Wine Writing in 2020: Where Do We Stand?

The pandemic has disrupted and ruined so many well-laid plans. One of mine was to attend the Wine Media Conference in Oregon this summer, where I was slated to talk about the past and future of wine blogging. So much for that!

But all is not lost, and the WMC has shifted gears to become a virtual event for the first time. And what’s more, they’re making it free. It begins on Thursday, August 20th, and continues through Saturday, August 22nd.

As part of this new incarnation of the long-running conference for wine communicators I will be moderating a panel of wine writing personalities to discuss the state of wine writing and to share personal stories of how this year has impacted wine writers.

Here’s the official description of the session:

2020 has proven to be a crazy year with a pandemic, recession, and Black Lives Matter protests. And we are just over halfway through. These events have affected everyone in the world, including wine writers. We’ll talk to several of them to hear their views on the turbulence affecting the world, how their year has been affected, what they are doing to adjust, and how they are planning for 2021. Our panelists include moderator Alder Yarrow of Vinography, Max Allen from Australia, Thaddeus Buggs, and R.H. Drexel.

My session will take place on Saturday, August 22nd at 2 PM Pacific / 5 PM Eastern. You can register to attend for free on the WMC Virtual Conference web site.

I hope you’ll join me and some of my fellow wine writers for a conversation about where we’ve been and where we’re going.

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Wine Reviews: Brengman Brothers’ Michigan Wines

Michigan wines have fascinated me for a while, so I’m excited to be back this week tasting a bunch of wines from Brengman Brothers.

This family-run winery, now entering its 17th vintage, is based near Traverse City, Michigan, in the Leelanau Peninsula American Viticultural Area (AVA). The peninsula, which juts into Grand Traverse Bay, is home to more than 20 wineries. Cool climate grapes like Riesling thrive here, and the Bordeaux style blends from this region can show brisk, bright, Old World appeal, with lots of spicy and floral components.

The appellation, which was formed in 1982, is characterized by its proximity to Lake Michigan, creating an inland maritime climate which helps moderate temperature extremes. Lake effect snow can actually help protect vines against potentially devastating spring frosts. The climate allows for ice wine production in some vintages. Vineyards are planted on hills of

Brengman Bros. sources their grapes from three vineyards. In their Timberlee Vineyard (30 acres) Crain Hill Vineyard (25 acres) and Cedar Lake Vineyard (5 acres) they grow a wide range of grape varieties, from Chardonnay and Chenin Blanc to Muscat Ottonel, Petit Verdot, even some Rotgipfler. (I had to revisit my textbooks for that last one.) The winery is 100% solar powered, and equipped to move barrels outside for cold stabilization in the Michigan winter.

While I thought a few of the wines really stood out, they were all interesting, and only one missed the mark (for me). I can struggle with hot, heavy wines (especially in summer), so I found these wines a delightful, refreshing experience. They’re certainly worth checking out if you’re in the area or buying direct.

These wines were received as trade samples and tasted sighted.

2019 Brengman Brothers Chenin Blanc Timberlee Vineyard ­- USA, Michigan, Leelanau Peninsula
SRP: $30
Medium lemon color. Nose shows mint and verbena over chalk, talc, saline, lemons and tart apricots. On the palate this is racy, rushing and lip-smacking with a tart, live-wire feel that works really well with this green apple, lemon and apricot fruit. Crusty sea salt, honeysuckle and minerals abound. Some may find this too lean/tart, but I think it’s exciting and quite delicious. Begs for oysters. (88 points IJB)

2018 Brengman Brothers Dagüdscht USA, Michigan, Leelanau Peninsula
SRP: 25
Very pale copper color. Boisterous aromas of lemon, lychee, peach nectar, with orange blossom, dandelions, ginger and floral perfume. Light-bodied, dry and brisk, with a slightly creamy texture and precise acidity and balance. Chunks of pineapple, green apple, apricot and white peach, drizzled with lemon, topped in mint, white pepper, smashed seashells and honey. Dry and brisk but deep and complex. This is a fascinating and delicious take on a Gemischter Satz blend, and really delicious. A blend of Pinot Noir, Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Gris, Muscat, Gewurztraminer, Riesling, Chenin Blanc and Rotgipfler from Timberlee and Crain Hill Vineyards. (90 points IJB)

2019 Brengman Brothers Block 65 Blend Crain Hill Vineyards USA, Michigan, Leelanau Peninsula
SRP: $25
Medium yellow color. So floral on the nose with white peaches, lemons, honey, orange blossom, nettle and lemon verbena. Crisp and bright on the palate, brisk but balanced with a light, steely, feel, yet shows solid complexity. Tart lemon, orange peel, apricots, with notes of white flowers, crushed limestone, white tea. Cool, crunchy, interesting stuff. Pinot Gris, Sauvignon Blanc and Gewurztraminer. (88 points IJB)

2018 Brengman Brothers Chardonnay Barrel Aged Crain Hill Vineyards USA, Michigan, Leelanau Peninsula
SRP: $45
Deep yellow color. Nose of ripe apples, lemon curd, orange peel, with a cool mix of yellow flowers, chalk, oyster brine tones, some candle wax. Medium-bodied, crisp and bright with slightly waxy texture but a light and juicy appeal. Green apples and crunchy apricot, a bit thin on the midpalate but it also shows notes of toasted almond, hay, honeycomb. Stays bright and shellfish-friendly throughout. Aged 12 months in French oak. (87 points IJB)

2019 Brengman Brothers Chardonnay Concrete Crain Hill Vineyards USA, Michigan, Leelanau Peninsula
SRP: $30
Light yellow color. Bursting aromas of apricot, white peach, guava, along with white flowers, white pepper, crushed shells and smashed sweet tart candies. Vibrant and nervy on the palate with a mineral and mountain stream aesthetic, along with lemon, white peach and guava. Racy but juicy with chalk dust, stony minerals. A Chardonnay for Sauv Blanc lovers, but this offers a lot of dynamic and flavorful elements. (88 points IJB)

2019 Brengman Brothers Pinot Noir Rosé Block 7 Crain Hill Vineyard USA, Michigan, Leelanau Peninsula
SRP: $25
Bright pink color. Zesty aromas of red apple peel, watermelon rind, spiced tea, mint and rhubarb. Fleshy texture with zesty acidity meets red apple peel, white cherry fruit, along with elements of mint, dandelion. Delightful, crisp and fun, this shows some fun, floral and spicy complexity. (87 points IJB)

2017 Brengman Brothers Right Bank Cedar Lake Vineyard USA, Michigan, Leelanau Peninsula
SRP: $60
Bright ruby color. What a spicy nose with green herbs, tobacco and white pepper on top of sour cherry, red apple and wild raspberry. On the palate, this shows bright acid, a crisp and crunchy frame with light tannins and a spicy appeal. Wild raspberry and red currant mixes with bell pepper, tobacco, mint and earth. Crunchy, vibrant style. Cabernet Franc with 20% Merlot, 3% Cabernet Sauvignon and 3% Petit Verdot. (87 points IJB)

2017 Brengman Brothers Left Bank – USA, Michigan, Leelanau Peninsula
SRP: $65
Medium purple color. Aromas of tart black cherries and red and black currants, along with spiced black tea, anise, wild herbs and beef broth tones. Medium-bodied with a tart and zippy appeal, with tart currants, wild raspberry, red plums. Elements of earth, beef broth, anise, cocoa, leather. Already complex and integrated, this seems like one to pop now, but also shows significant complexity and balance. Interesting Cab Sauv-based blend with Merlot, Cab Franc and Petit Verdot. (88 points IJB)

2016 Brengman Brothers Riesling Beerenauslese Crain Hill Vineyards USA, Michigan, Leelanau Peninsula
Wine Reviews: Brengman Brothers’ Michigan WinesSRP: $35
Light gold color. Impressive, complex aromas of baked apples and honey with lively, fresh tones of candied lemon, white flowers and chalk dust. On the palate, the richness and sweetness is woven in so well bright acidity. Fruit-wise, we have plump yellow apples meeting lime zest, with complex notes of chalk, minerals, nuanced graham cracker, honey glaze and toasted almond. This is vibrant, balanced and exciting American noble rot Riesling worth checking out! Gaining depth with age, I think this will continue to improve for years to come. (90 points IJB)

2016 Brengman Brothers Gewürztraminer Sélection de Grains Nobles Crain Hill Vineyards USA, Michigan, Leelanau Peninsula
SRP: $30
Deep gold color. Rich and honeyed on the nose with glazed pear, baked apple, candied nuts, cinnamon, graham cracker and shaved ginger. On the palate, this is sweet and plum but balanced with crisp acidity, round but precise. Baked yellow apples and orange marmalade mix with cinnamon crumb cake, honeycomb and glazed pecans, but there’s also this underlying seashell, mineral and spiced tea aesthetic. Nuanced and delightful, should continue to age well. (89 points IJB)

2017 Brengman Brothers Riesling Ice Wine USA, Michigan, Leelanau Peninsula
SRP: $80
Deep yellow color. Aromas of gorgeous honey, apricot marmalade, with lychee, graham cracker, lamp oil – a really cool mix. The texture is waxy and plump but the acidity is really vibrant, balanced well with unctuous sweetness. Sweet, honeyed, orange and apricot marmalade fruit – juicy, ripe and plush. But there’s also notes of chalk, mineral, clover and white tea, with some floral perfume and oyster shell tones. Finishes with lovely freshness and sweetness – the balance and depth are really something. I’d love to see how this ages over the next 10 years or so. (91 points IJB)

<85 points

2019 Brengman Brothers Sauvignon Blanc Timberlee Vineyard USA, Michigan, Leelanau Peninsula
SRP: $25
Pale lemon color. The nose shows lots of floral perfume, sudsy, soapy notes and lime. High acidity on the palate, light and brisk with green apple peel, lime, and lots of floral perfume. A bit austere and heavily perfumed.

Vinography Images: Juicy Beginnings

Juicy Beginnings
LOMPOC, CA: Chardonnay grapes are dumped into a hopper during crush in the area affectionately known as the Lompoc Wine Ghetto, a concentrated industrial zone that plays host to more than 40 wineries and wine tasting rooms in Santa Barbara County. The 2020 harvest has started in earnest this past week, as a massive hot and humid weather system looms over California.

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This image is from a series of photographs by George Rose captured in the process of shooting his most recent work WINE COUNTRY: Santa Barbara County, a visual celebration of one of California’s most beautiful wine regions. The book can be ordered on George’s web site.

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Vinography regularly features images by photographer George Rose for readers’ personal use as desktop backgrounds or screen savers. We hope you enjoy them. Please respect the copyright on these images. These images are not to be reposted on any web site or blog without the express permission of the photographer.

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Daily Wine News: Tariffs Update

Port wine glasses.

In Wine Spectator, Mitch Frank reports the Trump administration will keep the 25 percent tariffs imposed on most French, German, Spanish and U.K. wines for the foreseeable future, forcing wine lovers to pay more and inflicting economic distress on importers, retailers and restaurateurs just as the hospitality industry grapples with the impact of Covid-19.

In Wine Enthusiast, Kerin O’Keefe surveys Italy’s organic wine boom. “In fact, the country is the world leader in terms of the percentage of surface area dedicated to organic wine grapes.”

In Vinous, David Schildknecht offers his impressions of the 2018 Mosel vintage.

In the San Francisco Chronicle, Esther Mobley looks at vice presidential nominee Kamala Harris’s great taste in wine.

Napa Valley Vintners has invested an additional $250,000 in the Adventist Health St. Helena/St. Helena Hospital Foundation mobile health unit to expand its usage and provide Covid-19 testing for farmworkers, seniors and low-income community members.

Bottled wine imports of China dropped by one third in both volume and value during the first six months of 2020, reports Sylvia Wu in Decanter.

In Decanter, Charles Curtis offers a guide to Michigan wine. (subscription req.)

Michelle Bouffard looks at the impact of Covid-19 on the Canadian wine market in Meininger’s.

Daily Wine News: Old Vines

Old vines in Lodi, CA. (Source: Lodi Native)

Research from the University of Cape Town shows that using old vine fruit earns winemakers more money. This effort to quantify the gains, says Michael Fridjhon in Meininger’s, may help keep these treasured old vines alive.

In Harpers UK, Madeleine Waters looks at Lebanon’s deeply troubled wine sector. “Lebanon’s own currency, the Lira, which has been artificially pegged to the US dollar for over 20 years, has lost around 80% of its value over the last few months. Lebanon imports around 90% of what it consumes, including – crucially for the wine industry, bottles, corks and equipment – pretty much everything apart from the grapes grown in its near-perfect terroir. All these imports need to be paid for in dollars. But wine is one of Lebanon’s only exports, and therefore of huge importance, especially at this time.”

Alkali Rye, a new beverage shop in Oakland, is prioritizing producers from underrepresented backgrounds. Esther Mobley has the scoop in the San Francisco Chronicle.

In the Terroir Review, Meg Maker talks with La Garagista winemaker Deidre Heekin about her holistic approach to “wine” and her recent cider projects.

“Mike Lucia owns an entire Northern California wine appellation. The owner of Rootdown Wine Cellars recently bought the 150-acre Cole Ranch Appellation for $2.7 million,” reports David Caraccio in the Sacramento Bee. “Cole Ranch is the smallest American Viticultural Area (AVA) in the country. The AVA has 55 acres of Cabernet Sauvignon (26.5 acres), Pinot Noir (10.2 acres), Merlot (7 acres) and Riesling (11.5 acres) vines in Mendocino County. Chardonnay grapes also are grown there.”

In Decanter, James Button explores Northern Italian regions beyond Barolo, Barbaresco and Prosecco. (subscription req.)

Andrew Jefford charts the rise of rosé in the Financial Times. (subscription req.)

Explore The Spectrum of Napa Cabernet With Me, Aug 27th

There’s a reason that Napa Valley now boasts 16 distinct American Viticultural Areas. The valley’s diversity of soils, microclimates, and topology make for a rich variety of growing sites, each providing winemakers with different characteristics to utilize in crafting expressive wines. Do these smaller growing regions within Napa have distinct personalities that growers recognize? Are there regional flavor signatures that we can taste in the wines?

In pursuit of answers to these questions and hopefully an interesting and educational discussion, I’m hosting a free virtual seminar in conjunction with the Napa Valley Vintners association on August 27th at 10:00 AM Pacific Time. I’ll be joined by some top Napa Cabernet producers: Alison Rodriguez from The Hess Collection, Jonathan Pey from TEXTBOOK, Beth Novak Milliken from Spottswoode, Priyanka French from Signorello, and Reilly Keenan from Keenan Winery.

If you’d like to join us, please RSVP here. Also, if you’d like to purchase the wines we’re tasting in advance, you’ll find links to do so on that page. That’s not required to attend, nor to get something out of the session, but it certainly will make for a more tasty experience.

You may want to check out other talks in this series, entitled Napa Valley Sessions, on the Napa Valley Vintners web site.

See you online in a couple of weeks!

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Wine in the Time of Coronavirus, Part 7 (In Which I Award An A+ to TWO Wines… WHAT?!?)

Ghielmetti Vineyard, Livermore

Usually, the 1WD wine sample pool is, as my daughter likes to describe my cooking, “adequate.”

What I mean is, most of the wine samples that I receive are pretty good, if not get-you-all-diddy-like exciting; occasionally I get a sample that’s an utter dud, and occasionally I pop open a sample that’s delightfully surprising.

Rarely, I receive a sample that blows my cotton socks off. And never have I received samples that earned an “A+” rating – my top-of-the-line critical mark, reserved only for wines that, in my opinion, are not only nearly perfect, but reset the bar of what wine lovers can expect from the combination of style/grapes/region upon which they are based.

I recently received a wine in the sample pool that hits that lofty mark – something that’s never happened in my decade-plus of receiving wine samples. In fact, I just received two of them. And they’re from the same f*cking producer…

I have known winemaker and proprietor Steven Kent Mirassou for quite a few years now, though our paths tend to cross far less frequently than I would like. Legally prevented from using his family name for his own wine brand, Mirassou set up The Steven Kent Winery in Livermore. Mirassou has always been a vocal proponent of the potential of California’s historic Livermore Valley for creating world-class wines; a potential that I most recently reconsidered five years ago after a Livermore media tour back in 2015. The time has come, apparently, to reconsider it yet again.

Gifted with what was arguably the greatest vintage in Livermore in at least a decade, Mirassou swung for the fences for the 2017 releases of his top-tier Lineage Collection reds. He ended up hitting a grand slam.

The two wines you will read about below are seamless. Not only are they as near to perfect “New World” Cabernet Sauvignon expression as you’re likely to come across, they are some of the best expressions of Bordeaux-styled reds that have come out of all of California in the last ten years. These set a new high bar for what can be achieved in Livermore Valley, and represent a sort of seminal pivot point for the region.

Wine in the Time of Coronavirus, Part 7 (In Which I Award An A+ to TWO Wines… WHAT?!?)

Wine in the Time of Coronavirus, Part 7 (In Which I Award An A+ to TWO Wines… WHAT?!?)2017 The Steven Kent Winery Lineage Collection “The Premier” Cabernet Sauvignon (Livermore Valley, $125)

About one-quarter of this 100% Cabernet’s fruit comes from Mirassou’s favorite farming spot, the Ghielmetti Vineyard. Most of it is sourced from Home Ranch Vineyard, and the remainder from Sachau Vineyard. These are all within roughly 4-5 miles of one another, and so all benefited from similar 2017 vintage magic: a rainy start that morphed into perfect and dry conditions in August and September. This red represents what must have been a Herculean effort of sorting through over 120 barrels to whittle the selection down to eight (producing just under 2000 bottles total).

In a word, this Cab is exceptional. Silky on entry, moving to a firm grip that never becomes abrasive. Vanilla, cedar, dried herbs, balsamic, graphite, Crème de Mure, ripe plums of several stripes, blackcurrant, truffles – it’s the whole damned Cabernet package. It moves powerfully but gracefully and evenly in the mouth, almost with a sentient sense of purpose, guided by a fine line of acidity and minerality, and concludes with an epic finish that lasts several minutes. Drinking this gave me goosebumps at several separate, distinct moments. It could go for a decade in the bottle. Basically, it’s a triumph.

Wine in the Time of Coronavirus, Part 7 (In Which I Award An A+ to TWO Wines… WHAT?!?)

Wine in the Time of Coronavirus, Part 7 (In Which I Award An A+ to TWO Wines… WHAT?!?)2017 The Steven Kent Winery Lineage (Livermore Valley, $175)

A blend in every sense: of six different vineyards (including Mirassou’s preferred target, Ghielmetti), three different varieties (75% Cabernet Sauvignon, with the remainder a ix of Merlot and Cabernet Franc), and new (60%) and used French oak barrels (from three different coopers), producing a bit over over 4,000 bottles total.

This Lineage is the more modernly styled, larger big brother to its slightly more feminine sister, The Premier. Everything about this red feels massive and substantial at first: the oak, the incredibly deep black fruits, the dark spiciness, the fleshiness, the black olive savoriness, the ripe and rich red fruit core. The tannins, while also substantial and serious, are long and silky. This is a steakhouse dinner red in all of the best ways, an absolute powerhouse meant to be expressive and to dominate most of your senses from the get-go. Complex, assertive, and not fooling around, all of the pieces are there and are clearly going to fit together like a 2000-piece puzzle at some point, but only on the wine’s terms, when it’s damned good and ready. It’s a gorgeous, muscular achievement that won’t fully come together for fifteen or more years.

Hat’s off to Mirassou; I don’t think that Livermore is ever going to be quite the same after this.


Upscale your palate! My new books are now available from Rockridge Press!

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Daily Wine News: Humanity & Wine

(Credit: Pixabay)

“Historically, it has not been the industry’s default position to speak about political things. It prioritizes the marketability of a particular winemaker’s point-of-view, or the low-key-but-significant endorsement from a media personality. It prizes provocative, eye-catching labels and bottle rarity. However, what we’re seeing now and can’t ignore is the industry’s complicity as it continues to suppress othered voices, distance marginalized populations and shame victims and survivors of abuse.” In PUNCH, sommelier Miguel de Leon launches a new series exploring where humanity interests with the story of modern wine.

The real threat to wine sales is being ignored, says Rob McMillan.

In Meininger’s, Robert Joseph considers how much space and money could be if wine bottles were square instead of round. “When I’ve sought to discover why the wine industry has been so slow to explore alternative bottle shapes, I’ve been told that it would involve contravening appellation laws (almost never the case); it would cost too much (which would depend on the number of bottles and the retail price); and that consumers ‘just don’t want it’.  I’m sure this last assertion is true. Just as they famously didn’t ‘want’ a car before Henry Ford offered them one, or a way to carry their record collection around with them until Steve Jobs gave them the iPod.”

In SevenFifty Daily, Mark Stock looks at how Washington’s Walla Walla Valley is dealing with phylloxera for the first time.

With government land grabs, falling tourism, and no domestic sales, South African wineries are facing a bleak future. James Lawrence reports on how the country’s wine industry is suffering in Wine-Searcher.

Neal Martin offers his impressions of the 2016 Bordeaux vintage in Vinous.

“The Vacheron family, owners of Le Clos du Caillou, have purchased the 33-acre Domaine de Panisse in Châteauneuf-du-Pape from the Olivier family,” reports Suzanne Mustacich in Wine Spectator.