Vinography Images: All Night Long

A vineyard worker picks grapes at night for Dalla Valle Vineyards in Oakville. Located on the eastern edge of the Oakville AVA, Dalla Valle recently transitioned its winemaking leadership to a second generation of ownership, when in June of this year Maya Dalla Valle was named as head winemaker at the estate that her mother, Naoko Dalla Valle, has run for nearly 3 decades.

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The work of photographer Jimmy Hayes can be further appreciated in his recently published monograph, Veritas, by Abrams Books / Cameron + Company. Order the book from the Abrams web site.

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The post Vinography Images: All Night Long appeared first on Vinography.

When Stones Speak: The Wines of Domaine des Ardoisiers

Some truly great wines sneak up on you, sip after sip, taste after taste—deepening, resonating, and ultimately resolving into your own realization that you are experiencing something profound. More commonly in my experience, however, great wines hit you like a lightning bolt, with a silent detonation that snaps every iota of your attention to the wine itself.

That’s what it felt like the first time I tasted the wines of Domaine des Ardoisiers, perhaps more than 10 years ago. I remember the moment well. I was sitting at a dinner table on the lawn at the International Pinot Noir Celebration in McMinnville, Oregon, and two seats away from me sat the famed importer Martine Saunier, to whom I had been introduced a few minutes before. As we settled into our table, Martine retrieved two bottles from her oversized handbag and plunked them on the table.

The labels intrigued me from the very start, with their slightly amateurish label design and funky fonts. At the time, I had no idea where they came from. IGP Vin des Allobroges meant nothing to me. “Where the hell is Allobroges?” I thought to myself. Eventually, our attendant sommelier came by and opened them up, and then, at my first sip, the heavens themselves opened up, and I was hopelessly smitten for life.

Yes, I am a sucker for wines that taste like liquid stone. And few wines in the world manage to taste and smell more like pulverized stone than these, which are unquestionably among the very best that are produced in the little region of France known as the Savoie.

A classic U-shaped glacial valley in the Savoie

Nemesis of Ice

Few things can resist the power of a glacier that knows where it’s headed. When ten million tons of ice are headed your way, even at the creeping pace of a few centimeters per day, you get out of the way or you are ground to dust. Some of the world’s most spectacular u-shaped valleys are testament to this incredible power. Yosemite. The Fjords of Norway. Lauterbrunnen in Switzerland.

Occasionally, however, there are times when instead of obliterating, the ice embraces, flowing around and over a bit of stone instead of wreaking its slow pulverization.

Often, these snags of stone will become the sites of recessional moraines, buildups of soil and glacial effluvia that are left behind as the ice melts and the glacier seems to retreat back up the valley it has carved towards the cirque of its birth.

The glaciers that carved the Tarentaise valley started their grinding about 2 million years ago, and finished their retreat only about 10,000 years ago, leaving behind the beautiful valleys of the French Alps, and stunning lakes such as Geneva and Annecy.

And in a place that would eventually be called Cevins, in an otherwise beautifully scoured u-shaped glacial valley, as a glacier turned to water a small spur of solid schist gathered the stones and soil that the ice would no longer hold. Over time, a village sprang up in the shadow of the hill that rock and earth created, and the local residents, likely citizens of the Roman Empire at the time, planted grapes in the fractured schist soils. The vines were tended, some for better some for worse, and eventually, the townspeople placed a small chapel at the summit, dedicated to Notre Dame des Neiges, “Our Lady of the Snows.”

When Stones Speak: The Wines of Domaine des Ardoisiers

The Organic Visionary

Like many small-scale vignerons of his generation, Michel Grisard grew up on his family’s mixed farm, which produced wine as well as produce, eggs, and meats. The Grisard family, though, was perhaps a little deeper into wine than most, as they also ran a vine nursery, providing plants for new vineyards in their area.

 After studying Agriculture at university, Grisard joined the family business only to have his father pass away a year later, leaving Michel to run the nursery and winery. Once joined by his brother in the family business, Grisard decided his future lay elsewhere, and in 1982 he left to work with the small acreage of Mondeuse he had planted himself, renting the St-Christophe Priory in the village of Fréterive to use as a cellar.

Grisard’s approach to viticulture was quite traditional at first, in keeping with his university education, replete with herbicides, fungicides, pesticides, and fertilizers galore. However after meeting biodynamic consultant François Bouchet in 1994 through Michel Chapoutier, he quickly became the first biodynamic producer in the Savoie region and was certified organic three years later, and never looked back.

Soon after, thanks in part to having sold his wines to restaurant Paul Bocuse in Lyon, Grisard’s wines became quite sought-after.

As part of his explorations of nearby terroirs, Grisard eventually came across a tiny little town with a hillside full of derelict vineyards and crumbling stone terraces. The precarious slope over the little town of Cevins had been left out of the Savoie AOC region, in part because the narrow valley receives less sun than other areas of the region, and was thought to offer too much challenge in ripening grapes.

For Grisard, the unusual schist soils, steep southerly exposure, terraced plots, and a seemingly ancient history of wine growing were too much to resist.

Grisard created a company, solicited investment, bought or rented the majority of the land on the hillside, and between 1998 and 2002 he planted nearly 13 acres across the hillside with Mondeuse, Persan, Altesse, Jacquere, and perhaps some of the region’s first plantings of the little known Mondeuse Blanche.

As the first plantings began to yield fruit, Grisard made the wines under his Prieuré St-Christophe label, but as this unique hillside matured, it became clear that it needed its own identity.

When Stones Speak: The Wines of Domaine des Ardoisiers
A steep bowl near the top of the Cevins hillside

The End of a Journey, Beginning of a Calling

In the early 2000s, winemaker Brice Omont was working at a big production facility in Champagne, but while his hands were busy, his heart was somewhere else. He was both spiritually and literally searching for somewhere to make wine. He thought he might eventually end up in the Loire, given his interest in organic and biodynamic winemaking, but he made several trips to Anjou the surrounding areas and didn’t find what he was looking for.

Then some friends suggested he look at the Savoie. “I said ‘oh, you mean vin de raclette? I don’t think so,’” recalls Omont, referencing the Savoie’s (unfortunately still lingering) reputation for cheap, ski-resort swill. “I was prejudiced. But eventually, I took a vacation in 2003 and came to the region, thinking that I would just have a look.”

During his visit, he stopped off at the local Ministry of Agriculture office and explained that he was interested in organic winegrowing. “They said to me if that’s what you’re interested in, there is only one person for you to speak with. His name is Michel Grisard.” 

“I called Michel Grisard and I visited,” continues Omont. “I tasted his wines and…” he shrugs. “Wow. The Mondeuse, the Altesse. I realized immediately the brilliance of his approach. His wines were superior to every Savoie wine I had ever tasted. So I talked with him, I told him I was looking for a place to make wine, and he told me that a young vigneron he had been working with had recently left.”

Grisard then went on to describe a small hillside of schist in the Tarentaise valley.

“I came back to Champagne, and I told myself, ‘This is it. It’s not the Loire, it’s the Savoie.’ And I knew that if I didn’t do this that I would regret it for the rest of my life.”

One week later, Omont was back in the Savoie, gazing up at the little hill of vines with a tiny white chapel at its summit.

When Stones Speak: The Wines of Domaine des Ardoisiers

Ardoisiers Against All Odds

“On my first day,” says Omont, “I thought that this was no problem. The second year I realized what kind of a hill it was that we had to climb. It was very high, and very difficult, and I wasn’t sure we were going to be able to do it. We didn’t have the means at our disposal to achieve our ambitions.”

The bank agreed. When Grisard and Omont went looking for more money, no one was willing to give them a loan. “I told Michel it was a shame, but it looked like we needed to win the lottery in order to make it work,” says Omont. “Three years later we were completely out of money.”

Omont describes calling their first and best customer and breaking the news that the banks had turned them down. “He said to me, ‘What is the plan?” And I told him we didn’t have one. That we were done.”

Click the images in the gallery below for larger views.

But that customer called 10 other customers—some retailers, some restaurateurs and some consumers—and as a group they came back to Omont and told him to open a bottle of wine, and when he did, they said they would collectively co-sign for a loan, and that they would all come to help whenever the winery needed a hand.

“I pinched myself because I couldn’t believe what was happening,” says Omont. “The bank did not understand, but these people did. They had a passion for wine. Many people told me we were crazy to do this, that we’d lose control and that these people would run everything. But these people wanted no salaries, no investment returns. They just said, ‘take your time, don’t worry, do it the best way. We are just happy to drink it. If you want to give us some bottles, we’ll be happy,’ but no more than that. It’s the opposite of this kind of jungle economics you hear about. There are times when you’re scared of humanity. And then there are times like that where you just shake your head and say, ‘Fantastic.’”

Most of the investors remained silent partners, but eventually, two became advisors to Omont and Grisard, helping them think through the structuring of a healthy business, to plan for expansion, and in 2010 helped them secure the somewhat ramshackle building with a rare underground cellar that Omont located in the village of Freterive,

Around this time, Omont and Grisard had a falling out, and Grisard, who would retire from winemaking altogether in 2014, stepped away, leaving Omont solely in charge.

Soon after Omont joined, the wines were given their own identity, named after the slate (ardoise) roofs of the small vineyard huts that dot the hillside.

When Stones Speak: The Wines of Domaine des Ardoisiers

A Song of Schist and Clay

Ardoisiers farms 38.3 acres of vineyards located in two primary places, the fractured schist hill of Cevins and several plots surrounding the villages of St-Jean-de-la-Porte and St-Pierre-de-Soucy, which feature the typical Savoyard mix of clay and fractured limestone tumbled from the cliffs of the Combe de Savoie. From these two areas, the domaine has historically made five wines, named primarily for the soils in which they grow.

The Argile Blanc is a blend of Jaquère, Mondeuse Blanche, and Chardonnay farmed from 4 different locations around the village of St-Pierre-de-Soucy, some of which include some schist in addition to limestone. Some newly acquired vineyard plots that include some Roussanne plantings mean that a fourth grape may soon join the blend.

Its red counterpart, Argile Rouge, is mostly Gamay, with Mondeuse Noir and Persan, and comes mostly from around St-Jean-de-la-Porte.

The Schiste white wine, an unusual blend of Jaquère, Roussanne, Pinot Gris, and Mondeuse Blanche comes from the hill at Cevins, as does the 100% Altesse wine named Quartz.

The red blend named Amethyste is also overseen by Our Lady of the Snows, and features a blend of Mondeuse Noir and Persan.

When Stones Speak: The Wines of Domaine des Ardoisiers
The mica-schist stone of Cevins.

The simplicity of Ardoisiers winemaking will come as no surprise to fans of biodynamic and organic wines. Harvests by hand proceed slowly, and the variety of exposures across his sites means that a month or more can pass between the first grapes harvested and the last.

I thought wines that were so good meant I had to know a thousand things to get them right. But in the end it’s just easy. You just have to take care of your grapes.

Omont uses whole clusters, presses his whites gently, and ferments with ambient yeasts, adding no sulfur until just before bottling. If the wines take 3 months or even 6 months to finish their fermentation, Omont is happy to let them do their thing. Malolactic conversion occurs naturally, and the wines age in enamel tanks or in used oak barrels. After the 2004 vintage didn’t go through malolactic, Omont has worked to reduce his use of sulfur to a minimum.

“I take my time. You have to let fermentation construct the layers of aromas in the wine. And the wines need time,” says Omont. “In the end, it is not complicated. When I started I told Michel that I wanted to do pump-overs. ‘No,’ he said. ‘Let it go.’ I thought wines that were so good meant I had to know a thousand things to get them right. But in the end, it’s just easy. You just have to take care of your grapes.”

Omont farms without pesticides or herbicides, applying compost to the vines, occasionally some copper and sulfur, and some (though not all) of the biodynamic preparations, choosing to pay more attention to his vines than any particular regimen of treatment.

But no matter how well he cares for his vines, there’s one thing Omont can’t control.

When Stones Speak: The Wines of Domaine des Ardoisiers
A steep section of the hill at Cevins

Climate Insurance

“Ten years ago, we had nine good years, and then one bad year,” says Omont. “Since 2018, we have had one bad, one good, one bad.”

Indeed, the week before I arrived in the Savoie in mid-July, the region had been hit by serious rainstorms, not to mention some frost in the spring, leading Omont and many vintners to estimate mildew-driven crop losses approaching 50%.

“We need to make sure that if I invest to make improvements to the building, and if we continue to sell our wines overseas, that we are OK. If tomorrow we lose 80% of our production, we are dead,” says Omont. “We have to prepare for the worst.”

In formulating his strategy for climate survival, Omont took inspiration from some winemakers in the Jura, where he saw small established players going to other parts of their region and leasing vineyards as a hedge against weather calamities.

“In the next ten years, we will for sure have more difficulties,” says Omont, “so I am preparing now to make more stock.”

In 2018, Omont debuted a Jacquère named Silice Blanc, and in 2020, he made a Silice Rouge from Mondeuse Noir. Both are labeled with the name “Maison des Ardoisiers” and are made with grapes purchased from organically farmed vineyards that Omont has identified and contracted around the Savoie.

As the wines of Ardoisiers have seen increased demand, these new wines are an attractive proposition that allows more people to try Omont’s wines, but without him feeling like he is sacrificing quality for the sake of commercial scale.

More importantly, the diversification of his vineyard sites has already proved out Omont’s strategy. “With this year’s rain and frost, we’d be dead without Maison des Ardoisiers.”

Custodian of a Voice

At 45 years old, and with just over 17 harvests at Ardoisiers, Omont is in the prime of his winemaking career, and the wines reflect his confidence and the understanding of both the grapes and the sites he has to work with.

One day I will die, and this terroir will continue. Have I listened correctly to the terroir? Have I expressed correctly the terroir? I am lucky enough to have the chance to do that.

“My biggest regret is that we didn’t build a library of these wines,” he says. “I know these wines will last 10 or 15 years or more, but at the beginning, I had no choice. When someone called and asked for more bottles, I was happy to help them.”

Altesse in particular, says Omont, has the capacity not only to age but to develop and improve with time. Like Riesling, Semillon, Assyrtiko, or Catarratto, Altesse begins with chiseled acidity and deep stony qualities, but it gains a fleshy weight and an attractive buttery, saline richness over time, undergoing a transmutation that seems almost magical.

Persan and to a lesser extent, Mondeuse Noir, also have the ability to develop attractive secondary and tertiary characteristics with age. “People say Persan ages like Pinot, and Mondeuse ages like Syrah,” says Omont.

Eventually, perhaps, Ardoisiers will be able to hold some bottles back, but with a production of only a few hundred cases for its top wines, that will be slow going.

In the meantime, Omont seems content with his progress, and quite comfortable with the direction he is headed.

“We are just messengers,” says Omont. “One day I will die, and this terror will continue. Have I listened correctly to the terroir? Have I expressed correctly the terroir? I am lucky enough to have the chance to do that.  Each vintage, I ask myself, did I do a good job expressing what this place has to say?”

For those of us who love to hear the whispers of magical places and taste the majesty of a landscape in the glass, the answer is an unqualified yes.

* * *

I am particularly indebted to Wink Lorch and her tremendous book Wines of the French Alps for some of the background information about Michel Grisard that I have included above.

Tasting Notes

In case it is not obvious from the above, or the scores below, these are some of my absolute favorite wines in the world, and (at the risk of making them harder to get for myself) they come with my highest recommendation.

2020 Maison des Ardoisiers “Silice Blanc” Jacquère, IGP Vin des Allobroges, France
Palest gold in the glass with almost no color, this wine smells of green apples and grapefruit pith. In the mouth, green apple, grapefruit, and a hint of white flowers are bright and juicy with fantastic acidity. Great wet chalkboard minerality. These grapes come from the limestone studded soils of Apremont. 11% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $26. click to buy.

2020 Domaine des Ardoisiers “Argile Blanc” White Blend, IGP Vin des Allobroges, France
Palest greenish gold in the glass, this wine smells of green apples, wet stones, and white flowers. In the mouth, deep stony flavors of green apples, white flowers, and citrus pith are welded to wet pavement. Incredibly stony and delicious. A blend of Jacquère, Mondeuse Blanc, and Chardonnay. Comes from 4 locations around the village of Saint Pierre de Soucy which feature limestone studded clays referenced by the wine’s name. 11.5% alcohol. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $45. click to buy.

2019 Domaine des Ardoisiers “Schiste” White Blend, IGP Vin des Allobroges, France
Pale gold in the glass, this wine smells of star fruit and a bit of unripe greengage plums, and wet chalkboard. In the mouth, gorgeous star fruit, wet chalkboard, lime flower, and lime zest flavors are wonderfully mouthwatering with faint salinity. Mouthwatering and stunningly mineral. Like drinking stone. Comes from the vineyard on the hill below the Our Lady of the Snows chapel, along the Rue des Ardoisiers in Cevins. A blend of Jaquère, Roussanne, Pinot Gris, and Mondeuse Blanche. 12% alcohol. Score: around 9.5. Cost: $60. click to buy.

2019 Domaine des Ardoisiers “Quartz” Altesse, IGP Vin des Allobroges, France
Light greenish gold in the glass, this wine smells of citrus pith, warm hay, dried herbs, and wet chalkboard. In the mouth, grapefruit pith, dried herbs, and wet stones swirl in a wonderfully deep stony cistern of flavor and mineral expression. The crushed rock quality continues in the finish with some pithiness and a hint of lemongrass. These grapes are also from the Cevins vineyard. 12.5% alcohol. Score: around 9.5. Cost: $120. click to buy.

2012 Domaine des Ardoisiers “Quartz” Altesse, IGP Vin des Allobroges, France
Pale gold in the glass, this wine smells of melted butter and wet chalkboard. In the mouth, saline flavors of lemon oil, wet pavement, and seawater take on a shimmering ethereal quality that is simply and irresistibly mouthwatering. Rich on the one hand, and then also light and zingy on the other, this wine is utterly compelling. This bottle demonstrates what happens to Altesse with some age: it fattens up and to the searing liquid stone minerality it adds a layered buttery caramel quality. Boom. 12.5% alcohol. Score: between 9.5 and 10. Cost: $120. If you can find it, buy it.

2020 Maison des Ardoisiers “Silice Rouge” Mondeuse, IGP Vin des Allobroges, France
Light to medium garnet in the glass, this wine smells of boysenberry and aromatic herbs like lavender and pennyroyal. In the mouth, stony bright flavors of boysenberry and dried sage are suffused with a cloud of powdery tannins that fill the mouth and leave a chalk-dust minerality lingering on the palate. Fantastic acidity. This is the only wine at Ardoisiers that is destemmed. After a week of maceration, this wine is fermented and aged in steel tanks. 10.5% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $30. click to buy.

2019 Domaine des Ardoisiers “Argile Rouge” Red Blend, IGP Vin des Allobroges, France
Light garnet in the glass, this wine smells of berries and bramble, green herbs, and a hint of sawdust. In the mouth, gorgeously bright acidity makes flavors of mulberries, redcurrant, and plum mix with the faint bitter sourness of plum skin. Wonderful tangy flavors and faint herbal notes are welded to wet pavement minerality and a long finish. Whole bunches of 65% Gamay, 25% Mondeuse Noir, and 10% Persan macerate for 10 days before fermentation. Ages in large oak foudres for about 9 months before bottling, and then released the following year. 11.5% alcohol. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $45. click to buy.

2018 Domaine des Ardoisiers “Amethyste” Red Blend, IGP Vin des Allobroges, France
Light to medium garnet in the glass, this wine smells of mulberries, and aromatic green herbs. In the mouth, saline flavors of mulberries, sour cherry, and herbs swirl and crackle with phenomenal acidity and stony minerality, with the saline notes making for a mouthwatering finish for minutes. Incredibly delicious. Stony faint tannins. A blend of Persan and Mondeuse Noir that I could drink all day long. 11% alcohol. Score: around 9.5. Cost: $105. click to buy.

2016 Domaine des Ardoisiers “Amethyste” Red Blend, IGP Vin des Allobroges, France
Light garnet in the glass, this wine smells of dried sage and other herbs with sour cherry, mulberry, and dusty road notes. In the mouth, deeply mineral flavors come through a haze of chalk-dusty tannins and a core of sour cherry and mulberry fruit tinged with hints of citrus peel crackles with mouthwatering acidity. Wonderfully long, juicy finish. Outstanding. 12% alcohol. Score: around 9.5. Cost: $105. click to buy.

When Stones Speak: The Wines of Domaine des Ardoisiers
Winemaker Brice Omont and the lineup of Ardoisiers wines

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California 2020: A Lawyer’s Vintage

The 2020 vintage was, quite simply, a disaster for California wine. But until recently, quantifying just how badly the fires affected harvest has been difficult. The wine industry is understandably touchy when it comes to communicating what is perceived to be bad news about a vintage.

Most organisations such as the Napa Valley Vintners association or Sonoma County Winegrowers association quite deliberately seem to avoid using the words ‘smoke taint’, preferring to speak about ‘smoke exposure’ or merely offer bromides such as ‘every one of our members made some wine in 2020’, which after a vintage like 2020 seems the equivalent of, ‘it’s just a flesh wound’.

Some wine producers, though, don’t feel the need to pull any punches.

‘I’m not making a single drop of red wine in 2020’, said Chris Carpenter, winemaker for the Cardinale, Lokoya, La Jota, Mount Brave, and Caledon wine labels, all of which are owned by Jackson Family Wines. ‘I started picking and got maybe two-thirds of the way through, and I was thinking to myself we were just wasting money, and so we just stopped.’

Carpenter oversees nearly 400 acres (160 ha) of estate vineyards for Jackson Family Wines in addition to buying an additional 10–20% of his total tonnage every year from outside growers.

‘I’m making wines that sell for $100 to $450 per bottle’, explained Carpenter. ‘There’s just no way I’m going to put out a wine that a collector is going to buy, trusting that it is good, and then have issues four or five years down the line when bound-up smoke compounds have released and it tastes like an ashtray. They’d lose their trust for me, for our wines, and they would never buy again.’

Continue reading this article on JancisRobinson.Com

This article is my monthly column at JancisRobinson.Com, Alder on America, and is usually available only to subscribers of her website. If you’re not familiar with the site, I urge you to give it a try. It’s only £8.50 a month or £85 per year ($11/mo or $111 a year for you Americans) and well worth the cost, especially considering you basically get free, searchable access to the Oxford Companion to Wine ($65) and maps from the World Atlas of Wine ($50) as part of the subscription costs. Click here to sign up.

Image of Dale Harvey’s Pigasus Vineyard wreathed in fog, courtesy of Pigasus Vineyards. Harvey suffered significant losses in 2020 due to smoke.

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Wine News: What I’m Reading the Week of 9/12/21

Welcome to my weekly roundup of the wine stories that I find of interest on the web. I post them to my magazine on Flipboard, but for those of you who aren’t Flipboard inclined, here’s everything I’ve strained out of the wine-related muck for the week.

One of California’s most influential modern wineries, Dirty & Rowdy, is ending after 11 years
Creative differences, it seems. End of an era.

How Cabernet Franc Is Wowing Argentina’s Winemakers
Yes, indeed, there is more there than Malbec.

Why Does It Cost So Much to Ship a Box of Wine?
A good answer to a maddening question.

An ode to Palomino: still wines made from old vine Palomino offer a new narrative for this ‘neutral’ industrialised yet historic grape variety
Not just for Sherry anymore.

Peter Liem on Champagne: dosage, growers versus houses, and viticulture
Few people know more than Peter.

The Cheap Wine That Turned Americans on to Fine Wine
An important piece of history to know.

How to Taste the Fermentation Vessel in Your Wine
Or not taste, as the case may be.

Prosecco protesters rise up against ‘ruthless expansion’ of Italian winemakers
This is an awful story.

France faces lowest recorded wine output following frost and disease
So is this.

Fires, frost, and floods: Europe’s winegrowers brace for the worst harvest in memory
The question is, how often are we gonna see headlines like this one?

Extreme weather causes 60% drop in Champagne crop for 2021
Among those hit hardest.

Timber Supply Issues Are Causing Headaches for the Wine Industry
Could be a serious problem.

Most significant changes to Sherry regulations for 50 years announced
That’s some progress.

Through 3 Whites, the Art of Blending Wines
Eric on the virtues of melange.

How This Master Sommelier Became a Game-Changing Napa Valley CEO
I didn’t know his whole story. What a journey!

Chinese actress Zhao Wei, owner of Bordeaux estates, cancelled in China
And  worst of all, no one knows where she is.

How Anderson Valley’s Roederer Estate is dealing with the drought
Plan B, and Planc C.

Farmworker shortage raises worries grapes will go unpicked
COVID effects continue to play out.

The Oregon Winemakers Going Rogue with Biodynamic Bubbles and Global Grapes
Nice profiles of some interesting names.

What Becky Wasserman Taught Us About Burgundy—and Humanity
Nice remembrance and celebration.

Down The Rabbit Hole
And out the other side.

By the Bottle: Carmen Castorina
Another hidden figure.

Slow winemaking on the Sonoma Coast
A nice profile of Matt Courtney

Enabling one’s favorite predispositions
An interview with Jay McInerney

Australian wine update
Jancis sheds light on present difficulties.

Wine’s ‘Gender-Split’
And problems with polling.

Turning the Tables on Deborah Parker Wong
Q&A with the editor of Slow Food’s Slow Wine Guide.

The new fine wine
You mean the newly expensive wines that collectors want?

Going Viral: Covid Saves Chinese Wine
Local interest booms, says Jim Boyce.

Will the wildfires create an insurance desert in California North Coast?
It’s a serious problem.

Science and Culture: Wildfires pose a burning problem for wines and winemakers
A deep dive on smoke taint.

The post Wine News: What I’m Reading the Week of 9/12/21 appeared first on Vinography.

Vinography Images: Grape Blessings

The first grapes of the 2019 Accendo Cellars’ harvest are christened with a bottle of 1997 Salon at Wheeler Farms Winery in St. Helena. Accendo is the next act of Bart and Daphne Araujo after selling their eponymous winery and its Eisele Vineyard to the Artemis Group, the parent company of Château Latour in Bordeaux. All of the Araujo family’s harvests since 1991 have begun with this tradition.

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The work of photographer Jimmy Hayes can be further appreciated in his recently published monograph, Veritas, by Abrams Books / Cameron + Company. Order the book from the Abrams web site.

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Wine News: What I’m Reading the Week of 9/5/21

Welcome to my weekly roundup of the wine stories that I find of interest on the web. I post them to my magazine on Flipboard, but for those of you who aren’t Flipboard inclined, here’s everything I’ve strained out of the wine-related muck for the week.

Influential British wine critic Jancis Robinson sells her website, with plans to increase California focus
My boss has a new boss.

All change, no change
Jancis’ notes on the new ownership.

Icons with feet on the ground
Robert Joseph offers thoughts on Jancis’

Two Buck Chuck and the Lure of Bargain Wine
The story

Why Lodi Is the Most Exciting US Wine Region You’ve Never Heard of
Sara Schneider offers her thoughts.

Lodi is about to pick its first Assyrtiko
Perhaps proof point for the above.

Bright, Cheerful Vinho Verde Shows Its Serious Side
I want to drink all these wines.

5 Wines That Shaped a Nobel Prize Winner’s Life
Stories like this make wine endlessly fascinating.

This Black Hospitality Entrepreneur Launched A Wine Brand “For The Culture”
A nice profile.

Why France’s Jura Is the Next Hot Wine Region for Young Collectors
And now prices will rise.

A Brief Look at Baja’s Long Winemaking History
The original wine country.

The Future of Winemaking Is Hybrid
If only they tasted better.

Change May Be Coming to Your Favorite Wines
This is the “Wealth Matters” column.

Force of nature: WA crusader all alone on the natural wine front
Local coverage of Vanya Cullen.

Roederer Moves on from Non-vintage Champagne
More like Krug, less like Veuve Clicquot.

Bottlenecks: Biden could be about to shake up an 88-year-old system
The president can’t really change the system on his own.

The Winemakers Who Believe Vineyard Sheep Provide ‘True Terroir’
Weed control and fertilizer in one.

Several Ways to Donate to the Caldor Fire Fund Help Victims of the Fire in El Dorado County
El Dorado needs help.

Why Lodi Is the Most Exciting US Wine Region You’ve Never Heard of
More experimentation going on. For instance…

Lodi is about to pick its first Assyrtiko
I, for one, can’t wait for Lodi Assyrtiko.

Prey Tell
Sheep are cute. Falcons are badass.

Time for Wine to Go Topless
Yep, time for capsules to die.

Becky Wasserman – A lengthy and entirely personal tribute
A really lovely remembrance from Robert Joseph.

A Farewell to Becky Wasserman, a Great Sage of Burgundy
Eric Asimov’s tribute is really nice, too.

Wine waste can now be used to create race car fuel
Vroom, vroom.

By the Bottle: Emily Huang
A window into the next generation.

The rise of Nebbiolo
A nice piece by Walter Speller.

Wind Change Saves Wineries from Fire
El Dorado will have a harvest. The question is how it will taste.

Hail wreaks havoc in the vineyards of DO Ribeiro in northwest Spain
Though it sounds like it wasn’t nearly as bad as it could have been.

Spanish Wine Industry Gets Political
Again. And again.

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Vinography Unboxed: Week of 8/29/21

Hello and welcome to my weekly dig through the pile of wine samples that show up asking to be tasted. I’m pleased to bring you the latest installment of Vinography Unboxed, where I highlight some of the better bottles that have crossed my doorstep recently.

Let’s get started with a lovely wine that I’ve now had a couple of times, which is a “side-project” of winemaker Marty Mathis, who makes the wines at Kathryn Kennedy Winery in the Santa Cruz Mountains. The “M. Mathis Winegrower” Grüner Veltliner is one of the better renditions of that variety in California, and a lovely expression of the Alfaro Vineyard in the Santa Cruz Mountains.

I’ve also got notes on the latest Jordan Chardonnay and Cabernet for you this week, both of which continue to do what Jordan has done so well for decades, which is to deliver consistently tasty wines at reasonable prices.

It’s rare that I get sent wines from Texas, but I got a couple recently from C.L. Butaud that were worth sharing. The Pinot Gris Ramato in particular, was quite tasty and well done, as was their Tempranillo, though it must be said for a winery that claims to produce “sustainably” their choice of packaging for the red is completely deplorable, representing one of the single heaviest dry-red wine bottles I’ve encountered. If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a million times. Choosing lightweight bottles is literally the single easiest and highest impact thing a winery can do to reduce its carbon footprint almost overnight.

OK, now that I’ve stepped down off my soapbox, let’s not overlook the very pretty rendition of Pais, by the J. Bouchon winery in Chile’s Maule Valley. This wine is made from 100+ year-old vines of dry-farmed Pais. For my money, it’s one of the highest quality-to-price-ratio wines on the market.

Speaking of high QPR, you could do a lot worse than the 2019 Firesteed Pinot Noir I opened this week that, even with a little age on it, was still delivering excellent bright fruit that will satisfy a lot of folks, and at $15, it’s a helluva deal, especially for Pinot Noir, which is getting a lot harder to find at that price at all, let alone in decent quality.

Two slightly more expensive renditions of Pinot also satisfied this week: the Emeritus Hallberg Ranch Pinot from the Russian River Valley, and the Dutton-Goldfield from the Van Der Kamp Vineyard on Sonoma Mountain.

For many years I’ve been telling anyone who would listen that some of the best value red wines on the planet are the dry reds from the Douro Valley, and this week I got a couple of bottles from the Prats and Symington family that continue to deliver on that promise. Whether it’s the $18 Prazo de Roriz or the $27 slightly more complex Post Scriptum, both of these wines are delicious and punch well above their weight class.

Notes on all of these below.

Tasting Notes

2020 M.Mathis Winegrower “Alfaro Vineyard” Grüner Veltliner, Santa Cruz Mountains, California
Light gold in color, this wine smells of wet chalkboard and citrus pith with a hint of yellow herbs. In the mouth, bright pear, lemon peel, and wet pavement minerality all have a nice briskness to them thanks to excellent acidity. Crisp and juicy and easy to drink. 12.5% alcohol. Closed with a screwcap. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $ . click to buy.

2019 Jordan Winery Chardonnay, Russian River Valley, Sonoma, California
A pale yellow-gold in color, this wine smells of lemon curd and grapefruit. In the mouth, bright lemon pith and pink grapefruit flavors are mild and juicy, with a nice crispness and no overt oak character. Pleasantly tasty. 13.7% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $36. click to buy.

2020 C.L. Butaud “Ramato” Pinot Gris, Hill Country, Texas
A pale, coppery peach color in the glass, this wine smells of citrus peel and yellow plums. In the mouth, flavors of yellow plum, citrus, and a faint berry note are all juicy and crisp with a faint chalky tannic grip. Good acidity. 12.5% alcohol. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $22.

2018 J. Bouchon “Pais Viejo” Pais, Maule, Chile
Light to medium garnet in the glass, this wine smells of berries and wet pavement. In the mouth, bright juicy berry flavors mix with wet pavement and a touch of flowers. Hints of strawberry linger in the finish. Faint, but muscular tannins. Great acidity. Made from 100+-year-old, dry-farmed vines of Pais. Aged for 4 months in concrete before bottling. 12.5% alcohol. Closed with screwcap. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $17. click to buy.

2019 Firesteed Pinot Noir, Oregon
Medium garnet in color, this wine smells of cherry and cranberry compote. In the mouth, sweetish cherry and cranberry flavors are simple and straightforward, if slightly confectionery in quality. But at this price, that’s more than acceptable. Faint tannins and decent acidity. 13.5% alcohol. Closed with a screwcap. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $13. click to buy.

2017 Emeritus Vineyards “Hallberg Ranch” Pinot Noir, Russian River Valley, Sonoma, California
Light to medium garnet in the glass, this wine smells of faintly meaty red apple skin and raspberry jam. In the mouth, bright sour cherry and raspberry flavors mix with a nice saline umami character that, along with faint dried flowers, lingers in the finish with citrus peel brightness. Excellent acidity, and a nice resonant depth to the wine. Quite delicious. 13.7% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $45. click to buy.

Wine Prats and Symington, Post Scriptum de Chryseia, Douro DOC, 2015, 750  ml Prats and Symington, Post Scriptum de Chryseia, Douro DOC, 2015 – price,  reviews

2019 Prats & Symington “Post Scriptum de Chryseia” Red Blend, Douro, Portugal
A very dark garnet in the glass, this wine smells of black cherry, black currant, and chocolate. In the mouth, black cherry, blackberry, and cocoa powder flavors also have a hint of cola nut to them, along with a faint, fine-grained tannic structure. Good acidity and length, with just the faintest of heat on the finish. Quite tasty. A blend of 56% Touriga Franca, 33% Touriga Nacional, 7% Tinta Roriz, and 4% Tinta Barroca. 14% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $27. click to buy.

2018 Prats & Symington “Prazo de Roriz” Red Blend, Douro, Portugal
Very dark garnet in color, this wine smells of blackberry and boysenberry fruit. In the mouth, wonderfully juicy blackberry and boysenberry flavors are dusted with fine tannins and a touch of mulling spices in the finish. Excellent acidity keeps things quite fresh in the mouth, making this a very easy wine to drink. A blend of 35% Touriga Franca, 25% Touriga Nacional, 20% Tinta Roriz, and 20% of many other red varieties. Ages for 6 months in large old oak casks. 14.5% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $18. click to buy.

2017 Jordan Winery Cabernet Sauvignon, Alexander Valley, Sonoma, California
Dark garnet in color, this wine smells of black cherry with a hint of espresso and the barest whisper of green herbs. In the mouth, juicy and bright black cherry and cola notes mix with a boysenberry quality, as somewhat muscular tannins flex and tense around the edges of the palate. Hints of dried herbs linger with a touch of licorice root in the finish. Very good acidity keeps things fresh. 13.8% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $ 59 . click to buy.

2018 C.L. Butaud Tempranillo, High Plains, Texas
Dark garnet in the glass, this wine smells of red fruits and toasted oak. In the mouth, cherry and boysenberry fruit flavors are shot through with toasted oak and faint, putty-like tannins. Good acidity makes this wine quite drinkable, and the oak, while perhaps stronger a presence than I would like, has a refined character. 14.1% alcohol. 250 cases of obscenely heavy bottles made. And when I say obscene, I mean obscene. These bottles are like the Hummer H2 of wine packaging, some of the heaviest I have ever seen. Each full bottle weighs almost 2 kg, or over 4.5 pounds. Shame, shame, shame. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $54.

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Vinography Images: Delicious Beginnings

Ribolla Gialla juice falls from the press at Massican Wines. Known for its high-acid, Friuli-inspired wines, Massican was a (hefty and successful) side project for winemaker Dan Petroski until very recently. In July of this year, Petroski left his day job at Larkmead to focus on Massican full-time.

INSTRUCTIONS:
Download this image by right-clicking on the image and selecting “save link as” or “save target as” and then select the desired location on your computer to save the image. Mac users can also just click the image to open the full-size view and drag that to their desktops.

To set the image as your desktop wallpaper, Mac users should follow these instructions, while PC users should follow these.

ORDER THE BOOK:
The work of photographer Jimmy Hayes can be further appreciated in his recently published monograph, Veritas, by Abrams Books / Cameron + Company. Order the book from the Abrams web site.

PRINTS:
Fine art prints of this image and others are available from Jimmy Hayes Photography.

ABOUT VINOGRAPHY IMAGES:
Vinography regularly features images 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 website or blog without the express permission of the photographer.

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Tasting Some of Colorado’s Best Wines

I don’t do a lot of wine judging. At least I haven’t done so in the past. In part, this was because the pesky day job kept me from being able to jet off and lock myself in a room for four days to taste hundreds of wines. When I do take the time to judge wine competitions, I’ve always been biased towards competitions run by up-and-coming wine regions, or for regions that I don’t know well, and for which I would like to deepen my experience and knowledge.

My annual trip to judge the Colorado Governor’s Cup Wine Competition fits into the first category. Colorado wine isn’t on most people’s radar, despite a long history of grape growing in the state. The fact that I also grew up in Colorado sweetens the deal a bit. So spending a couple of days tasting close to 100 local wines lets me support the home team, so to speak, with the hopes of encouraging rising quality.

Some of the lovely hues from competition wines.

The Colorado Governors Cup Competition evaluates wines, fruit wines, meads, and sakes (but not ciders) made in Colorado. A vast majority of the wines evaluated are made with Colorado-grown grapes, but that is not a requirement for entry into the competition, and occasionally a wine will be made from trucked-in fruit.

During this competition, I and my fellow judges agree on medals for the better wines, and then, in the end, select a group of wines that become the “Governor’s Cup Collection” – a set of wines that are sold as a unit to anyone interested in trying the best of what the state has to offer. There are some years where we can’t quite narrow the list to around 12 bottles, so sometimes, like this year, we end up with 14 wines.

I was particularly pleased this year to see that Colorado vintners have increased their exploration of alternative grape varieties, and as the results demonstrate below, with no small success. While Colorado does have a long history of growing grapes, a truly commercial wine industry is a relatively recent phenomenon, and we’re far from anyone having figured out the right grapes to grow in all the right places. Up-and-coming regions such as Colorado need to keep experimenting for a while to see what truly shines in their unique terroirs.

Tasting Some of Colorado’s Best Wines
My fellow judges.

Once all the medal winners from the entire competition have been announced, I’ll offer my personal scores and tasting notes for the wines, but for now, here’s what I thought of the 14 wines that the judges selected for this year’s Colorado Governor’s Cup Collection.

It is important to note that the tasting notes and scores below are mine and mine alone, and in many cases, they differed from the rest of the judges at the competition. Where available, I have provided costs and links to purchase.

Tasting Notes

2018 BookCliff Vineyards, Graciano
Dark garnet in the glass, this wine smells of brambly berries and green herbs. Boysenberry and herbs linger with tacky tannins through a long finish. Good acidity that has a citrus peel snap to it. An excellent rendition of this grape that shows great promise. Score: between 8.5. and 9.

2018 BookCliff Vineyards Reserve Syrah
Dark garnet in color, this wine smells of sweet oak and blackberries. In the mouth, sweet oak and blackberry fruit flavors are wrapped in leathery tannins that are fairly aggressive. I wish there was less oak on this wine, but many will find it appealing. Score: around 8.5.  

2019 Buckel Family Wine Cinsault
Light ruby in color, this wine smells of exotic herbs and flowers. In the mouth, silky flavors of red apple skin and peach and berries are spicy and floral and quite pretty. I wish it had more acidity, but it’s a pretty great wine, with subtlety, varietal expression, and deliciousness. Very faint tannins. Score: around 9. Cost: $20. click to buy.  

2020 Buckel Family Wine Pétillant Naturel Rosé
Pale peachy pink in the glass with medium fine bubbles, this wine smells of scrambled eggs and berries. In the mouth, flavors of pink Smarties mix with a hint of grapefruit, all with a tangy sour quality. Fizzy mousse. Fun. Score: around 8. Cost: $28. click to buy.  

2019 Carboy Winery Teroldego, Grand Valley
Dark purple in the glass, this wine smells of cassis and earth. In the mouth, cassis and blackberry flavors are silky and smooth, and seamless, but with less acidity than I would like. But damn, it certainly does taste like Teroldego. Score around 8.5.

2019 Carlson Vineyards “Tyrannosaurus Red” Lemberger, Grand Valley
Medium garnet in the glass, this wine smells of herbs and boysenberries. In the mouth, boysenberry and herbs mix with some earthy notes and a touch of citrus on the finish. Faint tannins. Could have more acidity, but very expressive and quite exciting as a demonstration of what this variety might be able to do in Colorado. I just wish everyone would call it Blaufränkisch instead. Score: between 8.5. and 9. Cost: $15. click to buy.  

NV Sauvage Spectrum “Sparklet Candy Red” Verona, Grand Valley
Very dark garnet in the glass with medium fine bubbles, this wine smells of forest floor and cassis. In the mouth, earthy herbal notes suggest tree bark along with blackberry fruit. Surprisingly savory. Verona is a patent-pending American hybrid grape developed in the late 90s. Score: around 8.

2020 The Storm Cellar Rosé of St. Vincent, Grand Valley
Light baby pink with a slight coppery hue, this wine smells of orange peel and hibiscus. In the mouth, rosehip and citrus peel mix with lovely bright acidity and a hint of cotton candy. Delightful, and possibly the best American hybrid rosé I’ve ever had. The St. Vincent grape has been cultivated in the Midwest since the late 70’s. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $25. click to buy.  

2018 Turquoise Mesa Winery Merlot, Grand Valley
Dark garnet in color, this wine smells of oak, cherry, and plum. In the mouth, cedar and plum fruit is bright and juicy with excellent acidity. There’s a touch too much oak and its mocha flavor here for my taste, but this is an extremely well-made wine. Faint tannins. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $26. click to buy.  

2019 Whitewater Hill Vineyards Chambourcin, Grand Valley
Very dark purple in the glass, this wine smells of wet dog, brambly berry. In the mouth, brambly blueberry and cassis mix with blackberry and tree bark. There’s a wet dog note on the finish. Chambourcin is a French-American hybrid grape developed in the late 60s. Score: around 7.

2019 Continental Divide Winery, Gewürztraminer, Grand Valley
Pale greenish gold in the glass, this wine smells of lychee and orange peel. In the mouth, silky flavors of orange peel, white flowers, and rainwater have a nice cleanness to them. I’d like more acidity, but quite pretty and nicely balanced. Faint sweetness. 16 g/l residual sugar. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $29. click to buy.      

2020 Plum Creek Winery “Palisade Festival” White Blend, Grand Valley
Near colorless in the glass, with a hint of greenish-gold, this wine smells of honeydew melon and candied green apple. In the mouth, brightly aromatic flavors of green melon and green apple, and kiwi are bright and juicy with decent acidity. A blend of Aromella (a winter-hardy hybrid related to Traminette), Riesling, and Chardonnay. Score: between 8.5 and 9. click to buy.      

2019 Redstone Meadery Tupelo Mountain Honey Wine
Medium gold in the glass, this mead smells of roasted nuts and dried honey. In the mouth, honey roasted nuts and quince paste flavors have a dry hay quality to them. Good acidity and long finish. Quite tasty. Score: around 8.5. click to buy.      

NV Carlson Vineyards Cherry Wine, Grand Valley
Bright ruby in the glass, this wine smells of red apple skin, dried cherries, and orange peel. In the mouth, tangy bright orange peel, dried cherry, and honey flavors have only a faint sweetness to the wine’s benefit with a very balanced overall complexion. Good acidity. 55 g/l of residual sugar. Made with 100% Grand-Valley-grown Montmorency cherries. Score: between 8.5 and 9. $14. click to buy.      

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Wine News: What I’m Reading the Week of 8/29/21

Welcome to my weekly roundup of the wine stories that I find of interest on the web. I post them to my magazine on Flipboard, but for those of you who aren’t Flipboard inclined, here’s everything I’ve strained out of the wine-related muck for the week.

Family of Italian duke accused of tricking Sting fires back
For some reason, the (very old) Sting story resurfaced last week, and now… the shitstorm.

Finding Hidden Value in the White Wines of Bordeaux
As long as the oak is restrained.

Why You Should Consider Opulent White Wines from the Rhône Valley
Because…. delicious.

Great Wine Mentors
Some of the best highlighted here, for sure.

Au Revoir Becky, Burgundy Legend
Christy Canterbury says goodbye to Becky.

Why You Should Ask for a Sommelier’s Advice
The difference between a good wine experience and a great one.

Why Australia’s Heathcote Region is On the Rise
Ancient soils, small producers.

What Does ‘Midpalate’ Mean in Wine?
That section of your tongue, right… there.

The Hock Bottle and Fighting a Wine Stereotype
But the magnums are the coolest.

Swiss Canton Gives 100 Bottles of Wine to 100-Year-Olds
Now there’s a goal for ‘ya.

The (unknown) vineyard areas of Asia
And how they’re changing.

Wildfires Burn Wineries and Vineyards in Provence
More from France.

Hidden Giants
The names no one knows in wine.

1st Black women-owned winery tasting room in Alameda working to change the face of the industry
More of this, please!

Tahiirah Habibi on Making Wine Inclusive by Building Community
Yessssssss.

Appellations: Time for change?
Andrew, thoughtful as ever, and right on the money.

For These Oregon Winemakers, Smoke Taint Had a Silver Lining — Pink Wine
“Let’s all just make the best of this” reads one label.

Caldor Fire is throwing harvest into chaos in up-and-coming El Dorado wine country
Send them good thoughts, and buy their wines. They’re gonna need all the help they can get.

For France, American Vines Still Mean Sour Grapes
A slice, er, a drop, of history.

Sangiovese Struggles to Gain a Foothold
A tricky grape, to be sure.

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