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A week in Walla Walla, The Rocks District

I spent last week in Walla Walla focusing in particular on Syrah and The Rocks District of Milton-Freewater. It’s one of the most distinctive growing regions in the United States that has been quite interesting to follow these last several years, and it was especially insightful to return and again put it in context with Syrah of Washington and Oregon more broadly. The Walla Walla AVA follows the geographical expanse of the Walla Walla Valley, which falls across parts of both eastern Washington and Oregon.

For quick clarification: The Rocks District of Milton-Freewater AVA sits nestled entirely within the larger Walla Walla AVA on the Oregon side of the valley. According to currently defined laws, producers from either Washington or Oregon can source fruit from the Walla Walla AVA and label the resulting wine with that AVA. That is because the recognized growing region naturally occurs in both states. However, since The Rocks District sits only in Oregon, that legal AVA designation can only appear on wines produced and bottled within the state of Oregon. Many of the wineries that bottle wines made from fruit grown within The Rocks District are found on the Washington side of the valley but cannot bottle with the nested AVA on their label. Most then choose to bottle instead with Walla Walla on the label. For that reason, if you are looking for wines from The Rocks District, it is important to know your producers and their designated bottlings.

Following are photos and information I shared via Instagram during my trip to the region.

 

 

 

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The Rocks District of Milton-Freewater, Walla Walla – the Walla Walla AVA crosses through eastern Washington and Oregon almost evenly split by the two states. Nested within the larger appellation of Walla Walla stands The Rocks District of Milton-Freewater AVA, known for its deep and substantial deposit of alluvial basalt cobbles. The region was formed by layers of repeat basalt flows, then powerfully broken and carved by the Missoula floods. The Walla Walla River then eroded and carried basalt stones settling it through the southern part of the valley in a broad alluvial fan. The Rocks District is unique as an AVA within the United States in that it was defined most fundamentally by soil. Its borders circumscribe the area most clearly defined by the continuity of this basalt cobble deposit. Here, the cobbles that are the AVA’s signature at the base of a vine of Syrah in the Funk Vineyard on the southeastern side of The Rocks District. The Rocks District AVA falls entirely within the state of Oregon. The fruit is substantially used by wineries in the Washington side of the larger AVA. #wallawalla @wwvalleywine @wa_state_wine @oregonwineboard @canvasbackwine

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Funk Vineyard, The Rocks District of Milton-Freewater – talking through the impact of number of growth points on a vine in relation to a naturally vigorous variety such as Syrah with Canvasback winemaker Brian Rudin. While growing conditions in The Rocks District are challenging, the soils here also encourage vigor on an already naturally vigorous cultivar, Syrah. Farming choices then become important for balancing vine growth to fruit production. Here, Funk Vineyard has chosen to increase growth points on the vine through a Geneva Double Curtain style of split canopy as well as two reserve canes kept for burying in the winter in case of possible freeze. By essentially giving the vine more to do, the growth of the vine in any particular cane or portion of the canopy is slowed. In the second photo you can see the internodal growth is a desirable fist-width bringing greater overall balance to the vine. At the same time the split canopy spreads the fruit zone and increases cluster count while reducing cluster and berry size, thus retaining concentration in the fruit. #wallawalla @wwvalleywine @wa_state_wine @oregonwineboard @canvasbackwine

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The Walla Walla River, South Fork – coming out of the Blue Mountains, the Walla Walla River powerfully moves rocks and soil through the region creating an alluvial fan of eroded basalt cobbles as it changes course through the southern part of the valley. The power of the river is important for how it feeds and changes the landscape as well as for how it rounds and changes the rocks it deposits along the way. While the South Fork portion of the river is East of The Rocks District it reveals the source of the AVAs unique cobbles. Here, along the Walla Walla River on the South Fork further basalt cobble deposits are visible. #wallawalla @wwvalleywine @wa_state_wine @oregonwineboard

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Long Shadows Syrah Vertical, Sequel from 2003, 2006, 2009, 2012, 2012 Bin 898, 2016, and Cote Nicault 2015 (Washington) – Long Shadows portfolio stands unique among wineries in that for each Long Shadows wine the Director of Winemaking & Viticulture, Gilles Nicault, partners with one of the world’s iconic winemakers to mentor and make the wine. Each wine a different winemaker mentor. For Long Shadows Sequel Syrah, Nicault works alongside John Duval, the famed Barossa winemaker at the helm of Penfolds for 29 years and now for his own eponymous wines. Since 2003, Duval and Nicault have married Duval’s vast library of technical knowledge to Washington’s unique growing conditions to craft Sequel. It is a pleasure to taste the wine back to its founding vintage to see how very well it ages. Seeing the wines side by side a clear evolution emerges but on their own the oldest wines here, now 16 and 13 years old, would appear far younger. #wallawalla @wwvalleywine @wa_state_wine @long.shadows

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The North Fork, Walla Walla – in the southeastern reach of the Walla Walla AVA the North Fork of the Walla Walla River cuts a winding canyon between high elevation slopes of fractured basalt. The area is one of the newest, exciting developments of the region with still only two vineyards planted and more slowly on the way. Set closer to the Blue Mountains and at higher elevation (here in this photo standing at 2000 ft) the area gets more rain than much of the valley and has a longer, more even growing season with cooler days and slightly warmer nights. Soils are derived of eroded and fractured basalt. Zoom in on this photo and follow the treeline on the canyon floor to see the river route of the North Fork. The North and South Forks converge not far from this area to become the larger Walla Walla River, which feeds and carved the southern Walla Walla Valley on the Oregon side. #wallawalla @wwvalleywine @oregonwineboard @wa_state_wine

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The North Fork of the Walla Walla River, 2000 ft elevation Autumn flora on uncultivated land – really beautiful, and varied micro flora at high elevation growing over very shallow soils on fractured basalt. Like a forest of miniaturized plants all growing in intense diversity together. Walking these uncut landscapes gives so many clues as to what is underneath – the change points from wild grasses to wild sage or wild flowers, to mosses and lichen all indicate differing depths of soil (and so also moisture availability), as well as changes in exposure, mineral availability, and soil pH. Love eyeing such details. The beauty in little things. #wallawalla @wwvalleywine @oregonwineboard @wa_state_wine

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The Rocks District of Milton-Freewater – the alluvial basalt cobbles that make up The Rocks District. Here, a soil pit down to about 3 meters that shows how incredibly stony the soils of The Rocks District are. Laid down by the movement of the Walla Walla River, the basalt cobbles have been smoothed and rounded by water erosion. These cobbles descend tens of meters into the earth here, spread in a broad fan through Northeastern Oregon in the southern part of the Walla Walla Valley by the movement of the river carrying the stones downstream from the Blue Mountains and the descending landscape of the valley itself. The Rocks District stands at around 850 ft elevation. As the eastern side of Washington and Oregon are desert and a continental climate, with its cold winters and shorter growing season, vines are not farmed below 800 ft generally as temperatures are not adequate for ripening and winter at lower elevations brings frost concerns. Some frost issues remain still in Walla Walla above this elevation but are threats every few years rather than every winter. During the growing season the basalt stones absorb heat during the day helping to encourage some fruit development at night as well, this extending growing hours in a short growing season. #wallawalla @wwvalleywine @oregonwineboard @wa_state_wine

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Winter Freeze Protection, Burying Canes or Burying Buds, The Rocks District, Walla Walla – winters in the Walla Walla Valley on the eastern side of both Washington and Oregon readily get below freezing temperatures and cold enough to sometimes freeze damage vines. There are two key means of protecting vines from such potential damage, both of which consist of burying part of the vine after harvest and before winter. Here in the first photo, burying a cane or two per vine can be done generally for vines trained with the head of the vine, or base of its canopy, starting a few feet above the ground. A cane from a bud low on the vine trunk was allowed to grow parallel to the trunk and into the canopy during the season. (Some people also use this to address vigor issues by essentially giving the vine more to grow.) After the season, the extra cane is then pulled down and laid flat on the ground under the vine. Soil is then piled over the canes to bury them, often in two stages. Here, the first stage has been buried most of the length of the cane. In the second stage people will shovel dirt over the still exposed part of the cane seen here near the trunk. In the second photo, the vine has been trained with its head, or canopy height, low to the ground. Here, instead of burying canes two buds low on the trunk, at the start of the vine head are buried. Here, the burying process has already been complete and the buds are already buried. In the spring the cane or buds will be uncovered. If any freeze damage has occurred the upper trunk will be removed and the canes or buds will be used to restart the vine. Vines are trained close to the ground as in the second photo to capture more radiant heat from the stones and encourage more savory notes as a result. Vines are trained high to escape more of the radiant heat and retain more fruit character. #wallawalla @wwvalleywine @oregonwineboard @wa_state_wine

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Force Majeure Rhone wines from The Rocks District of Milton-Freewater and Red Mountain, plus The Walls from The Rocks District – awesome tasting Syrah from Red Mountain in Washington grown between 900 to 1250 ft elevation in fractured basalt alongside Syrah from The Rocks District of Milton-Freewater in Oregon grown around 850 ft elevation in basalt cobbles. The regions are about an hour drive apart. The wines from Force Majeure are full of beautiful transparency and sophisticated delicious yes-ness. The Syrahs from Red Mountain versus The Rocks District are insanely different. Impressive transmission of place from winemaker Todd Alexander. #wallawalla @forcemajeurevineyards @metodd @wwvalleywine @oregonwineboard @wa_state_wine

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Cork Sensory Trials – before bottling producers who bottle under cork receive batch samples to select from by doing sensory trials checking for TCA. Corks from each batch are tested simultaneously, separated by batch. The corks are soaked separately (or as here in pairs) in either water or wine (wine usually shows more) and then multiple people independently smell the soaking-glasses in randomized order. Sometimes the corks won’t show TCA character but will still smell off or musty, though with contemporary cork practices and newer technologies this is now relatively uncommon. Here, Valdemar gets ready for bottling later this month, doing their sensory cork trials in preparation. #wallawalla

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Fractured Basalt, McQueen Vineyard, Walla Walla – while stones eroded by water (also known as alluvial erosion) gain rounded edges and smoothed surface, rocks eroded by fracturing such as those broken by earth movement, or being sloughed downhill (also known as colluvial erosion) retain rough edges and surface, as shown here. McQueen Vineyard stands at the southernmost reach of Walla Walla Valley at 1440 ft elevation. Soils here are incredibly shallow and the vines are planted directly into fractured basalt. In most places the soil is no more than 6” deep and throughout, basalt rocks like this appear among the rows and vines. McQueen Vineyard is owned by Doubleback #wallawalla @doublebackwine @wwvalleywine @oregonwineboard @wa_state_wine

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Brooke Robertson, SJR Vineyard, The Rocks District, Walla Walla – winters in Walla Walla include winter freeze that can readily freeze vines and cause lethal damage to the exposed vines. As a result, producers here bury portions of their vines as an insurance policy against such possible freeze. Most bury canes so that if freeze occurs the trunk is cut off and the buried cane is lifted and trained for the new trunk. Repeated trunk cutting of this sort can encourage wood diseases and risks shortening overall vine life even as it protects against total vine loss. Brooke Robertson, viticulturist for SJR Vineyard, has been working to generate a different solution that removes the need to bury canes and cut the trunk. Here, she talks through her MHT training method in front of the already buried vines. She has trained the vines at SJR as head-trained, that is, goblet-style, vines low to the ground so that the full height of the trunk is several inches from ground level (rather than the couple feet height more commonly seen for cordon or cane trained vines). At the end of harvest, then, the entire head of the vine is buried so that all of the spurs of the goblet are covered by the insulating protection of the soil. In Spring, the soil is cleared and flattened again and the vine is pruned in a typical goblet shape but very low to the ground. Here, in SJR Vineyard on the western side of The Rocks District the basalt cobbles are prevalent but soil includes around 20% eroded-basalt loam. The additional soil in the site makes burying the entire head of the vine possible. Robertson developed her MHT training system and burial practice through a combination of studying old bush vines in Europe and Australia while also studying winter pruning and protection techniques for both other vine plants and rose bushes in continental climates around the world. #wallawalla @o_delmas_o @mary_delmas @wwvalleywine @oregonwineboard @wa_state_wine

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Max the cat lives in Walla Walla and is a real nice cat. Hi, Max! 👋🏽! #wallawalla

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Saager’s Shoe Shop, Milton-Freewater – in exploring a wine region it is important to get to know the cultural history of the place too as that informs the farming culture, which influences what is possible in the wine culture. Plus, it is often just charming and fun. Behold! Saager’s Shoe Shop in the heart of the tiny little town Milton-Freewater has been open more than 100 years offering shoe repair and shoes. Walking through the door it had the very same smell as my favorite shoe shop in Montreal that also offered both shoe repairs and shoes. It ‘s a shoe polish, sole glue, and leather kind of smell. The local town includes only about 7000 people, which you wouldn’t think would be enough to support this local shoe shop for more than 100 years, and it ‘s not. People drive to the tiny little hamlet of Milton-Freewater from across the tri-state area – Washington, Oregon, and Idaho – to buy and repair shoes. I took the local’s advice, and stopped into Saager’s. Then left with a pair of the cutest dang rubber boots. #wallawalla @wwvalleywine @oregonwineboard @wa_state_wine

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Milton-Freewater, aka Muddy Frogwater, Walla Walla – turns out Milton-Freewater had a complicated name and a complicated reputation. To make fun of it people used to call it Muddy-Frogwater. Eventually the locals decided to reclaim the name as a jovial positive and set about holding the annual, all local, Muddy Frogwater Festival. Over time, sculptures and paintings of frogs began to crop up all over Milton-Freewater too in celebration of the festival and the goofy name. (Just to be clear, there are no actual frogs in Milton-Freewater. There is plenty of river but it ‘s also a desert.) More recently, though, the success of wine in The Rocks District of Milton-Freewater AVA has shifted public perception enough that the annual festival has changed with it. These last couple years it’s been renamed The Milton-Freewater Rocks! and slowly slowly the frog sculptures have begun to disappear. #wallawalla @wwvalleywine @oregonwineboard @wa_state_wine

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Hiking into the Walla Walla River with geologist Kevin Pogue – the Walla Walla River carries chunks of fractured basalt down from the Blue Mountains into the Walla Walla Valley. As the rocks are carried by the river they are tumbled, made round and smooth, until they eventually deposit along the base and edges of the river, creating stone bars that move the course of the river as the deposits increase. Over time the river undulates back and forth over the landscape depositing these alluvial rocks in fan shape, feeding stones into the landscape, and continuously moving its own channel along the way. In the last photo here you can see the water is moving in its channel all the way to the left side of the image (where the water shows more texture). As the swiftest movement flows along this path, more stones will be deposited through that channel, but as stones are deposited there by the river, the stones left there will also change the river’s path. The channel will move away from the deposits and a new channel will form, then also becoming the flow for greatest deposits. Over and over the river flows and deposits, always moving its own path. #wallawalla @wwvalleywine @oregonwineboard @wa_state_wine

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1930s-planted Cinsault, The Rocks District, Walla Walla – while contemporary grape growing started in The Rocks District in the late 1990s, we know grape growing was being done early in the late 1800s as well. In fact, the wealth of cherry trees in the area give a clue as cherries often grow well in regions that also do well for grapes. Here, vines planted by the Pesciallo family in the 1930s, then known as the Black Prince, or Black Malvosie, and today more commonly known as Cinsault. The vines were left untended for decades, then mowed over repeatedly so that their roots remained intact but their tops were gone. Then around 10 years ago, when the family didn’t mow that section of the yard one year the vines were rediscovered and today are trained up on stakes and tended to by different producers of the region, the oldest vines of The Rocks District. #wallawalla @wwvalleywine @oregonwineboard @wa_state_wine

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Mill Creek Geology, Walla Walla – this road cut far up Mill Creek brilliantly shows the layers of soil deposit and parent material influence common through much of the Walla Walla Valley, and even further in the Pacific Northwest. Zoom in to each of the layers to check out the texture. The oldest layer on the bottom, layer (1), is entirely fractured basalt, set down by partially melted mantle being uplifted as it melts then hardened as it cools closer to the surface. Much of the Pacific Northwest is built on this layer. Then, here, in level (2), the influence of local rivers and streams has eroded and rounded some of that basalt into a layer of alluvial stones often referred to locally as the old gravels as they are deep in the soil. This sort of alluvial old gravels will appear only in specific areas with river influence. Then, a new parent material appears. In the eastern side of Washington and Oregon, and all the way to the eastern face of the Chehalem Mountains even, we see demonstrated here in layer (3), a thick layer of wind blown loess, a silty soil formed from eroded granite then moved far across the landscape by wind. Granite is not native to the Pacific Northwest and instead is blown into the region from further East. This is a fine particle soil but with rough edges as it has not been polished by water. Finally, we see, in layer(4), another localized layer of alluvial stones, more basalt rocks eroded and rounded out of the Blue Mountains, then carried downstream and deposited in this case atop the loess. The depth of the loess layer varies significantly through the greater region, even disappearing in places with significant alluvial influence as the water continuously washes it away. The young gravels alluvial top layer in those areas is much deeper. In many areas of lower elevation, instead of loess or younger gravels, the top layer instead includes a section of Missoula Flood soils overlaying basalt. #wallawalla

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Vietti 2015 Ravera, Barolo – a total joy to drink this wine. So much love for Vietti. On wine trips to various regions I think one of the most important things we can do to pay respect to the region being visited and consider the wines seriously at a global level is occasionally taste or enjoy well respected wines from other parts of the world. The primary focus should be on the local region itself, but then accented by these occasional forays into other wines. Doing so keeps your palate and perspective working at a global level and in doing so keeps open the dance between digging into the details of the local region and considering how that region plays beyond its own local community. #wallawalla @vietti_winery @wwvalleywine @wa_state_wine @oregonwineboard

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Bartolo Mascarello 2010 and Stella di Campalto 2011 Riserva Brunello di Montalcino – such gorgeous counterpoints. #wallawalla

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Cayuse 2014 Bionic Frog Syrah, Walla Walla – opening up the Bionic Frog. Grown entirely within what is now The Rocks District of Milton-Freewater, Bionic Frog from Cayuse is one of the wines that helped first turn attention to the alluvial stones of the old Walla Walla River bed on the Oregon side of the southern Walla Walla Valley. In the late 1990s Christophe Baron was one of the first in the area’s current iteration to plant in the stones, initially struggling to establish vines as standard vineyard equipment was inadequate to the density of the stones. Originally from France, Baron made a simple commitment. Every year he would return to France to meet with producers from the Rhône (where such cobbles also famously appear) and to attend trade fairs to examine new sorts of farming equipment. With these studies he would then bring back to Walla Walla every year one new farming technique, and one new piece of farming equipment in an attempt to continuously, steadily evolve his understanding of growing in his rocky sites. The trick being to maintain a balance of continuity year to year with still intentional improvement. Today, 22 years later, Cayuse proves to be the longest-standing winegrower in the still young sub-zone of the Walla Walla Valley, The Rocks District of Milton-Freewater. #wallawalla @wwvalleywine @oregonwineboard @wa_state_wine

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Autumn in Walla Walla – Fall in Walla Walla is quite pleasant, though much of my week here has been dominated by heavy ice fog that has prevented any sense of the open vistas that otherwise inform this landscape. Trees here include a mix of seasonal species and those that remain green year round, allowing a more textured view through the change towards winter. Spending an abundance of time along the river systems here helps alleviate the anxiety I get being away from water. I grew up along the waterways of Alaska after all. It ‘s hard to shake those foundational needs. Most of all though as the town of Walla Walla has filled in these last few years with a new quality of restaurants to add to those charmers already established (each featuring international wine lists), a bakery, and even a wine bar with an Old World perspective, there is an even greater sense of community warmth, people sharing space together throughout the town over food and wine. There has been an unmistakable increase of excitement and global perspective in the wine community here in even just the last four years. A surge in producers and viticulturists with experience in other parts of the world moving into the region and adding to the tenacity and hard work the founding wineries have put into establishing Walla Walla. It ‘s a feeling of the energy building, on the verge of an elemental shift like water as it heats just before the bubbles begin to pop from boiling, or a sprinter in the blocks with their body pulling tight as the starter counts down to launch the race. #wallawalla @wwvalleywine @wa_state_wine @oregonwineboard

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Mission and Pais Re-evaluated, part 2

In the second half of her two-part analysis of this recovered grape variety, Elaine looks at some current examples of wines now being made in California and Chile. See also part 1.

Tegan Passalacqua, pictured below, is one of the founders of the Historic Vineyard Society, and is arguably one of the most quietly influential winemakers in California. He serves as both vineyard manager and winemaker for Turley Wine Cellars while also making his own small production Sandlands wines. But his work for Turley involves driving throughout the northern half of California, not only tracking the Turley vineyards but also getting to know old-vines sites and the families that own them across the state. He has regularly played matchmaker between old family vineyards and winemakers looking for unique, affordable options. His scouting ability has, importantly, helped grow the Turley Zinfandel portfolio and has also helped him find unique sites for his own Sandlands label. [For the story of someone who plays a slightly similar role in South Africa, see Jancis’s article on Rosa Kruger – JH]

In 2017, Sandlands released a mere 50 cases of Mission from the oldest vineyard in North America (pictured with part 1), planted in 1854 in the Shenandoah Valley in the Sierra Foothills. It took Passalacqua several years to convince the site’s owner Ken Deaver (pictured top right) to sell him grapes. The Sandlands 2017 Mission is my favourite California example of this varietal, exemplifying a perfect balance between allowing the variety’s rusticity while delivering a clean wine with interest. It’s juicy and bright with notes of rose tea and just a bit of that tactile tannin. A perfect charcuterie wine at 12.9%.

Passalacqua also delivered an equal amount of fruit (the equivalent of 50 cases of wine) from the same Mission vineyard to the new …. 

To keep reading this article, head on over to JancisRobinson.comHere’s the direct link to the article: https://www.jancisrobinson.com/articles/mission-and-pais-re-evaluated-part-2. You’ll have to sign in with a subscription to keep reading it.

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

Mission and Pais re-evaluated, part 1

Mission Vine planted in 1854

A historic grape variety is emerging from obscurity in California, at the same time as in southern Chile. See part 2 tomorrow.

Mission is arguably the most disregarded yet historically important variety in North and South America. Known as País in Chile and Criolla Chica in Argentina, there are also small plantings in Mexico, where it is known as Misión. In Argentina, it was believed for years to have grown from the seed of an imported Vitis vinifera vine, a uniquely South American variety even if not exactly indigenous. But in 2007, DNA profiling proved that theory untrue. It is Listán Prieto, an almost vanished vine native to central Spain and still found to a limited extent on the Canary Islands.

While the variety established wine growing in the two New World continents, once other Vitis vinifera arrived it was disregarded because its wines were seen as too rustic to be taken seriously. Historic texts describe it as ‘sailors’ wine’, as if sailors don’t care what they drink. Its characteristics certainly seem to work against today’s fine-wine trends. It often has an acidity problem. In the Canary Islands, they say the wine is too bright and shrill, while in California its acidity tends to be dangerously low. Its wine is often lacking in colour or concentration. And its naturally rustic tannins tend towards not merely rough but a sharp character that is exacerbated by whole-cluster fermentation and not alleviated by extended hang time. The wine’s tannins remind me of the feeling of being licked by a cat.

Yet, Mission is going through a bit of a California revival. A (very) few producers have continued to make fortified Mission with an allusion to the historical beverage Angelica. But the last few years have seen producers again making dry table wine from the variety not only from historic vineyards but also from newly established plantings. It’s a trend that parallels a movement in Chile, where producers are sending ….

To keep reading this article, head on over to JancisRobinson.comHere’s the direct link to the article: https://www.jancisrobinson.com/articles/mission-and-pais-re-evaluated-part-1. You’ll have to sign in with a subscription to keep reading it.

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

Two Weeks in Hong Kong, Manila, Singapore, and Japan

In the second half of October I traveled Hong Kong, Manila, Singapore, and Japan giving seminars and some wine dinners along the way. It was my first visit to each of the island nations and I had a lot of fun meeting people along the way and tasting local foods. Following is the collection of photos I shared to Instagram while traveling.

 

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Wan Chai, Hong Kong – colorfully painted residential buildings in the old Wan Chai area of Hong Kong. #hongkong

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Spring Deer Peking Duck – dinner at a locals’ favorite, Spring Deer, in Tsim Sha Tsui of Kowloon. #hongkong

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Star Ferry, Hong Kong – crossing Victoria Harbour to Kowloon on the Star Ferry, looking back at Wan Chai, Hong Kong. #hongkong

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California Chardonnay Seminar, Hong Kong – dude. My name is giant. #hongkong

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A History of California in 8 Wines: A New Look at Chardonnay, Hong Kong – my enormous gratitude to the incredible job the team here in Hong Kong did at putting together a California wine event and hosting me for the seminar. It was an honor to speak to Hong Kong’s wine trade and media, to present such an incredible line up of wines, and to learn more about the interests and enthusiasms of the people here. It was so much fun to speak with attendees after. My deep thanks to Stony Hill, Hanzell, Ramey, Clendenen Family, DuMOL, Matthiasson, Sandhi, Ceritas for letting me take your wine across the Pacific to tell this story. It was an incredible set of wines to taste side-by-side and a unique opportunity to share them with the people here in Hong Kong. Thank you. Wines: Stony Hill 2011, Hanzell 2014, Ramey 2016 Hyde, Clendenen Family 2015 Le Bon Climat, DuMOL 2016 Estate, Matthiasson 2014 Michael Mara, Sandhi 2015 Sanford & Benedict, Ceritas 2017 Charles Heintz. #californiawine #hongkong #wine @california.wines @calhkwine @stonyhillvineyard @hanzellfarm @rameywinecellars @jimclendenen @dumolwinery @matthiasson_wine @sandhiwines @rajatparr @sashimoorman @jraytek

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Morning Pastries, Hong Kong – this is my undoing: in many ways I care far less about eating than I do about tasting and trying things. So this morning while going for a croissant to eat with my coffee I had to also grab the sweet potato bun (front left) and the corned beef bun (front right) because what on earth do those taste like?! The sweet potato bun I still can’t quite solve but liked. It is hollow on the inside (surprising) and very mild in flavor (common to the morning buns here) while just a hint sweet on the inside (also slightly surprising). The entire inside also was fuzzy-red just like you see on the outside and how on earth did they accomplish that?! My best guess currently is that it is made of potato flour, slightly sweet, and shaped like a sweet potato, rather than that it is made of sweet potato. The corned beef bun was exactly what you’d expect: a fluffy glazed bun with corned beef inside. So, you know, yum. #hongkong

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View of Hong Kong from the Peak Trail, 1400 ft / 427 m – traveling to Hong Kong has been a dream of mine since my teens so being here now feels like a genuine privilege. I didn’t expect how incredibly green the city is. There truly is no other city in the world simultaneously so urban and so verdant. The skyscrapers of Hong Kong are surrounded by wild green mountain forests – hiking through the mountain park eventually you turn the corner and there is only mountain forest (as shown in photo 3 here) – and then between the island of Hong Kong and Kowloon there is the water. The haze in these photos is early morning weather, not smog. The city and landscape a feast for the eyes. #hongkong

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The Peak Tram, Hong Kong – riding the incredibly steep Peak Tram back down the mountain into Hong Kong. #hongkong

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So kind. Thank you! It was lovely to meet you and so nice to speak with so many attendees afterwards. Thank you for having me in beautiful Hong Kong! 💕 #repost: @kalai804… A History of California in 8 Wines: A new look at Chardonnay 🇺🇸 What a privilege to attend such an informative masterclass. Elaine Chukan Brown speaks with poise, in-depth knowledge, focus, and humor, taking us on a journey of California’s wine industry from the early pioneers of post-Prohibition, to adapting Burgundian winemaking techniques, to understanding its unique terroir and different micro-climates. The 8 wines presented were so different, and the one that really made an impression on me was the Sandhi Sanford & Benedict 2015. The reductive nose, sharp acidity, salinity, and “minerality” definitely does not fit the typical California Chardonnay profile. And it’s refreshing to know that winemakers are doing what they feel are right, instead of following the same formula that’s worked in the market for years. Thank you to all the wineries that gave their wines for us to taste. 🙇🏻‍♀️👍🏼👍🏼 #winelover🍷 #californiawines #californiawine #wineeducator #winegeek @hawk_wakawaka @calhkwine @california.wines @sandhiwines @rajatparr @sashimoorman

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Four Seasons Hot Pot, Hong Kong – fantastic food, local tradition. Hot pot three ways, with one pot split in two sections (here in the pot in the front of the photo, so impressed by that). Each section or pot has its own broth type but then you also order the kinds of ingredients you want to cook in those broths – specific vegetables or roots, meat types, tofu, and mushrooms – and you cook them yourself on your cook-table to eat not as soup exactly but as cooked meats, vegetables, roots, or mushrooms flavored by the broths you’ve chosen but then flavored even more by your own personally made dipping sauce. The food cooked in hot pot is cooked in broth, then served to your individual plate and once you receive it, you choose how to eat it. You can have it as is from hot pot or, more likely, dipped into your own individual concoction of soy sauce flavored with garlic, green onion, sesame, peanut, hot chile as you like. When you go out for hot pot and order you are first handed the ingredients and utensils to make your own dipping sauce. Then later you are given your hot pot with broth and ingredients to cook. Every personal dipping sauce is unique. Enormous thanks for including me in hot pot (and not making me cook any of it). The food was delicious, and you were right. My dipping sauce just kept getting better as the meal went on. #hongkong

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Breakfast, Hong Kong – last breakfast soup in Hong Kong (this visit). #hongkong

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Sweet Buns, Hong Kong – OHMYGOD I LOVE THESE. One of the things I love about traveling is finding new treats to try. Here in Hong Kong even the sweet buns are not too sweet, which works so well for me. I love these. In the front here is the lotus seed bun – all puffed dense bun on the outside with only just slightly sweet lotus seed paste on the inside. Do not try to cut this. It is for biting. On top is the sesame bun. The inside is filled with a sesame seed paste slightly sweeter than the lotus seed paste but here surrounded by a crisp, savory, toasted sesame outside that moves your mouth from crunch to squish and all through yummy. These are awesome. I love how aware of texture food culture is here. #hongkong

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So very glad you enjoyed the seminar and the wines! Thank you for your thoughts and insights on the seminar. #repost: @openwines.hk… A History of California in 8 wines: A new look at Chardonnay by Elaine Chukan Brown 喝葡萄酒,酒的顏色、香味、口感和餘韻等感官上的表現固然重要,但如對酒莊背後的歷史和葡萄園的風土有認識,將會更添樂趣。 昨天參加了一個由California Wines主辦,Elaine Chukan Brown女士主講的大師班,內容包括了八枝來自美國加州不同產區的Chardonnay,每枝酒都展現不同風格,令參加者充份認識到加州的Chardonnay,已擺脫了一般誤傳的,只是單一以豐滿的果香、木香和澎湃的酒體取勝,而可以是典雅幼細,有美國特色、Burgundy風格的白葡萄酒。 Brown女士詳盡細緻地講解,從加州的Chardonnay如何從十九世纪初的酒禁後的陰霾走出來,業者如何挑選不同風土的葡萄園,釀製出他們追求的風格,再讓參加者印証他們面前八款的Chardonnay,把他們對加州Chardonnay的認識和味覺享受,引導至一更高的層次。Brown女士的大師班,可算是筆者過去一年參加過的試酒會中,收獲最豐的一次。筆者原本已是加州Flowers酒莊的Chardonnay擁,經過這次大師班,更加相信加州不同風格的Chardonnay,必有一款合讀者的口味! #californiawineshongkong #masterclass #chardonnay @calhkwine @california.wines

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Outdoor Houseplant Market, Manila – a huge square full of houseplant vendors, open only after dark. #manila

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Breakfast Sweet Cakes, Manila – Treats local to the Philippines to try! from top: Sapin Sapin, Biko Pandin, Cassava Cake. These are small bite, only very slightly sweet treats to finish a meal. The texture varies between them but they do all tend towards sticky-squishy. The Cassava Cake is of course ground cassava root, which I quite like as it has been a good option for me when my diet is restricted from grains. There is just a slightly granular texture here. The Biko Sanpin I believe is tapioca. It is the stickiest-smoothest of the three and obviously colorful. The Sapin Sapin I believe is cooked and shaped sweet rice. It is the sweetest of the three, though still only slightly, and is also the most granular texture. Pleasant across the board. I love trying these local foods. Yay! #manila

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Orchids around Manila #manila

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Pacific Grouper, Manila – an incredible dish of Pacific Grouper served with greens and broth. The flavors here were delicate, subtle, and incredibly elegant. This dish was nothing but a pleasure. It was deboned, then portioned table side. As my bowl was handed to me our server explained the fish cheeks (I was raised to recognize fish cheeks as the best part) are offered to the woman at the table in recognition of her beauty, and because it is believed the fish cheeks also enhance her beauty. What I have seen of Manila culture has been quite charming. The people here are so kind, and I would say even loving in their simple, everyday interactions. It has been disarming and refreshing to receive. Thank you. #manila

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Night palms of Manila #manila

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Welcome to Singapore (this is all live flowers). #singapore

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Both Christmas and Valentine’s Day in Singapore #singapore

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Yam Pau, Singapore – my tour of the buns of Asia is almost complete. Here, a yam paste squish bun. Beautiful. #singapore

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Cantonese Food, California Wine, Alaska King Crab – three of my worlds smashing together in Singapore. #singapore

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Ferrari Dinner, Ritz-Carlton, Singapore. #singapore

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Koi Pond, Changi Airport, Singapore – so many beautiful gardens inside the Changi Airport. #singapore

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Selecting Dinner, Tokyo #tokyo

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Sashimi, Tokyo – incredible. #tokyo @somm_antics @dierberg

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Fugu Peacock, Tokyo – subtle, surprising. #tokyo

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King Snapper, Tokyo – we named him Hector. And he was good. #tokyo

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Damien Hugot Grand Cru – after dinner we move on to the Champagne bar and drink something wonderful. #tokyo

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Night Walk, Tokyo. #tokyo

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Midnight Ramen, Tokyo. #tokyo

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Love Advice: find someone with whom you feel like Matt does about Mouton Rothschild Eau de Vie. #tokyo @somm_antics

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Tokyo Station, Train Station. #tokyo

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Water Canals in old Kamakura filling from intense rains. #kamakura

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Japanese Maple, old Kamakura. #kamakura

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Rice Bowl, Tokyo – departing Tokyo with an extra rice bowl to bring for the flight. I hit some sort of health set back soon after arriving here and have spent two days in bed and three days with full body pain and debilitating abdominal cramps. Gratefully the abdominal pain has eased but I am still mostly unable to eat. The day I spent actually in Japan, rather than just in my hotel room, was full of great stuff to see. So I am grateful for that. Heading home to new fire evacuations throughout Sonoma County. Our house is outside the current evacuation area but the expected winds can change things quickly. Sonoma County is currently undergoing its largest evacuation in history. Stay safe, everyone.

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Three Days in Cahors, in pictures

3

Three Days in Cahors, in pictures Last week I spent three days in Cahors digging into the distinctive growing conditions of the region, as well as a wealth of local foods, and scenery.

I was also interviewed by an online news site, and a French newspaper while there. Here are the links to those articles.

Medialot: https://medialot.fr/vin-de-cahors-elaine-chukan-brown-sous-le-charme-des-terroirs-de-lappellation/

Ladepeche: https://www.ladepeche.fr/2019/09/28/en-ambassadrice-du-cahors-elle-va-exporter-ses-coups-de-coeur-aux-etats-unis,8444677.php

While traveling my own updates along the way were shared on Instagram. Here’s a look at my time in the region as shared while there.

 

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Valentré Bridge, Cahors – built over the Lot River in the 1300s the Valentré Bridge was meant to make crossing the river possible as well as to serve as a fortification against invaders. The bridge took over 70 years to build and still houses the cobbled walking table that was finished decades before its towers. The bridge took so long to finish it acquired a legend that its architect made a pact with the devil to help finish it only to then trick the devil out of the architect’s soul. The devil had to give up his quest for the soul but exacted revenge by delaying the towers’ completion. In the 1800s the man who restored the bridge had a small devil stone sculpture added into the bridge. The sculpture now serves as a draw for tourists who must look for the devil on the bridge in order to avoid being tricked by it. In the 1990s, Valentré Bridge was recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage site. It still serves as a foot bridge across the River Lot, and beneath it stand the locks that allow boat navigation through the incredibly windy river. #cahors #france #wine

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Soil Map of Cahors – the Lot River runs in a meandering path west through the region of Cahors revealing a complex of soils. The higher elevation terraces are dominated by limestone rock. As the slopes descend the limestone mixes with eroded sands. Clay emerges in the older terraces closer to the river. Then at the lowest and youngest terraces the ground is entirely new alluvial deposits. Within the various clays and eroded sands of the slopes and upper terraces are varied mineral deposits with some sections revealing an abundance of iron and others rare blue clay. Every turn of the river changes the cut of the slopes and terraces that edge the valley. The microclimates, then, are incredibly varied across the region too. The result is a complex of growing conditions for the region’s home variety, Malbec. #cahors #france #wine

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The Three Terraces, Cahors – the Lot River has cut a meandering path through the region of Cahors creating two distinct zones for growing vines. At lower elevations, closer to the river and to the town of Cahor itself stands the valley. Along each side of the valley are steep slopes with high elevation plateaus at their top. The valley area is further considered defined by three distinct zones of soil architecture. These soil zones vary by parcel in terms of exact mineral content but the overall architecture distinguishes one from another. In Cahors these zones are called terraces but the name does not imply a cut terrace or step as we often think that word implies, but instead a level of soil development based on the soil age from the eroding effects of the river. Seen here in the first photo, the third terrace is the oldest and closest to the slopes. It is also by far the rockiest with a wealth of rough cut limestone rocks that have broken off from the upper plateaus and slopes and settled onto alluvial sands deposited by the river. The second terrace was formed by the previous movements of the river and includes salacious cobbles exposed by the movements of the river mixed through with alluvial sands deposited by the river. The second terrace is also rocky but not as much so as the third. The first, and youngest, terrace seen here in the third photo is young alluvium deposited most recently by the river. It has very little clay and is mostly dry sands with little water holding capacity. Today each of these terraces include vines growing different levels of wine quality with the least expensive (and also friendliest) wines coming primarily from the first terrace thanks to the comparatively easier farming. The rockier terraces are profoundly challenging to farm but also provide more comparable depth and complexity in the wines. #cahors #france #wine

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Home pork in cellar, Cahors #cahors #france #wine

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Château de Mercuès – the castle above the village of Mercuès was built in the 13th century on the site of a chapel from the 7th century. It was built to serve as a summer home for the region’s’ bishops, who worked for the Church but also had enormous political power as feudal lords in the region. It remained a retreat of this sort until the legal separation of church and state in France in the early 20th century. It then became a home for a Parisian doctor until finally becoming a hotel after World War II. Today, it is also a winery. The castle stands at around 1000 ft elevation overlooking the Lot Valley and its river above the village of Mercuès. My room is honest to god at the top of the tower to the left. #cahors #france #wine

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I like to pretend this actually says, Butter of Destiny. #cahors #france

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The Cahors Malbec Glass – the region of Cahors has its own glass that includes a ring in its stem. It was created 15 years ago by the consortium to celebrate the collaboration of the region’s winemakers to improve the region. The ring has come to be a sort of Rorschach test with people seeing the meaning of the ring in a range of ways. Suggested interpretations are everything from pop culture “the one ring” references, to ideas of balance And unity, to “it is easier to bring wine with you when you ride horseback if there is a hole for your finger to hold the glass.” (Now I need to drink wine on horseback.) As the wine of the region shares its name with the region, the glass has come to be identified not only with the wine but the region itself. #cahors #france

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Clos Triguedina White, 2015 and 2017 – one of the unexpected wine styles I have come to appreciate on this trip is a white blend I am starting to believe is uniquely identified with Cahors. While the AOC is red wine only, a few people grow Viognier and Chardonnay in high elevation limestone and treat them as a blend. It is bottled as IGP or Vin de France. The example from Triguedina is a real stand out bringing together the strengths of the two varieties with the advantages of chalk in complementary balance. Here, the finesse of Chardonnay marries to the oiliness of Viognier in the freshness and tension of chalk for a distinctive expression with elegance and length. Other examples I have had so far of either variety on its own or in blend from the high elevation plateaus of Cahors also carry that fresh restraint from the chalk in a pleasing and regionally distinctive way. The two together in this kind of balance feels like something that can’t be replicated anywhere else, which is both exciting and intriguing. This is a beautiful wine. #cahors #france #wine @clostriguedina

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The Baldès Family – Jean-Luc, Juliette, Sabine, Clos Triguedina, Cahors – Clos Triguedina has been producing wine since the 1830s, with 7 generations of vintners, 5 generations bottling their own wine, making them one of the longest family-winery histories in the region for modern Cahors. The region has been growing wine since the 6th century. The Baldès family also have been forerunners in the region with preserving old vines, producing white wine of high quality, selling wine of Cahors internationally, and bottling single vineyard Malbec. Jean-Luc’s grandfather and great grandfather together bottled their wine to sell in the region. Jean-Luc’s grandfather was the first in Cahors to sell wine in the US. With his father Jean-Luc brought back a Medieval practice local to the region of drying Malbec to make what they call The New Black Wine. Juliette has just started harvest becoming the 7th generation of vintner in the family. They explain the name of their winery goes back to a local idea of food and community. The region has its own dialect. It also sits on the Camino trail. The name Triguedina is the phrase pilgrims on the trail used to say when they were asking residents of Cahors for a meal. #cahors #france #wine @clostriguedina

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Iron Stones, Cahors – Cahors has done extensive analysis of the parent material and soils of the region. They continue to use these studies to understand the specificity of unique parcels and sub-zones of Cahors, and are working on developing more ways to communicate these studies through soil maps and more. Here, an example of what in French they call Siderolithique Iron, or Hard Iron Stones. These stones appear in less than 6% of Cahors, though there are also areas where iron rich sands from the full decomposition of these stones appears, or where iron appears mixed through with limestone. The iron that is found in Cahors comes from the inland mountains of France where volcanic activity helped form the region. These particular Siderolithique Stones appear at around 305 meters / 1000 ft on the upper plateaus of the region. The wines from these sites tend to have a smokey-chalky character with very fine, palate covering tannin. #cahors #france #wine

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The view from the plateau near Luzech – if you zoom in here you can find vineyards on all three terraces, as well as the slopes. Starting with the River Lot at the bottom of the photo you will see the 1st terrace just above it. Then to the left a rolling landscape begins to emerge revealing the 2nd terrace. Behind that, closer to the hills on the other side of the valley rises the third terrace. Then, the hills go up the other side of the valley. Near the top of these hills, near the top of the photo towards the left, if you zoom in you can see vineyard planted in the slopes. Historically all the slopes of Cahors were planted to vineyard. Today mostly the slopes are forest as it is expensive to grow vines on them but some younger generations have begun to return to the slopes. They have started to call vineyards on these slopes, the 4th terrace. At the very top, on the flat crests of the hills it is the plateaus. #cahors #france #wine

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Clos du Chêne, Cahors – Tasting through the 2016 line-up of Malbec from Clos du Chéne in the western stretch of Cahors. Clos du Chêne is a long standing family Estate with generations of winemakers. The vines are planted in the first terrace of alluvial sands. Wines from these soils tend to be a bit friendlier and do well avoiding new oak. Clos du Chêne captures this character nicely with aging in larger oak vessels or without oak entirely instead using a mix of egg shaped, non-wood vessels. The2016 vintage wines from Cahors offer a nice sense of natural concentration and depth, compared to the far lighter, leaner 2017s, with further characteristics shifting by site and producer. #cahors #france #wine

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The Cahors Market, charcuterie – sampling dried meats at the Cahors Market. #cahors #france #wine

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The Cloisters, Cathedral St Etienne, Cahors #cahors #france #wine

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Being interviewed by French media about my views on wine and Cahors #cahors #france #wine

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Bruno Jouves, Rico’chai, Cahors – Bruno Jouves spent over twenty years hunting hillsides, forests, old vineyards, abandoned sites searching for two white grape varieties – Noual, and Plot – native to the valley of the Lot River, and Cahors. He had read about, then studied what he could of the varieties in centuries-old historical texts. Both are so obscure that after so much time he finally found two plants of each. He has continued to slowly expand from those first plants to around 60 of Noual, and 18 vines of Plot. He is currently one of the only, if not the only, producer to work with either white variety though he has since also given plants to the region’s research vineyard so that both can be preserved and other producers can plant them as well. #cahors #france #wine

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The Plateau, Cahors – Kelli says it’s hot and time to sleep. #cahors #france #wine

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Morning in Cahors – it has been a rich, while quick, visit to Cahors, + has left me intrigued + interested in the continued growth + potential of the region’s wines. It feels like a French paradox – the last uncharted, great region of France. History has told us repeatedly of the incredible talent intrinsic to Cahors. Circumstances of the last century – phylloxera in the late 1800s, followed by the profound limitations of grafting + rootstock, then the impact of both World Wars – mean the region lost several generations, that is a tome of knowledge + experience, of wine growing insight. Since the 1960s, the people of Cahors have worked to rebuild the infrastructure, practices + communion of winemakers to reclaim the wines of Cahors. Tasting through the region (I managed to get in 50 – 80 wines a day, most in or beside their vineyards) feels like catching glimpses of the region’s greatness re-emerging. Studying the growing conditions + history, then driving the area, feels like spotting the specter of potentially great vineyard sites through the hillsides. Indeed in places the faint glimmer of stone walls that used to outline historic vineyards can still be seen through the forests of today. Farming + vinification practices are coming home. Farmers here are swiftly converting to organics and biodynamics. No till viticulture is taking hold. Concrete vats and vessels as well as foudre, with an interest in greater transparency, are filling cellars. It’s been a worthwhile visit. This last morning I have the chance to gather my thoughts a bit + indulge in breakfast in bed. My health has been mixed while here. I have struggled with feeling ill the whole trip while taking greater flexibility with my diet too. The combination makes travel both more special + more poignant. Feeling the fragility that comes with health issues means staying vigilant over if my health is crossing any warning lines, while also accepting discomfort as manageable. It also means greater appreciation for the opportunity of a trip like this. And a greater commitment to the clarity, care + integrity of work I value. Thank you to Cahors for having me. I am grateful. #cahors #france #wine

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New crop of MSs

A follow-up to last year’s Master Sommelier saga.

This week the Court of Master Sommeliers – Americas completed the annual exam for the Master Sommelier diploma. Candidates completed the theory portion of the exam previously. Only after passing theory are candidates then able to progress to the service and blind tasting portions of the exam, which took place in St Louis on Tuesday.

With the recent exam, seven new Masters were minted, making eight new Masters this year. In St Louis this week, Nick Davis, Mariya Kovacheva, Justin Moore, Vincent Morrow, Joshua Orr, Jeremy Shanker and Jill Zimorski (not pictured) passed. In April, Scott Tyree earned his Master Sommelier diploma during a special exam session.

The exam in St Louis this week marks the end of a tumultuous year for the Court. Last year’s annual exam results were invalidated after it emerged that one of the exam proctors had revealed a portion of the ….

To keep reading this post, free-for-all, continue over to JancisRobinson.com. Here’s the direct link to the article: https://www.jancisrobinson.com/articles/new-crop-mss

The Wine Makers, episode 113 on Radio Misfits

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The Wine Makers Podcast gets recorded here in Sonoma. Hosts Sam Coturri, Bart Hansen, and Brian Casey invited me to spontaneously join their podcast conversation this week. We talk about several different rosés, a special bottle of Chardonnay, and end up dwelling on the social complexities of the Marvel Universe, and then finally talk through a host of California wines.

Here’s the direct link to the episode: https://radiomisfits.com/twm113/

Screaming Eagle

It’s one of the most famous – and famously inaccessible – wineries in the world. Elaine Chukan Brown pays a call

WORDS BY ELAINE CHUKAN BROWN

PHOTOGRAPHY BY ROB BLACK

It’s a wet Friday morning in January. Driving through Napa Valley, I’ve had to adjust my route to avoid the flooding. The Napa River has burst its banks after record winter rainfall, and vineyards across Rutherford and Oakville are underwater. 

As advised, I’m wearing rubber boots. I’ve also donned my thickest work trousers and layered on the winter clothes. It’s an incongruous look given that I’m on my way to one of the most exclusive, revered wineries in all of California – indeed, the world. But today there will be none of the chic drinks receptions and hobnobbing on the expansive winery terrace that are so prevalent in Napa society, not least because this particular winery doesn’t really have a winery terrace. In fact, from the road, there’s barely any indication of a winery at all: no grand gates, no flashy flags, no showy signage – just a gatepost displaying the number. 

I’m here to get a look inside Screaming Eagle, discreetly set off the Silverado Trail on the eastern side of Oakville. It’s one of the most difficult wineries in the world at which to secure an appointment. (Jay-Z was famously rebuffed when he made an approach.) Many of the world’s top sommeliers have been turned away, along with several of the wine world’s top publications. They haven’t given an in-depth, on-site media interview in several years. 

Nick Gislason, the winemaker here – and the man behind the rubber-footwear counsel – greets me holding his daily mug of chicken broth, looking like a 1970s beatnik, with his oversized jacket and unruly, curly hair. Unassuming and quietly spoken, Gislason is dressed in the dark workpants and wool layers more typical of life in the Pacific Northwest than one of the most prestigious wineries in the world. We slowly begin walking the ….

To keep reading, head on over to the Club Oenologique website where the article is available free-for-all to read. Here’s the direct link to the article … https://cluboenologique.com/story/screaming-eagle/ 

Popelouchum Revisited

Elaine Chukan Brown visits Randall Grahm of Bonny Doon’s cradle of dreams, his new vineyard well off the beaten track in San Juan Bautista. 

The last time I visited Randall Grahm’s new Popelouchum vineyard more than three years ago there was little planted. There was a small nursery full of young Grenache vines planted close together and waiting to be replanted in another location. There was a wide swathe of experimental rootstock just getting started that was developed with UC Davis plant geneticist and rootstock specialist Andy Walker. And there was a clandestine block of head-trained Pinot Noir planted on an unbelievably steep slope tucked into the folds of the mountain and surrounded by forest.

In June this year, I drove several hours to San Juan Bautista, south of and inland from Bonny Doon’s base in Santa Cruz, to meet Grahm and see how his Popelouchum site has progressed over the last few years. I also had a chance to taste the first wines made from this site, all in tiny quantities. Even the one and only commercially bottled wine constituted a mere 27 cases.

Popelouchum itself is 415 acres (168 ha) total with around 80 plantable acres. The site was divided from a larger parcel once owned by a religious group as a private retreat. It’s geologically complex as it sits directly beside the San Andreas fault, with the ridge of a mountain rising from the centre of the property, and a smaller geological fault line just a mile or two away from the backside of the mountain. As a result, the site includes a mix of soils derived from volcanics, granite, limestone, and aliphatic clay, which helps brings some water-holding capacity, increasing the potential for dry farming. Importantly for Grahm, the site had also never been planted before he bought it. Few other vineyards can be …

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Cambie’s American Adventures

Connections with the Grateful Dead, Priorat, Macedonia and the southern Rhône drawn on the West Coast by the king of Grenache. 

He’s best known for his work in the Southern Rhône, most especially Châteauneuf-du-Pape. His admirers call him the king of Grenache. Philippe Cambie was raised in southern France, born to a family with vineyards in the Languedoc. Even so, he didn’t expect to end up in wine himself. After playing rugby for France, then studying food science and microbiology, Cambie turned finally to wine and became a consulting oenologist, or winemaker, in 1998. He has since become one of the most influential consultants of Châteauneuf-du-Pape, where he has worked with more than 25 wineries, including Clos St-Jean, and his own Les Halos de Jupiter.

But Cambie’s influence has extended beyond southern France. This spring a series of new wines are being released in very small quantities from collaboration projects Cambie has with several producers in the United States. I was able to meet with him this month to discuss his collaboration and consultation projects here on the West Coast.

Cambie’s influence has been steadily building in the United States for more than a decade. In 2006 he first attended the Hospice du Rhône get-together in California. In 1993, producer John Alban founded the Hospice du Rhône (HdR). At the time, Alban was the only producer in the United States committed exclusively to making wine from Rhône varieties, having just founded Alban Vineyards in 1989. The event was designed as a way to bring together Rhône producers from around the world with other passionate lovers of the category. Since then, HdR has occurred almost every year, usually in California’s Central Coast, and has become one of the most instrumental Rhône events in the New World. Top producers of the category regularly attend and share their wines.

In 2008, Cambie presented his Bodegas Mas Alta wines from ….

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