Category Archives: Industry News

Oregon Pinot Camp 2011

I am still recovering from Oregon Pinot Camp 2011, which is the reason for my delayed blog post!  Each June, for the past eleven years, fifty wineries in the Willamette Valley host 250 “campers” for a three-day intensive on Oregon wines, particularly Pinot Noir, from dirt to glass.  The campers are trade folks from all over the world–sommeliers, retailers, and buyers of all sorts.  It was an incredibly well-organized event, with every waking (or semi-waking) moment packed with tastings, seminars, meals, tours, and in-the-vineyard education.  Not to mention late-night karaoke at the local bar befittingly named “Lumpy’s.”   

Orientation began with the story of owner/winemaker Jimi Brooks (of Brooks winery), who passed away suddenly during harvest 2004.  Many local winemakers donated their valuable and limited time during harvest to make sure the 2004 Brooks vintage was completed in the style the winery had become known for.  This is a true testament to the spirit of the wine industry in Oregon.  Of course, there is friendly competition, but they all share the same goal: to spread their passion for the exciting wines of Oregon.   

There were six different workshops, led by the winemakers from top wineries such as Chehalem, Adelsheim, Cristom, St. Innocent, and Argyle.  One of my favorites, “Multiple Personalities of Oregon Pinot Noir,” explored the influences that vintage, place, and the winemaker have on the final product. (Don’t be fooled by what the press is saying about the 2007 vintage…it was a tough vintage with lots of rain, but the wines are really showing well.)  Luckily, the blindly tasted favorite at my table was made by Greg McClellan of Trisaetum, who was seated next to me. 

Another particularly interesting workshop was the one titled, “Soil Into Wine: Digging Deeper into Pinot Noir.”  This was held at Penner-Ash winery, where there are two very different soil types– sedimentary and volcanic–100 feet from each other.  Campers were able to walk down into soil pits to get a close-up view of geological history.  Later we tried wines vinified in the same manner but from grapes grown in the different soil types.  It was fascinating to taste the difference, and really brought the idea of terroir to life.   

I was thrilled to have “Hunting the Great White: When Pinot Noir is Not Enough” as my 8 a.m. session on day two, because I like to joke that the white wines of Oregon really make for excellent “breakfast wines.”  I was blown away by the Chardonnay and Pinot Gris, and particularly by the Riesling.  This is world-class stuff, with potential to age beautifully. 

The final night ended with a classic Oregon salmon bake.  Fresh salmon fillets are strung to stakes hovering over an open fire pit and served up alongside loads of local foods. (Oregon berries this time of year are scrumptious.)  This was a real treat, not only because the food and scenery were incredible, but because the winemakers were walking around with large format older vintage bottles and pouring for any and all takers (which was anyone and everyone).  Often times compared to Burgundy, many of these wines can age very well.  One that really stood out to me was the Chehalem 1994 Reserve Pinot Noir.  The acid and fruit were still very present and balanced, but the aged characteristics were peaking through just a touch, which made for a complex and graceful wine.  

On the last day I took a ten-minute helicopter ride over the valley!  Once my heart stopped racing a million miles a minute, I was able to take in the landscape from a birds-eye view.  It’s important to the locals to ‘keep it real’ by maintaining local crops, like Filberts (hazelnuts), instead of taking over the area with vineyards. Their focus is on world-class wine-making instead of building fancy Napa-style Chateau-like wineries.   Oregon Pinot Camp made a serious impression on me.  It’s clear this region will continue to grow and make a real mark on the world of wine.

Louis Roederer’s Cristal for 96% off?

Picture it:  You are shopping for a bit of sparkling wine for a weekend picnic with your peppy puggle, Hector, and a group of your best friends. All of a sudden you see a bottle of $7.99 Cava with 91 points from Wine and Spirits and a handful of great customer reviews. You look at the image and think, “OMG, I wonder if that $7.99 bottle of “Cristalino” Cava from Spain is actually Louis Roederer’s mind-blowing Cristal marked down from a $199 to just $7.99. Your picnic will be legendary and you, my friend, are awesome. Whether this has ever actually happened or not is irrelevant; what does matter is that you might confuse the two or think that Cristalino is related in some way to the legendary House of Louis Roederer.

The human race is both tragically and miraculously capable of anything and for that reason one of our favorite Cavas, Cristalino, was forced to change its label image from the gold label, to the futuristic, “beam me up Scotty,” label you see today. I bring this up because we have updated our website to include Cristalino‘s new label and don’t want Cristalino fans to think it’s no longer available.  This lovable Cava is one of’s most popular Cavas and Cristal is, well, simply one of the world’s finest Champagnes, so when this lawsuit made headlines we all kind of wondered if this was really necessary.

I suppose it doesn’t really matter in the end, it’s just a curious footnote to that strange disclaimer on the label. It reads, I kid you not, “ JAUME SERRA CRISTALINO is not affiliated with, sponsored by, approved by, or in anyway connected to Louis Roederer’s CRISTAL® champagne or Louis Roederer.”

C’est la vie. Honestly, I’d happily have either one in my glass right now. Check out both wines or, better yet, try them.

Women and Wine

It’s National Women’s History Month! And today is actually the 100th anniversary of International Women’s Day! What better way to celebrate than by sharing some fun facts and stories on women in the wine industry. Women do make up over 50% of the country’s wine drinkers and purchasers, after all, and more and more are finding a place in what used to be a male-dominated industry. Stay tuned to our blog this month where we’ll be featuring some fantastic women in wine throughout the years.

To get you started, here are some notable women and their accomplishments in the wine world

- Madame Clicquot is credited with, among other things, inventing the riddling rack and process that is crucial to the Champagne making process.

- Josephine Marlin Tychson became the first woman in to build & operate a winery in Napa by building what is now Freemark Abbey.

- Dr. Ann Noble, researcher and professor at UC Davis, created the world-recognized UC Davis Wine Aroma Wheel.

- Mary Ewing-Mulligan was the first American woman to gain the prestigious Master of  Wine credential and is the North American president of The Institute of the Masters of Wine. She also co-authored the ever popular “Wine for Dummies.”

- Dianne Nury became the first woman chairman of Wine Institute in 1998.

Wine writers like Karen McNeil, Andrea Immer-Robinson, Leslie Sbrocco and Natalie McLean have also transformed the industry with their innovative writing and winning personalities! We celebrate our women in wine this month – which women in wine have inspired you?

ZAP 2011

Went to the ZAP (Zinfandel Advocates and Producers) grand tasting two weekends ago. This is the huge Zinfandel tasting that takes up 2 whole buildings in San Francisco's Fort Mason every year. Now this is an event which draws thousands of people and it can be a bit of a madhouse. There are so many producers showing that it can be hard to get a handle on which to taste. My strategy was to hit some of the ones I have liked in the past, yet try to taste some new ones as well. I tend to like the Russian River Valley and Mendocino and Napa Zins, along with the more restrained Dry Creek Valley producers. The reason is I like wines that have some acidity and balance to the fruit.

So I spent 4 hours there and here are some highlights, I won't bother describing the low points. From the wineries whom I am already familiar, I loved the whole Ridge lineup, in this case all 2009 Barrel samples. They were all good, but what really popped to me  was the Paganni Ranch, really fantastic. The fruit for that wine had a super zingy and blast of red fruits, but balanced.  Moving on to Ravenswood, I loved the barrel samples of the Old Hill and Teldeschi (year after year my favorites), these are cellar zins, which need a few years to combine the rather firm structure and loveley elegant and powerful fruit. On to Hartford where the Jolene's and Highwire were literally jumping out of the glass with their textbook Russian River character. Here we have high acidity and very vibrant brambly red fruits and spices. Over at Deloach the OFS was sprightly and again full of the RRV fruit I love so much, sadly they were not showing many of their smaller lot zins. Novy was  showing some gorgeous easy to drink wine. A producer whom I have never tasted before, Gamba really excited me with big yet balanced and wonderful wines. Seghesio as usual had some big boned yet wonderful wines. For me the Cortina and Home Ranch really rocked.  From Napa I loved the almost Claret like Chateau Montelena. Easton another producer whom I like showed a wonderful Shenandoah wine, and Claudia Springs rocked my world with all their lineup.  Another new to me producer was Bedrock, who had a wonderful wine and Gundlach Bundschu was showing some fine form as well.

Anyhow, there were actually many more who I enjoyed, and it seemed to me that many producers were pulling back from some of the port-like monsters.. although there were still many of these producers and they have many fans, just not me. I really feel that people who don't look that deeply into the world of zin are missing something, because they can be such joyful and exhuberant wines. Zap was great.

Why lighter bottles matter

It’s happened to most of us – we grab the bottle, sure there is some wine left to pour into our glass, only to find out that it is empty. Yet it weighs as much as some full bottles. Why? Why is it necessary to put wine in such a heavy bottle? bottleMost wine bottles weigh about a pound. In the past decade, certain wineries and winemakers bottled their wines in much heavier bottles, some up to four pounds. The move may have been to indicate higher quality wines – heavier bottles, deeper punts, and you know our wine is top-notch. Yet nothing about thicker, heavier glass is better for the wine (unless you’re drinking Champagne). Some of the most age-worthy Bordeaux are packaged in much lighter bottles than some California Cabernet. But the trend is changing due to some heavy bottle backlash.

In 2008, both Jancis Robinson and Oz Clarke, two highly regarded wine writers and experts, blasted the heavy bottle trend, noting its environmental irresponsibility. Heavy bottles have a much higher carbon footprint, adding to shipping weight and glass waste in the world. Luckily, in an effort to be more green, wineries are taking note and making the move to lighter bottles.

There is also a move by some producers into alternative packaging. You’ll see more tetra packs, bag-in-box wines and PET bottles coming into the market.

So take notice of which producers are packaging your wines in ultra-heavy bottles. If you don’t like it – let them know. Which wineries do you know of that are using lighter bottles for their wines?