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Where Burgundy Meets France

Nick Mills, Aubert de Villaine, Lois Mills

Central Otago on the southern tip of New Zealand is the only region in the world with which Burgundy has a formal vintner exchange programme, and the Central Otago Burgundy Exchange celebrated its 10-year anniversary with a three-day event in the heart of Burgundy in late October.

Sophie Confuron of Domaine Jean-Jacques Confuron and Nick Mills of Rippon started the exchange in 2006, establishing a formal work and education programme for vintners in the two regions. Each year, between two and six vintners per region travel across the planet for a week of education about the viticulture, growing conditions and wines of their counterparts, followed by five weeks of harvest work. For vintage in the southern hemisphere, participants travel from France to Central Otago in the first half of the year, then in the second half of the year, a new set go from Central Otago to France to work harvest in the northern hemisphere. In the last 11 years more than 80 stagiaireshave participated in the exchange.

Confuron originated the idea of the exchange itself while visiting Nick Mills and his mother Lois at their home at Rippon. The two families had an ongoing friendship which formed the original connection. Confuron explains that the exchange has grown to mean more than just friendship. She says, ‘I think it is very important to go to a young producing country because they have no rules. Here [in Burgundy] it is very strict. Everything is ruled, in ways you cannot change. Over there [in Central Otago] they are totally free to experiment, and not stuck in legislation, so that is very interesting.’ As she explained, the opportunity to see a region that has such room to make wide-open decisions about winemaking and viticulture does not change the rules established in Burgundy, but does open up perspectives on how one might work with those rules differently. Additionally, she has been impressed with the level of experience and knowledge shown by those stagiaires traveling from New Zealand, saying that their know-how has helped provide another level of skill for those who host them in Burgundy.

Earlier this year, I spent harvest in Central Otago to study its unique vintage conditions and began my travels accompanying the French stagiaires during their education week. I was then able to check in on the progress of their harvest experience over the following five weeks. This year, six stagiaires from France participated in the exchange, all students early in their winemaking careers. Each student was placed individually with …

To keep reading this article, head on over to JancisRobinson.com where you can read it as a Free-for-all piece. Here’s the link: https://www.jancisrobinson.com/articles/where-burgundy-meets-new-zealand

Skydiving Over Wanaka

Skydiving Over Wanaka

For Rachel’s, aka Jr (shown above), 18th birthday we’d made plans to skydive over Sonoma. When she was 12 or so I’d promised her we would go together for her 18th birthday. As the day approached she reminded me (shown below).

Her actual birthday hit while we were evacuated from the wildfires, and the skydive company we made plans with was evacuated too. So, we agreed we’d postpone and jump in New Zealand. (photos here alternate in order between her jump and then mine.)

It turns out too the highest commercial jump in the world is here on the South Island falling from 16,200 ft for a 15,000 dive with a 60-second free fall. Skydiving regulations don’t allow commercial jumps over 16,500 ft. The jump is so high you have to use oxygen to do it.

To be completely honest, the free fall part was awful. I mean, it’s also awesome, in the literal sense of that word – serious awe. It’s a remarkable thing, no doubt, but it’s also terrifying, very cold, and the air gets sucked from your mouth both because there isn’t much oxygen at 16,000 feet and the speed at which you’re falling makes breathing a challenge (see my blown up cheeks three photos up sorting out how best to manage the air pressure).

Rachel said that for her the free fall portion of the jump was so intense she doesn’t remember most of it. The guy she jumped with actually had them do flips and twists too (shown above).

Mine just liked to spin. For me the free fall felt like eternity. It was an experience of being hyper aware, and as a result time extending. For a split second I honestly thought, so if the chute doesn’t open the whole thing will feel like this, but then quickly went back to the experience of the jump.

The tandem jumpers were fantastic. There are so used to this they made the whole thing really comfortable and easy throughout, plane to ground.

Once the parachute came out it was easy to relax and enjoy the experience. That portion of the jump lasted five minutes and felt like what I call floating on a sky couch – super easy and comfortable.

Central Otago is one of my favorite places in the world and I especially love the Clutha River (it appears in a number of these photos) so it was pretty remarkable to jump from so high that we had complete 360 degree views of the Southern Alps, Lake Wanaka, the Clutha River, and the Cromwell Basin.

Rachel has been repeatedly struck by the beauty of the region as well. It was disappointing to deal with postponing her birthday celebrations last month but gratefully she felt the opportunity to jump here in New Zealand instead made up for it.

I seriously feel no need to skydive again but spending the day with Rachel like this, and at her request, is pretty killer really.

Happy birthday, Rachel! I hope you have a fantastic year being 18!

By the way, it turns out after skydiving feels kind of like coming off a work out. The perfect thing to eat is pie.

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

A Day with Michael Brajkovich at Kumeu River

Kumeu River

looking at the clay-heavy soils of Kumeu as the rain starts

It starts raining as Michael Brajkovich and I step out of the car on the top of Hunting Hill vineyard. Hunting Hill serves as one of the vineyard designate Chardonnays for legendary Kumeu River, located just a bit outside of Auckland. There is only enough time to glance at the vines and soil, then jump back into the car, and already my notebook is dotted with smudges of wet black ink. We drive through the vineyards instead to avoid the rain.

Clay dominates the rolling hills through this area while deep underneath sandstone forms the bedrock. The rain is no surprise. It tends to travel the region, which sits in the skinny spot of New Zealand’s North Island, the Tasman Sea to the west, the Pacific Ocean east. The combination means Kumeu River vines are dry farmed, and predominantly Chardonnay. Here on Hunting Hill they also grow a small parcel of Pinot Noir.

In the mid-1940s, with only a half-acre planted, two generations of the Brajkovich family started what would become one of New Zealand’s great wineries. A decade prior, Mick and Katé, and their son Maté moved to the Antipodes from Croatia to work as gum harvesters on the North Island. Together they saved the money to purchase what is now Mate’s Vineyard, the family’s top Chardonnay block. At the time, hybrid varieties dominated New Zealand’s wine industry for the production of fortified wine.

In the 1970s, under Maté and his wife Melba’s lead, the family would be among the first in the country to shift from fortified to table wines. Their goal was to make one high quality white, and one high quality red. So, they planted Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Merlot, and Cabernet Franc to see what would work there. Today, among the original plantings only Chardonnay remains. By the 1980s, when the third generation – Michael, and his siblings, Paul, Milan, and Marijana – would help lead the business, Kumeu River was recognized internationally for quality wine.

the lyre system in Hunting Hill Vineyard

To make him part of the business, Maté and Melba sent Michael to Roseworthy in South Australia to study oenology and viticulture. There, Michael worked with renowned viticulturist Richard Smart. Though the wine world today has outpaced Smart’s work in many ways, at the height of his career, Smart’s notions of vine training and canopy management helped launch viticultural knowledge to a new, important level of insight. It’s an influence that still serves as the basis for managing vigor and shading around the world. Returning home to the Kumeu area, Michael began rethinking elements of his family’s vineyards.

The region’s clay content and rain mean vines rarely struggle for water. Clay gives implicit concentration and a core of power to Chardonnay but in wet years vigor can create imbalance on the vine. To help manage vigor and harness the innate density clay brings to a wine’s flavor, Michael shifted the vines to a lyre-style training system (shown above). The idea came from his thinking on how to bring Smart’s notions of sunlight to the ultra-high UV levels of New Zealand. In opening the vines into the lyre, the fruit hangs below the canopy but is also consistently within a dappled lace effect of sunlight. It allows airflow without sunburn.

As Michael shifted his interest to the winemaking, his brother Milan stepped to the fore in the vineyard. There he further refined the winery’s focus on sustainability, and integrated newer technologies for tracking weather and vine health with traditional hands-on farming. As sales for the winery broadened internationally, brother Paul took over sales and marketing. Sister Marijana serves as a sort of multi-tasker helping to facilitate a mix of tasting room activities, events, and general winery needs. Through it all, Melba continues to act as Managing Director. Her on going leadership of Kumeu River has made her one of the longest standing women in the country’s wine industry.

Michael standing in front of the family’s original fermentation tanks

Kumeu River stepped into the international stage at a time before New Zealand was recognized as a wine region. Until brand Marlborough seized the global imagination’s expectations for Sauvignon Blanc, New Zealand had essentially no reputation for wine. The lack of stature was appropriate to the size and infancy of the industry but it also meant that well into the 1990s, Kumeu River was its own category. Chardonnay lovers looking to the brand for its age-ability and unique character didn’t need to know where it was from.

The brand’s iconic reputation has persisted. While they have expanded the number of Chardonnays by making vineyard designates as the sites show such merit, the quality and style have remained consistent. They have added sparkling Chardonnay to their program as well. The first release was last year.

They have also begun to buy land and plant in Hawke’s Bay, on the other side of the North Island. As Michael explains, the Kumeu area is getting planted to houses. As New Zealand’s economy gains, the city of Auckland expands. Today, in Kumeu, what was once far removed from city life and entirely agricultural has become a bedroom community for Auckland’s executive set. The residential squeeze on agricultural land has limited the economic feasibility of expanding in Kumeu. Establishing vineyards in a new region is a way of keeping an eye on the hopes of future generations’ involvement.

The move towards Hawke’s Bay has also opened a way to ensure not just land access but economic feasibility. The fruit from those vines currently feed a small portion of the Kumeu Village bottling, a still snappy, fresh, textural Chardonnay that gives a more affordable option for the wine lover. Where many wineries downgrade the quality and interest of their entry level brand, Kumeu Village manages to retain integrity. Releasing a wine at not-quite half the price of their Estate blend that also manages to over-deliver on complexity, freshness, and length shows too the standards for quality driving the Brajkovich family.

What is remarkable about the Estate Chardonnay proves consistent across the family of vineyard designates, a harmony of natural concentration with restraint, freshness, and energetic drive. It built the iconic status of Kumeu River. All barrel fermented – 20% new – with indigenous yeast, and full malolactic conversion, it marries textural acidity, to a mix of fresh fruits and savory flavor. Most of all, the Estate is a wine that simply gets more attractive with age. It’s well-honed in its youth but becomes deeper, more sophisticated, more satisfying with time in the bottle, many vintages easily achieving 15 years of age. Where the 2016 shows notes of apple, and sweet citrus with just a hint of biscuit and cream, the 2014 has deepened into a savory undercurrent with just a bit of smoke on the edges and a bright, firm close. 

The Coddington vineyard served as part of the backbone of the Estate Chardonnay until 2006, when vine age and experience with the site led to it becoming its own vineyard designate. The site consistently shows riper flavors with more stone fruit notes compared to the orchard and citrus fruits of the Estate blend. The fuller character of the fruit allows it to carry a touch more new oak as well – 25%. With smokey accents, nose and palate, overlaying a hint of sweet, ripe summer fruits, and all spice, the Coddington Chardonnay offers a silken texture, and a bit more weight on the palate compared to the Estate. Even so, it has plenty of drive and fresh acidity. Like the entire Kumeu River portfolio of Chardonnays, this wine is built to age going from fresh, spry, restraint upon release in the 2016 vintage, to a richer palate of baked apple pastry without sweetness in the 2012. The 2012 vintage was a bit wet, showing swifter age than its neighboring vintages but it has also clearly been made with clean fruit.

The Hunting Hill Chardonnay, from the vineyard where we started the visit, delivers a balance of both high tone lift and a savory underbelly. The 2016 is fresh, with pure, mouthwatering fruits and a flinty accent through snappy finish. When we taste the 2010, I am almost embarrassed by how much I enjoy it, wanting to keep drinking it alongside lunch. It has deepened into a mix of late spring flowers and birch bark on the nose, with richer character on the palate including a sweet apple finish, and accents of sweet spice. The natural concentration and restraint on the palate carry consistently through a long finish into a firm, still snappy, clean close. The 2010 vintage started with a difficult frost that took half the crop but the weather following was perfect so that the fruit that did last to harvest was of good quality and natural concentration.

Mate’s Vineyard includes the oldest vines of Kumeu River. It’s also a wine known to show nice evolution in bottle after the first few years, gaining in intensity and concentration as it ages. There is impressive density to the core of the wine here offering both crisp length and savory, palate stimulating presence with a balance of freshness and rich potential. Apple notes accented by a refreshing saline element on the 2016 transform in the 2007 into creme brulee and caramelized apple with still lots of life left in bottle and an ultra long, firm close.

Made with 60% Chardonnay and 40% Pinot Noir, the Kumeu River Cremant began in 2012, made in a non vintage style. Though the first vintage (which we tasted) is predominantly 2012 fruit, 2006 wine was used for dosage. The wine offers pleasing crispness with fresh apple notes and just a touch of caramelized apple alongside hints of white birch bark.

photo courtesy of Dave Nash

The 2017 vintage was known as difficult through much of New Zealand due to a series of rain storms at harvest. However, for many producers everything was showing beautifully prior to the storms. In traveling the country now tasting just-bottled and still-in-cellar wines from the vintage it is clear that there are plenty of very fine wines from 2017. Quality expectations can be judged, at least partially, by known producer reputation and reliability. Producers known for consistently delivering quality wine chose to either leave fruit in the vineyard, or not bottle wine that doesn’t meet their standards. Expectations can also be put in relation to  variety. Varieties that ripen on the early side tend to look good. Most of all though smart farming without excessive crop loads seems to have been the savior for producers. Barrel tasting the 2017 Chardonnays with Michael proves exciting – they have all the elements to lead to a very good vintage.

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




The Rise of Chardonnay in Central Willamette Valley

The Rise of Chardonnay in Central Willamette Valley

“We started with pinot noir,” says Erica Landon of Walter Scott Wines. “Historically, you couldn’t get any money for chardonnay. In Willamette Valley, it was treated like a slightly higher-end pinot gris.” In 2008, when Landon founded Walter Scott with her husband, Ken Pahlow, “there wasn’t a whole lot of great chardonnay fruit out there,” she recalls, “and few wines from it to be taken seriously.” Then Evening Land released their inaugural vintage of La Source Chardonnay from the Seven Springs Vineyard in Eola–Amity Hills. With a mouthwatering wash of brioche and bay laurel, lime leaf and pear, the 2007 was energetic, crystalline and high-toned. The landscape for chardonnay began to change.

Bergström had already been producing highly regarded chardonnay with finesse and energizing minerality from the northern Willamette. In fact, the variety was among the region’s first plantings in the mid-1960s, and producers like Eyrie, Bethel Heights, Cameron and, in the 1980s, Arterberry, made site-expressive wines driven by fresh acidity. But none had received the kind of national attention and critical acclaim of Evening Land’s La Source. Chardonnay in the United States in the 1980s and 1990s was dominated by the California trend of rich, creamy flavors cloaked under new oak. Many producers in Oregon paralleled that style but the fruit didn’t support that approach. The region had yet to articulate a clear Willamette signature for chardonnay.

With its proximity to Portland, the northern Willamette Valley had ushered in the first of the region’s vines. It was also the focus of the growth and turnover that came in the 1990s, when many growers pulled out their old chardonnay vines or grafted them to Dijon clones as a rush of newer sites were established. But the newer clones did little to change the market’s impression of Willamette Valley chardonnay, and plantings began to decline. In 1998, the Willamette Valley had more than 9,000 planted acres, including 1,600 planted to chardonnay. By 2008, chardonnay’s total acreage had been reduced by half, while overall vineyards in the region had grown to more than 14,000 acres. A few older chardonnay blocks remained, most tended by ardent farmers who were loathe to pull older vines, others in outlying rural districts that were slow to change.

Meanwhile, in what was once considered the remote south, Mark Vlossak founded St. Innocent Winery in 1988 with a focus on white wines. He had apprenticed at Arterberry, where Fred Arterberry, Jr., developed the first sparkling wines in Willamette Valley, so Vlossak was used to looking for…

To keep reading this article click over to Wine & Spirits Magazine where you can see the rest of the feature for free. Here’s the link: http://www.wineandspiritsmagazine.com/news/entry/the-rise-of-chardonnay-in-central-willamette-valley

After the Fires

After the Fires

the view from my back yard the first morning of the fires, a few hours before evacuating

I used to write as exorcism. My late teens had been marked by a series of tragedies with family members and friends dying in quick succession over several years – ten people in six years – many in startling ways. The rapidity of these deaths put me in a hard stance existentially that I held for at least a decade, as if I stood with a boxer’s posture, waiting for the next punch, even when otherwise relaxed. Eventually, writing became the means to loosen my limbs again. I’d write an experience of trauma or grief I’d had again and again until it came out complete in poem form, and then I’d let it go.

Years later, accepted to graduate programs, I had to choose between an MFA in poetry or a PhD in philosophy. I was going to graduate school with a five year old I was raising on my own so felt I had to make the more practical choice between the two. That was philosophy. The discipline required to do philosophy at a professional level I always said trained the wild dogs inside my head. It isn’t that they never howl. It is that even if they do, they now hunt for more than just their own animal appetites. This is the importance, I believe, of demanding more of ourselves and our talents than is comfortable. It’s the chance we have to harness the energy of our skills and make them something greater than they were on their own. Ultimately, philosophy also changed my relationship with writing, as well as with myself. It made me tired of my own personal narrative, as if channeling those stories to paper was mostly self indulgent. After leaving philosophy I turned instead to writing about others through the vehicle of wine. That brought me to live in wine country.

I don’t know how to write about the fires. I feel myself these weeks since we evacuated in that boxer’s stance again, something I haven’t felt in decades. The tension comes with a weird form of guilt, as if I’ve no right to the trauma of what happened when it turns out our house still stands, and as I write this I am not in California wine country. I’m in New Zealand. I also don’t know how to write about anything else until I write about the fires.

As the fires were happening I coped by reporting information. Sifting through false reports, and bastard comments online, listening for emergency announcements, following weather indicators of wind movements, and then reporting back what was relevant gave me a means to build scaffolding to hold onto while it seemed the world was falling down. Without that surely the dogs would run wild again. Others still in wine country did far more, dug fire lines voluntarily to shore up the work of embattled fire fighters, fought to save their friends’ and their neighbors’ homes, found housing for people left without any. I evacuated my daughter and her best friend, our pets, and helped evacuate some dogs from the pet rescue up the road.

It’s strange to have a favorite moment from the fires but I do. Mine is driving through Sonoma, with our bird and rabbit in the front passenger seat, and as many dogs as would fit in the back. As I drove away most of the dogs from the pet rescue were calm – they were in a car going for a drive, after all – but one poor lap dog was so terrified she didn’t stop barking the entire way. As we drove I was unsure if we actually had a route out as the roads in each direction leaving town by then had a fire burning on them and had been closed. It wasn’t clear as I left which roads, if any, had reopened, so I simply had to guess. The one surrounded by grassland must have burned out quickly so I went that way singing and cooing to the howling dog to try and calm her.

When we reached the exit road I’d chosen my guess was right. The earth was still smoldering right up to the roadway but it was clear. Coming over the hill all of the fields had burned. The cows were still there standing in blackened grasses. They must have moved as the fire did. When we finally reached Marin County I brought the dogs to the rescue center there that was receiving them and continued south to a friend’s house where we stayed temporarily. The five of us – my daughter, Rachel, her best friend, our rabbit, bird, and myself – slept on the floor of her living room until a couple back in Marin contacted us and asked if we would house sit.

Over a week and a half we watched in horror as our home – the region itself – kept burning. In truth, it was hard to relate to anyone that was not literally from there too – even people in San Francisco seemed somehow too far away to understand – though people outside wine country so wanted to be kind we tried. The second night after we evacuated I slept on the couch in a house of someone I did not know. There was no way for me to get back to the friend’s house we’d evacuated to and the couch had been offered. It’s remarkable what becomes reasonable when everything else has changed.

As the fires expanded utilities evaporated. Many of us couldn’t get our mail until recently. When I couldn’t reach my paychecks, it also meant little spending money. It took some time for replacement checks to be cut and sent to my parents in Alaska so they could receive and deposit them for me. A few friends realized and suddenly there was cash in my bank account unasked and the three of us could add to the only pair of socks we’d each evacuated wearing.

I also evacuated with only one bra. It’s uncomfortable to wear the same bra for a week and a half. They get stretched out. When the paychecks finally came, I bought new ones. I’m still amazed at how comfortable they are. When it came time to take the old bra off I had a little private ceremony thanking her for her devoted service, then threw her away.

Back in California the fires are essentially contained. Friends and colleagues have confirmed if they lost their homes or not. There are stories in both directions. More than 8000 buildings were burned between Napa and Sonoma counties, the highest portion in the city of Santa Rosa, though there were so many fires the damage is all over both counties. This is where I start to tense again, ready myself for another punch.

The damage to the region is so stark it isn’t as simple as exorcising the trauma out by writing, or healing quickly. A friend who was in wine country visiting me during the Napa earthquake pointed out that the difference is that the earthquake lasted 45 seconds. The fires themselves lasted weeks, and the damage will be felt for decades.

It is hard for me to admit this but I have not been able to bring myself to go back. In a literal sense I am unable to since I am currently on a work trip in New Zealand. When I was still in California the fires were advancing on the town of Sonoma and the area near my house. A week ago, fire crews pushed back the fires there. It will take a long time before all of this does not include some grief. Even as so many of us are grateful for the fellowship of friends, and for our survival, this is also a devastating change. If I am very honest, it is a relief I cannot see our home right now. By the time I return to California I will be ready. I promised that if my house survived, and it did, I’d throw a big moose meat party to cook everything I left behind in my freezer and open all those wines I had to leave behind.

Wineries have promised to rebuild. Volunteers are still reporting to evacuation centers and to fire zones to help those who lost everything. People through the region have campaigned to boost the spirits of all of us with statements of Sonoma Strong, and Napa Strong. Fundraisers are happening worldwide to help the region recover. These wine country fires have bolstered even as they have damaged our community, and they have touched people worldwide.

Grief only ever appears because of the love that made it possible. In that sense, it reveals the gift of what’s been shared. All of us together have been given the opportunity for that, to see how much we love our region, and each other, to see the community of people we have formed worldwide. In that sense, we are very lucky.

Please help the North Coast rebuild in whatever ways you can. Keep buying California wine, especially from Napa, Sonoma, Mendocino, or Lake County, all of which were impacted by these fires. If you ever travel through the region, please consider buying gift certificates for your favorite locally owned businesses so they can get the funds now, and you can enjoy them when you next visit.

If you can donate directly, here are the three funds I feel can do the most good, most especially because of how the money goes directly to local needs. Each of these can be given to directly online.

For the vineyard worker community and their families, please give directly to OleHealth.org. To help communities impacted in Napa: http://www.napavalleycf.org/fire-donation-page/. To give to communities affected in Sonoma: https://www.redwoodcu.org/northbayfirerelief.

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


Considering Fairtrade Wine, South Africa

Fairtrade Wine

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

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

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

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


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


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


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

Fairtrade Wine Abroad

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

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

The Rise of Central Willamette Valley Chardonnay

Wine & Spirits

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

Find it on newsstands now!


International Pie Club: the South Africa Report

International Pie Club, Diversity Division


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

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

Enter babotie.


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

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

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

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

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

Craven Wines


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

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

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

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

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

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

Clairette Blanche

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

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

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

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

Chenin Blanc

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

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

Pinot Gris

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

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

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

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


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

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


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

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

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

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

Saltare, South African Sparkling Wine

Saltare MCC

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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