Thursday, May 31, 2018

Inner Mendo Odyssey

Last fall I attended the annual Wine Bloggers Conference in Santa Rosa, CA. The area had just been hit hard with the wildfires only a month earlier, but the resiliency of the community was apparent, as they welcomed us with open arms and leaned on us to help spread the message that Napa and Sonoma were open for business. As we’d hear throughout the week in Sonoma/Napa, in Mendocino, smoke taint was a non-issue since most of the fruit was already harvested when the fires hit. Though two wineries were lost in the fire.

Just before WBC began, I attended a pre-conference excursion called the “Inner Mendo Odyssey” which took us to various properties in Mendocino. I had never been to Mendocino and was blown away. It felt like I was transported to a land far, far away. Mendocino felt wild and untamed. In fact, it made Sonoma look fancy!

Wild and untamed Mendocino

Mendocino is the epicenter of organic farming in California. In terms of wine, there are 17,000 acres under vine in Mendocino County and 11 AVAs.

Our first stop of the day was Fetzer Vineyards in Hopland, CA (population 817!). Fetzer is one of America’s founding wine families and has since been acquired by Viña Concha y Toro. They are considered a certified zero waste and carbon neutral brand. They also operate on 100% green power. Here our group shared a toast and engaged in a conversation about sustainability and carbon farming with people from both Fetzer and North Coast Brewing Co.

Biodynamics refer to the process with which grapes are grown and wine is made. Biodynamics were developed by Rudolf Steiner using his own formulas as well as referring to the astrological and lunar calendars. Organic wine is wine in which the grapes were not sprayed with chemicals (making the grapes certified organic) and the wine was made with no added chemicals (i.e. sulfites). Both are very sustainable and have their own pluses and minuses. The beauty of nature, is that there is no waste in nature. Nature is a naturally sustainable system. Biodynamics closes the fertility loop because everything the system needs is within the system. I heard an interesting quote at this panel: there isn’t too much carbon, it’s just in the wrong place. This has always been something I’ve said about resources. It feels that we (aka the planet) have enough water and food. It’s just that those resources are misallocated. This is evident every time we throw away food in our fridge that has gone bad or throw away leftovers just because we don’t want them.

Sustainability panel at Fetzer Vineyards

Fetzer is the largest winery in the world to be named a Certified B-Corp. B-Corps meet the highest standards of verified social and environmental performance, public transparency, and legal accountability, and aspire to use the power of markets to solve social and environmental problems. This certification allows the board to make decisions not solely on profit. Profit is still a factor, but not the only factor. 

A couple standouts tasted that day:

Fetzer Sundial Chardonnay
This wine has been produced for over 30 years and comes at a whopping $9 pricepoint. What a value! I was floored by how much I enjoyed this.

North Coast Brewing Co. Cranberry-Quince Beer
This is the ONLY beer I have ever liked, except for cider. In fact, I’d consider it a good crossover beer for the rosé wine drinker. It actually tastes like a cross between beer, juice, and cider.

After the sustainability conversation we had an opportunity to engage in a wine blending competition with Bob Blue, winemaker of 1000 Stories, a Fetzer brand. 1000 Stories is a new brand. The wine is matured in both new and used, charred Bourbon barrels, which are plentiful as each barrel can only be used once to make bourbon. To continue on the sustainability train, 1000 Stories supports the Wildlife Conservation Society and American Bison Society in their efforts to help restore natural habitats and reintroduce bison to healthy environments. 

My wine blending studio

In the blending competition we tried different component wines including Zinfandel, Alicante Bouchet, and Petit Sirah from Mendocino, Lodi, and Paso Robles. From there we got to play winemaker and create our own blend for submission into the contest. It was a fun exercise, but who the hell really knows what they’re doing…..probably none of us!

Blending in progress!

Our final blends awaiting judging!

We were then bused to the Fetzer 50th Kick-Off Reception & Dinner at Campovida. Fetzer was about to celebrate their 50th harvest that following week. Campovida is an organic farm, winery, and event space. Chefs such as Alice Waters, Emeril Lagasse, and John Ashe learned here. Gary Breen and Anna Beuselinck are the proprieters and the Campovida brand makes 3000 cases annually (24 different varietals)! 

Here is a peek at the menu we enjoyed. The food (and wine!) was plentiful, hence I didn’t get too many tasting notes!

With this menu we enjoyed an Arneis, Tocai Friulano, Rosé di Grenache, Nebbiolo, Syrah (this was my standout wine!), and late harvest Viognier.

Next week I'll delve into Bonterra Vineyards and their wines, which are certified organic and biodynamic!

Friday, May 18, 2018

Velenosi Winery: Success in Central Italy

Angela Velenosi

In the 60s and 70s there was an economic boom in Italy. Many people who lived in more rural areas  moved to the cities to take advantage of new opportunities. In the 80s, the country then had to incentivize people to move back to those areas and take control of farms and vineyards. They did so with small business agricultural loans. Angela Velenosi took advantage of these economic incentives and started Velenosi Winery with her then husband, Ercole. Velenosi is located just outside the town of Ascoli Piceno in Marche, Italy.

The Marche region is on the central coast of Italy on the Adriatic side. Continental influences come from the west (from the Apeninne Range) and moderate maritime influence come from the east. Velenosi was founded in 1984 by Angela and Ercole with 9 hectares. They now own 148 hectares total and have grown to 2.5 million bottle annual case production!

Angela was our guest at the Velenosi Winery LA Wine Writers luncheon in March. She is a beautiful and smart Italian woman who started this venture when she was only 20 years old! Our intimate group enjoyed this time with Angela. We heard about her journey in the wine world and got to delve into her portfolio of wines, which were paired beautifully with fare from Cafe del Rey. As always, this lunch did not disappoint.

Herbed Goat Cheese on Marble Rye Toast
Pairing: Pecorino DOCG 2016

Pecorino is an indigenous grape to Marche. The wine is round and creamy with medium + body and a nice saltiness/brininess. The creaminess comes from 3 mos of lees contact and battonage. Fun fact: there are sheep on this vineyard that eat the grapes from the vine in the fall. These sheep then provide the milk for Pecorino cheese! I love both this wine and this pairing. Such a simple thing to whip up if you’re having friends over: toasted rye bread, a schmear of goat cheese (with herbs if you have ‘em), plus an EVOO drizzle and some fresh cracked black pepper.

Spinach & Stone Fruit Salad with Orange Vinaigrette and Sea Salt
Pairing: Verdicchio 2017

This wine had an almost pink color to it. Lots of stone fruit (both on the nose and palate) made this a great pairing with the stone fruit salad. This wine is creamy, structured, and has ageability.

Butternut Squash & Chocolate Bread Pudding with a Dried Plum Sauce
Pairing: Lacrima di Morro 2017

This dish was delicious and incredibly unique. I was inspired to try and recreate this, but I wouldn’t have the faintest idea of where to start. An inspiring pairing. One does not overpower the other. They dance with each other, though this wine sings on its own. A perfumed note of violet petals plus an earthiness/twigginess. A very dry and almost astringent wine. My favorite wine of the day.

Roasted Peppered Venison with Shaved Fennel & Cranberry Slaw, Pernod Dressing
Pairing: Ludi Offida DOCG 2014

This is one of Velenosi’s hallmark wines. 85% Montepulciano, 8% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 7% Merlot. Red and black fruit, meatiness, plus vanilla and other baking spices. Dried flower as well. Medium + mouth-drying tannins.

48 Day Dry Aged Beef in a Porcini Mushroom Sauce
Pairing: Roggio del Filare Rosso Piceno Superiore 2013

Wow! To both the wine and this dish! The wine gives me: black fruit, spice (black pepper), leather, and black licorice. Also dried black cherries. Powerful, structured, and layered. You almost want to chew it. This wine was a “Tre Biccheri” at Gambero Rosso.

Almond Flour Cookies
Vernaccia di Serrapetrona DOCG 2016

This wine was made in the “apassimento” method. 100% Vernaccia Nera is hand-picked. 50% is fermented right away and the other 50% is dried for 3 months and then fermented. The two parts are blended together and put through a 3rd fermentation for 9-10 months. Reminded me of a rustic, sparkling Amarone. 

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Grenache: The Next Great Grape

I won!

We’re going to Napa y’all! Actually, I already went and will be telling you all about it! Read my contest-winning blog post HERE.

Tasting booklets for Garnacha: The Perfect Partner, the walk-around wine and food pairing experience

In April I had the pleasure of attending one of the most well-organized and informative wine events. They had a great mix of producers, winemakers, sales reps, retailers, and sommeliers, which is probably what made it so dynamic. I attend a lot of seminars, masterclasses, and walk-around tastings and I am usually left a bit underwhelmed. Rarely am I underwhelmed with the wines, but I’m generally underwhelmed with the quality of speakers/education offered. Let’s be real, as a general rule, most people are not great public speakers. Time and time again I attend these events and either hear a sales rep try to (unsuccessfully) convey the heart and soul of a brand or hear a winemaker speak to a group who clearly spends more time talking to the barrels than to actual people! Or hear someone who is just flipping slides and reading directly from them. I am the first to admit that public speaking is not my strength, but I would think that when a producer, a grape, or a region is being showcased, you want to do just that, showcase them! I digress.

Quick and Dirty Facts about Garnacha

Grenache. Garnacha. Cannonau. Alicante.

Garnacha is the 10th most planted wine grape variety in the world. Garnacha (specifically the Old World expressions) offer an outstanding value. In Spain, families have owned vineyards and wineries for centuries. With that being said, there’s no mortgage to cover! Overall there are lower land and labor costs. Think about a place like Napa, for example. How much do you think a mortgage costs on one of those giant chateau-like bad boys?

Garnacha is a grape that buds early and ripens late, which means it needs a nice long growing season. The grape has moderate acidity, enjoys hot/dry summers, and most is head/bush trained. Bush training helps control vigor, which is needed with a vigorous grape like Grenache. The bulk of the worlds Garnacha/Grenache can be found in France (51%) and Spain (38%).

Throughout the course of the day I enjoyed two panels. At the morning panel “Garnacha Unveiled” leading producers from Spain, France, and California explored the classical varietal characteristics of Garnacha; how it performs in different regions/terroir around the globe; and how it’s interpreted by renowned producers from around the world. Pedro Ballesteros Torres MW was one of my favorite panelists. Very passionate and unafraid to express his opinions! He said Garnacha is like Cinderella who was always underappreciated and finally got invited to the ball. The ball being the Global Garnacha Summit! Key insights were shared and the diverse panel kept things interesting, and at times, comical!

Pedro Ballesteros Torres MW explains the origins and importance of Garnacha in D.O.P. Cariñena, the birthplace of Garnacha with the most old vine plantings in Spain.

Pedro described Garnacha and how its identity is less about the actual grape, and more about where it’s from. To illustrate this, he said this is how both Cabernet Sauvignon and Grenache would introduce themselves at a party:

Cabernet Sauvignon: Hi, I’m Cabernet Sauvignon. <Walking into the room assertively, shaking hands with everyone in the room, waving incessantly>

Grenache: Hey, I’m from Spain.

Randall Grahm of Bonny Doon Vineyard is always amazing to listen to. He started out making Pinot Noir in California, but it broke his heart, so he moved to the Rhone varietals. He thinks cooler climate Grenache could be a thing, so long as the growing season is long enough. 

Winemaker Randll Grahm sharing his success with Garnacha in California's long ripening season, following a "jilted relationship" with Pinot Noir.

The region most closely associated with Garnacha is DOP Cariñena, located in Spain’s northeast region of Aragón. This is where Garnacha was born. Today most of the old-vine Garnacha in the world is planted in Cariñena. There are over 14,000ha of Garnacha planted in Cariñena alone, with a total of just over 1,500 growers. Cariñena has a high diurnal range, which is the difference in temperature between day and night. This temperature drop at night helps the grapes retain their acidity. Vineyards tend to be high altitude and soils are very complex. Garnacha also plays a strong supporting role in Rioja as a blending grape with Tempranillo.

These are the wines tasted at the Garnacha Unveiled seminar.

Grandes Vinos 2017 Anayon Parcel 81 (Parcelas Selection)
Grandes Vinos is a coop founded in 1977 who control ⅓ of the grapes in the region. This is a tank sample. Bright red fruit on the nose (cranberry and plum), plus a fresh floral note (rose petals). Great acid and freshness. Predominantly Grenache, plus 8% Cariñena and 4% Macabeo.

Clos Pissarra: 2014 El Mont Vineyard, El Lloar Priorat
The vine struggle is real. No irrigation and no soil really. Just a sea of slate. On the nose I get red berry, floral (rose), vanilla, and toast. On the palate I get warm, red fruit plus baking spices (including cinnamon). The yield here is ¾ ton per acre; a very concentrated wine. 15.7% ABV.

Domaine de Pegau: 2012 Cuvee Laurence
The family has been growing grapes in this area since the 18th century. Nose = a basement (true story!). Concentrated red fruit plus savory/umami notes. The palate is round and rich. This wine has very good structure and is quite approachable. Funky. I love it.

Clos de Trias: 2010 Vieilles Vignes
We’re in the south of France. This wine spent 7 years in barrel and 8 mos in bottle. The nose is understated and pretty. The palate = holy moly. Savory and salty notes. This wine is predominantly Grenache with a bit of Cinsault and Carignan.

Bonny Doon: 2015 Popelouchum Grenache
As can be expected from Randall, this is an interesting wine. The fruit is from 2-year-old vines, whereas normally fruit is not used for 3-4 years. 150 bottles were produced. This wine was fermented in a garbage can(!). The nose is very layered: red fruit, a perfumed note (rose essence), earth. I could dig into this wine. Randall said it might not make it to retail. ABV is 13.9%. It would have been 14.2% but the coyotes loved it so much, they had to harvest a bit earlier than expected.

A Tribute to Grace: 2015 Grenache, Shake Ridge Ranch
I fell in love with this wine. Angela Osborne only makes wine from Grenache and makes it the old way and uses her feet to tread the clusters-every day, twice a day. Grace was the name of Angela’s grandmother. I had only lost my grandmother a month before hearing this panel. And I felt the love for my grandmother that Angela felt for hers. This wine was magical for me. Maybe it’s the rose quartz in the vineyard? As I was writing my tasting notes I even stopped and wrote “no words, just thoughts”. Very, very light in color. The nose is delicate, fruity, and also perfumed. This wine feels empowered. The tannins are very well-integrated on this wine. Some things Angela said about this wine: power, female, aromatic, and earth.

Tables Creek: 2016 Cotes de Tablas
This is their entry-level Rhone blend, the ode to Cotes du Rhone. Warm, ripe red fruit plus floral (rose petals). Chelsea described it as bouncy and convivial.

Bethany Grenache Barossa
The family has been farming here since 1844. They are the 6th generation making wine. There is a good amount of earth on the nose, almost a funkiness or twiginess. This wine is 100% Grenache. All vines are 50-120 years old.

Bodegas Paniza: 2015 Garnacha de Pizarra
The only one of the group with a purple color. This wine smells like freshly poured a good way! On the palate: savory AF. Dark, baked fruit and licorice on the back palate.

Bodegas San Valero: 2015 Tierra de Cubas Garnacha/Cariñena
This wine has a clear Old World nose with more earth than fruit. Yet it is a FRESH wine. A great balance of the two.

After all that, you’d think we were done. Well, you’d be wrong! Between seminars there was a walk-around wine and food pairing featuring chefs of Copia who melded the signature flavors of Spain, France, and California with both 100% Garnacha and blends from around the world. The food was delicious and the selection of wines was not overwhelming, which is my #1 criticism of most walk-around tastings.

In the afternoon, I found myself at the “Garnacha Rising” panel that included leading sommeliers, buyers, and distributors who discussed historical strategies for promoting Garnacha wines in addition to current consumption trends. The panelists also exchange ideas for promoting Garnacha in today’s marketplace. This was a fascinating seminar and one that brought lots of audience engagement. The bottom line is that the American consumer is a varietal consumer and how can Grenache navigate that landscape when they are not a household name like say Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, or Pinot Noir.

As if our tastebuds weren’t shot, we ended the day with an interactive blind tasting competition led by The SommFoundation with cash prizes of $1000 for first place and $500 for second place provided by Somm Journal. Sadly, I only called 2 out of the 10 wines correctly. But it was a great learning experience and quite humbling, as blind tasting usually is.

All in all a wonderful trip to Napa. Thank you to Gregory + Vine for selecting me as the contest winner and providing me the opportunity to travel to the Global Garnacha Summit. A special shout out to Stefanie Schwalb and Viviana Millan who went the extra mile to make sure that I was taken care of! If this is an annual event, I hope to return next year!