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The reality of the 2017 California fires today

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

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

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

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

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

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California Fires – then and now

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

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

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

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

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

Deeper Shades of Pink

Deeper Shades of Pink

Morgan Twain-Peterson, Bedrock Wine Co.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Aurum Pinot Gris

Lucie Lawrence, winemaker Aurum Wine

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

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

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

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

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

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

The AVAs and subzones of the Willamette Valley

As Jancis’s recent article What will fill red burgundy’s place? indicated, the need to find more affordable but still high quality Pinot Noir has greatly increased. Oregon’s Willamette Valley has become one of the go-to regions for Pinot Noir, its reputation being almost entirely defined by the variety. Recent posts on our Members’ forum have commended wines of the area and led to interest in specific recommendations. With these things in mind, I’ve decided to go a little deeper to offer insight on what distinguishes each of the six recognised AVAs within the larger Willamette Valley AVA. Much of what follows concerns the unique growing conditions within these appellations, which lead to insights into what we can expect to find from the wines.

As understanding of the region has increased, unique subzones that are not yet recognised as AVAs have been discovered. Some of those are already in the process of seeking recognition from the TTB; others are still in the development phase. They are discussed at the end of the following guide.

In the section that follows on the six nested AVAs within the Willamette Valley AVA, I have not listed well-known wineries as these can readily be found online via any of the AVA websites, but these emerging subzones do not have websites and are not named on labels, so I have listed some of the key wineries in emerging subzones not yet recognised as AVAs so as to …

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

Oral History Interview: Elaine Brown

Oregon Wine History Archive

Linfield College in McMinnville, Oregon has an Oregon Wine History Archive that gathers recorded interviews with figures important to the region, as well as photos, records, wine labels, and other materials from the history of wine growing in Willamette Valley. In February I was able to tour the archive and it really is inspiring to know they are doing this work.

You can check out their website to see a huge collection of interviews from producers in the region. The website is listed below. They’ve been able to collect older video and audio interview recordings from others that have worked on history projects or book projects on the area. They have also been doing their own recorded interviews.

Here’s the website: https://oregonwinehistoryarchive.org/interviews-alphabetically/

If you search around on their site you can find part of their photo collection and a few other materials as well.

In February they asked to do a video interview with me as I have spent a lot of time studying, tasting, and interviewing producers in the region. The video has just been put online. In it they ask me how I got started in wine, how I approach my work, what advice I have for others wanting to write about wine, and what I think the future of the industry is, among other things.

(I’d had a horrible allergic reaction the night before the interview so you’ll have to forgive the puffy eyes and face on me here.)

Here’s the video.


Reducing Extraction in Pinot Noir: Thoughts from Prophet’s Rock Winemaker Paul Pujol

Reducing Extraction in Pinot Noir: Thoughts from Prophet’s Rock Winemaker Paul Pujol
Elaine Chukan Brown

WHILE RELATIVELY YOUNG, CENTRAL Otago has quickly risen to the fore as one of the world’s top Pinot Noir-focused wine regions. Its wine erupted onto the scene in the late 1990s and early 2000s, showcasing a fruit-forward style with plenty of amplitude. As vine age and winemaker experience have increased, Central Otago Pinot has developed a broader range of styles. In the last several years, one of the key shifts has been reducing and rethinking extraction in the cellar. Wineries such as Felton Road, Aurum, Doctor’s Flat and Amisfield, as examples, have moved from fuller styles with both more tannin and fruit matter to progressively lighter weight, lithe wines that retain Central Otago fruit character while increasing site transparency. With it, the freshness of the wines has also increased. While picking earlier is one aspect of the change, the more significant difference has come from reducing handling in the cellar.

Winemaker Paul Pujol of Prophet’s Rock was one of the first in the region to make this marked shift in winemaking. While other winemakers have reduced cellar-handling by decreasing punch-downs per day, Pujol has taken an even stronger approach by reducing his punch-downs to only one for the entire length of the fermentation process. He also does only two short pumpovers in that time, one early in fermentation to give a bit of air to the yeast and one at the end for homogenization without aeration. In each case both pump-overs are short and do not add significantly to extraction. Instead, Pujol chooses to merely keep the cap wet during the fermentation process using a literal garden-style watering can to sprinkle wine over it once or twice a day as needed. In Burgundy and the Rhône Valley it is not uncommon for winemakers to eliminate punch-downs during fermentation in a similar fashion. However, the choice is essentially unheard of in New World wine regions. Pujol started making the change in technique with his 2009 vintage of Prophet’s Rock, committing more fully to it over the next few years.

Tasting through multiple cuvées and across all Prophet’s Rock vintages, as well as with winemakers who utilize similar practices in both France and elsewhere, gives a picture of the effect …

To keep reading this article, head on over to Wine Business Monthly where it appears for free. It starts on page 54 of the May 2018 issue of the magazine. You can read it online through their digital magazine interactive format, or you can download the PDF. You will need to create a log-in id to access the magazine but you can set it up so that they don’t pester you otherwise if preferred. Here’s the link



Willamette Valley – Strong Candidates for Aging

Willamette Valley – Strong Candidates for Aging

At the end of last year Jason Lett of Eyrie in the Willamette Valley and I sat down for lunch. He brought with him two bottles to taste, both a bit of a risk because of their age, but they were chosen partially for that reason. I’d told him I wanted to talk about the ageability of Willamette Valley wine so he selected two very old bottles.

Eyrie not only helped start the region’s wine industry. Founder David Lett famously saved an extensive stock of his Eyrie wine all the way back to the inaugural vintage of 1970. In 2009, just a year after David Lett died, his wife Diana and their son Jason hosted a retrospective tasting of Eyrie wines back to their first vintage to help show how well wines from the area age. (I have always envied Jancis being at the tasting, though we can revel together in her report on the event.) Then, for the fiftieth anniversary of Eyrie in 2015, they hosted this tasting with an admittedly smaller selection of wines from across their then four decades. I was able to attend that tasting. There was a flight for each decade that included successful examples of Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Pinot Gris in each.

Jason has also created a means of checking and resealing these older vintages to ensure that any leaving the winery for sale are sound. As a result, if older Eyrie is seen on a restaurant wine list it can be enjoyed as it likely got there after being guaranteed. Through their diligence in preserving such an extensive library of wine, and making them available to taste, the Lett family has demonstrated not only the ageability of their own wines, but also their region. Ageability is one of the hallmarks of the world’s truly great wines.

For our lunch, Jason intentionally selected two wines he had not certified so we could share the uncertainty of opening an old bottle. He also chose a variety many claim is too delicate to age beyond a few years, and that had not been …

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

Look out for Willamette Valley 2017s

Look out for Willamette Valley 2017s

As Alder reported previously, there is a lot of excitement about the 2017 vintage in the Willamette Valley, Oregon’s principal wine region.

The 2017 harvest comes after three hot vintages in a row – 2014 through 2016 – for the Willamette Valley. The vintage was characterised by several key factors. Spring was cold, and quite wet. Cooler temperatures delayed the start of the growing season. Wet conditions, however, sped growth once it started while also delaying farmers’ ability to get into the vineyards to keep up with the growth. By early summer, conditions settled into warm and dry weather with good diurnal temperature variation to retain acidity, colour and phenolic potential. A few heat spikes did hit during the growing season but, unusually, smoke from the wildfires that hit the Pacific Northwest in summer 2017 provided an unexpected beneficial filter but no reported instances of smoke taint.

Harvest in Willamette started almost simultaneously with the fires that devastated California’s North Coast in October. For producers in Oregon, concern for their southern colleagues exacerbated the challenges of harvest. For producers in co-operative facilities this created unique challenges where space was shared with California-based vintners. Thomas Savre of Larry Stone’s Lingua Franca winery in the Eola-Amity Hills described how producers simply helped each other, stepping in if a winemaker had to return to California during the fires. Logistical winery needs such as lab work, bottling supplies and more were also affected in some cases since California’s North Coast serves as the epicentre for much of North America’s wine business. The California fires meant that many winery suppliers and shippers could not access the North Coast and were unable to fulfill orders until after the fires were under control. This served as a powerful reminder of how interconnected the wine world turns out to be, regardless of state boundaries.

Yields were incredibly abundant throughout the Willamette Valley, with some vineyards even leaving fruit on the vine thanks to good fruit set and abundant early growth. At the same time, the last several years have included a significant increase in planting new sites throughout the region. Many of those new vineyards came online in 2017, adding to the increase in fruit availability.

Overall, 2017 looks to be a structured vintage for the wines of the Willamette Valley. Wines I tasted from barrel – both in the very early stages during a visit in December, and then, more revealingly, as wines were finishing in March – were promising. The wines generally have good colour and ample tannin with no shortage of flavour. The wines I tasted from barrel showed …

To keep reading, head on over to JancisRobinson.com where the article appears in full hereYou will need to have a subscription to access the article. 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 Days Traveling German Wine

Traveling Germany

After finishing Prowein, Wines of Germany took around about-15 of us through the German countryside to meet with producers for three days. Due to my departing flight I was only able to be part of the travels for two days so had a quick go of it. It was of course lovely to taste the wine. Along with the tasting, I have to admit one of the most interesting parts of the trip was learning about the culture and wine scene of the countries and cities in which our fellow travelers live. One night during dinner a handful of us simply compared restaurant-wine culture in London, NYC, San Francisco, Moscow, and Rio. Pretty remarkable really.

Here’s a look back at the two days in Germany as shared during our travels via Instagram.


Winegrower Jens Bettenheimer of Weingut Bettenheimer in the Rheinhessen region of Germany discusses his viticultural practices. To capture the highest quality in the resulting wines, he believes it is important to focus on biologically-minded practices. At the core of this approach is soil health but also a holistic view of what that means. He follows moon cycles as has long been traditional in farming all over the world but also judges those cycles in relation to the weather at the time. While his farming is organically-minded he chooses not to be certified. His university thesis looked at the impact of copper use on soil health and soil biology. Copper is one of the primary treatments available for vineyard maintenance in organic farming. His studies showed that copper builds up significantly over time in the soils and effectively depletes the micro flora and micro fauna of the soils, which then reduces the vines ability to uptake nutrients from the soil. In rainy conditions under organic farming higher copper use becomes necessary as rains effectively wash necessary treatments from the vine. To avoid this increased copper use in especially rainy years he opts instead for products such as phosphoric acid that are not officially recognized by organic certifications but that he has found reduce overall impact on the site, and especially soils, while maintaining vine and fruit health and reducing disease pressure. #germany #rheinhessen #wine @winesofgermany @jens_bettenheimer

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Weingut Bettenheimer grows in sandy wild blown soils over chalk stone (with lime). The focus as a result is on varieties especially suited to these soils from the extended Pinot family, such as Chardonnay, Frauburgunder, and Spatburgunder, though also Sylvaner. Bettenheimer does also make a small proportion of Riesling but by shifting the focus to the Pinot family they have effectively distinguished themselves within the German market. While Chardonnay is less commonly thought of in relation to German wine, it appears throughout the country in small quantities. Jens Bettenheimer takes a particular interest in Chardonnay as he feels it is especially suited to the underlying chalky soils. He also enjoys working on honing the particular expression of the variety to the region with the idea of age-ability in mind. Here we taste a small lot experiment he has done of Chardonnay vinified without sulfur with skin contact. He also experiments with blocking malolactic conversion, for example, to see what creates best expression for the site with ageability and drinkability. In the end the various small lots are blended to create the finished Chardonnay. #germany #rheinhessen #wine @jens_bettenheimer @wines_of_germany

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Volker Raumland began making sparkling wine for his Sekthaus Raumland in 1981 from both the Rheinhessen and Pfalz wine regions. In 1986 he helped open up the German sparkling wine market by creating a mobile disgorgement and bottling machine that he advertised as a traveling service for all of Germany. After placing the advertisement in 1986 he quickly received over 100 phone calls from small producers all over the country who needed help disgorging their sparkling wine. For the next sixteen years he drove his machine in every direction across Germany. Without assistance or expertise it can be so difficult to disgorge traditional-method sparkling wine that producers will lose a lot of volume just by opening the bottles to release the yeast plug. It proved more economical to pay Volker for help, and his services, as a result, helped expand availability of quality sparkling wine from Germany. #germany #rheinhessen #pfalz #wine @wines_of_germany @sekthaus_raumland

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The German classic for mineral water. #germany #water @wines_of_germany

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Among the world’s greatest wonders is getting to see friends in unexpected parts of the world. What a blessing and how cool is this. Rafael and Ivannia are from Costa Rica. We met in Montreal as Rafael and I were in grad school together there. The week they became Canadian citizens, now so long ago, our grad school cohort took Rafael and Ivannia out to jokingly deliver a Quebecois citizenship ceremony. (We ate poutin served with a side of hotdogs and cabbage.) They have since lived in multiple Canadian cities, a US city, and now Germany, as is the life of an academic. I have since lived in multiple US cities, left academia, and become a wayward traveler of wine. And here we are meeting up for dinner in Düsseldorf tens years after the last time we saw each other in Quebec. Incredible. So great to see you two! Thank you for making time to visit! #germany #friends

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