Weekly Interview: Doug Tunnell

Posted by | Posted in Interviews | Posted on 08-31-2012

Each week, as regular readers know, we pose a series of questions to a winemaker. This week, we’re featuring Doug Tunnell, the owner and winemaker at Brick House Vineyards in Newberg, Oregon.

Doug’s winemaking career began somewhat accidentally 1988. That year, while working overseas as a foreign correspondent for CBS news, he learned that Burgundy’s famous Drouhin family had purchased land in Dundee, Oregon to launch a U.S. winery. He had fallen in love with wine while living in Europe, and grew up in the Willamette Valley. So he made a decision to purchase land near his childhood home so he could soon move back and start growing grapes.

Within two years, Doug found a 40-acre parcel — half covered in hazelnut trees — near the eastern end of the Chehalem Range, and started planting grapes. Today, about 19 acres of the property are planted to Pinot Noir; another ten are split between Chardonnay and Gamay Noir.

At first, Doug’s plan was to run an organic vineyard and sell the grapes. He was still working for CBS and was looking forward to life as a farmer once his contract finished. He quickly realized, though, that the numbers would never add up if he simply sold grapes. So after leaving CBS in 1993, Doug began making wines with the assistance of Steve Doerner at Cristom. Like most Oregon winemakers, Doug is eager to talk about all the many vintners who helped him along the way, including John Paul of Cameron Wines and Michael Etzel of Beaux Frères.

I visited Doug (together with John Trinidad of SF Wine Blog) on my recent trip to Oregon for the Wine Bloggers’ Conference – and the wines simply blew me away. While Doug is best known for his stunning Pinot Noirs, his Gamay Noir was the most electric wine of my trip.

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

Daily Wine News: Alsatian Purity

Posted by | Posted in Wine News | Posted on 08-31-2012

“Alsace has been doing something for decades that most other winemaking areas of the world just recently have caught onto: allow both the grapes and the soil on which they grow to express themselves in their wines in the purest way possible.” In the Chicago Tribune, Bill St. John praises the wines of Alsace.

At Wine Terroirs, Bertrand Celce meets with Dominique Derain, a producer in the Côte de Beaune. (H/T: Eric Asimov.)

In WineReviewOnline, Tina Caputo chats with Sean O’Keefe, owner and winemaker at the Michigan-based Chateau Grand Traverse, which is reportedly making some very tasty Riesling.

“If you look at a map, it’s hard to see why Idaho wouldn’t grow wine grapes about as well as eastern Washington.” In Palate Press, W. Blake Gray writes about the “increasingly interesting Idaho wine scene,” where one can find “good Syrah, Viognier, Cabernet, [and] Mourvedre.”

Dan Berger thinks that Cloud’s Rest’s $100 Pinot Noir is well worth it.

Jameson Fink recently solicited book recommendations from his readers. The list of 61 suggestions is fascinating.

In California, growers are celebrating “perfect ripening weather.” At Jordan Vineyard & Winery, pickers are set to harvest their first ever crop of estate Malbec!

In Jacksonville, a liquor distributor “was arrested Wednesday on 70 charges, most accusing him of hiding or moving booze with the intent to defraud the state of excise taxes.” Remember, though, the wholesaler lobby regularly reminds us that we need them to ensure the collection of taxes…

So much love for bloggers-turned-winemakers! On the blog for the soon-to-open Uva Buena Fine Wines, more praise for Hardy Wallace’s Dirty and Rowdy Family Wines. Meanwhile, Sonoma Girl lists William Allen’s Two Shepherds’ Grenache Blanc as one of six Sonoma County products she always has in her kitchen.

Isaac James Baker tells “A Tale of Two Chardonnays.”

Daily Wine News: MommyJuice

Posted by | Posted in Wine News | Posted on 08-30-2012

“In recent years brands like MommyJuice, Mommy’s Time Out and Mad Housewife have emerged. Popular Facebook groups allude jokingly to being driven to drink, including “Moms Who Need Wine,” which has more than 640,000 followers.” The reason? As the New York Times reports, wineries have started to market their products to women. Aren’t some of these labels offensive?

Some producers in Provence are warning their colleagues that if they bottle their rosé too early, their wines “could suffer the same fate as Beaujolais Nouveau.”

From Kyle Schlachter at ColoradoWinePress, a wonderful post on the importance of blind tasting.

“Macau casino executive Louis Ng is getting a crash course in international relations as he tries to calm the French storm that followed news he had purchased a vineyard in the hallowed wine region of Burgundy.” In the Wall Street Journal, Jason Chow writes about the provincialism of the French.

In SF Weekly, Jesse Hirsch profiles Maureen Downey and her efforts to spot counterfeit wines.

With California’s harvest now underway, W. Blake Gray chatted Quivira winemaker Hugh Chappelle about how the vintage is looking.

Ever assume that people who drink more exercise less? You’d be wrong. According to a researchers at the University of Miami who analyzed the exercise and drinking habits of 230,000 Americans, heavy drinkers exercise more.

The most-sought after invitation of the Republican National Convention? The lavish party hosted by the Distilled Spirits Councils of the United States.

What the Heck is Residual Sugar?” It seemed so obvious, until I read Erika Szymanski’s in-depth piece in Palate Press.

At Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt’s upcoming wedding, they’ll be serving a rosé called “Pink Floyd,” produced at their French wine country estate.

In Brooklyn, it’s all about the figs.

In Table Matters, Jason Wilson explains “why older doesn’t always mean better when it comes to whiskey.” (H/T: Eric Asimov.)

Tasting Peter Lauer’s Riesling Barrel X

Posted by | Posted in Wine Reviews | Posted on 08-29-2012

Aaron Nix-Gomez, Hogshead Wine.

Ask a Riesling enthusiast about hot producers, and he’ll inevitably steer you toward Weingut Peter Lauer in Ayl, Germany, a small town along the Saar river right by the border of France and Luxembourg.

That’s how I ended up with a bottle of Peter Lauer’s 2010 Riesling Barrel X. My ongoing exploration of Riesling has been directed, in part, by Phil Bernstein of Addy Bassin’s MacArthur Beverages — and when he pulled the Peter Lauer, he assured me it would be delicious. It was.

The Saar, as Chris Kissack once explained, is “where the confluence of vineyards that go under the title of Mosel… really begins.” The region is home to some of Germany’s finest vineyards. Yet they’re different from Mosel’s because the Saar (and its tributaries) provides surrounding vineyards with much less temperature moderation. And the altitude tends to be a bit higher, so the climate is cooler.

Consequently, the grapes struggle to fully ripen — and the region sometimes fails to produce high-quality wines. When successful, though, wines from the Saar are noted for balance, fresh acidity, and more citrus notes than typical Mosel Riesling.

The wines of Peter Lauer have become extremely popular in the United States since New York’s Crush Wine & Spirits “re-introduced” the wines to the U.S. market in October 2009. (The word “re-introduced” is necessary because David Schildknecht imported small quantities of Lauer’s wines in the late 1980s.) Crush’s endorsement of the wines was unequivocal:

“Weingut Lauer is the most exciting German find in many years…

We simply cannot recommend these wines highly enough. They are a “must try” for German wine enthusiasts, though anyone inspired by terroir-driven whites will love Lauer. (Seriously: I can’t fathom a Chablis fan who wouldn’t be thrilled by the mineral purity of these chiseled Rieslings.)

This is Riesling in its brightest, most transparent form. This is Riesling as nimble, finessed, filigreed; Riesling as an uncompromising treatise in mineral and flowers. Lauer’s wines are INTENSE, yet compact with detail and precision. Capturing the essence of these wines is exceedingly difficult – imagine a spiderweb, frozen in ice and infused with stone fruits and slate — or the beam of a laser, fashioned from porcelain and mineral.”

German wine expert Lyle Fass of Grapes the Wine Company is also a huge fan — he’s even visited the winery twice (Visit 1; Visit 2) and his write-ups are equally complimentary.

The bottle I picked up — Lauer’s basic estate Riesling, called Barrel X — was just $19. And I quickly realized why wine shops like Bassin’s, Crush, and Grapes are such big fans of the wines.

Review: 2010 Peter Lauer Riesling Barrel X
An explosively aromatic nose marked by ripe, bright limes, candied green apples, hard apple cider, pineapple, and gray rocks and slate minerality. The palate is sweet (showing definite RS) and almost has enough acid to seem dry. While it isn’t terribly complex, it’s exceptionally gulpable — and an incredible value at under $20. (90 pts.)

Daily Wine News: Ready for Harvest

Posted by | Posted in Wine News | Posted on 08-29-2012

The Tablas Creek VIneyard.

At Tablas Creek, assistant winemaker Chelsea Franchi is ready for harvest.

“If you don’t have a Champagne budget, figure out a way to cut your expenses. Champagne is way better than cable.” On Foodista, Jameson Fink chats with David Speer, the owner of Ambonnay Champagne Bar in Portland, Oregon.

“You have to look at your wine in the glass when you smell it or taste it in order to get the most out of the experience.” On the blog for FirstVine, Tom Natan explains why he learned so much from Tim Gaiser’s recent presentation to wine bloggers on the neurology of wine tasting.

In recent decades, contends Andrew Jefford in the Financial Times, “Chablis has undergone a remarkable period of prosperity.” The reason? Global warming. As Jefford explains, “Frosts have grown rare.”

In Wine-Searcher’s magazine, Bob Campbell MW investigates how wine behaves at 30,000 feet.

“Some people don’t want a story; they just want the best-tasting glass, and blind tasting is the way to find it.” In a thoughtful post, W. Blake Gray explains why he supports blind tasting.

“In blind tasting after blind tasting, Long Island wines continue to dispel the myth that they do not offer good value.” On the New York Cork Report, Kareem Massoud of Paumanok Vineyards responds to the recent piece on WineSpectator.com about Long Island wines.

The Fuhrer is causing a furor.” In the Atlantic, Max Fisher takes a look at the wines of Italian vintner Alessandro Lunardelli, who produces bottles bearing the image of Adolf Hitler, Benito Mussolini, and other mass murderers.

By the end of 2013, Yellow Tail plans on releasing a new, higher priced brand which will retail for about $10 per bottle.

Attention Chicago readers: Mike Ditka is relaunching his wine brand!

Fodor’s suggests six wine country getaways for those looking for a fall vacation.

Why I’m Supporting The Feiring Line

Posted by | Posted in Wine News | Posted on 08-28-2012

Alice Feiring

For many in the wine industry, Alice Feiring is a lightning rod.

Her most ardent supporters happily (and sometimes obnoxiously) promote her “nothing added, nothing taken away” mantra. Tom Wark has done an excellent job in cataloging  (herehere, and here) some of the statements made by natural wine’s most nauseating proponents.

Some of her critics, meanwhile, pretend Feiring is “some kind of crazed Amazon of the unadulterated grape,” as Remy Charest wrote in Palate Press last year. In an interview in Sommelier Journal, for example, Robert Parker leveled some incredibly harsh criticism at Feiring, saying, “When we talk about all these catchphrases like ‘natural wine,’ I can tell you that people like Alice Feiring are charlatans — I think they are no better than the snake-oil salesmen of yesterday.”

Such rhetoric is silly, of course. Feiring is far more thoughtful and nuanced than her critics suggest — and than her loudest fans realize.

I, for one, am in Eric Asimov’s camp when it comes to this division. As Asimov explained to W. Blake Gray earlier this month, “Parker and Alice Feiring would find very little overlap in a Venn diagram these days, but there’s probably a lot that was important to Bob that led to somebody like Alice.”

Translation? Without Parker’s pioneering use of a Consumer Reports approach to wine criticism, a much higher percentage of bottles would be flawed, undrinkable, and terribly inconsistent. (Inconsistent meaning one vintage is drinkable and the next is not.) And Feiring might have never started writing about wine in the first place.

Further, the “natural wine” movement, even though it lacks a definition, is worthy of support. For my palate, the most compelling wines are those that best express terroir — and over and over again, I have found that those are the wines that are made with minimal intervention.

That said, I recognize that winemakers who ignore the extensive arsenal of tools they could employ run the risk of going under — literally. Losing an entire vintage to something that’s easily fixed is a very real risk for those who refuse to intervene in the winery. Further, many of the practices that Feiring and her supporters detest (chaptalization, acidification, oak chips, and even additives like MegaPurple) are critical in the production of affordable, consistent, commercial wine. And wine enthusiasts should cheer the advancement of more regular wine drinking in America — even if that wine is produced by Barefoot. Everyone starts somewhere. Today’s Barefoot drinkers are tomorrow’s wine geeks.

Point is, the wine industry needs writers like Alice Feiring and Robert Parker. That’s why I’m happily supporting Alice’s efforts to launch a natural wine newsletter. Check out her video below — and be sure to pledge a few dollars over on Kickstarter!


Daily Wine News: Homogenized Balance

Posted by | Posted in Wine News | Posted on 08-28-2012

“His company is an innovative take on the old idea of California winery mailing lists. Instead of cult cabs, VinConnect’s many lists offer sought-after European labels, like Burgundy’s famed Clos de Tart.” In Bloomberg Businessweek, Elin McCoy profiles VinConnect and its founder, Kevin Sidders.

From North Bay Business Journal, a look at this year’s harvest with Andy BeckstofferBart Araujo, and Mario Zepponi.

“”The quietly fierce nature of Dunn’s wines has never been for all comers. But Dunn has always prided himself on being different.” In the San Francisco Chronicle, Jon Bonné writes a wonderful profile of Randy Dunn.

“This pursuit of balance has the same potential to homogenize wine styles and obscure regional identity as the pursuit of full physiological ripeness and overuse of new oak. Just as jammy, overoaked wines made from overripe grapes lose their varietal character and sense of place, so do wines that are made from underripe grapes.” Some fighting words from Joe Czerwinski in Wine Enthusiast.

“When can wineries increase their bottle prices?” As Rob McMillan explains, probably not until the net worth of America’s middle class recovers.

On Slave to the Grape, Mick Cameron chats with Chris Deegan, who heads up the “precision-crafted and highly-expressive wine program” at Nopa in San Francisco.

“For those with even the slightest interest in sherry, Palo Cortado is the sort of place that can provide you with an education in one evening.” On Eater, Talia Baiocchi profiles the wine program at Palo Cortado, a tapas restaurant in Brooklyn.

“Have you tried a Norton recently?” Dave McIntyre thinks you should.

“There is… one last value area remaining for those of us looking for our aged red wine fix without having to pay exorbitant prices. A region that has long made high quality, ageworthy wines that, with a few decades on them, are very reminiscent of fine old Barolos and Bordeaux.” In his latest blog post, Richard Jennings praises Rioja.

Tipping $400 on two bottles of wine has never seemed so stingy.

Daily Wine News: Great Opportunities

Posted by | Posted in Wine News | Posted on 08-27-2012

Skyline Blvd in the Santa Cruz Mountains. From Wikipedia.

In (yet another) great post, Alfonso Cevola laments the fact that too many Americans buy wine to indulge their egos.

In the Santa Cruz Mountains, according to Jon Bonné, “the opportunities for greatness are abundant.”

With “an audacious blend of Russian River Valley and Burgundy Pinot Noir,” Jean-Charles Boisset is “trying to teach his fellow Frenchmen to appreciate California wine.” In the Napa Valley Register, business writer Paul Franson has the details.

“We’re chipping away at the margarita barrier.” In the Wall Street Journal, Joel Millman pens a wonderful profile of Amelia Ceja of Ceja Vineyards.

Elsewhere in the Journal, Lettie Teague contends that “today’s top wine retailers could be called the new sommeliers.”

In a different piece, Teague wonders why the wine list at Tribeca Grill “remains well off the radar of most oenophiles.”

“This grape is grown primarily in the high, cool Mantinia plateau in central Peloponnese, and produces dry white wines that are light in alcohol… but intensely perfumed with wild florals, spice, stone fruits, and citrus notes on a racy, fresh palate.” In the Village Voice, Lauren Mowery urges her readers to “try a glass of Moschofilero.”

On Vintology, Ben Simons comments on Randall Grahm’s recent speech at the Wine Bloggers’ Conference.

“In the heat of a waning summer, when half the world seems to have taken off on vacation, a late-morning glass of wheat beer can be another sort of pleasurable departure.” So proclaims Eric Asimov in the New York Times.

Dan Berger translates some of the “sheer gobbledygook” used by wine critics.

Looking to win $500 cash, a 32-bottle wine refrigerator, or a decanter? Jordan Winery is running a photo contest — head on over to its blog for details.

Weekly Interview: Cinzia Merli

Posted by | Posted in Interviews | Posted on 08-24-2012

Each week, as regular readers know, we pose a series of questions to a winemaker. This week, we’re featuring Cinzia Merli, the owner and winemaker of Le Macchiole in Bolgheri, Italy.

Le Macchiole traces its roots to 1983, when Eugenio Campolmi, a native of Bolgheri, purchased a vineyard and began experimenting with different varieties. His goal was to figure out which grapes worked best with his vineyard’s soil and climate, even if those grapes weren’t traditionally associated with Italian wine.

Soon enough, his estate started to grow. And in 1991, well-known vintner Luca d’Attoma, who had recently started working for himself as a consultant, joined the team. Together, Eugenio and Luca focused on grapes like Cabernet Franc and Syrah, as they believed those grapes were best suited to their property.

Le Macchiole quickly gained a reputation as one of Tuscany’s finest producers. Its flagship wine, Paleo Rosso (which is celebrating its 20th birthday) is always listed as one of the region’s top wines. Cinzia has been running the property since 2002, when Eugenio passed away. She learned to make wine from Eugenio, who she married when she was just 16.

Enormous thanks to VinConnect — the new company that enables U.S. consumers to order wines directly from overseas producers like at Le Macchiole — for facilitating this interview. As regular readers know, we wrote a feature on VinConnect back in February.

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

Daily Wine News: Macao Magnate

Posted by | Posted in Wine News | Posted on 08-24-2012

Chateau de Gevrey-Chambertin has been purchased by an “unnamed casino magnate from Macao” vintners to pay for just over $10 million. Daily Telegraph reporter Henry Samuel Paris writes that “local winegrowers are furious at seeing the chateau sold to Asian outsiders from under their noses… They want nothing less than state intervention to keep their wine heritage in French hands.”

From Seattle Met, Washington’s best wines of 2012.

Is Australia’s greatest Shiraz Penfolds Grange or Henschke Hill of Grace? Joe Roberts explores that question in Palate Press.

Meanwhile, over at Playboy.com, Joe explores the “sexy side of ‘local’ U.S. red wines with rock star Maynard James Keenan.”

“I would like to ban tasting notes for a year to force us all to find different ways to talk about wine. That’s something I’ve said before, but I believe it.” W. Blake Gray posts the second part of his interview with Eric Asimov. (Part 1 is here.)

In Oakley, California, 1200 pounds of old-vine Zinfandel grapes were stolen from the Planchon Vineyard.

“Why do Long Island wines get a bad rap, still? What can be done about it?” Ben O’Donnell poses these questions in Wine Spectator.

“What do you get when you combine a pair of Burgundy-minded winemakers, a domaine of old vines in a lesser-known appellation of the Languedoc, and a critically acclaimed consultant from Châteauneuf-du-Pape? You get some of the most exciting wines ever to bear the Minervois AOC designation.” So proclaims Terroirist’s own Sarah Hexter in the latest email from Weygandt Wines.

This year’s drought could be good news for Missouri’s wine industry.

Robin Williams’ Napa Valley estate is up for sale. The asking price? $35 million

According to the Associated Press, “wine cocktails… are quite sophisticated and of-the-moment.”

I’m very upset to have missed Lambstock 2012.