Margaret Duckhorn, co-founder of the celebrated Duckhorn Wine Company and recently elected chairman of the Wine Institute, is a dedicated, socially responsible soul. As you will read in the interview and by exploring the supplemental links provided throughout, she has committed her energies to many humanitarian and commercial concerns. And the wealth of experience and worldliness she’s gained will serve her well as she now tackles, as Wine Institute chair, the many important issues confronting the Cali wine industry: climate change, trade barriers to increasingly sophisticated international markets, antiquated US interstate shipping laws, sustaining the momentum of a ‘greening’ Cali wine industry, resolving the complex tangle of migrant labor issues, technological innovations including GM vines and yeasts, better consumer education, among many other matters. Such work requires a steady, knowledgeable hand.
From all I’ve read, Ms. Duckhorn is a very fine choice.
Admin The Queen of the Valley Medical Center recently celebrated 50 years of service to the Napa Valley. As a Trustee, how did you come to be associated with the hospital?
Margaret Duckhorn I became affiliated with QVH Board of Trustees at the suggestion of Julie Johnson of Tres Sabores winery. She was rotating off the Board and thought that I might be a good replacement as she and I both had nursing careers in our former lives. I too rotated off the Board in 2005. I enjoyed my tenure and association with the hospital.
What have been some of the Center’s most recent accomplishments?
The Children’s Mobile Dental Clinic must be a highpoint.
MD Certainly Sister Anne’s Dental Clinic and now their mobile unit have met a great need in our valley. When I was a School Nurse we saw many children with dental problems who came from families who were uninsured or very low income. Some of our local dentists would try to help with the most critical cases for which we were very grateful. The Children’s Mobile Dental Clinic is a great solution to a very real need.
Your university background is in the health care field. And you were Public Health Nurse in Berkeley in the early sixties. Would you say something of your experience in that turbulent era?
MD Fortunately, my work as a Public Health Nurse in Berkeley preceded the Free Speech Movement and the drug era. As my first job it was a great experience working both as a School Nurse and visiting homes as a Public Health nurse. Because my district included both aspects of nursing I got to know many of the families living in the area. My School Nursing experience in Berkeley led to my involvement in the schools in the upper Napa Valley in the 80’s and I became the School Nurse for eight of our Up Valley Schools. I did that until 1985 when I began working full time at the winery.
How is it you came to Napa in the mid-seventies?
MD Dan Duckhorn, my former husband, had been involved in managing a small business portfolio and one of the companies was a vineyard management and nursery operation that was located on the current Duckhorn Vineyards property. He had been commuting from the Bay Area and in 1973 we moved the family to St. Helena so that he could manage the business. In 1976 the gentleman that owned the business decided to sell and we bought the property with some friends and started the winery, with 1978 being our first vintage. We hired a winemaker and the rest is history.
When did you become aware of farmworker issues?
MD When I was on the Napa Valley Vintners Board of Directors we were exploring ways to make housing more available for farmworkers. My local parish had become involved with providing some tents and the following year the Vintners helped secure some Yurts which were located across from our Paraduxx winery. I then became involved with the local agency that worked to secure some land, donated by the Joseph Phelps winery and, with local and state regulators to secure funding and permitting to establish the Farmworker Housing at River Ranch. Eventually we were able to revamp two other older farmworker housing units.
Do you recall a transformative moment?
MD Laborers were sleeping in their cars and living by the river. Our local parish had farmworkers sleeping on their porch. It didn’t seem right that the workers that helped farm our vineyards could not afford or find housing.
You are well known for your work on farmworker health care and housing in the Napa Valley, this while at Duckhorn Wine Company. Does becoming Chairman of the Wine Institute modify your public role with respect to these issues?
MD Though I am no longer actively involved in the farmworker housing agency, our winery continues to support their efforts and fundraisers that support their work.
The Dept. of Homeland Security seems poised to make its presence felt with adventures directed at ‘high-value’ agricultural concerns.
Do you feel Cali’s wine industry might be a target? How might the Wine Institute respond? Does Governor Schwarzengger have a role to play?
MD If you are referring to the Migrant Farmworker issues I would suggest that our industry would be greatly in peril without our immigrant labor force. Having said that, we also believe in having a legitimate way for this labor force to come in and return to their country; something along the lines of a Guest Worker program. Because California is so agriculturally based and our need for workers is seasonal and important, the Governor’s role is imperative.
The Crush in Cali is underway. What would be the consequences of a federal crackdown on migrant workers here?
MD Many of us have a full time work force or use contract farm labor companies. However, there is always a need for additional laborers and anyone hiring migrant laborers should know to check for their green card status. I do believe, however, that a serious crackdown on migrant workers would greatly challenge our ability to get our crops harvested in a timely manner. Not many people are willing to work as hard as these migrant workers, so we just need to create a reasonable way for them to come into our state, work, and return home.
In 2006 the Wine Institute came out foursquare against the use of genetically modified organisms in wine-making. I’m thinking of its opposition to ML101, a GM yeast, in particular. Yet it may well be that member wineries already use the product. What is the Institute’s approach to persuading wineries to resist this and related GM technologies?
MD [Here] is a copy of Wine Institute’s position regarding GMOs: GMO Statement
We have not been able to identify any member winery of using ML01 so we have not been in a position to have to dissuade a member from its use.
One of the Wine Institute’s most progressive initiatives, founded and partnered with the Cal. Assoc. of Winegrape Growers in 2004, is the Sustainable Winegrowing Program. According to 2006 figures, vineyard self-assessment participation stood at 990 enterprises farming nearly 300,000 acres out of an approx. total of 522,000 statewide. 807 of those enterprises submitted assessment results for just over 150,000 acres, only about 29% of the statewide total.
Have more vineyard enterprises since joined with the program?
MD The short answer is that “yes” more of our member wineries are participating in the program, but we have not done a more in depth calculation recently. We are in the process of developing a “third party” certification process and we will be providing updated numbers in our upcoming 2009 Sustainability Report. This will also provide an in-depth analysis and status report on the progress the industry has made in meeting our sustainability targets that were established in the 2006 report.
Has the total assessed acreage therefore increased since 2006?
MD Data will be available when we issue the 2009 Sustainability Report.
And winery participation?
MD Statistics for this: 175 wineries producing over 62% of the statewide cases conducted a self-assessment, with 107 submitting results for 42% of the State’s 273 million cases.
Additionally, more than 5,000 vintners and growers have participated in over 100 workshops targeting specific areas of sustainability, including air and water quality, ecosystem management, energy efficiency, and integrated pest management.
According to a recent report, “France exports the most bottled wine to China, accounting for about 40% of the Chinese market.” How does the California wine industry currently rank as an importer to China? How does the Wine Institute plan to further advance California’s vinous fortunes in Asia?
MD The Hong Kong market for imported wines has exploded since the repeal of the wine import tax in February this year. We are very pleased that California now ranks third (behind France and Australia) among wine-producing countries in value of wine imports entering the market (Hong Kong Customs data). In fact, through August of this year the growth in value of California wines is outpacing the growth of the overall market.
Wine Institute recognizes that the Asia Pacific region represents perhaps the most dynamic growth opportunity for California wines worldwide. We are actively supporting California wines with a fully-integrated marketing program in nine countries throughout the region. In December we will be entering a new market, India, to participate in our first-ever Indian wine trade show.
The article above also specifically mentions the success first International Wine Fair held in Hong Kong last month. I know a significant Lodi contingent attended but I am not certain the Wine Institute played a part. What was the extent of California’s wine industry participation in the Fair?
MD We congratulate our friends at the Hong Kong TDC on the success of their inaugural show last month. Yet, unfortunately, due to our significant presence at Vinexpo Asia Pacific in Hong Kong in May, we weren’t able to participate in the August fair in Hong Kong. We understand that the second installment of the show will be in November 2009 and we will consider having a presence there.
With all of your social, institutional and commercial commitments, how do you find the time for a private life!
MD Fortunately, as I move toward retirement I have been able to turn over many of the day to day responsibilities to others in our company. I have also stepped back from some of the other organizational commitments as my role in Wine Institute increased this year. So, though it is still a calendaring challenge, I am able to schedule some time for my private life.
What was the last great meal you had, and what wine did you select?
MD Luckily, I just had a wonderful weekend in San Francisco and had two great meals, one at The Ritz Carlton and the other at Gary Danko’s. We had a Littorai Pinot noir, Savoy Vineyard from Anderson Valley the first night and a Sea Smoke Pinot noir from Santa Rita Hills the second night. Both great wines.
Have you ever considered a run for political office?
MD No. That is not in my DNA.
Thank you, Margaret. It has been a great pleasure.
For further information about Ms. Duckhorn please click here: Margaret Duckhorn bio
My recent trip to Oslo for a conference had me staying in a city centre hotel near the National Theatre. We had a chance to dine out twice over the week and the harbour-front location of Aker Brygge, the site of an old shipyard but now a boardwalk and entertainment hotspot, turned out to be the focal point of both evenings.
The first evening took us to the Bord brasserie and bar. This restaurant demonstrates its wine credentials as you walk in and see the large glass-fronted wine storage unit holding a selection of interesting bottles. The wine list was comprehensive but the menu choice for food was a little limited, and tended towards a younger generation of style; however we all managed to find something that appealed.
I selected Chevre Quesadillas to start & a bowl of unpeeled prawns for the main course – a traditional Norwegian dish, and the most rustic thing on the menu.
To accompany the mainly seafood choices we selected the Fred Loimer Käferberg Grüner Veltliner 2004 from Langenlois. This had a deep waxy nose, with a touch of honeysuckle, was dry in the mouth with a little spicy heat at the back of the throat and a dash of petrol as it moved into the mid-palate. The finish was long with the floral, honeysuckle aspect again. At 12.5% abv this was an enjoyable 4 star wine and one of the cheaper offerings on the menu at just over $90.
As for the food, nutty seed-bread was on hand to dip in extra-virgin olive oil and Balsamic vinegar, while the rich, creamy goats cheese Quesadillas were warm and delicious on a bed of rocket salad & a sweet syrup dressing. The prawns came in a massive bowl, in their shell with a baguette and a strong garlic mayonnaise on the side – peeling the shells was fiddly, but well worth it once the succulent flesh was released! We had a pleasant evening at Bord, the food and wine were both good and the prices, extortionate by U.K. standards, were actually in line with what to expect in a country that has such a high cost of living.
It’s not just the high cost of living in this oil-rich nation that explains why prices are so high. Norway has traditionally had a history of high alcohol consumption and was one of a group of European countries that initiated Prohibition in the early 20th Century, starting in 1916-1917 and continuing until 1927; however this was not a complete ban on alcohol, mainly Spirits and Fortified Wines. In 1922 a state monopoly, Vinmonopolet, was created for the distribution and sale of wines (and later spirits) in the country. This continued until 1996 when the monopoly was ended for import and distribution, however Vinmonopolet still controls the retail side of wine in Norway and until recently most purchasing was an “over the counter” affair similar to Pharmacies. All of this means that a beer costs $10 while a bottle of wine is typically double what you’d pay in the likes of the U.K. and U.S. – this is not the place to come for a thirsty tourist on a budget!
The second evening (a Friday) ended at Aker Brygge, but began many miles away at a small Marina to the west of Oslo. Here our Norwegian host, Terje, had driven us to his boat, a small motor-cruiser, and the four of us (with his wife and a friend of mine) cast off and headed back towards the capital. It was a beautiful evening with only a few clouds in the sky and plenty of light as we headed for our first stop, Vollen Flordkro – a restaurant just a few miles further up the coast where we moored and sat at an outside table to enjoy the sunset.
The food on offer sounded simple but delicious. To begin, I had chosen a mixed seafood starter; delicious and creamy Lax (smoked salmon), light and delicate ceviche of prawns and Skagensalat – Crayfish tails in a rich dill mayonnaise. My colleagues had a massive plate of smoked prawns, a wonderful rusty colour with a flavour of smoked mackerel – delicious (and better than the prawns I had at Bord) although the portion was really too big and they couldn’t finish them all. As a main I had a large bowl of mussels in white wine, these really flavoursome mussels, the best I’d had for a long time.
The basic wine list, while not as exclusive as at Bord, provided enough choice for a relaxing and informal evening meal. Terje’s wife was a preferred red drinker so I selected something light and fruity which wouldn’t completely overpower the dishes – the Caldora 2007 Montepulciano d’Abruzzo was a popular choice, especially with the smoked prawns whose strong flavour could easily stand up to the red.
After the meal we boarded the boat and continued on our way to Oslo, the sun had set and the sky was darkening fast but that didn’t stop me having a turn at the wheel (and Terje was inside checking the sonar & GPS system to make sure we weren’t in any danger!). We sailed by some beautiful coves and inlets where other craft were moored up , some having meals on their boats, some on the shore with camp-fires and barbecues – I could easily see how living in this area would necessitate getting a boat and taking advantage of the wonderful geography.
It was after 10pm as we sailed into the harbour just by Aker Brygge and jumped off, waving goodbye to Terje and his wife (they had the same journey back now in the dark, they wouldn’t be home before midnight!). For my friend and I there was still time for a “digestif”, so we went to Café Albertine and sat outside on the terrace. A brief look at the drinks menu and I ordered the Williams & Humbert Collection Pedro Ximenez 12 Year Old Sherry, luscious nectar with aromas of candied orange peel and a touch of marzipan on the nose. The liquid had a deep brown swirl and flavours of Muscovado sugar, raisins, orange peel – in fact Christmas cake in a glass! This was a 4 star offering from Jerez and my first PX.
I had an early morning flight and some sore ribs (from trying to lift something far too heavy earlier in the day) so I called it a night and headed back to the hotel. Once again I’d had a good time in Oslo, although once again I was grateful that I was here on an expense account and not spending my own cash. There is definitely an expanding wine culture in this city even with the high prices you have to pay for a good drink (any drink for that matter!), so if you do find yourself in this part of Scandinavia then take a deep breath, open the wallet and enjoy!
This December Mumbai, capitol of the Indian state Maharashtra and the financial capitol of India, will be the host of the first India International Wine Fair. From the site’s Home page:
In the context of India’s rapidly growing appetite for wine consumption, the India International Wine Fair is India’s first large international exhibition dedicated entirely to the wine industry. Bringing together the country’s entire community of wine importers, wholesalers, distributors and retailers, along with noteworthy large-scale buyers including hotels, airlines and restaurants, the event is the single most important platform for international and Indian wine producers, exporters and marketers to firmly establish themselves in the Indian market.
Of India’s approx. 123,000 acres of vineyards only 1% are dedicated for wine production. The balance are table grapes. The country’s major players, accounting for 90% of all domestic wine production, are the Indage Group, Sula Wines, and Grover Wines.
There is a great deal of insecurity in India, I would argue, over wine quality and the cultivation of a dependable domestic market, two interrelated concerns. Of the latter, though it’s true wine consumption continues to increase it is still estimated at no more than a “half a teaspoon per capita“. (Another source puts it “at about a tablespoon” !) Indeed, included in that half teaspoon are drops of imported wine. The India-based United Breweries Group, to mention but one company, recently announced the launch of an additional 30 new labels for wines from France, South Africa, and Italy. Existing labels include wines from New Zealand and Australia.
While it is important to note that for 2009 India’s domestic production is estimated to be around 2 million cases and imports at approx. 200,000 cases, still, imported wines remain the measure of quality. Grover Vineyards, for example, hired Michel Rolland back in 1995. An article from 2000 explains it this way,
“Grover’s is India’s only vineyard devoted to producing wine exclusively from French varietal grapes, and in the process trying to alter the drinking habits of a nation that inherited a preference for beer and whisky from its British colonisers.
In explaining why Indians never developed a widespread taste for wine, producers here cite the law of supply and demand: there has been no supply of good wine, thus no demand.”
And this from Grover’s website,
“Unlike other wine makers in India today, Grover Vineyards is the only company that shuns ordinary table grapes, while exclusively using only French wine grapes, selected from the original thirty-five varieties of the Vitis Vinifera species.
In 1995, the project sufficiently attracted the attention of the world-renowned oenologist, Michel Rolland, to offer his expertise to the Indian venture. His expertise in wine making sees him as ‘consultant oenologist’ to over 100 companies all around Europe, South and North America and Asia. In India, Rolland is affiliated exclusively with Grover Vineyards.”
The push to improve domestic wine is central not only to winning new consumers but also to open international markets. Mr. G. Vaynerchuk of Wine Library TV recently visited India. In this WLTV episode he discusses very well the quality issue. Yet there is a third rationale to improve domestic wine: to refine a country’s image. To produce quality wine is to a nation’s cultural stature what nuclear deterrence is to foreign policy.
The state govt. of Maharashtra, the locus of India’s fledgling wine industry, has been a cheerleader for the same, but at the expense of other agricultural sectors. In an excellent article in Outlook India Payal Kapadia writes,
“It’s clearly a case of misplaced priorities as far as governance goes. Over the last two years, the Maharashtra government has developed an unprecedented inclination towards the wine industry even as thousands of desperate cotton farmers caught in a debt trap in the eastern Vidarbha region of the state are committing suicide by consuming pesticide.
“[T]he prognosis has never been so good for the wine industry and vineyards in Maharashtra. Every few months, a new sop is announced: a simplified licensing procedure for new wineries; plans to eliminate excise duty, already down from 100 per cent to 25 per cent; and the classification of wineries as a food processing industry to avail of the soft loans offered by the food processing department. Two wine parks have been set up in Sangli and Nasik, providing infrastructure to wineries, including a one-year diploma course on wine management. Besides, Union agriculture minister Sharad Pawar is busy championing the cause of wine, arguing that it be treated as a soft drink rather than an alcoholic beverage. After all, what better way to boost domestic consumption than by making wine more accessible?”
In fact, suicide among India’s cotton and table grape farmers is so notorious that the ugly phenomenon merits its own Wikipedia entry.
Another ‘must read’ article from the SF Chronicle, March, ‘08, reads,
“While India’s economy surges forward on the crest of globalization, thousands of farmers are taking their own lives every year to escape mounting debt and an uncertain future. According to the National Crime Records Bureau, at least 87,567 farmers committed suicide between 2002 and 2006. In Maharashtra state, there were 4,453 suicides in 2006, the last year for which statistics were made available, an increase of 527 compared with 2005. Sharp increases have also been reported in Andhra Pradesh and Chhattisgarh states.”
The reasons for suicide include,
“crop failure due to agrochemicals, climate change, lower prices due to U.S. farm subsidies, state restrictions on export trade, and the dumping of surplus crops in an oversaturated domestic market.“(ibid)
The nested Russian dolls of economic and cultural factors are far too numerous and complex to explore here. Neither am I qualified, frankly. Suffice it to say that the historically conjugated extremes of wealth and privilege, rival states’ politics and competitive ambitions, and the lingering malignancy of the caste system serve to make wine a terribly overdetermined beverage in India.
Per capita income in India is a little over 33,000Rs, which at today’s exchange rate is about $720 US.
I myself would very much like to attend the India International Wine Fair in Mumbai if only to hear, beneath the chatter of traders, merchants, politicians and the international wine cognoscenti, the sound of 450 million hands pounding on the windows of the Grand Hyatt.
Want to know what wine event will be happening in Tokyo, Sydney, Barcelona, the Sierra Foothills, or your neighborhood? Want to list one? Then Eric V. Orange has the solution. LocalWineEvents is among a small number of wine-related websites that have made a real difference in the lives of folks on Main Street. It is a free service that, very simply, lists primarily forthcoming wine events from around the world. Not just for the public, the site is used as well by wine professionals, retailers, restaurateurs, and wineries. In fact, in addition to the compiling of events done by LocalWineEvents staff anyone and everyone is encouraged to upload an event, all easily done in a few simple steps.
And the content of the listing need not be limited to wine. The site’s events category options include Spirits, Beer, Food and Other.
The LocalWineEvents interface is very consumer and user-friendly. But the option I most often use is the email service offered. You may choose to have sent to your email the events of a country, region, or city. Joining a thread is a breeze. The data base is constantly updated.
I must say I have had alot of fun tracking events in Champagne and Catalonia. As a practical matter, for the following of activities here in Cali, Eric’s site has become indispensable.
Without further ado…
Admin My understanding is that LocalWineEvents was realized in Colorado, 2000.
Eric V. Orange I had the idea while in Colorado, but I started it from Houston.
Can you tell us a bit about the kinds of wine you helped import at that time? And something of the dinners you supplemented?
EVO In Colorado, I worked for Paterno Imports (now Terlato Wines International). We had an incredible book of wines, in my view.
One of our biggest brands was Santa Margherita Pinot Grigio but we also marketed,
Torres from Spain (Mas La Plana ranks top notch Spanish cab)
Ruinart Champagne (Practically unknown in the big world, but a stellar champagne).
They were all great wines and to this day many are still regulars in my cellar.
Were you concerned about prognostications of the immanent collapse of civilization at the turn of the century? (Evidence would suggest not!)
EVO Indeed, to some degree. The millennium bug was so hyped at the time it was wise to consider the what if’s.
What was your job before working for an importer?
EVO I was a wholesale rep for Famous Brands in Wichita Kansas. Prior to that I was wine steward/bar manager of a private club. And previous to that, I spent 6 years at a winery in the Mid-Hudson Valley, NY.
I have come to depend on LocalWineEvents. But that was not always the case. Can you tell us why your site has enjoyed such a phenomenal growth? How have you made your site known to others?
EVO I think that a number of factors have gone towards the success of the site.
I had recognized that folks in the wine and spirits business are looked to from their friends, as a source of reference for “what’s happening”.
I came from within the industry and I used my experience to target the industry with emails about the LocalWineEvents.com.
I emailed the heck the out of the industry. I had amassed a database of 30,000 industry emails and every couple of months, I sent them updates about the site. Like the time US News and World Report mentioned LocalWineEvents.com in their magazine.
In today’s world, it would be considered “spam”, but even then I had rationalized it this way; I was completely neutral and I wasn’t trying to sell anything.
My idea was to simply create ONE place where we all put the events and ONE place where folks could find them.
All I was asking of them was to post their events.
After about three years, “spam” became more intense so I retired the list. Since I had not really asked anyone if they wanted to be on my list I would quit using it. I said goodbye with one last email and suggested that they sign up on LocalWineEvents.com if the wished.
Fortunately by that time, I had pretty good traction going.
Another factor was “reciprocal links”. I went after links from the simple premise that, if someone is surfing a “wine” site, then most likely they will be interested in wine events. In the early days I could email just about any food/wine/spirits/beer related site and trade links. Most were willing to give me links because, again, I was not competing with anyone. We currently have something like 50,000 links to LocalWineEvents.com.
Then it became known that Google used links as a measure of a site’s relative importance (part of an algorithm secret sauce called Page Rank) and all sites were flooded with “reciprocal links” requests by the millions as people tried to game Google’s Page Rank.
Like watching the Travel Channel, I subscribe to many (10, I believe) threads, some exotic, on LocalWineEvents for info on tastings in places I’ll not visit in the near term. Do you plan to add a user feedback function to determine whether a given visitor actually went to the Event they clicked on?
EVO We do have in the works a feedback plan, but like much of my site, what seems a simple idea is quite more complex when you dive into the details.
Like wine, an event experience is pretty subjective and I have no desire to moderate a “forum” type system where folks post their opinions. The constant monitoring to keep it both active and civil is not my cup of tea. Also, with any “ranking” of something, there are those who will try to game it. But we are close. We will be introducing our own “Juice Rank” in the months ahead.
Does LocalWineEvents ask that notices be submitted in English?
EVO Not necessarily, but for the most part that is what we get. I have had French, German, Spanish events posted. However, we do monitor every event that gets posted.
Do you offer a translation service?
EVO Not at this time. I cut and paste into Bablefish to make sure it’s not pure garbage.
What percentage of your visitors are from outside the US?
EVO Not sure yet. Here are my top ten,
1. United States
3. United Kingdom
7. Hong Kong
I’m looking for percentages.
Have you always depended on the submission of events from the ’source’ or have you sometimes performed a web search of a given region and then added the tasting event?
EVO We find and post events all the time.
Have you personally attended event(s) you would have not otherwise have known about but for your listing service?
EVO Sure, mucho. One of the first was in Houston when the chef of the Four Seasons called. He had used the site before and said that a “Duckhorn” dinner had just fallen in his lap. Dan Duckhorn was going to be in town in two weeks for the dinner and the chef asked if I could help get word out. I blasted a special notice to all the Houston subscribers and The Four Seasons comped my wife and I our dinner. Over half of the 35 people in attendance were there from LocalWineEvents.com.
I still get a lot of opportunities, but with two young kids, my wine and dine time is curtailed a bit these days.
You’ve recently added video, a very exciting upgrade. How has this innovation been received?
EVO Phenomenal. We have over 200 videos posted to date and they keep coming. We are fast at work on expanding and tweaking that service to make it better still.
I personally believe your website is by far the finest refinement in coordinating tastings and wine events currently on the web. Where do you go from here?
EVO Thank you for the kind words.
We are in the final testing stages of a brand new version of LocalWineEvents.com that will offer a number of improvements. One of the goals of this re-write is to produce a version in a “modular” format that will allow us to use the underlying software for other “events” sites. Our first test will be LocalBeerEvents.com as a sister site to LocalWineEvents.com, but focused more tightly on the beer side of things. From that experience we will then either produce our own stable of niche events sites or license our build.
Also, we will soon launch a new “wine” related site under a different domain.
What was the last great wine from a surprising producer you enjoyed?
EVO Believe it or not, I have just been floored by a home-made wine.
An acquaintance noticed a LocalWineEvents.com magnetic sign that I have. He told me of a friend of his who makes his own wine and “it’s pretty good”.
I am sure that most of us in this business have had the “pretty good” home-made wine experience and I expected no less than to smell it and dump it down the drain without it ever touching my lips. The sniff I took gave me pause and I tasted it. I can honestly say I was stunned. I doubted my own senses. Without telling my wife who/what/where, I asked her to sip it. When her eyes lit up, I knew it was not just me. The fellow apparently buys cabernet and merlot grapes in Philadelphia and makes it in his garage. I told him I would buy some.
Thank you, Eric.
EVO Thanks for your time Ken.
The Mistral has blown last week’s rain off the vineyards, has settled down into a gentle breeze and now the sun is warming temperatures and grapes. Bonjour tout le monde, La Vendage est arivee!
Regular readers of Reign of Terroir will know I was lucky enough to have won a competition a few months ago on WLTV. Well now I am in France enjoying that prize, on site at Chateau Pesquie near the town of Mormoiron. Myself and the 3 other winners arrived on Sunday 14th to a partly cloudy sky and a brisk wind (The Mistral) to be told of rain the week before which resulted in “wet” grapes, a little too much water than really desired. The Mistral was a welcome arrival, as rain was now not forecast for several days, and rising temperatures were set to bring the harvest back on track.
I’m writing this piece mid-week now and the four competition winners have already helped hand-pick a plot of Syrah destined for Pesquie’s 2008 “Les Terasses” red, the Rose is already in tanks about to start fermentation and with at least 2 more clear days before rain is due the white harvesting is due to begin in earnest with the Rousanne and Viognier.
Temperatures towards the end of the week are expected at about 20-25 C (68-77 F) and the Mistral wind has died down to a gentle breeze (also good, as too much and excess drying out occurs) so the only factor now that will have a major influence on how the rest of the harvest progresses is whether the rain due to arrive on Friday or Saturday will last half a day or 5 days, the winery’s 2 sources conflict somewhat in their information. If the latter then the end of the week will be chaotic around here!
I will be writing a full report later on in the month once I am back in the U.K. and the harvest is done (the practicalities of being on a winery during the harvest mean time for polishing off articles is not paramount!). For those with a more in-depth curiosity daily reports are being posted on the WLTV forums here but suffice to say I have seen and learned a mountain of information on the winemaking process and life in general at harvest time, plus made some good friends.
Addendum: Thunderstorms hit at about 9pm tonight, 9/18, and heavy rain continued well into the night – it looks like Avignon and the Rhone area around there got the rain earlier then we did.
Addendum 2: By Friday morning the rain had stopped and we’ll see if the sun and Mistral return. The white harvest was pretty much finished before the rain hit, but most of the red is still on the vine.
What is now the Fairtrade Foundation was quietly begun in 1988 with a label on a coffee from Mexico. The initiative was launched by a Dutch development agency, Solidaridad, in response to the collapse of the world coffee price. I am reminded of Vaclav Havel’s note that the ‘Velvet Revolution’ in Czechoslovakia was begun with a simple, rebellious placard placed in a shopkeeper’s window. 1989.
Fair Trade, copyrighted and labeled as such, was first to appear in 1992 with the help of the Catholic Agency For Overseas Development (CAFOD), Christian Aid, Oxfam, Traidcraft, the World Development Movement, and later joined by the Women’s Institute.
In the last 20 years the Fair Trade movement has grown dramatically. By 2006, a full 1500 products were made available in the United Kingdom alone. A full reckoning of their impact may be read here
So what does Fair Trade mean? Work to increase producer incomes by insuring sustainable farming and livable wages; to fight poverty, encourage self-determination, to promote a democratic working environment with health and safety a priority. The guiding idea is to promote human rights. Easy words to say, very hard work to realize.
And bear in mind a ‘producer’ referenced above often means, with respect to the Southern Hemisphere, and in the words of Co-op America,
“Most of the wine produced in the Global South and sold in the US comes from vineyards where growers are paid poverty wages for their work and are exposed to dangerous pesticides.”
Ah, yes, wine. Fair Trade standards for wine came into being in 2004. The first certified wine was Vinos Los Robles Cooperative in Curico, Chile. And early to the cause was importer Ehrmanns. They write,
“Ehrmanns Ltd became one of the first Fairtrade wine importers from the moment Fairtrade standards were introduced for wine grapes in early 2004. At this time Ehrmanns represented Vinos Los Robles Cooperative in Curico, Chile, the first winery in South America to be Fairtrade accredited and only the second winery to be accredited in the world – the first Fairtrade accredited winery was Thandi in Elgin, South Africa.”
Thandi, indeed, was the first, followed closely by Goue Valley, both from South Africa. Indeed, South Africa has led the way. There is now Stellar Organics, and the superb company Origin. Many more are on the way. Explore the list.
So what is required for certification? Workers must be provided a living wage and collective bargaining, the freedom to join a union is a necessity. No child labor is allowed. (Sex discrimination is not clearly discussed.) Full disclosure must be provided on the use of pesticides. That health care is offered. Sustainable grape growing practices are required.
The news I offer here is in two parts:
1) That a number of Fair Trade wines are now available in the US, and they have been here for some time. I would like to draw your attention to a fresh, remarkable web site. Tiffany Tompkins has done a terrific job in distributing wines certified by the international body, Fair Trade Foundation. Please use her Search function to locate the wines in your area. (Folks in Cali, Colorado, Iowa, Illinois, Minnesota, Montana(!), Wisconsin, and Wyoming are in luck!)
2) It is no longer true when Co-op America writes,
“Although TransFair USA, the U.S. Fair Trade label, does not currently have a Fair Trade wine certification…”
Indeed, Fair Trade Certified USA will announce October 1st its list of officially certified wines to be released in the US. The Press Release is forthcoming.
Yet again, the Bearfoot Bistro in Whistler, B.C., Canada has been awarded Wine Spectator’s Best of Award of Excellence. Say what you will about Wine Spectator’s recent embarrassing tempest in a teapot, but with respect to the Bearfoot Bistro they got it right.
I have traveled each of the last four summers with my son, a pro cyclist, and a few of his friends to Whistler, BC for CrankWorx, North America’s premier cycling competition. And every year we have enjoyed one evening at the Bistro. Of course, there are many very good places to eat in Whistler, but for the quality and value of the prix-fixe menu, the sophisticated yet family friendly atmosphere, we find the Bearfoot Bistro impossible to beat. In fact, it is fair to say my charges cut their teeth on fine dining here. As owner André Saint-Jacques told me of the Bistro’s dining philosophy, “Let’s make people happy. Life is too short!” Twenty years as a restaurateur has served him well.
This year was special. My son had finally become old enough to legally drink, not in the US but in Canada where the drinking age is 19. The night before we dined we visited the Bistro. As André had yet to arrive we were given an eye-popping tour of the new wine cellar by the elegant Olivier B. Their holdings are staggering. André was later to explain, “Always we have about 20,000 bottles”. The off-site inventory holds many multiples of that figure! Specializing in life-affirming Champagne, highlights include “110 different labels from the Champagne region [and] 11 Cristal vintages”. (Click the link just above for a fuller list of highlights and trophies.)
The cellar also sports plasma TVs. They will be used for seminars to be held there. My understanding is that private dinners may also be enjoyed in the cellar. Can you imagine the pleasure of watching the 2010 Winter Olympics hosted by Vancouver, from the comfort of a wine cellar?
The first and last thing you need to know about food at the Bistro is the name of its Executive Chef, Melissa Craig. February of this year she won the title of Canada’s Best Chef for 2008. A lovely, very intense young woman, she is all about the work. I found her self-confidence well deserved. How had André discovered her? He told me, “by chance, four years ago; as my previous chef was leaving, he had worked with her and said she would be a great replacement”. Her specialities? “Asian-influenced seafood and wild game”.
The menu we chose from, with slight seasonal changes, may be found here. For starters we shared the Summer Greens, Heirloom Tomatoes, and the King Crab Trio (the most extraordinary flavor of the evening was the coconut chili soup).
Our main courses shared were the Pheasant Loin (outstanding, very delicate), Australian Lamb Loin (brilliantly done, subtle, melted on the tongue), and the Wild Mushroom Risotto (the countryside on a plate). The plated presentation was a cross between Titian and Kandinsky.
The highpoint of the desserts was the Confit Heirloom Tomato Mille-feuille.
The wine list was a bit on the pricey side for us. But that did not stop us from sabering a NV Diebolt-Vallois and, one of my favorites, the NV Pierre Gimonnet with the help of the most charming Benoit N.
We took our time, ate every morsel, enjoyed every drop. Our conversation would turn in relaxed arcs to the coconut chili soup, the glory that is champagne and the merciless downhill race course. We were content, in love with life.
A good evening.
I could smell the grapes from a block away. Fourteen tons of Syrah from the Terra Bella Vineyard in Paso Robles had arrived an hour earlier at Bonny Doon Vineyard off Ingalls St. here in Santa Cruz, Ca. The amorous panic of the Crush is on.
I pulled into the parking lot, very fortunate to have my camera with me. There I found my friend, the delightful Jillian Johnson, associate winemaker at Bonny Doon, doing the weigh-in before sorting. Nothing gets done without her participation. She said these were among the finest grapes she had yet seen this fluky harvest year in Cali.
It was a great pleasure to see Randall Graham, restless bon vivant and President-For-Life of Bonny Doon Vineyard, when he arrived with friends a few minutes later. He jumped into the fray, took a position at the sorting table. As did his friends. Despite the rumble of the machine and the hectic activity, there was peaceful reflection as each went about their work.
Just a glimpse.
The battle for hearts and minds is on. Glass or plastic? As has been noted by many, Boisset Family Estates will introduce its 2008 Beaujolais Nouveau to America in 750 ml plastic bottles made of PET this November.
Always innovative, Boisset brought the world French Rabbit in a Tetra Pak in 2005. More than 70 wine brands have since followed suit. Next promised by the summer was Yellow Jersey, again in a 750 ml PET bottle. (I’ve not yet seen this wine here on the Central Coast of California. Distribution may currently limited to Canada and the UK.) And soon to be thrown into the mix is their 750 ml aluminum-bottled Mommessin Beaujolais and Macon Villages, . A curious feature of the latter is a what Boisset calls a ‘Chill Dot’.
“At 44 degrees F, the proper temperature for serving a Macon Villages or a Beaujolais, the dot turns from white to blue. It tells the consumer when the wine is properly chilled.”
Coors, most popularly, employs a similar technology, a thermochromic ink label.
So what is going on here? What is Boisset’s driving ambition?
PET, Polyethylene terephthalate, is making steady inroads. Last summer Sainsbury’s, a UK supermarket chain, began an experiment into consumer acceptance with the release of two wines, an Aussie Shiraz Rose and a Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand. (Additional details may be found at wineanorak.) More recently Wolf Blass launched a ‘Green Label’ Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon. It has been written that both Hardys (now Constellation Wines Australia), and Palandri have introduced PET bottlings as well. There is no doubt other wineries will jump on board in the near term.
The reasons are clear:
1) At least 90% of all wine purchased in the US is consumed within the first 48 hours of purchase.
2) According to Jean-Charles Boisset, President of Boisett-America and Vice President of Boisset La Famille des Grands Vins, 70% of the wine sold in the world is priced under $10.
3) The use of plastic bottles, a far cheaper container to produce than glass, will result in the savings passed along to consumers. Boisset has made this argument but there is simply no practical business reason to believe it.
4) The environmental advantages of plastic over glass bottles include much less energy required for production, transportation and recycling.
5) PET bottles are transparent and shatter-proof.
6) Consumers have rapidly embraced the screwcap, suggesting a receptiveness to change, even more so when coupled with a ‘Green’ narrative.
This notion requires significant qualification.
Consumers have also embraced sustainable, organic and biodynamic winemaking. It is very difficult to see how plastic bottles can do anything other, certainly in the case of biodynamic practices, than throw into sharp relief the folly of so much care and good work done in the vineyard only to have the wine end up captured in a petrochemical-based product. I foresee accusations of hypocrisy directed by the consumer at the biodynamic winemaker and the subsequent corrosion of years of its hard-fought market positioning as the progressive agriculture should they turn to plastic bottles.
Glass, by contrast, partakes of natural processes, and has a place in the imagination. A child knows the joy of finding a piece of volcanic obsidian (pyroclastic glass, after all) and of collecting smoothed and colorful shards on a beach. Plastic enjoys no such charm. I myself have enjoyed melting glass bottles in the campfire, but should a plastic bottle accidently be set alight everyone who inhales the acrid smoke strongly suspects their life has just been shortened.
Further, the plastics industry has some distance to go to persuade the consumer that, as a whole, it has our ‘Green” interests at heart. The punishing resistance mounted by the plastics industry against attempts by some municipalities to ban the ubiquitous plastic shopping bag is a case in point. A March 14th article on the TodayShow.com website well illustrates the perils of community self-determination when it runs afoul of corporate interests.
7) PET is safe. Again, a caveat. Boisset’s Patrick Egan has made it clear not all wines are destined for a plastic bottle, especially their own. Of Boisset’s Grand Cru Burgundys, meant to be aged for 10 to 15 years, Mr. Egan, innovation and brand manager for Boisset’s French Rabbit writes, “[t]hose don’t necessarily belong in a package that’s not meant to last that long.” So the question arises: what happens to a wine when in a package “not meant to last that long”? How long is too long? One year, three years? Just what are the chemical expressions of PET’s degradation?
NAPCOR, the National Association for PET Container Resources, writes “PET is an inert plastic and does not leach harmful materials into its contents — either when a beverage is stored unopened, or when bottles are refilled or frozen. The PET container has been safely used for 20 years and has undergone rigorous testing under FDA guidelines to ensure its safety as a food and beverage container suitable for storage and reuse.”
Yet MedicineNet.com writes, “PET was found to break down over time and leach into the beverage when the bottles were reused. The toxin DEHA also appeared in the water sample from reused water bottles. DEHA has been shown to cause liver problems, other possible reproductive difficulties, and is suspected to cause cancer in humans. Therefore, it’s best to recycle these bottles without reusing them.”
So, is there a family of chemicals shared by ‘reuse’ and Boisset’s confession “not meant to last that long”? I suspect so, but I haven’t a productive lead. The research is not forthcoming. But, when further pursuing the matter, in the interests of fairness, I stumbled upon a most unfortunate echo chamber, the wedding of NAPCOR’s corporate statements with those of a seemingly independent site, PixelOrganics. NAPCOR’s official website postings are identical in wording to PixelOrganics. I encourage the reader to explore this especially bald instance of bad faith.
Getting back to more pedestrian matters, a Guardian article quotes a certain Pierre Mansour of the Wine Society,
“From a technical point of view, the wines will not keep as well in plastic because it’s not as inert a material as glass, so their shelf life is limited…. Plastic is more absorbent and will absorb some of the flavour.”
So, where are we? Hard to say. It is difficult to understand how it is, finally, in light of Pierre Mansour’s quote and despite NAPCOR’s attempt at reassuring PET standards, that plastic bottles manufactured everywhere around the world will be of the same chemical composition.
In an age when mothers suffer sleepless nights because their children have played with and suckled toxic plastic toys, why should we trust a simple #1 recycling mark impressed on the bottom of a bottle?
Meanwhile, beer, bottled in glass (when not canned, of course), enjoys in 2008 a double digit lead over wine as America’s favorite alcoholic beverage, the greatest percentage spread since 2002.
How to spend a beautifully temperate Friday night in San Francisco? Well, I had the great pleasure to participate yesterday evening in the 5th annual Bay Area Korean American(s) (BAKAs) Wine Tasting Event in the Golden Gate Room at Fort Mason, Sept. 5th.
BAKAs “is a [non-profit] virtual community of 1st and 2nd generation Korean American organizations. We are committed to bringing visibility and awareness to the diverse number of Korean American organizations in the Bay Area.”
The event was spearheaded by KACSF, the San Francisco chapter of the Korean American Coalition. Headed by its tireless President Louis Hong, KACSF brought together a number of distinguished Korean American organizations.
The Korean American Society of Entrepreneurs (KASE)
The Korean American Professional Society (KAPS)
The Northern California chapter of the Korean American Bar Association (KABANC)
The Korean American Women Artists and Writers Association (KAWAWA)
The Korean Community Center of the East Bay (KCCEB)
The Korean American Professional Women’s Association of Silicon Valley [I was unable to locate their website, if they have one. Admin]
And Liberty in North Korea (LINK). “We are a non-profit, non-ethnic and non-religious group…”
The reader might wonder how I came to be included among these high-powered folk! The answer is simple. KAC’s delightful Koun Han, from the User Operations dept., saw Gary Vaynerchuk, Operations Manager of Wine Library and irrepressible host of Wine Library TV, when he was guest speaker at a conference hosted by and about Facebook. Impressed by Mr. Vaynerchuk’s message of making wine more accessible to everyone, she contacted him for a donation of wine for last night’s tasting event. Mr. Vaynerchuk immediately agreed. And Gary asked me, knowing I am fairly local (Santa Cruz), whether I might pour on behalf of WL.
I made the right decision!
The other generous sponsors of the event were Kendall-Jackson, a winery of note(!), Bottlenotes, a rather intriguing wine-related enterprise, and Hyphen, a magazine for the young Asian American community. Corporate sponsorship was provided by the insurance company Prudential.
The evening began well before 6:30pm with the re-acquaintance of the many organization’s staff. There was a convivial, relaxed atmosphere as Louis Hong hurried about the Golden Gate Room making sure all elements were coming together before the public’s arrival. Pictured here is Mr. Hong alongside the elegant Jae Yi, President of KABA.
Among the most beautiful cultural motifs of the event surely special mention must be made of professional dancer and staff member of KAWAWA, Ilhyun Kim. I poured next to her and very much enjoyed her sense of playfulness. Of the many freebies Mr. Vaynerchuk sent along with WL’s wine donation, the embossed corkscrews and DVDs containing four of his most humorous episodes, there was included one version of terry cloth wristband. I regret not getting a picture of Ms. Kim wearing it. Such a remarkable contrast it would have made between the traditional and the puzzling new!
Of the KAC staff, they were top notch. They and their additional volunteers continued to polish the room until the last minute. Just before the doors were opened to the public Sang Chi (left) and Ricky Chin (right) enjoyed a relaxing moment, but only a moment, before again they sprung to the floor with the arrival of the first guests.
The room filled quickly. I would estimate more than 400 people attended were the Fire Marshall to allow such a figure! Wine glasses were plentiful. From under Kendall-Jackson’s label was offered a 2003 Grand Reserve Merlot. An R-Wines ‘Evil’ was tabled. There were Crane Lake Cellars’ 2005 Zin and Merlot. A rosé labeled ‘Babe’ came from the Wine & Truffle Company out of Western Australia, Pemberton. From Columbia Crest was a 2006 Grand Estates Chardonnay. WL sent a 2006 white and red Bordeaux bottled under the ‘Jacques/San Souci’ label. And a 2006 Cal. sauv. blanc, Green Groves. Lastly, WL sent the 2004 Thunder Cuvée Red from Napa Valley.
The special guest of the evening was Yul Kwon, winner of the 2006 season of Survivor: Cook Islands. He gave a very inspirational talk on community goals, social responsibilities and true grit. I found myself taking notes! He cuts quite a figure in person.
I had a lot of fun, but the event passed too quickly. Louis Hong eased the wine tasting to a soft finish around 10pm. I was pleased to have seen so many young people eager to learn and talk about the world’s most convivial drink. All in all, it was a delightful evening for everyone. Folks left having made many new friends.
I did too.
I have the great pleasure of introducing Thomas Campbell, founder and winemaker of Mission Mountain Winery located on the shore of Flathead Lake in Dayton, Montana.
Being from Big Sky Country myself, I have a native son’s interest in the gathering fortunes of this great state. I did not think, however, that wine production from vitus vinifera could be counted as one of its blessings. I was wrong. Its wine industry, though small, became the subject of a modest, earlier post here, a pleasure to write. Mission Mountain Winery was unavailable for comment at the time. I recently wrote again to the folks there. What follows is an excellent gloss, written by Mr. Campbell, on the 30 year history of the first Bonded Winery in the state.
I was raised in Montana and knew that if I wanted to stay here I would have to create my own job, so I went to U C Davis school of Enology and Viticulture. When I got out I worked in the California wine industry in Sonoma, Monterey Valley, San Luis Obispo and Temecula. Next I went to Washington as a hired gun to set up wineries and plant vineyards. During this time period I simultaneously experimented with viticulture in Montana and started the Mission Mountain Winery. My professors at U C Davis knew of my intentions. Their thought at the time was that growing grapes in Washington was crazy as the climate was too cold, and to try viticulture using vinifera in Montana was sheer lunacy. Well me and my kindred pioneers in Washington state went on to develop the second largest wine industry in the USA producing many of the finest wines in the world from virtually any variety of vinifera we can get our hands on. I say we because I am still professionally and financially involved in the Washington wine industry. So what is the history of Montana viticulture? Some still say sheer lunacy.
Let me take you back through some of the thought processes that made me proceed with my experiment in growing vinifera in Montana. Climate is the largest factor in terroir. I grew up on the western slope of the Montana Rocky Mountains. The western slope is under the influence of the Pacific whereas the eastern slope is under the influence of the Arctic ocean where cold air masses can roll down the northern plains and bank up against the the mountain barrier. Our family has property on the west shore of Flathead Lake. Flathead lake is the largest natural fresh water lake west of the Mississippi and is about 30 miles long, 20 miles wide and 400 feet deep. The thermal mass of the lake provides 10 to 15 degrees F of protection against any Arctic air that spills down from the north or breaches the Rocky Mountains from the east. The Jesuits created a mission south of the lake in the mid 1800’s to proselytize the local indigenous Salish and Kootennai people. These tribes knew the moderating effects of the lake and this slope of the Rockies and took full advantage of it as an area to winter in.
The Jesuits brought in viticulture and enology to their mission to produce sacramental wine. The range of mountains behind the mission took on the name the Mission Mountains and the lake took on the Anglo name of the tribe, Flathead Lake. Viticulture and winemaking in particular (due to rampant alcoholism in the tribe) did not flourish. The short growing season was a major factor as well. Some commercial lambrusca vineyards were in existence up to prohibition in the Dixon area (a local known for its melon production) just west of the mission in St Ignatius. Many people within about a half mile of the lake grow all sorts of nut and fruit trees and grape vines to produce for their home use. There is a significant cherry industry and was at one time an apple industry as well. The agricultural experiment station was as abandoned in the 1980’s and their collection of hundreds of varieties of apples lost for ever.
I decided in the summer of 1979 to try a grand experiment on our family lake shore property where Dayton creek flows into Flathead Lake at the end of the Proctor Valley. I installed a solid set overhead irrigation and frost protection system on all 30 acres and planted an assortment of every variety of vinifera I could get from the nursery programs of Washington state. Most of our property proved too frost prone except for about 3 acres of southern slope. You can use overhead sprinklers for frost protection, but applying too much water during the ripening phase just dilutes the fruit and causes the ripening process to come to a stand still. Some varieties proved to be Flathead Lake winter-hardy like Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Lemberger, even Merlot (these never ripen) and a handful, Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris, Gewurztraminer, Chardonnay and Pinot Meunier, showed the ability to survive and ripen in our short growing season. I shared this hard won knowledge with others around the lake. (At this time there are half a dozen small vineyards around the lake growing vinifera, a couple being planted and a few being dreamed of.)
Up into the early 1990’s we buried the vines over winter as our only insurance against sub zero temperatures that occasionally breached the mountain barrier. The vines were cane pruned from a low ground level head and the canes were lain down so a berm of dirt could be thrown over them with a plow. All the vines are on their own rootstock which is an advantage in that if the exposed part of the vine is lost new growth can be produced by the roots, so only a year’s crop is lost.
The winter of 1989 was the coldest on record. There was no snow cover on the ground the day the freeze came. The temperatures were in the 50’s which is shirt sleeve weather for a true Montanan. In the course of one hour the temperature dropped to -20 F and fluctuated between -10 and -30 for over a week. The local cherry industry lost half the trees that winter, about 200 acres. We only lost a few vines.
Starting in the early 1990’s we abandoned burying the vines and have not seen a winter arctic system drop our temperatures more than a few degrees below 0. Most winterized vinifera can withstand up to -10 for short periods with almost no bud damage. Our growing season has become a bit longer over the years and our pruning and training experiments keep evolving. A good year is when the globe heats up and all the forests in Montana explode into flame. A hell of a price to pay for making great wine.
The current season was shortened by 3 to 4 weeks so we are preparing for more champagne-type ripening conditions of 19 to 20.5 brix. Yields are kept between 1 to 2 tons per acre, so grape growing here is an act of passion not of profit. The netting in the vineyards is going up. The deer fences are being checked and in some vineyards the electric wires are being charged to keep the bears out. New French oak barrels are scheduled to arrive as we curse the Euro; and the white sails of the sailboats billow in the gentle summer winds in Dayton harbor.
Come see us some time.
Tom Campbell / Mission Mountain Winery
Thomas, thank you for the great photos and informative essay.
Andrew Jefford is a man of many talents. His extraordinary curriculum vitae (CV) includes dozens of awards for his many books, journal contributions and radio reports. He has written extensively, not only about wine, but as well on tea, scotch, perfume, port, beer, cigars, global warming, wild boar, Omar Khayyám, and travel. The list is by no means complete. I have not mentioned his poetry or his literary production. Indeed, whatever subject he touches upon literature is sure to be a compelling quality of the blend.
My favorite wine writer, Andrew’s abilities are profound, in my view. He seems constitutionally incapable of writing an uninteresting sentence. Read his delightful piece on Absinthe and Champagne. Of course, he would likely find all of this talk, this praise, quite beside the point: for Mr. Jefford it is all about the work, as you will read below.
Admin You’ve been more than a tea drinker for many years. I certainly agree loose leaf is far better. Would you say a bit about your interest in this beverage?
Andrew Jefford Sure. First of all: you can’t drink wine all the time without your liver exploding. Tea is the perfect antidote (it soothes, whereas wine excites; it quenches, whereas wine paradoxically dehydrates). It’s also the perfect complement, in that it has all of wine’s intricacy and complexity … minus the alcohol. Once you begin to swim into the deep waters of China tea, it has all of wine’s intellectual rigour, too. Terroir is unquestionably important in the production of the world’s great teas. At the macro level, this is obvious to anyone who has ever compared Darjeeling first flush with, say, a good standard Keemun. They’re both black teas from the same plant — but taste hugely different. But it can also be observed at a micro (quasi-Burgundian) level — by comparing different versions of Dragon Well green tea from near Hangzhou, for example, or raw Pu-Erhs of different grades and different vintages from different factories in Yunnan. I recently tasted some very fine, very expensive Japanese green tea which had an extraordinary umami note which I’ve never come across in any other tea. Why? It’s all Camellia sinensis, and I don’t think they mixed dried tuna flakes with it. The answer has to be terroir.
I have recently begun collecting Pu-Erh vintages, many of which my children will inherit! (Sadly, the price for quality Pu-Erh has gone through the roof as of late.) Extraordinary stuff. Do you collect?
AJ No, I don’t collect, but I try as much as I can and I have a little wooden chest at home full of breakings and remnants in bags which I’m slowly brewing my way through. Pu-Erh is the Final Frontier of tea appreciation. Once you’re there, no tea will ever seem strange or difficult again. I hope you’re training your children for their glorious patrimony …
I find tea tasting to be excellent training for the wine enthusiast’s palate. What is your opinion? And among your wine drinking colleagues has this connection been made?
AJ I agree with your first point — because it’s useful to hone your palate on nuanced aromas and flavours, and because in a way tea is even more challenging than wine to describe because it is leaf and not fruit, therefore one doesn’t have the same large repertoire of fruit analogies to fall back on. I find describing the aromas and flavours of tea a huge challenge.
In the UK, wine writers are increasingly taking an interest in tea. Earlier this year I helped organise a tea event for the Circle of Wine Writers and Guild of Food Writers in London with Ed Eisler of Jing Tea which was very well attended. Tim Atkin and Oz Clarke have both recently been out with Ed to China to meet some of his farmers as I did last year, and Ed and I are planning another trip to Taiwan to study oolong this October.
You’ve made ‘thinking green’ a central feature of your reflections on wine. You have written persuasively on the environmental downside of the traditional glass bottle, for example. Do you think the world is ready for alternative packaging? How is public resistance to change to be approached?
AJ The world is not yet ready for recyclable plastic bottles, and I don’t know quite how public resistance will be overcome. But it will. As with screwcap, what initially looks horrible to people will slowly improve and begin to look more attractive. The technical problems with plastic will be overcome. And as its ethical appeal begins to be more widely understood, plastic will seem friendlier. But let me make it clear that I am not advocating a universal switch away from glass yet. Certainly for any wine which requires ageing, that would be premature. But wherever the glass bottle is simply a temporary home between vat and drinking utensil to be occupied for as short a period as possible, then plastic already is or will soon be preferable for environmental reasons.
Amorim, the cork producer, makes a good argument that should the screwcap closure finally eclipse that of the cork many oak-forested lands will be put in peril to development. Further, they argue these forests are important microclimates for a host of commensal flora and fauna. What is your take on this matter?
AJ Amorim is right to defend the cork forests of Southern Portugal and Southern Spain, which are some of the most beautiful and biodiverse environments I have ever visited. I would hate to see them become yet more cereal or sunflower fields. Cork is a wonderful product: renewable, recyclable, biodegradable. I don’t hate corks viscerally like some wine folks do. Indeed I hope that cork can justify its continued use by wine producers around the world. But we have to face the fact that cork is on the ropes, due principally to unacceptable TCA spoilage. I have recently bought a few £100 bottles with my eldest son’s birth date (which, luckily enough for him, is 2005). They may be corked. I (and he) may not be happy about that … even though I love Portugal’s dappled cork forests, and he probably will too.
We’ve heard a lot from cork producers about them overcoming the problems of TCA-affected corks, but whenever I wade through a big tasting, those problems are still there. Until they are overcome (indeed even if they are overcome), screwcap technology will continue to develop and screwcaps will become a more and more compelling alternative for qualitative reasons. I regret it, but it’s a fact of life.
You recently posted on your blog Wiston Ho (one of a number of brilliant pieces there). As a stylist you remind me of James Hamilton-Patterson, especially his book ‘The Great Deep’, with a hint of W.G. Sebald’s sublime melancholy. I’m thinking of ‘The Rings of Saturn’. Could you say a bit about how you understand your writing? Elsewhere you mention Roland Barthes’ ‘Pleasure of the Text’. Do you have a writing ethic?
AJ I spent six years at university reading many great writers and many critics of varying degrees of impenetrability (Barthes was more fun and less impenetrable than most, though I’m selling my old copies on Amazon now), but such technical skill as I have as a writer was the consequence of working for four years for a mass-market publisher of illustrated books. This publisher (Octopus Books) would commission titles from minor celebrities in a wide assortment of fields (golf, cookery, cars, dreams, military aviation &c.). The minor celebrity in question would either produce no text at all, or a wholly unpublishable series of chaotic fragments. My job was to turn their dictated notes, or their car-wreck sentences, into something readable. Creating sentences under these circumstances which were technically sound and efficient and which ideally had a little lift, too, was very hard work but wonderfully educational. All writers should do some subbing.
If you’re asking who I would most like to write like, then the two names I’d come up with would be Robert Louis Stevenson (the subject of my uncompleted PhD) or the Herman Melville of Moby Dick, my favourite novel. Stevenson for elegance, and Melville for sheer grandeur. The sad truth is, though, that wine writing in the style of Moby Dick would be pretentious and otiose; the subject would be overburdened by the style. The challenge really is to be interesting and accurate but to let the subject shine through without putting too much of yourself in there. We aren’t writing novels but non-fiction. The subject is king, not the writer.
More practically, with respect to ‘Wiston Ho’, how are sparkling wine’s fortunes looking in England?
AJ As of today, patchy. The English summer of 2008 has been spectacularly wet and grey, which explains why our newspapers are so dyspeptic, our teenagers are stabbing each other and our middle-aged population is either grumpy, depressed or comatose with stoicism. 2007 wasn’t much better. Yet the long-term pattern is, as we all know, a warming one, which will mean (along with drought, famine and storm elsewhere around the world) that sparkling wine production in the UK becomes increasingly viable. I was at the Decanter tasting recently where English sparkling wines acquitted themselves well despite the presence of three Champagne ringers among the blind bottles. If I was investing, though, I think I’d wait another decade or two.
You’ve written “most French wine laws just codify the successful outcome of centuries of experiment”. Here in California anything goes. To be sure, we have an impressive, though brief, wine history, and we have AVA’s (American Viticultural Areas) predicated loosely on experiment. But at the end of the day our success has much to do with a native insolence. Is there a way to square these two great narratives?
AJ Time. Every vineyard is an experiment; every vintage is an experiment. By the end of 2008, the sum of knowledge about California’s vineyards will be greater than it was in 2007. If something doesn’t work, it comes to an end. If it works well, it stays (and others jump on board to have a go, too). This kind of sorting and sifting has been going on for 2,000 years in Europe. Reading a landscape takes time, especially since you only get one result a year and the equation which delivers aroma and flavour to a bottle is a very complicated one. A bit of insolence and audacity helps the whole process on its way. There will be surprises ahead. Hype alone, though, is a sandcastle. Sooner or later the tide of winegrowing evolution will wash it away. The only vineyards which last are those which belong.
Do you enjoy California wines? Are there US AVAs that interest you? Would you comment a bit about American terroir?
AJ Yes, I enjoy fine California wines enormously. But I’m going to sidestep or rather defer the answer to this question since I am about to post a blog entry on my website (called ‘Walkabout in Sonoma’) which should provide a few answers.
Very soon your latest effort, Andrew Jefford’s Wine Course, will be published. Could you tell us about it? How is it organized?
AJ The first thing to say to the august readership of Reign of Terroir is that this is a book aimed at absolute beginners. I would imagine that most of those who pass this way would already know pretty much everything you will find in the book — though it might come in handy for a partner or a child who wanted to learn a bit but stop well short of MW level. It’s divided up into twenty projects, taking the reader successively through the basics (’How to Taste’, ‘How to Drink’, ‘How to Learn’), then through grape varieties and winemaking, and finally on a journey around the wine world. It’s actually very hard to write a really simple book on wine without getting bogged down in too much detail, and without writing something boring. I don’t know if I have succeeded, but that was the aim: a simple, friendly text, to get readers started on their own journeys of discovery, and to engage their imaginations in doing so.
When will it be available in the States? And will allowances be made for our more ‘general’ palate?
AJ It should be published in the States by the same publisher, Ryland Peters & Small, this coming month [Sept. 30, Admin]. No allowances required, since we all begin pretty much from the same place.
I recently participated in a meeting at the San Jose BioCenter. The subject was ‘The Art and Science of Winemaking’. Implicit in the presentation was that the virtual transparency and eventual exhaustive replication of the molecular components of wine itself was only a matter of time. ‘Art’ was understood as that which science has not yet resolved. Same old story. But the project of creating an ‘artificial’ wine is a real one. The ambition is there. Do you perceive such a research program as a threat or empty hubris?
AJ Not a threat; I welcome all scientific scrutiny in this area. Indeed personally I am inspired by science, and find that advances in certain scientific fields now fire my imagination more effectively than fiction. (Geology and evolutionary science in particular.) There is still a huge amount we don’t know about the creation of flavour in wine. If I am sceptical or scent hubris, it is because I suspect that a lot of the research is in the easy, high-profit seams (such as winemaking chemistry) rather than the difficult and obscure areas of pure research. What do we really know, for example, about the fine root systems of different rootstocks and their interactions with the many thousands of winemaking soil types and the hugely varying microbial and bacteriological populations of those soil types? What then happens as the mineral and liquid nourishment is metabolised by different varieties of scion? It might be easier and would certainly be more profitable to come up with a new yeast which might produce a little less alcohol per gram of sugar than existing strains. So we end up with lots of techical fixes but little deep understanding.
Great wine, though, has nothing to fear from great research; there’s no single secret which can be stolen by mad scientists; and synthetic wine will, I suspect, be just as inadequate as synthetic cream, synthetic butter or synthetic meat. But if we come to understand more along the way, that is a real gain.
And of technology, manipulation of juice within the winery is very common. We have color additives, one named with an aging yuppie’s enthusiasm, Mega Purple. Liquid oak extract of various toasting levels (pioneered by a French winemaker, I believe) is popular. As is de-alcoholizing. Must pH is a minor inconvenience easily overcome…. The list of interventions is long. Of course, some techniques are arguably modern equivalents of traditional. practices; micro-ox comes to mind. What do you think of what goes on in today’s winery? And should the consumer be made aware of such things through stronger labeling laws?
AJ I certainly believe we need better labeling regulations. In fact I have written a Decanter column about this which I have now posted and which you can find [here]. Consumers are not well served by existing wine labelling legislation. Food labelling legislation is generally much better.
But at the same time I don’t want to be dogmatic or fundamentalist about additives. As I write in the article, ‘naturalness’ in wine is a qualified but not an absolute ideal for me. In practice, the greatest wines I have tasted tend to be those where nature has delivered perfectly balanced raw materials which have needed no further chemical adjustment. Anyone seeking to plant a vineyard should be looking for those conditions. But I’m equally sure that there are great wines in the pantheon which have had subtle acid adjustment or chaptalisation. The final test, always, is the wine itself as gauged by human sensory apparatus.
It’s useful to distinguish between chemical additions (like acidity or sugar for chaptalisation) and physical interventions (like using micro-oxygenation in place of racking) in discussions of this sort. I can see no particular obligation to cite physical interventions on labelling in the same way as one should perhaps cite additives (or subtractions). Though, as ‘winemaking information’, it’s always useful and interesting.
Your World View blog page celebrates the role of ‘chance’. You write, “In all human lives, chance is the main force creating outcomes”. And “Our essence or self is in fact a void which is filled by a corpus of circumstances (the world without) and givens (our gene pool, and its physical and mental consequences), lent shape by our moral being”. Yet you also support “[s]elf-definition for tribes, peoples and cultures based on democratic principles, historical and cultural precedents [...]“. Isn’t much of the world’s misery driven by self-definition? Is ‘chance’ valorized only in the West?
AJ Interesting question, Ken. The first point to make is that everything is in a state of flux, and that change is the only constant. This applies as much to notions of nationhood and national borders as it does to vineyard plantings in Sonoma, the weather in Louisiana or celebrity hairstyles. Self-definition for tribes, peoples and cultures is a process with certain outcomes, but those outcomes are always temporary. Scotland, for example, was once an independent nation. At present, it forms part of something called the United Kingdom. I expect it to become a notionally independent nation once again, probably in my lifetime or shortly afterwards. But it will be an independent nation within something called the European Union, which gives it a qualified or supported independence rather different to the radical and vulnerable independence it enjoyed in the past. Those states and entities will also be temporary, though it is hard to see far into the distant future.
Whether or not such self-definition entails misery, though, depends above all on geographical chance. In Scotland’s case, the misery is likely to be minimal. For Tibetans or Kurds, or the Christian Africans of Southern Sudan, a great deal of misery and suffering is involved. The Kurds are obviously no less deserving than the Scots, but geography, history and powerful neighbours have conspired against them (just as geography, history and powerful neighbours conspired against the Poles in the C19, when the country was partitioned). For the individual Kurd or Scot, this is a matter of chance. But no case is hopeless.
I also write in ‘Worldview’ that
Acknowledging the primordial role of chance in life is not to encourage fatalism: there is nearly always some small margin of manoeuvre open to us and successful efforts within that margin can improve the quality of life (though by how much is a matter of chance).
The search for self-definition is, if you like, the pursuit by a group of that margin of manoeuvre. It is desirable that this pursuit should be non-violent, despite often extreme provocation and incitement to violence from within and without.
In the superb magazine The World of Fine Wine, for which you are the Contributing Editor, you list among other enthusiasms ‘lonely places’. Care to mention any (he foolishly asks)? Or are they found par hasard?
AJ The ones I know best are found on the Hebridean island of Islay, about which I have written in Peat Smoke and Spirit. (Only half the book is about whisky; the rest is about the place.) Scotland in general is full of resonantly lonely places. So much for my doorstep, but they can be found everywhere, even in apparently crowded places like Belgium or California or Britain’s ‘home counties’. And then there’s Canada …
Do you plan to publish a collection of your poetry one day?
AJ Only if my allocation of free time changes dramatically, and I have a chance to return to that form of writing and put a lot more work into it than I have been able to do in the last decade.
Ken, thanks very much for asking such interesting questions.
Anyone is welcome to get in touch with me via this [link]
Thank you, Andrew. What a pleasure its been!
Please visit his website for an education quite unlike any other. Further, a good interview about one of his finest books, The New France, may be found here.