Weekly Interview: Paul Clifton

Posted by | Posted in Interviews | Posted on 09-28-2012

Each week, as regular readers know, we pose a series of questions to a winemaker. This week, we’re featuring Paul Clifton, the winemaker at Hahn Family Wines in California’s Santa Lucia Highlands.

Although Paul grew up in Salinas, it wasn’t always clear he’d pursue a career in wine. In his early 20s, Paul worked as a Forest Service firefighter in Lake Tahoe so he could ski, hike, and bike in his spare time. While visiting home one holiday season, Paul discovered some old winemaking equipment that his grandfather had used to make wine during Prohibition. He decided to start experimenting with it and fell in love with the process, so soon moved back to wine country.

Paul learned to make wine from industry veteran Don Blackburn at both Bernardus Winery and Byington Winery. He also spent a year in New Zealand, where he worked, explored, and attended oenology school. In 2003, Paul began work at Hahn.

Today, Hahn is one of California’s largest wineries, producing about 400,000 cases annually. Despite its large production, Clifton sorts and ferments each lot and vineyard block separately.

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

Daily Wine News: Exploring Bordeaux

Posted by | Posted in Wine News | Posted on 09-28-2012

The Associated Press reports: “Jean Taittinger, a longtime French legislator and heir to the Taittinger Champagne legacy, has died.”

Jean Taittinger

“Much of the emotional reaction against Bordeaux ignores… the wines, the people who make the wines, the land and the centuries of history that waft up so invitingly and instructively from each glass.” In the New York Times, Eric Asimov contends that “2009 is a great vintage to explore Bordeaux’s less expensive side.”

On his blog, International Herald Tribune wine columnist Eric Pfanner provides some much needed commentary on the debate over using the word “chateau” in Europe.

At the Wine Industry Financial Symposium, vineyard executive David Freed made some waves by noting that “ domestic wine producers are increasingly splitting into two segments: the top 16 to 20 who are good at building brands and producing efficiently in volume, and the rest, whom… ‘exist in the luxury space.’”

Across France, winegrowers are calling on the government to underwrite crop insurance.

Rumor has it that Amazon is “ready to jump into online wine business.”

On NorCal Wine, Fred Swan provides some biographical details on this year’s inductees to the Vintners Hall of Fame.

In the Finger Lakes, many producers think “magnums cheapen their product.” Evan Dawson wants them to change their minds.

Could Malbec be “the next big thing” in Washington? Some vintners think so.

In the Wall Street Journal Europe, Will Lyons pays tribute to Patrick Sandeman.

From The Drinks Business: “Sotheby’s has announced that it will be hosting an ex-cellar sale of Krug in New York this December, including never-before released wines.”

In a hilarious piece, Talia Baiocchi writes about her new favorite bar, Guy’s American Kitchen and Bar.

“I can’t tell you how many pricey, fancy wines I’ve had (admittedly,mostly French) with brett as a main ‘feature.’ It’s a sham! Brett is not desirable. It does not enhance wine. It’s a flaw, plain and simple.” So proclaims Paul Gregutt. I agree! What about you?

Daily Wine News: Bees and Snakes

Posted by | Posted in Wine News | Posted on 09-27-2012

“I found his purity of focus invigorating. He’s not trying to be all things for all people. He cedes to others the Consumer Reports responsibility of judging Gallo’s $7 wines vs. Constellation’s $7 wines.” W. Blake Gray previews “How to Love Wine,” a forthcoming book from New York Times wine critic Eric Asimov that sounds excellent.

“Any romance about making wine disappears as bees and snakes lurk in picking bins in a cellar that reeks of smelly yeast and fermenting grapes. But trust me – I can’t think of any place I’d rather be.” At JJ Buckley, several staffers are working harvest this fall.

“Winemaking remains primarily a man’s world, but research by Santa Clara University professors Lucia Albino Gilbert and John Gilbert has found that nearly 10 percent of California wineries now have women as the main or lead winemaker.” From the Associated Press, a look at the increase in female winemakers — with special attention paid to Cathy Corison. (As regular readers know, we interviewed Cathy in April 2011.)

“Make sure the wine is really good and so is the music. Mix up the guest list and have people sit next to someone they don’t know so well.” In Huffington Post, Ann Colgin “Reveals How To Eat, Drink & Throw A Party.”

“According to research results released last week, most psychopaths have an impaired sense of smell.” Alder Yarrow’s conclusion? “Wine Can Save You From Serial Killers, Divorce, and Bad Roommates.”

At this year’s Wine Industry Financial Symposium, some winemakers predicted a high-end turnaround. But many still wonder if “consumers will open their wallets for higher-priced wines the same way they did before the economy soured.”

From Tom Wark, everything you need to know from ShipCompliant and Wines & Vines’ new winery-to-consumer shipping report.

Debra Meiburg MW explains how you can fall in love with Italian wine.

In Europe, yields are “sharply lower” this year.

“Sometimes we note wine scores of others, but not regularly. Reason: Delightful discovery is the wonder of the wine world, not test scores.” Gus Clemens exclaims, “Don’t score it; instead, pour it!

Bogus Bubbles: The Untold Story of Counterfeit Champagne

Posted by | Posted in Wine News | Posted on 09-26-2012

A Counterfeit Champagne Workshop.

Richard Juhlin, perhaps the world’s foremost authority on Champagne, has tasted literally thousands of bottles of the sparkling golden liquid over his prodigious career. Indeed, his book – 4000 Champagnes — is regarded as the definitive tome on the subject. But he thought he never had encountered a counterfeit bottle until one weekend this past spring. At a large Dom Pérignon tasting in Denmark, he was caught off guard.

“Two bottles of really old DP Oenotheque were really good looking fakes, at least at first sight. But the wine was not even close to Champagne, nor wine,” Juhlin recounted over email. “By taste it was undrinkable – just a bubbly chemical mix smelling of coffee and vanilla extracts in an awful way.”

How could an expert like Juhlin taste so much Champagne without ever encountering a fake? Is it because counterfeit Champagne is so rare, or because those who practice such dark arts are so proficient at fooling people? If it’s because there aren’t many fakes in the market, why?

Another noted Champagne expert, Peter Liem of ChampagneGuide.net, also tells me that he has never to his knowledge tasted counterfeit Champagne. As Liem explains, “the logistics of faking Champagne seem daunting: it requires much more complicated machinery for re-corking, including affixing the cages and foils. Anyone who’s ever opened an old bottle of Dom Pérignon knows how maddeningly stubborn those foils can be.”

In the wake of the Rudy Kurniawan scandal, counterfeit wine has come to the forefront of the wine world’s consciousness. Countless articles have been written, movies have been pitched, and record web traffic has been achieved. But nowhere has Champagne been mentioned. Perhaps this is because Rudy K. himself was not involved. On that, the evidence is inconclusive. Champagne labels were not mentioned among the materials seized from Rudy’s house. However, Don Cornwell, the Los Angeles attorney credited in part with blowing open the scandal, has said that his understanding is that Rudy “was also alleged to sell counterfeit Champagne” and that “this was accomplished by means of label switches.”

Wine critic Brad Baker, known as “The Champagne Warrior,” is a bit more diplomatic at first. “Rudy was definitely a Champagne geek, though, to me, he seemed far more interested in talking Burgundy,” he says in an email. Baker later admits that he’s starting to believe there may be a fake Champagne “problem in a certain circle” and he “would make an educated guess that somehow Rudy is in the chain.”

If Rudy didn’t produce counterfeit Champagne to the same extent as his infamous older Burgundy and Bordeaux, it likely is because of the difficulty inherent in the sparkling wine product. In addition to the difficulties Liem mentioned with respect to corks, cages and foils, there’s the simple problem of faking what’s in the bottle – sparkling wine, especially in its maturity, just isn’t that easy to reproduce authentically. Read the rest of this entry »

Daily Wine News: What’Cha Want

Posted by | Posted in Wine News | Posted on 09-26-2012

“A lot of wines need food. And friends. Wine needs to have a context in a social gathering to fulfill its historical place in this world.” In Esquire, Paul Schrodtat chats with Mike D of the Beastie Boys about his passion for wine.

“Many experts say that if the global temperature continues rising at its current rate, the U.K. may become a premier wine-producing region, equal to or excelling some regions in France.” In The Atlantic, Euny Hong explains why “English wine-growers have reason to be jubilant” about climate change.

Alder Yarrow is “quite proud that both Robert M. Parker, Jr. and Cesar Chavez” are going to be inducted to the Vintners Hall of Fame.

On WineSpectator.com, Jennifer Fielder chats with Joshua Foer – author of Moonwalking with Einstein: The Art and Science of Remembering Everything – to get his advice on  remembering wine.

Isaac James Baker is excited about the potential of Petit Manseng in Virginia. (Me too! I brought the Chateau O’Brien Petit Manseng to this particular tasting.)

In Palate Press, Meg Houston Maker details the “Best White Wines for Fall.”

The Associated Press reports: “This year’s wine grape crop from upstate New York is high in quality with a bit less quantity.”

From Wines & Vines, details on the annual survey of wine industry executives presented at the Wine Industry Financial Symposium.

Tom Wark praises Paul Franson’s just-released book, The NapaLife Insider’s Guide to Napa Valley, as “A Real Insider’s Guide To Napa Valley.”

Some awesome news: The United States leads the world with the lowest average “minutes of work required to purchase a beer.”

Daily Wine News: Second Flight

Posted by | Posted in Wine News | Posted on 09-25-2012

Uploaded to flickr by Sam Howzit.

“These graceful, elegant wines captivate both sensually — their polished textures feel so good in the mouth that you are drawn irresistibly to the next sip — and intellectually, by almost demanding your attention as you seek out each elusive nuance.” In the New York Times, Eric Asimov explains why he’s so pleased the gran reserva style of Rioja is surviving.

In the San Francisco Chronicle, Jon Bonné writes an update on this year’s harvest in California.

“Small producers such as these — and many who are far more conventional in their winemaking — are the ones showing us the way to a greater wine goodness. They reveal to us new winegrowing locales or the particularities of tiny vineyard sites that have something to say.” In his latest WineSpectator.com column, Matt Kramer profiles Clos Saron.

“When I reached the director of the Saint-Emilion Wine Council Franck Binard by phone, he was breathing a sigh of relief. He’s convinced the new process will withstand legal challenges.” In Bloomberg BusinessWeek, Elin McCoy writes the best piece yet on the reclassification of Saint-Emilion.

In the Washington Post, Edward Cody reports on the push by U.S. trade negotiators for the European Union to drop its current ban on the import of American wines bearing the word “chateau.” W. Blake Gray isn’t pleased.

“Obviously ‘on the skins’ here takes on a whole new meaning.” Alice Feiring writes about the process of using animal skins as fermentation vessels.

Tom Lee reports that Screaming Eagle is finally offering its much anticipated “second” label. Kyle Schlachter is appalled because the winery once claimed to pour its sub-par wine “down the drain” and a former co-owner once revealed that Merlot “doesn’t perform very well in our vineyard.” (The new wine is a Merlot-heavy blend.) I’m not.

Wine competitions are boring affairs. That’s why Tom Wark thinks they should award “a few million dollars in prize money.”

Lily-Elaine Hawk Wakawaka writes about International Grenache Day, during which she sampled a number of California examples.

An American “Grower Champagne”

Posted by | Posted in Grape Adventures | Posted on 09-24-2012

Donnelly Creek Vineyard

Elke's Donnelly Creek Vineyard.

If you have any interest in wine, by now you have heard of “Grower Champagne,” a relatively recent trend of independent grape growers in the Champagne region of France producing their own wine from grapes they cultivate rather than selling them off to the large houses. “Farmer Fizz,” as it also is known, accounts for less than 3% of the Champagne market, but is revered by wine geeks for the artisanal, terroir-driven nature of the product.

Here in the States, most sparkling wine is made by large corporate producers – you see them on the bottom shelf of your local grocery store or pharmacy: Cook’s, Andre, Tott’s, Korbel, etc. There are a few better regarded large producers, like Gruet in New Mexico and Gloria Ferrer in California, and a slew of Franco-American partnerships, like Domaine Carneros by Taittinger. While some of these producers grow almost all of their own grapes, most need to purchase some from other sources.

Enter the American grower.

Mary Elke has been farming vineyards and selling grapes for 30 years in both the Napa and Anderson Valleys. Her clients include a who’s who list of sparkling wine producers, such as Roederer Estate and Mumm Napa. But, until a few years ago, she had never produced her own sparkling wine. (Elke Vineyards has made a still Pinot Noir since 1997 under various guest winemakers.)

“[We’re] a very small winery,” Elke explained to me over email. “I neither have the space nor winemaking equipment required to produce sparkling wine in the méthode champenoise.” So when a custom crush facility called Rack & Riddle opened up nearby in Mendocino County employing the winemaking team from J Vineyards, Elke sampled their Brut cuvée and got inspired. Read the rest of this entry »

Daily Wine News: Moroccan Wine

Posted by | Posted in Wine News | Posted on 09-24-2012

A food stall in Marrakech.

“Though the wineries are within easy reach of the major cities such as Marrakech, Casablanca and Fez, an informal ban on advertising means that tour operators must peddle wine trips discreetly.” In a fascinating piece in the San Francisco Chronicle, Christina Ammon discovers some “good wine” in Morocco.

Decanter.com reports: “Patrick Sandeman, one of London’s most respected wine merchants, has been killed in a freak skydiving accident.

“In the density of Tokyo, where most people live in smaller apartments and the space needed to have a substantial wine cellar simply isn’t available, this is a brilliant venture, and I’m sure not the last of its kind.” Alder Yarrow praises the “wine apartment” building under construction in Tokyo.

Jo Diaz reports that Robert Parker will (finally) be inducted into the Culinary Institute of America’s Vintners Hall of Fame. Jeff Siegel comments on the news.

On Playboy.com, Joe Roberts publishes the “2012 Edition of the Five Most Ass-Kicking Wine Regions.”

In the Wall Street Journal, Lettie Teague explores the conflicting reports on the purported health benefits of wine.

“I came back to that small wine shop almost every Saturday for two years. As the wine study programs I enrolled in moved along, so did my tastings with Mike and a few of his other devoted followers. My knowledge, palate, friendships, wine cellar (and, yes, my credit card bill) grew as well.” In 20 Something Magazine, Isaac James Baker explains how he fell in love with wine.

Steve Heimoff is excited about the plan by UC Davis researchers to study “the performance – specifically the variability – within different types of closures.”

Wine America reports: “TTB will now allow wines labeled with a country appellation of origin, including American appellation wines, to disclose their vintage.”

Weekly Interview: John Graziano

Posted by | Posted in Interviews | Posted on 09-21-2012

John Graziano

Each week, as regular readers know, we pose a series of questions to a winemaker. This week, we’re featuring John Graziano, the winemaker at Millbrook Vineyards & Winery in New York’s Hudson River Valley.

The winery traces its roots to 1979, when John Dyson – who had recently left New York politics to chair the state’s Power Authority — planted one acre of vinifera grapes on his father’s farm in Millbrook as an experiment.

The plantings were successful, so together with his wife Kathe, John purchased a 130-acre dairy near his father’s farm – knowing he would turn it into a vineyard and winery. The first grapes were planted in 1983. It was the first vineyard in the Hudson River Valley dedicated exclusively to vinifera grapes. (If “John and Kathe Dyson” ring a bell, it might be because they’ve owned Williams Selyem Winery since 1998.)

John Graziano was brought onboard in 1984 as the Millbrook’s first winemaker. He had graduated a few years earlier from Cornell — where he studied Plant Pathology and Entomology – and learned about wine in New York’s Finger Lakes. He’s been at Millbrook ever since.

Today, Millbrook grows Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Cabernet Franc, and Tocai Friulano and produces about 10,000 cases of wine each year.

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

Daily Wine News: Ribera del Duero

Posted by | Posted in Wine News | Posted on 09-21-2012

“Here, the red Tempranillo grape finds a perfect home, producing wines of enormous complexity. Unlike in Rioja, which also uses Tempranillo, the wines achieve an intensely concentrated color, and smell not of jammy red fruit and American oak as in Rioja but of dark fruit, spices and mulberry.” In the Wall Street Journal Europe, Will Lyons discovers the Ribera del Duero, Spain’s “other great wine region.”

Tom Wark brilliantly simplifies the task of deciding which wine to order.

In Tokyo, a developer has started construction on a building that’ll come with a sommelier and a 10,000 bottle cellar. (No word on whether the cellar is for personal storage or communal consumption.)

Richard Jennings tastes an enormous number of Oregon wines.

Wine Spectator reports that the FDA is taking a “growing interest in winery safety.”

Dr. Vino reports that a French trade group is blocking an E.U. proposal that would allow American wineries to export to Europe using the name “chateau.”

CNN explains why wine tastes different at 35,000 feet.

After chatting with several winemakers in Virginia and Maryland, Frank Morgan wonders if “Early Is The New Normal.”

In Northern Virginia Magazine, several area bloggers highlight their favorite Virginia wines.

Do politics influence wine-buying decisions? In Wine Spectator, Ben O’Donnell explores the question.