Shall we go Dutch on that? Wijngaard De Linie, te Made, The Netherlands.

Ξ August 28th, 2008 | → 1 Comments | ∇ A Day at a Time, International Terroirs, Tasting Notes, Winemakers, Wineries |

The Netherlands is not renowned as a wine producing nation, but there are several active wineries throughout the country and, hidden away in a quiet corner of the Brabant province, is one of them – Domein van Stokkom, run by the husband and wife team of Marius and Marthe van Stokkom.

Marius is a trained food technologist and used to be brewer for Oranjeboom at their now defunct Rotterdam brewery before developing his interest in winemaking in 1977, first working at another winery before setting up his own De Linie label in the town of Made in 1988. They grow all their own grapes on 1.5 hectares of land adjacent to the winery building, enough to produce 15-18,000 bottles a harvest. There are seven Alsace varieties planted, predominantly Pinot Noir but also Riesling, Pinot Blanc and Gewürztraminer.
Arriving at the winery was a little confusing, driving though residential estates on the edge of this small town until you reach the end of the street and the De Linie signboard standing next to fields of Maize, then rounding a corner to see the winery building and its small adjoining vineyard. When I visited Marius and Marthe had just finished with a large corporate tasting group of 60 visitors (they normally offer tasting visits for groups of >20) and were clearing up prior to preparing for a short holiday.
Marius had just got off his tractor after turning the soil between the vines and was happy to sit down, drink some wine and have a chat. He was looking forward to a brief vacation – just over a week, any more is impossible with the work required in the vineyard – before getting back and preparing for the harvest. In 2007 the warm spring and summer meant it was all over by the end of September, but a cool and wet year so far for 2008 means the harvest isn’t due to start until early October, when the van Stokkoms will call out to the 200 or so “friends of the winery”, local volunteers who help out at the critical times.
It had been raining on and off throughout the week so I asked whether any form of irrigation is required over the year. He said that it is required in early spring, but only to protect the vines if night frost threatens, otherwise they get plenty of water! In fact the over-abundance of rain in August for this part of North West Europe (the U.K. is having its wettest in 100 years) isn’t helping the grapes – hopefully drier conditions in September will improve things.
We started tasting with the 2007 Rosé, 100% Pinot Noir with a light nose, a delicate aroma of creamy raspberries. Marthe presented two glasses, one straight from the bottle and the second using a “pourer” which gave much more noticeable aeration of the wine in the glass (it was frothier!). Then she asked me to smell – I was surprised at how different the two glasses were, the first had a more acidic nose with an earthier smell, while the aerated one was much smoother, I hadn’t thought about how just pouring wine from a bottle could have such an effect! As for the taste; this showed good acidity and a pleasant, long finish – an enjoyable dry Rosé and a promising start to my Dutch wine experience.
We then moved onto the 2007 White, which can be regarded as De Linie’s flagship style – a blend of all 7 of the varieties in the Vineyard the nose was very aromatic, delicate and floral. Unsurprisingly, considering the blend, there wasn’t a stand-out character or anything typical to pin down a grape, just a pleasing smell. The white is fermented dry to 12% abv (as are the Rosé and the Red) and had a medium body with good texture and balance, very nice.
This wine could be considered a variation on the Alsace Edelzwicker , the old style of a blend of noble grape varieties, designed to be a constant throughout the years, when one variety underperforms the rest usually balance and compensate. The use of Pinot Noir in the De Linie blend adds extra aging potential to this style. As we sipped I asked Marius several general questions on him and the winery to get some more background on both.
Currently De Linie is sold primarily to local restaurants and direct from the winery. Marius said he’d only had one export, a palette to the U.K. surprisingly enough, for a regional wine fair a few years back. In 2005/2006 the Royal Dutch Airlines (KLM, now part of the Air France/KLM group) served De Linie wines in Business Class on their intercontinental flights, although they did request that the labels be Anglicized first.
They proved so popular with travelers that their small supply lasted only a few months and they came back to Marius asking for a yearly supply of 20,000 bottles – more than the entire winery production! Unfortunately they wouldn’t negotiate anything more than a yearly contract and Marius, unwilling to drop all his other customers, declined this single basket for all his eggs.
As we finished the white I asked about the weather and if he’d seen any changes in the 20 years he’d been making wine at De Linie. He agreed that the wines had changed over the years, but surprisingly he feels the whites were better in the past, now the grapes ripen too easily and have lost some of their character and elegance, not the answer I was expecting for such a cool climate area, especially after just enjoying the delicate dry 2007 white. Grape ripeness would be the main concern once they had returned from their holiday, as by then the Maize in the neighbouring fields would have been harvested and the flocks of Sparrows would turn their attention to the sweetening grapes. He pointed to the large rolls of netting at the back of the winery, behind the tasting tables, and mentioned the hard work in setting up the nets over the individual rows.
I asked Marius what were the other major problems he had to contend with other that the rain and the birds, and the usual fungal suspects appeared – Oidium if too dry, Mildew if too wet and Botrytis near the end of the harvest. When I suggested that the Noble Rot may provide dessert wine opportunities he said he’d already made a sweet wine a few years ago but there wasn’t a market in the Netherlands, not at the boutique prices he had to sell at. For reference the bottle prices direct from the winery are €7.50 for the Rosé, €8.50 for the White and €10.00 for the red. Marius conceded there’s far more affordable wine on the market already and he was more interested in producing something distinct, a similar response to when I asked if he’d considered making single varietal whites instead of the blend.”I don’t like to copy, there’s enough Riesling and Pinot Blanc in the world”.
We ended up on the subject of corks when I asked if he suffered unduly from cork taint. He shook his head and claimed that he only had only 1-2 bottles per 1000 affected by TCA and said it wasn’t something he was worried about as he paid 20 cents each for top quality Portuguese Corks, rather than the 5 cents each that some of the cheaper ones could be bought for. Even so he is planning on moving over to the new 5-layer coatings being offered by ProCork. I’d never heard of this before but the Australian-based company which claims to “virtually eliminate” cork-taint seems to have been around for a few years and is slowly gaining a customer base, technical approval and media coverage.
Finally a glass red was poured. In previous years this was 100% Pinot Noir, but for 2007 Marius blended in something new, an unnamed grape of Cabernet Sauvignon parentage to add some extra robustness. This was a light-medium bodied wine with a delicate fruity nose. In the mouth there were noticeable but very agreeable tannins and I found myself savouring each taste, just as I had enjoyed the Rosé and the white before. I had no point of reference for Dutch wine prior to the visit, and I have to admit that my expectations were a little low, but each of the De Linie offerings was an easy 3 star effort, with the red being interestingly unusual and the white showing the most elegance in the glass (and capable of some aging I am led to believe).
We finished off with a quick tour of the business end of the building containing several stainless steel tanks. Marius showed me the cooling elements he uses if the fermentation gets too hot (he has an ice water machine outside which is pumped through the piping) and talked about some of the processes he uses for the different styles of wine, such as leaving the pressed Pinot Noir juice on the skins for 24 hours in making the Rosé.
I got the feeling that Marius really enjoys what he does and would have happily spent hours talking about his work and life had I kept going. He has an infectious personality and is one of the nicest people I’ve met for a long time, but we both had other things to do (him a holiday to prepare for, me a holiday to continue!) so we shook hands and said goodbye. I have a bottle of each of his three wines to come back to over the next year or so and remind me of that August evening. As it is unlikely that you will find De Linie in a shop near you then I urge you to consider a Dutch holiday in the next few years, so you can make a detour to te Made and experience the van Stokkom hospitality for yourself.


A Tour of Fushimi and Its Sake Industry

Ξ August 26th, 2008 | → 0 Comments | ∇ A Day at a Time, International Terroirs, Wine History, Wineries |

Reign of Terroir is pleased to introduce the work of Vinod Vijayakumar, the first author of our new Guest Writer feature. All photos are his. He may be reached through his website.
In the tradition of wine, beer and whiskey tours, I had the opportunity recently to visit the Fushimi district of Kyoto, Japan, historically one of the two most important sake brewing areas in Japan (the other being Nada in nearby Kobe).

Kyoto is located on the Kansai plain in south central Honshu, the largest of the four major islands of Japan. Fushimi, situated at the convergence of three major rivers, the Yodogawa, the Kamogawa, and the Katsuragawa, has a long history of brewing sake, some say as far back to the 4th century, though the rise to sake prominence is associated with the Edo period (1615 – 1868). With the Imperial capital’s access to the finest supplies of rice, an abundant and renowned source of underground springwater, and the chilly winters once necessary to control the extraordinarily sensitive brewing process, the sake craft flourished in this small district, measuring no more than 25 square miles.
At last count, some 37 separate breweries can be found in the Fushimi district alone. Few facilities are open to the public, although some local shops arrange tours seasonally. Private tours are possible by making special arrangements with the breweries well in advance, though knowledge of Japanese is all but essential to make progress here. Nonetheless, Fushimi is well worth a visit, and for fans of sake it makes for a wonderful full day tour. My wife and I managed on our own, armed only with enough knowledge of Japanese to get us into trouble.
We started by paying our respects at the Fushimi Inari shrine, just northeast of the Fushimi sake district, in the Momoyama hills. In the Shinto religion, Inari is, amongst other occupations, the god of rice and sake. The Fushimi shrine is easily the most famous, and probably the most important of the Inari shrines. Visitors won’t fail to notice the some 10,000 vermillion Torii gates that line the trails leading up the hill towards the main shrine, nor the innumerable stone statues of foxes, Inari’s messengers and guardians of the shrine. Caution is warranted, in much the same way as sake beguiles its devotees, the foxes are believed capable of bewitching and possessing humans. Leaving the shrine complex, we sampled some delicious o-cha mochi, tea-flavoured rice cakes, sold on little bamboo sticks. For the more adventurous, barbecued sparrow is another local delicacy.
Even though brewery tours are hard to come by in Fushimi, there’s still plenty to see and do. Heading due south from the Fushimi Inari shrine and entering the district from the East, we passed through Fushimi’s covered market and on into the heart of town. Numerous sake shops are located here, selling all the local brands, and even a few selling sake supplies.
The breweries themselves are numerous, and easy to spot – around every corner one could see pipework from the breweries, sacks of milled rice, and all the related sundry of the brewing process. One of the first places we stopped in at was Kizakura (one of the top 20 producers by volume), which operates a small museum with a detailed video describing the brewing process and a number of miniature diorama. There was also a spigot to which the locals come laden with jerrycans – the water here was delicious, and free! Across the alley we saw Kizakura’s art gallery, with the whimsical works of Ken Shimizu and Koh Kojima, describing the Kappa, or river imps, mythical sake-loving creatures. Also on the grounds is a restaurant which sells the brewery’s beers, as well as a sake shop with a tasting bar.
Another highlight was out on the western edges of the district. Along a large canal flanked by banks of rapeseed is the Matsumoto brewery, a beautiful collection of structures which are worth seeing even if tours of the facilities are not available. At the southern end of the Fushimi district, we stopped in at the Gekkeikan Museum, home to sake’s second largest and probably best-known sake producer (at least in the U.S.) While aficionados may regard Gekkeikan with disdain, they are an important part of sake history and development. And while they may be best known for their mass market products, they are still capable and regularly produce award-winning sakes, many of which are still made on site by hand as it has been for nearly 400 years. A small but interesting collection of traditional sake tools are on display at the museum, and the short self-guided tour is concluded with a complimentary tasting of Gekkeikan wares.
As for the sake itself, Fushimi’s soft water generally leads to a smooth and round sake that is thought of as the “feminine” counterpart to Nada’s drier, bolder brews or Tohoku’s light and crisp sakes. Considered an ideal companion to the highly elegant “kaiseki ryori” cuisine of Kyoto, there are numerous restaurants and informal izakaya (like a pub) here where one can get their fill of Fushimi’s sake ( I highly recommend Tama no Hikari, one of my personal favourites. Sadly, the brewery does not accept casual visitors, but their sake is widely available in Kyoto, and has even started appearing in the U.S. and Canada). No doubt, sake lovers on a tour of Japan would be remiss to pass up a visit to Fushimi!
Vinod Vijayakumar


How to Get Wine Qualifications

Ξ August 25th, 2008 | → 1 Comments | ∇ A Day at a Time, Wine History, Wine News |

I am very happy to welcome Donna back after too long a hiatus! Admin

When you read an article or a book about people involved with wine ever wonder about the initials after their names or a specified qualification? You have probably seen the references Master of Wine, Master Sommelier, CWE or CSW etc.

But what do those all mean and more importantly if you want to advance your wine education where do you start? I get this question all the time. So I’m laying it all out. How do you get a qualification or classroom study in wine?

I have a number of wine qualifications. ISG Advanced, CSW, WSET, Certified Bordeaux Educator, Certified Spanish Wine Educator. These may not mean much to you but it tells others in the industry where I am in my studies and my approximate level of knowledge.

So where do you start? Where’s the jumping off point? It all depends on where you want to take your knowledge. Do you just want to learn how to taste, do you want to learn more about regions and countries, do you like the technical side of winemaking or want advanced knowledge including wine service?

There are many avenues available to you. Just depends on how far you want to take it and what you want to spend on it. They all require a lot of study in the beginning to understand the basic information, but it’s incredibly rewarding.

Lets start by highlighting the “bigs”. By “bigs” there are the three organizations that have a long history and passing their exams put you in a group of the top wine professionals in the world.
MWMaster of Wine: One of the oldest wine organizations, based in the UK, who’s roots date back to the “Worshipful Company of Vintners” whose own roots date back before Chaucer’s day. They first started organizing exams in 1953 to award the title of Master of Wine to those who passed. Today there are only 253 in the world.
There are many famous Masters of Wine we’ve all heard of, Jancis Robinson, Michael Broadbent, Clive Coates, Hugh Johnson who write many of the books available on wine. But how do get there?
WSETYou start out with the WSET, which is also based in the UK and has a worldwide network of educators giving the foundation qualification which leads you on the path to a Master of Wine. You can take courses via classes or home study. Just locate your area and see who is available for education courses. I ended up taking home study out of the International Wine Center in NYC as there wasn’t a course available in Texas. Copia in Napa also has extensive course for those on the West Coast . Just check out their website and there should be an instructor close to where you live.

The time frame to become a Master of Wine is about that of a PhD program. This is the program I am on and will start taking the Diploma levels next year. About two years after starting that, I’ll apply for the Masters of Wine program. They provide most of your learning materials in the class, although some additional books for reference are recommended.

The emphasis of Master of Wine is more on fine details and technical aspects of the industry in all areas including production, marketing and regions. I highly recommend this program.


Court of Master Sommeliers: This is the go-to for a Master’s qualification with an emphasis on the restaurant industry. Also originating in the UK, only 167 have achieved the Master Qualification.

This group is a bit harder to achieve as they don’t have as much classroom study as the Master of Wine and more emphasis on regions, producers and vintages. However accessibility to the courses they offer and the tests are better and they have schedules posted of where they are giving tests throughout the country. It is recommended you are employed in the wine and beverage industry to achieve this qualification.


Personally I haven’t started this avenue, as wine service and food pairings don’t interest me. Well, they interest me, but are not my main focus. However, I do know many people with this organization and it is top notch.

Estimated time to become a Master Sommelier is about 6 years.

SWECertified Wine Educator: An accreditation given by Society of Wine Educators. The emphasis on this group is to promote wine education They are a US based organization out of Washington DC. In addition to their qualifications of Certified Specialist of Wine and Certified Wine Educator they host many other organizations and courses throughout the year.

Like the Court of Master Sommeliers they have a full listing of courses available all over the country throughout the year. I do consider this easiest of these three, but that’s just my personal opinion, I have used this organization more often than the other two with additional courses such as the Certified Spanish Educator and Bordeaux Educator and networking. Their emphasis is on regions and varieties. They encourage those who pass their courses to promote the education of wine in your area.

Estimated time to achieve the qualification of CWE about 3 years.


There are also many other qualifications you can achieve, such as the ISG, the International Sommelier Guild, which promotes their sommelier credentials with classroom study only. They have courses offered all over the country and if you are new to wine study, although a bit pricey, here is a very good foundation into the world of wine with their fundamentals I and II. They are based out of Canada.

This is the group I started my education with. I originally thought to do Sommelier work in the industry and then found out my interest lay in the fine details the WSET and MW promotes, thus I concentrated my study with those organizations. As far as an base of learning about wine, their fundamentals I and II are excellent. They also provide your study books.

WA of SpainSometimes organizations such as the Wine Academy of Spain make a tour throughout the states promoting a country’s wine industry. I highly encourage anyone who has this Academy coming through your city or country to participate. A base knowledge of wine is required to take these types of courses, but the in-depth knowledge and people you meet with similar interests is priceless. I’ve taken this course and have gotten to know Pancho and Javier over the past year and they are incredible people with a passion for wine and promoting education. Very good value for the knowledge you receive.
UC Davis – Mack daddy of enology in the states. Offers online correspondence courses.
Culinary schools: Most culinary schools have a structured wine course or academy in addition to their culinary courses. Check out online who locally is available.
Local Wine Events Online: this will tell you everything that’s going on in your local area or, if you’re traveling, if something elsewhere is being offered. Classes, Wine Dinners, Meet and Greets with famous winemakers etc. Definitely sign up for this website.
There are tons of local schools around the country with various affiliations, these are just a few after doing a simple web search:

Denver’s International Wine Guild

Wine Spectator’s search for courses

Wine Spectator online wine school

Philadelphia’s Vinology

Copia in Napa who also gives daily classes.

Gary Vaynerchuk has a good online daily video tasting wines. Although all the wines he goes through are mainly for promotion for his store, he places an emphasis on developing your own palate and has a lot of excellent lighthearted and laid back videos on how to taste and develop your palate. Not a lot of technical info, but an emphasis on tasting wine.
You’ll notice the prices for many of the programs are expensive, the most expensive in classroom courses teach while tasting about 8-10 wines or sometimes much more a session which increases the cost dramatically. However, I do recommend these courses despite their price as it enables you to taste a wide range of wines you would not normally try or have access to. It would costs you a lot more to buy all those wines yourself, and the instructor ensures they are typical of their region to give a comparison to other wines in their class.

Finally if you just want to study at home, I recommend Jancis Robinson’s wine course. I also recommend buying Hugh Johnson’s Atlas and Jancis’ Oxford Dictionary of wine. They go everywhere I do; and they aren’t light. In my opinion they are the go-to reference books.

A very detailed home book is the University Wine Course by Marian Baldy. Very detailed, maybe a little advanced for a novice, but a lot of good info as well.


Now that I’ve answered many of your questions, you probably have 100 more. Check out these institution’s websites and see what’s going to be best for you, but do take at least one class. You’ll be shocked how much more you’ll understand about this gorgeous drink we all love so much.

Finally the more courses you take the more people you meet, and you find at about more courses. I recommend you expose yourself to tastings and opportunities to meet those in the industry as they know first hand how to expand your wine world.

Your journey starts now. You never know, you might end up like me. I left a very lucrative career I despised and joined an industry I have such a passion for as the result of one course I took 4 years ago.


Wine Spectator Award Scam-Axes to Grind?

Ξ August 22nd, 2008 | → 5 Comments | ∇ A Day at a Time, Wine News |

I’m not normally one to simply jump on the bandwagon of “topical” issues, but in the last few days news of a Sting has been rebounding though the ether and has popped up on several Blogs, Chat Forums and reference sites that I visit. Now the dust seems to be settling it could be a good time to take a relaxed overview of what actually happened!
The person at the centre of the story is Robin Goldstein – someone who seems to have a knack for attacking “The Establishment”, being restaurant reviewer at The Fearless Critic and author of the blind tasting book Wine Trials. On August 15th at the recent Portland meeting of the American Association of Wine Economists (AAWE) Goldstein and colleagues gave a presentation entitled “Do Expensive Wines Taste Better?” which seems to follow the topic of his book, the conclusions being “results indicate that both the prices of wines and wine recommendations by experts may be poor guides for non-expert wine consumers.” (I think this is actually more interesting than the main story, so some of you may want to just read the paper here and ignore the rest!).
Now to the good bit. Ahead of this presentation Goldstein apparently explained how he and an Italian colleague set up a sting on The Wine Spectator to obtain one of their Restaurant Awards of Excellence by submitting menu and Wine list information for a fictional establishment in Milan, Italy. Osteria L’Intrepido (Osteria is an Italian tavern or inn) duly received the award and provided Goldstein with the ammunition he needed to go further with this, on the same day as the Oregon meeting the details were posted on the “restaurant’s” website.

News of the scam broke on 19th August when Wines and Vines first ran the story on their website and then quickly the “Blogosphere” quickly picked up with Vinography, Uncorked, Dr Vino and even Jancis Robinson’s esteemed Purple Pages carried the news (possibly with an element of glee detected, since 2003 Jancis has been cynical of “the fact that there is an ‘entry fee’ for some lesser establishments may help to explain some pretty strange inclusions”).
On the Wine Forums WLTV (its members not known for their fondness of Wine Spectator) was first to post comment but soon the Spectator’s own forum was discussing the story with a mix of shock and internally directed anger. It wasn’t until late on the 20th that an official voice appeared in the form of Thomas Matthews, executive editor of the Spectator, which can be viewed here.
After Matthew’s letter the mood changed on the forums, with an immediate backlash against Goldstein for “dishonest journalism” and convenient omission of facts, although there was always an undercurrent of complaint against The Wine Spectator that never really went away. August 21st saw another set of blog postings, this time detailing the case for the defence – Steve Heimhoff (West Coast editor for the Wine Enthusiast) gave the most balanced view in his personal Blog while Mark Fisher of Uncorked was happy to simply highlight Matthew’s letter and invite comment (Mark has ruffled Spectator feathers in the past on this subject).
Now I’ve read and digested all the information several things spring to mind;

1) How quickly people seem to jump on bad news and carry it around the world, regardless of whether they may have only heard one side of the story. Also how vitriolic some of the comments are on the blogs and forum threads, against The Wine Spectator, Goldstein, and those who “dared” to attack or defend each of them – how quickly lines are drawn and polarisation occurs.

2) Goldstein’s reporting of the scam, and the subsequent rapid media attention, miss out some interesting facts that Matthew’s discloses in the Spectator response. Goldstein didn’t just send out $250 and receive an award, as is implied in most of the stories. This was carefully planned and executed (he worked with a colleague in Italy) and he set up fake reviews on the site ChowHound (since removed). Matthew’s states that the Wine List submitted contained 256 wines of which only 15 scored less than 80pts, “Overall, the wines came from many of Italy’s top producers, in a clear, accurate presentation.”

3) That it was no great surprise this had happened, the Spectator Awards have been cause for cynicism for years now, no matter how much Matthew’s tries to claim otherwise. It is clear that the Awards of Excellence have a relatively low reputation amongst the wine enthusiasts’ community (The WS & WLTV forum threads make that abundantly clear) and this isn’t going to help. No matter what tools may have been used to fool them there is clearly “…something rotten in the state of Denmark”.

So, although I’m in danger of re-hashing so much that has already been said over the last few days, what is my opinion?
To The Wine Spectator. Keep the $250 submission fee to present a restaurant for an award, I can imagine carrying out basic due diligence (hopefully improved after this story) still costs someone time and money, BUT tighten your standards a little and if a restaurant does get past Stage 1 then to actually receive the award you cover the costs of a ”mystery diner” to actually check out the place and give some real feedback to WS HQ – I doubt they’d be a shortage of volunteers on the WS Forums or even organising something with local newspapers in the town/city in question – you may lose some of the profit, but would gain some major credibility.
To Goldstein. The media was bound to sensationalise this story as soon as it was picked up, however by omitting pertinent facts on what you did to get the award and only sharing the juicy parts you haven’t helped. Sure, it’s great publicity for you and your book, but these Awards were an easy target and it would have been better to share all of the background right from the beginning.
We are already seeing a backlash in the wine community against the methods used in implementing the sting and this has obscured any point you were trying to make, leaving only a cheap publicity stunt visible. The comments section on the Osteria L’Intrepido website is in the high 80’s now, including several requests for the full wine list submitted, I trust you will offer some reply to some of the questions posed there?

To James Molesworth (Senior Editor at The Wine Spectator) who said “This is the problem with the ‘blogosphere’. It’s a lazy person’s journalism. No one does any real research, but rather they just slap some hyperlinks up and throw a little conjecture at the wall, and presto! you get some hits and traffic…”.


Just because everyone that had gone to press with the story at the time was coming down hard on the Spectator doesn’t justify use of such crass generalisation – there are many of us out here in the “blogosphere” that do plenty of research, look a little closer to home for some of the harshest criticisms. I hope that the more balanced reporting in the last few days has improved your obviously low opinion of our community.


There may be more yet to come out of this spectacle, but I’m going back to drink and write about some wine.



Lodi Wineries Triumph in China

Ξ August 21st, 2008 | → 6 Comments | ∇ A Day at a Time, Interviews, Wine News, Wineries |

What would it mean to a California winery to attend the first Hong Kong International Wine Fair? With more than 250 exhibitors from 25 countries and regions attending? It would mean nothing less than a foot in the door of one of the fastest growing markets in the world! Such an extraordinary opportunity recently came to eight Lodi wineries.
The story begins simply enough. Dave Pechan of Miramont Estate Vineyards writes,
“We landed our first export deal to China this spring that shipped in late May. Kate Campbell, a writer for the California Farm Bureau, Ag Alert, wrote a cover story about our accomplishment. The story was picked up by several outlets for business news and read by Mr. Frank Gayaldo, a Lodi, CA, export wine broker [who] is attempting to get into several export markets. He worked with the Lodi Chamber of Commerce, asking them to be a sponsor. Eight wineries were accepted and we collectively are being represented by the Lodi Chamber, and Frank this week in Hong Kong.”
Indeed, as was widely reported (video link here), Frank Gayaldo, an international wine broker based in Lodi, spearheaded a successful visit to the area by China’s Consul General Gao Zhansheng along with members of the Hong Kong Economic Trade Office out of San Francisco, August 6th. The remarkable result was the Lodi Chamber of Commerce and eight local wineries heading to China to participate in the Hong Kong International Wine Fair, August 14 to 16. The represented wineries were: Abundance Vineyards, Barsetti Vineyards, Benson Ferry, Irish Vineyards (Calaveras Co.), Miramont Estate, Van Ruiten Family Winery, Watts Winery, Weibel Vineyards, all from Lodi (with the exception noted).

Mr. Gayaldo had organized a similar promotional event October, 07 when, after he put the Lodi Chamber of Commerce in contact with the U.S. Embassy in Costa Rica, representatives from a dozen Lodi wineries were to attend EXPOVINO 2007 in San Jose, Costa Rica.

My understanding is that only Lodi wines were served at that event (click ‘promotional’ link above).


After having read the initial report of the Consul General’s visit I asked to be kept abreast of post-event news, and I went further, asking wineries for their comment and impressions.

Mr. Gayaldo sent the pic below and this message to all who participated,


“Good morning from Lodi!

As most of you already know, the Lodi Chamber of Commerce participated in the 1st Annual Hong Kong International Wine Fair. In fact, I just got back from beautiful Hong Kong yesterday. What a lovely and highly strategic place to do business.

Hong Kong recently lowered their tariff on wine to ZERO. How exciting that Costa Rica is moving in that similar direction also.

Lodi’s previous international activities in Costa Rica and now China are continuing to bring a tremendous amount of positive international media attention to our region. Our wineries are just beginning to receive some tangible benefits from this, but international business is not for those companies looking to only harvest the “low hanging fruit.”

I am really looking forward to participating in EXPO VINOS COSTA RICA 2009!!”

Brian Mom, Sales and Marketing contact for Miramont Estate Vineyard, sent this news release,
“Miramont Estate Vineyards owner Dave Pechan is profoundly excited about the opportunity to conduct business in Hong Kong, The People’s Republic of China and other nations along the “Pacific Rim.” The recent inaugural trade event sponsored by the Hong Kong Trade Development Center (HKTDC) allows small family-operated businesses like ours the opportunity to meet potential agents and consumers that are otherwise difficult if not impossible to reach one at a time. The fact that nearly 20,000 new consumers potentially saw our wine brand is incredibly significant for our plans to build a successful wine business. We graciously thank the HKTDC, their trade partners and Mr. Frank Gayaldo for representing Miramont Estate Vineyards and Celestial Wines. We are eager to continue developing relationships with export partners and consumers because of this trade event. We look forward to future events of this scope.”
Janis Barsetti Gray, in addition to providing the photo to the left (Barsetti wines are on the right, the ones with the medals!) and one pic below, wrote the following,
“I am very happy to give you some of my insight on the Hong Kong International Wine Fair. There were four of us representing the 8 wineries: my husband, Richard, myself, Frank Gayaldo, and Gregg Meath.

I want to first say that I loved Hong Kong. The people, everywhere we went, were extremely nice, helpful, and respectful to us. The International Wine Fair was very well organized and first rate. The attendees for the first two days were limited to importers/exporters, distributors, restaurants, hotels, and trade people in general. We received much good response about the wines we brought from Lodi. However, what I heard from this group of people was that the Chinese people prefer such foreign wines as French, Italian, Australian, Chile, and some U.S.; and that they pay high prices for them. They buy the wines that they are most familiar with. The trade attendees were not very familiar with the zinfandel from the Lodi Appellation. However, there is a tremendous market for wines in, not only China, but the entirety of Asia [text slightly modified, Admin].

However, on the third day, what we had been told about the Chinese wine favorites was not evident because the public loved the wines we poured. We were constantly pouring our wines for almost 9 hours. We had the opportunity to talk about our region and the wines from here. Zinfandel was, most definitely, a favorite. These attendees were interested in trying new wines regardless of their familiarity to our region. We not only poured our wines, but we educated the people about the Lodi Appellation and the types of grapes and wine produced here.

Very good contacts were made. I am already receiving emails from, not only trade people, the Hong Kong Trade Development Council, but the public expressing their interest and thanks for bringing our wines to Hong Kong. Our winery will most definitely seek exporting into this market.”

And Dr. Gregg Meath, grape grower, law professor and attorney who specializes in international law, writes,
“The HKTDC did a great job promoting and executing the Wine Fair. It was a first-class event that was global in scope and effect. Working with the HKTDC was a pleasure and they made exhibiting at the Wine Fair easy and comfortable. This event has established the Hong Kong International Wine Fair as one of the the premier global wine shows.”
A very productive time was had by the Lodi group. Moreover, the enthusiasm in the e-mails exchanged these past few days was positively infectious! I eagerly awaited contact while watching the Beijing Olympics, imagining what it must be like to be visiting the center of the world. Many thanks to Frank Gayaldo and Janis Barsetti Gray for providing me insight into their group’s delightful experience.
For a full listing of the international wines represented click here.


StormFisher and Environmental Stewardship

Ξ August 17th, 2008 | → 1 Comments | ∇ A Day at a Time, Interviews, Technology, Wine News, Wineries |

StormFisher is a new, progressive, privately held biogas producer based in Ontario, Canada. The company came to my attention while doing research on how best to save grape pomace, the major waste product of the wine industry, from landfills. I read in Biofuels Canada that last year StormFisher had teamed up with Inniskillin Niagra to take 1000 to 2000 tons of their grape pomace for use in the production of energy in one of StormFisher’s first three biogas plants in Ontario, Canada coming on-line in 2009.

First a bit of background. Biogas is produced by the anaerobic digestion of organic waste products from farm and agricultural concerns, even municipal sewage, the principle sources. The waste is placed into containers appropriately named ‘digesters’ and a rich mixture of microbes feed in the oxygen-free environment, and ultimately produce, after the removal of CO2, ammonia and hydrogen sulfide, commercial-grade methane. Sound familiar? In the words of Ryan Little, StormFisher’s VP of Business Developement,
“[B]asically the same process [] occurs in an animal’s stomach…. What’s great about it is that it is very low-intensity, requiring basically a bit of heat that is generated by the process itself, and aside from that letting nature and gravity do the heavy lifting.”


And the end-product of biogas generation itself can be used as organic compost and fertilizer, (the price for which is soaring). Very simple, very clean.

According to StormFisher’s website there are currently 5000 biogas plants operating in Europe. Fully 17% of Germany’s electricity will be so generated by 2010. So the technology is proven and well established. Indeed, one of the more progressive aspects of biogas is its distinct advantage over increasingly controversial biofuels. Again, Mr. Little from a Canadian Business interview,
“Biogas is composed primarily of methane, which is essentially the same as natural gas. It is generated from a low-impact process called anaerobic digestion — the same process your stomach uses to derive energy from food. There is very little energy required to digest. We only use by-products as our feedstock, so that means we take the processing leftovers from fruit and vegetable canneries, commercial bakeries, meat packers, and so on. This stuff was never going to be used as food. Biofuel generally implies a feedstock, say corn or switchgrass, that is grown for the purpose of creating energy and is converted into a fuel through a process that requires lots of energy itself as well as a fair amount of water.”
Now, with respect to Inniskillin Niagra, a visit to their vineyards page suggests acreage under cultivation in excess of 400 total. One to two thousand tons of pomace hints at a maximum waste yield. Compare Inniskillin’s acreage to that of E&J Gallo. Though my information is somewhat dated it is safe to say Gallo owns, at a minimum, one hundred times Inniskillin’s holdings, and this is in California alone. E&J Gallo is but one of many Cali wineries with substantial acreage. Constellation Brands, which owns Inniskillin through its Vincor subsidiary, also controls substantial acreage in Cali.
A question comes to mind: how much of California’s wine industry grape pomace waste goes to landfills, where decomposition contributes to greenhouse gas emission, and how much is used for biogas energy production?

Under state mandate here in California, Pacific Gas and Electric must, by 2010, derive 20% of its electricity from renewable sources. They have been studying and/or implementing solar, wind, tidal, geothermal and biogas projects across the state. Currently a full 13% of the electricity PG&E delivers comes from the aforementioned renewables.

Further, from Joseph Gallo’s website, PG&E is partnering with Joseph Gallo Farms, Microgy and other digester companies on a program that will result in gas produced from dairy manure being processed and delivered into PG&E’s gas transmission pipelines for delivery to power generators as a renewable energy resource.”
So I asked Mr. Little a few questions about the general requirements for a Biogas plant. The following Q&A was conducted via e-mail over a period of three days.
Admin How did you folks come by the name ‘StormFisher’?
Ryan Little Around the time of inception, mid 2006, people thought we were crazy trying to do what we were doing. Our now President, Bas van Berkel and I would joke that the best time to catch a fish is when it looks at its worst outside…pouring rain, thunder, no one else out there. When it’s sunny, that’s when everyone wants to be out there but the fish aren’t biting anymore. It was an entrepreneurial metaphor that we captured as our name.
What is the minimal tonnage of organic by-products required to justify a biogas plant?
RL It all depends of course, but for us we look at quantities of at least 100,000 tonnes per year.
My understanding is that Inniskillin Wines will supply 1000 to 2000 tonnes of pomace for biogas production. But inasmuch as wine-making is seasonal there must be multiple sources of organic by-products to supply a biogas plant year round. How does that inform the selection of a plant site?
RL We can only build a plant when the majority of the feedstock is year-round. That means we couldn’t work strictly with wineries to fuel our plants. The ’staple diet’ of our plants is by-products from meat and bakery production.
What is the ‘average’ biogas facility’s footprint? Are they scalable?
RL The average footprint for us is about 10 acres. Plants are scalable and we always build with expansion in mind.
What preexisting local infrastructure is required?
RL We need access to hydro lines or the natural gas pipeline, and municipal water discharge in many cases. Good roads are essential and a rail spur is a bonus.
With respect to Inniskillin, do they deliver the organic material to your plant or is it picked up?
RL We generally run all our logistics through partnerships we’ve made with a number of hauling companies.
How does an organic byproducts producer receive compensation?
RL Benefits to the organics producers we work with are all or some of the following, depending on the circumstances: cost savings, increased environmental stewardship and increased reliability of by-product disposal.
What level of technical education is required to operate a biogas plant? How many people might be employed?
RL A typical biogas plant will have 6 or more direct employees. The level of education for the operating team requires a basic technical education through to an engineering degree, depending on the role.
Does StormFisher have an interest in building plants in California?
RL California has a lot of food processors and large farms. Combined with a major need for energy, particularly from renewable sources, and California is a great place to develop plants.

As a final note, StormFisher earlier this year teamed up with the Ontario Association of Food Banks (OAFB) to launch what is called Plan Zero. An excellent video presentation of its goals may be seen here.


To a question about any other socially progressive innovations on StormFisher’s horizon Ryan Little said,
“As we get closer to operating day in several locations we want to focus on local involvement, and also in making our plants as environmentally progressive as possible. That means green roofs on top of the plants on which we hope to grow produce, integration with other forms of renewables like geothermal and solar, etc.”


StormFisher is well capitalized, having recently formed a partnership worth Cdn $350 million with Denham Capital Management. I encourage the reader to click the link above for full details.


I further encourage California wineries to explore the links above. The social and environmental benefits combined with the positive positive publicity sure to follow upon the use of their grape pomace for energy generation makes biogas production a no-brainer. Can’t you just see it? On a wine bottle’s label one might someday read, “The grapes crushed for this wine power your home”.

Many thanks to Ryan Little of StormFisher for his prompt attention and patience.


Wine Trails of Washington

Ξ August 14th, 2008 | → 0 Comments | ∇ A Day at a Time, Book Reviews, Winemakers, Wineries |

Steve Roberts, the author of Wine Trails of Washington, is a very busy man. Not only has he visited more than 200 wineries in a year in the course of doing research for this book, not only does he maintain a well-designed, complementary website, Wine Trails NW, but he is currently on the road in Oregon where, having begun this June, he intends to visit its 208 wineries by November!

In an effort to help keep this heroic gentleman in gas money (he says he put 30,000 miles on his car seeking out wineries) and tasting fees I bought his book and so should the reader. Washington is a daunting challenge to the wine lover. With over 500 bonded wineries, making it the nation’s second-largest producer of premium wines, how is he/she to begin? Well, let somebody else blaze the trail. This, Mr. Roberts has done. As he writes,
“…I wrote this book so you won’t make the same mistakes I did. …I was forever getting lost…. About half the wineries charge a small tasting fee [] and I often forgot to bring cash. In my search for ATMs in such places as Quincy, Lyle, and Kettle Falls, I accrued enough information to write a guidebook on the ATMs of Washington…. Sometimes I would go to an area and wander from one winery to another, only to discover later there was a logical circuit to follow….

Further, not all 500 bonded wineries could be included without the book becoming a door-stop so his method was to select “only [] those wineries that have tasting rooms open to the public with regular tasting room hours”. So, for example, one will not find listed the celebrated Quilceda Creek Vineyards (by appointment only), or the wonderful upstart Pomum Cellars (too low a case production). Mr. Roberts’ website linked above is far more comprehensive in this respect.


But this criteria gets at the utilitarian, democratic character of the book. In fact, Mr. Roberts writes,

“I’ve chosen purposefully to avoid any ratings of wine. This book is about wine touring and the experience associated with getting out there and swirling. More often than not, I discovered that a visit to a tasting room housed in a double-wide trailer is just as fun and memorable as a visit to a tasting room located in a chateau.”
Thirty-two wine trails are clearly laid out. Depending on distance between wineries (and personal decorum) a given tour may take from one to three days. Woodenville’s Wine Trail North includes 13 wineries with a recommended leisurely pace of 3 days by car and on foot; the Red Mountain Wine Trail, with 11 wineries, Mr. Roberts suggests two days by car. Southwest Washington Wine Country, by contrast, has 5 tasting room destinations with a two day touring adventure encouraged. Of course, places to stay and restaurants are amply listed. As are a regions festivals.

Winery profiles are well-written with candid pics taken by the author. Indeed, one of the books charms is the non-professional quality of the photos. They are like the ones I might take! Another “Everyman” feature that gives the book its special character.

All in all, Wine Trails of Washington is a very fine effort, especially when used along with Mr. Roberts’ website. Superb resources, nearly-comprehensive. I say ‘nearly’ because I would like to see Pomum Cellars, linked above, added to Mr. Roberts’ website data base! A small quibble…



Santa Cruz’s Surf City Vintners Grand Opening

Ξ August 11th, 2008 | → 0 Comments | ∇ A Day at a Time, Wine News, Winemakers, Wineries |

Surf City VintnersAfter many long months of planning and building the Surf City Vintners are at last hosting their Grand Opening Saturday, August 16th, from Noon to 5p.m. on the Westside of Santa Cruz. The group is made up of the long established Pelican Ranch Winery, Exquinox Champagne Cellar, Sarticious Gin/Alexander Cellars, and newcomers Sones Cellars, Dragonfly Cellars, Santa Cruz Mountains Vineyard, Trout Gulch Vineyards, and the micro-crush winery Vino Tabi.

Bonny Doon Vineyard, though located in the main complex, is not yet a formal member of the group. Neither will their tasting room be open by this weekend.


As of this writing (Monday, 8/12) final details are still being sorted out by each winery as to their choice of activities, food and festivities to mark the occasion. I do know Sones Cellars will have live music, barrel tastings, and eats.

Surf City Vintners map

I find the Surf City Vintners a special mix. Not only are they largely micro-boutique wineries but nearly each member is producing something different. You’ll find Cabernet, Merlot, Spanish and Portuguese varieties, single vineyard Pinots and Rhone expressions, Italian varieties, and Zins. And that is just the reds! Not bad for 7 wineries. As a wine tasting destination one could hardly do better.

At the end of the day it is a short distance to restaurants, the beach/Boardwalk, downtown Santa Cruz. Highway 1 is a block away.

Please click on the map above for directions.


I wish them the best!



A Case of Familiar Faces

Ξ August 9th, 2008 | → 0 Comments | ∇ A Day at a Time, Wine News |

The more you delve into the world of wine the more some names just keep appearing. These are the “Big Guns” of the field; the author of a review, an interesting article in your favourite magazine or wine blog, providing a sound-bite from an event or conference and, most frequently, giving their opinions (and scores) on a bottle or a winemaker.
Since I started getting serious about wine about 3 years ago there are some people who, one way or another, have influenced the way I look at wine and it’s entourage of creators, critics and consumers. I quickly jotted down a Top 10, however I realized I’d fallen into the trap of hype – I’d included too many critics whose names I see every day on wine scores but realized I knew nothing about them, which wasn’t what I really meant by names that have influenced me. So I tried again, thinking about people I’ve seen on television, read in the reference books and magazines I occasionally buy and, crucially, those who stand out on the current battlefield of the wine world, the Internet. The new list came to 12 and includes many who will be instantly familiar to every wine enthusiast, a couple that confirm how British I am, but also contains some that only the Internet generation will recognize.
While I knew a little about each of them I realized that it was mostly what their publicists want you to read or what the media has decided makes a good story, usually the two extremes of what someone is really like. For this article I wanted to add a personal touch so, in a haze of reckless enthusiasm, I found the most promising contact address for them all (some were easier than others) and sent off some questions in the hope of a reply which may offer some additional insight into the person behind the reputation. While I wasn’t expecting everyone to reply (I had doubts that some would even receive my mails) I was surprised by the immediate replies I got from some, and by the time I had to submit this piece there were 8 positive responses and only one who specifically declined to answer.
These are the questions I sent off;
- If you hadn’t gotten involved in wine what do you think you would be doing now?
- What was the last wine you drank at home for pleasure?
- What advice would you give anyone trying to get into wine writing?
- Do you think there are any big surprises due in the next few years which will affect how people make, buy or drink wine?
And here, in the order they responded, are my “Winemaker’s Dozen” with their profiles and (if received) answers.
Alder YaqrrowAlder Yarrow. Born in Northern California in the early ‘70s and raised in Aspen, Colorado, Alder studied Film & Fine Art at Stanford University and is founder and principal of the design and consulting firm HYDRANT. He lives in San Francisco with his wife and daughter.

In January 2004 Alder started Vinography, one of the earlier popular Wine Blogs. In the intervening years the site has become one of the “elder statesmen” of the wine blogging world, espousing impartiality.

It reports monthly hits of over 75,000 from 132 countries and I have visited the site many times over the last few years for a mix of new stories, reviews, interesting facts, and individual opinions (not always agreed with!).


…what do you think you would be doing now?  Getting a lot more sleep and reading a lot more books.

…last wine drank for pleasure? 1998 Fattoria del Cerro Vino Nobile di Montepulciano Riserva, Tuscany, Italy

…advice for budding wine writers? If you want to write, then write, which means doing it every day, even if you just throw away the result. Experts say you need to spend about 10,000 hours practicing before you master something. How many hours are you spending with a pen and paper or in front of your computer?  Blogs are great vehicles for practice writing.

…big surprises in the next few years? Well, if I had a strong hunch about something really big, I’d go out and buy stock in the idea and not tell anyone else about it!  The only thing that occurs to me is that globally wine consumption is going to accelerate. Which means there’s going to be a higher demand for the stuff, which is good for all of us who have a stake (emotional or otherwise) in the business.
Jancis RobinsonJancis Robinson MW. Born in Carlisle, England in 1950 Jancis took Mathematics & Philosophy at Oxford University before being appointed as assistant editor of Wine & Spirit magazine in 1975. She passed her Master of Wine exam in 1984 and is editor of the Oxford Companion to Wine and, with Hugh Johnson, The World Atlas of Wine. Jancis is married to the food writer Nick Lander and they have three children.
A prolific wine journalist, writer and critic her thoughts and opinions can be found on her Purple Pages website, its subscription section described by the L.A. Times as “the site worth paying for…”.
I have been known to check out the free section of the site and take some pride knowing we are both originally from Carlisle. There is an interesting (if sometimes static) recording of Jancis at the Shanghai International Literary Festival.

…. what do you think you would be doing now?  Something to do with food or writing or both.

…. last wine drank for pleasure? Last night, Château Prieuré Borde-Rouge, Ange 2004 Corbieres here in the Languedoc – and very delicious it was too!

…. advice for budding wine writers? Always keep learning; never think you know it all.

 …. big surprises in the next few years? If I knew, it would not be a surprise!

Hugh Johnson

Hugh Johnson OBE. Born in 1939 (otherwise not a very good year!) Hugh has been writing since 1960 and studied English literature at Cambridge University, then becoming features editor for Vogue and House & Garden magazines. Married in 1965 he has 3 children and is a keen gardener (he has also written gardening books).

He wrote the first World Atlas of Wine in 1971 and saw it through 4 editions before teaming up with Jancis Robinson in 2001 for the 5th Edition (and again for the 6th published last year).

A prolific producer of wine books the last was “Wine, a life Uncorked” in 2005 in which he criticized Robert M. Parker, Jr. as a “dictator of taste”. Hugh Johnson’s writing can currently be found on the Sunday Times Wine Club (of which he is President) Blog and he is part of the editorial team of The World of Fine Wine magazine, whose editorial and contributor list sounds like a Who’s Who of the wine world!
Unfortunately Hugh was on vacation when I was writing the article; my thanks go to Dr Neil Beckett of “The World of Fine Wine” for relaying my message to him and his well wishes.
Oz ClarkeOz Clarke. Born 1949 and attended Oxford University where he co-founded his College Wine-tasting team. Oz followed an acting career on stage and film until 1984 when he turned solely to wine writing. He is known for his excellent tasting ability.
On first becoming serious about wine it was Oz Clarke’s Pocket Wine Book (2006) which gave me a start in learning more about wine but for many, including myself, it was his regular appearances on BBC2s Food & Drink programme in the 80’s and 90’s which have ensured his popularity in the U.K.
More recently he has teamed up with motoring journalist James May for Oz and James Wine Adventures on the BBC, series 1 covering France, series 2 on California. I suspect series 3 is in the offing – Oz was not able to respond to my questions as he was “away filming for BBC TV until early September” according to Fiona Holman of Pavilion Wine.
Tom Wark

Tom Wark started in Public Relations and Media Communications in 1990 with Gracelyn Associates, then formed LeftBank Communications in 1994 before joining in 1999. In 2001 he opened the wine industry PR firm Wark Communications where he is currently partner.

All of this insider knowledge served him well when he started the wine industry blog Fermentation in November 2004 – a cynical, hard hitting, no holds barred view of the wine industry and its associated hangers-on.


While you may not always agree with Tom his views are worth hearing, and more often than not he cuts through the glitz and finds real stories. In 2007 Fermentation launched the American Wine Blog Awards, now in its second year – recognition for the blog phenomenon that looks to get stronger in the future.

…. what do you think you would be doing now?  I’d likely be in Academia, most likely at the college level. I almost went that route to begin with.

…. last wine drank for pleasure? 2004 Mayo Family Reserve Zinfandel, Russian River Valley (Ricci Vineyard).

…. advice for budding wine writers? Determine the type of audience for whom you want to write, then determine if this audience exists, then determine if they are accessible, then determine if they care what you have to say about wine.

…. big surprises in the next few years? There are always new ways to market wine coming down the pike that we aren’t currently thinking of. That’s where the change and surprises will occur. Personally, I’m waiting for aroma to be able to cheaply be transmitted via e-mail.

Gary VaynerchukGary Vaynerchuk. Born in Babruysk, Belarus, in 1975 the family moved to the U.S. in 1978, with his father Alexander (Sasha) eventually setting up “Shoppers Discount Liquor” in Springfield, New Jersey, in 1983. Gary developed an obsession with the wine business while still a teenager and after attending Mount Ida College in Boston, where he was a self-confessed (poor – expletive deleted!) student, he returned to engineer the re-brand of the business into the Wine Library in 1998 where he is currently co-owner and Director of Operations. He is married to Liz and lives in Manhattan.
Vaynerchuk started Wine Library TV in February 2006, a daily wine tasting Video Blog in his inimitable style (zany, hyperactive and infectious, apart from the really early episodes!). GV, as he is known, has a loyal internet following and has a keen eye for self-marketing, with appearances on the Conan O’Brien show, Ellen and multiple other print and electronic media.
I stumbled upon Wine Library TV a year and a half ago researching Chateau Musar and was instantly hooked. I have to declare non-impartiality when it comes to Vaynerchuk, as I participate on a weekly (sometimes daily) basis on the WLTV Internet Forum and avidly watch his shows, but I feel that he has successfully managed to keep his wine critic integrity and persona separate from the Wine Library retail business as much as possible. If one phrase could sum up Gary it would be “Expand your palate and try different things”, something I firmly believe in.

…. what do you think you would be doing now?  Selling baseball cards!

…. last wine drank for pleasure? 2001 Chateau Lascombes (Margaux), this is a solid Bordeaux.

…. advice for budding wine writers? Write from the heart!

…. big surprises in the next few years? The INTERNET!

Bartholomew BroadbentBartholomew Broadbent. A child of the (early) 60’s Bartholomew had a head-start in wine as the son of Michael Broadbent (see below), with whom he took an apprenticeship. He learned winemaking in Australia when 19 before returning to Europe, then Canada, before finally settling in San Francisco to set up Premium Port Wines for Symington. Married with twins Bartholomew founded Broadbent selections in 1996 and is regarded as one of the world authorities on Port and Madeira with a family brand, Broadbent Port. He owns 50% of China Fine Wines and the Dragon’s Hollow brand, featured in the latest Wine & Spirits magazine.
Broadbent Selections has an eclectic range of fine wines from around the world, including one of my favourites, Chateau Musar from the Lebanon. Bartholomew is happy to be quoted on this polarizing wine “….ever since 1979 I’ve always said that my favorite wine is Ch. Musar. It is a conversation opener, whereas, if you say something predictable like Ch. Lafite, that is more or less the end of the conversation!” He can be seen tasting Musar and more on the video show IntoWineTV.

…. what do you think you would be doing now?  Hugh Grant’s job!

…. last wine drank for pleasure? Spy Valley Sauvignon Blanc 2004 (drinks beautifully now), 2003 Quinta do Crasto Douro Red, 1999 Chateau Musar red, Barboursville 2001 Cabernet Sauvignon

…. advice for budding wine writers? Don’t write a book unless you’ve got something original to say. Be careful writing on the web, it often comes across as the closest thing to road rage. Don’t expect to earn a good living from wine writing. Get your facts right, be respectful. It is easier to criticize than to praise. Don’t take yourself or wine too seriously – it’s just a drink.

…. big surprises in the next few years? In the way that Riesling slowly became popular again, now demand outnumbers supply, so will the demand for lower alcohol. The movement is gaining momentum, following the Riesling pattern, and, within seven years, most self-respecting winemakers will be aiming for below 14% alcohol in their wine.
Michael BroadbentMichael Broadbent MW. Born in Yorkshire, England in 1926 Michael Broadbent is a legendary wine taster, critic and authority on old wines. Trained in architecture he entered the wine business in 1952 and became a Master of Wine in 1960. Most famous for his tenure at Christies in London between 1966 and 1992, where he restarted the Fine Wine auctions, he chaired the “Jefferson Bottles” auction in 1985.
President of the International Wine and Food Society since 1986 he is also an honorary member of the Académie du Vin de Bordeaux and has written numerous wine books. He has a son (Bartholomew, see above) and daughter and served as judge on the 30th anniversary “Judgement of Paris” re-tasting. Michael Broadbent’s writings have been some of my favourites in Decanter Magazine, even though I have little expectation of ever trying some of the marvelous wines he discusses!

…. what do you think you would be doing now?  Architect – which is what I studied before moving into wine.

…. last wine drank for pleasure? Seriously, Broadbent Madeira.

…. advice for budding wine writers? Don’t. Too many youngish people who attend tastings and write detailed notes think they are qualified to write about wine. Writing is an art, and one has to earn credibility.

 …. big surprises in the next few years? I have studied my silver balls but they are hazy through overuse. The major phases – over-extracted wines, too much oak (or oak chips), full, fleshy alcohol – are, I hope nearing an end. More serious wine drinkers are opting for elegance and moderate alcohol.

Robert ParkerRobert M. Parker, Jr. Born in Baltimore, U.S.A. in 1947 Parker studied History & Art History, then Law, at the University of Maryland and was an Attorney until 1984. He started writing wine guides in 1975 and published the first “Wine Advocate” in 1979. He is probably the biggest name in the North American wine world and popularized the 100 point system to great effect, striking a chord with the American love affair of points and scores, and now obtaining a Parker “90” can make or break a wine’s sales, and price in and out of the U.S.
In Europe, although recognized by the wineries as enormously influential, Parker is less well known by the average wine drinker, although many will enjoy the style he is associated with – fruit forward and oaked. The subscription site Robert Parker online” (affectionately known as eBob) is the Internet presence of Wine Advocate.
I received a polite, if negative, reply from Annette Piatek of the Wine Advocate on my hope of getting some answers to my questions. “Sorry, but Mr. Parker isn’t available to answer any of your questions. Good luck with your article.”
So onto the next name…
Michel RollandMichel Rolland. Born in Libourne, France, in 1947 and raised on the family estate, Château Le Bon Pasteur in Pomerol. Completed his studies at the Bordeaux Oenology Institute where he met his wife Dany. In 1973 they became partners in an oenology laboratory in his home town, becoming full owners in 1976. He and Dany have two daughters, Marie and Stéphanie and the family now own several Bordeaux properties under the Rolland Collection, as well as ventures in South Africa, Spain and Argentina.
Rolland is probably most famous as the “flying winemaker”, travelling extensively around the world as a winery consultant. He featured heavily in the 2004 Docu-film Mondovino which some see as confirming his reputation for helping create a standardized, concentrated fruit and oak style, however later interviews suggest his use of techniques such as micro-oxygenation was over emphasised in the film. I have neither tried enough of the wines he’s been involved in, nor had sufficient direct or indirect association with M. Rolland to provide an opinion on the opions, however it is clear he is dedicated in what he does, and somewhat successful!

…. what do you think you would be doing now? I would have liked to be a surgeon.

…. last wine drank for pleasure? It was Le Bon Pasteur 2000 (Pomerol) – fantastic.

…. advice for budding wine writers? Be simple, honest and work a lot.


…. big surprises in the next few years? Fortunately, there aren’t lots of surprises in a short period. Market is developing; nowadays Asia is the market of the future (along) with the United States, Brazil. There will be new approaches in all sectors but I don’t believe a revolution.

Steven SpurrierSteven Spurrier. Born in Derbyshire, England, in 1944 Steven became involved in wine in his 20s, first with an established London Wine Merchant, then moving to Paris in 1970 to buy a small specialist shop, Les Caves de la Madeleine. In 1973 he started the first French private wine school, L’Academie du Vin before his most famous exploit – organizing the famous “Judgment of Paris” tasting between Californian and French winemakers.

Spurrier returned to the U.K. in 1988 as a wine writer, journalist and consultant. He is President of the Circle of Wine Writers and consultant editor to Decanter magazine. He is married to Bella, has two children and owns a farm in Dorset.

With the movie Bottle Shock hitting theatre screens at the moment I was tempted to post a picture of Alan Rickman next to this profile, but resisted that moment of tomfoolery as I wouldn’t want to mislead those trusting readers who believe everything they see in print!

Steven was in Tuscany when he responded to my questions through his iPhone, as his laptop had broken down. This by necessity kept his answers brief, and as he was on holiday ”prefers drinking to thinking”, something which I will be putting in practice myself next week!

…. what do you think you would be doing now?  I would have joined Christies on the arts side.

…. last wine drank for pleasure? Tignanello 1999.

…. advice for budding wine writers? Try to specialize and keep an open mind.

…. big surprises in the next few years? More and more interest in healthy wines and away from souped-up brands – but the wine Press has to get behind these, as does Jancis in the FT.

Jaime GoodeDr. Jamie Goode. Like myself Jamie comes from a science background, receiving his PhD in Plant Biology from the University of London in 1992. He spent years as a science editor before moving into wine, setting up his Wine Anorak site and in 2001, one of the earliest to be found, and still one of the most popular. He has won several writing awards, is a regular contributor to newspaper and magazines and supports Manchester City Football Club, which in my book makes him a true-blue Mancunian! He is married to Fiona and has two boys.
Jamie’s scientific experience can be found in the science columns of Wine Business International, and his blog has a relaxed, informal mix of wine and home life, which is refreshing – but unfortunately I could not get through to him in time for this article; he has just returned from the International Pinot Noir Celebration in Oregon and is no doubt trying to catch up on a backlog of contacts before he very soon departs on a family holiday in Majorica, Spain.
So there we have it, hopefully an accurate review of some of the people who, past, present and future, have made and are continuing to make an impact in the way people view and learn about wine.
Thank you and Merci for the kind responses, especially to Bartholomew Broadbent for taking additional time and effort in ensuring I had the best contact details for some on the list.


Jean-Marc Espinasse of Domaine Rouge-Bleu

Ξ August 8th, 2008 | → 7 Comments | ∇ A Day at a Time, International Terroirs, Interviews, Winemakers, Wineries |

I am very happy to pay back, in my own way, a small debt owed to Jean-Marc Espinasse. Years ago he brought to the US a modest selection of wines personally selected for me. Included was a bottle of his family’s excellent Domaine Banneret. Reign of Terroir was a non-thought. But Monsieur Espinasse planted a seed. You see, he was blogging from France quite early, certainly in internet terms. And now he has expanded to You Tube. You may see his early efforts at winemaking here and here. There are a few other instructive shorts under the keyword jmespinasse.
In any event, Jean-Marc has proven a dependable friend. It is with pleasure I present the following interview.
Admin You began blogging quite early, certainly one of the earliest French blogs dedicated to the work of the vigneron I discovered. How is it you hit upon the idea?
Jean-Marc Espinasse I was already blogging through my blog “French Wine A Day” and had about 1000 subscribers who knew my passion for wine and terroir. As I was going to put in practice this passion, I thought I would continue blogging on this venture as a vine farmer and a winemaker.
Would you tell us of your early days at Domaine Du Banneret?
J-M E When my Uncle decided to buy 4 parcels of vines in Chateauneuf to renew the family’s tradition of making wine, I was at the time an accountant. I then initially helped my Uncle designing the business plan and then started to be more involved (the harvest, bottling). When I met my future wife (who is a US citizen), I started to offer his wine to the US market and until then, decided to switch my professional career to embrace the wine world.
When did you begin to make wine?
J-M E I did wine for the first time last year and started with quite outstanding vintage conditions.
Did you study enology/viticulture at school? Could you tell us a little of your educational background?
J-M E I have not studied enology/viticulture. My education is in Finance which is the major of the business school I graduated from. I did a few internships on enology/viticulture when I decided to embrace the wine world. What I learned is that winemaking happens naturally when you harvest a mature grape in a good saniatry state. I also learned that you can’t make a great wine if you don’t have a great terroir and that what happens in the cellar is the continuation of what you harvest. In other words, you may have the very best equipment, but you will never make a great wine if you don’t harvest a great grape.
When and how did you meet your American wife, Kristin, a highly regarded blogger in her own right (French Word-a-Day) and the author of numerous books?
J-M E I met her in Aix en Provence in 1990 in a night club. Then she had to come back to Phoenix to finish her school. We saw each other again in June 1992 and got married in 1994.
Your new effort, Domaine Rouge-Blue, it is farmed organically. Would you tell us about the difficulties organic farming poses to the vigneron?
J-M E In my case (I am using biodynamic principles), it is more the moon cycles which cause work organisation issues. Otherwise, working organically demands one to be well equiped with tools to maintain weeds at a reasonable level.
There is no question organic/biodynamic winemaking allows terroir to properly express itself. But what is terroir?
J-M E Terroir is a combination of all the components that interact directly or indirectly to an area : Soil, underground, orientation, climate, surroundings elements (river, sea, montain) and tradition through the work done by farmers.
What grapes do you grow and what are the yields from your 20 acres?
J-M E We mostly grow Grenache (60%) and since they are very old (75 years old), yields are 1/2 Tons per Acre. Then we have some Carignan (20% – 50 years old), Syrah (10% – 7 years old) and some old Mourvèdre and Roussanne found inside our large vineyard of 75 years old Grenache vines.
What is the make-up of your harvesting crew?
J-M E Family and friends of the family. This year, 5 guys from the US are coming.
How many wines do you make? What is your case production?
J-M E We made 3 wines. One white with the few Roussanne found inside the old Grenache parcel (60 cases done – Côtes du Rhône white “Mistral”), one with a Carignan (55%) – Grenache(45%) blend (1,000 cases done – Vin de Pays de Méditerranée red “Dentelle”) and one with a Grenache (71%) – Syrah (19%) – Mourvèdre (8%) – Roussanne (2%) blend (2,000 cases done – AOC Côtes du Rhône red “Mistral”).
And in the winery, would you tell us a bit about your barrel regimen, yeasts used, cold soaks, etc?
J-M E The red Mistral has 25% of the blend that has aged in old barrels (3 to 5 years old) for 9 months. No external yeasts (of course) and no cold soak. I use concrete tanks (without epoxy paint inside) for the winemaking and this porous material permits a small oxidation during the winemaking.
What ‘green’ practices do you employ?
J-M E I don’t destem since our grapes are old and since, thanks to that, we have mature stems. Mature stems bring a lot of interesting components to the wine, especially acidity (the kep point in the south), mineral salts and oligo elements. The stems also help to balance with high alcohol levels. At last, the natural micro-oxidation which happen in the concrete tanks permits us to smooth down the tannins.
You’ve visited America many times. What wines produced here have you enjoyed?
J-M E I will always remember my very first emotional experience with an American wine which was with a Zinfandel from Ridge Vineyards (Lytton Springs). Since then, I have kept in touch (I know personally one of the winemakers) with this wonderful winery which, for me, is way ahead in many fields (terroir, environment respect, marketing). In California, I am a big fan of Zinfandel and besides, Ridge, I enjoy the wines from Hendry and Rochioli. And I am also a big fan of the Northwest wines, especially in Oregon where I have many friends. I enjoy the wines from Jay Somers (J. Christopher), Ken Wright and a new one named Winderlea (vineyards which belonged to Neil Goldschmidt – ex Governor of OR).
The film Bottle Shock will be widely released here very shortly. What is your take on the ‘Judgement of Paris’?
J-M E Mixed feelings… I think it was a good thing that the French and the European discovered that other places can produce great wines. Now, the way the tasting was conducted (the wines from CA were ready to drink whereas the wines from France were way too young since they were not made the same way) does NOT permit one to make any “judgement”. I am also personnaly an ANTI wine judgement guy since I think a wine can express itself so differently depending many outside factors. A wine is a living material and it is tasting by human beings. Put together, that makes so many possibilities to make a mistake.
How can France compete with the US? I am thinking especially of the influence of Parker. He has arguably ‘motivated’ a change in the wine styles of Bordeaux and some wineries in the Languedoc, not to mention Australia, Spain etc. I am interested in your thoughts on how France can better promote its wines. How is one to market finesse and elegance?
J-M E I think that there is a market for everybody. Some people just want to enjoy a wine and a “style” that they will find every year (even if this totally takes off the notion of vintage) and some some people will also start enjoying wine with this standard style before realising where the right path is…So at least and even if I disagree with RP methods and his way of leading the wine world with his “own” palate, I think it can in fact bring more people to drink wine and eventually turn into REAL wine lovers.
What is your opinion of CRAV? And the future of wine production in the Languedoc?
J-M E The riots conducted by CRAV are mostly people belonging to coops which are in very poor shape. The reason for this comes from the French government, which instead of encouraging a new generation to leave the coop and start their own cellar, has continued to subsidize those coops which, most of the time, have not worked on the qualitative side and now have to compete with new world cheap wines (North Africa, Chile…) and can’t, actually. When you look at all the great vineyards of the Languedoc that have emerged recently, you tell yourself that there is room for many more. And guess what: You don’t find people from those vineyards in with the CRAV guys.
How successuful have you been in finding an American distributor?
J-M E Even if I know quite well the US market, it has been hard since this time period is more about the reduction of portfolios. But I am quite happy since, after 4 months, I have 5 importers in NY-NJ, TX, OR, CA and WA.
What is the most important thing we should understand about Domaine Rouge-Blue?
J-M E Old Vines. They explain the quality with their deep roots that we are trying to take care with our farming methods. They are also in the spirit of the farmhouse (in which we have installed the cellars) which dates from the 16 century.
Thank you, Jean-Marc. I look forward to your next West Coast visit.


Red, White and Drunk All Over

Ξ August 4th, 2008 | → 0 Comments | ∇ A Day at a Time, Book Reviews |

Red, White and Drunk All Over (A Wine-Soaked Journey from Grapes to Glass) – Natalie Maclean
Red, White, and Drunk All OverNatalie MacLean is Canada’s leading woman of wine and this is her first book after years of writing on her popular web-site, Nat Decants and in numerous newspapers and magazines.

I started reading this book not long after finishing Jay McInerney’s “A Hedonist in the Cellar” and the first thing that struck me was the complete contrast in style and content. “A Hedonist…” was a compilation of punchy, bite-sized articles which, at times, came across as rushed and often left you wanting more – but this was tolerable in the knowledge that it was really just an adhesion of his magazine articles.

MacLean has created well researched, substantial stories on which she writes in a flowing, easy to read manner and peppers with personal anecdotes and experiences. Each chapter is given space to allow the story to develop naturally and draws the reader in with rich detail, excellent character building and ample reference information for the wine enthusiast (although, on occasion, she pushes to the other extreme and you feel some paragraphs are unnecessarily “padded” or tangential to the main topic – such as the several pages of cellar information apparently randomly slotted in the Jay McInerney chapter, “Big City Bacchus”).

The introduction sets the tone with a full and vivid description of MacLean’s early experiences with wine and how she immersed herself in the field and passed Sommelier exams, but was strictly amateur until 1998 when she only started writing after the birth of her son. It includes an epiphany moment after leaving University with a Brunello enjoyed at an Italian restaurant – anyone who describes a taste “like a sigh at the end of a long day” is clearly letting you know the emotional, almost sensual descriptions that wait in later pages.
The first Chapter, “The Good Earth”, is a vivid introduction to the complexities of Burgundy and details visits to Domaine de la Romanée-Conti, Domaine Leroy, Domaine Leflaive & Frederic Drouhin of Negociants Maison Joseph Drouhin. As with the second chapter, “Harvesting Dreams”, which covers Sonoma’s Seghesio family and the unique Randall Grahm, it is the insights into the people which I enjoyed as much as the wine facts. All throughout the book MacLean takes the personal touch which adds to the reading enjoyment. I especially liked her admission of abject failure when it came to riddling and disgorging Champagne in “The Merry Widows of Mousse” chapter.
There are plenty of other tales but two more chapters I especially enjoyed were “Purple Prose with a bite” and “Undercover Sommelier”. The first is an informative recount of Chateau Pavie 2003 debate (also known as the War of Words) between Jancis Robinson and Robert Parker, which does a good job of stating the facts and also providing detailed profiles on these two giants of the wine tasting circuit. The second recounts an evening at Le Baccara restaurant in Quebec where MacLean puts her Sommelier training to good use and comes out relatively unscathed and with a tale that should provide some insight to those tempted by that career path.
This was my first introduction to Natalie MacLean, but it proved an enjoyable one and I can only recommend this book. Any weak areas are still informative, the general style and content is excellent and there’s a good dose of lighthearted humour throughout, something I’d like to see more of in wine writing (and which I have to remind myself to retain, lest I fall into the trap of humourless prose).


Bob Mullen, Woodside Vineyards’ Man of Grace

Ξ August 1st, 2008 | → 2 Comments | ∇ A Day at a Time, Interviews, Wine History, Wine News, Winemakers, Wineries |

Bob Mullen (right) and winemaker, Brian Caselden

I recently met Bob Mullen at a wine tasting at Byington Vineyard and Winery. The group Wine Investigation For Novices and Oenophiles (WINO) organized the event. Mr. Mullen had just returned from China, the reason for his trip you’ll read below. Jet lag would have slowed the ordinary soul but not him. Rarely have I seen a winemaker treated with such deference and respect by the participating wineries and winemakers of the Santa Cruz Mtns. AVA of which he has long been a part. An elegant gentleman, he entertained with grace the technical questions of the younger winemakers pouring that evening, and they listened to his every word. Very refreshing. Much of the wine making world is peopled with folks of extravagant means who purchase acreage, plant a vineyard, build a faux chateau, and then aggressively pursue a Parker score. It was a great pleasure to have met someone of such a profound historical character for whom independence of vision remains a central value.

Woodside Vineyards

Woodside Vineyards enjoys a storied history. But without decades of hard work there would be no story to tell. Founded by Mr. Mullen in 1960, bonded in 1963, Woodside Vineyards continues to produce, under his guiding hand, among the finest wines in California, in my humble opinion. I encourage the reader to visit their website linked above. Consider their La Questa Wine Club.


After first agreeing to be brief, I wrote Mr. Mullen a series of questions. I am very pleased with his answers.

Admin Do you still provide the sacramental wine to the Woodside Village Church? Which Woodside Vineyards wine is used?
Bob Mullen Yes, we still provide sacramental wine to WVC as we have for over forty years. Almost without exception the wine has been Cabernet Sauvignon – much of it from the historic La Questa vineyard.
We rarely read about the importance of faith in the lives of winegrowers. Would you care to say a few words about yours?
SanctuaryB.M. Not sure I see a strong connection between my Christian faith and winegrowing, although some years and some vintages have received an extra prayer or two. I have been an active church member all my life – one of my most proud achievements is that I was the chairman of the building council that built our church school in 1958, out beautiful adobe sanctuary constructed in 1960 – 1961 and the remodel of our 100 year old chapel in 1993. I served on the Church Council and Diaconate for many years and served a term as Moderator. I still supervise much of the maintenance for our landscaping. (That’s probably a lot more than you wanted to know!)
Your winery remains small by California standards, 2000 cases a year. Why have you maintained so modest a production?
B.M. Two reasons why we have held our production to 2000 – 2100 cases (5000 gallons): First, that is the capacity of our winery (in fact it’s a little more than the capacity) and that was the quantity limit imposed by the town of Woodside in 1991 when they “legalized” wineries in Woodside.
Historically, the Santa Cruz Mts. have been difficult to farm. The expense of maintaining a vineyard required winegrowers to focus on high quality wines. Do you believe the region is living up to its promise as expressed by its pioneer growers?
B.M. I don’t pretend to be in touch with the plantings that are going on in the AVA, but what I hear about is Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and other appropriate varieties. With the scarcity of space and cost of our land, I can’t imagine anyone intentionally planting anything other than the “right” grapevines.
Should the winegrowers of Santa Cruz Mts. AVA, owing to our abundance of microclimates, consider sub-AVAs?
B.M. I think sub-AVAs would be a serious mistake. We have struggled for over forty years to get recognition of the SCM AVA. To create and promote sub-AVAs would only dilute that effort and confuse our potential customers.
Technology has made substantial contributions to the quality of modern wines. But it has also served to ‘dumb’ down varietal character and overwhelm terroir. What is your opinion on micro-oxygenation, reverse osmosis, color additives and the like?
B.M. I have no opinion – we have never used any of the processes you mentioned and never will!
I have heard you are involved in a new project in China. Would you care to say a few things about this exciting development?
B.M. I am on the board of a group that is planting vineyards and will build a winery in China (near Beijing) that proposes to produce the finest wines in China for Chinese consumption. No exports are planned. We are currently using Australian and U. S. consultants, but over time will hire and/or train a highly qualified viticulture and winemaking team that is 100% Chinese. At that time we will withdraw. Ownership, by the way, is and will continue to be Chinese.
Do you have any advice for the young winegrower?
B.M. Yes, do it right the first time! Most of the problems we have seen in almost fifty years in this business have resulted from poorly planned and ill conceived plans and projects. Attempts to cut corners and economize usually wind up costing more time and money than planning and doing it right from the outset.
Last great book you read?
B.M. I must confess that I read novels for entertainment – thus no “great books” in my recent past. At 82, it’s too late to improve my mind! My favorite author is David Baldacci.
Have you any plans to write a memoir?
B.M. No plans to write a memoir, but at the encouragement of Marsha Campbell, we have recently documented the history of all our 23 vineyards on video, with the help of the Video 4 group.
Thank you, Mr. Mullen.


From the Vineyard to the Glass, Winemaking in an Age of High Tech


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