Magazine Article

Winemaker Trials: Finding Consistency from Vintage to Vintage

 

The commitment Sonoma-Cutrer brings to researching and testing in its oak program has allowed the winery to offer a consistent style year to year
Sep 2016 Issue of Wine Business Monthly

Sonoma-Cutrer Vineyards was founded in 1973 on the idea of quality Chardonnay. The winery has since added Pinot Noir to its portfolio, but its production remains primarily with the white variety. Integral to the success of Sonoma-Cutrer has been its ability to deliver a consistent style vintage to vintage while also clearly distinguishing between each of its individual cuvées.

The winery produces five distinct Chardonnays annually. The Russian River Ranches and Sonoma Coast labels serve as its widely available appellation blends. At the reserve level, Sonoma-Cutrer also produces two vineyard designates, Les Pierres and The Cutrer. For the wine club, The Founder’s Reserve Chardonnay includes the winemaking team’s favorite small lot cuvée from that vintage, which changes year to year. Across all five brands, 85 percent of the Chardonnay is fermented in standard-size oak barrels. As a result, the barrel program is integral to winemaking at Sonoma-Cutrer.

Sonoma-Cutrer Barrel Trials

Sonoma-Cutrer winemaker Cara Morrison leads extensive annual barrel testing. The trials allow the winery team to taste test different coopers and wood sources as well as different toast levels and styles—every year, 60 individual barrel types are chosen, and two of each selection are ordered. All 120 barrels are kept in the barrel trial over a three-year period, and refilled each vintage to check the flavor profile after fermentation, for each of the three years. They have been doing the yearly barrel trials in this way for more than a decade.

To keep reading this article head on over the WineBusiness.com where the article appears free-for-all. It is also published in their September 2016 edition of Wine Business Monthly. You can find it there on page 60. 

Here’s the link to the article online: 

http://www.winebusiness.com/wbm/?go=getArticle&dataId=173071

View from the top of Pence Ranch

The TTB, the American wine regulatory body, today announces the official expansion of the Sta Rita Hills AVA by 2,296 acres. The controversial ruling will become effective on 21 September.

The expansion of this highly successful appellation comes as a result of a petition filed by geographer Patrick Shabram in March 2013 on behalf of the owners of Pence Ranch and John Sebastiano Vineyards, both of which will be fully included within the newly expanded area. Sebastiano Vineyard sits largely within the original AVA boundaries but a small portion of the property, currently planted largely to Rhône varieties, is currently outside the eastern border. Sebastiano Pinot Noir is planted entirely within the already established appellation. Sebastiano Vineyard has been a fruit source for numerous vintners from throughout Santa Barbara County. Pence Ranch, to the east of Sebastiano Vineyards, sits entirely outside the current appellation and will now be included in the newly expanded Sta Rita Hills AVA. Seen above is the view from the top of Pence Ranch which operates its own Pence winery and also sells fruit to vintners throughout the extended region. As a result of the approved expansion, any vintners who bottle wine on or after 21 September 2016 from vineyards within the expanded area will now be able to label those wines with the Sta Rita Hills AVA. Previously they would have been labeled Santa Ynez Valley.

The request for expansion was met with intense opposition within the Santa Barbara winemaking community.

To keep reading, heading on over to JancisRobinson.com where the article continues. This article appears there free for all. 

Here’s the direct link: http://www.jancisrobinson.com/articles/sta-rita-hills-expansion-approved

Subscription to JancisRobinson.com is £8.50 a month or £85 per year ($12.20/mo or $122 a year for you Americans) and includes searchable access to the new 4th edition of the Oxford Companion to Wine ($65) and the 7th edition to the World Atlas of Wine ($50) as part of the subscription costs, as well as interactive discussions on the Purple Pages. Click here to sign up.

To read more on the Sta Rita Hills expansion and the arguments both for and against: http://wakawakawinereviews.com/2014/08/06/an-in-depth-look-at-the-proposed-sta-rita-hills-ava-expansion/

Wine & Spirits Insider’s Guide

W&S Fall 2016For the Autumn edition of Wine & Spirits Magazine the team got together and created their 1st annual Insider’s Guide. As editor-in-chief Josh Greene describes in his opening letter for the issue, “Ask an elitest if you want a grand cru. Ask an obsessive wine geek if you want to discover a taste that’s new to you.”

The collection brings together 50 wine obsessives, as he calls them, that have devoted their time to understanding the specifics of a particular place and become a niche expert as a result. Each expert was asked to discuss the particularities of the place and select 6 wines that, when tasted, show the range of the particular region. As Greene explains, “We did not ask for favorites, or for them to present the wines they think of as “the best.” Instead, we challenged them to show the depth and breadth of their favorite region through a tight selection—six wines to consider if you want to know the region.”

It’s a wonderful issue with an incredible range of experts contributing their insights looking at some of the most classic, and the most exciting regions of the world, including a few that are devoted to particular types of spirits.

To see the impressive list of experts and regions, check out the Table of Contents here: http://www.wineandspiritsmagazine.com/subscriptions/entry/fall-2016

I am pleased to be part of the collection as well.

Speaking on Napa Valley Cabernet, Graeme MacDonald took me on a walk around his family’s vineyard in the historic To Kalon and we drank through classics of Napa Valley together and discussed them. I am thrilled to have written up his interview and to see him included among the distinguished group of people on the cover.

Sharing his love for Walla Walla Syrah, Kevin Pogue spoke to me about the unique growing conditions of the region and the way his selection of 6 wines showcase that. Pogue is a geologist that specializes in terroir and carries a deep and abiding love for Syrah, so he’s an apt speaker on the subject. It was a lot of fun to speak with him, then travel to Walla Walla to taste through the wines he suggested and write up his interview.

The folks at Wine & Spirits also asked if I would share my own insights on a region for the issue. As a result, I was able to select 6 wines that communicate the dynamic range of pinot from the Coastal Mountains of the Sonoma Coast. It’s so much fun to be a cartoon drawn in the same pages as so many friends that I admire and respect. It’s like we’re all there together enjoying one of the best wine parties on earth.

The 1st Annual Insider’s Guide just hit newstands this week. Check it out!

Cheers!

Coombsville 

Looking southwest from Farella Vineyard in Coombsville

Coombsville just south east of the town of Napa (see this map) became an official appellation in 2011 and since then has received steadily increasing attention. Even so, this subzone of Napa Valley is still one of the sleepier, less developed parts of the valley. Being well off the main arteries of Highway 29 and Silverado Trail means that Coombsville continues to be somewhere primarily for those in-the-know. Its relatively low-key status is consistent with its winemaking history.

Contemporary vineyards in the subzone reach back to the mid 1960s and the planting of the Haynes Vineyard. While the winery Ancien now farms the property and makes wine there as well, the site has also been a fruit source for wineries such as Failla and Enfield Wine Co who seek its cooler-climate Syrah and older-vine Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. Ancien has been able to preserve some of the Burgundian varieties planted at the site’s inception. The rise at the centre of Haynes offers a central perspective on the region. Just up the hill stands the warmer Caldwell Vineyard, planted just over 10 years later when Farella Park Vineyard was planted just north east of Haynes. Around the corner, Tulocay winery was also founded in the mid 1970s.

Nearby, well-known Meteor Vineyard was established in the late 1990s. Such sites helped establish the insider view of Coombsville as a source for good-quality grapes. It wasn’t until the late 1990s that vineyard-designated wines from Coombsville sites began appearing occasionally. Producers as well known as Paul Hobbs, Phelps Insignia, Vineyard 29, Quintessa, Pahlmeyer, Far Niente and Dunn, to name just a few, have all relied on fruit from the subzone to bring a unique blending component to their wines. This is thanks to a combination of soils and unique microclimate.

To keep reading, heading on over to JancisRobinson.com where the article continues accompanied by tasting notes from the region. This article appear behind a paywall. 

Here’s the direct link: http://www.jancisrobinson.com/articles/coombsville-napas-southeastern-extremity

Subscription to JancisRobinson.com is £8.50 a month or £85 per year ($12.20/mo or $122 a year for you Americans) and includes searchable access to the new 4th edition of the Oxford Companion to Wine ($65) and the 7th edition to the World Atlas of Wine ($50) as part of the subscription costs, as well as interactive discussions on the Purple Pages. Click here to sign up.

Paso Robles: Wine versus Water

Paso Robles Eastside Vineyard

While El Niño this year brought ample rains to northern California, overall rainfall was less than originally predicted (see Alder’s recent report) and southern California saw far fewer winter storms. Of wine regions in the state, hardest hit by lack of rain has been Paso Robles. Paso’s challenges with weather are not insignificant. It has become one of the best-known wine regions of the Central Coast, as well as a leader in California’s Rhône movement. Most famously, the Perrin family of Château du Beaucastel has affirmed the value of Paso Robles by investing with the Haas family in the Tablas Creek project. The work Tablas Creek has done to import Rhône varieties and clones to their site in Paso’s Adelaida district has been of benefit to Rhône producers throughout the United States.

During California’s winter rainy season this year, northern storms failed to reach as far south as Paso Robles, and the few warmer storms from the south did not reach over the mountains separating Paso’s county of San Luis Obispo from its southern neighbor Santa Barbara County (see the brown hilltops in this picture of an East Paso vineyard). The Central Coast region received so little rain this winter, reservoirs are only 30% full. The reservoirs are primarily for the townships of San Luis Obispo such as Paso Robles, Templeton and Atascadero. Land within the county but outside town centres has to depend for water on residential and commercial wells in the Paso Robles Groundwater Basin.

Lack of rainfall these last several years has failed to replenish the Basin’s water level. Water issues in the area, however, are only partially due to the recent California drought. There has been a sizeable increase in overall water use from a significant rise in county residences as well as from the expansion of irrigated agriculture. This surge in demand for water has led to wells throughout the county being severely depleted. In the most affected areas, wells are down as much as 80 to 100 ft (24-30 m) from their original levels. As a result, small home-ranch owners (generally single-dwelling one-acre properties) face the possibility of losing homes they can no longer keep hydrated. Many have resorted to trucking in water. Even so, water use in the region continues to be unregulated although it is one of the very few in the state where well use is unmonitored and uncontrolled.

To keep reading, heading on over to JancisRobinson.com where the article continues accompanied by tasting notes for 24 vintages of the Mondavi Cabernet Reserve rather evenly spread from 1966 to 2013. This article appear behind a paywall. 

Here’s the direct link: http://www.jancisrobinson.com/articles/paso-robles-wine-v-water

Subscription to JancisRobinson.com is £8.50 a month or £85 per year ($12.20/mo or $122 a year for you Americans) and includes searchable access to the new 4th edition of the Oxford Companion to Wine ($65) and the 7th edition to the World Atlas of Wine ($50) as part of the subscription costs, as well as interactive discussions on the Purple Pages. Click here to sign up.

Mondavi Retrospective

The Robert Mondavi 1966 Cabernet Unfiltered

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the Robert Mondavi Winery on the Oakville bench of Napa Valley. To celebrate, the winery put together a two-day event for 25 journalists from throughout North America, offering us the opportunity to taste 24 vintages of Mondavi’s flagship Cabernet Reserve, as well as spending time with many of the key winemakers and viticulturists of the winery’s history.

It is difficult to think of any other Napa Valley Cabernet of which such a historic vertical would be possible. Wineries with a longer history such as Beaulieu and Inglenook have nothing like the continuity evident at Mondavi. There have been subtle and sometimes not-so-subtle changes of direction in winemaking here but in essence the team and intentions have remained the same, and the ownership has changed only once when in 2004 the Robert Mondavi Winery was sold to the giant Constellation. Its founder died four years later at the age of 94 (see Jancis’s appreciation of Robert Mondavi).

When Mondavi started his eponymous winery in 1966 the goal was to show that California could make wines to compete with the very best in the world. A mere 10 years later two of Mondavi’s original winemakers – Warren Winiarski, who helped start the wine programme at Mondavi, and Mike Grgich, who soon took over – would go on to win the famous 1976 Judgment of Paris in red and white categories respectively that did so much to establish the region’s reputation for world-class wines.

To keep reading, heading on over to JancisRobinson.com where the article continues accompanied by tasting notes for 24 vintages of the Mondavi Cabernet Reserve rather evenly spread from 1966 to 2013. This article appear behind a paywall. 

Here’s the direct link: http://www.jancisrobinson.com/articles/mondavi-retrospective-a-napa-history-lesson

Subscription to JancisRobinson.com is £8.50 a month or £85 per year ($12.20/mo or $122 a year for you Americans) and includes searchable access to the new 4th edition of the Oxford Companion to Wine ($65) and the 7th edition to the World Atlas of Wine ($50) as part of the subscription costs, as well as interactive discussions on the Purple Pages. Click here to sign up.

 

The Santa Barbara County Collection

From JancisRobinson.com… This is the first of a series of articles about the exciting wines of Santa Barbara County. 

Santa Barbara County (SBC) wine country lies within geographical features unique to North and South America. A coastal mountain range runs north-south along the entire west coast of the Americas. However, in one location, halfway down the length of California, the range makes a brief turn east. The vines of SBC, then, sit within the only transverse mountain ranges of the two continents. One frames the wide, open Santa Maria Valley and the other hugs the north and south borders of Santa Ynez Valley, within which also sit the Sta Rita Hills, Ballard Canyon, and Happy Canyon of Santa Barbara appellations. Santa Maria and Santa Ynez Valleys, as a result, face the Pacific Ocean open-mouthed, unprotected by a mountain barrier. Both therefore receive a wash of maritime influence through nightly fog and a regularly timed afternoon wind. The combination also keeps SBC wine country relatively cool. In most of the county, then, cooler climate varieties do better, though the further east (or inland) one goes, the warmer it gets. As a result, some warmer-climate varieties dot the region as well. [See Elaine’s beautifully drawn map below.]

Santa Barbara Wine Country

Over on JancisRobinson.com, this piece continues in a series of three articles that survey the wines of Santa Barbara County via (1) Chardonnay, (2) Pinot Noir, and (3) the Rhones of Ballard Canyon. You can check out each of the articles in full there at JancisRobinson.com. The links to each of the three articles are below. 

Santa Barbara County: kicking off with Chardonnay: http://www.jancisrobinson.com/articles/santa-barbara-county-kicking-off-with-chardonnay

Santa Barbara County: Pinot Noir: http://www.jancisrobinson.com/articles/santa-barbara-county-pinot-noir

Santa Barbara County: Ballard Canyon’s Rhone varieties http://www.jancisrobinson.com/articles/santa-barbara-county-ballard-canyons-rhne-varieties-wip-tc

Later this week I’ll also be sharing the Instagram collection from the in-depth trip I did to Ballard Canyon this summer as we saw here last week from Paso Robles. 

Cheers!

World of Fine Wine 50th Edition

What is without question one of the finest wine magazines in the world, The World of Fine Wine, has just released it’s 50th issue. To celebrate, they created a special anniversary edition with an art piece commissioned specifically for the 50th cover, and devised a themed focus for the feature writing — the art of wine communication.

The feature writing, then, digs into various forms of wine communication with articles by some of the wine world’s thought leaders including philosopher Barry Smith, celebrated importer Terry Thiese, poet Judy O’Kane, and award winning journalist Mike Steinberger. I couldn’t be more thrilled than to have The World of Fine Wine editor, Neil Beckett, ask me to be one of the feature contributors as well.

For the 50th edition, I’ve written a feature considering visual communication of wine looking at examples in various media from across the world of wine including wineries in the United States, tasters in Europe, and my own work as well. The article includes illustrations from photography, painting, graphic design, and my drawings. 

Here’s a sneak peek. 

50th Edition cover World of Fine Wine

Wine Without Words: Visual Communication
Elaine Chukan Brown

For those of us deep in our love of wine, it is easy to forget how cryptic our language for it can be. Discussions of mouthfeel, structure, tannin and acidity can sound like code or a foreign language to the uninitiated. Even quite common aroma and flavor descriptions of wines can sound alien to novices, who find it hard to imagine that a grape-based beverage really can smell like blueberries, olives, and moss, or that such a combination could be appealing. Tasting notes that offer lengthy lists of such descriptions have been repeatedly criticized for their opacity. The challenge of wine communication, then, rests in finding ways to make wine more accessible, not less.

The challenge of wine

What makes it so hard to communicate about wine? Wine itself is a non-verbal experience. It comes to us in aromas, flavors, and texture on the palate. Such sensory experiences sometimes resemble others we’ve had with various fruits and other foods. But we can find it difficult to translate the non-verbal experience of our senses into words. To put that another way, wine’s natural home is in the senses. The words are given after.

To write about a sensory experience is to translate impressions from aroma, taste, and touch into the abstract realm of language. For those of us who are strongly rooted in verbal lives, the translation comes readily. We simply think through words. For those of us who are far less verbal, the distance between that initial sensory experience and its description seems an impassable gulf, one that fails to capture how it feels to love wine. Visual communication of wine offers a unique alternative.

The power of visual communication

Visual representations have only recently begun to appear in the world of wine. Over the past year, owner-winemakers Chris and Sarah Pittenger of Gros Ventre Cellars on California’s North Coast, for example, began to share photographic representations of their Pinot Noir that they call taste plates. Gros Ventre taste plates present a foraged collection of literal descriptors–raspberries, mushrooms, and dried herbs, for example–meant to capture the aroma and flavor profile of a particular Pinot Noir via a photograph. The effect is a photographic expression of a tasting note for their wine. The advantage of the Pittenger’s taste plates rest in their …

To continue reading this article you’ll need to pick up a print or electronic copy of Issue 50, December 2015, of World of Fine Wine.

The cost of subscription is not inexpensive, but the quality of writing you get, the independent reporting and tasting, is comparable to none. It’s a must have subscription for any passionate wine lover, regularly showcasing writing from the finest wine writers in the world including Andrew Jeffords, Hugh Johnson, Jancis Robinson, Jasper Morris and others. The magazine also strives to seek out and find fresh new voices. Additionally, the magazine reviews fine wine from around the world via a multi-taster panel. The advantage of this rests in its multiple perspectives. The tasting panels print reviews from each of the (usually three or four) tasters so that you can get a more in-depth view of each wine from three differing, respected palates.

To subscribe electronically: https://www.exacteditions.com/read/finewine – from the UK, or
https://itunes.apple.com/gb/app/world-fine-wine-magazine/id894045101?mt=8 – from the US

To subscribe in print: http://finewinemag.subscribeonline.co.uk/print-subscriptions/finewine

You can also purchase individual issues singly: http://finewinemag.subscribeonline.co.uk/back-issue

Illustrating Sonoma Cabernet

The editors of Wine & Spirits asked me this Fall to take on a rather unusual project. They wanted me to get to know the shape of Sonoma Cabernet. As Joshua Greene, W&S Editor, presented it to me, as a group they could readily articulate the shape of Napa Valley Cabernet. That is, there’s a recognizable character to the famed Valley’s Bordeaux reds but that of those same grapes grown one county West is less well-known. 

Sonoma County stands as the largest of the North Coast counties. With its reach all the way from the Pacific, across several river valleys and into the Mayacamas that separates it from Napa Valley, Sonoma’s growing conditions vary widely. A few pockets in the region capture the ideal warmth-light-and-drainage combination needed for Cabernet. Greene asked if I would focus in on four of these sites, dig into what makes them unique, and articulate how those conditions show in the wine. Through illustration. My task was to draw the sites and wines, not how they taste, but their shape on the palate. 

To be honest, this was one of the hardest projects I’ve done so far in wine. It was an incredible amount of fun at the exact same time that I felt like I was having to change fundamental aspects of my thinking to make it work. Illustrating the shape of a wine and its relation to its site isn’t anywhere near as straightforward as illustrating tasting notes as I usually do here. The resulting illustrations bare imagistic relation to the sites from which they arise but really are meant to show what you’ll find in the bottle. Have you ever had a wine that tastes like a mountain? I drew two. (They taste like very different mountains.)

Having put so much into the project it was a wonderful bonus to then have the editors select my work for the December cover. The illustrations themselves appear flat inside the magazine coupled with text about the project and each of the sites. The editors also printed the illustrations and placed them, as if labels, on bottles for what turned out to be the cover. Here’s a preview… 

Wine & Spirits Dec 2015

The Shape of Sonoma County Cabernet Sauvignon
text and illustrations by Elaine Chukan Brown

The Pacific coast, the Russian River and the Mayacamas Mountains shape Sonoma County. Vines fill the region, reaching up the ridge lines and blanketing the valleys.

The Coastal Range protects much of Sonoma County from the direct effects of the Pacific Ocean. But thanks to the Petaluma Gap and canyon folds within those coastal mountains, cool maritime air reaches vines throughout the county. It’s a Pacific chill that might only tickle Sonoma’s eastern side, but when I drink finely grown Sonoma County cabernet, I can taste that maritime breeze.

Perhaps it’s that I’ve been lucky enough to spend a lot of time in Sonoma vineyards. I’ve begun to form associations between the conditions of the site and the experience of the wine, to associate angular tannins with mountain vineyards, and fuller, rounder wines with warmer temperatures or more generous soils. The place a wine is grown begins to take shape on the palate. It’s an experience that differs from that communicated in a typical tasting note.

Tasting notes describe a wine’s …

To continue reading pick up a print or electronic copy of the December issue of Wine & Spirits Magazine, available now. The issue includes an in-depth look at five regions from Australia via the recent Sommelier Scavenger Hunt; the year’s best Champagne, Barolo & Barbaresco, US Cabernets, Porto, and others; a dining guide to Montreal (my favorite); a look at pairing food with sweet wines, and more. Here’s a peek inside the December issue: http://www.wineandspiritsmagazine.com/S=0/subscriptions/entry/december-2015

For more information on how to subscribe: https://members.wineandspiritsmagazine.com/Subscribe/Select

The OUP Blog & The Oxford Companion to Wine

The Oxford Companion to Wine

The Oxford University Press (OUP) officially released the 4th edition of the Oxford Companion to Wine in mid-September. In celebration of the new edition, the OUP asked some of the contributors to write an article that relates to important new entries in the 4th edition. The articles touch on ideas found in the Companion while exploring them in a way distinct from actual Companion entries, and are shared weekly on the OUP blog.

In the 4th edition, I wrote a new entry on the impact social media has had in the world of wine (as well as two others – a new one on “Sustainability,” and a complete update on “Information Technology”). As a result, the OUP editors asked if I would write an article on Social Media for their site. It posted today. Here’s a look…

Wine & Social Media

Social Media

Can Instagram really sell wine? The answer is, yes, though perhaps indirectly.

In recent years the advent of social media, considered to be the second stage of the Internet’s evolution – the Web 2.0, has not only created an explosion of user-generated content but also the decline of expert run media. It’s a change that has led to the near demise of print media, the decline of the publishing industry more broadly, and a revolution in what it means to sell wine.

Social media has dramatically changed how information is shared. Wine experts and consumers alike now more often share information about wine via social media channels such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and wine blogsNielsen studies show that Internet users spend more time on social media sites than any other type of Internet site. This has changed the way news is shared, and even what consumers see as relevant information. As a result, consumers today are swayed far more by the influence of their online peers rather than expert authority. It’s led (among other things) to fewer permanent wine critic positions.

Prior to social media, readers and consumers turned to industrial media sources, and established wine critics for expert opinion. There was no access to the mass of information freely available today online. Expert opinion, then, was communicated via…

To read the rest of this article, head on over to the OUP site, where it appears free. Here’s the link: http://blog.oup.com/2015/11/wine-social-media/#sthash.L3OZN1AR.dpuf