Weekly Interview: Aaron Walker

Posted by | Posted in Interviews | Posted on 09-30-2011

Each week, as regular readers know, Terroirist poses 16 questions to a winemaker. This week, we’re featuring Aaron Walker, the winemaker at Pali Wine Co in Lompoc, California.

Pali Wine Co. was founded in 2005, when Tim Perr and Scott Knight – the entrepreneurs behind Perr & Knight, an insurance support and consulting firm — pooled their resources to launch a winery dedicated to small-lot Pinot Noir.

The first three vintages were made by Brian Loring, and Aaron Walker joined the team in June 2007 as an assistant winemaker. He became the head winemaker in 2008.

Aaron fell in love with wine through food and restaurants. Although he went to college to become an elementary school teacher, Aaron’s first job out was with a restaurant — Royale Brasserie (now Lou & Mickey’s Steakhouse) – and when an opportunity to work harvest for Bonaccorsi Wine Company presented itself in 2006, he dove in.

Over the next year, Aaron apprenticed with Joe Davis of Arcadian, Seth Kunin of Kunin Wines, Stephen Dooley of Stephen Ross Wine Cellars, and Gray Hartley of Hitching Post.

Check out our interview with Aaron below the fold. Read the rest of this entry »

Daily Wine News: Virginia Wine

Posted by | Posted in Wine News | Posted on 09-30-2011

Uncorked DC! Click the photo for details.

Lettie Teague discovers that Morrell Wine Bar recently unveiled a “Wine Counter” – “a digital clock that bears a remarkable resemblance (albeit in a much smaller size with much smaller numbers) to the national debt clock” – to keep track of how many wines they taste compared to how many they choose.

In USA Today, Jayne Clark visits California’s fastest-growing wine region, Paso Robles.

In Sonoma Magazine, Robbi Pengelli profiles Ellie Phipps Price, proprietor of Dunstan and the prized Durell Vineyards – and explores “the differences, if any, that women bring to the production of wine.” It’s a great piece.

“Australia is suffering from stereotyping and ignorant clichés,” according to the latest issue of Decanter. Indeed, the nation is moving “towards a more elegant, restrained style of winemaking.”

The Washington Post reports that Steve and Jean Case are purchasing Sweely Estate winery in Madison County, Virginia. Washington Post wine columnist Dave McIntyre is excited about the purchase.

Elsewhere in the Washington Post, Dave McIntyre reports on Jancis Robinson’s recent tastings of Virginia wines.

Speaking of Virginia, the state’s Governor, Bob McDonnell, will join Donald Trump and his son Eric for the opening of Trump Vineyard Estates on Tuesday.

In Healdsburg, controversy is brewing over the number of tasting rooms and bars in the town.

On a personal note, the details for Uncorked DC – a fantastic event that raises money for So Others Might Eat (SOME) – were just announced. The event – which includes a silent auction and a Thanksgiving dinner served with six different wines — will be MC’ed by Dave McIntyre, and I’m serving on the host committee. Please come! Discounted tickets are available until October 21.

Intoxicated with the Noble Experiment

Posted by | Posted in Wine News | Posted on 09-29-2011

On Sunday night, PBS will debut the first of a three-part, five-and-a-half-hour documentary on Prohibition from Ken Burns and Lynn Novick. According to Wine Enthusiast, which recently caught up with Burns, “the film is a detailed and fascinating exploration of the complex social and political events that led up to the passage of the 18th Amendment in 1920 and set off an era of violent crime and widespread hypocrisy.”

With Burns’ documentary in the headlines, HBO’s Boardwalk Empire garnering continued acclaim, and Daniel Okrent’s 2010 bestseller Last Call still selling swiftly, Reason.tv has put together a new video – Prohibition Vogue — which wonders why we’re still so fascinated by Prohibition. The video features Burns and Okrent, along with activist Aaron Houston of Students for Sensible Drug Policy, who compares the current prohibition of marijuana to the Noble Experiment. Check it out!

Terroirist Needs an Intern!

Posted by | Posted in Terroirist | Posted on 09-29-2011

Terroirist.com is nearing its first birthday, and some exciting things are in the works — including a newsletter, regular meet-ups, video content, and lots more!

But there’s more work to do than hours in the day, so we’re looking for an intern. If you’re a college student or recent grad looking to work at the intersection of journalism, social media, and booze, send me an email (david – at – terroirist.com). Please include a cover letter, resume, and writing sample. It’s a paid position ($10/hour), and we’re only looking for 2-4 hours each week.

The Terroirist Global Headquarters is located in Washington DC, just a few blocks from Georgetown University and only a couple miles from American and George Washington. (Telecommuting would be considered, but it’s not ideal.)

Please feel free to share this post. Email me with any questions. Thanks!

Daily Wine News: Adam Smith

Posted by | Posted in Wine News | Posted on 09-29-2011

Adam Smith was a terroirist. John Maynard Keynes was not. But according to Mike Veseth, both men would “love” grower Champagne, as “they combine all the luxury and sensuality that Keynes appreciated with Smith’s intellectual focus on local conditions.”

Mike Steinberger closely analyzes the new working paper from the American Association of Wine Economists that compares the wine ratings given by CellarTracker users to those given by Robert Parker, Stephen Tanzer, and the Wine Spectator.

What does terroir taste like? Jamie Goode explores the question.

Tom Wark reports that on November 8th, more than 101 Georgia municipalities will vote to determine whether liquor sales should be allowed on Sundays. His analysis is spot-on: “As far as I can tell, none of the ballot initiatives force Georgians to buy beer, wine or spirits on Sunday. Furthermore, nothing in these laws will force liquor stores to open on Sunday.”

Typically, Lettie Teague isn’t a “big fan of coffee table wine books,” but she has to make “an exception with Saint-Emilion.”

Wine Enthusiast announces its 2011 “Wine Star Award” nominees.

Burt Williams, one of the founders of Williams Selyem is back! On WineBererkers, a reliable report that Williams has launched Morning Dew Ranch Winery now that his non-compete has ended.

Daily Wine News: Anti-Competitive

Posted by | Posted in Wine News | Posted on 09-28-2011

Structure. Uploaded to flickr by p medved.

Motivated by a tasting of New Zealand Pinot Noirs, Eric Asimov pens an excellent column on structure.

Burgundy’s top producers have banded together to make hand harvesting mandatory “in an attempt to defend the region’s age-old traditions.” Um, yea. I’m sure that’s their motivation. It couldn’t possibly be to keep prices artificially high by blocking competitors’ attempts to drive prices down.

A reminder from Clint Bolick of the Goldwater Institute: Consumers don’t need protection from out-of-state wine.

W. Blake Gray visits Gruet (in New Mexico!) and concludes that the “quality-price ratio for its non-vintage Blanc de Noirs ($14) is as high as it gets; I don’t know a better traditional-method bubbly under $15.”

The 4th annual Regional Wine Week begins on October 9! Dave McIntyre has the details. If you’re a blogger, that’s the week to write about “wine from around here, wherever here happens to be.”

In her latest Vintage America column on Eater, Talia Baiocchi explores whether “Wine TV” can succeed.

Even though “alcohol [is] one of the highest-margin items on a menu,” many chain restaurants have decided against liquor sales, as the regulatory rigmarole just isn’t worth the hassle.

Impressions on South Africa’s Wines

Posted by | Posted in Grape Adventures | Posted on 09-27-2011

La Motte

La Motte’s Hein Koegelenberg can move seamlessly from talking about the global debt crisis to China’s version of Facebook to Robert Mondavi’s business acumen.

As one might guess, it was that last topic that the two of us – together with Anthony Barne MW and La Motte’s cellarmaster, Edmund Terblanche – spent the better part of two hours discussing.

Mondavi was so successful, in Koegelenberg’s opinion, because he was able to build such a strong brand. And for South Africa to expand its footprint in the global marketplace, Koegelenberg believes that wineries must find their niche and then promote their brands.

Koegelenberg is banking on being right.

Under his guidance, the La Motte estate has opened a world-class restaurant, a museum, and a farm shop. Koegelenberg wants the estate to be a tourism destination, as he recognizes that in order for La Motte to succeed as a global brand, he must sell a lifestyle – not just expensive wines.

At the same time, Koegelenberg is building an affordable wine brand called Leopard’s Leap, a mass-market producer that’s seeking to “enable consumers to experience wines where quality and affordability are not mutually exclusive.” Right now, Leopard’s Leap is selling about 600,000 cases annually, but Koegelenberg would like its size to increase.

I think Koegelenberg’s strategy is spot-on. Read the rest of this entry »

Tasting Notes from South Africa

Posted by | Posted in Wine Reviews | Posted on 09-27-2011

Glen Carlou, where I had some incredible Chardonnay.

As regular readers know, I recently returned from South Africa, where I spoke at the 37th Annual Nederburg Rare South African Wine Auction.

While there, I tasted hundreds of wines. Many were delicious — I had stunning examples of just about every varietal, and was extremely impressed with the nation’s top wines. The best reds bridged the differences between Old World wines and New World wines quite elegantly.

But while half the wines I had were somewhere between “really good” and “wow, this is excellent,” the other half had some predictable problems. Too many Cabernet Sauvignons (and Bordeaux-style blends) were under-ripe and over-oaked. Too many of the Sauvignon Blancs were excessively green – chock-full of over-the-hill asparagus and green peppers rather than grass, gooseberries, and passionfruit. (Of course, a random sampling of U.S. wines — especially big reds — would likely result in half being over-ripe and over-oaked.)

South Africa’s top wines are definitely worth seeking out. My impressions of the South African wine industry, overall, will be posted later today. In the meantime, notes on the wines I tasted formally are below the fold. Please note that these wines were tasted non-blind.

Just in case you’re wondering, I only tasted formally at five wineries. The All Stars among the wines I didn’t take formal notes on included Cape Point Vineyards (where the Sauvignon Blanc was stunning); Kleine Zalze Estate (home of an excellent barrel-fermented Chenin Blanc); Le Riche and Tokara (the source of the best Cabernet Sauvignons I tasted); and Nederburg (where the sweet wines were heavenly). Read the rest of this entry »

Daily Wine News: Winertainment

Posted by | Posted in Wine News | Posted on 09-27-2011

“Of all the red Bordeaux vintages to be drunk now, 1996 is a particularly good bet if you like mature, traditional claret — especially from the left-bank appellations in the Médoc and Graves.” So declares Jancis Robinson in her latest Financial Times column.

In Long Island wine country, winertainment – live music, dance parties, cover charges, etc. – is taking off. On New York Cork Report, Lenn Thompson reports on this trend and shares his thoughts.

Andrew Jefford reports that all France’s Interprofessional committees of Wines have teamed up to run a joint public relations campaign promoting “French wine as a whole.” (H/T: Eric Asimov.)

In the Seattle Times, Paul Gregutt catches us up on Oregon’s wine pioneers — Eyrie, Ponzi and Adelsheim. As he explains, “all are still going strong and still family-owned. They have succeeded not because they avoided mistakes, but because they adapted and learned from them.”

In the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat, an update on the latest weather as harvest enters high gear. The article inspires Tom Wark to update us on what’s happening in Napa.

Back in April, Real estate mogul Donald Trump purchased the Kluge Estate Winery and Vineyard outside Charlottesville, Virginia. The winery – technically owned and operated by The Donald’s son, Eric – is set to open in October. Dave McIntyre shares some details (and thoughts) over on his blog.

Combating the Poison of Wine Snobbery

Posted by | Posted in Out of the Glass | Posted on 09-26-2011

Last year, Steve Heimoff wrote about the “poison” of snobbery “that continues to make so many Americans wary of wine.” As he wrote, “[Consumers] can sense it, like a ‘Don’t come in here, you don’t belong’ exclusionary velvet rope that keeps the trash out.”

He went on to explain how the wine world — like just about everything else in our culture — is moving toward “diversity, transparency and openness.”

Steve is right, and it’s one of the most exciting things about today’s wine world. As I explained in my speech at the Nederburg Wine Auction, as consumers grow more comfortable dismissing today’s arbiters of good taste (Parker, Wine Spectator, etc.), the influence of local voices — the staffer at the neighborhood wine shop, the hip restaurant sommelier, the wine geeks who read Terroirist — is becoming more important.

And as consumers grow comfortable ridding themselves of gatekeepers (and more educated, thanks to the wealth of wine knowledge that’s now available online), consumers will be more capable of making up their own minds, confident in their palates and their judgments.

Recognizing that these changes are on the way, Cape Town Tourism recently hosted a very cool event – 100 Women 100 Wines — which invited 100 women from all over South Africa to taste and judge wine, and debunk “the myth that this right is reserved for the connoisseurs.” By all accounts, the event was a smashing success. I’m sure we’ll see more events like this across the world as wine becomes demystified.