Dreaming of Starting Your Own Vineyard? Read This.

In the last few weeks, I’ve been reading through a special Decanter page called “Living The Dream“, where Richard Mayson, a writer from said magazine, presents his thoughts and impressions on a project that has been taking him away from wine writing. Back in 2004, he decided to start his own winemaking operation and bought an estate in the Alentejo, in Southern Portugal. Twenty hectares up in the mountains, called Quinta de Centro, which he decided to partly replant, as he went on to built a new winery and deal with everything that Portugal had in for him, from weather to bureaucracy and commercial practices.

It’s a fascinating read, pages and pages full by now, that you have to read from the bottom up if you want to read the story in order. You’ll find a bit of everything in there, from winemaking questions, of course, to the importance of the cafés in the portuguese business world to local authorities’… er… peculiar management schemes, environmental questions, fauna and flora, branding, exports, wine transportation, etc.

Going from a dream to the reality of vineyard ownership, winemaking and sales is quite a step, as Richard Mayson’s writings clearly show. But as you go through it, it does seem that, if you really, really want it, the pride and satisfaction felt are truly worth all the gigantic hassles.

Now, I seem to remember there were some nice old vineyards around Calce…

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Decanter screws up its courage

Decanter magazine made quite a bold statement this week – and a bit of a marketing move for their August issue. “Screwcaps are best: Decanter Verdict“, says the title, as if the pronouncement was the definite word on the issue.

Many of the big guns are on deck to affirm the position. Steven Spurrier calls the Stelvin screw cap enclosure “one of the best things to have happened to wine in my lifetime”.

Yet if you keep reading, there is a big if that pops up further down in Adam Lechmere’s article:

Decanter may champion screwcap even for many robust reds, but on the subject of ageing wines, the jury is still out.

Anyhow, just reading the host of sometimes harsh and fiery comments (more…)

Tasting Note: Palladius 2005, The Sadie Family, Swartland

I’ve been a little quiet, these days, and it’s not because I haven’t been thinking about wine. On the contrary, I’ve been coordinating (and hosting) the 14th edition of the Vendredis du Vin, the French-language equivalent of the Wine Blogging Wednesdays. We had a great time with this collective tasting on unusual wines, which led us to discover the likes of gewurztraminer and petite arvine from Languedoc, or a peculiar wine blended from Rhône grenache and pinot noir from Burgundy – a great kind of sacrilege. If you read French (or can make good use of online translation tools), it’s worth a visit. You can see the summary on my French blog.

I could almost have included the magnificent Palladius 2005 from Eben Sadie, one of the most prominent winemakers from South Africa. Sadie took his first professional steps in winemaking, along with Tom Lubbe, at Charles Back‘s Spice Route project in the late 1990s, before (more…)

WineCreator: A Roundup on Ronda

I finally found a minute to check back for reports on WineCreator, the ambitiously-named meeting of wine pundits and renowned winemakers that was held in Ronda, in Andalusia, a couple of weeks ago.

Last weekend, Jancis Robinson published, as promised, an overview of the conference, where she revealed an intriguing side of the whole operation. Apparently, this was more (less?) than (more…)

A glimpse at the WineCreators

Little has filtered, as of yet, about what went on at the incredibly ambitious WineCreator meeting that was held in Ronda, in Jérez country, last weekend. Yet a lot of people are surely curious about knowing what the “greatest” minds in winemaking and wine journalism came to discuss during this ” tribute to creativity in a world where the signs of globalisation are becoming increasingly evident”.

Jancis Robinson, a key participant in the meeting, (more…)

Biodynamics: up front or backstage?

I’m a huge fan of a great number of biodynamic wine producers, and several “natural wine” producers, this last category essentially meaning that they are not only made from organic grapes, but also totally free of added sulfur, a widely-used stabilizer (For a quick description of the various types of bio wines, click here). Very often, wines made according to these methods have incredible character and individuality. You’ll probably read many raves from me about the artisan winemakers who promote that sort of viticulture and winemaking.

What strikes me, however, is that the promotion of biodynamic winemaking is presented in two ways. Some producers simply acknowledge that they work their vineyards that way – some do it only when they are asked – while others promote the fact that they are biodynamic producers almost as an end in itself. For example, you can’t tell, when looking at a bottle of Petalos, by Alvaro Palacios, (more…)

Matassa meets Montreal and Manhattan

My good friend and winemaker extraordinaire Tom Lubbe is hopping over the Pond, next week, to showcase his wines in Montreal and New York City. I’m an absolute fan of Matassa Wines, a Domaine I had the chance to visit. A great week walking through the (biodynamic) vineyards, tasting the grapes, packing bottles into cases, pallets into trucks, and to stomp those gorgeous grapes with my own bare (clean) feet (see here and here for details of my stay and, more importantly, to learn more about Matassa).

In Montreal, Tom Lubbe will be hosting (more…)

Kumeu River’s natural yeasts: now available at a store near you

One of the ongoing bones of contention within the wine world has been the use of natural or cultured yeasts in winemaking. Yeasts are an indispensable part of the winemaking process, since they are responsible for fermentation, which converts the sugars in the grapes into alcohol, and thus grape juice into wine.

As is well-explained in this article, many winemakers will use cultured yeasts to inoculate the tanks where the grape juice, with or without the skin and pips, have been placed for fermentation: adding cultured yeasts ensures a reliable, predictable fermentation, and even predictable flavor patterns, through selection of specific yeast strains that encourage fruity or spicy notes. It’s a clear advantage when you’re looking for precise results, especially when you’re making millions of bottles of, say, Yellow Tail.

Traditionally, though, wine has been made through spontaneous fermentation, meaning that the process starts through multiplication of the yeasts that are found naturally on grape skins, in the vineyard environment and, over time, in the winery itself, as fermentation cycles leave behind yeast spores that are only too happy to go to work year after year, just as they do daily in bakeries. The specific and complex set of yeasts found in each given winery contribute to giving the wine its personality and distinctiveness. Like the specific minerals found in the soil, which combine with enzymes to provide particular aromatic components and give a sense of terroir, the yeasts are part of a wine’s sense of place. Something which completely goes out the window if you start using a spoonful of ICV-D80 or Lalvin T306.

But the frontier between cultured yeasts and natural yeasts is less clear than you’d think. For instance, researchers from the University of Auckland are making a specific kind of natural yeast available for commercial use, to help make New Zealand sauvignon blanc more “typical”. Thanks to this research:

Saint Clair, Delegat’s, Pernod-Ricard New Zealand, Nobilo, Kim Crawford’s and Forrest Estate wineries will be using a newly discovered, naturally occurring New Zealand yeast to ferment grapes from this year’s harvest.

Where does this yeast strain come from, pray tell? From the very successful Kumeu River Wines‘ vineyard. So essentially, this lovely family winery has just handed a distinctive component of what makes its wines special to Pernod-Ricard and Kim Crawford, so that these big players could make wines from more generic places more like Kumeu River wines… To me, that feels as if you had just handed your grandmother’s award-winning secret recipe for cherry pie to ACME bakeries Inc. Here’s another quote from the article on this:

“Kumeu River has a philosophy in winemaking which uses the yeast that occurs naturally on the vines to ferment the grapes,” says Dr Matthew Goddard of the School of Biological Sciences. “By working with this very successful vineyard, we have managed to isolate a yeast which adds to New Zealand Sauvignon’s distinctive characteristics. This trial will let us see if the yeast will also work in a commercial setting.”

Oh great. Soon enough, winemakers in Chile, Virginia or the Niagara Valley will have more tools at hand to join in the great Kiwi/Grapefruit overdose. I’m not sure congratulations are in order.

Ripasso di… Niagara?

Well, it certainly isn’t the rolling hills, the gondolas in historic canals or the Renaissance castles, but it seems there is something in common between the Veneto region of northern Italy and the Niagara region of southern Ontario. That something is a process called appasimento, dating all the way back to Roman times. Used to create amarone and ripasso della Valpolicella, among other wines, it consists in drying grapes to concentrate sugars and flavors, and thus, to produce more potent wines.

An article in the March/April 2008 issue of Vines Magazine, (more…)

Meeting of the Creators

Talk about a modest proposal.

One of Spain’s top wine writers and a pioneer of the Priorat region, reflecting on the apparent convergence of taste that is gripping the wine industry, decided to discuss the trend with a group of the world’s top winemakers and a group of the world’s top wine writers for a two-day conference to be held in Ronda, Spain, on April 18-19. Their efforts have been rather successful, judging from a list of participants that include winemakers Peter Sisseck, Alvaro Palacios, Carlo Ferrini, Paul Draper and Denis Dubourdieu and wine writers Michel Bettane, Stephen Tanzer, James Halliday and Jancis Robinson, who is honorary president of the event.

The name of the event? Nothing less than WineCreator (told you it was a modest proposal…). Wanna go? It’ll cost you a measly 2,000 euros – just for the conference, for wine professionals. Non-professionals pay 4,000 euros including meals and lodging for two days.

With that kind of pricing, I’m hoping somebody will publish the proceedings or put videos online. It is a remarkable gathering of minds, and it would be very much worth sharing their thoughts with the world. There will be enough wine writers present to do that, right?