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Pinot Noir NZ 2017

Every four years winemakers from across New Zealand put together a three day event celebrating Pinot Noir. This year, Pinot Noir NZ 2017 took place in its host city of Wellington bringing together around 1000 guests total from 20 countries, including top wine professionals from each of those 20 countries, the best winemakers from around New Zealand and eager wine lovers from all over the world as well. Morning sessions focused on a series of talks and seminars, and after lunch (each designed by one of the top chefs of New Zealand or Australia), afternoons brought well-focused regional walk around tastings. By the end of the three days we’d heard from speakers that included some of the brightest in the New Zealand wine industry and a number of the world’s top wine professionals as well. In the evenings top chefs from New Zealand and Australia would serve dinner.

Pinot Noir NZ was truly one of the best wine events I have ever attended. It was impressively designed around a central theme that allowed for both focused and dynamic discussion considering the value of wine from multiple angles. There were technical seminars as well as more philosophical ones; tasting panels meant to make us reconsider how we experience wine and others that asked us to explore our own views of wine quality. The three days were designed around the Maori notion of Tūrangawaewae, a concept that captures the importance of place in how we gain, recognize, and gather our strength. Each of the three days then took a different theme for better understanding the value of Tūrangawaewae. I’ll be writing more about Tūrangawaewae later this week.

Day 1 revolved around the theme of Explore and opened with a Maori welcoming ceremony. International speakers for Pinot Noir NZ were asked to be part of the group being received by the local Maori tribes, and so to also participate in the ceremony on stage with the Maori elders and other tribes people. I was a speaker in this year’s Pinot Noir NZ, and so was asked to be part of the opening ceremony, to be a delegate received and greeted by the local Maori. It was an overwhelming and special experience. It was hard to believe the honor, that I was being asked to be part of such a sacred ceremony. The rest of the first day focused on speeches about the meaning, import and relevance to our thinking of wine in Tūrangawaewae, and then turned to understanding the value of each of the country’s growing regions before we then went to the regional tastings.

Day 2 considered the notion of Embrace and focused on tasting panels that gave us the chance to continue the conversation with wines there to help deepen the conversation. An international panel of wine experts selected wines and shared their views of greatness. The diversity of perspectives thanks to the international nature of the panel was inspiring. We were then put to a sound tasting by Jo Burzynska where Pinot noir was matched to different types of music as we explored how the varying sound types had very real impact on our tasting ability.

On Day 3 the focus was on how to Evolve and included a series of talks that asked where we are headed as not only as members of the wine community but also more broadly (wine lovers are always also part of the world at large after all), and so with that in mind, how to move forward. I was asked to give the closing speech for day 3 speaking to the question of future communication while also tying together threads from across the three days.

A number of people asked that once it was available I share my speech and its transcript here. So, now that I have both I am posting them as requested. Thank you to all of you that asked for this. I very much appreciate it.

As I mentioned, my speech refers to the conversations from across all three days of the event. Much of what is referenced will make sense in context. But to clarify a few things – the speech names a number of speakers from earlier in day 3 and references points they raised – Maynard James Keenan, Sam Neill, and Jancis Robinson are all mentioned. A few of them had also been joking about the relevance of their astrological signs, which is why I begin with explaining mine. I also mention Marcel Giesen, who spoke as part of the panel on greatness on day 2, and Nick Mills who spoke as part of the opening consideration of Tūrangawaewae on day 1. Also, on day 1, Rachel Tualelei, Ropata Taylor, and Dame Anne Salmond spoke on the history of the Maori, which is referenced near the beginning of my speech without naming them. In the beginning I refer to First Nations peoples. I am using that phrase to address the idea of first people to any particular region more generally. Such people are often referred to as indigenous (which I do also say here) but in some cases, such as the Maori of New Zealand, the people are not indigenous to that land but nevertheless were the first people of that land. I am using the phrase in that sense. In Canada, for example, the term First Nations has a more specific reference to a particular group there in Canada so I mention that here to clarify I am using the phrase more broadly. It is apparent in the context of the speech.

The other speeches shared online are also worth watching. The people named above whose speeches are available online I have linked to  – click on their name and it will take you to the video of their talk. The link to all available speeches (including regional overview videos from the event) are available here: https://vimeo.com/pinotnoirnz 

Thank you most especially to the board of Pinot Noir NZ for inviting me to speak, and to Rachael Fletcher for so seamlessly guiding everything, to Mike Bennie for suggesting me, and to David Strada for inviting me to New Zealand. Thank you to James Tidwell and David Keck for so patiently letting me talk through aspects of my talk before hand. Your friendship makes all the difference.

Here is the video of the speech. It’s transcript immediately follows it.

Day 3 Elaine Chukan Brown from Pinot Noir NZ on Vimeo.

Future Communication: Pinot Noir NZ
Elaine Chukan Brown

So I want to get out of the way right away that I am a Tiger in the Chinese zodiac. That’s the terrestrial parallel to Maynard’s Dragon – totally tenacious, claws the shit out of everything to get where it’s going, full commitment, looks good in stripes. Right?

I’m also a double Virgo. Virgos are known for devotion. They’re defined by love, and most especially service. So, whatever they do, they do out of love, and total commitment to excellence. But then I have a Sagittarius moon, which means that whatever I do, I do with my hair on my fire, and I thank my daughter for making sure that it looks like it is.

It is an incredible honor to be part of an event that so completely honors and speaks from the position of the First Nations people of the country that’s hosting it. As some of you know, I am Inuit from Alaska, and the terrible truth is that First Nations in the United States are barely even recognized for still existing. And so I live my daily life interacting with people unable to see who I am. And so to be here, and to have been asked to be part of the opening ceremony, finding connection, communion, companionship between the First Nations people of New Zealand and all of us that are here to speak about Pinot noir, and all of the other wonderful things we’ve been speaking about, was completely overwhelming.

But in acknowledgement of that, I wish to introduce myself to you as I would if I was speaking with my Native community in Alaska. I actually called my mother yesterday to ask for permission to speak today, and for permission to say my Native name, which in Alaskan communities is private, as a way of sort of preserving what’s most valued for us. Obviously, I’m not going to worry about it if I’m crying, so you’ll just all have to deal with it.

My maternal great-grandparents are Paul and Anna Chukan of Bristol Bay, Alaska. My grandparents are Gordon and Anisha McCormick. My paternal great-grandparents are Stephen and Amelia Ivanoff, of Norton Sound, Alaska. My grandmother is Emily Ivanoff Ticasuk Brown. My parents are Mel and Katherine Brown. I am Unangan and Iñupiaq. That is Aleut and Inuit from Alaska. My name is Elaine Chukan Arnaqiaq Brown. My daughter is Rachel Marie Williams.

For indigenous peoples across the planet, our ancestors, our people, define who we are. I am my ancestors. But also for indigenous peoples across the planet, what are ancestors are is our land, the place from which we come. So to speak with you today is overwhelming because I bring them with me.

My great-grandfather, I was lucky enough to know growing up, and he was born at a time, in a place so remote, that he saw the first waves of outside people enter his region. And he would tell me stories about the first time he saw someone from China, the first time he saw a black person, the first time he heard a radio, the first time electricity appeared in the region. When the wars came. His region was part of the front lines of World War II, which of course brought more outsiders.

As an indigenous person in Alaska, he was denied the rights of citizenship until the second half of the last century, when Alaska finally became a state. And especially in light of Jancis’s insight about recent global politics, what I would like to offer – I hadn’t expected to – but what I would like to offer is the recognition of the strength, the resilience, and the incredible transforming power that he took to every aspect of his life. And if you could imagine a life lived, to survive such radical transformation as I just mentioned …

As a quick side note, to get across how bad-ass this man I grew up with was – he actually killed a bear with a spruce tree that he cut down, cut the bows off, and made a sharp tip on because he lived in Alaska at a time before guns. Totally hardcore.

But anyway, my point being – imagine a person that could remain utterly true to himself, utterly clear in his values, utterly persistent and determined that in all of that change of which he had no control of, he would be the best version of himself, and he would do it for the sake of his people and his family, and generations of people he would never meet.

I want to speak briefly about a kind of indigenous ethics that’s implied in what I’m saying, because I think it really ties in to a lot of the values that have been expressed here: notions of sustainability; the wonderful talk we heard here on the first day from Nick at Rippon and that experience of trying to honor the land and instill value across generations. For indigenous peoples, for myself being here today, my most central project, regardless of anything else I am doing, my most central project is to act in a way that loves people I will never meet so that I may honor those that made my life possible.

Some of you have heard this in terms of thinking in seven generations. We thank seven generations back whose lives brought us here, by acting for the sake of seven generations forward, many of whom we’ll never know.

When I asked my mom permission to speak with you today, she emphasized the point that she can’t help but think of my great-grandfather, who raised her, and that there’s a sense in which I’ve brought him here – a man who grew up so differently than everyone here. He’s come to New Zealand now. And speaking to Sam’s point about the unlikely, how incredibly unlikely is it for all of you to have to listen to an Inuit woman from Alaska talk about her great-grandfather in the middle of a Pinot noir conference.

But the unlikelihood runs far deeper than that. It’s unlikely that he even lived long enough to make my life possible. We heard on the first day about the struggles of the Maori people. It’s a struggle that is utterly consistent with indigenous peoples all over the planet. And the idea that any First Nations are still alive and vibrantly breathing and clearly present here with all of you is a miracle. And so for me, in thinking how do I love my future descendants and honor those who came before me, that’s what I carry in everything I do. It is a miracle that I am here, and it is no thanks to me that that is true, and it is little thanks to me that anything I have done might have significance. It is totally, absolutely, because of the miracle of people that worked so hard to be resilient.

And what I want to offer is that this is a gift that any of us can have. I am profoundly aware of it because of my particular heritage and background and the way that I was raised, but part of what we’ve been talking about and part of what this whole program has so intensely tried to instill in each of us is that we have to fucking care about what we do, right? And what’s to come. And again, it’s because of caring for people that we will never meet. And the way that we can do that is to seek in every single step excellence in what we do.

Just like Marcel said yesterday, “Quality comes slowly over time, a step at a time.” And this morning we heard – I can’t remember now who said it – but the idea that perfection is a lot of little steps done well. That’s what I’m speaking to. We all have that opportunity.

In terms of how that shows up, I want to speak briefly – some of you heard yesterday, I apologize, but I am a recovering philosopher, and again, like alcoholism you deal with it every day. So, I wanted to use that as a background that I have to just very briefly speak about the idea of expertise because part of the struggle, I think, we face now in a world that is so full of uncertainty is this grief for the loss of the expert. Any of us in this room, because we’re of drinking age, were born into a time where the expert guided how the world moved, and decisions were made very much in a top-down model. People devoted themselves to intricate, thorough-going study, and that information would trickle out to the rest of us. So it was very much a top-down, triangular model.

And what’s happened now is the proliferation of information, thanks to the Internet and Jancis is largely to blame for us wine-lovers, right, through so many brilliant reference books. With that proliferation of information, that triangle has flattened and spread. And we’ve created a kind of horizontaling of information sharing. And, with that, it becomes very difficult to see where the expert remains.

This will tie back to the bear hunting and things like that, by the way, just so you know …

So in this grief of loss of the expert, it’s unclear what the expert’s role is anymore. And so briefly, I just wanted to ask – what is an expert? Clearly the accessed information, even the creation of information as we study the world and learn more about it is paramount there. But with this proliferation of information, there’s a way in which that’s kind of the part we’ve lost. Everyone has access to a database, so a lot of the questions you hear about the loss of the expert come back to, “Well why do I need that person? I can look it up on Google.”

But what remains is an intimacy with the information, an understanding – how do I interpret this? How do I recognize what’s valuable? How do I know it’s pertinent to now, to what I need to know now? And so that sense of intimacy we still desperately need from experts; we see all sorts of political bad decisions happening and it’s because people don’t know how to interpret properly the kind of information that they are being inundated with. We still need that kind of help. But part of what goes along with this – the way people become experts that are relevant is that we trust them. They’re reliable. We believe them. What they say makes sense. We feel a connection.

Now studies of Millennial consumer groups done recently have shown interesting buying patterns. And I’m actually not interested in talking about Millennials, except that I think because of when they were born, they come onto the scene as this shift from triangle to horizontal is happening. And so they’re, in a way, the purest expression of the impact of that change in information society.

So what we’ve seen studying Millennials’ consumer habits and interests is that advertising has almost no effect. Millennial populations, again, in these surveys, have said only one percent of the respondents actually make a purchase based on advertising that they see, whether it’s on television, or in print, or online. Instead, what they’re doing is turning to companions, to actual people around. And they’re doing this very much online, through various online sources – blogs, and various types of social media.

But when you dig deeper into this, and this links back to the other points I’ve been making – when you dig deeper into this, what you find is that what they’re searching for is intimacy and connection. And it is that that makes people respond. And it is from that that leads to people changing their minds, finding what they care about, learning to recognize who they are, and making purchases as well.

This obviously is relevant to a lot of the people in the room who are vintners, and are interested in figuring out how the heck to get people to buy a bottle of their wine. Well, it’s not advertising, which respondents said feels as if they’re being sold something. It’s too pat. It’s too formulaic. And it feels like being tricked or manipulated. And so instead what they’re responding to is someone they feel a connection to, that they can trust and believe, and think, “Oh, I recognize something of myself in them; if they like it, I must too.”

And so what’s happened is that we’ve come into a very peculiar time, where our own individual particularity, our very specific commitments, the exact thing we care about, and the ways that we express those things, are the most relevant in terms of how we recognize who we want to believe, what we want to buy, how we want to communicate.

Duncan actually asked me to speak on future communication. There is no one in this room that knows what this means, and so I worked through it in this way: what I want to suggest is that the future of communication starts in what I’m describing. We desperately still need people to risk the life of the expert; to commit so thoroughly to what they do that their life and its legacy, as Maynard referenced, reverberates beyond them to people they will never meet. Some currently alive now, and others that simply come down the road, generations away. We desperately need that.

But what I’m suggesting is that we all have the opportunity to do that now. Everyone in this room can choose that life. Nick is so fortunate, as he expressed on Tuesday, to have been born into a circumstance like his at Rippon, and he’s doing an incredible job at honoring that, and carrying that forward. And that is fantastic to see. But very many of us don’t have that situation, right. So what do we do? How do we translate that model into something we can claim?

And what I’m saying is that if we recognize that we’re all looking, now, in the midst of this chaotic world, with this mass proliferation of information that we all struggle to interpret, we recognize that we’re looking for communication, connection, and intimacy. And we seek to act in excellence, to cultivate that in very small ways, in every little moment that we do – and share that openly. We can’t expect that benefits of the old top-down model anymore; reverence doesn’t come in the way it used to, for those of us who give ourselves to lifelong projects. Many people get attention very quickly, right? But connection and intimacy is greater than that. And the satisfaction instead comes from knowing that in committing to that excellence and acting from service, our effect can reverberate out in ways we cannot even predict.

With that in mind, I really want to thank David Strada for inviting me to New Zealand. It’s been a remarkable trip. I know Mike Bennie was kind enough to kind of pester Duncan and Ben about me, and I really appreciate that, too. But most of all, I thank Duncan and Ben for inviting me to speak today.

You have allowed me to bring my family here, and to make real something that my great-grandfather was open enough to know not in any specific way could happen, but that if he did well by his family, by his people, and in every act he took, that those that came after him could surpass anything he imagined, and arrive eventually, on a country he barely knew was real.

What I’m describing might seem a little alien, perhaps. But I just want to ask each of us to consider very simple questions, and to ask them of ourselves again and again and again, and even sometimes every step: what do you want to love? How can you be of service today? How will you exemplify excellence in any small thing you do?

Thank you.

Copyright 2017 all rights reserved. When sharing or forwarding, please attribute to WakawakaWineReviews.com.

Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir Redwoods & Isolated Ridges
Elaine Chukan Brown

that’s me in cartoon thanks to Wine & Spirits Magazine

A few years ago, a 2007 Anthill Farms pinot noir from Peters Vineyard in western Sonoma shocked me with its energetic combination of earthy depth and high-toned aromas. That, I think, is when I really caught the Sonoma Coast bug. Since then, I’ve visited Sonoma’s coastal vineyards again and again, hoping to better understand the intricacies of these mountains.

The west Sonoma coast fascinates me partially because of the unique growing conditions of every site. From the steep, redwood-dense slopes of the north, mere meters away from the Mendocino border, to the exposed high-elevation peaks of Fort Ross–Seaview, all the way south to the fog-dripped slopes near Freestone and Occidental, each vineyard feels like its own isolated sovereignty. Thanks to the ruggedness of the region, many vineyards grow in remote reaches of the mountains out of sight of any other. Most of all, my fascination stems from the way this region’s pinot noirs express that diversity.

Sonoma’s coastal range draws a line between the warmer inland temperatures of the county on one side and the cold Pacific air mass on the other. Canyons and low points in between allow fog and cool air to sneak into the inland side of the county. Those two forces—the warmth of the continent and the chill of the ocean—interact to create unique microclimates tucked into the folds of the mountains.

The San Andreas Fault also contributes to the region’s viticultural diversity. The mountains here formed over millennia as the Pacific and continental plates crashed against each other, creating a complicated mineral quilt: shale and sandstone sometimes reduced to a powdery topsoil, volcanic rocks, and incursions of serpentine, quartz, greenstone and chert.

It’s a complex region. The six wines below only begin to scratch the surface, but they’ve become some of my most reliable signposts.

The Cool Southlands

The Freestone Valley—a particularly cool spot in the coast range—sits just north of the low valley of the Petaluma Gap. Here, vineyards are often inundated with dense fog and cold temperatures even in…

To continue reading, head on over to Wine & Spirits Magazine’s website where the article is available to read for free. As it continues it gives an overview on the unique growing conditions of Sonoma’s coastal mountains and also describes six wines that help understand the region. 

Here’s the link to the article: http://www.wineandspiritsmagazine.com/news/entry/sonoma-coast-pinot-noir-redwoods-isolated-ridges

3

The Innovation & Quality Conference 

Cyril Penn opening IQ

The annual IQ (Innovation & Quality) Conference happened in St Helena last week bringing together wineries from all over the Western United States with suppliers of cork, barrels, screw caps, and other materials needed in making wine. Central to the conference is a trials tasting tent in which vintners from the West coast United States share winemaking trials – the results, the insights gained, any pertinent data, and the wines themselves to taste. Trials range from side-by-side experiments on cellar techniques such as differing lengths of extended maceration alongside straight to press wines from the same fruit, or extended aging in different types of vessels, to vineyard trials such as side-by-side clonal tastings on Pinot noir, or side-by-side tastings of the same clone grown in different soil types. If you time it right, you can spend the whole day just attending a series of trial tastings of this sort.

In addition to the trials tent there are also a series of discussion sessions, some with wine to illustrate, some without. The sessions are great because as hard core wine-geek-fest as the tasting trials are, hearing the most current innovations in wine technology or knowledge from the world’s top experts on whatever the particular matter is just does not get old. I got to attend both a session on the most current advances in cork quality as well as a session on tracking phenolic make up in Cabernet Sauvignon from the vineyard into the winery and through to bottling. It was awesome.

Advances in Cork Quality

Miguel Cabral of Amorim Cork

The Cork Quality session was rather mind blowing. In the last two years two cork suppliers – Amorim Cork and Cork Supply USA – have developed technology that has made it possible for them to release natural cork guaranteed to be TCA free. The implications of that advancement alone are mind boggling for the global wine industry. The technology is equally impressive.

Miguel Cabral of Amorim Cork came from Portugal to present to attendees about their ND Tech system. Corks guaranteed to be TCA free thanks to ND Tech are now available in the United States. Producers of premium wines in the United States have begun bottling wines with the guaranteed corks. From what I heard wines from both the 2014 and 2015 vintages have been bottled using the ND Tech corks depending on the vintner’s aging regime prior to bottling. Three producers – Jennifer Williams of Arrow & Branch, Jennifer Rue of Invisible Hand Winemaking, and Andy Erickson of Favia Wines – each have bottled some wines with the ND Tech guaranteed corks. The session included a winemaker panel of these three producers giving their thoughts briefly on the advantages of natural cork over other closure types, while David Ramey of Ramey Wines also spoke in favor of DIAM. Some of his thoughts are included here in the final section on Implications of the new guaranteed corks.

Greg Hirson of Cork Supply USA shared information about their DS100+ system, which is also able to produce corks guaranteed to be free of TCA.

TCA Studies

Peter Weber of the Cork Quality Council spoke briefly about advances in cork quality, sharing our current knowledge of TCA in preparation for us to then hear the most current innovations as seen in ND Tech and DS100+.

As Peter explained, TCA in cork is one of the issues in the wine industry that we know the most about thanks largely to on going research done by ETS. The original, groundbreaking study on TCA was done 18 years ago. Results from that original study transformed how we dealt with cork and led to massive reductions in instances of TCA in wine.

Prior to that 18-year old study, understanding of TCA testing was a simple binary system. Cork was recognized as either good or bad but most testing was done prior to the cork getting wet. Such tests were based entirely on human nose detection so recognition of the chemical was extremely limited and unreliable. An entirely new method of testing TCA was developed as a result of the 18-year old study that led to a huge leap in accuracy. Additionally, we learned more insight on the relationship between cork and wine, better realizing how TCA was released into wine specifically because it had gotten wet – that is, it is not enough to check a dry cork as TCA is released over time from the cork becoming wet – which transformed our understanding of quality control in the bottling and storage process as well.

Since 2001 new quality control programs on cork production and use have been in place leading to TCA levels today being 96% lower than they were in 2001. (Again, mind blowing.)

Peter clarified too that in studies on cork quality TCA is understood as a specific chemical contaminant in cork. In a general wine context many wine professionals refer to cork taint in general as TCA, when in actuality there are other forms of cork taint besides TCA. Other types of cork taint more generally depend on cork cleanliness rather than the specific chemical presence of TCA. High quality cork producers, then, implement cork steaming procedures that can remove other forms of cork taint while preserving the cork’s structural integrity. TCA cannot be removed in this way, however, and instead TCA infected corks must simply be discarded from use in wine and instead used for other purposes such as cork tile or board.

ND Tech

Miguel Cabral of Amorim presented their ND Tech system, which has already begun supplying guaranteed corks to the United States wine market. As Miguel clarified, most recent work on improving cork quality has revolved around eliminating TCA. For vintners, TCA serves as ground zero in storage issues. The goal is to eliminate it in cork so that more sophisticated aspects of cork quality can be studied instead. Both Miguel and Greg Hirson of Cork Supply USA, for example, agreed that now that they have successfully created technology to eliminate concerns of TCA in cork research, resources can now be directed to our better understanding oxygen transfer rates of cork in order to also better understand wine aging.

The ND Tech system has been developed over several years using equipment that tests each individual cork for TCA. Today, ND Tech equipment is able to verifiably guarantee that TCA levels in any particular cork are below 0.5 nanograms per liter. Human ability to detect TCA has a threshold of 2 nanograms per liter. So, ND Tech effectively guarantees any screened corks will have no detectable TCA.

To guarantee the ND Tech system’s effectiveness Amorim created several internal cross-checking procedures but they also had the system sent internationally so it could be verified by third-party studies. Both the Australian Wine Institute and Hochschule Geisenheim University found the system to be 100% effective.

Currently, in 2017, ND Tech is able to screen 42 million corks per year. That number will continue to increase as the testing rate is dependent only on the number of ND Tech screening machines they have in place.

DS100+

Greg Hirson, the Director of Tech Services for Cork Supply USA, shared the technology behind their DS100+ system, which also tests corks to guarantee they will be TCA free. The DS100+ technology is utterly distinct from that of ND Tech but both have the same final result of guaranteed corks with TCA levels below 0.5 nanograms per liter.

The DS100+ technology was finalized slightly later than ND Tech and so currently Cork Supply USA is able to verify 20 million corks per year. Again, that number will increase as it depends only on the number of machines they have in place.

Greg did a great job at helping to make sense of what it means to say that any single cork will have less than 0.5 nanograms per liter. He walked us through extensive calculations to ultimately show that 0.5 nanograms per liter of TCA in any one cork is actually equivalent to being able to guarantee there will be not even a single fruit fly in a 40 acre vineyard. Did you catch that? NOT EVEN A SINGLE FRUIT FLY IN A 40 ACRE VINEYARD. (AGAIN, MIND BLOWING.) Even more impressively though, it is also equivalent to being able to screen for and eliminate that metaphorical fruit fly in less than 20 seconds, as the DS100+ technology works that quickly.

Implications

While screw cap made huge improvements in the world of wine in terms of radically reducing TCA, and certainly in eliminating TCA caused by closure, screw cap closures also have their own issues including bottle reduction and changes in aging from lack of oxygen exchange. It isn’t always ideal for a wine to barely evolve for years in bottle. Various adjustments in screw cap technology have been made to address these issues.

Synthetic or conglomerate corks are also a reasonable option in many cases. Since the focus of the session was on guaranteed natural corks there was not extensive consideration of synthetic corks. However, the winemaker panel did include some consideration of DIAM corks. David Ramey explained that he has done his own winery trials considering screw caps, vino lock glass closures, a range of synthetic cork types, various natural corks and DIAM. Today he uses all DIAM type closures across his wines, adjusting the DIAM quality level to quality needs for wine type. As he explained, in his view, OTR, or oxygen exchange rate, is the most important part of cork (or closure) quality as it allows proper aging of wines. When a bad cork prevents a wine from reaching its full aging potential we tend to treat it as if the wine has gone bad, when in reality it is that the wine had a bad closure. The inconsistent density and structure of natural cork works against standardizing expectations for such a closure. DIAM, on the other hand, is made to deliver expected levels of structural integrity and so OTR can be better expected as well. While David admits DIAM may not be the only solution he turns to in the long run, currently he has found it to be the best option.

For those reliant on natural corks, it isn’t clear that every wine needs a cork guaranteed to be free of TCA. Different wine types and different wine markets have very different needs. It might make more sense for wines bottled to drink the same year they are released to be bottled under screw cap, for example. Or, it might simply make sense for less expensive wines to be bottled under standard cork. The risk of small portions of TCA might be economically reasonable on less expensive wine.

Guaranteed TCA free cork does, however, make a lot of sense for premium wines expected to sell at higher prices. Public perception still prefers cork for fine wines, for example. Additionally, premium wines tend to be made from more structural varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon or Nebbiolo that benefit from oxygen exchange in bottle loosely speaking. Additional cost (which, unfortunately, I don’t have the details on for these corks) can be more readily absorbed in premium wines and there is also far more to lose from a bad cork on expensive wines even if it is a relatively low percentage of TCA. Additionally, such producers gain the advantage of eliminating the cost of back up bottles when sending samples to distributors or writers.

Post update: the article has been edited to add additional comments on reasons to consider DIAM cork. 

Copyright 2017 all rights reserved. When sharing or forwarding, please attribute to WakawakaWineReviews.com.

 

 

Making Vermouth:
How one winemaker turned “failure” into a successful product

Elaine Chukan Brown

winemaker Dan Petroski

VERMOUTH TENDS TO BE thought of as an apt blender in a martini—a second thought to making a fine cocktail. Its history as a modern beverage dates back to the 1800s and is celebrated on its own, as well, and as an integral part of a robust food and wine culture in Europe. Recently, the beverage has gained some notoriety as part of the craft spirits boom in the United States. Small-batch vermouth has cropped up across the continent with domestic examples appearing from wine regions in New York, Oregon, California and elsewhere.

In Napa, Massican Winery’s vermouth has become a beloved staple of the wine-geek community and has found its way into bars in California and New York. Massican owner and winemaker Dan Petroski brought his love for Italian culture, food and wine to making his dry, white wine-focused brand. Several years ago, however, a mishap in the cellar led to him adding dry vermouth to the portfolio.

As Petroski explains, as an aromatized wine, vermouth offers an interesting opportunity for the vintner unsure of what to do with a less desirable wine.

Wine Mishaps

“The vermouth started out as a trial with Tocai,” Petroski said. “The vermouth was never meant to be. It was purely a wine trial, but in failure we saw an opportunity.”

Though the white wine variety Tocai Friulano has been legally renamed Friulano to avoid international naming confusion, it is still affectionately referred to simply as Tocai in Northeastern Italy. In Friuli, Friulano is one of the signature grapes of the region. In California, Petroski has been able to work with hundred-year-old vines of the cultivar first established by Italian immigrants farming the variety for their own use. Such fruit serves as an integral component of Massican’s flagship white blend, the Annia. It also ended up providing the base for his vermouth.

In working with Friulano for Annia, Petroski wanted to investigate different methods of clarifying the juice prior to fermentation, but the trial led to an off-wine.

“Tocai is a very reductive variety,” Petroski said. “It is important to clarify the juice prior to fermentation in order to ensure clean aromas and flavors. We wanted to test this process. After whole-cluster pressing the Tocai to tank, we mixed the tank and immediately barreled down one barrel—55 gallons—of wine. We cold settled the juice at 50° F for two days and racked off the clean wine. The remaining heavy lees and sediment…

To keep reading this article turn to the February issue of Wine Business MonthlyThe rest of the article looks at Dan’s process in formulating his own vermouth, the basic process for making your own vermouth, and key lessons Dan thinks anyone wanting to experiment should keep in mind.

In the print edition the article appears on page 118. However, you can also view it for free online by either downloading the entire February issue as PDF, or using their online click book option. The article appears on page 118 in each of the electronic versions as well. 

Here’s the link to download the February issue or use the click book: 

https://www.winebusiness.com/wbm/?go=getDigitalIssue&issueId=9023

 

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Marlborough

with Lauren Eads on a boat heading to Waterfall Bay

Marlborough turned out to be one of my favorite parts of our travels through New Zealand. The diversity of wine styles with good quality available on the ground there was both surprising and inspiring as I was able to find stand out wines of Chardonnay, Pinot, Syrah, Methode Traditionelle, Riesling, Gewurztraminer, and, yes, Sauvignon Blanc. What is available from Sauvignon there in Marlborough covers a far more significant range than we have any idea of here in the US market. Our selection here is far more limited.

While there is something very old school country about the central parts of Marlborough in its feel, the region also holds unbelievable beauty. Here’s the Instagram collection from our time on the ground in Marlborough.

Surprise pleasure of the trip so far – Impressive tasting on Methode Traditionelle wines from Methode Marlborough. All made from Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier, Chardonnay in blend or individually, aged at least 18 months on lees though most shown here much longer. Wines from left: Daniel Le Brun Rosé NV, Tobu Rewa Reserve Blanc de Noir 2012, Johanneshof Cellars 2008 EMMI Brut, Nautilus Cuvée Brut NV, Hunter’s MiruMiru Reserve 2011, Spy Valley 2011 Echelon, Huia Blanc de Blancs 2010, Allan Scott Cecilia Vintage, No 1 Family Estate Virginia Cuvée. A range of styles here but good quality and pleasure through each of the wines. #nzwine @nzwinegrowers @nzwineusa @hunterswinesnz @huia_vineyards @nautilusestate @tohuwines @spyvalleywine @johanneshofwine @allanscottwines @no1familyestate @methodemarlborough

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Nice to see the elegance that develops in aged Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc. A much broader range of styles showing through a large regional tasting of current and library releases of the variety than what appears in the United States. Here one of the stand-outs: the Catalina Sounds, Sounds of White, 2013 Sauvignon Blanc from Marlborough’s Waihopai Valley, made only in large oak foudre to bring texture with minimal flavor influence, bottled after six months. Nice subtlety with notes of rose leaf, elderflower and pleasing delicate green accents. Delicate and subtle with still persistent palate stimulation through a long finish. Nicely done. Really pleasing example in the 2015 release as well. #nzwine @nzwinegrowers @nzwineusa @catalinasounds

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Oh heck YES. Get your neck on one of these. #nzwine @nzwinegrowers @nzwineusa @zephyrwine

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Oh thank the lord god I am on a boat. Marlborough Sounds heading to Waterfall Bay. #nzwine @nzwinegrowers @nzwineusa

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To read more on beautiful stand out examples of Sauvignon Blanc from Marlborough: http://wakawakawinereviews.com/2017/01/27/the-pleasing-surprise-of-marlborough-sauvignon-blanc/

Copyright 2017 all rights reserved. When sharing or forwarding, please attribute to WakawakaWineReviews.com.

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North Canterbury

limestone hills in Waipara Valley and throughout North Canterbury

As any of you that know me personally or have been following my writing know, I am slow to form opinion when it comes to wine growers, winemakers, wine regions or styles, preferring to take a step-back-while-go-in-depth observational approach. This style of wine study and research works for me as I hunt around listening and observing a person, place, or wine-in-the-glass, letting the information come into view to reveal its own shape.

Listening to people I follow along what they say, listening for what beliefs, values, and other information must be true for them to say what they say, and listen in this way for a long time mapping them in my head before asking questions. I wait until enough of their personal landscape forms in my mind for me to see what questions I have – where I am missing information and need more insight to understand them, and if the implied views I hear from them are accurate to what they mean.

I do something similar with wine though the mapping happens differently there, less from what is said, of course, and more through something like the wine’s aesthetic shape and how it points to where it’s from and what it wants to be.

All of this is prelude to say, I feel as though I have a lot more study to do on North Canterbury wines before I can make more developed assertions about the region. In the meantime I have a range of observations from tastings through the place that make me curious to better understand the area’s big picture.

While there we did regional overview tastings beginning with a large tasting of wines from all over North Canterbury, then moving through a series of overview tastings focused on smaller subregions of the area. We homed in on Waipara and Waikari Valleys as well as Weka Pass and Banks Peninsula while there, on aromatics whites, then on Chardonnays, and finally on various reds.

The variation in quality through the tastings was significant. There was a broad range between top stand out wines and others that felt more timid, as if the people behind them were still discovering what it means to make wine in a more nascent way. There is also a very light, almost watery character to some of the wines from North Canterbury – though I am reluctant to use the word watery as it implies thinness in a way I don’t quite mean – that worked against its structure at times. There was also significant contrast in structural finesse among the wines that highlighted the importance not only of finding the right site but also of its necessary farming. Site quality is of course relevant to any region and some area’s are further into understanding how that shows up than others.

Overall my impression from the regional tastings of North Canterbury was that it feels relatively early in that process – as if there is potential for greatness there and people are still doing a bit of hopping about to find the sites that can bring it with the right farming.

The structural nature of the wines and that lighter character compels me at the same time. It’s something I feel drawn to keep an eye on and hopefully return to at a slower pace, walking sites that have shown themselves well with their growers to understand what has made them leap to the fore over others.

In some subzones it is clear limestone plays a role. There is high concentration of calcareous rock through sections of North Canterbury. Too much bi-carbonate from such stone throws vines into a growing crisis where they suffer deficiencies that upset their ability not only to grow but also ripen fruit. Such stone degraded into just enough clay, for example, however, and you get an exciting tension and palate stimulation unlike that possible from any other soil. That snap-snug-zip that forms in wines from such just-right edgy sites is why some growers hunt the edge of calcareous viability. In North Canterbury, Pyramid Valley is one of the prime examples of growers that sought to plant in exactly the right mix buying land loaded with limestone with a few midslopes of just the right mineral mix.

Following are some of my stand out wines from our tastings in North Canterbury. I look forward to keeping an eye on the place, and getting back there to have more time to slow down, listen and taste.

Pyramid Valley Chardonnay

Pyramid Valley Chardonnays from their home vineyard in Waikari Valley show a lovely range of expressions between wines. The estate bottlings are made from specific vineyards planted about their property based on extensive soil studies to find just the right mineral balance in the soils to support vines. While they make Pinot as well, there was greater consistency in quality vintage to vintage from the Chardonnay that I found pleasing. We were given the chance to taste their whites back to first bottlings from the property.

Lion’s Tooth offered a graceful expression of that lighter, delicate, almost watery (in a pleasing way) presence I saw in other wines of the region with lovely floral notes and a mix of fruits from citrus through stone all carried through a long mouth cleansing finish.

The Field of Fire brought power and concentration, coming in strong to the palate, in some vintages almost feral. It is a wine that would hold up to almost anything at the table without relying on imposed power to carry such strength of presence. To put that another way, it isn’t armor from the cellar that makes Field of Fire but an innate, sinewy tenacity to the fruit.

Incredibly, the two sites are within visual distance from each other on the Pyramid Valley property. While there are no doubt some contrasts in cellar approach, they are more than that a testament to how very specific and distinct a vineyard’s own voice can be.

Bell Hill

One of the stand out Pinots of North Canterbury is no doubt Bell Hill in the Weka Pass. It’s a wine that’s generated a cult following from wine geeks and wine lovers world wide. We were able to taste multiple vintages of the wine and they share among them a sense of force and concentration that comes in strong at the front of the palate then spins into a long graceful finish. The 2013 offered poised generosity carrying lightly wild notes in a cultivated frame. It’s a combination that makes the wine memorable and intriguing.

Alan McCorkindale Sparkling Wines

Alan McCorkindale makes both still and sparkling wines from North Canterbury but it was his sparkling wines that grabbed my attention. We were able to taste them across a range of vintages, all focused on Chardonnay. The density, depth and concentration carried through a long, mouthwatering finish made the wines simultaneously rich and easily drinkable. The older vintages offered that lovely balance of aged character carrying dusty dried fruits and a long carriage of mouthwatering acidity.

Black Estate

Black Estate was my surprise stand out from the Waipara Valley of North Canterbury. I hadn’t heard of their wines prior to our visit but I’ve become an interested fan. (They also have an utterly genuine, kind winemaker, who was a pleasure to talk to.) We were able to sit down to enjoy a bottle of their Cabernet Franc over a picnic dinner (where I ate all the potatoes), which was the perfect setting for this wine. It carries friendly, while focused flavor in a refreshingly open weave that invests in freshness and length. The wine carried a snappy finish that avoids being high strung.

The wines from Black Estate were also a good reminder at the value of context. We tried them in the regional tastings and I had noticed their reds but at the same time in the midst of tasting a series of several ten wines I felt unable to properly assess them – I tend to avoid reviewing wines in walk around tastings, instead looking for stand outs I want to spend more time with later. Getting to return to the Cabernet Franc over dinner was the perfect solution. It was a delicious, nicely made wine to enjoy with friends.

For just a bit more on North Canterbury here are a few other posts on the region: 

Photos from North Canterbury: http://wakawakawinereviews.com/2017/02/15/photos-from-north-canterbury/

Adventures in Christchurch: http://wakawakawinereviews.com/2017/02/16/adventures-in-christchurch/

Nick Stock created an overview video on North Canterbury wine regions for the Pinot Noir NZ event. You can see it here: https://vimeo.com/203942360

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Texas Tasting 

This past week spending several days in Texas included me getting to blind taste around 90 wines from the state. The experience was interesting as it gave a sense of regional expression without expectations based on producer. As with any region there was a significant range of quality and style but among the wines were a few world class stand outs it was exciting to see.

During dinners and lunches though we were able to enjoy a few Texan bottles in full view as well. There were three wines that jumped out at me.

McPherson is one of the longest standing well-respected producers of the state. I’ve been hearing good things about his white wines in particular for a while so I was pleased to get to taste his 2015 Roussanne. The wine offers the textural pleasure of the variety in a leaner frame with delicate flavors of dried floral spice sprinkled through fresh orchard fruits. Lovely. It worked really well with our meal.

Duchman 2015 Vermentino from the Bingham Family Vineyard was a new producer for me. It offered bright, textural acidity with lifted flavors of gilded-yellow fruits and a mix of fresh herbal aromas. Definitely made for the table to go alongside food as its freshness and length wash the palate over and over.

The William Chris 2015 Petillant Naturel rosé was all fun fresh bursting red berries and impressively clean through the palate. It’s what I call a hot tub wine – you have a glass and it’s so damned easy the next thing you know you’re in a hot tub with friends you didn’t know you had till now. The flavor and character of it is much like Bugey-Cerdon without the sweetness as the William Chris finishes totally dry. We enjoyed it on the last day of the Texsom IWA Sommelier Retreat alongside pepper cured duck breast. Perfect pairing.

My hope is to get back to Texas just to focus on wine country so I can dig in more to what is going on there in wine.

By the way I totally lifted that William Chris photo from the Instagram of Nicole Hakli, @nicole.hakli, wine director of ACME Restaurant in NYC. Thanks, Nicole!

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Kyle Stewart of the Cultured Cup

Kyle Stewart of the Cultured Cup

Integral to Texsom International Wine Awards (TIWA) is the Sommelier Retreat. Top sommeliers from across North America are invited to help serve TIWA writing tasting notes for award winning wines, and also doing clean up throughout the competition and after, while attending the accompanying Sommelier Retreat. Integral to their experience though is an educational and training component where they are able to work with mentors from the sommelier community to develop their writing skills, do tasting exams with Master Sommeliers, and take a series of seminars on aspects of the wine, beverage, food, and hospitality industry with experts in their field. Seminars range from the business side of restaurant wine programs to English Sparkling Wines (taught this year by the venerable Laura Rhys MS from Britain) to this year a seminar on Tea from a Certified Tea Specialist, Kyle Stewart. I led a seminar for the Sommelier Retreat this year as well on Arizona wines. As a result, I was invited to sit in and attend this year’s other sessions. The tea seminar was fascinating and fantastic. (I unfortunately arrived too late to attend Laura’s English sparkling wine course but I heard it was excellent as well.)

Kyle became excited by tea decades ago when he realized it helped focus his attention and he enjoyed the complexity of flavors. Soon after he pursued the Certified Tea Specialist designation from the Speciality Tea Institute and has since become an avid tea advocate running his own coffee and tea business, the Cultured Cup, and also leading seminars on tea, while staying up to date via trips to tea regions and regular tea tastings. He compares the process very much to what we do in wine and by the end of the seminar the parallels were obvious. Just as we study and research the fine tuned aspects of wine growing and production tea can be studied. The picking techniques, growing styles, and varietal complexity of the tea plant greatly resembles what we find in wine. It turns out tasting tea is rather similar as well.

Pu’er, a brick of Chinese tea

As Kyle explained, tea has a 5000 year history. In its origin the drink was used medicinally as a tonic. The early uses of the plant arose in China where people took and steeped pieces of it directly so that the beverage included a rather bitter element. In Burma the leaves were also used as food and the tradition continues today in a Burmese Tea Salad. Kyle said that the first time he enjoyed the dish he loved the flavors so much he ate two back to back and then did not sleep for two days. By eating the entire leaf in that way he absorbed higher levels of caffeine as well. Eventually when people began to process the leaves of the plant they were also able to hone its flavors and structure in the cup leading to it becoming a social beverage enjoyed for pleasure.

Once tea became a more popular drink it also became an exchange commodity. It grew only in certain parts of China however and also is rather delicate to transport so ways to make it safe for travel had to develop. The Pu’er (shown above) is an early form of such ingenuity. The leaves were compressed into a quite firm brick of tea that could then be broken into smaller pieces and steeped. The entire Pu’er can make around 150 cups, and the compressed leaves are even strong enough that they can be steeped multiple times (leading to far more cups than the standard). Such bricks were carried around the Tea and Horse Road (which essentially overlaid the more well-known Silk Road) and used for trade. The Tea and Horse Road gets its name from the quite literal trade of Chinese Tea bricks for Tibetan Horses. From what we know, 10 to 13 bricks of tea could fetch 1 Tibetan horse.

As Kyle clarified, tea is a type of infusion made from a very particular plant. Though the word is used rather loosely today, in actuality tea refers only to a drink infused from dried, crushed leaves of the camelia sinensis plant. Beverages infused from other plants such as rooibos, mint, ginger or other flowers, herbs, or spices properly speaking are infusions or, for the French, tiasne, but not tea.

Camelia sinensis has two major varieties. The Chinese variety is known as camelia sinensis sinensis, has a smaller leaf and does better when brewed at comparatively cooler temperatures. He brews any of these cultivars at 175 degrees F. Darjeeling, of course, is an example.

The Indian variety is known as camelia sinensis assamica and has impressively large elephant ear sized leaves. 1000 year old tea trees still exist today. They are considered a cultural treasure that are not used for producing tea today but would have served emperors in their prime.

Just like wine, tea plants adapt to their environment and, as a result, these two varieties have produced hundreds of different cultivars with unique flavor and structure. The differences also lead to very specific cultivation techniques as well as specific plucking methods for making the tea itself in various styles. As Kyle explained, the quality and flavor of specific teas depends on three key elements: the growing conditions of the plant with vintage variation even being a crucial aspect of fine teas, the care in how the leaves are plucked, and the way in which the plant is processed. Amazingly, the weather 1 to 2 weeks prior to the tree being plucked is the most critical time period for impacting flavor. Excessive rain in this time, for example, can overly dilute the flavors leading to imbalanced tea.

side by side tea tasting

There are five major categories of tea as well as one more utterly rare one. The very finest teas in the world can actually fetch as much as $30,000 per kilo. The five major categories include (progressing in order of intensity and processing complexity, loosely speaking) White, Green, Oolong, Black, and Dark, of which Pu’er (shown above) is a type. Additionally, Yellow tea is distinct from these five, however it is so uncommon it is rarely discussed. In his life Kyle said he’s only had Yellow tea once or twice. It has the most complex processing of the types of tea and is quite expensive.

White tea (shown at the top in the image above – if you’re on a mobile the image sometimes shifts. In that case it is to the right of the green tea) has the simplest processing method. The leaves and leaf buds are gathered – White peony includes both leaves and buds, for example, while Ying Chen includes only leaf buds (which are essentially young leaves), not more developed leaves. It takes 4000 buds to create one pound of tea, and all must be hand plucked so it is quite expensive. How and what is plucked determines the style of white tea. Leaves or leaf buds are then air dried on a screen and no shaping of the leaves occurs. Without shaping there is no cellular breakage, which also prevents any oxidation from happening. As a result, white tea is the lightest in flavor with a tendency towards floral aromas, and the highest in anti-oxidants. Kyle recommends steeping white tea with 175 degree F water for about 3 minutes as the tea is delicate and one wants to capture the nuances of the leaf.

Green tea (shown left above) has specific leaf plucking patterns for different green tea types. The leaves from the variety behind green tea are very stiff and crackle readily so the leaves are set out to wilt after plucking to soften them up, much like the way lettuce leaves wilt when left to air after harvest. Once the leaves have softened they can be moved into shape without breakage. Once leaves are shaped into the appropriate form for the style of green tea the leaf is immediately heated to keep it from oxidizing. This step is crucial as oxidation is an important part of what distinguishes green from black tea. In the heating process, Chinese green tea is ironed or pressed to a hot surface while Japanese green tea is steamed. In comparison, Chinese green tea tends to show nuttier flavors while Japanese green tea is all about umami and vegetal notes. With the delicacy of green tea it should be steeped in a similar fashion to white tea – with 175 degree F water for around 3 minutes.

Oolong tea lets the tea leaves oxidize anywhere from 10 to 95%. The little bit not oxidized lends an additional flavor complexity to the tea in comparison to black tea, which is fully oxidized. The tea master determines when to stop oxidation by aroma and feel of the leaf in relation to the style desired. With the dance of oxidized and unoxidized notes Oolong tea can be quite floral. The intentional oxidation releases quite different aromas from the plant such that an Oolong can be full of natural fruits and flower notes, even tasting exactly like peaches, for example, without any added flavors. Oolong tea can be hot or cold brewed. For hot brewing (shown right above – or, across from the green tea) Oolong he recommends using 195 degree F water for 4 minutes. Cold brewing (shown bottom above – or, left from the green tea), he clarifies, requires more leaves but since the leaves are not extracted in the same way by heat they can be steeped repeatedly and reveal more pretty, uplifted flavors. Ultimately, then, cold brewed Oolong ends up being more economical as well.

Dark tea includes an additional step of fermentation. The method arose from the need to safely transport the beverage at a time when temperature and shelf controls were not possible as they are today. By fermenting the leaf the shelf quality remains consistent. Such teas are generally sold as bricks, such as the image above, or formed cake. Pu’er is one type of dark tea that originates from a specific area of the Yunnan province and is so recognized because it is aged in specific caves of its region, which impart characteristics to the tea much like the limestone caves of Roquefort inform the cheese of that region.

Kyle additionally recommends that filtered water is best used for making fine teas. The mineral content of tap water tends to overpower the more delicate flavors of a high quality tea so that even just a Brita filter improves the flavor. He cautions though that one should not use distilled water.

Interestingly, Kyle has worked with wine specialists to lead wine and tea tastings where in some cases wine and tea pairings are done such as green Kukicha stem tea paired alongside a Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc, for example. He also though suggests that teas can be an appropriate palate cleanser through serious wine tastings as they not only shift the palate but also refocus the mind.

Additionally he points out the playfulness and import of serving vessels. Cold brewed teas can be served in aperitif and cocktail glasses quite nicely to elevate the experience. Finer examples of Oolong teas do nicely in smaller porcelain. Part of the tea experience that he values is that power of being in the moment present with the full range of sensory experience as well as the steeping process.

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Texsom IWA

Opening Texsom IWA with a palate calibration exercise – two top award wines from last year
photo from June Rodil MS

The last two days have been spent judging wines from around the world for the annual Texsom International Wine Awards (TIWA). The event brings top tasters from across the planet together to judge global wines. It’s one of my favorite events of the year as the way the tasting panels are designed is a hugely educational experience and the caliber of tasters in the room is mind boggling. There is no other event that brings together such a high concentration of distinguished wine professionals from all aspects of the wine industry. In addition to the wine judges the wine service is handled by top sommeliers and buyers from all over North America. It’s one of those events where essentially every person that walks by stirs a jolt of recognition and high regard for what they’ve accomplished in their careers. Even better, everyone here seems to recognize the import of our being here – that we are surrounded by the best in field for the wine world to respectfully review and award wines from across both hemispheres – and to be genuinely grateful for the opportunity. Event meals are such an awesome chance to hang out and catch up with each other.

TIWA originates out of the Dallas Morning News Awards started in 1985 by Rebecca Murphy. Rebecca did a remarkable job building an internationally recognized wine award program after first focusing on wines of the United States. For the first 14 years of the event the competition provided a kind of seedy and growth opportunity for producers all over the country as she included top tasters from the US wine well respected by the nation’s wine professionals. Eventually the program expanded to assess global wines. The event became an opportunity not only to award top wines but also for tasters to gain greater insight into regions around the world.

Around a decade ago Texsom founders James Tidwell and Drew Hendrix began working with Rebecca to shift the Dallas Awards to Texsom management, relaunching it as Texsom IWA four years ago.

This year the Awards received a record number of entries with 3581 wines from 28 countries and 25 US states. The selections included classic regions such as Burgundy, Bordeaux, or Rioja as well as newer categories like Mexico or Texas wines. The price range of wines submitted went from as little as $2.99 all the way to $700 with the average price being between $32 to $36.

Wine judging is handled by four-judge panels focused on discussion to achieve consensus. By creating panels of four judges final decisions can never be reduced to a swing vote and instead judging panels discuss their assessment before the final award is determined. The discussion is one of my favorite parts of being a judge for TIWA. Judges are also encouraged to set aside wines that they want to allow more time for so that they can be more carefully assessed. What I learn not only about my fellow judges’ views of wines but also about my own tasting process and preferences from the discussion is both fascinating and irreplaceable. All wines are tasted blind by category so that we are given the wine appellation, grape type or blend and vintage, but we never know the price or producer. Because of the care that goes into discussing assessments as well as the caliber of judges present wines that are otherwise rarely entered in competitions make it into TIWA.

Tasting at TIWA is also a unique opportunity to get to know a regions’ overall profile and quality as judges are often give the position of tasting wines from across an entire area. Though individual producers aren’t known, since wines are all tasted blind, tasting through an entire category and region can do a lot to educate a judge on the state of wines in a specific part of the world. Tasting here has led me to further investigate wines from an area after in a way I wouldn’t have known to do otherwise.

After the completion of TIWA judging the Sommelier team stays on for an educational component focused on learning more effective wine writing handled through both a writing seminar and then writing the actual tasting notes for TIWA award winning wines, and then a series of seminars on various topics from the wine, beverage, food and service world. This year, for example, I am leading a seminar on Arizona wine. We just finished a super fascinating class on tea.

If you want to see this year’s list of judges you can check them out here: https://www.texsomiwa.com/Judges/Profiles

This year’s serving sommeliers can be seen here: https://www.texsomiwa.com/Somms/Profiles

Results for this year’s award winning wines will be announced by Texsom IWA later this Spring. Keep an eye out for them on their website: https://www.texsomiwa.com/featured/wines

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A Conversation with Jancis Robinson and Alder Yarrow

Last night UC Davis hosted a conversation between Jancis Robinson and Alder Yarrow in celebration of her donating her papers, tasting notes, notebooks, photographs, etc from across her wine writing career back to 1976 to their wine library. Warren Winiarski helped fund work with the acquisition. Alder was invited to interview Jancis about her work, her various preferences (she likes skim milk while her husband Nick prefers whole, for example), and how the wine industry has changed.

The hour long conversation was followed by Q&A from the audience, which included one of my favorite moments from the evening as it showed Jancis’s brilliant, quick, dry wit.

An audience member asked her jokingly what wine would best pair with meatloaf, and she quickly responded, “Do you mean audible or edible?” Once he figured out her joke and confirmed he meant edible meatloaf rather than that he was having the (overly dramatic) rockstar to dinner, she suggested that a good California Zinfandel (and then again confirmed a good one) would do the job nicely.

The entire conversation was more than engaging as she is a natural on stage with a talent for making the whole room feel as if they are hanging out with her, and Alder did an excellent job at using their easy rapport to guide the conversation, though in truth Jancis needs little guiding. She readily answered questions with complexity and depth. Alder would then bring her to a new level of inquiry while also helping us to see her more personal side along the way.

Esther Mobley wrote up the celebration in today’s SF Chronicle so I don’t want to give away too much more detail about the conversation itself. Esther did an excellent job sharing many of those insights. I’ll include the link below. What I do want to say though is how much I appreciated the ways the conversation showed Jancis’s thoughtfulness. She’s a reflective and curious thinker and the audience was given glimpse of that through Alder’s interview.

During the Q&A, she answered a question from the audience asking what she looks for in selecting the writers on her website. He wanted to know what she believes they all have in common as, the audience member pointed out, her columnists have quite distinct voices from each other yet all work together in contribution to her site. She thought for a moment. Then said she believed everyone that works for JancisRobinson.com are rather independent thinkers, not easily swayed by trends, and also a bit inclined to bend over backwards for the undiscovered. Traits I admire in anyone. It also highlights how much her work is about supporting that sort of genuine curiosity.

Her support for it goes beyond her own website. I have seen Jancis go out of her way to encourage other writers as well. When Esther Mobley first debuted at the SF Chronicle, for example, Jancis made sure to reshare Esther’s first article online and welcome her to her new position. It appears perhaps a small boost but one that at the same time has important significance. She’s a supporter of hard workers comparatively earlier in their careers.

Esther’s article on Jancis’s contribution to the UC Davis Wine Library is well worth reading and hits on many of the interesting points from yesterday’s conversation I have not mentioned here. Here’s the link.

http://www.sfchronicle.com/wine/article/British-wine-critic-Jancis-Robinson-donates-her-10938893.php?t=ce7dae6304&cmpid=twitter-premium

[Incidentally, that is likely behind paywall.]

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