Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Wine 101 - Ortega

“The purveyor of mostly forgettable plonk.” This is how renowned wine critic Anthony Gismondi once described the British Columbia wine industry. Protected by legislation from international competition and cultivating mostly Vitis Lubrusca and hybrid grapes, wine produced in British Columbia were considered poor alternatives to European and American wines. However, after the implementation of NAFTA and GATT, Canadian wine producers where forced to improve their wine's quality in order to survive in this new environment. Today, British Columbia wines are considered world-class, particularly newly planted Vitis Vinifera varieties.

The first instances of wine-making in British Columbia occurred when Oblate missionaries, who settled in the Okanagan Valley in the mid 1800s, cultivated grapes for sacramental wine. These were Vitis Labrusca and Vitis Riparia grapes since Vitis Vinifera vines usually succumbing to diseases induced by hot, humid summers and severely low winter temperatures. For the next 100 years, the Canadian and British Columbian wine industry was focused around these grapes as well as any hybrids that good withstand the Canadian environment. Whereas the number of smaller wineries had increased through prohibition – because the law allowed producing wine for personal use – the number of wineries decreased sharply after Prohibition as the industry consolidated and provinces restricted the establishment of new wineries. In the mid 1970s, the provinces relented and began to issue new licenses to produce and sell wine. The number of new wineries increased dramatically, however, protected against foreign competition, the quality of the wine remained poor. After the passage of GATT and NAFTA treaties, the wine industry undertook a major program to replace native grape varieties with vinifera grapes. New investments in technology and updated wine techniques have allowed these wine makers to produce world class vinifera wines.

However one hybrid that survived the transition to vinifera grapes is Ortega, a cross between the German Muller Thurgau and Siegerrebe. It was originally developed to enhance the quality of Riesling in poor vintages in the Rheinhessen region in Germany. Since the grape possesses the ability to excel in cold-winter conditions, it has been successfully grown in British Columbia, and with limited success in a couple of eastern provinces. This grape produces rich, flowery, peachy wines, with high natural sugar levels.

One B.C. winery that cultivates Ortega is Recline Ridge Vineyard and Winery, a family-owned and operated winery which is located in the heart of the Shuswap Lake area of British Columbia. Mike Smith, the winery’s owner-operator, lists several factors that persuaded him to vinify Ortega. First, the grape is extremely winter hardy and actually develops better character in the cooler zones. In warmer environments the grape ripens too early to develop proper character. Second, Ortega’s parent grape, Siegerrebe, is very aromatic and flavorful and these characteristics are passed down to its “offspring”. And finally, Ortega generally provides good yields per acre – so the grape is very cost affective. Recline Ridge’s Ortega has been well received by the Canadian wine public – it is the winery’s second best white wine seller. In addition, the 2002 vintage won a Bronze medal at the 2005 Northwest Wine Summit after the 2001 vintage wine "Peoples Choice" award and "Best White Wine" at the 2004 Kamloops Wine Festival. Mr. Smith attributes Ortega’s success to the Shuswap Lake terrior, in which he believes provides the conditions necessary to yield the greatest flavor potential. In addition to having a great taste, Ortega wine is very versatile wine with regards to the food it complements. Mr. Smith notes that Ortega finds many friends on the patio in summer with sea foods and cheeses or a crisp fruit salad, the kitchens and dinning rooms presenting a spicy curry dish, Cajun chicken, and Chinese food or simply to quench the thirst of a group of friends around a beach fire and a pot of Dungeness crab.

One of the first wineries to emerge after the British Columbia province began to issue commercial license to produce wine was Domaine de Chaberton Estates. The winery is located very close to the Washington border in the Fraser Valley and was started by Claude Violet, a ninth generation French wine maker. Today, it is the 4th largest estate winery in B.C. The winery cultivates Ortega because of the favorable climate conditions and they enjoy favor. They produce two types of Ortega wine, a vintage wine that tastes similar to a Muscat flavor wine and a Botrytis affected dessert wine that resembles a Sauternes wine. Sometimes called Noble Rot, Botrytis is a mold that causes grapes to lose nearly all of their water content – but not the sugar. The result: an extremely concentrated and sweet grape juice with honeyed, aromatic characteristics. Both wines have been accepted by the general public and wine officials: they have won over 30 medals\awards throughout the years, most notably a Silver Medal at Vinandino '97, an O.I.V. competition held in Mendoza Argentina.

Finally, Zanatta Winery, cultivates Ortega not only because it is reliable, excels in their climate, and is resistant to disease, but more importantly, because they like the wine. They have found that translating their appreciation of the grape to the general public has been a long and slow process. People are reluctant to buy what they do not know and a common question they hear is “Is it like Chardonnay?” Over time, as wine drinkers become more daring, this question will no longer be raised.

Friday, July 27, 2007

August Wine Festivals

The Wine-Compass.com event database contains over 1,980 upcoming events in the United States and Canada. For those looking for wine festivals in August, here is a short list of events in several states:

Vine 2 Wine - Temecula Valley Winegrowers Association: August: 4th
15th Annual Winemakers' Celebration - Custom House Plaza, Monterey: August 11th
Celebrate Milpitas! - Milpitas Boulevard at Calaveras Boulevard: August 18th-19th
Mammoth Wine & Jazz Festival - Mammoth: August 18th
Bodega Seafood, Art and Wine Festival - Bodega: August 25th-26th

Boulder Wine Festival - Downtown Boulder: August 12th
10th Annual Wine, Jazz, and Art Festival – Keystone: August 25th
Denver Food and Wine Classic - Pepsi CenterGrounds: August 26th

Corks & Forks - A Fine Food and Wine Event - Atlanta: August 25th-26th

4th Annual Idaho Wine Festival - Boise: August 25th

Taste of Roselle – Roselle: August: 3rd-5th
Illinois Wine Festival - South: August 25th-26th

Vevay Wine Festival – Vevay: August 23rd-26th

Iowa Wine & Beer Festival - Indianola: August 25th

Crossin Into Cuuntry - Linganore Wine Cellars: August 12th-13th
18th Annual Wine, Jazz & Art Festival – Fiore Winery: August 18th-19th

Michigan Leelanau Peninsula Food & Wine Festival - Northport at the Harbor: August 11th
Vin Voyage - Oakland County Int'l Airport: August 25th
Wine & Food Festival - Rochester Hills: August 25th-26th
Wine Days of Summer - Pioneer Wine Trail Wineries: August 25th-26th

Natchez Food and Wine Festival - Natchez: August 3rd-5th

New Jersey
Jersey Fresh Wine & Food Festival - Pennington: August 11th-12th

New Mexico
Wine and Lifestyle Expo - Balloon Fiesta Park, Albuquerque: August 31st-Sept 2nd

New York
Benmarl’s 50th Anniversary - Benmarl Winery & Vineyard: August 18th
45th Anniversary - Dr. Konstantin Frank's Vinifera Wine Cellars: August 26th

Vintage Ohio Wine Festival - Kirtland, Ohio: August 3rd-4th

Seven Springs Mountain Resort Wine & Food Festival -
Seven Springs Mountain Resort: August 25th-26th

South Carolina
Whole Lotta Shakin' Oldies Music Fest -
La Belle Amie Vineyard: August 18th

2007 Harvest Wine Trail - Texas Hill Country Wineries: August 17th-19th
2007 Harvest Wine Trail - Texas Hill Country Wineries: August 24th-26th

Tarara's 7th Annual Blackberry Days Wine Festival
- Leesburg: August 4th-5th
Beach Party Wine Festival - James River Cellars: August 4th-5th
Black Dog Wine and Jazz Festival - Chateau Morrisette: August 11th
Wine, Cider, and Mead on the Blue Ridge Wine Trail - AmRhein Wine Cellers: August 25th-26th

Prosser Wine & Food Fair – Prosser: August 11th
Taste of Hood Canal - Downtown Belfair: August 11th
Leavenworth Wine Tasting Festival – Leavenworth: August 18th

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

2007 National Norton Wine Festival

In September, MissourWineCountry.com is hosting the first National Norton Wine Festival in St. Louis Missouri. The festival consists of a tasting competition held August 4th and a general tasting of 25 of the top Norton producers on September 8th. The results of the tasting competition will be announced the night before the general tasting and at the general tasting there will also be an opportunity to taste vertical Norton offerings for those who purchase a Norton VIP. The sponsors invited Norton producers from 12 states to the competition and currently there are 93 wines entered, representing 43 wineries from 10 states. Not a bad turnout. These wines will be judged by eight highly respected wine experts, such as Doug Frost (one of only three individuals who passed the Master Sommelier and Master of Wine examinations) and Bob Foster (Chief Judge of the Riverside International Wine Competition).

I am very interested to see how the east coast Norton fairs against the Midwestern wines. While traveling to the Midwest last year I became a huge fan of Kansas and Missouri Norton - such as Davenport Winery, Kugler's Vineyard, Holy-Field Winery, Stone Hill Winery, Röbller Vineyard Winery, Mount Pleasant Winery, St. James Winery, Stonehaus Farms, and Augusta Winery. There are dozens more Norton producers that I haven't tasted spread throughout Missouri, Illinois, Indiana, and Arkansas. Many of these wineries will be participating in the competition. From the east coast, New Jersey's Valenzano Winery is sending their Cynthiana which won the NJ Governors two years in a row. Most of Virginia's Norton producers have entered; the country's largest Norton grower Chrysalis Vineyards, Rappahannock Cellars, Cooper Vineyards, The Winery at La Grange, Veramar Vineyard, Keswick Vineyards, and Horton Vineyards. I've tasted the Norton from all these Virginia producers and believe they will be very competitive. Finally, several smaller Norton producers are also participating, including Jones Cabin Run Vineyards (West Virginia), Grove Winery (North Carolina), and Crane Creek Vineyards (Georgia).

We will post the results of the competition when they become available and look forward to trying several of these wines at the general tasting.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Fruit Wine Article

There is a good article called Ripe Time for Fruit Wine published in the San Francisco Chronicle. Author, Derrick Schneide, briefly describes the history of fruit wines in the United States, the difficulties producing quality fruit wine, and highlights a few wineries: Hawaii's Tedeschi Vineyards, Illinois' Lynfred Winery, and California's Bargetto Winery. It's nice to see a California publication printing an article that includes wineries in other states.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Potomac Point Winery

On Saturday, July 14th we attended the second day of Potomac Point Winery's three day Grand Opening event. The winery is located in Stafford County Virginia and currently offers a wide range of excellent wines from grapes grown mostly in Orange County Virginia. There are wines for everyone. Their Norton, Viognier (gold medal), Vidal Blanc dessert wine, and Cabernet Franc are great examples of how these grapes thrive in Virginia. They also offer excellent Bordeaux, Italian, and Portuguese styled red wines, as well as a gold winning Chardonnay. These wines are impressive and for an initial release, outstanding. The winery itself is also impressive with meticulously designed metalwork throughout the Mediterranean-style building. This building is worth a visit itself - let alone the desire to "hang out" for a few hours. You can red the full account of our visit at Compass Tours.

Monday, July 16, 2007


Here's a completely new concept. Wine in a can. Yes, that's right, wine in a can. Produced by a Dutch company, Horeca Europe International (HEI), IronWine is made from Argentinian grapes and there are currently two offerings: a Chenin Blanc and a Malbec\Cabernet Sauvignon blend. Worried about tasting the can that happens with some lite beers? The cans contain a liner that separates the can's interior and the wine. HEI markets the wine to those "on the go" - for picnics, hiking, or for those just interested in a single serving such as business travelers. Ironwine is currently being served in the Buenos Aires Hilton and Sheraton hotels. What do you think? Would you buy a can?

Friday, July 13, 2007

New Jersey Governor's Cup

While browsing the Garden State Wine Growers Association website, I noticed that they had posted the winners of the 2007 Governor's Cup competition. Congratulations are in order to Unionville Vineyards and Alba Vineyard for winning the Governor's Cup for their Unionville's NV Port and Alba's Blueberry wine and Chambourcin wine. According to the winery, the Unionville Port "...was produced from Marechal Foch (92%) and Chambourcin (8%) grapes. Aged grape brandy was added to stop fermentation and to bring the alcohol level up to 18.5%. After pressing, the wine was left to age quietly for at least three years in old oak barriques. This traditional dessert wine tastes of ripe raisins with hints licorice and dark cherries.".

Last year we visited Alba Vineyard and posted a review here. In short we loved their wines and location; their Delaware Dolce was our favorite. The are now recipients of two Governors Cup medals, one for their Blueberry wine and one for their 2005 Chambourcin. The chambourcin "is a good example of this grape's potential in our New Jersey vineyards. It exhibits strawberry and Bing cherry nuances in the perfumed aroma and rich flavors. Aging in small oak barrels gives this wine attractive overtones of mocha, vanilla and roasted nuts. Serve with full flavored dishes; we especially like it with grilled beef or roasted lamb." The Blueberry wine "is produced from only the highest quality fresh berries and fermented in a way that maximizes color and flavor concentration. No grape juice, flavoring, or distilled spirits are used. It is delicious as a dessert wine or it can be served as an aperitif or a fruit wine cordial."

Finally, another of our favorite New Jersey wineries, Silver Decoy Winery, was named winery of the year. We hope to be able to taste these wines the weekend of August 11/12 at the Jersey Fresh Wine & Food Festival.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Yadkin Valley Wine Bar - Charlotte Airport

This past weekend, while wondering between concourses at the Charlotte Airport, I came upon the Yadkin Valley Wine Bar. The wine bar is sponsored by the Yadkin Valley Winegrowers Association and carries the wines of Hanover Park Vineyard, RagApple Lassie Vineyards, RayLen Vineyards, Round Peak Vineyards, Shelton Vineyards, Stony Knoll Vineyards, and Westbend Vineyards. I was relieved to seeing the wine bar, because I was treading spending an hour at the food court, or a crowded restaurant, or at the gate. There was a wide array of wines available from dry Cabs to Chardonnays to Blush wines. I decided on two chardonnay wines, Stony Knoll's 2003 Chardonnay and RayLen's Barrel Chardonnay. Stony Knoll's Chardonnay was aged 10 months in French oak which provides the buttery finish - but the chardonnay fruit is still prevalent. RayLen's Chardonnay was very similar with even a stronger buttery finish. I was tempted to purchase a few bottles, but was already loaded down with carry on items. The wine bar does make it easy to ship wine; they will pay the shipping for orders over a case. Not a bad idea. And I no longer tread extended layovers in Charlotte.

Monday, July 9, 2007

L.A. Cetto Vineyards

On a recent trip to southern California, I stumbled upon an awesome wine shop in the middle of San Diego's GasLight District: The Wine Bank. The retailer had a large selection of domestic wines, but an even more interesting collection of Mexican tequilas and wine. One of the largest selections of Mexican wines was from L.A. Cetto Vineyards. The winery is located in Col. Lomas de Chapultepec, but the grapes are harvested from vineyards located in the Guadalupe, San Vicente, and Redondo valleys - all in Baja California. L.A. Cetto produces a wide variety of vinifera wines, Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Petite Sirah, Zinfandel, Chenin Blanc, and Nebbiolo. Interestingly, all of their wines had won awards in International Competitions and I decided to purchase a bottle of their Nebbiolo Private Reserve after seeing that in 2005 it had won Gold and the Best Red Wine Trophy at the Vinalies Internationales in Paris. The wine was made from 100% Nebbiolo grapes grown in the Guadalupe Valley. The wine was aged a year in French oak and then two additional years in the bottle. The result: an incredibly smooth wine with a vanilla nose, a strong cherry flavor, and a smooth balanced finish. At $15, this wine was also an amazing bargain. For those living on the east coast, I am searching for an east coast retailer that carries L.A. Cetto's wines. I will let you know when I find one.

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

Wine 101 - Mustang

Texas is a grape paradise? Yes, insist many Texas wine growers. And considering that the state currently produces over 50% of the known species of grape in the world, they may be right.

When Spanish missionaries arrived in Texas in the 1600’s, wild grapes were flourishing in the Texas countryside. By 1650, Father Garcia de San Fancisco y Zuniga, the father of present day El Paso, had begun cultivating Spanish black grape (Lenoir) into sacramental wine. During the next hundred years, the wine industry surrounding El Paso expanded as a result of irrigation projects developed by the Franciscan's. However, the Texas wine industry deteriorated in the early 1800’s because of the failure to increase the wine’s quality and the outbreak of the war with Mexico. In the late 1800’s the region received a large influx of European immigrants who brought with them wine making skills handed down by distant generations. These immigrants then started to vinify the local grapes that inhabited the region. One of these grapes still cultivated today is the Mustang grape.

The Mustang Grape belongs to the Vitis Mustangensis species of grape and grows wild throughout Texas and can also be found in northern Mexico, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama. Mustang grapes are very acidic, tart and according to Mustang expert Jack Keller, “almost impossible to eat with any degree of enjoyment.” Because of these characteristics, making wine from Mustang grapes is extremely challenging. Many are surprised that it is even possible to produce quality wine from this grape.

As European immigrants entered Texas in larger numbers, wine making expanded throughout the state. At the same time, T.V. Munson, a horticulturist from Illinois arrived in Texas, an event which changed wine history. Mr. Munson was a renowned expert on grape species and he developed numerous grape hybrids suitable for the Texas environment. After phylloxera destroyed more than 6 million acres of vineyards, the French wine industry requested Munson to send rootstock developed during his studies, where it was grafted with European vinifera. Munson's work along with another horticulturist, Hermann Jaeger, helped to save the European wine industry.

As the end of the 19th century approached, wine making was succeeding in most Texas regions. In 1883, the Qualia family established Val Verde Winery, growing Spanish black grape. The winery is the oldest continuing operating winery in Texas today. At the same time the wine industry was slowly perishing in El Paso. Nature played a part with numerous extended wet and dry periods. Economics also had a part; it became more profitable to raise truck crop produce than viticulture. Finally, the great flood of 1897 washed away a majority of the vineyards in the El Paso area, forcing many to give up the struggle. Though grapes would continue as a crop into the 20th century, this area would never regain its viticulture prominence.

During the early 20th century the Texas wine industry rose and fell depending on economic and weather conditions. However, Prohibition sent Texas wineries into extinction. Val Verde Winery was the only winery to survive this period, subsisting by growing table grapes. From the end of Prohibition until the mid 1970’s the wine industry never recovered with Val Verde Winery the sole commercial producer. In the late 1970's vineyards at A&M's Experimental Station in Lubbock began showing promising results for growing vinifera in Texas. This encouraged the emergence of a new generation of wineries, such as Guadalupe Valley Winery and Fall Creek Vineyards. In the 1980’s the Texas Legislature supported this trend by easing the rules required to establish small wineries. During the next two decades, the law of “Creative Destruction” exerted itself on the Teas wine industry as some wineries failed at the same time that new wineries were succeeding. Currently there are over 80 bonded Texas wineries, making Texas the 5th largest wine producing state. With many wineries awaiting permits and the increased number of Texas wineries winning international quality awards, the Texas wine industry appears extremely healthy.

The Mustang grape was also able to survive prohibition. Currently two Texas wineries vinify the grape: Lehm Berg Winery and Poteet Country Winery. Lehm Berg Winery is located in the central Texan town of Giddings and originated after father and son, Carl and Ben Droemer, collected wild mustang grapes and made 42 gallons of mustang grape wine from an old family recipe. After sharing their wine with friends and neighbors they were persuaded to open a commercial winery, which they finally completed in 2001. Today the winery sells three types of Mustang wine - Weiss, Rosa, and Rot – still using wild Mustang grapes and the old family recipe. They hope to encourage more people to use wild mustang grapes, which is quite possible – since the general public has responded positively to their Mustang offerings. Poteet Country Winery is located 30 minutes south of San Antonio. The winery currently produces a Mustang blend and a vintage White Mustang wine.