Thursday, April 24, 2014

The United Grapes of America - Georgia - Butterducks Estate Winery Viognier

Georgia has a burgeoning wine culture with most of the wineries situated northeast of Atlanta. One exception is Butterducks Estate Winery ($17), located in the northeast corner west of Savannah. See theCompass profile on the right.The winery just celebrated their 8th anniversary and based on their location and wine list, I would guess that they grow muscadine grapes and perhaps blueberries and blackberries. They also produce a selection of Georgia vinifera with one of these being a Viognier. I was able to procure a bottle at Coastal Spirits - in Peeler - just a mile of Rt 95.

The United Grapes of America
StarChefs.com: The United Grapes of America
The Viognier grapes were sourced from Blackstock Vineyards in Dahlonega. The wine has a sweet honey-sickle aroma; the flavor, creamy with hints of apricot and finishes with decent acidity and some sugar. Seems very close to a Viognier profile and I found it very likeable.  The one issue is the slight sugary finish at 2.5% R.S.. Otherwise a very nice wine. Cheers.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

theCompass Spirits: War Horn Whiskey

Staying with the local theme, I picked up a bottle of Virginia Sweetwater Distillery (Appalachian Mountain Spirits) War Horn Whiskey ($34). The distillery is located in deep southwestern Virginia between Wytheville and Abingdon. The brand name is in honor of owner's, Scott “Mash” Schumaker, brother LTC William Sean Schumaker. He was the final Commander of the 32nd Signal Corp Battalion and "his troops while under his command would stop at the main gates in Iraq and shout “Sound the War Horns”".


The whiskey has a smokey honey aroma that continues in the palette; very peat-like, with a mellow honey flavor finishing very smooth. Very nice. Pair with The Steel Wheels. Cheers.

Monday, April 21, 2014

#WhyILoveMalbec on World Malbec Day

On Thursday April 17th I participated in World Malbec Day by sampling through seven Argentinian Malbecs through Argovino's #WhyILoveMalbec Twitter tasting.  There were several tweets on the grape's lineage, history, and current planting. The parent grapes of Malbec are Prunelard & Magdeleine Noire des Charentes and it has traditionally been a minor grape in Bordeaux and a major player in Cahors (SW France) where it is known as Auxerrois or Côt Noir. In 1868, Malbec was introduced into Argentina and has found a unique home in high altitude Mendoza. The Malbec grape is thin-skinned and requires plenty of sun to ripen and in Argentina the Malbec bunches are smaller, tighter, more deeply colored than those of Cahors. Perhaps a different clone. Here are my tweets for each wine:

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

#WineStudio Presents Germany’s Lesser Known Varieties: Pinot Noir & Lemberger

Moving on to our third #WineStudio Session XII – Germany’s Lesser Known Varieties from the Rudi Wiest Selections Portfolio session. This week Protocol Wine Studio & Rudi Wiest Selections featured two red wines, the Friedrich Becker Family Pinot Noir 2011 ($20) and Schnaitmann 2011 Lemberger ($20).





In Germany, Pinot Noir is known as Spatburgunder and for the past decade one of the top producers - according to Gault & Millau - is the Friedrich Becker Family. As the name implies, this operation is a family affair. Fritz Sr. took over the estate from his father in 1973 and in 2005 Fritz Jr. took over the winemaking responsibilities while his father continues to manage the vineyard. Fritz Jr. is now the 7th generation family winemaker. Almost 70% of their vineyards are located in Alsace, a historical anomaly since the family vineyards have crossed the French-Germany border several times. Since the end of WWII, the Becker’s vineyards are actually straddling these two countries. One of these vineyard sites is Kammerberg (GG), a steep single vineyard near Wissembourg that the family recovered  in 1966. The other site is St. Paul (Grand Cru), which was first cultivated in the 14th century by the Cistercian Monks of Wissembourg. "German growers with holdings between Schweigen-Rechtenbach and Wissembourg are permitted to market the wines produced from their “French” grapes under the German appellation Sonnenberg." (German Wine)  And 80% of the Becker Family 2011 Pinot Noir are sourced from the limestone rich Schweigener Sonnenberg region. The wine  starts with a dark fruit aroma, then velvety, chewy, cherry flavors on the palette turning to an earthy barnyard; and finishing with very soft tannins. This is a very approachable wine. 

Schnaitmann Winery also produces a well received Pinot Noir, but for this tasting we focused on their 2011 Lemberger.  Rainer Schnaitmann is a relative newcomer to the Germany industry having operated for only 15 years. The vineyard is located in Württemberg where 80% of the grapes planted are red grapes - quite a unique situation in Germany. According to our hosts, "Lemberger is cultivated almost exclusively in Württemberg, where it accounts for more than 14% of the region's vineyard area. Lemberger is a black skinned grape variety. It buds early, ripens late & thrives best in a warm environment to fully mature." In many instances Lemberger wines are very similar to Pinot Noir with more dark fruit flavors and a little more spice on the tail. This completely describes the Schnaitmann 2011 Lemberger. The nose opens with dark fruit and licorice, followed by a creamy blackberry flavor, finishing with a slight spicy character.My favorite characteristic of Lemberger or Blaufränkisch.

Thanks to Protocol Wine Studio and Rudi Wiest Selections for an interesting and enjoyable three weeks of tasting:

#WineStudio Presents Germany’s Lesser Known Varieties: Silvaner and Scheurebe

#WineStudio Presents Germany’s Lesser Known Varieties: Pinot Gris & Pinot Blanc

A Lunch Date with Alloro Vineyard for #PinotInTheCity

As a corollary to the Pinot in the City activities, I attended a lunch focused on one of the Willamette Valley wineries - Alloro Vineyard located in the Chehalem Mountains AVA.  Owner and Vineyard Manager, David Nemarnik along with winemaker Tom Fitzpatrick invited me to join them at the Range Restaurant to learn more about the winery and their portfolio.

Alloro translates to Laurel in Italian and can refer to Laurel Ridge where the 78 acre estate resides or perhaps the laurelwood silt that provides a loess-like component to the soil. David Nemarnik planted the first vines in 1999 and as an experienced farmer is also the Vineyard Manager. His property also includes produce, orchards, and even livestock - a comprehensive family farm. Sustainability is a prominent lifestyle choice in Oregon and Nemarnik practices LIVE - Low Input Viticulture & Enology. The concept behind LIVE is that farming shouldn't be just following rules in order to be certified - but enact practices that benefit the entire ecosystem. Nemarnik gave an example where sulfur is used in organic farming as a fungicide - yet sulfur also kills beneficial insects. LIVE encourages the use of commercial fungicides that are specifically designed to leave beneficial insects unharmed. (I hope I got that right.)

Nemarnik also gave an overview of the Chehalem Mountains AVA, the largest sub-AVA within the Willamette Valley AVA and the last to be designated.  There are three distinct areas within the AVA that differ in soil composition. The northwest faces the ocean and contains sandstone and marine sediment, whereas the southeastern section is derived from volcanic activity. The northeast side contains soil deposited from the prevailing winds created silty, loess soils - hence Laurel Ridge and AlloroVineyard.

The winery is a small operation, we are talking just 2,000 cases annual production which makes their presence in the Washington DC and NYC markets quite surprising.  Winemaker Tom Fitzpatrick joined Alloro in 2010 and his UC Davis education and Burgundy training is well suited for Alloro's two primary varieties, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.  In the past Oregon Chardonnay was not respected and Nemarnik described how the original vineyards were planted with a poor choice of clone. Eventually, vineyards planted the Dijon clones 76 & 96 which are more suitable to the Willamette Valley climate. The 2012 Alloro Chardonnay was barrel fermented (20% new oak) and is a fresh wine, with white fruit notes followed by a nice roundness in the palette. Very nice.

Fitzpatrick applies a minimalistic wine making approach, allowing the wine to represent the vineyard as well as the year.  That doesn't mean he's not active. The cellar contains over 80 fermenting or aging barrels and for the Pinot Noir he must determine which wine will be designated for their Alloro or Riservata labels.  The Pinot grapes are four Dijon clones and all the juice is fermented in barrel. In 2011, 1,400 cases of the Alloro Pinot Noir were created - the winery's largest production.  This is a silky smooth wine, dark fruit forward with a creamy mid-palette with very smooth tannins. Very nice. At the same time, 300 cases of their barrel selection reserve - 2011 Alloro Riservata Pinot Noir - were produced. Once again dark fruit dominates with a larger mouthfeel the same creamy texture, but this time an addition of spice and more acidity on the finish. Wow. This is why the Willamette Valley is know for Pinot Noir; I need to visit soon.

If in Northern Virginia, the Alloro wines as distributed by Kysela Pere et Fils, Ltd and are available in my hometown at the Vienna Vintner. Pair with Portland's Foghorn Stringband. Cheers.

Friday, April 4, 2014

#WineStudio Presents Germany’s Lesser Known Varieties: Pinot Gris & Pinot Blanc

Moving on to our second #WineStudio Session XII – Germany’s Lesser Known Varieties from the Rudi Wiest Selections Portfolio session. This week Protocol Wine Studio & Rudi Wiest Selections featured two more white wines, the 2012 Rebohlz Estate Pinot Blanc and the 2012 Graf von Schonbom - Schloss Hallburg Estate Pinot Gris.

We started our tasting with the 2012 Rebohlz Estate Pinot Blanc ($20) and honestly it was gone before I blinked. Darn dinner guests. No wonder winemaker Hans-Jörg Rebholz was chosen Winemaker of the Year in 2002 and the estate was awarded Collection of the Year in the Gault-Millau 2013. In fact, the Rebholz name translates to “wood of the vine” and the family has been involved in viticulture since the 16th century, with the current winery belonging to the family for the past 100 years. And according to Protocal Wine Studio, "Rebholz has lately become the prime source for naturally made, terroir-driven, dry wines in Germany". The estate, “South-Pfalz”, contains 70 plus year old vines thriving in limestone soils and farmed bio-dynamically. Pinot Blanc (Weissburgunder in German) is a genetic mutation of Pinot Noir and a late-ripening, thin-skinned, tight-clustered grape.  The 2012 Rebohlz starts with white fruit and stoney minerals on the nose with the earthiness continuing on the palette along with a creamy peach-lemon flavor. There is great acidity in the tail - real refreshing. Quite a nice wine. One other note - winemaker's Hans-Jörg's handwriting is the "font" written into the label.

In our previous post we reviewed the 2011 Graf von Schönborn – Schloss Hallburg Silvaner Dry, Estate ($20) and for this week we turned to the same winery's 2012 Graf von Schonbom - Schloss Hallburg Pinot Gris ($20).  The estate is farmed organically and is mainly gypsum marl, gravely loess, and clay. The Pint Gris exudes a lemony peach aroma followed by minerality and depth on the palette, and another refreshing acidic finish. I used to think Pinot Gris was too bland; not the Schloss Hallburg.

Next up, reds Lemberger and Pinot Noir. Cheers.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

theCompass Spirits: Chesapeake Bay Distillery's Blue Ridge Vodka

This past weekend I refused a request to bring home a bottle of Absolut and instead picked up a bottle of Blue Ridge Vodka ($25) from Chesapeake Bay Distillery.  The distillery is nine years old and two of the three partners are or were active-duty Navy seals. The vodka is distilled from regional corn (thus gluten-free) which are also GMO free. The corn's sweetness shines through the nose as toasted sugar with the flavor as creamed honey cornbread. The vodka finishes with a mild burn - very smooth. Nicely done.


Monday, March 31, 2014

Virginia's Corcoran Brewing Company Re-opens Down the Road in Purcellville


This weekend Corcoran Brewing Company reopened at their new Purcellville brewery, after outgrowing their Waterford barn next to the family's winery: Corcoran Vineyards. The brewery had been idle for the past four months constructing and moving to the new location, yet all that has changed is the volumes of beer - the selection is the same and the increased capacity means inventories will remain more constant. Although looking at the picture, Saturday may have depleted quite a bit of inventory since brewer Kevin Bills mentioned it was their biggest sales day ever. Whereas the standard lineup is intact, a new beer added to the menu is the John Champe, an English style barley wine coming in at 9.7% abv. Despite the high alcohol, the beer is quite smooth with a nice malt-hop balance. Also, the brewery continues the tradition of including detailed information in the tasting sheets such as style, ABV (Alcohol by Volume), IBU (International Bittering Units - hops), and SRM (Standard Reference Method for color). In the future expect food trucks, an outdoor seating area, and perhaps some local live music. And as always, theCompass Winery, Brewery, and Distillery Locator app can guide you to Corcoran's Brewing Company and the other area wineries, breweries, and distilleries. Cheers.

Friday, March 28, 2014

#VirtualVines with Old York Cellars & Laurie's Chocolates

Last night Old York Cellars hosted their quarterly #VirtualVines online tasting; this time featuring their Stagecoach Red & Blackberry wines along with everyone's favorite chocolate maker, Laurie Douglas from Laurie's Chocolates. Winemaker Scott Gares started the tasting by introducing the Stagecoach Red ($16), a part of their seconday Stagecoach label named to honor the transportation service which passed through the area on its route between Philadelphia and NYC. The  Stagecoach Red is a blend of Malbec 50%, Cabernet Sauvignon 25%, and Merlot 25%.  It took his team seven iterations of different wines and percentages to create this final blend and the result is a fruit forward, very approachable wine. Besides being fruity, it has smooth tannins with a touch of spice (black pepper) on the finish.  The suggested food pairing was tomato pizza and turkey burger and the chocolate pairing was dark chocolate with almonds. Laurie always recommends that the wine be sweeter than the chocolate and the little extra sea salt further mellowed the wine and reduced the bitterness in the chocolate and almonds. 

Moving to the Blackberry ($12), it's marketed as a dessert wine, but at 4% RS isn't as sweet as you would think. Gares stops the fermentation a little early in order to keep some of the natural sugars in the berries and the result is a wine that tastes exactly like a blackberry. The initial flavor is sweet blackberry fruit, but the finish is more tart which acts like acidity to balance the sugar. This is quite a tasty wine - and with chocolate - Laurie paired this with the Venezuela Single Origin 65% - one of here many single origin chocolates.  Once again, I find myself impressed with Old York Cellars - need to take a road trip soon with theCompass app and visit. Cheers.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

#WineStudio Presents Germany’s Lesser Known Varieties: Silvaner and Scheurebe


Every Tuesday I normally tune into Protocol Wine Studio's #WineStudio Twitter chat in order to learn about under appreciated wine regions and wine grapes. For the next few weeks, I'm more enticed about the sessions since I've received a package of wine from Rudi Wiest Selections to accompany they latest topics: #WineStudio Session XII – Germany’s Lesser Known Varieties from the Rudi Wiest Selections Portfolio. For the next few weeks we will learn about the German production of Silvaner, Scheurebe, Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris, Pinot Noir and Lemberger from the forgotten wine regions of Franken, Pfalz, and Württemberg. Pretty cool.

Last night we started with the Silvaner and Scheurebe wines from Franken, a region located in northwest Bavaria and the only wine region in the federal state of Bavaria. It is an old wine region, dating back more than 1,000 years and known for dry white wines - Fränkisch trocken (Franconian dry). Many times Franconian wines can be identified from the short, rounded and flattened bottle called Bocksbeutel.

We started with the 2011 Graf von Schönborn – Schloss Hallburg Silvaner Dry, Estate (Franken) $20. For those unfamiliar with Silvaner, it is the offspring of a spontaneous crossing of Traminer and Österreichisch Weiss (literally Austrian White) and was once the most planted grape variety in Germany. Silvaner is considered a blank canvas for the expression of the specific vineyard. Schloss Hallburg is currently practicing organic farming (should be certified in 2015) where the vineyards consist of gypsum marl, limestone, gravely loess/loam and layers of clay soil. The result is a dry wine with powerful peach aromas leading to a saline green apple flavor, finishing with a lemon and citrus slightly acidity tail. A noticeably less acidic finish than Riesling, but enough to balance the fruit and minerals - in the words of  Protocol Wine Sudio "elegant, but not pretentious".

We moved on to the real suprise of the evening, the 2012 Wirsching Scheurebe Dry, Iphöfer (Franken) $27. Scheurebe (shoy-ray-beh) was bred in 1916 by Prof. Georg Scheu and is a cross of Riesling and an unknown wild grape. (The pairing was previously thought as Riesling & Silvaner, but modern DNA eliminated Silvaner while confirming Riesling.) The result is a Riesling type wine known as  "Riesling’s evil, horny twin.” -- Terry Theise. The Wirsching Estate has an interesting history, now in its 14th generation, the Wirsching family has been making wine since the 1630's. But it wasn't always predestined. In the late 19th century the vineyards were ravaged by the phylloxera plague that devastated the European wine industry. The patriarch at that time was Andreas Wirsching, who passed away at an early age - possibly ending the family's winemaking tradition. But after WWI, his son Hans returned from the war and replanted the entire vineyards by hand using American rootstocks. In the early 1950's Hans obtained Scheurebe cuttings and planted them into their Kronsberg vineyard. Today Wirsching is among the best known & largest wine estates in Franconia. As for the 2012 Scheurebe, the nose is powerful - combination of tropical fruit and lemon - followed by a pineapple flavor. I mean - a big flavor, finishing with refreshing acidity. This is a very cool wine, ready to pair with your favorite Asian or spicy dishes.  

Next Up, Pinot Blanc and Pinot Gris. Cheers.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Exploring #HungarianWine for #Winechat with Blue Danube #Wine

Blue Danube Wine is my primary source for Eastern Europe wine and they supplemented my passion by hosting this week's #winechat discussion. The focus of this tasting was Hungarian wines and Blue Danube chose three very traditional wine grapes: Kadarka, Furmint, and Olaszrizling.

We started the evening with a slightly chilled red, the Eszterbauer Kadarka Nagyapám 2011 ($18).  The Eszterbauer Winery is located in Szekszárd in southern Hungary near the Croatian border at latitude between the Loire and Bordeaux. Their 8 hectares of vineyards consist of chalk and loess soils which include 9 clones of Kadarka - a traditional grape that probably came to Hungary with the Serbs fleeing the Ottoman invaders.  The name, Nagyapám, refers to Grandfather in honor of János Eszterbauer's father who drank Kadarka straight from the barrel. The grapes for the wine are sourced from the vineyard's oldest vines and the result is a Cabernet Franc like dark cherry wine with subtle spice and tart tannins and acids at the tail.

The second wine was the Bodrog Borműhely Furmint Lapis 2011 ($21.95), a 100% dry furmint from the Tokaj region. Known for the kingly Tokaji Aszu, Tokaj is situated in north-eastern Hungary and is the world’s first appellation system over 100 years before Bordeaux.  Bodrog Borműhely produces a combination of dry and sweet wines,  and the Lapis vineyard, clay and volcanic soils, sits just high enough from the Bodrog River and its floodplains the breezes dry the grapes to prevent Botrytis.  This Furmint was fermented and aged in Hungarian Oak - undergoing full malolactic fermentation and then aged 9 months sur lie. The result is a peach & creamy wine with a toasted sugary pecan nose followed by a steely minerality. The wine finishes with subtle spice and decent acidity. I think this wine was the biggest surprise among my associates as many had never tried a furmint - let along a dry furmint. Well done.

We finished the evening with the Fekete Olaszrizling 2011 ($24.95), produced from the Grandfather of Somló winemaking, Béla Fekete.  Somló is Hungary’s smallest appellation and the area was once an underwater volcano. The oldest writings mentioning Somló wine date to 1093 with viticulture occurring earlier with the Romans.They know good volcanic soil when they see it. Located north of Lake Balaton in eastern Hungary, the app Somló appellation consists of only white grapes with Olaszrizling the favorite. Olaszrizling is actually the most planted wine grape in Central and Eastern Europe known as Graševina in Croatia, Welchsriesling in Austria, Riesling Italico in Italy, and Laški Rizling in Slovenia.

Fekete BélaBéla Fekete started making wine late in life, while in his late 50's, yet because of his longevity has been producing wine for 32 years. Approaching 90, 2013 was his last vintage, so tasting his 2011 Olaszrizling was a great honor.  He uses non-traditional techniques, waiting for spontaneous fermentation  in old 1200 liter Hungarian oak casks. He never stirs the lees nor completely seals off oxygen. And all wines are aged for 2 years before bottling. The result is a complex wine, white fruits, with plenty of minerals and salty elements fishing with good acidity. Cheers to all the wines and thanks to Blue Danube Wine for supplying them.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Learning about Wurzelwerk with German & Austrian Riesling

This week I was invited to an intimate tasting of German and Austrian wine hosted by Rudi Wiest Selection, the "leading importer of fine German wines in the United States market".  The tasting was held at B Too, the latest restaurant from Chef Bart Vandaele (Belga Café) and featured wine from three young winemakers who have just ascended to the wine making thrones for their respective family operations: Johannes Hasselbach, Gunderloch in Nackenheim, Rheinhessen, Germany; Max von Kunow, von Hövel in Oberemmel, Mosel, Germany; and Alwin Jurtschitsch, Jurtschitsch in Langenlois, Kamptal, Austria.  These three are not only friends, but family considering that Hasselbach's sister, and initial heir to the family's wine making venture, married Jurtschitsch with von Kunow serving as his best man. Before taking over their respective wineries, each traveled and interned at wineries from Australia and New Zealand to Canada. And surprisingly, a common thread was that each winery had become quite large under their parents such that the new wine makers turned towards more traditional methods. For instance Alwin Jurtschitsch re-introduced more organic farming methods and Johannes Hasselbach to

Since these three obviously spend quite some time together discussing and sampling wine, one topic that constantly surfaced was a particular wine the result of the vineyard site or actions by the winemaker.  They decided to experiment and shared a portion of their 2012 grapes (the first year each took over operations) grown in their grand cru vineyards in a project called Wurzelwerk or root work.  Each then made three separate wines using the grapes from each winery.  They attempted to eliminate by letting the grapes ferment outside using the yeast clinging to the grape's skins.  The result, I don't know. I was unavailable for the evening event which featured these wines but will link to Christian Schiller who posted about the project here.

Instead this lunch focused on two wines from each winemaker from their estate grapes.  We started the lunch with the Jurtschitsch Grüner Veltliner Loiserberg 2012 Kamptal DAC Reserve, Erste Lage and 2011 Zobinger Heiligenstein Kamptal Reserve Reisling, with Alwin introducing us to their 150 year old winery. The winery itself includes a 700 year old cellar and is located in the Kamptal DAC,  northwest of Vienna and west of . The steep hills of Heiligenstein ("holy rock") contain a unique blend of desert sandstone and volcanic soil which adds a salty minerality to the Riesling - a perfect match with our oysters appetizer. The Riesling also possessed a green apple flavor with plenty of acidity accumulated from the cool nights. The Grüner Veltliner has a more floral aroma, with a silky texture after being fermented in neutral oa and spending 10 months on its lees. These are two delicious wines.

We then moved to the two Rieslings from Gunderloch, with Johannes describing the winery's three vineyards sites situated above the Rhine river and the 120 year family history operating the winery.  An interesting story is that the harvest help has traditionally come from Poland, and as that country has become wealthier, the Polish workers still arrive for harvest, now using their vacation time to pick grapes. The first Riesling was the "entry" level 2012 Estate Dry Riesling ($15), but there was nothing entry level about this wine. It's a blend of grapes from the three vineyard sites and starts with green apples finishing in firm acidity. Very tasty and refreshing. The second wine was my favorite of the lunch, the 2012 Gunderloch Riesling Dry GG, Pettenthal ($42). The Pettenthal is the only site on the Rhine with red clay soil and this single vineyard wine is equally fruity and acidic. But it's the creamy texture that allows the wine to melt in your mouth.

The final presentation was given by Max von Kunow who brought along one von Hövel produced by his father and a second of his. The von Hovel estate was a acquired from Napoleon Bonaparte in 1806 ( a mini Louisiana Mosel Purchase) and Max is the 7th generation wine maker. Before Bonaparte confiscated the land, the manor house and cellar was the retreat for St. Maximin and are over 800 years old. And the wines match the winery's amazing history, these extremely low alcohol wines (7.5%-8%) are extremely fruity with a sense of sugar - yet 100% bone dry. The elder Kunow's wine was the 2008 von Hovel Riesling Kabinett, Scharzhofberger ($15) and has a peachy-apricot flavor, followed by a creamy mid and a refreshing acidic finish.  The younger Kunow's 2012 von Hovel Riesling Spatlese Dry, Estate ($35) is all tropical fruit, again a creamy mid, with balanced acidity. There's no way these flavors come from an 8% alcohol dry wine. Pretty amazing.

If you have a chance to find these wines from Rudi Wiest Selection or a retailer, grab them. I learned today that the 2008 von Hovel Riesling Kabinett, Scharzhofberger is available online at Last Bottle. And I hope to post more on the Wurzelwerk project. Cheers to German and Austrian wine.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Press Release: Brewers Association Announces 2013 Craft Brewer Growth

Volume and Sales Reach Record Levels as Market Share Surpasses Seven Percent

The Brewers Association (BA), the trade association representing small and independent American craft brewers, today released 2013 data on U.S. craft brewing¹ growth. As a primary driver of growth in the beer industry, craft brewers saw an 18 percent rise in volume², representing a total of 15.6 million barrels, and a 20 percent increase in retail dollar value.

In 2013, craft brewers reached 7.8 percent volume of the total U.S. beer market, up from 6.5 percent the previous year. Additionally, craft dollar share of the total U.S. beer market reached 14.3 percent in 2013, as retail dollar value from craft brewers was estimated at $14.3 billion, up from $11.9 billion in 2012.

“With this stellar year, craft has now averaged 10.9 percent growth over the last decade,” said Bart Watson, staff economist, Brewers Association. “Beer drinkers are excited about what small and independent brewers are offering and that is evidenced by the rising production and sales of the craft segment.”

Additionally, the number of operating breweries in the U.S. in 2013 totaled 2,822, with 2,768 of those considered craft, demonstrating that craft breweries make up 98 percent of all U.S. operating breweries. This count includes 413 new brewery openings and 44 closings. Combined with already existing and established breweries and brewpubs, craft brewers provided 110,273 jobs, an increase of almost 2,000 from the previous year.

“Openings of brewing facilities continue to far outpace closings, demonstrating that the demand for high-quality, local, fuller-flavored beers is only increasing,” added Watson. “The geographic diversity of openings and production growth shows the national nature of this movement. In towns all across the country, craft brewers are creating jobs, delivering innovative products, advancing the beverage of beer and strengthening their local economies.” 

Note: Numbers are preliminary. The Brewers Association will release the list of Top 50 craft brewing companies and overall brewing companies by volume sales on March 31. Additionally, a more extensive analysis will be released during the Craft Brewers Conference in Denver, Colorado from April 8-11. The full 2013 industry analysis will be published in the May/June 2014 issue of The New Brewer, highlighting regional trends and sales by individual breweries.
¹ The definition of a craft brewer as stated by the Brewers Association: An American craft brewer is small, independent, and traditional. Small: Annual production of 6 million barrels of beer or less (approximately 3 percent of U.S. annual sales). Beer production is attributed to the rules of alternating proprietorships. Independent: Less than 25 percent of the craft brewery is owned or controlled (or equivalent economic interest) by a beverage alcohol industry member that is not itself a craft brewer. Traditional: A brewer that has a majority of its total beverage alcohol volume in beers whose flavor derives from traditional or innovative brewing ingredients and their fermentation. Flavored malt beverages (FMBs) are not considered beers.
² Volume by craft brewers represent total taxable production.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Willamette Valley Wineries Come to DC for Pinot in the City

On April 2nd, 54 Willamette Valley winemakers arrive in Washington DC to host Pinot in the City, a wine tasting event held at the Long View Gallery from 6-9pm for $75 a ticket. During the event, consumers will have the opportunity to learn more about what the Willamette Valley has to offer - directly from winemakers by hearing their individual stories.

Pinot Noir is the most important grape variety in the region and accounts for approximately 70% of plantings. Pinot Gris is the next largest at about 15%, followed by Chardonnay (5%) and Riesling (4%). Since Pinot Noir will be the primary focus of the event, I asked three of the participating winemakers what differentiates Willamette Valley Pinot Noir from Burgundy and California's Russian River Valley? The consensus: expect very fruit forward wines with an acidic backbone.

Harry Peterson-Nedry of Chehalem Winery:
First and foremost differences are climatic, with Oregon’s Willamette Valley a bona fide cool climate and therefore similar to Burgundy, but like California dry during the growing and ripening season. Soils for all areas are different, so show nuance differences. More tightly wound and acid structured wines can be seen in Oregon and Burgundy, more overt fruit in Oregon and California. Oregon’s fruit is vibrant, fresh fruited and forward, with acids for great ageability and for the table.
David Adelsheim of Adelsheim Vineyard
The short, simplistic answer is that no other place in the world has the combination of intense fresh fruit, backbone of acidity, and the specific flavors and tannins of the various Willamette Valley Pinot Noirs. 
Alex Sokol Blosser of Sokol Blosser Vineyards
The main differences are the soil, sun, and growing degree days. We have very similar growing degree days as northern Burgundy but less than Russian River Valley. We have very similar sun hours as southern Burgundy and different than the RRV in CA.
theCompass View
of Oregon Wine
All three winemakers agree that Pinot Noir will maintain primacy in the future, whereas Chardonnay and Riesling could overtake Pinto Gris. Other cool climate grapes such as Gruner Veltliner or Pinot Blanc may find homes, but "only Pinot Noir will be synonymous with Willamette Valley".

Like Virginia and Maryland, wine tourism is a growing component to Willamette Valley wine sales, yet it can't rely on casual or day-trip tourists from neighboring metropolitan areas. Instead, the Willamette Valley is becoming a wine destination attracting tourists who spend several days touring various wineries. This is a result of the high quality of the wines, or as David Adelsheim states, "the Willamette Valley first developed around very high quality wines; tourism came much later". 

I've been thinking of planning a trip to Oregon wine country and I'm sure Pinot in the City will entice me further.  I recommend readers do the same - at a minimum you will taste some extraordinary wines. Cheers.

Monday, March 17, 2014

The FDA Finally Acts to Protect our Country's Livestock from the Dangerous Spent Grain from #Beer Mash

Or at least that must be how the FDA sees the world. Why else would the agency propose rules that "require that spent grain for animal feed be dried and prepackaged onsite in a manner that doesn't touch human hands." What is one source of spent grain - our country's breweries and distilleries. Instead of simply dumping the spent grain, most of these companies have established relationships with local farmers to provide the spend grain to supplement the diet of livestock. Scott Harris of Catoctin Creek Distilling Company explained how the cows that benefit from their spent grain rush the delivery truck when it arrives.  (See the 18 minute mark in this MyJoogTV video and video below.)  And not only does the spent grain supplement the diets, but it also hydrates the animals because the "wet" grain has soaked up the water.

Yet the FDA in their wisdom now wants breweries and distilleries to prepackage the feed, adding production costs to the operations for those companies that provide their left over grain to farmers. Instead of packaging the spent grain, they could also choose to just dump the spent grain, adding other costs in itself. The FDA also wants to force brewers to dry their grain, removing any hydration benefits that farmers prefer. Perfect. Another example of government bureaucrats creating a problem where one doesn't currently exist. In this case, just let the invisible hand of the marketplace do it's thing.

The Brewer's Association is on top of this situation and has posted these suggestions to brewers.
For BA members, we ask that you:
1. Communicate with your farmers that we will be looking for them to submit comments to FDA based on the draft farmer comments that we will circulate once final. Farmer comments should focus on the impact to their business of the proposed rules, the preference to receive grains "wet" from brewers, the lack of problems with receiving spent grains as currently in practice and the environmental issues related to a change in current practice.
2. Prepare your own set of comments to FDA based on the sample brewer comments, with an emphasis on how the current proposed rules will impact your business and any thoughts on how landfilling grains may not fit with sustainability efforts.
3. Sign up for the March 27 Power Hour and then send in comments after final revisions by the March 31 deadline.
Let's hope these comments to dissuade the FDA. Beer and spirits consumers should also contact your local representatives in the House of Representatives & Senate.


Update: another video describing farmers love for spent grain:

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Hungary's Etyek-Buda Wine Region & Nyakas Pince

One of the wines we tasted while learning about oxygen management during my trip to Nomacorc was 2012 Nyakas Budai Chardonnay.  I immediately noticed this Hungarian producer because many of their wines are available in the Washington D.C. market. The winery focuses exclusively on white wines and is located in the northern part of the Etyek-Buda wine region. This is a newer regional designation with the Buda inscription reference the rolling Buda hills with the regional spreading westward towards the settlement of Etyek, only 19 miles from the capital city.

The region's wine making history is quite fascinating. It is speculated that Romans planted grapes along the Buda Hills, but the first documented evidence starts in the 13th century when Serbian immigrants arrived, having been chased from their land by the Ottomans, and planted red varieties, probably Prokupac and Kadarka. At the time, the Buda wine region flowed along the Danube from Szentendre to Tétény. The Ottomans eventually reached Buda and Pest in the early to mid 1500s and ruled for a 150 years. Once the Turks were expelled, German immigrants were imported to resettle the area and they brought along many white grape varieties. After the phylloxera epidemic, many of these vines were replanted and their success led József Törley to establish his sparkling wine Törley House in the region. Other factors, of course, include the chalk and limestone soils as well as sharing the same latitude as Champagne. The Budafok sub-region now accounts for 70 percent of Hungary’s sparkling wine production.

The rest of contemporary Etyek-Buda is comprised of boutique wineries, mostly small family plots, and because of it's proximity to Budapest, wine tourism is a growing industry. White wines still dominate: Irsai Olivér, Olaszrizling (Welschriesling), Szurkebarat (Pinot gris), Zold Veltelini (Grüner Veltliner), Rizlingszilvani (Müller-Thurgau), Chardonnay, and Sauvignon Blanc. Although not common, some red grapes are planted, particularly the indigenous Kadarka and Pinot Noir.

Getting back to Nyakas, I've tried many of their wines in the past. The Chardonnay was tasted at Nomacorc imparted different sensations based on the corc used - but the flavor itself was very reminiscent of the Chardonnay grape. Their Sauvignon Blanc was very kiwi-ish in the sense of lemon grass flavors with nice acidity. I always enjoyed their Irsai Olivér and Müller-Thurgau with the former portraying that muscat aroma and the later a nice young wine.

So if you find yourself in Budapest, head West into the hills to enjoy some whites and sparkling wine. Here's a video to give you an idea of the land - and a chance to learn Hungarian. Cheers.

Monday, March 10, 2014

A Much Belated Return to Willowcroft Farm Winery

This weekend I realized that it had been almost eight years since I last visited Willowcroft Farm Vineyards, located just southwest of Leesburg in Loudoun County Virginia. Don't know why the long hiatus, but Sunday night we used theCompass mobile application to navigate to the winery.  Good timing, since the winery is celebrating it's 30th anniversary in 2014 - one of the oldest in the Commonwealth. Once a space opened at the tasting bar, our tasting room rep, Lydia, guided us through the winery's portfolio and history.  (We also found a couple books in the tasting room that describe the history of the properties on Mt. Gilead.) 

All the wines we tasted were harvested directly from the estate, except for the Petit Manseng which is sourced further southwest in the Shenandoah Valley.  We sampled most of their wines, and in general, I was quite impressed. Almost all possessed the characteristics you would expect from each grape.  The estate grown Albarino was my favorite white (floral with nice acidity), followed by the Harmony and Cabernet Blanc. The former is an semi-dry blend of Petit Manseng, Vidal Blanc and Traminette (great acidity to balance the sugar); whereas the later is a lightly pressed Cabernet Franc that tastes of the lighter side of cherries. Moving on the reds, the Petit Verdot was medium bodied with mellow tannins; the Chambourcin was also medium bodied with a spicy tail, and the Merlot was full bodied - very smooth and tasty.

I plan on returning very soon, particularly when the medal winning Cabernet Franc and Apple wine are released to the public. Lydia almost talked me into the Wine Club, and I think I can be persuaded on my next visit. Since the strength of their portfolio encompasses the breadth of the wine selection, I think I can be assured that every two months I'll receive a wine I enjoy. Cheers.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Oxygen's Role in Aging Wine: Nomacorc - Part II -> Oxygen Management

After leaning about how Nomacorc manufactures their corcs and market share of closures (See Part I), the subject turned to an issue that I was on vaguely familiar - oxygen management. And this is a subject Nomacorc takes seriously> yes, their raison d'être was eliminating wines tainted with TCA; but they quickly pivoted to helping winemakers eliminate wine faults due to the (mis)management of oxygen.

In general, winemakers practice "reduction" techniques where they attempt to eliminate oxygen in most phases of the process. Small amounts of oxygen are needed at the beginning of fermentation as  oxygen encourages the yeast to multiply, but afterwards oxygen may encourage the spread of acetic acid bacteria or turn the wine off-color. Thus, winemakers try to eliminate oxygen elsewhere in the process by using sulfur, inert gases and stainless steel tanks and then topping off barrels lost to the angels. Usually winemakers are successful, but as this graph shows over a 5 year average,  about 5% of the wine were characterized as faulty due to oxygen (mis)management. And a similar study from the San Francisco Chronicle Wine Composition found 2.4% of the wines were faulty due to O2 management.

These oxygen (mis)management faults can be introduced in all phases of production, but this chart on Oxygen Management Objectives shows that the biggest variation in optimal oxygen exposure result from bottling, with smaller non-optimal exposure in materation and bottle aging. This chart was an eye-opener; I've witnessed some poor bottling techniques and I'm sure these wines aged poorly.


In order to assist winemakers to determine how much oxygen is imparted into a bottled wine, Nomacorc created the NomaSense™ Oxygen Analyzer System. These sets measure that amount of oxygen exposure in headspace of the bottle as well as the dissolved oxygen in the wine itself. Pretty cool.


Getting back to out Nomacorc sessions, first Vice President, Strategy & Innovation Malcolm Thompson presented Oxygen Management Strategy & Objectives - by showing how different closures provide different Oxygen Transmission Rates (OTR) which usually lead to different tasting wines. At the extremes these different rates can create oxidized or reduced faults, but in the median arbitrary transmission rates lead to different tasting wines - even when opened from the same case.  Wes Ward, Technical Sales Manager, Americas & South Africa, then lead a session on Oxygen as a  Winemaking Tool describing the chemistry and actual senses perceived due to different OTR. 

Nomacorc initially handled oxygen transfer rates by creating a closure that imparts a consistent rate for each and every Classic corc - all a result of their co-extrusion technology.  They eventually leveraged this technology to launch a new product line called the Select Series, which allows different (but consistent) oxygen transfer rates into the bottled wine. The Select Series consists of four corcs (100, 300, 500, 700), which will provide less to more transfer rates as the series progresses higher. But what corc should a winemaker choose for each varietal wine?  Nomacorc has automated this decision making process by creating the Noma Selector - as software application that guides the winemaker through the decision making process. Thus Nomacorc is confident that by utilizing their NomaSense™ analyzers with the Select Series, winemakers can improve and extend the shelf-life of every bottled wine.


But does it matter to the consumer which Select Series is utilized? Our final session of the visit tested this question by tasting a white and red wine bottled with three different Select Series corcs. We started with the 2012 Nyakas Budai Chardonnay by blind tasting three versions, and even with the short bottle aging, produced three completely different wines. The first glass was very light, citrus, with a lemongrass-acidic finish; whereas the second was more Burgundian with more minerality and depth.  The final glass was funky and the 500 series corc closing this wine had allowed the most oxygen to transfer. The first glass was corked with the 100 series and the second with the 300 series.

Our red blind tasting consisted of the 2009 Clos des Cordeliers Cabernet Franc which had been bottled with three different corcs in April 2011; providing three years of bottle aging. The first glass was a fruity wine, with plenty of cherry flavors and dusty tannins. The second glass was earthier, still a nice cherry flavor, finishing with smoother tannins. The final wine was musty, acidic, and not pleasing. Once again, three completely different wines, all bottled on the same day, but aging distinctly due to the Select series corcs utilized (300, 500, 700 in this instance).

The trip to Nomacorc was extremely informative and these sessions on Oxygen Management were a revelation in a noma-sense; another topic to discuss with winemakers on future visits.  And winemakers now have the tools to decide the proper closure for their wines. Some may choose to continue with natural cork; others like Jordan Harris of Tarara Winery will use strictly screwcaps. And others like Ben Mayo of Eberle Winery will continue to utilize Nomacorc Select Series in order to optimize oxygen transfer rates. Cheers

Monday, March 3, 2014

A Taste of Science at Doukenie Winery

The first Saturday of every month Doukenie Winery (Hillsboro, VA) hosts a very informative and interesting event: A Taste of Science at Doukenie Winery. Led by geologist Leanne Wiberg, the program starts with a tour and wine tasting in the depths of the facility followed by a vineyard tour of the winery's experimental vineyard. After a year of urging I finally found a free Saturday to participate. The tour costs $18.00 for general public, but free for  Heritage Club members, and starts with an overview of the winery's Greek Heritage: Doukenie=Dutchess.  Once in the basement we then learned about winemaker Sébastien Marquet and his Burgundian background followed by a tasting of eight wines. Most of these wines were made from estate grapes with the others sourced from a vineyard near Fredericksburg. And the wines were quite pleasant, with the Riesling, Pinot Grigio, "Le Vin Rouge", and Cabernet Franc selected as the group's favorite. In fact, the Pinot Grigio, was the nicest I can remember tasting in quite some time. After the tasting we learn about the winery's use of oak and the source of their French oak barrels.

Finally it was time for the vineyard tour and Leanne led us to the experimental vineyard where Marquet grafts various grape vines on another varying set of rootstock. Leanne described to the group the history of phylloxera and reason for rootstock and interpreted the different combinations of rootstock to grape vines.She then showed us geological maps of the area and described how Short Hill and the plateau to Leesburg were created. Then on to sunshine, rain runoff, soil, you name it; pretty interesting stuff - even in the cold weather. 

After the program I realized there was plenty to appreciate about Doukenie; the obvious being that they provide a geologist to host this program. The others is the dedication to quality - having an experimental vineyard - and even Marquet selecting the specific trees for the cooperage. And this reflects in their wines - as a whole they are much nicer than my last visit many years ago - and their are a few standouts that I'd like to partake on a daily basis.  Cheers to that.