What I Learned at The Symposium for Professional Wine Writers

Photo Courtesy: The Symposium for Professional Wine Writers at Meadowood Napa Valley

I recently attended The Symposium for Professional Wine Writers at Meadowood Napa Valley 2021 via zoom. The three day event was very informative and enlightening on many levels. The speakers and panel discussions were all presented by very knowledgeable and prominent members of the wine media. If you have a chance to participate in an event like this I would encourage you to do so.

I would like to share a few points the speakers emphasized that are certain to increase the likelihood of your work getting noticed and ultimately being published.

1) Keep pitches about two paragraphs long and make your case why they should publish it and why you should be the person to write it.

2) Write about what you know and be an expert concerning the area where you live.

3) After the initial pitch do one or two follow-ups and if there is no reply, move on.

4) Pitch a story that isn’t in print and is new.

5) When describing wine use references that are familiar to your readers. Example: You wouldn’t refer to cherry and blackberry flavors if you were writing an article for publication in Asia because those flavors would be unfamiliar to most of the readers there, instead use recognizable flavors like lychee, guava, mango etc.

6) Email remains the most effective way to submit a pitch and never use a DM (direct message) via social media to contact an editor and never never ever contact an editor saying “Hey, I’m going to (Tuscany or anywhere else) do you need anything?” They said that goes directly into the trash.

These are just a few things I learned over the course of the symposium. I hope these insights into the thought process of editors will help you when you are pursuing a writing career.

Organic, Natural, or Biodynamic?

Confused by what the difference is between natural, organic, and biodynamic wine? Well, you are not alone. The growing trend toward natural, organic, and biodynamic wines has created a marketplace in which an informed consumer stands a much better chance of buying a product that fulfills their desire to live a “greener lifestyle”.

In my opinion, the best way to feel confident that you are purchasing a natural, organic, or biodynamically produced wine is to buy it from a producer you trust. Before you decide on which production practices best suit your needs let’s look at an overview of each method. You must keep in mind that there is no clear-cut distinction between practices and there is often an overlap between terms describing them; the qualities are not interchangeable between methods. 

Organic wines are separated into two categories in the U.S. The first is wine certified organic by the United States Department of Agriculture using strict regulations. The U.S.D.A. guidelines require the grapes to be grown without the use of synthetic fertilizers and all ingredients added to the wines must be certified organic. No sulfites may be added to these wines. Only wines that meet these strict rules may display the U.S.D.A. certified organic seal. The second category contains wines made from grapes that were grown using organic farming methods. Wines in this category were made using organically grown grapes and may or may not have been made following organic winemaking methods. 

Biodynamic wine is made using the principles of Austrian philosopher Rudolf Steiner. I think of biodynamic practices as embracing a holistic approach toward viticulture. It observes farming methods based on a specific astronomic calendar. An example of this would be only harvesting grapes on days designated as “Fruit” days or only pruning on “Root” days. Biodynamic farming isn’t only dependent upon the calendar but is similar to organic in that it only allows for the use of organic fertilizers and bans the use of any type of pesticides, fungicides, herbicides, or any synthetic chemical intervention in the vineyard. Biodynamic wines are, however, permitted to contain sulfites. It is these small differences that can cause confusion when comparing whether a wine is organic, biodynamic or both. A wine designated as organic doesn’t mean it is also biodynamic or a biodynamic is always organic.

Natural wine or low-intervention wine, as it is often called, is fermented spontaneously by its native yeasts. As the name implies they are, for the most part, unmanipulated and never filtered or fined. By not filtering these wines they appear cloudy because of the solids left suspended in them. Due to the minimal amount of intervention by the winemaker these wines have limited stability and should be treated accordingly. If a winemaker doesn’t want to go through the regulatory process of having their wine certified as organic they can just skip the process and label it as “Natural”.

This is why I strongly suggest when you are looking for a wine to purchase in this segment of the market it is always a good idea to buy from a producer you know and trust.

Homeward Bound

If you have followed this blog you know that I’m fascinated by uncommon wine grapes and where they are being grown by innovative vintners. I usually write about grapes that originated in other parts of the world but today I’m writing about a grape that was developed in the United States and is widely planted in my home state of Pennsylvania.

Traminette was created in 1965 at the University of Illinois by crossing the Vitis vinifera grape Gewürztraminer and the French-American hybrid grape Joannes Seyve 23.416. It was originally created as a white table grape but was then found to possess qualities that make it favorable for making wine. The result was a grape with a complex flavor profile, good productivity, resistance to cold temperatures, and versatility in the cellar. Traminette produces a straw-colored wine that has an enticing floral aroma and flavors of apricot, honey, and to a lesser extent, tropical fruit. I had the pleasure of tasting Traminette juice as it flowed from the press at Ripepi Wnery & Vineyard Monongahela, PA. It was bright and had a depth of sweetness with a flavor that is hard to describe. Traminette is most often made in a dry to off-dry style. I like both styles but prefer the off-dry wine when enjoying a day at the winery with my friends.

Traminette can be found throughout Pennsylvania but is most heavily concentrated in the southeastern and northcentral regions.

Invitation to my The Vintner Project Article

I am happy to announce that I am the newest contributor to The

Photo courtesy The Vintner Project

Vintner Project. http://vintnerproject.com The Vintner Project is an effort to make the sometimes confusing world of wine more approachable to consumers globally by offering a personal look at wineries, their wine, and the people that make them unique. It is a diversified collection of voices and points of view that bring all the wine regions and winemakers stories together so readers can explore and learn about segments of the winemaking community that might not be covered by the mainstream media.

Founded in 2018 by Nelson Gerena and Kiril Kirilow, The Vintner Project has developed into a dynamic cutting edge media outlet

The Vintner Project founders Nelson Gerena and Kiril Kirilow Photo courtesy vintnerproject.com

for news and insightful content for wine lovers worldwide.

Check out my article about the intriguing Austrian red wine grape Zweigelt and the versatile wine it makes. See why Zweigelt is often called the “Ultimate picnic wine”. Click here to go to my profile and my article vintnerproject.com/learn/zweigelt-austrias-little-known-signature-red-grape/

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Goodbye Yellow Brick Road

Tod & Jean Manspeaker

 

 

On May 22, 2020, Jay and Joanna Bell, owners of Bella Terra Vineyards Hunker, Pa became the new owners of Briar Valley Vineyards and Winery Bedford, Pa

When Jean Manspeaker’s great-grandparents immigrated from Germany and settled on a hilly farm west of Bedford, Pa nearly 200 years ago they had no idea what a wonderful future lay ahead for their descendants. They planted a small vineyard and 170 years later that vineyard is still going. The seeds that would grow into Jean’s unlikely career were sown in her childhood as she watched her grandfather tending to the vines he loved all summer and then seeing him sell his prized grapes to his friends and neighbors for their jams, jellies, grape juice and of course homemade wine. Jean grew up on her family’s dairy farm and while her father worked the farm he also had a job outside the farm but somehow had time for a vineyard and made wine at home. Little did Jean know at the time, Tod her future husband was growing up on his family’s show and quarter horse farm in nearby Everett, Pa. Tod and his family are avid horseman and had numerous champion quarter horses.

Like Jean, Tod had never planned on getting involved in the very demanding business of growing vinifera wine grapes and making them into premium wines. Serendipity intervened and that’s when Tod and Jean’s future took an unexpected turn down a different path after visiting wineries on the East Coast. They fell in love with the vineyards and their fates as winemakers were sealed. After a great deal of research, numerous classes, and endless hours of reading everything related to winemaking they could get their hands on they hired a consultant to find out as much about growing vinifera grapes in Pennsylvania as they could. The die was cast and there was no turning back when Jean did an internship at a winery and Tod worked the vineyard. Their mission has always been to grow the best grapes possible and make them into exceptional wines. That passion to excel is palpable when you talk wine with them. 

From its inception in 2005 Briar Valley Vineyards and Winery has chosen to grow all it’s own vinifera grapes and make only dry wines. The B.V. vineyards are planted on a southeastern facing slope at an elevation of 1200 feet above sea level and consist of Riesling, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, and Lemberger. This determination to stay true to their vision and not to give in to making lesser quality wines to enhance the profitability of the operation is to be admired and applauded in an industry that often puts profits before quality. By following their dreams Tod and Jean have been able to pursue careers that they felt passionate about and that afforded the opportunity to see the results of their hard work at the end of the day. 

A tribute to those labors could be seen on display in the Briar Valley tasting room on E. Pitt Street in downtown Bedford, Pa. It was quite an achievement when B.V. won a Double Gold Medal and Best of Show for one of their Rieslings in the Finger Lakes International Wine Competition, home to the best Rieslings in the United States. Briar Valley has also won the Pennsylvania Governor’s Cup, as well as gold medals in the prestigious San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition. Briar Valley wines have received high scores from world-renown wine critic James Suckling and the International Wine Review. Their wines were  served at the State Department for the 75th Anniversary of the Blair House.

It is the intangible things that have given the Manspeakers the most joy and satisfaction over the years at the winery. They love their small

Briar Valley Case Club members share good times at the winery

town of Bedford and the community it supports. It is a town where the residents take great pride in their small town culture and the people that make it all possible. The Manspeakers and their Briar Valley Winery have added greatly to the “terroir” of the area and will continue to do so far into the future. Of all the experiences and memories that they will take with them from their time at Briar Valley Winery, the one thing they cherish the most is the friendships they have made over the years and that will continue as they embark on their next great adventure wherever that journey might take them.

In the end, success is not judged by financial gain alone but by the lives, you have touched and were made better because of it. Thank you Tod and Jean for letting us share in your dreams, all the great wine and the wonderful memories you have given us. Wishing you both all the best life has to offer.

Scroll down for more photos of Tod & Jean Manspeaker and Briar Valley Vineyards & Winery

Tod & Jean at the State Dept.

The B.V. tasting bar

Briar Valley tasting room in Bedford, PA

B.V. tasting room

B.V. Cab Franc

Peace, Love and Fizzy Wine

During a recent mid-winter afternoon visit to Bella Terra Vineyards in Hunker, PA. I had the pleasure of talking with owner Jay Bell during one of the rare times when his trendy winery wasn’t bustling with activity. Jay walked behind the bar and over to a row of taps where he grabbed a brightly colored pull and filled a glass with his latest offering Hunker Hippie. The catchy name brought a smile to my face as did the bubbling wine in my glass and the thought process behind it. Hunker Hippie is a lower alcohol carbonated light red wine with 6% ABV and a hint of blackberry.

Jay and his team used a Piquette-style of winemaking to utilize the same grapes that were used to make several of BTV’s full-bodied wines. The Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, and Barbera grapes from the Alexander Valley in Sonoma County, California were re-passed and made into a light red wine that is the base wine for their Rosé Cider and Harvest Rosê Cider. This year Jay reserved 130 gallons of that wine to make his initial offering of Hunker Hippie. Hunker Hippie is the perfect wine for a warm summer day at the winery when you want to drink a refreshing light wine that won’t fill you up. It is on tap now by the glass but is also available in a growler at a great price. If you’re curious about Hunker Hippie don’t wait until summer to try it because this first batch is going fast.

Bohemian Rhapsody

If you like Sauvignon Blanc but sometimes want a wine with a little more body and complexity then you should try Grüner Veltliner. Grüner Veltliner is the signature grape of Austria and has evolved almost entirely as the result of natural hybridization over time in the region. It is a white Vitis vinifera grape also called Grûner Mushateller but is better known by the colloquial name “Grūner”. Grüner Veltliner is a versatile grape that can be made into a wide variety of wines ranging from light and easy-drinking to rich and packed with varietal character. Grüner vines have medium-sized leaves with 5-7 lobes. It’s grape clusters are medium to very large conical clusters of medium density with round or oval greenish-yellow berries. These vines have adapted perfectly to the wet mineral-rich loess and loam soils of the lower vineyard sites near the Danube River. The lots higher up the hill are planted with Riesling. The rocky soils of these sites force the Riesling to struggle to survive but result in a wine that has concentrated flavors and complex taste profile. This farming practice utilizes the attributes of the land and yields the best grapes possible from the prevailing conditions. Although the largest plantings of Grüne Veltliner are in Austria and surrounding countries it has been dispersed throughout many of the wine regions of the world. While most Austrian Grüners are dry, full-bodied and acidic with flavors of citrus fruit, spice, and white pepper you can easily find others that are weightier with a more structured body that requires years to reach maturity in the bottle.

If you haven’t tasted Grüne Veltliner and you’re curious about where to start I would suggest trying a few from Austria first then expand your search to

The United States and Italy to find good Grūner at very reasonable prices. Here are a

South Shore Wine Company Gruner Veltliner 2015

Gruner Veltliner 2018 Photo Courtesy: Fero Vineyards & Winery

few to get you started on your journey.

AUSTRIA: Singing Grūner Veltliner 2017 Niederösterreich, Austria or Domane Krems Grüner Veltliner 2018 Kremstal, Austria 

ITALY: Eisacktaler Kellerei Cantina Valle Isarco Grüner Veltliner 2018 Alto Adige, Italy

 

The United States of America: Grüner Veltliner Fero Vineyards & Winery

Lewisburg, Pennsylvania,  Grûner Veltliner South Shore Wine Company North East, Pennsylvania or Grüner Veltliner Hosmer Winery Ovid, New York (FLX)

Hosmer Estate Winery 2017 Gruner Veltliner

 

Thanksgiving Dinner Wine List Suggestions

With Thanksgiving only a few days away the question of what wine to serve at dinner looms as large as the Garfield balloon in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. Over the years the traditional menu for this holiday has evolved for many but the problem of what wine pairs well with everything remains. The answer is that no single wine pairs well with everything. The solution: Buy several different wines and buy more than enough of each without going over your budget. My advice is the same as it would be if you were going bowling, ” Just roll it down the middle”. Here are four suggestions that will certainly score you some points with your friends and family this holiday season. 

Loosen Dr. L. Riesling is a great introductory German Riesling from Mosel. It’s not

Loosen Dr. L. Riesling

too dry or too sweet classic style means this low alcohol (8.5%) Riesling pairs well with a Thanksgiving dinner and @ around $13 it won’t “Break the bank”.

Leonard Kreusch-Zeller Schwarze Katz Riesling. This is a very approachable Riesling from a legendary German producer in the Mosel river village of Zell. Fruity, crisp and easy to drink. You can find it for around $10 a bottle so stock up

Leonard Kreusch-Zeller Schwarze Katz Riesling

now.

South Shore Gruner Veltliner is an excellent

South Shore Gruner Veltliner

Pennsylvania Lake Erie Wine Country wine. Fresh aromas and bright acidity make this a very food-friendly wine and a bargain at around $13.

Breitenbach Cranberry wine is both sweet and tart. This wine is always a hit especially with your guests that usually don’t drink wine. These seasonal

Breitenbach Cranberry Wine

offerings can be a little hard to find but worth the extra effort. You should be able to find one of these seasonal wines in the $15-$20 range.

Wishing you a Happy Thanksgiving and may the good things of life be yours in abundance, not only at Thanksgiving but throughout the coming year.

 

 

 

Shocking

     You may have heard the term “Bottle Shock” and didn’t know what it is or what causes it. Bottle shock refers to a condition when wine exhibits symptoms from getting too much air mixed into it in a very short time.  When this happens the wine will lack character in all respects.

This condition normally affects wine during the bottling process. Bottling is the most common cause of bottle shock because wine can easily absorb more oxygen than normal while being moved to a bottle and become saturated. Rough handling of bottled wine can also result in bottle shock because shaking the bottle can also mix air into the wine.

The good news is that bottle shock is temporary. After a few weeks of rest the ill effects will subside leaving the wine to not only recover but develop into a more complete

Barrel Room: Savage Wines Cape Town, South Africa

 wine than it was before the extra oxygen was introduced. The reason for this fortuitous transformation is that wine needs oxygen to age but it needs it added very slowly. Natural corks are perfectly suited to do this because air can penetrate them in such minuscule amounts that the oxygen can be gradually absorbed by the wine and not be overwhelmed by it causing the aging process to get out of balance.

     If you are patient with a bottle you think is suffering from bottle shock you will be rewarded for your patience with a wine that is better than it was before it got “SHOCKED”   

DeChaunac Anyone?

DeChaunac Wine Grape: Photo Courtesy: doubleavineyards.com

DeChaunac Wine Grape: Photo Courtesy: doubleavineyards.com

     If you have ever tasted or even heard of DeChaunac you probably have been to the Northeastern U.S., Nova Scotia or Ontario, Canada. DeChaunac is a French-American hybrid red wine grape developed by legendary French hybridizer Albert Seibel (1844-1935). This grape is also known as Seibel 9549 and is believed to be a cross between Seibel 5163 and Siebel 793. It was named after Ontario, Canada wine industry pioneer Adhemar de Chaunac, but in a strange twist of fate, may not be bottled as a varietal under Canada’s VQA system.

     When you first see DeChaunac your eyes will deceive you. After seeing this wines very dark and inky color in your glass you will be surprised by the light to medium body of such a dark wine. In my opinion a well-made DeChaunac will have a solid structure to carry complex flavors of black and red cherries, blackberry and prune with a bit of a musty nose.

     This wine can be blended with other wine to impart an “aged” characteristic but the blend must be kept at or below 7% or it can through the wine off according to J. Stephen Casscels, author of “Wine Grapes of the Hudson Valley and Other Cool Climate Regions of the United States and Canada”http://flintminepress.com

    Now that we have explored the heritage of the DeChaunac wine grape and discussed the wines made from it you might be curious about how it tastes. DeChaunac is not produced as widely as it once was but with a little research you can still find some excellent product.  Here are two examples of how a wine made from the same variety of grapes in different styles can yield wines with similar but unique characteristics. The following are two fine Pennsylvania grown and made DeChaunac.

Ripepi DeChaunac: Dry oak-aged red wine made in a Chianti-style with medium body displaying flavors of black fruit complemented by velvety tannins and a lingering finish.    

Ripepi Winery 93 Van Voorhis Lane  Monongahela, Pa http://ripepiwine.com

Narcisi 2015 DeChaunac: Slightly sweet medium-bodied wine with flavors of oranges, plum and cherries. Balanced acidity and a tart finish

Narcisi Winery 4578 Gibsonia Road  Gibsonia, Pa http://narcisiwinery.com