Daily Wine News: Wildfires Rage On

Posted by | Posted in Wine News | Posted on 08-24-2020

Big Basin Vineyards

In the San Francisco Chronicle, Esther Mobley reports that top Santa Cruz Mountains winery Big Basin Vineyards survived the fires, but owner Bradley Brown’s home was destroyed.

Felicity Carter does a deep die into the many, verifiably false claims of “clean wine” companies in VinePair.

In the New York Times, Eric Asimov explores German wines beyond Riesling. “It wasn’t that long ago that a great wine homogenization seemed to be occurring around the world. Countries like Italy and Spain, rich with traditional wines, seemed to reject their indigenous grape varieties in favor of internationally known grapes like cabernet sauvignon, merlot and chardonnay… Along with a new cast of grapes, looking at Germany’s diversity also requires a new look at its wine geography beyond the quintet of prime riesling regions: Mosel, Rheingau, Pfalz, Nahe and Rheinhessen.”

As South Africa lifts the ban on wine sales, many vintners fear it’s too late. Alexandra Wexler reports on the expected lasting damage in the Wall Street Journal.

Vicki Denig on the rise of low-intervention winemaking in Wine-Searcher.

Elsewhere in the New York Times, Kellen Browning reports on the scene in Napa and Sonoma Counties as wildfires rage on.

Ted Loos welcomes Beaujolais’s return in the Robb Report.

Wine Reviews: Lake County’s Hawk and Horse Vineyards

Posted by | Posted in Wine Reviews | Posted on 08-22-2020

California is on my mind and heart these days, as I watch from afar as these fires destroy so much. My thoughts and hopes are with all of you affected by these California fires. Stay safe.

There’s never been a better time to support California wineries, so today I want to shine a light on some interesting wines from Lake County, which has some special sites and exciting vineyards. These wines still don’t get nearly as much attention as wines from its neighboring counties, but that just means there is much to explore. I’ve tried to highlight different Lake County producers, and this week, I’m excited to dig into an old favorite: Hawk and Horse Vineyards.

Credit: Hawk and Horse Vineyards

After an exhaustive search for a site in the North Coast, David Boies settled on the El Roble Grande Ranch in Lower Lake, California, in 1982. It was an abandoned horse-breeding facility surrounded by 900 acres of wilderness. But the high-elevation (1,800 to 2,200 feet), red volcanic soils, pristine nature and access to water, showed potential for growing great grapes.

Co-owners Mitch and Tracey Hawkins took over daily ranch operations and planted the vines in 2001. Today, they have about 18 acres of grapes, mostly Cabernet Sauvignon with about an acre apiece of Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot and Petite Sirah. The winery still houses some horses and cattle, and is home to many red-tailed hawks (hence the name). The vineyards have been certified organic since 2004 and biodynamic since 2008.

I’ve tasted this Cabernet Sauvignon a few times over the years, and found it to be a consistently exciting and dynamic wine, showing structure, pretty fruit, and some unique and complex earthy, spicy tones. It seemed like a wine that could age, but I never had the chance to test that out, until now. In addition to the other wines in this tasting report, the winery is also selling a trio of library releases (which includes the 2008, 2009 and 2010 vintages) for $330. While that’s not cheap, if these wines said Napa on the label, I think folks would call this a “value.” Tasting these aged wines was an eye-opening experience that really allows the taster to understand the intricacies of this special place.

These wines were received as trade samples and tasted sighted:

Read the rest of this entry »

Daily Wine News: Wine Enthusiast Announces 40 Under 40 List

Posted by | Posted in Wine News | Posted on 08-20-2020

Tahiirah Habibi, part of Wine Enthusiast’s 2020 40 Under 40 list

Wine Enthusiast announces their annual 40 Under 40 Tastemakers list. “This year’s list includes sommeliers who use wine as a bridge between cultures, brewers who are building awareness of racial injustice and the founder of a nonprofit advocacy organization for restaurant workers that has raised millions in coronavirus relief funds for hospitality professionals. It also includes people who have hands-on roles in creating wines for big-name producers, whether in the vineyard or the winery.”

“Many fields have an expected career trajectory, a staircase that usually starts in college and continues until you arrive at the proverbial top. In reality, however, there’s never just one path, especially in wine.” Elsewhere in Wine Enthusiast, I highlight a handful of winemakers, importers, and retailers who found success in their wine careers after 40.

In Wine Spectator, Aaron Romano reports on the wildfires in Napa, Sonoma, Santa Cruz and Santa Lucia that are threatening wineries, vineyards and thousands of homes.

As Bollinger launches a straight Pinot Noir Champagne, Margaret Rand asks why they are rarely labeled Blanc de Noirs in Wine-Searcher.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel wants you to drink more riesling.

On his Good Vitis blog, Aaron Menenberg explores Washington State’s white wines.

Shannon Ridge Family of Wines has acquired Steele Winery from winemaker Jed Steele in a deal that includes the brand, the 23-acre property and 2,500 tons of crush capacity, reports Cyril Penn on WineBusiness.com.

Book Review: Chateau Musar: The Story of a Wine Icon, edited by Susan Keevil

Posted by | Posted in Book Reviews | Posted on 08-19-2020

I find it curious that the regions that gave birth to wine are today so lacking in world renown for their wine. Lebanon and its Chateau Musar seem to be the exception. The Académie du Vin has just put out a beautiful volume, Chateau Musar: The Story of a Wine Icon, about the history of winery and its owners, the Hochar family (pronounced ho-shar, as I learned). Front and center, of course, is Serge Hochar, the dynamic family figurehead who has inspired so many with his charm and chameleon, terroir-driven wines.

Chateau Musar was founded in 1930 by Gaston Hochar Sr., who fell in love with wine while studying medicine in Paris, eventually diverting from that career to one as a winemaker in Lebanon. Children soon followed, among them brothers Serge and Ronald, who would inherit the family business. Serge would study winemaking at the University of Bordeaux and take over winemaking duties from his father in 1959. Ronald—the practical counterweight to Serge’s ceaseless charisma—took ownership of all things financial.

But how does any winery survive in a land that refuses to be at peace? “People fought their wars on our land” is Serge’s assessment of it all: the wars and constant tensions to which the Hochars have sadly become accustomed. All they’ve ever wanted is to make wine worthy of the country they love, despite (and maybe even a bit for) its irascibility. And they have done just that, failing to produce wine just once (1976) in the Chateau’s ninety-year history.

As the book details, the Hochars and their team often risked their lives to make wine: pickers picking grapes beneath artillery and gunfire from dug-in militias; Serge, on several occasions, somehow avoiding execution checkpoints (where “the wrong last name or accent” could mean death) on the road from the Musar vineyards in the Beka’a Valley to the winery in Ghazir; and the time Serge arrived at the winery just moments before two rockets hit the road on which he had just been driving.

Through the decades, through so much very real danger, it’s Chateau Musar’s longevity that’s most astonishing.

When times were tough in Lebanon, as they often were, Serge and Ronald were wise enough to look for markets elsewhere. (And wise enough to move their families out of the country!) London is where the momentum really picked up, with the Hochars insisting on hosting promotional tastings themselves, knowing that they alone (especially Serge) could captivate wine buyers with the story of their wine. That today Chateau Musar is sold in 70 countries worldwide is a testament to their hard work, and frankly to the winery’s incredible story.

Family, Lebanon, and wine—that’s what the Hochars are about. With Serge gone (tragically, he drowned in the Mexico sea on New Years Eve 2014), the mantle has been taken up by Serge’s sons, Gaston and Marc, and Ronald’s son, Ralph. Family businesses don’t always survive generational hand offs, but Chateau Musar is looking to do so once again, and looks to be in good hands with these passionate, driven three. 

I actually learned as much about Lebanon in this book as I did the Hochar family. That’s only appropriate. Chateau Musar simply cannot be separated from its cultural and geopolitical context. My curiosity, too, has been piqued, as I’ll now be on the hunt for a bottle of Musar white—a wine Serge insisted be served after his reds—a blend of Obaideh and Merwah, two varietals I’ve never tried.

Next time I drink a Musar, I’ll think of the land it came from and the people who dared make it.

My Recommendation
This is a perfect wine lover’s coffee table book. The volume is nicely bound and full of beautiful photographs. I read it cover to cover and loved it; but practically speaking, I think it will to folks mostly as a pretty book to sit on the table for guests to thumb through.

Daily Wine News: Fire Season

Posted by | Posted in Wine News | Posted on 08-19-2020

Several fires, including one that broke out in Monterey County on Sunday night and two small fires in the Santa Cruz Mountains, have growers and producers in California’s wine country on alert, reports W. Blake Gray in Wine-Searcher.

In Wine Enthusiast, Sean P. Sullivan surveys reactions from small businesses, many of which are outraged and speaking out against the United States Trade Representative’s decision to uphold wine tariffs.

In the Wall Street Journal, Lettie Teague talks to Black women in wine, who share stories of the racism and sexism they’ve faced pursuing careers in a business where they’ve long received the message that they don’t belong. (subscription req.)

In Grape Collective, Dorothy Gaiter and John Brecher talk to Gary Farrell’s Theresa Heredia, the winemaker since 2012 and a third-generation Mexican-American woman.

For Wine Industry Advisor, Lenn Thompson talks to East Coast wineries about how Covid-19 restrictions are pushing them toward a reservation-only business model.

On JancisRobinson.com, guest contributor Jerry Smith profiles Paul and Shannon Brock, the couple behind Silver Thread Vineyard in the Finger Lakes.

The owner of Château Lafite Rothschild has announced the debut of a second wine, Hu Yue, from its Chinese estate, Domaine de Long Dai, reports Chris Mercer in Decanter.

Daily Wine News: A Call to Action

Posted by | Posted in Wine News | Posted on 08-18-2020

In VinePair, Diversity in Wine Leadership Forum’s creator, Maryam Ahmed, and advisor Elaine Chukan Brown pen A Call to Action for the Wine Industry: Diversity Organizations Need Your Support. “The long-term success of these groups depends upon their founders finding additional support, while also building eventual succession plans for leadership of the organizations. It’s a reminder that the genuine success of these programs depends on the rest of the wine industry and its supporters joining the effort.”

After much industry discussion about “clean wine,” the TTB released newsletter with “a reminder about health claims in alcohol beverage advertisements.”

In Wine Enthusiast, Sean P. Sullivan reports on how the pandemic has changed winery tasting rooms. “As wineries are forced to restrict the number of visitors and their interactions with them, some changes might be for the better.”

Elsewhere in Wine Enthusiast, Nils Bernstein delves into the history of Mexican wine, and offers a guide to Mexican wine today.

In Bloomberg, Elin McCoy explores Italy’s thirst-quenching pink wines.

On the blog for Eden Rift, Christian Pillsbury explains what makes a vineyard designate.

Neal Martin offers notes on the latest releases from Royal Tokaji Co. and Disznókő in Vinous.

Daily Wine News: What Labels Need

Posted by | Posted in Wine News | Posted on 08-17-2020

In order to attract more drinkers, says Wine Enthusiast’s Jim Gordon, wine needs clearer labels. “Winemaking techniques are also points of interest that could help consumers connect to bottles and support a brand’s vinous ethos. Wines made from organic grapes should clearly indicate their grape-growing practices. Same for the small minority of wines made with no added sulfites. Wines made in real barrels, rather than with oak products dunked in the wine, should say so, too.”

In the Washington Post, Dave McIntyre on the need for more ingredient transparency on wine labels.

In Wine-Searcher, Kathleen Willcox explores piquette’s potential. “In addition to having a halo of sustainability and upcycling (though the pomace would likely go toward compost), it has serious working-class roots – something both winemakers and consumers, who spurn what they see as wine’s exclusionary and posh vibe, find appealing.”

For MarketWatch, Joy Wiltermuth looks at how the pandemic is upending business in wine country.

Attracting younger consumers has been a largely unsuccessful endeavor for Bordeaux, but they’re trying again, says Natalie Sellers in Wine-Searcher.

In Wine Enthusiast, Jamie Goode explains the importance of understanding terroir (an excerpt from his book The Goode Guide to Wine: A Manifesto of Sorts).

In the Guardian, Alexis Buxton-Collins ponders how Covid-19 will change complimentary wine tastings at wineries.

Wine Reviews: Brengman Brothers’ Michigan Wines

Posted by | Posted in Wine Reviews | Posted on 08-15-2020

Michigan wines have fascinated me for a while, so I’m excited to be back this week tasting a bunch of wines from Brengman Brothers.

This family-run winery, now entering its 17th vintage, is based near Traverse City, Michigan, in the Leelanau Peninsula American Viticultural Area (AVA). The peninsula, which juts into Grand Traverse Bay, is home to more than 20 wineries. Cool climate grapes like Riesling thrive here, and the Bordeaux style blends from this region can show brisk, bright, Old World appeal, with lots of spicy and floral components.

The appellation, which was formed in 1982, is characterized by its proximity to Lake Michigan, creating an inland maritime climate which helps moderate temperature extremes. Lake effect snow can actually help protect vines against potentially devastating spring frosts, but, on the flip side, the climate allows for ice wine production in some vintages.

Brengman Bros. sources their grapes from three vineyards. In their Timberlee Vineyard (30 acres), Crain Hill Vineyard (25 acres), and Cedar Lake Vineyard (5 acres) they grow a wide range of grape varieties, from Chardonnay and Chenin Blanc to Muscat Ottonel, Petit Verdot, even some Rotgipfler. (I had to revisit my textbooks for that last one.) The winery is 100% solar powered, and equipped to move barrels outside for cold stabilization in the Michigan winter.

While I thought a few of the wines really stood out, they were all interesting, and only one missed the mark (for me). I can struggle with hot, heavy wines (especially in summer), so I found these wines a delightful, refreshing experience. They’re certainly worth checking out if you’re in the area or buying direct.

These wines were received as trade samples and tasted sighted. Read the rest of this entry »

Daily Wine News: Tariffs Update

Posted by | Posted in Wine News | Posted on 08-14-2020

In Wine Spectator, Mitch Frank reports the Trump administration will keep the 25 percent tariffs imposed on most French, German, Spanish and U.K. wines for the foreseeable future, forcing wine lovers to pay more and inflicting economic distress on importers, retailers and restaurateurs just as the hospitality industry grapples with the impact of Covid-19.

In Wine Enthusiast, Kerin O’Keefe surveys Italy’s organic wine boom. “In fact, the country is the world leader in terms of the percentage of surface area dedicated to organic wine grapes.”

In Vinous, David Schildknecht offers his impressions of the 2018 Mosel vintage.

In the San Francisco Chronicle, Esther Mobley looks at vice presidential nominee Kamala Harris’s great taste in wine.

Napa Valley Vintners has invested an additional $250,000 in the Adventist Health St. Helena/St. Helena Hospital Foundation mobile health unit to expand its usage and provide Covid-19 testing for farmworkers, seniors and low-income community members.

Bottled wine imports of China dropped by one third in both volume and value during the first six months of 2020, reports Sylvia Wu in Decanter.

In Decanter, Charles Curtis offers a guide to Michigan wine. (subscription req.)

Michelle Bouffard looks at the impact of Covid-19 on the Canadian wine market in Meininger’s.

Daily Wine News: Old Vines

Posted by | Posted in Wine News | Posted on 08-13-2020

Old vines in Lodi, CA. (Source: Lodi Native)

Research from the University of Cape Town shows that using old vine fruit earns winemakers more money. This effort to quantify the gains, says Michael Fridjhon in Meininger’s, may help keep these treasured old vines alive.

In Harpers UK, Madeleine Waters looks at Lebanon’s deeply troubled wine sector. “Lebanon’s own currency, the Lira, which has been artificially pegged to the US dollar for over 20 years, has lost around 80% of its value over the last few months. Lebanon imports around 90% of what it consumes, including – crucially for the wine industry, bottles, corks and equipment – pretty much everything apart from the grapes grown in its near-perfect terroir. All these imports need to be paid for in dollars. But wine is one of Lebanon’s only exports, and therefore of huge importance, especially at this time.”

Alkali Rye, a new beverage shop in Oakland, is prioritizing producers from underrepresented backgrounds. Esther Mobley has the scoop in the San Francisco Chronicle.

In the Terroir Review, Meg Maker talks with La Garagista winemaker Deidre Heekin about her holistic approach to “wine” and her recent cider projects.

“Mike Lucia owns an entire Northern California wine appellation. The owner of Rootdown Wine Cellars recently bought the 150-acre Cole Ranch Appellation for $2.7 million,” reports David Caraccio in the Sacramento Bee. “Cole Ranch is the smallest American Viticultural Area (AVA) in the country. The AVA has 55 acres of Cabernet Sauvignon (26.5 acres), Pinot Noir (10.2 acres), Merlot (7 acres) and Riesling (11.5 acres) vines in Mendocino County. Chardonnay grapes also are grown there.”

In Decanter, James Button explores Northern Italian regions beyond Barolo, Barbaresco and Prosecco. (subscription req.)

Andrew Jefford charts the rise of rosé in the Financial Times. (subscription req.)