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Raising Arizona Wines

Maynard James Keenan handed me my second espresso. To meet, I woke before dawn and drove over two hours across the Arizona desert. The town where he lives is remote.

We met in his Caduceus wine shop and tasting room at the top of the hill in Jerome to walk vineyards throughout the region. Mornings, the tasting room also serves the best espresso in town and, indeed, it’s among the best I’ve had anywhere.

Keenan explained that, when his favorite local coffee shop went out of business, he decided to buy the machine and beans to serve his own. It guaranteed he’d have a place to hang out in the mornings, and other locals would still get the coffee.

Keenan farms vineyards throughout the Verde Valley of Northern Arizona, as well as a heritage site in Willcox – the Al Buhl Memorial Vineyard – in the Southwestern part of the state. The vineyards serve as the basis for Caduceus and its sister winery, Merkin, and provide fruit for a few other top producers.

Keenan is better known, however, as the lead singer for the internationally celebrated rock bands Tool, Puscifer, and A Perfect Circle. The following for Tool is so rampant that, later in the day, we had to leave a local wine bar earlier than expected when a fan wouldn’t stop pestering.

The fanaticism doesn’t end there. A few years later, Keenan and I attended an Arizona wine tasting together in Napa, California. When news came out about the event, a winemaker friend spent the evening berating me in text for not inviting her to meet him. Tool, she told me, changed her life.

While Keenan’s reputation in music precedes him, people fail to recognize the quality possible for Arizona wine. In a wine world that fetishizes unicorn wine, oddball varieties and undiscovered regions, people still imagine Arizona as only a desert.

They also don’t realize that, unlike other celebrities who just attach their name to winery brands, Keenan actually makes his own wine. Spend time talking with him about wine, and his seriousness is obvious.

Now with more than 15 years experience growing in the region, Keenan has focused on continuously pursuing quality farming for the sake of quality wine. His efforts have been inspired partially by pioneers in the industry who farmed in Arizona first. Al Buhl, whose original vineyard Keenan now owns, first planted malvasia, discovering one of the state’s hallmark varieties. Today it’s one of Keenan’s favorite grapes, planted in steep, sloped terraces beside his home.

Other small production vintners who labor in the effective obscurity of Arizona wine also inspire Keenan. Callaghan Vineyards and Dos Cabezas Wine Works are among the oldest continuously producing wineries in the state. Both started vineyards in the first half of the 1990s. Their efforts have helped determine which varieties can genuinely succeed in the unique growing conditions of a high elevation desert. More recently, Sand-Reckoner has helped bring attention to the state through several acclaimed wines.

Though Keenan has been able to do the most to promote Arizona wine internationally – he often plans his tour schedule to line up with potential wine visits – he recognizes others were making wine first.

These four wineries have also recently banded together. Kent and Lisa Callaghan of Callaghan Vineyards, Todd and Kelly Bostock of Dos Cabezas Wine Works, and Rob and Sarah Hammelman of Sand-Reckoner, along with Keenan and his wife Jennifer, founded the Arizona Vignerons Alliance. It’s dedicated to securing the quality and long-term reputation of the region’s wines by certifying those made with Arizona-grown fruit (rather than juice trucked in from neighboring states). The alliance has also helped shine a light on other small producers making quality wine.

Keenan and I begin to drive. Our day will include walks through Verde Valley vineyards, from the lowest to highest elevation. Here, Keenan farms a collection of smaller sites, each devoted to a mix of mainly Italian and Spanish varieties. Sangiovese and tempranillo in particular do well.

Though Arizona is known for heat, cold is the greater challenge in the vineyards. In viticulture, Arizona’s spring frost and fall freeze are among the biggest concerns. One of Keenan’s own vineyards was replanted four times in just over ten years. The joke is that with every big freeze he has to go back on tour to afford the new vineyard. Yet, with each replanting, they’ve improved the site, choosing smarter cultivars, honing the training methods, and adjusting the landscape to protect from freeze.

At the same time, the cold also offers advantages. Arizona hosts the second largest diurnal shift of any growing region on the planet. That is due partly to its incredibly high elevation. In the Verde Valley, vineyards begin around 3,800 feet and reach as high as 5,000 feet (1524 meters). The area includes the lowest elevation vineyards in the state, but also, until recently, the highest.

Near Willcox, newer sites are climbing into the foothills of the Chupacabra Highlands and successfully growing vines around 5,300 feet (1,615 m). Sites of Sonoita hover a little below 5,000 feet. As a result, throughout Arizona, even on days that reach over 100 degrees Farenheit (38 Celsius), nights can fall below 50 (10C), cool enough to slow vine respiration and thus also retain ample acidity. At its best, that means freshness for wine.

Land vs Water

Keenan’s arrival in the Verde Valley coincides with the start of modern vineyards in the area. It’s the youngest growing region in the state. He began planting his Judith block in Jerome in the early 2000s, only a few years after the first vines went into the region.

Modern vineyards were first established in Arizona in the early 1970s, southeast of Tucson near the town of Sonoita. Within a decade, they had moved further east into Willcox as well. It wasn’t until the mid-1990s that people began planting vines further north.

As its name “green valley” suggests, the Verde Valley has plenty of water thanks to one of the state’s largest year-round waterways, the Verde River. Flowing between the dramatic red rocks of Sedona to the northeast and the rugged escarpment of the Black Hills to the south, the Verde Valley defies the desert stereotype. The rich vegetation of the river’s riparian zone includes plants as varied as walnut and sycamore trees, box elder, cattails, wild buckwheat, and desert sage. Vineyards here can even be dry farmed.

But where the Verde Valley has water, its land is limited. Thanks to the health of the river, sections of land are protected for wildlife conservation, while others are reserved for public recreation. The water has also meant its history of agriculture.

Ranchers have owned most of the Verde Valley for generations. For older landowners, the advent of wine growing seems an unwelcome upstart. Most are uninterested in the economic advantages of a swiftly growing wine country. Their lives have rested in cattle. But as ranchers age, they are faced with land to be split among adult children with differing motivations.

As wine country in the Verde Valley has grown, so have other cultural opportunities such as an improved food scene, tasting rooms, and wine bars that give locals a place to relax after work, as well as art shows, farmers markets and music events.

Younger generations have begun taking interest, and it’s changing the local economy. In the last five years alone, Cottonwood, in the heart of the Verde Valley, has gone from virtual ghost town to epicenter of food and wine. Halfway up the main street, Keenan’s Merkin Osteria includes an Arizona-only menu complete with produce from Keenan’s own gardens and pasta made onsite from the state’s own grain. The project is designed to support other local farmers and promote the state’s unheralded crops while also pouring Keenan’s wines.

Interest in wine has proved substantial enough that the area now hosts a two-year viticulture and enology degree through Yavapai College. The first graduates of the program have begun launching their own wine brands. To support the efforts, Keenan donated a vineyard for students to farm, and also opened the region’s first co-op where winemakers share equipment.

Success has some downsides, however. The strength of the region’s cultural interests has also meant increased land prices. Those boutique winemakers just out of their two-year degree are unlikely to afford vineyard land or their own winery space in the Verde Valley. But changes in potential land use of the Verde Valley could prove essential to the long-term health of Arizona wine. The state’s other two growing regions are thirsty for water.

Today, vineyards grow mainly in Willcox. Land remains affordable there, and the growing conditions in the area readily support vines. It is also home to more small wineries, and the quality of the region has attracted uniquely experienced winemakers.

After making a name for himself in Oregon, Dick Erath established vineyards in Willcox, bringing attention to the vineyard potential of Arizona, before selling them to Todd and Kelly Bostock. The Bostocks also farm land in Sonoita.

More recently, after earning his master’s in viticulture and oenology in Adelaide, Rob Hammelman and his wife Sarah moved to Willcox. They simply liked the area, but more importantly they were also able to afford a house on plantable acres to launch their bootstrap winery, Sand-Reckoner.

Not far from Sand-Reckoner’s home vineyards, the Pierce family owns and farms their Rolling View Vineyard, which provides fruit for two family-owned brands, Bodega Pierce and Saeculum Cellars. Son Michael Pierce also serves as the director of enology for the two-year program in the Verde Valley.

The success of these wineries has depended at least partially on land prices and availability. None of them could have started in the Verde Valley. Even so, the long-term growth of Willcox hits a limit when the region runs out of water.

Sonoita too has a limit on water, but its soils also slow growing potential. Uniquely high bicarbonate levels give wine the same palate-squeezing tension and innate concentration found in sites planted to limestone. But, like limestone, too much means vines are imbalanced, unable to capture enough of their other mineral needs.

In places that work, the spindly power and mouthwatering character of the wines is impressive. As a result, sites in Sonoita tend to be managed as a sort of ongoing experiment, looking for just the right spot and just the right planting. Vineyards are often established to a field blend-style melange of varieties. It provides both insurance against vintage variation and the chance to see what works.

Many of the best wines of the region too, from producers like Dos Cabezas Wine Works and Callaghan, come from the co-fermented mix of varieties grown in these sites. The approach offers texture and balance to the concentration and intensity innate to the region.

Back in Jerome

After a full day of driving the Verde Valley, Keenan and I finish back in Jerome, tasting vintage verticals of his hallmark wines. The most striking for me comes from his Judith block. It’s the highest elevation site in the Verde Valley, set on the side of what locals call Cleopatra Hill in a series of steep-sloped terraces at 5,000 feet. Earlier that morning, we’d started the day walking the Judith block just after finishing our espresso.

There, when we step into the vines, the morning light across the valley glows at a low angle, rising over the Black Hills behind us. The hills cut the light into fingers reaching across the Verde Valley, emblazoning the red rocks on the other side of the river. We step carefully from terrace to terrace. Everywhere there are chalky white stones. As we walk, the stones release a faint, powdery chalk smell, all mixed through with chaparral. I am struck by it. This feels like one of the most iconic sites I have seen anywhere, as if it was simply made to grow wine. Yet, here we are in Arizona.

At the end of the day, when we return to taste the wines, there it is again. I recognize the Judith block in its smells. With every vintage and variety grown in those soils, I can smell powdery chalk mixed through with chaparral, the smell of the desert, the scent of growing Arizona wine.

Words and illustrations by Elaine Chukan Brown, aka @Hawk_Wakawaka.
This article was original published in Sommelier 2017, a magazine published in partnership with Texsom, and Texsom International Wine Awards

Publisher’s Note: TEXSOM International Wine Awards 2017 demonstrated the heights to which Arizona wines are rising and the engagement of which producers in marketing their wines to a wider audience. TEXSOM IWA received enough entries for Arizona to qualify as its own single state category (along with California, Oregon, Washington, New York, Texas, and last year’s addition Virginia). Nineteen wines from Arizona won medals under the stringent judging standards of the competition. – James Tidwell

Post Edit: The original version of this article erroneously stated that Dick Erath had previously owned Dos Cabezas. That error has been removed. 

The Story of California Chardonnay – part 4

The final instalment of this four-part history of California’s most popular grape variety. See also part 1part 2 and part 3

Broadening the range of styles: 2000 to today 

As the ABC movement took hold, wine lovers turned away from California Chardonnay, and restaurant wine lists throughout the United States reduced by-the-glass selections largely to only one key Chardonnay. Rombauer and Kendall Jackson Reserve became benchmarks for more generous renditions of the state’s number one variety. Kendall Jackson Reserve was launched in the mid 1980s and by the 2000s had become the standard for a rich style of Chardonnay with a bit of residual sugar. It filled a previously untapped spot in the market selling as a mid-priced wine, neither as expensive as boutique wines, nor as cheap as mere jug wine. Kendall Jackson was marketed as a wine for anyone. While its style of relying on residual sugar was less common upon its release, by the end of the 1990s it had been copied the world over.

Interestingly, in the case of Kendall Jackson Reserve, the residual sugar came not from Chardonnay itself but from blending in a small amount of unfinished, so sweet, Gewurztraminer. The wine was a multi-regional blend. While the everyday consumer couldn’t get enough of it, the specialist wine drinker turned away from Chardonnay because of it. Although higher-end customers and wine geeks criticised the variety, the state’s acreage did not significantly decrease. Sales of lower-priced Chardonnays remained strong. Premium producers whose style was championed by collectors seeking wines recommended by Parker and Wine Spectator directed sales towards this sort of collector, while producers of the more classic style relied on long-standing devotees as sales slowly decreased. The backlash of the ABC movement failed to distinguish between the different styles of Chardonnay.  As wine lovers turned away from California wines, interest in the fresher styles associated with Old World producers took hold. In California, even some of the celebrity producers of the riper styles began to consider bringing greater freshness to their approach.

Gaining acclaim for generous wines in the late 1990s, DuMOL winemaker Andy Smith (pictured above right) was already beginning to reconsider his approach in the early 2000s. By 2003 when the winery began planting their own estate vineyard in the cool-climate part of Russian River Valley known as Green Valley, Smith made the decision to establish the vineyard in a manner that would support not only greater freshness but also more nuance in the wines. The DuMOL estate was established with California heritage clones.

Smith decided on the innate complexity of California heritage selections, rather than nursery clones, or heat-treated material from UC Davis. He selected budwood from the ….

To keep reading this article, head on over to JancisRobinson.com where it appears free-for-all to read. You will also find there each of the first three installments of the article, all of which Jancis published free-for-all as a Christmas present to readers. Here’s the direct link to the fourth installment: https://www.jancisrobinson.com/articles/the-story-of-california-chardonnay-part-4

Part 1: https://www.jancisrobinson.com/articles/the-story-of-california-chardonnay-part-1

Part 2: https://www.jancisrobinson.com/articles/the-story-of-california-chardonnay-part-2

Part 3: https://www.jancisrobinson.com/articles/the-story-of-california-chardonnay-part-3

The Story of California Chardonnay – part 3

See part 1 and part 2 of this four-part history of California’s most popular grape variety. 

The globalisation of California Chardonnay: the 1980s to the 2000s 

With a few exceptions, by the end of the 1970s much of California Chardonnay was made with some period of skin contact after being run through the crusher, followed by cold fermentation with cultured yeast in temperature-controlled tanks, no malo, and ageing in new oak barrels. The result was a plethora of wines full of flavour upon release, and plenty of impact. But it is worth noting that during this period the wines were not as alcoholic as later California Chardonnays and were more commonly around or below 13%. Even the richest examples were below 13.5%.

In 1981, Frank Prial wrote an article for The New York Timesthat would help begin a shake up of California’s newfound Chardonnay style. Without naming any producers beyond generally noting ‘a famous North Coast winery’, and referring to Chardonnays of the region more broadly, Prial described his issue with the wines. His critique seemed exactly counter to the goals of immediate flavour sought by many of the trend-setting producers of the time. As he explains, he brought two wines to dinner, one a California Chardonnay and the other a white burgundy. ‘Both were Chardonnays, from optimum vintages and in the same price range. At first the California wine was impressive and the French wine seemed weak and bland. Twenty minutes into the meal, however, the American wine was clumsy and overpowering while the charm and subtlety of the French wine was only beginning to emerge.’

David Ramey told me that Prial’s article had an important impact on California wine and caused producers to begin rethinking their approach to winemaking. The timing was significant. For the first time in recent history, the North Coast of California had a plethora ….

To keep reading, head on over to JancisRobinson.com where the rest of the article appears free-for-all to read. Part 1 of the piece appeared there Monday, part 2 Wednesday. The 4th, and final part, will publish Friday. Here’s the direct link to part 3: https://www.jancisrobinson.com/articles/the-story-of-california-chardonnay-part-3

Happiest of Holidays to everyone!

Part 1: https://www.jancisrobinson.com/articles/the-story-of-california-chardonnay-part-1

Part 2: https://www.jancisrobinson.com/articles/the-story-of-california-chardonnay-part-2

The Story of California Chardonnay – part 2

See part 1 of this four-part account of California’s most-planted grape. 

The building of California Chardonnay: the 1950s to the 1970s 

It was in the Stony Hill vineyard, at between 1,000 and 1,600 ft (305–490 m) elevation in loamy volcanic soils, that the first Chardonnay was knowing planted in Napa Valley. The first wines were released from the 1953 vintage after an unfortunate mishap with contamination of the first, 1952 vintage. The McCreas were friends with many Napa Valley winemakers and so learned how to make wine from their neighbours. Although it was the wines of Europe that inspired them, there was little communication between wine producers in Europe and California and so there was little knowledge of, for example, Burgundian winemaking techniques. Varietally specific winemaking was not yet developed so the approach they took to making Chardonnay was consistent with what was simply white winemaking.

In 1972, Mike Chelini (above right) became first the Stony Hill vineyard foreman, and then also winemaker alongside Fred McCrea. When McCrea died in 1977, Chelini took the lead in both roles. Currently Chelini is both the longest-tenured winemaker in Napa Valley, and also the longest tenured Chardonnay winemaker in North America. Just this month Stony Hill announced that at age 70 Chelini is retiring after the completion of the 2018 vintage. During my interviews with Chelini, he explained that he has consistently made Stony Hill Chardonnay exactly as McCrea taught him, and that McCrea also claimed never to alter the approach. The equipment even remains largely the same. On further questioning, Chelini admitted the one thing that has changed is that he has  reduced his sulfur usage.

Having remained largely unchanged, Stony Hill Chardonnay stands as an important window into the history of California winemaking. According to Chelini, the style was meant to offer very little flavour to the wine in its first few years. Instead, McCrea believed the wine began to show itself after around 10 years in bottle. The fruit was harvested at around 23.5 ºBrix in the interest of preserving natural acidity. After harvest, the Chardonnay was run through a crusher and directly into the press. (Originally this choice would have been largely logistical, depending on the equipment available at the time, and was common throughout the region.) As the juice came in, sulfur was added to keep the juice from oxidising, and then after settling the juice went to old barrels and/or wooden tanks (depending on what was available in the winery) for fermentation. The wine was kept there for 10 months before bottling through sterile filter, without either bâtonnage or malolactic conversion (ML).

As Peter McCrea explained, it was common for wines of the region in the 1970s not to ….

To keep reading, head on over to JancisRobinson.com where the article is free-for-all to read. Part 1 of the piece appeared Monday of this week, also free-for-all. Part 3 will appear Thursday. Here is the direct link to this portion, part 2: https://www.jancisrobinson.com/articles/the-story-of-california-chardonnay-part-2

Happy Holidays!

Part 1: https://www.jancisrobinson.com/articles/the-story-of-california-chardonnay-part-1

Part 3: https://www.jancisrobinson.com/articles/the-story-of-california-chardonnay-part-3

Part 4: https://www.jancisrobinson.com/articles/the-story-of-california-chardonnay-part-4

The story of California Chardonnay – part 1

This is the first of a four-part account of California’s most-planted vine variety.

Today Chardonnay is the most widely planted, and successfully-sold, grape variety in the state of California, and occupies a similar position in the rest of the world, but its rise to such prominence is relatively recent.

It was not until the 1970s, by which time three key events had occurred in the United States, that plantings of Chardonnay in the state really took off. Sales of table wines finally surpassed those of dessert wines; the price of grapes finally surpassed the cost of farming them; and clonal selections increased average yields. At the start of the 1960s there were only 300 acres of Chardonnay planted in the whole of California (Pinney 1989). The results of the Judgment of Paris tasting in 1976 in which Chateau Montelena’s 1973 Chardonnay famously ‘beat’ some top white burgundy helped increase public interest, but on its own would not have offered enough momentum had yields, grape prices, and interest in table wine not already been established. By 2000, Chardonnay secured its position as the most-planted variety in the state. Today, more than 100 clonal selections of Chardonnay exist in California, with the diversity of plant material derived from a mix of treatments, supplemented by heritage selections and newer imports from around the world. This will be discussed at more length.

The following four-part history looks primarily at premium wine, although the historical information also gives some insight into how Chardonnay became such a commodity wine as well. The research includes my own extensive interviews with vintners throughout California, reading of transcripts from historic oral interviews of vintners throughout the state, relevant California grape harvest reports, and various books on wine. Some of the books relevant to this material are listed at the end of each instalment. As always, even more producers could be mentioned along the way. This is meant to give an overall narrative of how the variety grew to its stature and how its styles and interests evolved over time, rather than to cover every producer, which would demand a book rather than just a very, very long article.

The subject is something I find fascinating as it serves as an interesting lens into the world of wine. While Chardonnay certainly originates in France, its popularity as a varietal category starts in California. Before varietal labelling began in the United States in the late 1930s, Chardonnay had never ….

To keep reading, head on over to JancisRobinson.com where the entire four-part piece will be published free-for-all to read as a Christmas present to readers.This is the first of the four-parts. The next three will publish Wednesday, Thursday, Friday of this week. Here’s the direct link to the first installment: https://www.jancisrobinson.com/articles/the-story-of-california-chardonnay-part-1 

Happy holidays to everyone!

Part 2: https://www.jancisrobinson.com/articles/the-story-of-california-chardonnay-part-2

Part 3: https://www.jancisrobinson.com/articles/the-story-of-california-chardonnay-part-3

Part 4: https://www.jancisrobinson.com/articles/the-story-of-california-chardonnay-part-4

Van Duzer Corridor AVA now official

President Trump approves another official wine appellation.

The Van Duzer Corridor AVA in Oregon’s Willamette Valley has been officially approved by the TTB, the US regulatory body. The announcement came on Friday after seven years in the TTB approval process. While the application for the new AVA had been all but signed, Trump’s policy of reducing new regulations had severely slowed the final approval process for not only this AVA but all AVAs within the United States (see, for example, Petaluma Gap – Trumps first new AVA). The proposal was originally submitted in 2011 and was close to completion before Trump took office. However, immediately after becoming President, Trump announced he would forego creating any new regulations without having first eliminated others. Since an AVA is a legal designation, the TTB approval process fell within Trump’s de-regulation tactics.

With the new Van Duzer Corridor AVA, the larger Willamette Valley AVA is now home to a total of seven nested AVAs including Dundee Hills, Yamhill-Carlton, Chehalem Mountains, Ribbon Ridge McMinnville, and Eola-Amity Hills, all of which were approved between 2005 and 2006. The original Willamette Valley AVA was recognised in 1983. See this map.

The new Van Duzer Corridor area has long been recognized as one of the coldest and most wind exposed portions of Willamette Valley. The planted area within ….

To continue reading this article, head on over to JancisRobinson.com where it appears free-for-all. Here’s the direct link: https://www.jancisrobinson.com/articles/van-duzer-corridor-ava-now-official

Cheers!

Rebuilding Wine Country Eight Cottages at a Time

The lead story over at Wine & Spirits Magazine … 

FINED & FILTERED

Rebuilding Wine Country, Eight Cottages at a Time

It happened in a matter of hours. When the Wine Country fires started in California the night of October 9, 2017, they rushed over 30 miles of canyons, from Calistoga west into the hills, exploding in the Fountaingrove neighborhood of Santa Rosa just after midnight. By morning, the neighborhood was gone, all but two houses burned by the fires.

Much of Coffey Park, Mark West and Larkfield Estates were also destroyed in the fires. In Santa Rosa alone more than 2,800 homes and 5,100 structures were burned, creating a housing emergency in a city that already had a housing crisis.

Within days, Chris Strieter, Max Thieriot and Myles Lawrence-Briggs of Senses Wines in Occidental created Rebuild Wine Country, partnering with Habitat for Humanity to build and repair structures after the fires. This October, their efforts began to turn into homes.

On the one-year anniversary of the Wine Country fires, Rebuild Wine Country and Habitat for Humanity held a groundbreaking ceremony in the Fountaingrove neighborhood to install the first of what will be eight to ten Sonoma Wildfire Cottages. Congressman Mike Thompson and designer Marianne Cusato were also on hand for the ceremony. Medtronic, a medical equipment company, donated a portion of its Fountaingrove campus for the community of cottages. The project is just the …

To keep reading, head on over to Wine & Spirits where the article appears free-for-all. Here’s the direct link: https://www.wineandspiritsmagazine.com/news/entry/rebuilding-wine-country-eight-cottages-at-a-time

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.