Tuesday, February 28, 2017

BRAMBLES: Climate Changes, Values Found


Under a bright sun the thermostat displayed around 70 degrees that cloudless afternoon.  To take advantage, I gathered lunch for the deck, a lean seared steak salad with kale, peppers, and tomato, and presented it to a personable glass of 2009 Ribera del Duoro from a reliable Old World producer.  As the ruby jewel shimmered in the sunlight, I thought things were just about perfect at that satisfying moment.  It was the end of January, and I was not in the Southern Hemisphere, but in the North Bay's wine country!  In the days that followed temperatures again dropped and the skies clouded. And then it poured; contributing to one of the wettest January's here in recent recordings.

That wet pattern continued thru February, taking the region fully into the season of power outages, flooded roads and mud slides.  Even as measured rainfall is currently better than twice seasonal average here, throughout the state our generous snow pack may finally be signaling the end of the current cycle of recent years of statewide drought.  Importantly, a lesson for our agriculture will have been the cumulative benefit here: agrarian efficiencies to produce more with less water. Residential users too have now had years to practice conservation, training the habits of our once water wasters. During a few brief, but sunny breaks, vineyard workers were able to prune vines to direct seasonal growth, and recently a sea of wild mustard has advanced on many beautifully neat vineyards throughout this muddy region, offering the returning promise of spring.
A dry/off-dry Riesling pairs nicely with Asian dishes
Even on these dark winter nights, we can escape to a favorite restaurant in search of a wine value.  Restaurant(on premise) ringers can usually be found in the middle of the wine list.  Here are, not the cheapest, nor the most expensive wines;  often listed as an 'alternative' or as 'interesting' selections.  Many times they are varieties or blends that are under the radar, from regions that don't have the marketing clout or prestige of, say, Bordeaux or Chianti Classico.  Selections from food pairing varietals like Albarino, Arneis, or Chenin Blanc rarely disappoint.  So too, red Rhone blends, Monastrell(Mourvedre) and Garnacha(Grenache) from Spain's Alicante or Jumilla regions(DO) can offer an expressive marriage with regionally inspired foods without breaking our bank.  Additionally, a wine-by-the-glass can offer diners an inexpensive way to test ride one of these hidden gems. Or, ask for a taste. After all, restaurants should be in the business of introducing you to their food-friendly wines which were orchestrated(in theory) to support their menu.

You may not even have to leave your easy chair to find a current wine value.  On line, flash marketing sites are a growing and increasingly competitive commodity. Some flash models will typically just move the featured sales paperwork that allows an individual brand to ship direct to consumer(where shipping is allowed).  Others will pop a notice on your phone or e-mail and then ship from their own warehouse inventory to control the efficiency of selection and process.  These numerous sites offer discounted wines that move from a secondary market, like a wine outlet virtual store, where some discounts can exceed 50%!  Shopping around to find the best daily value and service is recommended, as site inventory, vintages, shipping costs and discounts can change quickly.

At our local retail shops(off premise), knowing that the middle tiers are the volume shelves fought after by large corporate wine distributors and their big, volume brands, values can be found if look at the top and bottom shelf selections.  Smaller shops seek customer relationships, and often assist consumers in searching out values with knowledgeable staff from their recommended though limited selections.  But, that can be a good thing. The more often we visit these valuable merchants the greater opportunity to access their individual and unique wine world palates.  Even brick 'n mortar wineries can offer values to the visitor with annual end of vintage sales and event discounts.  Plus, it is a good way to identify if the character of the wineries stylings excite our unique tastes.

Today, after a few days of returning sunshine we're beginning to dry out, as the invitingly bright outdoors warm up.  It is going to be a great day to visit a local wine shop, or perhaps enjoy a patio lunch to search out the ever changing sea of wine values.  Even as our seasonal climate continues to change here, the wine values found remain a deliciously adventurous constant.
Cheers and Salute!

Tasting Values:
Cantele; Salice Salentino DOC Reserva 2013 - blackberries and spice feels rich in the mouth.

Bon Temps Roulet!

Wine Links:
https://www.kermitlynch.com/
https://www.lot18.com/
http://www.wine.com/
https://wtso.com/

Friday, January 27, 2017

BRAMBLES: Taste This,...Maybe?

Winds of change in rural Sicily DOC
Looking back, we have left more than a few empty bottles behind in 2016.  There was that delicious wine holiday in Sicily, and some very important family events, which were all richer in part because we enjoyed them with a glass or two of good wine.  It was another year of growth and value exploration with our tasting groups, and the enriching opportunity to improve the experience of wine for hundreds of thirsty consumers.  It was also the year when I closed two tasting rooms.

They were small brands, to be sure, often described as craft, artisan or boutique.  None the less, they offered wine consumers a real choice, and for the savvy, a few authentic local values.  One of the rooms was a collective, that gathering of small producers with no brick & mortar location of their own.  As a result of that limitation(and others), they typically produced less than 3000 cases and swam at their peril in the premium wine shark tank. Each was a slightly different business model, but all had a vignerons' passion fanning their sails.  In the end, after more than 5 years at a prime commercial location, they could not generate enough foot traffic to keep it moving forward.

The other was a single artisan brand, the juicy love affair with a former "Winemaker of the Year", with a recognized name for the informed and a mentor to many in this industry.  This brands business model was different, as it had wholesale distribution contracts with many states wine suppliers, and a greater quantity of premium product to promote in more places.  It has a brand manager, and a marketing manager, and even a direct to consumer manager.  Ultimately, the operating cost of a physical retail location in a new commercial marketplace outweighed its local popularity.  It is a very tough market out there; sadly, the numbers did just not add-up for continued investment in a retail storefront.

By any measure, competition across the retail marketplace is increasing for California wineries, she who produces about 90% of all of American wine.  In Sonoma County AVA alone, the number of wineries has doubled from a generation ago, yet with agri-limits the counties premium growers only farm about 6% of its beautiful, rural landscape.
Winter pruning of vines in the Loire

According to a recent Nielsen survey, the State has held its own; showing a continuing and healthy growth rate in global retail sales. Danny Brager, senior vice president of the beverage alcohol practice at Nielsen announced at the recent Unified Wine and Grape Symposium, " I almost can't think of any other consumer category where there is such a huge choice today.  If (wine) consumers can't get something, they will find something else."

Imports from foreign wineries have also continued to increase in volume and value during the last measured calendar period.  Growth in the bottle marketplace increasingly results in consumers having more choice than ever before, and that is a delicious thing for the informed value hunter. In spite of the wealth of these cheaper, value imports and a growth in national competition, shipments of U.S. wines continue to grow in volume year, after year.  Furthermore, there is an indication that entry level consumers are 'trading up'; last year the average bottle price of a U.S. wine exceeded $10. a bottle for the first time in recorded history! 

Knowledge is power for todays wine consumer

A recently released annual industry $urvey from a prominent lender, the State of the Wine Industry Report, predicted marketplace growth in premium imports in the year ahead.  Additionally, millennial's are expected to move in greater numbers away from red blends and increasingly towards pricier wines(+$10).  The dark umbrella remains as labor issues in the vineyard are anticipated to continue to be of weighted concern for the wine industry, even as the survey predicts a strong sales year in premium wine categories.

Whether the long established cooperative business model, or a singular artisans' passion, or even a modest brand in a broad portfolio managed by a beverage behemoth, it remains a challenging industry even for the optimistic producer. After all, there is a new brand(domestic or foreign) available to domestic consumers almost everyday, a new flavor of the week as consumers follow a trend, new on-line retailers and discount brokers to tempt neophyte wine consumers.  That new favorite may come from Chile or the Santa Maria AVA, from sustainable Sicily or from Rattlesnake Hills AVA of Washington state. For consumers, informed choices make for better wine experiences, and better wines in comfortable price points will increase not only bottle sales, but the broad variety of global values available to new wine drinkers.  Maybe we just have to taste a little more and let the wine speak.

Salute!
Tasting Values:
Leitz "Eins Zwei DRY"  2015 Rheingau Riesling Trocken(dry): Lemondrop, lemondrop!




Thursday, December 15, 2016

BRAMBLES: Thankfully, Celebrate Something!

Bruno Occhipinti sharing a Marco de Bartoli Marsala

It is routine to look back at the end of the calendar year, something like looking into your car's rear view mirror on the highway.  There you can clearly see what has transpired in the recent past, and as we get older the recent past may be all we can easily remember.  As it has evolved, the year 2016 had many twists and turns, disappointments and regret, enchanting episodes of magic that foil against heartache.  But, if you are reading this, you have made it this far, and we have all that tempered experience to build upon.  It is fortunately that end of year wine time to thankfully raise a glass of cheer and celebrate something!
Beautiful Sonoma County agri-business.

  • Thankful for a memorable wine tasting in Sicily with the veritable patriarch of the Occhipinti cantina in Sicily's only DOCG.
  • Following a short-supply 2015 grape harvest, this year saw many premium local grape growers able to charge more for their quality fruit in a year of premium quality. North Coast spot markets increased significantly, according to our Allied Grape Growers cooperative.
  • 2016 offered a relatively even growing season statewide, producing a normal harvest of exceptional quality fruit(Wine Institute).
  • A new university graduate in the family, and a new lawyer in the family, who happen to be the same talented individual. 
  • Domestic wine lovers continue a familiar trend, with annual per capita consumption at around 10+ liters, so we can at least sit at the table of other established wine cultures.
  • Consumer market minor grape selections continue to show growth away from leaders Cabernet and Chardonnay; Beverage Dynamics reported impressive 2016 sales growth in Red Blends(10.1%) and Sauvignon Blanc(13.3%), as trends indicate buyers continue to trade up.
  • My Mom got to embrace a new grandson, and then visit with a few of her favorite major league ballplayers in the stadium clubhouse.
  • Direct to consumer wine sales continue to grow, according to Beverage Dynamics, up 8.1% over 2015, as more Prohibitionist states relax regulations and more consumers find confident selection, quality on-line.
  •  At home, our best Thompson Seedless grape harvest ever, and then drying to wonderfully sweet raisins.
    Traditional method cavas and cremants offer celebration value.
  • Fine wines, those above the declining table wine sector, are continuing a positive trend of a growing number of consumers trading 'up' to higher priced quality wines, as quality domestic & import selections improve.
  • With thanks to our premium grape farmers, there is more than twice as much quality Pinot Noir crushed around here compared to just 10 years ago.
  • U.S. wine consumption is at an all time high(more than 750 million gallons), as new wine lovers(mostly women) increasingly come to the table(or bar, or bottle).
  • Thankfully, I can still stand and share the delicious mysteries of wine with friends, old & new, and on occasions find a nectar that authentically inspires.
Looking back in the mirror that is 2016, we see many things that are a reflection of who we are as a culture and as people, yet our history is not yet written for our future.  Certainly, here then is our opportunity to raise a glass, and to celebrate something!  Cheers!
 
"what matters is the countless small deeds of unknown people, who lay the basis for the significant events that enter history". Howard Zinn

Wine Links:
 http://www.agricolaocchipinti.it/en/
 http://www.wineinstitute.org/resources/pressroom/10192016
 http://beveragedynamics.com/2016/01/26/9-trends-driving-wine-sales-in-2016/
 http://www.winesandvines.com/template.cfm?content=175163&section=news

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

SICILY; Lost & Found

Sun-baked, wind swept vineyards of Occhipinti, Vittoria DOCG
 Everything on this sunny, wind swept Mediterranean island seems to have seeds; the eggplant, the tomatoes, the prickly pear, and certainly the grapes.  The nucleus of life, the seeds of Sicily are a reflection of the native spirit and passion, a time capsule of its long history of cultural occupation that creates a wonderfully unique confluence.  Grillo and Catarratto, white grapes that are the basis for fortified Marsala DOC, as well as sea food-friendly table wines, combine here with reds Frappato and Nero D'Avola to create a uniquely native wine grape palate, distinctively Sicily.

Greeks may have introduced the vine here almost 3000 years ago, followed by the Phoenicians of the Fertile Crescent, and the cultivating, wine loving Romans.  Goth's, the Byzantine's, the Arabs and the Normans followed in rapid succession, creating a broad stroke of multi-cultural influences and instability. As the unity of Norman rule influenced language and religion, creating the Kingdom of Sicily in 1154, it eventually would fall under the influence of the Crown of Aragon in the late 15th century. Even as this period would usher wealth and influence for the strategic island, the 18th/19th centuries would again create instability, culminating in a constitution that initiated the end of feudalism and eventually a unification with the Kingdom of Italy in 1860. Neglectful governing would then give way to powerful networks of organized crime and radical left-wing peasant labor, the popular fascist rise of Mussolini, and eventually the Allies devastating Invasion of Sicily in 1943.  It would be then a miracle that any Sicilian identity would persevere, or even survive, for to be Sicilian was to be under the influence of others.
Amphora of Sicilian antiquity
In post-war reconstruction, sweeping land reforms of the 1950's gave new rise to the workers small farm cooperatives, and for its survival, Sicily became the undistinguished volume wine producer for all of Italy.  A national launch ushered in 1963, established an official system, regulating the wine industry, and creating important categorization and guidelines.  Over the following decades the Italian DOC(Controlled Designation of Origin) system was updated, creating top-tier DOCG and the regional typicity of the IGT categories in 1992.  Even as it was presented with its lone DOCG, Cerasuolo di Vittoria, Sicily remained a source for mostly simple table wines, or Vino di Tavola produced from its unique native grapes. 

What perseveres is a love of this land, a dedication to the life it gives; from the broad, fertile soils of the Mt. Etna wash, to the clay & limestone jagged profile of the rugged south. In the most recent generations her wine producers have moved towards an increasingly sustainable landscape, to smaller vineyard yields that enhance indigenous grape characteristics. Experiments with IGT blends that include recognizable international varieties, like Cabernet Sauvignon, are also becoming increasingly marketed.  And, global recognition for its diverse quality wines grows daily, from innovative and contemporary producers like Hugues de la Gatinais, Marco de Bartoli, and the dedicated enterprises of the Occhipinti family. Today, from their ancient and indigenous vines, Sicily is generating new and vibrant life from the seeds of its resilient past. And for the generations to come, a Sicily which was so often lost can once again be luminously found. Salute'!

Sicilian palmento in an 18th century farmhouse(restored)
"If we want things to stay as they are, things will have to change."
The Leopard, Guiseppe di Lampedusa

Tasting Values:
  Stemmari Nero D'Avola, Sicilia DOC 2014
  Tenuta Rapitala 'Nahar' Nero D'Avola-Pinot Nero, Sicilia IGT 2013



Wine Links:
winesofsicily.com



Monday, October 17, 2016

Post Harvest Sonnet

Late season bush vines of Roussillon


Yellowing leaves increasingly blanket
rolling parade grounds without its sweet fruit,
Crimson peppers in scatter break monotony
across many broad Sonoman vineyards.

Autumn in Beaujolais
Clear, crisp skies present starling swarms that cut
swirl sounds over a field settling to rest,
Green pigments absorb no more of its sun,
their cycle evolved as days now grow short.

Post Harvest in Burgundy
Phenolic compounds and sugars matured,
make the seasons wines that we must now vend.
Toil with sweat chase the last rays of autumn sun,
create the circle that I gladly drink!

Raise your glass then to celebrate harvest;
toil now rests in rays of soft fading light.

Cheers & Salute'!
Autumn in hills of Langhe,