Miner Family Winery: The Cool Miners’ Water

With their name proudly displayed on every bottle of wine they produce, the Miner family has made a name for themselves in Napa Valley wine. Founder Dave Miner initially launched his career in the software industry, following in the footsteps of his uncle, Robert Miner, who was among the co-founders of Oracle Corporation.

Dave continued to pursue his uncle’s passions when he took over as President of Oakville Ranch Vineyards, which Robert had established in 1989. While Oakville Ranch continues to remain in the hands of Robert’s widow, Mary Miner, Dave went on to found his own winery, Miner Family Winery in 1996, after meeting his future wife, Emily, who served as Tasting Room Manager at Oakville.

Ten years later, Dave and Emily’s efforts were duly rewarded when Miner Family Winery was honored as a Top 100 “Winery of the Year” by Wine & Spirits Magazine.

The Miner Family wines were initially crafted at a custom crush facility, but, by 1997, the pair had hired Gary Brookman on as winemaker and spent the following two years buying a building, excavating caves and releasing their first wine. In 2008, the winery was able to become energy-independent, running exclusively on self-generated solar power.

Interestingly, while they have spent considerable time and effort focused on their facility, the fruit for their wines is generally sourced from other people’s vineyards, some of which, like Hyde, Stagecoach and Garys’ Vineyard, have become extremely well known.

A wide range of wines are produced, including those from Bordeaux, Burgundy and Rhone varieties. In a fitting tribute to uncle Robert, the winery’s flagship Bordeaux-style blend, Oracle, was launched in 2004. Today, Miner Family Winery wines continue to earn critical acclaim and have been served at several White House dinners. Yet, the wines remain reasonably priced and accessible.

Miner Family Winery Chardonnay 2013, Napa Valley (CA), US, $30.00
As a high quality, well-made wine, this is an oaked Chardonnay for the haters out there. Aromas of apples, spice and pear greet the nose and persist on the dry palate; overall, it is really enjoyable with complexity and elegance.

Miner Family Winery Wild Yeast Chardonnay 2011, Napa Valley (CA), US, $50.00 Produced with only indigenous yeast cultures, this wine offers up yeasty, nutty characteristics on both the nose and palate. Despite spending 16 months in 70% new French barrels, it is well balanced with integrated oak, showing slight development and culminating in long length.

Miner Family Winery Garys’ Vineyard Pinot Noir 2012, Santa Lucia Highlands (CA), US, $60.00
Beautiful aromas of floral, cherries and a hint of herbs are displayed on the nose while rich, concentrated, ripe cherry flavors are joined by wet leaves and a kiss of oak on the palate.

Miner Family Winery Stagecoach Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, Napa Valley (CA), US, $75.00
From the Krupp Family’s famed Stagecoach Vineyard, this wine is redolent of red and black fruits, coupled with spice notes.  The full-bodied palate delivers firm tannins, with rich blackberry and spice along with long length.

Buena Vista Winery unveils new Wine Tool Museum

2015-02-16 17.03.39Sharp edges glisten in the spotlight, looking more like an executioner’s axe than something wielded by an enologist. But, these blades actually belong to a collection of pomace cutters, used for removing grape skins from the press.

Indeed, getting from grape to glass takes a series of labor-intensive, time-consuming tasks. Just as diverse and varied are the specialized tools used in each step along the way. From planting vines and harvesting grapes to crafting oak barrels, each instrument has a distinct purpose, propelling the process forward.

Though technology has evolved with time, these implements still hold interest and fascination as well as provide a glimpse back into the past. A unique look at these historic devices will be made public at the equally historic Buena Vista Winery in Somona, CA when it unveils its Wine Tool Museum on March 24, 2015.

Established in 1857 by Agoston Haraszthy, Buena Vista Winery is among the oldest wineries in the U.S. Haraszthy was a true pioneer in the wine industry, leading the way for the use of European varieties and (then) modern methods in the vineyard and winery. After much exploration throughout California (including a stint as San Diego’s first elected sheriff), he was among the first to recognize the potential of Carneros (the southern sub-AVA that spans both Napa and Sonoma), where he chose to locate his Buena Vista Vinicultural Society.

Unfortunately, Haraszthy’s legacy languished first under Prohibition and then under a revolving door of ownership. However, in 2011, the estate was purchased by Jean-Charles Boisset, whose Boisset Collection of wineries also spans Napa and Sonoma as well as Europe.

Boisset was intent on restoring glory to the storied winery and has since invested 2015-02-16 15.38.18heavily in the infrastructure. Most notably, the original land-marked cellar building received a full renovation, including a state-of-the-art reinforcement of its walls to protect against earthquakes. While certainly not planned, the seismic retrofit passed its August 2014 test with flying colors; the building didn’t sustain any damage at all!

With the interior renovations now completed, the ground floor serves as home to Jean Charles’ Bubble Lounge, a place to enjoy a range of sparkling wines produced by Buena Vista and several other Boisset properties.

Display cases line the walls of the stairwell and show off a beautiful collection of decanters, setting the stage for the exhibit to come. Upon arrival on the third floor, visitors will be greeted by a 20 minute video presentation guiding them through exhibit and introducing them to the tools, their respective functions and the history of Buena Vista.

The unique opportunity to visually experience the tools of the trade will provide tasters with a deeper understanding of how wine is made and perhaps a greater appreciation for those who toil to make it.

Moscato by twos

As one of the oldest grape varieties, Muscat (alternately known as Moscato) continues to be among the top grapes produced worldwide. Most recently, it has become increasingly popular in the U.S. market. While more known for its sweeter styles of wine, this variety can also be used to make dry wines. However, off-dry styles seem to dominate. And, with their lower alcohol levels, these are wines that will keep your head clear after a second glass.

As evidence of its popularity around the globe, such wines hail from Italy, California and even Brazil. And, they frequently come in pairs – with a white and pink version available — and may be still or sparkling.

Vinicola Aurora Carnaval Moscato White Espumante NV, Serra Gaúcha, Brazil, $13.00
A Charmat Method sparkling wine produced from Moscato Bianco and Moscato Giallo grapes, this wine offers up floral and peach aromas. On the palate, it is off-dry, nicely balanced by acidity, with white flowers and juicy, ripe peach flavors; simple, but balanced and refreshing.

Vinicola Aurora Carnaval Moscato Pink Espumante NV, Serra Gaúcha, Brazil, $13.00
From the same producer and grape variety, this wine is produced similarly to the Moscato White, but it is medium salmon in color with red flowers and red fruit. Strawberry and cherry flavors co-mingle on the off-dry palate, which is slightly sweeter than the Moscato White, yet finishes very cleanly.

Martin Weyrich Moscato Allegro 2011, California, $12.00
Produced from 100% Muscat Canelli, this is a still wine, but with a very slight effervescence perceptible in the glass and on the palate. Floral aromas greet the nose, joined by anise, sage and pear. The off-dry palate has medium+ acidity, with floral, pear, sage and slight anise/spice notes. Despite the noticeable sweetness, it finishes quite cleanly.

Martin Weyrich Pink Moscato Allegro 2011, California, $12.00
This wine is also a product of the Muscat Canelli grape, but “with just a kiss of red wine” giving it its pale pink hue. It has aromas of floral, berries and melon on the nose. Its slightly off-dry palate is less sweet than its white counterpart with slight spice, herbal and anise notes.


HandCraft wines over-deliver and warm the heart


An invitation to meet with Cheryl Indelicato and taste her new wines came with the opportunity to suggest a restaurant. I recommended Eolo, an Italian restaurant inspired by the owner’s summers spent at her grandparents’ home in Sicily, not knowing that Cheryl’s own grandparents had emigrated to the U.S. from this same island. Some may call it kismet. In the end, I just called it yummy.

Cheryl’s new line of wines, which is part of the Delicato Family Vineyards brand, is called HandCraft. As proprietor of the brand, Cheryl has been collaborating with winemaker Alicia Ysais since 2010 to literally handcraft wines that bring together a California pedigree, her Italian heritage and a fruit-forward style. Thus, each wine marries typical grape varieties such as Chardonnay, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon with Italian varieties such as Malvasia and Sangiovese, all of which are sourced from California.

In keeping with wines’ approachable style and food-friendly focus, the labels feature beautiful illustrations of fruit and other flavors found in the respective wine bottle. Additionally, in keeping with Cheryl’s desire to give back to the community, she launched HandCraft Cares, which offers healthy lifestyle tips, recipes and supports various causes near and dear to Cheryl’s heart such as the $100,000 raised in 2012 for breast cancer research, prevention and awareness. This dedication spills over to her team, which has also participating in walk-a-thons and other charitable events.

I probably should have asked Cheryl a lot of detailed questions about her wines, but in reality, it was much more fun to simply sit back and get to know Cheryl, Holly, Pat and Karen, personally, instead of professionally, over some lovely glasses of wine and delicious food. In fact, these are precisely the type of wines with which to do so – these are honest, gulp-able wines that don’t require pomp and circumstance, just an empty glass and an open heart. Moreover, at $13.00 a bottle they under-promise and over-deliver.

HandCraft Chardonnay 2011, California, USA
The Chardonnay, blended with “a dash of Malvasia Bianca” is rich and buttery with peach and pear aromas and flavors. Its full body was opulent and giving.

HandCraft Pinot Noir 2010, California USA
Blended with Sangiovese, the Pinot Noir is very fruity, but varietally correct. It has cherry and herbal notes with bright acidity and low tannins.

HandCraft Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, California USA
Like the Pinot Noir, the Cabernet is also joined by Sangiovese, which seems to be more evident in this wine with a slight tomato leaf character on the palate. Lush blackberry fruit dominates, with medium tannins and full body.

HandCraft Petite Sirah 2011, California USA
Sourced from Lodi, the Petite Sirah grapes are blended with Zinfandel, which is an almost identical variety to southern Italy’s Primitivo grape. The wine is smoky with cocoa notes and rich, ripe black fruit.

Label image courtesy of Delicato Family Vineyards.

Grand Cru Grapevine: California Wines with a French Pedigree (December 2012)

Frenchman Bernard Portet first visited California on a fact-finding mission back in the late 1960s and then returned in 1971 to help launch Clos du Val. After a few months in the Napa Valley, he suggested that his wife come join him as he expected to stay longer than originally planned – perhaps through harvest 1972. Thankfully, she accepted the invitation since he never left, serving not only as co-founder, but also as the company’s full-time winemaker for nearly 40 years. And, for almost four decades, Bernard helped to establish Clos du Val as a highly regarded name in the wine industry.

As the ninth generation of his family to be in the wine business, Bernard brought a lot of knowledge with him from France, which he applied to his new venture. For example, at the time, there was no concept of terroir. Winery managers, not winemakers, bought grapes from a myriad of growers, a practice which has significantly changed. But, Bernard recognized the unique qualities of the Stag’s Leap District prompting him and his partner, John Goelet, to purchase 178 acres and plant the estate’s first vineyards.

Also of note, while most California producers were focused on single variety wines – Cabernet Sauvignon or Merlot – the Bordeaux-bred Bernard saw the benefit of blends. Consequently, the wine he produced was a combination of Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon, creating, in Bernard’s words, “a more complete wine.”

Almost immediately, Clos du Val’s quality was recognized. Chosen by Steven Spurrier as one of six California Cabernet Sauvignons to be included in the 1976 Judgment of Paris, the wine placed eighth overall. Ten years later, it took the top place in the French Culinary Institute Wine Tasting, a rematch of the original event. European in style, Clos du Val was quickly embraced by the east coast as one of the first California wines to be sold there.

But, in 2009, Bernard decided it was to retire and said good bye to the venerable brand he helped to create. But, as with Bernard’s previous best laid plans, somehow retirement didn’t stick. Today, Bernard is at the helm of another new venture – Heritance Wines. The moniker – a merger of “heritage” and “inheritance” – is Bernard’s way of conveying his sense of gratitude and all that he learned from his father and forefathers.

The year 2012 marked Bernard’s fortieth vintage in the Napa Valley and, not surprisingly, a lot has happened in forty years. But, while Heritance’s wines differ from those of Clos du Val, Bernard brings his same winemaking philosophy to this project. Although, at a recent lunch, when asked for specific pairing suggestions on what would go well with his wines, he replied, “Good company,” it is clear that he “…want[s] to make wine that goes well with food.” Toward this goal, Bernard blends across lots and grape varieties to arrive at the finished product. He adds that as the flavors of the food go away, the flavors of the wine should take over on the palate; wines with a soft entry and a fleshy element.

And, most importantly, the new wines truly reflect Bernard’s approach. Remaining steadfast to Bernard’s roots, Heritance, of course, produces a Cabernet Sauvignon. The tasting notes for the 2008 and 2010 are included below, but when both Cabernet wines were tasted alongside the inaugural Clos du Val (1972), the pedigree of the wines was unmistakable. While the aged wine understandably offered up the developed characteristics of a 40-year-old wine, its structural elements were clearly evident in the two modern-day wines. It was almost as if the 2008 and 2010 were looking in a mirror at their future selves – uncanny and especially heartwarming, as it gave us hope that these were wines that would age equally gracefully.



Heritance Sauvignon Blanc 2010, Napa Valley, CA, $24.00
With 9% Semillon blended into the wine giving it a depth and roundness on the palate, the 2010 is decidedly Bordeaux in style. Melon, citrus and slight pith with medium+ acidity.

Heritance Sauvignon Blanc 2011, Napa Valley, CA, $24.00
For the cooler 2011 vintage, Bernard dispensed with the Semillon and, instead, blended in 12% Rousanne, providing more floral character and tropical fruit than the Sauvignon Blanc would have had on its own. High acid, citrus; nervy and more austere than the 2010.

Heritance Stanly Ranch Pinot Noir 2011, Carneros, CA, $45.00 (300 cases produced)
Bernard acknowledges that Pinot Noir can be pushed in the vineyard, almost to the point of becoming Grenache, so is cautious about harvest parameters when working with growers and carefully sources his fruit, blending lots when necessary. Cherries bursting out of the glass with a slight herbal character, which becomes more prominent when enjoyed with food.

Heritance Cabernet Sauvignon 2008, Napa Valley, CA, $36.00
Blended with 8% Merlot, this wine was showing moderate acidity (it was a relatively warm year) and some development, with the primary black fruit aromas and flavors having faded a bit.

Heritance Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Napa Valley, CA, $36.00
The 2010 (a cooler year) includes 4% Merlot and 2% Petit Verdot, and displayed brighter acidity, smokey notes and lush blackberry fruit, but was extremely balanced despite its ripe character.

Clos du Val Cabernet Sauvignon 1972, Napa Valley, CA ($6.00 upon release in 1974)
A blend of 80% Cabernet Sauvignon and 20% Merlot, this wine offered up beautiful complexity. Dried red and black fruit, balsamic and spice notes were joined by truffles, sage and a silkiness on the palate.

Ready for reds

Looking for some new wine ideas this fall? Here are few from which to choose from the lighter-bodied Gamay grape to the full-bodied and bold Cabernet Sauvignon.

Gamay in all its glory If all you know about the Gamay grape is Beaujolais Nouveau, you are missing a big part of the story. Not only does Gamay come into its own in the ten designated cru villages of Beaujolais, but some of the wines can be quite complex and capable of aging.

Georges Duboeuf Jean-Ernst Descombes 2011 Morgon, Burgundy, France, $16.00 This wine displays a fruity nose of cherries with some slight mineral character, both of which persist on the palate. It is dry, with medium body, low tannins and good acidity.

Napa Valley big reds The Napa Valley made its reputation on big reds, particularly Cabernet Sauvignon, but Merlot (and others) are well represented. These three represent a nice range of wine styles and price points.

Waterstone Merlot 2008, Napa Valley, CA, $18.00 With medium intense aromas of cherries, plums and herbs, this dry wine has good acidity with a full body and slightly noticeable alcohol. Despite this, the palate was quite elegant showing plum, cocoa, herbs and spice flavors throughout its more than medium length.

Folie à Deux Cabernet Sauvignon 2008, Napa Valley, CA, $24,00 This wine displayed notes of ripe red and black fruit with some spice. On the palate, it was dry, with medium to high acidity, and flavors of earth, red fruit and spice. The tannins were firm, but ripe and the finish was relatively long.

Antica Cabernet Sauvignon 2009, Napa Valley, CA, $55.00 Tasted alongside the Folie à Deux Cab, this wine exhibited much blacker fruit and was more herbal in character with a hint of cocoa. The dry palate offered silky yet firm tannins and long length. Its flavors included rich and ripe blackberry, dried herbs, spice and cocoa.

Grand Cru Grapevine: Memories of Mendocino (September 2012)

Nestled above the Sonoma County border, Mendocino County is a world unto its own. Much less developed than Napa or Sonoma, the county is home to sandy beaches, towering redwood forests, and other natural landscapes, but little else. The picturesque town of Mendocino itself sits along the Pacific Ocean, offering breath-taking views, weather permitting. On a clear day, you can watch waves crash on the rocks below; however, when the fog rolls in, you’re lucky if you can see the ocean at all.

Beyond swimming and hiking, beer and wine tasting figure prominently on tourists’ “to do” lists. Even though grapes are grown throughout the county, with a total of ten American Viticultural Areas (and two pending approval), it is the Anderson Valley that is the most densely populated – with wineries, not people. Arriving from the north, visitors are greeted by the Navarro town limit sign, which announces a whopping population of 67; this is not the place to annoy your neighbor. To the south, the “much bigger” Boonville is home to 700 residents. But, what the area lacks in people, it more than makes up for in hospitality and a stay at the Boonville Hotel is strongly recommended.

Within the valley, the elevation, coupled with the coastal maritime influence, creates ideal conditions for cool climate grape varieties including Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Gewürztraminer and Riesling. Although Tony Husch is credited with planting the valley’s first Pinot Noir vines in 1971, the Alsatian varieties got their start in 1974, thanks to Ted Bennett and Deborah Cahn of Navarro Vineyards. And, while aromatic whites do well, Pinot Noir is especially prized, with many producers coming from outside the valley to source fruit, such as Copain, Fulcrum and Littorai. Aside from producing highly regarded still wines, Pinot Noir and Chardonnay also find themselves used in the production of Traditional Method sparkling wines. In this regard, Scharffenberger Cellars was founded by John Scharffenberger in 1981, while Roederer Estate, affiliated with Champagne house Louis Roederer, was established in 1982.

Today, the Anderson Valley remains quite small with a scant 2,244 acres planted on 85 properties and a median vineyard size of 12 acres. To put that in perspective, the Napa Valley, which accounts for only 4% of California’s total wine production, has over 45,000 acres of vineyards. Yet, despite the Anderson Valley’s diminutive size, it has developed a big reputation for producing quality wines.

Roederer Estate L’Ermitage 2003, Anderson Valley, CA, $44.00
The top sparker of the estate, also known as a tête de cuvée, L’Ermitage made its debut in 1989 and is only made in the best years. This wine is a blend of 52% Chardonnay and 48% Pinot Noir and spent five years on the lees. It showed floral, yeast and citrus notes on both the nose and palate, culminating in a very long length. 8,332 cases produced 

Navarro Vineyards Pinot Gris 2010, Anderson Valley, CA, $19.00
With a strong emphasis on sustainable farming, the family farm supports a flock of Babydoll sheep, which graze between the vines to keep
down the weed, but are too short to reach the grapes. The wine shows floral, almond and tangerine notes on the nose, all of which persisted on the lush palate. 1,500 cases produced

Handley Cellars Pinot Noir 2009, Anderson Valley, CA, $32.00
Owned by Milla Handley, Handley Cellars celebrates its 30th vintage this year, and while Milla is still the primary winemaker, co-winemaker, Kristen Barnhisel, joined the staff in 2004. This Pinot Noir was redolent of fresh berries and cherries, with earth, slight spice and dried herbs joining on the palate. 1,505 cases produced 

Phillips Hill Estates Pinot Noir Wiley Vineyard 2009, Anderson Valley, CA, $38.00
Phillips Hill Estates was founded by Toby Hill in 2002 when the professionally-trained artist shifted his attention away from the label and into the bottle (although he does design his own labels). Crafting several different vineyard designate Pinot Noirs, the Wiley Vineyard was our favorite with its lighter body, yet still intense cherry aromas and flavors. 380 cases produced

Lula Cellars Zinfandel 2009, Mendocino, CA, $28.00
This relatively new direct to consumer brand – the first wines were launched with the 2008 vintage – is the brainchild of winemaker and owner, Jeff Hansen. With grapes sourced from just south of Ukiah, this wine displayed blueberry, cocoa and raspberry aromas with rich and ripe fruit on the dry palate. 500 cases produced

Quick Sips

A number of wine samples crossed my dining table in the latter half of 2011. Some were quite nice; others were amazingly good. Here are the highlights.

Italy Calling

The Frescobaldi Remole 2009, Tuscany, Italy ($10.00) is a country level wine (it’s labeled as IGT Toscana) that combines 85% Sangiovese with 15% Cabernet Sauvignon. With leafy, cherry and vegetal aromas and flavors, the wine was in keeping with its Sangiovese origins, but the Cabernet Sauvignon was more evident on the palate, with black fruit lingering in the finish. A nice value at this price and an excellent foil for the homemade pizza we paired with which we paired it.

A more traditional “Super Tuscan” style wine, Frescobaldi’s Tenuta di Castiglioni 2008, Tuscany, Italy ($22.00) switches the blend to lead with 50% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Merlot, 10% Cabernet Franc and only 10% Sangiovese. The nose presents blackberry, mint, smoke and slight vegetative aromas, while the palate offers bright acidity, firm tannins, full body and black cherry, vegetal, mint and cedar flavors. Overall, it is nicely structured with some complexity.

From further south, the Xavier Flouret Quattro Canti 2007, Sicily, Italy ($24.00) offers an interesting 50-50 mix of the indigenous Nero d’Avola with the non-traditional Cabernet Franc, aged for 12 months in French oak barrels. This deep colored wine had aromas of plum, vanilla, oak, licorice and some spice with dusty tannins, ripe, jammy fruit flavors of plum, cocoa, black cherry, vanilla and oak, with medium+ length.

You had me at Pinot

A  Pinot Noir “taste off” pitted Foppiano Pinot Noir 2008, Russian River Valley, CA ($25.00) against Bouchaine Pinot Noir 2007, Carneros, CA ($30.00) with the following results. The Bouchaine showed cherry, black cherry and vanilla aromas, which were joined by spice and herbs with vibrant acidity, medium+ body, ripe tannins and long length on the palate. The Foppiano offering was a bit shier on the nose, with less pronounced aromas of cherry and herbs. Bright red fruit, spice and wood dominated the slightly lighter-bodied palate, culminating in long length.

Down by the bay

Shifting attention down under, a series of wines from Hawkes Bay were tasted in anticipation of a New Zealand wine seminar given at the American Wine Society’s annual conference.

Among the whites, the Decibel Sauvignon Blanc 2009 ($14.00) showed citrus and grassy aromas on the nose, giving way to lemon, lime marmalade, slight grass and minerality with high acidity and medium+ body, while the Te Awa Sauvignon Blanc 2009 ($18.00) displayed more grapefruit and pith with slightly less acidity on the palate. The Te Awa Chardonnay 2009 ($27.00) offered apple notes with slight oak and mineral character, which were joined by citrus and spice flavors on the full-bodied palate.

Moving onto the reds, the Te Awa Syrah 2009 ($27.00) had fresh fruit aromas of blackberry with a hint of oak followed by spice, earth, leather and black cherry flavors with medium acidity, full body,  med tannins and long length. The more unusual, varietally-labeled Decibel Malbec 2009 ($18.00) is a blend of blueberry, cranberry and slight spice on the nose with ripe tannins, medium+ acidity and rich blueberry and blackberry notes on the palate.

German Riesling and beyond

I ended the year with several German wines including Silvaner, Lemberger and Riesling.

The P.J. Vlackenberg Gewürztraminer 2010, Pfalz, Germany ($14.00) has pronounced aromas of spice, floral and pear, which persisted on the off dry palate with medium+ body and medium length.

With notes of pear, blossom and smoke, the Castell-Castell Silvaner Trocken 2010, Franken, Germany ($18.00)’s palate gives way to riper versions of these aromas on its light-bodied palate.

A nice red, quaffing wine, the Grafen Neipperg Lemberger 2010, Württemberg, Germany ($24.00) greets the nose with cherry, plum and slight spice and finishes with medium length.

The Liebfrauenstift Dry Riesling 2010, Rheinhessen, Germany ($15.00) is a good value, food friendly wine, offering  fresh citrus and candied lemon aromas, with good acidity on the dry palate.

Enjoyed on Christmas day and shared with close friends, the Baron zu Knyphausen Erbacher Michelmark Riesling Erste Lage 2009, Rheingau, Germany ($57.00) was a wonderful surprise. Displaying floral, citrus and tangerine aromas on the nose, the dry palate offered piercing acidity with rich, ripe flavors of peach, tangerine, citrus pith, lime zest, floral and minerality, finishing with a very long length. Truly amazing.

A Meeting of the (Winemakers’) Minds

While it is great to hear from winemakers about their wines, it isn’t exactly a unique experience. However, listening to a panel of winemakers from around the globe talk about key issues in the wine world is a special treat. And, one perhaps made even better when that panel is moderated by Kevin Zraly.

In July 2010, amidst a torrential downpour, I arrived at Moet-Hennessy’s Chelsea offices damp, but not downtrodden. Welcoming the cup of coffee that was offered, I spent some time viewing various displays for Moet-Hennessy products. Once everyone had arrived and was assembled in the conference room, the Winemakers’ Forum began.

The panel included Leone Contini Bonacossi, Owner of Capezzana; Marc Sorrel, Estate Director for Chateau de Sancerre; Nicolas Audebert, Cheval des Andes’ winemaker; Ian Morden, Estate Director for Cloudy Bay; Joel Burt, Assistant Winemaker at Domaine Chandon; Andrea Leon, Winemaker for Casa Lapostolle; Andrea Felluga, Livio Felluga’s winemaker; Laura Bianchi, owner of Monsanto; Chris Millard, executive winemaker at Newton Vineyard; Winemaker Manuel Louzada from Numanthia; and Terrazas’ senior winemaker, Adrian Meyer.

Kevin kicked off the session by asking the winemakers to share their favorite wine memories, especially those that cemented their interest in, and love for, wine. For some, it was a single wine – perhaps a 1996 Bandol (Adrian), Krug 1928 (Nicolas) or a Bonne Mares from one’s birth year (Marc). For others, it was a particular experience – tasting sparkling wine in the winery with one’s grandfather (Manuel) or stealing down into the cellar at 13 (Andrea L.) or 5 (Leone) and drinking from either the bottle or barrel, respectively. And, as Ian reminded everyone, context is everything; “You can’t divorce wine from the occasion.”

Trekkies know that space is the final frontier, but Kevin next queried where in the world was the next wine frontier. There was a diversity of responses ranging from the need to explore higher altitudes due to climate change and the shift in wine styles to up-and-coming grape varieties and regions. There was no one grape variety identified, but rather, certain varieties were associated with new areas such as Syrah in New Zealand’s Hawkes Bay; Chenin Blanc in Stellenbosch, South Africa; Petit Verdot in Maipu, Chile; and the  rediscovery of Trebbiano, Malvasia and Friulano.

Building on the topic of change and innovation, the discussion then centered on changes in winemaking. On this, there was more consensus among panel members. Many spoke about the return to more traditional winemaking and a less is more approach. Another theme was an increased emphasis on the vineyard and terroir.

Viticultural advances were further noted such as drip irrigation and the development of rootstocks. A focus on balance was also mentioned, whether through canopy management, matching grape varieties with the right climate or achieving balance in the wine itself.

Here, Mary Ewing-Mulligan asked the panel to address the fact that the alcohol is not in balance even though winemakers say it’s not about alcohol. In response, Nicolas explained that sometimes waiting for full maturity in the grapes results in high alcohol levels. He added that while “[the alcohol level] could be high and be too much, it could [also] be high and you don’t feel it.” “I feel it,” said Mary.

With regard to wine in the market, both Laura and Marc lamented that consumption habits had declined in Europe, especially with the younger generation which drinks less wine and more beer and cocktails. While others agreed, Ian countered that new markets, especially China and Brazil, were becoming increasingly sophisticated with regard to wine.

More specific to the American market, Leone expressed pleasant surprise at the level of knowledge displayed by the people at her hotel’s reception desk. She was impressed with the broad picture they had on wine compared with young Italians whom, she said, have a more regional palate.

When Kevin mused about the outlook for the U.S. – Is it generally getting better? There was a resounding yes from the group. However, this sentiment needs to be tempered in light of recent economic issues.

And, what was their opinion of American wines? A number of people mentioned the quality of Oregon wines, naming its Pinot Noirs and sparkling wines in particular. However, Laura confessed that she had tasted American Sangiovese, but wasn’t worried about the competition (she produces Chianti, which is primarily made from Sangiovese).

Questioned about wine critics, the feeling was that critics play an important role, helping to narrow the field for the consumer. However, it was also admitted that, like any system, it has some good and bad elements associated with it. While Andrea L. stated that it was rewarding as a winemaker to receive high scores, Nicolas emphasized that, “if you are making wine as a passion, you are not making wine for critics.” Joel also suggested that the power of big critics is waning due to blogs, an opinion that Chris shared.

As a final topic, the conversation turned to biodynamics and organics. A few, such as Nicolas and Adrian, admitted that being organic was easy for them due to climatic conditions. Yet, Andrea F. and others pointed to high rainfall and humidity as impediments to such practices. However, the overall feeling was that such viticultural practices were crucial in and of themselves, not as marketing efforts. Consequently, many winemakers don’t indicate their practices on the label. In this regard, Joel proposed that, “It’s important to be stewards of the land,” an emotion echoed by Andrea F., who noted that, “We have to take care of the planet.”