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Considering Fairtrade Wine, South Africa

Fairtrade Wine

In South Africa a number of wineries have been formed with interest to fulfill the standards of Fairtrade International. The organization strives to ensure workers’ rights, and create environmental protections in regions where exploitation would otherwise be easily achieved. By setting standards for economic, social, and environmental health, Fairtrade International helps to create a recognizable more-ethical alternative for buying products from other countries. The group certifies products, and ingredients after reviewing company practices. Fairtrade is a symbol commonly associated today with good like chocolate, coffee, cotton and various other foods.

As South Africa has worked to transform from its history of apartheid, Fairtrade has become a means for determining reasonable standards around which to build companies to create more equitable practices. While the South African wine industry has included predominantly white ownership, more recently several wineries have begun integrating farmworker ownership, also making further training and education available to farmworkers, and thus making their leadership in the business more possible.

During our visit two weeks ago, we were able to taste with several partially farmworker-owned wineries, each of which also hold Fairtrade certifications for their wines. While a number of wineries pride themselves in their Fairtrade practices, and utilize the symbol on their wines in sales throughout South Africa and elsewhere, they actually found that the United States market does not think of wine in terms of Fairtrade standards (even though the US American community does rely on it for other food products). Generally, then, even though these wines fulfill Fairtrade standards and are certified, they are no longer labeled with the symbol for export here to the United States.

Many of us in the wine industry have the privilege of thinking mostly in terms of premium wines. Even so, affordable everyday options still worth drinking are important to keep in mind either for ourselves or to recommend for others. An everyday wine needs to be relatively affordable, refreshing, and worth drinking on its own or with food, pleasing for a mixed group of people. Each of the following three wineries produces reliable commercial wines at incredible value that fulfill these needs. I was impressed with their ability to deliver plenty of flavor and still mouthwatering freshness. Many commercial wines in the United States fall into ponderance and weight on the palate. These brands all avoid that problem, remaining instead refreshing.


At only $10 to $12 a bottle all of the Fairvalley wines are incredible value. The stand out for me was the Chardonnay. The variety is one I follow all over the world and it is close to impossible to find an example at this price that is mouthwatering, fresh, and flavorful as well. It’s a commercial wine that avoids the heaviness more common to the variety at this price point instead delivering notes of honeydew and citrus with just enough texture, a nice mineral drive and a long mouthwatering finish. Perfect as an everyday or picnic wine.


Again, finding a Cabernet Sauvignon worth drinking at less than $25 is almost impossible. The Highberry delivers mouthwatering freshness with varietal expression at very good value. It offers mouth filling flavor, herbal accents with just enough earthiness, and a firm frame through a persistent finish. It’s a little harder to eat steak at a picnic but it’s clearly worth the trouble. If you’re willing to go that route, this too is a perfect wine for a picnic atop a hill with a hell of a view and a slight breeze to keep you cool.


South Africa does very well with white blends bringing together a melange of varieties to produce textural, flavorful wines with plenty of freshness. The Adama white blend from Bosman offers a mix of savory notes with sweet fruits (not sugar) and just a bit of mineral waxiness though the finish. The blend rests primarily in Grenache Blanc and Chardonnay with Pinot Gris, Roussanne, Semillon, and Viognier serving light supporting roles.

Fairtrade Wine Abroad

To learn about other brands certified by Fairtrade, check out the page from Fairtrade out of the UK that shares resources for global brands recognized to fulfill these standards. Here’s the link: http://www.fairtrade.org.uk/Buying-Fairtrade/Wine . You can also check out the site for other Fairtrade recognized products from cotton to coffee, and other goods here: http://www.fairtrade.org.uk/Buying-Fairtrade .

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

The Rise of Central Willamette Valley Chardonnay

Wine & Spirits

The October issue of Wine & Spirits – on newsstands now – includes an eight-page feature article I wrote on the history of Chardonnay in the Central Willamette Valley. The piece considers key moments for the variety in the region, while mentioning numerous producers to focus on the cultivar, as well as its key vineyards, all through the lens of two of today’s exceptional wineries. It’s a piece I’m thrilled to see in print as it’s been several years in the making and I truly love the wines that inspired it. Here’s a preview of the piece including a photograph of Erica Landon, who with husband Ken Pahlow leads Walter Scott wine, and their daughter Lucy.

Find it on newsstands now!


International Pie Club: the South Africa Report

International Pie Club, Diversity Division


One of the foundational tenants of International Pie Club is cultural sharing and curiosity, (as evidenced by our early meetings with founding members from countries around the planet (see the first Pie Club reviews here)). As shocking and unsettling as it will be for some of us to face, there are parts of the world where savory pie does not serve such a foundational role as it does in New Zealand and Australian culture. This can be challenging. There happens to be a strong correlation between people that depend on a good pie and those that love to travel. The reality I describe, then, simply emphasizes the importance of Pie Club members being culturally open-minded, willing to try food options other than pie – not, I repeat, not to replace pie in our own cultural lexicon, but to strengthen our fortitude, curiosity, and joviality in varying cultural contexts.

With this in mind, one of the commitments of International Pie Club is to explore and consider fulfilling alternative options for pie club members to enjoy when traveling in countries where pie is not so easily available. The point of searching for these alternatives is to locate a food integral to the local culture of the place being traveled that fulfills some small portion of the role that pie would otherwise fulfill. We must of course accept that no other food can usurp the role of pie. To claim so would be ludicrous. However, every culture has had their attempt at achieving the pinnacle that pie has reached and we can strive to locate these alternatives. We can think of this aspect of Pie Club’s mandate as two fold. First of all, the enjoyment of these other foods is importantly a form of cultural exchange. Secondly, it is a sort of proactive Pie Club rescue mission, locating and proscribing necessary nutrients for members before they arrive in country.

Enter babotie.


a sampler of South African dishes – a scoop of babotie appears at the top

Babotie originates as a fusion of cultures brought together thanks to the oppressive forces of colonialism. When the Dutch settled into the Cape Town region they began bringing slaves from Malay with them in the 17th-century. Today still, Malay culture permeates the city, shaped by the unique conditions of living in Cape Town. The historical moment has led to a unique Cape Malay community in South Africa, including a Cape Malay predominant neighborhood against the hills overlooking the harbor of Cape Town. The culture also, of course, carries its own unique flavor of cooking and some of the most intriguing restaurants of Cape Town feature the style. At its heart, Cape Malay food is about a balance of sweet, sour, spicy and savory with dishes commonly featuring a mix of ingredients we here in cultures of British descent tend to think of as isolated to separate moments of a meal rather than together in one dish.

Babotie represents the perfect balance of ‘make it work’ utilitarianism with ‘make it delicious’ creativity that, at the heart, savory pie symbolizes. To describe its form simply, babotie brings together layers of meat, spice, bread, and egg. The dish starts with spiced meat, generally either beef or lamb, placed in a ramekan or metal pot, and layers it with chutney and tamarind paste. The combination brings the brightness and sweet spice of chutney with the intriguing sweet and sour accent of tamarind. Alternate forms instead include flavors like ginger, yellow raisin, lemon, and herbs – notice though again the combination of sweet, sour, and spicy in the flavors added to the meat. To help give substance to the dish, dried bread soaked in milk is crushed and mixed in with the meat. Here, the addition of bread, now too hard to eat on its own, provides a filling and grounding element to the dish while also ensuring the pantry is not wasted. Lastly, egg and milk are mixed together and poured over the top as the final layer. After baking, the dish is sometimes topped with nuts and fruits to serve. The result is a wonderful layering of not only flavors but textures.

While babotie loses the transport ease of a hand pie served brown-bag-take-away it certainly carries the satisfying heartiness of savory pie and its ability to satiate a starving body, mend a broken heart, ease a troubled mind, or elevate a wounded spirit. Like pie, babotie is best served during lunch as a necessary pick you up, for dinner at the end of a long day, the next day to recover from a hang over, after sex to nourish your continued stamina, before church to strengthen your spirits during confession, or with a visit to your grandma because everyone loves their grandma.

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

Craven Wines


Mick Craven and some of he and his wife’s wines

Several years ago I popped into the old Wind Gap winery out in Forestville – their previous location in West County Sonoma – to say hello during harvest and taste a few wines. In the midst of the visit I happened to meet South African winemaker Mick Craven who was there that year working harvest with Pax Mahle, Ryan Glaab, and Scott Schultz. Fast forward four years later and I’m sitting side by side with Mick at a Stellenbosch restaurant talking through his wines and how that time at Wind Gap influenced his winemaking. The wine world is awesome like that – totally tiny, globally interconnected, and fun.

Today, Mick and his wife Jeanine live and make wine in Stellenbosch sourcing fruit for their small production eponymous label, Craven, from choice, older vine sites in the Western Cape. Their label focuses entirely on single variety, single vineyard, single vintage wines. Rather than deciding in advance what they’d like to make, they instead keep an eye out for vineyards that inspire, then work with farmers to hone quality.

While Jeanine originates from South Africa, their choice to settle there was not obvious. The couple met a decade ago here in Sonoma at a 1960s-era hotel bar in the midst of harvest. Each was working alternate harvest from the Southern hemisphere with Mick visiting from his home in Australia. From that chance encounter the duo managed to not only start their lives together but also chase harvest in key wine regions around the planet, finally choosing to settle back in Stellenbosch in 2011.

With their first focus on the vineyard, the pair have collaborated with a local artist friend to create labels that celebrate each site. Each wine features a watercolor of the vineyard behind the wine painted by the artist who then also completes the label design. The result  feels personable, charming and intriguing.

Together Mick and Jeanine keep a light touch in the cellar, minimizing fruit handling, while keeping winemaking clean, and relying on just enough SO2 for tasty stability. Over dinner we were able to taste their five current release Craven wines.

Clairette Blanche

South Africa has become home to what seems more single-variety Clairette Blanche than I’ve seen anywhere else (not that wine store shelves there are dominated by it). While the variety is native to Southern France, it appears there almost entirely in blends of the Rhone, Languedoc, and Provence. (Though, incidentally, if you do want to hunt down examples from France of what is there called simply Clairette, two of the earliest designated appellations of the Languedoc are devoted entirely to the variety. Both Clairette de Bellegarde and Clairette du Languedoc are 100% Clairette based wines.)

Clairette gained its sea legs for transport to the Southern hemisphere in the 16th century thanks to its use in the then-popular usually-sweet wine Picardan. Picardan’s popularity in the Dutch Wine Trade made Clairette a necessary choice for distribution through the Dutch colonies. At its peak, Clairette Blanche was as widely planted in South Africa as it also was in France.

As the public palate shifted from sweet wines towards dry, Clairette Blanche was replaced in vineyards throughout Stellenbosch. The grape tends to drop acidity easily on the vine, and also to oxidize in the cellar so in earlier stages of winemaking knowledge for dry wines those conditions proved a disadvantage. At the same time, a rush of outside investors in Stellenbosch heralded in a vineyard replanting through the region just a couple decades ago. Then-lesser-known regions, like Swartland to the north, weren’t subject to the same outside investment and so also not to the rash of replantings. Outside Stellenbosch, then, more vineyards simply stayed as they were. As a result, it’s harder to find older vines today in Stellenbosch, and also older varieties like Clairette Blanche, than it is in some other parts of South African wine.(Swartland, for example, still includes more older vine Clairette Blanche.) What that means is that for Stellenbosch, Craven’s Clairette Blanche is a rarity. It’s also delicious.

Craven brings in the fruit relatively early maintaining a glowing acidity that keeps the palate watering, then splits it into two lots. The first goes straight to press with a focus on crispness and drive, while the remainder runs through the crusher and sits on skins for a few hours to bring greater aromatic and flavor concentration as well as palate satisfying texture. There are levels of flavor here showing notes of grapefruit pith, dusty desert accents, and just a hint of vitamin powder. I really love drinking this wine as its simultaneously playful and well-honed, friendly and intriguing, approachable and loaded with persistence.

Chenin Blanc

I’m inclined to say that it is absurdly easy to drink good Chenin Blanc in South Africa but I don’t want that to lessen the point that Craven is making a good one. With their focus on single vineyard wines, Mick and Jeanine waited to locate a site they felt really showcased the variety before jumping into such a known category. The search brought them to the Polkadraai Hills of Stellenbosch where granitic soils bring nerviness to 35 year old vines. As the Cravens don’t like adding acidity to their wines they wanted a cooler site that more readily preserves its freshness.

Savory mineral character drives this wine nose through finish with tons of energy lifting first waft from the glass. On the palate, the wine turns subtle, almost lacy, while still energizing and persistent. The flavors build towards the finish, returning again to the savory mineral elements that open the nose. There is a deft, light touch here I find pleasing, and that inspires me to return again to the glass for another sip.

Pinot Gris

One of the things I love about traveling wine is the way I get to close loops all over the world. I’m constantly accumulating histories of producers, of varieties, or regions, and then finding linkages to information and stories I’ve previously gathered elsewhere. The Craven Pinot Gris proves another example.

During Mick’s and Jeanine’s time at Wind Gap, Pax Mahle, Ryan Glaab, and Scott Schultz were each making different versions of skin contact whites. Between them, the technique was being used on Trousseau Gris, Pinot Gris, and Ribolla Gialla. As Mick explains, he and Jeanine found the approach intriguing and upon launching Craven, decided to make one of their own. As a result, in order to bring out more phenolic frame and its palate stimulating qualities, the Craven Pinot Gris sits on skins for around a week. As recognizable as the skin contact whites style is for many of us, it’s a semi-controversial wine in South Africa.

South African wine exports and even local wine sales are regulated by a technical board through which all commercially released wines must be tasted. The board screens wines for not only what they deem to be wine faults but also recognizable wine styles. Skin contact whites are being made today in wine regions around the planet, and they also have a long standing history in Georgian wine culture, and decades old history in Italy. For South Africa though, the approach being still a niche category means such wines fall outside typical standards. While Craven has been making their skin contact Pinot Gris since 2014, they have had to submit an appeal each year to the technical board and argue for its legitimacy as a sound wine. So far their appeals have been successful while still costing extensive time and research on their part to gain permission to label the wine with its variety.

The 2016 hosts a lovely savory element throughout with that same dusty desert quality found in each of the Craven wines, notes of Turkish delight accented by dried rose petal and leaf, and just a hint of candy powder. The lightly tactile tannin and accompanying acidity make it perfect for the table as together they create a nice, building persistence through the palate.


Older vineyards in the Western Cape tend to host low to the ground head-trained vines there called bush vines. The Cravens’ Cinsault site centers around such vines planted between 20 and 30 years ago in granitic soils. With the subtle flavors of Cinsault, they choose to fully de-stem the variety also avoiding over extraction in the cellar.

The wine opens snug and focused with the lighter side of a medium body and bursting flavors of mixed red-violet fruits spun through with savory herbs and dusty earth. The wine is palate stimulating and persistent and is a perfect red to enjoy with a slight chill.


Made with 100% whole bunch inclusion, The Firs Vineyard Syrah from Craven receives light foot stomping with the goal to allow some whole berry fermentation. It’s left around a week and a half on skins before being pressed to finish fermentation. The approach delivers a wine with firm structural drive without angularity or aggressiveness. Instead, it carries layers of aroma and flavor with a mix of herbal, earthy, and savory notes including palate bursting flavors and just enough animal-inducing bloody iodine. Let this wine have a bit of air upon opening and make sure you’ve got some meat to rip chunks out of as you drink it. It’s delicious.

To read more about Craven wines, check out their own website here: http://cravenwines.com/

Or, that of their U.S. importers, Vine Street Imports, here: http://www.vsimports.com/winery.php?id=175

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

Saltare, South African Sparkling Wine

Saltare MCC

Upon arrival in South Africa we drove to Stellenbosch and spent the first evening enjoying dinner with a small group of producers making unique, small production wines. The intimacy of the group paralleled the sense of nuance found in the wines themselves.

Bootstrap wineries doing what they can to make wines of passion often reveal the fingerprint of the winemaker in the wines themselves – there is great insight to gain into the person behind a wine when they have had to dedicate themselves so thoroughly to making all aspects of the project happen themselves. It is, perhaps, a comparable challenge to that shared by writers like myself where doing what we love turns out to carry such high demand. And there I find my sympathy.

My interest in small production wine projects rests not only in the feeling that we can make a big difference by supporting them. In studying how they make their wine and handle the logistics of being a one-person operation we also learn more about the person themselves – where their values rest, what they are truly committed to, and what vision they have for themselves in the world. When someone has to work so hard to make their dream happen choices have to be made on what to commit to and what to let fall away. In observing those choices we learn something about what the person truly cares about. I find that both fascinating and also personally educational.

Saltare sparkling wine was the first of the wineries we tasted. After studying movement, owner-winemaker Carla Pauw shifted to winemaking and named her winery for the Latin word “to dance.” While she also makes a couple choice still wines, her first focus rests in sparkling made in the classic method, with secondary fermentation being done in bottle as is found in Champagne. (In South Africa, such wines are referred to as Methode Cap Classique or MCC in order to distinguish them from sparkling wines made by other methods.) Having previously served as head winemaker for other wineries, since 2010 Carla has devoted herself fully to Saltare making wine from vineyards in the Western Cape.

My favorite of her wines tasted was the first. Her Brut Nature made from an approximately 50/50 blend of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay stays 2 years on lees and is treated with both no SO2 and no dosage at bottling. The wine carries fresh, delicate aromatics and an elegant palate of building acidity. The flavors float in the mouth with lacy notes of citrus and chalk accented by crushed almond. There is a lovely dance of subtlety with persistence through a very long finish. I also loved the acid signature of this wine – it was fresh and glowing, coming into the palate incredibly fine, then building in intensity and presence through the finish. The wine is, in a word, graceful.

In the United States, Pascal Schildt imports Saltare wines, bringing in both the Brut Nature described here and her Reserve, made in a similar fashion as the Brut Nature but with an additional year on lees. Within South Africa, Saltare wines can also be purchased direct from the producer.

To read more about Saltare wines, check out Carla’s website here: http://saltarewines.co.za/

Or, Pascal Schildt’s page about her here: http://pascalschildt.com/saltare

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


Traveling South African Wine

South Africa

from left to right and back to front:
Brian, Jim, Shawn, Erik, me, Amanda, Aimee, Alex, Megan

I arrived home last night from a week in South Africa with Wines of South Africa (WOSA). The trip included three writers and six sommeliers / buyers, led by the inimitable Jim Clarke. Usually my wine travels are done solo but I appreciate a group trip for my first visit to a wine region as it is a great way to get a comprehensive, well guided over view. Mixing writers and buyers can be challenging as we have quite different needs on a trip like this but it was a great group of people and Jim was a very good guide.

We tasted between 80 and a 110 wines almost every single day we were there. We were able to keep Stellenbosch as a home base, visiting a different region from there every day. That combination of being comprehensive while returning every night to the same place gives perfect balance to an otherwise demanding schedule. Along the way while there I shared tidbits on Instagram, including some of the stand out wines we tasted. As there were many more wines worth writing about I’ll be sharing other insights here over the next couple weeks. In the meantime, here’s the compilation of Instagram photos.

Thank you again to Jim Clarke and Wines of South Africa for including me! Cheers!


South African butter also very good. #stellenbosch #southafrica @wosa_usa

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Pro tip: buy the holy crap out of this wine. Rall 2016 White. #swartlandindependent #southafrica @wosa_usa

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Looking through the sweep between the southeastern hills of Swartland. #swartlandindependent #southafrica @wosa_usa

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In love with these art pieces dotted about the hotel. Wonderful energy and freshness to them. #southafrica @wosa_usa

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Iron rich silty loam soils in the Delta area of Franschoek. #franschoek #southafrica @wosa_usa

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At the estate of the Somms-Delta winery in the Delta area of Franschoek extensive work has been done to excavate and study both the archaeological and also colonial history of the area. As a result a more profound understanding of communities in the region from pre-history has been found. With the work to document colonial history those that have lived on and built the estate as slaves in different eras have also been documented with as much work as possible to find the names of each. The associated information and artifacts have been gathered into a museum on site. Today a large portion of ownership of the estate has been dispersed among the farm workers who also live on site. In the museum this monument has been made recording the names of every person who lived and is buried on the site. The intention is to recognize the deeper history of the site and who actually made it possible. Many of today’s farm worker-owners can also point to their ancestors in this monument. #franschoek #southafrica @solmsdelta2017 @wosa_usa

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And then we saw baboons… again. On the way to Cape Town… #capetown #southafrica @wosa_usa

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

Interview on The Vincast, podcast with James Scarcebrook

Site updates

First of all, forgive me for the lack of updates here. My site host suffered a cyber attack, which led to more than a week of getting my own site infrastructure worked on as well. That’s also meant a bunch of small scale but mildly frustrating changes in the look of my site. I’m working on sorting those out but they’re going to take some time to get back in place as I prefer. I hope you’ll bare with me. 

The Vincast Interview

James Scarcebrook, also known online as The Intrepid Wino, has been hosting a wine culture podcast out of Australia for a few years now. James and I met by chance back in 2012 on a trip through Colli Orientali del Friuli, in the northeast of Italy, and have kept in touch since. We were being hosted by Lidia Bastianich herself for a lunch that was also filmed for Italian television. It was quite an experience.

James asked if he could interview me for his podcast, The Vincast, and the episode aired this week. It’s about an hour and looks at my life growing up in Alaska, how that eventually inspired my path towards wine, the meandering explorations I’ve taken along the way, and how I started drawing illustrated tasting notes, among other things. Check it out via his website, iTunes, or any of the numerous podcast player services.

If you enjoy the episode, check out previous interviews James has done with other people in wine. I know he’d love to hear from you too!

Here’s a look at The Vincast episode… original link to the episode on James’s own site:

Episode 121 Episode 121 – Elaine Chukan Brown aka Hawk Wakawaka

To suggest that Elaine Chukan Brown has led an incredibly diverse life is a massive understatement. In fact she’s lived several of them. Growing up in Alaska taught her an appreciation for the artisanal and the value of hard work, but it is her love of travel and discovery that eventually led to her becoming one of the most sought after voices in the global wine scene. She is probably most famous for pioneering the illustrated tasting note, something that some wineries have asked her to recreate on their wine labels!

If the embedded player doesn’t appear above, check out the episode on James’s actual site here – https://intrepidwino.com/2017/09/05/the-vincast-episode-121-elaine-chukan-brown-aka-hawk-wakawaka/ – you can also check it out and subscribe to the show on iTunes here – https://itunes.apple.com/au/podcast/the-vincast/id712047040?mt=2

Central Otago Pinot Noir at IPNC

IPNC Central Otago Pinot Noir Seminar

At the recent International Pinot Noir Celebration I led an afternoon University of Pinot seminar on Central Otago Pinot Noir. Winemakers Lucie Lawrence of Aurum Wines, Duncan Forsyth of Mount Edward, and Paul Pujol of Prophet’s Rock were also present. Each presented one of their own wines and helped me present four other wines from the region as well. We decided to present six wines that offered investigative pairs into the history, soils and elevation, vintage variation, and stylistic range of the region. As the region is still quite young the seminar was meant to offer an exploration of Pinot from the area, rather than a definitive, conclusive view.

These six wines from Wild Irishman, Rippon, Aurum, Quartz Reef, Mount Edward, and Prophet’s Rock were from five vintages – 2010 to 2014. After designing the seminar in this way, we then added an additional wine from Doctor’s Flat in order to bring greater depth to the investigation of elevation.

The first two wines from the Wild Irishman and Rippon opened the conversation offering touchstones to the origins of Pinot Noir in Central Otago (To read more on this early history of Central Otago: Ann Pinckney, Alan Brady, Rippon.) as well as a look at two of the cooler sub-zones of the region.

Two wines from the 2012 vintage – Aurum and Quartz Reef – allowed us to consider sub-regional diversity and vintage as the two wines have similar levels of whole cluster, are grown at essentially similar elevations, and yet quite different soil types from two different sub-zones. Aurum and Mount Edward served as another pair – the two wines are from very close proximity but quite different vintages as well as differing fermentation choices.

Quartz Reef and Prophet’s Rock became another pair. They are from quite close proximity but very different elevations, which also means differing soil conditions. Finally, Prophet’s Rock and Doctor’s Flat are from differing sub-zones but both from higher elevation sites.

Following are notes on the wines, their vintages, and the stylistic choices of their winemakers.

The line up … @ipnc_pinot

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The 2014 vintage was a relatively even growing season – a bit on the cooler side without being cold. The moderate and steady temperatures are reflected generally in the wines, offering tannin structure in good balance to the flavor presence, while also showing less abundant tannin than the previous vintage. 2014 Pinots from Central Otago are generally good wines without quite as much structure to age as the 2013 and 2015 vintages.

Wild Irishman Macushla Pinot Noir 2014 Central Otago 13.5%

Owner-winemaker Alan Brady makes his Wild Irishman Macushla Pinot Noir from what seems to be the highest elevation vineyard in Central Otago, and is certainly the highest elevation site in the Gibbston area. While he also does a Three Colleens cuvee from the same vineyard, the Macushla he holds longer in barrel allowing 16 months of aging before bottling. The result is finer, more resolved tannin well integrated with the flavor and body of the wine. Gibbston Valley as a growing sub-zone is among the coolest portions of Central Otago with harvest times significantly later than the more central areas of Lowburn, Pisa, Bannockburn, or Bendigo. The cooler, higher elevation temperatures of this site showcase one of the hallmarks of Gibbston’s flavor profile – alpine herbs with aromatics and flavors that come with very fine leaves that still somehow carry concentration with subtlety. The Macushla Pinot is entirely de-stemmed.

Tasting: The 2014 Macushla shows the lightness and lift of Gibbston Valley with the understanding to avoid over extraction in a region and vintage that could otherwise lead to rough tannin and an imbalanced wine. Notes of dried herbs and dried roses with a savory persistence set alongside dark purple fruits on the midpalate and light hints of cedar. Nice structural focus on supple tannin washed through with glittering acidity set in good balance to the fruit. Persistent mineral line of palate stimulating sapidity through a long finish. Mouthwatering, fresh, flavorful and light footed. There is a nice sense of depth and energy with insight at the heart of this wine. It carries a purity that shows the confidence of a winemaker in his site – no need to over extract or obscure the fruit the site gives you when you trust the vines. A pleasure to taste. Only two barrels produced.

In general, the 2013 vintage in Central Otago brings ample tannin for aging, while also creating wines that need decanting. From the best producers that extra step reveals a wealth of subtlety. Spring conditions created a challenging start to the year but temperatures became more even later in the growing season, and most especially in the weeks leading to harvest. Avoiding extreme temperatures, the vintage shows wines with good flavor and structure both in good balance.

Rippon “Rippon” Pinot Noir 2013 Central Otago 13%

The Mills family regard their Rippon bottling of Pinot Noir as the voice of the farm. Treated as a self-contained and self-sustaining farm, they view Rippon as the equivalent of a lieu diet with the winery, Rippon, being named after the Rippon lieu dit, rather than the other way around. That is, this particular bottling should be understood as an expression of the Rippon farm made by the Rippon winery, thus the double inclusion of the name Rippon on the label. Winemaker Nick Mills includes whole cluster in the fermentation only from vines he feels are adapted well enough to the site to express what he calls the noble phenolics of the place. The older vines that are well adjusted to the place’s unique growing conditions, he feels include distinctive, expressive, and pleasing phenolic matter that benefits rather than obscures the final wine. In order to determine which vines would count as ready in this way he relies on tasting both seed and stems. When there is a positive physical response to chewing this portion of the vine material it is included in the fermentation. When there is instead an experience of astringency or bitterness, the stems are disregarded. The Rippon Rippon Pinot Noir tends to be around 30% stem inclusion, and includes wine from all portions of the Rippon vineyards including both the original vine sites beside Lake Wanaka as well as some of the younger vines from the upper blocks of the property. The Wanaka area is one of the coldest sub-zones of Central Otago and Rippon has proven to be one of the few successful growing area within it as its vineyards are moderated by the neighboring lake helping it to avoid the most extreme frosts (though the site does not escape frost). It also never reaches extreme heat.

Tasting: Hints of cocoa and cedar on the nose are followed by chewy but firm tannin on the palate though these broaden and open with air. Flavors of cocoa, gunmetal and a mix of dark fruits – black plum skin, fresh black currant, and a squeeze of fresh blackberry – but the wine is more about earthy, woodsy (as in forest and dried grasses) notes than fruit. Through the finish firm, dark resinous notes appear from use of stem – these also recede and further integrate with air and are not unpleasant even when more apparent. There is a pleasing depth and natural concentration here coupled with a fresh, purity of energy that feels distinctive of site. With air, chalky tannin marries to that fresh, high tone acidity of the region for a long finish. This wine is quite young and would do well with decanting before serving, and some time in cellar.

Warm (not at all hot) temperatures opened the 2012 vintage and carried the remainder of the season. While much of the rest of New Zealand had a genuinely challenging year, Central Otago’s continental location protected it. The warm and even growing conditions created wines with succulent flavor and often more supple, silky tannin. It is generally a seductive vintage offering elegant Pinot Noir that also retains the structural integrity for plenty of depth and age-ability.

Aurum Mathilde Pinot Noir 2012 Central Otago 13%

The Aurum estate grows along the shores of Lake Dunstan in the Lowburn-Pisa intersection. Sitting directly beside the lake, Aurum hosts moderate temperatures with the lake helping to keep it from suffering from either too much heat or severe cold. Growing from wind blown loess soils of decomposed schist common to the lower elevation sites of the region, Aurum Pinots tend to have the finer, textured tannin and pleasantly bright red flavors common to sandy and loess soils. Aurum winemaker Lucie Lawrence likes to focus on exploring texture as a way to bring complexity to her wines whether that be in Pinot Noir or Pinot Gris. In Pinot Noir she makes three cuvees from the family-owned vineyard. The estate Pinot is entirely destemmed and meant to offer a pure expression of site. She also makes a 100% whole cluster fermentation Pinot, the Madeline, which is both delicious and instructive to drink. As the wine is made full whole cluster, while at the same time with minimal handling, the tannin of the wine is ample while also succulent and perfumed. The wine needs time in bottle and air upon opening and is well worth it. The Mathilde is made as what Lawrence describes as a more sophisticated, grown-up expression of the estate, focusing on particular clones from the site as well as about 25% whole cluster inclusion.

Tasting: Very lightly minty, lightly cedar, rose and red fruit aromatics lift from the glass and carry into the palate where subtle accents of dark chocolate mint and a lightly resinous accent also appear. Perfumed throughout, the palate is mouthwatering and lengthy with supple tannin that turns pleasantly dry through the ultra long finish. Flavor fills the mouth while remaining elegant and restrained, carried on a lifted and energetic palate. The structure and overall presentation are at the same time textural and spindly, characteristic of its site and lighter, windblown soils. The wine opens significantly with air and should be decanted to fully enjoy. It is also especially lovely alongside food.

Quartz Reef Pinot Noir 2012 Central Otago 14%

Quartz Reef was the first to develop vineyard land in the Bendigo growing area of Central Otago. Owner-winemaker Rudi Bauer recognized the growing potential of the sub-region and worked with the owner of the Bendigo sheep station to establish the necessary infrastructure for vineyards to enter the area. He was the first to plant there, and selected a moderately sloped site with rolling flats below to plant and farm biodynamically. The Pinot from the site is also used to make some of the best sparkling wine of the country with the vintage sparkling being a particular stand out. Bauer should be properly regarded as one of the fore fathers of the region – not a total pioneer in the sense of being the first to grow and make wine but nevertheless one of the first truly professional winemakers, and by now also one of the, if not the, longest standing professional winemaker in the region. His work helped elevate the quality of winemaking in the area while also helping to grow the overall wine culture. Bauer’s focus on camaraderie, information sharing, and global perspective are definitive of Central Otago’s wine community.

Tasting: Light cedar notes open the aromatics but disappear moving into the palate where red fruit flavors of candied cherries, pomegranate and candied rose petal come to the fore. There is a profound mineral line here that is both savory and glittering carrying the wine along with its bright while diffuse, high tone acidity through an ultra long finish. This wine carries the generous flavor and succulence of the vintage while showing a pleasing combination of lifted frame and depth. I especially like the distinctive presence of the rocky, silica charge of the sub-zone. Pleasing depth of spice characteristic of the subregion and accents of light tar that are a pleasure here. Hints of chocolate mint appear on the finish. Impressive structure well balanced to the fruit that entirely avoids being overbearing and shows the winemakers understanding of his site. This wine will age forever.

The 2011 vintage was more varied than those that followed it. Beginning rather warm, vine growth took a jump start in the spring pointing to what seemed like it would be a swift and early season. Within a month, however, conditions changed leading to cold temperatures and ample wind. Growth slowed bringing potential harvest back to a more standard timeframe. As harvest approach, the final weeks regained enough warmth to ripen the fruit. Wines from the region tend to be rather varied in 2011. Warmer sub-zones tended to do best from the 2011 harvest as they were able to harness plenty of temperature for flavor development and structural balance while also capturing the freshness and focus of the cool stretch.

Mount Edward Morrison Vineyard Pinot Noir 2011 Central Otago 13.5%

Mount Edward farms several sites in differing sub-zones of Central Otago. The Morrison vineyard grows from the flats near the shores of Lake Dunstan, reaching up a slopeside overlooking the region. As a result there is ample diversity to the site. Sitting in the Lowburn-Pisa intersection, the Morrison Vineyard hosts warmer temperatures for the region (relatively speaking – that is in no way to call this site overly warm or anything even remotely resembling hot temperatures) while remaining moderate. To put that another way, it is more moderate and even than the Gibbston Valley or Wanaka areas, while not quite as warm as Bannockburn. Winemaker Duncan Forsythe likes to make single vineyard cuvees from his various sites in years that warrant it, while blending across sites for his main estate cuvee. He also experiments with varying degrees of whole cluster inclusion depending on vintage.

Tasting: Aromatics of dark chocolate mint and wet herbs carry into the palate alongside dark fruits accented by sweet, late summer blossoms and a finish of wet tobacco. Lots of palate presence here housed in savory, chewy tannin washed through with acidity. A touch of heat peppers the finish but the wine stays juicy all the way through to close. There are ample while supple tannins here well-balanced by acidity that carries into a long finish. This Morrison Vineyard shows off the advantages of a warmer site (relatively speaking – this is still a very cool climate after all) in a cold vintage bringing depth of flavor and plenty of acidity while still avoiding green notes or the problems of under-ripeness. The whole cluster here avoids any sort of aggressive tannin while at the same time creating a wine of amplitude. Be sure to serve at cellar temperature.

Relatively even temperatures and weather conditions throughout the 2010 vintage also hosted just a touch more, still even, warmth in the later portions of the growing season. Wines tend to bring a combination of flavor, flesh, and structure with plenty of subtlety and depth from the best producers.

Prophet’s Rock Pinot Noir 2010 Central Otago 13.9%

Growing on one of the highest glacial terraces in Central Otago, Prophet’s Rock benefits from the unique soil structure resulting from the older soils of these upper terraces. Sitting at around 1250 ft elevation, schist top soil turns to light clay – formed from the fine particles of eroded schist simply due to soil age – with layers of chalk. In effect, both soil drainage and pH are unique for the site and the tannin profile and mouthfeel prove unique for the resulting wines as well. Sitting on a moderately steep slope, the vineyard tends to avoid the worst of the region’s potential frost, though due to its higher elevation it can still be harvested quite late in cooler vintages. Winemaker Paul Pujol has experimented with stem inclusion from this site but feels the vineyard’s wines ultimately are best revealed without it. He has also done a lot to reduce extraction as much as possible keeping the cap wet through fermentation while only doing one punch down through the entire length of fermentation and no pump overs.

Tasting: A pleasing balance of pure red fruits and flowers carrying depth of spice and a mineral-earthy accent carried by chalky tannin washed with acidity. Shows the amplitude and breadth of its vintage as well as the pure, bright while diffuse, high tone acidity of Central Otago. Deftly puts its broader structure alongside balancing fruit and a persistent mineral component that carries through the long finish. This wine needs to be decanted upon opening as there is a wealth of subtlety and evolution in the glass that reveals itself with air. A healthy respect for both site and vintage shows here. Most of all this wine is about subtlety – there is a lovely purity, clarity, and intelligence to this wine that is well wed to its deliciousness.

Bonus Wine

After having designed the seminar around the previous six wines we decided to add one additional wine, the Doctor’s Flat Pinot Noir, as it brings an additional layer of insight to the exploration by giving another high elevation reference to the tasting. The above information on the 2014 vintage is of course also relevant to this particular Doctor’s Flat wine.

Doctor’s Flat Pinot Noir 2014 Central Otago 13.5%

Doctor’s Flat stands on the top terrace of the Bannockburn area of Central Otago. It’s a unique site as it sits more exposed to wind and its cooling effect than much of the rest of the subregion where the most famous vineyards are more protected in the curve of hillsides that hug around a bay of Lake Dunstan. Sitting a little over 900 ft in elevation, the site grows not on the oldest glacial terrace of the region, but on one of the older ones. The schist parent material, then, is more decomposed to include more available mineral nutrients in the subsoils with some light clay occurring from the fine decomposed particles as well as small amounts of chalk. The combination of cooler temperatures with wind exposure and decomposed soils tend to lead to smaller yields with red fruit notes from this site, as well as chalky tannin. Owner-winemaker Steve Davies likes to play with some stem inclusion, though he has been exploring how much since his first vintage. Today he tends to hover around 30% stem inclusion.

Tasting: With 30% whole bunch underlying this wine hints of stem inclusion in the form of minty-cedar notes lift from the nose and also hover in the center of the palate. Tasting the wine multiple times over half a year it is also clear that the stems are continuing to integrate. Currently they bring a fresh top note to the nose, while at the same time carrying a kind of secondary mid-note – think of it as the sort of two tone experience enjoyed from just roasted green hatch chiles. The chiles first reveal that wispy green breath-of-fresh air lift that fills the nose and are quickly followed by almost-caramelized dark tones from the roasting that fill the aromatics at a lower register. The same carries into the mouth where fresh red fruits burst across the palate, carried by pleasantly chalky tannin, a mix of savory cocoa and Mexican spices, and a long mouthwatering finish.

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Winemakers use Pied de Cuve instead of Sulfur

Winemakers Use Pied de Cuve Instead of Sulfur
An Alternative Method to Stabilizing Central Coast Whole Cluster Pinor Noir
Elaine Chukan Brown

TOGETHER RAJAT PARR AND Sashi Moorman are the winemakers behind Domaine de la Cote and Sandhi in the Sta Rita Hills and Evening Land in the Willamette Valley. Domaine de la Cote and Evening Land are made from estate vineyards, while Sandhi sources fruit from heritage sites in Santa Barbara County. Their focus is on Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, which undergo a rather less-frequented fermentation method: all three wineries forego the use of sulfur until bottling and allow fermentation to start with ambient, rather than inoculated, yeast.

To help counteract some of the microbial issues that can result from withholding the use of sulfur, the winemakers have begun to rely on a pied de cuve method to help start fermentation. The method has been particularly helpful in whole-cluster fermentation for Pinot Noir. While the volatile acidity (VA) levels have been reasonably low for all of their wines, Parr and Moorman were interested in ensuring that they would remain low. The pied de cuve has helped lower those levels even further. Moorman shared their approach to the pied de cuve.

No Sulfur Until Bottling

Since the advent of the Sandhi program in 2010, the winemaking has included no sulfur until bottling, as well as fermentation via ambient yeast. When Parr and Moorman started Domaine de la Cote and Evening Land, they continued the practice for those wines as well. The decision to avoid sulfur until after fermentation was made to allow greater complexity in the resulting wine by fostering …

To keep reading head on over to Wine Business Monthly where their August edition is now available free-for-all online. You can either down the full PDF of the magazine or peruse it online. You will have to sign in but there is no cost to read once you’ve done that. The rest of the article on Parr and Moorman’s pied de cuve approach begins on page 66 of the August 2017 edition.

Here’s the link: 


Petaluma Gap – A windy AVA put on hold

Petaluma Gap – A windy AVA on hold 

harvest at McEvoy Azaya Ranch, courtesy of Doug Cover

Sonoma’s proposed Petaluma Gap AVA – known for its Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Syrah – is all but approved but, due to slow-downs under the Trump administration, its final authorisation is currently on hold for an unknown period of time. The proposed AVA has gone through every stage of public commentary and consideration required by the TTB, and has thus fulfilled the requirements to become an official American Viticultural Area under federal law. However, the final step – the official endorsement signature from the Office of the Treasury – is unavailable thanks to several empty appointments in that office.

Within the US government, the president appoints top positions of major departments and federal offices. As a result, it is normal to see some delay in rulemaking during the transition from one presidential administration to another as new administrators are nominated and approved. The Trump administration, however, has had a higher rate of delay than typical as Trump fired an unusually high proportion of federal officials immediately upon taking office, came in with an unusually low number of appointments already in place, and the appointment of new administrators has been slowed by the current presidency’s numerous distractions such as the ongoing special investigations.

While the top position of the Office of the Treasury, the Secretary of the Treasury, has been confirmed, the second level, Deputy of the Treasury, has no nominee. The TTB falls specifically within the Treasury Office of Tax Policy. There, the President also appoints the top position, and while an official was nominated for the..

To keep reading this article, including tasting notes, head on over to JancisRobinson.com

Here’s the direct link: https://www.jancisrobinson.com/articles/petaluma-gap-a-windy-ava-on-hold

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