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

The Sun Also Rises

Campo Viejo Rioja Garnacha 2017

When you think of wine grapes grown in Rioja, Spain you naturally think of Tempranillo. While Tempranillo is the predominant grape by far in acreage planted in Rioja, Garnacha plays a crucial supporting role in most of the wonderful Tempranillo-Garnacha Rioja blends coming out of that wine region. This enjoyable red grape is called Garnacha in Spain and Grenache in France. Celebrity chef Curtis Stone presented a candid view of Rioja on his television show “Field Trip with Curtis Stone” which airs on the PBS Create TV channel. Stone visits artisanal producers of food and wine around the world to get inspiration for new dishes at his Beverly Hills restaurant “Maude”. During his visit to Rioja, he was invited to supper at the home of a winemaker where he is treated to wine from the host’s 100-year-old Garnacha vineyard. Check your local listings for this insightful glimpse into some of the most storied food and wine regions on Earth.

Campo Viejo Rioja Garnacha 2017 received a 90 pts rating from James Suckling and has also been well reviewed by many other notable wine critics. This is a great introductory Rioja with subtle oak notes, good acidity, and structure at a value price. On the palate, it is smooth and soft with dynamic fruit flavors. Don’t overlook this varietal just because of all the luscious Tempranillo- Garnacha blends that Rioja offers. Please be open to exploring wine from Rioja because you will be pleasantly surprised by what you will find in your glass. 

Here’s a fun fact if you are curious about the exact location where this wine is made checkout the longitude and latitude coordinates on the top of the label.

Longitude & Latitude Coordinates

Link to Field Trip with Curtis Stone below

 

http://www.fieldtripwithcurtisstone.com 

 

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

Times They are a Changing

Organic, biodynamic, natural, sustainable, and many other techniques of viticulture and winemaking are once again making their existence known in the wine world. Yes, I said again because these farming methods are being updated using current technology but the basic premise of all of them is nothing new. The idea behind all of these methods of producing wine using the least human intervention possible was once done by necessity rather than by a conscious choice. In the not too distant past, there were no chemical controls and spraying programs available to vintners. Winemakers had to rely on taste and experience to know how their grapes and wine were progressing without a lab to verify their assumptions. Even after chemical controls became available the poorer producers still had to rely on biological controls and manipulating the natural conditions to bring in a harvest.

Understanding the delicate interactions between nature and agriculture has always been a passion of mine. My preoccupation with keeping the ecosystem clean and free of dangerous residual chemical compounds is completely understandable once you know a little about me, my background, and my education. I grew up across the road from my mother’s family farm where I watched my uncle, aunt, and cousins farming and caring for the land. I would pursue my higher education at California University of Pennsylvania where I graduated cum laude with a Bachelor’s degree in Nature Conservation. I have since combined that education with my interest in writing and the love of wine into an exciting journey of discovery. My writing has allowed me to become friends with many winemakers and vintners, not only in the northeastern United States but around the world. I have leveraged my access to these remarkable men and women to further my understanding of the practicality of using less chemical intervention in the vineyard. After years of conversations with the people who know first hand which practices work and which don’t work for their particular circumstances, I have assembled a mosaic of the feasibility of organic viticulture across North America and the world. My findings are that success and failure is very location and climate-specific. Climatic factors have never been predictable but are in flux now more than ever before.

In my ongoing effort to gather opinions on growing grapes organically, I recently had the pleasure to discuss the subject with Greg Winslow, owner/winemaker/vintner of Winslow Winery concerning his efforts to keep his vineyard as organic as possible using the options available to him. The Winslow winery and vineyards are located in the picturesque southwestern Pennsylvania town of Perryopolis. Greg grows a diverse collection of wine grapes, including a recent planting of a favorite of mine, Saperavi. Greg quit using glyphosate in 2016 because of the uncertainty surrounding the effects it might have on the eco-balance of his vineyard. That same year he decided to take a chemical-free approach to weed control when be purchased a weed burner manufactured by Flame Engineering. A weed burner is basically a flame thrower that incinerates the vegetation in the vine rows. It’s easy to see how this method of weed control is environmentally friendly even if it can be visualized as a plot from a cartoon where the results can be

Greg Winslow’s weed burner Photo courtesy Winslow Winery

both hilarious and disastrous. Greg pointed out some nice positives of using his weed burner. On the positive side is that it’s organic, weeds can’t develop a resistance to it, all the weeds and grass in the target area are destroyed instantly, and it has the unexpected benefit of helping sterilize the ground under the vines of fungus and mold that might splash up onto the vines during a rain. He also noted on the negative side the extra cost when compared to chemical herbicides and it doesn’t have the duration of chemical controls. Greg included one unforeseen danger of using this device in the vineyard that I hadn’t thought of. “It is absolutely devastating to bird netting. We use side netting that we leave up all year round then roll it down to cover the fruit zone during version. Once you drop the nets, don’t even think about using this.” 

Not completely satisfied with the weed control the weed burner was providing Greg purchased an offset tiller, a Rineri EL170 to be exact, to complement his weed control program. In addition to using his offset tiller to work the floor of his vineyard, he added drainage tiles and annual ryegrass between his rows to improve the water flow out of the vineyard and lessen soil compaction. His efforts are proving to be effective but are labor-intensive and costly but sustainable by definition. I suggested

Rineri EL
170 offset tiller Photo courtesy: Winslow Winery

he consider the organic broad-spectrum herbicide Weed Slayer to enhance his other weed controls. I first heard of Weed Slayer from Mary Rocca at Rocca Vineyards in the Napa Valley of California. I saw photos of her vine rows completely clear of weeds after vineyard manager Sergio Melgoza had applied the product. Weed Slayer consists of two separate products that are mixed with water to produce an effective herbicide. Weed Slayer is the herbicide and Arg Gold is the biological adjuvant. These two products work together to kill weeds from the root up while leaving no toxicity in the soil. If you have used Weed Slayer in your vineyard or another agricultural application please let me know of your experience with this product.

Greg Winslow believes in the idea of growing organically in his vineyard and pursues it as best he can while having to battle the same problems all producers of agricultural products face in the northeastern United States. When asked about the viability of growing his grapes completely organic and chemical-free he answered honestly and realistically. “I think that growing organically is a noble cause and it would be nice to market wines that were grown that way”. “I think growing organically would be difficult at best, at least in the mid-Atlantic states”. ” I haven’t met anyone in southern Pa and points south that is doing totally organic”. I do however use some organic products in my spray program, I use copper, sulfur, and hydrogen peroxide in my spray rotation, especially as harvest nears”. “I am trying to use only what I need when I need it and not spray irresponsibly for everything”.

Greg Winslow’s candid answers are very similar to the sentiments expressed by all the growers that I have posed these questions to in the Northeast. They say going totally organic would be great but it isn’t feasible at this time. Growing grapes and making wine is no different than any other business in that you need a product to sell. Growers are challenged every year to produce a harvest whether it be organically or with the help of chemical controls or a combination of both. I am always amazed by the ingenuity of these tenacious individuals and their sheer will to succeed.  

Winslow vineyards Photo courtesy: Winslow Winery

                  

 

 

My Article in Michigan Uncorked

I would like to invite you to view my article about Saperavi in the Spring 2020 issue of Michigan Uncorked. An online version of the magazine can be accessed by going to http://michiganuncorked.com and clicking on the Spring issue link on the home page to read the free flip-page edition (I’m on page 6 + 7) or use this link to go directly to the front cover of the magazine http://online.fliphtml5.com/hllky/gjob/#=6This is an edited version of an article that appears in the Spring 2020 issue of the American Wine Society Wine Journal.

Thanks to Michigan Uncorked’s Editor-in-Chief Jim Rink for the opportunity to share my story with the readers of Michigan Uncorked. I hope you enjoy the article and it provides you a bit of relief from the uncertainty and stressful times we are experiencing. Be prudent and stay safe! 

 

 

 

Exploring Wine Podcasts

If you ever want to listen to some really interesting stories take some time to explore the great wealth of podcasts about wine and the people behind them that is available on the internet for free. What makes these broadcasts so special is that you get to hear the guest and host accounts of their wine journey in their own words. Many of the podcasts post on a current schedule and have a library of archived shows that you can access. Some of these podcasts have ceased production but you can still download their shows and surprisingly they hold up well when played today. You can listen to podcasts in a variety of ways but I use the podcast app on my iPhone simply due to the ease of use.

Here are a few that I find entertaining and informative. The Weekly Wine Show has gone on hiatus but you can still listen to past episodes of this interview and wine review podcast hosted by Tony and Betty Notto. Wine Enthusiast (Podcast) is just what you think it would be, an extension of the magazine’s format. If you are looking for in-depth interviews with winemakers then checkout The inside Winemaking Podcast with Jim Duane, The Stories Behind Wine or The Winemakers on the Radiomisfits podcast network.

These are only a few suggestions to get you started. Once you delve deeper into the podcast universe you will be amazed by the content being offered by an eclectic group of contributors. Since these shows are free to listen to you can treat podcasts like free wine tasting. If you don’t like it at first sip you can try another one until you find some that you enjoy. Happy Hunting!

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 Ripasso 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.

Places I Remember

Sometimes I like to go back and taste wines that I drank often years ago but somehow moved on from or just lost interest in. Chateau Ste. Michelle Riesling is one of those wines. When I revisit certain wines I realize why I don’t buy them anymore but with some like this Riesling, they seem to hold up and remind me how my tastes have and have not evolved.

Chateau Ste. Michelle Riesling has been a reliable white wine from Washington’s Columbia Valley for years and because it is widely available it can be easily overlooked as a very drinkable option for the money. Riesling is often referred to as a “wine lovers grape” because with all of it’s outstanding qualities and punctuated by the fact it might be the most food-friendly of all wines it has never gained acceptance with causal wine drinkers. I once heard a CEO of Altria, the corporation that owns Chateau Ste. Michelle, describe the wineries in that group as ” a string of pearls”. Quite a fitting compliment when you consider they have managed to maintain a level of quality and consistency that is extremely difficult when you consider the scale of the operation.

Chateau Ste. Michelle Riesling 2018 Columbia Valley is not dry by any means but isn’t sweet either. This wine offers ample body, flavors of peach and citrus that are enhanced by just enough acidity to tie it all together. It’s a solid choice when your dinner guests usually don’t drink wine with their meal and you need an approachable wine everyone can enjoy.

If you are unsure of what white wine to serve at any of your gathers play it safe and pick up some bottles of Chateau Ste. Michelle Riesling.