From Frank Gehry’s futuristic design of Marqués de Riscal’s headquarters in Elciego, Zaha Hadid’s tasting pavilion at Bodegas López de Heredia in Haro, to Santiago Calatrava’s controversial rolling waves of Bodegas Ysios‘ winery outside of Laguardia and Aspiazu’s glass palace, Bodegas Baigorri, in Samaniego, and so many more extraordinary structures thru-out La Rioja, it is easy to overlook a regional treasure, a tradition dating back nearly as far as the vine’s first planting; and by ‘overlook’, I am being quite literal. For beneath the many towns and villages in Rioja, are hundreds of connected wine caves carved, chiseled, and hammered out of bare rock. Ollauri, Cuzcurrita del Río Tirón, Rodezno, Elciego, Lapuebla, Samaniego, Laguardia, Cenicero and Ábalos, and the city of Logroño are a few places where these may be seen. But it was the subterranean honeycombed maze of a winery in the village of San Asencio I visited that left me breathless: Bodegas Lecea.
But before I go any further, here’s a brief history lesson courtesy of UNESCO’s World Heritage Centre’s gloss on La Rioja,
The property being proposed for inclusion in the World Heritage list corresponds to a geographical and cultural unit within the Spanish Wine Protected Designation of Origin Denominación de Origen Calificada Rioja (D.O.Ca. Rioja). Rioja is one of the world’s great wines, a position it has achieved not only thanks to its unarguable quality but also because of its exceptionally long historical and cultural background. The property covers 603 square kilometers and the buffer zone 554 square kilometers. The proposed area corresponds to the northwestern part of the Wine Region and extends along both sides of the River Ebro, affecting the two sub-areas of the D.O.: Rioja and Rioja Alavesa. This is the most representative part of the Wine Region and the one that has developed without interruption since the early Middle Ages, with signs that this process might date back to Roman times. It features an exceptional cultural landscape, the result of human efforts to adapt to their environment and the development of a culture strongly associated with the world of wine which goes back to 2,000 years.
And among the most impressive performances of these (under-stated) “human efforts to adapt to their environment” are the wine caves themselves. Again from the UNESCO document:
The most traditional system of wineries was the cellars excavated underground in a variety of different models. Excavation methods were used according to different circumstances, leading to different types of cellars: those that were excavated horizontally; cases where it was necessary to dig deep so the calado (the name given to the excavated space within the winery used for storage) would be at a sufficiently low level, and others where the cellars were located underneath the buildings.
We have no precise information as to when these cellars started to be built. There have been documentary references to the cellars since the 10th century [....]
However, the original purpose of the caves, their inspiration, was not the storage and fermentation of wine. Indeed, according to one knowledgeable source,
“These subterranean caves were dug most likely for defensive use, during the period of constant battles between the feuding kingdoms of Navarra and Castilla. Centuries later they came into use as places where wine could be produced and stored. In olden times the cellars were inter-connecting so that during sieges the villagers could go underground, survive for months and plot their counter attacks.”
New to the region, my knowledge of the caves marginal, this last October I was to learn that the first sign of the existence of the caves were the many chimneys, what are called tuferas, jutting in loose formation from a raised surface on the ground, often framed by well-placed stones. These were a cellar’s (calado) ventilation system, essentially for highly toxic carbon dioxide, a natural by-product of wine fermentation. Indeed, as in California, cellar workers perish here too after only a brief exposure, a minute or two of unguarded inhalation of the gas. But also there arose from them the sweet aroma of recently harvested grapes now a few days into fermentation. The village of San Asencio was redolent with the heavy perfume of a successful vintage.
Along with a colleague, we parked and approached the Lecea winery unannounced. Regrettably, Luis Alberto Lecea, the principle winemaker and recently minted D.O. Ca. President, Luis Alberto Lecea, was not present. (I had recently met him at the European Wine Bloggers Conference in Logroño.) But his son, Jorge, was. As was Luis Alberto’s father, Rufino. And the two of them generously gave of their time to take us deep into La Rioja’s history, their history.
Winemakers for the local collective for 5 generations, Rufino Blanco Lecea decided in the 1980’s to begin bottling and marketing Bodegas Lecea wines under their own label. In the 90’s, his son, Luis Alberto, was to follow in his footsteps; and now Luis Alberto’s son, Jorge, our buoyant guide, all of 25 years old, is taking on ever-greater responsibilities since beginning work here one year ago. An economics student, he is poised to one day helm the family business. Jorge’s English is quite good, and so after a perfunctory walk through the surface winery, passed the modern tanks, bright machinery and modest tasting area, we descended deep into the caves directly beneath, caves excavated 300 years before.
Fermentation was well-enough along, though the ventilation fans, evacuating CO2 to the surface, continued to hum. Jorge was to tell us that in the first days of fermentation, the caves are not a place anyone dares go. Just as easily as a flame is extinguished, so may a man’s life. Though the day was cool, after a decent of maybe fifteen narrow steps illuminated by soft orange tungsten light, the temperature began to drop, clearly highlighting why in this hot region subterranean wine storage is a fine, economical idea. At a turn in the staircase, to our right was a long, dimly-lit passage crowded with a few wine barrels and massive ochre-tinted cement tanks built in situ. And to the left, down another 15 steps, we entered an excavated room – our first stop – a room arranged to illustrate to visitors the broad themes of this former way of life in Rioja.
Jorge showed us a perfectly preserved pig skin used in the old days to transport wine to markets, bars, to the local collective, or to more established and moneyed wineries for bottling and hence wider distribution. Also in the room was a vintage oak barrel, here originally American oak, but occasionally Chestnut may be found. Nowadays, with modernization, French oak dominates. A tiled floor was a surprise, but traditionalist Luis Alberto has long championed the restoration of San Asenio’s wine caves, 350 by one authority, many of which have fallen to ruin and decay.
We were soon joined for the balance of our tour by Jorge’s visionary grandfather, Rufino. For a man of his many years, climbing and descending flights of stairs posed no problem for him!
From this room we walked down a long corridor, passed a walled-up alcove with stairs that once was a passage to another series of caves, one meter beyond, now in private hands. And beyond those caves yet still more caves could have been navigated in former times. We stopped at one concrete tank after another, each with a capacity for around 6,000 liters, for tastes of Bodegas Lecea’s crianza and two reserva wines, one with and one without oak influence, all Tempranillo. After a specified length of time in these tanks, they are then bottled for market.
And with a friendly chinking of our glasses, we were led back above ground to witness another aspect of the traditional wine-making process for which I personally have great affection: the lago (nearly identical to the Portuguese lagar). For Bodegas Lecea was preparing for a celebration the next week (November 2&3), the Fiesta del Pisado de la Uva during which friends, family, clients, townspeople, and wine tourists from around the world lucky enough to stumble in on these days, are invited to climb inside and crush the (Tempranillo) grapes underfoot. Not all of the more than 1000 people likely to attend may be so rewarded, but many are. Although only a small percentage of their production is done this way, Jorge revealed that Bodegas Lecea is the only winery left in all of Rioja who still practices this tradition even on so small a scale, a practice, Jorge told us, which ended over 20 years ago. Now it is all machines.
Ever vigilant, again the recurring theme of the clear and present danger of CO2 levels in the subterranean caves – and even in the lago – was brought home; Rufino and Jorge demonstrated this by striking a lighter and lowering it ever-closer to the fermenting grapes. Inches above the surface, the flame went out. The concentration of CO2 is a very real threat to working within these structures. And I can well imagine within living memory, a history of loss exists side-by-side with what is otherwise a wonderfully colorful tradition.
Suitably chastened, thrilled, and enlightened, my colleague and I took leave of Jorge, Rufino, and Bodegas Lecea. Should you ever have a chance to visit, do not hesitate. Whether the architectural palaces dedicated to Rioja’s wonderful wines will endure is a question we need not ask of the this subterranean world of caves. From the 10th century until now, 500 years of which were the caves were used as wine cellars, they remain with us. And the wider wine world is far better for it.
Great thanks to Jorge and Rufino Lecea for giving generously of their time.
Please friend them up on Facebook: Bodegas Lecea
Ken Payton, Admin
For further reading on Luis Alberto Lecea, please see this.
ViniSud is the world’s leading international trade fair tasked with the promotion of Mediterranean wines. On February 24, 25, and 26, 2014, hundreds of winery owners and their representatives from Tunisia, Lebanon, Algeria, Greece, Spain, Portugal, France, Italy, to name only a few nations, will gather and mingle with thousands of buyers, importers, distributors, even sommeliers, at the Parc des Expositions just outside the beautiful city of Montpellier, France. Indeed, as was stated on the ViniSud website of 2012’s event, their 10th anniversary:
“Professionals have attended in great numbers over the 3 days and the initial feedback is exceptionally positive from producers, who are announcing that they have signed deals and done business. The visitor flows were well distributed in all the halls thanks to the exhibition having two entrances open this year, at the North and South reception areas. All those who participated are of the opinion that VINISUD 2012 has been a great success.”
At ViniSud 2012 it is said there were nearly 1,700 exhibitors and over 32,000 visitors over the three days. And I was fortunate to have attended as a US wine blogger Ambassador, part of what ViniSud called a Digital Seachange, an initiative centered on the increasing importance and utility of social media.
Then in the winter of 2013 ViniSud launched ViniSud Asia in Shanghai, their first trade fair aimed at the growing wine and spirits market in that region. From a press release at the time,
“VINISUD will be the 1st International trade show of Wines and Spirit to settle down in Shanghai, strengthened by its concept of conviviality, and its Mediterranean lifestyle, carrier and attractive concept, the wine professionals approve by a large majority in more than 90 % specialized shows with 100 % of wine offer, in mainland China.”
Successfully pulling off these events requires a team of organizing specialists, of course; but you also need an individual of unique skill and ambition, of energy and marketing savvy, at the helm. And ViniSud’s Board of Directors unanimously chose, in 2012, Fabrice Rieu as their President. I caught up with this very busy gentleman who generously granted this interview.
Ken Payton As ViniSud’s new president, how was your experience at ViniSud Asia in February 2013? Do you feel progress was made in opening up Asian markets?
Fabrice Rieu The experience of ViniSud Asia in 2013 confirmed our view that the Chinese market offers formidable potential both in terms of quality and of visitor numbers. Unlike previous experiences of trade fairs where some buyers displayed a lack of professionalism, this exhibition demonstrated to the Chinese buyers – a huge diversity of wines, the fact that Mediterranean wines are offered in all price segments and finally that the Mediterranean probably offers the finest selection of wines in terms of value for money and enjoyment. New markets have been identified, including types of wines frequently unknown in Asia such as rosés and naturally sweet wines.
How will the presentation of ViniSud 2014 in Montpellier, France differ from the Shanghai event? I am thinking of the differences between European and Asian business models and consumer tastes and concerns.
FR Even though the fairs have a similar profile as this is the most impressive gathering of Mediterranean wine producers, the approach is totally different and yet perfectly complementary. The launch in Shanghai is targeted at forging closer links with a new market; producers are making the effort to travel in numbers, leaving their vineyards far behind in order to go and meet buyers. In Montpellier, it is the buyers who travel en masse, often very long distances. Bringing them to the heart of the Mediterranean vineyards adds a wine tourism dimension and gives them a better understanding of these wines’ particular characteristics.
What proved to be among the most important selling points for Mediterranean wines and spirits in Shanghai? Was it quality and price point? The dependability of Mediterranean producers? Or the encounter by Asian consumers with wine regions and flavors perhaps less well known to them?
FR Several factors weigh in favor of the Mediterranean wines: the distinctive climate and vineyards dating back a long way result in the production of wines that are ultra-smooth, with no hard edges, ideally suited to the palates of novice wine consumers. And as a large proportion of these wines offer highly attractive value for money/enjoyment, they are certain to make major inroads in terms of sales on the Asian market.
Does the Asian buyer consider sustainably grown grapes and organic wines, proud features of Mediterranean wines, to be important distinctions when choosing a wine?
FR It seems to me that the priority for Asia buyers is to select wines that are to their taste and whose price seems reasonable to them. These are the criteria that matter most to them, and Mediterranean wines are ideally placed in this respect.
Turning to Europe, for ViniSud 2012 what was then called the Digital Sea Change was a central theme. The importance of the internet, of social media, not only for wine and spirits sales but also for consumer education, was well recognized. For ViniSud 2014 this February, what programs or initiatives do you intend to launch to build on the success of this theme?
FR Supported by the specialist wine agency, Sowine, the 2014 exhibition plans to continue its focus on developing digital communications: a dedicated hub for bloggers comparing the viewpoints of influential bloggers, coordination strategies of the various communities on social media networks, web TV and a dedicated communications area at the exhibition – to turn it into an international scale digital sounding board.
“Blogger ambassadors” from every corner of the world will also be attending, symbolic of the event’s international dimension; and this year once again, Sowine will lead a series of workshops and talks on the convergence of web and wine.
With this strategy proving successful in 2012 and 2013 at ViniSud Asia, the focus in 2014 will be on even greater ambition and innovation! The newly revamped bloggers’ hub now clearly reflects its ambitions.
Having been an American Ambassador to ViniSud 2012, a role I particularly enjoyed, what I learned continues to inform my writing. Will there be an international Ambassador program again this year?
FR Because of ViniSud’s international character and progressive opening up to export markets, in particular North America and Asia, it is vital to have an Ambassador. Their name will be revealed in the near future…
Do you believe wine and spirits bloggers have a fundamental role to play in promotion and consumer education?
?FR Bloggers today have an essential role to play as they wield immense power of suggestion. They are capable of conveying their impressions through the written word, whereas they are clearly not in a position to enable consumers to sample wines over the internet. And yet, there is a huge need to understand the wine sector.
What do you see as the most important advantages brought to the wine industry and the consumer in the Digital Age?
FR Speed in terms of disseminating information, the ability to reach out to consumers in the world’s most distant locations and establish links between all those with an interest in the wine world.
In your understanding, how does Asia differ from Europe and America in its use of the internet for wine and spirits sales?
FR In Asia, there is an even greater need for explanation as to the origins of wines, how they are produced, their specific taste characteristics and factors that may explain their price, background, awards received and so on… the basic difference lies in the fact that Europeans and Americans have unquestionably a more extensive knowledge base for wines, not least because they have been producing it for much longer. Asian people require infinitely more information and need a basis for comparison.
Lastly, how are the exhibitor figures for ViniSud 2014 shaping up? Do you anticipate increased international participation over ViniSud 2012?
FR Exhibitors have registered faster than for previous events, probably because they consider that in today’s world this is both an event and a business opportunity not to be missed.
Thank you very much for your time.
FR You are welcome.
Ken Payton, Admin
Great thanks to Catherine Bourguignon for her assistance.
The largest organic wine trade fair in the world, Millésime Bio (MB), is gearing up for its 21st annual show in January, 2014. First launched in 1993 by a handful of visionary organic winemakers from the Languedoc/Roussillon region of southern France, the number of participating wineries has steadily swelled to nearly 700 by 2013, more than double that of 2008. Though originally a French affair, the annual event now boasts an international selection of wine producers from a 2012 high of 13 countries, including Egypt, South Africa, Chile, Germany, a surging Portugal, and the United States. In 2013 more than 3,000 visitors – importers, brokers and wine professionals in the main – passed through the maze of exhibitor tables in the Montpellier Exhibition Center just outside the city.
And it makes perfect sense for Montpellier, the capital of the Languedoc/Roussillon region, to host Millésime Bio. Blessed with a temperate climate, the region has the greatest acreage (and in conversion) of organic vines in all of France. Figures for 2011 put the total at nearly 50,000 acres (19,907 hectares) farmed by 1200 winegrowers. In France, though organic wine production has experienced steady if not stellar growth – from just under 30,000 ha (roughly 75,000 acres) in 2008 to over 60,000 ha (roughly 150,000 acres) in 2011 – that still represents only about 6.5% of all French vineyards. There is ample room to grow. Indeed, as highlighted in the press kit for MB 2013:
“Available data for 2010 indicates a total area of 218,000 ha of organic vineyards in the world, that is, 2.9% of the world’s vineyards. In Europe, organic vineyards represent 4.4% of the total vineyards and the cumulative area of the three major producers of organic grapes (Spain, France, Italy) represents 74% of the global organic vineyard area.
Countries with the highest ratios of organic vines are Austria, Italy, France, Spain, and finally Germany. This demonstrates that the development of organic viticulture is primarily the result of a will and not only a question of favourable climate conditions, as we hear too often.”
And it is not just wines that are on display at the Millésime Bio events. Special agricultural exhibits present and promote the Languedoc/Roussillon region but also the international organic movement as a whole. Apart from the now obvious environmental and health benefits of organic agriculture, from olive oils and fruits to bread and vegetables, we now know that big markets are at stake. For example, in 2010 the United States, the world’s largest consumer nation of organic food products, the organic sector was worth an estimated 26 billion dollars. [op. cit. Press Kit] Yet despite the tremendous success of the concept and practice of ‘organic’ here in the US, of the three MB events I’ve been fortunate enough to attend, only one American winery returns year after year: California’s own Frey Vineyards out of Mendocino. From their website:
“There is no great secret to making wine without sulfites, it has been done for 8,000 years. The methods are essentially the same as all other winemaking, minus the use of sulfites, an industrial synthetic additive. We take this approach because we know that quality fruit and careful attention during fermentation and aging are the only ingredients needed to make great organic wine. We never use yeast nutrients or genetically engineered yeast. Grapes grown in healthy, vital soils contain all the nutrition yeast will need to complete a clean and healthy fermentation.”
So the question arises: Why is it that only one American winery attends the world’s largest organic wine trade fair ? It is not as though the United States is short on wineries working vineyards under an organic regime. California alone has dozens (caveat: I have limited confidence in the linked list). There is Paul Dolan, Parducci, Barra, Bonterra, select bottlings from Sterling, DeLoach, Cline; many more. The list is long and distinguished. Then there is Oregon, Washington, Texas, New York… well, you get the idea. Very often what is organic is also biodynamic and occasionally what is called ‘natural’, which is to say that a wine labeled ‘Organic’ may fit additional (agri)cultural and market-boosting categories. If it is a question of the costs associated with participation in a trade show, I would ask that an American winery consider this: Every January at the Montpellier Exhibition Center, 1000s of wine professionals – buyers, distributors, importers, sommeliers, and the international wine press – pass through the doors of Millésime Bio. And the one American winery name they come away with year after year is Frey Vineyards.
At the very least, I would encourage representatives from prominent American AVAs with organic wineries within their borders to simply come visit the 2014 edition of Millésime Bio this January 27th, 28th, and 29th. Come meet, network and exchange ideas with your international colleagues. You’ve nothing to lose but your anonymity.
Admin, Ken Payton
Primarily a wine writer concerned with related scientific and cultural matters, I have tried on this blog to expand the conversation beyond the trivial ‘what did you drink last night’ sort. So during my many vineyard visits over the years, I have often taken note of the strengths and weaknesses of a winery’s environmental program. Whether a so-called ‘natural’, organic or industrial producer, their approach to viticulture has always been for me the single most important dimension of the art and practice of winegrowing. If we think for a moment about the contested concept of terroir, what is it, insofar as it may be found, but an expression of viticulture ? (This is one of the many reasons ‘natural’ wine holds no charm for me, for rarely are vineyards ever spoken of in any detail by its acolytes. The same is true of industrial producers, of course.) But does the hand of a winegrower also play a part in terroir ? Yes and no. Depends who you ask. Although the reflections to follow are not explicitly concerned with this question, I nevertheless believe it could benefit from a broader meditation on biodiversity.
The concept of ‘biodiversity’ has a rigorously complex and technical meaning. Made up of many interactive strands and levels, of species and ecosystem, the sum total of life forms in a biome, even the molecular, for the layperson – myself included – thinking biodiversity can appear best left to the specialist. The rest of us, we tend to shrug, “Let the scientists tease out the nuances and details; just tell us how dire is our situation.” Indeed, like so many urgent problems now facing us, from climate change to global food production, we often seem passive observers of not only the agricultural sciences, but of the implacable unspooling of Earth’s natural regulative systems at the hands of powerful industries.
Yet we have hands, too. And mouths. As first world consumers, we collectively bear much of the responsibility for the over-exploitation of the Earth’s natural resources, from our gluttonous appetite for fish and petroleum products, to water diversion schemes and hardwood patio furniture. Hardly passive at all, we are a fundamental cause of our multiple environmental predicaments, especially our populations concentrated in cities historically conceived and built as fortifications against the natural world. And of biodiversity ? Witness the homeowner policing his sidewalk and driveway with a spray bottle of Round-Up.
Except perhaps for the more recent emergence of the subject of climate change, all of the above could have been written 30-40 years ago. Here in the United States we’ve long ago swapped the bucolic mythology of the cowboy, his prairie fire and lowing cattle, for the steely reality of the meat packing plant and its oil-fired furnaces; and we have moved far beyond the near-adolescent lyricism of Thoreau’s Walden Pond to the more modest prose poem Natural History of Vacant Lots (a beautiful book, in my view). Indeed, over the decades conservation and environmentalist motifs have become common, shared knowledge; yet even though as urbanites we’ve been primed to recognize the over-exploitation of natural resources, we’ve nevertheless willingly made compromises, among which is the acceptance of on-going environmental degradation in exchange for food and energy security, what we call ‘our way of life’. The city, supreme expression of our domination of the natural world, consumes all. As in Aesop’s fable The Sick Lion, the tracks lead only into the lion’s den.
But recent grassroots developments and (slower) regional governmental initiatives have begun to alter the terms of the compromises we’ve made for a life in the city. Perhaps the most important of these, along with expanded transit systems and more decentralized local economies, has been the greening of our cities. This means far more than planting flowers and trees in a park or drought-resistant shrubs along our freeways. There is a new movement afoot that wishes to create environmental solutions for cities from the populations themselves. Take for example Detroit’s Garden Resource Program which currently supports over 1,400 gardens and farms within the Detroit area.
“Since it’s inception in 2006, ‘GROWN IN DETROIT’ has become a household name for those seeking to purchase fresh fruits and vegetables grown in the city. ‘Grown in Detroit’ produce is grown by families & youth in community gardens and urban farms throughout Detroit, Hamtramck, and Highland Park. The Grown in Detroit cooperative supports these growers by providing a space to sell at Detroit-based farmers’ markets and restaurants as well as by assisting growers with production, harvest, and post-harvest handling education and resources.”
Other examples would include The Victory Garden Foundation and Transition United States.
“The Transition Movement is a vibrant, grassroots movement that seeks to build community resilience in the face of such challenges as peak oil, climate change and the economic crisis. It represents one of the most promising ways of engaging people in strengthening their communities against the effects of these challenges, resulting in a life that is more abundant, fulfilling, equitable and socially connected.”
I am aware of an increasing number of similar initiatives springing up across America, the UK and Europe, the over-arching idea of which is to provide citizens with the knowledge to become active participants in the practical shaping their own food and energy futures. So it was with great pleasure that during a recent visit to Montpellier, France, capital of the Languedoc-Roussillon region, that I came upon a most remarkable event, Fête de la Biodiversité. With numerous open spaces and over 150 gardens, Montpellier has the distinction of having been named the French and European Capital of Biodiversity 2011 by Natureparif and “European Capital of Biodiversity” mention awarded by the European Commission through the Life + Program.
LIFE is the EU’s financial instrument supporting environmental and nature conservation projects throughout the EU, as well as in some candidate, acceding and neighbouring countries. Since 1992, LIFE has co-financed some 3708 projects, contributing approximately €2.8 billion to the protection of the environment.
The Fête de la Biodiversité brought together numerous organizations, both grassroots and governmental, all stationed along the tree-lined Esplanade Charles de Gaulle under a brilliant blue sky. For my purposes, the most interesting was Humanité & Biodiversité; for this organization has hit upon the missing dimension in virtually all discussions of biodiversity with which I am familiar: Humanity. The definition in their words from their website:
What is biodiversity ?
- The genetic diversity, each individual is unique. We are all human, but we are all different ! The same goes for foxes: all foxes and all different …
- The diversity of species is the procession of animals and plants but also fungi, bacteria …
- The diversity of ecosystems, these sets consist of different species in their environments and relationships that exist within them. Tropical forests, temperate forests, Mediterranean scrublands, savannas, polar tundra, deserts, marine, wetlands … but also a Breton grove, cultivated grasslands or urban parks.
The great innovative charm of this approach, not to mention its political and cultural relevance in our era of patentable genes, is that we may now be understood to participate in the natural world in a new way, as an irreplaceable source of unique differences. We mingle in grand the narrative the world’s Book of Life, for biodiversity lives in us.
Admin, Ken Payton
The media buzz surrounding our upcoming documentary, Les Terroiristes du Languedoc, has been growing steadily for some weeks now. And we are very grateful for the attention and interest. Below I offer a sampling of the coverage we’ve received up until this writing. As I wrote in my previous post, the film will enjoy its premiere in Montpellier, France on the 27th of January, just days away! The Diagonal Cinema will kindly host our effort.
First up is a piece from The Herault Times.
And this from mon-Viti
And this from the Languedoc-Roussillon Film Commission, a very helpful organization we first approached when the film was but a dream and a few scratches on paper.
Jim Budd, a friend (and an excellent writer) offered this on his equally excellent site, Jim’s Loire.
The Terre de Vins offered this.
Decanter gave us this mention.
And this from the regional magazine, BBB Midi.
French News Online posted this.
And this from Portugal, Vinhos e Mais Vinhos.
Here is a nice piece from a friend and wine guru for Candid Wines in Chicago.
Here is a summation of recent wine films from WineTourismFrance, including a generous mention of our film.
For fast-breaking news, please see our Facebook page, Les Terroiristes du Languedoc.
This list is by no means complete. Over the coming days I will continue to update. Great thanks to all involved in the promotion and celebration of the Languedoc and our modest effort here to make this superb region better understood.
Ken Payton, Admin
A few months have passed since I last wrote a post here. I have been very busy working to complete a new film and on the building of a photography portfolio, about both of which more will be said. Much has happened in the wine world during my absence; its pace rarely slows, except, perhaps, through a long, hot summer. We may rejoice at clear skies, but for the agricultural sector of all national economies, especially in our era of climate change, the weather has become a source of puzzlement, mystery, and concern.
Nevertheless, whether early or late, the time of a harvest is as non-negotiable as childbirth. Now or never. Indeed, even in blessed growing regions, those favored by abundant heat-days, rich soils, climactic temperance and deep agricultural histories, the full compliment of cultural, botanical, and geophysical elements of what we call terroir, will be, and often are, mis-aligned, they go their separate ways, follow trajectories informed by an internal logic not always completely understood. This is true at all scales, whether macro – where is the rain? – or micro – why has disease stricken this cluster and not that one? – and at every level in between. I am reminded of the beautifully complex illustrations found in Bill Mollison’s magisterial book, Permaculture, A Designer’s Manual. There he painstakingly shows how a single tree well placed, a source of running water diverted, how planting a buffer of bee and wasp-loving flowers, or the harnessing of a katabatic wind, can dramatically alter the fortunes of a farm. Subtle, complex, serious; in often urgent ways does a domesticated natural space demand our concentration and attention. But even a well-designed farm only works as a holistic, integrated biological system provided the social and environmental inputs remain stable over time.
I have recently finished principle photography for my new film (a collaborative project, actually), Les Terroiristes du Languedoc, a feature-length documentary about the choices and approaches 12 diverse and creative winemakers take to their respective terroir. Organic? Biodynamic? Financial risks? How to navigate the shoals of family and profession? These questions were also asked and their answers constitute the core of the film.
The first section of the film was shot in May, just after bud-break and first leaf, when hopes were high and the growing season was full of promise. The second section was filmed during the September harvest – as conditions allowed – when the reality of a season’s work was coming into sharp focus. And conditions were as diverse as the winemakers themselves. Who can fully fathom why one vineyard of Grenache and another, just a 100 yards away, would be ready for harvest on different days or weeks, especially when the reverse was true in 20XX? The Carignan was over-ripe one year; this year it struggles to ripen. Or that the tractor needs an expensive engine rebuild. Powdery mildew was nowhere to be seen here, while just over there, over the next rise, zephyrs off the Mediterranean pushed sufficient moisture to spoil fruit. Within a vineyard it is as often a discrete accumulation of very tiny differences and incidents, only noticeable to the best winegrowers, as it is larger events, wind and hail, for example, that determine whether a harvest will be successful. So did I approach scheduling a shoot the weeks and months prior to the harvest season in the Languedoc: I depended upon the keen observation, harvest records and reliable memory, of the winegrowers on the ground.
Yet there is another, equally important dimension to a growing season. We might call it human terroir. How does a winemaker, or a winemaking family, make a living? How do they prepare for hard times, should they come? It has been observed that a winemaker has at best 50 harvests to a lifetime; so does greater experience translate into a deeper viticultural wisdom? Or, knowing how impressive first efforts of young winemakers can be, is the older winegrower trapped by a knowledge that their youthful counterpart considers irrelevant? And of family life, how do partners share domestic responsibilities? Did they have to delay a harvest because of the illness of a family member? What future career do they hope their children will pursue? How do farmers protect the health of their agricultural lands for future generations?
Behind or beneath the popular understanding of wine, its noisy consumerist dimension, where wine functions as fetish and status symbol at least as much as it does a gustatory pleasure, beneath, there is the practical dimension of labor in a broad sense, of winegrowers making day to day decisions bearing directly upon their futures and that of their families. Though a bottle magically appears in a shop, and we may be greeted in a winery tasting room by a well-coifed staff, should we truly care about wine, then we must care about human terroir. My film, Les Terroiristes du Languedoc, is about these things.
For more information on Les Terroiristes du Languedoc, please follow us on Facebook. And on Twitter @TerroiristesLR.
It is a pleasure to be back writing on Reign.
Ken Payton, Admin
It is not often a first feature-length documentary film made by a novice director meets with critical acclaim; but such success is much easier to grasp when the finest colleagues are chosen before a single frame is shot. So it was with Mother Vine, my loving exploration of the winemaking history, generational succession, and the challenges of modernity in Portugal’s astonishingly diverse world of grapes, terroirs, and wine-making traditions.
Mother Vine was initially born from numerous conversations with celebrated microbiologist, winemaker and cultural conservationist, Virgilio Loureiro of the Instituto Superior de Agronomia in Lisbon (now retired), to which I added a young though accomplished cameraman and editor, Nuno Sá Sequeira, and a very capable producer, Liliana Mascate. The right team was in place.
Shot over the course of a year on a budget of promises and good will (modest funding arrived after principal photography had concluded), the documentary therefore faced numerous financial challenges and set-backs which threatened its very completion. People have to be paid, after all.
But there are far worse things in this world than falling into debt for a country and cause in which you deeply believe. Such is my love of Portugal and of the winegrowers whose resistance to (vita)cultural evisceration I was honored to document. The stakes are very high. The loss of grape biodiversity and the increasing marginalization of family farming tragically receives a helping hand by dogged international naïveté and indifference, both governmental and from within a wide segment of the wine profession itself, an attitude which holds, by default, that no more than 10 grape varieties need exist in the entire world. Indeed, without – perhaps equally naive – push-back, an insistence on diversity and difference, Portugal might yet come to suffer in the not-too-distant future a homogenized viticulture, sacrificing an august patrimony on the altar of Cabernet, Chardonnay and mass production. To be sure, commercial realities are what they are; but let us consider that a ‘commercial reality’ may itself very often be a fantasy, a mythology created by an army of small gods: of marketers, advertisers, and wine influencers. These are among the many themes my documentary, Mother Vine, seeks to open up to informed, enlightened conversation.
So it was with great joy that our rag-tag crew received news from the 19th Annual Oenovideo International Film Festival On Wines and Vines that Mother Vine had won recognition in two categories. From the festival’s site:
Deux Mentions Spéciales ont été décernées
— Mention spéciale « Patrimoine » pour le long métrage tourné au Portugal « Mother Vine » du réalisateur américain Ken Payton
— Prix Paysages et environnement décerné par Bayer CropScience à « Mother Vine » long métrage portugais du réalisateur américain Ken Payton
Beyond being among the 12 distinguished writers and filmmakers so honored, there is to take place an official Films Documentaires, Fictions & Photographies sur la Vigne et le Vin award ceremony on Friday, September 28th, 2012 at the Palais du Luxembourg, in Paris, France. I most certainly will be in attendance. I would not miss the occasion for the world.
The timing of the award ceremony could not be better. My next documentary film project (yet to be titled) has taken me to the French wine growing region of Languedoc-Roussillon. Just weeks ago, in May, I completed the first half of the shoot. This documentary will chronicle a year’s work of twelve dynamic and creative wineries, each in its own way seeking to re-imagine and redefine what is an accelerating movement throughout the region: an insistance on very high quality wines coupled with environmentally responsible viticulture. Languedoc-Roussillon is emerging as among the most progressive grape growing areas in the world. This is cause enough for a feature-length documentary; but add to the mix the compelling biographies of the very diverse group of winemakers I have selected and you have in place the fundamentals of one hell of a film.
The spring shoot complete, the promise of bud break explored, next up is the harvest season in September. I will return to Languedoc in the first weeks of that month to discover the commercial and viticultural fates of these twelve apostles of the vine. From their vineyards to the Palais du Luxembourg, such humbling joy may a life sometimes experience.
For further reading about this new documentary, please see my Languedoc-Roussillon, The Genesis of A Film
Ken Payton, Admin
Just when it seemed the debate over the use of sulfites in wine couldn’t get any more acrimonious, along comes a promising new technology which threatens to bring peace.
Though dried fruits typically contain 10 times the sulphur dioxide (SO2) found in wine and SO2 levels in fruit juices frequently equal or exceed it, our most holy fermented grape juice remains a special case. After all, no one spends $10,000 on a bottle of fruit juice unless it is fermented. Now, whether conventional, sustainable, organic, biodynamic, or ‘natural’, winemaking employs sulfites on a sliding scale, driven in large measure by health concerns, both of the body (at high levels sulphur can have deleterious health effects) and of the planet (sulphur is a petrochemical product). Or perhaps I should say by the perceived dual health concerns. As often as an expression of an earnest environmentalism, bad faith, opportunistic and commercial, informs the choice, the position a winery, a critic or consumer may take on the use of sulfites and SO2. Why bad faith? Well, let’s just say that neither a natural wine booster traveling 5000 miles through the ionized upper-troposphere to a tasting, or an industrial winemaker re-wiring his pesticide sprayer to run on solar-charged batteries are models of consistency.
But were I writing a website dedicated not to the wine industry but to that of dried fruits and juices, not to mention dehydrated potatoes, vegetables or even pancake syrups, I should likely have a post or two dedicated to this nearly omnipresent preservative. And I would just as likely be discussing this new technology.
It is called Pressure Change Technology (PCT) and was, as near as I can determine, first presented in the pages of a scientific journal, Chemical Engineering & Technology from 2007 (subscription only). Titled The Effect of a New Pressure Change Technology (PCT) on Microorganisms: An Innovate (sic) Concept for Food Safety, the abstract reads,
“A new pressure change technology (PCT) for a non-thermal inactivation of microorganisms in liquid food and pharmaceuticals is described. This technology was applied to food-relevant microorganisms and was capable of reducing the organisms up to 7.5?log. The influence of process parameters (type of gas, pressure, and temperature) was investigated with the help of physiological changes of microorganisms. The results of this pressure change technology are shown and discussed.”
Just thank the lord I am not discussing that paper. A more layman-friendly press release from the Internet Journal of Viticulture and Enology caught my eye last week.
“Pressure Change Technology (PCT) is a low cost process with minimum energy use that has potential with further development and validation to be of significant commercial benefit to wine producers by providing them an alternative to the use of sulphur dioxide in the winemaking process.”
The company referenced in the full press release is PreserveWine. From their site,
“PCT is a novel non-thermal technique that involves charging a liquid product with pressure and an inert gas [N and Ar - Admin] and then rapidly releasing the pressure. The sudden pressure release causes microbial cell walls to rupture, inactivating microorganisms. This has been demonstrated on a small pilot scale batch process; in the current project PreserveWine the PCT process will scientifically validated. A further objective is the development and scale-up into a continuous in-line pre-industrial demonstrator to test the PCT with wine and other liquid foods.”
The objectives to be achieved are the following,
- Repeated validation of the process to reduce microbial loading in wine by at least log10 5 and protect wine from chemical and biological oxidation.
– Enhanced organoleptic quality (aroma and taste) of wine when compared to ’sulphited wine’ wines when assed by a trained taste panel.
– Pilot scale demonstration of our PCT system capable of being integrated into a commercial winemaking process line, at flexible design for optional application at various processing stages, with a throughput of 120 L/h
– Full HACCP and GMP compliance
– Provide data to scale up to industrial capacity of 1.2 m3/h at energy costs of 40% to comparable thermal processes, ensuring a potential market share of 1% of the wine holdings in Europe.”
Two wineries have been the site of preliminary research: Château Guiraud, a well known French producer of fine sweet wines located in Sauternes, a short distance from Bordeaux; and Tenute Del Vallarino, a producer of still and sparkling wines in the Piedmont region of Italy. As is well known, SO2 acts in wine as both an anti-microbial – ‘bound’ sulphur – and a color preservative – ‘free’ sulphur – for white wines. ‘Bound’ sulphur inhibits bacterial growth, while ‘free’ sulphur reacts with oxygen to prevent oxidation. One can easily understand Château Guiraud’s concern, inasmuch as sweet wines contain very high amounts of sulphur. Tenute Del Vallarino produces white wines.
The project was begun in December, 2010 and results will be published on November 30th of this year, 2012.
Many questions remain unanswered, of course. Though PCT is scaleable and is said to both low in cost and energy use, whether this new technology will be embraced by wine purists, or endorsed by Demeter and from within the organic wine movement, remains to be seen. Personally, I wish PreserveWine great success.
Ken Payton, Admin
For further reading:
— See the very detailed PDF. It includes photos and diagrams of the process. Allergens In Wine: What Lies Ahead?
— New EU rules for ‘Organic Wine’ agreed
— Do EU organic rules for wine leave glass half empty?
— Sulphites in wine
If you’ve ever driven the Highway 1 between San Francisco to Santa Cruz, chances are quite good that you turned off to visit the small farming town of Pescadero. Once there, certainly for every bicyclist, you’ve visited the local landmark Arcangeli Grocery. Remember the freshly baked bread? I’ve been there dozens of times over the years. Also known as Norm’s Market, here’s why. From their website:
“After World War II, Norm’s mother, Louise, and her brother, Alfred Arcangeli (both pictured Below), changed the company name to Arcangeli Grocery. In 1957, Norm Benedetti took over the family business and it became known as “Norm’s Market.” Norm initiated an extensive renovation program in 1979 that filled the store with wonderful specialty goods and a full California wine stock. The 24 varieties of hot French bread later won acclaim in Northern California’s Home and Garden magazine.
Only a fragment quoted here, it is as fine a family story as you will find along the northern coast of California, and the story only keeps getting better. Meet John Benedetti, winemaker, brewer, and web designer, in that order. Though new to winemaking, as you will read, he has to my mind already made a significant mark on the vinous landscape of the Santa Cruz Mountains, AVA. Let’s back up a bit.
Last October I was with family and friends searching for the finest Halloween pumpkins grown on farms proximate to my home in Santa Cruz. The family tradition is to stop in at the Arcangeli Grocery for a speciality bread to share for our picnic to follow. On this occasion, I was to leave for Italy days later and had been asked by a European friend to bring an interesting wine from California. I had already chosen an ‘02 Sea Smoke Pinot Noir, 10, a Syrah from Cold Heaven Cellars, and I had been searching for a white of distinction. In the Arcangeli Grocery I found two Arcangeli Chardonnays. I bought them both. Of very small production, good, I’d imagined the wines to be harmless and, with any luck, charming. Well, after tasting them both, I am more than happy to report that I have stumbled onto two of the finest Chardonnays I have had in recent years. Absolutely wonderful wines.
Flash forward to last Sunday, the day before Spring. A tasting of Sante Arcangeli Family Wines was hosted at a downtown Santa Cruz cultural treasure, a wine bar called Vinocruz, proprietor, Steve Principe (right). The winemaker, John Benedetti (left) was to be in attendance. No brainer, I went for an interview of Mr. Benedetti. Enjoy.
Ken Payton, Admin Would you care to introduce yourself?
John Benedetti My name is John Benedetti and I am the winemaker, fermentation facilitator at Santa Arcangeli Family Wines in the Santa Cruz Mountains AVA. I am responsible for and focus on two vineyards, one is Bald Mountain which is in the Ben Lomond sub-appellation. That is a vineyard that has been farmed by the Beauregard family for many, many years; there is a really unique terroir there – sandstone at about 900 to 1100 feet elevation. It makes beautiful Chardonnay.
And the other, Split Rail, out of Corralitos…
JB Split Rail is an old David Bruce vineyard which was planted in the mid-80s by Greg Stokes. It is up at 1700 feet elevation in Corraltios, straight up off of Eureka Canyon Road. From one point in the vineyard you can actually see both the Boardwalk and Pacific Grove. You can see the whole Monterey Peninsula from there. It’s neat. It’s limestone soils, similar to the Côtes de Nuits in France. It’s planted to a David Bruce clone, Pinot Noir, which was originally brought over by Martin Ray in the ’50s and planted throughout this appellation.
David Bruce propagated it; his vineyard manager, Greg Stokes, spread it around to a whole bunch of his vineyards. It was a really popular clone planted all over the place in the AVA in the ’80s. Since then people have grafted a lot of it over to 667, 777, Pommard, the stuff that really produces a lot. The DB clone up at Split Rail really doesn’t produce a lot – we got 1/2 ton and acre last year – but it is amazing. (laughs) It is really, really French! You can taste it. It is grown in the same soil as DRC. We think it’s probably the same clone that Martin Ray brought over. It is structured, it is elegant, soft; it is not a big, bloated California Pinot, no matter what you do to it! I really enjoy working with it.
The lower half of that vineyard is planted to the old Champagne clone, UCD 32. They also have some 115 at the bottom [of the vineyard].
What is your background in winemaking?
RB It is a hobby gone haywire. (laughs) I’ve been brewing beer for 20-something years, and my family is obviously in the bakery business, in Pescadero, so fermenting things is second nature. I started making home wine about 12 years ago, just tinkering with it alongside my home-brewing. Then in 2008 I met up with an old friend of mine, Brandon Brassfield, who has a winery called Heart of the Mountain here in Santa Cruz. Really neat people. Brandon and I were talking about how much I loved Pinot – I’m kind of a wine geek – I told him I’d love to give it a shot sometime at making a couple of barrels at his place and he said, well, you know, lean into it and do it! So Brandon ushered me through it.
I had been talking to him quite a bit about experimenting with native yeast fermentation. He was approaching it from a much more conservative perspective at the time. But I’m really in to native yeast Pinots; I love the old style. I don’t like to intervene very much. Brandon figured it would be a good way for him to test the waters in his winery with native fermentations by letting me tinker there. So in ‘08 we made just one barrel called ‘The Wild One’ with grapes from their vineyard using entirely native yeasts, and it turned out great, really fantastic. In ‘09 we did it again. At that point I said to myself, “I like this.” And I think I am pretty good at it. I decided at that point to go ahead an get licensed, and now I work a Beauregard Vineyards in Bonny Doon. Ryan Beauregard is a good friend of mine, an old friend, he supports me. i learn from him; we ping things off of one another. It is a really fun environment to work in.
So you’ve had no formal university training?
JB At some point I told my friends, Brandon and Ryan, that I was going to take some courses at UC Davis. They kind of laughed and said ‘You’ve been making wine for a few years now; why would you bother?’ I don’t know if I necessarily agree with that, but I just believe in experimenting and in experience. I am still learning, and I really don’t want to stop learning. I have all the texts from Davis and I read them all. I have the reference books I need in order to study up on any question I may have; but generally what I’ve found is that if you start with the best vineyard, then your job as a winemaker is just to stay out of the way of it.
So, Davis is great, I think, if you need to learn how to fix problems, but if you work with good vineyards, you will not have problems – and if you do, I am not afraid to dump a batch of wine. I am not going to ‘fix’ something. This is not my day job. I am doing this for fun. If something is not working the way I want it to, then I am gong to walk away from it.
Would you consider your work organic?
JB Not organic. Split Rail vineyard is sustainably farmed, as are the Beauregaurd vineyards. In fact, I think they are going CCOF this year; they may have already. Split Rail is not an organic vineyard. While I don’t put much of anything in my wine, including yeast most of the time, I do use SO2, though I’ve not done the homework to see whether that is organic or not.
Pesticides can be ruinous on wild fermentations…
JB Yes, and they don’t spray anything late in the season at either of those vineyards that I know of. I know for certain they don’t at Split Rail. I have had no problems with native fermentations from either vineyard.
The wines all finish dry, never a stuck fermentation?
Where exactly is your winery located?
JB I work out of Beauregard’s facility. I work with the two vineyards mentioned and I am starting to put feelers out to some other places. But I just love those two vineyards, so I don’t see a need for others. Right now I do not have a tasting room. I don’t have a winery facility of my own. I started building one in Capitola but ran into some trouble. I was also putting in a brewery there. The government didn’t quite know what to do with that one. (laughs) They shot us down on a technicality. Something to do with owning both but being different business entities, so after 12 months of telling me it was fine, the ABC said I couldn’t do it. We pulled the plug on both.
What kinds of beers do you experiment with?
JB Belgian style stuff and IPAs. I tend to build beers that will stand up to being thrown into my old wine barrels. (laughs) At the brewery we were experimenting with Belgian triples that we would do primary and secondary fermentations and aging in Chardonnay barrels. My IPAs, I’ll through them into my Pinot Noir barrels and dry hop them in those barrels. That is harkening back to tradition. IPA was a British ale – they are very different now then they were then – which was shipped to India. As a preservative they put hops in the wooden casks they shipped it in. So traditionally, IPAs had wood. I doubt they used fine French oak like I do, but they did have an oaky or woody character to them. I’ve tried to pay homage to that tradition.
Do you worry about cross contamination of one kind of yeast from beer making into your wines?
JB Yes. Some of the Belgian beers my partner was experimenting with have brettanomyces in them, which you don’t want in your wine. He puts brett in the beers. Now, I am not afraid of brett in a wine. In fact, my dad reared me on old Burgundies and Bordeaux, and you get bretty bottles occasionally. To me, in the right balance, it adds a neat character. I think it is probably the enemy of terroir because it has its own individual character, but nevertheless, if it produces an interesting product that tastes good and is different and is a nice wine, then I am not afraid of brett. I try to avoid it, but if some got in there but the wine was balanced and I felt people would appreciate, I would let it go. I would lean into it and I would own it.
When you finished your first wine, were you shocked at what you had done? How did you feel about your first efforts?
JB I was thrilled. The experimental stuff we did at Heart of the Mountain turned out better than I ever imagined it would. Then with the first commercial release, which is today, the Pinots are far better than what I was hoping for. I was thrilled at how they turned out, especially the Split Rail. I’ve put on a designation on special batches, “Selezione Susie”. It is named after an old friend of mine who passed away just before my first vintage came out.
The Split Rail Pinot is a special wine, I think it is a really French wine, in its origins. It smells vibrant. I know that sounds cheesy; but it has a really intense aroma to it that jumps out. You can pick it blind in a line-up with 20 wines, no problem. That’s what I want to do. Some people love it, some people hate it, but it is unique.
I’ve looked over the Santa Arcangeli Family Wines website. How are you doing on inventory?
JB The Chardonnay is pretty much sold out. I have a few cases left for direct to consumer sales. The Pinot Noir, I should have inventory for another 3 months. I’m moving it pretty fast. Remember, it is a super tiny production. I produced 250 cases in 2010. I have about 50 cases left.
Well, you’re clearly a rising star in my estimation. I love your work. As I earlier mentioned, I took a couple bottles to Italy and Southern France for talented friends to try. People love them.
JB It is awesome to hear they were well received back where I would like to see them received.
I will often take special bottles of California wine with me. I recently took a Syrah from Cold Heaven Cellars. I like my European colleagues to have a sense of the excellent work going on here in California.
JB We’re working at it out here! Santa Cruz Mountains is the best, least known AVA in the world. (laughs) Santa Cruz Mountains AVA is not afraid of structure, of acidity. It is not afraid to make age-able wines. Paul Draper is my hero. I love Ridge wines. I always have. I love his philosophy and his approach to winemaking. I don’t think people in the world realize that most of their wines are actually from the Santa Cruz Mountains AVA. Paul Draper put us on the map out here. People still don’t give the AVA its due.
By the way, what is your day job?
JB I have a web design firm called Illuminada Design. I’ve been doing that for 12 years. I’m trying to segue into winemaking full time. Seriously, it is my favorite thing in the world to do. I love it. You’ve got to get your name out there. Once people try your wines, it works. It is hard to get noticed out there.
I’ll do what I can…
JB Thanks, Ken.
Ken Payton, Admin
From February 20th to the 22nd of February, the Parc Des Expositions, outside of Montpellier, is transformed by a grand celebration, VINISUD, The International Exhibition of Mediterranean Wines and Spirits. A bi-annual event, this is how it describes itself:
“VINISUD is the showcase for the world’s leading wine region, the Mediterranean, which on its own accounts for more than 50% of world output.
Each event brings together the majority of Mediterranean wine producers and professional buyers from every continent, thereby helping to open the Mediterranean up to new markets for wine.
In 2010, 33,000 visitors and 1,650 exhibitors attended VINISUD:
French producers from Languedoc, Roussillon, Provence, the Rhone Valley, South-West, Corsica,
Producers from Spain, Italy, Portugal, Tunisia, Turkey, Morocco, Algeria etc.”
Now in its tenth iteration, VINISUD, 2012 anticipates this February’s Leap Year with a leap of its own, a leap into the Digital Age. In the interview below with VINISUD’s Director General is Ahmad Monhem – surely one of the most energetic and tireless of people – you will read of what is meant by the phrase, Digital Seachange.
On a personal note, I have been very fortunate to have been selected as one of eight of VINISUD’s ambassadors. My beat is the US. On to the interview.
Ken Payton/Admin It must be an enormous challenge to put on VINISUD. Now in its tenth edition, and with an excess of 33,000 visitors and more than 1,650 exhibitors, can you tell me about the history of the organization?
Ahmad Monhem Since the beginning of the 10th edition’s organization in November 2010, it has been both an enormous challenge and a great pleasure for me and my team. Our goal is to make of this next edition an exceptional and successful event for our exhibitors and visitors. We are trying every day to improve the experience for those who have given us their loyalty; I mean the quality and the conviviality of the exhibition, but also the professional and personalized service offered by our team.
How did you come to the leadership of VINISUD?
AM Since 1995, I have managed around ten different exhibitions in several industries. In 2007, my CEO gave me the challenge to organize the Vinisud 2008’s edition. I instantly accepted the mission. From that moment forward, I have worked to defend and develop the fame and the role of this exhibition throughout the world. And my goal remains the same; satisfy the customers (exhibitors and visitors).
What have been among the greatest changes and challenges you have witnessed in Mediterranean winemaking and viticulture since you assumed leadership of VINISUD for the last three editions? You might consider marketing, the rise of organic farming and sustainability issues, and climate change, as examples.
AM For me, the most important change deeply affecting the Mediterranean vineyard has been in communication and marketing. In 2008 – my first edition as the exhibition director – Mediterranean wines have finally started to lose the image of bad quality that had been the reputation of the region for years. Of course, the first main change came from winemakers themselves who decided to bet on quality instead of quantity. However, it is thanks to marketing that the world has discovered the real potential of Mediterranean terroirs. That is how in 2008, we could measured the new attractiveness of Mediterranean wines by welcoming a large part of international visitors.
Today, Mediterranean wines benefit from a very good image in a large number of mature markets. But the new challenge will be to seduce the emergent markets – China, Korea, India, Brazil… The seduction of these new consumers will require time because knowledge about Mediterranean wines is very low in these countries. It is going to take a lot of work to explain Mediterranean terroirs, for example, the specifics of its diversity. In these markets the main challenge of Mediterranean producers is to bravely face the fierce competition from the New World. But at the same time, in their owns vineyards, winemakers have had to adapt to another important trend: a greater respect for the environment. For many years, “terroir” was one of the key factors to make a good but “typical” wine – revealing the distinct characteristics of each diverse region. So it in that spirit that viticultural practices changed as well toward a greater respect for the many soils. As a result, we have witnessed a rapid rise in organic farming. Today, another concern has entered into the thinking of producers: sustainable development. Incidentally, I can tell you that this subject will be discussed a lot during Vinisud 2012.
An exciting new direction has been announced to this year’s program. It has been referred to as a digital seachange. Can you explain what this concept means?
AM As in every industry, an exhibition must evolve and adapt. We have seen for some years now the importance of the internet in the world. The wine industry has integrated step by step this evolution. Today with the birth of the « web 2.0 », a new communication appears. Now, 2.0 could be frightening. I admit that it took me time to weigh the pros and cons, and to determine the advantages of such a communication tool. Nevertheless, we initiated this « digital seachange » 6 months ago by creating the Vinisud’s page on Twitter and Facebook. Then quite fast, we felt the need to create our own platform: it was the birth of the Vinisud blog.
We have spoken about a « seachange » because web 2.0 has had deep consequences for the communication between companies and consumers. We understand the change, that in a short period we’ve moved from a formatted communication managed by strict rules, to a dialog in which each person can freely express themselves and openly share with each other. That is a quite huge SEACHANGE!
Although a general description has already been published on the VINISUD website, can you tell me what you hope will take place at Pavillon 2.0?
AM In that space we hope to see the gathering of winemakers, buyers, bloggers and journalists around this new trend: the web 2.0. The goal is to implement exchanges and debates between all the actors of the wine industry. Numerous bloggers will share their experience and give advice to winemakers. But as well will wine producers themselves speak about their own experience with the web 2.0. The idea is to offer for the 3 day event, a convivial space where the virtual world will become real.
In your view, what is VINISUD’s global strategy, how important has digital communication become for implementing VINISUD’s global strategy?
AM When I chose to develop a digital communication strategy at Vinisud, I had two ideas in mind.
The first one, obviously, was to increase the recognition of the exhibition internationally, especially in foreign markets. As organizers, it is our responsibility to ensure that international buyers have all the necessary information about the fair. They are assailed by requests, of course, so it is difficult to find the good way to capture their attention. E-mails were preferred some years ago to other communication means; but today it has became far too impersonal and moreover, quite useless due to the shear number of e-mails professionals receive each day. We needed a less formal way to speak to our producers and visitors: web 2.0 appeared to be the best way.
But Vinisud is a bi-annual exhibition, a showcase of the Mediterranean vineyard as a whole. Since 2007, one of the main challenges for me and my team was to keep and reinforce the link between two editions. It was difficult in a top-down communication context to keep contact with exhibitors and visitors coming from all around the world. The idea was to find a means to bring together Mediterranean wines lovers from moment to moment. The web 2.0 offered us the solution. Thanks to social networks and our blog, we would ultimately like to create a community speaking about Mediterranean wine culture; a kind of “virtual” Vinisud during the 727 days when the “real one” has finished!
How was it decided to include the international wine blogging community for VINISUD 2012? How can wine bloggers, including ‘ambassador’ bloggers, one of which I happen to be, be of assistance?
AM With the web 2.0 we came back to an ancestral means of communication: the word of mouth, the spoken word. Bloggers are, for me, proof of the huge power of such a means of communication. In fact, the majority of them are not professionals; they are just passionate by a subject, in our case, wine. Today people trust bloggers. Wine is a question of passion, and so we have decided that bloggers could very well be the best to speak about Mediterranean wines. Offering a complete information platform about Mediterranean wines – the first iterations of the Vinisud blog – had been such a huge amount of work for us. So, we have now decided to bring together diverse information sources. Today, the Vinisud blog aggregates articles coming from bloggers around the world, speaking many different languages, and more importantly, offering different and contrasting points of view.
Beyond that, we felt the need to more deeply involve select bloggers in order to build around them Vinisud’s community. That is why we elected 8 bloggers, opinion leaders in the major wine markets, to be Vinisud ambassadors. We hope to develop with them a close relationship around a shared goal: to develop the wine culture all around the world.
What would be your advice to wineries with respect to digital communication? How important is social media to a winery? How can social media be best used by a winery.
AM First of all, be curious. They must take time to discover what web 2.0 is all about and how it can help them to communicate. My second piece of advice would be to be prudent. Communicate through social networks means involvement with consumers; so it is very important to be prepared to launch such communication. Keeping up a dialog with customers takes time. Then, I recommend to them that they be honest. Because of web 2.0 people are eager for closer contact with producers; but equally want total transparency.
Finally, I would like to tell them that before beginning digital communication they must to ask for advice from “digital people” themselves, and share their thoughts and questions with them. We hope that the Pavillon 2.0 will facilitate these exchanges.
What can international visitors expect to learn at VINISUD 2012?
AM Discover and taste new wines, explore non-famous appellations and rare grape varieties. Meet recognized wine producers, and become acquainted with the new generation. Once more, this edition is going to welcome young winemakers who are ready to break the rules and to offer a new vision of Mediterranean wines.
During the three days of VINISUD, international visitors will be able to travel all over the world’s biggest vineyard in a single, unique location.
Finally, they will be able to optimize their visit thanks to the numerous free-tasting areas which allow an easy and quick wine selection. The best example is the Palais Méditerranéen where more than 2100 wines are waiting the visitors.
And just as it happens at VINISUD every two years, I know that this year our exhibitors will be full of surprises!
Thank you very much for your time, Ahmad. I look forward to seeing you at VINISUD.
AM Thank you.
Vine Diseases are not my specialist subject, in fact before last week I knew practically nothing about them, but for some reason a casual reading of a blog post from Jim Budd set me off on a major tangential internet sortie.
Jim’s post was entitled “Bourgueil and Saint Nicolas de Bourgueil: the fight against eutypiose, BDA and esca”, and it was Bourgueil that hooked me, since I spent 10 wonderful days in that quaint Loire town in 2006 on a family holiday (which explains my fondness for Cabernet Franc). The fact that most of the piece was a transcript of a French article almost dissuaded me from continuing (I am nowhere near fluent in the language) except for an intriguing picture of a dying vine and Jim’s reference to “Fatal Wood Diseases”. I therefore clicked on the link to Vitisphere.com.
The post begins describing the disturbing development of ESCA, BDA (Black Dead Arm) and Eutypiose since the ban on the use of the controlling chemical Sodium Arsenite a decade ago. The accompanying picture shows a necrosis (canker) caused by Eutypiose.
The local viticultural body, FAV37 (la Fédération des Associations Viticoles d’Indre-et-Loire et de la Sarthe) completed a study in 2010 showing that in Indre-et-Loire alone damage from these diseases came to €12-14 million ($16-18 million) and are increasing their activities to dispose of the dead and diseased wood to try and prevent the spread of the disease.
The piece finishes stating that 30-40,000 vines were collected by a Chinon based wood company to recycle as barbeque fuel, but that this was only a small part of all the vines that actually died this year – a sobering thought.
So that was the story, but all it did was raise more questions than it answered; what exactly are the three diseases mentioned?; what causes them?; how prevalent are they?; Apart from a brief mention of sodium arsenite what else is being done to combat the disease other than making barbecue fuel?
The more sites I visited in trying to answer these starting questions, the more secondary questions (plus some ambiguity & contradiction) appeared, which sent me into yet more searches which eventually spat me out after 2 days with a glimmer of understanding and enough words to put together this piece – even though I may never get firsthand exposure to the topic.
Eutypiose (Eutypiosis) is the French term for Eutypa dieback, first identified in the 1970s and since confirmed worldwide (Californian losses to the disease are estimated in excess of $260 million a year). The disease is caused by infection with the fungus Eutypa lata which results in stunted development and internal V-shaped necroses and external cankers. Leaves may show chlorosis, deformations and tattered edges.
In the 1970s the disease Dead Arm, made famous to consumers by the d’Arenberg Dead Arm Shiraz, was identified as really being two diseases, with the combined symptoms of Eutypa dieback caused by Eutypa lata and those of Excoriosis (Phomopsis Cane & Leaf Spot) caused by the different fungi Phomopsis viticola.
Black Dead Arm (BDA) is caused by yet another fungi, or to be accurate several species of the Botryosphaeriaceae, first described in 1974 in Tokaji, Hungary – giving the diseases alternative name of Botryosphaeria (Bot) canker. Over 12 species have been isolated from diseased vines globally and, while early research believed they were opportunistic pathogens that only caused symptoms in stressed vines, the current data suggests that certain strains are strong primary pathogens.
Symptoms include V-shaped necroses similar to those caused by Eutypa lata, brown necrosis along the length of the affected tissues. Confusingly, occasional stunted growth, leaf discolouration and damage adds to the similarity with Eutypa dieback, meaning the two diseases are often difficult to accurately diagnose.
In France the disease was also known as d’apoplexie lente (slow apoplexy) prior to its classification as BDA in the Medoc in 1999.
Esca (La Yesca in Spain) is another complex disease with variable symptom expression. Although first classified in Italy in 1900 it seems to have been around much longer with similar symptoms described in medieval works such as the influential Arabic agricultural tome Kitab al-Felahah by Ibn al-Awam, a 12th Century Moor from Seville, and earlier Latin and Greek texts. The name is Latin for food or bait (used by several Italian restaurants around the world including New York) and may be a reference to the fruiting bodies of the fungi responsible resembling bait lures as they sprout from the wood. A Wine Spectator article from 2008 reported that 5% of the vineyard surface area in France was affected by Esca, although later reports suggest that by 2010 this was as much as 10%.
The fungal pathogens are Phaeomoniella chlamydospora and various species of Phaeoacremonium which cause chronic symptoms of stunted growth, shoot tip dieback and internal wood decay of the trunk and larger branches. Leaf necrosis results in a “tiger stripe” pattern while berries show dark spots or “measles”, leading to the disease’s alternative name of Black Measles.
Primary symptoms predispose the vines to wood (white) rot caused by higher fungi such as Fomitiporia punctata, Fomitiporia mediterranea and Stereum hirsutum.
Esca affected vines may show chronic symptoms one year and the next appear perfectly normal, but the disease will reappear, each time causing an overall decline.
Eventually an acute form of the disease called vine apoplexy occurs, typically in mid-summer when rainfall is followed by hot, dry weather, where rapid withering of apparently healthy leaves and the death of vine organs, including grape clusters, happens in only a few days – the vine usually dies in the same year.
The main feature in common with all these diseases is that they affect vines at least eight years old or that may have been subjected to stress. It is clear from reading the reports and research papers that there isn’t always a clear diagnosis because of the similarities in symptoms; V-shaped necroses; longitudinal brown streaking in the stems; leaf chlorosis and patchy discolouration; stunted shoot growth; external cankers. In the absence of one exclusive diagnostic indicator much of the disease reported in the vineyards is probably a combination of two or all of the above.
It is also worth mentioning Petri Syndrome, named for Italian Lionello Petri who first published the symptoms in 1912. Also known as Young Vine Decline (Young Esca) the primary infectors of Ecsa, Phaeomoniella chlamydospora, Phaeoacremonium inflatipes and Phaeoacremonium aleophilum come together to cause disease in younger vines of 2 or 3 years. The disease stunts growth and leads to tissue decay with leaf chlorosis and necrosis. Internally, black spots or streaks are seen in the xylem tissues and the sap of infected plants can turn dark brown or black, giving the alternate disease name Black Goo.
Although common around the world this disease has been heavily researched in California since the late 1990s due to the high economic impact and the realization that infected nursery stock was the main source of diseased vines – vines pulled up for whatever reason were being replanted with plants already inoculated with the causes of the disease.
It would be easy to continue veering off into new areas by including other diseases such as Syrah Decline, Phomopsis or Black Foot, however the causes and mechanisms of these diseases are different or, in the case of Syrah Decline, still not fully understood, so we’ll put them to one side, at least until the end.
The key pathogens described above are all species of Ascomycetes (sac) fungi which produce spores in sacs (asci) which develop until the pressure within the asci shoots the spores out. Direct spore dispersal is up to 30cm but they travel further due to rain splash and wind – Eutypa ascospores are known to be able to travel as far as 30 miles (50km).
The exceptions are the Basidiomycete (higher) fungi such as Fomitiporia punctata, Fomitiporia mediterranea and Stereum hirsutum involved in Ecsa white rot, arguably a secondary symptom of the chronic form of the disease.
With BDA, Ecsa and Eutypa dieback fungal spores colonise the vine through open wood vessels, the result of pruning, frost, mechanical or graft wounds – although an Australian study shows that soil-borne infection should not be ignored. The spores develop, invading the xylem vessels where fungal growth results in the interruption of sap-flow which may induce a host defense reaction, resulting in further blockage. Wood necrosis and rot impairs the flow of nutrients leading to vine decline and slow death, while fungal phytotoxins weaken the vine causing associated symptoms.
Petri disease is more likely due to nursery vines infected by the fungi prior to planting, as opposed to infection through wounds, but the effects are similar.
There is no reliable means of eradicating a pathogenic fungus once it becomes established within a vine, so removal of diseased wood or the entire plant is necessary (remedial surgery with disposal or burning of the wood debris). The best control is to protect vines from infection in the first place, but this can be challenging since the fungi are common in nature and considering the number of wounds made on each grapevine in a year with the extended period of wound susceptibility (which, for E. lata, is up to 7 weeks from pruning and greatest in early winter).
By timing any pruning as late as possible in the winter/early spring (Feb/Mar in the Northern Hemisphere) sap is flowing more freely which helps with wound healing. Spore release from infected vines is closely correlated with rainfall so new pruning should be avoided until at least 36 hours afterwards. Prof. Doug Gruber of UC Davis has championed a double-pruning technique where initial mechanically pruning leaves long spurs in early winter followed by hand-pruning to short spurs in late winter.
Application of fungicidal wound protectants in spray, paint or paste form should prevent fungal access through pruning wounds. Although spray-on liquid formulations are easily washed off with rainfall they are more feasible in large vineyards since application of paint or paste is labour intensive and only economically viable for high-value vineyards. However, which chemicals to use is the subject of intense research and contentious debate.
A 2009 study showed that Topsin M, aka thiophanate-methyl, was the best overall product across the Ascomycetes – yet a mixture of active ingredients is more likely to handle the spectrum of different fungi found in the vineyard.
Different cocktails reported include;
— MBC fungicide (Benomyl, Carbendazim, Topsin M) & chlorobutinol
— Biopaste (boric acid), Garrison® (cyproconazole and iodocarb) and Topsin M
— Carbendazim & prochloraz (-manganese)
— ATCS® acrylic paint (alone or mixed with Bavistin® or boric acid)
The biggest likely problem is that many of these fungicidal chemicals are likely to be removed from the market due to environmental and human health concerns, as happened with Sodium Arsenite (the only product that kept all main disease symptoms in check). This carcinogen was banned in Europe in 1991 (with extensions for Spain, France and Portugal until 2003), a fact that French viticulturalists claim is the direct cause of the relentless increase in Grapevine Trunk Disease over the last decade and has some calling for its re-introduction.
In reality biological & ecological control methods may be the only long term options available to growers, something which is starting to become understood.
Biological control agents include the fungi Trichoderma and Fusarium lateritium and the bacteria Bacillus subtilis, which have been shown to control infection by E. lata in trials, although results were variable. Researchers are also looking at garlic extracts and lactoferrin as wound protectants.
Biological control agents available today are based on Trichoderma species: BioTricho®, Eco-77® (both based on single strains of Trichoderma harzianum) & Vinevax®™ which is based on a mixture of five strains of T. harzianum and T. atroviride. Another agent, Trichodex® (Trichoderma harzianum T39) is also used as a treatment to prevent Botrytis cinerea (grey rot).
Some strains of Trichoderma work better than others, and are more effective on some varieties, such as Chenin Blanc, compared to others, such as Cabernet Sauvignon & Sauvignon Blanc. This may be why the French report poor results with Trichoderma as both these grapes seem more susceptible to Esca, BDA and Eutypa dieback (with Merlot and Semillon less so) and may be why Esca is especially prolific in southwest France and the Loire.
For Petri Syndrome then treatment to account for possible nursery stock infection is advised. Hot Water Treatment (HWT) at 50°C (122°F) for 30 minutes & then cooling to 2-3°C (36-37°F) for rootstock and scion wood is effective in controlling Phaeomoniella. This is similar to the method oif controlling Black foot Disease.
Also I came across tales of more organic remedies that are worth recounting. The first was from a Loire grower who uses companion plants (wild leek, Allium ampeloprasum) to “re-mycorhize the under-soil” which he believes has been sterilised by over use of the weed killer Roundup. In the Wine Terroirs article “Experimental cure of Esca in the Loire” the grower, Didier Barrouillet, claims he has seen vines recovering from esca.
In the same vein the 7th International Workshop on Grapevine Trunk Diseases, held in Chile last year, reported some success using soil bio-fumigation with mustard (Brassica juncea). Although used here for Black Foot Disease research the idea of bio-fumigation, using companion crops or “green manure” from Brassica species looks to be bearing fruit (!).
Those last two topics brings home the message to me that viticulture at its simplest level is only agriculture, and growing anything in the soil requires a healthy respect for that soil and the complex eco-system it harbours – something that the ever increasing use of pesticides, fungicides and herbicides can only disrupt.
The pathogens and symptoms of Grapevine Trunk Diseases mirror this, it would be wrong to fixate on a single cause or cure when they are a complex interaction of numerous fungi acting on genetically distinct sets of vines. A vine can, and probably does, become infected by multiple pathogens many times and while susceptibility to the effects of BDA, Ecsa and Eutypa dieback varies between grape varieties there is no sub-species of Vitis vinifera that is immune.
I should also reiterate that during my time reading and re-reading the different papers and presentations I encountered repeated ambiguity & contradiction both on disease naming, symptoms and causes. I endeavoured to filter through the pages to ensure as much consistency as possible, but I have no doubt that the current view of these diseases is still incomplete with more interactions awaiting to be discovered. Syrah Decline is a case in point – but I’m not going to go down that tangent just yet!
Grapevine Trunk Diseases in California and Control Strategies (UCD Presentation)
Emerging diseases of vine in the central part of Spain, Vicente González and María Luisa Tello, of the Madrid Institute for research and Rural Development, agriculture and food (Imidra)
Abstracts from the International Workshop on Grapevine Trunk Diseases (next in Valencia, Spain, 18-21 June 2012)
I’ve recently returned from the European Wine Bloggers Conference (EWBC) held this year in the town Brescia, east of Milan. The province of the same name is home to Italy’s prime region of sparkling wine production, Franciacorta. Being a great lover of Champagnes in all their miraculous diversity, you can well imagine that I shall have much to say in the coming weeks about Franciacota’s beguiling variety and the deep dedication of the regional winegrowers to terroir and quality. Indeed, that there now yearly emerges a shortage of Champagne, Franciacota stands poised to deliver the equal of Champagne’s pleasures to the discriminating international palate.
But I present a different story today. Turkey. The interview below owes its origin to a pre-EWBC event: Bring Your Own Bottle night, the eve of the conference. This international gathering of wine writers, from beginner to established authority, of moviemakers, marketers, tourism boosters, and public relations folk, is, in my view, the finest of its kind. And this Californian would never miss one. The BYOB event is one of the reasons. And I was not to be disappointed (even if my offering, a 2005 Southing Sea Smoke, was not the hit I thought it would be!) But among the more than 100 bottles, I right away stumbled upon two unusual offerings from Turkey sitting upon a table at the margins of the room. I was soon introduced to the peaceful gentleman who brought them, Taner Ogutoglu, a representative of the Turkish wine industry. I arranged for an interview right then and there, based entirely upon the intriguing flavors and top quality of the wines I’d just tasted. That and the simple fact, intolerable to me, that I knew exactly nothing of Turkish wines or of her emerging industry.
Moreover, Turkey’s contemporary politics and culture are an extraordinarily complex mix of diverse peoples, forces, and tensions. The secular foundations of her post-WW 1 republic, however, appear stable, in realpolitik terms. But what struck me again and again during my conversation with Mr. Ogutoglu is that he believes, as do I, of the power of a thriving wine culture to deeply and peacefully unite peoples in both a general economic benefit, and more importantly, in a shared humanity. That said, enjoy.
Ken Payton It is very generous of you to meet me. Please tell us your full name and what brings you to the European Wine Bloggers Conference? Are you a producer?
Taner Ogutoglu My name is Taner Ogutoglu, and I am from Istanbul, Turkey. I am here representing the Turkish wine industry. We have a platform called Wines of Turkey. At the moment we have seven members, but representing maybe 90% of wine production and Turkish exports. In total there are unfortunately only 125 wineries in Turkey; and maybe 20 to 30 of them are able to be a brand, shall we say. So the seven members at the moment are currently the leading ones, the big and medium sized wineries.
Can you tell me something of the export of Turkish wines to the Unites States and Europe…
TO Mostly the exports are to Europe, especially to the UK and Germany. We currently have a minor export to the US, Canada, and Japan. The total value of exports of Turkish wines are at the moment around $9,000,000, which is, of course, nearly a point of zero for a country like Turkey. So we are working on it. We have really started to work on it in the last couple of years.
So most wine produced in Turkey is consumed in Turkey itself. What kind of wine culture does Turkey enjoy?
TO Yes, of course. We have several different wines, and in general characteristics we have whites, rosés, reds, and some sweet wines. Two-thirds of the consumption comes from red wines, I believe. And we have a minor rosé consumption, but it has been increasing in the past couple of years because of the improvement in the quality of our rosé wines in Turkey. This is true of the world also.
And of the grape varieties?
TO We have some local, indigenous grape varieties, also some international ones. Among the most popular international varieties are Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Shiraz (sic). Among the local grape varieties – they may be hard to pronounce in English – I will just mention just five of them. Bear in mind we have more than 600 indigenous grape varieties…
TO Yes. Unbelievable, huh?! And this is because Turkey is the origin for Vitis vinifera, part of the origin, I shall say. The five indigenous grape varieties I will mention are, from the whites, the first two, Emir and Narince. Narince means ‘delicate’ in English.
And for the reds, we have Kalecik Karasi. It is two words. Kalecik is the name of the area that the grape comes from; and Karasi generally means ‘black’, which is associated with the red grapes in Anatolia. Kara means black. The others are Okuzgozu and Bogazkere; these are from the south-east part of Turkey where it is believes that the Vitis vinifera originated. This is supported by two important academicians, one of them from the Pennsylvania University in the United States, Patrick McGovern. His findings are showing the origin of Vitis vinifera as the south-east part of Turkey. The other academician is from Switzerland, José Vouillamoz. [Please see this video of Prof. Vouillamoz via Discover The Roots Conference earlier in the year. Admin] He’s working on a book with Jancis Robinson on the grape varieties of the world. He is a DNA expert. And he is also showing the same geographical point of the origin of Vitis vinifera in the south-east part of Turkey as has Patrick McGovern.
So how is terroir understood in Turkey? What are the main regional differences?
TO When we talk about Turkey, people generally associate Turkey with a hot climate, like the desert or something like that. Maybe they are associating Turkey with a general Arabic environment. But Turkey is totally different! Turkey is a big country. I can confidently say we do not have any desert. We can have cold winters, up to minus 40 degrees celsius.
That would be in the mountainous regions…
TO Of course. In the mountain area, which is in the east part of Turkey, you may have from minus 20 to minus 40 celsius. There falls up to five meters of snow! This is the eastern part of Turkey I am talking about. Then we have the Middle Anatolia, and we have the west, which has the Mediterranean climate, mild and hot, of course, when compared to the middle and east of Turkey. And we also have the north of Turkey, and, especially the north eastern part, is rainy. And there you have black forests. You can see nothing but green! Thousands of kilometers of trees. It is like the Amazon! So the climactic characteristics of the various regions are very different.
And therefore the wine growing regions are diversified. We have the northwest, west, south, we have the middle Anatolia, the southeast, and we have the northeast. They are totally different from each other.
So are grapes being grown in each of the regions you’ve outlined?
TO Yes, of course.
So who in Turkey drinks wine regularly? What is the demographic of the average wine drinker? Let me add that we do not know very much about Turkey. Is that a fair statement? (laughs)
TO Unfortunately, that is true. (laughs) Yet we feel it is our duty to market Turkey better, to make Turkey much better known in the world. In Turkey there are 75 million people. And our land, our country, is more of a geography of cultures than a country. It has many cultures. And it has been the motherland of many cultures, not only the Turks. We may say Turkey, Turkey, Turkey, but here is also the motherland of the Greeks, the Romans, many other very different kinds of cultures. So it deserves to be known! It is our duty.
So we have 75 million people living in this land. In general they are concentrated in Anatolia and Thrace – Thrace is the European part of Turkey. And there are about 15 to 20 million people drinking alcoholic beverages. We guess there are around 5 to 10 million people drinking wine. Some drink at dinner, but also for special occasions and celebrations. But it is a growing culture. More and more people are discovering wine culture in Turkey. At the moment mostly they prefer beer or distilled beverages. Of course, beer is a wonderful drink, however, wine is much better for matching with food.
So it is important to say that more and more people are discovering how wine and food pair so well. This is especially true for those who are now choosing distilled beverages, those with high alcohol. They are increasingly coming to see that wine is a better choice, both in terms of matching and of health.
So if I understand you correctly, the culture of matching wine and food, or gastronomy generally, is fairly new to Turkey. Are writers beginning to emerge to tell people how to think food and wine?
TO Yes! This is very important. In the last 10 to 15 years we’ve had many good and important writers in the major newspapers and magazines discussing exactly this. And I strongly advise this to other countries, like China, for example. They, too, are an emerging market and wine culture. And they are struggling to learn how they can develop markets. They don’t have a wine culture. It’s not developed. I’ve just advised one of our friends that they should find some people writing in the major media about gastronomy, about food and wine. Because people are following such writing. They want to learn.
For us in Turkey, this was a big change when important writers started to write about food and wine, about their choices. When they went to a restaurant and tasted food and wine, they evaluated it, and they advised it to others.
So these wine and food writers have essentially started from scratch. They have just begun to inaugurate new ways to think about food and wine and their pairings.
TO Exactly! That is maybe the starting point. But they started to do this when they saw the that wine sector was moving forward.
Otherwise they may never have started writing about gastronomy and wine. It began with developments in the wine sector…
TO Yes. So in countries like Turkey, it is now what it was maybe like it was in the United States 30 to 40 years ago. People were not drinking wine. I was reading an article about the Wine Spectator when they were a new magazine 30 to 40 years ago. [Wine Spectator was founded in 1976 Admin] There it was written that there were no wines being sold in shops, or something like that. So Turkey is now where the United States was 25 years ago.
So tell me about an ordinary citizen shopping for wine in a Turkish shop. First of all, are wines readily available?
TO Yes, of course. I will say that legally we are more free to buy wines than many Western countries. You can see it in very small shops selling food and wine and other alcoholic beverages. Like any corner shop. But in Canada, for example, you have a state monopoly on the sales of alcoholic beverages. In Turkey, in general, it is free of such interference. I say in general because it depends on the municipality. When you go to the eastern part of Turkey from the west, the culture of the people becomes more traditional and more religious. The people are more religious. So inland and the east part of Turkey, of course the shops and restaurants where you can find alcoholic beverages are rare.
And that is the influence of Islam.
TO Of course. Yes.
So of the 10 to 15 million drinkers of alcoholic beverages, who are they? And what is the cost for an average bottle of wine? Are the drinkers generally better educated? Better off financially?
TO Yes, as you can guess. The total wine consumption in Turkey is around 75 million liters. This makes for one liter per capita consumption per year, which is low. I believe that in the United States it is around 12 to 13 liters per capita. And consumption in Turkey also depends on tourism. We believe that 50% of wine consumption is coming from tourism. Every year about 30 million tourists come to Turkey. And this number is increasing.
TO Yes, Europeans mostly, but also including Americans, Chinese, Japanese, and others. And this number is increasing by about 8% to 10% each year. So tourism has a very important effect on our wine consumption. We must consider this when talking about wine consumption and general drinking habits within Turkey.
THE POLITICS OF WINE
So does the government participate in the promotion of Turkish wine and the wine sector generally? Or is it entirely a private sector initiative?
TO It is a tricky question! (laughs) Our government is now the conservative party. Therefore they do not really promote alcoholic beverage consumption and related matters. However, they are trying to perform their duties as best as they can.
In a very general way, the government is trying to balance the east and west of the country. Is that a fair approximation?
TO Yes. We are fundamentally, basically, a secular country. So there is the effort to manage a balance in politics. There are three important ministries that have to do with the wine industry in Turkey. The first one is the Agriculture Ministry; the second one is the Ministry of the Economy; the third one it the Ministry of Culture and Tourism. The politics depends on the ministers in general, their orientation to various issues. The Agricultural Ministry is a little bit more conservative, so he doesn’t care about wine. We cannot talk to him about wine. But the Economics minister, he is originally a business man, he has seen the world, so he wants to support the wine industry because Turkey has a huge potential! Turkey has the fourth largest acreage dedicated to the vine crop in the agricultural sector. Regarding grape production, it is the sixth largest in the world.
In the world? Wait… Wine grapes or all grapes, including table grapes?
TO All grapes. But only 2% of the grapes goes to winemaking. This nevertheless points to a huge potential.
The idea here would be that if you can grow table grapes, you can grow wine grapes. One may therefore safely assume the profits from the sale of the finished product, a bottle of wine, would be higher than that of table grapes.
TO Exactly. In two or three years you could convert them, all if you want, of course.
Just to be clear: the bottle of finished wine ultimately yields greater profits than the table grapes grown on the same acreage.
TO This is the case. And the Economic minister probably knows this. At least he can understand it. And the Culture and Tourism minister has a social democratic background. So he likes wine. He supports the wine industry because he sees the future of tourism, not only depending on wine; he believes the quality of tourism in Turkey depends on the quality of the sector you invest in as a country. For example, you can invest in business tourism, you can invest in marine tourism, yachts and pleasure boats, and so on. But the tourists who come to your country should be willing to pay money when they see something interesting. They shouldn’t come with all-inclusive tour packages, where they don’t have to care about the food or wine; that they just want to see the sea, the sand, and the sun. This type of tourist doesn’t spend money. They take your resources and then go back to their homes. But we have a lot of valuable resources! Our culture. Our history. Our cuisine. Our wines! We have to sell these things. And we have to invite people who are willing to discover these kinds of interesting things, things specific to Turkey.
The Ministry of Culture and Tourism is aware of this fact. And so they have started to support us.
Very good. So tell me about Turkish cuisine.
TO Well, when we talk about Turkish cuisine, it is difficult to border it. In Turkey, if you take it as a geography – let’s call it Anatolia – it is the center for many different cultures. We are still adding to our cuisine many different dishes that belong to many other cultural cuisines. But that really already have a historical presence in Turkey. Greek cuisine, Jewish cuisine, even Hittite cuisine. All the cultures of the alphabet, the written word, find a place in Turkey. Patrick McGovern, for example, is making a beer that used to be made by Hittites in Anatolia. So Turkey has a very old and wide culinary art. Unfortunately, we were not successful, like the Italians, to promote it in the world.
For example, when an American thinks about Turkish cuisine, he will think of Turkish kebob. Or maybe baklava, a kind of dessert. Yoghurt, perhaps. The Greeks also use the same terminology because of the same geographical origin. But these are only a couple of items from our cuisine! We have, for example, 100s of dishes made with olive oil. They are not kebob! We have maybe 100 different kinds of dishes made from Eggplant or Aubergine. Can you imagine! That is just one example! (laughs)
Quite startling. Let me ask you, who starts a winery? Are these older families? Are they young people who found wineries? A side question: what is the oldest winery in Turkey?
TO At the moment the oldest wineries are Doluca and Kavaklidere. They were both established around 1923 -25, with the establishment of the new republic, after the Ottomans. These are the old companies. There are also some small and medium size companies which were established around those years, and into the 1930s and 1940s. They are still making trade in the market.
We also have very important newcomers in the last 10 to 15 years, usually founded by successful business people.
Winemaking has become a second career for them?
TO Yes, because in the last 20 years wine became a prestigious business in Turkey. So if someone has money and they are not sure what to do with it, or if they love wine and are looking for a new business venture, or even if they are trying to find a hobby for themselves, they enter into this sector. We have many newcomers like this. They are very successful people. Most importantly, they are increasing the quality level of Turkish wine in general. They are creating new competition which stimulates everyone’s success.
Excellent. So Taner, what is the one thing the American wine drinking public understand about Turkey and her wines?
TO The unique selling points of Turkish wines are that Turkey is the origin of Vitis vinifera. Secondly is that you will taste some indigenous grape varieties that you have never tasted in your life. And you will probably like them. And thirdly, if you like wine that means you like cuisine. I strongly suggest to everyone that they discover Turkish cuisine. These are the three things.
Thank you very much, Taner.
TO You are welcome, Ken.
Here are the wines Mr. Ogutoglu brought to the EWBC.
—– Kayra vintage 2008 Okuzgozu (Red Wine. The grape is Okuzgozu. The region is Aydincik/Elazig)
—– Tugra Bogazkere 2008 (Red Wine. The grape is Okuzgozu. The region is Denizli)
Doruk Kalecik Karasi 2009 (Red Wine. The grape is Kalecik Karasi, the region is Ankara)
—– Urla Nero D’avola Urla Karasi 2010 (Red Wine. The grapes are: Nero D’avola and Urla Karasi. The region is Ukuf/Urla/Izmir)
—– Premium Syrah & Merlot 2007 (Red Wine. The grapes are: Syrah and Merlot. The region is Izmir)
—– Pamukkale Anfora Trio 2009 (Red Wine. The grapes are: Shiraz-Kalecik Karasi-Cabernet Sauvignon, the region is Denizli)
—– Kocabag Emir 2009 (White Wine. The grape is Emir. The region is Cappadocia)
And for additional background of a recent Wines of Turkey press trip, please see MW Susan Hulme’s coverage.
Ken Payton, Admin
It is with great pleasure and humility that I announce the US premier of the my documentary Mother Vine at the Santa Rose International Film Festival this Friday, September 16th. As some regular readers know, Mother Vine it is a deep and abiding testament of love for the country of Portugal and her wines. The documentary, however, concentrates of what we may generally call historical wines, by which is meant wines not only of considerable antiquity with respect to their production techniques and use of indigenous varieties, but also wines of a decidedly out-of-time character and taste. One definition requires another…
It is often observed that modern winery technology, including but not limited to micro-oxygenation, acidification, industrially manufactured yeast strains, and modern vineyard practices such as longer hang time, canopy configuration, synthetic fertilizers, irrigation etc, have all conspired to produce, as if by some unseen hand, wines of considerable uniformity, homogeneity, wines tasting of what is called ‘the international style’, essentially of the obese, ponderous taste profile of Coca Cola and Sno-Cone syrups. Broadly speaking, the observation, rarely polite, insists that it has become increasingly difficult for even the most practiced palates to discriminate between a Cabernet from Napa and one from Argentina, from Australia; a Grenache from Spain and one from Southern Rhone or from Paso Robles. The Anything But Chardonnay movement has such a recognition at its core. Through homogenizing viticultural and enological practices are wines more commonly made with a uniformity of flavor it is supposed consumers demand. The biggest loser? Terroir is ultimately disfigured, then lost by modern winery and vineyard manipulations. Just taste widely and one can easily see this is more often the case than not. After all, a Mac Donald’s cheeseburger tastes the same in Los Angeles, Dallas, Paris, France, Manila and Hong Kong. QED.
Setting aside the alternately dull and fascinating complexities of all of the above, we may nevertheless say without fear of contradiction, that consumers are restless. The wine cognoscenti is restless. Marketers are nervous. A glance at the rapid rise in intellectual celebrity of so-called ‘natural wines tells us as much. Difference, distinction, singular and unique, character, this is the new nomenclature of innovative, creative winemakers.
Among Mother Vine’s many salient observations is that Portugal has been at the forefront of precisely this difference for generations. It is only now that the rest of the world is catching up. Of her nearly 300 indigenous varieties, her Atlantic terroirs, her bewildering range of local expressions, only now is Portugal receiving the first tentative knocks on her door of the international attention the country truly deserves. And Mother Vine’s greatest ambition is to kick the door down.
Great thanks to Jose Pastor Selections for their generous assistance in supplying wines for the tasting scheduled after tomorrow’s showing. The list:
— Arenae Colares DOC 2004 RED Ramisco
— Arenae Colares DOC 2006 WHITE Malvasia
— Los Bermejos Diego 2010 ( White ) Lanzarote (Canary Islands)
— Los Bermejos Malvasia Dulce NV Solera ( Sweet ) Lanzarote (Canary Islands)
— Fronton de Oro 2009 Tradicional Red- Gran Canarias (Canary Islands)
— Monje Hollera Maceracion Carbonica 2010 Red- Tenerife (Canary Islands)
I hope to see you at 5 p,m. at the Summerfield Cinemas, 551 Summerfield Road, Santa Rosa.
Which is more natural, the English Bulldog of the 19th Century or our modern model? The Belgian Blue of yesteryear or today’s Super Cow? Selective breeding has produced both. So too has it given us all of the plant crops upon which the world’s peoples depend. From roses to wheat.
“Domestication of plants is an artificial selection process conducted by humans to produce plants that have more desirable traits than wild plants, and which renders them dependent on artificial (usually enhanced) environments for their continued existence. The practice is estimated to date back 9,000-11,000 years. Many crops in present day cultivation are the result of domestication in ancient times, about 5,000 years ago in the Old World and 3,000 years ago in the New World. In the Neolithic period, domestication took a minimum of 1,000 years and a maximum of 7,000 years. Today, all of our principal food crops come from domesticated varieties.”
This is emphatically not genetic engineering or recombination in the post-modern sense. The domestication of plants and animals is as old as the primal scene of the first hungry dog wandering into a circle of paleolithic Homo erectus huddling around a campfire. Today the very survival of domesticated plants and animals is entirely dependent upon our collective political and agricultural will, however abstract. So it is with Vitis vinifera.
Abandon any cropland and it will be overtaken by suppressed local vegetation in a matter of years, if not in a single season. Which is also to say that this local biodiversity (as we now call it), just as with the ancients, must be vigorously controlled for the sake of the crop itself; the invasive and opportunistic species excluded, whether weed, insect, deer, wild boar, or pathogen.
The natural world is conjugated and extrapolated by the development of the agricultural. Moreover, agriculture is the historical engine of humanity’s advancement. So we may insist that there is no nature without human cultures maintaining such a distinction; just as we know there can be no concept of the future without a concept of the past, or that, for example, a formerly nondescript region of the brain is suddenly revealed through scientific research to be the center of language acquisition. Nature is what resists and remains, what tests the practical and creative limits of any given people.
When we look at a modern domesticated crop in situ, we see neat rows, a marvel of geometric planning and practical efficiency. Far from its meaning being exhausted by the principles of industrial agriculture, an ancient Egyptian would surely recognize the logic of the appearance of a Montana wheat field; but not its scale, or its disease-free quality and robust yield. So it is with a vineyard.
Trial and error. Domestication. Techné. So it follows that Cabernet Sauvignon, especially its many subtle amphilogical variations, exists as an international variety only through a long process of equally subtle cultural choices and selections. Nature would not and does not do it alone. Nature does not plant a vineyard of Pinot Noir. People do. And people plant what they know, what is culturally relevant and of practical use to them.
Let’s look for a moment at what is involved in the planting of a vineyard. First comes site selection and its soil analysis, counting heat days, determining drainage patterns and orientation. Next the land is cleared of competitive, undesirable vegetation, excavated, planted with specific rootstock grafted to chosen varieties. The soil is supplemented with mineral nutrients and fertility enhancements. As the vines grow, vineyard hygiene must be observed, the vines pruned, disease and pest management exercised, and the ever-rebounding local biodiversity, controlled. There is still much, much more to be done in a vineyard, but this is enough to illustrate my point.
All vineyard activities listed above are learned and repeated cultural practices and techniques, some of which were great historical discoveries, many are immemorial. It is therefore not accurate to say, as some do, that in planting and managing a vineyard ‘we work with Nature’. No. We contest and forcefully redirect the processes of the natural world for our own purposes and ends. This we call viticulture. And I believe terroir is the word we use to describe a wine that in some small way defeats this contest and redirection. Put another way, a terroir wine exceeds the agricultural mastery of its originating vineyard. In short, terroir becomes possible when mastery fails. But we are getting ahead of ourselves.
A winery may use amphorae, clay jars, oak, redwood, or chestnut barrels (there are other options), steel or concrete tanks, even t-bins, for fermentation. (We no longer use animal skins or tree hollows, but we could.) For the settling or aging of wines, a winery selects from among the same container technologies. Innovations are always welcomed. Further, we now better understand the chemistry of the resulting olfactory qualities each variety of container best promotes. But even a few generations ago this was not the case. Far from it. For millennia little attention was paid to anything other than the stability and preservation of the precious liquid within, how to prevent spoilage. A partial understanding of the agency of fermentation, yeast, would have to wait until Pasteur, for example.
There is much hand-wringing among the wine cognoscenti about yeast these days. Wild (read natural) or industrial (read artificial). Take your pick, for you see, there is no other choice. But all yeasts are both natural and artificial. As naturally artificial — to coin a phrase — as any Cabernet Sauvignon or Pinot Noir vine selected and propagated over time. For all yeasts (exclusive of ML01), whether used in the making of bread, beer, cheese, or wine, like rootstocks and grape varieties, Bulldogs and Belgian Blues, all are the products of oft times ancient events of domestication. Refinements to the consistent, practical isolation of yeast strains would come in the 19th Century.
From vol. 1 of Thomas Pinney’s magisterial A History of Wine In America.
Work on isolating and propagating “pure” strains of yeast was first successfully carried out by the Danish scientist E.C. Hansen in the 1880s, with results that allowed a higher degree of control over the process of fermentation never before possible. By 1891 the French researcher Georges Jacquemin had established a commercial source of pure wine yeasts, and within a few years their use had become a wide-spread commercial practice in Europe.
The first experiments with strains of pure yeast began in [UC] Berkeley in 1893, with striking results: “In every one of the experiments, ” Boletti wrote, “the wines fermented with the addition yeast were cleaner and fresher-tasting than those allowed to ferment with whatever yeasts happened to exist on the grapes.” Samples of pure yeast cultures were sent out to commercial producers in Napa, Sonoma, St. Helena, Asti, San Jose, and Santa Rosa, with equally positive results. [His reference is Boletti's summary in UC College of Agriculture, Report of the Viticultural Work during the Seasons 1887-93 published in 1896]
Mr. Pinney goes on to provide a perfect quote for our purposes.
As the distinguished enologist Maynard Amerine has written, the contributions of biochemistry to wine “have changed winemaking more in the last 100 years than in the previous 2,000,” delivering us from a state of things in which “white wines were usually oxidized in flavor and brown in color” and most wines were “high in volitile acidity and often low in alcohol. When some misguided people wish for the good old days of natural wines, this is what they are wishing for.” [Ohio Ag Research and Development Center, Proceedings, Ohio Grape-Wine Short Course, 1973]
Though the process of fermentation remained an unexplained mystery for the greater part of the history of our enchantment with alcoholic beverages, many cultures learned techniques to tilt its success in its favor, such as selecting for reuse only vessels that had successfully carried a fermentation to an acceptable result, or adding other fruits, figs and berries for example, known to promote the secret process. And with respect to the stabilization of a finished wine, Patrick McGovern writes in his Uncorking The Past,
Tree resins have a long and noble history of use by humans, extending back into Paleolithic times. [....] Early humans appear to have recognized that a tree helps to heal itself by oozing resin after its bark has been cut, thus preventing infection. They made the mental leap to apply resins to human wounds. By the same reasoning, drinking a wine laced with a tree resin should help to treat internal maladies. And the same healing properties might be applied to stave off the dreaded “wine disease” by adding tree resins to the wine.
Even the Romans added resins such as pine, cedar, terebinth (known as the “queen of resins”), frankincense, and myrrh to all their wine except extremely fine vintages. According to Pliny the Elder, who devoted a good part of book 14 of his Natural History to resinated wines, myrrh-laced wine was considered the best and most expensive.
After all the above we now might better understand why the ancients reused only selected vessels from season to season; why resinating wines was popular; why isolated yeast cultures were celebrated in 19th Century Europe and America; and why Mr. Amerine so harshly judged what he called ‘natural wines’. The answer is stabilization, including, but not limited to, bacterial sanitation and the prevention of runaway levels of volatile acidity. In short, spoilage, the winemaker’s ancient antagonist.
So why are we these days in the thrall of a return to ‘natural wines’, a return to the Jules Chauvet’s modest environmentalism, near universal among Western peoples the 1960s? For it is surely true that by dawning of the Age of Aquarius, pesticides, herbicides and a host of other industrial insults had made a fine mess of vast tracts of France’s wine growing regions. In a nation of chain-smoking vignerons, of an exalted nuclear power program, and struggling environmental movement, it is not difficult to understand Mr. Chauvet’s appearance in France. What is more difficult to understand is why he should make a difference to us now.
Nevertheless it is asked, “How can winemakers afford to take the risk?” The answer is very simple: Winemakers can take the risk because of the hard-won agricultural victories and associated technologies historically achieved, but which are now selfishly taken for granted. The natural winemakers of today benefit from the leaps and bounds in our modern understanding of biochemistry, viticulture, plant physiology and pathology, and winery sanitation. Never before have we known so much about the biological and physical processes involved. Yet often select terroirists refuse to admit it. For some there are only natural wines and industrial swill. This is a false, dishonest choice. Or perhaps, more charitably, we may say that rarely has an agricultural product been so poorly named. In either case, winemakers of today, but drinkers and connoisseurs as well, stand on the shoulders of generations of nameless farmers, experimenters, of researchers and their discoveries. Our extended family of the vine.
The concept of ‘natural’ wines, who might qualify as a producer of the same, has undergone what in realpolitik speak is called ‘mission creep’. In an effort to fire the imaginations of the greatest number of winegrowers, producers, influencers and consumers, the definition or parameters of what constitutes a ‘natural’ wine has in recent years been expanded to include the products of ‘organic’ and Biodynamic winegrowing, however negotiable those practices may be. Every movement — such as it is — needs all the friends it can get. (On a personal note, my work in Portugal has revealed numerous natural wines that have existed long before Jules Chauvet was a twinkle in his mother’s eye.)
But a parallel rhetoric has emerged that threatens to alienate the very wine producers that the natural wine movement needs most to win over: the conglomerates still heavily dependent on petrochemicals, pesticides and herbicides; excessive synthetic nitrogen applications, the subsequent pollution of streams and waterways, and the increasing use of GMOs in the wine industry. It is a rhetoric that can draw no qualitative distinction between pesticide use and tartaric acid additions (one shudders to think what some terroirists would have to say about ancient Roman myrrh or pine resin wine additives); it is a rhetoric that dithers over alcohol levels rather than a winery’s carbon footprint; a rhetoric that finds objectionable some quite arbitrary level of SO2 but whose program does not appear to reflect in any meaningful way on enhancing vineyard biodiversity.
Rather than debate the ludicrous notion that volatile acidity or brettanomyces are praiseworthy expressions of terroir, concerned wine writers of every shade of green ought to instead turn their collective attention to the big picture. The rest is medieval scholasticism.
For further reading see William Tish’s account of a recent natural wine event and the excellent compilation on the blog Saignée: 31 Days of Natural Wine
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Tucked away down the narrow streets of the Baixa neighborhood of Lisbon, on the corner of Rua de Santa Justa and Rua dos Douradores, Jaime Neves Vaz does the joyous work of cultural preservation. The Vaz family’s third generation proprietor/owner of the liquor store Garrafeira Nacional, Jaime offers more than the latest vintage. Though visitors will surely find the most recent popular, off-beat, and hard to find wines from throughout Portugal, including a large selection of ports — all the way back to 1720! — it is in the area of Portugal’s historical wines where the Jaime’s shop truly excels.
Somewhere in Portugal a house is being renovated, or is changing hands, perhaps inherited by the owner’s children. It too often happens that the entire contents of a wine cellar will be tossed out into the dumpster. Why? Because the bottles are old and dusty. And if it is a white wine, what are the chances a 60’s vintage is still any good? This is a serious problem in Portugal where popular wine knowledge develops very slowly. Of course, Portugal is not alone in this. Here in America, where wine cellars are uncommon (I do not know of a single individual with a proper cellar), we are thirsty drinkers but have an ambiguous relationship to historical wines. And by ‘historical’ I mean nothing more than wines with a minimum of 15 years of aging. But with respect to the holdings of Garrafeira Nacional, 15 years is only a blink of the eye.
Jaime Neves Vaz to the rescue. He keeps his ear to the ground for hints of such spectacular cultural tragedies in the offing, that of the dumpster, and he also regularly attends auctions and spot buys cellars before it is too late. And what is a marvel for the wine tourist is the reasonable prices Jaime then asks for these wines. We met in Garrafeira Nacional. I spoke to him recently when in Lisbon for the premier of my wine doc, Mother Vine.
Admin Where did all of these wines come from?
Jaime Neves Vaz Some of them were acquired from my father long ago. Others we bought in auctions and from private collections, private cellars. We are very careful when we buy. We will often open some wines to check their quality. Most of the time they are very good wines.
And were most kept in real cellars?
JNV I pay close attention to that. If it is a good cellar there is no problem. But even when from a bad cellar I will still give it a try, open a few bottles. You must pay attention to the level of the wine in the bottle, the temperature of the room; there are many factors to consider. I am very careful. It is then very important how we keep the wine here in the shop.
When the store began was it principally port that was offered?
JNV No. This shop began in my family in 1927. We sold wine but it wasn’t at that time a normal business here in Portugal. My grandfather bought the shop. Then my father. It was about thirty years ago that we began selling only wines. The new wines we then bought are now old!
How do you hear about the cellars that come up for sale?
JNV I’ve been in the business for quite a while. I have lots of friends in the business. People know me. They know I like to buy old wines. I love it!
While visiting Carcavelos, I heard a terrible story of old wines simply being thrown away. So what is it about Portuguese wine culture that would lead someone to throw bottles out, to toss them into a dumpster?
JNV This happens a lot. What can I say? [laughs] They just put them into the garbage! Four years ago I bought a little cellar, somewhere around 100 bottles. The owner said to me that all the other ones he put into the garbage! It was because they didn’t have a legible date or the bottles were a little bit dirty. I asked him how many he had thrown away. He told me it was 400 to 500 bottles!
[My gasp of horror is clearly audible on the recording. Admin]
JNV Ok? It’s what we sometimes do. It happens. And they were like these. [Jaime gestures to dusty bottles of old port, Madeira, and Muscatel de Setubal, among others, protected inside a glass case.] And this man had very, very good port and Madeira wines. Into the garbage! I’m sorry…. He said the bottles were dirty. It is a pity. Because it is wrong.
Another visitor nearby, Portuguese, added, “People will say, ‘let’s taste it to see if it’s good’. But they don’t know the wine, they don’t know the label. Some of the wineries no longer exist. But they taste it without paying much attention to the wine. They treat it as though it was new. They don’t know how to pour it, how to decant it. So they taste it roughly and say it is spoiled. They spoiled it! This reveals a clear lack of wine culture in evaluating the quality of the wines. People prefer young wines. But most of these were made in a time when wine was simply put into a bottle and left to age.”
JNV But people are starting to pay attention. They read more. They read wine magazines, newspapers, and the internet. They are starting to learn just how good an older bottle of wine can be. Before they would say of an old bottle that it had to be no good. They would not even open it. But I tell them to slow down. Open the bottle. It is very important to open the bottle! But as I said, this is starting to change. They are beginning to learn that wine is alive.
How have your customers changed over the years? Who now comes in your shop?
JNV There has been a very big change. It started in the 1990’s. The culture of wine here in Portugal began to improve. Customers began to be more careful, and they began to try a much wider variety of wines. There was a big evolution in favor of experimentation. But most people still prefer new wines. We have a ways to go!
Let’s say I select these bottles for them. [Jaime picks a series of bottles of white Colares from 1967. Note the splendid variation among the bottles.] They will say, “They are too yellow; they’re from 1967. The bottles even differ among themselves. Forget it. I don’t want to try it because it must be bad.” But it is not true, I tell them! That it’s yellow, ok: it has 40 years of age! But the wine is good! Old wines are amazing.
Could you tell me a little about your grandfather and father?
JNV About my grandfather I cannot speak much. I did not know him. He died 15 years before I was born. But of my father, he started with wines of Colares, Dão, Bairrada, and Douro. Wines back then were elitist, only for very rich people. But not today.
And do you host tastings here? Do winemakers and companies visit with wines for you to taste?
JNV Yes. In fact, tomorrow [Thursday, May 5th] we have a tasting with Kopke, wines of 10, 20, 30, and 40 years of age. All white ports. We will also taste a 1961, with 50 years. It is a new idea for the whites they earlier did not bottle, only blend. Today they are starting to sell whites. It is very, very interesting. White port is perfect, especially with the aging.
Thank you very much, Jaime. I will be back in a few weeks, about that you can be sure.
JNV Thank you. It was a pleasure. See you soon.
Out I went into the late afternoon light. The blue of the Tejo was glimpsed down the shadowy Rua Augusta in one direction, the pearly tiles of the city streets at my feet, rising to orange upon the walls of the Convento do Carmo, in the other. I walked refreshed, happy, knowing that this Noah’s Ark of wine, Garrafeira Nacional, floated safely upon the rough waters of Portugal’s wine history. Dear reader, so should you.