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US Master Sommeliers Shrink and Compensate, updated

Congratulations to the 6 new Master Sommeliers recognized just this morning!
(here 5 of them – photo courtesy of the Court of Master Sommeliers)

Once more Elaine brings us bang up to date on a scandal to have hit the American Master Sommelier organisation. 

6 December 2018 The Court of Master Sommeliers has welcomed six new Master Sommeliers to their ranks today. The tasting portion of the rigorous three-part exam took place yesterday, 5 December, in St Louis, Missouri, and the results were announced this morning. In total, 30 sat this round of the blind tasting exam. The six who passed – Andrey Ivanov, Douglas Kim, Mia Van de Water, Maximilian Kast, Steven McDonald (pictured below), plus Dana Gaiser – had previously passed in what turned out to be September’s breached exam. Yesterday’s blind tasting was the first of three possible special tasting exams offered by the Court following September’s breach. The second special tasting will occur in the new year, and the third alongside the regularly scheduled Master Sommelier exams already planned for next year. Each of these additional exam opportunities is proctored in the same manner as any other Master Sommelier exam. However, the Court’s board has also made clear they have increased their already strict security protocols around the blind tasting preparation procedures following September’s incident.

The press releases sent in October from the Court’s board regarding September’s security breach (see below) state that it was an exam proctor that violated the integrity of the exam, rather than any particular candidate who cheated. It does not state that any particular candidate sought to gain such …

To continue reading, head on over to JancisRobinson.com where the article appears free-for-all to read. Here’s the direct link: https://www.jancisrobinson.com/articles/us-master-sommeliers-shrink-and-compensate

Tasting Shanghai

Peking Duck being prepared for table side service at DaDong, Shanghai

Last week 30 media from 23 countries around the world traveled to Shanghai to attend a day-long media summit followed by ProWine China. Arriving a day early, we were able to spend a day touring wine bars, retail shops, importers and distributors in various neighborhoods of the city as well. I stayed on another two days in order to speak at ProWine and then take a private tour of the city. Though I’d traveled through the Shanghai airport, this my first trip into the city itself. It was fascinating and I learned an enormous amount about the local history and culture, doing wine business in China, how wine growing is progressing in China, and local cuisine. So much local cuisine. I honestly spent most of my spare time eating. It was wonderful. I’ll be writing more about aspects of the trip for various venues. In the meantime, following are insights shared along the way via Instagram while I was there in Shanghai.

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Singles Day, November 11 – 11,11: It turns out today is one of the most important cultural days, and biggest shopping days of the year in China. The commerce house, Alibaba, started Singles Day in 2009 as a sales, social, and cultural activity and it quickly spread to shops and businesses throughout the country. Alibaba actually piggybacked the shopping concept on the back of a cultural celebration by young people of being single that started in the country’s universities in the 1980s. It eventually also became the most popular day for getting married. On the sales side, shops begin long in advance promoting not only discounts but also special items that are only available this time of the year and sometimes for as little as only one-hour of the day. On both sides, then, for the shops and the shoppers Singles Day is quite competitive. It is a unique cultural event though as well in that the older generations still alive today literally did not grow up shopping. The very notion of going to shops for casual shopping as we take for granted in not only the United States but in many other countries of the world as well simply did not exist in China until recently. However in recent decades, wealth in China has grown so rapidly and new tools for buying and selling have appeared simultaneously as well. The movement of goods and money, then, occurs here in ways little understood in other parts of the world. Singles Day originated as part of this cultural evolution and though it sounds like merely a shopping and marketing event perhaps similar to Black Friday In the United States, it is at the same time a sort of social communication and cultural celebration as well. Things like people dressing up for photo shoots, for example, increase as well, as well as new goods and never before seen cultural trends are also introduced. #shanghai

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Merely twenty years ago visitors to China had to bring their own supplies from toiletries, including toilet paper, to clothing, to computers, the printer and printing cartridges, and all of the amenities we take for granted in countries like the United States as if they are essential when in reality they are merely cultural norms we have gotten used to. Shopping also essentially did not yet exist as shops themselves did not yet truly exist in the way we think of them outside China. Today, multiple level malls and shops integrated into every aspect of the city are instead standard. (Though in this case the celebration of Singles Day means the mall is quite empty as most are busy shopping online.) In a mere twenty years the economic force and truly global power of the Chinese economy has increased at a speed hard for most outside China to fathom. In those twenty years the marketing acumen of China has shown itself as well, with companies and goods here undergoing three or four waves of development. (1) The arrival of international companies. Haagen-Daaz, for example, moved into China with shops earlier than many other companies. (2 and 2.1) Brands that were clearly developed here in China to fulfill the same role as these sorts of international companies and brands. Today, these sorts have brands have evolved to a point where by appearance and quality it is not obvious if they originate in China or internationally.(3) Internationally, now many brands that are iconic for their country have been purchased by Chinese ownership as a way to move into the international market. Volvo, MG cars, Lenovo computers, are all examples. There are also more modestly sized such companies that have not been advertised as under new Chinese ownership. Numerous modestly sized Chateaus in France are also examples. In each cases, rather than over extend or build distribution the companies chosen are already sustainably established economically and the buyer has already ensured distribution is in place. So far most Chinese brand movement into international markets has occurred through this sort of buy-in rather than from Brands originated in China becoming global. #shanghai

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Sales transactions in China occur in a sort of circular fashion that means paper cash and traditional banks are almost on the verge of disappearing. For example, the social media app WeChat does not merely operate for text exchanges. Instead it is also a sales mechanism through which food deliveries can be ordered, co-op bicycles can be rented, and goods can be purchased. These transactions are owned and/or run by WeChat and are purchased using what is essentially WeChat’s own internal currency. It is a kind of multi-level ownership of the goods, the distribution, and even the currency itself we do not see in the United States. WeChat is merely one example of a company that operates in this sort of internal circle of exchange. While money must ultimately be exchanged to pay for the transactions, the frequency of interactions with traditional banks is comparatively non existent and only tourists continue to use cash. #shanghai

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Learning about the upper end restaurant wine scene in Shanghai from NAPA wine bar & restaurant GM and wine director Edward Lee. The word napa means not afraid. Eleven years ago when the restaurant opened as a small wine bar it was the first dedicated wine bar in Shanghai and immediately became a popular destination in the city. At the time around 60% of the clientele was from expats living in Shanghai with the rest Chinese locals. In 2015, NAPA moves to a larger location and expanded its food selection. It’s success swiftly increased while the clientele proportions shifted over time to around 95% locals. When the restaurant opened consumers were primarily seeking top end Bordeaux. Today, that interest has shifted primarily to Burgundy though also Barolo and some other highly regarded wines of the world. Mostly, the Chinese palate is still not accustomed to high acid wines, though that is changing, while highly tannic wines are an easy segue from tannic tea culture. In Shanghai there are multiple WSET schools throughout the city with numerous students and graduates. The Court of Master Sommeliers has some presence here though it is comparatively smaller. #shanghai

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And here is most of why I love what I do – Alex and I met in 2017 in NZ as he was there working harvest and I was there shadowing producers through harvest. We shared Easter dinner together at Aurum winery, where he was working. He’s also worked for Bindi in Australia and Dujac in Burgundy. Today, he is back in China where he commutes between Shanghai and the Yunnan province. In Yunnan he has planted several hectares of primarily Pinot, as well as some Chardonnay and just a hint of Riesling. The site stands at 2800 meters elevation in basaltic soils (one of the highest vineyards in the world). Their nearest neighbor had a 160-day long growing season (one of the very longest in the world). We spent the morning talking through his plant material, high elevation viticulture, how he got here, and what is next. Such a fascinating and exciting project I hope to visit in the next few years. Lucie! Michael! Look who found me! Thanks so much for the visit, Alex! Great to see you! #shanghai @a_____xu @aurumwineslucie @bindiwines

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Master of Wine Neil Tully, who has studied and worked in wine branding and packaging for over 25 years, deconstructing the visual language of wine beyond the wine itself, and how wine communication via wine packaging and labels has evolved significantly. The point being that the non-verbal, visual cues are far stronger than the words themselves. In developing effective brand communication, Neil is also relying on semiotics to consider the way effective packaging has worked previously and can evolve effectively moving forward. One of the things seen is that regions like Bordeaux and Burgundy have changed visual cues over time very little, while regions like South Africa has changed and continues to quite swiftly. #proweinmediasummit @amphoradesign (plus how fun is it to travel California with Neil for ten days last month then this month step on the bus in Shanghai and find we get to travel China together a mere ten days later!)

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North Asia PR Manager for Treasury Wine Estates, Tommy Tse, discussing unique brand communication Treasury has developed called Living Labels. The technology uses augmented reality (similar to that originally seen with the Pokémon game) where ones phone sees reality there through the camera and screen that is then augmented with interactive material. The style of the brand determines the style of material available for interaction. 19 Crimes, for example, offers the reenactments of historic prisoners sent to Australia. The brand Living Dead becomes almost game like with fighting zombies between multiple Living Dead wines. Beringer, on the other hand, gives the story of the founding brothers journey to America. The take away is that across the world few younger consumers care about winemaker and vineyard, and instead are motivated by experience and surprise more primarily. #proweinmediasummit

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Celebrated writer and editor Suzanne Mustacich talking about how to effectively communicate about wine reaching the widest audience possible. “Narrative non-fiction should read like a novel. I think there are a lot of missed opportunities in wine writing to tell a story and reach a wide audience.” Suzanne has a BA in Economics and Political Science and an MA in creative writing focused on crime fiction. She was also previously a television producer. When writing: (1) Think about your audience. (2) Develop your unique voice as if it is a character you are developing for your reader. (3) Tell the story in a way that respects what your particular audience is reasonably going to know. People are busy with their own lives, don’t expect them to know everything. But don’t expect them to have endless time either. (4) A great story has a sense of place, a narrative, a sense of transformation – something happens, distinctive voice, history, and style. #proweinmediasummit

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Completely fascinating discussion of how wine influencers operate in China with one of the country’s biggest influencers, Xiaopi – the work done by influencers often occurs within China’s social media platform, WeChat, simultaneously relying on wine education, winery stories, and wine sales fully integrated into electronic buying and networking communities. The most important influencers have several hundred-thousand to 1.5 million followers who are not only reading and following the influencer but also communicating with each other in response to the influencer’s work, and buying wine (from the influencer) based on the influencer’s recommendations. The system operates as a kind of internal circle without the limits of the three-tier system seen in France or the United States, and with the understanding that of course someone is paying the influencers for implicit advertising. It is an entirely different approach than seen elsewhere and the mind boggling nature of the details is a great shake up for so much of what we take for granted in Europe and the United States. #prowineshanghai

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In China, 9kacha is an instant buying app that relies only on label recognition without any need to know the wine name or information. Scan the label with your phone camera and instantly all of the wine information, community and expert reviews, similar wine suggestions and price comparisons pop up. Push the red (buy now) or blue (price compare and store in cart) buttons and buy your wine label-to-purchase in less than 30 seconds. (Here, in the demonstration I received, the WiFi connection was running slow and it still took a mere 35 seconds.) The app is also being developed for other non-beverage goods such as shoes, books, food, etc. In China, instant scanning of all sorts is not only ubiquitous but the foundation of much communication, exchange, entertainment, and purchasing. It is quite literally a way of life. #prowineshanghai

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My new friends in Shanghai following me on China’s social media app, WeChat. To follow anyone online in China instead of typing in their name, you simply scan their QR code from their phone to yours. Public figures and companies advertise their QR codes for people to scan and follow. Business cards are printed with QR codes as well. WeChat is one of the most powerful communication tools used across all of China. It functions like a synthesis of texting, SnapChat, PayPal, online shopping, blogging, and online magazines all together as one. Countrywide purchasing, picture and file sharing, texting, marketing, publishing, and businesses, etc all occur within WeChat. The instant recognition and information power of QR code scanning is just one aspect of how it works and one of the keys to getting started. #prowineshanghai

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Standing beneath the three tallest buildings in Shanghai. The one on the right is the oldest, built by the Chinese government as part of the financial center in the Pudong area of the city. Next, a Japanese company built the one on the left and it became the tallest in the city. Not to be outdone by the work of another country, the Chinese government built the third, now tallest building, seen here in the center. Just completed, only small portions of it have opened, and not yet the highest stories. Chinese views of feng shui see the Japanese building design as too sharp, like a knife. It’s effect is to cut, which is not right for business. The newest Chinese building is a series of spiraling sections rising to the very top. It is fluid and elegant, while strong, and the oldest of the three reads as a contemporary update of a classical, also elegant style. I have to admit the two Chinese designs are quite beautiful. #shanghai

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Fantastic dinner at Canton Table on the Bund (the beautiful river front area of Shanghai on the old town side) followed by a walk through the lights of the city. The Bund has preserved the old buildings and made the area solely dedicated to banks and restaurants, with a few high end boutiques. Many of the buildings literally have a different themed restaurant per floor, in some buildings with one restauranteur behind each one. Canton Table is inside one of the most celebrated of these buildings both for the building itself, (shown here) known as Three on the Bund, and for the quality of the restaurants inside. A friend arranged an evening for me being shown around Shanghai and my host and I enjoyed dinner in our own private room with our own servers. Canton Table serves traditional Hong Kong style cuisine updated slightly. The food was fantastic and such an exploration of subtlety and flavor. A big part of my time here has been keeping an eye out for foods and treats I have never tried before and so far nothing has been disappointing. This really is a fascinating, wonderful city. #shanghai #shanghaifood

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Utterly brilliant. Some of the smartest adaptation to a new market I have ever seen – Penfolds Spirited Wine with Baijiu. Drinking wine is a very new phenomenon in China with only a very small portion of the population drinking it today. Instead, most drinking in China has been of Baijiu, China’s distilled spirit made of rice or grain (people sometimes joke, or tires, as the drink is unbelievably strong and rough to drink). The wine market is steadily expanding but part of how is through beverages that expand the wine concept and bridge the gap between the temporality and variability of a drink like wine with the constancy and reliability of a drink like Baijiu. Penfolds brilliantly made a fortified Shiraz using Baijiu as the added spirit. The result is a smoothed out, more pleasant flavored drink than just Baijiu that still has a Baijiu flavor in the finish. Wine purists will hate this drink but it’s whole point, from what I can tell, is precisely that wine idealism is not always the way to connect to people. It finishes at 20.5% alcohol. While this might not be my go to drink for dinner, I am deeply impressed by the creative thinking shown here and would happily drink this out of respect for my hosts in China. When I was given straight Baijiu I must confess that to be respectful I had to pretend to drink it but was unable to actually drink it. #prowineshanghai @penfolds Thank you to Robert Joseph for making sure I tasted this, and for the photo @legrandnoirwine . POST UPDATED WITH CORRECT PRODUCTION INFO after return to internet access for accurate research.

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ProWein for the US Wine Business

ProWein offers a unique opportunity for producers to market their wines to an international audience
Elaine Chukan Brown

SINCE ITS ADVENT IN 1994,ProWeinhasbecomeoneofthelargest trade and industry events for wine and spirits in the world. In 2018, the event in Düsseldorf hosted 6,870 exhibitors from 64 countries. More than 60,000 trade visitors from over 133 countries attended the event during three days in March. Of those visitors, more than 70 percent serve as top or middle management in trade businesses, capable of making significant buying decisions.

In exit surveys for the event, 85 percent of attendees stated that they use ProWein as a platform for ordering wine and spirits. Half of those surveyed reported having located new suppliers there this year. Direct contact between these trade professionals and producers makes ProWein an incomparable networking opportunity. It is also, as a result, a key site for sharing current information on trends and innovations in the world of wine and spirits. At its core, ProWein is an opportunity for the world’s wine and spirits profes- sionals to conduct business.

In the last several years, there has been a surge in the relevance of ProWein for North American businesses in particular. ProWein organizers have paid attention and done the work to not only create space for more North American exhibitors, but also provided the tools to assist in their ability to do business. As the event’s relevance has increased, so too has the importance of North American regional bodies and wineries being present at the event as a way to show off their global reputations. Wineries have also found that, with advanced strategy, the sheer size of ProWein helps ease their ability to secure their place in international markets.

In the other direction, North American-based importers have begun using. ProWein to increase their access to new wineries while also strengthening their on-going strategy for established ones. Finally, with so many producers and regions present from all over the world, ProWein has become the ultimate networking opportunity for public relations companies, for building other sorts of wine events and competitions, and for retailers, sommeliers and media to taste wine from all over the world.

Marketing North American Wine

Because of the global nature of the attendees, ProWein offers a unique opportunity for producers to market their wines to an international audience. North American wine has seized on the opportunity with wines from both the United States and Canada steadily increasing their participation in the event.

To continue reading, head over to the WineBusiness.com website where the article appears in full. You will have to sign in to access the full November issue of the magazine but once you do the entire issue is free. Here’s the link:  https://www.winebusiness.com/wbm/index.cfm?go=getDigitalIssue&issueId=10508 The article begins on page 44. 

Masters of Wine Spend 10 Days in California Wine

Masters of Wine on the coast of Sonoma

Two weeks ago, Masters of Wine from 16 countries arrived in Santa Barbara to begin a ten-day trip through California wine. The Institute of Masters of Wine and the California Wine Institute worked together to coordinate and plan the trip. All together the group tasted over 600 wines from throughout the state and met over 300 producers. I was invited to attend the trip and so was lucky enough to be part of the entire tour from Santa Barbara County, through the Central Coast, up into the North Coast, and then finally culminating in San Francisco. During the Sonoma portion I also presented a seminar on the history of California wine via the lens of Chardonnay. I’ll be writing up a few portions of the trip but in the meantime here’s a look at some of the trip highlights through what I shared along the way via Instagram.

 

 

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Etienne de Montille explains that he now makes wine outside Burgundy in the Sta Rita Hills because the experience “contributes to [the team at] de Montille, to discover new ideas, how we can do better, how to understand better, and how to move forward in wine.” After searching multiple New World regions capable of making Pinot Noir with freshness, concentration, finesse and complexity, he came to believe that the Sta Rita Hills offered “the most potential, not the most established region, but the region with the most potential, for making high quality wine in that style.” #californiawines #mastersofwine #mwtours @domainedelacote @thehiltestate @tylerwinery @sanfordwinery @california.wines @domainedemontille

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He’s my best friend. I love him. #californiawines #mastersofwine #mwtours @peter_stolpman @jessica_stolpman @california.wines

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Dear lord god this is good. Bien Nacido 2015 Syrah #californiawines #mastersofwine #mwtours @bien_nacido_estate @california.wines

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Beautiful Chardonnay – Bien Nacido 2016 #californiawines #mastersofwine #mwtours @bien_nacido_estate @california.wines

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My darling dear #californiawines #mastersofwine #mwtours @jimclendenen @aubonclimatwine @california.wines

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Cowboys roping steer, Paso Robles #californiawines #mastersofwine #mwtours @california.wines

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Momo, the Moroccan Ridgeback Porcupine love of my life, eats a pumpkin #californiawines #mastersofwine #mwtours @california.wines

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MWs ride the bull #californiawines #mastersofwine #mwtours @california.wines

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So, this happened … #californiawines #mastersofwine #mwtours @california.wines

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MWs in the pool #californiawines #mastersofwine #mwtours brilliant photo by @lizthach @california.wines

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Love you, dear friend @madsmw #californiawines #mastersofwine #mwtours @california.wines

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Deeply grateful to see Paul Draper. In 2012, only a few months into the work I do now, before I even realized I had started an actual career in wine, Paul and I met for the first time at a tasting at the Lytton Springs Winery. We spoke for a while and he scheduled an hour to meet with me at Monte Bello two weeks later. On the drive south to the iconic Ridge winery I was utterly terrified, intimidated by the stature of one of California’s truly great, and most influential winemakers. During our meeting we began to discuss his perspective on and history in winemaking and the hour turned into the better part of a day. What I learned about California history, his relationship with vineyards and the cellar, from our conversations and tasting, as well as the role of wine in a person’s life were immeasurable. The next year he had my then pre-teen daughter and me to Monte Bello again where he had she and I taste and select with he and Eric the 2011 assemblage, making room even for Rachel to taste and give her feedback on our blind tasting. We have met several times since, shared meals and other tastings, but those first visits when he so generously shared his time, though I had no real accomplishments in wine and certainly no recognizable professional position yet, have always meant so much to me. It felt like him not only giving me his time and insight but also expressing his faith in my future, and friendship in those moments. I will always be grateful. #californiawines #mastersofwine #mwtours @ridgevineyards @california.wines

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And there in front of me is a Monte Bello so iconic it was made before Paul Draper had ever heard of the vineyard, let alone visited it. Iconic because since his arrival at the Ridge winery it has been a foundational part of the story of how he got here, one of two vintages he tasted in the midst of his original job interviews with the founding owners of the site. Iconic because it made possible what Ridge is, revealing the treasure of the site as so much stronger and more profound than the winemaking ever could be, that is, it is a site that shows itself beyond a chosen style. And the wine itself is beautiful. Certainly aged, but far more on the nose than on the palate. With air the perfume builds. The palate is stunning in its brightness and youth. It is certainly wise to drink it now, yet the acid and sapidity clench the jaw and hold on for minutes through an ultra long finish. It is impossible to express the gratitude and significance of drinking a wine like this for me – I feel almost like crying except what I feel is somehow deeper, fuller than that, as if tears would be misleading. Thank you to Paul Draper and the entire Ridge team for daring to share the Ridge 1965 Monte Bello with us. #californiawines #mastersofwine #mwtours @ridgevineyards @california.wines

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Beautiful, beautiful perfectly aged wine – in a tasting looking across 53 years of Ridge Monte Bello through the 2017, 2015, 2012, 2005, 1995, 1985, 1975, 1965 vintages, this is the stand out. Ridge 1975 Monte Bello – by 1975 Paul Draper has been with the site, living just up the hill from it, since 1969, the wine was still made entirely of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, and the world did not yet know the stature of Monte Bello. It was an impressively cool year in the vineyard and the winemaking team were unsure how the wine would progress as a result. But today it is impressively energetic and mouthwatering, with fine still firm and persistent tannin, full of sapidity and flavor, almost floral, and certainly spiced with mainly sandalwood, resinous herbs and tree barks. Now is a perfect time to drink this wine but it also has years ahead of it. Thank you to the Ridge team for sharing this wine with us. #californiawines #mastersofwine #mwtours @ridgevineyards @california.wines

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MWs visit the Golden Gate Bridge #californiawines #mastersofwine #mwtours @california.wines

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Ridge 1971 Zinfandel Essence from Lodi – one of the world’s rare red sweet wines made by leaving the fruit to dry on the vine without botrytis, without palette-drying the fruit, without appassimento, without fortification, without arresting fermentation – made this way the wine retains naturally fresh acidity and the grapes own sugar content naturally arrests fermentation making a stable sweet wine without filtering. Beautifully aged with savory aromatics and a complex of herbs, earth, fruit and plenty of mouthwatering length. A treat beside pavlova. Enormous thanks to the entire Ridge team for such generosity and the chance to taste this history. #californiawines #mastersofwine #mwtours @ridgevineyards @california.wines

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I found a belt … #californiawines #mastersofwine #mwtours @california.wines

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So they gave me my HMW (Honorary Masters of Wine) … #californiawines #mastersofwine #mwtours @california.wines

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Really grateful for the opportunity to share with all of you. Thank you! #Repost @mastersofwine ・・・ The history and evolution of California Chardonnay in 9 wines. A spellbinding dash for Masters of Wine through decades of prestige winemaking with celebrated wine journalist Elaine Chukan Brown at La Crema in Russian River Valley . . . . . #hawkwakawaka #lacremawine #jacksonfamilywines #MWtour #mastersofwine #californiawines #wine #california #russianrivervalley #chardonnay #mountainchardonnay #wildferment #stonyhill #hanzellvineyards #grgichhills #ritchievineyard #kongsgaardwine #dumol #ceritas #matthiassonwine #napavalley #sonomavalley #carneros #sonomacoast #santacruzmountains #wildhorsevalley @stony_hill_wine @hanzellfarm @grgichhills @rameywinecellars @kongsgaarden @dumolwinery @jraytek @matthiasson_wine @enfieldwineco

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So much fun to talk Chardonnay with such a venerable group #Repost @california.wines ・・・ Incredible History of California Wines through the lens of #Chardonnay by the incredible Elaine Chukan Brown ( @hawk_wakawaka ) to her fellow #MastersofWine ♥️ #californiawines #mwtour @stony_hill_wine @hanzellfarm @grgichhills @rameywinecellars @kongsgaarden @dumolwinery @jraytek @matthiasson_wine @enfieldwineco #californiawine #winenot #wines #winelover #wineoclock #winewinewine #winerylovers #cagrown #californialove #drinkwine #foodandwine #foodwinewomen #california #harvest #californialifestyle #californiadreaming #oenophile #whitewine #winetasting #winefacts #winestories #whitewines

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MWs on the Pacific beside the Peace Totem at Timber Cove #californiawines #mastersofwine #mwtour @california.wines

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MWs at sunset #californiawines #mastersofwine #mwtour @california.wines

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Sunset at Timber Cove, the coast of Sonoma #californiawines #mastersofwine #mwtour @california.wines #nofilter

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Presidential motorcade of MWs arriving at Hirsch Vineyard #californiawines #mastersofwine #mwtour @jasminehirsch @california.wines

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(Almost) Full Moon setting through the fog in the Napa Valley #californiawines #mastersofwine #mwtour @california.wines

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Filling our balloon … #californiawines #mastersofwine #mwtour @california.wines

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Filling the balloon. View from the basket. #californiawines #mastersofwine #mwtour @california.wines

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Flying over grape harvest in Napa Valley. View from the hot air balloon. #californiawines #mastersofwine #mwtour @california.wines

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Hot air balloon ride over Oak Knoll, Napa Valley. #californiawines #mastersofwine #mwtour @california.wines

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Total gratitude. Hot air balloon ride over Napa Valley. #californiawines #mastersofwine #mwtour @california.wines

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Just stunning. Sunrise looking north up Napa Valley. #californiawines #mastersofwine #mwtour @california.wines

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Closing up the balloon. We’ve landed. #californiawines #mastersofwine #mwtour @california.wines

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Deeply grateful to have had time getting to know all of you and for being part of this incredible trip. All my love to everyone as you return home and head out on further travels. #Repost @mastersofwine ・・・ As 47 Masters of Wine leave California, and make their way home to 16 different countries, they will reflecting on the 600+ wines they drank, from 60+ AVAs, and their meetings with 300+ vintners. They also met some of the 5,900 winegrape growers, and saw some of the 599,000 acres of winegrapes, many spotted from a balloon! Thank you to EVERYONE who made this a trip of a lifetime. (Photo by Alycia Moreno, @lovegrace_imagery) . . . #mwtour #winesofCalifornia #mastersofwine #california #santabarbara #sanluisobispo #pasorobles #Monterey #santacruz #sanfrancisco #sonoma #Sonoma county #napavalley #cabernetsauvignon #napa #lodi #alyciamoreno #merlot #chardonnay #pinotnoir #zinfandel #centralcoast #santaritahills #sustainablewinemaking #lovegraceimagery #californiadreamin #californiawines

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US Master Sommeliers shrink and compensate

Elaine brings us bang up to date on a scandal to have hit the American Master Sommelier organisation.

The US-based chapter of the Court of Master Sommeliers, the Court of Master Sommeliers Americas (CMSA) delivered shocking news this week, and has since announced a decision that will cost it dear in financial terms. A Master Sommelier proctoring last months’ exams in St Louis, Missouri leaked vital information about the wines presented in the tasting exam. As a result, the entire tasting portion of the 2018 exam was ruled invalid. Additionally, the unnamed individual who leaked the information is not only barred from all future activities of the Court, but the CMSA has also initiated legal proceedings to strip them of their title and membership of the institution. It would seem that for legal reasons the Court will remain unable to name the offending individual until after the proceedings have been completed. But the press releases associated with this major breach of protocol have stated that the CMSA has clear documentation proving the violation.

Chairman of the CMSA board Devon Broglie said in a press release, ‘I can only imagine how hard it hit everyone to learn that something they worked so hard for was tainted by the actions of a single individual.’ There is no mention of any of the candidates being suspect or subject to legal proceedings. The offending exam proctor appears to have acted alone.

The impact of this news is severe. Candidates for the exam are required to pass three sections of the exam within three years. They must first pass the theory portion, before then being allowed to proceed to the blind tasting, and service or practical exams. As long as all three sections are passed within a three-year period, candidates may pass in any combination of all three in one year, one per year, etc. For the 2018 exams, only Morgan Harris had previously passed the tasting portion and so remains unaffected by the change in results.

As I reported last month, a record 24 new MSs were announced in St Louis, but 23 of them – except for Harris who did not participate in the St Louis tasting exam – have had their recent tasting exams nullified. Their newly-minted MS titles are effectively suspended until they […].

To continue reading this article, head on over to JancisRobinson.com where it appears free-for-all to read. Here’s the direct link: https://www.jancisrobinson.com/articles/us-master-sommeliers-shrink-and-compensate

Throwback Thursday: Fires sweep through Napa, Sonoma, and beyond

The night of Oct 8 / Oct 9, 2017

As part of our Throwback Thursday series we are republishing this eye-witness report and highlight the ongoing need to help those whose lives were devastated by the fires a year ago. 

4 October 2018 We are just coming up to the anniversary of the worst fires ever known in Northern California wine country. They have already been followed by several other severe wildfires in the state, some of them in areas where wine is made and/or grown. But in Napa and Sonoma there are still thousands of people without proper homes or jobs as a direct result of the devastation. Elaine points out that the worst-affected were the vineyard worker communities who can be directly helped via Sonoma Grape Growers and the Napa Community Foundation.

[…]

To continue reading this Throwback Thursday article, head over to JancisRobinson.com where it continues Free-for-all to read. The article glimpses at the ongoing coverage about the fires through the website. It also goes all the way back to the first report I filed with Jancis in the early morning hours as the fires started in Napa and Sonoma on the night of October 8 / 9. My daughter and I evacuated only a few hours after I sent Jancis the report. Her website became one of the first in the world to report the fires as a result. Here is the link to the article: https://www.jancisrobinson.com/articles/fires-sweep-through-napa-sonoma-and-beyond

A week in Champagne, in photos

After a week in Champagne it is a little strange not to spend the entire day slowly sipping champagnes from throughout the region. Earlier this year I was lucky enough to meet one of the heads of the Comité Champagne – the group that represents both growers and houses from throughout the region – who invited me to visit the region this year during harvest. Harvest was unexpectedly early this year so by the time I arrived the fruit was all picked, but wines were still fermenting in cellars. With the fruit already in, producers were more able to take the time to chat and share wine actually so it turned out the perfect time to travel Champagne.

The 2018 harvest looks to have enormous quality potential, so keep an eye out for it to start appearing about three years from now, though far later for the premium vintage wines. Some of my favorite producers started first pick on my birthday so I’ll especially be looking for the 2018 vintage champagnes.

In the meantime, here are photos from through the trip compiled from what I shared while there on Instagram. There were five journalists, myself included, traveling together. We turned out to be a nice group, getting on well together. While also tasting ample wine (far more than shown in the photos), we were also able to do some historical tours of the region and even take a cooking class. Here’s a look.

 

 

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Back beneath the textures of a favorite ceiling. Charles de Gaulle, Paris Airport. #france

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“For us, it is very important to start off straight away with a champagne from a grower and a champagne from a Champagne house both. For us, it is essential.” – M Phillippe Wibrotte of the Comité Champagne discussing the history, culture, and range of styles present today in Champagne. Later, then, dinner must be enjoyed with two champagnes instead of merely one. And so we open first an Henriot Blanc de Blancs for its intense verticality so deftly balanced by oak and fruit – a wine from one of the preeminent Champagne houses – and then the M Loriot Apollonis 2008 Monodie Extra Brut, the natural flesh of Pinot Meunier balanced by low dosage – made by one of the first growers to successfully make their own champagne for release. Both wines single variety – Chardonnay then Pinot Meunier – one a non-vintage wine, the other ten years old; one made from multiple parcels about the region, the other from old vines on one estate; one made to be recognized across releases brilliantly blended to be non-vintage, the other a single cuvée of one vintage made by a man who plays his wines music from his own hand as they age. Each such a testament to balance though each approaching it from almost opposite ways necessitated by varietal character and production logistics. Thank you, Phillippe, for such a thoughtful welcome to Reims. #champagne @champagnehenriot @apollonischampagne

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During WWII the cellars of Champagne were being ransacked by the occupying forces. To preserve their region the growers and houses of Champagne joined forces and founded the Maison de la Champagne in 1941, creating a distribution market to make the bottles available for purchase while controlling access to them at the same time. The Maison de la Champagne was founded by a grower family, represented by Maurice Doyard, and a house, Moët Chandon represented by Robert Jean de Vogüé. Soon after, Vogüé was taken by the Germans and put in a concentration camp in Central Europe. Incredibly, he survived and returned to Champagne to again help lead the region through its recovery from the war. #champagne

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Gêraldine Lacourte is a ninth-generation grower in the village of Écueil. In 1947 her family also began making their own champagne from primarily Pinot Noir with some Chardonnay. Today, she and her husband, Richard Desvignes, farm their family plots organically, and have begun experimenting with using horses for farming and sheep for managing the cover crop. Together, they make small production cuvées for Champagne Lacourte-Godbillon relying on gravity flow and hand riddling in their cellar beneath the house that belonged to Gêraldine’s grandparents where she also grew up. Here, she shows us a plot of forty-plus year old Pinot Noir planted selection massale and vinified single-plot in oak barrels made from trees in the same village. The plot is a mere ten rows and makes 1300 bottles. #champagne @lacourtegodbillon

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Visiting Tattinger. My second time enjoying the Comte 2007 – a beautifully focused vintage with a lift of delicate herbs and sapidity versus the slightly rounder fruits of the 2006. I have learned to accept that along the way as I am studying wine with the producers themselves I sometimes find myself weeping. The gratitude simply leaks out of me at times. Often too it comes in what feel like waves of recognition, finally so many in a row they overwhelm me. The lesson for me has been that though old school models of professionalism ignore or deny emotion, to honor the significance of a moment the feeling can and sometimes must be expressed with appropriate emotion. It should still be kept in proportion but it being present is genuine too to the work. For Tattinger, it is the Historical significance of the location – recovered from the Roman era, destroyed during the French Revolution, recovered then lost and regained again during WWI and WWII – the fact that it is the last still original-family-owned house, that the caves descend 30 meters into 4th-century-carved chalk, that the oldest oak barrels in the world are held in preserve and on display in the visitors’ hall, and that there are innumerable layers of personal meaning for me reaching all the way to growing up in Alaska to this wine and place that strike me. On top of that, Comte has become associated with the love of so many friends – who gave it to me for my birthday, who bought it for me when my mentor died, who drank it beside me without spitting during a work lunch, who also love it as a favorite champagne. All of this is to say one simple thing – thank you. #champagne @champagnetaittinger cc: @trevering @fredswan @asparks01 @madsmw @petergranoffms

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Built in the 13th century, the Reims Cathedral replaced the previous 5th century Cathedral (and first church built on the site) that was destroyed in 1210 by fire. The Reims Cathedral then stood from the 13th century till WWI when German forces destroyed 80% of the buildings in the city of Reims, including its tallest structure, the Cathedral. It ‘s destruction and the damage to the city at large became an international symbol of the war so that after the German forces were finally fought back leaders from all over the world traveled to Reims to witness the damage first hand, including US President Roosevelt. After much deliberation the decision was made to restore the structure and its stained glass windows with the goal to mirror its original and use as much of its original stone as possible. The decision was also made to create a fireproof structural framework within the building. The original wood and lead burned and melted after catching fire from German bombing, thus collapsing the building during the war. The American Rockefeller family funded the significant initial cost of the restoration as an international gesture of peace and goodwill. It reopened in 1939, gratefully surviving WWII. #champagne

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In the rebuilding of Reims after WWI, US Ambassador to France, Myron T Herrick, encouraged benefactors of the United States to help fund construction of new buildings for the city. Andrew Carnegie was a pacifist invested in stopping war across the world. He believed the way to stop war was greater knowledge and so directed his spending to sponsoring libraries throughout Europe. Significantly, he funded the building of the city library in the heart of Reims, designed in the Art Deco style. In 1928, what was then named the Carnegie Library was opened and commemorated as one of the first significant new buildings to reestablish Reims after the destruction of WWI. Herrick was one of the people present at both the building’s groundbreaking and its opening. Beneath its cornerstone was placed a magnum of champagne with an inscription dedicated to international peace as well as both French and American coins. #champagne

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Classic. Pol Roger Brut Reserve. #champagne @pol_roger

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A testament to style – balanced, erudite, delicious. Bollinger Rosé. #champagne @champagne_bollinger

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Pauline Michel with the cuvée her father Bruno Michel started, named and made for her beginning when she was a little girl. The Pauline cuvée from Champagne Bruno Michel is always made entirely from Chardonnay aged 15 months in oak barrel then given extended aging on lees for varying years of time. We tasted the first vintage ever made of the cuvée, a 1997 disgorged in April 2018, and the 2005 disgorged Nov 2017 (shown here). Both are impressively vibrant with an intense acidity. The 1997 carries still pixelated white herbs and an intense savory drive. The 2005 feels fuller and rounder, without heaviness, bursting with savory notes, smoked meat accents, and tons of length. Two years ago Pauline and Guillaume took over winemaking and the business from her parents, continuing the organic farming and winemaking practices practiced by Bruno Michel since 1997. #champagne @champagnebrunomichel

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The Alexander Penet line of champagne made by the man himself, Mister Alexander Penet, is meant to be the more aperitif and approachable line of the grower-Champagne Penet-Chardonnet family. And yet, the Brut Nature with which we begin to taste is Grand Cru and all estate grown fruit, vinified in barrel and including ample reserve wine going back far in the family history. The Penet family has been in Verzy over 400 years. Alexander is a 5th generation winemaker having also studied both engineering and business internationally. With his ranging perspective, Alexander has brought innovation to the winery not in radical technical change but instead through improving the focus on sustainability, shifting the wines to Extra Brut and zero dosage, and becoming the first winery in the world to put a QR-code on a wine label. #champagne

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Rich precision. Delamotte Blanc de blancs. #champagne

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Chef Eric Geoffroy cooks mackerel. #champagne #cookinginfrance #fishandfire @aupianodeschefs

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Elaine cooks. #champagne @aupianodeschefs

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Mackerel cooked by torch. #champagne @aupianodeschefs

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Simple tricks for starting plate presentation #champagne @aupianodeschefs

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An exploration of subtlety with a constellation of fruits. Mailly Grand Cru of Pinot noir. #champagne @champagne_mailly

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A perfect aperitif. Copinet Blanc de blancs. #champagne @champagnemariecopinet

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Crisp and expressive. Pierre Trichet Premier Cru Blanc de Blancs. #champagne

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Just an Unangan-Inuit woman surveying 13th c. ruins from the city that crowned kings in France. Reims. #champagne

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Grape Encounters Radio Interview

By a quirk of timing I was interviewed by a nationally syndicated radio show, Grape Encounters, and its host, David Wilson, on my birthday this year. David had me on as a wine expert prepared to discuss California Wine Month, current wine trends and what I recommend for people wanting to explore wine. It turned out though the conversation was far ranging and curious touching on the importance of joy and friendship, why I try to lie down as often as possible, where else I publish my writing, and what it’s like to work with camels. If you’re curious, the link to the interview can be found here. The entire episode is not quite 40 minutes. My interview is around 25 minutes.

Here’s the direct link to David’s webpage with the interview: http://grapeencounters.com/episode-475-california-wine-month/

Record Number of new American MSs

photo courtesy of the Court of Master Sommeliers

In a new record, the Court of Master Sommeliers in the United States celebrated no fewer than 24 passes of the rigorous Master Sommelier exams on Tuesday this week in St Louis, Missouri where this year’s exams took place.

While the number of individuals to pass this year’s exams is a record, the pass rate remains relatively low. This year saw 141 individuals step forward as candidates for the Court’s highest certification (only slightly fewer than the total number of this year’s Master of Wine candidates around the world). To enter, candidates must first have passed the challenging Advanced Sommelier certification, and then, based on continuing education and mentorship, be invited to sit for the Master exams. Almost incredibly, this year’s 24 successful candidates represent together more than …

To continue reading this article, head on over to JancisRobinson.com where the article appears in full here. The article appears there free for all to read. 

Assessing smoke-taint and fermentation issues

In this third part of her study, Elaine highlights what scientists are learning as a result of last year’s California wine-country fires. See also California fires then and now and The reality of the 2017 California fires today

Producers in both Napa and Sonoma counties have been emphatic that it would do them more damage in the long run to release a questionable wine from the 2017 vintage and thus lose consumer trust, than it would be to lose the income from a single vintage. Whites and rosés from the region that have so far been released have all been free of smoke-taint issues and are showing good quality. Red wines harvested before the fires are showing no sign of smoke issues in barrel. Producers are keeping a close eye on later-harvested varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon or Petite Sirah. In most cases the fruit was harvested before the fires so this is not a concern. For fruit harvested after the fires from cooler pockets, wines have either already been declassified or are being closely monitored. Some key wines will simply not be released as a result.

In Napa Valley Screaming Eagle has announced it will not be releasing its flagship Cabernet-based wine from 2017, although its Merlot-based wine The Flight (harvested earlier in the season than the Cabernet) is fine. Mayacamas winery, pictured above in its isolated position, was completely surrounded by fire and employees were unable to access the site for almost a week. While the winery itself survived, the wines from the 2017 vintage were […].

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