Archive | May, 2014

A trip to some Oregon wineries & reasons for hope for the Oakland Raiders

31 May

I took a business trip to Oregon a couple of months ago.  There was just enough time to visit a few wineries along the way.  Here are the wineries I visited with a little bit about them & the wines.

Chehalem tasting-room Chehalem Winery

We were driving through Newberg Oregon & stopped at their downtown tasting room.  It was late in the afternoon on a Wednesday, so it wasn’t a surprise that we were the only ones in the tasting room.  The guy who served us was friendly & helpful.

I was familiar with the winery, but really didn’t know that much about it beyond their larger production Pinot Noir.  In truth, I kind of thought that the name was Yiddish.  It turns out that it is a Calapooia word that means either “gentle land” or “valley of flowers.”  The owners try to be good stewards of the land.  Many of their wines are certified sustainable by the Oregon Certified Sustainable Program.  They are working on a path to be carbon neutral.

The key question though is whether or not their wines are worth drinking.  I definitely think that they are.

Chehalem Winery Pinot Blanc 2012 Stoller Vineyard $29
There was a strong aroma of stone fruit on the nose.  I definitely smelled peach & apricot.  It had a nice mouth feel.  It goes into neutral oak & that gives it some mouth feel without tasting oaky.  The wine is 13.8% & feels perhaps a little hot.  It finished creamy with some honey notes.  This received 92 points in Wine Enthusiast.

Chehalem Winery Stoller Valley Ian’s Reserve Chardonnay 2011. 350 cases produced (not on their site)
Nutty oak on the nose.  I tasted cream & nut & lemon.  This is a delicious Chardonnay.  It has a long finish that accents the lemon.  There is also some lemon curd, which sounds the same as lemon, but is really a textural difference.  The glycerol is pretty high & that gives it some sweetness.  The finish is distinctly lemony.  There is some French oak aging on this wine, but I don’t have the details.  Whatever they did was the right amount though.  This is highly enjoyable.

Chehalem Winery Grüner Veltliner Ridgecrest Vineyards 2013 (not on their site)
Sometimes when I taste a Grüner  Veltliner from some place other than Austria, the nose isn’t quite right.  Often it is too sweet.  The nose is perfect on this wine.  I think that you could pick out the varietal at 10 paces. On the palate I got primarily apricot. There is also some spice, green apple, & peach.  There is also a ton of acid.  As good as this wine was by itself, it is a wine that really is best with food.  I think this would have been great with some fried calamari with a spicy remoulade.  I brought a bottle home with me, so I may try that.  This is a mouthwatering wine with a lingering finish.  It is a terrific example of an Oregon Grüner Veltliner.

Chehalem Winery Corral Creek Vineyards Estate Grown Rose’ of Pinot Noir 2013 (not on their site)

With its light pink color, this wine had the look of the rose’ wines that give the genre a bad rap.  Of course that’s a reason not to judge a wine by its color.  The nose is a light strawberry & rose petal.  There is nice acidity on the finish.  The wine’s flavor is a mélange of strawberry, cherry, & a hint of vanilla. The residual sugar clocks in at 0.02 & the total acidity is at 8.23, so it has body, with a tart finish.  The wine has a little spritz to it.  I don’t know if that was added by sparging or if it is natural.  Either way, it is delightful.  This isn’t the most complex wine that I have had recently, but it delivers exactly what it should.

This is an excellent rose’.  I wish that I had saved a bottle for Easter brunch.  I think it would be great with salmon or Eggs Benedict.

Chehalem doesn’t make a rose’ every year & it goes fast when they do.  I managed to pick up a bottle a couple of weeks prior to the official release after promising not to write about it for two weeks.  Time’s up, so if you like Pinot Noir rose’, check out their website before they run out of it.
Chehalem Winery Three Vineyards Pinot Noir 2011 $32

The name is somewhat self-explanatory.  The grapes for this wine come from three different vineyards. It was light in color with almost a brown in the center.  There was cherry on the nose with some rose petal.  The alcohol was 12.7%, but tasted a little higher to me.  It had pretty solid tannins.  On the palate, there was plenty of ripe cherry, with a small amount of spice.  It had a long finish with the tannins being a big part of that finish.  The taste is dry though, rather than the sweetness you might expect on an Oregon Pinot Noir with a long finish.

Chehalem Winery Corral Creek Vineyards Pinot Noir 2011 $50
This had a nice color that moved from pink to red.  It had a pretty, delicate nose with strawberry & cherry.  There was a very subtle white pepper on the finish.  The main flavors were light cocoa with cherry.  To me this was a very enjoyable light Oregon Pinot Noir. It clocked in at 13% alcohol.  It received 90 Points in Wine Spectator, which might be higher than I would give it.  I liked it, but I don’t think I would plunk down $50 for it versus some of their other wines.

Chehalem Winery Ridgecrest Vineyard  Pinot Noir 2010 395 cases $50
In a blind tasting I would miss this & guess Burgundy based on the nose.  There were some earth & bramble notes along with Bing cherry & tobacco.  To me this had a very cool nose.  This had a bigger mouth feel than the Three Vineyards, but still not like a warm weather Pinot Noir.   On the palate there were earthy, leathery notes that mixed nicely with sour cherry.  This was a great Pinot!  For my $50, I would go this route instead of the Coral Creek.  Wine Enthusiast gave it 93 points & Parker & Wine Enthusiast gave it 91 & 90 points respectively.

Vines at Archery Summit

Vines at Archery Summit

Archery Summit Vineyards

Archery Summit Vineyards has been around for over 20 years. They are best known for their Pinot Noir.  They have the winery set up so that it can take advantage of gravity flow over 5 levels.  The grapes are handpicked, since as you can see from the photo, mechanical harvesters would not work here.

I was fighting allergies the morning I tried wines at Archery Summit.  I would like to try these again when I could really smell the wine.  The tasting notes are somewhat abbreviated.

The service at Archery Summit was great!  The main person waiting on us was friendly and informative and as various people cycled through the small tasting area, they all stopped to say hi & were fun to chat with for a short time.
Archery Summit Vireton Pinot Gris 2012 Willamette Valley $24
This had a generous smell of apple with a baked apple on the nose & the palate.  It had nice acid & was definitely an easy drinking wine.

Archery Summit 2013 Vireton Rose’ $24
This is a 100% free run juice Pinot Noir Rose’.  It is fairly dry.  The color is salmon pink.  It had good legs.  It actually had nice dusty notes that I didn’t expect.  That may sound odd, but a dusty smell or slight dusty taste in a Pinot Noir is a good thing & here it was an indicator that this was a serious wine rather than a cheap & sweet blush.  It had a light, but tasty flavor.  Cherry and orange were the dominant flavors that I noted.  My allergies made it hard to get a handle on the wine.

Archery Summit 2012 Premier Cuvée Willamette Valley Pinot noir $49
This had a dark red to purple color.  There was spice & plum on the nose.  I tasted ripe fruit with some baked flavors.  There was a hint of coco powder as well.   On the finish, there was a strong taste of cinnamon.

Archery Summit Dundee hills 2011 Archer’s Edge Estate (A list wine club members only)
The vines for this wine were planted in 2007. This is the first year of production.  This had a more intense nose than the premier cuvée. It had good, lingering tannins. This was a complex wine that I think would be better in a couple of years as the tannins polymerize.  In the meantime, the primary fruit flavors that I noticed were raspberry & cherry.  As I drank it I also noticed blueberry becoming more prominent.  I definitely would like to try this wine five years from now.  The wine was aged for 9 months in French oak, with only 29% of that oak new.
Archery Summit 2011 Looney Vineyard Ribbon Ridge Pinot Noir $85
This has a more delicate nose than the previous Pinot Noirs, but it was fairly complex.  There was a lot going on with this wine.  It was layered & enjoyable.  Bitter cherry flavors were accented with herbs.  The tannins were still pretty good, so this will get better, but it is a tasty wine right now. It had clean fruit flavors. I tasted plum, raspberry, cherry, & orange zest.  This wine spent 10 months in 35% new French oak.

Archery Summit 2011 Red Hills Estate Dundee Hills Pinot noir $100
There was black fruit on the nose.  It had a relatively darker color, tending to the black & purple range. It had good acid, & tannin. There was some cocoa, with loads of dark cherry flavors. I also noticed some blueberry and cinnamon. This would be great with roast duck. It had a very dry finish.  For what it is worth, this received 91 points in Wine Spectator & 92 in Wine Advocate.  The wine spent a year in French oak with 44% of that new oak.

Archery Summit Estate Dundee Hills Pinot Noir $150
To me this had a light nose, with a wide variety of smells on the nose, but nothing stood out in particular.  There was a general aroma of spice more than anything. Of course that could have been my nose rather than the wine. This had a long velvety finish. It also had good mouth feel. This was a big, but elegant Pinot Noir.  The primary flavors were Bing cherry, raspberry, and spice (some cinnamon, some allspice, and something else).  It had a dry finish with tart cherry.  It definitely had big tannins for Pinot noir!  For those who care, this received 91 points in Wine Spectator & 90 in Wine Advocate.  This spent 10 months in French oak, but a higher percentage of it was new oak than on the other wines.  This was 55% new oak.

The cave at Archery Summit

The cave at Archery Summit

a torii at Torii Mor

a torii at Torii Mor

The garden at Torii Mor

The garden at Torii Mor

Torii Mor Winery

Torii Mor winery has been around since 1993.  More significantly, its Olson Estate Vineyard was planted in 1972, making it one of the older Pinot Noir Vineyards in Oregon.  Torii refers to the Japanese gates often found at the entrance to gardens.  There is a small Japanese garden on the property and a strong Japanese design influence throughout the tasting room.  Mor means earth in Scandanavia.  Combining the two, gives you a gateway to the earth.  Burgundy native Jacques Tardy is the wine maker.  The winery is LEED certified so this is another environmentally conscious winery.

Moss on spur trained vines at Torii Mor

Moss on spur trained vines at Torii Mor

Vines at Torii Mor

Vines at Torii Mor

Torii Mor 2013 Pinot Blanc $20
There was apricot on the nose.  It was a light pale straw color.  I tasted a little bit of residual sugar.  The defining characteristics for me were the apricot & some baked pie crust.  This was an easy drinker.  There was enough acidity that the sweetness was not cloying, but was instead nicely refreshing.  A portion of this wine saw neutral oak and I believe that contributed to the nice mouth feel of the wine.

Torii Mor Black Label 2011 Willamette Valley Pinot Noir $24
This is the Torii Mor wine that you are most likely to see in the broad market.  I smelled cherry & raspberry on the nose. There was light cherry & cocoa on the palate with light tannins.  It had a round mouth feel with some acid at the finish.  The wine saw 10 months in a combination of French and Hungarian oak.  This was a solid Pinot Noir for the price although it wasn’t anything special.  This received 89 points in Wine Spectator.

Torii Mor Reserve Deux Verres 2011 Pinot noir $38

This is a blend of fruit from eight different vineyards.  There are also eight different Pinot Noir clones, which I think is a good idea,  The wine is red in the center and goes pink at the edges.  There was some alcohol on the nose with tart cherry.  I tasted some light earth flavors with a hint of mushroom, although cherry was the primary flavor.  I tasted both fresh bright cherry and a darker deeper cherry. This had bigger tannins than the black label.  It had a slightly sweet finish.

Torii Mor La Colina vineyard 2011 Pinot Noir $55

There was some copper color on this wine.  It had a delicate nose with some rose petal notes.  I tasted dried fruit. Dried cherry was the primary fruit to me.  It had a lingering finish of dried cherry & rose petals.  This is an interesting wine that I would like to try with food.  I liked it the more I sipped it.  This spent 15 months in mostly neutral oak.  To me this wine was a real step up in quality from the previous two Pinots.  Of course that was reflected in the price, but sometimes that’s how it is.

Torii Mor Olsen Estate Vineyard 2011 Pinot Noir  $60 200 cases

This had a light cherry red color.  It has darker, more intense fruit on the nose. It has deeper flavors as wall.  There is some cherry & some mushroom.  This is distinctly an Oregon Pinot, but it has some real Burgundian structure & flavor.  There was soft spice at the end.  This was a very nice Pinot noir.  One of the best I have had in a while. Of course I wrote that note before I tried the next one.  The wine spent 21 months in French oak.  17.5% of that was new oak.

Torii Mor Temperance Hills vineyards 2003 Pinot Noir $60 195 cases
When we were there, they were pouring this wine from their library.  It had an earthy nose.  The wine still had the cherry of their other Pinot Noirs, but there was definitely an earthy note to it.  It had a deeper red color than their other Pinots.  This was an earthy wine with  black cherry, and allspice.  This still had great tannins.  The finish accented a brighter cherry flavor.  This would be fantastic with wild game.  I think it would be great with duck or pheasant.  This was a delicious wine and I had to take a bottle home with me.  When I am looking back over my favorite wines of 2014, I think this will make my list.

Torii Mor 2010 Syrah Port $45
This dessert wine had big red flavors with brown sugar on the nose.  I liked this a lot.  It had a sweet, but not syrupy brown sugar with blueberry flavor.  There was lingering blueberry on the finish.  To me this was very good.  I’m not the biggest Port or Port style wine fan in the world, but I enjoyed this.


The Autumn wind is a Raider

The Autumn wind is a Raider

Now that I have talked wine for a bit, I better think about football.  Right now I am thinking that there is actually hope for the future of the Raiders.  I know that you are thinking that this is just the wine talking.  Actually I haven’t had anything to drink today, although of course dinner is coming soon.

The Oakland Raiders haven’t made the playoffs since they lost the Super Bowl in 2002.  During that time they have only finished with more than 5 wins in 2 seasons.  In 2011 they won 8 games.  At the end of that season, owner Al Davis fired coach Tom Cable, more for off the field issues than for on the field performance.  Cable broke the jaw of an assistant coach and there were allegations of violence towards women.  Hue Jackson was named the new coach.  He managed another 8-8 season the next year despite the turbulence of the death of Al Davis and the loss of quarterback Jason Campbell to injury but was also fired.  Once again, it seemed that off the field issues might have contributed to the firing.  His influence on the trade that brought Carson Palmer to the team to replace Campbell was held against him and he seemed to be attempting to seize power in a way that was not subtle and was not appreciated by the rest of the organization.

Reggie McKenzie was brought in as the new General Manager and he fired Jackson and hired Dennis Allen, who is the first head coach with a defensive background for the Raiders since John Madden.  McKenzie a former Raider linebacker, who had spent 18 years with the Green Bay Packers was tasked with overhauling the roster.  When he came on board, the team had $154 million committed to the roster for the year and the salary cap was $120 million.  He only had few picks in the 2012 draft because of prior trades, but he still couldn’t afford them. Something had to give. He released many highly paid veterans in order to get under the cap.

Unsurprisingly, releasing veteran players and not having a lot of draft picks was not a formula for short term success.  The team has gone 4-12 each of the last two years.  There is a feeling that this year the team had better improve if McKenzie & Allen want to return for a fourth year.  “There are no built-in excuses anymore,” Davis said to Vic Tafur of the San Francisco Chronicle.

With that in mind and with $65 million in salary cap room the team has made aggressive moves this year.  Their initial moves were surprising.  They let go of some young talent like Jared Veldheer and Lamar Houston and replaced them with older players that don’t seem to be an upgrade.  Once they started signing players, there were several commentators that said that the Raiders were signing the dream team of 2009 free agency due to the number of older players that they signed.

Despite this, and despite the fact that they play possibly the hardest NFL schedule in 2014, I think the Raiders are set up for success.  It may not be this year, and they may be the Los Angeles Raiders before it happens, but I think it is coming.  Here are a few reasons why.

They have drastically improved their quarterback situation.  Terrell Pryor flashed signs of being a competent starting quarterback last year, but he just wasn’t consistent.  He couldn’t read the field and it seemed that if the defense took away half of the field, he would attempt to run.  After early running success, the defenses caught up to him.

For the price of a sixth round draft pick, the Raiders acquired Matt Schaub from Houston.  Schaub had a bad year in Houston last year, but he has been a Pro Bowl quarterback.  I think he has the possibility to bounce back.  I really wonder if he was fully recovered from his lisfranc surgery at the end of 2011.  That seems to be an injury that can take 18 month or more to heal.  Last year it looked like he couldn’t step into his throw and get velocity on the ball.  I think that contributed to some of his interceptions.  It could be that he is having a Jake Delhomme style career meltdown, but I would expect regression to the mean this year for Schaub.  For him that’s a completion rate around 64%, about 3,317 passing ards, 18 touchdowns, and 11 interceptions.  Those might not be All Pro numbers, but I have to think Raiders fans would be happy.

I think that he is the best quarterback the Raiders have had in years.  That may be more of a reflection on the Raiders than on Schaub, but it is a step forward.  The last Raiders quarterback to make the Pro Bowl was Rich Gannon in 2002 when he was the NFL MVP.  Since then, they have had a string of backups starting games for them and well over the hill former starters.  In 2007 instead of drafting Adrian Peterson or Calvin Johnson, they used the number 1 overall pick on Jamarcus Russell.  Russell managed to pass for 18 touchdowns versus 23 interceptions and 4,083 yards total for his career before eating himself out of the league.

Schaub’s 89.8 career passer rating looks great when compared to Raider starters like Josh McCown 77.5, Kerry Collins 73.8, Terrell Pryor’s 69.1, and Russell’s 65.2. If he can just have an average year, the Raiders will be better at the most important position.  I also think that allowing new draft pick Derek Carr to sit on the bench for a year or two will help him adjust to the pro game.

I don’t know if Maurice Jones Drew has enough left to make a difference at running back.  At least the team isn’t pinning all of their hopes on Darren McFadden to stay healthy for once.  I do know that Maurice Jones Drew will see fewer defenders in the box than he had in years.  I think that if he cuts back his carries and the passing game is decent, that he can have a couple of solid years while the team develops their newer running backs.  Last year he averaged over 15 carries per game & it seemed like more.  He consistently was running into 8 men in the box and not too many backs this side of Adrian Peterson are effective in that situation.

The receiving corps has improved with the addition of James Jones from the Packers.  I also think that Rod Streater will look much better with Schaub throwing him the ball.  He had 60 catches last year for 888 yards with generally bad quarterback play.  Denarius Moore isn’t going to develop into the #1 receiver that the Raiders hoped he would, but he is a terrific #3 receiver.  Andre Holmes has size and speed.  Mychal Rivera is more of a receiving tight end than a blocking tight end.  Matt Schaub might be able to use him the way he used Owen Daniels in Houston.  I don’t expect Greg Little to suddenly start holding onto passes with more frequency, but otherwise the receiving situation isn’t bad at all.

Signing Justin Tuck & LaMarr Woodley will pay dividends beyond their own performance.  The Raiders have been losers for so long that it had become ingrained in the culture.  Bringing in players who can still contribute, who have Super Bowl rings should provide veteran leadership and possibly a change in the culture of the club.  Pairing Tuck with Antonio Smith on the defensive line should result in more pressure on opposing quarterbacks in a division with solid quarterbacks across the board. I think drafting Khalil Mack in the first round instead of a quarterback was the right move as well.  Letting him work with Woodley should be a positive.  I think that the secondary will still be the weak spot on the defense, but if the defensive line can bring more pressure, which they really should, then the secondary will look better.

Overall, this looks like a team with a nice mixture of youth and experience.  They should score more point and allow fewer scored against them.  The only problem is that they are in a tough division and play a killer schedule this year between the teams they play and the travel schedule.  They have several east coast games and a game in London.

If the Raiders win more than 6 games this year, that would actually be pretty good.  If they catch a few breaks and go 8-8 that would actually be quite an achievement.  If they were playing in the AFC South, I think that they could be a playoff team.  That isn’t the case though.

If they manage an 8-8 season, I hope that Davis keeps McKenzie around.  I also would love to see the Raiders stay in Oakland.  I think that they belong there.  I wouldn’t be terribly surprised though to see them head into the 2015 season in Los Angeles with a new coach and general manager.  There is a lot riding on this season.  I think that there is reason for optimism though.  We just need to see how it plays out on the field.


European structure versus New World freedom (passing off a class assignment as a blog post)

1 May

I am taking the Diploma class from the Wine & Spirits Education Trust.  I just passed Unit 2 and am now taking Unit 1 online.  I know that taking Unit 2 before Unit 1 makes no sense.  That’s the system though.  Anyway, I just took a practice test for Unit 1, but I managed to be late with it, so I can’t get a test grade.  It doesn’t matter to my final score, but the input would have been helpful.  I figured I would post this here & see if I can get any input.  It also helps me get a post out here without writing anything else.

This is an essay question.  I wasn’t allowed to use any notes and I had 75 minutes to answer it.  I’m sure I could have written something better with reference to notes, but this is what I could knock out in 75 minutes with no notes.

Here was the question

  1. Why was Europe’s quality wine system created, and what aspects of wine production does it regulate? (25% weighting)
  2. What are the strengths and weaknesses of the quality wine system from the point of view of the producer and consumer? (25% weighting)
  3. Why has the new world had success with the varietal approach? (25% weighting)
  4. What can tomorrow’s wine industry learn from these contrasting new and old world approaches, and use going forward? (25% weighting)

Here’s my answer

European structure versus New World freedom

Although it oversimplifies a more complex issue, it is generally fair to say that European wine making is determined by quality wine regulations while New World wine making is not.  There are strengths and weaknesses to each approach.

In many wine producing areas of Europe, the location of the vineyard determines the grape varietal or varietals.  It may also control the percentages of those varietals in the bottle.  Beyond that, the classification systems in certain areas such as Burgundy and Bordeaux ultimately dictate the final price of the wine.  In most of the New World, the grower is free to plant whatever grape that they feel will grow well and will be saleable either as a direct producer of wine or as a crop to be sold to a winery.  The winery itself has the freedom to make whatever wine they feel will taste and sell the best.  They are also able to age the wine the amount of time that they desire, rather than depending on iron clad rules such as those governing the release of reserve wines such as Brunello.

Although we tend to look at the current European quality wine system as something scientifically created and based on empirical data, that is not really the case.  Despite some real work to match the best grape to the site, (especially the work done by the Cistercian monks) the current system is a hodgepodge of quirks masquerading as wine truths.  In 1395 Philip the Bold dictated that the Gamay grape should no longer be planted in Burgundy and the Pinot Noir grape should be the red grape planted.  He said that the Gamay was a “disloyal” grape.  This is probably the first step towards the European quality system. The most famous classification system of course is the 1855 Bordeaux classification.  In this case, Napoleon wanted a classification of the best Bordeaux wines.  The list that was submitted was pretty good for its time, especially in the Medoc.  Unfortunately there were a number of wineries left off the classification.  Even worse was that the 1855 classification ossified and has only been slightly updated over the last 159 years.  Wineries like Chateau Petrus were not part of the classification and wineries which have changed hands and expanded their vineyards have the same rating as they did 159 years ago.  This would be somewhat analogous to picking the best automobile manufacturers in the 1920’s and then basing everything about producing and selling automobiles on how those cars were produced.  There are certainly some things about an old Packard that I admire more than my Toyota Prius, but it would be absurd to argue that since Toyota didn’t exist in 1929 that you should run out and buy a Packard today. Over the years the various wine regions adopted their own systems of Crus or other quality control system.  The various local regulations have generally been adopted with few changes into the European Union wine regulations.  Key changes in that system occurred in 1978, 1999, and most recently in 2008.  Much of the thrust of those laws has been to reduce the “wine lake” in Europe.

The current European system regulates where you can plant vineyards.  In many regions it dictates what grapes can be used (Bordeaux and Burgundy for instance).  The division of the EU into growing regions dictates whether sugar or acid can be added to the must.   Alcohol percentages are also regulated based on those growing regions.  Percentages of various substances like iron, copper, sulfur dioxide, and total acidity are regulated.   In some areas, harvest times are still regulated and in a few areas mechanization of harvest is forbidden.  Irrigation can be allowed or not allowed depending on the regulations.  The maturation and handling of the wines can be dictated as well.  This is not true in all regions.  The Languedoc has much more freedom than Bordeaux for example.  Labeling is also regulated.  The most important aspect of labeling is the Cru or Classified Growth system.  A Grand Cru wine is always a Grand Cru wine and a Premier Cru wine is always a Premier Cru no matter which wine is actually the best in a given year.

For some consumers the quality system makes wine buying easier.  If they want to buy a Southern Rhone wine, they feel comfortable believing that a Cotes du Rhone Villages will be better than a standard Cotes du Rhone.  They would be willing to spend more money on a Cotes du Rhone Villages Laudun than on a Villages without an AOC name.  They would also expect that a Châteauneuf du Pape would be a superior wine to the others I have mentioned.  These consumers can navigate the system so that even if it is a producer with which they are not familiar, they should have a sense of the quality and even the style of the wine.

For producers, the system can be good because it reduces the number of decisions that a grower or a winery must navigate.  It also helps to regulate income.  Wineries with a certain designation can generally count on steady income.  That allows for planning over generations rather than over seasons.

The first problem with that system is that it is too complex for the average wine drinker to memorize.  A relatively new wine drinker might know that they enjoy a slightly sweet Riesling, but they probably have no idea how to read a German wine label.  They might buy an American or Australian wine labeled as a “Sweet Riesling” rather than trying to figure out if you were supposed to store a Kabinett Riesling in a cabinet.  Wine drinkers who are willing to spend a lot of money on a wine might know that they like Syrah and know that it is also called Shiraz.  That doesn’t mean that they know that a Northern Rhone red is made from the grape they love.  They might buy a Penfold’s Grange without batting an eye, but be unwilling to try a Chave Hermitage because it is a high priced wine of unknown type to them.

The larger problem to me is that the systems can stifle innovation.  The original Super Tuscan wines like Tignanello had to be labeled as IGT wines because they did not qualify for any higher status under Italian law.  It took a lot of confidence (and money in the bank) to produce a superior wine that couldn’t be labeled as on par with the worst DOC Chianti of its time.  Most producers in Europe cannot make that leap of faith either because of lack of funds or regulatory prohibition.  There are times when the laws are treated with a wink and a nod.  There are certainly vineyards that use drip irrigation when they are not legally allowed to.  I have known Italian wine makers who added water to reduce alcohol content on highly ripe grapes.  Those types of things happen because they are hard to enforce.  However, many choices that New World wine makers make are simply not allowed to European wine makers.

There are other issues with the European system, but the final one I will mention is the static nature of the Classified Growth system and similar systems.  Obviously none of the wineries in the 1855 classification have the same wine maker today.  The French response to that is that the terroir is the same.   In most cases that is not true.  When a 2nd Growth purchases adjacent land that belongs to a 3rd Growth, that vineyard is now part of a 2nd Growth.  Its terroir has not changed.  The grapes it produces are not now automatically better.  Nevertheless, fruit from that vineyard is now worth more and wine produced from it can now be labeled as a 2nd Growth.   Only the most Bordeaux obsessed consumer might be capable of keeping up with these changes.   The terroir has also changed over the years due to changes in climate patterns.  As the Earth warms, the region that was designated as a Premier Cru vineyard for the production of Pinot Noir may become too hot to produce the best Pinot Noir.  In 50 years, should the consumer still be expected to pay more for a Grand Cru Burgundy than an English Chardonnay?  Probably, but you never know.  Perhaps the climate in England will be perfect & it will just be too hot in Burgundy.

The New World has generally taken what we think of as a newer approach to vine planting and labeling.  In truth, the experimentation that is going on in planting a variety of grapes in a single region to see what happens is ancient.  Pliny the Elder wrote about different vines being planted in different places.  The Cistercian monks kept careful records of what was planted where and how well it grew.  This process took hundreds of years.  It just seems like things have been the way that they are now forever.

Early American wines tended to take their names from successful European names, regardless of what was actually in the bottle.  We can still see that marketing in Gallo’s Hearty Burgundy, which may be hearty, but certainly isn’t from Burgundy and definitely isn’t made with Pinot Noir.  Over the years, wine marketers found that labeling by varietal increased sales.  The consumer was willing to try a new brand or a new label as long as they recognized the grape.  It was easier to learn that you liked Chardonnay and didn’t like Sauvignon Blanc than it was to learn that you liked white Burgundy and didn’t like white Bordeaux.  It also made it easier for merchants to rack the wines.  Now you could push your shopping cart through the grocery store’s wine section and easily find what you wanted without learning to speak German or memorize regional wine styles.  There are a variety of reasons why the New World consumer is more comfortable with this approach.  I think that the biggest reason in the United States is because the U.S. does not have the several century long continuity of wine experience that Europeans possess.  In England it was customary for years to buy a pipe of Port for a new born male.  That was generally enough to last him for his life.  French children grew up drinking wine with dinner, and wine and grape growing was not a distant concept to them.  In the early United States, wine was difficult to produce due to climate issues.  Americans drank more beer and spirits than wine.  Even worse for a culture of wine knowledge, Prohibition snapped what little wine history the country had built.  It wasn’t until the 1970’s that wine really began its climb to prominence in America.

While the American experience is not the only New World experience, it was formative.  The U.S, market has helped to shape the markets of New World producers such as Argentina, Chile, and New Zealand.

As the New World industry has matured and as the customers have matured with it, there has been a willingness to try more blends.  Building that base with varietal labeling was an essential part of preparing the consumer.  Many of the successful blends still state the varietals on the label.  That gives the consumer a comfort level.  If they know that they like Shiraz and they know that they like Cabernet Sauvignon, why not try that Australian Shiraz/Cabernet blend?  The varietals are the base of the pyramid of their wine knowledge.  As they learn what they like, they are able to be a little more adventurous without getting too far from their comfort zone.

In the future I believe that we will see some swapping of systems.  I doubt that the United States will ever adopt rigid controls on what grapes can be produced in what appellation.  I do think that certain grapes are becoming strongly associated with certain areas.  Casual consumers know that Napa makes great Cabernet Sauvignon and that Oregon makes fantastic Pinot Noir.  Those with more knowledge might expect to enjoy a Lodi Zinfandel or a Texas High Plains Roussanne.  Those associations will probably grow stronger as wine makers duplicate the Cistercian’s process of discovering the best grape for the area and as consumers demand more of a particular grape from a particular area.  There will be good and bad to that process.  Some less known areas will produce better, more appropriate wines and will make more money doing so.  Unfortunately there will be some grapes squeezed out of areas.  If everyone wants to buy Carneros Chardonnay, why would you grow Chenin Blanc there, even if you produced a nice Chenin Blanc?  I do believe that New World regions are still in a long process of understanding the terroir of their vineyards and I believe that there is much to learn from the European experience.

On the European side, I believe that more wineries will experiment with new production techniques and new production equipment as it is proven in the New World.  As New World wineries prove the effectiveness of newer techniques, it would be interesting to see how those techniques work in Europe.  I’m not advocating that all wine should be produced the same.  I think that there are ways in which Europe changed its wines too much in certain regions over the last 20 years.  There are some cases in Bordeaux where grapes were allowed to ripen probably too much because they wanted to make New World style wines and get higher points from Robert Parker.  There are also areas like Spain where wine makers have adopted New World practices like smaller barrels with less aging and occasionally using stainless steel.  That has meant that there are more clean and tasty Spanish wines than you would have found 20 years ago.  I expect that trend to continue.

New World wineries are beginning to adopt some Old World blending into their portfolios.  The success of the various Rhone Ranger wines shows how blending can be both financially and esthetically beneficial.  In American wine shops we are seeing more European wines labeled with varietal information.  There are white Burgundies that say that they are Chardonnay on the front label.  I have seen Rhone wines with varietal breakdowns on the back of the label…a label surely created exclusively for export.  There are a number of German wines that are produced with labels that could be from California.  I think those trends will continue on both sides of the Atlantic.

Finally, I hope that European governments will be open to changing the rules as wine regions experience climate change.  The worst case scenarios may never happen, but if current trends continue, mesoclimates that are marginal for a particular grape (which is often where the best wine is produced) may no longer be suitable for that grape and might be better suited for something else.  I know that New World producers will be able to make the adjustments.  I sincerely hope that European producers will be able to as well.

Differences in political structure and in history have shaped the approaches of Old and New World wine producers.  No one system has proven to be the best and there is something that each can learn from the other.


If you have read this whole thing, I sure would appreciate your thoughts.  To stick with my general theme, I have some football thoughts below.

The main thing that I am thinking about football right now is that moving the draft to May is annoying!  It means that the teams don’t get a better feel for their team until May.  It means that many of the free agents remaining on the market may have to wait until June to find their new home.  The biggest thing is that I am just sick of listening to the commentators talk about who is rising & who is falling & what might happen on draft day.  It is bad every year, but this year it is a month longer and a month worse.

My other thought about draft day is that if I were a player invited to the draft, I wouldn’t go unless I was certain to be in the first 5 draft picks.   There are around 31 players tentatively set to show up in New York to sit in the green room and come out to get a hug from Roger Goodell.  Some of those guys won’t be drafted the first day and the cameras will be focused on them squirming in their chairs.  Watching Brady Quinn or Aaron Rodgers, or Geno Smith fall in the draft was uncomfortable at home and I have to think it was much worse for them in New York.   Why not stay home & hang out with your friends and family?  After the draft you will have to go to work and won’t be able to spend time with them for a while.  If you want to go to New York later, you will be able to afford to do it in style.  If you just want to be on TV, remember that you will be on TV for 16 games or so a year if you do your job.  The potential downside is worse than the upside to me.