Good Saturday morning! Here’s your list of the latest wine-related news and blog posts I’ve been reading this past week. As always, I hope this proves interesting, if not useful. Let me know your thoughts…

From the Press

New York Times: For Farmers of Wine Grapes, the Pandemic Sows Doubts


Ann Kraemer pruning vines at Shake Ridge Ranch, her vineyard in Sutter Creek, Calif. Ordinarily, she would sell the grapes to a select group of winemakers, but the pandemic is disrupting the usual arrangements.Credit…Max Whittaker for The New York Times

Ann Kraemer’s vineyard, Shake Ridge Ranch, covers 46 acres of rocky hillsides near Sutter Creek, in the Sierra Foothills of California.

Ms. Kraemer takes scrupulous care of the vines, farming organically and maintaining a permanent cover crop on the well-drained basalt soils. The grapes, including zinfandel, grenache, barbera, syrah, tempranillo and petite sirah, have for years been in high demand.

Ordinarily, she sells to roughly two dozen winemakers, including influential old-guard producers like Steve Edmunds of Edmunds St. John, and an array of in-demand, new-wave winemakers like Angela Osborne of A Tribute to Grace, Hardy Wallace of Dirty & Rowdy, Morgan Twain-Peterson of Bedrock and John Lockwood of Enfield. Ms. Kraemer has a waiting list of new customers.

But this year is different. The Covid-19 pandemic has jolted the American wine industry across the board, affecting each element — from production to distribution, sales and consumption — all the way back to the source, the farmers who grow the grapes. READ MORE…

Wine Enthusiast: The Restaurant Business Can’t Afford to Exclude Anyone

By Yannick Benjamin

Opening a restaurant in New York City is one of the hardest challenges anyone can take on, and, in my opinion, you have to be partly insane to do it.

The market is wildly competitive, and the amount of red tape that surrounds even the most miniscule decision can be a headache. Trying to obtain an NYC liquor license, for example, can take six months or more. Everything requires permits and licenses, and each comes with its own fees. The bottom line is, you never have enough money when you’re about to open a restaurant.

And yet, that’s exactly what I’m trying to do. I am in the process of opening Contento restaurant in East Harlem, New York.

Oh, and by the way, did I mention that we also have the challenge of dealing with something called the coronavirus? READ MORE…

The Press Democrat: Sonoma County supervisors seek broader reopening despite top health officer’s reservations

By Tyler Silvy

Supervisor Susan Gorin speaks during a press conference about the first community spread case of the coronavirus and the local response. Photo taken outside the Sonoma County administration building in Santa Rosa on Sunday, March 15, 2020. (BETH SCHLANKER/ The Press Democrat)

Sonoma County officials, at the direction of the Board of Supervisors, are preparing to ask the state to allow the county to proceed more quickly with reopening parts of the local economy, joining several dozen counties that are already lobbying Sacramento to lift coronavirus- related restrictions.

The move comes despite strong reservations from the county’s top health officer and a local COVID-19 caseload and death toll that would otherwise disqualify the county from an accelerated reopening under state benchmarks put forth last week. READ MORE…

Washingtonion: Some Virginia Wineries Are Reopening This Weekend

By Sherri Dalphonse

For weeks, while Virginia has been locked down, the state’s wineries were forced to close their tasting rooms and grounds to visitors. Most continued to sell wine, sometimes at a deep discount, usually shipping bottles or offering curbside pick-up. Some went further, delivering as few as three bottles to a customer’s door for free, and hosting virtual tastings.

But as of May 15, many wineries will be allowed to reopen to visitors—sort of. After weeks of drinking pinot grigio within your own four walls, you might be tempted to take a drive and have a vineyard picnic. But it won’t be as simple as in the past. READ MORE…

Wine Enthusiast: Italian Wineries Anxiously Await a Return to Normalcy

By Kerin O’Keefe

Sanitization of ‘Baccanale’ restaurant in Rome on May 4/Photo by Sipa USA/Alamy Live News

One of the countries hardest hit by the novel coronavirus, Italy has suffered the longest and most rigidly enforced lockdown in the European Union. The nationwide quarantine that started on March 9 closed restaurants, wine bars and halted tourism. Cellar-door sales, crucial to many Italian wineries, and on-premise sales both domestically and around the world have collapsed. Vinitaly, the country’s most important annual wine fair for the trade, was canceled for the first time in its 54-year history.

With the 2020 harvest just months away and cellars across the country filled to capacity, various wine-trade associations have called on the government to approve emergency measures, including a controversial proposal to distill table wine stocks in order to obtain alcohol for disinfectant. While this may be a feasible option for cheaper wines destined for immediate consumption, it’s obviously not viable for Italy’s high quality, ageworthy wines. READ MORE…

SevenFifty Daily: How Cash-Strapped Restaurants Can Turn Their Wine Cellars into Profit

By Betsy Andrews

Left: Brent Kroll (photo courtesy of Brent Kroll). Right: Sean Beck (photo courtesy of Sean Beck.)

In mid-March, when California Governor Gavin Newsom asked restaurants to close their doors against COVID-19, Jim Rollston, wine director at San Francisco’s Manresa, acted quickly, offering to sell select cult bottles from his cellar. “I had one [Weingut] Keller G-Max and thought, ‘Somebody’s gonna want this,’” he says. He also put other young bottles that require years of additional bottle age, like a 2016 Domaine du Comte Liger-Belair Vosne-Romanée, up for sale: “You feel okay about putting it into someone else’s cellar.”

Those are the kinds of decisions wine directors have been weighing as struggling restaurateurs look to their cellars for liquidity. Although moving $20 bottles with takeout food might be a no-brainer, the luxury end requires a much more strategic approach. For sommeliers and restaurant owners considering selling gems from their cellar to generate income, professionals shared their advice with SevenFifty Daily. READ MORE…

Blogs Worth a Read

I have a new page listing the Blogs I follow with regularity. Here are just a few posts from this past week I think are worth a read. Shoot me a note if you have suggestions or want your blog included.

Tim Atkin: Wine in the time of Covid-19

“Avoid alcohol”, a list of 13 “survival tips” I received from The Spiritual Scientist advised me this week, as “overconsumption could lead to having an addiction”, but frankly stuff that. The Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp said recently that football was the most important of the least important things in life and that’s how I feel about wine. Now more than ever, I look forward to a glass or three in the evening. READ MORE…

Spit Bucket: Wine Shopping in the Age of Social Distancing

I just had an intensely uncomfortable experience.

Since France started easing Covid restrictions on May 11th, I’ve been itching to get out of the house. So today I took the plunge and walked to my local wine shop to pick up a few bottles. When I got there, I made a note of the shop’s safety precautions posted outside.

Everyone must wear a mask.
Only two customers allowed in the store at once.
Maintain at least 1-meter distance from other people.

Once inside, I noticed the tape delineating the one-way race track that we were to take as well as a new precaution. Customers could not touch any of the bottles-only clerks. While this all made sense and I understood fully why it had to be this way, I still have to confess that seeing that sign made my heart sink. READ MORE…

Vinography: What Wine Tasting Rooms Will Be Like For the Foreseeable Future

No one knows for certain when Wine Country will open back up in California. As wine tourism represents more than $7 billion of the California economy and employs more than 375,000 people, it’s clearly high on the list of things to get re-started once the government has decided to loosen the current shelter-in place restrictions. California governor Gavin Newsom has indicated that the re-opening of businesses will move in phases, but the details of those phases are not concrete beyond the suggestion that Phase One will include reopening of some retail businesses that can offer takeout and/or curbside delivery.

Wine Country tasting rooms don’t quite fit that description. However, in addition to the statewide plan and guidance being provided by the Governor, individual counties are developing their own plans, and at least one of them, San Luis Obispo county, has suggested that opening winery tasting rooms would be included in their Phase One reopening plans, if given permission to do so by the State. So far, that county has had that permission to implement their own plan denied. READ MORE…

Jancis Robinson: Why bother making wine in Vietnam (or indeed anywhere)?

Within a thousand-mile radius of Singapore there are vineyards in three different countries: Thailand, Vietnam and Indonesia (on the island of Bali). At latitudes of 12 degrees north for the first two and eight degrees south for Bali, these are way outside the viticultural Goldilocks zone of 30 to 50 degrees, considered an essential prerequisite for producing good-quality wine according to experts living within those boundaries.

So why does anyone even bother growing wine grapes in tropical climates? With travel currently outlawed, finding out the answer to that question may take place only within a half-mile radius of my house.READ MORE…

GuildSomm: Champagne: Advanced Topics

Ruinart Chef de Caves Frédéric Panaiotis gives a lecture on considerations in Champagne production. Based on past Ruinart Challenge talks, this presentations covers:

  • Control of alcoholic fermentation
  • Oxidation and reduction
  • Lightstrike
  • Lifecycle of a Champagne bubble


Palate Press: Actually, What is Vermouth?

To celebrate Vermouth Day, I decided to open a couple bottles of La Pivón from Madrid. But maybe I should talk about what Vermouth is, before I get specific about this one. Because I’ve found that most people don’t really know what Vermouth is, even if they have a bottle at home. READ MORE…

Great British Wine: A Virtual Tour of Sussex

“Would you like to borrow a pair of wellies?”, Howard asked, in an affable but mildly concerned tone, as he stared down at our clean, brightly coloured trainers. I declined. I regretted declining. Like most agricultural land, vineyards can be muddy places, especially after two storms in as many weeks.

Locked down in London, I’ve found myself thinking back to my slightly muddy February trip to Sussex. Despite the fact that it is getting sunnier and warmer by the day, I’d trade it all for a bit of mud on my boots! So, take a trip with me, to two of Sussex’s most exciting vineyards…READ MORE…

Tablas Creek Vineyard Blog: My wine warmed up in transit. Is it still OK?

No seeping wine? That’s good.

Like most wineries, with our tasting room closed the last two months we’ve seen a surge in phone and e-commerce wine orders. Some of these customers are regulars in ordering wine, but we know that for a lot of them, this is a new thing. For the first six weeks of the quarantine, we benefited from mostly cool weather around the country, but the last two weeks have warmed up and we’ve begun our annual weather watch to make sure that our shipments to you go out and arrive when the weather is as cool as possible.

Unfortunately, summer is coming, and there will soon be swathes of the country that will be hot for months. Does this mean you can’t order wine? And while it always ships out cool, if it does warm up in transit, is it damaged? I’ve received a handful of questions about this in the past couple of weeks, and, following my own advice from 13 years ago, it seems like that means it’s a good subject for a blog.

First, it’s important to know what is happening when a wine warms up, what the warning signs are that your wine might be affected, and if so, what your options are. I’ll take those in turn. READ MORE…

The Wine Economist: The Origins of the California Cabernet Bubble

Jeff Bitter emoji urging grapes growers to pull out vines

California (and Washington, too) was over-supplied with wine in tanks and vines in the ground before the coronavirus crisis hit. The lock-down booze-buying surge in March and April made a dent in the wine lake (a net increase in U.S. sales after considering lost on-trade sales). But there is concern that overall sales will fall once the second shoe drops and the impact of the recession is fully felt despite the eventual return of bar and restaurant activity.

Cabernet was the focus of a boom because it is the most popular red wine variety and can sell for a premium, especially in the Napa Valley.  It seemed like it was impossible to go wrong planting a few more acres of Cabernet, so plant we did. Economists see moral hazard in situations like this. Moral hazard is the notion that if you don’t think that an otherwise risky bet can fail, you will take more risk and make bigger bets.

W. Blake Gray reports that there are rising bulk wine surpluses and falling prices. That sure thing turned out to be a fallacy of composition. What was true for an individual grower (profitable to plant more acres of Cab so long as everyone else holds steady) was not true when everyone planted more Cab. No wonder Allied Grape Growers President Jeff Bitter (that’s Jeff in the cartoon image above) told growers at this year’s Unified Wine & Grape Symposium meetings that it is time to pull out marginal vines. READ MORE…

Tim Atkin: In Vino Duplicitas: The Rise and Fall of a Wine Forger Extraordinaire

At 5pm on the 25thof April 2008, Peter Hellman received a phone call from Geoffrey Troy of New York Wine Warehouse. The wine merchant had heard that “something unusual” was about to happen at an Acker, Merrall & Condit auction at Cru restaurant in Greenwich Village and advised Hellman, a freelance journalist, to “get on down there”. Intrigued, Hellman did just that.

Half way through the sale – described as “like a giant fun party within an auction” by one bidder – auctioneer John Kapon paused to mention what he called  “a little unusual situation here”. Laurent Ponsot of Domaine Ponsot in Morey-St-Denis had come to New York to make sure that 22 lots of his wine were withdrawn, as Kapon had promised him they would be, only to find that they were still in the sale. Also at Cru was Rudy Kurniawan, the consignor of those bottles. At the end of the auction, Hellman spoke to him. What was the problem? “We try to do the right thing, but it’s Burgundy,” he replied. “Shit happens.” READ MORE…

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**Please note: all reviews and opinions are my own and are not associated with any of my places of business. I will always state when a wine has been sent as a sample for review. Sending samples for review on my personal website in no way guarantees coverage in any other media outlet I may be currently associated with.**

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