Archive for the 'winemaking' Category

Confronting climate change in Germany – four views

Thomas Haag of Schloss-Lieser, Andreas Adam of A.J. Adam, and Dorothee Zilliken of Zilliken.

Confronting a warming climate was one of the main topics at a panel discussion at the recent Rieslingfeier. Historically, Germany has been at the northern limits of wine production where the grapes struggled for ripeness. Now, warmer vintages are becoming more frequent as 2003, 2006, 2007, and the current releases from 20011 show.

David Schildknecht, perhaps the leading German wine critic in America, led the panel of four producers at Bar Boulud that included Florian Lauer, Dorothee Ziliken (Forstmeister Geltz-Zilliken), Andreas Adam (A.J. Adam), and Thomas Haag (Schloss Lieser). Mosel Riesling has historically had a reputation as a light, juicy, drinkable yet filigreed wine. The challenge with global warming is that rather than struggle for ripeness and sugar, the grapes can effortlessly tack on sugar, which can lead to higher alcohol wines, richer wines or elevated residual sugar in the wines–in the worst case, wines that might lose the élan of the cooler times. The producers spoke of different tools in the toolkit of vineyard management and winemaking that they use to adjust to global warming. Read more…

Has the economic slowdown killed the oak monster?

Winemakers across three continents and various importers have echoed a similar refrain to me of late: the economic slowdown of the past few years has led to less new oak. New 225-liter barrels (“barriques”) can cost $1,300 a pop–or about $4 per bottle of wine if only used once. Some producers say they hear talk from producers dialing back the oak about getting more natural. But at root, the decision is often economic. (Just wait until they learn about the waning influence of critics who championed such styles, most notable in Spain.)

Whatever the reason, nine times out of ten, it’s a good thing. Instead of tasting expensive oak, we can taste the grape and the terroir. Oh, and nice not to see those obnoxiously heavy bottles much any more too. Of course, there are regions where adding $4 in oak costs or $2 for bottles doesn’t really matter since the finished wine prices are so high. But those are the exception, not the rule.

What do you see in terms of new oak in your corner of the wine world?

Broadcasting Baroque to the vines at DeMorgenzon

Kobe beef cows may be jealous: the vines and barrel room at De Morgenzon winery in Stellenbosch have Baroque broadcast 24 hours a day.

The DJ is Hylton Applebaum, who owns the property with his wife Wendy (Hylton also owns the Classic FM radio station in Johannesburg). Hylton says that the mix includes no music “that annoys people,” ruling out harpsichord, energetic violin solos or organ, which sounded funereal. Opera and all human voice were excluded from the track because they could be too jarring for the staff and neighbors. The staff that I spoke with say the music has a calming effect. Only certain blocks have been wired for sound, including a block of syrah behind the winery.

Hylton says the vineyard with the music shows slower growth than adjacent vineyards that have no music. “We are able to achieve phenolic ripeness with lower sugars,” he said as we stood among the vines.

I asked him if techno would speed up the growth. He said that some experiments in central Europe had shown a variation in tomatoes with the type of music played; jazz worked well but heavy metal killing the plants.

De Morgenzon’s “DMZ” line represents good value at about $15 in the US; the standout of the line is the crisp chardonnay, which has just a hint of early Mozart on the nose. Their top wine, a 100% chenin blanc, presented a serious side of chenin. But more on that in a future post. Read more…

Dirk Niepoort: 100-point score will “destroy” work

“One day, my Dutch importer phoned to say, ‘Your wine got 100 points in Parker.’ I was not happy at all.”

That’s what Dirk Niepoort, one of Portugal’s best wine minds, told Sarah Ahmed in a piece on The maker of table wines continued, saying that it would “destroy” what he’s done in the vineyard and winery because “it’s too early to have 100 points;” such acclaim would raise prices and alienate the customer base he’s trying to build. To the tape:

As I get older, I care less and less. And more and more I want to build our reputation on word of mouth with customers who eventually have the money but, more than anything, have a taste and respect for what we do. That creates the image, not the Parker or “Wine Speculator” [sic] way. It’s slower, but much safer – less volatile.

Asked what he most dislikes in wine, he replied, “points.” He further stated that his sales were up 80% in the first quarter of this year.

IMPORTANT UPDATE: I inquired which @NiepoortWines received 100 points, they replied on Twitter “Someone told Dirk he got 100 pts and that was his reaction. In fact he never got 100 pts from Parker.”

Related: Points for all? Recent evidence of wine score inflation

Nicolas Joly on appellations, life forces and electromagnetic fields

“The concept of taste linked to a certain place has been totally destroyed by technology,” Nicolas Joly told a standing-room-only audience yesterday. Joly, author of two books on Biodynamic winegrape cultivation, owns the Coulée de Serrant in the Loire where he is “nature’s assistant” (according to his business card.)

Back in New York for another edition of Return to Terroir, a roving show of Biodynamic wine producers, Joly leveled criticism at the appellation system (as he did three years ago at the event). He decried the system that has a tasting by committee, which tolerates wines with “technological” intervention, such as herbicides, pesticides and commercial yeasts and enzymes, which can boost over 350 aromas in wine when they are young. “The concept of appellation has lost its meaning,” he said.

He also fired a salvo at the wine media for not drawing any attention to these issues. “I regret that there is not one wine guide in the world that does not tell which wines have been made with commercial yeast,” he said. (It’s worth noting that, in fact, blogs and a growing number of wine books have discussed the subject.)

Next in his sights were herbicide producers and sales people whose products, he said, cause the plants to get sick but do not let the disease actually run its course, since they have another product to sell you for that ailment. He also pointed the finger at them for trying to demonize copper, allowed in Biodynamics to treat some vine maladies, saying copper at a low level (“one or two kilograms per hectare”) is safe. “Yes, in excess, it’s bad, just as too much oxygen in the air would be!”

As he talked about life energies, he got more positive. “Earth doesn’t produce growth; earth receives growth” from the sun and the moon, he said. He elaborated, saying that if he covered the earth in black plastic, there would be no life. “Earth receives life.” And it costs nothing: “Life comes free, if you catch the forces.”

He decried “technological” wines that are made in the winery saying that 98% of wine comes from photosynthesis. “If the work in the vineyard is well done, you have nothing to do in the cellar.”

He suggested that when deciding if a wine is good, there are several moving parts, akin to a music: playing a stratavarius in the subway would not be an ideal performance. So consider the musician, the instrument, and the acoustics, he advised. Biodynamics can turn a vineyard into a beautiful instrument, but not always if the soil and varieties are not matched right, he said.

In closing, Joly expressed concern about the prevalence of electromagnetic fields, particularly cell phones. “We are enormously changing the forces of life with satellites! Gigahertz are everywhere!” He fears they disturb cosmic energy and could reverse the earth’s polarity. “That is climate change.” He added that stainless steel vats capture and conduct too much of “electromagnetic pollution” and thus he does not use them.

He then dismissed us saying that we haddn’t come to listen to him and that we should all go taste some wine.

Home brewing, yes. But where’s the home winemaking?

One of the most exciting drink stories in America is the craft beer revolution and its related rise in home brewing. An article on Slate details that policy held back the hops: banned after Prohibition, it wasn’t until President Carter signed legislation in 1979 that allowed households to brew up to 200 gallons a year. Unregulated by laws such as Germany’s famous beer purity law of 1516, American home brewers experimented (as had the Belgians who were similarly unfettered by regulations) and today we have arrived at the point where the US is seen as the most innovative craft beer market in the world. Indeed, Belgian breweries are even buying American hops.

In the piece, the author says there are 27,000 home brewers who pay $38 a year to be members of the American Home Brewers’ Association. Home brewing is wildly popular, even among wine geeks. Josiah Baldivino, sommelier at Michael Mina is so confident in his brewing skillz that he whipped up an IPA to serve at his wedding. Jim Clarke, somm at Giorgio Armani restaurant had a couple of brews going when I spoke with him recently. The Slate author suggests the motivations of home brewers include “self-reliance, community-building, autonomy, independence from monopolies, an alternative to rampant consumerism, innate curiosity, and the desire to make something cool.”

So here’s my question: given how popular home brewing is, why is home winemaking not more popular, particularly with younger wine hipsters? Wine is certainly popular and would be cool to make. And we wine geeks like both community and autonomy (an odd mix) and are just as self-reliant as home brewers. Home winemaking is popular as judged by the fact that three of the regular, top-selling wine titles on Amazon have to do with home winemaking. Even though some outfits such as Crushpad and City Winery have altered the demographic somewhat, it appears me, anecdotally and generally speaking, that the demographic is older and people who are more into drinking rather than sipping. Even though I have made neither at home, it seems that it would be much harder to make good wine than it would be to make good beer because it is hard to get good grapes, especially if you live some distance from a vineyard. And most home-made wines that I’ve tasted have gotten 99 points for effort and decidedly fewer for what’s in the glass. Whereas, I’ve had some quite good homebrews.

In your experience, who makes wine at home? Will urban hipsters be making wine any day soon?

Holy sh*t: Australia approves laxative agent in wine

Australian wines have gained huge market share over the past few decades. But nobody has accused them of dumping. Until now.

The Australian government has approved the addition of sodium carboxymethyl cellulose, which has “has long been prized by the medical world for its anti-bulking and laxative properties.” The cellulose gum prevents crystallization and cloudiness in white and sparkling wines.

Wines containing the additive will not be labeled as such. A spokesperson for the Wine Institute in California said, “I don’t think the levels that are approved for use in wine in the EU and Australia will give that laxative effect.”

Just in case, they’re now putting wine in cans.

Over on Twitter, wine Twitterati declared that “the bottom fell out of my world when I read that” and to being “down in the dumps” after hearing of the “sad tail.” Or, “Imagine a discreet Times hed: For Australian Wines, the Beginning of the End.”

A Bordeaux convenience store sold 170 tons of sugar. Why?

A convenience store in the Bordeaux region was found to have sold 170 tons of sugar in a two-year period. Why?

The store manager says that the locals told her they were making jam. However, a court found otherwise, levying a $6,700 “suspended” fine for selling sugar to wine producers without recording their names as law requires.

Wine producers in certain zones of Northern Europe are allowed to add sugar to the grape juice (aka must) before or during fermentation, a process called chaptalization. The goal is not to have residual sugar in the wine, which would make it sweet. Rather, it is to boost the level of alcohol. Producers must declare the amount used and pay a tax of $17.50 per 220 lb of sugar added. The general impression has been that global warming has diminished the need for chaptalization as rising temperatures boost the natural sugar in grapes. During fermentation, yeasts chomp sugars to ferment into alcohol (and CO2). But one of the years in question was 2007, a cooler and rainer year than usual for the region.

Even though the authorities collect the taxes for chaptalization and other forms of enrichment, they are reluctant to divulge the figues to offer a window onto how widespread the practice is. Dismayed by the lack of official statistics, Benjamin Lewin estimates that 17 to 33% of French wine is chaptalized, depending on the heat of each vintage.


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