In this second and final part of my interview with Clive Coates we learn a great many things about the gentleman, both practical and abstract, about some of the ideas that spark his imagination and of the comfortable rhythms of his everyday life. As I trust you read in part 1, his oeuvre includes among the most important works on Burgundy and Bordeaux. Yet I will stress that should you have limited funds or find room for only one of his volumes then let it be the Wines of Burgundy. I purchased mine the moment it became available and I refer to it constantly. It has a disciplined elegance throughout that is quite rare. Like the man.
All of his titles may be purchased through the UC Press
His 1999 ‘Ten Years On’ Burgundy tasting notes may be read here.
Admin Unusual for many wine books, you make specific mention in The Wines of Burgundy to climate change and it’s obvious effects in Burgundy. Could you expand on that?
Clive Coates Well, I think if you take both Burgundy and Bordeaux and you just look decade by decade since the war, and you just look at the average date they start the harvest, you’ll see that it’s moved by three or four days earlier, three or four days every decade. So we’re now getting to the stage where we’re picking almost three weeks before they used to pick.
Now, there may well be other reasons for this. Even if you look at the statistics of production you’ll see that the production is much higher than it was in the 1940s. But then that was because there was a lot of holes in the ground rather than vines. And also the vines themselves… they didn’t have the techniques to control the depredation of the crop to insects, bad weather, diseases, and all the rest of it. And so one of the other explanations of this earlier harvest, which on the face of it looks paradoxical when you look at the quantity produced, is that, in fact, the grapes are now picked riper than they used to be. And they’re picked, if you like, in a shorter space of time. You have more harvesters. You only have to look at Bordeaux. Instead of having 50 harvesters, they’ll have 200. So they’ll pick a Bordeaux property in a week rather than three weeks. So they can afford to delay, on the one hand, and to finish early, on the other hand, and to pick all their crop at the ideal time.
But still, nevertheless, we are picking earlier than we used to. I don’t have to hand, because basically the earlier dates are missing at this end, comparisons of average sun hours, average temperatures between now and let’s say the 40s and 50s. They just didn’t publish them in the 1950s, which they do now. So I don’t have much other concrete evidence. I think that despite the fact that vintages seem to be just as average as they used to be, the wine is better made in these average vintages today than they used to be. I still feel that there is… one can see signs of climatic change, of global warming. But I think it is going to get, quite obviously it’s going to get, worse and worse over the next 50 years than it has changed over the last 50 years. It’s going to be a geometric curve, if you see what I mean.
I’ve read some rather startling information about the possible fate of the Australian wine industry. Some climate scientists predict it may no longer be viable as a quality wine growing region by 2050. Other scientists are slightly less gloomy.
CC This brings in another factor we’ve seen in Australia. It’s not just the average temperatures that are rising, but that rainfall is less. They are suffering a lack of rain, of moisture.
Andrew Jefford I know has taken his family there to live for a time, a year, I think. I am certainly looking forward to reading his dispatches on this matter I’m sure he’ll address.
CC Yup. A good man.
About Mr. Jefford, he’s done a few documentary episodes on tea, and the importance of tea for the training of a palate, certainly in learning of subtleties of flavor. Are you a tea drinker?
CC No, but the disciplines can’t be that different. Tea or coffee, or, indeed, if you’re blending whiskey or blending brandy, or perfumes, I don’t think people realize quite how acute their sense of taste and smell can be if you really do concentrate, it’s not a question of training yourself, but of shutting everything out and concentrating on the thing in question. Most of us, even with great wine, we sort of knock it back as if it was Budweiser. (laughs)
Yes. The cultivation of an individual relation to wine or tea is, of course, important. But here in America there is a tendency to rely on the cult of the palate, of a singular palate, which would seem to undercut that individual relation.
CC Yup. One of the problems of the position we are in at the moment, and this is not to criticize the man himself, is the power of one individual in your country to make or break a wine or, indeed, to almost impose his own particular taste on the entire production of wine. Happily not in Burgundy. They are an independent bunch of buggers and they couldn’t care less. But elsewhere we can see that wines are being made in a different way than they use to be. It’s made to meet a certain person’s taste to get good Parker points. I think that irrespective of whether one agrees with his taste or not, I think that is a deleterious thing. We ought to live in a polytheistic world, not a monotheistic world in that respect. But this is something that you Americans have gotten yourselves into, a trough, over the last thirty years or so.
I think one of the troubles is the three-tier system that you have, which means that the ordinary retailer can never have a business that’s large enough to allow him to go abroad and taste for himself. And even if they did go and taste for themselves very often they wouldn’t be able to buy the wine because they have to buy it through the wholesaler, and it may not be available in their particular state. Largely we don’t have that in England. I don’t have to tell you, but the way wine is sold is not the man in the shop saying “I bought this wine because I liked it. And I want you to buy it because I think it is delicious.” But instead it’s “I’m a complete cypher. Here’s a Parker card with Parker 98, or Wine … whatever it’s called [Spectator], 97″. So on and so forth.
I think it’s more absurd when we go down to ordinary wine which everybody can afford. I think there’s an awful lot of wasted column inches on choosing a nice cheap rosé, or something like that. I mean, frankly, the consumer can go into his shop, he can buy four or five wines that are similar in price and style, go home and taste them, come back and say “That’s the one I like. I’ll have five cases of that.” Too often there’s almost a sort of pressure on the consumer to like what the guru says is good rather than what their palate tells is the nicest wine. There’s not enough room in all this wine writing for insisting that the individual has his or her own palate. And the most important thing is that they discover what that is. And the critic is only offering a helping hand, not imposing laws on tablets of stone. Just go and talk to your neighbouring wine merchant. They know their stock and they’d be only to happy to find out your taste and recommend a wine for you. You will access much more easily the wines you like (screw the wine guru’s comments) if you make a fruitious relationship with a competent wine merchant in your neighborhood.
Perhaps this issue has been talked to death…
CC Quite. Yup. I’m sure you’ve been told that, you probably thought. (laughs)
(laughs) Actually I was leading into another question that may also have been talked to death! And that is, with respect to the film Mondovino. Do you have anything to add?
CC I haven’t seen it. So I can only go by hearsay. From what I hear a lot of it was usefully said. A lot of it was quite unfair on the people in question, particularly Michel Rolland. I don’t think there was enough emphasis…. If I was writing about Mondovino the first place I would concentrate the most on is Burgundy because it’s in Burgundy that wines are made in the way the authors and producers of Mondovino would approve of. And yet Burgundy, as far as I understand it, is one small interview with Hubert de Montille.
Is there any particular reason you haven’t seen the film?
CC Just that I haven’t had the chance. I’m not a great cinema goer. I’ve been in the wilds of France. I’m not even sure where my nearest cinema is! And I think I’d also heard so much about it that I’ve almost seen the film anyway. There was no particular intention to boycott going. I just didn’t get round to it.
I’m trying to imagine your house in the country. Could you describe it just a bit?
CC Yes. It’s a gabled house, quite large. I have about a hectare of land. I’ve a pool. I have a vegetable garden. I have three bedrooms upstairs and five bedrooms downstairs. There is a large salon, and I have three wine cellars. A garage and that sort of thing. It’s on the side of a hill. Behind me are trees and in front of me is a view of about 50 kilometers. One of the best things I ever did was to move here.
What is grown in your garden?
CC Mainly lawn. There’s a large patch, it’s under the terrace, where I have planted basically shrubs, and there’s a sort of pergola where I’ve got Roses climbing up, and Clematis and Honeysuckle, that sort of thing. It’s basically shrubs like Azaleas, Roses, Syringa Philadelphus, (Mock orange), lots of Lavender in the corners, Hibiscuses, which will come out in August. I just plant it, let it all grow shambolically, grow into each other; and not have to do too much work.
I imagine you’re an accomplished cook. Is that fair to say?
CC Yes. I do a lot of cooking.
And is it local Farmer’s Markets that you frequent?
CC Yup. Not that they’re any good round here. If I want something special I really have to go to Beaune, Chalon or Macon, all of which are about an hour or so away. And so one has to make do with what one’s got. Every time I do get the chance I stock up as much as I can. For instance, I can’t get decent bacon; of course, you can’t get decent bacon anywhere in France. And there’s not a good fish monger. So I have to make a special journey or use the times when I am going a bit further afield to do my weekly shopping.
And how close is you’re nearest neighbor?
CC Well, I do have one neighbor next to me, a couple of old biddies who live in Paris most of the time. They are sort of bang next door. Apart from that I suppose you’d have to walk 250 meters, something like that, to the corner, as it were, of the little road that comes up to me.
A question about what is called ‘new social media’, Facebook, Twitter, that kind of thing. Do you have a Facebook account?
CC No. I was very late to start this because up to the time when I was doing my Burgundy book, which came out last year, I continued to employ a secretary, which I used to have, obviously, when I was doing The Vine. So it wasn’t really until the book was finished and I had to say to her “I can’t afford you anymore” that I really started to use laptops and that sort of thing. I’m very much in the infancy of that. I can just about type up a piece for somebody or deal with email, that sort of thing, not really at all adept. Every now and then I have to ring up my son and say “Help”!
Twitters and Facebooks and blogs… I’m afraid I’m less interested. I have my website, as you know, every now and then something occurs to me or something I’ve written for somebody else might go on there. It might be of interest to other people. And I now get, apparently, somewhere between 60 and 100 people a day attacking my website, which is nice. But I wouldn’t know how to set up a Facebook or a blog. If your going to write me up on your blog I hope you’ll be able to send me an email (laughs) so I can read it the conventional way.
About the event this weekend, the 10 Year Burgundy Tasting you mentioned. Can you tell me about it?
CC Right. Well, I started coming to Burgundy regularly in 1983, I suppose, in the sense that, I mean obviously I came to Burgundy regularly before, every year, but it wasn’t until 1983 when I was planning The Vine that I had the freedom, if you like, to go and visit everybody. Burgundy is different from Bordeaux. Bordeaux you buy through a merchant, this year and next year; you can buy any Bordeaux wine you like, because you buy it through the merchants, and not direct from the château. You don’t have to be faithful to a particular chateau, as you have to with a particular domaine in Burgundy. Moreover in Burgundy, you have to buy every vintage. You can’t just cherry-pick the best. And with Burgundy you have your own man in Gevrey-Chambertin, your own man in Nuits-Saint-Georges; you really don’t have the excuse to go and visit everybody else. So, yes, when I was a merchant I had my own people, and perhaps I knew a few other estates, let’s say 50 max. So, from 1983 onwards I started going to see everybody, and there were less than there are now, three times as many people who bottle themselves (compared to 1983); that was all starting at that time.
Anyway, that’s by way of a preamble. I’ll move on to 1988. Having done a 10 year along tasting with professional friends in England of Bordeaux, and, indeed, a 3 year on tasting, and a 10 year on tasting if they were good vintages, and we’d been doing this since about 1975, I wanted to do a 10 year on tasting of the 1978 vintage in Burgundy. But the way we accessed the stock was to go into our cellars, our personal cellars, our companies’ cellars and bring wine out. Well, there wasn’t any Burgundy! It had all been sold. Nobody kept it.
At that time I used to stay with a very good friend of mine, a man called Russell Hone, and his wife Becky Wasserman who is an American wine broker. They live just outside Beaune. This Russell Hone, my best friend, he was my best man when I got married, all that sort of thing. I’d been staying with them when I was in Burgundy. They insisted I stayed with them rather than a hotel. It was much more pleasant as well. And she had in her premises a large converted barn. It was a very large room, as high as you can imagine, three stories high, an ideal place to have a tasting. And I said to her “Do you think the younger generation would be interested if I said to them let’s do a 10 year on tasting? You go to the tasting, obviously we need a few bottles of your wines.” So, between Becky and the people she dealt with and the people I’d begun to go and see, and had been seeing for 4 or 5 years, we knew just about all the movers and shakers in Burgundy. And I was pretty certain that this younger generation that I’ve been talking about, Dominique Lafons of this world, would be interested. It was the sort of thing that they did, groups in the same village get together and they’d taste wine. They’re friends with each other, and they’re no jealous of each other as they are in Bordeaux.
And, of course, everybody responded like mad. We chose a Sunday in June. I came down from England with two or three sides of smokes salmon, half a farmhouse cheddar, and three cases of Champagne. Russell, who’s a very good cook as well, made a sort of cassoulet using lentils rather than beans. Everybody came. We started at 4 o’clock so that those with young children could come and play football in the back garden. We tasted the vintage. It was just the growers and us. As they left almost everybody said to me “Clive, this is a great idea! This must become a tradition.” And they also said “Next time can you bring me a piece of that cheese?”
So we’ve done it every since.
Occasionally we have to sit down and prune out some outsiders, otherwise it gets too many. The growers want to be on their own so that they can talk to each other about their wines or other wines without feeling they are being eavesdropped by somebody. So, occasionally we have to weed out Becky Wasserman’s shareholders or other people from America or, indeed, England who feel they’ve got a right. Sometimes some of us have to rather cruel. I just had to say ‘no’ to a lady called Sarah Marsh who has a Burgundy sort of newsletter, rather like Burghound on your side of the world.
So as I say, it is literally the growers and Becky and I and Russell, and that’s about it. We do it every year. And we’ll be tasting 1999. And it will be delicious! I bought lots of 1999. I had a lot of money, I’d made lots of money from one book, so I bought a lot of ‘99. I’ve already been pillaging my cellar, tasting bottles that I know are not going to be there on Sunday. Because I go to the states every year, from the end of March to the end of April, and this year I did lots of ten year on tastings there. So I’ve already got an archive with about 100 notes on them. (laughs) And we’ll have 70 or more on Sunday. I shall spend most of next week typing it up. Then it will go onto the website.
Do you have another book in you?
CC No. I’ve been contemplating writing fiction. If it wasn’t for the fact that I’m absolutely certain I would find it practically impossible to find a publisher because nobody would be interested in publishing a first novel of somebody who’s 68, or going to be 68. And that’s rather sort of put me off. But I did work on a book and it all worked out from a to zed. I just haven’t got round to typing it up. And I always seem to have something else to do these days. The time just absolutely flashes by. I said to myself “Good God, it’s practically July!”
The answer is, books? No. Articles, yes, if any body is willing to commission me. Which means the Quarterly Review of Wines, in means occasionally Decanter magazine. And then there is the World of Fine Wine which will accept a sort of resume of the 10 year on tasting.
I very much enjoy that magazine. Well, what will you be drinking tonight?
CC Tonight? Well, if you live on your own, you find if you cook something you’ve usually got enough for two, three, if not four. Yesterday I made myself a sort of pork fillet quasi goulash. You don’t want to talk about pork tenderloin…. Do you cook?
Yes, I cook, though I’m a vegetarian.
CC Right. Well, I don’t eat much meat. In fact, I eat very little meat because I don’t like the bloody bits of it. I don’t eat red meat. But one of the bits of meat that I do eat occasionally is pork fillet because you can cook it to death and then it no longer is red. I don’t eat roasts or chops or steaks, but I do eat pork fillet. Anyway, I made this goulash yesterday and all I’ve got to do is heat it up. And I have strawberries coming out of my ears! And one of my neighbors, every three days he brings me a bucket of cherries! (laughs) Because he’s got cherries coming out of his ears. That, if you like, is the dessert; strawberries and cream and I’m between cheese at the moment because I’m waiting to pick off a hunk that is being sent down for Sunday [the 10 year tasting]. I don’t have any cheese at the moment. I don’t really eat French cheese. I much prefer English cheese.
And the wine?
CC Oh, nothing special. I don’t open up anything special when it’s just me unless there is a particular reason, like the ‘99 tasting I was talking about. So my house red is the Côtes du Rhône of Guigal, which is very good. I bought it directly from them. It costs me about 4 plus piddly shit Euros, plus the transport, five Euros and a bit, all in. And I have a similar white wine, a Bordeaux from Chateau Thieuley in the Entre-du-Mers, a non-oaky version, which also costs me about the same amount. Those are my basic house wines. I will buy some decent Macon or some Pinot Noir from around here, Côtes-du-Beaune-Villages from somebody like Jadot. Or Alsace Riesling from Trimbach.
As soon as I put the phone down I shall go and have a glass of Chateau Thieuley, and then when my goulash is warmed up I shall change to red.
Well, I won’t keep you! Thank you so very much. It’s been an honor to speak with you.
CC Don’t talk about honor. I am no more special than anybody else. But it’s very kind of you to write something about me.
CC You’re welcome.
There are indispensable wine books; one immediately thinks of The Oxford Companion to Wine. But what of recipe books? A trip to the local bookstore in any city reveals 100s of titles. There are many compilations, inches-thick, those dedicated to specific national cuisines and their regional sub-divisions. Cantonese is not Sichuan. There are multitudes of great food writers, great cooks and chefs: Julia Child, Alice Waters, Jacques Pépin, Ferran Adrià, to name a very, very few. And every town and village has their unheralded favorites. One’s mother, perhaps.
But then there is the great cultural divide, Omnivore and Vegetarian. How many times have we read tasting notes of how well a wine would pair with a rare steak, a leg of lamb, pork, wild game bird, venison, or prosciutto? So abundant are the meat/wine pairing references that a vegetarian, such as myself, might well think wine itself shares a fundamental, intimate alchemy with the flesh of animal life roasted, baked, blackened or fried. And at a certain level this is undoubtedly true. The multiple origins of wine production have, we might safely hazard, universally occurred in meat-eating cultures. Vegetarianism is a culinary exception, often ethically or environmentally driven. A choice, and one I’ve freely made.
So a question wine-drinking vegetarians must ask, certainly those committed to the idea of consuming food and wine, where can we turn for instruction, for inspiration? What book? I have an answer. Inasmuch as a meat is the keynote, the centerpiece of an omnivore’s meal, for the vegetarian the search must be for surprise, flavor complexity, and innovative variety in a meal. Yet the food must also be something we, too, can prepare. And the brilliant Denis Cotter of Cafe Paradiso in Cork City, Ireland has written such a book, Cafe Paradiso Seasons.
Winner of the 2003 Gourmand World Cookbooks Award as the ‘Best Vegetarian Cookbook in the World’, Cafe Paradiso Seasons is a gathering of 140 recipes made up of seasonal vegetables. And we are not talking tofu night and day. Indeed, only two tofu recipes are included in the book. As he writes,
“I probably use tofu more at home than in Cafe Paradiso these days. Every time you try to create a restaurant dish with tofu, you have to confront the public perception of it and its association with the worthy but dull end of vegetarian catering. [....] Let’s say I’m in a rest period in my professional relationship with tofu.”
And a glance of his most recent ‘mains’ of the dinner menu displays the same rest.
risotto of watercress, avocado & broad beans with Oisin mature goat’s cheese, braised fennel and a lemon thyme & chilli oil €23
sweet chilli-glazed panfried tofu on chinese greens in coconut-lemongrass broth with soba noodles and a gingered aduki bean wonton €24
feta, pistachio & couscous cake on citrus & nutmeg greens with sweet & hot pepper relish, chickpeas with cumin & fresh chillies and coriander yoghurt €24
almond and pastry galette of spinach and Knockalara sheep’s cheese with sweet harissa sauce, coriander-crushed potato and sugar snap peas with oregano €25
panfried fresh artichokes with semolina & fresh goat’s cheese gnocchi, braised lentils, lemon cream & caramelised beetroot €25
roast aubergine parcels of kale, pinenuts & Coolea cheese with warm cherry tomato-caper salsa and sage & shallot farrotto €25
In the book you will find recipes for watermelon and feta salad with lime, pumpkinseed oil, toasted pumpkin seeds and green peppercorns; poached zucchini flowers with herbed ricotta stuffing in a tomato and basil broth; pan-fried couscous cake of red onion, feta cheese and pine nuts with green olive tapenade and spiced roast peppers with spinach; baked portobello mushrooms with Cashel blue cheese, pecan crumbs and sage, and smoked paprika aioli. You get the idea. In my home we have cooked these and dozens of others drawn from the book.
So, again, how to answer the question of wine pairing with such meals? Here wine takes on a different meaning. In a very real sense Mr. Cotter’s recipes reverse the role of wine. It’s not a matter of wine with food, but of food with wine. Food takes gustatory precedence. That an omnivore’s meal might be of a single note, have a commanding center, a rare steak, for example, the recipes in Cafe Paradiso Seasons instead open up a space of experimentation and exploration for wine drinkers in general. The flavors, textures, and temperatures are profoundly decentralized.
Perhaps this is why tasting notes so rarely reference vegetarian cuisine. Reviewers are perplexed. Terra incognita. And that is a very good thing. We might yet think for ourselves.
Cafe Paradiso Seasons has been in our house for a few years. We have yet to exhaust its riches. I contacted Denis Cotter essentially to thank him for his work. I was pleased he agreed, without hesitation, to be interviewed. Before proceeding the reader might wish to first look over his wine list.
Admin When did you become a vegetarian?
Denis Cotter In my early 20’s. It was the early 80’s and vegetarianism was mixed in with all the other fashionably left-wing politics of the time. Plus I had a girlfriend who was vegetarian, and I was a big fan of Morrissey of the Smiths, who was and is a militant vegetarian.
Before that, I had a squeamish attitude to meat growing up, and a generally sensitive nature.
But, as I often say, it’s not about why you become a vegetarian but why you remain one [emphasis added]. I’ve never felt that I was denying myself anything so there has never been a sacrificial element to it. Vegetarianism simply became part of my core ethics, a central part of how I felt morally comfortable in the world. As time went by and I got older and calmer, I moved away from being evangelical in any way and simply kept it as a personal ethic.
When Paradiso opened in 1993, I wanted it to succeed as a mainstream restaurant, despite being vegetarian rather than being recognised as a good ‘vegetarian’ one. I also consciously wanted to disconnect from the health food industry and connect with the local food culture instead.
I’ve been a vegetarian for a little over 20 years. My first shock was watching Frederic Wiseman’s 1976 documentary ‘Meat’. For reasons not clear to me, the film is now nearly impossible to find. In any case, how do you understand the modern industrial production of meat?
DC I’ve read a few books like Fast Food Nation and the like, and went through a period of shocking myself with the horrors of the meat industry. But, to an extent, it’s not really my concern. How animals are reared for slaughter is an ethical issue for people who eat them. I don’t eat animals because I don’t consider them to be food, and I suspect that the slaughter involved in meat production is holding us back as a species. I wouldn’t eat a pig even if it was hand-reared in the farmer’s living room and got to choose which tv channel the family watched. That said, I have great respect for, and get along very well with, people who produce meat in an ‘ethical’ way.
Where do source your produce from? Have new gardens been planted because of your effort?
DC I buy cheeses from local producers. I work very closely with a local grower, Ultan Walsh, who has a farm and guesthouse nearby. Paradiso buys most of his output, I visit him once a week to make sure my menus are adapting to what’s coming in, and we plan together what to grow, how much and so on. He’s gotten into beekeeping recently and I have a hive out there too, so Paradiso will have it’s own honey this year.
Paradiso is a small restaurant that couldn’t support one grower completely, not to mind several, so no, there haven’t been any gardens planted for us.
However, it’s probably true to say that Ultan has built his business on his relationship with Paradiso, but he’s such an amazing grower that he would have found an outlet anyway.
Besides Ultan, we buy from a couple of other small growers, but because of the climate we work in, we also have to buy a certain amount of imported produce. I would estimate that in summer we buy 80% from Ultan, in winter it drops to 25%.
Do you yourself farm or garden?
DC NO. That’s a weird one. I can talk the talk and I love to spend time on Ultan’s farm, but I’ve never done anything more productive than weeding. It’s something I feel is in my future somewhere, but it would want to hurry up.
I’ve worked to produce a garden for a local elementary school. Do you work with schools?
DC I did a demo recently for a class of 32 11-year-old girls – my niece’s class, she asked me to do it. They were incredible, so enthusiastic and adventurous. I told them we would be eating some wild food, including nettles, which they found very exciting and a bit scary. But the nettles were in gnocchi and they loved them.
I’ve done a few other classes for kids, with Slow Food, and always get a great buzz from it. It’s definitely something I want to do more of.
It can be expensive to eat locally. But given the increasing popularity of family gardens, there is hope. What advice would you give folks with a small backyard? What might they grow given a temperate climate, one with seasons?
DC Again, I’m not a grower. But something that Ultan and I have always agreed on is that, if you have a small garden, use it to grow things you can’t get in good condition otherwise, and luxuries. Grow your own salad leaves, asparagus if you can, and, of course, tomatoes – get some sungold seeds and you’ll never want another tomato! It’s fine growing a few spuds and onions but you can’t grow many and they’re cheap to buy. And put up a small hothouse if you can, it will increase the range of possibilities so much.
Has your work had a discernible effect on local restaurants? Have they felt the need to improve?
DC That’s a hard one to answer. There is probably a small number who admire Paradiso and I think the way we work has helped to grow the idea of working with local producers. But there has always been a strong Slow Food movement here as well as a lot of independent-minded individuals who have been nurturing a good food culture for decades. Paradiso wasn’t alone in turning to local producers in the past ten years, but maybe the books have given the concept a public face.
Most of the restaurants in Cork, however, carry on as though they are on planet pizzaland. It’s one of the frustrating aspects of the city that, despite a healthy food culture in the general population, the restaurant scene hasn’t kept up or properly tuned in.
What kind of clientele do you serve?
DC All sorts. Mostly foodies, I suppose, people who have Paradiso on their list of good restaurants, but who aren’t vegetarian. We have a strong core of regular clients, and a lot of people travel from out of town to eat here. Again, foodies more than vegetarians. Also, a high percentage of women, sometimes as high as 80% early in the week, falling to 50/50 at the weekend.
Are you cooking in the kitchen everyday? Would a customer have a good chance to meet you?
DC No, since I wrote the last book – ‘wild garlic, gooseberries…and me’, I’ve stepped back to be more of an executive chef. I have a great head chef and a great team. I do the Saturday night service, but I wouldn’t be able for all the hard prep anymore.
Also, because of my personal life, it’s not possible for me to be here all the time so I need a good team to run the place as though I wasn’t here at all. I spend at least half my time with my girlfriend in Ontario, Canada.
Moving on to wine, how are your wines selected? It must be difficult with the flavor complexity of your menu!
DC The wine list has evolved over the years. It started with personal preferences but has broadened out over the years to be more in line with the kind of food we serve, which has complex and bold flavours.
With a focus on European wines now, particularly Italy, Spain and Portugal, I think the best we can do is offer a wide range and make sure the floor staff know the wines well enough to be able to guide customers according to their personal preference and to the food they choose.
It’s usually possible to match a wine to a dish but much harder to match a wine to a whole table of orders, given the wide range of flavours in the menu. In that case, the best you can do is try to pick a compromise or convince people to drink separate wines. However, Paradiso is a laid back dining room, more suited to conviviality than reverence, and I think an important part of a meal is sharing wine even if you’re not sharing food. So compromise is my preferred way of solving the issue.
Have you tasted all the wines on your list? How often do you update the selection?
DC The wine list is now in the hands of Geraldine O’Toole, the dining room manager. She updates it and uses the taste buds of the floor staff to help her keep it in line with the food.
Do you keep a wine cellar?
DC No. Again, this is a tiny place – 45 seats. Also, with Cork being built on a marsh, going underground has never been a good idea. With the exception of a Barolo and one or two others, we don’t really stock wine for cellaring, and I would guess that most of our wines are 2 to 6 years old.
What is your personal history with wine?
DC I drink too much of it! When we opened first, I was involved with the wine, but gradually gave up control of it. Initially to my ex-wife, who was a New Zealander and gave the list a strong antipodean twist; then to Geraldine, who has brought it back to Europe.
Do you have more books in you? Are there topics you have yet to write about?
DC Sore point. I just had another in an occasional series of arguments with my girlfriend about ‘the book’. I signed up to do another book with Harper Collins a few months ago but there’s not much coming out. I have a number of ideas for things I want to write about, and a number of ideas for recipe books. But the book I signed up for depends on a narrative in my life which is not happening. Hence, no story. There will be a book sometime in the next two years. It might be a recipe book with short intros, along the lines of ‘Seasons’, or it might be a narrative with recipes, a la ‘wild garlic…’.
One topic that interests me greatly, going back to the top about why I became a vegetarian, is the wide range of ethical approaches people take to food. While a large part of the population goes on eating anything in front of them, so many people have a personal way of choosing what they will and won’t eat. Turning 50 this year, I’m curious about looking at my own vegetarianism and squaring it up to others’ approach – the ones who only eat their own animals, the ones who only buy organic, those who will eat fish but are careful to know which are environmentally sound and which are not…etc etc.
I don’t know if this is a book or an introduction to a book of recipes. More worryingly, I don’t know when I will start to produce something.
One of the dangers of approaching a new book is the risk of replacing the sense of pride in previous work with the sense of failure inherent in staring at a computer screen with an empty brain. I’m not sure if I’m ready for that.
What will be your lasting impact?
DC I don’t know if there will be a lasting impact. Some people will fondly remember the good times they had in Paradiso. Maybe it helped to turn people on to a different way of living and eating so their lives are happier in a subtle way.
I love the fact that there are thousands of my books all over the world. A lot of those people found the books themselves and have a great attachment for them. I always wanted to do something useful with my life, after eight years working in a bank. I think the books have been very useful things, in bringing pleasure to peoples’ lives. The pleasure of food, as distinct from it’s nutritional value, is so important to our well-being, and very few vegetarian books have gone there. Any ambitions I have left are personal.
Thank you very much, Denis.
DC It’s been interesting answering the questions. Thank you.
Mr. Cotter has written three books. The Cafe Paradiso Cookbook, Cafe Paradiso Seasons, of course, and most recently, Wild Garlic, gooseberries …and me. All may be purchased from Amazon, all may be purchased, signed editions at that, from the Cafe Paradiso bookstore on its website.
Clive Coates lives a very good life in a small village, Saint-Bonnet-de-Villes-Vignes, in the Bourgogne region of France. After writing a series of standard texts, texts that belong in all wine lover’s libraries, Grand Vins: The finest Chateaux of Bordeaux and Their Wine, An Encyclopedia of the Wines and Domaines of France, The Wines of Bordeaux, The Côte D’Or and its monumental sequel, The Wines of Burgundy, after years writing The Vine, these and a multitude of occasional pieces, perhaps he is entitled to semi-retirement. But what semi-retired means is far from clear. He remains intellectually active, continuing to explore the wines of his beloved Burgundy. Indeed, when I spoke with him last Thursday morning from California, he was preparing for his annual 10 year tasting at the Bouilland farmhouse of celebrated wine exporter Becky Wasserman and her husband Russell Hone. In part 2, due this Friday (6/26) I shall provide his tasting notes from that gathering. They are extensive. Whereas I thought he might write something more in keeping with a man slowing down, I was quite surprised to read a dozen pages dedicated to the 1999 vintage. It begins,
“Nineteen ninety-nine was a gift from the Gods: a vintage both plentiful and successful: not only of high quality but consistent geographically and hierarchically; delicious from the Mâconnais (not to mention the Beaujolais) to Marsannay, and fine, within its context, from generic up to grand cru. The wines have volume as well as concentration, richness and balance, intensity and class. And the whites are as splendid as the reds.”
The passage below, from Mr. Coates’ recent The Wines of Burgundy, is instructive for two reasons. The first is the patent meaning of the thing; the second reason is more subtle, beneath the polemic. It is a plea for patience, difference, for the birth of a generation of drinkers sensitive to cultural and aesthetic dimensions the noisy marketplace hawkers drown out. For such a plea is inconvenient. For those of us not in ‘the business’, we are use to being labeled ‘consumers’, trained to occupy the passive tense. Mr. Coates insists, in my view, on an active role.
“Wine Critics are often misinformed or just plain pig-ignorant. They are prejudiced. They set about doing the job of sampling Burgundy in the wrong way and at the wrong time. They try to imply that there is only one way to judge a wine (i.e., according to the personal taste of that critic), forgetting how subjective and temperamental taste can be, and also ignoring the fact that most wine is made to be consumed and judged mature with food and friends, not immature alongside numerous other bottles.”
“The bad critics look at Pinot through Cabernet-tinted spectacles and so criticise it for being what it never set out to be. Generally, they cause anger in the Cote d’Or and confusion at home. Moreover — and this is a situation which is almost universal in the United States, though thankfully largely absent in Britain — the trade has allowed itself to be emasculated. Instead of continuing to buy and sell based on their own professional judgement, they have consigned themselves to the role of mere purveyors. They buy what the Wine Spectator and the Wine Advocate score highly and then sell their wares by proclaiming the magazine’s marks. It is totally crazy.“
Admin Good morning, or good evening, Mr. Coates.
Clive Coates Let me just turn down the radio…. Right. What can I do for you?
It is absolutely delightful to speak with you. I’ve been an enthusiast of yours for quite some time. And may I record the conversation?
First of all, I very much enjoy the line from your book, The Wines of Burgundy, “The only way to become a competent judge of young Burgundy is to spend many years at the coal-face”. I find it rather fascinating that bloggers today have a very difficult time with Burgundy generally largely because of the absence of those ‘years at the coal-face’. Could you speak to that?
CC There is really not much more to add. The only way you are going to understand wine is to taste it and taste it and taste it, watch wines evolve from infancy to maturity, learn by your mistakes, and so on and so forth. Experience cannot be gainsaid.
I was reading about Harry Waugh recently. I find him to be a very important precursor to many of the wine critics of today, although the simplicity of his tasting notes is perhaps to be admired. I’m thinking of some of the more florid prose written about wines today. It is unfortunate that memory of Mr. Waugh, at least in the United States, has largely been obscured. How would you understand Robert Parker, for example, as an inheritor of Mr. Waugh’s innovative approach?
CC Well, I think his approach is completely different. Harry Waugh was speaking as a wine merchant of the long-term wine buyer. And he was much less inclined to, although, obviously, he was one of the first people to sort of give marks to wines. For him the very act of a strictly accurate sort of pecking order was of very much less importance. If you compare the assessments, let’s say, of Michael Broadbent, it’s much more broad brush. It’s sort of good, very good, fine, and excellent without going in to the intricacies of one percentage point, or in my case, 1/2 a point out of twenty, something like that.
What is your take on California? Have you recently visited? Have you had many California Pinots?
CC Not really anymore. I used to in a small way, but most of the boutique wineries weren’t interested, it seems, in exporting to England. And so these really didn’t come one’s way. Now, I’m semi-retired and I really only write about Burgundy.
I see. I very much enjoy your concept of ‘marking within context’. And that, of course, is very much missing in American wine writing…
CC That’s why putting numbers to things is really a mistake. If I felt I could get away with it I wouldn’t have ever put a mark to anything. But the trouble is the Americans insist on it. And the vast majority of my subscribers when I did The Vine, and, indeed, the people who bought my books, are Americans.
Do you think it might be useful to add another parameter to the marking in context, price point, for example? If you rated wines under $15 differently than you rated them at $30, perhaps that might also shed some light on this otherwise confusing ‘absolute’ scale of 100 points.
CC In a sense that’s the context. If you’re marking Beaujolais everybody knows, roughly speaking, what the price of Beaujolais is, and if you’re marking first growths or you’re marking bourgeois equally. The point is that no marks out of whatever are going to pick out the fantastically good Beaujolais of bourgeois. There is nothing to stop one saying that such-and-such a chateau is out-performing at its price. And that is a comment that I have made. I’m thinking of wines like Pontet-Cantet and Talbot, that sort of thing, Grand-Puy-Lacoste, which compared with the so-called super seconds, are an amazing value. Only the words/context will do. Read the words – far more informative than the marks. That sort of thing needs to be said, and has been said.
Could you explain, certainly for my American readers less familiar with this, what it was that brought Burgundy to its knees in the ’60s and the ’70s?
CC Well, in short, a number of factors. Firstly, they over-fertilized the vineyard. Secondly, there were a run of poor vintages. The merchants were in charge. The domaines hadn’t really started domaine bottling until the mid-1980s. Nobody was making any money. It was a vicious spiral. Markedly that was broken by a group of people who where then the young tigers, now the middle-age tigers. I’m thinking of people like Etienne Grivot, Christophe Roumier, and Dominique Lafon. They’ve all just turned 50. They all took over in about 1982 or so. They were the first people to realize that the only way forward was to produce the very best that was possible, the best they could. They were the first of their generation to automatically go to wine school and to university. They were the first to go abroad and do internships, and see how the other half lived. And most important, perhaps, they were not the slightest bit chauvinistic or jealous of their neighbors. And they would encourage all the people, all the next lot of young men and women who’d started domaine bottling, and they’d give them every single helping hand and advice that they could.
That then was followed, coincidentally or not, by a series of rather better vintages, from 1985 onwards. People stopped cutting corners. Everybody started cutting the crop down, they stopped fertilizing, obviously, they stopped herbiciding. We had the rise of biodynamism and generally biological [biologique], or lutte raisonnée, if you like. Quality improved by leaps and bounds. And I had the good luck to be in the middle of it and see it coming, and help say hurray, hurray! (laughs)
What portion of the winegrowers in Burgundy actually make a full living off of their work?
CC Oh, I think all of the important estates that you could mention, they do. You don’t have to have a huge vineyard. If you’ve got a few juicy things you can get by on 4 hectare. But, of course, you’re really doing all the work yourself. One of the nice things about Burgundy is you knock on the door and instead of some sort of gaudy bird who’s sort of employed to show you around, the man or one who appears is a the proprietor, b the winemaker, c the chef de cave, d the chef de viticulture, and indeed, in their spare time, either them or their spouse is going to be the accountant. It’s really in the hands of one person or sometimes a couple. They have very few employees, except at the very big estates. They are also local people. But the point is, for somebody like you and I, we can talk turkey to them. Whereas you go to Bordeaux and the proprietor, with one or two exceptions, really doesn’t get involved with making the wine. And you can’t say “Why isn’t this wine as good as it should be?” You certainly won’t get an answer.
Yes. In interviewing winemakers here in California, Pinot specialist in particular, certainly those from the Santa Cruz Mountains, I find that they’ve often visited Burgundy and they’ve been taken in with open arms, gone down to the caves, and there they taste through entire histories of the wineries. It is a very different approach. It is far more collegial, less competitive, shall we say.
CC Absolutely. Yup.
I don’t know whether you’ve been following the story of the EU regulations proposed with respect to nomenclature and wine labeling. There is much discussion here in the United States on possible restrictions on the use of certain words, clos and chateau, among others. Do you have a comment on the proposals?
CC No. I don’t see why somebody who’s got an imposing building shouldn’t call it a ‘chateau’ in California. Or if it really is an enclosed vineyard behind walls why they shouldn’t call it ‘clos’. The word has to be used properly. If it not used properly then it shouldn’t be allowed in a sense. I mean, thank god we don’t anymore have California Chablis or whatever. Just as they shouldn’t take the district names in vain, they shouldn’t just use, you know, fancy French just to make their wine look special.
What’s wrong with the word ‘ranch’ or something like that? Use an American word.
Yes. I find it one of the most curious things; on the one hand they will celebrated their inroads into the mystique of French wines, for example, but they still have this unusual dependence on the terminology. I’ve often wondered why they simply don’t use words readily available, the local vernacular.
CC I think there is still a very large lack of confidence. Chips on shoulders, and that sort of thing. I wish people in California would relax and make very good Californian wine; and not look over their shoulder and say this is better than Lafite or Romanée Conti. That’s why I find the attitude of somebody like Paul Draper very refreshing. He’s making bloody good American wine. Well, great!
Good. I like that. A quick question about the Master of Wine examination. Is it your understanding that they have evolved over the years? Have they become more complex because of the rise of other wine producing regions?
CC It’s about the markets. If we go back to 1950 or early 50’s, it was about being a wine merchant in England. Or perhaps even more particularly, being a wine merchant in the city of the West End of London, and dealing with the finer end of the market, given that there wasn’t very much else in those days. Then, of course, the market changed, it changed totally and completely. And so has the exam. The exam is now about being a wine merchant in a much wider context; dealing with brands, much less dependence or insistence or reliance on the finer end of the market because that’s really only a very small portion of the market today. So, gone is the idea that you should be able to identify a Lafite at twenty paces. You have a wine from Uruguay or something and how would you market it in England or in America? As you know the exam was internationalized about 20 years ago. But as I’ve said, the exam has evolved to parallel the market.
I see. Returning to ‘official’ matter for a moment. About the French government. There are some rather draconian measures that have been proposed in the last year involving restrictions on alcohol advertisement, warning labels on bottles, etc. What do think the French govt. is thinking?
CC Well, I think in general we are living more and more in a ‘nanny’ state. The government seems to take responsibility for, or they push their responsibility for health and safety to absurd limits, so that children, for instance, are not allowed to climb trees, I’m exaggerating, probably, just so they don’t fall down and might break an arm. I mean, a lot of this is sensible. A lot of it has gone too far, just as I think political correctness has gone far too far. But that’s (laughs) that’s me speaking as Clive Coates, it has nothing to do with wine.
I like the idea of the ‘nanny’ state. We certainly face issues like that here. In America’s case it is because of trial lawyers, insurance companies, our litigious nature. Spilling coffee on yourself can become a cause of action.
CC Exactly. That woman who had a Starbucks or MacDonald’s coffee spilled on her lap, I mean, damnit, anybody who’s ever bought a coffee in a polystyrene cup knows that it’s bloody hot and it stays bloody hot!
Have you ever made wine?
CC I’ve never had any interest in making wine at all. Blending wine, yes. But not making wine. I spent a long time when I was a merchant, some of the things I feel proudest of, are blends of wine at the very bottom end of the market. As you may or may not know, I was responsible for the wines in the little bottles on the English Train Service in the 1970’s. We had our own vin rouge and that sort of thing, which really had to be as cheap as anything. I am very proud of the red that I did. The white was always a compromise in those days. They didn’t quite have the techniques in the South of France to produce fresh wine that we do today. But I was very, very proud of the red. I think I will always be proudest of that than anything else.
Fascinating. Do bottles of that wine still exist?
CC (laughs) You can go to merchants, one particular merchant, if they still exist, and you could order, you could ten years ago, inquire about the cuvée BTH. But I think now people have moved on. The man I dealt with died early, and now probably his successors have retired. So it probably wouldn’t mean anything anymore. It certainly existed, it continued to exist, after I was no longer involved, in fact, after the whole thing was privatized by Ms. Thatcher in the early 1980s.
How is it you came to that opportunity?
CC Well, when I took over we bottled the wine in England. And we bought a brand, if you like. I thought I could do better than that. So I went down to the South of France and I found somebody that I felt very sympathetic towards. And we spoke and tasted. I went back about a month later, with the new vintage around Christmas. He had his wines, and I started tasting them and blending together. I’ve never worked quite so hard in my whole life! (laughs) I was completely pissed and incapable of standing up at the end of the day! I did nothing but blend wine and taste it. But in the end we got something.
And this being in tiny bottles, we did a bottling every three months. So every three months I use go down and my supplier had sort of made something up. I would just verify and sometimes just tweak it slightly before we bottled it. I might adjust it slightly but by that time, after a few months, he knew my taste and I would basically leave the hard work to him. It was a blend of all different wines that had their origins in vin de pays, in cooperatives in Minervois and the Corbieres, that sort of thing, a Languedoc/Roussillon blend. We had a bit of this, a bit of that, then something else, an imaginative little something; the whole was better than the sum of its parts.
You have written of the Rhone. What is your general understanding of the Rhone today?
CC I haven’t done a survey of the Rhone since the 2001 vintage. I’m getting out of date. And I very, very much resent people who march in, who’ve hardly sniffed a bottle in their lives and they start pontificating. So the last thing I’m going to do is pontificate about the Rhone except to say that, like a number of other areas, we could probably say most areas, the wines are just getting better and better as people have access to better and better technology, and as their determination is to produce the best bottle of wine they can.
It is a cold, hard world out there. If you don’t produce something good nobody is going out and buy it. If you do produce something good you can make a living, indeed, quite a decent living. So you’re a fool if you don’t. And if you treat the world cynically they are only going to throw you in the rubbish heap.
I very much enjoyed your piece on the Philosophy of Wine and your guiding principles: Love, Belief, Celebration and Transmission. Was there a specific occasion for writing that piece?
CC Well, I can tell you why I wrote that piece, it’s actually in the piece itself, and that is that somebody produced a book a couple of years ago now called the Philosophy of Wine, I think. It was a series of articles by philosophers about wine. Frankly, it was a whole load of rubbish. But it made me wonder what do I think the philosophy of wine is. And that’s when I wrote my piece.
End of Part 1 Please read Part 2.
How familiar are you with the terms Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) and Protected Geographical Indication (PGI)? These are two of the European Quality schemes for agricultural products and have been in common use since 1992 for food (primarily cheese), however get used to seeing them more often as, from 1st August 2009, they are label designations that will become a requirement on all wine made within the European Union (EU).
The labelling of wine is just one of the changes in a massive overhaul of the EU wine regulations being overseen by the European Commissioner for Agriculture and Rural Development, Denmark’s Mariann Fischer Boel (who placed 3rd in Decanter’s 2009 Power List of the most influential people in the wine-world for specifically that reason). The changes are designed to improve the efficiency, quality and competitiveness of 21 winemaking nations in total holding >40% of the world’s vines and making 2/3 of its wine.
There’s been some comment of the changes already; Decanter.com seemed to be harbingers of doom with their 2008 story proclaiming “From August 2009, DOP and IGP will be only the appellations allowed in Europe under the new rules”, and earlier this year “no more DOC, no more DOCG… no more (AOC)” appeared in the magazine itself (page 23 of their Italian Wines 2009 supplement). The head of the German Wine Institute Monika Reule even stated in August 2008 that “The whole German wine sector is unanimous in the protest against the suggestions of the EU Commission”, but is this melodrama warranted?
The 129 Articles of Council Regulation 479/2008 have been in place since mid 2008 and were the result of years of work to try and correct some of the problems in wine production across Europe that have led to overplanting, overproduction, costly market intervention distillation schemes and a lack of competitiveness as the New World catches up (and in many cases overtakes) the Old.
The regulations cover;
-Gradual removal of subsidies for distilling surplus or low quality production.
-National support programs to improve vineyard & production quality and market competition.
-“Grubbing up” to take out of production surplus, uncompetitive vines.
-The end of current restrictive planting rights by 2016 (2018 for some countries)
-Approval of Winemaking practices to be transferred the European Commission
-Updated and simplified labelling with use of the PDO and PGI schemes
The process of change began in 2006 and, as to be expected with a Government covering 27 member states, the proposals initially put forward went through significant changes before final approval.
-French and Italian lobbying resulted in agreements for fewer vineyards to be grubbed up (175,000ha instead of 400,000ha) and the continuation (with gradual reduction) of surplus distillation schemes instead of its outright cessation.
-Germany, Austria and Hungary put pressure to ensure that the initial plan to completely outlaw chaptalisation was amended to take account of the cooler climate countries where sweetening is often needed or traditional to the wine style.
-Wines outside the PDO and PGI schemes are able to use variety and vintage on their labels.
However diluted the regulations were Fischer Boel still commented in December 2007 that “We didn’t get everything we wanted, but we have ended up with a well-balanced agreement.”
Although regulation of winemaking practices moves into the Euro Bureaucratic domain the International Organisation of Vine and Wine (IWO/OIV) will remain the premier body for winemaking techniques, with the EU carrying out assessment of OIV approved practices for inclusion into their lists.
However it is the labelling regulations that have caught the attention of most people so far, both consumers and producers alike. Exactly what do the PDO and PGI schemes mean for the wine designations we are all familiar with, and for the wine we will be drinking in the future?
Both have a concept of terroir – that there is a connection to where they are from at the various stages of production;
Designation of Origin is defined in article 34 of the regulations as “the name of a region, a specific place or, in exceptional cases, a country …that complies with the following requirements;
-its quality and characteristics are essentially or exclusively due to a particular geographical environment with its inherent natural and human factors
-the grapes from which it is produced come exclusively from this geographical area
-its production takes place in this geographical area
-it is obtained from vine varieties belonging to Vitis vinifera”
Each European country its own name for DOP, with the ones you’re most likely to come across being AOP in France (Appellation d’Origine Protégée), DOP in Spain (Denominación de Origen Protegida) and Italy (Denominazione d’Origine Protetta) and gU in Germany (geschützte Ursprungsbezeichnung). Apart from Germany the others are similar to the current AOC and DOC certifications.
Geographic Indication is defined as “referring to a region, a specific place or, in exceptional cases, a country …which complies with the following requirements;
-it possesses a specific quality, reputation or other characteristics attributable to that geographical origin
-at least 85 % of the grapes used for its production come exclusively from this geographical area
-its production takes place in this geographical area
-it is obtained from vine varieties belonging to Vitis vinifera or a cross between Vitis vinifera species and other species of the genus Vitis.”
IGP is used in France (Indication Géographique Protégée), Spain ( Indicatión Geográfica Protegida) & Italy (Indicazione Geografica Protetta) and Germany goes it alone again with gGA (geschützte Geografischa Angabe). It is effectively the same idea as the IGT currently used in Italy for regional wines.
It is likely that the PDOs will relate directly to the key AOCs, DOCs etc. and that many of the regional designations will stay the same as well, although sub-zones are not supported. Italy seems to have documented the changes it expects the most with its current 470 DOCGs, DOCs and IGTs being rationalised into 182 DOPs and IGPs, as reported in Decanter.
However the regulations also suggest the effects of these changes may not be as radical as some expect;
“Well-established traditional national quality-labelling schemes will be kept” and can be used on the label to indicate what the new DOP or IGP is replacing (don’t expect any of the old terminology to disappear from the bottle any time soon).
“In order to preserve the particular quality characteristics of wines …. member States should be allowed to apply more stringent rules in that respect”. The EU regulations are minimum requirements, with individual countries able to regulate over and above them to preserve their own quality traditions.
The regulations go on, and on, for some time, however I recommend you to browse the pages, especially towards the end, as there is a very comprehensive definition and terminology section covering most aspects of viticulture and vinification. I was also intrigued why the obscure grape varieties Noah, Othello, Isabelle, Jacquez, Clinton and Herbemont are specifically prohibited by the EU (apparently wine made from them is classed as toxic due to high levels of methanol).
Already some producers are embracing the new rules. WineAlley.com reported last November on the small Loire VDQS of Gros Plant du Pays Nantais, on the Bay of Biscay west of Muscadet, applying for IGP status because “This wine category offers flexibility that fits well with what the Gros Plant offers…” and “…we want to increase our grape varieties (and) this project has better chances within IGP (rather) than in the AOP category” according to Jean-Michel Morille, vice-president of the producer’s Union.
I asked Frédéric Chaudière of Château Pesquié in the Côtes du Ventoux on his opinion of the new regulations. He seemed comfortable with the changes, “it is coming soon but we have not had (much) information. (The) AOC will become AOP, focusing on the idea of a precisely delimited origin (apart from the change of letter we remain very close to AOC). …the real revolution is for what will replace Vin de Table, which we call “Vin sans IG” as it will now be “Vin de France” and (it is allowed) to put vintage and varietals when before it was impossible.”
With just over a month to go before the full implementation of 479/2008, Mariann Fischer Boel’s brave new world for Old World wine, it seems that, for the moment at least, things will not be changing that much. I will be on the lookout for my first PDO or PGI labelled wine some time in 2010, possibly on a fresh Vinho Verde or other early drinking white, but I suspect the contents will taste no different for the name change. However the longer lasting effects of the regulations are intended to improve the competitiveness of winemakers in the EU, make it easier to understand what you’re buying and, hopefully, the quality of what goes in the bottle.
We begin this second part of my moving interview with Neal Rosenthal of the Mad Rose Group by picking up just where we left off, with the discussion of the struggle for quality and respect for the land. But I must first implore readers to enjoy part 1. This second part is no less detailed. Listening to Mr. Rosenthal is an interesting exersise in paying attention . He uses a great range of intonations that no diacritical marks could capture. He is a subtle, emotive speaker. He moves from sorrow to joy in a single sentence. To get a sense of this I again suggest folks watch the Authors@Google video. In any event, my talk with him is among the favorite conversations I’ve had in a very long time. A very rich acoustic experience, indeed.
The writing of the following was greatly enhanced by my evening’s companion, one of Mr. Rosenthal’s selections, a 2006 Vercesi Del Castellazzo, the Pezzalunga. A lovely wine.
Neal Rosenthal My growers are extremely conscientious that way. Some are certified organic, others I know work in a 100% organic manner; those who don’t, who are not 100% organic, would like to be. As a practical matter they may not be able to be at this point. For the moment that is good enough for me. Nothing is ever good enough for me. I don’t like compromise, but I do think we have to understand there is a continuum here, there is a spectrum. We want to get as far along the spectrum towards organic as we can. There are certain practical elements that one has to at least recognize.
And the worst thing of course, is to kid ourselves and put blinders on and just accept the notion, accept statements that people make about them being biodynamic or organic when we know that, as a practical matter, it’s impossible to do so.
You know there are certain negociants that claim they’re practicing biodynamic methods. How does that work? Chapoutier says, I don’t want to pick on anybody in particular, but let’s just take this as an example because it is a striking one to me. Chapoutier claims their wines are biodynamic. But most of the wine that they sell is negociant wine. They purchase grapes or purchase wine or purchase something; and unless they have complete control over that vineyard, to claim the mantle of biodynamie I think is incorrect. And the fact that the group of people who participate in biodynamic agriculture in France will allow that, will allow that their membership to be, if you will (maybe this is the wrong word, maybe it is too harsh), polluted by the presence of somebody who could not possibly be 100% biodynamic, I think at least has to raise a question.
That’s a very generous way of putting it! It doesn’t help matters that biodynamics with respect to grape growing was unknown to the movement overall. Rudolf Steiner made no mention of grapes or wine as such. It’s all ad hoc.
NR But it’s an idea. It’s an idea and it’s a concept. It is a system that presumably can be applied to any agricultural effort.
The metaphysics are a bit of a struggle.
NR Well, they’re fascinating. It’s wonderful to explore this kind of stuff to make wine better; that’s another aspect of the inquiry.
Now, with respect to…
NR If I may just continue. There are people who claim that they won’t…, there are consumers who won’t buy anything that is not labeled organic. I mean, there are some terrible organic wines out there, undrinkable stuff. Well, just because it’s organic doesn’t make it good.
And often times it is the organic distinctions, well, they are not quite as rigorous as one might imagine. It was taken over by the FDA, of course, some years ago.
NR Who knows what goes on, what’s claimed to be organic.
It’s like the making of laws or sausages. One of the difficulties with organic is that there is a list of herbicides and pesticides allowed. Some are broken down in the environment very efficiently, but because of that they may require more frequent applications.
NR This is not a simple subject. And it is not black and white.
Perhaps this is a tangent, perhaps it is a river. How do you think the wine world has changed, if at all, since Mondovino hit the screen?
NR I don’t think the wine world has changed. Look, I adore Jonathan Nossiter who was the producer/director/creator of that movie. And I enjoyed participating in it. Whether it had the impact, I think the positive element, the positive impact that Mondovino has had is that it engaged more people, it stimulated more discussion. And I think there is a growing…, there is more awareness of the tension in the marketplace between large and small, the surge of homogeneity and the contrary movement towards more unique, specific limited production wines, I think that is all to the good. If anything it maybe accelerated the conversation. But the conversation had already had begun.
And I don’t necessarily think it has changed what has happened in the marketplace. What will have a greater impact in the marketplace, I think, is the miserable economy. I don’t want to deny the impact of Mondovino. I think Mondovino is probably less popular here in the United States than it was overseas, certainly in Europe.
It also made known to the wider public certain important players in the industry, Michel Rolland, of course, and Robert Parker; many Americans had never even seen the latter gentleman.
NR That’s true. But how many people actually saw Mondovino? From my point of view, not enough! Not a sufficient amount of Americans saw Mondovino. It didn’t get the kind of distribution I think it deserved.
You must do various tastings outside of your own portfolio. What is your feeling about blind tastings?
NR Oh, well, you know, that’s interesting. I’m in an advanced stage of my career. I’ve been in this business 33 years, and my eagerness to immerse myself in large tastings has waned. I’ve less energy for that, I’ve less interest, to be honest with you. In the early days I did an many tastings as I possibly could because it was the only way I could broaden my base of knowledge. I do far less of that now.
I find the tasting experience, I’m referring specifically to the moments where people have 30, 40, 50, 60 different wines in front of them, I find that to be horribly tedious. It’s not fun. I don’t think it leads you to find Nirvana. I don’t think it leads you to find the best wines. I find this fascination with tasting process to be overdone. I don’t like it.
I think wine is meant meant to be consumed. Wine is at its best when it’s sitting at the table surrounded by food, and can be enjoyed by a number of people together. That is the role of wine for me in my life.
I think this process of merely tasting wines, taking a sip here and a sip there, and spitting the wine out, is effectively an insult. I think it has to be done. I think it’s an important… there’s a professional element here. Look, I do it all the time. I go over and visit my growers. I’m tasting wine, I’m not drinking wine every time I with my growers or else I wouldn’t be in this business anymore. So there is a role for that. I think he people who have made themselves into “wine critics”, that’s their job. I think for the general public it’s a tedious bunch of nonsense.
It has this quasi-scientific quality to it that I find amusing.
NR I don’t mind sitting in front of five or six wines at a time, taste them, try and determine what I like and not like about certain things, and to try to understand an appellation, if you will, I think that’s an important process, particularly for somebody who’s in the business. But I can tell you this, right now, at this stage in my life it is rare that I get involved in those things.
I asked Dan Berger whether he made wine. I was surprised to learn that he made many different wines over the years. And he actually entered them in competitions, quite successfully. Have you ever tried winemaking?
NR Well, I abhor the whole idea of winemaking. I never use the term ‘winemaker’, not with respect to the people with whom I work because they are not winemakers. A winemaker to me is somebody who takes wine and then turns it into something else; takes something and makes a wine out of it. I work with growers. They are people who grow their grapes, they harvest their grapes, they crush their grapes, they take that juice, and then it becomes wine. It’s a twelve month a year process.
A winemaker, to me, is somebody who goes and maybe buys some grapes here and buys some grapes there, or buys some wine here and some wine there and then puts it together and makes a wine. That, to me, is less interesting. It’s not what I do. Winemaking, to me, is a technical accomplishment.
I’m not saying the wines that result are not good. It’s just not part of the business I’m involved in.
Of your farm, do you have an extensive wine cellar?
NR Yes, I do. Yes. And most of it is full of wines I purchased for commercial reasons over the years, but my whole modus operandi has been, from the very get-go, to buy wines I personally like. I don’t sell wines that I don’t like. So, my cellar is full of a lot of stuff over the years that I’ve collected, some of which I’ve not sold, squirreled them away, and I drink them on a regular basis. Yeah.
Are you an accomplished cook?
NR Yes. I consider myself a good cook. I enjoy it. Whenever I have a free moment we like to cook together here. We’ve managed to carve out a really, really nice little life for ourselves. We own a 57 acre place in Up State New York, about a 100 miles North of New York City. It’s in a beautiful part of the world. We don’t budge too much from here. We don’t have to.
You know, it’s funny here on the West Coast. I remember seeing an episode of Anthony Bourdain’s ‘No Reservations’ featuring New Jersey. I was utterly stunned, it shows you my ignorance, when he went to Up State New Jersey and went to a cheese producer, a bread producer, visited magnificent farms…
NR (laughs) You know, New Jersey is known as the Garden State. New Jersey has been the home to what we refer to as ‘truck farms’ for generations, many, many generations. There’s wonderful agricultural land in a lot of places.
When people think of New York they think of New York City. I’m New York City born and raised, and I happen to love New York City; I like claiming to be a New Yorker. But the fact of the matter is New York State is immense. It’s not as big as California, but it is very, very beautiful. People don’t appreciate the fact that we have magnificent Nature in front of us all the time here in New York. You don’t have to go very far away to see it.
What is your take on wine blogging? You touched a bit on it earlier. Some people, Mr. Parker and even Michael Broadbent find them wanting. They want their expertise to count for something.
NR Their expertise does count for something. It doesn’t diminish their expertise that there are bloggers. One doesn’t have to be defensive about that. You earn your place. You know, Robert Parker started out as a little nothing also back in, I don’t know, the early ’80s or late ’70s. I remember meeting Bob when he was just starting to get involved in this, starting to put out a little newsletter, and he was an “amateur” at that point. Everybody starts somewhere.
Exactly. The sense of the passage of time is one thing the net is quite weak at capturing. You get just these impressionistic impulses, fragments of thought; but what folks have to perhaps remember is that there are real people behind these keyboards. They, too, are slowly accumulating experience and understanding.
NR Exactly. Look, I don’t like the exchange of uneducated opinions. That does not interest me. If somebody is writing with a good degree of curiosity and intellect, I think that is wonderful. It stimulates good discussion. The thing that always astonishes me, to be honest with you, Ken, there are people who are not earning their living in the wine business who enjoy writing and talking about wine more than the people who are in the wine business. That argues for two things. One, it argues for the worth of wine, that it is a compelling enough subject that people want to be involved in it even though they don’t earn a living at it. The second question that pops into my mind is what else do these people have in their lives? They are so unhappy with their own work that they’ve got to be involved in this. Maybe they ought to do this for a living? But that’s an aside, that’s for them to decide. It doesn’t diminish the worth of these things. There is good work being done in the blogosphere.
Do you follow blogs?
NR Very rarely will I do it. I don’t have the time for it. I’m busy enough trying to keep my own life together.
Gardening itself is time consuming.
NR Gardening takes up a lot of time. I’m a serious runner; there are other things I enjoy being involved in. Wine has never been 100% of my life. Although I love it very, very much, it has been a great source of reward, both financially and emotionally, and intellectually, it is not the only thing in my life.
But I think the blogosphere is interesting. It has alot of potential; and like any other endeavor, quality surfaces. The best quality comes to the top. And people ultimately, hopefully, will recognize it. The search should always be to look for the highest quality.
There has been sort of an eclipse of the importance of the retailer in their relationship with the customer. Blogging and mags perhaps have cut into this relation.
NR That’s really unfortunate, in my opinion. A good retailer is an extraordinary source of information. And I have always felt that the job of the wine retailer is to be the editor for that person’s client. The nice thing about being a retailer is that you’re exposed to almost everything that’s in the marketplace. And in that role you should use your judgement, and people will frequent your place because they what you are selecting.
I always thought retailers lost their way when they started to rely on the point scores and the shelf talkers created by the wine critics, whether it be the Wine Spectator, the Wine Advocate, the International Wine Seller, whatever it is. It is not even a matter of being critical of these people. That’s not the point. The point is that the retailer forfeited their rightful place in the market. If it is only a question of ‘I have this 92 point wine for a dollar less than the other guy’, well, if that’s
all it is, then why exist.
Again, about the blogosphere, but also with marketing generally, and the glossies, It is always a question of getting the ‘customer’ to listen. The reverse is true with respect to the wine retailer. They are essentially the ones who do the listening. So while everyone is furiously generating content, what is believed to be content, in fact, the retailer in the one island of quietude where the customer can actually speak.
NR And have a back-and-forth conversation. If you’re not listening, you’re not learning anything. I do think that the dialogue between client and retailer and wine merchant is very, very, very important.
Frankly, I think there is a wonderful revival now of the small, independent wine merchant. I see it in New York; it’s marvelous what’s going on in New York City. There are terrific, terrific wine merchants in the business in New York that are just driving the marketplace. They are head and shoulders above the more generic, larger wine shops. There are some great, new voices out there on the wine retailing side of things, and not just New York. I see it in lots of other places. I’m very excited about it. That’s really where the future of the wine business is.
Well, is there anything you’d care to add? I’m thrilled with what we’ve touched on.
NR This is a never ending subject. I’m flattered that you felt my voice was an important one to talk to. I mean, I have lots and lots of very strongly held opinions and ideas about how the business should work. And, certainly, I have very strong opinions about quality in wine and what I look for in wine. I am elated in a lot of ways with the direction that the wine business is moving in right now. I think we are moving away from, at least there is a good, strong fight, against homogeneity. I think people are recognizing terroir for its validity, and the truth of terroir is better understood by the consumers, and I think in a lot of ways, by the producers. That’s where it really starts.
A lot of producers have lost their way out of a fear, a fear of competition. A lot of them have made the mistake of trying to be directly competitive, I’m talking about the Old World versus the New World in this sense. They’ve lost their way because all they really have to sell is their terroir. They’re never going to make wines as powerful, as rich, as fruity as some of the things that come from the New World.
There is this on-going, not a battle, this on-going tension in the marketplace, probably healthy in a certain way. The doors remain open to the kind of wine I like, the kind of wine that I buy. These are subjects that never end.
I will add something that has been on my mind lately, the loss on the part of some important grape-growing areas, in my opinion, some of the greatest areas for producing wonderful wines, like Burgundy and Bordeaux, I think those two standard-bearers, have lost their place in the hearts and the minds of some of the newer consumers in the wine world. And I think the Burgundians and the Bordelaise have to do some really hard work to get back to where they belong.
Another subject that is a great, great concern of mine is the fact that everybody drinks wine young now. Frankly, if you’re spending a year of your life taking care of vineyards so that you can make a wine that’s going to age a long time, then the wine gets consumed immediately, what’s the purpose? What’s the purpose of all this stuff? We talk about the greatness of certain grand crus and premier crus, from great vintages, and then you see those great vintages slapped on a wine list within seconds of the wine being released from the estate, and it gets consumed the day after because nobody stocks anything in the cellar anymore. So what’s the purpose of that? It’s offensive to me, frankly. And I think it is an extreme disservice to the public and to the grower.
We have, and I’m not going to pat myself on the back, we have a program internally in our little company where we hold wines back, where we delay release because we just don’t feel the wines are ready to drink. They shouldn’t be in commerce, actually, at this point.
A small point, here in Santa Cruz I’ve spoken to many folks who never lay anything down anymore.
NR Well, I can invite you over here. I may even have a ‘77 Durif from Ken Burnap. (laughs) I’ve certainly got old vintages of California wines from the ’70s that I’ve had over the years. And I adore these wines. They prove what California is truly capable of in certain areas. This is the joy of great wines. And it is an experience a large percentage of current consumers will never have. It’s a tragedy.
At any rate, I hope this proves a useful conversation. I wish you good luck with you’re blog. And we will continue to follow what you are doing.
Thank you so very much for your generosity.
NR Terrific, Ken. Thank you very much.
What follows is a transcription of a conversation between a winemaker and a visitor. The exchange took place at a new Santa Cruz Mountains winery just coming into its own, the family-owned Heart O’ The Mountain, located above the town of Scotts Valley, California. They produce Pinot Noir from 100% estate-grown fruit. The occasion of my visit was the Santa Cruz Mtns. Winegrower’s Vintner’s Festival, just completed this past weekend. I had been invited to the winery by Patti Bond of Bond Marketing & Communications for a possible interview with winegrower, Bob Brassfield. As luck would have it I was treated instead to the conversation below. Being a strong supporter of winery visitors asking questions, I was to enjoy the very thing.
For my part, I returned to the property a few days later for a full tour of the vineyards, including machinery and the all-important water supply, with Bob’s charming son, Brandon. That detailed conversation will be posted the week of the 21st.
One brief note I’ll write more about next week, the Heart O’ the Mountain winery is located on historically important acreage of an early Santa Cruz winery, Santa Sada, established roughly in 1887 by Pierre and Sada Cornwall.
Prohibition shut them down.
The winery’s website includes this remarkable passage from the pen of their son, Bruce Cornwall.
“In 1881 a redwood and manzanita covered piece of mountainous land, eighty-five acres in size, was acquired by my father in the Santa Cruz mountains. A cottage was built and regularly during the succeeding years Mr Cornwall, his wife and the writer sought this haven of rest and quiet, at first interested in clearing the land, then in planting the seeds and cuttings, and finally in gathering the fruit, crushing the grapes and making the wines from the same seeds and cuttings. Many and happy were the weekends there, enjoyed alone and with friends and relatives. Years of city business worry were thus relieved of their severity and their natural ravages assuaged.”
–Bruce Cornwall, from Life Sketch of Pierre Barlow Cornwall, San Francisco, 1906
I shall try to find more information about Santa Sada for a later post.
Now, the conversation…
Bob Brassfield Typically you don’t make wine out of your first grape harvest  because the vine is young and it doesn’t produced its best fruit at that point. Typically you’d let the birds have it. But we were so excited to see grapes on a vine that we just went out and harvested it! We took them in and we made wine just to see what the end-product was. We passed it around to friends and other people that we knew, we were getting very positive feedback on it. So, I won’t precondition your thought process before you try it, before you’re afraid to say you don’t like it! (laughs)
We only made two barrels, fifty cases, from a single vineyard. Everything we do here is are own estate vineyards. We have 6 1/2 acres planted. If you’re familiar with the Pinot Noir clones, you know, there are over 1000 Pinot Noir clones; we have have five clones planted here. Four of them are Dijon clones from the Dijon region of Burgundy, and one of them is a Pommard from just south of Beaune. Our vines are actually heritaged from that Chateau Pommard estate. It’s been certified through the ENTAV certification process of France to be those vines.
The reason we planted Pommard and not all Dijon is that in the ’70s my wife and I and our young family at the time, we moved to Geneva, Switzerland. That is where we were first introduced to fine wine. Up until that point it was either red or white, the cheapest stuff you could find, right? (laughs). Over there we got a little bit of an education in wine. We went to our first tasting in Geneva. They had barges that they lined up and all the wineries came and they set up their tasting rooms on the barges. We tasted wine there. The one I gravitated to was a Pommard, a 1964 Pommard.
Now we fast forward to 2002 when we were getting ready to plant vineyards. And the person who was consulting with me what to plant, we settled on Pinot Noir, but now was time to choose clones. Everybody was sort of going toward Dijon clones in the last several years. I said at least give me a little Pommard for old time’s sake. And it’s turned out to be my favorite again!
Visitor How long is it from bud break to harvest?
Bob Brassfield Bud break is typically mid-March. We typically harvest somewhere beginning in September. It varies. This hillside right here, the 777 clone, that stuff buds out first if you were to go down and look closely at it you would see we already have berry-set on the hill. But out on the ridge and some other areas it is still flowering. We have the warm days but have the cool nights here.
Visitor How do you pick the clones you’re going to use? I don’t mean the basic clone but the individual type of that clone.
Bob Brassfield Well, we were kind of new to it so we went with the advice of people who were heavily into it at the time. And they advised us on the 667 clone, the 777 clone, and the Pommard, I’ve already told you that story. We chose those three. Since that time a relatively new clone has come into the winemaking arena here in California called 828. And so we grafted some Pinot Grigio. We’d decided we didn’t want to do white wine so we grafted that over to 828. And then out on the ridge, you see it way out there, our newest vineyard, is a 115. So we end up with 667, 777, 828, and 115.
There are a lot of other clones planted in California that are certified as being California clones. It’s not that they were genetically changed in a lab or anything. If you take a grape vine and plant it in certain environment, a certain terroir, over time it might …
Visitor … optimize itself for that area…
Bob Brassfield … start showing its own characteristics, flavor-wise. If it is distinctive enough they will certify it, UC Davis certifies…
Visitor UC Davis has a pretty good website. I was looking at it. I’m in Almaden Valley and I have this little piece of land, not very big. I could probably put three rows of something in.
Visitor’s Wife We have a backyard! (laughs)
Visitor I was thinking about putting in some wine grapes and just dabbling. I’m trying to figure out which ones. Pinot Noir appeals to me but I think it might be too warm out there.
Bob Brassfield You’re in Almaden Valley? I would suspect so. You might be better off to go toward a Syrah or one of the warmer climate grapes.
Visitor I was reading on the Davis website that Pinot Noir seems very finicky. I mean you’ve got problems with keeping all of the stuff off of it, all of the different kinds of diseases.
Bob Brassfield Yeah. You have to treat it real delicate. It’s all hand harvested. We don’t pump, it’s all gravity flow, we don’t filter. We do a cold soaking process in order to get the flavors and aromas out of Pinot Noir. It’s difficult to get it out of the skin.
We harvest each clone separately because they ripen at different times. We bring them in separately, we cold-soak them separately, we warm them up and ferment them separately. And then when we press we go into barrels, 100% French oak.
Visitor All new?
Bob Brassfield No, not all new. The single barrels that we do, the twenty and twenty-five case, that we do in new French oak. But we’re about 50/50 overall. If you’re not careful you can put too much oak on Pinot Noir and destroy the fruit, the fruitiness of it. Tight grain, by the way. Then it’s aged for about 18 months, not all on the new oak for 18 months; we’ll pull it off maybe after 12 months or so, and put it on a neutral oak.
Sometimes we’ll fall in love with a barrel for some reason, we don’t know why. But a barrel will just jump out at you. We will then bottle it by itself.
Well, we better get you two going on the 2006!
And so the exchange continued. I wandered off with Ms. Bond to explore the grounds of the Brassfield’s estate, an estate formerly owner by Alfred Hitchcock. But that is another story.
It is with great pleasure I offer this two-part interview with Neal Rosenthal of the Mad Rose Group, Ltd. Many will recall his insightful observations on terroir from his featured role in Jonathan Nossiter’s incisive Mondovino. For those wishing a greater familiarity with the gentleman there are three ways to better understand his life’s work, and not only in the wine trade. You might read this interview and explore other internet sources, including a quite wonderful Authors@Google video; you might read his fine book, Reflections of a Wine Merchant, or, what was my first introduction to the man, through the wines he selects for his portfolio. And I’ve had many of his selections. Indeed, his was one of the few names I began to look for on the back label. Of course, the recommendations of the wine retailer are always welcomed, but when left to my own devices, should I find one of Mr. Rosenthal’s discoveries, each a distillation of a palate and a philosophy honed for over 30 years, my purchasing decision would be that much simpler. And no Hallmark tasting notes, no idiotic scores.
I called him at his New York office. Enjoy.
Admin Good morning! How are you?
Neal Rosenthal I am very well. How are you?
I’m doing extraordinarily well. Thank you for agreeing to an interview. It’s very foggy here. What is the weather like there?
NR Well, it’s cool and overcast (6/11). We definitely needed the rain. So we’ve gotten it. Now we’ll probably get too much over the next three or four days!
As you may know, I live in Santa Cruz, but I missed your appearance at Soif some months ago…
NR Well, I wasn’t there. My West Coast rep. is the one who showed up at Soif. I make rare appearances on the West Coast. I haven’t been there in a while. In fact, I’ve never had the pleasure of going to Soif, and I hear wonderful things about it. I know they’ve been a very good client of ours. But no, you didn’t miss me.
Oh! Well, very good. So, what is it about the West Coast? Why so infrequent a visit?
NR You know, I’m just tired of traveling. (laughs) I’ve put on a lot of miles over the years. I have a really nice little situation at home so when I get chance to stay home I like to be there. We’re I to be in California, Santa Cruz would certainly be a favorite place. I haven’t been there in many, many years. In fact, I used to be there, I wouldn’t say frequently, but a couple of times a year when I first started in the business hunting around for good wines from California. I did some work in the Santa Cruz area with Ken Burnap up at Santa Cruz Mountains Vineyard.
You’re kidding me. I know the folks at Santa Cruz Mountains Vineyard very well.
NR Well, Ken is a great guy.
I’ve not yet met Ken, but Jeff Emery, who’s taken charge…
NR I don’t know Jeff. When I was working with Ken, we’re talking about many, many, many years ago, we worked on the ‘75, ‘76, ‘77, and ‘78 vintages. I distributed his wines in New York. We sold their wines in New York.
Amazing! Well, how did you hear about him?
NR Goodness. (laughs) I was prospecting out there. It was at the very beginning of my work. I don’t know how I stumbled upon Ken’s wine originally but it made a rather extraordinary impression on me. I think the first one was the ‘77 Durif. Maybe it was the ‘75 Pinot; then we had a two vintage blend, Pinots blended together, I think that was the ‘77 or ‘78. There was a ‘78 Bates Ranch Cabernet. Those were the days.
Yes, Bates Ranch is a magnificent producer. For many, many years.
NR They were wonderful wines. I remember Ken’s first attempt to make a Chardonnay, which he left in contact with the skins for a long time. It came out to be an orange wine. At that time it was rather shocking to everybody. It would probably be greeted with great huzzas now! But at that time it was pretty much a scandal.
So what was it about the Santa Cruz Mountains?
NR Well, I like the Santa Cruz Mountains very much. It was very much cutting edge at that time. I thought it had some great potential. It was certainly one of the more beautiful, savage areas in California that they were struggling to turn into vineyard lands. I remember times going up to Ken’s place the roads were completely washed out. You could hardly get there. So it rather courageous to plant vineyards up there.
And it remains, the vineyards, very small…
NR Thank goodness.
…and many are just eking out a living.
NR I haven’t been in touch with Ken, it’s probably been over 20 years. But I have fond memories of it.
What did you drink last night?
NR What did I drink last night? I was busy working out on the farm last night so I came in rather late…
Working on a farm?
NR We have our own little farm here in Upstate New York. I amuse myself by planting things.
A vegetable garden?
NR It’s more than a garden, I would say. (laughs) It’s not on a commercial scale, but it is more than a garden. We planted nine different varieties of potato, we do our own garlic, and we do shallots, we do about nine different heirloom tomatoes, and we have about twenty-five fruit trees. I recently put in about a 100 melon plants. We have a lot going on here. I seed a good deal of our property with Buckwheat which is what I was doing last night. We produce Buckwheat honey.
I know you sell the Buckwheat honey on-line, but do you sell at local farmer’s markets?
NR We don’t appear at the Farmer markets. We have a nice little speciality cheese; we have a cheese monger up in Massachusetts that handles some of our produce, a couple of restaurants in New York City, they buy from us from time to time when we have enough to sell. And then we have some of the stuff available from our website.
Yes. Are you an enthusiastic reader of Michael Pollan?
NR Yes, absolutely. In fact I met Michael, I had dinner with him at a mutual friend’s house a couple of years back. Yeah, I’m an avid reader and admirer of his work. Good man. He’s brought a lot of major issues to the public’s attention which I think is really remarkable. He’s multi-talented, but his talent is gaining the kind of attention that others who’ve tried in the past and have failed to get that kind of public notice he’s attained. I give him great credit.
Before we go on could you tell me when you began Reign of Terroir?
It was about a year and a half ago. It began as a group of friends, and has developed far beyond my expectations. I have an interview with Clive Coates tomorrow, for example. How strange it’s all become! [My answer was more detailed but we needn't dwell.]
NR Well, good! I think this is a phenomenon that is going to be difficult to stop, and I don’t think it should be stopped. I think it fills an enormous void because it doesn’t have to be blatantly commercial. I think you can do some serious work if it’s done correctly. If it is a matter of throwing around rumors and exchanging opinions then maybe it’s less serviceable. If it is a question of ferreting out fact and interesting ideas, and of exploring ideas and philosophies, then I think it’s great.
I am curious about your take on American Viticultural Areas, the AVAs. How do you think they stack up vis-a-vis the concept of terroir?
NR There are a couple of ways to respond to that from my perspective. The first is that I’m not deeply involved in the sale and purchase of domestic wine. I’m probably not as up to date as I should be. That being said, I think it is a very noble effort. I think it is an important effort. If you do believe in terroir, as I believe, and I do clearly believe in terroir, I believe terroir exists everywhere. It is a question of finding the vehicles to express it, and of deciding whether you like that particular terroir. For people who claim that I, from my historical background, what I’ve done, that I’ve put the kibosh on the concept of terroir in California, that is very, very much not true. There is terroir everywhere, and I think the effort of finding proper places to plant the proper grape variety, what produces best, what expresses the particular terroir of a region, is very essential work.
On the other hand, I don’t think one can just jump into it and, after a handful of years, can think or can feel comfortable saying this is a terroir that clearly exists; and we can very specifically define what can be planted here, what is best grown in this particular area. I think that the proof of this has been the European model. And the European model took clearly hundreds of years to develop. So I don’t think we should be in a rush.
With respect to terroir, even a SuperFund site has a terroir.
NR Well, yeah. Every place has a terroir. It doesn’t relate just to wine.
Of course, but in marketing and PR departments there is a great resistance to this notion for reasons that are not entirely clear to me. They don’t wish to engage the topic at all, preferring to see it as yet another quaint concept that needs to set aside in order for the wine industry to grow up. I find that quite bizarre.
NR You mean the denial of terroir?
NR I think it is foolish. But on the other hand, let’s just go back to the European model, and go to certain appellations in France where, for example, there are no premier crus or grand crus within a particular appellation. Let’s take Sancerre, for example. Everybody in Sancerre knows where there are better areas and there are less good areas in Sancerre. But the powers that be that have basically ruled that mini-world have never encouraged anybody to set forth very specific definition of where the better areas are. They don’t want to legalize it. A lot of that is because it is against the interests, it is not in the best interests of the people who have the most money at stake.
Of course, Champagne is a very good example of this…
NR Champagne is a classic example of it. The Champenoise have been hoisted on their own petard. Their commercial way of determining pricing essentially establish grand cru and premier cru vineyards. So, although you don’t see grand cru or premier cru noted on almost any label that is produced by one of the big negotiant houses, clearly what they pay for grapes when they’re buying grapes is based upon this general notion of which are the better areas; so that small growers now can label their wines if they come from grand cru and premier cru areas with those designations. It exists in Champagne though people don’t like to mention it. I mean the big guys don’t like to mention it. You don’t find grand cru on the label of Dom Pérignon, for example, just to give you the easiest hypothetical to cite.
With respect to Americans’ reception to the concept of terroir, I think the PR people have hit upon odd notion: There is a kind of a fatigue on the consumer’s part that terroir is somehow associated with a ‘green’ concept. We hear routinely, for example, that our tennis shoes, even though they are the most comfortable shoes we’ve ever had are stitched by young children in South East Asia, or that our carpets are tied together by kids in India. We just hear so much of that that when terroir appears the PR people have cynically tapped into the reluctance on the part of the consumer to yet again think a value beyond the drink itself.
NR I think it has been treated as an elitist game, when I think it really is tied more closely to the natural world. There is this strong anti-intellectual bent here in the United States. That is something that is unfortunate. I think it serves us very poorly. Being smart about something, getting the details right, should be applauded rather than denigrated. In this case, terroir is just another way of trying to understand the natural world. Terroir is not simply a phenomenon related to wine. You can’t grow certain types of fruit or vegetables in certain areas because the climate isn’t right or the soil isn’t right. That’s the same idea, marrying a particular plant to its proper place on the planet! You can’t grow a banana tree in New England. You can’t do it.
If you want to eat bananas you’re not going to be able to grow them locally in most areas. It doesn’t make you any less a locovore. You have to accept what Nature dictates. Nature is what is telling us what is right and what is wrong. We can understand that by having a little introspection. People make terroir into something complicated, it becomes this elitist toy. I think that is a sad misunderstanding. Terroir is a very, very simple concept. With respect to wine specifically, a wine of terroir is a wine that expresses where it comes from. If it’s done properly, which starts, of course, with the work in the vineyard, it is almost exclusively the work in the vineyard, then the wine will tell you its unique place in the world.
What do you think is happening in France? The strange anti-drinking laws being promulgated, danger warnings prominently displayed in print advertisements, severe restrictions on alcohol adverts on television…?
NR I can’t fathom it. I don’t understand why they’ve become so anti-alcohol. I don’t get it. I don’t know what the motivation is. I don’t know what the economic interest is. I’m an economic determinist, if you will. I always find most of these rules to be the product of strong economic interests, for their protection, or their commercial benefit. And so I’m trying to figure out what it is, who it is, or which interest it is that is forcing this stuff on the French people.
With respect to the wineries you source from in Europe, would say they are largely sustainable, do some of them exercise biodynamic or organic principles?
NR Nobody is 100% biodynamic. Biodynamie is a very different and much more complicated, more encompassing concept. And unfortunately, I think that also is a term that has suffered some abuse. So I would say to you with respect to my group of about 90 different growers with whom I work, nobody is 100% biodynamic. Many like the idea, they follow many of the principles, but it’s not 100% and they are not certified.
I have very few who are quote ‘certified’ organic, although, let’s say, almost to an individual they are all clearly sustainable, all would very much like to be 100% organic were they to feel that would fit comfortably with their production. So they are all very, very conscientious with respect to how they take care of their vineyards. Frankly, quality relates, I mean, everything is about the vineyard.
The organic idea is wonderful. And I’m a believer. On the other hand, there are other practical elements of it that I know as a small producer myself of fruits and vegetables, how difficult it is to maintain a strict organic regime and at the end of the year have a good production. That is an enormous challenge.
I think alot of this is very much overdone because if you look at the way vineyards are laid out in France in many areas, not in all, but in many areas, very rare is the isolated vineyard. Let’s just take Burgundy as a classic example, where holdings are limited to maybe one or two or three rows of vines within a lieu-dit. You may be organic, you may be biodynamic, but what if your neighbor isn’t? How can you honestly turn to somebody and say ‘my grapes are 100% biodynamic’ if your neighbor, who has the row right next to you, is spraying?
There are no walls between these things. We’re not working in a nursery. We’re not working in a greenhouse. We’re working in the open air. It’s very, very difficult to accomplish that. I think the goal has to be, from my point of view, that the grower be conscientious, be dedicated to providing us with clean, healthy fruit. And that’s not just bringing in fruit that is fully ripe and not bringing you diseased fruit, but is not bringing you pesticides or herbicides either.
My growers are extremely conscientious that way.
End of Part 1 Link to Part 2.
This last weekend of the Santa Cruz Mountains Winegrowers Association (SCMWA) Vintners’ Festival featuring Eastside wineries, I was looking for something different to do, something other than swim the crowds at the AVA’s participating wineries. Looking over the brochure I noticed a simple listing for a museum in Los Gatos.
About a month ago a local winemaker passed along a note which in part read,
“The Forbes Mill History Museum in Los Gatos is seeking memorabilia and photos representing the history of local vineyards and wineries (in the Santa Cruz Mts. and Santa Clara Valley). This is for an exhibit this summer about the local wine industry.”
I thought is might be interesting to see whether they had met with success. I was not to be disappointed. The History Museum of Los Gatos, affectionally known by the locals as the Forbes Mill, has begun a program of revolving exhibitions dedicated to the history of wine and its production in the Santa Cruz Mountains and Santa Clara Valley.
I spoke first with Elke Groves, Executive Director of the Museums of Los Gatos.
Elke Groves: “We decided when we looked at this exhibit that we wanted to do the history of the local vintners, focussing primarily on the Los Gatos scene; but we’ve actually spread the exhibit a little bit farther than that. We thought it might be an interesting exercise to pair it with a wine tasting to bring examples to the museum, and that way it just starts to attract a different crowd to the museum. We thought it would be a perfect crossover. And we’ve actually found that a lot of the traffic that we’ve had is because we’re part of the Vintners’ Festival. People have been surprised to find a museum here. They’ve enjoyed walking through the exhibit as they do their wine tasting. It’s basically given us a little more exposure in the community, which is wonderful.
“We were very fortunate when we began to set this up that we had these extraordinary cask lids in our collection. And these were purchased from the Almaden Winery when it closed down. And they are just beautiful examples. We’re delighted to have them. And so we’ve acquired some other pieces working with mostly the Novitiate Winery, Testarossa, Paul Masson, and several other wineries, to try to amass artifacts and bring in physical specimens to view. We have photographs, written materials, wine labels, wine bottles, that type of thing. I think it’s going to be an interesting exhibit.
“We’ve structured it so that we’re going to have sort of rolling preview, if you will. This weekend (June 13th and 14th) was the beginning. We’ve got another opening on July 11th. And we’ve got our official opening on July 19th. And on that date we’re also going to have the Library representatives here, we’ll have a book signing, we will also have historic figures dressed in costume that will be telling stories of having lived in Los Gatos in their day. It will be a very action-packed afternoon. We’ll also have some more wineries serving. We’ll be going into August and September as well, with yet more wineries joining us for those days.”
I asked after an old wine press sitting just inside the museum doors. I next spoke with Ken Vogel, the museum’s volunteer coordinator. The wine press is from his family.
Ken Vogel: “The wine press has been in my family a little over one hundred years. They were home winemakers. And I just found out recently, since I was telling the family about its loan to the museum here, that I’d thought none of the wine ever left the property, but I just found out that he was also the official winemaker for the Church in New Jersey. This is actually where this press came from. It’s a great press. And my grandfather when he got it it was old! I’m not even sure its full history.
“I’ve made wine out of it and family members have made many hundreds of gallons of wine out of it, some of it legal, some of it not! We believe it came from Germany. As we’ve been finding out, much of the equipment did come from Germany. The corker over there is from Germany.
“My family in New Jersey had a small vineyard. I was a little kid. We always drank out of mason jars. That’s how we drank the wine down in the basement! In New Jersey, when it did become legal, that you could make it, my dad had been making wine. He went down for his permit to make the wine. In that year he made only 50 gallons of red and 10 of white. So he went down for his permit and the gentleman asked him how many gallons are was planning to make? He said that he had made 60. So he said, ‘You made 60?’ ‘Yes.’ Bam! He slapped him with a fine. (laughs) They caught him! It had only become legal yet he had already made some.
“The way that they would catch people is that part of our recipe we had to add sugar because our grapes weren’t as sweet as what you get in California. We had to add sugar. They kept track of people who bought sugar! So we’d have to go to different stores, buy a pound here, a pound there. (laughs) So we wouldn’t get caught. But he ended up ‘turning himself in’. And they acted as if they had caught him! (laughs).”
I next spoke with the museum’s curator.
Laura Duncan Hubby “Speaking of Prohibition, Paul Masson was one of the people in the country to have a license to produce ‘medicinal Champagne’. We may well have a label for the show. The background is that they probably needed Champagne for state dinners and that type of thing, to serve to dignitaries. They wanted one that was from the United States. Paul Masson was up and coming, so he was the only person to have that honor. The Novitiate Winery was, obviously, allowed to produce sacramental wine all during Prohibition.
“For the opening we’re focussing on a number of bigger wineries, Martin Ray, Paul Masson, the Novitiate, many others; ones that have come and gone, people who are larger than life characters who helped improve the over-all quality of the wine in the region. So we’re doing little spotlights, sort of like biographies of the people from the different wineries, and what they did to influence the future of it. And Ridge, we’re going to have a short video on them, what they’ve been doing.
“The new winemakers who’ve come into the [Santa Clara] Valley in the 1970s roughly, they are still around. We’re hoping to have them physically represented either pouring or present in some way in the exhibits. But for the history we’re focussing on Mission Santa Clara; that’s sort of where it starts. And then the 1850’s, there a little bit with Charles Lefranc and Almaden; and then the 1880’s and 1890’s, the wine boom. Then onto Prohibition and the aftermath of the Second World War. That’s what we’ll be focussing on. The Santa Cruz Mountains and the Santa Clara Valley. A huge region, so we’re picking and choosing. It is not a huge space, the museum, so I want to do it justice.
“We’ve also been collecting commercials. We’ve one from the Novitiate, I’ve got one from Orson Wells for Paul Masson, and a couple of others. There is one of Orson Wells more famous than the commercial! We’ll have plenty of images. I’ve been going around and getting images from the California History Center, the Novitiate, and some of the various wineries, and some the people in Los Gatos have dropped off, wine labels, bottles, machinery, equipment…
“We’ll also be focussing on Home Winemaking. Something I didn’t realize is that before Prohibition there were something like 20,000 Bay Area families already making wine at home. You could make 200 gallons for your own personal use. that’s what people did! They would buy the grapes, make it themselves, and they thought nothing of it. That gets lost if you only focus on the big wineries.”
All in all I had a fine afternoon. I encourage readers to visit their site as July 11th approaches. The museum may be small, but it has a big heart. The museum’s hours are 12-4 p.m., Wednesday through Sunday.
As you may have read in part 1 of my interview with Jim Schultze, owner (along with his delightful wife Judy) of Windy Oaks Estate, are driven by an intimacy with the traditions of Burgundy. Though their fondness for France is evident, they are more accurately understood as well-traveled citizens of the world.
Of Mr. Schultze I can certainly say he is a fine winegrower. He has carved out fine vineyards on rolling slopes that set the visitor’s mind alight. There is no monotony of monoculture here. All about one sees health and vigor. The winery doubles as the tasting room, not unusual for the Santa Cruz Mountains, but it affords the visitor a chance, when luckily open, to ask after the aesthetic facts of the craft, take a walk up to the namesake oaks. And Jim Schultze is always ready to inform and entertain. Ask the right question, you get the right answer.
I encourage the reader to explore their website for additional info and insight into this gem of an estate.
Admin What are the sources of Windy Oaks’ Reserve wines, is it a blend of barrels, different blocks?
Jim Schultze It tends to be mainly Bay block, the steep block you see down here, facing the Bay. And a bit of Henry’s [block]. But I am not wedded to those blocks. It’s funny. Those typically produces a lot of barrels with the characteristics I described for the reserve.
Henry’s block is actually a good example of how terroir trumps clones. That is all the Waldenswil clone, UC Davis 2A, and a lot of California winemakers say that’s not a good wine clone. It has big, open, loose clusters, large grapes, a low skin to juice ratio. So it doesn’t make really elegant Pinot. On our site we get tiny clusters, small grapes, super-high skin to juice ratio, and it’s always part of our reserve blend.
We also do a block designate with part of it because I like it so much on its own. So that’s just a good example of how terroir is so critical if you just let it express itself in the wine! (laughs)
And how much time do you spend in the vineyards?
JS I’m out here almost everyday. I have a vineyard foreman, but I take care of this little block, the SBC [Special Burgundy Clone] block myself. I’m out in the vineyard because I feel if I am really going to instruct my vineyard foreman on what needs to be done I need to understand what’s happening. So I want to be in daily touch with what’s happening in the vineyard.
I had a conversation with Will Bucklin recently, and he spends hours every day, not only on his organic farm but in the vineyard. He said the best tool he ever got was a dog!
JS (laughs) I can believe that! Depending on the time of year… two weeks ago I was out here for five or six hours a day in my little block here doing some of the leaf thinning and shoot thinning, and some of the early tucking.
As you can tell by looking at the vineyard we don’t use any herbicides or anything like that. We actually have a permanent cover crop. We weed-whack in the vine rows, so we’ve got here 15 miles of weed-whacking that’s done typically twice a year. We do it in the middle Spring, and we’re doing it again right now. That should be it for the Summer unless we get some rain.
And the cover crop?
JS It’s a mix. You couldn’t tell by looking at it here but there is actually a lot of clover. In the Springtime we have a shredder/chopper, we go through and mulch everything up. That’s when the clover gets mulched in the ground. There are some natives in here. I try to let it determine what it’s going to be itself, although I do like some of the Australian clovers. They really have a lot of dense, green foliage to them. They’re not invasive.
We don’t use any pesticides. We’re primarily organic but my feeling has always been I want to do everything I can to maximize the quality of grapes. In some years we have really high botrytis pressure in the mountains. I have not yet found a good organic botrytis spray.
I would agree with you. Sometimes there is nothing you can do…
JS Are you going to have sub-standard grapes and make sub-standard wine? Or adhere to some philosophy? I adhere to my philosophy which is to do everything I can to maximize quality in the vineyard. Then it minimizes what we have to do in the winery. That’s my objective for the winery: to do as little as possible! (laughs)
When the Festival commences (June 6th-7th for the West side), unfortunately this will not be posted in time, but for subsequent Vintner’s Festivals, do you bring folks up here, to the top of the vineyards?
JS People come here and have picnics. This year, if the weather is good, we set up a little wine-pouring bar. People can come up and buy a glass of wine, and just sit here and enjoy the view, enjoy the day. There’s shade from the oaks, or sun if you want it. I guess it’s obvious why we named the winery ‘Windy Oaks’ is the oak trees up here. Sometimes this ridge gets pretty windy. One of my sons actually was talking about different names. He said we ought to call it Windy Oaks because of the beautiful oak trees. We like the name. And the estate, Windy Oaks Estate, signifies the fact that we grow all the grapes ourselves. We don’t buy grapes.
Exactly. Do you propagate this particular (SBC) Burgundy clone?
JS Yeah. We do. I started actually with 8 little plants brought from France, well, they were 8, 9 dead twigs. I stuck them in the ground and 8 of them grew. Over a period of years we’ve taken more and more cuttings. We graft everything on rootstock that does very well here, fairly low vigor plants. We’re developing a new little block down below Bay block. Then, on our neighbor’s property, he asked us to develop a two acre Syrah vineyard. That’s the new one over there. So, a few years from now we’ll start producing a Windy Oaks Syrah. It should be pretty interesting since it is such a cool climate here. It should be very intense and have a lot of complexity to it.
Pinot is now being grown all over California. And it is in barrel for a very short time, if at all. Oak chips are very often used, etc. For many folks it has become the new gateway wine, just as Merlot was some years ago. Of course, its complexity in better expressions can be daunting. So I wonder if in the last few years there has occured the ‘merlotization’ of Pinot? I mean, it is being homogenized, standardized as happened to Merlot, not to mention other grape varieties.
JS Yes. The problem with Pinot, I think moreso than any other grape, is the extent you grow it in a warmer climate it gets very simple and thin very quickly. Chardonnay is that way too, to an extent. They talk about the oaky, buttery California Chardonnay. I think in reality it is not because of the winemaking techniques that those wines end up oaky and buttery; it’s because the grapes are grown in relatively warm places. The Chardonnay grape, like a Pinot, if it’s grown in a relatively warm place it ends up producing a simple, uninteresting wine. Those components, in the case of the oak and butter (the diacetyl comes from the malolactic fermentation), that comes to the fore because there is not that much else there!
We have very high malic acid levels here. I know our Chardonnay has very high levels of this so-called buttery component, but, in fact, our wines taste like white Burgundys. They have no butteriness to them at all. And that’s because there are all these other things going on. It’s not a blank slate. There is a lot of complexity to the wine. And so, that butter just recedes into the background. Likewise our Chardonnay is barrel fermented and in barrel for 18 months yet it doesn’t have much oakiness at all. And that is because we have such a high natural level of acidity, a really good acid-fruit balance. Again, the oak is there but in the background. The complexity of the wine comes through.
We’re getting good set in the SBC fruit this year. This weather has been kinda perfect; not too hot, not too cool. You can see the flowering. These brown caps, these have actually set. The clusters are slightly larger than normal size this year. And there are a lot of them. It could be quite a good harvest. Time will tell.
How did you choose your trellising technique?
JS Well, I studied all the different trellisings and I decided that it was really important, because of the Pinot Noir’s thin skin and its susceptibility to things like mildew, that it was really important to get good airflow. This trellis is designed to maximize the airflow. All the blocks, except little Henry’s block, are orientated towards the Bay so we get the breeze blowing up the rows. And we remove some leaves in the fruiting zone where they are thick to enhance the airflow. Normally, some of these would not be as visible as they are. The ideal is one leaf layer between the fruit and the outside of the canopy. That gives you sort of dappled sun-light on the clusters, so it’s not baking in the sun all the time but you are getting a little sun-light to thicken up the skins slightly and enhance some of those components in the wine ultimately.
JS Well, we actually, in a normal year, get about 55 inches of rain in here in the Winter. We end up dry farming about 80% of the vineyard. But we have the irrigation as a kind of a back-up. We needed it when the plants we’re very young to get the vineyard established. But it’s mostly a back-up so if we do have a very dry year, which two of the three last years have been very dry. We were down last year about 40% of our normal rainfall and the year before was almost 40%. So in those years we usually end up irrigating a little bit.
I use a piece of technology called a pressure bomb/pressure chamber to directly measure the water content of the plants. I like to slightly stress the plants. The interesting thing about grape vines is there is not a direct relationship between the moisture in the soil and how much water the vines are taking up. That depends on the environment, it depends on the mineral content of the soil, the particular clone, the general climate, etc. It’s been traditional to water based on the amount of moisture in the soil; it turns out that doesn’t tell you a whole lot about the water content of the plants. You need a slightly expensive technology that allows you to do that. I think it’s a wonderful thing.
The first year we used it we reduced our water consumption, the plants were quite a bit younger then, but we reduced our water consumption by almost 60% that year. Rain-wise, that Winter, the previous Winter, had been the same as the year before. We were comparing apples to apples over the two successive vintages in terms of water in the soil. So we reduced water usage by more than half with this technology.
We also use some infrared technology to identify stress in a block or some plant, we can then go down the rows to look at the canopy for variations, and where there are significant variations you know that plant is getting overly stressed. In those situations we’ll individually water the plants if there are just a few of them. We’re trying to create a very even canopy, slightly stressing the vines, so as to get as much intensity of flavor as possible without harming the long-term viability of the plants.
And with dry-farming you get a greater biomass in the roots. Have you done a biomass analysis of a vine?
JS Yes you do. We have, but we’ve never gotten to the bottom of it! A mature vine. one that is ten to fifteen years old, can go down 20 to 25 feet if it doesn’t hit an impenetrable layer. The one vine we did that on we got down to about and we stopped. But it was thick going down at that level! (laughs)
So in a dry year we might end up irrigating say, late August once, and then late September once. Just enough to keep the plants going without having them shut down. Again, we’re harvesting so late. We need the plants to keep going! (laughs)
What is your water source?
JS We’ve got a well here, a good, deep well. We’re a 1000 feet, the well is down about 250 feet, so it’s still 720 feet above sea level. The water quality is pretty good.
At this point in the interview we drove down the vineyard slope, back to the winery. On the way down I took a pic of the new Syrah plantings and of the newer vines propagated from the SBC block on top, a great spot for growing grapes.
Does the deer fence surround the property?
JS Yes, it’s 6 1/2 feet high. That’s our biggest pest. The thing of it is deer can jump that high but only if they’re frightened. We’ve never gotten a deer in the vineyard that’s jumped the fence.
So the tasting room is incorporated into the winery.
JS Yes. We’re too small to have separate facilities.
Where are the pillars? Where’s the faux marble?!
JS Exactly! Exactly! You won’t find it here. (laughs) This area here we use, obviously, as our bottling area. We’ve got a computer-controlled basket press which I really like because I’ve programmed it for the press to run for over an hour. It runs into a tank which is blanketed with Argon gas. It is a very gentle type of press. The thing about it is that it is very gentle, but 95% of the wine goes down through the press cake. It acts a kind of filter of the lees and you’re getting a few more skin components out of it.
Then we go directly into barrels, so I don’t settle at all. Despite the fact we’re in barrels so long we don’t rack our barrels. So the entire time the wine is in barrel it’s on the fine lees. I really believe that they nourish the wine and they definitely protect it from oxygenation. We’ll stir the lees periodically until we go through malolactic. Then the wine sits undisturbed. It also allows us to bottle everything unfiltered and unfined. Even our Chardonnay is unfiltered and unfined, which I think is unusual in California.
Gravity works! You just have to give it time to work. I find that after, oh, 15 months the wine has gotten very clear. Then we take the wine out of barrel and bottle by gravity. We have a state-of-the-art bottling line we bought a couple of years ago. It is very unusual for a winery of our size, but I thought it was really important because we do quite a few small lots throughout the year. I like the quality this bottling line provides, and also the flexibility it gives me. It’s got some patented technology. The company that makes it is Italian, they are the largest bottling manufacturer in the world, GAI. The fillers, for example, we fill by gravity but they’re hollow-core, and as the bottle is filling it is continually injecting Nitrogen into the bottle, flushing out all the Oxygen. I’ve found that this really minimizes ‘bottle shock’. And within a couple of weeks after bottling the wine tastes to me like it did before going into bottle. So we don’t suffer long periods of bottle shock. We can release the wine anytime after that.
And I have in a pinch bottled by myself. You just put some empty bottles on the one end and walk over to the other end and a completely finished bottle comes out. I’ve done thirty to forty cases by myself.
You still use cork, of course.
JS Yes. I think screw caps were actually foisted on us by the aluminum companies because, think about it, cork is a totally renewable resource. Every ten years you back to the tree you last harvested from, strip off the bark and cut out the cork from the bark. Ten years later that tree’s grown, you go back to the tree and strip it off again. Instead of using Aluminum, which is very energy-intensive to make. And screw caps have a slightly higher spoilage rate than corks, a little over 3% for a screw cap. We find with corks that the suppliers have gotten so good, the quality control is so good, we typically have one corked bottle in forty to fifty cases.
That’s consistently what I hear. From Michael Broadbent to Gary Vaynerchuk of WL; one in every 300 to 400 bottles under cork. But some folks continue to insist on 10%.
JS I don’t know where that comes from. (laughs)
Some wines benefit from screw caps, of course.
JS Some wines, like a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, are meant to be drunk right away, screw caps are fine. But for wines that will really age well, like ours will, with a lot of structure, I really like the cork. We’re sticking with corks. (laughs)
JS Here’s our barrel room. We use about 50% new French oak barrels every year. I’ve found a furniture maker down in Paso Robles I’m going to give some old barrels to, and have him make some lawn chairs. We’ll see how that goes. He makes beautiful outdoor furniture by taking apart old barrels, reshaping the staves. The wood is so beautiful.
To get really tight-grained wood like this you need to be in a marginal growing climate. There are a couple forests in Burgundy, near-by Burgundy, that are that way. The wood from these barrels in over 150 years old. It comes from government-controlled forests, and they auction off a small percentage of the trees each year. It turns out, it is one of the things the French government does very well, they actually have more board-feet of barrel wood today than they had two of three decades ago. Again, it’s a totally renewable resource.
Have you thought about writing a book?
JS I’ve thought off and on. I just don’t have the time. Since I started the winery my vegetable garden has really deteriorated. I don’t even have time for that. Maybe someday, if my son does really get involved in the business. I do love travel. We wouldn’t mind living in France for a few months of the year.
Do you remember your first medal?
JS That’s a good question…. We’ve been really fortunate in that early on we thought we needed to get recognition somehow. So we submitted, we were only making one wine, that was one Pinot, we submitted it to the San Francisco International, I think it was. I might be wrong about that. (laughs) We won a Gold Medal out of the block with our first wine! A problem with competitions is palate fatigue of the judges. It all depends if you are at the beginning of a flight or at the end, the judges you get.
The international competitions tend to appreciate a little more the subtle nuances and elegance in wines. It seems like non-international competitions, though it’s hard to generalize, look for something that really stands out, that hits them over the head.
This year our first two releases of the ’07s, our 2007 Estate Cuvée and our 2007 Terra Naro, we submittet them to the BTI International Competition in Chicago and the Pacific Rim International Competition. They both won Gold Medals. There are others! The vineyards are very consistent.
Well, this has been absolutely great fun. Who is that in the picture? John Muir?
JS (laughs) It’s actually Monet in his garden. We’ve visited his garden. They’ve restored them. They actually look very much like they did when he lived there, in Giverny. I just love that picture. That must be back in the Twenties, around that era. Monet in his garden. Lovely.
Thank you, Jim.
JS You’re welcome, Ken.
I’ve always enjoyed May, if only for the public holidays at either end, and this one was made all the more glorious by clear, sunny skies and rising temperatures hinting that there may be a real summer this year. Supermarkets were the running wine theme throughout the month, possibly not that surprising as, on average, supermarket wine makes up 40% of my purchases.
As I reported in my recent post on the Newcastle Wine Fair this enjoyable event confirmed the strong wine ethic of both Waitrose and Marks & Spencer, and only a week later I found myself in the food-hall of M&S showing just how much I liked their Ernst Loosen 2007 Erdener Treppchen Riesling Kabinett by buying a bottle. I had also intended to buy the Bonny Doon Shiraz that I’d raved about, but instead opted for another of Randall Grahm’s finest, the 2006 Central Coast Sangiovese.
Things then quietened down as far as drinking goes, although this didn’t stop another corked wine appearing (my second this year). This time the offending bottle was one I picked up from Tesco in early 2007, their own-label (Tesco’s Finest) 2004 South African Shiraz by Boschendal Winemaker James Farquharson. Tantalisingly I could tell that behind that undeniable “off” aroma and taste there was a decent hit of fruit hinting at the quality I had been hoping for.
This was bought at a time when Tesco were improving their wine range, unfortunately they look like they’ve reversed this trend in recent months with a noticeable change back to the bad old days of “pile ‘em high and sell ‘em cheap” – the last few times I’ve been in my local stores (for my sins I have 2 of their “Hypermarkets” near my home town) I struggled to find much to interest me. Their regular Wine-Club magazine has similarly seen a drop in quality as well, the last one was nothing but front-to-back page advertisements without even the pretence of a wine “story” hidden within, and hardly any of the usual vouchers to entice you to buy an extra bottle in store – I guess even this corporate giant is being affected by the recession.
For only the second time this year I opened a bottle of U.S. wine, the 2003 Ravenswood Lodi old vine Zinfandel. Having been patiently waiting in the cellar for two and a half years this was bursting with aromas of dark berry fruit & spice and in the mouth there was a melange of secondary flavours; some tar, chocolate, leather and coffee – an excellent 3+ drink and so enjoyable that, only a few days later, I picked up the 2006 vintage from ASDA (a rare purchase from another supermarket I tend to have difficulty buying from).
Image, US-Can Flags.jpg
As the month progressed an unusually high number of (North) American wines were added to the cellar; joining the Bonny Doon and the Ravenswood were the Brook Ranch 2006 Pinot Noir from the Edna Valley (Marmesa Vineyards) and the Jackson-Triggs 2006 Proprietors’ reserve Vidal Icewine. However to put it in perspective my inventory still only stands at 7 bottles and shows the relative difficulty of buying good quality but affordable American wines here in the U.K.
One of the final purchases was another supermarket own label, but this time it was the Cooperative that caught my eye with their relatively new “Reserve” wines. I picked up the St. Gabriel Vineyard 2007 Viognier made by Jean Claude Mas (of Domaine Paul Mas in the Languedoc), as reviewed by Tim Atkin in The Guardian. It was actually the end of last year the COOP introduced this new line of premium wines in refreshing contrast to the direction Tesco are taking, but I’ve only just seen them in my local store and expect to be trying out more from the range in the future.
Of the wines drank during May a few others seemed worth commenting on. The Château Romer du Hayot 2004, my first bottle of Sauternes, was a fresh, honeyed sweetie – light on the palate in spite of a relatively thick texture. I enjoyed the floral, slightly bitter finish with an undertone of honey, but it will take more interesting Sauternes than this to move me away from Tokaji as my go-to dessert wine.
I’ve already mentioned the Ravenswood Lodi, a solid 3+ wine, as was the Viña Peñalolén 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon – a very drinkable, although slightly over the top, fruit-bomb. Less enjoyable was the Château Ksara 2005 Le Prieuré from Lebanon, light and acidic in the mouth, a little medicinal at first, weak in flavour and concentration and a dull 2 stars – not what I’ve come to expect from this country and my previous outings with Châteaux Musar and Kefraya.
The last wine of the month was a Dutch red, the Domein van Stokkom De Linie 2007 Rode from the Netherlands that I purchased on vacation last year (and wrote about the winery in a previous article). Although no more than 3 stars I was very satisfied drinking this, and not just for summer memories. The nose was full of fresh cherry & berry fruit with creamy aspects, and while the flavour couldn’t match the aroma there was a good balance of acidity and (light) tannins – it went exceptionally well with roast lamb and benefitted from being slightly chilled.
Overall the month started bigger than it finished, which went for the weather as well with June starting with a drop in temperatures and rain clouds on the horizon – maybe summer isn’t here just yet!
Last May, days before the Santa Cruz Mountains Vintner’s Festival, a devastating fire which had swept through portions of the west side of the Santa Cruz Mountains was finally 100% contained. During the course of following the fire I called a number of wineries in the vicinity to ask after their safety, and was later to write a summary of the exchanges. Among the most compelling stories was that of Jim and Judy Schultze, owners of Windy Oaks Estate Vineyards near Corralitos. Their car was packed with all they could save, and they waited for the evacuation order to come. Judy watched trees explode into flame half a mile from their residence, winery, and vineyards.
Well, a year has passed. Another Vintner’s Festival has arrived. I thought it an interesting time to visit the winery.
I arrived at just after eleven on Friday and was driven by Mr. Schultze to the highest vineyards on their property. Looking out on the Monterey Bay, among the namesake oaks, we talked.
Admin Are you looking forward to the Vintner’s Festival, and the work in the tasting room generally?
Jim Schultze I really enjoy the opportunity to talk to people and to explain to them about the vineyards and why they are so critical to the wine we make, the holistic idea of the whole thing. But it’s pretty difficult when you’ve got a line out to the crush pad!
So, we’ve got 15 acres of vines here, fourteen of Pinot Noir and one of Chardonnay. And we’ve planted a little vineyard in Aptos which is another four acres of Pinot.
So Pinot is your speciality…
JS Yes. It’s all we do. Well, we’ve got an acre of Chardonnay here so we make 50 to 150 cases a year. Everything else is Pinot. We planted these vineyards, except the ones down by the winery, in ‘96, ‘97, so the oldest of them are in their 13th leaf this year. So they are getting nice and mature as you can see.
We’ll just drive up to the top. The top of the vineyard at the oak trees here is a ridge about a thousand feet above the [Monterey] Bay. We can see a large chuck of the Bay the the whole of the Monterey Peninsula if it is clear.
Pinot grows very well here but are you yourself a keen Pinot fan?
JS Actually I am. We lived in Europe for a couple of years and started going to Burgundy quite a bit. That’s what really gave me my inspiration for the winery here. It was a model because in Burgundy all the wineries that you’ve heard of, Domanie Romanée-Conti, Dujac, Mugnier, Roumier, they are all 100% estate. They don’t differentiate between growing grapes and making wine. They think of them as the same thing. And that was my model when we decided to do this. So we’re all estate, we don’t buy any grapes. We put a lot of effort into the vineyard. We’ve developed some proprietary approaches to maximize quality in the vineyard that are very labor intensive.
And then in the winery we take what one wine writer recently described as an ‘extreme minimal intervention’ approach. So we try not to manipulate the fruit at all. We don’t use any additives, no enzymes, no acidulation, that kind of thing. The winery is all gravity. We do about half wild yeast fermentations which are the yeasts that occur naturally on the grape skins. And we have a very long barrel aging. So it’s a very natural approach to winemaking.
The vineyards are really unusual, they are the key to our wine in that we have probably the longest growing season for Pinot Noir in California. We typically have bud break at the end of February, early March, and for the last four years, two of which were really early years in most of California, we finished harvest within two days, plus or minus, of November 1st. So, February, late February, to November, we’ve got the vines in an active growing state! (laughs) People talk about the Sonoma Coast, oh, the long, slow, late season… they typically harvest two to three weeks ahead of us.
Anyway, a very long, slow growing season, typically we don’t get a lot of heat spikes, so it allows the fruit to develop a lot of complex flavors without getting super high sugar levels. The wines end up with moderate alcohol levels but with a lot of layering, a lot of nice complexity.
So no messing with the sugar content at all, the alcohol…
JS No. We really don’t need to. Well, it’s pretty clear out there. You can just make out the beaches along Monterey, heading up into Monterey there. When it is clear you can see a good chunk of the Bay. Today there’s a marine layer over the Bay.
Whose property is that off in the distance?
JS That’s actually Regan Vineyard, John Bargetto. They’re 100 to 200 feet lower than we are. As you probably know, one of the unique things about the Santa Cruz Mountains is there are literally hundreds of micro-climates because of the irregular shape of the Bay, the irregular shape of the mountains, all the different elevations. So you could go literally a quarter mile in any direction from here, plant exactly the same vines and yet get different flavor characteristics in the wine because it would be a different micro-climate.
You see that in agriculture generally. At Farmer’s Markets, for example, some folks closer to the Coast can’t grow certain vegetables, but just over a hill, for crying out loud, that can make all the difference in the world.
JS Yes. So, looking around at the vineyard, the one acre of Chardonnay is right here. [Bottom of slope.] Everything else you see in Pinot Noir. The sections down at this end are our oldest sections. Bay Block and Henry’s Block are typically where our reserve comes from. The Bay on one side the Redwoods on the other… (laughs)
Just beautiful. I remember speaking with your wife, Judy, on the telephone, just a year ago when the fire was raging. She mentioned watching the trees explode along a ridge line.
JS Yes! Those lines down this hill over here are actually fire breaks big bulldozers cut. The fire came right to that point, about a half a mile from here. And you can see beyond that, that hilltop, all that’s burned up there. It’s starting to green up, it’s actually greened up remarkably considering the fires were just a year ago. It came pretty close. Luckily the winds, our normal Bay breezes started blowing at the end of the first day. We ended up getting very little smoke here. Actually, Watsonville got a lot of ash. We go almost no ash here! For some reason, the shape of the hills and so forth, the smoke blew over initially, and then, of course, once the sea breezes started it blew up towards the summit and over towards the valley. We were really lucky, both in terms of the smoke and, of course, the fire! there seems to be a difference of opinion as to whether vineyards will actually burn. but I wouldn’t really want to test it. (laughs)
As far as the smoke damage is concerned, I had heard that only in Mendocino County, there is some indication of smoke damage. That it might mark the vintage in interesting ways.
JS Well, a friend of mine bought a quantity of fruit from a vineyard out in Carmel Valley. She called me and said “I can’t figure out what’s going on with this wine. Can you come and take a look at it?” And I did. The interesting thing is that I had never smelled or experienced smoke-tainted wine before. But with this wine, in the nose, it actually smelled smoky, not in a good way, sort of an acrid smell. And then there was a similar sort of flavor. It’s hard to describe but it is not a pleasant sensation. And this vineyard is right in the line of where the Big Sur fires’ smoke blew. They went on for weeks. This vineyard was right in the wind path of that. That wine was a good example of what can happen. It’s not good.
Like the smell after a house fire. Nothing romantic about it.
JS The smoke or so-called smoky flavor in wine can be a good thing in wine, but not this type of smoky.
So, it’s a great site here. The interesting thing is we farm by block and harvest by block. So our harvest extends over a three week period. And we make nine different Pinots from these few acres. And they are all different. It shows you the impact of terroir, which I know you are interested in!
I sure as hell am! It makes all the difference in the world. That’s why I am here today, to be honest with you. I pick vineyards very carefully before I venture out.
JS I find that the terroir is far more important than the particular clone. There is a lot of talk recently about Pinot Noir clones, how certain ones have certain characteristics, other ones have other characteristics. I find here, the key thing is really where the clone is growing in the vineyard. I can take the same clone, like the Dijon 115, from different parts of the vineyard and the fruit will have different characteristics and the wine in barrels, slightly different flavors. I keep everything separate in barrel and then blend it in the end.
Do you have a different barrel regimen for each of the Pinots? New oak, second year?
JS We use about half new oak, new French oak. Our wood program is very important to us because we are using a high percentage of new oak. I like the oak to sit in the background. The other thing we’re doing that’s kind of unusual, at least for California, is our Pinots are in barrel anywhere from 17 to 27 months. Now you’re starting to see a lot of Pinots that have been in barrel 9, 10, 11 months. The fact that we’re in barrels so long has some wonderful benefits, but it also means that the barrels need to have a really tight grain so they don’t release the oak tannins into the wine or alot of oaky flavor and aromas.
So we go to France every year. We’ve got three main barrel makers in Burgundy…
Would you care to mention them?
JS We use Francois Freres, Remond, and Sirugue, they are the three main ones. We visit them every year, work with them on wood selection and toast levels. With toast levels I have very specific requirements, which is a medium toast, long toasting so it is deep in the barrel; deep is a relative thing. It’s still a small part of the surface in terms of depth. But deep toasting, long toasting, not charred.
People will say it is a real boondoggle going to France every year. It is very enjoyable. We love Burgundy. We love the fact that unlike Napa, which is, say, mainly about grapes and wine, Burgundy is certainly all about wine but it is also about food, the way the two go together. That really appeals to us. We have our favorite restaurants in Burgundy we go to every year. We always look for new ones as well. I am continually amazed at how the right wine paired with the right food will bring out subtle nuances of flavors of each you don’t get in either by itself. Burgundy really hits you over the head with that.
In fact, our son, our youngest son is in Burgundy right now interning at a winery. He’ll be there for the entire growing season, through harvest, through going into barrel. He wants to join the winery here eventually. This is part of his training program.
What has been you experience with winemakers in Burgundy?
JS You know, it’s funny. You find out very quickly that it’s sort of a collegial group pretty much world-wide. When we go there each year our barrel makers will typically take us to visit one or two wineries each. So we’ll visit five or six wineries when we go. We’ll spend hours down in their caves, literally hours, tasting through all the different vineyards that they have. And always staring with the village wines, then moving to the premier cru, finally moving to the grand cru The problem is by the time you get to the grand cru you’re taste buds are totally gone. I always think, boy, we ought to start the opposite! Start with the grand crus! But they always do it that way.
We’ll spend hours doing this, discussing how they make the wine… we sometimes end up with discussions about politics. They are actually interested in the world, what’s going on in America. I always come away with a little experiment to try, some of which work. I then apply it on a large scale. Some don’t. For example, early on we used to take the typical California approach to malo-lactic fermentation which is to inoculate for ML when the sugars in the primary fermentation get down to roughly four or five degrees brix. And so by the time we went into barrel the malo was finished. Now we let the malo occur naturally. Usually, because we harvest so late and it is already so cold at night, it doesn’t get going until the Springtime when it warms up. In our ‘08 vintage, for example, we’re just finishing up malo just now [6/5].
So that was something my barrel makers and the wineries we visited all said we ought to let occur naturally in the barrel. I tried it in a small group of half a dozen barrels. I really liked the results. Now we do it with everything. There is always something to learn. That’s one of the great things about the industry because it really is an art and a science. There are a lot of things that are known, but there are more things that aren’t known, scientifically. There is alot of room for experimentation and creativity, and innovation.
How do the changes in temperature affect the wild fermentations?
JS Well, we do all small lots, small one ton lots. With that fairly small volume you don’t tend to get runaway fermentations in terms of the heat sense, or stuck fermentations. But because we harvest so late with the night’s being so cold our fermentations are really drawn out. Last year we were in fermentation tank an average of 31 days. I had two small French oak fermentors, open top fermentors, that went 51 and 53 days respectively. Long, long fermentations! (laughs) It’s essentially Christmas by the time we get everything into barrel. But because we are in barrel for so long we don’t have to be in a rush to get anything done. The malos finish the next Spring or early Summer and then the wine’s in barrel for a considerable period after that. So we always have a couple of vintages in the barrel room at any given point in time because our last three vintages of reserve, for example, have gone 25, 25, and 23 months in barrel.
My first two vintages of this little block, which I take care of myself, and as a clone we propagated from Burgundy, it went to 27 months in barrel. It is a clone which is not available in this country and has some really interesting characteristics, really intensive dark fruit and long a long, long finish. You take a sip an a minute later you’re still getting nuances of flavor.
Being in barrel for that long topping off becomes an issue. What wines do you use for topping off?
JS We have little stainless steel open tanks with floating lids, and so we take a barrel from a particular vintage and use that as required. Over the course of the vintage we use several barrels just as topping wine. I keep our barrel room at about 80% humidity so it minimizes the topping losses. We top up every month, except in the Summer, every two weeks. I taste every barrel in the winery every month, and I start to develop ideas of what profile it really fits. So I have a profile in mind, for example, for our reserve. I want that to be our most elegant, complex, and feminine Pinot: A lot of layers of flavor, a nice long finish, beautiful round mouth-feel.
So, in tasting through the barrels, if I come upon a barrel that I think really fits that profile I’ll mark that in my mind as a potential reserve barrel. Subsequent tastings, 10 to 15 times or more, after malo (we typically have very high malic acid levels here), I’ll have a good idea of where we are.
End of pt. 1
Over the next two weekends among the finest wineries in the Santa Cruz Mountains AVA will be pouring the fruits of their labor. This weekend, the 6th and 7th, it will be the Santa Cruz County’s West side; next weekend, the 13th and 14th, the East side, Santa Clara and San Mateo Counties will take center stage.
The great motivation for the public’s participation is the variety of uncommon activities and tasting opportunities left up to each winery. Of primary interest is barrel sampling. The 2008 vintage is maturing. This would be an ideal occasion for the public to learn quite a bit about a winery’s barrel regimen. French or American oak? How many years old? 1st year, neutral? Toasting level? Stainless?
And of their sourcing? Many wineries purchase grapes from vineyards they do not own. This would be a fine time to ask after how a winery chooses its fruit. Do they insist on sustainable standards? How often do they visit the vineyard(s) during the course of the year? Is a given winemaker able to specify ripeness and when to pick? What kind of contract do they enjoy? Perhaps it is just the shake of the hand. Do they source from the same vineyard year after year?
And if they own vineyard land perhaps they might provide insight into how they grow. Do they dry farm or irrigate? How old are the vines? How often do they have to replant? Do they promote vineyard biodiversity? What pesticides do they use, if any? Ask about how harvesting is done and who does it.
These are just a few of the questions a visitor might ask. Tasting tells only a small part of the story. This event, the Vintner’s Festival, is an excellent opportunity to learn a thing or two even the major wine critics may not know. And no need to feel intimidated. If we may be persuaded by a wine score, how much better the tasting experience to actually become a bit more familiar with the realities of the craft?
Please join me in celebrating World Environment Day, a UN initiative. A magnificent film, Home by Yann Arthus-Bertrand may be viewed in its entirety here.
In mid-May Senator Diane Feinstein reintroduced the Agriculture Job Opportunity, Benefits and Security Act, aka, the AgJOBS bill. For those with both an interest in the complexities of immigration reform and long memories may well recall that the first occasion of the bill’s presentation was in 2000. The political climate has not been favorable for the last decade, but it is marginally better now. It is hoped the Obama administration may at last initiate meaningful debate before the end of the year.
A bit of background. I encourage readers to first read an excellent piece from the California Farm Bureau Federation written by the always dependable Christine Souza. Attention must also be paid to what has been written by Farm Worker Justice. Their mission statement:
Farmworker Justice is a nonprofit organization that seeks to empower migrant and seasonal farmworkers to improve their living and working conditions, immigration status, health, occupational safety, and access to justice.
My own interest in this matter is not only the wine industry and the centrality of undocumented farm workers to realize its products, but also to promote the subject for fellow wine bloggers to explore in their own time, that they may find this topic worthy of their inquiry.
This is the first in a series of posts I will be assembling on the progress of the AgJOBS bill, necessarily modest owing to the pending nature of the legislation. I have nevertheless sought to lay the groundwork for a greater understanding of the bill in its current form. I wrote to Senator Diane Feinstein, and two of the 16 Senate co-sponsors, Barbara Boxer, and Charles Schumer, asking them all the same questions concerning certain provisions of the bill. First is Senator Feinstein’s preamble to the bill as currently written:
“Today across the United States, there are not enough agricultural workers to pick, prune, pack or harvest our country’s crops. With an inadequate supply of workers, farmers from Maine to California, and from Washington State to Georgia, have watched their produce rot and their farms lay fallow over the years.
“As a result, billions of dollars are being drained out of our already struggling economy. This legislation would help to ensure a consistent, reliable agriculture work force to ensure that farmers and growers never again lose their crops because of a lack of workers.”
What follows are only the principle elements of the bill about which I asked questions. My questions are in italics.
Undocumented agriculture workers would be eligible for a “blue card” if they can demonstrate having worked in American agriculture for at least 150 work days (or 863 hours) over the previous two years before December 31, 2008.
Would the ‘blue card’ make easier the passage of an agricultural worker to and from their nation of birth?
The blue card would entitle the worker to a temporary legal resident status. The total number of blue cards would be capped at 1.35 million over a five-year period, and the program would sunset after five years.
How was the cap of 1.35 million blue cards over a five year period arrived at?
Employment would be verified through employer issued statements, pay stubs, W-2 forms, employer contracts, time cards, employer sponsored health care or payment of taxes.
With respect to the documentation required for a ‘blue card’, “employer issued statements, pay stubs, W-2 forms, employer contracts, time cards, employer sponsored health care or payment of taxes”, what is an agricultural worker’s recourse should s/he have been hired for many jobs on a cash-only basis?
What is the definition, from above, of an ‘employer issued statement’?
Are employers currently required to keep such documentation? And will the AgJOBS bill require employers to provide said documentation at the ag worker’s request?
Would an ag worker be able to use documentation if s/he were living in the US under a false name and the documentation recorded only such a false name?
I hope to provide an update in a few days.
Yesterday evening Robert Parker belatedly addressed the subject of an article published by Mr. Kesmodel in the Wall Street Journal, which itself was the belated culmination of a series of energetic threads, weeks in the making, around the internet. Chief among them were Steve Heimoff’s compelling thread, most recently, that of the Wine Library , and arguably his motivational source, the ‘tipping point’, Dr. Vino’s effort. The controversy generally settles around the matter of a conflict of interest by two of Mr. Parker’s principle wine reviewers, Dr. Jay Miller and Mark Squires. It seems both reviewers have accepted, independently of Mr. Parker’s personal standards, previously undisclosed material advantages including, but not limited to, paid travel, meal and hotel expenses. It must be said both Dr. Miller and Mr. Squires are largely indifferent to the appearance of a conflict of interest. Neither gentlemen has been willing to hazard a comment independently of their boss, defering instead to Mr. Parker; hence his new ‘Hospitality Standards’.
What is particularly bizarre in all of this is the remoteness of the principle figure, Mr. Parker himself. As he explains with respect to the Wall Street Journal article,
Let me address the question of why I didn’t speak to the reporter. The facts as I know them from my staff are that he contacted my office on May 18th while I was away on a tasting trip to California. He did not indicate why he wanted to speak to me so my office sent him an email asking about that and about his deadline. He responded that it was a story about the blogosphere controversy surrounding Jay Miller and, to a lesser extent, Mark Squires and he said that his deadline was May 20th, an impossible schedule for me given my commitments on the west coast. He emailed my office again after it was closed late on a Friday extending the deadline but my assistant didn’t even see that email until she returned from vacation after the story had been published. However, had I been back from the west coast with time to respond, I would have directed him to my postings put on the Bulletin Board several weeks earlier. In fact, I’ve got a copy of an email Mark Squires sent him doing just that for his postings but their content wasn’t utilized in the story.
While his Empire implodes under the scrutiny of well-informed critics, he is unable to check his email.
Though he may refer in his defense to a mind-numbing, loquacious thread, it remains true that he is steeped in contradiction. Witness this strange contortion,
The WSJ story was a rehash of a story about Jay Miller and Mark Squires in the blogosphere a month earlier. I investigated it fully then, found absolutely no evidence of bias, and disciplined Jay Miller. He took three all-expense paid trips to Australia and South America and he knows this is unacceptable. Jay is a person of considerable talent and integrity, but used very poor judgment. Moreover, I am clearly at fault for not properly supervising him.
Mr. Parker found no evidence of bias yet he nevertheless disciplined Mr. Miller. What are we to make of this? Perhaps Dr. Miller was unaware of Mr. Parker’s standards. Is that possible?
Mr. Parker goes on to say,
There is absolutely no excuse for any of this but I should say all of the writers I hire are not employees, but do contract jobs with strictly defined parameters and ethical standards. They are all impeccable professionals, carefully chosen for both their talent and honesty. I am very proud of their contributions. While I am embarrassed by Jay Miller’s behavior, I am grateful it was brought to my attention. In short, this will never happen again. All of them understand fully that largesse and hospitality from the wine trade is unacceptable.
So, Mr. Parker hires contractors “with strictly defined parameters and ethical standards.” He insists they are chosen “for both their talent and honesty”. So where were Mr. Miller and Mr. Squires on that particular training day? And yet Mr. Parker is grateful the conflict of interest was brought to his attention. And who was it who brought it to his attention? It was select bloggers, the very bloggers he claims are writing fictions.
…the totally fictitous stories circulating are more difficult to comprehend, and I have seen so many of them over the years, it just saddens me how far journalists, and now bloggers, speculate, manufacture, and state as fact, without any attempt at investigation to substantiate the truth of what they write….
Perhaps some good will come of this, especially with the new FTC guidelines. Mr. Parker, Mr. Miller, and Mr. Squires may yet come to realize they are themselves bloggers.