Welcome to your weekend edition of wine news. I’ve got everything from interesting press releases, gender equality, women in winemaking, Covid, tariffs, Japanese and Chinese wines….there was a lot going on this week both in traditional press and in the blogging world.
In the midst of it all, the wine industry lost a legend on Tuesday with the death of Steve Spurrier. I only met the man twice, so I’m not going to feign an intimate relationship that didn’t exist. But I think it’s fair that anyone with a career in wine and wine writing was in some way influenced and inspired by his great work. I’ve included a whole section with other writers’ rememberings of Steven below.
Lastly, with a shameless self-plug, the grape growing conference in which I moderated a session all about regenerative viticulture is now live on YouTube. I’ve provided the video below as well.
If you haven’t heard of Samra Morris, take note, this Bosnian-born woman is a winemaker to watch. She is, indeed, the first Bosnian female winemaker in California. Samra has both a Bachelors and Masters degree in Food Sciences from The University of Sarajevo, College of Agricultural and Food Sciences. Post-graduation, Morris interned in the Department of Enology at The University of Sarajevo before deciding to pursue a winemaking career.
Samra came to Napa alongside her military air force husband whose station assignment moved from her home town in Bosnia to Travis Air Force Base just outside of California’s esteemed wine country. “I’m the luckiest Bosnian,” she said during our recent tasting together.
Her career in the wine business started with a tasting room position, then on to a vineyard internship for St. Supery, after which she spent three harvests with winemaker Thomas Rivers Brown and eventually became part of the cellar team for Michael Mondavi Family Estate.
Today, Samra is head winemaker for Alma Rosa in Santa Rita Hills, Calif. , a sub-AVA of Santa Ynez Valley AVA, located in Santa Barbara County, the most southern wine producing region within the state’s Central Coast.
As many know, the Santa Barbara region, in general is noted for its cool climate, brought on by the Transverse Ranges—mountainous ranges that glide east-to-west, funneling the cool maritime air from the Pacific Ocean. The combination of those cooling sea breezes and a range of aspects and altitudes means that the key grapes of the region, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, are able to achieve full phenolic ripeness, but maintain a high enough acidity to balance the structure fruit concentration.
But Samra didn’t come to Santa Rita Hills to do what everyone else is doing. Beyond Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, Alma Rosa produces Rhone varieties including Syrah and Grenache; Alsatian varieties such as Pinot Gris and Pinot Blanc. And that these “alternative” Santa Rita Hills expression is what Samra brought to the table for a recent media tasting.
Susan Sokol Blosser and Bill Blosser were dreamers and schemers. In the early 1970s when America was experiencing its modern grape growing and winemaking boom the couple decided—with no prior ag or cellar training—to become both growers and winemakers. While many in this position would have set their sites toward California, the couple gave the US’s largest wine producing state a wink and a wave as they passed on by to settle in Dundee, Oregon, following in the footsteps of such wine pioneers as David Lett (Eyrie Vineyard).
One of Willamette Valley’s seven sub-AVAs, Dundee Hills is arguably the most important. Indeed, it is where the first Pinot Noir vines were planted in the state. A series of volcanic hills run north to south with ridging running east to west, and thus vines tend to be planted at higher altitudes than anywhere else in Willamette. Though the temperature is warmer than elsewhere in the larger AVA (due to the Coast Range blocking maritime influence and the Chehalem Mountains blocking northern winds), this elevated planting means that grapes experience a wide diurnal range, thus protecting innate acidity. A quality that is truly characteristic of the Sokol Blosser wines.
Today, second generation, brother-sister team, Alison Sokol Blosser and Alex Sokol Blosser, take the reigns as co-CEOs. According to the winery, the Sokol Blosser legacy expands beyond their high quality Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays, and into their love and respect for the environment that allows them to produce those grapes. In 2002, Sokol Blossor became the first US winery to become LEED Certified and in 2015 they gained B Corp status.
I’m very lucky to experience media tastings, and since the pandemic, my opportunities have expanded to international tastings as well. While not all events fit into projects I’m working on for traditional media outlets, I love sharing particularly special tastings with you all here on my personal website.
Last week I had the privilege of tasting through premier and grand crus wines with Benoit Landanger, owner and estate manager of Domaine de la Pousse D’or. The 2018 vintage marks the first vintage in which the domaine has been Demeter Biodynamic-certified (though they have been practicing biodynamics since 2014). This year is also marked as one of the most challenging vintages in Burgundy of Benoit’s recent memory. Excessively warm days and severe lack of rainfall forced him to make the difficult decision to start picking in mid-August.
“We are usually one of the last in Volnay to do the harvest,” says Benoit, “In 2018 we were the first. It was a risk. We were constantly checking acidity, and I knew the maturity was there.”
The effects of climate change are an ongoing struggle for growers of Burgundy, where mitigation techniques like shade cloth and irrigation are not permitted. Benoit attributes his vines’ success to his biodynamic practices, siting the soils’ ability to retain more moisture (from environmental humidity and morning dew) as just one of the many benefits to this environmentally aware form of viticulture.
If pick-dates are the hardest challenge in the field, sitting still is the hardest decision in the cellar. “It’s very difficult to say ‘we don’t do anything,’ because we want to. The challenge is to say that, some days, we don’t work at all,” Bennoit says. With all the hard work he and his team put toward soil, vine, and environmental health, it’s no wonder that grapes come into the cellar in perfect condition to make top-quality wine.
In the end, these wines are absolutely beautiful. To my palate these are wines that I can easily enjoy now (and will, since they’re open), but can also age for years, decades, maybe more. When asked his opinion on his wines’ age-ability, Bennoit says, “It is difficult to answer and it depends on the moment. If the wine is well done, it is forever … We are making this for the true love of our wine, to share, and to be proud of the wine we are making.”
I’ll keep this intro short and sweet. By the time you read this, I’ll be sitting in another WSET course, studying away. This week I’ve pulled a good variety of wine related news from around the world, incorporating everything from the wines of Greece, cork production, New Zealand red wines to watch for, modern day Douro wines and winemaking, the stink bug that’s invaded UK vineyards, and so very much more. Hopefully you have some time to relax, scroll through, and read what suits your fancy. Enjoy!