Hello and happy last weekend of July. Time flies when you’re drinking wine, eh? That’s why I put together my weekly round up of news-worth wine stories, so we can all play a little catch up during our time off. (Hopefully you’re enjoying some time off.)
There are loads of stories surrounding climate change. I can’t list them all here, but scroll through, there’s enough going on all over the world that even the hardest skeptic should (should) become a believer…
A few other headlines that caught my attention: Randall Grahm’s new project with Gallo (if you have thoughts/opinions on this, would love to hear); the loss of one of Amador county’s founding fathers; and on a lighter note—looks like wine may just be a valuable part of the food pyramid.
#MeToo is far from over, but here’s some progress at least: Batali and Bastianich just settled a major lawsuit following several accusations and CMS America speaks about how it’s shifting toward a safer and more inclusive environment for staff and students alike.
Lastly, with a bit of vein self-promotion, check out two articles published this week: California Zinfandel‘s past, present and future, and my interview with president of Vintage Wine Estates, Terry Wheatley.
That is all for now…scroll, read, have fun. Cheers.
Napa Valley Wine Academy: California Zinfandel—Past, Present, and Future
Zinfandel, California’s signature variety, is its heritage grape. The history is long and storied, indeed, but Zinfandel’s lost past was only recently found within the last 20 years, when Carole Meredith, Ph. D., a professor emerita at the Department of Viticulture and Enology at the University of California at Davis, pioneered research determining its Croatian roots.
“What’s unique to Zinfandel is that it managed to become an important wine grape here [in California] without any real connection to its European origins,” says Mike Hendry, vineyard manager and director of marketing and sales for Hendry Ranch Wines in Napa, Calif. “That came later as we learned more about it. But it’s a grape that earned its way on its merits alone—which is unusual in a lot of what we have.” READ MORE…
Wine Industry Advisor: Vintage Wine Estate President, Terry Wheatley, Keynote Speaker for Wine & Weed Symposium 2021
“There will definitely be some 100% not politically correct storytelling.”
Terry Wheatley is not just the first female president of Vintage Wine Estates (VWE), she’s also the first female president in the wine industry to take a company public. This, she says, is the highlight of her career. “As I rose in my career over the years, I made it a goal to break some plates and open doors for women coming up after me. … I share this with many other top female leaders in our business who have also forged the way,” Wheatley comments during an interview with Wine Industry Advisor.
If that all isn’t impressive enough, as of 2020, Wheatley is also serving as the chairwoman of the board for CannaCraft, which represents one of the largest portfolios of cannabis brands and products. READ MORE…
New York Times: Scorched, Parched and Now Uninsurable—Climate Change Hits Wine Country
Sunscreen on grapes. Toilet water that is treated and used for irrigation. Napa Valley winemakers are taking extreme steps in the face of climate change.
Last September, a wildfire tore through one of Dario Sattui’s Napa Valley wineries, destroying millions of dollars in property and equipment, along with 9,000 cases of wine.
November brought a second disaster: Mr. Sattui realized the precious crop of cabernet grapes that survived the fire had been ruined by the smoke. There would be no 2020 vintage.
A freakishly dry winter led to a third calamity: By spring, the reservoir at another of Mr. Sattui’s vineyards was all but empty, meaning little water to irrigate the new crop.
Finally, in March, came a fourth blow: Mr. Sattui’s insurers said they would no longer cover the winery that had burned down. Neither would any other company. In the patois of insurance, the winery will go bare into this year’s burning season, which experts predict to be especially fierce. READ MORE…
New York Times: Two Rods and a ‘Sixth Sense’: In Drought, Water Witches are Swamped
In a vineyard flanked by scorched hills and charcoal trees, Rob Thompson gripped two stainless steel rods, began rotating in a circle and counted under his breath.
Then he said he had found it — water, hundreds of feet beneath the parched ground.
“This is really good,” said Mr. Thompson, 53, scratching an ‘X’ into the ashen soil with his shoe. “This is a deep one: 750 feet, 55 to 60 gallons a minute.” He added, “This one I can feel.”
Mr. Thompson is a water witch. READ MORE…
North Bay Business Journal: California wine grower report alleges 2020 ‘predatory conduct’ in smoke rejections. Winery attorneys say there’s more to the story
A new legal analysis commissioned by two prominent California wine grape grower trade groups pulled back the veil on the chaotic 2020 harvest, including vintners’ rejecting delivery of fruit, asserting that some of those refusals were based on thin or suspect reasoning, and suggesting growers push to have more specific contract language to avoid having their grapes being turned away.
The collision of massive California wildfires before and during harvest last year brought to the forefront a smoke damage problem that has been smoldering for the wine business on the West Coast with greater intensity in the past six years. READ MORE…
Press Democrat: Refuge no more: Forested Sonoma County enclave laid bare by Walbridge fire — and now, by salvage logging
A group of ravens fled south against the bright summer sky, escaping the noisy chopper that rose above the ridgeline, starting its daily shift plucking charred, downed trees from steep canyons within the Walbridge fire footprint.
The disturbed birds weren’t the only ones troubled by the din and commotion that have penetrated the once serene Mill Creek watershed — a lushly forested haven before lightning-sparked wildfire ravaged the region last summer.
The flames burned hottest in the remote creek canyons here, west of Healdsburg, and around Guerneville’s Armstrong Redwoods State Natural Reserve, which remains closed, the risk of burned, standing timber still deemed too high for visitors even 11 months after the fire.
Residents and landowners traumatized by the loss of their homes and community last August are grieving a changed environment, as well, and what feels to many like an invasion, as an occupying force of heavy equipment operators and crews from multiple agencies remains at work in the area. READ MORE…
Wine Spectator: Randall Grahm Joins Forces with Gallo for a New Wine Project
The new brand—The Language of Yes—combines Grahm’s penchant for Rhône grape varieties with Gallo’s marketing and distribution arm
Disregard the rumors that winemaker Randall Grahm is slowing down. Even after selling ownership in his wine company Bonny Doon last year, Grahm has continued making the wines while dreaming up his next big project. Now, he’s formed an unexpected alliance with E. & J. Gallo to produce a collection of California Central Coast wines called The Language of Yes.
“The project that we are jointly working on is in many ways a research project—the quest to make truly original wines in the New World—and one that would be essentially impossible for me to undertake entirely by myself,” Grahm told Wine Spectator.
Grahm said the team at Gallo has encouraged him to follow his passion and curiosity wherever it leads. “I am particularly fond of the fact that the business end of the business is no longer within my bailiwick,” he said. “Having access to some of the resources of Gallo has enabled a number of things that would not have happened nearly as quickly or perhaps ever. I’m hoping that the work can be slightly deeper and more soulful. And fun!” READ MORE…
Sacramento News: California says goodbye to ‘the Godfather of Barbera’
Dick Cooper’s vision, with advice from the guru of Corti Brothers, launched Plymouth’s international wine phenomenon
In the late 1970s, a young farming prodigy in the Shenandoah Valley was forging his own future: Dick Cooper’s parents had acquired a ranch along the valley’s grassy, golden quilt-work of hills, and though some of its158 acres were planted with prunes and walnuts, the recent U.C. Davis graduate had a different idea for the quiet patch of soil and sunlight.
Cooper wanted to follow the lead of his cousins up the road and install a serious vineyard. At first, his father wasn’t sure. It was a moment when some farmers were entrenched in the past, while others were gauging new possibilities for the valley. Cooper’s eyes were constantly looking ahead. He was part of a spirited generation of 20-something farmers in north Amador County who understood California’s vino scene might become ascendent, especially after one Napa County winery shocked the world in 1976 by crushing the French in a blind competition at the “Judgement of Paris.”
Cooper never stopped thinking of the potential, nor discussing it with his father. His persistence – along with an epiphany from a Sacramento wine savant – eventually opened the door to one of the region’s groundbreaking vineyards. Because Cooper didn’t just plant any grapes. He settled on a temperamental, highly obscure varietal from northern Italy. Over the next four decades, he did more than almost any figure to bring that little-known grape to the forefront of California’s legendary wine scene.
That varietal was Barbera. READ MORE…
The Drinks Business: How CMS Americas is getting its house in order
Emily Wines MS, the new chair of the Court of Masters Sommeliers, Americas, speaks to Roger Morris about how the organisation is reforming itself following last year’s scandal.
Emily Wines MS knew that she would not have an easy job when she was asked to chair the board of the Court of Masters Sommeliers, Americas last December following the group resignation of the previous board in the wake of a New York Times exposé that accused 12 male master sommeliers of sex-related offences ranging from unwanted touching to demanding sexual favours in exchange for advancement in the organisation’s testing process.
Today, a little over six months later, Wines told db in an exclusive interview that the Court is getting its house back in order. READ MORE…
New York Times: $600,000 Sexual Harassment Settlement Reached in Batali & Bastianich Case
An investigation by the New York State attorney general describes a culture of widespread sexual harassment and retaliation at the Batali & Bastianich Hospitality Group.
An investigation into the once-towering Manhattan restaurant business built by the chef Mario Batali and his former partner Joe Bastianich revealed a sexualized culture so rife with harassment and retaliation that it violated state and city human rights laws, the New York State attorney general, Letitia James, announced on Friday.
As part of a settlement brokered by Ms. James’s office, the two men and Pasta Resources, the company formerly known as the Batali & Bastianich Hospitality Group, will pay $600,000 to at least 20 women and men who were sexually harassed while they worked at the Manhattan restaurants Babbo, Lupa or Del Posto, which until it closed permanently in April was the crown jewel among the men’s holdings.
The investigation detailed formally what former employees had discussed on social media and in interviews: The men created a misogynistic culture where women regularly endured sexual comments, groping and kisses against their will. One manager told servers to get breast implants or make other changes in their appearance, the attorney general said. Male colleagues would tell women to get on their knees or discuss the attributes of their mouths. READ MORE…
Wine Spectator: Flooding Devastates Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands, Damaging Wineries in Ahr
More than 180 people are confirmed dead; Mosel vintners grapple with floodwaters while winemakers elsewhere organize relief efforts
Torrential rains in Northern Europe last week triggered devastating flooding in parts of Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands. The rain caused rivers to overrun their banks and in some cases sent torrents of water surging through towns and villages. Some wine regions in northwestern Germany suffered extensive damage, with the full impact yet to be known. Vintners in regions where the flooding was less severe have been dealing with water in cellars and mildew problems in vineyards, but many are focusing on organizing wine-industry relief efforts for harder-hit areas.
The rain began last Tuesday as moisture from the Mediterranean parked itself over Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands and stalled. In some parts of Germany, two months’ worth of rain fell in 24 hours, according to the Deutscher Wetterdienst, the national meteorological agency. Parts of the Rhine and its tributaries in Germany and the Meuse river in Belgium and Holland quickly overflowed. At least 183 people in the three countries are confirmed dead as of Monday, with dozens more missing after floodwaters swept through towns, destroying roads and bridges and pushing cars and trucks through the streets. READ MORE…
Willamette Week: Nicholas-Jay Winery Will Soon Employ Oregon’s First Self-Driving Tractor
The Monarch does more than just steer itself. It can complete other tasks all on its own, everything from weed removal to crop data analysis, including yield measurements and health metrics.
Jay Boberg envisions a future without tractor drivers.
That’s not because the co-founder of Nicolas-Jay winery presumes that particular piece of farming equipment will become obsolete. As the proud owner of Oregon’s first electric autonomous tractor, he simply has faith that cutting-edge technology will render butts in seats unnecessary.
Introduced by East Bay-based startup Monarch Tractor last December, it wasn’t so much the self-driving vehicle that initially caught his attention. Instead, he was drawn by the dream team that launched the company: a fourth-generation California wine grower who’s led pioneering efforts to eradicate herbicides in his industry; the former head of the Tesla Gigafactory; and a scientist who has experience developing everything from automated cars to four-wheel drive subterranean robots that can map as they go.
“They basically saw an opportunity to bring farming into the 21st century,” says Boberg. READ MORE…
The Conversation: When did humans start experimenting with alcohol and drugs?
Humans constantly alter the world. We fire fields, turn forests into farms, and breed plants and animals. But humans don’t just reshape our external world – we engineer our internal worlds, and reshape our minds.
One way we do this is by upgrading our mental “software”, so to speak, with myths, religion, philosophy and psychology. The other is to change our mental hardware – our brains. And we do that with chemistry.
Today, humans use thousands of psychoactive compounds to alter our experience of the world. Many derive from plants and fungi, others we manufacture. Some, like coffee and tea, increase alertness; others, like alcohol and opiates, decrease it. Psychiatric drugs affect mood, while psychedelics alter reality.
We alter brain chemistry for all kinds of reasons, using substances recreationally, socially, medicinally, and ritually. Wild animals sometimes eat fermented fruit, but there’s little evidence that they eat psychoactive plants. We’re unusual animals in our enthusiasm for getting drunk and high. But when, where and why did it all start? READ MORE…
Wine Spectator: Is Wine Empty Calories? A Spanish Researcher Argues It May Help Stave Off Extra Pounds
Nutrition expert presents evidence that shows polyphenols found in red wine might burn extra calories during meals
Are you cutting back on wine to cut calories? Maybe you shouldn’t. As one food scientist pointed out during a health webinar last month, moderate wine intake during meals may help boost metabolism and support weight loss.
On June 8, Dr. Rosa Lamuela-Raventos, associate professor of nutrition and food science at the University of Barcelona and member of the Spanish Biomedical Research Centre in Physiopathology of Obesity and Nutrition, presented her support for moderate wine consumption at “Wine and Weight Management: Is It Possible?” a virtual event hosted by Wine in Moderation, a wine-focused corporate social responsibility program.
In a recent interview with Wine Spectator, Lamuela-Raventos explained the prevailing evidence that moderate wine consumption may benefit heart health and how recent findings have informed her theory that wine can help burn extra calories and promote weight loss. READ MORE…
Wine Enthusiast: A Guide to Armenia, One of the World’s Oldest Wine Regions
Landlocked between Georgia, Iran, Azerbaijan and Turkey, Armenia’s fast-flowing rivers and high plateaus are framed by the rugged Caucasus Mountains. Early civilizations, ancient kingdoms and a communist state have all lived in what’s considered the cradle of wine.
Through triumphs and tumult, the country’s wine industry is again on the rebound. Here’s what you need to know about Armenia’s vinous renaissance. READ MORE…
James Suckling: Rating Biodynamics—Finding the True Soul of Wine
Many wine lovers could easily have written off the mystical concept of biodynamics were it not for the fact that some of the most celebrated producers in the world, particularly in Europe, have embraced it in their vineyards to make even greater, more soulful wines.
The notion of fostering a self-sustaining vineyard can be viewed as a spiritual, almost metaphysical, step up from organic farming. Yet, only a few people probably know that the principles of biodynamics, which were first postulated by the Austrian philosopher and anthroposophist Rudolf Steiner in 1924, actually predate organic farming.
Biodynamic farming is based on organic agriculture, which renounces the use of agrichemicals and synthetic fertilizers, but it is stricter and much broader in many ways. For example, the amount of so-called “Bordeaux mixture” (a fungicide made of copper sulphate, lime and water) allowed in biodynamic-certified farming is much less than in organic farming, leaving less copper residue in the soil. Whereas outside fertilizers are permitted in organic farming, biodynamic agriculture requires fertility to come from within the farm through composting. This serves to maximize microbial activities in the soil and enhance the vineyard’s “immune system” through homeopathic methods that could sound bizarre and abstruse to some but are totally comprehensible to others. READ MORE…
Wine-Searcher: California Winery Owner Arrested over Lobbying
He was friends with Donald Trump, Michael Jackson and Jeffrey Epstein, but now he is talking to the Feds.
A Santa Barbara County winery owner who was a great friend of Donald Trump, and chaired his inaugural committee, was arrested Tuesday and charged with violating foreign lobbying laws.
Thomas Barrack, owner of Happy Canyon Vineyard, was indicted on seven counts: two alleging that he acted as an unregistered agent of the United Arab Emirates, and five alleging that he lied to the FBI about it.
Barrack, 74, was arrested in Los Angeles and appeared in court on Tuesday afternoon. His spokesman told the Washington Post that he would plead not guilty. The Post reported that he will remain in custody without bail, at least temporarily. Prosecutors told the court he poses a serious flight risk, but they can envision a bail package that imposes strict conditions.
Barrack has had a colorful career as the chairman of Colony Capital, a real-estate investment company. Colony Capital bought Château Lascombes, a Margaux second growth, in 2001 before selling it to a French insurance company in 2011. It also owned the Paris Saint-Germain Football Club from 2006 to 2011. Normally those would rank among the most interesting investments for anyone, but they are footnotes for Barrack. READ MORE…
Blogs Worth a Read
Taken from the list of Blogs I follow regularly, here are just a few posts from this past week I think are worth a read. Shoot me a note if you have suggestions of blogs to follow or want your blog included on that list.
Grape Collective: Tastings in Wine Country Will Never Be the Same; On the Menu—Deep Dives, Deeper Pockets and a VW Bus
ith the pandemic receding in many parts of the U.S., your thoughts may be returning to a long-delayed visit to California’s Wine Country. If so, you should be aware of this: The tasting experience has changed and those changes, in many cases, will be permanent.
Wineries will be firmer about appointments. There will be more options, many with food and at different prices. Many or all of the visits will move outdoors. And the average tasting will be long – figure 45 minutes or more. It will also be more intimate, which in most cases will surely be great but also could mean a long, hard sell for the winery’s wine club.
None of these are new. Wineries have been headed this way for a while, but many were moving slowly and carefully away from the days of drop-in, stand-by-the-bar, inexpensive tastings. The pandemic forced them to change quickly and dramatically and, based on multiple conversations we’ve had over the past couple of weeks, they are not looking back. READ MORE…
Science & Wine: What do you know about grapevine epigenetics?
Genetic polymorphism is the main source of variability in a vineyard, were the producer usually grows different clones of a same cultivar. Clonal selection and vegetative propagation in viticulture determine low genetic variability among grapevine clones, although it is common to observe diverse phenotypes because of the broad phenotypic plasticity this crop presents. The term phenotypic plasticity refers to the range of phenotypes that a genotype expresses in different environments.
And what about epigenetics? The epigenetic polymorphism is another source of variability. These mechanisms include cytosine DNA methylation, histone post-translational modifications, and small RNAs regulation (Norouzitallab et al. 2019). In our work we will focus in the first of those mechanisms. READ MORE…
The Wine Gourd: Several storms in a teacup, perhaps?
Over the past fortnight, a number of apparently controversial issues have arisen in the wine industry. However, it seems to me that in several cases the combatants are talking at cross purposes; and the media are not helping the situation. So, I will discuss three of them here. READ MORE…
Jancis Robinson: Buying direct post Brexit
Does it still make any sense for wine drinkers in the UK to ship wine directly across the Channel?
No, would seem to be the answer to judge from this message from UK Purple Pager Richard Law:
Having seen your comments on the pitfalls of ordering wine from the EU in a personal capacity, I thought it worthwhile letting you know my recent experience with an order I made in June from Portugal Vineyards.
Inclusive of shipping costs I paid £727 for 126 bottles. This morning I got a call from DHL to say the wines had arrived but that delivery was on hold pending payment of VAT plus other duties totalling £472.50, i.e. 65% of the total cost! I paid it as the wines were not available in the UK and the basic prices seemed good value, but 65% tax is an outrage and needless to say this is not an exercise I shall repeat.
Once I have a full breakdown I may attempt to obtain a tax refund. I wonder though whether any of your many contacts have had a similar experience?
These are some press releases I received this week that I actually thought were interesting…enjoy!
E. & J. Gallo: Randall Grahm and E. & J. Gallo Winery Team up to Release the Language of Yes, New Wines from California’s Central Coast
E. & J. Gallo Winery’s Luxury Wine Group, in collaboration with legendary winemaker and visionary Randall Grahm, announced today the release of a collection of wines called The Language of Yes.
The wines are inspired by the rich history of winegrowing in the South of France, but The Language of Yes has a clearly Californian point of view, made exclusively from grapes grown in California’s diverse Central Coast AVA.
“We’re thrilled to work with Randall,” says Joseph C. Gallo, Vice President and General Manager of Gallo’s Luxury Wine Group. “He is an authority on Rhone varieties in the Central Coast and has a unique approach. We’re learning a lot from him. Randall has placed his trust in us to bring his vision forward – we take that responsibility seriously and are excited to share in his vision.” READ MORE…
California Sustainable Winegrowing Alliance: 2020 Sustainability Report Shows Growing Adoption of Sustainable Practices by California Vineyards & Wineries
The 2020 California Wine Community Sustainability Report released today by the California Sustainable Winegrowing Alliance (CSWA) shows broad participation in its educational and certification programs, and wide implementation of sustainable practices in vineyards and wineries around the state.
“California is the world’s fourth largest wine producer, amplifying the importance and impact of the industry’s high level of adoption of sustainable practices, as demonstrated by data included in the report,” said Allison Jordan, CSWA Executive Director. “These practices improve resource efficiency and wine quality, reduce risks and, in many cases, reduce costs, while contributing to a healthier environment, stronger communities and vibrant businesses.” READ MORE…
BriscoeBites officially accepts samples as well as conducts on-site and online interviews. Want to have your wine, winery or tasting room featured? Please visit the Sample Policy page where you can contact me directly. Cheers!