Jun 262013
 

Riesling holds a special place in the hearts of many in the wine trade. From sommeliers to wine buyers to collectors, ask any of them what varietal they prefer to drink, and chances are that many of them will tell you: Riesling (that and/or Pinot Noir). That includes me.

Consumer Perception

Unfortunately, Riesling suffers from a slight image problem. Blame it on Blue Nun if you wish (which, by the way, didn’t have a Riesling varietal wine until recently), but many American consumers view it as a sweet wine their grandma drank (if she wasn’t drinking beer). California producers perpetuated the problem by making off-dry Riesling wines in the 1970s and 1980s. Not that there is anything wrong with sweet wines. I love them myself, but global tastes have migrated toward a drier style in wines in general (mostly).

Enter the wines of Alsace. Alsace is a region in France on the border of Germany which specializes in wines made from German varieties, such as Riesling, Gewurztraminer, and Sylvaner. Most Alsatian Rieslings are almost entirely dry (i.e. no detectable sugar). The folks at the Wines of Alsace felt that it was a grave injustice to this noble variety to pigeon-hole it as “sweet” wine.  True, it can produce off-dry versions, but its innate acidity paired with Alsace’s unique location typically yields a dry, mineral-driven Riesling.

The Truth about Riesling

To combat this perception, The Wines of Alsace have published the infographic below. When I asked Louise Jordan at Teuwen Communications why they decided to take this approach to promoting the wines of Alsace in the U.S., she had the following to say:

The reason we created this infographic is because the majority of consumers still think all Riesling (not just Alsace) are sweet. And that simply is not true. We were also addressing the idea that consumers have a hard time understanding what exactly IS sweet. That is why we wanted to compare it to other beverages that are not typically thought of as sweet, such as skimmed milk. It is to start a dialogue about where Riesling is placed in the consumers’ minds, but also so they understand what is going on in their mouths when they taste something actually a lot sweeter than the average Alsace Riesling.

She goes on to state that every single wine or grape variety infographic she has seen from a whole range of sources always puts Riesling in the off-dry or sweet category. She makes a point that this is just simply not the case for all Riesling and a disservice to consumers when over-simplified all the time.

You might be as surprised as I was by the sugar level in these beverages. It’s an interesting concept, and one worth exploring.

For those interested, beginning in July, fans can submit their favorite dry Alsace Riesling and food pairings to @drinkAlsace using the hashtag #TryDryAlsace on Twitter for the chance to win two Riedel Grand Cru Riesling glasses. The contest will conclude July 31st with the announcement of a winner.

Riesling Infographic

Credit: Wines of Alsace

Jun 152013
 

Next Wine Generation: Wine Marketing & SalesI recently had a very funny experience. One of my client wineries got a phone call from a student who was working on a marketing plan for another winery–and wanted to talk to someone with some hands-on experience. They referred the call to me, and always one to share with the next wine generation, I invited the student to give me a ring.

She called me a couple of days later, and we had a nice chat. About 10 minutes into the conversation, she suddenly burst out with a scream. “Oh my God!” she said. “You are the author of my textbook!”

I laughed, and said that was probably true. We wrapped up the conversation, and I think she got what she needed. She dropped me a note a week later to say that she got an “A” on the plan!

Jun 142013
 

My first visit to Okanagan Valley wine country was a surprise in many ways. For starters, I had no idea it was as big and spread out as it is. It essentially spans a distance of roughly 110 miles from north to south. That’s basically about the same distance as San Jose to Calistoga in California or Baltimore to Philadelphia for you east coasters. Needless to say, we couldn’t see all of it. Also, while not technically official, the area has seven distinct growing regions:  Kelowna-North Okanagan, Kelowna-Mount Boucherie, Summerland-Peachland, Penticton-Naramata, Okanagan Falls, Oliver/Golden Mile and Black Sage/Osoyoos. The last two sit on two prominent benches (long, relatively narrow strips of relatively level or gently inclined land that is bounded by distinctly steeper slopes above and below it). The wineries from these two benches have formed Oliver Osoyoos Winery Association.

Oliver Osoyoos Vineyards

A view across the valley in the Oliver area.

What makes these areas unique, other than the aforementioned benchland, is that they are the furthest south of the Okanagan appellations, and therefore the warmest. Their Uncork the Sun (#uncorkthesun) marketing campaign illustrates that quite pointedly. In addition, it sits at the most northern tip of the Great Basin Desert, so is reasonably dry. All of these conditions make the area ideal for growing wine grapes, especially red ones. In addition, the area is steeped in history and tradition, with First Nation peoples residing here for thousands of years. In fact, today the region is home to North America’s first native owned and operated winery – Nk’Mip Cellars.

Road 13

Road 13 showing two definitely distinct architectural styles.

Several wineries from the Oliver Osoyoos area hosted the attendees of the 2013 Wine Bloggers Conference. We began our visit at Road 13 Vineyards, where several other wineries were also present to pour their wines. The winery itself won the “most unique architecture” award in my book. It was bizarre blend of Disneyland-kitsch and modern grace. The first in the form of crenelated walls and drawbridge, the second with a sleek building with contemporary lines and plenty of windows. I was told that the castle-like portion was a legacy of the previous owner, so I could look past it. The views from the winery, however, were stunning.

I tried several wines at Road 13, but the three that stood out were the following:

Road 13 2009 Home Vineyard Sparkling Chenin Blanc – Originally names Golden Mile Cellars, Road 13 is located on… wait for it… Road 13 in Oliver, BC. It’s owned by Pam and Mick Luckhurst. Mick is a rough-and-tumble sort. A man of few words, he apparently let’s his wine’s speak for themselves. This one in particular was quite amazing in it’s freshness and complexity. I could have drunk it all day. Bonus: it’s sealed with a crown cap, which lends it a few points of coolness in my book. http://road13vineyards.com

Maverick Estate Winery 2011 Sauvignon Blanc – I met winemaker Bertus Albertyn as he was pouring his Sauvignon Blanc for us bloggers. A South African by birth (awesome accent, by the way), he moved to BC in 2009, He’s made wine in South Africa, France, California, and Italy. I could tell. His SB was everything an SB should be. It was graceful and elegant, with nicely floral aromatics. Everything was in harmony. Definitely a highlight wine for me. https://secure2.shadowfax.bc.ca/maverick/scms.asp

Hidden Chapel Winery 2012 Blushing Bride Rose – The winery was named after a “fairy-like, made-to-scale miniature chapel” in the back of the winery property that was built by the former owner’s son-in-law. The winery was started by Lanny Kinrade and Deborah Wilde, and appears to be a family affair. The wine was fruity, off-dry, and under $20, which means that it would be a crowd pleaser. http://www.hiddenchapelwinery.com

tinhorn creek

Bloggers were greeted with more wine at Tinhorn Creek.

While we enjoyed our time here, it was off to Tinhorn Creek (which was supposed to be a surprise, but someone let the cat out of the bag) for dinner, and of course, more wine.

Tinhorn Creek was started by Kenn Oldfield and Bob Shaunessy in 1993, and is still run today by Kenn and his wife Sandra. They have two vineyards, one on the Golden Mile where the winery is, and one on Black Sage Bench called Diamondback Vineyard (one guess why they named it that). In addition to the winery, there is a restaurant called Miradoro on the property (where we ate dinner that night). It seems that there are several wineries who also have restaurants. a la Europa style. Executive Chef Jeff Van Geest served us a chilled cucumber gazpacho, mixed paella, and hot chocolate with churros. All in all, a very good meal.

The wines poured at the dinner included the following:

  • Tinhorn Creek Oldfield Series 2Bench Rose
  • Tinhorn Creek Oldfield Series 2Bench Red (standout)
  • Covert Family Estate Rose and Amicita
  • Rustico Farm & Cellars Zinfandel (standout)
  • Castoro de Oro Viognier
  • Church & State Viognier
  • Platinum Bench Gamay (standout)
  • River Stone Pinot Gris

I’ll be honest, by this time, it was all starting to become a blur and the day wasn’t over by a long shot. What I can say, without reservation, is that Sandra and Kenn Oldfield are some of the best people and hosts I’ve ever met. Granted, Kenn had to watch the shop most of the time, while Sandra was off playing nanny to a bunch of bloggers, but it was a definite highlight of the weekend. Oh yea, and her wines aren’t bad either. I pretty much liked everything they poured.

Spirit Ridge

View from the rooftop at Spirit Ridge.

We ended the evening with a lovely rooftop reception at Spirit Ridge Vineyard Resort & Spa. It’s a joint venture between Bellstar Hotels & Resorts and the Osoyoos Indian Band. It’s also the home of Nk’Mip Cellars, mentioned above, which is a joint venture between the same band and Constellation Brands. You could really see the desert here and the views from the rooftop were stunning. We enjoyed more wines from the Oliver Osoyoos Winery Association while we kicked back and enjoyed the scenery and the company of our compadres.

All in all, the wines of Oliver Osoyoos delivered hard on quality. While I didn’t get to try all the wines from the area, the wines I did try were either totally solid or rocked my world (have I used that expression already?). Now, if I could only figure out how to get them in the States…

Jun 132013
 

More than 70 top  judges were assembled in Sacramento for the California State Fair Wine Competition, which ran for three days. Exhausting work, but somebody’s got to do it.

California State Fair Wine Competition - Dinner

There were, of course, a few perks.  And one of them was to have dinner at the Glorious Stanford Mansion in downtown Sacramento.  We were given a tour  of the mansion, complete with ballroom and billiards salon, and then seated out in the garden for an evening of great food and even better camaraderie.  Look closely at the photo, and you will recognize some of the best palates in the state!

California State Fair Wine Competition - Mansion

Jun 122013
 
Wine Bloggers Conference reception at See Ya Later Ranch

Wine Bloggers enjoying the opening reception at See Ya Later Ranch during #wbc13.

Today, an earlier article I wrote prior to the Wine Bloggers Conference in Penticton last week was quoted in an article by Steve Woods, Business Editor at Technorati. Wood’s article is about how the field of wine blogging has matured and grown in significance.

“Wine bloggers are far more than individuals who toss one back then bandy about terms like “oaky” or “buttery”, “grassy” or “mellow” for the rest of us to decipher. They truly want to broaden the wine-tasting experiences of their readers, trying out perhaps lesser-known wines from around the globe, in search of unique flavors that vintners have brought forth through a variety of secretive techniques,” writes Woods.

From my personal experience, I couldn’t agree more. There is a true passion among most wine bloggers that is infectious.

My own little piece of the article includes the following from Woods: “Those that share their love of wine through the written word are also asking the same question as others who have labored for years online: Are blogs dead? Wine blogger Michael Wangbickler, who shares secrets and insights about the wine industry as a whole, writes in his blog Through The Bunghole,” writes Woods.

“…from Wangbickler’s thoughtful commentary, many wine bloggers are insightfully aware of far more than just what’s in the glass in front of them. Wine bloggers, like successful bloggers in any area of endeavor, are taking advantage of social’s tools to take the conversations directly to their audience in a far more responsive manner,” concludes woods.

I’m flattered that Mr. Woods found my comments worthy of sharing and look forward to reading everyone else’s articles about the Wine Bloggers Conference and wine blogging over the next several weeks.