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Traveling South African Wine

South Africa

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Interview on The Vincast, podcast with James Scarcebrook

Site updates

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

The Vincast Interview

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

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

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

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

Episode 121 Episode 121 – Elaine Chukan Brown aka Hawk Wakawaka

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

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

Central Otago Pinot Noir at IPNC

IPNC Central Otago Pinot Noir Seminar

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

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

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

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

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

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

The line up … @ipnc_pinot

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

Wild Irishman Macushla Pinot Noir 2014 Central Otago 13.5%

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

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

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

Rippon “Rippon” Pinot Noir 2013 Central Otago 13%

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

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

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

Aurum Mathilde Pinot Noir 2012 Central Otago 13%

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

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

Quartz Reef Pinot Noir 2012 Central Otago 14%

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

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

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

Mount Edward Morrison Vineyard Pinot Noir 2011 Central Otago 13.5%

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

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

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

Prophet’s Rock Pinot Noir 2010 Central Otago 13.9%

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

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

Bonus Wine

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

Doctor’s Flat Pinot Noir 2014 Central Otago 13.5%

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

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

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

Winemakers use Pied de Cuve instead of Sulfur

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

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

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

No Sulfur Until Bottling

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

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

Here’s the link: 


Petaluma Gap – A windy AVA put on hold

Petaluma Gap – A windy AVA on hold 

harvest at McEvoy Azaya Ranch, courtesy of Doug Cover

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

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

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

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

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

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.

Viticulture in a Marginal Climate

Viticulture in a Marginal Climate

With the return of interest in wines of freshness, energy, and more delicate presentation, interest in cool climate wines has also increased. Without a formal definition, the idea of cool climate gets applied generously to regions around the world. Climate classification systems based on growing degree days and mean temperature indexes provide only limited insight into the actual growing conditions of a region. Many regions commonly referred to as cool climate host daytime temperatures reaching highs comparable to recognized warmer climates, allowing plenty of ripeness for the right varieties.

Genuinely cool climates, however, tend to successfully grow only varieties that ripen earlier, before temperatures drop. Temperatures at harvest are often quite a bit cooler than those during the peak of the growing season, slowing metabolic processes in the vine. The temperature of the fruit itself at harvest is usually lower as well.

As winegrowing has extended into more regions around the globe, it has also pushed further into the edges of possible winegrowing. Such expansion has changed our views of viticulture. We’ve realized we can grow in more extreme conditions than previously believed. At the same time, these changes have required us to develop our understanding of how to more successfully grow in truly marginal climates.

But what are the conditions of a marginal climate?

To keep reading this article head on over the GuildSomm.com where it is free for all to read. The rest of the article considers the unique growing conditions of a marginal climate, and then looks at the fundamental viticulture needs of growing in that sort of environment. 

Here’s the direct link: 


Whoops! I made a mistake on the time this post will publish – the post is available to read now. My apologies for the confusion!

Adventures in Pie Club, Sonoma Edition

Adventures in Pie Club, Sonoma Edition

As some of you will recall, several of us formed an International Pie Club with members from New Zealand (of course), Australia, Sweden, Venezuela, the UK, Netherlands, Germany, and the United States. It’s serious. As such, we take our duties very seriously. Though proper savory pie shops are present most prolifically in New Zealand, Australia hosts a bevy of them as well. Outside the Antipodes the pie sources begin to run dry with only a trickle appearing occasionally across a vast pie desert. Gratefully, an oasis appeared in Sonoma County.

A Kiwi family relocated to Windsor, California, in the northern part of Sonoma County just off the 101, and opened a New Zealand inspired shop, BurtoNZ Bakery. In truth that means they make a lot of various baked things you could expect to find at a relatively Anglo-Saxon-descent bakery, but they also fit in a host of savory pies, and this weird Kiwi-Australian dessert I never have liked so don’t recall the name of either. But, as I said, THEY HAVE PIE.

So, a couple of us Pie Club members got together and did a proper tasting in two different visits. For one of the visits potential pie club members were invited to submit their application to pie club and demonstrate their pie club tasting and review skills. They were being vetted for their potential pie tasting prowess. In the other, actual founding members furthered the investigation. Two visits also means more pie, and the time to try a greater range of pie flavors as well.

Following are notes from the tastings.

Notes from Pie Club

BurtoNZ Bakery
9076 Brooks Rd S, Windsor, California

Pies Tasted: Mince & Cheese, Steak & Cheese, Vegetarian, Steak with Potato Top
Served: White Bag Take-Away, Eaten Outside
Tasting Notes:
Mince & Cheese tasted first. Good reliable standard crust. Reasonable mince & cheese filling. Cheese well dispersed and integrated. Mince far paler than that seen in a classic Mince & Cheese served in New Zealand. In a proper Kiwi Mince & Cheese pie one would expect the mince to be finely chopped and the details of the ingredients largely unrecognizable as a result, save for the occasional addition of light tomato. No tomato found here. No secrets either. All components of the mince were visibly recognizable due to larger chop size. Even so, solid workable pie. Good enough to cope with being away from New Zealand though no prize winner when back home.

Steak & Cheese. Good reliable standard crust. Cheese a bit more apparent alongside the steak than alongside the mince. Avoids dryness while also going light on the gravy. An okay pie. Mince & Cheese, however, is preferred here to Steak & Cheese.

Vegetarian. It is good and cute and friendly and nicely Californian of them to serve a vegetarian option. Way to integrate quickly into your newly adopted culture! However, as savory pie without meat seems a misnomer it is hard to take this pie too seriously. Nevertheless, one of the potential pie club members less indoctrinated into classic Kiwi pies felt the vegetarian pie was the best of the selections and chose it as his favorite. His application to pie club is unlikely to be accepted.

Steak with Potato Top. This is a damn good pie. Excellent steak filling with just enough gravy. The absence of cheese works to the advantage of this particular pie. Very good use of potato top. As everyone knows, a perfectly delivered potato top makes every one happy. It also offers a beautiful opportunity for alliteration when eaten in the proper location.


Potato pie poised in my paw beside the Pacific!

I’ll be back to BurtoNZ for road pie next time I’m heading north. Steak with potato top was the clear winner.

For previous notes from Pie Club, Central Otago Edition:  http://wakawakawinereviews.com/2017/04/21/adventures-with-pie-club-for-david/

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

Massican – Italian inspired Napa Valley whites

Dan Petroski, photo courtesy of David Bayless

In 2009 Dan Petroski launched the entirely white-wine-focused brand Massican, sourcing fruit from iconic Napa Valley vineyards. In 2012, fruit from Russian River Valley was added to ensure adequate quantities for the various cuvées. Although Massican relies on fruit from California’s North Coast, the inspiration for the brand rests in the fresh, aromatic whites of north-eastern Italy. Petroski lived in Italy making wine for a year after leaving a publishing position with Time magazine, and fell in love with the high-acid whites of the country. Massican’s core blend, Annia, recalls the classic white wine blends of Friuli, bringing together the Italian grapes of that region with Chardonnay.

Since 2006 Petroski has also served as the winemaker for Larkmead Vineyards, one of north Napa Valley’s heritage wineries. There the wine programme centres more typically for Napa on red bordeaux blends, although it is also a source of old-vine Tocai Friulano. (In the United States the TTB still requires the variety be called by the full name, Tocai Friulano, even though international labelling laws demand it be called simply Friulano – see Farewell Tocai Friulano.)

Petroski’s decision to produce white wines only under the Massican label is unusual for Napa Valley. It hints at the potential diversity in a region that has so strongly aligned itself with Cabernet Sauvignon and structured reds. While Massican’s blends focus on Friuli’s characteristic white wine varieties, Petroski’s Sauvignon Blancs are also a stand out. His 100% varietal expression offers an example unique for the region, using just enough oak to give it pleasing palate texture, while in the end delivering a harmony of savoury notes, balanced by just enough sweet stone fruit, and just enough spice. The result is a serious but delicious example of Sauvignon that avoids its excesses or stereotypes.

At the end of April, Petroski opened complete verticals of every wine he has made for Massican. It provided a unique opportunity to taste his current 2016 releases and to revisit previous vintages to see how they have aged. While the earlier vintages of 2009 through 2011 show a sense of…

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Remi Leroy 2009 Blanc de Blancs

Remi Leroy

From my recent adventures in France I mentioned wandering my way into Antic Wine shop in Lyon. It’s a wonderful place, a sort of mecca for wine lovers from outside Europe. At least, if like me, it just feels good to be near bottles of wine of that quality. (One of my early experiences in a really mind blowing wine cellar I remember the strange restorative comfort I took just from standing near irreplaceable bottles even if I was unlikely to taste them. I have also long had a strange sort of empathetic encounter where if I turn my attention to another person or a thing in a certain way I’ll get taste-flashes of what that person is tasting, or taste what a thing is like. So, to stand near amazing bottles sometimes feels as though I am experiencing the wine even when it hasn’t literally been opened and poured for me.)

Quite quickly into my multi-hour visit with Georges at Antic it was clear our wine interests overlapped enough and that I respected his palate enough that I would readily take his advice on wine. So, when he found out I love Champagne and had tuned into the kind of wine I like he recommended I buy this bottle of Rémi Leroy Blanc de blancs, and I immediately did.

Getting the bottle back home I was torn. I could feel through the glass the kind of wine it would be. To truly enjoy it all I wanted to do was stay home, drink it on my own, and fall asleep in low light wearing a silk negligee – I just knew it was going to have that sort of silken, delicate, ethereal-with-substance sort of feel to it that can only be captured by such an experience. But as a wine lover in a community of wine lovers it is also important to share unique wines with people that can appreciate it and so too can understand its importance. So, I brought the bottle with me on a recent trip to Canada and drank it with friends on Vancouver Island while visiting them all in Victoria.

The Remi Leroy Blanc de blancs grows, uniquely, in the Côte des Bars of Aube. The area is predominately planted to Pinot Noir, but it is also full of Kimmeridgean soils, which many believe are better suited to Chardonnay. So, some brave souls have risked planting the white grape even as it grows surrounded by the red. Leroy is one. He farms organically, with a focus on cover crops to encourage the health of the soils and then takes a more minimalist approach in the cellar while keeping the focus on clean, stable cuvées at the same time. It would be ridiculous to call a methode traditionelle wine program anything like natural or non-interventionist, as so many steps are integral to just making sparkling wine, but Leroy aims to reduce cellar techniques or inputs that would otherwise be unnecessary. It’s a kind of balance I admire.

So, what of the wine itself?

It is unbelievably beautiful. My original sense of falling asleep in low light, perhaps candles, in a silk negligee captured the feel of the wine. It’s a slower paced, end of the day sort of wine. That softened glow one gets from candles with their flickering light cast across the walls and ceiling resembles the mouthfeel and presence of this wine on the palate.

Candle light, without doubt, has a delicate nature to it but at the same time the mood it casts is powerful. It can change the feel of an entire day, regardless of how things have gone. There is intimacy to it and a calm, sensual openness. Candle light in its qualities resembles the feel of silk used for negligees or nightgowns – soft and smooth, while thin and satiny, exactly what we mean when we use the word silken. It is light, delicate, sensual, and, again, carries its own unique mood.

The Remi Leroy 2009 Blanc de blancs sits in the center of this family of feeling.

If I was to turn to regular tasting notes I’d have to admit in a strange way I don’t remember its flavors – they were chalky and pale yellow, high tone ethereal notes, without being shrill, like what one would hear at high voice from a choir singing in a well-tuned cathedral – the wine was so much more about its texture, mouthfeel, and mood. It’s finish was long.

When I bought the wine from Antic, there were few bottles left of this 2009, it turned out, and it doesn’t get exported from France. The Remi Leroy brut does make it to the United States, for those wanting to try some of the Leroy wines, but I confess I haven’t had it yet. Based on the Blanc de blancs I would be shocked if it isn’t wonderful and I intend to taste it as soon as I can.

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Oregon’s Renascent Riesling

Oregon’s Renascent Riesling

Photo by Andrea Johnson Photography, courtesy of Brooks Winery

In the last 10 to 15 years there has been a small resurgence of interest in Riesling in Oregon. Today around 40 producers work with the variety, meeting as a group a few times a year to taste each others’ wines, both before and after bottling. They also host public tastings once a year in conjunction with the annual International Pinot Noir Celebration in July. Together these producers hope to support and improve the overall quality of winemaking for the variety, to preserve and establish quality sites and to raise awareness of Oregon Riesling more broadly. Their efforts are not insignificant. While the Willamette Valley and even the Umpqua Valley in the south are both well suited to the variety, Riesling has faced challenges in the state.

The variety found its way to Oregon in the modern era in the 1960s when it was first planted in the southern portion of the state. Though much of Southern Oregon is quite warm, the Umpqua Valley is a cool zone that suits the variety and producers such as Brandborg continue to grow it.

By the 1980s, Riesling played a significant role in the Willamette Valley as well. For a time it was the dominant white wine grape constituting around 23% of the state’s plantings, but challenges in wine quality led to many of those vineyards being pulled out. Interest turned instead towards Pinot Gris. Wineries such as Chehalem, Elk Cove and Brooks kept…


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