Paul Wagner

Paul Wagner formed Balzac Communications & Marketing on April Fools’ Day, and for good reason. He wanted to have fun in the wine business. And while his clients include a broad range of national and international companies and organizations, he’s never lost sight of the fun. He’s an instructor for Napa Valley College and the Culinary Institute of America, and is a guest lecturer at universities famous throughout the world—known both for his lectures on wine and wine marketing and his enormous repertoire of bad jokes. But he does know a thing or two about wine and marketing. He co-authored a book: Wine Marketing & Sales, Strategies for a Saturated Market, that won the Gourmand International Award in 2008 for the best wine book of the year for professionals. And it sold out in three years, so they released a second edition in 2011. So there. Paul is a founding member of the Academy of Wine Communications, a member of the nominations committee of the Culinary Institute of America’s Vintner’s Hall of Fame, and was inducted into the Spadarini della Castellania di Soave in 2005. And in 2009 he was honored with a “Life Dedicated to Wine” award at the Feria Nacional del Vino (FENAVIN) in Spain. While he was still alive. Go figure.

Oct 022015
 
TEXSOM International Wine Awards

Photo Credit: Texas Monthly

Last week, I received an invitation to judge at the TEXSOM International Wine Awards in 2016. This is one of the best in the country, for so many reasons. The judges really draw on the connections of James Tidwell MS, and Drew Hendricks MS, with a strong backbone of legacy from Becky Murphy. Those are three of our favorite people in the wine business, and their friends, quite often, turn out to be our friends, too—with enough MS (Master Sommelier) and MW (Master of Wine) post-nomials to fill a couple of large wine glasses.

And the organization, again based on Becky’s initial framework, is smooth and efficient. That makes being a judge a lot easier, and a lot more fun.

And then there’s the scene in Dallas, with great food in all kinds of different locations and styles.

For those of you who think Texas and wine don’t go together, you don’t know what you’re missing.

Sep 302015
 
Grapevine skeletonizer

Photo Credit: University of California

There’s good news from the Napa AG Commissioner’s office this week. That grapeleaf skeletonizer that they found in one of their traps may have been an isolated find, rather than a precursor to a larger infestation. Since we’ve worked for years with Greg Clark and the Ag Commission in Napa to keep the Glassy-winger Sharpshooter out of the county, and we were part of a successful campaign to get rid of a small population of European Grapvine Moths, this is really good news.

This excerpt from the Napa Valley Register:

Vineyard pest find may have been fluke

A leaf-consuming grapevine pest with a Halloween-like name apparently ended up being only a brief visitor to Napa Valley this summer.

A single western grapeleaf skeletonizer moth showed up in a vineyard sticky trap along Tubbs Lane near Calistoga in June. But further trapping has yielded no more of this invasive species.

“Good news,” county Agricultural Commissioner Greg Clark said.

The skeletonizer has caterpillars that devour leaves, leaving behind the veins and creating a kind of leaf skeleton. Less leaves let in more sun that can sunburn the fruit. The caterpillars can also feed on grape clusters and cause bunch rot.

Caterpillars have been known to defoliate entire vineyards in other parts of the state.

“This is a very serious pest,” Jennifer Putnam of Napa Valley Grapegrowers said after the discovery.

Napa County responded to the Tubbs Lane find by putting out 25 additional traps within a 1-mile radius.

Perhaps the lone moth hitchhiked to the area on farm equipment, Clark said. There doesn’t appear to be an infestation because the traps likely would have picked up additional moths.

Still, the county will continue to monitor the area for three years.

“We want to be vigilant,” Clark said. “We never know when a pest is going to be introduced, one that is significant and harmful to the environment, wine grapes and our economy.”

In 2007, the county discovered a grapeleaf skeletonizer moth in the Mount Veeder area west of the city of Napa. That appeared to be a fluke, too, with no other moth turning up.

The grapeleaf skeletonizer is a native of Arizona, New Mexico and Mexico and was discovered in California in 1941. It is established in parts of the Central Valley. Unlike the glassy-winged sharpshooter or European grapevine moth, an infestation of grapeleaf skeletonizers doesn’t trigger a state quarantine.

Nor does the skeletonizer have the grape industry doomsday reputation of the glassy-winged sharpshooter, which spreads vine-killing Pierce’s disease.

“It is a destructive pest,” Clark said. “It is relatively easy to control using a variety of materials.”

But that costs grapegrowers more money. Napa County has the grapeleaf skeletonizer on its list of unwelcomed insects.

“For those of us who don’t have it and don’t want it, if we trap and find it early, the ability to eradicate is certainly a viable option,” Clark said.

Sep 282015
 

Pepe Galante, father of modern wine in Argentina

This week we’re spending a bit of time with Pepe Galante, the father of modern winemaking in Argentina. Of course, one of the charming things about Pepe is that he claims in all seriousness that this title belongs to his mentor, Francisco Oreglia, the author of the first books to focus specifically on winemaking in Argentina. Oreglia was Galante’s instructor at the Enology School at the Universidad Juan Agustin Maza (UJAM)—and he immediately recognized Galante’s skills and enthusiasm. He offered Pepe a job teaching at the school right after graduation, and Pepe still loves that part of giving back to the industry.

What impresses you the most when you meet Pepe is how quiet and understated he is—even a bit shy. For someone who has traveled the world and brought Argentine wines to the attention of the world, he still comes across as someone who takes each day as an opportunity to learn something more. In fact, when he talks about the young winemakers in Argentina today, most of whom have been his students, he talks about what they can teach us, not the other way around.

And then you taste his new wines from the spectacular new project in Argentina: Salentein. They are simply wonderful wines. Yes you expect great Malbec and delightful Torrontes. But you don’t expect world-class Chardonnay and Cabernet Franc. Or superb Shiraz from San Juan.

Makes for a pretty darn enjoyable evening—drinking wines like that alongside a living legend.

Sep 242015
 

iSommelier from iFavineA few weeks ago we were contacted by iFavine about a new wine decanter called the iSommelier that might revolutionize wine service in restaurants.  We were intrigued.  We were also pretty darn skeptical.  It seems that every few years somebody has a “great new technology” that is going to change the way we serve wine.  And yet…When we met the international team of people who are working on this project, we got more interested.  In the first meeting we met people from China, Holland, and France.  And they seemed remarkably sane and reasonable.  In fact, we really liked the Ifavine team. So we set up a tasting with a group of our local Master Sommeliers and Masters of Wine to see this thing in action. It’s slick—even glamorous—with delicate blue lights and lots of glossy surfaces.  It even comes with a remote control.  And when we started using it to taste some wines, the results were pretty darn clear.  In the words of one of the Master Sommeliers, the thing obviously does what it says it does: it adds oxygen into the wine. We tried it on four different wines, including an Austrian Riesling, a California Chardonnay, a Barolo, and top Napa Valley Cabernet.  In each case the wines structure was softened by the iSommelier.  In most cases the delicate aromatics of the wine seemed less obvious after “decanting” with the iSommelier, and the wine was a bit simpler but with more direct fruit and more approachable tannins and acidity.  Just what you’d expect from a wine that had been allowed to breathe for an hour before serving.  Except that it had happened in something under one minute with the iSommelier.  And we all agreed that for many wine drinkers in the USA, this was a very attractive option.

Don’t be surprised if you start seeing these in top steakhouses around the country.  If you do, check one out for yourself on a nice bottle of young cabernet.

Sep 162015
 
The Lake County Valley Fire has devastated homes and businesses.

(Photo by Stephen Lam/ Getty Images)

Tough news coming out of Lake County these days.  According to CalFire, the “Valley Fire” has consumed over 75,000 acres and 1,900 structures, many of those homes. Over the years, we’ve worked with a couple of different wineries up there, and the grape growers as well.  We have friends, clients, and neighbors all over the county. And for a few years, I lived in Middletown, right in town, near the High School. It’s hard to look at the photos to see what’s happened up there.  The house we used to own, a 100+ year old farmhouse that I remodeled extensively, is gone.  We’ve lost touch with who lived there now, but the house itself had character and charm—even if the kitchen floor had enough slope to it that you never had to look for an olive or a grape the fell on the floor.  They always rolled to the same corner.  It won’t be back.

We’ve agreed to do some pro-bono work for the Lake County Winegrape Commission to try to help out a bit.  We’re sending out press releases, directing media inquiries, and helping focus attention on the relief efforts.  It’s not enough.  It can’t be enough.  If you want to help, please join the Napa Valley Vintners, Andy Beckstoffer, and so many others who have stepped up to help.  You can donate by going to this link:  http://www.lakecountywinegrape.org/news-events/valley-fire-relief-fund/