’s not an idle or trivial matter. Midwestern winemakers often find themselves short of grapes, at least good grapes from varieties that have a consumer market, and that are grown with these winemakers’ stylistic goals in mind. Why? Because not enough wineries are shopping for those grapes consistently. Farmers aren’t stupid. They grow what people want to buy. When Midwest wineries buy their grapes from the West Coast, the farmers there start planting more grapes for bulk purchase (with the attendant qualitative implications of that statement) while farmers nearby move on to soybeans or kale.

Many of the wineries that I speak to about this issue are evasive; few want to admit that a bit of purchased juice can coax more out of their own state’s grapes. Federal law allows 25% non-Missouri wine in a wine labeled as Missouri; in certain difficult years, they are allowed even more leeway. And Kansas wineries, particularly those who utilize purchased grapes, managed to gut the Kansas Farm Winery law; before 2014, if you had a Farm Winery license, at least 60% of your grapes had to be Kansas grown. Today, that number is 30%. How does that help Kansas growers and farmers? It doesn’t. It helps those who seek a short-term fix to a long-term problem. And wine production will always best be answered by long-term solutions.

Growing grapes to make fine wine is a problem that can only be answered by time. If your business model is to be a wedding chapel and event space, then it is likely that your goal is to make serviceable wine. My decades in the industry have convinced me that those who seek to make fine wine set aside all other goals in an effort to reach that pinnacle. Fine wine may or may not happen, but fine wine does not happen by accident. It is a remarkable confluence of luck, tremendous work and thought.

Serviceable wine has a thirsty market; make no mistake. But serviceable wine is a commodity; the ocean of Australian wine with cute animals on the labels languishing in close-out bins over the last five or more years is proof of that. Historically speaking, the cheapest wine wins. Over the last five years, Aussie Shiraz has been supplanted by Argentines making tasty, cheap Malbec. Soon it will be the Chinese, planting hundreds of thousands of acres of vines intended to provide the world with more serviceable wine. If I were writing a business plan today, I would not want it based upon serviceable wine, but upon something special. Something unique to who I am and where I live. In that way, people who live around me would value what it brought to my community and to my region. Others far away might want to taste my wine because it is unique to my place, and perhaps I would grow a market for what I made, a market the Chinese (not to pick on them, but you get the point) would not be able to imitate and supplant at lower and lower prices.
Today there is some dissembling about all this. It seems unfair to pick on a winery in these pages, so let’s consider the travails of one distillery, Templeton in Iowa. For years, they insisted that they were making their own amazing rye whiskey, and it’s inarguable that their rye whiskey was damned delicious. But the truth comes out in our social media era; it turns out that Templeton was buying rye whiskey from MGP in Indiana, like most smart rye whiskey producers. Some have not forgiven them for this lack of candor.

There should be truth in labeling. We often look to our government to protect those names, as other governments often do. But there are many who would rather keep government’s nose out of their business. The TTB is currently promising to take a closer look at veracity in wine labeling; wines sold only within their state’s borders have been labeled in ways that would never pass muster if submitted for COLA approval. Some companies might prefer the government to go sniffing someplace else. And with the TTB still reeling from the “sequester” cuts of 2014, they haven’t the manpower to police these matters adequately.

So it falls to the wineries to do what is right. And while everyone winery has the right to conduct business in its own best interests, its long-term prospects are ruled by one imperative: what is your unique proposition? Instead of being just another winery, shopping from the same California broker, why not reflect your own place and your own community. Instead of pretending to be from Kansas and selling them California, why not just be from Kansas? I live in that state, so I know it can be embarrassing at times to admit you’re a Kansan, but how else will we create change?

A wine label is a marketing tool. The most powerful marketing message that your label can employ is to tell people who you are and where you come from. We are in an era in which transparency is rewarded and any semblance of duplicity is likely to be ripped apart by the pack of angry vultures collectively known as social media. How much are you willing to offer them your red meat?

Just Back from Buenos Aires and…

BY DOUG FROST

Special to The Star

AUGUST 21, 2017 12:30 PM

 

BUENOS AIRES, ARGENTINA

Christmas music is playing in the hotel lobby. Outside, people are wrapped in heavy coats and scarves, though the temperature lingers above 50 degrees. It’s August, which is late winter here in South America.

Why are they playing Christmas music? You might ask as well why the bathroom in my hotel has clearly been prepared for wallpapering and yet remains bare, or why the wine stores charge 20 times the cost for European wines. This is a country in transition, still sorting things out, sometimes amusingly, and still protective of its wine industry.

As for the heavy coats, Buenos Aires has all the weather diversity of San Diego; it’s always nice here. Fifty degrees is a strong chill; 40 degrees is a disaster. Up in Mendoza, in the Andes Mountains, where the wines are grown, there is snow today, so Argentina is not all like Buenos Aires.

And the vines up in the foothills of the Andes are growing not just Malbec, though it remains the country’s most popular and valued grape. It is Malbec that has fueled Argentina’s meteoric rise in the world market, and certainly in the American market.

You can be sure that Australian winemakers have noticed; Malbec sales increases have mirrored Aussie Shiraz sales decreases over the last five years.

Malbec enjoys Shiraz’s powerful fruitiness, and Argentina’s wineries opted for more elegant labels, evincing an image of seriousness and authenticity, with somewhat higher pricing.

But as with Australia’s once single-minded reliance on Shiraz, Argentine Malbec threatens to become a one-trick pony. Australia’s gravest error with Shiraz was to become associated with blends from a massive region called Southeastern Australia, a “highly delimited” area roughly half the size of the continental U.S. Not a recipe for region-specific flavors; instead it was a recipe for cheaper and cheaper prices.

Argentina is desperate to avoid the same fate. It has been keen to not rely on massive blends but instead to boast of specific regions, each of which can express slightly differing styles of Malbec.

Lujan de Cujo can be just as tangy as it is rich; Altamira often shows an alluring floral, rose petal element. Where once growers planted in the warmer spots of Mendoza, the large and best-known region, producers have steadily moved into the Uco Valley, often higher in elevation and cooler, increasing that tangy, even slightly tart character.

For many of us, that means wines with better balance and an ability to age in the cellar, unlike the fat beasts that we tasted when Malbec first showed up here.

Even more importantly, Argentina is showing off its other grapes. Bonarda was once the country’s favorite grape; it’s generally a quaffer, not a wine to think about. But blend it with Syrah, a grape quickly increasing in planting, and the two marry and offer offspring of considerable tastiness.

Torrontes is the country’s traditional white grape; its wild floral character betrays its lineage with the Muscat grape, which has become one of America’s top three consumed white grapes. Torrontes hasn’t enjoyed that same fame, so growers are focused upon Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and even Riesling, with some success.

The true unknown star here is Cabernet Franc; there are utterly delicious examples from most of the well-known names such as Luigi Bosca, Catena Zapata (one of Argentina’s finest), Gascon, Lamadrid and Rutini and lesser-known names such as Achaval-Ferrer, Aleanna, Durigutti, Fabre-Montmayou, Keo, Pulenta, Salentein, Tinto Negro and Zorzal.

Cabernet Franc blends with Malbec delightfully, too: Santa Julia makes one it calls Mountain Blend. Catena Zapata has a great value called Nicasia, but they’re not bringing it to the U.S. yet. I think the company should, but no one in Argentina is yet sure whether to bolster Malbec or to diversify with other grapes. It’s still sorting things out, as appears to be the case with my hotel.

 

Read more here: http://www.kansascity.com/living/food-drink/article168386837.html#storylink=cpy

Jefferson Cup 2016

The Jefferson Cup Invitational Wine Competition has concluded and there’s some press popping up around it.

 

But you can see the complete results at…

The Jefferson Cup Invitational has celebrated its seventeenth year as the only competition that honors the best of the best among wineries from all of America’s wine regions. Each year we select great wines from across America; the 2016 competition included wines from twenty-seven states. At the end of the second day of this year’s tasting, November 18, 2016 wines from NINE different states had captured top honors. Just as the event’s namesake would have it, democracy reigned at this year’s Jefferson Cup Wine Competition.

The two-day competition culminated with the awarding of twenty-four Jefferson Cup Trophies. Jefferson Cups were awarded to wines made from both vinifera vines (the European species responsible for more famous wines such as Chardonnay and Cabernet) and non-vinifera vines, which flourish in the more extreme climates in the U.S.

These twenty-four prestigious Jefferson Cups, the Sweepstakes Awards for our competition, were awarded to two sparkling wines, ten white wines, nine red wines, one fruit wine and two dessert wines. “While many competitions insist upon selecting a pre-ordained number of sweepstakes winners, our judges are allowed to find the top wines, whether there are only one, two or three, or even NO winners in some categories, as has happened in previous years,” says Jefferson Cup Invitational founder Doug Frost. “This year for the first time ever, we had a fruit wine and a muscadine based wine as winners, and there were once again great examples of wine, both from vinifera and non-vinifera grapes.” Together with thirty-one other Jefferson Cup nominated wines, these twenty-four wines represent some of the most compelling wines made in America.

Although many expect California to dominate the awards, Jefferson Cups were won by eight other states as well: Florida, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Missouri, New York and Washington State. California didn’t dominate, winning fewer Cups (five) to Michigan’s six Cups. The Jefferson Cup nominees, all Double Gold recipients, included wines from fifteen different states. And while there is no quota for non-vinifera wines in the Jefferson Cup finals, with both red wines and white wines, the number of vinifera and non-vinifera wines among the nominees was virtually identical.

Many people have begun to call the Jefferson Cup Invitational, the “Olympics” of wine competitions. This competition is not open to every winery willing to submit an entrance fee. Rather we select the best of the best, culled from tastings and competitions in America throughout 2016. The Jefferson Cup Invitational was founded in 1999 in honor of Thomas Jefferson. Jefferson fathered our constitution, helped champion the international concept of human rights and was a seminal figure in America’s cultural, culinary (including wine) and agricultural history.

About the Jefferson Cup Invitational

The Seventeenth Annual Jefferson Cup Invitational took place on November 17 and 18, 2016 in Kansas City, Missouri. The Jefferson Cup is a different sort of wine competition, in that it is an invitational in which over seven hundred wines are pre-selected which exemplify top viticulture and winemaking throughout America.

While in years past, the Jefferson Cup has utilized unique nomenclature for its awards, this year the competition has adopted Bronze, Silver, Gold and Double Gold medals as its standards, responding to requests of many participating wineries. Out of seven hundred twenty participating wines, the judges selected just one-hundred-ninety wines to receive the Bronze Medals, honoring wines exemplary of their regions and varieties, Three-hundred-forty-five wines received Silver Medals, and the judges found sixty-six wines to be worthy of Gold Medals and thirty-one being granted Double Gold Medals. These are truly great wines, reflecting our goal of finding and praising wines of true American excellence.

Those fifty-five Double Gold wines (and Jefferson Cup nominees) were tasted by the entire group of twenty judges. Out of those honored wines, the judges collectively picked twenty-four wines to be awarded the Jefferson Cup. And by selecting both vinifera and non-vinifera wines for the Jefferson Cup each year, the goal is to respect the diversity of American viticulture and Jefferson’s own acceptance of native varieties and hybrids. Jefferson fathered our constitution, helped champion the international concept of human rights and was a seminal figure in America’s cultural, culinary (including wine) and agricultural history.

“In most other competitions there is ‘open’ seating,” says Frost, ”and California represents 90% of the entries. As a result it usually captures 90% of the honors,” he said. “What we are doing is following Mr. Jefferson’s example and allowing every quality wine-producing region in America a place at our table. Each year we select great wines from across America; the 2016 competition included wines from twenty-seven states.”

Following the Jefferson Cup competition, the remaining wines are donated for an annual event that benefits children and adults in need. This year the Jefferson Cup raised more than $100,000 for Angel Flight Central (www.angelflightcentral.org). We hope that these events reflect well upon the great heritage of Thomas Jefferson.

The 2016 JEFFERSON CUP winners are:

For Sparkling Wine:

L. Mawby Vineyards Sandpainting nv Leelenau Peninsula

St. Julian Winery Sweet Nancie nv Lake Michigan Shore

 

For White Non-Vinifera Wine:

Adam Puchta Winery Dry Vignoles nv Missouri

Fireside Winery Glow nv Iowa

Holy-Field Vineyard & Winery Vignoles nv Kansas

Lakeridge Winery & Vineyards Southern White nv Florida

White Pine Winery Traminette 2015 Lake Michigan Shore

 

For White Vinifera Wine:

Barefoot Cellars Sauvignon Blanc nv California

Dry Creek Vineyards Estate Block 10 Chardonnay 2014 Russian River Valley

Fox Run Vineyards Riesling Lot 11 Lake Dana Vineyard 2014 Seneca Lake

Chateau LaFayette Reneau Riesling Semi-Dry 2015 Finger Lakes

Fox Run Vineyards Riesling Lot 11 Hanging Delta Vineyard 2014 Seneca Lake

 

For Fruit Wine:

Easley Winery Cranberry Jubilee nv American (Indiana)

 

For Red Vinifera Wine:

Brian Carter Cellars Solesce 2012 Columbia Valley

Carol Shelton Wild Thing Old Vine Zinfandel 2014 Mendocino County

Reininger Winery Helix Syrah 2012 Columbia Valley

Walla Walla Vintners Cabernet Sauvignon 2013 Walla Walla Valley

Goldschmidt Vineyard Forefathers Cabernet Sauvignon Lone Tree Vineyard 2014 Alexander Valley

 

For Red Non-Vinifera Wine:

Aubrey Vineyards Trail Rider Red nv American (Kansas)

Missouri State University Norton 2015 Missouri

Noboleis Vineyards Norton 2015 Missouri

 

For Dessert Wine:

12 Corners Vineyards Vidal Ice Wine 2016 Lake Michigan Shore

St. Julian Winery Solera Cream Sherry nv Michigan

Flavor Bridge to Nowhere

BY DOUG FROST
Special to The Kansas City Star, October 12, 2016

Sitting in my usual dim sum restaurant, I noticed Christmas decorations overhead. I was so horrified I almost stopped chewing on my chicken feet. Is it really that time?

Not quite, but the media are pivoting to the holidays, and entertainment guides have started popping up in newspapers, magazines and social media. They all promise to simplify your life. But not this columnist: I promise to complicate things.

Most of these guides offer sage notions of matching food and wine. After providing listicles of their Top 10s, they conclude by telling you to stop worrying about any of this (at least the good ones do) and drink whatever you like. Me, I’ll start out with that premise. I’ve been shouting it my whole career because I have a problem with authority. Also, because we all like different things, and that’s the way it’s supposed to be.

The prevailing notion of these erstwhile guides is that you should select a wine to go with a dish based on each sharing the same flavors. One insists that cranberries go well with California Zinfandel. Yes, Zinfandel has the flavor of cranberries, among many other flavors.

But cranberries are tart and Zin is not. In fact, it’s usually rather warm, ripe, even slightly sweet and figgy at times. When you put tart food with a wine that is slightly sweet (or vice versa), it can make both of them seem out of balance, as if you had a brownie and decided to suck on a lemon at the same time.

Or here’s another fraught match: apple and Chenin Blanc. Yes, Chenin Blanc has apple flavors, but like apples, Chenin Blancs vary from dry-as-dust to sweet-as-pie. If you serve a dry Chenin Blanc with a sweet apple dish, neither will shine.

Many chefs have been trained to suggest wines based on a concept known as “flavor bridging” — a dominant flavor in the dish is the “key” to the wine you should choose. I’ve had chefs tell me they’ll marry this fish dish with the Chardonnay by adding peaches to the dish.

Why peaches?

Many Chardonnays have a peach flavor. But why would I want to drink a liquid version of the dish in front of me? Chefs don’t drop everything on the plate into a blender and expect it to taste as good as all those individual elements.

Chefs know better. Look at how plates are composed: a traditional chef will offer a protein matched with a starch, a vegetable, an appropriate sauce or seasoning, a bitter green leaf and citrus slice to finish. The goal is for each element to highlight the others in a constellation of differing flavors.

I’ve seen this bridge building ad nauseam. Lamb with mint sauce is a classic. So someone matches the dish with a “minty” Australian Shiraz (some Aussie reds are genuinely minty in flavor); makes sense, right? Except mint sauce is usually sweet, and such wines are often very tannic, astringent and even bitter.

You don’t see them serving spaghetti squash with two other squashes (but don’t they share the same flavors?) and maybe some spaghetti on the side. They know better. Still, certain famous chefs continue to promulgate this notion of flavor bridging, and cooperative writers have complied, selecting their wines by finding flavors in common with the foods.

But if nothing else, flavor bridging is boring. So what’s a person to do, now that I’ve complained about all these misguided guides?

Well, first off, let’s return to the first principle: drink what you like. Stop worrying about things going together or not going together.

Most of us like things to be fair and balanced (and get angry when certain media usurp the term for something that’s anything but). The safest guide (as rules don’t really exist) is to ask that the wine doesn’t overwhelm the food, and the food doesn’t overpower the wine.

That’s it. Nothing too complicated.

It’s the same with my Chinese restaurant. I asked about the Christmas decorations and the waitress said, no, they hadn’t put them up this week or last week. They just keep them up year around. It’s easier and simpler.

Doug Frost is a Kansas City-based wine and spirits writer and consultant. He is one of only three people in the world to have earned the titles of master sommelier and master of wine. He contributes a monthly wine column for The Star’s Food section and the Chow Town blo

Read more here: http://www.kansascity.com/living/food-drink/article106698212.html#storylink=cpy

Pet Nat Sounds

I open a bottle of Texas (yep, howdy, boy, Texsus is wut ahm talkin’ bout) Pet Nat wine and it’s a fisssssss not a Pop! All is well and good. Pet Nat wines, you see, are not always fully sparkling. Usually they’re a bit light on the heady alcohol, but this being the Great State of Texas, this stuff is 13.2%. By Pet Nat standards that is freaking close to Port. But then the Pet Nat world is not your normal wine world – its name was birthed in the Loire Valley but its roots reach back to antiquity. Any wine bottled before fermentation was completed was likely to be naturally petillant, or pet nat. Yeast, you see, also produce CO2 while they are converting sugar to alcohol.

A few Loire producers decided to cute up this old thing by giving it the darling moniker of Pet Nat. It’s worked. Lots of people are doing it the Pet Nat way. Even in Tejas.

So visiting some of the central Texas wineries that interest me, and Williams-Chris is definitely once of those, and amongst all the reliable wines they sell is a genuine Petillant Natural (cuz it says so on the label) Rose 2015. I buy one and chill it to chill out on my Austin evening. Dried strawberry, touch of cranberry and red currant. Kinda cool. Clean. True and tasty.