Oct 142013
 

 

Grapes on a Train

Photo Credit: Tracy Ellen Kamens

From walk-around wine tastings and dinners with winemakers to clever titles and cute comparisons, it’s challenging for wine public relations people to create something new and different for the press and trade. However, the folks at Complexity – New Zealand  have certainly succeeded with their Grapes on a Train event held in late September.

“All aboard!” came the shouts from the conductors as we assembled on the platform at New York Penn Station very early on a Sunday morning. We were about to embark on a unique journey, partially retracing the tracks of the famed 20th Century Limited.

Operated by the New York Central Railroad  from 1902 to 1967, the 20th Century Limited provided express service from New York to Chicago, making the journey in only 16 hours.  The passenger train was known for its high level of service, complete with its signature red carpet rolled out in the station platforms on either end. As journalists and sommeliers, we were similarly given the red carpet treatment when we entered the Hickory Creek train car, hooked up behind the regular Amtrak service to Montreal. This historic, Pullman car was part of the 20th Century Limited’s re-launch in 1948 and has now been restored to its former glory, used for private events held along Amtrak’s existing routes.

Given its remarkable history, the 20th Century Limited has been prominently featured in books and Broadway we well as movies, such as Alfred Hitchcock’s North by Northwest.Thankfully, instead of being greeted by villains and spies, the group was welcomed aboard by winemakers from some of New Zealand’s top wineries.

Upon departure, we headed north past beautiful views of the Hudson River and fall foliage on our way to Canada. But, while the scenery was stunning, our true itinerary was New Zealand, as the winemakers presented several seminars with guided tastings.

The seminars were led by the winemakers, all members of the Complexity-New Zealand consortium. This portfolio crosses wine regions and emphasizes New Zealand’s high quality wines, with membership currently limited to 17 producers.   We kicked off the day with a general introduction to New Zealand – its history, its culture, its people and its land. With the stage set, we then moved onto the varietally-focused tastings.

Wines on the Train

Photo Credit: Tracy Ellen Kamens

 

Sauvignon Blanc with Brett Bermingham, Winemaker of Nautilus Estate and Tim Heath, Winemaker at Cloudy Bay
It’s nearly impossible to speak about New Zealand wine without mentioning Sauvignon Blanc as the grape that put New Zealand on the world stage. However, the discussion centered on the diversity of Sauvignon Blanc, looking at differences among grapes grown on gravels compared to those grown on clays as well as among the Wairau and Awatere Valleys situated within the greater Marlborough region. In this regard, clay soils provide more herbal/green notes and less tropical fruit. As New Zealand producers become more experienced and their vines become more mature, it is expected that more sophisticated styles of Sauvignon Blanc will be seen in the future. Among the most interesting wines tasted in this session (and perhaps of the entire event) was a Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc from 1996, which showed that although these wines are best enjoyed in their youth, they can provide complex aromas and flavors with age. Among the younger wines, I really liked the Mud House “The Woolshed” Sauvignon Blanc 2013, Marlborough, New Zealand.

Aromatics Seminar with Rudi Bauer, Winemaker of Quartz Reef and Ben Glover, Chief Winemaker at Mud House Wines
Less well known than Sauvignon Blanc, the aromatic white varieties of New Zealand can be traced back to the 1980s when Gewürztraminer, Riesling and Pinot Gris were first planted. Rudi suggested that these varieties were more about purity of varietal expression than about winemaking, additionally emphasizing the link between aromatics and acidity. Rudi acknowledged that you don’t always know what you are getting from Pinot Gris, but with Riesling, the standard of quality is better. He felt that the reason Pinot Gris was way behind Riesling in its development was that the initial stock had come from Geisenheim, when the focus was on quantity, not quality. As progress is made, alcohol levels are coming down as are sugar levels. Consequently, Pinot Gris wines are becoming more food friendly to support cuisine along with a trend toward longer time spent on the lees, resulting in wines with more richness and texture. My favorite wine of the session was the Mt. Difficulty Pinot Gris 2012 , Bannockburn, Central Otago, New Zealand.

Pinot Noir with Matt Dicey, General Manager and Winemaker of Mt. Difficulty Wines and Ben Glover, Chief Winemaker at Mud House Wines
Although Matt admitted that Burgundy is a reference point for Pinot Noir, he also emphasized the word, Tūrangawaewae, which is Maori for “where we stand,” an indigenous concept similar to that of terroir. Building on this aspect, he mentioned the regional and vineyard differences as well as the increased exposure to UV light in New Zealand as compared to vineyards in the northern hemisphere. Moreover, Central Otago fruit is credited with delivering darker fruit flavors, while Marlborough is generally more savory in style. With wines from both of these regions, the session tasting provided further confirmation of this diversity. My favorite was the Villa Maria Taylors Pass Pinot Noir 2010, Marlborough, New Zealand.

Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot & Syrah with Nick Picone, Senior Winemaker of Villa Maria Estate
Nick referred to the wines in his session as “hidden gems,” suggesting that most people know a whole lot less about these wines than others from New Zealand. Turning first to Chardonnay, he noted that premium NZ Chardonnay is typically hand picked, whole bunch pressed and barrel fermented with good freshness and a purity of fruit. Wines from the warmer north are picked earlier and at lower sugars, while wines from the cooler south with have more lime and citrus notes, with intense minerality in those from Central Otago. When discussing Bordeaux style wines, which are best associated with Hawkes Bay, Nick attributed the turning point for this region to the establishment of the Gimblett Gravels. Finally, he spoke of New Zealand Syrah, which he described as being closer to the Rhône Valley in style than to Australia, despite the geographic proximity. I was impressed with the Kumeu River Estate Chardonnay 2009, Auckland, New Zealand.

After arriving in Montreal, we stopped at the hotel to freshen up before heading to an evening BBQ, held at a rented house in the Mont-Royal neighborhood. From the home’s rooftop, we could see the Olympic Park, but the fall weather pushed most of us inside where we proceeded to enjoy a delicious meal accompanied by an enormous selection of wines. Having been to New Zealand several years ago, I was especially pleased to see wines from Amisfield, Ata Rangi and Te Kairanga, all places we visited (and tasted at) on our trip.

The next morning, it was off to the airport for the flight home, packed with luggage and great memories of a fun and festive virtual visit to New Zealand.

Oct 102013
 

Log onto Local Wine Events on any given day and a long list of wine tastings, seminars and similar events will appear. But, if you really want to learn about a wine region, the best introduction is to truly immerse yourself in it.

Aside from scheduling the requisite vineyard visits in Bordeaux, visitors to the region also have the opportunity to take classes in the heart of the city at a number of different places, which cater to varying levels of knowledge.

L’Ecole du Vin
The most logical place to start is l’Ecole du Vin de Bordeaux (Bordeaux Wine School), which is run by the Conseil Interprofessionnel du Vin de Bordeaux (CIVB) and conveniently housed at Maison du vin de Bordeaux. The Bordeaux Wine School offers introductory seminars as well as in-depth workshops.

In the two-hour, Introduction to Bordeaux Wines class, students are presented with a general overview of Bordeaux, inclusive of climate, soils, grape varieties and wine production, followed by a guided tasting of a dry white wine, two red wines and a sweet white wine. These classes are scheduled from 10:00 AM – 12:00 PM on Mondays through Saturdays (€35/person) and are a perfect way to begin the day and establish a good baseline of regional knowledge.

l'Ecole du Vin

Photo Credit: Tracy Ellen Kamens

A more intensive option, geared for wine professionals, is a three-day long program that incorporates lectures at the Maison du Vin and structured vineyard visits. The School’s intermediate offerings generally encompass two days, inclusive of seminars, tastings and a meal. Participation in these more advanced programs start at €350/person and often requires prerequisite knowledge and experience.

Max Bordeaux Wine Gallery
At Max Bordeaux Wine Gallery, enomatic machines span nearly the entire store, which claims to be “the only place in the world where you can taste the top 50 Grand Crus Classes.” Open Monday through Saturday from 11:00 AM – 8:00 PM, visitors can simply choose to purchase a tasting card (minimum €25 +€3 deposit) and taste through a variety of samples.

Bordeaux Enomatic

Photo Credit: Tracy Ellen Kamens

However, tasting workshops are offered on Tuesdays from 7:30-8:30 PM for €35/person, with private tastings arranged for groups at a similar fee. This basic option includes a tasting of two to three Grand Cru wines, with the theme changing monthly. On our visit, we tasted a dry white from Pessac-Léognan and two reds – an older Left Bank wine and a young Right Bank wine. The store also presents a First Growths Workshop that features three First Growths and costs €85/person.

Millésima 
Another interesting and equally educational option is leading Bordeaux wine merchant, Millésima. Millésima’s premises date to 1840 and are home to over 2 million bottles of Bordeaux. The merchant offers 30-minute guided cellar visits to its vast warehouses and its “Imperial Library,” which houses over 10,000 large format bottles of top Bordeaux wines.

Bordeaux Warehouse

Photo Credit: Tracy Ellen Kamens

In addition to taking the tour, visitors can choose to participate in one of seven tutored tastings, presented in French, English, German or Spanish. Tasting sessions are by appointment only and start at €100/person, depending on the type of tasting selected and the time of day (evenings and weekends are more expensive than weekday visits). The introductory Initiation to the Wines of Bordeaux guides participants through a dry white (Château Latour Martillac 2007 Graves Pessac-Léognan blanc Cru classé), a Right Bank red (Château Grand Corbin Manuel 2005 Saint Emilion Grand cru) and a Left Bank red (Château Peyrabon 2005 Haut-Médoc Cru bourgeois).

Among the more complex (and pricier options) are a horizontal tasting of 1998 Right Bank wines and a horizontal tasting of wines from the vaunted 2000 vintage. And, if guests want to purchase any of the wines they’ve seen or tasted, Millésima’s on-site shop offers 400 wines and is open weekdays from 8:00 AM to 5:00 PM. 

Jul 312013
 

Each summer I teach a class called “the Greatest Wines of the World” for the viticulture and enology program at Napa Valley College.  It’s a chance for the students to taste the very best wines from some of the top regions of the world, and each summer the wines vary, based on the interests of the students.  Here’s what they tasted in 2013:

Greatest Wines - Burgundy

Burgundy

2011 Domaine Paul Pernot Meursault Blagny 1er Cru “La Piece Sous le Bois”
2011 Domaine Paul Pernot Puligny-Montrachet 1er Cru “Folatières”
2010 Domaine Blain-Gagnard Chassagne Montrachet 1er Cru “Boudriottes”
2010 Domaine de Montille Corton Charlemagne Grand Cru
2011 Domaine Paul Pernot Bienvenues Bâtard-Montrachet Grand Cru
2010 Billaud-Simon Chablis “Les Preuses” Grand Cru
1998 Nicolas Potel Clos Vougeot Grand Cru
2010 Domaine Champy Corton Grand Cru “Bressandes”
2010 Domaine Odoul-Coquard Chambolle Musigny 1er Cru “Les Baudes”
2010 Domaine Henri Gouges Nuits-Saint-Georges 1er Cru “Les Vaucrains”
2010 Louis Jadot Vosne-Romanée 1er Cru “Les Beaux Monts”
2010 Domaine Confuron-Cotetidot Gevrey Chambertin 1er Cru “Petite Chapelle”

Greatest Wines - Bordeaux

Bordeaux

2009 Chateau La louviere  Pessac Leognan blanc
2007 Chateau Cardonnieux Grand Cru Pessac Leognan rouge
2007 Chateau Poujeaux Moulis en Medoc Grand Vin
2006 Chatau La Lagune Haut-Medoc Grand Cru Classe
2007 Chateau Marquis de Terme Margaux Grand Cru Classe
2007 Chateau Talbot Saint Julien Grand Cru Classe
2007 Chateau Batailley Paulliac Grand Cru Classe
2006 Chateau les Ormes de Pez St. Estephe Cru Bourgeois Exceptionel
2000 Cheatu Phelan Segur St. Estephe Grand Cru Classe
2010 Chateau Figeac St. Emiliion Premier Grand Cru Classe
2010 Chateau Beauregard Pomerol
1998 Chateau Lafite Rothschild Paulliac Premier Grand Cru

Greatest Wines - Italy

Italy

2007 Massolino “Parussi” Barolo
2005 Aldo Conterno “Cicala” Barolo
2008 G.D. Vajra “Bricco Delle Viole” Barolo
2007 Francesco Rinaldi “Cannubio” Barolo
2008 Savignola Paulina Chianti Classico Riserva
2007 Borgo Scopeto Chianti Classico Riserva
2008 Massanera Chianti Classico Riserva
2007 Monte Maggio Chianti Classico
2009 Fattoria del Cerro Vino Nobile di Montepulciano
2007 Caprili Brunello di Montalcino
2006 Tassi “Franci” Brunello di Montalcino Selezione
2007 Castelgiocondo Brunello di Montalcino
2007 Pian dell’Orino Brunello di Montalcino
1997 Masi “Mazzano” Amarone della Valpolicella Classico
2008 Corte Rugolin Valpolicella Classico Superiore Ripasso
1980 Bertani Amarone della Valpolicella Classico Superiore
2010 Antinori “Tenuta Guado al Tasso Il Bruciato” Toscana
2008 Castello di Bossi “Corbaia” Toscana
2007 Querciabella “Camartina” Toscana
2010 Ornellaia “Ornellaia” Bolgheri Superiore

Germany

2011 Schloss Lieser Brauneberger Juffer Riesling Kabinett
2011 Von Hovel Oberemmeler Hutte Riesling Kabinett
2011 Donnhoff Oberhauser Leistenberg Riesling Kabinett
2011 Selbach Oster Zeltinger Sonnenuhr Riesling Kabinett
2011 Fritz Haag Brauneberger Juffer-Sonnenuhr Riesling Spatlese
2011 Dr. Pauly Bergweiler Bernkasteler alte Badstube am Doctorberg Riesling Spatlese
2011 Karthauserhof Eitelsbacher Karthauserhofberg Riesling Spatlese
2011 Dr F Weins-Prum Graacher Himmelreich Riesling Spatlese Feinherb
2011 Willi Schaefer Graacher Domprobst Riesling Spatlese #10
2011 Kruger-Rumpf Munsterer Rheinberg Riesling Auslese
2011 Joh. Jos. Prum Wehlener Sonnenuhr Riesling Auslese
2003 Joh. Jos. Christoffel Urziger Wurzgarten Auslese ***

Greatest WInes - Champagne

Champagne

Charles Heidsieck “Brut Reserve” Champagne
Bollinger “Special Cuvee” Brut Champagne
Charles de Cazanove “Tete de Cuvee” Brut Champagne
Ruinart Brut Rose Champagne
2006 Marguet Pere et Fils Grand Cru Brut Champagne
2004 Moet & Chandon “Grand Vintage” Brut Champagne
2000 Pol Roger Brut Blanc de Blanc Champagne
Laurent-Perrier “Grand Siecle” Champagne
Krug “Grande Cuvee” Brut Champagne
1998 Billecart-Salmon “Cuvee Nicolas-Francois Billecart” Brut Champagne
1998 Veuve Clicquot “La Grande Dame Brut Champagne
2003 Moet & Chandon “Dom Perignon” Brut Champagne
2005 Louis Roederer “Cristal” Brut Champagne

Greatest Wines - Dessert

Dessert Wines

Carpano Antica Sweet Vermouth (1L)
2004 Villa Pillo Vin Santo (375ml)
2010 Samos Vin Doux Muscat (375ml)
2010 Donnafugata “Ben Ryè” Passito di Pantelleria (375ml)
1996 Domaine des Baumard Quarts de Chaume (375ml)
Rare Wine Company Historic Series Boston Bual Madeira
Williams & Humbert “Don Guido” Pedro Ximenez VOS Jerez
Ferreira “Duque de Braganca” 20-year-old Tawny Port
1970 Taylor Vintage Port
2008 Inniskillin “Silver” Riesling Icewine (375ml)
2003 Királyudvar “Lapis” Tokaji Aszu 6 Puttonyos (500ml)
2003 Chateau d’Yquem Sauternes

Napa Valley College Viticulture & Winery Technology courses prepare students for entry-level positions and help current industry employees to advance in their careers. Based on a core of viticulture and wine-making classes, the program offers a variety of options for careers in the industry. Students learn to apply viticulture and winemaking theory for decision-making in actual production situations. College facilities include classroom and laboratory buildings, vineyards, and a teaching winery. All program instructors are experienced wine industry professionals.

Jul 262013
 
Creating Compelling Content

Photo Credit: Wine Predator

One of the major goals of this blog is to create articles that we think people will want to read. In other words, we try to create compelling content. When I attended the Wine Bloggers Conference in Okanagan last month, I had the privilege of participating on a panel with Jeannette Montgomery from The Third Glass and Okanagan Writing and Marcy Gordon from Come for the Wine. Together, we attempted to share some wisdom based on our backgrounds in writing. I’ve been writing for 20 years and have learned many lessons (some hard) along the way.

So, what is compelling content?

Simply put, it’s something that is convincing or demands attention. In other words, compelling content is something that grabs the reader’s attention and doesn’t let go. We want to make sure that the reader actually reads the whole article, and hopefully comes back to read more at a later date.

Why write it?

Because we want people to read our blog. The more compelling the content, the more interested the reader.

What’s the benefit?

Increased traffic, increased engagement, and possible increased revenue.

So, where do we start?

Some writers have great success sitting at a keyboard and just starting to spew forth the most interesting drivel. The rest of us, however, may need to prime the pump a bit.

Know the audience.

Who are we writing for? Who is reading our blog? Other bloggers? Trade? Consumers? What kind of consumer? The connoisseur, the novice, or somewhere in between? How do we figure this out? We make a model of who our ideal reader is. We include examples of what we think they might want to read.

Here’s the rub: WE ARE NOT OUR AUDIENCE. If our audience was like us, they’d be writing their own blogs (some may). We try never lose site of that.

Until we know who we are writing for, we can’t make our content compelling.

Pick the subject.

What kind of article will we write? Will it be an editorial piece (opinion), news piece (fair-and-balanced), review piece (expertise), or something else? Once we determine that, we set the tone of the article.

Do homework.

To most, this will be the most important step in the writing process. Chances are that we don’t know everything or anything about the subject on which we intend to write. Which means, we need to do our homework.

Where are we going to look?

  • The Internet – Because everything is true on the internet, right?
  • Wikipedia – Um, yea. Relies on their community of “experts.”
  • Technical notes – Because everyone wants to know about TA and Malo-Lactic fermentation, right?

No! We talk to people and try to be original.

We contact a PR Manager or agency.
We contact a regional associations (Napa Valley Vintners, Wine Walla Walla, etc.)
We contact a winemaker.
We visit the wineries or regions.

We have questions prepared. Better yet, we have INTERESTING questions to ask. Again, we think of our audience, and what THEY would want to read.

We try not to get too wrapped up in the experience that we lose our objectivity.

Build a narrative, tell a story.

Wine writing today tends to be like a scientific journal. It’s all about breaking down the wine into its component parts (aromas, mouthfeel, tannin, technical, etc.). On top of that, the various rating scales have broken it down further. Does it tell you ANYTHING about the wine or the winery?

NO.

Wine is an aspirational product. Wine drinkers imbibe to feel better about themselves and impress their friends. If they didn’t care about that, they’d just drink beer or whisky. What they want, is to drink a glass of wine and be transported somewhere else. That somewhere else is rarely going to involve malolactic fermentation. It does involve the place the wine is made, the people who made it, and the blogger who experienced it. they want to know what the story is behind the wine and to live vicariously through us.

Three take aways.

In the end, the three main things that separate the great bloggers from the rest is:

1. They know their audience
2. They do their homework
3. They tell a story

Creating compelling content is really just that simple.

Jul 172013
 

An interesting infographic titled, “A Toast to Wine” is circulating the interwebs. It graphically presents who consumes wine in the U.S., how much they consume, and what wines they prefer. It’s really an reiteration of information available through other means. In addition, it was created not by a wine company or research firm, but by a storage company. So, it’s obviously linkbait, but it’s still interesting. We republish it here for your review.

A Toast to Wine

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