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.

Australian & South African Winemakers Need Your Help

Winemakers in Australia and South Africa are facing a crisis. Australia is embroiled in a trade dispute with China in which China has halted the purchase of Australian barley, most beef, seafood, coal, and yes,wine. By early December 2020 Australian wineries had lost 1.2 billion in sales. South Africa has banned all alcohol sales as it battles a resurgence of Covid-19. You can help by buying a bottle or two of Australian and South African wine when you visit your wine shop. This is a perfect opportunity to revisit an old favorite from these countries or explore something new, either way it’s a win/win situation.

                                                                       


 

Smoke Gets In Your Eyes

Today’s forecast for Western Pennsylvania was for sunshine and

Smoke from West Coast wildfires hazes Western Pennsylvania skies.

mild temperatures. The prospect of an extended period of sunshine and mild weather after a summer that set record high temps and a moderate drought was a welcome prospect. When I was outside doing some work around the house I suddenly noticed that while the temperature was in the ’70s the sky was not blue even though there wasn’t a cloud in the sky. Later, a meteorologist on the local news gave me the explanation for the gray overcast conditions that had overspread the region. The reason was smoke from the wildfires on the West Coast. He said the smoke had risen and was swept eastward to the point that it was passing over the area at 30,000 feet. At that altitude, it didn’t affect our air quality but did filter out some sunlight leading to lower temperatures at the surface.

The smoke from the fires proved to be a curiosity for me but for the wine industry on the West Coast, it is presenting the possibility of being a disaster. The vineyards and wineries not directly impacted by the flames are subject to having their unharvested grapes damaged by “Smoke Taint”. Smoke taint is when grapes are exposed to smoke in the vineyard. Smoke in the vineyard doesn’t necessarily mean that the grapes will be damaged by contact with it. The grapes aren’t harmed by smokey soot settling on them but are injured because the smoke can be absorbed through their skin and goes directly into the grape’s sugars. It then gives the glycosides a smokey aroma, think what your clothes and hair smell like after you stood too close to a campfire. With that is in mind, growers aren’t finding much smoke damage from the wildfires, in fact, many are hopeful that any harm will be manageable. With the testing labs experiencing substantial backlogs of grapes for testing a definitive answer to the extent of the problem remains unknown. We will have to wait for the final judgment on the wine quality from the 2020 vintage in the affected regions.  

They Shoot Horses Don’t They?

Well, if they do they would be missing out on all the hidden value this economically priced Cabernet Sauvignon from the Horse Heaven Hills A.V.A of Washington has to offer.

Columbia Crest H3 Cabernet Sauvignon has been a workhorse vintage after vintage when it comes to providing value in a varietal category that can easily become overpriced due to the hype that often surrounds some well-known producers.

Photo Courtesy: Columbia Crest

This is a bold Cab that opens with oak on the nose and follows with flavors of dark fruit and vanilla that are complemented by supple tannins in a lingering finish. Vintages of this wine have received critical acclaim from the likes of Wine Spectator and Wine Enthusiast. Its malolactic fermentation is done in stainless steel tanks and oak barrels then the wine is blended immediately after fermentation. It is aged in new and older French and American oak barrels for 12 months.

Year after year, vintage after vintage and grape variety after grape variety Washington State has moved its wine quality and value forward without fail. Columbia Crest H3 Cabernet Sauvignon has taken its place in the wine market as an enjoyable Cab that can be easily found and purchased for $15 or less.

Columbia Crest H3 Cabernet Sauvignon 2017

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/

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dancing the Zweigelt Waltz

When a vintner is considering adding a new variety of wine grape to their vineyard the thought process involved in choosing which vines they eventually plant can be very tedious and time-consuming. The most important consideration when making that decision is the vine’s compatibility with their growing conditions but it’s not the only factor to study when making a selection. Of all the other variables probably the most important influence on a winemaker’s decision to grow a particular grape is their belief they can make a premium wine from it. Winemakers often begin their search for that “perfect” match in wine regions around the world that are similar to their own and are producing quality wines from the grape under consideration so they can use them as a guide.

Zweigelt (pronounced TSVYE-gelt) is beginning to attract attention from growers in the northeastern United States and a few Canadian vineyards in British Columbia and Ontario’s Niagara Peninsula. Zweigelt is a cool-climate Austrian hybrid red grape developed in 1922 by the hybridization of two Austrian grapes, Blaufrankisch (Lemberger) and St. Laurent. Zweigelt is the most extensively planted red wine grape in Austria. It is a very fertile grape that requires intensive leaf control and yield regulation because of its prolific yields. Zweigelt is a good choice for growers as an insurance grape because it’s bud break is later in the spring than many other varieties when the danger of a killing frost has passed and it ripens mid-season before most of the bad weather that damages the crop later in the harvest. These are some of the reasons why the acreage of this red grape has increased substantially in Austria between 1999-2015 but has now stabilized in recent years. Zweigelt displays characteristics from both of its parents. Blaufrankisch makes a bigger, bolder and deeper wine while St. Laurent is described as being fresh, agile, and akin to a Pinot Noir but with more muscle. Zweigelt is generally made into a dry, medium/light-bodied wine with low tannins and medium/high acidity but can also be made in a sweet style or ice wine. In the glass, it has a violet/reddish color and flavors of red cherry, raspberry, black pepper, and chocolate with a spicy floral aroma.

Zweigelt is a fresh light wine that pairs well with a wide range of food, making it a great picnic wine. It is common to find Zweigelt as a varietal but it is also widely used in blends with Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot to yield an Austrian spin on the classic Bordeaux blend. It is frequently blended with Blaufrankisch to double down on its Austrian lineage.

The great thing about wine is that there are so many completely different wines to explore. With that in mind, I suggest when judging a new wine grape don’t base your impression on a single bottle because with these unusual wines every winemaker has their own vision for the wine. It is a good idea to try as many samples as possible before forming your opinion. If you would like to taste an American Zweigelt consider trying one made in the Finger Lakes Wine Region of New York by Rob and Kate Thomas at their Shalestone Vineyards. http://shalestonevineyards.com

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

We Will Rise

Fero Vineyards Lewisburg, Pennsylvania Photo Courtesy of Fero Vineyards & Winery

I wake up every morning only to realize that it isn’t a reoccurring bad dream I keep having but a new day and the new reality of a world suffering through the Covid-19 pandemic, I struggle to believe that the images and commentary from around the world are actually taking place and isn’t the plot from a futuristic sci-fi novel. I take comfort in knowing while most of the country is safe at home under a “Stay at home” order Nature is moving forward at its own pace unaffected by the current state of human affairs. That won’t last long because crops will need to be planted and vineyards will need to be tended. Those jobs will take labor and labor will be hard to find now that the flow of migrant workers has been severely restricted to mitigate the spread of the virus.The biggest question yet to be answered is if the virus will peak and recede soon enough to allow work to start or will it linger causing a catastrophic interruption of all food and material commerce. That is a question that no one can answer while we’re in the midst of this unprecedented disaster. My best advice would be to explore some of those bottles you have been saving for a special occasion and enjoy them now because when will you be experiencing a more memorable event that this? Stay Strong, Stay Safe and Stay Home