“I’m not too particularly interested in how deep the color is and how pronounced the bouquet is and how high is the total acid and how low is the sugar. To me, is it something I enjoy drinking and want more? If so, then it is good. And if it is not, I don’t think it’s good, regardless.” Ernest Gallo (pg 15)
In his latest exploration of the wine world, A Toast To Bargain Wines, distinguished author George M. Taber has turned his attention to a key aspect of what is indisputably our golden age of wine. Never before have so many wines of such high quality been available to the consumer. And never have the prices been as competitive. Mr. Taber has taken up the theme with characteristic optimism and a relaxed narrative style. Sub-titled How innovators, iconclasts, and winemaking revolutionaries are changing the way the world drinks, he recounts well-known episodes in recent wine history, such as Tim Hanni’s research into the quixotic nature of taste, and Robert Hodgson’s work on the inconsistency of the judging at wine competitions. And he gives ample space to innovative movers and shakers of the internet, the new gatekeepers, he calls them. Gary Vaynerchuk, Robin Goldstein, and Jeff Siegel are among his examples. Each individual named and episode recounted participates or has participated, sometimes indirectly, in the promotion of the increasingly popular mantra: “Trust your own palate.” Mr. Taber’s aim with A Toast To Bargain Wines is to add his voice to the chorus.
But as the Ernest Gallo quote above suggests, there is more here than meets the eye. Indeed, many pages are given over to Fred Franzia of Bronco, E & J Gallo, and John Casella of Yellow Tail fame, all of whom Mr. Taber also identifies in heroic terms, whether as iconoclast or revolutionary. But is it not a strange world when the people piloting companies producing wine on an industrial scale can be called revolutionary? Not if your primary message is the celebration of a world awash in readily available, inexpensive wine. Whether they are bargains is another matter entirely. For only very marginal consideration is given to the environmental credentials of any producer. Sustainable, organic, bio-dynamic, virtually nothing is said about the viticultural practices of any winery listed. And since fully half of the book is taken up with Mr. Taber’s very informative Best Buy Guide, if you are particularly interested in buying eco-friendly wines, this book will be of no help.
Following the now routine strategies of the ‘trust your own palate’ school, Mr. Taber begins by taking on the traditional foundations of wine expertise. From the introduction to The Iconoclasts,
“A small cadre of wine people are challenging old ways of thinking and doing things. They are not united by anything except radical ideas and defiance of conventional wisdom about how people taste, whether experts and judges are reliable, the kind of packaging to use, and who should be recommending wines. In the process, these iconoclasts are changing the way millions of people think and drink.” (pg 27)
The first pillar in Mr. Taber’s sights is the notion that people taste a wine in the same manner; that given a randomly selected group, everyone will share an identical experience of that wine. Mr. Taber cites MW Tim Hanni’s pioneering work on the physiology of taste to demonstrate that variation in the perception of flavors is quite common. Palates differ. Clearly, of what value can a wine expert possibly be, why ought a consumer follow a their recommendations, if the expert’s palate is but one of a series of disparate variations, a moment on a continuum of endless sensitivities? Even with respect to gustatory disputes between critics, Robert Parker and Jancis Robinson, for example,
“Hanni says that such battles only reflect the[ir] different tasting profiles…. One is not wrong, and the other is not right. They’re simply different, in exactly the same way that some people like the music of Brahms and others prefer Copeland.” (pg 38)
Now, inasmuch as Mr. Hanni’s research appears to based in the physiology of taste perception, the temptation is to believe, as Mr. Hanni, we are told, once did and may still, that “[w]hen it comes to tasting, people are stuck with what nature gives them, just as they are with the color of their eyes.” (pg 34) Wiggle room in this conceptual straightjacket is found in Mr. Hanni’s important notion of sensitivity. For sensitivity is not destiny. Sensitivity is a preference for Brahms or Copeland, whereas one’s nature is the ability to hear. So with respect to Mr. Hanni’s research, Mr. Taber seems to suggest that the consumer has a palate specifically theirs, the only one they should trust. Chalk one up for the liberation of the consumer from the tyranny of the expert. So it would seem.
BREAKING THE CYCLE
But does having a palate of delimited sensitivity mean that the consumer should never question their preferences? Because this we are free to do. Sensitivity, we are told, is in fact mutable. In his discussion of Mr. Hanni’s Taste Sensitivity Assessment test developed to determine one’s place on the taste sensitivity continuum, Mr. Taber writes,
“Over time, you might change your entire sensitivity category because of the changes in wine fashion, aesthetics, learning, and experiences.” (pg 45)
This is very good news, indeed. After all, McDonald’s makes its fortune by providing a dependable, identical product everywhere on the globe. So it is comforting to know that we, as our mothers told us, can learn to like spinach. More seriously, in a later section of A Toast To Bargain Wines titled Wine Revolutionaries, an extended meditation principally on the rich history of the Franzia and Gallo families, we read,
“The Italian families expanded and prospered despite the slow growth in American wine consumption. They made what people in those days wanted: mainly sweet and high-alcohol products. The Franzias sold sweet port and sherry as well as Sauturnes and Rhine-style wines. The Gallos had Carlo Rossi jug wine, André sparkling wines, and high-alcohol fortified wines such as Ripple and Thunderbird.” (pg 97)
Leaving aside the social scourge high-alcohol fortified wines have been in America, Mr. Taber would have us believe people in those days wanted Thunderbird, presumably just as today they want Château Latour or 2 Buck Chuck. From “high-alcohol products” to today’s high-quality wines is a very complex historical trajectory, certainly with respect to the development in sophistication of America’s wine culture generally understood. But to the question of how such a dramatic cultural sea change would have ever been possible had the consumer done nothing but trust their palates, the answer is simple: It would not have happened. Consumers were not alone then, they are not alone now. More to the point, it has taken the combined talent of generations of winemakers to bring us to the golden age we now enjoy. Which is to say that because a wine is inexpensive does not mean the moniker ‘revolutionary’ belongs to the industrial producers alone.
So we know that sensitivity is mutable. We know that America has enjoyed a radical recasting of its wine culture. We know that Ernest Gallo paradoxically shares the same vision of the liberated consumer as Mr. Vaynerchuk. We know we should trust our palates. But what is missing in Mr. Taber’s scenario is any reflection on how to encourage the consumer to explore the larger wine culture itself, to understand how they came to their sensitivities, to their palates in the first place. Just as we eat fried chicken and not whale, beef but not spider monkey, chew Juicy Fruit gum and not coca leaves, there are specific cultural histories at play, both familial and societal, that condition and inform the very creation of our tastes and preferences long before we ever take our first sip of wine.
“Most Americans need help from gatekeepers [...] because few people have grown up in a culture like that in Europe, where wine is simply part of daily life and not a mysterious elixir. Americans have an international reputation for being pushy, loud, know-it-alls. That is not true, though, when it comes to wine. When the subject comes up, many are unsure what they should like or buy.” (pg 72)
Here again, in light of the above, trusting one’s own palate, far from being a badge of honor, should rather be seen as an apologia to a kind of social ineptitude, of cultural jingoism, and retrograde narcissism. Yet time and again Mr. Taber suggests this faux heroism is the consumer’s greatest strength.
“The final decision about a wine is yours, and yours alone. A person’s taste is as unique as his fingerprint. “ ) (pg 87)
I beg to differ. Such a sentiment, apart from being demonstrably in error, celebrates and encourages gustatory isolation and indifference. I would rather argue that a person’s taste is always in a state of movement, of flux. To truly believe in a golden age of wine is instead to encourage people to drink as widely as is affordable, to constantly challenge and stretch the limits of their sensitivities. My advice? Do not trust your palate. Routinely betray it with tasting experiences at odds with your comfort. Just a thought…
A Toast To Bargain Wines will provide the newcomer to wine a bit of encouragement and courage, some good stories and (a stated) 400 wine recommendations. A fine chapter on China rounds out the effort. Overall, it is an easy going, friendly, informative read.
Ken Payton, Admin
What follows is a bit of a departure for Reign of Terroir. Normally a space for a quiet conversation about some aspect of wine science, (agri)culture, wine history, or an international winegrowing region, today here is heard the constant throb of the diesel engines of a fishing vessel. I’ve recently returned from New Bedford, on the coast of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, where my documentary Mother Vine enjoyed an East Coast premier at the New Bedford Whaling Museum. The event was graciously hosted by Travessia Urban Winery. But the interview to follow has nothing to do with this.
Upon arriving in the coastal city, I went out to explore the local environs. The docks bristling with the masts of dozens of commercial ships was the first place I visited. Darkness was closing in, but subsequent visits, some quite late at night, I was always to find some activity on-going. Whether on the immediate shore or onboard a vessel, work could be witnessed. On one such occasion I took the picture you see above. And, a few ships removed, I tentatively arranged to speak with a captain who identified himself as Joe. The following morning, Joe did not appear. Neither was that his real name, I was to learn. Fishermen here are naturally suspicious for reasons you will learn below. Instead of Joe, I found Tony L. Santos, the owner and captain of the very vessel pictured above. And with his help, I was able to learn in a mere 20 minutes the framing circumstances of a fisherman’s life in New Bedford and beyond.
Ken Payton Good morning. A beautiful fishing boat you have. Could you please tell me your full name and tell me a little about yourself?
Tony Santos My name is Tony Santos. I am second generation. My family is from Figueira da Foz, on the mainland, near the coast. Right by the ocean.
I’ve met a number of people here already, mostly Azorians, and a few Cape Verdeans. This is an area well populated with Portuguese-Americans. So who might I meet in the community? Are the folks from all over Portugal?
TS Pretty much from all over the main continent, as fishermen themselves, draggers, for fish. Now, if you go into scallopers, you’ll meet mostly people from the Azores.
Why is that?
TS On scallopers, it’s mainly labor work; whereas on draggers for fish, you’ve got to have a little more skill, to mend nets and whatnot.
Why did your parents come to America?
TS To look for a better life. All my descendants, they are all fishermen.
Is this true of the Azorians here as well?
TS Not the Azorians, no. They come from more diverse backgrounds. Now if you go way, way back, into the 1800s and 1900s, then you get a lot of Azorian fishermen, especially for whale, from the time when New Bedford was a great whale port. Some of those families are still here, the second generation.
So would it be fair to say that New Bedford is the central hub of the Portuguese-American fishing community?
TS It would be fair to say of New Bedford and Fall River. Now, if you go into Fall River, you get a lot more Azorians. But they don’t work as fishermen. They work in factories and whatnot.
So how was New Bedford your family’s destination? How did they hear about it when living in Portugal?
TS OK. I was 8 years old when emigrated here. I was born in Portugal, of course. My father, being a fisherman, he was going into those Dories still fishing off the coast of Labrador. One day he decided to jump ship in Canada. It was so bad in Portugal, he figured he couldn’t support his family. So he was looking for a better life. He jumped ship in Canada, at Saint John’s.
He then worked the shore. He diversified. He did all kinds of work, different jobs. He worked in the tobacco fields as a laborer, a cement laborer… this was in Nova Scotia. He was there for three years, figuring he’d hand himself over to Immigration after that period of time, thinking that they would tell him he could now become a citizen, or at least be legalized in Canada. But the law had been changed to five years. (laughs) So when he handed himself in, they deported him back to Portugal! And he went to jail for one year.
And after he got out…
TS After the year in jail, he got a contract with the same people who had helped him out in Canada. So he went, and took all of his family. So we lived in Canada for six years before he jumped the border again into the United States, still looking for a better life. He landed here in New Bedford, looking for work as a fisherman. That was his background. He worked here for a year illegally. And then he went back to Canada to pick us up after he had gotten another contract, this time in the States. So here we are.
This puts an interesting spin on debates on-going here in the States around illegal immigrants. Look what your father was able to build! A life for his family…
TS That’s right. He did. He worked pretty hard. Now he is in a home for the elderly. He’s 80 years old, but it’s if he’s not even there: He’s got Alzheimer’s. So…
Only 80? My mother has it as well. Is there longevity in the Azorian and Portuguese mainland communities? After emigration, do they tend to live to a ripe old age? Does the work as a fisherman treat them well or does it wear them out?
TS I would say that it wears them down quite a bit, especially being a fisherman; it wears you down. I don’t think you live as long as a regular person working the shore. It is a tough, nerve-wracking profession.
Every time you go out, you’re put in harm’s way…
TS I can explain for myself? I am going through the same process. I started fishing back in ‘77 when I got out of the service for the United States, where I spent four years. I started fishing. I was going to stay in the service, but one of my cousins showed me his paycheck after a week’s work. That changed my mind! (laughs) It was then I wanted also to start a family. And I had always said I was not going to be like the rest of my family, being fishermen. I never wanted to be a fisherman. And still today, after 30 years, I still don’t want to be a fisherman. (laughs) But I am doing it.
Because of the paycheck…
TS No. It’s too late in life to start anything else. Right now I’m an owner of a fishing vessel, the T. Luis, a dragger, like I said. The vessel is named after me. ‘T’ for Tony, Luis, for my middle name. We are due to go out next week, but the way government cut our quota down, so it is not feasible to fish all year long. So I sold my quota to somebody else. And I’m tied up for six months, collecting unemployment. For the rest of the six months, I work down South, in Virginia and North Carolina.
And what will you do down there?
TS We fluke. It is a type of flounder. But we call them flukes, summer flounder, that’s what it’s called.
And you take the T. Luis down there?
TS Yes, we take this boat down there.
I saw all of your rigging and nets onboard. Are they used the same way for flounder?
TS The nets drag on the bottom, really close to the bottom; that’s where the flounder sit. It is a bottom-hugging fish. So the nets sweep it up.
There is a big market for flounder on the East Coast?
TS All over. It is exported to Japan, the Middle East… all over.
Could you tell me a little about your mother, if you don’t mind?
TS My mother, she’s also retired. She’s 81. When she came here, she worked in the fish factories while my father was fishing on draggers.
They married in Portugal, of course…
TS Yes, they met and married in Portugal. Actually they are cousins, they are first generation cousins. My grandparents are brothers. (laughs)
Did they marry because of how small was the village?
TS The village is small, where we came from. My father worked really close with my grandfather fishing over there. So because he was such a hard worked, my grandfather figured this was the kind of guy for my mother today!
And do you have children?
TS I have two girls and a boy.
Have any of your children shown an interest in fishing, in joining you on the vessel?
TS Negative! Nooo. I wouldn’t want them to anyway.
You’ve worked very hard so they could have a better life.
TS That’s right. I’ve tried as hard as I could.
Are they professionals?
TS They are. One is a teacher. One is a psychologist. And my son dropped out of college after two years…
And you didn’t like that on little bit…
TS I didn’t like it because I ended up paying for two years for nothing. And now he is taking care of deficient kids.
Do you ever go back to Portugal?
TS I go back to Portugal on occasion, maybe every five years. I try to go there, yes. I go back to Figueira da Foz. But since I was such a little kid when I left, I really don’t know much about Portugal. So when I go there, I try to go to different spots, to see the cultures. I still feel attached. I still feel attached, yes.
And in your house do you have mementos from the old country, from your parents?
TS My parents own a house back in Portugal. That’s where we stay when we visit. I think if you work hard enough, you build something up, you know? That was his plan. He wanted to retire and live in Portugal in the house that he built. Unfortunately, because of illness, my mother couldn’t take care of him, so he had to come back here to the States.
Do you have dual citizenship?
TS Yes, Portuguese and American. Two passports! (laughs)
It must be very expensive to keep up a boat like this…
TS Yes, it is. We pay $35,000 just for insurance. We pretty much break even at the end of the season.
But it’s been a rich, rewarding life…
TS … tiring, I’m fed up… not so much with fishing but with federal regulations. When you leave port, you’re always on the verge of having a nervous breakdown because you don’t know it you’re going to something wrong and somebody’s going to catch you. Although you try to do the best you can to be within the law, there’s always a little here that you break, and you get nailed for it.
They are always watching.
TS The Coast Guard, the Federal agents on shore, yes. Always watching.
Well, let’s see… The weather is nice today!
TS The weather is nice today, but come wintertime, you get two days of nice weather and the third is awful. You leave port under clear skies, sail for a day, then you get hammered and have to stop; because I don’t risk my crew or my boat. So we stop. And wait for better weather before we put out the nets.
Since I usually write about wine, let me ask, do you drink Portuguese wine?
TS I don’t drink at all. If you really look at the Portuguese people, they are known for drinkin’. They like their wine. But I don’t. (laughs) For some reason…
Wonderful, Mr. Santos. Thank you for your time.
TS You are very welcome.
Ken Payton, Admin
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
By the time you read this harvests all over the Northern Hemisphere will have ended or be well on their way to finishing. 2011 has been a challenging harvest in both Europe and America but for different weather related reasons.
In Europe vine development was accelerated by as much as 5 weeks due to a mild Spring which, by the end of June, had German and French growers cancelling their August vacations in anticipation of a ripe, full crop. Then the weather changed; with Northern Europe going through a wet, cool and downright stormy couple of months while Southern Europe experience a heat-wave, neither scenario optimal for gentle grape ripening and threatening to ruin the 2011 vintage. Finally an Indian Summer at the end of September recovered the quality, if not the quantity, in the North with the harvest ending up 2-3 weeks ahead of normal.
Italy looks to be about 10% down in volume with the heat meaning higher sugar levels and potential alcohol needing management. Wines from Spain report an inconsistent vintage with low yields (Rioja down by 20%) and CataVino include some reports from Portugal indicating good quality from what’s been harvested so far.
Inconsistency sums up France as well, especially Bordeaux where The Drinks Business (db) also uses “Challenging” and calls it “A Winemakers Year” (code for “you’d better know what you’re doing in the winery”). At least we won’t be getting another “vintage of the century” out of the Bordelais for 2011. There is a similar prediction for Germany as well, with Rupert Millar’s db article saying this year “will separate the men from the boys”. As if contending with the weather wasn’t bad enough one Pfalz winemaker saw €100,000 of Spätburgunder (Pinot Noir) grapes stolen overnight – grape rustling is sadly becoming a more common event!
England seems to have fared better (summer storms were less destructive here) with the recent hot weather just in time to ripen the grapes, as reported in The Telegraph. The English harvest is going to be down on 2009 and 2010 (both good years for quantity) but with possibly the ripest grapes in a decade.
Over in North America and the summer hardly got started – “the summer that never was” – with minimal sun leading to delayed ripening and lower sugar levels, followed by persistent wet weather as autumn arrived. Jon Bonné wrote a good overview piece on SFGate; in Oregon Dana Tims writes of a stoical yet optimistic view of the harvest; while in California the concern is whether enough grapes will survive rot to make it into the bottle, as discussed by Tim Fish and Augustus Weed in the Wine Spectator. At least Mexico seems to have had a smoother time of it!
Jancis Robinson’s recent FT piece “No one forecast this …” summarizes some of this in her own inimitable style, but of course we won’t really know what this means for 2011 wines until they come out of the tanks and barrels into bottle.
Wine News: It would be wrong not to mention the passing of Daniel Rogov, Israel’s foremost wine critic. As the internet becomes the go-to resource for most wine consumers Rogov took that one step further and effectively posted his own obituary on his wine forum hosted by WineLovers Discussion Group. It will be interesting to see if a forum so closely aligned to the life and tastes of one man can continue after his death, a snapshot of the future for everyone’s on-line presence.
September also saw 11 new Masters of Wine announced taking the total number of MWs to 300 worldwide.
The rights of whether wine made in Beaujolais can be labelled as Burgundy or not was (partially) resolved by an INAO ruling at the beginning of October as reported by Decanter. The net result is that 43 Beaujolais communes who could previously label their white wines as Bourgogne Blanc can no longer do so, having to use Beaujolais Blanc instead.
While some things change in France some things stay the same over in Italy as “Montalcino says no” to proposals to allow up to 15% of other grape varieties in Rosso di Montalcino, a 100% Sangiovese wine from Tuscany. Victoria Moore added her comments on “Pleasing the Purists” in The Telegraph.
North East wine: The biggest news has to be the 1st Northumbria Food and Wine Festival which finally came together over the 7-9th October weekend after the year-long saga surrounding whether the 2nd NorthEast Wine Festival would be held at all (it wasn’t). It was a great gathering of local wine retailers and professionals – a chance to catch up with a host of people met over the years – plus a showcase for some of the best food and wine available in the region. Saturday was the busiest day with a constant stream of visitors, although the Sunday was quieter than most people would have liked, not helped by less than perfect weather (although for October it could have been worse – a 2012 summer slot should help).
I was asked to give a talk so put together a piece on Unusual Grape Varieties that seemed to go down well and which I’m planning to put into a future piece for the blog.
October’s NEWTS tasting was on Celebrity Wines, something I’ve touched on back in the early days of Reign of Terroir. Stars of the night were the classically styled 2008 Two Paddock’s Pinot Noir from Central Otago and the remarkably complex Terre Inconnue 2008 Guilhem from the Languedoc – more details of the tasting and the other wines tried can be found on my North East Wino blog.
Going into the cellar recently includes a pair of Saint-Georges-Saint-Émilion from Château St. Georges, the delicious Bunan 1997 Bandol tasted at the Wine Festival and immediately bought, an ‘09 Chapoutier Crozes-Hermitage, the delicious 2006 Falcoaria from Ribatejo and my first Vin Santo (del Chianti Rufina) by Villa di Monte, their 1995.
Passing these on their way out of the cellar and into the glass were the excellent pear & honey Rebenhof 2010 Ürziger Würzgarten Kabinett trocken (Von wurzelechten Reben) that I bought on my trip to the Mosel in June; a bargain Wither Hills 2005 Marlborough Pinot Noir on bin end at a local supermarket; the superb Jorge Ordonez & Co. 2007 Malaga Seleccion Especial No. 1 (nectar of the gods!); a honeyed Roussane by Domaine de Palejay (2008 Le Sablet); and a light, chocolate tannin & raisined finish 2004 Chinese Cabernet Franc from Château Bolongbao, opened in homage to the Chinese Wine that won top honours at the 2011 Decanter World Wine Awards.
Less encouraging was the Château Musar Jeune 2009 red I tried last month. Although I am a big fan the Musar Rouge, Blanc, Rosé and Hochar Pere et Fils labels that I’ve tasted before the Jeune, made from primarily Cinsault with a touch of Cabernet Sauvignon, was a young wine with simple fruit flavours, slightly green tannins and little complexity. I’ll stick to its older siblings for Musar in the future.
Cellar Trivia: If you didn’t already know then I’m not a big buyer of Bordeaux due to a combination of budget, mistrust and my international sense of adventure. The very good wines are too expensive while it’s often difficult to tell the very bad wines (of which there are many) from the rest of the affordable offerings. Since I don’t want to spend large parts of my life researching which producers are consistent when I can be exploring what the rest of the world has it means that I only end up with Bordeaux wines as gifts or very random purchases. The 2 incoming bottles of Saint-Georges-Saint-Émilion take my meagre stock of left & right bank wines to just under 10% of my cellar total – with the Château St. Georges nearly half of that (the wine is not readily available in the UK but I get some thanks to a French colleague).
Looking Forward: The European Wine Bloggers Conference has just finished in Franciacorta, Italy and the Wine Events calendar is winding down for the year with most of the major expos and competitions done and dusted, but there are still a few events to look forward to in October and November;
—– October 21st-23rd. Paso Robles Harvest Wine Weekend.
—– October 23rd. Pinot on the River in Healdsburg, California.
—– Ocober 24-27th. Simply Italian, Great Wines U.S. tour; Chicago, San Francisco & Las Vegas.
—– November 9th-13th. Ottowa Wine & Food Festival.
—– November 16th-20th. San Diego Bay Wine and Food Festival.
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.
Rodrigo has NASCAR ambitions. This I discovered as he drove a narrow road off N221, over the mountains to Quinta Nova de Nossa Senhora do Carmo in the Douro DOC sub-region of Cima Corgo. But his talent for automotive speed and agility would surely be wasted at Daytona where the unofficial mantra is “Turn Left!” With his wife Joana Mesquita — scientifically trained, she works public relations for Amorim & Irmãos — in the passenger seat and yours truly excitedly leaning forward from the back, Rodrigo maintained the delicate balance between skill and risk. Besides, on most rural back roads of Portugal, not to mention city centers, there is hardly ever enough room for opposing traffic. And median striping is a perpetually deferred ambition.
I was in Portugal, first in Porto, then in Lisbon, at the generous invitation of APCOR, the Portuguese Cork Association. I had spent two enlightening days listening to and learning from scientists on the cutting edge of cork production and TCA control — very good news on this latter front — on cork oak research and industrial design; and from cork harvesters. I was also there to shoot a small film on cork from cradle to grave, the footage soon be edited. All of this will be the subject of a series of posts to come.
The upshot is that I was, to be perfectly honest, a bit fatigued by the multiple cork-saturated conversations! But I knew going in to the wonderful country, shoulder to shoulder with my APCOR colleagues — and they are my colleagues, cork fundamentalist that I am — that I would be taken to Quinta Nova. Oddly, despite my more than half dozen visits to Portugal, including the Azores, during which I travelled extensively shooting for the documentaries Mother Vine and Azores, From Lava To Wine, I had never set foot in the mountains and hills above the serene Douro River. The intellectual division of labor being what it is, I left the demanding, historically complex subject of Port, and the Douro DOC generally, to others. So I really had no idea what to expect as Rodrigo motored ever higher up into the mountains.
How to put this…. If you have never skipped across the mountain tops above the Douro then you must add it to your list of things to do before you shed this mortal coil. Passing over the summit, with the late afternoon sun spilling into the valley, on the hillside the Quinta Nova sign in warm ivory light, the vista was breathtaking. Slow and deep, the Douro River, even from a distance, is the artery of life here. In many of Portugal’s wine regions it is rain fall and aquifers upon which winegrowers and all agriculturalists depend. But here the steep watershed, terraced with vines as far as the eye can see, receives back what it gives. Water.
Indeed, though a non-believer, a contemplative spiritual mood was right away cast upon my arrival on the high grounds of Quinta Nova de Nossa Senhora do Carmo (Our Lady of Mount Carmel). Not only may one vacation here, but there stands a chapel on the property of great local significance. Catholic services as well as religious festivals are regularly held in the modest refuge. It stands directly across from the Quinta’s formal entrance. Far cooler air surrounded me upon entering, and I saw pools of wax and blackened wicks from the many spent candles and wooden pews smoothed by thousands of visitors and penitents. In a vase on the altar a bouquet of fading flowers still faintly perfumed the room.
I also noted right away what must be an on-going, if minor, tension between worshipper and the more secular tourist. Of the small framed lithographs of the 14 stations of the cross evenly spaced on the walls, two had been stolen by persons unknown: Jesus’ death on the cross, #12, and his removal from the cross, #13. They lithographs are of particular artistic merit. Measuring 3×5 inches, the remaining illustrations rather resemble old American baseball cards from the 30s. I do not know what would possess (no pun intended) an individual to perpetrate such an act; I left the chapel wanting to know the whys.
Magic hour was deepening, a film business term for that special light that lingers near the end of the day, when the sun’s brightness yields to the thicker atmosphere above the horizon. My guide, Joana Mesquite, knowing of emotive quality of magic hour had hardly put her luggage away, and I mine, when she insisted I walk with her to a place quite she quite loves. Just a little climb up a dusty road to an walled orchard of great antiquity. I shall mention now that Ms. Mesquite was eight months pregnant and was wearing casual shoes better for poolside or domestic routines. But she was not the least bit concerned as we set out on the quarter mile hike. All up.
Near the orchard stood a granite obelisk about four feet high engraved with the nearly three century-old official proclamation issued from the Marques de Pombal granting Quinta Nova permission to grow and produce wine — an obelisk and engraving typically found on the grounds of the older Douro DOC properties. I stood with Ms. Mesquita as she patiently narrated a sketch of the Quinta, her enduring love of the vineyards and house, her voice often trailing off as she reflected on the beauty of the place. It was then I heard, well, nothing. The silence high above the Quinta, and throughout Portugal for that matter, is the most intimate I’ve ever known, almost like the breathing of a lover. For when I pause to listen, really listen, it is not silence I hear at all, but the delicate atmospherics of our ancient belonging in this world. Birdsong, cockerels, barking dogs, children’s voices….
To freshen up, rinse the fine dust from my hair, I went to my room overlooking the valley. I was to meet Joana and Rodrigo for dinner in an hour or so. I wasted no time — the internet is available only upstairs via a computer shared by all lodgers — in returning outside, now to the grand plaza where, at a modest remove, a couple quietly swam the pool, and nearer me, two children played between regal junipers running the plaza’s length. I sat gazing at the vista, enthralled. At some point a young local hireling was passing (regular help is hard to find, so remote is the Quinta). Diogo works the kitchen and dining room I was soon to learn. I silently gestured to him with a sweeping motion at the stunning view. He looked out and then lay his cupped hands over his chest, moving them as though his heart were beating rapturously. Perfect.
Solitude. Landscapes have different effects and acoustics. There is the melancholy and longing at an ocean’s tideline, a roar that drowns out speech; the flirtation with domination and mastery on the summits of higher mountains, the echo; mind-numbing monotony of a forest of lodge pole pine; deserts offer a terrible featureless beauty; while a jungle runs riot with fertility, ever-pregnant with more and more and more. Then there is the view from Quinta Nova. Something Ms. Mesquita said to me near the orchard stuck in my brain. Some time ago an Italian visitor looked out from the same spot and exactly described what goes on here and in the Douro DOC overall: Heroic Viticulture. Yes, this landscape is one of labor, of work. All of it hard. The steep hillsides, the hammering heat, a dust that penetrates the very pores of your boots; yes, it is a landscape of a magnificent human achievement.
A heady delirium at the vast terraced landscape may set your mind soaring, but the understanding its creation and maintenance by generations of calloused hands brings you right back down. And this would be a good development for the wine tourist, were it ever to happen. Because thought properly, labor has a beauty all its own, even if from within the wine world, with its bottle and label fetishes (among others), one rarely hears anything of it. So understand what was subtracted from the silence I listened to above: The murmur of vineyard workers, their footfalls, pruning shears rasping.
After a fine dinner of Portuguese specialities, with even better company and conversation, Rodrigo and Joana, our silent waiter, Diogo, I wandered the pitch black grounds before turning in. Millions of stars. Ms. Mesquita had explained to me precisely where the sun would be rising this time of year. For the next morning, still dark, I did get up for a long walk deep into the vineyards to meet and film precisely the dawn. But the mountains were too proximate, too dense. The sky had already turned a lighter blue before the sun had even summited. All of Quinta Nova’s cooler north-western sloped vineyards, the trail I took, were in pastel from first light, while across the river other vineyards were already broadsided by a harsh sun, which set the windows of the odd house there flashing.
Below me I saw a helipad. At dinner last night it had been explained to me that though as the crow flies no town is too far away, it is that the kilometers must be traveled by car. So given the arduous climbs in all directions a tourist can enjoy, it was decided that in the event of a medical emergency a helicopter ought to be able to fly in. Helipad. Pausing here and there to film some severe planted incline, my thoughts again turned to the tremendous amount of work involved here. I noted a curious thing. The dust was inches deep in places on all the level trails and roads. I sunk in and my boots became covered — and probably even now still have fine Quinta Nova silt now well worked into the leather. It can be tiring walking in such silt! Then I saw the foot prints of local dogs in the tractor tracks left by its heavy wheels. So I took to hiking after their fashion. Much easier! I explored for nearly two hours. Two hours of brilliant peace and quiet.
When I returned I packed what little I had removed from my bags, added a Quinta well designed notepad and the small bottles of shampoo, one of which I had actually opened. I was to return to Porto mid-day. Upstairs the well-appointed kitchen the Quinta was in full swing. A group of European tourists had rented out all of the rooms and would be arriving later that afternoon. Much preparation had to be done, of fresh sauces, fruits, and marinades . I listened to the playful conversations, about shared lives, not isolated exactly, but chaste and chosen; of the successful dinner preparation the night before; of whose tractor needed work; who had recently fallen in or out of love.
I took a few pictures. Tried to keep out of the way as I waited to be called to go. But this was among my favorite experiences at Quinta Nova. Not the dramatic history, the magnificent vineyard and mountain vistas, the riot of stars, or Rodrigo’s thrilling drive here — they were memorable and I have safely tucked them away — but it was these playful conversations, discrete, demure, occasionally bawdy, that drove home the real meaning of a stay at Quinta Nova de Nossa Senhora do Carmo: The persistence of the domestic, the filling of everyday with small tasks well done. For that too is heroic.
Summer’s end has come and as the northern year slips towards shorter days and colder nights it’s time for my monthly roundup of the greater wine world and my miniscule corner of it.
Wine News: South Africa hit the headlines for the wrong reasons with the release of a report from Human Rights Watch, an international non-government organisation. The detailed report, entitled “Ripe with Abuse” is based on research conducted between September 2010 and May 2011 in the Western Cape, where most of South Africa’s wine industry is based. The reading is grim, with claims of appalling living conditions for farm workers, unsafe practices at work, including pesticide exposure, and institutionalised discrimination of farm workers. It ends with a comprehensive list of recommendations to the SA Government Departments and Industry organisations, but also for international retailers and consumers to (amongst other things);
*** “put pressure on suppliers to improve … conditions”
*** “ Inquire into the conditions on farms that grow the products they purchase”.
*** “Push retailers to only purchase from farms with (ethical) working conditions”.
The take home message for consumers is pragmatic, “The answer is not to boycott South African products, because that could be disastrous for farmworkers”.
News of the report and its obviously negative description of sectors of the South African wine industry quickly spread through the International media and was picked up by bloggers and social networks. In counterpoint Wines of South Africa (WOSA) questioned bias in the report and defended the effectiveness of Wine Industry Ethical Trade Association (WIETA) and other organisations in actually improving conditions across the country’s Wine Industry.
Interestingly, within a week of the news, I saw two unrelated and markedly more positive pieces on South African winemaking; first in the Guardian with its piece A fairer Cape – the rise of South Africa’s black winemakers, which references the HRW report but states “there is a wind of change blowing through the staunchly Afrikaner wine business.”; then on Palate Press with How the Swartland Crew is Bringing Up South African Wine. Both paint a more upbeat view of South Africa, different sides of the coin.
The end of the month also saw terrible weather in Northern Europe, with massive hailstorms in the Middle Mosel which hit on Friday 26th. “Golf ball” sized lumps of ice damaged houses and cars in areas around Wehlen, Filzen, Lieser, Kinheim, Maring-Noviand, Brauneberg, Wintrich, Mülheim, Veldenz, Bernkastel-Keus, Graach, Neiderberg, Zeltingen and Kröv. Apparently there was also hail damage farther afield in Rheinhessen and Baden, although other Mosel areas such as Ürzig and Erden were spared, as were the Saar and Ruwer. Video of the ferocity of the storms can be seen on a host of YouTube uploads (search for Mosel + Hagel).
With traditional media slow to pick up on the weekend story twitter proved its worth with updates from those near to the affected areas. This allowed Reign of Terroir’s own twitter feed (@ReignofTerroir) to put out regular updates, including news that; Christian Klein in Kröv feared the loss of half his harvest; Johannes Selbach in Zeltingen was expecting 40% crop loss; Willi Schaefer in Gaach feared the loss of 50% of his fruit and his new warehouse. Whilst actual vine damage was shocking the risk of rot is now a bigger concern as the 2011 harvest starts in earnest.
The mainstream media finally caught up on the 31st with Adam Lechmere’s Decanter piece “Hailstorms decimate Mosel“, although few others seem to rate the damage to some of the world’s greatest white wine vineyards as worthy of a report.
Many thanks to @DREI_Riesling, @moselriesling, @larscarlberg, @Eurocentric, @RieslingandI and @RieslingAC for those first reports, and to Gismondi on Wine for the first written piece.
Thankfully it seems that Hurricane Irene was more gentle on East Coast vineyards with the exception of a small amount of tornado damaged at Paumanok Vineyards, as reported by Lenn Thompson on the New York Cork Report.
Elsewhere the European Harvest may be underway (although a cool July meant not as early as previously anticipated) but for California, and Napa especially, it was still a waiting game for the grapes to ripen, as reported in the Napa Valley Register.
The recurring “100pts system, right or wrong” debate reared its head again, with Steve Heimoff and Jon Bonné adding lengthy pieces to the portfolio. I preferred Jancis Robinson’s two word response (no, not those two words!) in the all-too-brief Tom Wark interview on Fermentation.
Also raising controversy (mainly on the various Wine Bulletin Boards in the UK and US) was news of a $15,000 lecture fee for Jay Miller’s recent tour of Navarra, Spain, first blogged by Jim Budd and then Chris Kissack. A UK wine forum debated a $15K payout raising doubts of independence and objectivity, while one US forum briefly debated the information and seemed to be more forgiving. eRobertParker’s own boards suffered again from the heavy handedness of its administrator with an allegedly vocal discussion being locked before it got too outspoken, even though its behind a subscription pay wall where you’d think the participants would be allowed some freedom of speech.
And finally for the news we turn to internet wine maestro Gary Vaynerchuk, who announced his retirement from regular video wine blogging on the last DailyGrape piece, less than 6 months after Wine Library TV’s 1000 show. It didn’t come as a surprise as most people are amazed he lasted so long in the first place, with the overwhelming feedback positive and congratulatory for the impact Vaynerchuk has made over the last 5+ years. Although I’ve been only an infrequent watcher for the last couple of years I saw a part of my own wine life disappear in that final episode, as it was “The Vaynermeister” who led me to the WLTV forums in 2007 where I started my rough-and-ready education to internet wine writing. No doubt Gary will reappear in the future, but I found it quite emotional when he finished with a variation on his trademark sign-off “You, with such a smaller part of me than you realise, we have changed the wine world”.
North East wine: “Enough about the rest of the world” I hear you yell, “What about North East England?” Hush, hush I say, here come the tales of my small corner of Wineland!
August was relatively eventful, starting with the news that we will be having a regional Wine Festival, just not the one we were expecting! After the success of the 2010 North East Wine Festival in Corbridge over a sunny June weekend I know there was a strong intention from the organisers to carry the momentum through to 2011 with the same event planned for June. Sadly that never materialised with, as far as I can tell, a combination of factors (including illness) meaning it was first postponed and then cancelled completely. Luckily for wine lovers in the region whatever was going on in the background seems to have resulted in a completely new event rising from the ashes, with the 2011 Northumbria Food and Wine Festival announced over the weekend of 7th, 8th and 9th October. The format looks to be the same, with local retailers, pop up restaurants, music and a smattering of educational talks over the 2 and a half days. All that we need now is an Indian Summer to appear, as October is traditionally one of the wettest months in our famously wet country!
August NEWTS was a delightful evening wandering amongst some of the weird and wonderful grape varieties available in the UK. Fellow member Elaine presented a range of 9 wines, mostly from The Wine Society and Waitrose, made with Malagousia, Pecorino, Godello, Rotgiplfer, St. Laurent, Susumaniello, Xinomavro, Saperavi and Negroamaro.
All were enjoyable, but it was Heinrich Hartl’s complex 2008 Rotgiplfer, Racemi’s value for money Susumaniello (the Torre Guaceto Sum 2007) and Orovela’s restrained 2004 Saperavi which grabbed my attention. Additional details can be found on my North East Wino blog, “A most Unusual Tasting” Part I and Part II.
Richard Granger Fine Wines also had an August tasting, this time of Aromatic Whites with a starting glass of Sauvignon Blanc to bed in the taste-buds, 3 Riesling, 2 each of Pinot Gris and Viognier, and a rich Gewürztraminer to close the event. Domaines Schlumberger in Alsace was the Old World standard bearer with a Riesling, Pinot Gris and Gewürztraminer from their classic Les Princes Abbés range, each showing typical varietal characteristics and all very drinkable. There was also a traditional, off-dry Bernkasteler Badstube 2007 Riesling by Mosel producer Dr H. Thanisch and the superb (if expensive, at £34.20) Domaine Louis Chèze 2008 Pagus Luminus Condrieu with fresh complexity and a pleasant salty aspect. In comparison the New World match-ups were less memorable, although the Crawford River 2005 Riesling from Victoria, Australia, stood out with its sharp acidity, elegant strength and smooth finish. It’s rare to attend an exclusively white wine tasting but I’d love to see more such themed events as none in the room showed any signs of red withdrawal symptoms!
Of course a visit to Richard Granger wouldn’t be the same without adding to my collection and I left with the Schlumberger 2007 Gewürztraminer plus an unusual Loire Cabernet Franc that I spied on the shelves, the Couly-Dutheil Blanc de Franc. This is a “white” Cabernet Franc made without skin contact but also against the Chinon Appellation rules, meaning it can’t even display the vintage on the label, but it’s exactly this sort of wine that intrigues me and guaranteed that I’d be taking a bottle home.
These two bottles added to the meagre purchases for the rest of the month, including what should be my last (of three) Château Musar 2003 (time to plan for the 2004 now) and an older Marlborough Pinot Noir from Wither Hills, their 2005 Wairau Valley which was a bin-end at a local supermarket.
Home drinking was less exciting with a batch of inoffensive but equally unmemorable quaffers. A pair of Rioja wines by Izadi had some character; the 2008 white a barrel fermented blend of 80% Vuira and 20% Malvasia; the 2006 red a fruity Crianza , 100% Tempranillo with a classic flavour profile, but it was an Australian Riesling that gave most drinking pleasure, the Tim Adams 2006 Clare Valley Riesling. This complex wine had razor sharp acidity, fresh citrus flavours and a dash of petrochemical which I love on a Riesling with a little bottle age.
Cellar Trivia: Tim Adams wines are only available in the UK from corporate behemoth Tesco, which got me looking at how much of my current stash came from that area of the wine trade regarded by many segments of the wine cognoscenti as the evil empire of retailing – Supermarkets. I am a firm believer that it is still possible to get hold of a decent bottle of wine whilst doing the weekly grocery shop, with one in three of my bottles rescued from a supermarket shelf. What surprised me a little was the average price working out at £10.83 ($17.50) – although if you drop M&S and Waitrose from the calculations that does fall to £9.54 ($15.50) – proof that it’s not all cut-throat price promotions and bulk brands. However, what surprised me even more was looking at the other two thirds, sourced mainly from independent retailers, and seeing the average price jump to £16.11 ($26) – far removed from what the majority of UK supermarket consumers would consider paying except on the most special of occasions.
Looking Forward: So to September, the start of a new season and that crazy month for grape growers and winemakers alike. It is also California Wine Month as proclaimed by Governor Jerry Brown, the seventh year a month has been dedicated to the California Wine Industry – a list of coinciding events is available from the website.
- September 10th & 11th is Portland’s Pinot in the City with over 100 Willamette Valley wineries and local restaurants hosting food and wine experiences on one city block (NW 9th and Marshall).
- September 23rd – 25th sees the (Trade Only) 10th Miami International Wine Fair with wine producers from over 20 countries showcasing their wines to retailers, distributors and restaurants, including the 7th annual Florida International Wine Challenge.
- 23rd September sees another “Grape Day”, hot on the heels of Tempranillo and Cabernet we now have Grenache Day. Unlike 2010, when The Grenache Symposium managed the event, it’s been difficult to see the guiding hand behind this year’s date. I know many in the industry dislike such contrived days as a marketing ploy, but I don’t mind having an excuse to open a decent bottle of wine, especially for such a soft, fruity, easy to drink grape!
The California couple moved to Oregon in 1999 with dreams of creating a new vineyard. Under their plan, 2010 should have yielded 26 tons of grapes. Instead, year after year they’ve watched vines wither and die, killed by herbicide drift so severe it has sterilized the soil in places. They’ve put off launching their own label while they rebuild from the financial damage.
“Every spring and fall I don’t worry about the frost,” Kohlman said. “I worry about the herbicide spray.”
And so begins a newspaper account of Kevin Kohlman and his wife’s costly legal battle against a cynical corporation and their politically entrenched cronies. After years of delay, posturing, seeming violations of the rules of discovery; after the Kohlman’s sank $500,000 of their retirement money into the litigation, Roseburg Forest Product at last triumphed. That was in late 2010. I was to interview winemaker Kevin Kohlman last March. My two part interview, a must read, may be found here. Never one to surrender, I wanted to catch up with the gentleman for an update, knowing full well he would forcefully speak his mind. More to the point, he had openly worried in our interview whether during the coming spring, Roseburg Forest’s herbicide spray regimen would again severely damage his vines. And I wanted to know how had his life changed since the court loss. And what’s with the helicopter that recently buzzed low over his property? Let us find out.
Admin Good evening, Kevin. Some months have passed since we last spoke. I would like to know, and my readers to know, what has changed or stayed the same in your world since the conclusion of your court case with Roseburg Forest Products. Since the original story appeared, along with our interview, have any environmental groups been in touch with you?
Kevin Kohlman No. I’ve had a few people contact me in regard to your article and that in the Register Guard’s big article. And there’s quite a bit of stuff going on now, I’ve heard, with people up in the Triangle Lake. I don’t know if you’ve heard much about that. There is group called Pitchfork Rebellion that has had on-going spray issues. They are not viticulture people, but they’re people that have had organic gardens and things that have been, and are being hit by sprays between Roseburg Forest Products and Weyerhaeuser. I believe they’ve actually filed a lawsuit against the Oregon State Department of Agriculture. It’s about time somebody broke up that little band of good old boys.
Good to hear. So tell me how are your grapes looking? Yields good? Has there been any recurrence of spray damage?
KK First, I think we’re going to be three to four weeks late in this area. We are three to four weeks late now. I’m just coming into berry touch at this point. So that’s pretty late. So I’m going to be dropping two thirds of the clusters. I’m typically hanging two to three clusters per shoot. This year I’m going to hang one cluster per shoot. But I’ve got 35 leaves per shoot average right now. I should be able to ripen a really nice crop. It will just be less. It will probably be half of the normal crop. If you take two thirds early enough the plant will put enough energy into that remaining cluster. So your tonnage will not fall off two thirds, but will fall off about a half. That seems to be how it works out normally.
But it’s about growing great wine; it’s not about growing massive amounts of fruit. That’s the way I’m attacking the season anyways.
So it seems you recently had a helicopter buzzing your property, whether surveying or intimidating — who can say for certain — have you had any actual confirmation of spraying near your vineyard?
KK Yes. There have been several sprays within three miles of me. But we have not had any effects that I can see yet. I haven’t heard anything back from the Department of Agriculture concerning the samples. They pulled samples and I made them leave samples with the evidence tags intact. They took some for themselves. But I have not heard anything back on what occurred. I haven’t gotten a call back whether there was even any analysis done! Or any investigation. No word at all.
Because you have not yet detected any damage to your vineyard, do you think that, whether because of media coverage or the their vulnerabilities exposed during your court battle, Roseburg Forest Products is showing some restraint with respect to aerial sprays?
KK No. I really don’t. I think that possibly the one clearcut that is directly west of me that funnels the spray, they were already five years old when I was hit. The clearcut and replanting happened in 2003. They are already beyond the five year mark when the trees are free to grow without competition from the broad leafs the spray is meant to kill. Roseburg is just backing off. Why spend money when the trees have made it to the point where the weeds are not really going to impact them greatly.
They could come out and say, “Oh yeah, we’re avoiding hitting Mr. Kohlman.” But it would be a PR ploy. They don’t need to spray that clearcut above me at this point. But there is a brand new clearcut directly west of me. I don’t know if it’s Roseburg Forest’s, just on the other side of the ridge; but I am watching it closely. That one happened this year. So, who knows? I’m not out of the woods yet, so to speak! (laughs)
Now that you will be back in production soon, have you come up with a label design? Do you have a new name for the wine? Are you beginning to think again in commercial terms?
KK Yeah. This year I am hiring a winemaker. I’ve actually interviewed several; just to do a custom crush for me, not to hire directly. I am going to be under the name Spire Mountain Cellars. and I will probably be getting my bonding, all the ATF paperwork put in here this season. My wine will be made under bond by one of the three winemakers I am interviewing. And two years from now I will most likely open a tasting room.
And a website will be up and running?
KK Yes. Right now it is still under construction. there is no real sense in getting too much going on. But if this vintage goes like I think it will — most of my Pinot Noir and Tempranillo are pretty big wines — and we’re able to keep, as I prefer, to keep high acid and pretty high sugar because of our location, then I know my wines can handle 18 months in barrel, 24 months in barrel. Typically in the past that’s kind of where we’ve been with some of our wines. So if I get all the paperwork done this year, I can bring my wine out of one bond into my bond, and be ready to bottle and have a tasting room somewhere around 18 months to 2 years from now.
That is wonderful to hear. I would love to attend the grand opening, let me tell you!
KK Oh! Well, I’m sure there will be an invite list and you’ll be on it. I’ve got to keep doing this consulting work do earn enough money to get the capital back to do that, but I’m getting there!
Indeed. I’ve since done another article after speaking with you about a winemaker in the Mid-West who was having the same damn problem with spray drift. He wrote me about his difficulties and losses. It was 2-4-D in his case. But I wanted to tell you that he had been moved by your struggle.
KK Well, I’ll give a little advice: Don’t take it to the courts! That’s a quick way to hemorrhage money. They are broken. It won’t do you any good to go there. (laughs) I mean, if you’ve got a neighbor who won’t do anything, and the EPA won’t do anything, and your state Department of Ag won’t do anything, then I guess you have no choice but to take the matter into your own hands. I know it sounds wrong but… otherwise all they’ll do is financially ruin you.
I’m not your average income individual, so for me it was a big struggle that did not completely ruin me, but there are not a lot of people who can afford a $500,000 hit in their late 40’s and hope to recover from it. Fortunately I am pretty good at what I do, and I have a trade to fall back on. I’ll be able to recoup the loss in three to five years. And then I can go back to what I want to do, and that is to make wine.
You yourself make wine.
KK Oh, absolutely. In fact, in 2003 I had Kyle Evans’ help, formerly of Brockway Cellars [Abacela's second label] — it is really his wine — we made the Pinot that was involved in the lawsuit, that was rated as a $35 a bottle wine.
[Clarification: 2003 was the vintage. The wine was left in barrel, to be bottled for retail in 2005. Then the spray disaster struck. For the purposes of litigation, a value must be determined to properly assess the total financial loss to Mr. Kohlman in the event of his court victory. A tasting panel was assembled and Mr. Kohlman's wine was judged to worth $35. Admin]
But again, it takes time to recover. I will eventually be my own winemaker; but to get started I’ll do just like a lot of small artisan wineries do: I’ll hire somebody to do a custom crush if they do it under my guidelines of what I want my wine to be.
So how much time are you able to spend on your property in Oregon and how much time spent elsewhere consulting? It must really eat into your time to be at home.
KK Absolutely. I’m typically there in Oregon 2 weekends a month right now.
Is that right?
KK Yeah. I’m doing a lot of traveling. I’m doing consulting work with General Electric, the water processing technologies group. I’m managing refinery chemical engineering processes. It is not something I had planned on doing. I retired when I was 39 to make wine. It’s one of those negotiations where they wanted someone with my background, my experience. I said I really don’t want to go back into it. But they said ‘tell us what it would take’. I gave them a number and they said ‘Done!’ I went ‘Darn!’ I should have given them a bigger number! (laughs)
But I am fortunate. It works out. I have a place in the Bay Area. My wife comes down here a weekend a month; I go home a couple weekends a month… so, you know, it’s not bad. We got a balance going. I’ve hired a lot more crew to do a lot more work in Oregon that I would have been otherwise doing. So we’re not losing ground there.
Good. Is there anything else you’d care to add?
KK Well, that’s pretty much where I’m at. I’d emphasize that there really needs to be some major changes in the Department of Agriculture and the way they enforce EPA regulations. That ultimately has got to change. I have no power to get them to do anything. As I said, they supposedly came out and pulled samples from my vineyard. So what did they do with them? Is it up to me to force them to do something? Here again, we’re in this game of ‘we won’t do anything unless you really see a big problem’. Nothing has changed. The sprays continue to be sprayed and spread, and everything according to the Dept of Ag approach is only reactive.
We just had an article come out recently about the Oregon wine industry’s contribution to the state’s business. It is now at 2.7 billion dollars. And we’re still allowing the forestry business to just haphazardly do what ever they want? There have got to be some changes in the Dept of Ag. Absolutely. If nothing else comes out of the article, maybe some pressure can come to get these people to actually do their job. That would be a first.
A last question: When did the person working for you notice the helicopter hovering over your land ? What month was that? I would imagine it was the Spring.
KK It was early Spring. I believe it was in March or early April. It was during a spray. I don’t actually know where they were doing the spray, but they sure enjoyed touring my property. (laughs) If it is just a helicopter flying around then it could be a tourist. But if it is a helicopter with a [spray] boom? I get a little nervous about that.
I think the wine industry needs people like you willing to stand up and fight back against hostile forces. You’ve done a fine job.
KK Well, you know, if you just throw money at a problem it makes everything just go away. Right? (laughs) Apparently not! (laughs)
Thank you, Kevin.
KK You’re welcome, Ken.
If you had the right prescription during Prohibition you could get your bottle of San Antonio Padre’s Elixir, a tonic to be used only as directed, for medicinal purposes. And I am absolutely certain this is just what everyone did. Just how many prescriptions doctors of the era wrote we do not know, but the sum total, and permission to produce altar wines kept the San Antonio Winery in business through America’s dark age of Prohibition.
Both dream factory and fabled social dystopia, perpetually renewed by immigration and the domestic migration of restless souls called by angels West, Los Angeles, city and county, has seen multiple industrial and cultural histories come and go, among them the wine industry. Indeed, the city fathers, specifically the Cultural Heritage Board, Municipal Art Department, issued a proclamation some years ago declaring San Antonio Winery a historical monument, naming it “The Last Remaining Winery In The City Of Los Angeles”. Now, there is no reason to assume that an upstart winery styled after San Francisco’s celebrated Crush Pad (since relocated to Napa) might not already exist. I do not know. But the point of Los Angeles’ recognition bears upon San Antonio Winery’s historical character, as you will read in my interview with Anthony Riboli, winemaker at San Antonio and of the family’s 4th generation here in America. Enjoy.
Admin Good afternoon. I’m here from Santa Cruz visiting Los Angeles. While looking for a well known piñata store down in the warehouse district, I came upon your grand winery instead. A winery still in Los Angeles?
Anthony Riboli Yes. I am the winemaker here; I am also a 4th generation of the family. We’re in very unique situation here, being based in Los Angeles; but the winery was started in 1917 by my great great uncle, Santo Cambianica. At the time, this area was very much an Italian neighborhood. His idea was very simple: to cater to people going to work on the railroad by providing wine. The Southern Pacific Railroad yard is right down the street. So people would drop off their empty jugs in the morning and pick up the full jug at night. That was really the business plan.
But unfortunately he started the winery just before Prohibition. When that occurred, being a very devout Catholic, he had been granted permission by the Catholic Church to make altar wines. So at least he maintained some income.
Prior to Prohibition, in this area there were probably over 100 small wineries, right here in Los Angeles; but afterwards, less than 10. Then new growth of the industry began. In the early 30’s my grandfather was living in Italy, but World War ll was close to breaking out and his mother didn’t want him to stay in the country. So he came here to work for his uncle. Those two really began growing the company. And my grandmother, also Italian, was here sharecropping with her family in Chino. They met. Then it became those three people who grew the company through the 60’s and into the 70’s. Now my father is the president; he is the first of the third generation. My aunt and my uncle are also involved in the winery. And now, the fourth generation, myself and my brother, we are involved.
Were the founders, your great great uncle, involved in winemaking in Italy?
AR Well, Santo Cambianica, like almost everybody, made wine for their family, just as part of the traditions. No one was formally trained. It was that every family had their chickens, they had their cow, and they had their wine. There was never any formal training. My father learned from his uncle, and that is how it carried on. We had hired winemakers though, throughout the history of the winery. And we still have several winemakers on staff besides myself. But I was the first of the family to go out and get a degree; I attended UC Davis.
There seems to be a considerable volume of wine being made at San Antonio Winery. Where do you source? Were the original wines made from grapes sourced locally?
AR Yes. Historically the grapes sourced were all local at the time. Anaheim had grapes in the foothills of Pasadena; out in Cucamonga and those areas there were vineyards everywhere in this area of Southern California.
Do you know which varieties were grown?
AR Back then it would have been mainly reds. That was the bigger demand. Some field blends, Zinfandel, Carignane, Grenache, I think those had probably the greatest acreage, the biggest components of the wines. Then all anyone wanted was blends, that was all that really mattered; the jug wines then were all blends of those wines.
And then around that time was when those local vineyards began to disappear. Our winery needed to find other sources. So my father spearheaded going further up the coast. Now most of our vineyards are based in Monterey. We own vineyards in Monterey; and in Paso Robles we own vineyards and we also buy from a considerable number of small landowners whose business is growing grapes. Those are our two main areas.
And we now have a tasting room in Paso Robles — it opened just last year — as well as the one here. It was a new venture for us. And we have a tasting room in Ontario. Three tasting rooms in California. And we also have a small vineyard in Napa. We make a small production of Napa Cabernet in Rutherford. That was an investment my grandparents made in the 80’s. When I was at Davis that kind of became a project to replant and to bring that vineyard up to its full potential. Now it has been fully replanted. We make a small production. It is only about 500 to 800 cases of high-end Napa Cabernet; not too high-end, it’s $50, in that range. That’s kind of our flagship wine. But the majority of our varietal wines are from Monterey and Paso Robles, those two areas.
Most whites and the Pinot Noir we offer are from Monterey. The reds come mainly from Paso Robles, with a few whites like Muscat Canelli, Sauvignon Blanc and Viognier. But mainly the Bordeaux and Rhone reds come from Paso Robles.
There are a number of field blends still in existence in California. Will Bucklin’s place in Sonoma, the Sierra Foothills, Mendocino AVA… Do you source from any?
AR No, no! It would be nice. But even in Paso Robles it is far more common that you buy a little bit of Mourvedre, a little bit of Grenache, a little bit of Petit Sirah, Zin or whatever you want to make in that blend. You can co-ferment them if you wish. But typically they are not ripening at the same time, so we ferment separately and blend after we’ve aged.
One of the great secrets of the old field blends was co-fermentation of varieties at different phases of ripeness. In any case, what do you do about the softness, the acid issues, some of the grapes may have?
AR In Paso it is definitely warmer during the day than Monterey, so that allows you to get really full ripening, especially with varieties like Cabernet. The heat dissolves green characters, pyrazines, naturally, which is a benefit. But we do deal with higher pHs and lower acid levels just naturally occurring even though Paso Robles does drop 50 degrees on normal night. So it might be 100 degrees in August but 50 degrees at night. And this big drop is what separates it from the Central Valley. The warm days are the same, but that nighttime temperature does preserve more acid than the Central Valley. But we do acidify if it is needed. I can’t say we don’t add acid. It is about finding the balance. Think of microbial stability. We don’t want a wine that will potentially have problems. But cooler Monterey, you’re not typically adding acid as much as Paso Robles. It’s like anything. We’re site and year dependent; sometimes we need more acid, some years we don’t.
So who right now is in the tasting room? Tourists? Locals? It is very crowded in there.
AR It is a mix.
I saw some Spanish speakers in there. That can be a difficult demographic. If I remember correctly, the Wine Institute reported that it’s about one teaspoon per capita in Mexico!
AR We are unique in that we cater, especially at lunch here in the restaurant, to a lot of local business people out on lunch, the USC hospital for example. We do have tourists, especially on weekends, more tourists from out of town. We enjoy a very broad demographic here, being Los Angeles. Part of appealing to whether Hispanic or Asian clientele is that we provide a lot of different wines. We’re not just a Napa Cabernet producer. We also offer wines that are not sweet, but sweet wines as well. Having that mix of sweet and dry red wines, same with whites; having rosés and sparkling sweet wines; and the imports we offer from Italy; we have very diverse mix. That is what brings in such a diverse clientele. We hope to offer something different for each of those diverse customers.
How do people hear about your winery?
AR A lot of it has been word of mouth. For many years that is all is was: word of mouth. And it was what we based all of our growth on. Now recently we’ve done more with billboards and such, but we don’t do any extreme advertising. Word of mouth is still probably the number one way we get ourselves out there.
You probably have a mailing list and a website…
AR We do. We have a website and an email blast list that we’ll use. But for new customers, other than the billboards, they come see us because a friend or family member mentioned or recommended the winery. That is the beauty of being in Los Angeles. There is a large population, and having people come in who’ve never heard of you is a good thing. And there is a constant supply of people who have never heard of us. So we keep growing.
How many people pass through the tasting room each year?
AR That is a good question! It’s up there!
It’s a Tuesday and the place is jumping.
AR I don’t know how many people pass through. I would say we’re pushing over one hundred thousand people, probably more.
So business is good…
AR Yes. In retail we’ve been lucky that we’re unique; we have our clientele, whether here or in Ontario or Paso Robles. The other restaurants we sell to have had a hard time in this economy. We have seen sales to other restaurants have problems. But in general I think we have weathered the storm pretty well. Maybe, again, it is because of the diversity of the products we offer. And we just persevere. Hey, we made it through Prohibition! What’s a little blip like today’s economy compared to Prohibition?
Getting back to the history of San Antonio Winery, could you provide a little more detail about your relatives?
AR Sure. My great great uncle, Santo Cambianica came from Northern Italy. He was from a small town north of Milano, and even north of Bergamo, way up in the Alps. He came here with his brother and cousins to work for the Southern Pacific Railroad. That was the big employer at the time. The yards are still here, just down Lamar street. They were just laborers, you know, boilermakers and laborers. Again, Santo had no formal training in winemaking, but he saw all these Italian and French immigrants and he wanted to provide them something they brought with them, which was their demand for wine. Wine was part of their experience, something that was always on the table. So Santo, I think, just saw an opportunity. Hey, luck is always a part of anything; and hard work. That became his business.
As you’ve said, he sold bulk wines, refilled the bottles folks would drop off in the morning. When did individual bottlings begin?
AR We bottled by hand. Back then that is all there was. And the labels as well. Everything by hand at first. Then we slowly became more mechanized over time, of course. Now we have speed bottling line.
Do you still posses examples of early bottles?
AR Yes, we have some examples of a few of the originals. The San Antonio name is the same as then appeared on the original labels. I’d be happy to show you them. During Prohibition there were bottlings called Padres Elixir. That one was a medicinal product that was legal to sell. You’d go to the pharmacy with a prescription for wine. (laughs) There were a lot of ways to survive financially, and that was one of the ways historically.
At one time the whole winery was redwood tanks. The ones we’re standing next to are first growth. I am sure they are over 100 years old, and made from trees who knows how old.
I’ve seen similar ones at Parducci in Mendocino County…
AR Exactly. They are of the same generation. Unfortunately, over time we’ve had to remove them; but our new tasting room — which will be open here in Los Angeles in about a month after remodeling — will incorporate these redwood tanks into the decor. It will be amazing to see, tying in tradition with a modern tasting room, to connect the old and the new.
Do you know who built these tanks?
AR That is a good question. I don’t know. I’m sure my grandfather would know. He’ll be 90 in September. But I’m sure they were made by an Italian gentleman with just that speciality. My grandfather would tell me stories about when a new tank would come in. You see, redwood doesn’t give any good flavors. It is not like oak. So you would actually remove and strip away the flavor of the redwood by using a caustic solution. He would tell me how strong that stuff was to get rid of that taste of redwood! You can imagine. Redwood decks? There is a reason bugs don’t like redwood. So the flavor would have to be removed before you could use it for wine.
Built by craftsmen whose names are lost to us…
AR Probably. We have tried to maintain that connection with our history and tradition. My grandfather is really excited about our remodel. He’s still very active and comes in almost every day.
So these are the historical bottles from San Antonio Winery.
AR Here’s one of San Antonio Cabernet, probably from the 60s. We’ve redone this label. Now we have one called San Antonio Cask 520, a call back to this older bottle. Our new one is a Bordeaux blend whereas this one is a straight Cabernet. Padres Elixir. This one dates from Prohibition. Here’s an old San Antonio Riesling bottle. I would have to guess this dates from the 50s. It’s a different label.
The medicinal Padres Elixir has a screwcap! I love this bottle. Oh, here along the bottom of the label it reads “This tonic is not to be used as a beverage.” (laughs)
AR Exactly. A way around Prohibition. You’ve got the old monk…
Of course. He seems healthy enough.
AR You’ll notice all of these small rooms with barrels and what have you. We use them all. They are small because they were not all built at one time. These were once part of the neighborhood. The rooms were actually houses. As people would move, my grandparents would buy their lot and build another part of the expanding winery. As we expanded, we would buy the next lot. So instead of one giant winery — popular today — we have a lot of small rooms added over the years.
What are we bottling today?
AR This is a sweeter red wine, a semi-sweet red wine that we call Imperial Red. It is our San Antonio label. Again, this is part of our diversity, of appealing to many different tastes. Such a wine is not common in today’s fine wine world, but it is becoming more and more popular. For this wine — you see the cathedral — we did an old retro label. This is the cathedral of Saint Anthony. We try to tie in a lot of our packaging to our past. This image was once on all of our jug wines from 50 years ago, the cathedral of Saint Anthony in Padua, Italy. That’s where the name San Antonio came from. Saint Anthony was the patron saint of my great great uncle. Everyone thinks there is a Texas connection! No Texas connection!
Are grapes still brought into the winery? I don’t see any crushers or presses.
AR We still ferment juice here, but we don’t bring whole grapes in anymore. We stopped bringing in whole grapes in the 60’s. For reds we ferment in our facility in Paso Robles and several other facilities, all on the Central Coast. Then we bring that red wine here after fermentation for barrel aging. All the barrel aging and bottling is done here. But with whites grapes, we’ll de-juice those elsewhere and then bring the juice here. We still ferment all of our white juice here on-site.
These barrels are cool.
AR You can see the wine inside, and all the yeasts, the lees laying on the bottom. Here we can show people why we are stirring, the whys of the sur lie process. You want to get the yeast back into suspension. That adds body to the wine over time. We do that every week after fermentation is complete. As you know, it is a very traditional method. And these barrels are completely functional. Here we also use them so that people can see inside, because most people have no clue what the interior of a barrel looks like. It’s something different!
Well, Anthony, thank you very much for the tour and history lesson.
AR It was a pleasure, Ken. Thanks for stopping by.
With few standout events the regular review of the wine world’s recent happenings is a mixed bag of topics including broken Shiraz, green wineries and melting bloggers .
Wine News: Let’s start with the curious tale of the broken Mollydooker, as a shipping container holding 462 cases of the Velvet Glove Shiraz heading for the US was dropped during transport. Initial media reports suggested all of the bottles were lost – a third of the entire production of this cult wine and worth over $1 million – but a revised press release suggests that the number of broken bottles was much less, with the winery uploading a video onto YouTube with more information and showing some of the damage.
Another strange story to appear was that of Péter Uj, a Hungarian wine critic who was successfully sued by the state owned producer Tokaj Keresked?ház for decrying the quality of its wine, only to have the conviction overturned by the European Court of Human Rights, as described in Decanter’s “Hungarian Vin de Merde conviction quashed” (and also in Alder Yarrow’s Vinography a day later). I know many would like to see a few other critics taken to court for their actions, but the story is a reminder that words often have unforeseen effects and also that Justice sometimes needs a second chance!?
The next 2 stories have a name theme, first with Italy getting a new DOC approved; DOC Sicilia replaces the old IGT Sicilia (with the IGT category now being used for a generic Terre Siciliane instead). Gabriel Savage in the Drinks Business included some “cautiously optimistic” comments from Francesca Planeta, one of the islands largest producers.
Over in the U.K. it’s not so calm as there’s a heated debate ongoing on proposals for a generic brand for English Sparkling Wine, with Merret and Britagne leading the naming suggestions. Controversy reigns, however, with a large group disliking either name or even the whole concept. Decanter reviewed the story so far while Guillaume Jourdan, and Jamie Goode added their personal touches – the comments on Jamie Goode’s post sum up the debate perfectly!
I mentioned last month the advanced state of vine growth in much of Europe and July saw the Loire Valley adding to the list, with Harpers Wine & Spirit reporting on forecasts of a record breaking vintage. As with many regions, harvesting is expected to begin in mid-late August and I suspect many winemakers have already rearranged their holidays!
I also read with interest the news in The Independent on the “2011 International Award of Excellence in Sustainable Winegrowing” being awarded to Parducci Wine Cellars, America’s first Carbon Neutral winery and a Reign of Terroir favourite. The award, hosted by the Botanical Research Institute of Texas, is only in its second year with last year’s winner also from California – Hall Wines of St. Helena (I only hope this “International” award doesn’t end up only being won by North American wineries, as New Zealand is renowned for its environmentally friendly wine industry).
Parducci has a detailed section on their website including references to Climate change and Global warming, but this topic caused its own controversy last month on the release of data from Stanford University which alarmingly predicted that Northern California could lose 50% of premium wine growing land by 2040. Of course news like this was bound to be well publicized, with a host of media and twitter posts kick-starting the usual “Climate change is real vs Global Warming is a hoax” debate. A CBS video report and The Napa Valley Register gave more restrained summaries with winemaker views.
Finally to the Blogosphere, which gathered in Virginia for the 4th annual North American Wine Bloggers Conference, held in Charlottesville with wine guru Jancis Robinson in attendance. I followed much of the conference through twitter and the many blog posts which appeared quickly afterwards, with the sweltering heat being a consistent theme! Cyril Penn of Wine Business.com posted a good report on Robinson’s keynote speech, but it seems it wasn’t always a happy time amongst the blogging family, as shown in Dave McIntyre’s WineLine post “Whine Blogging..” and Swirl, Sip, Snark’s “Virtual Slapfight..”. Whingeing aside, Virginia Wine Time presented one local blog’s view of the proceedings as a whole in their series of posts on the conference. The 5th NAWBC will be held in Portland, Oregon over 17th -19th August, 2012.
North East Wine: July was a busy month in the soggy North as well, with The Wine Society coming to Newcastle for a Loire and Beaujolais tasting hosted by Joanna Locke MW and Marcel Orford Williams (TWS buyers for the respective regions) and including several of the producers of the wines on show.
I was most impressed by the Domaine Seguin 2010 Pouilly-Fumé, a subtle, multi-layered Sauvignon Blanc (which, if you know my tastes, is a variety I tend to be harshly critical off, especially when from New Zealand).
A week later was our regular NEWTS tasting, with wines from 3 local retailers focussing on 4 styles; German Riseling, New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc (!), Toscana Sangiovese and Argentinian Malbec. The Selvapiana 2004 Chianti Rufina Riserva and Michael Schäfer 1991 Dorsheimer Pittermänchen impressed me the most and overall this was a superb tasting in a format we haven’t tried much at NEWTS (both in the sourcing and tasting of the wines), one I hope will be repeated.
It was trying to decide on how much of my notes from these tastings to include in this month’s diary post that led me to finally put together my own blog site concentrating on my wine experiences with a focus on the northeast England. Initially I called it Greybeard’s Corner (for obvious reasons!) but then quickly decided on a rebrand using one of my twitter handles, and North East Wino was born. The Wine Society tasting and NEWTS meeting reviews quickly went up and I’ve also started to backfill some of my earlier writings plus some personal and local posts which have too much of U.K. slant to be appropriate for Reign of Terroir.
And so to my own wine dabblings for the month, with the purchases a typically modest range from around the world including a 2001 Sauternes from Château Filhot, the Ara Composite 2008 Pinot Noir from New Zealand and Dr. Loosen’s 2009 Graacher Himmelreich Riesling Kabinett.
Of those opened and drunk the best included the perfectly balanced Glen Carlou 2003 Grand Classique, a savoury Bordeaux blend from South Africa, the light and fruity Cave du Château de Chénas 2009 Fleurie and two Rieslings; Rebenhof’s textured, off-dry 2009 Ürziger Würzgarten Spätlese feinherb Von alten Reben and the lime & kerosene Cono Sur 2008 Riesling Reserva.
Cellar Trivia: One Riesling in, two out last month and a look at the database sees that this is easily my favourite grape variety with 18 bottles still to hand; 11 from Germany (all but one of those from the Mosel), 4 Australian, 2 French and a lone New Zealander. As befits this most versatile of grapes these cover the gamut of styles from bone dry to immensely sweet.
Looking forward: August will see Northern Hemisphere winemakers preparing for harvest at the end of the month and into September, but for consumers it’s a bit quieter;
- August 13th & 14th for the 3rd annual Finger Lakes Riesling Festival at Canandaigua, N.Y. with over 20 Finger Lakes wineries taking part.
- September 1st is the first International Tempranillo Day, a new initiative hosted by The Tapas Society with the hope that everyone, everywhere will “open a bottle of Tempranillo, enjoy the fun, and share their experiences online” (I already have a something from Ribera del Duero lined up!)
- September 1st to 5th sees the Bernkastel-Kues Middle Mosel Wine Festival, the largest of the many Mosel wine fests throughout the summer from this picturesque town. ??Time marches inexorably onwards, summer moves closer to autumn and I’ve reached the end of this post.
Johannes Schmitz isn’t your typical Moselian, his Rebenhof winery on the southern edge of Ürzig is testimony to that. In contrast to an otherwise traditional Mosel village his glass, steel and concrete monument to the 21st Century proudly pronounces the establishment as a “Riesling Manufaktur”.
As a self-confessed Riesling lover I’ve known about Ürzig and its Würzgarten (Spice Garden) vineyard for many years, so I was thrilled when I saw the name appear on the Sat-Nav screen as I drove up the Mosel, heading for the town of Bernkastel-Keus. The scenery matches much of the region – slopes with impossible angles rising from the riverside, carpeted with vines – but stands out more than most with gashes of red on the cliff-face as the river loops past the village of Erden, on the opposite bank (famous for its Prälat and Treppchen vineyards).
It’s the rock colour that helps make Ürzig wines distinctive from the neighbours; the Würzgarten grows on Permian (299 to 251Mya) sandstone, volcanic rhyolite and red Slate, contrasting the primarily Devonian (416 to 359Mya) blue-grey slate that much of the Mosel (-Saar-Ruwer) sits atop. The dark, iron-rich soil retains heat well and affects Riesling’s flavour profile, giving an earthy spiciness that explains the vineyard name.
A short walk around the village initially didn’t throw any surprises;
— Steep Riesling vineyards … check
— Quaint, old-style houses, narrow streets and alleyways … check
— Traditional, Gothic script “Weingut” frontage signs … check
— Everything looking shut even though it’s Saturday afternoon … check!
After a good hour wandering we ended up on Hüwel street, on the southern edge of the village, and the last building suddenly came into view with banner-flags flying, a patio-style seating area out front and framed by vines on the slopes behind. Intrigued by this sharp contrast of modernity plus the fact that it was clearly open for business (people visible at the tasting bar confirmed this, a bonus of glass fronted buildings!) I walked in and let the tasting begin.
A charming woman obligingly poured a first glass and we exchanged pleasantries in her broken English and my broken German, but when I started asking some more involved questions she hesitated, clearly not completely comfortable with the language, and called over a man to take her place at the bar. This turned out to be Johannes Schmitz, the owner and winemaker of Rebenhof (the woman was Doris Schmitz, his wife) who was more confident with English and we quickly got talking about each of the wines he poured, as well as the winery and winemaking.
Rebenhof (literal translation, Vineyard) was founded in 1875 or 1884 (depending where you read) but it wasn’t until 1990 that its current incarnation began when Johannes took over from his father, Paul. There are 4.4 hectares producing 35-40,000 bottles of Riesling with an average vine age of 60 years, although some are over a century old. 80% of the plantings are on original, ungrafted rootstock with average yields of 65hl/ha – the Kabinett often comes in at 80hl/ha while the Alte Reben (Old Vine, from 80+ y.o. plants) is less than 40hl/ha.
Normal harvest time is late October, however, in line with other European wine regions, the 2011 harvest is likely to be early with the Riesling grapes already 4-5 weeks ahead of normal development, as discussed in my last Greybeard’s Corner post.
I asked about the new building we were standing in, only opened last year, and the obvious difference to the rest of the village. Johannes is happy to admit he is not enough of a romantic to blindly follow tradition and practicality won out when expanding from the old building just down the street (which now doubles as a guesthouse). This modern business attitude is carried through into the winemaking and general running of the winery as well with the use of Stelvin closures and a high export rate of wines outside Germany. Unfortunately things like this haven’t made him too popular amongst his Ürzig peers – one can almost imagine the older generation gathering behind closed curtains complaining of this “upstart” and his new fangled ideas!
Unsurprisingly Johannes doesn’t shirk away from media attention either. Along with the likes of Ernst Loosen, Markus Molitor and others he is an outspoken critic of the controversial Hochmoselübergang bridge which will be painfully visible as it crosses the river just upstream from Ürzig. German speakers can read more of Schmitz in this anti-bridge article from the Stuttgarter Zeitung and see him talking about Rebenhof on a YouTube clip from earlier this year.
As for the wines, we tasted our way through a dozen different styles and vintages of Riesling starting with a dry Kabinett, the 2010 Ürziger Würzgarten Riesling Kabinett Trocken, Von wurzelechten Reben (from ungrafted vines, 12% abv). This was the only reference in print to the 80% of all the Rebenhof vines being on original rootstock, a key marketing point for some other wineries but not for Schmitz who lets the wine quality speak for itself.
This had a creamy nose with a little perfume, a rich texture, a dry mid-palate with a little spice and a strong honey finish – a solid 3 star wine.
The 2009 Ürziger Würzgarten Spätlese Trocken (12.5%) had a similar nose to the Kabinett with more concentration and a richer texture, a spritz at the front, more minerality and a long finish with a touch of honey at the end.
The 2010 Ürziger Würzgarten Spätlese Trocken Alte Reben (13.5%) had a deep, dark nose with dense flavours and an earthy rawness to it – a truly delicious 4 star wine. At 13.5%, it was a full percentage point higher partly due to the old vine grapes but also the 2010 vintage itself, something of an aberration in the region producing ultra low-yield wines compared to previous vintages. This was recently highlighted by Jon Bonné in his SFGate post “Germany’s Bizarro 2010 vintage” (memorable for the line “a vintage that wants to Taser me into appreciation”).
Next we moved up in residual sugar to the 2009 Vom Roten Schiefer Riesling Kabinett Feinherb (11%). Without the Würzgarten provenance Schmitz identifies the soil type as the wine’s selling point, Roten Schiefer being the famous red slate of the area. The wine had a clean yet creamy nose with good acidity to balance the increased sugar and a marked minerality.
Feinherb is simply a term used to denote wines of approximately 9 to 18g/l of residual sugar, replacing the less fashionable Halbtrocken (half-dry) in today’s marketing conscious world.
We stayed with that style with the 2009 Ürziger Würzgarten Spätlese Feinherb Alte Reben (11.5%) which had a warm, buttery nose with a sweet lemon & lime spritz at the front. This was a well balanced 3+ star wine with restrained sugar, a dry mid-palate, classic minerality and a grapefruit finish.
The vintage contrast became apparent with its younger sibling, the 2010 Ürziger Würzgarten Spätlese Feinherb Alte Reben (13%). This was golden in the glass with a honey and candied tropical fruit nose, a big wine with more noticeable sugar to go along with the hike in alcohol. Unfortunately it didn’t have the elegance of the ’09 with the fuller flavours not marrying together, give it a few more years though and this could be superb.
We moved away from Ürzig as Johannes poured a taste of 2010 Grauer Schiefer Riesling, grown on the grey slate of the Lösnicher Försterlay vineyard further downstream. This was intended to contrast the Würzgarten and indeed showed a different fruit profile, sweeter and in a more easy drinking style, almost a palate cleanser for the high sugar wines about to follow, starting with
the 2009 Ürziger Würzgarten Spätlese Alte Reben (9%).
This was much richer with a smoky nose and a pleasant fresh apple aspect along with its delicate sweetness.
Delicate was not an apt descriptor for the 2010 Ürziger Würzgarten Spätlese Alte Reben (8%) which continued the theme of this vintage having extra depth. It was beautifully complex with a perfumed nose and a honeyed richness – another 4 star wine.
Then came the 2008 Ürziger Würzgarten Auslese (9%), although, as the grapes were picked at -10ºC on 30th December, it met all the criteria for an Eiswein (but Schmitz didn’t want to label it as such, only putting “Kleine Eiswein” on the back label). This was a very dense wine with a sweet baked honey nose and a very long finish, another 4 stars.
The 2010 Ürziger Würzgarten Auslese, Fass Nr. 12 (7.5%) was a more traditional Auselese with a tropical fruit nose. It was good, but I felt it suffered in comparison to the little Eiswein as it had a simpler sweetness.
Following the principle of saving the best until the end the final wine poured was simply superb, as long as you don’t mind a bit of sugar! The 4 star 2009 Ürziger Würzgarten Beerenauslese showed candied fruit on the nose, deeply sweet but beautifully balanced with gentle elegance and preserved fruit flavours on a long finish. The wine had a long life ahead of it where it would develop greater complexity, but for now it coated the mouth with rich, sweet fruit.
Unfortunately for €45 a half-bottle this was too rich for my budget, almost twice the price of the ’08 Auslese (€24.50) and over three times as much as the various Alte Reben bottles (€13.50). Still, I happily put together a mixed 6 bottle case from these as I finished off interrogating Herr Schmitz for a few last facts.
I mentioned earlier that Rebenhof is unusual for many Mosel wineries as it exports the majority of its wines, 65% to be precise as far afield as Beijing and Shanghai. Schmitz shows common sense here as well as he keeps each individual allocation small and spread over many countries to shield against the normal market fluctuations. It’s a principle that has saved him a lot of pain as, in 2002 & ’03, his US importer (based in Chicago) offered to take the entire production but Schmitz declined, which was just as well as the same importer hardly ordered a case in ’07 and ’08.
I finally closed my notebook, paid for my wine and left Johannes and Doris preparing for the arrival 100 guests that evening for a wine & dine party, another good use of that polished new building on the edge of Ürzig.
Gly(cine) phos(phon)ate (glyphosate), more commonly known as Roundup, has been the herbicide of first resort for farmers, horticulturist, conventional home gardeners, golf course greens managers, even the US government’s coca eradication efforts in South America (op cit.). And vineyards. According to the most recent figures I’ve been able to find, the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Pesticide Industry Sales and Usage Report 2006-2007, Glyphosate is the most popular broad spectrum herbicide used in the agricultural sector of the United States. From 2001, when an estimated 85-90 million pounds of the active ingredient were applied, to 180-185 million pounds used in 2007, Glyphosate has dominated the broad spectrum market, with Atrazine a distant second.
And there is a reason for Atrazine’s second place showing.
“Atrazine, 2-chloro-4-(ethylamino)-6-(isopropylamino)-s-triazine, an organic compound consisting of an s-triazine-ring is a widely used herbicide. Its use is controversial due to widespread contamination in drinking water and its associations with birth defects and menstrual problems when consumed by humans at concentrations below government standards. Although it has been banned in the European Union, it is still one of the most widely used herbicides in the world.”
Monsanto, Glyphosate’s company of origin (their exclusive patent expired in 2000), has long maintained the safety to both the environment and human health of the product they’ve marketed as Roundup since the 1970s. Indeed, so successful has been the multinational’s public relations campaign that even the California Sustainable Winegrowing Alliance (CSWA), reliant upon the much vaunted University of California’s Integrated Pest Management program accepts its use in vineyards. From CSWA’s Grower’s Guide.
“‘Integrated pest management (IPM) is an integral part of any sustainable farming program,’ as explained in the California Code of Sustainable Winegrowing Practices (SWP Workbook, page 6-1.) IPM is an approach to managing pests by combining biological, cultural, and chemical tools in a way that minimizes economic, health, and environmental risks (National Coalition on Integrated Pest Management, 1994). IPM is relevant for all farming systems, including organic and biodynamic systems.”
The Grower’s Guide goes on to insist that,
“IPM does not provide standardized prescriptions. In fact, the application of IPM changes in time and space, as pest managers adjust to circumstances. Nevertheless, IPM always is a knowledge-based, multi-faceted approach that safely maintains pests at sub-economic levels. IPM programs emphasize preventive, ecologically-based methods first. Good IPM practitioner improve over time, as their knowledge increases (SWP Workbook, page 6-1).”
Please note the comment above that IPM is knowledge-based; that practitioners improve as their knowledge increases. So what does the IPM recommend concerning the use of Glyphosate in vineyards? It appears to be their herbicide of choice for vineyard site preparation and established weeds. The IPM shares a grim rhetorical flourish also found in industrial or conventional agriculture: that the use of Glyphosate is a kind of “chemical mowing”.
With Monsanto’s history of reassurance as to the safety of Glyphosate, why cite as ‘grim’ IPM’s reference to its use as chemical mowing? Well, because IPM’s continued recommendation of Glyphosate’s is not sustainable. And here are the reasons why.
As has been widely reported, at least since 2005, that Glyphosate is responsible for what are now popularly known as superweeds. From The New York Times to a June, 2011 report written by Greenpeace, a scientific consensus is emerging as to the reality of superweeds. Perhaps listening to farmers might also be of assistance, as this short documentary, Farmer To Farmer does.
No doubt, the evolution of superweeds has been greatly accelerated by Monsanto’s creation of so-called Roundup Ready crops.
“Just as the heavy use of antibiotics contributed to the rise of drug-resistant supergerms, American farmers’ near ubiquitous use of Roundup has led to rapid growth of tenacious new superweeds. Farmers throughout the East, Midwest, and South have been forced to spray their fields with more toxic herbicides, pull weeds by hand, and return to more labor intensive methods like regular plowing as a result of the RR superweeds. ‘We’re back to where we were 20 years ago,’ said Eddie Anderson, a farmer from Tennessee, who will plow about one-third of his 3,000 acres of soybean fields this spring, more than he has in years.” (op. cit. New York Times, May 3, 2010)
But the development of superweeds vis à vis Roundup Ready corps aside, it remains a basic principle of evolutionary science that the overuse of any given pesticide, fungicide, or herbicide will eventually result in an acquired resistance among targeted life forms.
Although still far from settled, the science is becoming clearer that Glyphosate is somehow associated with birth defects, according to an excellent comprehensive review of the peer-reviewed scientific literature conducted by the organization, Earth Open Source (website forthcoming).
POLITICAL EROSION OF SOUND ENVIRONMENTAL SCIENCE
In a recent WIRED article, Genetically Modified Grass Could Make Superweed Problem Worse, Brandon Keim writes
“On July 1 — a Friday afternoon, a time usually reserved for potentially controversial news — the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced that Scotts Miracle-Gro’s herbicide-resistant Kentucky bluegrass would be exempt from tests typically required of transgenic crops.”
Based on a New York Times article, the article makes clear that a very specific regulatory failure has allowed to the USDA to approve a Roundup Ready, genetically modified species of Kentucky Blue grass with no environmental regulation. The reason for this rests upon a history of political expedience and a failure of the imagination. Specific statutory protections are simply absent. In Tom Philpott’s excellent, must read, Wait, Did the USDA Just Deregulate All New Genetically Modified Crops?, he writes,
“Long story short, it means that the USDA theoretically regulates new GMO crops the same way it would regulate, say, a backyard gardener’s new crossbred squash variety. Which is to say, it really doesn’t.”
Without new legislation, we as citizens, will very quickly losing the few legal remedies that allow us resist the further contamination of the natural world by genetically modified crops. Of course, Roundup Ready plants and Glyphosate are just part of a larger story, but it is certainly true that science cannot properly be done absent the political will to implement the findings.
And this brings me to my final point. Inasmuch as the California Sustainable Winegrowing Alliance insists, seemingly in keeping with IPM’s a guiding principles, that its approach is indeed knowledge-based, that practitioners improve as their knowledge increases, then, in light of the material linked above, what is to become of Glyphosate’s listing as a viable tool for sustainable winegrowers? The time has come, this writer believes, to remove this chemical from consideration. It cannot be part of any sustainable practice. The science does not support it. Very simple.
The 2011 harvest in both hemispheres dominates the recent wine news while Germany fills up a large part of my own wine experiences in this month’s Corner post.
Wine News: Let’s get the bad news out of the way first. When I first heard of the shocking vandalism at the Terroir Al Limit winery in Priorat it was hard to believe, with tanks opened to let wine drain away and bleach added to others. CataVino were one of the first to publicize the news from the Blogoshpere on the 19th June (the deed was carried out on the 13th) but other than the expected round of condemnation from the wine world (and speculation on the wine forums) it looks as though there is no idea who did this or why. For me and many wine lovers this is akin to book burning and I hope that justice will eventually catch up with the perpetrators.
New Zealand released figures showing the 2011 harvest was 23% up on 2010 coupled with a healthy increase in global sales over the last year. The potential quality of 2011 is high, adding to the positive spin given by the New Zealand media with South Island and Sauvignon Blanc contributing most to the growth – Marlborough itself saw a 34% rise in the harvest.
Harpers also reported on Australia’s bumper (sic) harvest – a rise of 1% on 2010. While not as dramatic as New Zealand’s figures it is accepted that Australia has an oversupply problem which won’t be helped by the news.
While the 2 New World neighbours share harvest increases the two original old world neighbours, France & Italy, traded places in 2010 with the Italians now the world’s largest wine producer.
Though French production may be falling the 2011 grapes are doing their best to get here faster than normal with Decanter reporting on Bordeaux and Burgundy producers preparing for harvesting to begin at the end of August, while in Champagne there is even talk of mid-August if the clement weather continues.
The same seems to be true of England and Germany as well, the latter I can personally testify after my mid-month visit to the Mosel where one Ürzig winemaker confirmed the grapes were 4-5 weeks ahead of their normal development and an August harvest is on the cards.
The Mosel also got a mention in the media with Wine Spectator running a piece on the controversial Hochmoselübergang. The Spectator has joined the debate late in the day and as the dust is starting to settle – Decanter have been running the story since January 2010 and, sadly, the green light for construction has been given – but at least that means they can cover all the pertinent facts of the story.
Finally in France the Saint Emilion debacle looks to have been resolved with the French government finally approving the revised classification system 6 months after the INAO (Institut National des Appellations d’Origine) initially announced the new regulations and a full 5 years after the disastrous 2006 classification which saw bitter infighting between Saint Emilion producers and compromised the whole system.
The new classification will be managed by an independent panel (i.e. not from Bordeaux) and includes evaluation of Chateaux reputation, terroir and production methods but will be heavily based on blind tasting of recent vintages. Nick Stephens review on his Bordeaux Undiscovered blog provides plenty of additional information.
June for me meant Germany…. to be precise the small town of Wetzlar, near Giessen. I was encamped there for 2 weeks on business and managed to expand on my German wine education in the process. Central to this was a weekend in the Mosel, driving from Koblenz on the Rhine along the river road stopping at Cochem, Ürzig and Bernkastel-Keus.
This is an intensely beautiful part of the world with ancient riverside towns watched over by Medieval castles, insanely steep vineyards and a relatively relaxed take on life. Riesling was at the heart of the wine experience, the region favours this noble variety with 50% of total Mosel production, but far higher for the Quality wines and almost 100% for many producers with prime vineyards. The Spring frosts that decimated many German wine regions didn’t affect the steep vineyards, so quantity is good along with the early growth already mentioned – by late June some of the Riesling bunches were beginning to hang, the weight of the grapes too much to resist the pull of gravity.
The short visit was crowned with a superb tasting at Ürzig producer Rebenhof, where winemaker Johannes Schmitz poured and talked through a dozen of his different offerings from the Ürziger Würzgarten vineyard, including a sublime 4-star 2009 Beerenauslese. I’m preparing a separate post on that tasting.
Back in Wetzlar and local restaurant Malcomess provided a broad range of German wines to accompany a delicious tasting menu (especially the trio of Kid). The restaurant is run by husband and wife team Kai & Manuela Malcomess and it was Kai who gave a brief description of each wine served, including a creamy 2009 Grauburgunder (Pinot Gris) by Weinhaus Jochim and a young but structured 2008 Spätburgunder by Markus Schneider. What was also intriguing was that all the wines were served in The Gabriel Glas, the first time I’ve seen this “one for all” wine glass (made by the Austrian glass manufacturer Quatron) which is meant to enhance the aromas and flavours regardless of wine style or colour. Kai brought out one of the previous glasses they used to use in the restaurant (a Schott Zweisel) for a quick comparison test and I have to admit the Gabriel Glas(s) did give a fuller nose, bringing out the fruit more.
An enjoyable bookend to the trip were the lounge wines on offer at Amsterdam Schiphol airport during my transfers between Newcastle and Frankfurt. ?On the way out the Villa Maria 2009 Pinot Noir was light and fruity with just a touch of smoky vegetation, a more autumnal colour than I’d have expected for an ’09 with light forest fruit flavours, but true to the variety.?Coming back and it was across the Tasman sea to Australia with Ben Glaetzer’s 2008 Heartland Cabernet Sauvignon; a dense, syrupy wine with immense fruit (predominantly cassis) and a touch of mint. This was almost too much for me, a big wine with a slightly confected feel to all that dark fruit, only a basic tannin structure and a 14.5% abv which gave a warm finish – pleasant enough, but only for a small glass or two and it would struggle with food.
North East Wine: Unfortunately while I was away I missed the monthly NEWTS meeting – a Spanish tasting given by venerable member Harry Rose, whose previous tasting on the red wines of the Western Languedoc was my first ever meeting. Luckily local retailer PortoVino had their summer tasting at the end of the month where I could catch up with fellow North East oenophiles over a glass or three of Portuguese vinho – the 2006 Falcoaria by Quinta do Casal Branco was my favourite red of the evening.
A weekend in the Mosel meant that my purchases were always going to be dominated by Riesling and I returned home with 5 bottles in my luggage; a selection of Ürziger Würzgarten all from Rebenhof, including their 2008 Auslese which was harvested to Eiswein standards.
There were only 4 other incoming wines bought in the UK over June; Dow’s 1999 Quinta do Bomfim Port, California’s Seghesio 2009 Arneis & Bogle Vineyards 2008 Petite Sirah, and yet another Riesling with the Cono Sur 2008 Riesling Reserva from Chile.
Drinking at home was also reduced, the most notable being a La Motte 2005 Shiraz from the Franschhoek Valley in South Africa, a wine which blossomed after being opened for 24 hours with spicy tar, fine tannins and juicy acidity. Also worth mentioning was the Cave de Turckheim 2008 Pinot Gris Reserve from Alsace, with classically rich, not-quite-sweet grapefruit aspects and a great waxy texture.
Cellar Trivia: The arrival of the batch of Riesling got me looking at the breakdown of my home collection (currently standing at just over 150 bottles) compared to a couple of years ago. White is now up from 21% to 26%, while reds are down from 63% to 53%, confirming my thoughts that I’m not buying as much red as I used to. Biggest change is the doubling of fortified and sweet wines from just under 7% 2 years ago to just over 13% now, with a similar increase in Sparkling and Rosé (but they only make up 3% of my current stash). I don’t know if it’s a typical phase, but I’m definitely enjoying more non-red wines than ever before.
I’ll bring this month’s post to a close with the usual look forward to key wine events coming up, which are pretty much U.S. dominated;
—July 14-16 sees the California Wine Festival hit Santa Barbera showing a range of wines from all over the state.
—July 15-17 jumps over to the East Coast for the Finger Lakes Wine Festival in Watkins Glen, New York, showcasing 600 wines from 80 wineries.
—July 22nd-24th it’s the 4th North American Wine Bloggers Conference in Charlottesville, Virginia. Safe journey and well wishes to all those attending.
—July 29-31st is the 2011 International Pinot Noir Celebration from McMinnville, Oregon, with over 70 international Pinot noir producers at this 25th anniversary festival.
—August 13th and for anyone in Northern California you could do worse than head to the 19th Annual Winemakers’ Celebration in the picturesque town of Carmel for a taste of Monterey Wine with 40 local wineries on show.
Otherwise August looks remarkably quiet (well, maybe not for the European grape growers!) although there are a couple of wine competitions which have entry closing dates;
—5th August is the closing date for the 2011 New Zealand International Wine Show, with the judging on 15th- 17th August.
—The 2011 International Wine & Spirit Competition (IWSC) still has its Southern Hemisphere section to do, with August closing dates for the South American, Australian and New Zealand section (entries for the South African judging are now closed).
We’re well and truly into summer now and, for the Northern Hemisphere, the 2011 harvest is fast approaching (faster than usual in many places). For everyone getting ready for the start of the “mad period” in the vineyards and wineries I wish you a few more weeks of relative calm.
Just when you think you’ve seen it all, just when cynicism and indifference seems poised to win the day; when wall-to-wall coverage of the absurdities of Bordeaux, its pricing, and the Great Thirst of China for the same swamps all reflective intellection; when wine education is trivialized or pilloried in favor of mere consumer preference; when commercial bombast goes unchecked; and when Monsanto grows stronger every day; I am here to tell you a bit of good news. Quiet, subtle, but very good news.
Facebook announcements generally have all the luster and impact of lost pet fliers stapled to telephone poles. But two caught my eye the other day. First Parducci, then Paul Dolan Vineyards. The subject was microfinance and a San Francisco-based organization named KIVA.
But just what is microfinance?
“Microfinance is the provision of financial services to low-income clients or solidarity lending groups including consumers and the self-employed, who traditionally lack access to banking and related services.
More broadly, it is a movement whose object is a world in which as many poor and near-poor households as possible have permanent access to an appropriate range of high quality financial services, including not just credit but also savings, insurance, and fund transfers. Those who promote microfinance generally believe that such access will help poor people out of poverty.”
This is new to the wine world I’ve come to know. And KIVA?
“We are a non-profit organization with a mission to connect people through lending to alleviate poverty. Leveraging the internet and a worldwide network of microfinance institutions, Kiva lets individuals lend as little as $25 to help create opportunity around the world.”
As far as I am aware, the Mendocino Wine Company is the first to utilize this lending model. But that is hardly surprising considering their track record and range of accomplishments. And now we may add to their list a gentleman, Jofre Descatre from Ecuador. Just announced today. But so, too, may we join in this adventure. I encourage readers, and wineries, to join and donate to Wineries For Good. Or start a team of your own.
I caught up with Mr. Dolan and asked him about all of this. Enjoy.
Admin Good afternoon, Mr. Dolan. How remarkable it was to read on Facebook of your winery’s new association with the micro-finance organization KIVA. How did this come about?
Paul Dolan It was Kelly [Lentz, Marketing and Sales Coordinator], she was the first one to actually recommend it. She was curious about the organization. And then it was my daughter, Sassicaia; she discovered it at about the same time. Then we got my grandkids involved. Instead of giving them money for birthdays, you give them an allowance to invest. It connects them up with the larger world.
And the farming side of it made a lot of sense to us. As you know, our philosophy is organized around supporting small family farmers, particularly organic farmers, or one might say, sustainable farmers. So it made a lot of sense. We now have a Paul Dolan profile and a Parducci profile. Kelly has a profile. We’re seeing if we can’t generate some interest from some other wineries.
Indeed. Absolutely remarkable. Mr. Thornhill and I talked about this some time ago, around the time of the Wine Bloggers Conference in Walla Walla, Washington. How will you decide who to distribute funds to?
PD At this stage of the game we’re just sort of exploring. It will come from relationships we’ve established. Having visited Ecuador and Kenya, those are sort of naturals. I’ve got a buddy in Lebanon. There is really no rhyme or reason to it at this stage. It’s hard to evaluate because you’re reading something someone has written up; you don’t know how much of it has been embellished. You don’t always know what the reality is. [Laughs] So you have to just trust in the nature of it.
I like the ones, the requests, where they’re looking for equipment and supplies; where they are going to lease property, or rent property. For sharecropping, for example. I like that model. I like it when they want to buy farm animals and raise them. Or milking cows and goats in order to sell the milk. Like the Heifer project. I’ve always thought that was a great project. I’ve been a supporter of theirs for a long, long time, probably 20 years.
KIVA, micro-financiers generally of course, help those who cannot necessarily go to a bank for a loan. They have no way to secure credit. They often have no collateral. Neither can they secure such small loans, especially when offered at usurious interest rates. But such a loan can be life-changing for them.
PD Exactly. Muhammed Yunus was inspirational, how he saw that vision. And I love the fact that it connects us up. I particularly love the fact that my daughter sits down at the computer and takes the time to read and evaluate and learn about the people to whom she will decide to make a loan. Just the process of reading it [the KIVA website], the mental gymnastics of trying to determine what and who she wants to put her money in… it’s fantastic!
Wonderful. Now as far as your particular group is concerned, Wineries For Good, can anyone join under your umbrella organization?
PD Exactly. They can join what KIVA calls the team. So our first outreach has been through Facebook, both Paul Dolan Vineyards and Parducci Wine Cellars. We’re not just trying to explore outreach through Facebook. I don’t generally like to ‘Friend’ companies. I like to ‘Friend’ people. So we have the Paul Dolan winery and I have my own Paul Dolan site. So I’ll take it to my site. I’ll take it to my son’s site and my daughter-in-law’s site; my daughter’s site. We’ll start spreading it out. It’s a fun way to get things going.
I think you and your company will, once again, be the first in California, among wineries, to work with micro-financing. I find it extraordinarily praiseworthy. And once word gets out — I’m certainly going to push it hard — even karmic gifts will flow back to you and yours.
PD Have you become a member?
I signed up just today. [6/21]
PD I guess another way would be to reach out to some bloggers.
Another thing: We also discussed, here at the winery, the idea of how we as a company could provide financing for small farmers here in the states. I am particularly intrigued by small truck farmers in the Mendocino area. So Tim [Thornhill] has been working with a grain farmer, a guy that came to the community not too many years ago. He and his son are growing grains for bread primarily. So we’re doing a trial of different grains to grow between the grape vine rows, kind of like cover crops. We’re trying to get a sense of how that would work. It’s a competitive environment, so we have to figure out how much we can plant, what the spacing is, what the width of the row can be. That’s one of the ways we’re contributing there. For the small farmer, sometimes it’s difficult to get bank financing for small amounts. And they can get to be a little bit bigger amounts as well. Eventually we’ll probably find ourselves in the dynamic of helping small farmers who are starting to expand. But at a certain point it will be time to pass them off to a bank.
As I’ve read the material, many of those looking for loans will have max’d out their credit cards, if they ever had one, and the bank, should they even lend at all, will charge a usurious interest rate. And many of them, the small businessmen and women, need so very little to make a go of it. How is the interest rate determined? Via KIVA, or do you set it?
PD Well, we haven’t gotten too far into it. We’re just exploring. Right now we’re profitable enough to venture into it. We’ve set ourselves some goals to achieve. From there we can start to develop a small system.
There are a couple of other things have come on the radar screen. There is an organization called Slow Money that is probably worth a little exploration. It was started by a guy named Woody Tasch. I was one of the early small investors providing seed money to get the thing going. And it is organized around communities supporting local investments in food. It really is a fascinating project. They are just now starting to gear it up.
I’ll give you a hypothetical example of what they might do. Maybe a farmer wants to grow a particular crop. Maybe they want to grow lettuce. Maybe lettuces in the Spring, tomatoes in the Summer, and potatoes in the Fall. They need, let’s say, $30,000. You’d find maybe five people who would put in $6,000 each, and then you’d organize some sort of interest rate. But the interest rate would be more in the range of 3 to 5 percent. You would create a dynamic where they didn’t have to start paying the money back for three years. Bear in mind this is just a hypothetical. And then they would start the process of paying back, quicker or longer term. But the idea is much, much more about the investors wanting to invest in the health of the community. So the dynamic is about how we create a healthy food system, a health food network, that is sustainable. All of this rather than putting $6,000 into GM stock where you get 2 1/2% dividend and maybe some appreciation. I think it is just a great, great model. And I am so hopeful that something like that can really work well.
Thank you very much your time, Paul.
PD We look forward to building a team.
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We resume the (entirely fictional) adventures of KP and Robert Parker south of the border. This is a work of the imagination. Perhaps the tale would make for good summer beach reading while sipping a glass of rosé. I cannot say.
I stood before a great mirror framed by an elaborate carving of a serpent getting its head bashed by sweet chubby cherubs. I drank in my mysterious reflection and made the final adjustments to the new priestly vestiments. “The collar’s still a bit tight”, I tell Sister Rosarita. “Don’t you think my cape is a little long? Not sure about the sleeves. Is this really a medium?” “KP, your vanity will be your undoing”, says Father Broadbento seated a short distance away. “And murder will be yours.” “Tut, tut. What is the life of one man compared to the survival of my flock?” But I protest, “RP is not just any man. He has special powers. Sister Rosie, does this come with a belt?” “Silencio!”, bellows Father Broadbento, now on his feet. Rosie makes a discrete ‘he’s been drinking’ gesture to me. Father Broadbento steps in close, mano a mano style. (The Pillar Box Red Syrah/Cab/Merlot blend on his breath was unmistakable: fat, black fruit, licorice, in playful chocolate syrup bondage, vanilla, cassis, an oaky fruit bomb. 91 RP.) “What special powers?!”, he hisses. “Well, for starters he’s made you a painter… and a killer.” Best I could manage, a little flattery. Besides, who knows what he might do in the grip of Pillar Box fever.
The Father smirks, “In fact, you’re the killer…. Sister Jancis!” In walks my grim chaperone. She carries a leather shoulder bag emblazoned with a Los Cementaros Fútbol patch. She unzips it and dumps the contents on the bed: a cell phone, the one I bought at the Siete/Once, penicillin, four pair of woolen briefs, a fat bundle of pesos, a Spanish/English phrase book, a brand new bilingual Bible, a cat-o-nine tails..; “What the hell is this?” “In case you get bored, have temptations…. It really melts the ice with the pilgrims you’ll encounter.” More, …a travel size bottle of Holy Water, and 16 ozs. of Evian, power bars, a self-pleasuring electrical device..; “Oh, how’d that get in there?”, says Burgundy-blushed Sister Janicis. She quickly hides the object among the folds of her habit. Father Broadbento rolls his eyes. Sister Rosarita chuckles guiltily to herself. First dent in Sister Janicis’ formidable armor, and her voice, another dent. So sweet, soft, lilting, even. More, …running shoes, a pair of black gloves, and guitar strings. I finger the metal strings. “I’m supposed to do the foul deed with these?” “No. Sister Jancis is taking her guitarra.” I toss the strings to her. “I’m not carrying your stuff.”
“I took the liberty of calling your answering machine….” “What? How’d you get my number?” “Seems a certain ‘Ignacio’ from the aeropuerto policia handed over your old phone to Father Jeffordo after Confession. Mexico Ciudad is not so large as you think. Heh, heh.” I could do without the lame taunts and chuckles. The padre continued, “If I may have your attention, KP, you need to hear this.” Father Broadbento produced a small digital recorder and pressed ‘play’. A desperate voice sputters: “KP! RP. Where are you? KP? Oh god, I hear them coming…[static] lunch. Not another carnitas burrito with a warm Malaga! KP, stop them! Stop …” The call abruptly ended. “Bastardos!” I am near tears. “He can’t live like that! He’s too delicate, too refined…” “But for the next six months he will…without your help.” “What did he do?” “He insulted a very important wine producer south of Ensenada, General Espurier. He said his very best wine tasted like sloth vomit, the scrapings of a Cuban Taxi’s tailpipe, and salty driftwood.” “I know that wine, ‘Oro de Fregona, ‘05. He has such a brilliant palate”, I sob.
Father Broadbento touched the back of my bowed head. Softly, “Take your things and go to him.” I resignedly toss the items into my bag and turn to leave. “Take these.” The padre offers me a fistful of pills. I take them. I feel faint, my knees buckle. Sister Jancis picks me up. I feel her electrical device againt my thigh. “I can walk.” Though I can’t.
We exit the iglesia and get into a Volkswagon Bug. She moves her bag and guitarra to the back seat. “I’ll drive”, she says. “Yes. Rápidamente.”
Deep in sorrow.
Rattling along in a VW Bug, I look out the window. Heat lightning blasts the hillsides. Fire everywhere. The scrub burns, races after us. Wooded hollows, dry and stunted, burst into flame just ahead. Holiday billboards shower us with sparks. Windshield wipers begin to melt. The fire next time, as has been said. The world has become the giant face of a Lucha Libre wrestler, his mask ornamented with flames. “Is it always like this?”, I hear myself say. But Sister Jancis only wipes the sweat from her brow.
I’m raised to voice then silence, and again. Drugs, curse the Father…. Yes, my wound is healing, but I’m delirious. Too much Vicodin, Demerol or whatever. I pretend to be asleep. I am by half. But the other half senses the approaching danger more than a little. I am useless. Can’t move, can’t speak. Sister Jancis looks over at me. Fire smoke tears her eyes. She coughs. Never gets it out of third gear.
I look out the hot window. Want to be a shadow. Want to be a millisecond. Want to be a firm shape. Want to be a burr on a sock. Want to be an insect. Want to know a thing or two. Want to study in Rome. Want to kick the moon. Want to disable the sight of others with a wink. Want to be the one. Want to spin down a drain. Want to find the end of a rat hole. Want to be crushed in drying concrete. Want to drown in holy water. Want to disappear…. Yet, I want to end up whole, and new, and full. Sister Jancis and I freely exchange ideas between our simple, silent minds, so I hallucinate. Our terrible mission needs one disaster to inaugurate another.
RP… should the world burn to a cinder, I know you would find another one for us. But I want there to be more smoke, the sun blotted out, darker still… so that RP might glow more brightly. The better to find my way to him.
Frustrating interlude. Such is the recovery of health: morphine and a Spanish/English dictionary in ashes.
The writer becomes the written…. I thought I was an origin and a destination, the mapmaker uniting them both, inscribing the cardinal points on a compass, tracing routes and roads and icons of watertowers, churches, town squares, monuments, graveyards, picturesque ruins, and especially wineries, vineyards; but I am not the mapmaker, certainly not when dreaming while leaning against Sister Jancis. She changes gears just to wake me. “Get off me!” With one great shove she pastes me to the passenger door. As the song says, ‘I am the passenger…’
The climate has tempered. Out the window I see banana groves, tamarindo, irrigated bougainvillea, pink and orange, the cirian tree, fruits clustered all around us. I reach for cashews hanging just out of reach. Dust devils twist among rusted Buicks and Chevys along a littered stretch of playa. Metal ruins of proud machines. Art? I’m not sure. Helped by pacifying narcotics dissolved in my water bottle, I again pass into sleep and dream…
Obligatory Dream Sequence
Carlo Rossi, Mr. Sebastiani, Ernest & Julio, Charles Shaw, the widow Clicquot, so long a line of luminaries do not shine brightly enough to reveal me crouched behind a cold marble statue of the Mondavi Clan eternally tearing at each other for supreme recognition.
I am naked, as so often happens in dreams; but so is everyone else. Ugh! The good life generates an abundance of flesh, I’ll leave it at that. There appears in my hands a sharpened pencil and a clipboard stacked fat with pages, the topmost of which is a list of the names of all the people I see parading before me. So many more, Kendall-Jackson, Rodney Strong, J. Lohr, Kenwood, Lindeman etc. run down each sheet. I look back at the luminaries…now I see that each soul is tethered to a thick rope about their inflamed mid-section. All in a line, they pull something still to emerge from the darkness. Suddenly the floor is an inches deep in wine grapes. Free run juice flows underfoot. Any hesitation in the trudge forward is discouraged by an electrical charge running through the liquid. I now understand I am meant to check names off as they pass by the Mondavi statue. I check off Carlo Rossi and and and… A joyous roar goes up from behind me. A crowd of thousands cheer from bleachers several hundreds of feet high. Who has not had a dream like this? I catch my breath with the calm grasp of the normality of such a dream vision.
And then from the shadows, I first see great knots; then ropes looped around the iron rails of a vast sleigh; then a pair of gigantic wine-stained feet, thence ankle to calf to knee…, the figure must be a quarter mile long, a hundred meters thick, and thicker as the thighs and feminine hips emerge; and the soft rounded belly, naked, but the way a mountain is naked… I can’t go on. It is RP! Please wake me up! Sister Jancis! Help!
End of obligatory dream sequence
The VW shudders to a stop. We are not on the coast. No town around. We are among vines. On a dirt driveway. A palatial estate looms. Armed guards are all around the car. Out walks a general. Who is this? And why?
Raymond Chandler was born on July 23, just as RP was. And Haile Selassie, Cardinal James Gibbons, the Archbishop of Baltimore(!), Woody Harrelson, Gloria De Haven and Coral Browne, all actors; Don Drysdale, and Anthony Kennedy. Mystery writer, Emperor, religious figure, actor, pitcher, and a Supreme Court Justice. Are these not RP’s modalities?
So the horoscope reads: Outgoing, warm, friendly, generous, loyal, likable, entertaining, likes attention, confident, cheerful, creative, strong-willed, charismatic, proud, extrovert; but can be demanding, dogmatic, controlling, afraid of rejection.
Seems RP suffers his own celestial ‘tasting’ notes stuttering within his mortal coil.
Sister Jancis conducts business with General Espurier himself a floor or two above. I’ve been taken downstairs to a bunker – let’s be real – but thankfully propped up in front of a computer terminal. I’ve asked for, and been given, permission to do a little research on Mexican Wines. I’m on-line, struggling through the mental sludge of healing pharmaceuticals. Perhaps I’m in a holding cell – realer still – for the doors are locked. Well, I haven’t tried them. I will in a while. Let time pass. Don’t want to embarass my host, the General, or Sister Jancis who might kick my teeth in should I perform an insubordinate tic.
So I wander the net, visiting Mexican wine pages, and web sites sure to infect the Dell: Poker.coms, N’Oleans She-Males had by the hour, Viagra from Hong Kong, and the Astrological pages, of course. I sign up for as many free offers as I can. I’m just about to click on a Scientology personality test when I hear the lock thrown. (See! I knew the cubicle was locked! I’m usually locked in or out, according to my chart.) In walks an armed, balaclavaded soldier. He moves in nervous gestures like he’s sixteen, all 5′3″ of him, even in boots. He sweats profusely, rivulets running down his neck, soaked at the collar and through his buttoned desert camo. He yells at me, “No astrologica! No scientologica!” “Porque, vato?” “Es el trabajo del diablo!” Apt description of the General’s wine, but I don’t say that, of course. Instead I say, “Gracias por la cabeza arriba.” Literally means ‘heads up’. Not here. It is nonsense here. It’s their fault the language is so different. Here it means something like ‘Thank you for your grandma’s magnet’. Or, ‘I’ll take that bridge in a small’. Depends on the inflection. Idioms are such a pain. My tiny soldier is nonplussed. He can tell I’m an anglo from way back. But I cease my net surfing. He’s about to leave when I ask, “Donde estan nosotros?” “Hermosilla, Sonora, puta.” No need to get personal, mi hijo, I reflect as he locks the door.
So it seems they’ve followed my every key stroke; so I resolve to put them at ease and return to my Mexiwine research. Read and update my Twitter feed later. All kinds of grapes are grown here, from Barbera, Cardinal, Cariñena, to Thompson and Ruby Seedless. I am so bored I begin wondering when can I please dispatch RP and just go home. The desert does that.
I touch my kidney cavity. Seems a bit bulgy, but healing nicely. Will demand for a discontinuation of my ‘medicine’. I need to focus. Can’t wait to meet the General; and to lift the hem of Sister Jancis’ soiled habit for a peek. Mostly, I want out.
I quickly download the Scientology test. Hear boots, but its too late for them. Malware, work your magic!
End of part 4
…to be continued…
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