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Vineyard properties remain a hot buy

Date: Mon, Sep 1, 2008 Wine Tasting Winery Blogs Wine Business

Vineyard real estate prices remain strong in Napa County, especially for “lifestyle” homes with vineyard views. J.L. Sousa

The price of a residential piece of real estate may be falling. But you’d never know it out among the vines.

The demand for Napa County vineyard land is strong, and the future looks even brighter, according to industry observers.
David Freed is chairman of UCC Vineyards Group, a firm that specializes in vineyard property sales and owns vineyards from the Sacramento Delta to Santa Barbara. He said that he can look back at the past 10 to 15 years of transactions and count the number of vineyard foreclosures on one hand.

“Because of the scarcity of property in Napa, the sellers are in control,” Freed said. “I know of a property on Zinfandel Lane that was on the market for two years because the seller wouldn’t budge on his price. He recently got his price.”
Umpqua Bank’s Steve Kattner, senior vice president of the wine specialty group, said he is not seeing any crossover from the housing market. “I don’t see things slowing down ... barring some sort of agricultural disaster,” Kattner said.

Tom Jordan makes his living assessing vineyard properties in Napa. The principal of Associated Services Appraisal said that when he started here in 1974, no one paid $10,000 for an acre of vines. Now prices start at about $100,000 per acre, and in some cases reach more than three times that high.
‘Adult Disneyland’

In many ways it’s economics 101: Demand is outstripping supply.

But the economics are also driven by forces beyond the composition of the soil and the quality of the sunlight that strikes the land.

Large numbers of investors and wealthy individuals have long looked to own a piece of the wine country dream. Tony Correia, president of Correia-Xavier Inc., an appraisal service in Sonoma, said Napa Valley’s global reputation keeps the market vigorous.

“For many of us in my industry, this is an adult Disneyland,” he said. “It is a unique market with extraordinary capital and very savvy players for a limited supply of property.”

Jordan said some of the really big players actually don’t want the vineyards — they’re in it for the brand.

They sometimes acquire large pieces of property that come with a wine brand; they sell off the land and then buy grapes for their wines.

“Big companies want to build brand,” Jordan said. “It is not necessarily the land that they want. They can build the brand, not the land ... they are about selling image. They don’t really care about the real estate so much.”

While residential brokers take out listings in newspapers and plant signs on lawns, and commercial property brokers post billboards on available sites, vineyard deals are often done quietly.

“If we want to buy, we often hear about it over the fence,” Freed said. “Many vineyard properties don’t come to the marketplace. You have to get right on it. It’s a very tight market here.”

Just as corporations sometimes are in it for the brand, so-called “lifestyle” buyers are in it for something other than the grapes. They are looking for a dream home — commonly a second home — with grapes on the side. They pay a premium for it.

“These (buyers) pay more than the large-scale commercial grower” per acre, said Correia. “The lifestyle buyers are less concerned about the economics, and that has been the case for quite some time.”

Jordan said he has heard of 10- to 15-acre “lifestyle” parcels fetching up to $300,000 per acre.

Julie Nord of Nord Coast Vineyard Services estimated that developed cabernet sauvignon vineyards in the mountains can fetch $300,000 per acre, while on the valley floor prices are in the $175,000 to $200,000 range.

In the areas of Rutherford Bench, Howell Mountain and Oakville Bench, vineyard real estate can hit $400,000 to $500,000 per acre. Property transactions on those sites often include a wine label, inventory, mailing list or a crush facility.

It is a diverse group putting money in vineyards, ranging from individuals to investment groups and insurance companies — and even pension funds looking for long-term investments.

“There are a lot of foreign (investors) right now,” Jordan said. “Wine real estate is attractive because of the weak U.S. dollar. In the 1980s it was the Japanese, and now it is the Europeans. And there is a lot of wealth in emerging China.”

He said there have been major buys recently, including three big sales of chardonnay acreage in Carneros.

“We’re talking a couple of hundred acres, and that is a bit unusual.”

Pritchard Hill, in the hills east of St. Helena, is a hot property right now because of the reputation of the red wine being produced in the area by Chappellet Vineyard, Colgin Cellars and others.

“People follow wines and look for opportunities,” Jordan said.

Said Correia, “There is a lot of capital looking for some place to invest and right now winegrapes are attractive,” he said. “There is a lot of capital going into ag properties all over the world. (Investors) perceive strength in agriculture right now.”


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Massive Bordeaux 2000 collection at Christie's

Date: Mon, Sep 1, 2008 Wine Tasting Winery Blogs Wine Business

A major collection of 2000 Bordeaux comes under the hammer next month at Christie's London.

More than 3000 cases from some 70 chateaux will be auctioned on 15 and 18 September.

Christie's claims this is the first auction of a 'single bottled vintage', ie not en primeur. The wine belongs to a 'private European collector' and has been kept in bond since it was shipped from the chateaux.

The upper and lower estimates for the entire auction are from £1.27m to £1.6m.

Estimates for individual chateaux range from £7000-£9000 for a case of Lafite, £6000-£8000 for Latour, £3500-£4000 for Mouton and £3000-£4000 for Haut-Brion.

Chateau Margaux is not included. All lots are 12-bottle cases.

Christie's said in a statement that the wines on offer range from 'ready-to-drink wines, through a gamut of classed growths, to exceptional premier cru classe chateaux promising a long life ahead…'

decanter.com staff

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Rosé consumption in the pink

Date: Mon, Sep 1, 2008 Wine Tasting Winery Blogs Wine Business

The popularity of rosé has been confirmed as new figures show the number of regular wine drinkers who drink rosé has risen by over 60% in the last three years.

According to research commissioned by the WSTA, six out of ten wine drinkers now drink rosé compared to less than four out of ten in 2005.

The figures, contained in the latest Wine Intelligence survey, suggest the growth in popularity of rosé has come in part at the expense of red, with consumption of red wine falling by 10% over the past three years.

Although white wine retains its position as the most popular style, rosé was shown to be the most appealing to newcomers to wine.

WSTA Chief Executive Jeremy Beadles said, 'Even without a good summer it seems the taste for rosé continues to spread. Interestingly, the figures show women have increased their rosé consumption the most'.

The findings of the survey back up the results of a recent Decanter.com poll, in which 70% of Decanter readers considered rosé a serious wine.

Sales in rosé also appear to be on the up, with Sainsbury's reporting a 50% increase in sales the last three years, up 25% on last year.

'We have added 12 rosé's to our stock in the last year alone and now sell 40 different rosé varietals', a spokesperson from Sainsbury's said. 'There is a definite move towards fresher, less syrupy styles. Italian varietals such as Sangiovese are becoming very popular.'

Lucy Shaw

Remarks concerning this on Decanter.com

As a British wine writer living in Spain I'm not surprised to read about the increase in rosé wine consumption as detailed in Decanter. One only has to look at the bodega (wine merchants) and supermarket shelves to see the large range of rosados on offer to realise that here consumption of rosado is well established. For further proof look at the diners in restaurants eating their wonderful paellas - their wine of choice, almost exclusively rosado!

However I suspect, though I have no statistics as yet, that rosado consumption here will level out and remain essentially constant rather than rise like it is doing in the UK. I believe that the reason for this is as follows: in previous years white wine in Spain has been largely disappointing, with some notable exceptions of course, such as the Albariños of Galicia. This has meant that historically wine drinkers who have not wanted a full red to sip or to accompany paella etc have taken to drinking rosado.

However for me Spain is now right in the vanguard of super white wine production where areas like Rueda, Somontano, Penedés and others are now turning out lovely white wines in many different styles. Indeed the best white wine I have tasted this year and now one of my favourite wines is in fact from that bastion of red wine excellence Clos Mogador, DO Priorat! ('Nelin' is a blend pf Garnacha Blanca, Viognier, Marsanne, Macabeo and Pinot Noir and is a superb mouthful of fruit with a wonderful nose, a complexity and depth that one can only gain from the very best white wines, and a long, lingering, gorgeous finish - incidentally!).

Therefore I believe that the increase in rosé wine consumption in UK will be mirrored here, but with white wine as more and more Spaniards and ex-pats realise that Spain is no longer home to just red wine. Rosé wine will however hold its own (paella and mariscos without it is almost unthinkable!) so it will be, as in the UK, red wine that loses some of its market share.
Colin Harkness

As a french rosé drinker and Loire wine exporter I am happy to read that"...70% of Decanter readers considered rosé a serious wine". This is the way we do in Anjou area with our semi-sweet rosé (Rosé d'Anjou and Cabernet d'Anjou). I could also talk about the dry Rosé de Loire but I prefer to emphasize on the exceptionnal particularity of the semi-sweets. Who knows that these 2 wines could lay down for many years? Not many people I guess ! Well, I have tasted several time some old vintages of rosés d'Anjou from different Domaines: most of them were fantastic!! The last one I tasted was a 1956: wonderful. Same color as a cognac; lot of dry fruits aromas; lot of freshness; and a bit of acidity. Delightful!

But even whe these wines are young they are gorgeous: elegant, fruity, with freshness and a delicate sweetness.

I had recently a stand in a wine fair in UK and I remember the immense amazement of all the people who tasted these wines for the first time: they almost all wondered why they didn't find these kind of wines more on the shelves !! What else (as will say George Clooney)
Mr. Lionel Lafitte, Loire Links, Louerre, France

Thank you so much for the article on rosé by Lucy Shaw. We've been making rosé for four years now up in Washington and the overall work being done vis-"-vis quality, style and public awareness has dramatically increased in the last decade. And now we are truly seeing an increased visibility in rosé consumption. It is so gratifying, especially reading articles like yours. As I travel around the country tasting with consumers there are still corners that don't “get” rosé. But that's alright. We only need a handful of friends in every city to spread the word. Keep up the good work.

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California grape growers wary of proposal on Chile exports

Date: Mon, Sep 1, 2008 Wine Tasting Winery Blogs Wine Business

Grape lovers could have an easier time finding Chilean bunches untouched by the potent chemical methyl bromide, under new rules proposed Wednesday by the Agriculture Department.

At Chile's request, and after at least six years of study, the Agriculture Department wants to lift the long-standing requirement that Chilean table grape producers eradicate mites with methyl bromide.

Instead, Chilean producers would follow a new system of registration and inspections.

California table grape growers need not fear either infestation or competition, Bush administration officials insist.

"Most grape production in Chile takes place during U.S. winter months, when there is little or no fresh grape production within the United States with which to compete," the Agriculture Department noted Wednesday.

But the idea is being greeted cautiously in the San Joaquin and Coachella valleys of California, where 99 percent of all U.S. table grapes are grown.

"We still have to learn more," said Barry Bedwell, president of the Fresno-based California Grape and Tree Fruit League. "We know there's going to be overarching concern over the possible introduction of pests."

Kathleen Nave, president of the California Table Grape Commission, agreed that U.S. technical experts must still dig into the details in a five-page Federal Register notice.

"Once we do the analysis, we'll be advocating our position accordingly," Nave said.

Chilean producers currently fumigate their U.S.-bound table grapes with methyl bromide to protect against Brevipalpus chilensis, also known as the false grape mite. Barely 1 millimeter across, the tiny mites nonetheless can be big-time trouble.

The mites feed on leaves and can seriously damage vineyards in the spring. U.S. growers want to do everything they can to avoid them.

Chilean clementine, mandarin and tangerine producers have already been permitted to replace methyl bromide fumigation with a system that includes inspection.

Chile's plant protection agency began testing whether that system could work with table grapes and found that it did, Agriculture Department officials reported Wednesday.

The proposed system would require Chilean producers to register with the country's agriculture officials. Random fruit samples would be tested, and if a single mite were discovered, methyl bromide fumigation would be required for export.

California produces about 703,000 metric tons of table grapes annually. The domestic grapes are primarily shipped to the U.S. market between May and November. Imported grapes take over between December and April. Chile leads the way, accounting for about 75 percent of total U.S. imports.

The issue could further expose divisions among U.S. growers. Coachella Valley growers, whose crop comes in earlier than the San Joaquin Valley's, have in the past been more resistant to measures that would increase Chilean shipments.

Michael Doyle

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Soil moisture monitoring saves water, improves wine grape quality

Date: Mon, Sep 1, 2008 Wine Tasting Winery Blogs Wine Business

Those who have invested in water saving technologies are breathing a little easier than those who have not as California water supplies get even more scarce.

Victor Hugo Roberts, owner of Victor Hugo Vineyards and Winery in Templeton, Calif., is one of those who invested in high tech soil moisture monitors to manage his irrigation. This is his third year using the technology.

“We are probably reducing our water usage 50 percent to 60 percent of what we used to put out before we went to the monitoring system,” Roberts says. “We may start sooner and irrigate more often, but we’re not using as much water. Instead of one long irrigation cycle during the week in the warmest part of the season, we might go with two lighter irrigation cycles and still use less water.”

Applying more water than the soil will hold in the root zone only moves water out of the area where the vines can utilize it and reduce water efficiency.

Victor Hugo Vineyards and Winery specializes in a wide selection of hand-crafted lots of wine. The vineyards consist of 78 acres planted to Chardonnay, Zinfandel, Syrah, Petite Sirah, Viognier and five Bordeaux reds — Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Malbec, and Petit Verdot.

Drought management strategies are implemented from the time the vineyards are planted. Vines are grafted on four different phyllexora and nematode resistant rootstocks also specifically selected for drought tolerance. This enables Roberts to use mild deficit irrigation to concentrate flavors and further improve wine quality. The use of soil moisture monitoring allows him to tweak the irrigation input even more. Roberts contracts the soil moisture monitoring service through Precision Ag, Inc. in Paso Robles, Calif.

“This technology is much more sophisticated than the neutron probe,” Roberts says. “We have constant access to soil moisture conditions which allows us to deliver water only when we need it. The ability to record temperature data along with soil moisture is just another bonus.”

The neutron probe is almost antiquated technology, according to Lowell Zelinski, independent PCA and owner of Precision Ag Inc. “Soil-based monitoring systems that use capacitance sensors provide much better data than the neutron probe,” he says.

Zelinski believes that capacitance-based soil moisture monitoring is one of the best and most cost-effective ways to schedule irrigation in vines, trees and many other permanent and semi-permanent crops.

“Many methods of soil moisture monitoring are effective for telling you how much to water but don’t tell you when,” Zelinski says. “To optimize plant health and the plant’s use of water and nutrients, knowing when to water is just as critical as knowing how much. With the capacitance sensors you receive accurate, reliable, visual data that can answer both questions.”

The system can track temperatures, rainfall, leaf moisture, soil water, and a number of other factors and is so precise that water can be applied within a few minutes of when the system alerts the need for moisture.

“It gives you much more than just a snapshot of the situation,” Roberts says. “Our soils have a very high shale content, so they don’t hold moisture very long. It’s critical that we irrigate when the vines need the moisture, but at the same time, we don’t want to waste water.”

There are six wells on the property, but five are relatively shallow wells which makes water conservation even more important for Roberts. “Soil moisture monitoring gives us the capability of 24/7 analysis,” he says. “We put just enough water on without going beyond the permanent wilting point so we never put our vines into severe stress.”

Soil moisture monitoring systems vary in features. However, it is now reasonable to expect systems to come with sensors that measure multiple factors such as air temperature, relatively humidity, rainfall and irrigation events, and leaf wetness. Zelinski uses Decagon ECH20 soil moisture monitoring equipment.

“I’ve been amazed at what I’ve seen this season,” Zelinski says. “You can walk out in a vineyard and look at the vines, but you can never tell exactly what’s happening with soil moisture at any given point unless you have this capability.”

Although the name Victor Hugo is famous in 1800’s literature, Victor was supposedly named after a great uncle and a great grandfather (the man who anglicized the family name from the French name Robert to Roberts). There is no attribution to any literary connection, although the name certainly invokes a “bootstraps” type of ideology. Roberts has definitely pulled himself up into the respected echelon of the Paso Robles wine industry with that work ethic.

Roberts graduated from U.C. Davis in 1979 with a degree in enology. After three years of winery experience, he saw an advertisement in a wine industry publication for a winemaker at a new winery in the Paso Robles area. He took the position where he remained for 15 years as winemaker and general manager until leaving in 1997 to establish Victor Hugo Vineyards and Winery. Roberts was on the founding board for the Paso Robles Vintners and Growers Association and served three years as its first president. He was chairman of the Paso Robles Wine Festival for eight years.

In 1985, he and his wife Leslie, planted 15 acres on the Templeton property which today encompasses the family home, vineyards and a “laid back” tasting room.

Brenda Carol

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Grgich celebrates 50 years of making wine - and history - the Napa Valley

Date: Mon, Sep 1, 2008 Wine Tasting Winery Blogs Wine Business

Mike Grgich celebrated 50 years of winemaking in the Napa Valley Saturday. Guest of honor at the gathering was George Taber, author of “Judgment of Paris.” Grgich made the chardonnay that bested French wines in the dramatic tasting that put Napa Valley on the map. Lianne Milton Photo

Taber, 'Judgment of Paris' author, blasts 'Bottle Shock'
for leaving out man who made the winning white wine

Wearing his trademark beret, Mike Grgich surveyed the sold-out, wait-listed party at Grgich Hills Estate winery last Saturday and said, “I cannot describe how happy I am tonight. It is a gratitude that comes not one fold but many fold.”

The occasion was the 50th anniversary celebration of Grgich’s arrival in the Napa Valley. The young man escaped from Communist-ruled Croatia with a suitcase and $30 American dollars in his shoe and, a little more than a dozen years later, made a Napa Valley chardonnay that set the wine world on its head when it bested the French wines in a blind tasting that’s come to be known as “the judgment of Paris.”
Warren Winiarski’s Stags Leap Wine Cellars Napa Valley cab took high honors for a red wine at the same event, which catapulted the Napa Valley onto the world-wide wine map.

George Taber, author of “The Judgment of Paris,” which describes the historic tasting, was among the guests paying tribute to Grgich at the dinner.
Grgich, sprightly at 85, shared anecdotes of his early years in the valley when, following his father’s advice, he tried “to be better every day.” Grgich said, “He taught me do your best every day to learn something new, and if you can’t do something important in a day, make a friend.”

Grgich’s career in wine began when he was 3, he explained, because in his family “everyone worked in the harvest,” including his mother — who would put him in a vat with grapes for safekeeping while she worked. However novel a method of childcare it was, it worked, he observed: He had plenty to eat and a way to pass the time, squashing grapes.
From the time at university when a professor whispered to him that California was “paradise,” Grgich was determined to find his way there “because who wants to wait to die to go to Paradise?”

When he finally got to the Napa Valley in 1958 he set about learning to make wine from everyone he could, including the men who have since acquired the status of legends: André Tchelistcheff at Beaulieu Vineyards, Brother Timothy at the Christian Brothers Winery and Robert Mondavi, who launched his own winery in 1966.

The triumph at Paris, Grgich said, was, in a sense, everyone’s achievement. It was no coincidence, he noted, that both he and Winiarski had worked for Mondavi. “It showed that the U.S. could make wine as good as the French, which is what Robert Mondavi always wanted,” Grgich said.

Blasting ‘Bottle Shock’

Grgich, who made the winning wine for Chateau Montelena in Calistoga, only made a passing reference to the recently released film “Bottle Shock,” a film based on the Paris tasting, which, rather bizarrely, omits Grgich as well as Winiarski.

“If you have seen it,” Grgich remarked mildly, “you will notice I am not in it.”

In a private conversation, Grgich said he had been sent a copy of the “Bottles Shock” script but he could not sign off on it, he said, “because I couldn’t find anything honest in it.”

He also noted it was not the first time a controversy had arisen over credit for the winning chardonnay. In 2006, he said, when Copia, the American Center for Food, Wine and the Arts in Napa, hosted a 30-year re-enactment of the Paris tasting, he was invited and then “uninvited.” He was given to understand that the owner of Chateau Montelena, lawyer turned vintner Jim Barrett, objected to his participation.

Taber, the only journalist who attended the 1976 tasting, was considerably more scathing in his remarks about “Bottle Shock.” Taber spoke during the dinner. At his first mention of the film another guest booed and Taber said, “I agree.”

Like many, the author questioned the judgment that left Grgich out of “Bottle Shock.”

“It’s unfortunate,” he said, “because it’s a version of reality that’s not true. The movie, unfortunately, does not tell the truth about what happened at the Paris tasting.”

He had recently seen the film, he said, “and I think I saw Mike’s beret twice.”

“The film, he said, “committed two sins against the truth, the sin of commission and the sin of omission … I can’t think of any other word that describes what went on in that movie.”

Taber said the characterization of Steven Spurrier, the British wine merchant who organized the tasting, was entirely off the mark and reduced the man to a stereotype. As for Grgich, Taber said, “the movie doesn’t talk about the guy who made the wine. The man who made the wine that put Napa on the map is not in the movie.

“I know it’s Hollywood,” he said, “but a true artist doesn’t rape reality.

“Mike’s is a wonderful story,” Taber said. “It really is the American dream and there aren’t many as rich as Mike’s. The Paris tasting was important and Mike played a major role, and it wouldn’t have happened if Mike hadn’t got off that Greyhound bus.”

In response to criticism of the film, a spokesman at Chateau Montelena said he was unfamiliar with the circumstances of the 2006 tasting, and that Jim Barrett was traveling and unavailable for comment. He referred questions about the film to its Sonoma producers, Marc and Brenda Lhormer.

Marc Lhormer said the original script, written by Los Angeles attorney Ross Schwartz, did include Grgich as a major character. But after “Mike said he didn’t like it” and the script was criticized for having too many characters, the decision was made to rewrite it, reduce Grgich’s role, eliminate mention of Winiarski and focus on “the drama of Jim Barrett as a lawyer struggling against the odds to realize a dream of making a go of owning a winery.”

Lhormer, who added that neither he nor his wife Brenda had ever spoken about the project to Grgich, said the script had also been sent to Barrett, who did not object to it.

Calls from the Register to Ross Schwartz were not returned as of press time.

Ironically, Chateau Montelena has also been in the news recently because of its pending sale to French vintner Michel Reybier.

Looking to the future

However it may be portrayed on film, the reality of his big win in Paris was that it allowed Grgich to realize his dream of opening his own winery, which he and Austin Hills founded in 1977.

“I think this is my best success,” Grgich said, noting that his family-owned winery is not only on sound financial footing and producing estate wines from organic and sustainably farmed grapes, but it’s in good hands for a second — and possibly third — generation to come. His daughter Violet and nephew Ivo Jeramaz are dividing responsibilities for running the winery and making the wines.

Plus, Grgich noted, “Ivo has six children and my daughter has her son.”

Violet Grgich, a gifted musician, provided a grace note at the evening’s end. Performing on the harpsichord with her husband, Colin Shipman, playing the viola da gamba, she told the audience. “In honor of the Paris tasting and my father’s winning wine, and of George Taber being here, we thought we would play some French music.”

Correction: An erlier version of this article misstated information about Austin Hills


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French wine sales plummet in credit crunch

Date: Mon, Sep 1, 2008 Wine Tasting Winery Blogs Wine Business

French wine is now focused towards the higher end of the market Photo: STEPHEN LOCK

Sales of cheap French wines are falling sharply worldwide as cash-strapped British and American consumers feel the pinch of the credit crunch.

Producers of cheap French plonk exported less wine in the first half of this year compared to the same period in 2007.

A report released by the French export development agency showed that export volumes fell by 8.7 per cent in the six months to June as consumers say no to the much loved dinner time glass of red.

However, the value of French wine sent overseas increased by 8.2 per cent showing that consumer demand for French wine is now focused towards the higher end of the market as lower-quality European wines struggle to compete against exports from Australia, Chile and the United States.

The strong euro, which makes European wines more expensive for British and American consumers, is also affecting the lower end of the market.

"Contrary to popular belief, it is no longer the highest quality wines that are responsible for the bitter aftertaste of our exports," said the report by UbiFrance.

Continuing to sell well is the popular Bordeaux of 2005 while the biggest wines to suffer were France's vins de table and vins de pays, and bottles from the famous Champagne region which endured a drop in volume of 4.2 per cent.

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How To Create Your Very Own Magnificent Red Wine Experience

Date: Mon, Sep 1, 2008 Wine Tasting Winery Blogs Wine Business

Is there a better time to enjoy red wine than on a special occasion? I think
not. Make it a special experience with your woman or man. Even if you don’t
have a date you can still make it special by integrating red wine into this
special day, the colour alone makes it suitable! I want to offer some
suggestions as to how you can accomplish just that. In my opinion, there’s more
to accomplishing this task than simply picking up a good bottle of wine. Read
on to learn more.

I remember my first great red wine experience. The amazing thing: it really
wasn’t just the wine that made the experience a great one, but all of the
elements. Do this right and you can really make things impressive.

But you need to do these 6 things:

1. Find and enjoy the right wine.

2. Ensure the ambience is special.

3. Have a really good meal.

4. Successfully pair the right food and wine.

5. Make it intimate.

6. Document the wine.

So the secret to creating the great experience with red wine is in successfully
addressing each of the above elements and integrate them into the entire

I’ll now tell you exactly how to do that.
Firstly let’s address how to find and enjoy the right red wine.

There are really two major parts contained in this first element: finding a good
wine and how to sample and enjoy the wine. To begin, let’s discuss finding a
wine that both you and your significant other will likely enjoy (or just you
that’s fine too). I would suggest the guide to selecting great tasting wines
for less than $10. So once you’ve found the right wine you need to know how to
really enjoy the wine.

Let’s now discuss the second imperative element: ensuring the ambience is
special. To accomplish this you’ll need a dimly lit room to allow for a
soothing surrounding. Get your self some nice quality candles. I would
recommend unscented so that you can enjoy the smells of the food and wine
without interference. I recommend either beeswax or soy candles as they have
far less soot and release negative ions which purify the air.

You’ll also really want some nice easy listening music in the background. Of
course everyone's tastes in music differ, but it’s very important to get
something good and not something too generic, for example, don't play the kind
of music you’d expect to hear in an elevator. I’d recommend some nice classy
jazz piano music from a fellow Canadian I like: Diana Krall.

The third element is having a really good meal. You can certainly search the
net and get tonnes of recipes but it’s sometimes hard to judge the bad recipes
from the good ones. You can also dig out any cookbooks you have and give it a
try. However you can instantly access high quality recipes from a master chef
which are laid out in a step-by-step fashion by How To Cook Like A Pro. This
book comes in the form of an E-Book and is accompanied by free cooking videos
and guides on how to pair wine and food and how to enjoy wine. So this really
helps us with element # 1 and element # 4 (both of these elements were mentioned
above). I would definitely recommend checking it out. I think you’ll be really
impressed with the quality of this guy. Just think about how many special
experiences you’ll be able to create!

This leads into the fourth element: pairing the right wine and food. Obviously
the above mentioned bonuses (included with the above book) will help you with
this one. At this point, you’ll either need to decide what food dish you’re
preparing before you get your wine or vice versa. However you do need to make a
decision in this regard.

Last but not least, it’s essential to include an element of intimacy. This can
mean different things. That is, if you don’t have a date then now is the time
to really sit back and relax after your meal and continue enjoying your wine and
savouring the moment. If you have a date, then get intimate with him or her.
This really doesn’t need explaining.

Most important of all: make sure you document your wines. I keep a little
coiled book in which I rate the wine using my own scaling system (Use your own
simple with a rating of 1 to 4 or whatever). I also write down the name of the
wine and producer, the country and region (if available), percentage of alcohol
and most importantly my impressions of the wine. Don’t worry so much about
using the right terminology. Start by using your own descriptors and as you
learn more about red wine you’ll learn the correct terminology. This will
ensure you have a sincere winespeak and are not using pretentious words without
understanding them. You’ll also naturally remember the correct terminology and
the whole process will be meaningful for you (in my opinion).

In closing, following all of the elements I've discussed, will make any special
occasion even better. In future, you’ll associate certain foods and wines to
the music, the person you spent time with, etc. and vice versa (in other words,
you'll remember all the special things and be reminded of them from time to
time). It’s also a nice way to form memories that inspire you to create more
great red wine experiences in your life. You can continually use your
creativity to enhance things even more; for example, finding the perfect wine
glasses, silverware, dishes, etc. Putting your own personal touch on things and
using your own creativity makes your experiences very special and feels

Matthew Wagner
Red Wine Academy

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Bottle Shock

Date: Sun, Aug 31, 2008 Wine Tasting Winery Blogs Wine Business

By some coincidence, the movie Bottle Shock was released on the day I went to California’s Napa Valley. Bottle Shock, a small but generally well-reviewed film starring such dependable B-listers as Bill Pullman and Alan Rickman, tells the story of one of the wine world’s most famous events: the so-called Judgement of Paris. In 1976, a young British wine dealer called Steven Spurrier who had failed to make much headway in cracking the French wine establishment had a bright idea.

The wines of California were growing in popularity across the Atlantic. But they were still derided by the French. Supposing he organised a blind tasting at which French wine experts judged French and Californian wines? The experts would not be told which wines they were trying. But if their dismissal of California wines was based on a genuine inferiority of taste, then that should not matter. The wines would come out bottom at the tasting anyway.

Spurrier managed to persuade the French experts to agree. And predictably, not only did California wines come out on top in many cases but it was also clear that the French really could not tell the difference. In one celebrated case, a French expert declared “what a relief it is to drink a good French wine” while drinking one from California. A journalist from an American newsmagazine was present at the tasting and his story made waves in the US. Other papers picked up the news and though the French stuck to their view, the Paris tasting gave California wine-makers the confidence to go ahead and compete forcefully on the world stage.

It is an unlikely subject for a Hollywood movie though given the recent success of Sideways and Mondovino perhaps wine is such a hot subject that people will want to see the movie anyway. And if the film makes him famous among a wider audience, Spurrier may not mind that Alan Rickman plays him with what the New York Times critic describes as a “parched low voice and an air of beleaguered pomposity.”

I thought of Bottle Shock because the French have not really changed their minds about California wine. They may be polite about it in public and may even have invested in California vineyards but the private disdain persists. The French criticism of California wines are based around the following points: n French wine is an agricultural product. Its quality depends largely on the soil on which the grapes are grown. The great Bordeaux vineyards, for instance, such names as Mouton, Lafitte or Haut Brion, have been renowned for producing excellent wine for centuries. This is because the vineyards themselves have such perfect soil that the grapes that grow there will yield amazing wine.

California wine, the French say, is an industrial product. There are few historically revered vineyards. Many famous wines are grown on land that its owners have purchased over the last ten or twenty years. In Napa, the producers don’t even grow all their own grapes but buy them from local farmers. So where is the sense of an agricultural product emerging from special soil? These wines are not based on the vineyard but on the brand name. Wine makers use science and tricks to create ‘special’ wines from ordinary grapes. n French wines are about elegance. California wines are about power. Ever since the influential wine writer Robert Parker began laying down the law, California wines have become more and more intense and full of fruit. Such wines, say the French, lack the subtlety of truly great wines. Speaking for myself, I have little time for old world snobbery and the French claim to historical prominence. If a wine is good, how does it matter how old the vineyard is?

On the other hand, I do tend to prefer the elegance of French wines over many of the fruit bombs that come out of California. Also, I don’t think that the French tendency to treat wine as an agricultural product is mere hype. Visiting the Burgundy vineyards, I saw myself how seriously the wine-makers took the soil. Often they would argue that the wine from the first row of grapes would be better than the wine from the second and third because the soil was better in the front. It is hard for the Californians to take that line because they don’t treat their vineyards as being that special. California wine makers dispute some of this. Besides, they argue, if French wine is so much better, then why did Baron Philippe de Rothschild, the owner of Mouton Rothschild, one of the great wines of Bordeaux, rush to make wine in California?

There are trendier, more expensive and better wines in California but few have the historical importance of Opus One. In 1978, Robert Mondavi, the leading California wine figure (he died a few months ago) was invited to Mouton by Philippe de Rothschild. Baron Philippe proposed a joint venture in California. Mondavi agreed and the two men set up a 50-50 partnership.

In 1981 Mondavi sold 35 acres of one of his vineyards in the Napa Valley to the venture. In 1983, another 50 acres were purchased. And in 1984, they acquired a 49-acre vineyard. Altogether, the venture had 134 acres. But there was no sense of designated vineyards with great soil like Mouton. Philippe de Rothschild called the wine Opus One and it quickly went on to get the highest prices ever for a California wine. The wine was subtler than many of its California contemporaries but the prices were a consequence of the brand values of Mondavi and Rothschild.

These days, Opus One is rarely talked of in the same breath as such great California names as Screaming Eagle or Harlan Estate but it remains one of the big boys. Its wines seem to me to be too intensely fruit-flavoured to bear comparison with Mouton itself but such is Robert Parker’s influence that even Bordeaux wine makers are making more intense wines so some of the old California-Bordeaux distinctions have broken down.

The winery itself is beautiful and they gave me both the 2001 and the 2004 vintages to drink. I thought both wines were very good but nobody I spoke to at the winery had any answer to the question about the importance of soil. If the Rothschilds believe they can produce great wine by buying parcels of land all over California, then what makes Mouton so great? In France, the Rothschilds make a different claim. They say that their wine is exceptional because Mouton is one of the best vineyards on earth. Both positions cannot simultaneously be valid.

Among the other wineries I visited was the spectacularly beautiful and hilly Spring Mountain vineyard. Spring Mountain is owned by a Swiss banker who has lavished funds on it, buying two other adjacent vineyards to create a huge estate. I spoke to Jac Cole, the wine-maker and was intrigued to find that his position was closer to the French wine-makers I had met. Cole reckons that good wine is a creation of ‘terroir,’ of the soil and the temperature mainly. He grows his grapes all over the vineyards and then harvests them in lots. He made me taste the wine from four different lots to demonstrate how the same grapes could yield such different wines in the same year only because they were cultivated a few hundred yards apart from each other. Of course he was right. There were huge variations in taste between each lot which he attributed to the soil, to altitude and temperature (parts of the vineyard are cooler than the rest).

His job as wine-maker, he said, was to take the different lots and to create a blend that reflected the best of each batch of grapes. “You could say that I am a flower arranger,” he said. “I arrange flowers that have already been grown.” Later, he expanded that to include the image of himself as a conductor of an orchestra. But even then, he conceded, the score is already written. The top Spring Mountain wine was – to my untutored palate at least – the equal of Opus One. So clearly the traditional, French-style approach to wine-making works in California as well.

But even after I had finished touring the vineyards, I was left with no answers to the big questions. Is California now better than France? (My instinct is to say no.) Does the vineyard not matter as much as the French say it does? In the end, it boils down to taste. If we drink it and we like it then it’s good. If we don’t like it, then no matter what anybody says, it is not good. Wine is about taste. And taste is personal and subjective.

Vir Sanghvi, Hindustan Times
New Delhi, India

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Hong Kong, France sign memo on cooperation in wine-related businesses

Date: Sun, Aug 31, 2008 Wine Tasting Winery Blogs Wine Business

HONG KONG,(Xinhua) -- Hong Kong and France signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) on cooperation in wine-related businesses on Tuesday.

The Hong Kong-France Memorandum of Understanding on Cooperation in Wine-related Businesses was signed by Secretary for Commerce and Economic Development of HKSAR government Rita Lau and French Minister for Agriculture and Fisheries Michel Barnier.

This first MOU that Hong Kong had signed on the subject, demonstrated the commitment of both sides to encourage wine- related businesses, Financial Secretary of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR) John Tsang said at the signing ceremony.

Tsang said under the memorandum, Hong Kong and France would facilitate and promote trade in wine. The two sides would strengthen co-operation, exchanges and the sharing of experience in areas including the stimulation of wine-related trading and investment activities, wine education and manpower training, promotion of wine-related tourism and wine culture, as well as customs cooperation against counterfeit wine.

He said France is the largest supplier of wine imports into Hong Kong, accounting for about 30 percent of Hong Kong's imported wines in 2007. In terms of value, French wine represented about 57percent of all wine imports to Hong Kong last year, with a growth rate of 108 percent compared with 2006.

Also speaking at the signing ceremony, the French Minister for Agriculture and Fisheries, Michel Barnier, said the MOU would produce a win-win solution for Hong Kong and France.

He believed France's "unique expertise and large diversity in production" made it the reference partner for wine trade and promotion, Barnier said.

He also noted that with its logistical and financial expertise, its unique knowledge of the Chinese mainland's market as well as the strength of its hospitality and retail sectors, Hong Kong is "the natural wine hub for Asia and is well positioned to catch the emerging business opportunities of the fastest growing international wine market."

Hong Kong became the first free wine port among major economies with the abolition of wine duty earlier this year. Since then, there has been solid growth in wine imports, wine auctions with record-breaking sales and announcements by renowned companies to expand their wine trading, distribution and storage business in Hong Kong.

Hong Kong's first International Wine Fair organized by the Trade Development Council of Hong Kong from Aug. 14 to 16, attracted more than 240 exhibitors from more than 25countries and regions as well as 8,800 buyers from 55 countries and regions.

Bi Mingxin

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French wine export volumes fall, but values rise

Date: Sun, Aug 31, 2008 Wine Tasting Winery Blogs Wine Business

French wine producers exported less wine in the first half of this year but got more for it than a year earlier as overseas markets opted for more expensive wines, a report said.

Ubifrance, the French export development agency, said export volumes fell 8.7 percent in the six months through June. However, the value of French wine sent overseas increased by 8.2 percent to 3.2 billion euros ($4.7 billion).

The author of the report, Herve Henrotte, warned against celebrating the rich returns, which "concerns only a small category of products, hiding a less euphoric reality."

While fine Bordeaux and other vintage wines are popular exports, lower-quality wines and lesser-known wine regions struggle against competitors from countries such as Australia, Chile and the United States.

And the strong euro, which makes European wines more expensive for U.S. consumers, combined with global economic woes to depress overseas sales at the lower end of the market.

Another worry came from the star product of the French wine industry, Champagne, which produced less than sparkling results with a drop in both volume and value by 4.2 percent and 1.3 percent respectively.

In contrast, exports of sparkling wines from the Loire valley, Alsace and Saumur "were very dynamic," the agency said in a report released Monday.

Vin de Pays, or country wines, lost favor in the U.K., U.S. and Germany -- markets that saw an increase in upmarket wines belonging to the expensive AOC, or Appellation d'Origine Controlee, category.

Exports of table wines were hit by Russia's switch to Moldovan wines.


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River cruise with a carbon-free conscience

Date: Sun, Aug 31, 2008 Wine Tasting Winery Blogs Wine Business

The route passes through some of France's most picturesque rivers and canals Photo: Getty

The Rhone, like all great rivers, has banks lined with great towns Photo: Getty

The route takes in Camargue, famous for its beautiful horses Photo: Getty

Fine French wines and cheeses keep the passengers thoroughly content

On a luxury barge holiday in the South of France Max Davidson finds that fun can coexist with planetary survival.

What goes at 200mph, then 2mph, is fuelled by fine French wine and leaves no footprint? Answer: a “carbon-neutral France” holiday devised by a tour operator with an eye for the eco-conscious 21st-century zeitgeist.

No cars or planes for the passengers gathered on L’Impressionniste, a luxury barge that plies the canals and rivers of the South of France, between Agde and Avignon. We may have arrived by high-speed train – Eurostar to Paris, then the TGV to Montpellier – but from now on we will be progressing at the speed of a well-fed French snail.

You can almost see the stress dropping from the faces of the passengers as the barge looses its moorings and the sunlight dapples the water and the first champagne cork pops on the sun-deck.

The 168-mile Canal du Midi, overhung with plane trees, is one of the glories of southern France: it was originally built as a trade route, a short cut from the Mediterranean to the Atlantic, but now has the verdant languor of a rural backwater. Contented ducks snooze in the shadow of the branches. Swallows swoop overhead. There is a smell of new-mown hay from the fields.

“Look!” I say, as something stirs on the bank. “A rabbit!”

“Don’t say that word,” yelps the captain, Nicholas, putting his hands to his ears. “Not on ship. It’s unlucky.”

“What? You mean French sailors are superstitious about rab-”

“Stop it. You may only refer to 'small fluffy animals with long ears’.” At which the poor man starts hopping about like a ham actor at the mention of the Scottish play. All very odd.

But what sybaritic pleasures lie in wait for us once the unmentionability of rabbits has been made clear. Our cabin, the Cézanne, is not quite as luxurious as the Renoir next door, but it is light and airy and appropriately decorated, with a still life of Provençal apples to whet our appetites for dinner.

Ah yes, dinner. They take dinner seriously on L’Impressionniste – the only thing taken more seriously is lunch. While the chef, James, works his wizardry in the galley, two jolly women from Shropshire provide the running commentary.

“Our white wine today will be a Côtes du Luberon from the Domaine Chasson,” announces Sarah. “The red wine will be a Saint Chignian.” Two bottles of each have already been uncorked; with only eight passengers to drink them, they are setting a cracking pace.

“And the cheeses…” Bonnie squints at her crib-sheet. “We have a Saint-Nectaire, which comes from the Auvergne, and has a grey rind, and a Bresse Bleu, which is a pasteurised blue cheese produced in the South of France.”

The basic idea, consistent with the carbon-neutral theme, is to consume as much local produce as possible. On the Etang Thau, a salt-water lagoon, we tuck into the local oysters, followed by thielles, Cornish-pastie type pies stuffed with octopus and tomatoes. In the Camargue, it is riz de Camargue and steaks from the famous local bulls.

On shore, we visit the Noilly-Prat factory in Marseillan and, later, a vineyard at Châteauneuf-du-Pape, near Avignon, where a master wine-taster, one of those Cyrano-nosed Frenchmen who could find the spittoon from 20 yards, puts us through our paces.

But this is not, by and large, a foodie holiday. Always reassuring to know that you will be well fed and watered, of course, but it is the lazy pleasures of a canal cruise that etch themselves in the memory.

After leaving the Canal du Midi, we head east, along another canal, towards the Camargue and the Rhône. The plane trees give way to marshlands, and the sea is only a few miles away. A solitary flamingo flaps towards the setting sun. A catamaran glides past, with a woman doing aerobics on deck. An old man slumbers over his fishing-rod.

One afternoon, we take a detour into the picturesque village of Pezenas, where Molière wrote many of his plays. Another afternoon, we cycle through the sand dunes towards the Mediterranean and take a pre-dinner swim. The boat goes so slowly that at times it seems to be standing still. But every day brings something different.

The white horses of the Camargue are famous the world over, but to see a pair of them shoot out of the tall grass and gallop along the bank, manes fanned by the wind, is a magical experience. On the opposite bank, in a timeless vignette of rural life, a thatcher in dungarees bundles up the sheaves of hay, watched by his dog.

The Rhône itself is a great beast of river, far wider than I had expected. At times, it is lily-pond still; at others, whipped up by the famous mistral, the north wind that blows down the Rhône valley, it is so choppy that Nicholas, at the helm, looks like Captain Ahab battling the waves.

Like all great rivers, its banks are lined by great towns, which have grown with the centuries. The second half of the week turns into a kind of A-Z – or rather A-A – of French walled cities: starting with Aigues-Mortes, fortified by the Crusaders; Arles, where Van Gogh shared a house with Gauguin; and Avignon, with its famous bridge, overlooked by the craggy Palais des Papes.

The human landscape is equally beguiling, with our fellow passengers proving a glorious mixture of the clubbable and the eccentric. The young couple from Brisbane are visiting Europe for the first time. The banker from Toronto keeps surreptitiously checking the Dow Jones on his BlackBerry. Lily, who divides her time between Canada and Barbados, is a shopaholic.

On the last night, we have a captain’s dinner, dressed in our glad rags, then dance the night away on deck, under a starry sky, with the lights of Avignon glowing in the distance and the dark, silent river gliding past.

“We shall miss L’Impressionniste,” I tell Nicholas, putting a drunken arm around his shoulder. I was feeling no pain – and, having opted for a carbon-neutral holiday, no eco guilt either.

Getting there
A six-night cruise on L’Impressionniste between Agde and Avignon costs from £2,471 per person with Abercrombie & Kent (0845 618 2213; www.abercrombiekent.co.uk) for Sunday departures until November 4. Price includes Eurostar and TGV tickets, transfers, tours and full board in a junior suite.

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Trimbach to produce a Grand Cru

Date: Sun, Aug 24, 2008 Wine Tasting Winery Blogs Wine Business

Top Alsace producer Maison Trimbach has revealed that it will produce a Grand Cru wine after years of strongly resisting the idea.

Pierre Trimbach told decanter.com that, as part of an 18-year agreement with the Couvent de Ribeauville, Trimbach would label wines made from the convent's vineyards as Grand Cru, where applicable. The convent's name will also appear on all wines made exclusively from its grapes.

For around 20 years, the Trimbach estate has purchased between one and 1.5ha of Riesling from the convent's Grand Cru Geisberg vineyard to go in the flagship Cuvee Frederic Emile.

The new deal gives the producer access to all the convent's vineyards – a total of 7.6ha – and complete control over how they are farmed.

The convent's vineyards are composed of 2.7ha Grand Cru Geisberg (primarily Riesling, with a tiny amount of Muscat), 0.5ha of Grand Cru Kirchberg (Pinot Gris) and 4.4ha spread over the Rotenberg, Ellenweiher, Lutzelbach and Rittloch vineyards (planted with Riesling, Pinot Gris, Gewurztraminer, Pinot Blanc and Pinot Noir).

Along with other acclaimed Alsace producers Hugel and Beyer, the Trimbachs have long criticised the boundaries of Grand Cru vineyards, which they claim have been expanded for political reasons to include parcels not worthy of the designation.

Tom Stevenson

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Winery wins fight to stop trees

Date: Sun, Aug 24, 2008 Wine Tasting Winery Blogs Wine Business

A South-West winery has won a two-year battle to stop a blue gum plantation being grown next to its vineyard, with Great Southern Plantations dropping the plan amid wrangling over whether the trees’ oily mist would contaminate grapes.

The company walked away from its proposal after owners of the property it was leasing asked the company to end its project so they could “live in harmony with their neighbours”.

It ends the sometimes heated dispute between Great Southern and Yanmah Ridge winery over whether the trees’ oily mist, which famously gives the Blue Mountains its blue tinge, would settle on its grapes and contaminate its red wine.

Manjimup Shire Council twice rejected the plans, a first for the heavily wooded region, after growing evidence showed that “wine taint” could occur but buffer zones to solve the issue could not be agreed upon.

An appeal was due to be heard before the State Administrative Tribunal this month.

Part-owner and Yanmah Ridge winemaker Peter Nicholas said he was relieved but disappointed that the matter was not settled in the appeals tribunal.

“It’s disappointing because it leaves other vineyards hanging,” he said yesterday.

“I think the proof is incontrovertible because the Australian Wine Research Institute has put forward compelling evidence that blue gums do contaminate wines. We would have won.”

Great Southern refused to concede the debate.

“It is important to point out that we have not withdrawn the appeal because we consider that reasons behind the neighbour’s objections have been proved,” a spokesman said. It did not believe there was conclusive proof eucalypts could ‘taint’ grapes on adjoining properties.


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