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 missed any of this week’s posts, I’ve got wine reviews and tasting notes from Domaine de la Pousse D’or 2018 Vintage, Sokol Blosser’s 50th Anniversary, and Alma Rosa Spring 2021 Releases—all with insight from recent associated media tastings and interviews.
Thanks as always for hanging out with me. Hope you find some good news, interesting news, and maybe a few laughs in the links I’m sharing with you today.
Wine Industry Network: Growing Forward—Regenerative Farming, The Future for Grapegrowers
A deep-rooted agricultural practice has resurfaced in modern vineyards—regenerative farming. While not a new concept, the term is circulating within the wine industry, touted as a step above sustainable, organic, and even biodynamic viticulture. This session aims to define what regenerative agriculture in practice means in terms of grape growing, its benefit over other sustainable measures, and best practices for transitioning a vineyard. WATCH ON YOUTUBE…
Eater: CDC Observes Link Between COVID-19 Spikes and Increased Dining Out
Statistically significant patterns are in line with previous studies and expert advice
For the better part of a year, now, public health experts have been clear: wearing masks helps mitigate the spread of the novel coronavirus, and indoor and outdoor dining both carry risks of transmission.
But here’s one more study, published by the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on March 5, to add to the growing pile of evidence out there. Examining county-level data from March 1 to December 31, researchers found mask mandates were linked to decreases in daily infections and death growth rates within 20 days. The data also showed that reopening restaurants for on-premises dining was followed by a rise in infections and deaths six to 11 weeks later, especially when mask mandates weren’t in place. READ MORE…
New York Times: Does Wine Lose Its Spirit When the Alcohol Is Removed?
Nonalcoholic wines fill a need for the sober and occasionally abstinent, and the new generation of alcohol-free wines is promising.
Wine is hard to imagine without the alcohol. It’s integral to its texture, flavor, complexity and, of course, the buzz.
Yet interest in alcohol-free wine has grown rapidly over the last couple of years.
According to Nielsen data, retail sales of nonalcoholic wines in the United States shot upward during the year ending on Feb. 20, rising 34 percent over those 52 weeks after staying relatively stable from 2016 through 2019. The rise was even more pronounced, 40 percent, in the last quarter of that year, which included Dry January, a month of voluntary abstinence stoked by social media. READ MORE…
The Drinks Business: How the Drinks Industry is Tackling Gender Inequality
While there is still a way to go before gender equality is achieved and sexism is stamped out of the wine industry, the trade is making positive progress towards becoming a more inclusive and meritocratic sector
For many who work in wine, lockdown has provided an unsought moment of reflection that has led to important conversations about the opportunities available to women working in the industry, and the intersection between gender, race and new technologies.
In October 2020, a collection of private messages edited to look like a newsletter from an anonymous source using the alias ‘wineb*tch’ circulated on Twitter, the provocative contents of which caused offense to many members of the trade, not least those who were targeted in the posts.
The author maintains that the messages were never meant to end up in the public domain. While some reacted with shock at being targeted, many of the women referenced in the posts found the experience to be wearily familiar.
All of the women I spoke for this piece agreed on one thing: there are very few deliberate agents of misogyny in the wine trade; the story is not that women feel threatened by men, but that there are barriers that prevent women from fulfilling their potential in the industry. READ MORE…
Wine Enthusiast: E.U. and U.S. Tariffs Suspended, Wine Professionals Hope for Refunds
On Friday, the European Union and United States announced a four-month suspension of mutual tariffs related to a 2004 dispute over large civilian aircraft. The news came as a relief to the U.S. wine industry, which had been caught in the crossfire the last 18 months.
“The news is thrilling. There’s no other word,” says Ben Aneff, president of the United States Wine Trade Alliance. “We’re absolutely thrilled that [the Biden administration] listened and that they reacted so quickly.”
This coincides with the suspension of tariffs on U.K. goods like single-malt whiskey and cheese, another recent casualty of the decades-old trade dispute over aerospace giants Airbus and Boeing. READ MORE…
Now that the UK has left the European Customs Union and signed a tariff- and quota-free trade agreement with the EU, is it that everything’s going to change?
What do the stories of a huge drop in cross-Channel freight volumes since December signify for the choice of fine wines to buy in the UK? Will the prices of wine in the UK go up or down? READ MORE…
The pandemic has forced sommeliers from jobs, pared wine lists and raised big questions about the viability of the business and the way it treats workers.
Covid-19 has posed daunting challenges for restaurants, which were ordered to close or operate at diminished capacity while still paying their rent, often with little governmental support. When the pandemic struck, wine was one of the few resources that could quickly be turned into cash. […]
If anybody still saw the American restaurant business through a romantic haze, the last year has blown it away. The pandemic, along with national reckonings over racism and sexual harassment, have revealed dysfunctional, fragile businesses that largely depend on workers living paycheck to paycheck, sacrificing any semblance of the “work-life balance” that corporate America professes to want for its employees.
Along with the hard questions that will have to be considered as the restaurant industry resurrects itself, it seems almost frivolous to ask: How will wine fit in when this is over? READ MORE…
Press Democrat: With buds opening on grapevines, Sonoma County grape growers look forward to 2021 season
“Thank goodness for 2021, at least it’s a fresh start,” said Karissa Kruse, president of the Sonoma County Winegrowers trade group. “We’re very excited for that. Our farmers are already back to doing what they do best.”
Bud break in the vineyards last week was spotty, occurring in a few warmer vineyard areas that traditionally go first, such as the Russian River Valley and the Carneros region that borders San Pablo Bay, growers said. READ MORE…
In a move hailed by grape growers, Sonoma County supervisors have streamlined the permitting process for a vineyard replanting technique intended to reduce erosion.
On a unanimous vote, with no questions from board members or the public, the supervisors on Tuesday approved an expedited approval process for low-impact vineyard replanting, commonly known as “pluck and plant.”
An Ode to Steve Spurrier
There are so many who have paid their respects to the life of this legend this past week. I, myself, was lucky enough to meet him on at least two occasions. While I don’t feel I knew him well enough to write my own dedication, what I can say is that for the huge imprint he put on our modern wine industry, he was such a humble and soft-spoken gentleman in every sense of that word. Instead of going on as if I knew him more personally than that, I’ve instead included several publications’ and independent writers’ tributes here in this section. Cheers to Steven Spurrier.
It is with immense sadness that we have received news that the ‘great man of wine’ Steven Spurrier died at home earlier today.
Spurrier, who has died just shy of his 80th birthday, was one of the wine world’s most famous, liked and respected figures, and led a remarkable career in the trade as a merchant, educator, writer, taster and most recently, winemaker, having planted a vineyard at his wife’s farm in Dorset’s Bride Valley in 2009 for making English sparkling – a project he described as “the last throw of the Spurrier wine dice.”
Spurrier’s achievements are well known among those in the trade, although he is best known for his role in bringing Californian wine to the wider world after staging ‘The Judgement of Paris’ in 1976, the blind tasting which pitted Bordeaux and Napa wines – and later became the basis of a film called Bottle Shock starring Alan Rickman (which Spurrier said contained hardly a true word). READ MORE…
Steven Spurrier, a leading light of the wine world for many decades and who famously organised the 1976 Judgement of Paris tasting, has died.
Many tributes are being paid to Steven Spurrier, who passed away on 9 March at his home, the Bride Valley English wine estate, surrounded by his family.
The Académie du Vin Library, which Spurrier cofounded, announced the news.
It said in a short tribute, ‘He will always be remembered for founding the Académie du Vin, the celebrated Judgement of Paris and in recent years, the Académie du Vin Library and, together with his wife Bella, the Bride Valley Vineyard in Dorset, England – as well as much else besides. READ MORE…
The British champion of all things vinous was best-known for organizing the 1976 Judgment of Paris
Steven Spurrier, the British wine expert, writer, educator, merchant and even vintner who was famous for having staged the 1976 Judgment of Paris, died at his home in Dorset, England, just after midnight this morning. He was 79.
Perpetually traveling, speaking and educating about wine, Spurrier was a beloved figure to many in the wine trade. He also sparked the passion of many wine novices with his undying enthusiasm and boundless curiosity.
“It is impossible to overstate Steven’s influence in the wine world,” Bartholomew Broadbent, a longtime friend and colleague, told Wine Spectator. “He was way before his time and so many projects didn’t get off the ground because of this. He was a champion for up-and-coming wine regions, starting in 1976 with the Judgment of Paris. In fact, he loved all great wine and would give his expertise to anyone who asked.” READ MORE…
Steven Spurrier, wine retailer, writer, educator and vineyard owner, the man who put Napa Valley on the map of classic wine regions, died March 9, 2021 at his home in Bride Valley Vineyard, Dorset, England. He was 79.
Known for his charm and unfailing politeness, he was also a determined man, eager to spread the word about good wines to as many people as possible. In his understated way, he was firm and single-minded. If a project or an enthusiasm (and he had many of both) didn’t work out (and many didn’t), he moved on to the next. There was always a next. READ MORE…
It seems extraordinary that the wine world is going to have to survive without someone who has been characterised for his 79 years by the phrase ‘youthful enthusiasm’.
It is likely, however, that Steven will henceforth be recognised as an even greater influence on wine than during his colourful life. For someone who achieved so much, he acted with such extreme modesty and politesse that there was always a danger of his not being accorded his due. READ MORE…
I was sad to hear that Steven Spurrier passed today at the age of 80, after a struggle with cancer. He was one of those figures in the wine world who was universally liked. He was also one of those rare people whose career maintained itself at a stratospheric height right until the end. He was a true wine celebrity.
His story is widely known, and well told in his autobiography. Spurrier’s big break was a bit of an accident: a tasting in Paris pitting old world classics against Californian counterparts in a blind tasting. The Judgement of Paris has become legendary in the world of wine for its powerful narrative – new world upstarts challenge the established order and win. This tasting and the endless discussions and replications that have followed have helped open up the world of fine wine. There was even a Hollywood movie made about it, with Alan Rickman playing Spurrier. It wasn’t the best film, but who else in the wine trade can say that they have been played by a world-famous actor in a mainstream film? READ MORE…
He famously arranged the celebrated Judgment of Paris, but there was more to Steven Spurrier than just one tasting.
I have one image of Steven Spurrier that my mind conjures up whenever I think of him.
It’s at the Decanter World Wine Awards in Parson’s Green in London, probably 10 years ago, and someone has brought him a glass of wine to try. Back then, as consultant editor at the magazine, he’d pad the floors of the five rooms in which we’d laid out tables and put together tasting panels of some of the world’s top wine experts. He’d chat, taste, and sometimes sit reading the newspaper in an anteroom. But mostly he’d taste wines. Here, he stood by a window, bathed in light (the awards at that time were held in a photographic studio), and tasted the wine.
I can’t remember what it was – it wasn’t a classic, I’m sure of that – it would have been an Indian Chardonnay or a Slovenian Cabernet Franc, or something. I don’t think even Spurrier was told what it was. But he tasted it and I noticed that as he tasted, he would form something of a fist with his left hand and gently, slowly pump it while he cogitated. It was almost as if was feeling the fabric of the wine in his fingers. But I think he was simply giving the wine his full attention. And he really enjoyed it, he loved it. He described the flavors, the structure, the body; it wasn’t wordy, it wasn’t overblown, and it was born from genuine pleasure. 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.
I think we can all agree that women are slowly assuming more prominence in the wine world. They have always been there in the back offices, in the worst-paid jobs such as vineyard work as shown here in Ningxia, but it is no longer unusual to come across wine buyers, salespeople, sommeliers, technicians, commentators, educators, winemakers and even viticulturists who are female. Here in the UK in this century there have been some really quite high-profile women in the wine business. In the US Barbara Banke runs the multinational Jackson Family Wines with an admirable accent on sustainability, and wine industry veteran Terry Wheatley, president of Vintage Wine Estates, is about to become the first woman to take a major, multi-hundred-million-dollar wine-producing group public. Overall, however, the US wine scene is decidedly male. READ MORE…
A life lived largely indoors means it can be hard to hear women’s voices above the chaos of COVID and the realisation that Brexit did finally happen. So with that in mind, I decided that my next piece for GBW should focus on the voices of those I have missed connecting with in the wine industry, the women in wine. READ MORE…
Dos Minas is Argentine slang for “two chicks.” The project is owned and operated by Lucia Romero (who also runs Bodega El Porvenir de los Andes) and Heather Willens (originally from California).
Championing the unique desert environment or Cafayate, Dos Minas is producing some of the best and vibrant wines coming out of South America. The style is geared towards approachable and lush wines that are perfect any night of the week.
When studying wines from Argentina, the main regions that come to mind are the warmer areas like Mendoza and San Juan that focus of rich and ripe wines that fill the market of any South American wine section. Cafayate in the northwestern portion of Argentina is much more temperate and though the soils are similar to Mendoza, the higher elevation (5,450 feet above sea level) leaves us with wines that tend to retain much more acidity. READ MORE…
My career in wine began late in life, following 20-years of corporate existence in Human Resource Management. After losing my father to a terminal illness, I enrolled in classes at the Northwest Wine Academy to help get through the grief. While on that wine-soaked path, I finally started to see light at the end of a dark tunnel. Along the way, I realized that wine was meant to be more than a distraction for me.
Eventually, I set out to start a marketing career in the wine industry. As the end of my school days neared, I told a male in the industry that I wanted to find work at a winery. He declared that nobody would hire me. That wineries here in Washington don’t hire people for marketing. What a way to tear someone down! I felt isolated and reluctant to profess my goals to others. If only the Alliance for Women in Washington Wine had been around then.
I don’t share this personal story to get sympathy. After all, I was hired by a winery before I even finished school. READ MORE…
Lower in alcohol, lower in price, and compatible with the low/no waste culture, what’s not to like about piquette? Especially for natural wine producers, whose gluggable wines often turn out to be just a little too expensive for daily smashing, piquette seems to be a great way to offer impecunious consumers something they can really smash without going broke – and something that is made from well farmed grapes without hardly any additions. Just as with the Pet-Nat revolution, it’s natural wine producers who are leading the way reintroducing this old-school product, which was originally used as a drink for thirsty vineyard and winery workers.
Indeed, Piquette has recently become a thing with the natural crowd in the USA. There’s one problem, though: it’s not legal in the European Union. READ MORE…
Hillslope viticulture is a valuable practice across Mediterranean Europe and beyond, not just in economic terms but also for its historical tradition and cultural heritage. Yet, soil degradation such as erosion or slope failure is a growing challenge for cultivators and is threatening the preservation of these landscapes. Future climate projections show a trend of extreme rainfall events, and already nowadays we can witness its impact on soil degradation. In this work, we illustrate how soil and water conservation in vineyards is facilitated by the support of remote sensing technologies such as low-cost drone surveys. Remote sensing allows high-precision mapping of the vineyard ground surface through 3D reconstruction. This can be used to detect, understand or even predict soil degradation, for example by simulating the flow of water and sediments across a vineyard. Such a workflow enables efficient scenario analyses of new vineyard interventions or climatic conditions. Soil protection works can be guided by this workflow for a rapid and low-cost evaluation of new designs. As such, landscape planners are encouraged to utilise this potential to help safeguarding the sustainability of vineyard landscapes. READ MORE…
I have visited Château Mercian a couple of times before. They have wineries in both of Japan’s major wine regions, Yamanashi and Nagano. In 2019 they opened a new winery on the Mariko Vineyard, near Ueda in Nagano, and this winery was the first in Asia to make the list (in at number 30) of the ‘World’s Best Vineyards’ for visiting. (Here’s a full length article on Mercian, based on a visit in September 2019).
I caught up with the winemaking team, and consultant Ken Ohashi, on a Zoom session to taste through some new releases. Mercian also told me that they have just bought a Qvevri from Georgia to trial for the Gris de Gris wine in 2021: they won’t ferment in it but will use it for ageing. They are also very excited about the first wines they have made from a new high altitude vineyard in Nagano, called Kataoka. This 12 hectare site was planted in 2017 at 800 m altitude, and is 90% Merlot plus some Cabernet Franc and experimental plantings of Riesling and Gewurztraminer. I’ll have to wait a little longer to taste the wines. READ MORE…
Cathy is a wonderfully opinionated pillar of the Napa Valley winemaking community and her wines are as complex as the rocks, soil and sediment that lie beneath her wildly alive St. Helena vineyards.
When I ask her how she quantifies the influence of the amazing biodiversity in her vineyard, she quickly sets me straight: “Both in the vineyard and the winery it’s very easy to get lost in the technical weeds, missing the forest for the trees. I can just see how lively our soils are by watching the cover crop and vines grow. The difference is obvious any day of the year looking at the conventionally farmed vineyards all around us. It’s got to be a balance.”
You don’t need technical data to appreciate the grit and determination of Cathy Corison. READ MORE…
Terroir must confer discernible attributes on wine, otherwise there would be no justification to it. Accordingly, there are certain flavours that have become closely associated with certain regions. Garrigue – the scrubby herbal plants that grow widely in Mediterranean regions – is often detected in southern French reds. Eucalyptus has become a shorthand descriptor for Cabernet Sauvignon from South Australia.
Zoom in, and even more specific attribution can be found. The powdery topsoil of Napa Valley’s Rutherford district supposedly gives a ‘dusty’ character to its reds, while Chablis is world-famous for the oyster-shell character associated with its fossil-rich chalk soils.
Yet describing Chinese wine as tasting of five-spice, or Indian wine as tasting of curry leaf, sounds like the worst kind of stereotyping. But the theory of terroir tells us that there must be particular flavours that identify wines from every origin. Mustn’t there? READ MORE…
A fresh crop of Masters of Wine was announced late last month: Ten individuals who have grasped the holy grail of wine education. Among them is Moritz Nikolaus Lüke of Bonn — the tenth German to achieve the distinction. He joins an elite crew who have earned the title by passing legendarily rigorous blind tasting examinations and writing a series of theory papers as well as a research-based thesis. TRINK caught up with Lüke to find out what the experience was like, learn about his Covid-driven research paper — and get an answer to the question we’re all naturally most curious about: what he drank to celebrate the news. READ MORE…
These are some press releases I received this week that I actually thought were interesting…enjoy!
Following the recent press announcement, the IMW is delighted to confirm its support for the Golden Vines Diversity Scholarships in association with Liquid Icons and the Gerard Basset Wine Education Charitable Foundation.
The Golden Vines Diversity Scholarships, Internship and Mentorship Programmes will fund up to two aspiring BIPOC students wishing to enrol on the MW study programme. The scholarship will be worth up to £55,000 per scholar to cover the entirety of their course and exam costs. READ MORE…
California Department of Public Health: State Updates Blueprint to Allow Additional Activities for a Safe and Sustainable Reopening
Beginning March 13, breweries, wineries and distilleries that do not serve meals may open outdoors only with modifications in the Purple (widespread) and Red (substantial) tiers. The modifications include ensuring that patrons have reservations and patrons observe a 90-minute time limit. Service for on-site consumption must end by 8 p.m. (Previously, and through March 12, breweries and distilleries not serving meals were closed in the Purple and Red tiers). READ MORE…
Napa Valley Grapegrowers (NVG) announces that bud break has begun in Napa Valley, marking the beginning of the winegrape growing season. “We’re seeing the first signs of bud swell on Pinot Noir in the Carneros AVA, with some buds pushing their first leaves this week” said Chris Hyde, General Manager at Hyde Vineyards and NVG member, “within the month, dependent on weather conditions, bud break will ramp up throughout our property.”
Bud break is close for vineyards north of Carneros, as well. “It’s a very exciting time in Napa Valley. While we’re seeing buds swell, we’re not quite to bud break,” said Justin Leigon, Viticulturist for Piña Vineyard Management, whose vineyards are located in the Oak Knoll District, Pope Valley, and Wooden Valley, to name a few, “the earlier varieties, like Sangiovese, are very close, and we’re about 3-4 weeks out for Cabernet Sauvignon.”
“Due to lower average temperatures, bud break will likely occur about two weeks later than in 2020. The cooler weather is welcome now, but once buds push through, our focus will be frost,” said Kendall Hoxsey-Onysko, Business Manager for Yount Mill Vineyards located in the Yountville and Oakville AVAs.
In total, the valley saw an average of 8.3 inches of rain between October 2020 and February 2021. While Napa County saw more inches compared to 2020, reservoirs are low. “For grape growers that rely on sprinklers for frost protection, rain is necessary and welcome,” Leigon said, “the rain we received this week will benefit the root system, recharge the soils, get the creeks running, and help fill our ponds.”
Water supply aside, grape growers are optimistic heading into the brand-new growing season. “We’re optimistic about the vaccination rollout, especially in terms of labor,” Leigon said, “Our whole vineyard team has been vaccinated and things are feeling a bit more “normal” headed into the season.”
Sonoma County Winegrowers: Sonoma County Growers’ Eyes Are on the Skies as Vineyards Push Towards Bud Break
As the calendar changes to March, Sonoma County vineyards are starting to awaken following a long, dry winter. Bud break marks the traditional start of the new year for the 2021 vintage meaning each day ahead is filled with a task intended to bring about the best harvest later this year. Given that bud break comes at the end of winter in a year when more rain is desired, those winter storms also bring the potential risk of harmful frosts at a time when the vines are most vulnerable. However, this time of year, it is the nature of growers to be excited about the new season getting underway.
“This is one of my favorite times of the year as you can begin to see new life in the vineyard and feel the optimism for a great year among everyone,” said Karissa Kruse, president of the Sonoma County Winegrowers. She added, “In talking with growers throughout the county, bud break seems to be a little later this season, closer to the historic norms. I hope this is a sign of a normal year given all that we have endured the past few years.” READ MORE…
Though Gordon Ramsay is probably most familiar to you either through his restaurant business or his massive back catalogue of television programmes, the Michelin-starred chef has announced a selection Gordon Ramsay Signature Wines.
The wines are made by the eponymous Ramsay alongside winemaker and Master Sommelier Chris Miller at Seabold Cellars in Monterey, California.
Yesterday, an online store named GordonRamsay.wine was launched with eight offerings including: A 2019 Sauvignon Blanc, A 2019 Rosé, a 2018 Chardonnay and a 2018 Pinot Noir all from Monterey, California and priced between $20-$35. READ MORE…
The 2021 San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition was completed on March 5. There were over forty-eight judges, representing various North American wine regions, evaluating nearly 5,700 wines from over 1,000 wineries.
Bob Fraser, SFCWC executive director, says, “The response from the wineries of North America at our 2021 competition was outstanding this year!” 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!