Addressing the 2011 Nederburg Auction

Posted by | Posted in Terroirist | Posted on 08-31-2011

One of South Africa’s oldest wine estates is Nederburg. The estate is also home to the New World’s oldest wine auction — the Nederburg Auction. And this year, I’ll be delivering the keynote address!

I’m incredibly humbled and honored by the invitation. And I’m incredibly fired up about visiting South Africa’s wine country. I’ll be leaving next Saturday, and spending a full week in South Africa.

Nederburg can trace its history to 1791, when Phillipus Wolvaart, a German immigrant, was given 121 acres in the Paarl valley.  He was producing wines within 20 years.

In 1937, the estate started taking wine seriously.  That year, Nederburg was purchased by another German immigrant — Johann Georg Graue —  who decided to rip up the vineyard and focus on improved plant material and healthy grapes.  Years later, his son Arnold took the estate’s winemaking to the next level. Indeed, Arnold pioneered cold fermentation in South Africa.

In 1969, the cellarmaster at Nederburg — Günter Brözel — wanted to start making a dessert wine. Also a German immigrant, Günter loved Trockenbeerenauslese. And he was fond of Tokaji and Sauternes. So when he found some local vineyards susceptible to noble rot, he produced his first ultra sweet wine — and called it Edelkeur.

Unfortunatey, it was illegal.

At the time, South Africa’s wine regulations didn’t permit the production of wines with sugar content above 20 grams per liter. So Nederburg couldn’t sell Edelkeur.

The company convinced South Africa’s authorities to change the laws — but the “solution” didn’t exactly open up the market. Worried that such a limited-production wine could result in market distortions, authorities decided that the fairest method of distribution for the “special” wine would be an auction, open exclusively to the trade. That auction — originally designed for Edelkeur — became the Nederburg Auction. It was first held in 1975.

In the 37 years since, the Nederburg Auction has become one of world’s most important wine events.

The event also raises a sizeable amount for charity, as it ends with a Charity Auction. This year, the recipients are the Goedegedacht Trust, the Pebbles Project Trust and World Vision SA in Mbekweni. Thanks to the generous support of Freemark Abbey, I’ll be bringing two bottles for this portion of the event.

Wine Shop Interview: The Urban Grape

Posted by | Posted in Interviews | Posted on 08-31-2011

Every other week, as regular readers know, Terroirist poses 16 questions to a wine shop owner. This week, we’re featuring TJ Douglas, owner of The Urban Grape.

Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts is home to the wine shop run by TJ and his wife — and it sounds more like the destination for a squirrel than an oenophile. Yet the husband and wife team are hoping wine lovers flock to their open, welcoming store in the Boston suburb.

Located six miles west of Beantown, the village of Chestnut Hill is known for being the home of Boston College and part of the Boston Marathon. And while the affluent neighborhood may not be regarded for its wine society, The Urban Grape is hoping to change that by showing people the unintimidating side of the wine.

So unite and discover this gem of a store Bostonians! Just don’t confuse the wine with the tea. Check out our interview below the fold… Read the rest of this entry »

Daily Wine News: Dry Riesling

Posted by | Posted in Wine News | Posted on 08-31-2011

A vineyard in Alsace. Uploaded to flickr by Trubble.

“Gary’s show and his magnetic personality will be sorely missed.” Rex Pickett explains why he was such a huge fan of Gary Vaynerchuk – and why Gary was so good for the world of wine. More on Gary Vee’s departure from Joe Roberts.

Eric Asimov is rekindling his romance with Alsatian Rieslings.

The assets of Oasis Vineyards, the Virginia winery owned by Tareq and Michaele Salahi (last seen crashing a White House state dinner in 2009), will be sold at an auction on September 18.

In Wine Spectator, a wonderful piece on Missouri’s “wine pioneers.”

On WineBerserkers, a “fascinating, long, and heated thread” on stem inclusion in Burgundy. (H/T: Eric Asimov.)

In Wine Enthusiast, a short piece on “crowd-funding and micro-lending” for those looking to start a wine brand.

Seattle Met Magazine compiles its list on Washington’s 100 best wines.

Hey New Yorkers: Winston’s Champagne Bar looks cool.

Germany vs. Mother Nature

Posted by | Posted in Wine News | Posted on 08-30-2011

Uploaded to flickr by Megan Mallen.

It seemed the lucky streak was bound to hit everyone.

Beaujolais and Burgundy ‘09, Bordeaux ‘10, and now Mosel Riesling in ‘11. Like our wallets needed another pundit shouting “Vintage of the Century” from the rooftops. But it now seems that even Mother Nature has had enough of the ballyhoo.  This past Friday, the middle Mosel suffered from a devastating hail storm that toppled trees, destroyed houses, and even lit barns on fire.

The storm, caught on video here (among many other places), has many wondering what more Mother Nature can heap onto what has already been a dismal year of “Unglueck.” Back in January, Mosel River denizens faced yet another dose of devastating winter watershed, leaving many to wonder whether the water would surpass flood levels reached during the mid-1990s’ catastrophic floods. Who could foresee January as only the wellspring of what now constitutes a series of unfortunate events?

Some sources are estimating storm-related damages at over 300 Million Euro (445 Million USD), a staggering figure that still may not reflect the lost revenue of the Mosel’s much anticipated 2011 harvest (also, here). The storm blasted Grosslage vineyards stretching from Kroev in the northern Nacktarsch into Muelheim and Veldenz’s southern Kurfuerstlay. The names may not mean much to most, but they hedge what is arguably the most hallowed ground for producing the Queen of All Grapes, Riesling. For along the river Mosel between the more established towns of Traben-Trarbach and Bernkastel-Kues lie the the more humble towns of Erden, Zeltingen, Wehlen and Graach, whose vineyards — Erdener Praelat, Wehlener Sonnenuhr, Graacher Domprobst — produce some of the world’s most renowned white wine (the absolute best, in my humble opinion).

Now, estimates suggest that between 70% and 90% of this year’s lauded crop is in jeopardy, if not lost already. Tragedy this close to harvest is almost impossible to recover from, and some may find it more pressing to rebuild their own homes than to attempt rebuilding this year’s shattered harvest.

What exactly remains for this harvest has yet to be accurately reported, and the thought of another outburst from the ever-temperamental Mother Nature can’t be too far from peoples’ minds. We can only hope and pray producers and their families are able to salvage at least a fraction of good juice from these spectacular sites. While Mosel 2011 may not be the Vintage of a Lifetime in terms of superlative quality, it will no doubt be remembered. And for the sake of German Riesling and everything else that’s great about Deutschland, I’ll raise my glass any day, anytime, to the next person I hear proclaiming “Mosel’s Vintage of the Century.”

That is, as long as it’s from a newly minted Mosel rooftop.

(Many thanks to Ronald Wortel, a dear friend, for bringing this sad news to my attention.)

Terroirist Giveaway – A Winner!

Posted by | Posted in Terroirist | Posted on 08-30-2011

Two weeks ago, thanks to our friends at Vintage Cellars, we launched a contest on Terroirist. The prizes? A Riedel decanter andMulholland Sommelier Corkscrew with a leather case.

On Sunday night, we selected a winner at random. The bounty went to Steve Gautier of Malvern, Pennsylvania.

Huge Congratulations to Steve! To everyone who didn’t win, thanks enormously for signing up for our soon-to-launch newsletter. If you were really itching for the prizes, you can purchase both items on the Vintage Cellars website.

Daily Wine News: The Go-To

Posted by | Posted in Wine News | Posted on 08-30-2011

Uploaded to flickr by Clearly Ambiguous.

Marketing Cahors as “the French Malbec” may be catchy, but because “the style of Cahors is intrinsically different to that of Mendoza: tougher, tighter and more ferrous,” Andrew Jefford thinks it’s a bad idea. Instead, Cahors should “try to re-establish its reputation as one of France’s great terroir wines.”

In South Africa, according Adam Japko, “small group of maverick winemakers are stealing the nation’s spotlight… off the beaten path in the Western Cape’s Swartland appellation.”

Yellow Tail just launched a new advertising campaign. The company will try to convince consumers that Yellow Tail is “the go-to” wine — something to drink for just about any occasion.

“In the realm of digital marketing,” argues Jeff Lefevere, “precious little is more representative of “noise” and “distraction” than QR codes – a fad more perishable than a gallon of milk with a shelf life to match.” I think Jeff is right.

Over at, Steven Washuta explains why “The wine world will be better off because of Wine from Here, regardless of whether the wines discussed are truly ‘natural’ or only ‘natural-ish.’”

“In North America and Europe, this year’s vintage looks like a bad film where the main characters switch bodies. Vintners in Spain, France, Italy and other Old World wine regions have begun picking grapes two or three weeks early… In California and the Pacific Northwest, however, a cold, wet start pushed back picking.” In Wine Spectator, Augustus Weed and Mitch Frank look at this year’s screwy harvest.

The ScoRevolution Can Declare Victory

Posted by | Posted in Out of the Glass | Posted on 08-29-2011

On the face of it, Christophe Hedges has started a fight that he’s going to lose. But in a way, he’s already won.

Last month, Hedges helped launch a digital manifesto – ScoRevolution – aimed at bringing down the 100-point wine-rating scale. As the Manifesto states, “The 100-point rating system is a clumsy and useless tool for examining wine. If wine is, as we believe, a subjective, subtle, and experiential thing, then by nature it is unquantifiable. Wine scores are merely a static symbol… and thus completely ineffective when applied to a dynamic, evolving, and multifaceted produce.”

Clumsy. Useless. Completely ineffective. Add such strong language to the fact that Hedges secured the support of some of wine’s biggest names — including importer Kermit Lynch, Randall Grahm of Bonny Doon Vineyard, and Rajat Parr of the Michael Mina restaurant group – and it’s not surprising that his effort has the entire wine world abuzz.

Many writers have issued their support. Eric Noreen from has endorsed it, because “the 100 point system… has long over-stayed its welcome.” W. R. Tish “signed the manifesto to support the concept.” Jeff Siegel, similarly, is happy about the “recent assault on scores.”

Problem is, these writers — and the Manifesto — ignore very real benefits of the 100-point system. Sure, the system is flawed. But as Jon Bonné explained in a qualified defense, “It’s also emerged as perhaps the most effective tool to have spoken to a lot of consumers in the past three decades.” Read the rest of this entry »

Weekly Wine Roundup: Hurricane Edition!

Posted by | Posted in Wine Reviews | Posted on 08-29-2011

I’ve taken a bit of grief for moving to a “flyover” state since I left DC, but that decision paid off this week as I enjoyed a nice boat ride on Lake Michigan while many of my Terroirist comrades dealt with the effects of Hurricane Irene. Thankfully, every Terroirist emerged unscathed and we hope the same can be said for our readers. Check out what each of us paired with the weather below.

David White
On Sunday night, I got together with a handful of friends to sample some 2006 California Cabernets — and also see how an inexpensive bottle that often fares well in blind tests would hold up.

Before opening the Cabs, we started with two whites — a 2009 Peay Vineyards Chardonnay Hirsch Vineyard and a 2007 Rivers-Marie Chardonnay B. Thieriot Vineyard. They were a study in contrasts. While the Peay could pass for a (very, very expensive) Burgundy, the Rivers-Marie screamed California — and had the acidity to balance it out. We then moved onto a Pinot — the 2007 Peay Vineyards Pinot Noir Scallop Shelf.

The Cabs were an embarrassment of riches. Only two wines were disappointing – the 2006 Chalk Hill Cabernet Sauvignon Estate Bottled (which was thin, disjointed, and quite hot) and the 2007 Roots Run Deep Winery Cabernet Sauvignon Educated Guess (overripe and hot). The rest – a 2006 Ghost Horse Cabernet Sauvignon Shadow; a 2006 Neal Family Cabernet Sauvignon; a 2006 Maybach Family Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon Materium; a 2006 Anderson’s Conn Valley Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon; and a 2006 Kendall-Jackson Cabernet Sauvignon Highland Estates Raptor Peak — were delicious.

On Tuesday night, I popped open a 2006 Cabot Vineyards Syrah Kimberly’s, which paired wonderfully with some bison burgers. And on Saturday night, while Hurricane Irene was sprinkling some rain outside, I opened (for the second time in one week!) the 2006 Anderson’s Conn Valley Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon.

Read the rest of this entry »

Daily Wine News: A Curious Choice

Posted by | Posted in Wine News | Posted on 08-29-2011

Morgan Twain-Peterson of Bedrock Wine Co.

“When Ntsiki Biyela won a winemaking scholarship in 1998, she was certainly a curious choice. She had grown up in the undulating hills of Zululand, living in a small village of huts and shacks.” In the New York Times, a wonderful profile of a rising star in South Africa’s winemaking industry.

Redwoods or Pinots? On the extreme Sonoma Coast, “two large wineries are petitioning the state to allow them to clear 2,000 acres of redwoods and Douglas firs to make room for new Pinot Noir vineyards.” As one might expect, this petition is generating lots of controversy.

Ever wonder how to bring wine to the wilderness? Alder Yarrow has some advice, as he just returned from a week along the Kisaralik river in Western Alaska – and brought a bunch of wine.

In the Wall Street Journal, Lettie Teague seeks “some professional insight” into “why people remember the wines that they do in the way that they do… [and] why are there so many (more) wines that they forget?”

In the San Francisco Chronicle, Jon Bonné looks at the “new era of respect” for white wines in California – and pays special attention to Morgan Twain-Peterson of Bedrock. Bonné follows up on his blog with a post about California Sauvignon Blanc.

Weekly Interview: Mitch Taylor

Posted by | Posted in Interviews | Posted on 08-26-2011

Each week, as regular readers know, Terroirist poses 16 questions to a winemaker. This week, we’re featuring Mitch Taylor, the managing director of Wakefield Wines in South Australia’s Clare Valley.

Wakefield’s story begins in 1969, when Mitch’s grandfather — Bill Taylor — purchased 178 hectares by the Wakefield River in Auburn. He had been working as a wine merchant in Sydney, and he fell in love with Bordeaux’s wine. He thought Australia could produce wines of equal quality, so chose the site because of  its soil — red brown loam over limestone — and its cool climate.

That first year, the family planted its very first Cabernet Sauvignon. And just four years later, in 1973, their inaugural vintage won the Royal Adelaide Wine Show’s trophy for the best red wine.

Mitch joined the family business in 1988, focusing first on the business side and later on the winemaking side. In 2000, he was appointed managing director, and now overseas all aspects of the business.

Check out our interview with Mitch below the fold… Read the rest of this entry »