Friday, October 19, 2018


Even as Munich's annual bier party, Oktoberfest, is a groggy memory,  Austria's 'heurigen' tavern culture continues to invite visitors as long as there's local bulk wine to quickly ferment.  Locally, weeks of favorable sunny and mild conditions have produced by most accounts an 'average' harvest of good quality that is nearing its uneventful resolution.  Unless, that is, you factor increasing seasonal wildfires across the North Bay and the western U.S.  It is a period of change; a period that we now routinely measure.  Farming is certainly seasonal, with demand vs. supply in its landscape. Yet, for the wine industry, with all these environmental changes, grape by grape, it is a new world.

More quality and affordable wines are available to more consumers from more places than ever before. That is a fact. Like the 'heurigen' hospitality, we here have bulk wines(it's most of what our industry produces) in lots of places. We may never run out. And, we recently have had a long series of good harvests, combined with the strength of steady consumer demand. Plus, the bulk market is getting better fruit from more sustainable growing practices and quality vineyards than ever before.  So today, our 'vin ordinaire' is so now consistently good it may actually hurt the theory that domestic consumers will eventually move up the price ladder. Plus, domestic consumers are increasingly enjoying more quality imports at the sub-$12 than ever before, like French rose' and New Zealand sauvignon blanc.

Old World vineyard traditions remain after generations
Yesterday for today's wine industry is the foundation of tomorrow, where almost everyday there surfaces another important environmental alert.  Just in the past few weeks there have been quite a number of important notices that will continue to impact industry and consumer alike for years to come.  Importantly, at a recent Paris conference, International Energy Agency head, Faith Birol, told the audience that after 9 months of surveys our planet is on pace to break a record for increased levels of global carbon emissions!

Our 'average' harvest here(a new normal?) differs drastically from what is being reported elsewhere, as England this season produced it's biggest wine grape harvest, and perhaps their best pinot noir crop ever!  Beneficially, much of the isles sunny southeast is blessed with well-drained, high-calcium soils similar to those in Champagne, France.  Domestically, vineyard smoke taint is for us now such a prominent and persistent issue that UC Davis is currently testing its effects on all stages of wine grapes development, even as current fruit contracts from effected local growers are being cancelled by large wine-grape buyers.

And, there are domestic market reports that indicate we may soon have an oversupply of fruit for a sluggish marketplace, a popular segment where reserves of bulk wine are already quite heavy.  On the consumer-plus side, 'direct to consumer' shipments to out of state customers continues to expand, and was most recently upheld by a Michigan court.  Where there were once a handful of 'reciprocal' states for wine interstate commerce, at present consumers now have just a few states where such is prohibited.  Overall, it continues to be a strong decade of development, consolidation and growth for the U.S. wine industry, and that continues to benefit all consumers.
'Battle of Wine' festival in Haro, Rioja DOC
Among a world of values, a delightful surprise may be in store for consumers who search out the white wines of Rioja, Spain.  Originating from about as far away from the sea as you get in Spain, with the Pyrenees and Cantabrian ranges to the north, and a dry, continental climate, Rioja is traditionally dominated by red grapes, notably noble tempranillo. However, current improvements in the prominent region's viticulture and their vinification have allowed its white wines from viura(macabeau), malvasia and garnacha blanca(grenache blanc) grapes to now present clean, bright blends and single varietal wines vibrantly stainless fermented and without excessive aging. Consumers who search out wines like Cortijo's Rioja Blanco(100% viura) and Muga's Blanco(blend) will find zesty wines with inviting aromas and mouth-watering citrus and apple-skin notes that are food friendly at under $15. These are fine examples of what was once tradition now turned on its head to the favor of consumers in a New World.


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