Wine to Water: A Breakthrough Charity

Posted by | Posted in Wine Events | Posted on 03-07-2013

Jessup Marion of Wine to Water

As a wine buyer, I attend quite a number of wine-related events — meeting winemakers touting their newest labels, hearing about breakthrough production methods, chatting about the latest trends, and the like. Rarely am I truly caught off guard by the story of an organization and its impact on the industry and society.

A few weeks ago, I attended the book release for Rock and Vine: Next Generation Changemakers in America’s Wine Countryby Chelsea Prince. The book is thoughtful and insightful, and full of lovely photos and tidbits about some rising stars in the U.S. wine industry. Many interesting people were in attendance, from the winemakers interviewed in the book to a myriad of press and wine trade folks from different organizations throughout San Francisco.

But one person and the company he represented caught and held my attention for the entire evening. His name is Jessup Marion, and his company is Wine to Water.

After speaking to Jessup for quite some time, I realized the story of Wine to Water needed to be broadcast. That night was the first time I had ever encountered this organization, and I’m sure many (especially on the West Coast) have never heard a word about it either.

Jessup, the acting Wine Director of Wine to Water, related the story of the company’s founding and its goal of giving the more fortunate people in the world an opportunity to change the lives of the less fortunate by bringing them one of the most basic needs for health and happiness: clean running water.

Read the rest of this entry »

A Long Island Wine Adventure

Posted by | Posted in Grape Adventures, Wine Reviews | Posted on 02-01-2013

As a sommelier and San Francisco wine bar owner, I try to turn every vacation into a wine trip. Trips to Europe easily fit the bill. On a recent excursion to Vancouver Island, I discovered the shockingly delicious German-style wines produced in the region. Countless journeys down into Mexico’s Guadalupe Valley have introduced me to the underwhelming-but-promising wine industry in Baja.

However, I was a bit hesitant to transform my most recent trip into a wine tasting expedition — I was venturing to Long Island. 

Courtesy of the Long Island Wine Council.

Sure, I’ve read the articles claiming Long Island is an AVA worth taking seriously. Lettie Teague’s pieces in the Wall Street Journal have intrigued me no less than the next adventurous sommelier. I have even poured a Long Island Riesling in my bar — while mostly met with shrugs, there were also a few surprised compliments.

Regardless of these biases and low expectations, I made my way to The Hamptons with enough room in my luggage for at least 12 bottles, just in case.

Here’s a little Long Island history. Wild grapevines have always been a part of the island’s flora. In the mid-1600’s, settlers trained the wild vines up arbors, introducing viticulture to the region quite early. In the late 1700’s, vitis vinifera vines were brought over from Europe to the Prince Nursery Company on the Western tip of the island. Mr. Prince was a pioneer of American viticulture, producing one of the first texts on the subject entitled “Treatise on the Vine.” He studied the soils of Long Island and concluded they were prime for growing grapes.

Viticulture didn’t begin in earnest until the 1970’s. Since then, many wineries have sprung up — sticking mainly to Bordeaux varieties, more due to their sales potential than their appropriateness to the climate and soil. Over time, Merlot and Cabernet Franc were singled out as ideal for the region, as well as Syrah.

Other, more obscure grapes such as Lagrein, Blaufrankish, Refosco, and Dornfelder are making their presence known, but will need a bit more time to show their true colors in the Long Island terroir. As for whites, the ubiquitous Chardonnay is of course omnipresent, but some Gewurztraminer, Riesling, and Pinot Gris can be found here and there.

The Long Island viticultural area today consists of three AVAs: the all-encompassing Long Island AVA, The North Fork of Long Island AVA, and The Hamptons, Long Island AVA.

Larry Perrine of Channing Daughters Winery explains that the North Fork experiences a slightly warmer climate than The Hamptons due to the Atlantic exposure of the South Fork. But in general, the climate for both regions is maritime, with long warm summers coupled with cooling oceanic breezes. These winds keep the fall season temperate and protect the vines from icy winters. Soils here are very complex due to their glacial Ice Age origin. Variations of loam and sand permeate most of the vineyard land, offering good drainage and perfect nutrient levels.

Shinn Estate Vineyards.

Winemakers and vineyard managers are getting experimental in Long Island, testing new trellising methods, different grape varieties, and natural winemaking techniques. The word “wild” can be seen on quite a few labels, referring to fermentation by native yeast (Shinn Estate Vineyards and Channing Daughters both have excellent examples of these wines). Orange wines produced predominantly with Chardonnay and Pinot Gris can be seen on some tasting room shelves next to bone-dry rosés perfect for quaffing on the beaches of The Hamptons. Wölffer Estate maintains an interesting block of vines to study various trellising styles right in front of their impressive tasting room. Not only are delicious wines coming from these AVAs, some excellent research is underway as well.

So how are the wines? I visited a number of wineries and sampled quite a few bottles on my own. These wines are almost Old-World in style with excellent acidity, moderate alcohol (most between 12% and 13% ABV), and piquant aromatics. They far surpassed my meager expectations.

And I was very happy to have left room in my bag for bringing back some samples — I returned to San Francisco with 11 bottles. Below the fold are notes on some wines that really stood out to me. Read the rest of this entry »

Rediscovering North Carolina’s Wines

Posted by | Posted in Wine Where? | Posted on 02-22-2011

Virginia Dare, courtesy of

When sommeliers, restaurateurs, and wine aficionados discuss the wines of the United States, the focus tends toward California, Oregon, Washington, and sometimes New York. It is not likely to hear any mention of, say, North Carolina in such a conversation.

But this was not always the case. In 1904, the top selling wine in the US was produced in the state of North Carolina. Virginia Dare, named for the first child to be born to English settlers, soon had demand far outweighing its supply. To appease the public’s thirst, California bulk wine was added to increase volume much to the dismay of Americans.

The wines of California were seen in the early 1900s as rough peasant fare, thought to taint the delicate complexity of North Carolina’s fine wines. Yet presently, most people — including those in the wine industry — have no idea that states like North Carolina gave rise to wine production in the U.S. and still produce excellent wines.

This article is intended to debunk a few myths regarding the wine industry in North Carolina, and to introduce a winemaker currently dealing with the difficulty of overcoming the biases of today’s wine world. Read the rest of this entry »

The Search for Argentine Terroir

Posted by | Posted in Grape Adventures | Posted on 01-24-2011

Antonio Morescalchi and Carlos Vazquez in the vineyards of Altos las Hormigas. Taken by Sarah Trubnick.

Antonio Morescalchi and Alberto Antonini of Mendoza’s Altos las Hormigas recently toured the East Coast spreading the word about their new “Terroir Project” wines. Altos las Hormigas has specialized in Argentine Malbecs since its founding in 1995. Recently, the winemaking and viticultural team of Antonini, Atillio Pagli, and Carlos Vazquez paired up with Chilean soil scientist and terroir specialist Pedro Parra to conduct research on the various productive regions of Mendoza.

After extensive soil mapping, certain areas were chosen for their excellent terroir via Parra’s micro- and macro-zoning techniques developed during his PhD work in Paris. The result? A deliciously revamped line of wines focusing on the concept of terroir, including the top-of-the-line Valle de Uco Terroir and Vista Flores Single Vineyard wines, both full of floral notes, spice, and a distinct minerality said to be characteristic of Uco Valley wines.

This brings forth an interesting point of discussion: the concept of Argentine terroir. In the words of Felix Salmon, financial journalist and Reuters blogger, regarding a recent tasting with Mike Evans of Vines of Mendoza: “I didn’t feel as though I’d discovered anything which could reasonably be called Argentine terroir… when you drink [the Argentine wine] you’re not tasting the unique characteristics of the land it’s grown on, in the way that you do with regional wines from… Burgundy… Maybe that’s hardly surprising, since there’s lots of good reason to believe that new-world terroir doesn’t actually exist.”

So is terroir just a myth in the New World? Read the rest of this entry »