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.
Kagor is traditionally a fortified dessert wine made from Cabernet Sauvignon, Saperavi, and other varieties of red grapes in the coastal area surrounding the Black Sea. Kagor was originally made for the Russian Orthodox Church as a sacramental wine. Finding American-made Kagor can be very challenging and finding a well-made one is like finding the proverbial “Needle in a haystack”.
Jim Baker owner/winemaker at Chateau Niagara is making an award-winning Kagor from his estate-grown Saperavi. When I say award-winning, I mean that Jim brought home a medal for his Kagor from the prestigious Saperavi World Prize competition held in the Black Sea city of Tbilisi, Georgia plus numerous other awards. While Jim doesn’t fortify his Kagor, he does ferment it up to 15% ABV.
Opening the bottle is just the beginning of enjoying your Chateau Niagara Kagor, there is a method to tasting this unusual and extraordinary wine. I could attempt to explain it but I think there is no one better suited for the job than Jim Baker, so here is how to experience all that Chateau Niagara Kagor has to offer in Jim’s own words.
“Take a taste and swirl around once or twice in your mouth, coating all the taste buds and then stop. Let the wine take over. It will take you a journey, with flavors rising and falling. You want to go until they stop changing, and for most people it’s more than a minute. After that take a bite of a good chocolate truffle and when that is partially melted, taste the wine again, swallowing both together. They effect will be almost immediate with a burst of cherry cordial flavors.”
I asked Jim why he decided to grow grape varieties that are associated with Eastern Europe and make classic Eastern European wines from them. Here is what he said:
“We decided to make the Kagor as part of our Eastern European wine series. We discovered a number of little know Eastern European wines that we thought were pretty cool, and would allow us a little niche to specialize in. This includes a Hungarian Bulls Blood, our Saperavi, a Georgian style skin-fermented Riesling Chardonnay blend called Du Monde, and our Kagor. We planted a new Romanian grape last fall called Feteasca Neagra, but we will be calling it by the way cooler English translation of “Black Maiden”!”
Chateau Niagara will be doubling the size of their Saperavi vineyard to just over an acre of this versatile grape.
If you are interested in trying Jim’s Kagor or any of his other wines they can be found on his website http://chateauniagarawinery.com or by visiting the winery at 2466 West Creek Rood Newfane, NY. Please call before visiting. (716) 778-7888
Let’s play a game. Close your eyes and imagine your favorite Italian winemaking region. Next, conjure up images of its beautiful landscapes, vineyards, and signature architecture. Finally, remember how wonderfully the wine reflects its terroir and expresses the true characteristics of the land. Now, open your eyes and tell me was it Alto Adige? No, then let me tell you about this spectacularly grand alpine province which includes parts of the Dolomites and is also known as South Tyrol. This enchanting Italian wine region is nestled between Switzerland to the west, Germany to the north, and Austria to the east.
Alto Adige is home to Elena Walch wine estate. The Elena Walch wine estate is among the elite of Italian
The Walch’s ( L. to R.) Julia, Karoline, and Elena. Photo Credit: Elena Walch
wine producers and has been the standard-bearer for quality and innovation under the guidance of Elena Walch and now her daughters Julia and Karoline. The estate’s philosophy toward winemaking has always been defined by its dedication to the land and terroir. Elena Walch wines are a direct expression of their soil, climate, and care in the vineyard. The disciplines of sustainability and care for the land are strictly adhered to and passed down to future generations. Julia and Karoline Walch have steadily advanced and evolved the viewpoint of their mother since taking over as General Managers of the estate in 2015.
I recently had the opportunity to ask Karoline Walch about how they are carrying on that commitment to excellence and how you can taste it in their wines.
Elena Walch wines have always been faithful to the ideology of respecting the land and the environment so your wines are a direct reflection of the terroir. How do you see your commitment to that principle manifest itself in your wines?
Since the beginning, my mother wanted to produce wines that are a true reflection of a single site. Our two most important single vineyards are the Vigna Castel Ringberg and the Vigna Kastelaz, both very distinct and unique sites. With a combination of limestone soils and its microclimate given the lake influence, the vineyard Vigna Castel Ringberg is farmed sustainably to best adapt to the characteristics of the site. It is finally the salinity and depth that distinguishes it from many other wines within that category. The Vigna Kastelaz, on the other hand, is one of the very few vineyards facing completely South, and hence, benefitting from very sunny and dry growing conditions. Not only, it is extremely steep and due to its proximity to the Mendola mountain ridge, the temperature fluctuations are huge. This allows us to develop the primary aromas to the full spectrum, yet retaining the acidity. Not surprisingly, this is our icon site for Gewürztraminer. Finally, to further highlight the importance of those two vineyards, since 2014 our wines that grow on those two sites, carry the prestigious denomination of Vigna – It is an additional mention of a smaller geographical origin and designs the smallest historical/geographical unit of a vineyard. Every single Vigna must be officially admitted and registered within the regional government. It expresses the ultimate thought of terroir philosophy with the idea of a parcel wine from an exact plot and hence having a historical or traditional name.
How does your state-of-the-art fermentation cellar help you in accentuating all the unique terroirs of your diverse vineyard sites?
Our estate’s philosophy is inherently connected to terroir – the idea that the wines are an individual expression of the vineyard’s soil, climate, and cultivation. We start with quality in the vineyard, but the way the grapes are handled at the winery is an important step in how the finished wine expresses its sense of place. Our new, high-tech cellar allows us to be flexible and adjust to the requirements of both single vineyards and individual varieties.
With the new cellar, there are three important changes: the option between whole-berry or whole-bunch fermentation; the strict use of gravity to process the grapes as gently as possible; and four different points of quality control before the grapes reach the fermentation tanks. The aim is to create wines that have more structure, more fruit, and soft, supple tannins with great aging potential while being more elegant and refined at the same time. KW
Elena Walch set sail into uncharted waters when she built her winery on the idea of producing the highest quality wines that are terroir-driven and sustainably grown. Her daughters, Julia and Karoline, are continuing the journey she started but are always adding their own contemporary interpretation to their winemaking.
We can talk about how Elena Walch wines express their terroir and how producing wine sustainably can be tasted and experienced in a tangible way but it is impossible to truly understand what Elena Walch wines are like without tasting them for yourself. I feel quite confident that after reading Karoline Walch’s perspective on how she approaches making wine that you have a desire to taste her wine just to see for yourself why it is so special. The only question that remains is which one to try first. Luckily for us, Elena Walch wines are superior wines so you can’t make a mistake. Since Alto Adige is the northernmost region in Italy the Germanic grape varieties tend to be prevalent but that is to be expected since it is so close to Germany that 70% of its population speak German while only 25% speak Italian. Elena Walch is known for its white wine, which includes their popular Gewürztraminer and “Beyond The Clouds” but their reds are also top-notch.
When I explore a wine region I am always curious about the wine made from its indigenous grape varieties. When I looked at Alto Adige, Schiava caught my eye. Schiava is an indigenous grape varietal often associated with the region. Schiava typically produces an aromatic light but acidic red wine that is highly versatile when it comes to food pairings. Elena Walch Schiava is a solid choice because it ranks high in quality and taste for this varietal. Elena Walch Schiava 2019 has a cranberry color, mild tannins, and bright acidity with flavors of red fruit and Schiava’s signature tinge of bitter almond on the finish. It is best when served between 60-65ͦ F/16-18ͦ C. This wine pairs well with Mediterranean fare and pasta.
Elena Walch wine estate is only one of the extraordinary wineries in the Alto Adige region of Italy that are
eager to share their enchanting culture and remarkable wines with you.
This cuvée subscribes to the belief that the essence of the three Champenois grape varieties lies in the soul
Billecart-Salmon Champagne Brut Nature
of Champagne. Billecart-Salmon has chosen to accentuate the character of the Pinot Meunier, Pinot Noir, and Chardonnay grapes by adding no sugar to the dosage. Since its inception in 1818, Billecart-Salmon has always been known for its patience when it comes to making Champagne and Brut Nature is a beneficiary of that dedication to excellence. Billecart-Salmon Brut Nature is a blend of ten vintages that span 2006-2016. It spends 42 months on its lees before undergoing three weeks of cold settling.
Brut Nature opens with a mix of yeast and floral notes. You can’t build a good Champagne without a good structure to support it and this Champagne has a solid one that boasts an alluring pale yellow color and streams of fine bubbles that add a sense of sophistication to your glass. On the palate, flavors of apple and citrus are carried on a very dry medium body enhanced by bright acidity. The finish is proportional and refreshing. I believe this Champagne shows best when enjoyed in a pairing, especially a pairing with seafood. B-S Brut Nature’s acidity brings out the flavor of any seafood and its 12% ABV allows it to be easily paired. My suggested pairings would include sushi, ceviche, shellfish, and any preparation of fish. The finish on B-S Brut Nature is very dry and cleansing, allowing it to freshen your palate throughout your meal. A no sugar added dosage Champagne is not for everyone but if you try it in a situation that allows it to shine it may be just what you have been looking for.
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.
While scrolling through my Instagram recently I came across a mention of
an Oregon-made Saperavi. It piqued my interest because I wasn’t aware of any Saperavi being made, let alone grown further west than a few newly planted vineyards in Southwestern Pennsylvania. After a quick internet search, I located Golden Cluster and its owner/winemaker Jeff Vejr in the Willamette Valley of Oregon. I contacted Jeff to find out if he and Golden Cluster were as unique and cutting edge as they appeared at first glance. The short answer is “YES” plus so much more than meets the eye when you realize what he is accomplishing.
Jeff Vejr, Owner/Winemaker Golden Cluster Photo Credit: Laura Domela
The Golden Cluster website goldencluster.com is packed with fascinating information ranging from the uncommon grapes they use in their wine, the wine they make, the history of the area, and Jeff’s story and winemaking philosophy. There is so much information that it can be confusing so I asked Jeff to clarify the structure of his operation. He told me all of his wines are made under the Golden Cluster umbrella but there are some individual wineries that have different themes or points of view. He is the winemaker of all the wine and he makes all of his wine at the David Hill Winery which was originally the Charles Coury Vineyard & Winery. His Saperavi is not grown at the David Hill Vineyards but is grown in the Columbia Gorge AVA of Oregon. The uncommon grapes he sources from David Hill Vineyards were planted between 1966-1972 by Charles Coury. Those grape varieties are Semillon, Savagnin Rose, Flora, Melon de Bourgogne, Sylvaner, Perle of Csaba, and Gouges Blanc (aka Pinot Gouges).
If you find this prelude to my interview with Jeff Vejr owner/winemaker Golden Cluster interesting please read on for my conversation with Jeff. I didn’t believe I could convey Jeff’s passion and vision for his winery better than he did so I am publishing our interview “In his own words”. Enjoy!
1) Why did you choose to make wine from uncommon grapes?
The Semillon grape holds a special place in my heart, as it was the first white wine that brought me out of my “I only drink red wine” ignorance.
In early Spring of 2013, I was visiting the historic David Hill Vineyard with fellow winemaker Barnaby Tuttle of Teutonic Wine Company. We walked around the vineyard looking at some of the rows of Sylvaner and Riesling grapes that he contracted for. At the end of our walk, we came across these vines that were much larger than anything else we were looking at, so we asked the vineyard manager what they were. We couldn’t believe our ears when he told us that they were Semillon planted in the mid-1960’s.Upon further questioning, we came to find out that the Semillon was picked with the “other” mixed white grapes on the property and blended away. This news brought Barnaby and I considerable pain. On the drive back to Portland, we decided that Barnaby would call up to the winery the next day and ask about the availability of the Semillon for the upcoming harvest. Barnaby made the call to inquire and they agreed to sell him the Semillon.Their only question was why he wanted to even bother with it.
The original Charles Coury Vineyard (now called David Hill Vineyard) is one of the first vineyards planted in the Willamette Valley after Prohibition. For Barnaby and myself, it was a travesty that these historic grapes were not made into a single varietal bottling. To know that these grapes had been here for nearly 50 years without anyone making a stand-alone wine from them was unbelievable to us. Once I received this news, I was keenly aware of the rare opportunity and the responsibility involved. What I did not realize was that this chance encounter of Semillon grapes planted in 1966 would expand into a wider untold story about the famous pre-prohibition Reuter Vineyard and the man who planted these original Semillon vines, both originating on the exact same piece of land.
It was as if Dionysus was sending a message and a mission. It was at this time when opportunity and duty converged and Golden Cluster was born.
In proceeding vintages, I was able to source and make wine from other uncommon grapes from the original Charles Coury Vineyard. Grapes such as Flora and Savagnin Rose. Flora was one of the first American wine grapes to be developed after Prohibition, by the famous grape breeder, Dr. Harold Olmo at UC-Davis. The Savagnin Rose was a grape that had been misidentified for 50 years as Gewurztraminer in the David Hill Vineyard. After trips to Alsace, extensive research, DNA analysis, and most importantly visual identification, I was comfortable in correcting the record in 2016. To my knowledge, it is the oldest known Savagnin Rose in the U.S.A.
In the past 3 years, I have been afforded the opportunity to source other grapes that are not common in Oregon. Grapes such as Saperavi, Bon Noir, Sagrantino, Fiano, Alvarinho, Vignoles, Garanoir, Regent, and Agria, just to name a few. Some of these grapes are the first plantings of these grapes in our state. Oregon is a far more dynamic wine region than what our industry touts and than what the general public is led to believe. From a grape-growing perspective, Oregon is just as diverse as France, Italy, or Spain. Many of our vineyards can be grown non-irrigated, which is the standard in Europe. While most of the attention that Oregon receives is directed towards one grape and one of our wine regions, the most exciting work and resulting wines are coming from grapes that are not “typical” for Oregon. It is within this framework, where Oregon can be appreciated in a wider sense. We are operating with the same commitment, sacrifice, spirit, and hard work that it took the Somer, Lett, Coury, Erath, Ponzi, Sokol Blosser, Adelshiem, Vuylsteke, and Campbell families to reestablish Oregon wine after prohibition. We have a strong foundation to launch from, thanks in part to their work. The story of Oregon wine continues.
2) Tell me about your wine journey and how it has brought you to where you are today?
I am the stereotypical wine lover who left their previous profession to throw themselves into the wine business I started at the bottom, working in every facet of the wine industry from vineyard work, cellar work, harvest intern, wine buyer, importer, wine educator, and wine delivery driver.
At every step in this journey, I have stayed hungry to learn more. For those that are intellectually curious, the wine world is an incredible place to reside. It encompasses so many other professions; geology, chemistry, language, history, botany, meteorology, biology, music, anthropology, business, art, economics, religion, politics, etc….This is part of the beauty and curse of wine, as it is a galaxy of knowledge that never ceases.The minute you think you know something, you quickly realize that you know nothing. Wine is far more than just an alcoholic beverage.
For me, I have been guided by my own taste. As my palate has changed and as I have learned more, I have come to appreciate diving deeper and deeper into the proverbial rabbit hole.
I am not classically trained as a winemaker or sommelier. I have not taken any classes, nor earned any certificates or credentials in any area of the wine business. This has provided me with an uncluttered headspace to discover my own palate organically. I did not enter the wine world framed by institutional biases.
3) What are your plans for the future both near term and long-range?
My plan has been consistent since I humbly entered the wine industry. The plan is to never quit, never stop learning, never stop exploring, and accept opportunities as they arise. The commitment remains the same because this is more than a profession to me, it is a lifestyle. What is also important to me is to continue to research, unravel, and learn from the twin stories of the Reuter Vineyard and the Charles Coury Vineyard. To unify the histories of the Oregon wines that were grown and made on this hill behind Forest Grove, in the northern reaches of the Willamette Valley.
Photo of Reuter daughter in the original Reuter Vineyard circa 1904 Photo Credit: David Hill Vineyard
The story Jeff is writing with his forward-thinking view of winemaking is absolutely just the beginning and where it takes him and Golden Cluster will be thought-provoking to watch as it unfolds vintage after vintage.
In my last post, I explored the idea that you didn’t need to try wine from far away places to experience something new. There are plenty of grape varieties that were commonly found on kitchen tables and being made into everyday wines have fallen out of favor for a myriad of reasons can provide an interesting distraction from the predictable narrative of today’s offerings.
Isabella is a Vitis labrusca grape that was once prized for it’s ability to produce fruit that was marketable as table grapes, juice, and grapes for winemaking. Isabella is a large round grape with dark purple skin and a green-yellow flesh that is easily separated from its skin.
In many European countries, Isabella is still banned from being grown and it is illegal to make wine from its grapes. The importation of Isabella vines from North America was widely blamed for the phylloxera plague that ravaged vineyards across Europe in the mid-1800s. Despite it being outlawed in many European countries Isabella can still be found in vineyards and being made into various styles of wine, especially in Italy where the sweet dessert wine Fragolino is very popular. Isabella’s reputation as a desperado has necessitated it being known by more than fifty aliases. Those names range from Alexander and Fragola to Moschostaphylo and Kerkyraios but no matter what name you have known Isabella by it always displays that trademark “foxy” flavor that Vitis labrusca grapes are known for.
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.
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.
Twelve bottles of Bordeaux and hundreds of Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon canes made it back to Earth Wednesday night 1/13/2021 when they splash-downed in the Gulf of Mexico off the coast of Florida near Tampa. The wine was sent to the International Space Station by the Luxembourg startup Space Cargo Unlimited. The object of the experiment was to determine how aging in space would affect the wine. The wine will first be taste-tested by a panel of experts then subjected to chemical analysis to verify if any alterations in it’s aging occurred.
The vine clippings arrived at the space station aboard a different SpaceX mission in March 2020. The focus of the vine experiment was to observe how they respond to the stresses of weightlessness and use that information to develop hardier and more adaptable plants for use on earth and on future space missions.
As interesting as the experiments are what I find amazing is the restraint those astronauts showed being stuck in space with a case of Bordeaux for more than a year and not opening a single bottle! WOW! I salute their will power! LOL