It has been an extraordinarily productive second year on Reign of Terroir. Founded in early December 2007, this merry band of writers has continued to improve and deepen our work. With undiminished passion for the culture, history and future of wine filling our sails, we expect to be around for many years to come. The guiding principle of this blog is that no topic, story or individual will be approached without the writer learning too. I share with my colleagues this principle: if we don’t learn alongside our valued readership there is no point to the work. We would prefer, we insist, that something durable, something of lasting value come of our untold hours of scribbling!
But for the purposes of this post I will speak only for myself. What follows are the ten (okay, eleven) of my favorite interviews of the year, listed in chronological order. I decided not to include narrative and/or more technical pieces, despite my fondness for many of them, in favor of those posts where the idea is to let another speak with limited interference. The interview format, each requiring hours of (mostly) faithful transcription, has proven a favorite of mine. Even my sole complaint, the hours of tedious transcription, is actually a benefit. I am compelled to listen closely, in some instances to replay a dozen times difficult accents or wind and noise-buffeted passages and sentences to finally understand the sense of my interlocutor. (I’ve had migraine-inducing days teasing the meaning from an international phone call with an Aussie! Did he just say he wore women’s dainties?) For it is not always easy to receive clarification in a timely manner.
Just as with learning a foreign language, through repetition I am left with a lasting memory of the encounter. Indeed, though posted, I often keep the tape, not only for the resolution of the rare dispute, but because the voices of these people are fascinating, their speech rhythms and word choice, very much a part of the story. Sadly, the ‘performance’ of the conversation cannot be adequately conveyed. Perhaps I’ll begin posting audio files alone. Seems lazy to me, especially in a culture where the written word is under threat.
And doubtless the greatest reward from the interview format are the details which emerge from the brains of these gifted people. Some individuals are more guarded than others, to be sure. But in the fullness of the time I spend talking with folks much does emerge that seconds ago was unsaid and, perforce, unknown. Of course, the reader, too, will have to spend time with the people mentioned here to learn these things. Let me assure you, there are some wonderful insights to be found.
Let me add that many of the interviews are broken up into parts. The ‘infinite’ WordPress page is not. Reader patience is also a consideration. In any event, links to subsequent parts may usually be found at the end of the post. Sometimes after the introduction.
I have a couple of hours of recorded voices still awaiting transcription. And I will be back on the phone in a few days speaking with a new, creative soul. Stay tuned.
The charming and delightful Ariel Ceja of Ceja Vineyards.
Forensics scientist John Watling.
Swiss winegrower Peter Schmidt.
Sonoma winegrower Will Bucklin.
A lovely soul, Neal Rosenthal.
What a voice! Clive Coates.
Founder of Santa Cruz Mountain Vineyard, the magisterial Ken Burnap. (I still have one portion coming. Fascinating man.)
The brilliant Jonathan Nossiter. His mind moves like quicksilver.
Portugal’s First Family! My friends, the Sequeira’s of Carcavelos.
Another intellectual hero of mine, Portugal’s White Knight, Virgilio Loureiro.
Colares’ enologist, Francisco Figueiredo.
Happy New Year!
When I was asked for a list of top wines I’d tried over the year I quickly went through wines that had impressed over the last 12 months and ended up with a shortlist of about 25, but deciding on the final 10 was a lot harder than I expected.
You will not be surprised to see that the list is made up of an eclectic cross-section of the wine world – some drank at home and some tried at various tastings throughout the year. The lack of a single Bordeaux or Burgundy is a testament to my budget and the dearth of good, affordable wines from these regions.
The initial list is in order of style only – each was excellent in its own right and further ranking would be overly subjective.
*Château Montus 2003 Pacherenc du Vic-Bilh Sec, France
*Cossetti 2008 Roero Arneis, Italy
*Dr Hermann 2003 Erdener Treppchen Auslese, Germany
*Viña Valoria 2007 Rioja Rosado, Spain
*Château Musar 1999, Lebanon
*Mont Tauch “In Extremis” Durban 2001, France
*Ferngrove 2006 “The King” Malbec, Australia
*Agur Special Reserve 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon, Israel
*Pertaringa Vineyards Full Fronti, Australia
*Boplass Cape Tawny Port, South Africa
The detailed notes which follow adds some context to each wine; where drank, how much it cost and the flavours which caused them to stand out from the crowd, however, some of the ones that didn’t quite make it were good enough to at least deserve a mention in dispatches, so;
Cascina Ca’ Gialla 2008 Roero Arneis, M&S Ernst Loosen Erdener Treppchen 2007 Kabinett, 2005 FMC Forrester Meinert Chenin, Cline Cashmere 2007 GSM, Quinta da Fronteira 2006 Douro Selecção do Enólogo, Château Pesquie 2006 Quintessence Rouge, Dominio de Ugarte 2004 Reserva, Bodegas Emilio Moro 2006 Ribera del Duero, M&S Bonny Doon 2005 Central Coast Syrah, Reschke “Bull Trader” 2004 Cabernet Merlot, Casella Family Reserve 2007 Tempranillo, Hochar Père et Fils 2002, Royal Tokaji 2000 5 Puttonyos Aszú, Kracher 2006 Beerenauslese, Jackson-Triggs 2006 Proprietors’ reserve Vidal Icewine & Henriques & Henriques 15 Year Old Malvasia Madeira, Ployez-Jacquemart 1999 Champagne…phew!
Château Montus 2003 Pacherenc du Vic-Bilh Sec was made by Alain Brumont in Gers and bought from the Wine Society in August 2008 for £10. I drank this in February 2009 as part of a Wine Library TV Forums “Simultasting” (one of my last major contributions to the forums as it turned out).
Pacherenc du Vic-Bilh Sec is the Madiran’s white wine, both SW France Appellations sharing the same area, and Montus is made from the Petit Courbu variety.
The 2003 was a pale lemon colour with a creamy, floral aroma. At 14.5% abv the lack of legs was surprising and the nose closed down quickly. Initially the flavour was also closed; sharp at the beginning, bittersweet (more bitter) in the mid-palate and warming peach-stone on the finish. Later it opened up into something richer, a melange of fruit with melon and honey and a long, lingering finish.
Cossetti 2008 Roero Arneis was tasted at the inaugural Newcastle Wine on the Tyne Festival in October. This classic Piemontese white was £14.99 from Castello Italian Food & Wine and showed enough complexity to stand out in a busy tasting; very fruity on the nose this was a stunning wine with dry, honeyed stone-fruit flavours.
Dr Hermann 2003 Erdener Treppchen Auslese was also tried at an October tasting, this time an Alsace & Germany tasting at the Newcastle Wine School. Opened as the last wine of the evening this Mosel Riesling, available from Majestic for £8.99, had a full-on petrol & kerosene nose with a great dry/sweet balance and a taste of lime wrapped in caramel – definitely the star of that night and confirmation of why I like rich Rieslings.
Viña Valoria 2007 Rioja Rosado is the only Rosé in the Top 10 and came from Corkscrew Wines in Carlisle for £5.99. This 100% Tempranillo was bought and consumed in August and was sublime drunk outside with family on the one and only sunny Saturday afternoon that month. It had a gentle nose with some forest fruits and in the mouth was dry, smooth with a savoury watermelon taste – extremely well balanced with a mixed fruit finish.
Château Musar 1999 – Bought in June 2007 from Waitrose for £13.99 and drank with friends at home in June. The ’99 Musar was my first exposure to this cult Lebanese producer and, so far, the best (the ’00 and ’01 vintages haven’t excited me as much). A quick decant and pour released some beautiful aromas including smoke and tobacco with a subtle hint of V.A. and barnyard. Sweet and savoury in the mouth this had a Rhône style and was very, very smooth with fine-grain tannins and a long finish – a sublime wine drinking beautifully.
Agur Special Reserve 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon – I bought the bottle during my visit to this Judean Hills winery in February 2008 for the equivalent of £13.00. This is a last minute entry to the list as I only opened it mid-December to drink with family at home, but as soon as I tasted it I knew it was one of the best wines of the year.
It had a thick, dark purple colour, almost inky while the nose was enticing, smoky with some liquorice, vanilla and a hint (just a hint) of horse-manure. Supremely well balanced in the mouth both acidity and tannins were obvious but in synch. There was some sour cherry in the mid-palate and long chewy finish with some sweet berry fruit, this was an excellent wine, drinking well but probably could have improved with several more years in the bottle.
Mont Tauch “In Extremis” Fitou 2001 – was tasted at the August North East Wine Tasting Society (NEWTS) meeting and was bought for £18 on a visit to the region a few years ago by Harry Rose who gave the presentation on the Western Languedoc. This was my best wine of the night; a blend of 40% Syrah with 60% Carignan & Grenache which had a tarry nose with strong liquorice, a floral twist (maybe violets) with a touch of raisins. It was very smooth in the mouth with gentle tannins showing moderate length and a touch of sweetness.
Ferngrove’s 2006 King Malbec from Western Australia was another wine tasted at the Wine on the Tyne October Festival and cost £13.95 from local retailer The Hop, The Vine. As my first ever Australian Malbec I was impressed by its elegance – it had a spicy, complex nose good grip and subtle flavours. This was much better than the Argentinean and South African Malbecs also at the tasting and was yet another wine I liked that was drinking well but had ageing potential.
Boplass Cape Tawny Port, a 100% Tinta Barocca matured for 12 years in Portuguese oak barrels, was bought in Nov 2007 for the paltry sum of £4.50 from Bootleggers Bottleshop in Johannesburg.
I drank this in August and found it an equal to many a 10-15 year old tawny I’ve had from Portugal, which shouldn’t be surprising as South Africa has a tradition of fortified winemaking stretching back hundreds of years and this was from Calitzdorp in the Klein Karoo, where the Terroir is very similar to the Douro. Note that local producers can still use “Port” for wines sold in South Africa until 2014, but an agreement with the European Union phased out its use for the export market for 2007.
The wine was a burnished, autumnal colour, relatively clear, with a nose of warm raisin, sweet toffee and a tickle of alcohol on the sinuses! Sweet and luscious on the tongue the raisins came to the fore and the alcohol spread out over the palate. There was good acidity into the finish, with a medium length and a touch of heat on the throat.
Pertaringa Vineyards Full Fronti brings my list to a close. This was also tasted at the October Wine on the Tyne Festival and cost £11.50 a bottle from The Hop, The Vine. The Fronti refers to Frontignac, aka Muscat Blanc à Petits Grains, named for the Languedoc town of Frontignan which is famous for its fortified Muscat. Australia has taken the variety and style to heart and the Full Fronti from McLaren Vale is a powerful 20 year old wine with a massive attack of raisins on the nose which continues into the thick, sweet taste with toffee and chocolate aspects. It was such a perfect end to a busy tasting that I returned for a couple more refills!
So that’s my modest list, an affordable mix of good New and Old World wine that tasted great on the day – isn’t that what wine drinking is all about?
Merry Christmas & a Happy New Year,
The following list is a highly selective, somewhat whimsical compilation of this decade’s wine industry highlights, obituaries excepted, of course. Contributors are the three founders of Reign of Terroir: Ken Payton, Karl Laczko and Donna Childers-Thirkell. And Brandon Miller joins in.
Wine in the news
2000 – The expected shortage of Champagne to see in the new Millennium fails to materialise, those clever French marketers!
The Italian Wine Scandal of 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008 & 2009
2001 – Aniane became the poster child against Globalization with the election of Communist Party candidate Diaz as Mayor.
2001 – Jamie Goode starts writing his Wine Anorak Blog, still going strong.
2002 – Nothing of note happened in the wine world except for the founding of Gerry Dawes’s Spain wine blog and…,
February 2002 – E&J Gallo Buys Martini Winery
August 2002 – Code of Sustainable Winegrowing Practices developed by the Wine Institute and the California Association of Winegrape Growers.
2002 – Winemaker Randall Graham of Bonny Doon promises to bottle all of his wines with Stelvins, even staging mock funerals mourning the “death of the cork.”
2003 – The new Cru Bourgeois classification.
2003 – The heatwave vintage in Europe makes for atypically ripe wines, a sign of things to come?
2003 – Australian brush fires
2003 – Crushpad starts their “winemaking for all” business
2004 – Jonathan Nossiter releases Mondovino. R. Parker’s head explodes
2004 – CellarTracker launched with 265 members
2004 – First Decanter World Wine Awards with 4,500 wine entries (the 2009 had over 10,000).
2004 – 30th anniversary of Bronco Wine Company
2004 – Constellation buys Robert Mondavi Corp.
2004 – the wine blog Wine Terroirs founded
2004 – the wine blog Vinography founded
April-May 2004 – The great Pavie debate between Parker and Robinson on the 2003 vintage
2005 – Sideways released influencing Pinot Noir & Merlot sales disproportionately!
2005 – Decanter Magazine celebrates 30 year anniversary
2005 – The latest of Bordeaux’s “Vintage of the Century”, to which 2009 may soon be added!
2005 (onwards) – Militant French Winemakers CRAV make noise
2005 – Gary Anderson torches Sausalito Cellars to cover his tracks as he’d already sold off millions of $ of the wine supposedly stored there. Found guilty in Nov. ‘09.
2005 – the wine blog Catavino founded
February 21, 2006 – Wine Library TV starts
2006 – Jay-Z abandons Cristal Champagne
2006 – 2009 the new St. Emilion classification is created in 2006 and lawsuit filed over conflict of interest and the subsequent lawsuits, suspension, over-ruling of the suspension, fresh appeals, INAO reinstating the 1996 classification using emergency powers, and more appeals, and so on and so forth. Though seemingly resolved with the French court of appeal, this hot mess will probably be continued in 2010.
2006 – Schwarzenegger vetoes Zinfandel as the official historic wine of California
August 2006 – Bill Koch files lawsuit against Hardy Rodenstock over the Jefferson and other bottles.
2006 – Australian brush fires
2007 – Bonny Doon downsizes
2007 – Buena Vista Carneros, California’s first premium winery, celebrates its 150th Anniversary
2007 – Cavitas introduces High Power Ultrasonic barrel cleaning technology
2007 – The Cru Bourgeois classification is overturned due to conflict of interest. Resolved in 2009 with the elimination of Superieur and Exceptionnel levels.
2008 – Fresno State releases its 10th vintage
2008 – Open Wine Consortium founded
2008 – 1st North American and European Wine Bloggers Conferences held
2008 – Wine Spectator scammed into giving a non-existent restaurant an Award of Excellence
2008 – Alice Feiring’s ‘The Battle for Wine and Love’ published
2008 – rapper Lil Jon releases first wine
2008 – Australia wine sales plummet in the UK and US, ending a 15 year streak of increased export.
2008 – Hong Kong abolishes all duties and taxes on wine, setting itself up as an Asian hub for wine merchants & auctions.
2009 – Crushpad announces Bordeaux branch
2009 – Ebay emerges as a primary source of rare wine bottles for counterfeiters.
2009 – FTC regulates bloggers
2009 – 2nd annual North American and European Wine Bloggers Conferences
2009 – Wines and Vines celebrates 90th year of publication
2009 – Fires sweep across Australia destroying both vines and some wineries.
2009 – Bottle Shock released on the Judgement of Paris tasting of 1976 and forever confusing Stephen Spurrier with Alan Rickman!
2009 – Michael Broadbent wins libel suit against the publisher of the book ‘The Billionaire’s Vinegar’
2009 – The founding of Palate Press
2009 – ‘Liquid Memory’ by Jonathan Nossiter released. M. Steinberger’s head explodes
2009 – Calistoga becomes America’s newest AVA
And a long, but by no means complete list of obituaries
2009 – Alsace winemaker Jean (Johnny) Hugel
2009 – Oregon winemaker Gary Andrus
2009 – McDonald “Don” Blackburn, California
2009 – Long Island vintner Christian Wölffer, NY
2009 – Cornwall vintner George Musgrave, UK
2009 – Filippo Casella, founder of Casella Wines (Yellowtail), Australia
2008 – Robert Mondavi, California
2008 – Pioneering Australian winemaker Trevor Drayton
2008 – Pioneering Oregon winemaker David Lett
2008 – Didier Dagueneau, Pouilly-Fumé
2008 – Tom Shelton, former head of Joseph Phelps Winery, California
2008 – John Cossart, Henriques & Henriques (Madeira),
2008 – Abruzzo pioneer winemaker Gianni Masciarelli, Italy
2007 – Ernest Gallo, California
2007 – Sancerre winemaker Nicolas Reverdy
2007 – Austrian winemaker, Alois Kracher
2006 – Robert ”Bobby” Fetzer, California
2006 – Henri Jayer, the French Burgundy winemaker
2006 – Willy K Frank, Finger Lakes, NY
2005 – Burgundy winemaker Philippe Engel
2005 – Tibor Gál, Hungarian Winemaker
2004 – Jim Barry, Clare Valley winemaker
2004 – Romain Lignier, winemaker French Burgundy
2004 – Lonen Curtis, owner, Jocelyn Lonen Vineyards
2003 – Australian winemaker John Stanford
2003 – Diana Cullen, pioneering Margaret River winemaker
2003 – Mario Schiopetto, Friuli, Italy
2002 – Victor Manola, Silver Sage Winery, British Colombia
2002 – Bruce Duncan Guimaraens, winemaker for Taylor Fonseca, Portugal
2002 – Champagne winemaker Daniel Thibault
2002 – Justin Meyer, Silver Oak Cellars, California
Admin Ken Payton, Greybeard and Donna
I received an important update from my friend Hans-Peter Schmidt. He is Managing Director and Head of Research for the Delinat Institute in Switzerland. He is also a viticulturist and winemaker at Mythopia, essentially the organization’s center. Founded June 5th, 2009, the Delinat Institute is dedicated to
“the scientific development of ecologically holistic strategies for an economically viable, carbon neutral farming with high biodiversity.”
One of the Institutes principle concepts is that of climate farming which argues for a rich mixture of organic, biodynamic and sustainable practices. From their website:
• Consequently breaks the monocultural systems
• Increases and sustains soil and above ground biodiversity
• Stabilizes the vineyard ecosystem and the commercial output by a sophisticated use of mixed cultures (vegetables, fruits, trees, shrubs, herbs, wine, flowers, mushrooms, bees, livestock, energy source plants in complementary coexistence).
• Optimizes nutrient cycles by the use of green manures, compost and biochar
• Renunciation of artificial fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides
• Protects the plants through stimulation of self-defence mechanisms and promotion of biodiversity, which is complemented by microbial and herbal preparation.
• Generates energy from solar power, wind and biomass
• Provides carbon sinks by the production of biochar and humus
• Is engaged in landscape protection through aestheticization of the agricultural space
• Maintains and conserves the diversity of varieties and species, protects endangered plants and animals
• Opens up new perspectives for humans to live in harmony with nature
And it is with these ideas, located under the concept of climate farming, that they approach all the vineyards at which they consult. Their vineyards include Château Duvivier (Var, France), Quaderna Via (Navarra-Spain), Albet i Noya (Penedes-Spain), Mythopia (Wallis, Switzerland), Fasoli (Veneto, Italy), Hirschhof (Rheinhessen, Germany) and Meinklang (Austria).
Now comes news of their recently published Charter for Vineyard Biodiversity, the update referenced above. But the Delinat Istitute is not interested in launching another certification program. As Peter explained to me,
“We do not plan a new label, certification or something bureaucratic. We try to motivate others toward ecological transformation and to inform about the background of the different measures. The Charter is not only an ecological statement but a plea for Terroir quality management and preservation of viticultural traditions. The Charter is designed in such a way that every winery client can walk through the vineyard and do the eco-control with his own eyes.
The Charter is the baseline for Delinat production directives, and will be implemented by about 100 vineyards throughout Europe starting from 2010. The Charter is open to every vintner and is actually finding a great interest from many vineyards owners, both organic and conventional. The Charter is the baseline for the consulting work of Delinat-Institut.”
One of the finest documents of it’s kind I’ve read in a very long time, I would encourage all to share in its nuance, beauty and scientific rigor. Delinat Institute’s Charter offers some of the best of progressive agricultural thinking a reader may hope to encounter. And they can make it profitable!
Charter for Vineyard Biodiversity
—Authored by the Delinat-Institute, Switzerland
The principal idea of the new methods for quality-orientated wine growing is a precise encouragement of biodiversity. Nevertheless, the idea only arises indirectly from that aesthetic image of a vineyard where one can smell flowers and where the grasshoppers are jumping around. Vineyard biodiversity is rather based on the concept of understanding the vineyard as an ecosystem, whose flexible balance is formed by means of a complex network of a high biological diversity.
The promotion of biodiversity is not the goal itself, but the path for the establishment of the vineyard as a stable ecosystem.
The main objective for the encouragement of biodiversity is to convert the vineyards into stable ecological systems and to increase the quality of the Terroir by means of a sustainable use of natural forces.
Biodiversity of the soil and the soil-cover
1. The encouragement of biodiversity in the vineyard starts from the reactivation of the soils. For this purpose only bioactive manure is applied: compost, compost extracts, herb extracts, green manure, biochar, mulch and BRF (fragmented wood). The uses of artificial manure, concentrated fertilizer, herbicides or liquid fertilizer are not allowed. An application of non-composted animal manure must equally be avoided.
2. Installation of a constant green manure through leguminous plants between the stocks. Re-creation of a closed material flow and thereby guaranteeing a nutritive supply of the stocks without the need of an additional artificial manure. The sowing of a grand variety of leguminous plants provides a very high biological activity of the soil and improves the storage of water and nutrients as well as controlling erosion.
3. Green soil cover all year round. The goal is to achieve a plantation rich in species with autochthonous flowers. At least 20% of the seeds mixture for the green manure must be composed of plants with flowers that attract insects. In total, one must be able to find at least 50 types of wild plants in the vineyard.
4. Planting bushes at the end of the respective rows where they do not interfere with the work cycles. The criteria for choosing bushes is based on the potential attractiveness to butterflies and other insects, the nesting possibilities, the symbiosis of the roots and the use of their fruits. Autochthonous species will be planted.
5. Planting hedges as an intermediate line between the stocks. Depending on the local conditions, at least 2 x 20m of closed hedges per hectare. The hedges are potent biodiversity hotspots and as aisles, ideal for a network connection of ecological areas. As natural barriers between the rows they hold back epidemics of harmful fungus.
6. Planting fruit trees for the improvement of vertical diversity. Trees planted among plants of lower height and in badly structured cultivation areas represent an enormous attraction for birds, insects and other groups of animals, and encourage a re-population of the ecological habitat. Trees that are outstanding in an aerial plankton also act as collectors of spores; an area from where the yeasts and other fungus can expand in the vineyard (diversity of natural yeasts for the wine making and as a competition for harmful fungus). At least one tree should be planted between the stocks for each hectare of ground as well as several small trees on the appropriate boundaries with a NE-NW orientation. The distance to the nearest tree should not be more than 50m from any point of the vineyard. Possible losses in the harvest may be compensated by the harvest of fruits.
7. Ecological compensation areas rich in species of at least 2 x 20 m2 for every hectare
should be created as diversity hotspots both in the centre of the boundaries of the plots with stocks, where aromatic herbs and wild flowers grow (ruderal vegetation and flora, megaforbics). The distance to the nearest hotspot should not be more than 50m from any point of the vineyard.
8. Creation of structural elements such as stones and piles of woods for reptiles and insects. Installation of artificial nests for wild bees, insects and birds. The artificial nests may be integrated on the staking posts. Perches for birds of prey for a reduction of rodents. The pesticides used in the spraying must, therefore, be composed by harmless substances for bees and insects (renounce chemical pesticides and sulphur.)
9. Cultivation of at least one secondary crop in the interstices of the main crop. This can be vegetables such as tomatoes or pumpkins, fruits such as raspberries or strawberries, a winter cereal such as rye and barley or aromatic herbs, planted or sown between the rows of vines. Also suitable are fruit bushes like chokeberry, sea buckthorn or sloe planted in lines between the vines, as are rows of fruit trees (vineyard peach, plum, almond, quince, etc.). Secondary crops also include bees, sheep, chickens, fish and other small farm animals. The areas earmarked for secondary crops must be large enough to ensure a proper economic return.
10. Instead of grubbing the old vineyards and planting the surface again from scratch, the old stocks are replaced one for the other, choosing the plants by means of massale selection in the same vineyard and planting them as graft in the corresponding nurseries, therefore achieving a selection of varieties of multiple generations which adapt perfectly to the Terroir. The genetic diversity obtained reduces the pressure of infection due to plagues, increases the hardiness before the dominant environmental conditions, and improves the quality of the wine.
As winter approached the U.K. a major wine retailer succumbed to the bitter climate, England’s Vineyards reported a good harvest and somehow I ended up in places I rarely visit – London, France & Germany.
The main news in the wine media for November was the bankruptcy of First Quench, the parent company of Wine Rack, Threshers, The Local, Haddows, Bottoms Up and Victoria Wine retail stores. The company went into administration at the end of October but initial reports suggested most stores would continue trading while new buyers were found. However, by the end of November it was confirmed that over 780 of their 1200 stores would be closed by Christmas. Apart from a few single stores scattered around the country only 14 stores in the South East & London were saved as a group, along with the Wine Rack name, as reported by Decanter.com. By the end of November over 4,000 redundancies had been confirmed with more guaranteed, including my local Wine Rack in nearby Hexham, the last dedicated wine outlet in the market town other than Supermarkets.
Better news came with the first reports of England’s 2009 harvest, which appears universally good. I received an e-mail from Three Choirs Vineyards which confirmed that 3 weeks of picking had brought in 200 tonnes of grapes with “excellent” quality and sugar levels – more than the 2007 and 2008 harvests combined (although still only half of the bumper crop of 2006). A good 2009 looks to be a consistent theme across Europe as vintage reports keep coming in.
As for me, the beginning of November had me in Ingelheim-am-Rhein, a small town in the Rhineland Palatinate, west of Frankfurt in the Rheinhessen wine region. Ingelheim is known as the Rotweinstadt (Red wine town) and while I didn’t drink anything remarkable while there I came home with a box set of 6 wines; two each of a Riesling, a Blauer-Portugueiser and a Spätburgunder from the local Ingelheimer Winzerkellar. More memorable was a delicious Luxembourg Riesling in the KLM lounge at Schipol on the way home, the 2007 Paradaïs from Château Pauqué which had a honeysuckle and honey nose with an oily texture and a zesty light taste.
My other main business trip was just outside of Paris. It’s not often I travel to France so I try and make the most of the experience and this time it was made easier by my French colleagues treating me to an Haute Cuisine meal in the small town of Osny. The restaurant was Le Moulin de la Renardière and the classic menu and wine list promised a good evening. While my French colleagues all went for the Foie gras de canard to start I decided on the decidedly more rustic Aspic de queues de bœuf – a meaty oxtail brawn.
My main course of Parmentier of Duck Confit with a thin layer of Foie Gras and parsnip puree followed the same rustic theme, and both were delicious. For wine accompaniment we decided to stay with Givry in Burgundy for both white and red, starting with the 2007 Blanc by Remoissenet Pere & Fils of Beaune. This had plenty of oak, dry with good balance and complexity with a citrus finish. The Givry Rouge from the same producer was a step up in quality; the 2000 Vintage started with an earthy, almost dirty nose but had perfect balance and was delicate, subtle and elegant in the mouth. I am unfamiliar with the Givry Appellation but was impressed by these introductions, and the refined atmosphere of the classic restaurant reminded me that good French food and wine takes some beating!
The day before at our hotel, itself a converted Chateau we’d enjoyed a much less ostentatious meal along with the Domaine du Roncee 2007 Chinon, a wine that was a bit light on its own but with enough fruit & complexity to be perfect with food, especially the chèvre salad which was my starter.
The return trip through Paris Charles de Gaulle airport had me tasting some pleasant wines in the lounge before take-off, including the smoky, spiced fruit Chateay Tour Seran 2004 from the Medoc and the 2005 Probus Cahors by Baldes which had deep berry fruit and a liquorice nose, however, the 2006 Côtes de Beaune Villages by J. Drouhin was dull and disappointing.
In between these trips I had a long weekend in London as travelling companion to my better half as she attended her own business meeting. I usually try and avoid the capital if at all possible (I’m just a country boy at heart!) but once there a trip to Vinopolis, the wine-themed visitor attraction, was essential.
Vinopolis, on the South Bank of the Thames near London Bridge, celebrated its 10th anniversary this year and I plan on expanding on this visit in a separate piece, so suffice to say I spent a long and enjoyable afternoon wandering through the various exhibits and tasting some of the dozens of wines available, including the Clos de Cana 2001 from Lebanon’s Bekaa valley. This rich red had liquorice and aniseed on the nose, with firm tannins, balanced acidity and fruit and some caramel on the finish – impressing me so much I had to pick up a bottle to add to my ever increasing Lebanese section at home.
Back in Newcastle and the main wine experience was the monthly NEWTS (North East Wine Tasting Society) tasting – this time a producer I am more than familiar with, Château Pesquié from the Côtes du Ventoux. You may know I spent a fantastic week there in 2008 as guests of the family, including working in the vines and winery, therefore it was with interest that I tried the wines as part of a presentation by 2 other society members who have also visited the Château.
It is fair to say the tasting was a success with the exception of the 2008 Perle de Rosé, which was embarrassing for me as, during my stay at Pesquie, I picked some of the grapes destined for this wine and was present at its inoculation.
However, the other Pesquié wines were well received with the 2006 Quintessence Rouge voted best on the night and the 2005 Quintessence Blanc praised for being one of the best Rhône whites tasted in recent years. The opulent 2005 Artemia was enjoyed for its style and concentration of flavour, but its higher price raised questions of value compared to the Quintessence.
Unsurprisingly November’s purchases reflect some of the travelling done with the average price (and hopefully quality) greater than usual. Prolonged browsing of airport Duty Free can sometimes be dangerous and at Schipol I couldn’t resist the Marchesi di Barolo 2004 Barolo, for just under £40, to make a trio of ’04 Barolos in my collection (the other two were much cheaper!). The well stocked (and mostly French) wine section of Paris Charles de Gaulle airport tempted me with the Steinert Grand Cru 2005 Pinot Gris by Pfaffenheim and “les Marchais” 2004 Gevrey-Chambertin by Faiveley – purchases which continue to see France as the largest part of my modest store at 25% of bottles. For reference Australia and Germany are joint second at 11% each followed by Italy & Lebanon at 8%.
The majority of the remaining bottles bought came from the demise of Wine Rack as I joined in amongst the circling vultures to take advantage of the 30% off death-throes and ended up with bottles including the Duetorri Amarone Classico 2005 and Château Filhot’s 1999 Sauternes, which is likely to end up as a Christmas dessert wine this year.
Thanks to the generosity of a colleague I also acquired the 2006 and 2007 vintages of Château St. Georges, St. Georges St. Emilion to join the 2003 which I am planning on opening shortly, again possibly for the Christmas festivities.
And so onto drinking, and the various glasses tasted at multiple restaurants mean a month with far too much to detail to fully recount, although most of it merely of quaffing value.
A few notables included the Cave Vinicole de Hunawihr 2005 Gewurztraminer Reserve which was a model of typicity with a sweet floral aroma and spicy lychee nose.
The 2007 Tamar Ridge Tasmanian Pinot Noir, made especially for Marks & Spencers, was an elegant and fruity New World Pinot with light forest fruits and some Christmas spice, while for a venerable wine the Lagunilla 1999 Rioja Gran Reserva showed delicate elegance, with an auburn & brick colour on the swirl and a smoky nose. Light-medium bodied with gentle acidity and smooth, aged tannins it had some cherry and a refreshing finish.
Of course these are dangerously close to mainstream drinking, so I redeemed myself with a pair of slightly more off-beat offerings.
First was the very drinkable Alsace Pinot Noir (my first) from Cave de Turkheim, the 2004 Élevé en Fût de Chêne which had a pleasant smoky bacon aspect. Second was the Disznókö Tokaji Dry Furmint 2006 was also very good, showing how this newer style of dry Tokaji coming out of Hungary is to be embraced as equally as its sweeter relation.
November has gone, December is upon us and the festive month is no doubt likely to provide a Bacchanalian tale for the next ‘corner, until then, Slainte!
From December 4th-6th Vila de Frades (the village of Friars), a small community of 1000 souls, hosted Vitifrades, the festival of clay jar wines and olive oils. Begun in 1997, the Vitifrades Festival has been the principle showcase for this very rare tradition of winemaking. The Alentejo region of Portugal has seen a great many changes in wine production over the last 30 years. But what has changed little, what still clings heroically to life, in Vila de Frades, Vila Alva, Vidiguiera, and other local villages, is the dedication to a specific winemaking technology little changed since the time of the Romans. Winemaking in our time is obsessed with new technologies and is limited in its expression by narrowing differences foisted upon winemakers by marketing forces and the well-publicized palates of a very few. But who among we drinkers would not welcome the opportunity to visit Vila Frades and to taste the wines at such a festival? Indeed, it is a festival dedicated as much to clay jar wines (and olive oils) as to a local culture of resistance.
From a recent (vol 49, #4, 2009) Chronica Horticulturae article by Virgilio Loureiro titled ‘Historical Wines of Portugal’,
“Portuguese culture did not escape the ‘wave of progress’ that devastated the viticultural world in the end of the 20th century but contributed to affirm the wine as a global drink of prestige. Besides the Port, Madeira, and Mateus Rosé wines, which were already globalized, the Green wine, the Alentejo, the Douro, and the Dão reached international maturity. However, not everything has been positive. The powerful force of new technologies and the anxiety to produce more and lower-priced wine caused irreparable damages to regional originalities, the soul of world cuisine, especially in its millenarian grape and wine-growing patrimony. It is in this context that it has become urgent to speak about old European historical wines, so that one of the most important symbols of the Mediterranean World and Western civilization is to be understood as more than merchandise or business.”
And of clay jar wines specifically, he writes,
“White, red, or pale wines made in great clay jars, hence their name, have a long tradition in the Alentejo, the southern part of the country, and these wines continue to be made according to this Roman process. The special taste conferred makes it the preferred one to Alentejanos, who only drink another wine when jar wine ends. The jar manufacturers, that did not use the potter wheel, have disappeared, and the gateadores, who placed the patches (cats) in the jars, as well as the pesgadores, who waterproofed the interior of the jars with pitch, are almost gone. Among jar wines, the Palhetes of Vila de Frades assume particular relevance and are locally known as petroleiros. They are a variety of the jar wines that originated in the Saint Cucufate Convent. The friars, having used one of the largest Roman villae in Lusitania, now in ruins, created a petroleum color jar wine called palhete, made from a blend of about 80% white grapes and 20% red grapes.”
What follows is a series of photographs taken during this most recent Vitifrades Festival by Prof. Virgilio Loureiro. I post them here with his kind permission. Saludos!
A Jar Wine Cellar
Antonio Ferro (left) with Virgilio Louriero.
A traditional wine bar.
Visiting another cellar.
People in the street.
A wine cellar after the visit.
Jonathan Nossiter’s Mondovino, The Series, is a revelation from beginning to end. On four dvds, ten one-hour episodes, not only does it build upon themes pursued in the original 2004 theatrical release, but it substantially deepens them as well. For those who have only seen the original, they will be greatly rewarded by viewing the enormous amount of material that had to be set aside to fashion a marketable film. For those who come to Mondovino, The Series fresh, they are in for a hilarious, educational ride.
One of the most fascinating aspects of The Series is the sheer number of new insights uttered by all the original players. I well remember the harsh criticism heaped on Mr. Nossiter for his alleged politically motivated edit, especially of remarks by Robert Parker and Michel Rolland. Well, in The Series each gentleman greatly expand on their positions with respect to globalization, tradition and the use and abuse of history. Threadbare do the protestations of a slanted edit become when throughout The Series Parker and Rolland insist on digging deeper holes. But, one the other hand, they thereby become much more human, frail, seemingly caught in an echo chamber, a hall of mirrors of mutual admiration. For here recounted is no ordinary love story. Flaubert’s brilliant Bouvard et Pecuchét does come to mind. Yes, let us not forget Mondovino, The Series is high comedy.
And there are many new characters: Jan Shrem of Clos Pegase, Bill Harlan, Jose Espinoza, psychoanalyst Jean Laplanche of Chateau de Pommard, Catherine Montalbetti, editor of the Hachette Wine Guide, a very curious plastic surgeon from Paris, Dr. Eric Auclair, Steve Harvey of Folie à Deux, Pierre Siri, proprietor of the artisanal-class Iris du Gayou, Becky Wasserman, Charlie Rodriguez, José Mounier… the list of new and interesting voices is vast. Indeed, Mondovino, The Series swallows the theatrical release whole. (Though there are a small number scenes in the original that did not make it into The Series. But I’ll leave their identification to the film buff!) Incidentally, the world premier of this expanded film was in December, 2006, at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. I have not been able to determine if that release differs significantly.
What I would like to do for the balance of this post is to provide a brief summary of each of the 10 chapters for the convenience of the viewer. (All images below are used with the generous permission of Jonathan Nossiter.)
1) Where’s Asterix? (or Little Town, Big Hell)
This first episode expands on broader themes most closely identified with the theatrical release, the global versus the local, narrowly drawn, the battle was between the town of Aniane in the Languedoc, pop. 2,300, and the Mondavis of California. The conflict revolved around two nominally independent issues: the preservation of a forest and the resistance to a global corporation. But there is much ambiguity introduced into this new cinematic presentation. Of course we are introduced to Aimé Guibert of Mas de Daumas Gassac, wine consultant Michel Rolland (I wonder if he still smokes?), Laurent Vaille of Domaine de La Grange des Pères, the Mondavis and their winery staff, Bernard Magrez, the former socialist mayor, André Ruiz and his elected replacement, the communist Manuel Diaz. We meet Mr. and Mrs. Gay, the founders of Citizens for the Protection of the Forest. Many new locals speak about the conflict, and we hear more from the clergy and from a very entertaining police officer most concerned with parking problems additional tourism might bring!
Interestingly, the more the ‘players’ in this episode speak, the more nuanced do their positions become. A viewer upon finishing this first chapter comes away with a far greater appreciation of the multiple meanings, as much personal and political, of the battle to save the forest. There is as much bad faith as honesty, as much cowardice as courage. No political position is as it seems. It is in this discordance that comedy reigns surpreme.
2) Magic Potion
Next we’re off to Burgundy. In Volnay we meet Hubert de Montille, his wife Christiane, and their three children, Isabelle, Etienne and the sublime Alix. Lighting up the screen is the magisterial Aubert de Villaine of the Domaine de la Romanée Conti (pictured). Also in part two we are first introduced to Jean-Charles Boisset, Director of the Boisset Group, and young Alix Montille’s employer at the time. Jean-Charles Boisset will make numerous appearances throughout The Series, each more ‘revealing’ than the last. Of great amusement is Floris Lemstra, General Manager of Marketing for Boisset. He awkwardly spies on Alix’s every exchanges with Mr. Nossiter while they are on the Boisset grounds.
Of the Montille children, truly remarkable new footage is included. Our understanding of Alix and Etienne is improved, both fascinating people. We follow a harvest with the workers grumbling over labor issues and the family’s response. Greek and Libyan students on break from the University of London stir up trouble but are seemingly placated by a fabulous lunch prepared by Christine. Great exchanges are enjoyed throughout!
Back to Napa where we are introduced to Chateau and Estate Wines (Diageo) employees Gregg Fowler, the head of Vineyard Operations, and Peter Hall, VP of Consumer Strategies (can you say Red Chardonnay?) We close with a visit to Sterling, a subsidiary of Seagrams, a subsidiary of Diageo. Much mayhem is set upon the world! Here the noose tightens another inch on the issue of globalization.
3) Rome Wasn’t Built in a Day
This third episode is the most revealing, weird and refreshing one-hour look the wine industry likely to be shot for a very long time. Deserving of wide circulation, it is a virtually perfect series of contrasting personalities. We meet the eccentric Jan Shrem of Clos Pegase, a comic figure of the first order, reflecting on art, the good life and the triumph of a kind of western aesthetic imperialism. Throw in eerie footage of Bill Harlan haunting his own winery, opening and closing each and every door, briefly opening then drawing drapes in an apparent effort to contain or exclude some prowling malevolence; mix in the strangely remote Staglins, Sheri, Garen and their daughter, Shannon; add farm worker observations about working conditions and the absence of overtime with an explore of antiseptic environment of Opus One, all capped by a sunset barbeque with former farm worker, now winemaker, Luis Ochoa, his wife and neighbors outside their trailer/winery…. This is the merest hint of the brilliant cross-cutting hilarity Mr. Nossiter assembles. (I hasten to add that of all the dogs and cats we meet, it is in Luis Ochoa’s back forty where we see the one and only jack rabbit in the entire ten-hour series.)
There was one moment I found very affecting. Owing to the fuller fleshing out of characters the longer series permits, we are given, per force, finer shadings of the Mondavi brood. For reasons not entirely clear to me, when Michael Mondavi says, “I got my father back”, he relates a painful truth that was quite beautiful, at least to this viewer. Margrit at Copia is equally touching. Indeed, the Mondavi story, built fragment by filmic fragment through the ten-part series, will finally add up to a tour de force in its own right by the series’ end.
There is much else that is commendable but I cannot resist mentioning Bill Harlan’s reply to Mr. Nossiter’s question, “Does Napa have an identity?” Mr. Harlan replies, “To me the Napa Valley is kind of as it’s always been. It’s been in transition of becoming what it will be in another 100 years.” No post-modernist academic (or Stephen Colbert, for that matter) could have uttered a more confounding sentence. A pitch-perfect summation of episode 3.
4) Pax Panoramix
We begin in Jurançon, Pyrenees at the Domaine de Souch where we meet Yvonne Hegoburu. An exalted woman, she offers powerful insights into what growing grapes means. As well as in Sardinia, Bosa specifically, where next we land. Battista and Lina Colombu, again, express puzzlement at the increasing homogenization of wine globally. This episode is particularly rich in contrasting opinion. Neal Rosenthal hits back hard. Michel Rolland blithely goes about his business. There is more push back in Burgundy with wisdom from Hubert Montille and Aubert de Villaine. Michael Broadbent joins in. Patrick Leon of Chateau Mouton-Rothschild does not seem to know an artisanal-class winery’s vines are interplanted with his, those of Domaine Iris du Gayou’s. Pierre Siri, winemaker for Iris, is a shrewd addition to the film. There is shown a fascinating meditation on the 1855 Bordeaux classification from multiple points of view. Perhaps most delightful is an interview with Jean-Michel Cazes, owner of the 5th growth Lynch Bages. He takes the filmmaker on a delightful tour of the bizarre architecture of prominent Bordeaux wineries. “There is really no local architecture!”
5) The Appian Way
The viewer might be wondering what is left to prove generally about the globalization of a limited wine style having heard multiple voices either pointing to or demonstrating the affirmative. And yet we are only four episodes into The Series. Previously critics have laid the blame for the argument forcefully made in the theatrical version of Mondovino at Mr. Nossiter’s feet. It was his selective editing that was to blame. That argument can no longer be sustained. And with episode 5 the beat goes on. But a more aggressively drawn contrast begins to emerge. Here is considered the influence of Robert Parker. From Rolland to garagiste Jean-Luc Thunevin of Chateau Valandraud in St. Émilion, from a visit to Leo McCloskey of Enologix, the largest wine consulting firm in the US, to Parker himself, it is in this episode where the rubber meets the road. I defy anyone to sit through Mr. Parker’s greatly expanded comments on his own influence, on pricing, terroir, his indifference to history and not come away astonished at his arrogance. Michel Rolland, as well. And a new, fresh voice is heard here, Catherine Montalbetti, the editor of the Hachette Wine Guide. She speaks well of the standardization of taste. And she goes on to say, “Because no way can you tell whether it comes from California, Chile, Bordeaux or Languedoc.”
6) Quo Vademus?
What does an older bottle of wine taste like? Neal Rosenthal laments the way prominent critics interfere with the cultivation of a tasting culture. In a cross-cut Parker explains “As I get older, I like them younger.” Jean-Luc Thunevin, much to the displeasure of his wife, says “Well, I say I don’t like old women.” Quo vademus? Where are we going? This episode explores the ‘plastic surgery’ of wine, especially the increasing use of new French oak. Parker dwells on his liking of vanilla and toastiness, and considering its prevalence and that he likes wines younger, it is very amusing we are taken to the Paris office of plastic surgeon, Dr. Eric Auclair. Back in Napa, Leo McCloskey, CEO of Enologix, notes the similarity of palates of Parker and the Wine Spectator. Indeed, so closely have become the palates of leading critics that Enologix specifically works with wineries to predict what the critics will say! Tom Matthews of the Wine Spectator is interviewed. More from Burgundy. Marketing has assumed a central role. Among the Montille’s family, Etienne explains that the enemy is ignorance and standardization, over-simplification and money, of course. Diversity, he insists, is the highest value. It was a pleasure to see Becky Wasserman and Russell Hone make an appearance. Yvonne Hegoburu, Aimé Guibert, Aubert de Villaine, and Michel Lafarge all join in discussing the matter of marketing.
Tourists are caught plundering the grapes of Romanée Conti! Aubert de Villaine’s reaction is priceless. We close with a brief moments with the eternal Charlotte Rampling.
7) All Roads Lead to Rome
Episode 7 is framed by the question of authorship versus midwifery in the creation of a wine. We begin in Paris at the Ministry of Finance. Alain Châtelet of the Govt. Bureau on Wine Fraud leads us through the delicate question of consumer protection with respect to fraudulent wines. Very difficult to prosecute owning to the reluctance of victims to step forward. Great ego investment in wine. And what can you say about a wine that is both pleasurable and a counterfeit? Indeed, this entire episode could be called “the psychoanalysis of wine” for we next meet Jean Laplanche of Chateau de Pommard. “I have a complex life, to tell the truth. Did you know that?”, he asks. Laplanche remains one of Jacques Lacan’s greatest students. Author of a dozen books on various aspects of the Freudian oeuvre, Laplanche introduces us to what might be called the ’strong’ argument: that only the author’s signature on the bottle is the guarantee of quality and authenticity of the contents. In stark contrast to his position are those of Montille and Villaine who hold that they are simply midwives. In broadly psychoanalytic terms you have a repositioning of the question of the Father and the Mother. (The consumer plays the role of child, constantly put on the spot to declare his unconditional love for one or the other.) Great anxiety! But what all gentlemen can agree upon is that for Robert Parker, as Laplanche puts it, “The complexity of Burgundy repulses him.” This is, I believe, a brilliant insight. There is a tremendous amount of important material here. Why do consumers feel the need for the strong hand of wine gurus? Why the anxiety over being cheated or of not knowing how to taste? How is it that powerful marketing forces have come between the consumer and their palates?
We next meet Scott Harvey, winemaker for Folie à Deux. That winery was named after the founders’ madness of the same name: the condition of two closely related people sharing the same delusional idea, in this case, of starting a winery. But perhaps the most interesting moments of this episode belong to Jean-Charles Boisset, Director of the Boisett Group, #1 in Burgundy sales. I shall not soon forget his unique method pf punching down the cap! Or his plan to produce a limited edition of a super-blend of wines from diverse Boisset holdings, a wine with no origins, possessing neither Mother nor Father, neither terroir nor authorship. The episode closes on a very painful recollection by Bernard Magrez. It seems his father used to pin a very public sign on his back reading ‘I am a lazy boy’ when he was a child. As he says, “If you’ve lived through that it is much harder to love anyone”.
8 ) Crossing the Rubicon
9) Et tu Brute…
Intrigue and regret in Italy. Here is recounted, finished in episode 9, the story of the Antinoris and the Frescobaldis, both aristocratic families of great antiquity. It is a grand tale of betrayal and familial discord, of false starts and of finding the courage to go on. A deep history is on display. Ornellia’s loss is recounted. It is a particularly ugly aspect of contemporary wine culture that history counts for so little. From Rolland to Parker, Boisset to Mondavi, there is simply no room for historical reflection in the pursuit of global markets. Unless one may make a buck off of it. But as The Series reveals again and again, whether it be Lafarge recounting German occupation of his family’s winery, Aubert de Villaine describing Burgundy’s religious patrimony, or Aimé Guibert railing against the erasure of cultural memory, real families, real histories are grinding forward.
Among the most bizarre and destructive of personalities on display is that of James Suckling. His casual child’s play with the meaning of the lives of others is both laughable and chilling. I’ll say no more except that his comments are greatly expanded from those presented in the theatrical release of Mondovino. Episodes 8 and 9 are truly a tour de force.
10) Veni, vidi, vendidi (I came, I saw, I sold)
In the final episode we may take a bit of a breather. Introduced to Chile, Brazil and Argentina (and the film crew’s mysterious denial of entry into Paraguay) we meet many fresh faces, many new winemakers. But we are also introduced to the persistent racism and class struggle that have blemished so much of the southern continent’s history. Rolland’s shadow falls even here. There is a strange, indeed, terribly tragic way in which the world of wine is repeatedly limited, boxed in, by the presence of so few authorities and consultants. How strange to wander the back country of Argentina and still hear the names Parker, Rolland, the monotonous incantation of so few names. But now, at the episode’s conclusion, we, too, have names, new names: Charlie Rodriguez, Isanette Bianchetti and Mauro Tedesco, José Mounier…
I highly recommend Mondovino, The Series.
I was participating in a lively discussion on Jancis Robinson’s website on fraudulent wine and auctions and I commented on some caricatures of the different types of wine investors. Using the term investor loosely including collectors, I wanted to expand the types.
I’m not trying to poke fun, well maybe a little, but I see these people everyday and I love them. They are all good for the industry. The one thing all these “collectors” have in common, one way or another, they really like wine.
The Pure Investor: Never seeing the bottles they purchase, the wines go straight to climate storage, complete provenance, insured. Or they participate in a wine investment fund. Waits until the time is right and off loads for a good profit and they have absolutely no emotional contact with the wine, because they really don’t like it that much. It’s just a commodity to them.
Normally drinks beer, cocktails. They drink Champagne after a particularly successful sale in a hot club, preferably with some eye candy hanging on their tales of wine trade dominance.
The Ego: Buys nothing but names, the more expensive and harder to get the better. Doesn’t know a much about wine except what they hear second hand from others. This is a busy business person who wants to make more money to buy more big bottles. Only knows one grape varietal, Cabernet Sauvignon.
Thinks large format bottles are the Holy Grail. The smart Ego’s hire a professional cellar manager, sommelier, or other expert to do their purchases, but fight them a lot.
Food is sustenance; eats a lot of beef. Harder to get regular fakes through this buyer especially with personal consultants, but the rare wine fakes are really easy because none of their friends/contemporaries have these bottles and they start obsessing about getting that wine and ultimately will override their own judgment and consultants advice.
Once they realize they’ve been had, hell hath no fury. They want everyone to feel and know about the pain they are in.
The Romantic: Is in love with being in love with wine, usually also a “foodie”; covets the bottles they buy, brings out bottles cradling them like babies, and is avid about “supposed” wine manners. Is passive-aggressive and has a heart attack when someone pours more than 4 ounces or 125 ml into their glass. They attend every wine dinner possible to meet winemakers or wine celebrities and will pout if they don’t get to sit next to them, but this is rare since they are good clients of all the restaurants in town.
Frequently has “Iron Chef” foodie challenges with pairings at their homes. And when they open the wines they regale their friends with stories of meeting each producer, how each wine was made from the soil to the bottle and frequently brings out little jewel boxes each holding a magic rock or soil from vineyards around the world for show and tell at the dinner table.
Owns every decanter and glass Riedel has ever produced. Is extremely opinionated and lyrical about which wines they love and hate. Unfortunately they can be limited in their range, and get stuck and prejudiced about specific wines or regions because they have learned about wine only via other people’s words. Has a complete library full of wine books but 90% of the spines have never been cracked. Usually prefers red wine to white. Easy to pass fakes off to because buys emotionally. Would never admit having bought a fake and would sulk for a long time if anyone found out.
The Vacationer: Buys a few big and important bottles on vacation every year. Doesn’t know a lot about wine, but likes to drink it in abundance, preferably at French country cafes out of a jug in the back of the cafe. Invests in the bottle their friend “The Romantic or The Ego” tells them to buy. This collector never gets a fake because they buy their bottles directly from the wineries while on holiday.
Highly complex and expensive wines really aren’t their thing, but buy them anyway because of peer pressure, and then are told off by the Ego ten years later that they can’t sell their wine because they kept it on top of the fridge or a warm area of the house, upright. And the corks are dried out.
Finds someone to buy them off cheap (usually the 24 hour party person, see below) and takes the few dollars from the sale and invests in some Charles Shaw which is what they would have rather had to begin with. When listening to other wine friends gush, gawp and gawk about the details off a bottle, they drift into a lovely daydream and soon their eyes glaze over with boredom.
The Drinker: This person doesn’t really invest, they consume. They love wine, spirits and beer. They study it, are laid back about it and are very generous. They buy great wines from around the world and share them with their friends, even the ones that don’t know much about wine. Believes they can convert everyone into a wine drinker.
Loves good, unfussy fresh food. Many wines in their collection are under 10 years old, because they drink them instead of storing them for long time periods. Makes the Romantic and Ego crazy because they drink wines younger than what “they should”. Doesn’t have a favorite wine, loves them all. Great with sourcing high quality but low priced unique bottles from obscure regions and producers. If ever got a fake, would laugh it off and hold a party so everyone could sip their folly.
24 hour Party People: This brand of wine collector is normally employed in the wine/beverage industry. Wine consumes their life. They work hard and play harder. A complete enabler, their friends who are normally mild, they become animals when with this collector. Always brings home dregs of customers’ and sample bottles to blind taste with friends. Has fantastic after-hour parties at their house when the bars close.
They eat amazing food every day and are always broke. Their cellars consist of broken down converted refrigerators, and they usually have two or three. They know exactly what to buy. And they have no problem taking a risk on wine because they consider bad bottles an adventure and even educational. If they get a fake, they are thrilled; they call their friends to come over and taste it. Usually the wine fridges get opened soon after and a party ensues.
Most take advanced wine accreditations and study wine professionally. Always takes vacations that involve wine. Has no hesitation in making mischief and their adventures can be heard for many years, handed down as folklore to newbie wine professionals who will listen in awe.
The Professor: Is the know it all. Takes every thing about wine incredibly serious. Reads every book they can find about wine. Is enrolled in multiple wine forums online and expresses incredibly opinionated views and dares anyone to contradict their statements; those who do risk a complete and utter thrashing.
Despite thinking this person is an expert on wine, they have no accreditations because they can’t take the stress of being wrong or failing an exam. Every wine they purchase is meticulously documented with leather bound ledger inventory or online storage programs or both. All their wine is in offsite storage, so it gives them an opportunity to be around the Ego and Romantic so they can pick an argument. Never has a fake; no matter if they did, it’s never happened… period. Normally has food in their beard and wears suspenders, but not cool enough to wear a bow tie.
The Blogger: No need to worry about the Blogger getting a fake, they are too broke to even think about buying such wines. They have lots of wines from their travels around the world, (purchased with their OWN money) the more bizarre the better, are friends with all the wine types and frequent every wine tasting within a 100 mile radius of their location. As a result they wish their dentists would give a discount on teeth whitening and that there was a way to regain enamel.
They know a fair bit about wine, and what they don’t they learn from their fellow Bloggers and friends and wine institutions. There’s a little bit of each collector in them. They walk about with a laptop, iPhone, Flip video, a Moleskin notebook (looks really cool) and digital voice recorders with specialty microphones sat in a pocket protector ready for action. Talking endlessly to winemakers about biodynamic-beneficial bacteria retrieved from a buried cow’s horn gives them wood.
After years of contentious debate, foot-dragging and play in a house of mirrors, the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) issued late yesterday (Dec. 3) their approval of the Calistoga AVA. The terse statement reads,
SUMMARY: This Treasury decision establishes the Calistoga viticultural area in Napa County, California. The viticultural area is entirely within the existing Napa Valley viticultural area. We designate viticultural areas to allow vintners to better describe the origin of their wines and to allow consumers to better identify wines they may purchase.
The full text of the decision is unavailable on either the TTB website or Thursday’s Federal Register as of this writing.
— Dec. 11th update: here is the link to the TTB announcement. The text reads,
Washington, D.C. – The Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) published a final rule in the Federal Register establishing the Calistoga viticultural area in Napa County, California. In this final rule, TTB addresses the effect that establishment of the viticultural area would have on existing businesses which use the term “Calistoga” in the
brand name of their wines, including whether certain such brand names should be allowed to continue appearing on wine labels under a specific, limited grandfather provision.
The final rule does not provide a new grandfather provision for the continued use of labels that contain “Calistoga” in the brand name; it provides a 3-year transition period for the continued use of those brand names on wines that do not source a sufficient amount of grapes from the new viticultural area for that name to appear on wine labels.
This final rule becomes effective January 7, 2010.
For a bit of background reading please see two pieces previously posted on this blog. Each recounts different aspects of the struggle for Calistoga’s recognition from people closely associated with the effort. The first post is a verbatim account of remarks made by Pat Stotesbury of Ladera: The Fight for the Calistoga AVA, the Legal Front.
The second piece presents verbatim remarks by Calistoga’s elder statesman, Dr. J. Bernard Seps of Storybook Mountain Vineyards: Terroir and History.
Congratulations to the new Calistoga AVA!