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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 […].

To continue reading this article, head on over to JancisRobinson.com where the article appears in full here. You will need a subscription to continue reading it.

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

The reality of the 2017 California fires today

Elaine looks carefully at the aftermath of last October’s wine-country fires. See also California fires – then and now. In part 3 next Wednesday Elaine addresses issues associated with smoke taint and fire-related problems in the cellar. 

When it comes to wine country itself where I live, the tragedy of the 2017 fires has instigated other sorts of learning curves. This spring I spent a month and a half driving through Napa and Sonoma, walking vineyards and fire-damaged areas with growers, interviewing winemakers affected by the fires, and tasting wines from barrel. In returning to wine country affected by the fires more than six months later, my goal was to find out where we are in our recovery from the damage, what we’ve learned from the fires, and how the wines from the vintage actually look now that they’ve come through malolactic conversion (the overall vintage quality will be discussed in a separate article).

One of the strangest experiences for those of us who have spent time trying to understand the aftermath of the fires, and impact on vineyards, has been learning to read the hillsides for fire damage. Now, late in the season, fire damage looks different, now that it has been covered by the new season’s growth. But in the spring the newly budding growth actually made last year’s fire scars more visible simply through visual contrast, as shown in this picture of a partly damaged vineyard in the Wild Horse Valley AVA in the Vaca Range on the east side above Napa. The fires skirted the edges of this vineyard and followed dry cover crop into parts of it but the vineyard also acted as a buffer that successfully stopped the fires from reaching houses and more forest on the other side.

This site also showed how much of the vineyard damage is actually in the vineyard infrastructure rather than […].

To continue reading this article, head on over to JancisRobinson.com where the article appears in full here. You will need a subscription to continue reading it.

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

California Fires – then and now

Elaine begins this three-part, unparalleled assessment of the impact of wildfires on the California wine industry with the most recent, alarming news. 

Parts of California have again declared a state of emergency due to wildfires. High temperatures and winds have fueled fires in multiple parts of the state. Most recently, the town of Goleta at the southern end of Santa Barbara County faced evacuation orders as a house fire quickly spread through the surrounding hills. While vineyards are not in the areas of the fires, the homes of some members of the wine industry just north of the area have been lost to the fires.

A wildfire in the far north of California is now the most dangerous in the state. It has roared into the mountains of southern Oregon, leading to widespread evacuations, loss of homes, and at least one fatality. At the end of June, Lake County suffered the first fire of the season, forcing evacuations. Lake County has been hit by wildfires with increasing regularity, seeing multiple fires in …

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

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

Deeper Shades of Pink

Deeper Shades of Pink

Morgan Twain-Peterson, Bedrock Wine Co.

In the past decade, Provence ushered in a rosé boom lit by a pale pink. Sales of the southern French pink claimed nearly 30 percent of all retail rosé sales by volume (and 43 percent by value) in the US in 2016. Whether wine drinkers are choosing based on taste or reputation, the popularity of pale Provençal pinks on the marketplace has had one clear effect: light-colored rosés have become de rigueur—to the point where vintners feel pressured to keep colors light.

Morgan Twain-Peterson of Bedrock Wine Co. in California felt this pressure with his Ode to Lulu Rosé in 2013. Thanks to the effects of the drought, he says, “that vintage was a dark year for wines across the board, and [Ode to Lulu] was two or three shades darker. We had trouble selling through the wine because of the color. We still take that into account when we make it.”

Although the color of rosé usually says more about the varieties chosen to make it than the wine’s taste or complexity, Twain-Peterson and other winemakers have found that wine drinkers assume the color communicates quality. But Twain-Peterson, for his part, is ready to go only so far to keep the color light. “What sets Lulu apart,” he says, “is that we are picking old vines for it. The youngest vines were planted in 1922. Everything else is from the 1880s and 1890s.” The result is a wine of innate complexity, regardless of color, and plenty of freshness.

Other vintners are taking inspiration from southern Italy (like Ryme Cellars, with their Gianelli Vineyard Aglianico Rosé) and parts of France other than Provence, like Chinon (Extea Cabernet Franc Rosé), and Savoie (Jaimee Motley Mondeuse Rosé), where there’s a history of rosé from other varieties across a broad range of pinks.

A Broader Spectrum
Or Portugal: Nathan Roberts and Duncan Arnot Meyers began working with touriga nacional grown in California’s North Coast for their rosé in 2011. “That first year, we went directly to press with little skin contact, thinking it would make a dark […].

To keep reading this article, head on over to Wine & Spirits Magazine where the article is available to read free online. Here’s the direct link: https://www.wineandspiritsmagazine.com/news/entry/deeper-shades-of-pink

Aurum Wines Winemaker Experiments with White, Rosé and Amber Pinot Gris

Aurum Pinot Gris

Lucie Lawrence, winemaker Aurum Wine

IN THE CROMWELL BASIN of Central Otago in New Zealand, Aurum Wines grows 1 hectare of Pinot Gris. The vineyard sits in the Pisa flats, near the town of Cromwell, and includes some of the youngest soils of the region, consisting of silt-based, wind-blown loess over schist gravels. The Pinot Gris was planted to a field blend of various clones in 2007. Vintage 2011 offered the first fruit from the planting. Compared to a previous planting of the variety, the Lawrence family, who own and operate Aurum, have found that the better plant material, as well as the plant diversity of the field blend have improved both the interest and quality of the resulting wine.

In appreciation of this, winemaker Lucie Lawrence chose to experiment with the fruit in the cellar. Over time she settled on dividing it into separate lots to make Pinot Gris three different ways: as a white wine, Rosé and what she calls an “amber” wine, which has some skin contact. The resulting wines are quite distinct and stand out as hallmark examples of the variety from New Zealand.

As she explained, in making each of the wines, her focus was on texture and aroma even if she wanted varying sorts of textural interest between the three. To produce the trial, the Pinot Gris for the three wines was picked simultaneously; the hectare of fruit is brought into the winery over the course of two days based on logistical need for the boutique-sized operation. Picking times were determined based on acid retention, with the fruit usually coming in at 3.2 pH and around 23° Brix.

As the program has evolved to include both Rosé- and Amber-style wines, the skin ripeness has also become a more important aspect of the picking decision. By picking on acid and pH levels, she has been able to rely on natural acidity rather than using acid additions to balance the wine. Once the fruit enters the winery, it is separated into three […].

To keep reading, head on over to the digital edition of this month’s Wine Business MonthlyThe issue is free to read, though you will have to create an email log-in. Once there, you can download a full PDF of the July edition, or flip through the interactive onscreen version. The article on Aurum Pinot Gris made three ways begins on page 34 and continues until page 40. 

Here’s the link to the digital magazine: https://www.winebusiness.com/wbm/