Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Win A Chance to Attend the 2011 NYC Food and Wine Festival, Courtesy of Chef Rocco DiSpirito

One of our favorite annual wine festivals is the Food Network's South Beach Food & Wine Festival. And why not, wine, food, rum - all in the tropical air of Miami. Our next favorite. Why the Food Network's NYC Food & Wine Festival.Usually, the same venders, but this time based in the newly renovated Meatpacking District of that city. Check out our last visit to the festival here. The 2011 Festival runs from September 29 through October 2nd. Tickets for individual events may be affordable, but not for the Grand Tasting presented by ShopRite & KitchenAid. We are talking $195.

But here comes Celebrity Chef Rocco DiSpirito to help. In celebration of his new television series, Rocco's Dinner Party, he is launching the "Watch & Win" contest giving wine enthusiasts the opportunity to win a trip for two to meet him and assist him at the 2011 NYC Food and Wine Festival! The prize includes round-trip airfare for two, a two-night stay at an NYC hotel along with free tickets to the festival! Viewers can tune-in to Rocco's Dinner Party Wednesdays, 10PM ET/9C on Bravo to answer three weekly questions pertaining to each week's episode. Submission form stays open until Saturday at midnight! After answering all three questions, submit your information to be entered to win. Enter every week to increase your chances of winning - every weekly submission counts as another entry!

The next "Watch & Win" will air this Wednesday, June 29th at 10PM/9c on Bravo! That's today. Good luck.

Monday, June 27, 2011

WBC11 Preview: The Wine Grapes of Virginia

We recently saw a Twitter tweet from the Rhone Rangers regarding the Wine Bloggers Conference 2011 (#VAWine producers at #WBC11 - We will be present, love to meet with any interested in becoming a @RhoneRangers). The Rhone Rangers is "America's leading non-profit organization dedicated to promoting American Rhone varietal wines". Now, its widely known - or becoming widely known - that Virginia's new signature grape is the Rhone varietal Viognier. And please check out the interesting commentary regarding that decision at DrinkWhatYouLike: Viognier – Virginia’s Signature Grape?. But what about other Rhone varietals. Syrah is relatively popular with about 20 wineries crafting that varietal. And several are quite good: Delaplane Cellars, Tarara Vineyard & Winery, and Fox Meadow Winery among others. Viognier and Syrah are basically it for Rhone grapes, although Horton Vineyards and Hillsborough Vineyards do craft wines using Roussanne.

Yet, even with Viognier being Virginia's signature grape, Bordeaux and Burgundy varietals are still the most popular. In fact, Meritage and Chardonnay wines have won the last few Governors Cup and at one point in recent history some observers where predicting that Cabernet Franc may become the Commonwealth's signature grape. Here's an interesting post and commentary at MyVineSpot: Making a case for Chardonnay and Merlot. Yet the future for red wine in Virginia may be the Bordeaux blending grapes: Petit Verdot and Malbec. Crafted as single varietals, these are full bodied, tannic wines. And let's not forget grapes from South West France, where Tannat and Petit Menseng wines do quite well in Virginia. Interestingly, the later was first introduced into the United States by Alan Kinne, of Chrysalis Vineyards.

Speaking of Chrysalis Vineyards, the vineyard holds the world's largest planting of Virginia's native grape: Norton. Many winemakers choose to avoid Norton, considering it less than a noble grape, but Jennifer McCloud thinks otherwise and is the grape's most vocal proponent. Please check out this VirginiaWineTV episode featuring McCloud in Talking Norton and DLW with Jennifer McCloud.

Finally, there's the hybrids, which remain quite popular and are the wine grapes that grow best in many mountainous and arid regions of the state. Vidal Blanc is the most popular and is used primarily as a dessert wine. Next popular is Chambourcin which has the versatility to be crafted into a range of styles from dry to sweet. Our friends at Corcoran Vineyards have now aged their Chambourcin in used bourbon barrels to create a port styled wine that tastes pure Virginia - as in Virginia Gentlemen.

For more information on a compendium of wine grapes used in Virginia please visit our post at The Wine Grapes of Virginia. See you at the Wine Bloggers Conference 2011 in Charlottesville Virginia.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Wit Beer - A Toast to Pierre Celis

Ever since Port City Brewing Company opened this year we have become converts to their flagship beer, the Belgium wheat beer Optimal Wit, and have been sampling versions from craft breweries throughout the U.S. At the same time, we have been constant evangelists spreading the word on the virtues of this beer style. Sadly, at the time of our conversion, the modern day "founder" of Wit beer, Pierre Celis, passed away. And it seems, many Wit beer drinkers are unfamiliar with the roll Celis played in reviving this style.

We recommend reading the entire article by Roger Protz, Pierre Celis, Maestro of White Beer.

It was Pierre who saved and revived a noble beer style: the spiced wheat or "white" beers of East Brabant. The region has rich, dark soil ideal for growing barley, oats and wheat. Brewing in the area has been traced back to 1318, when it was in the hands of farmers and monks. By the 1500s Hoegaarden had a brewers' guild and in the 19th century there were some 30 breweries in the small town. Right: Pierre and his wife, Juliette.

The special character of the white beers of Brabant was due to the use not only of wheat and oats alongside barley malt but also exotic spices and fruits brought to the Low Countries by Dutch and Flemish traders. Spiced white beers from Hoegaarden were widely distributed throughout Brabant and the neighbouring province of Liege.

But in the 20th century the breweries started to close, unable to compete with the mass-marketed Pilsner lagers produced in the city of Leuven, home of Stella Artois.

The last brewery in Hoegaarden, Tomsin, pulled down the shutters in the late 1950s. It was mourned by many in the town, including Pierre Celis, who had done some part-time work there as a schoolboy.

Pierre's father ran a dairy and Pierre delivered milk. He was drinking in a bar with some friends one evening and they began to reminisce about the much-missed beers of Hoegaarden. Encouraged by his friends, who jokingly said he should move from one cloudy white drink to another, Pierre said he would attempt to brew some beer. He made a batch in his wife's copper in the family home alongside the dairy. There was no written-down recipe from Tomsin's, but Pierre remembered the ingredients from his work there. Grain and hops were easily available and he added milled coriander seeds and Curacao orange peel.

His beer was so well received that he decided to make it commercially. In 1966, he bought a small 25-hectolitre plant from a brewery in Limburg and installed it in the stables next to the house. The kit is still there today, but the success of the beer forced him to move to a derelict lemonade factory in the town to cope with demand.

The cloudy, unfiltered beer had taken Leuven by storm, where university students considered it to be more natural than lager. Pierre broke into the important Antwerp market and then into the Netherlands and France. The beer's fortunes were aided by the unique eight-sided glass: by chance, Pierre had found the Italian prototype in a local shop (shown below, right).

Production grew rapidly to 300,000 hectos a year by 1985. Pierre had just started to export to the United States when fire devastated the brewery. He was seriously under-insured.

"I needed 280 million Belgian francs to rebuild but I only got 40 million from the insurers," he says. "The banks wouldn't help but then Stella Artois offered to invest in return for 45 per cent of the shares."

At first the relationship with Stella was a good one. But things changed dramatically in 1988 when Stella merged with Piedboeuf of Jupille near Liege.

Interbrew was born and, according to Pierre, "the bankers took over". The fact that they were French-speaking bankers probably didn't help.

"People came from Jupille, looked around the brewery and told me how to make my beer cheaper. They said they used high-gravity brewing at Jupille to reduce costs and I should do the same," he says.

Pierre refused. High-gravity brewing means making one strong wort and watering it down to make different beers. Pierre, who had added to the range at Hoegaarden, said it would give his beers different aromas and flavours. He declared he would stick to his old recipes and ways of brewing.

As the pressure mounted, and Interbrew began to close breweries in Belgium to concentrate production at Leuven and Jupille, Pierre decided to retire at 65, selling the company to the Belgian giant.

But that wasn't the end of the story. American interest in Hoegaarden prompted him to build a brewery in Austin, Texas. Celis White was an overnight success and sales boomed. But Pierre found that his American backers wanted a quick return on their investment and, in order to buy them out, he signed another Faustian pact, this time with Miller, America's second-biggest brewer.

"I'd been brewing 22,000 barrels a year," he says, "but that rapidly fell to 15,000 barrels when Miller arrived. They spent a fortune on administration and we lost money and production. They cheapened the beer and cut out imported Czech hops."

Pierre sold his share of the company and came home to the family house in Hoegaarden with his wife Juliette. Miller eventually closed the Austin brewery and now Pierre finds that InBev, the successor to Interbrew and the world's biggest brewer, plans to close the Hoegaarden plant in October.

Now for the rest of the story....
  • In 1995, the Coors Brewing Company launched a Belgium Wit called Blue Moon.
  • In 2002, Miller Brewing sold the recipe and naming rights for the Celis brand to the Michigan Brewing Company.
  • In 2007, Miller Brewing reunited with a Wit brand when the company merged with Coors.
  • In 2009, InBev, the successor to Interbrew merged with Anheuser-Busch opening the U.S. market to Hoegaarden beer.
Yes, the two leading mass produced beer companies in the U.S. now offer a Wit from their global portfolio.

For a Father's day cookout, I decided to sample several Wit styles which included the Michigan Brewing Company Celis White, the Port City Brewing Company Optimal Wit, the Victory Brewing Whirlwind Wit, and the Flying Dog Brewery Woody Creek White. This wasn't a blind tasting to determine a favorite - just a day to celebrate the style. Yet the Celis White seemed to have the strongest profile of the style - the wheat flavors balanced with coriander and orange peel. The most unexpected result was after 5 or 6 beers, I became fatigued with the style and craved a beer with a hoppier finish. Variety in style does matter - at least for this palette.

But as summer moves along, grab a Wit, and raise a toast to Pierre Celis - a modern day pioneer.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Eastern Winegrowers Face Weird Weather via Wines & Vines

Here is an interesting story from Wines & Vines on how Eastern Winegrowers Face Weird Weather. Blamed on La Niña, this weather pattern has made many eastern vineyards susceptible to disease such as phomopsis, anthracnose, and powdery mildew. Early botrytis is also a concern. For those attending the 2011 Wine Bloggers Conference, this is a clear illustration of the difficulties encountered annually by Eastern growers as opposed to their Western counterparts, who may not get much annual variations in weather conditions.

Monday, June 13, 2011

2011 SAVOR: An American Craft Beer & Food Experience

SAVOR, what an experience. Great beer, food, personalities.... Below is a list of links that will provide photos and commentary on the event, but for a musical odyssey and comments from the brewer's themselves, take a look at the video below. The music is provided by Larry Keel & Natural Bridge. "Bohemian Reel" - dedicated to one of our new favorites: Bohemian Brewery.

WineCompass Photos
Richmond Beermeister
Road Trips for Beer
Dallas Beer Snobs
On Beer and Brewing

Friday, June 10, 2011

Virginia Welcomes the 2011 Wine Bloggers Conference

Virginia Wine TV has produced a short video featuring all the Virginia wineries in anticipation for the 2011 Wine Bloggers Conference (July 22-24 in Charlottesville Virginia).

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

WBC11 Preview: Reno Walsh of Zephyr Adventures

Here's our next installment of our preview of the 2011 Wine Bloggers Conference (July 22-24 in Charlottesville Virginia) courtesy of Reno Walsh, one of the chief organizers of the Wine Bloggers Conference, the International Food Bloggers Conference, the Beer Bloggers Conference, the Wine Tourism Conference, the Fitness & Health Bloggers Conference, and wine tours by Zephyr Adventures. Yes, all those conferences, and he was kind enough to find time to answer a few questions regarding the conference. Thank you Reno.

1) This will be the 4th Wine Bloggers Conference. What was the original rational for organizing a national convention of wine bloggers? Originally we simply wanted to meet the wine blogging community. Zephyr Adventures also guides active wine vacations to wine regions of the world. We thought if we could get to know the bloggers a little better we might find a way to market our wine adventures via their blogs. After researching the wine blogs and the the wine bloggers, we quickly recognized that wine bloggers were a community that had never actually met in person. There was no conference or one thing they had in common besides their passion for wine and sharing their views via wine blogging. The conference created an opportunity for that community to meet face to face, to discuss their role in the wine world, and to learn more about wine and wine blogging. Incidentally, we never did find a way to market our wine adventures via wine blogs – not yet.

2) Was the intent to always hold the conferences in different locations? Yes.

3) How was Virginia selected as the host for the 2011 conference? This is the fourth year of the Wine Bloggers Conference. We very much try to listen to and take suggestions from the wine blogging community. We heard or read enough comments and suggestions for us to host a conference on the East coast and agreed that it was time.

4) Will this be a conference discussing national wine issues that just happens to be located in Virginia or will the content and agenda focus on Virginia and Mid-Atlantic wine production? Content will not be entirely focused on Virginia and Mid-Atlantic wine production but due to the location and our hosts, there will be an opportunity to hear, see and taste a lot from the region.

5) Tell us a little about the agenda. Who are the keynote speakers? Will there be any excursions? Topics of Discussion? Please see the agenda:

6) How familiar are you with the Virginia wine industry or Virginia wines? Personally I am not very familiar with the VA wine industry or its wines. I don’t think I stand alone in this group. This is one of the greatest benefits of the conference. Together the wine blogging community can travel and learn about these important wine regions and their wines.

7) Is the general public allowed to purchase tickets or is the convention limited to wine bloggers and other media? The cost of the conference is $95 for citizen wine bloggers (those unaffiliated with a business or organization), $195 for industry wine bloggers (those whose blog is affiliated with a winery, retail store, or other business or organization), and $295 for non-blogger participants (industry, media relations professionals, friends and family, etc). $95 for citizen wine bloggers is an incredible deal and a hopeful incentive. We strive for 70% citizen or industry bloggers at all conferences.

8) I understand there is a scholarship opportunity for bloggers who otherwise would not be able to afford the expensive of traveling to the conference?

9) In general, how have citizen wine bloggers benefited the overall wine industry? They’ve given a more personal voice and introduction to wine for many people who may have otherwise never chosen to pick up a copy of Wine Enthusiast or the Wine Spectator. The plethora of wine bloggers and their personalities assures anyone who is interested in doing so they can find a blogger personality that matches their own personal style and the wines to along with it. This is a good thing.

10) Are there any circumstances where citizen wine bloggers may actually hamper the wine industry? I personally don’t think so. There are certainly some interesting debates on this subject but in the end only time will tell. Like a good wine that is created with the intention of getting better with age I believe the same holds true for wine blogs.

11) There are probably two dozen Virginia-specific wine blogs. Are there any that you follow or try to read on occasion? Personally, I started following a few VA wine blogs when we decided to host the conference in Virginia. I’m excited to meet these bloggers and their wines in person.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Savor Profile: Allagash Brewing Company

Last night we were able to attend our first pre-Savor event, an Allagash Brewing Company tasting at Fireworks Pizza Arlington. Founder Rob Tod was on hand for a while as several Allagash brews were tapped. The Portland Maine based brewery is known for their Belgium styled ales, which suits are palates perfectly. I settled on a sampler of the Allagash Oddyssey, Victoria Ale, Victor Ale, Allagash White, Allagash Tripel. The White was my favorite, perhaps because its my favorite Belgium style, but the Victor and Victoria Ales were very interested. Brewed with Cabernet Franc and Chardonnay grapes respectively, these beers were lighter forms of the Dogfish Head Midas Touch. The grape flavors were prevalent but balanced between malt, grapes, and spice. Very interested indeed. Another brewery attending Savor, the Nebraska Brewing Company, will be pouring a similar styled beer - the Chardonnay French Oak Hop God. The is a Belgian-Style IPA, matured for 6 month in French Oak Chardonnay Barrels. Meet me at the Allagash and NBC booths.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

WBC11 Preview: The Foreign Invasion

With the 2011 Wine Bloggers Conference (July 22-24 in Charlottesville Virginia) only seven weeks away, we decided to post a few articles previewing the conference during the month of June. These articles will focus on a few aspects of the Virginia Wine Industry or the conference itself. The first article discusses a trend we have noticed during the past several years: the influx of foreign born winemakers into Virginia. They could have chose other wine areas, but something attracted them to the Commonwealth. We asked four of this group [Matthieu Finot - France (King Family Vineyards), Sébastien Marquet - France (Doukenie Winery), Stephen Barnard - South Africa (Keswick Vineyards), and the newest incoming winemaker, David Pagan Castaño - Spain (Breaux Vineyards)] to explain this attraction.

1) What factors lead you to relocate to Virginia?

Matthieu Finot: I was coming back from South Africa, and I was planning to stay only 6 month and then to go in New Zealand, it was in 2003 and this vintage kicked my ass! It was the worst vintage that i've ever had and I've been making wines since 1994. I didn't want to give it away. I liked the challenge, I liked charlottesville and decided to give it another try. I never made it to New Zealand! Instead of 6 month I've been here for 8 years now! I've stayed at this wine area the longest for several reasons: (1) it's a young and dynamic wine region, (2) there is lots of room for improvement and experimentation, (3) challenging weather, and (4) Charlottesville.

Sébastien Marquet: After visiting Doukenie Winery in May 2007, I quickly understood that Virginia had big potential to become a world class wine region. The high motivation of the new winery owners, and the professional organization in the state, showed that the winery owners were well organized. The Owners were not seeing this as just a hobby but really wanted to succeed in the industry. I wanted to be part of the development and bring my 22 years of experience to Doukenie Winery. You can't have good wine without motivated people and hard work. My experience in Burgundy, South France; Martinique (Tropical Weather); and the understanding the American palate from working four years in California really gave me the knowledge to create technics required to adapt to Virginia weather conditions, and helped develop a good marketing and sales strategy for Doukenie Winey.

Stephen Barnard: The first reason was that it was so different to what I was used to. Norton, Touriga, Verdejo and Chambourcin were grapes that I never had experience with and I thought that I would learn a lot more by coming to Virginia and exposing myself to new things. The plan was not to stay here, but instead to move to other areas after being here a year or so, but I met my wife and fell in love with both her and the potential for the area. I was always told that Virginia can make decent white wines but not reds, we have proved that theory to be wrong in the last few years here and I see the future as being especially bright. It is a very close knit community with a common interest in wine, and a willingness to share and exchange ideas to ensure the continued growth of the wine industry.

David Pagan Castaño: Love is the main factor. I met my wife Nicole almost five years ago through a connection in a program run by the University of Virginia. She is from Virginia and a true lover of wine. We taught each other about the wine regions of our homes, and I learned about the emerging wine region of Virginia. She works in Business Development, and so to fulfill our needs as a family, we targeted various regions of the world to relocate from the Canary Islands where we were living. Knowing about the evolving quality of Virginia wine, and with DC so close, this area was one of our top choices for its emphasis on business and rich wine growing region. When she was hired by the DC Women's Business Center, I was excited to join the Virginia wine world. You might even call it destiny...

2) How does Virginia compare to other appellations?

Matthieu Finot: It is a challenging region because of the weather that is very unpredictable. I had the rainiest harvest (2003) and driest and ripest harvest (2010) in my winemaker's experience. This means that the winemaker has to be versatile and flexible. Every year will be different and we never really know what to expect! (a good way to stay humble.....) In some ways it remind me Burgundy and in general, Virginia is closer to Europe than California or Australia. The style of wine and and the variation between vintage is more old world style than new world. (This may be why one European winemaker likes to work in VA.)

Sébastien Marquet: Since 2007 we've won Gold and Silver medals at the San Francisco International Wine competitions. Our wines are complex, the alcohol is balanced, the flavors and aromas are very attractive. The vineyard management technics are being adapted more and more to the weather conditions. Our biggest challenge is to be consistent in the vineyard year after year. It takes time to increase quality, be consistent, and built a high reputation, Virginia winemaker are working hard to increase quality. Our wines are different from California wines, and different from French wines. The soil is different, the sun is different, and the people are different. We have our own terroir here in Virginia, and we must be proud of that. Promoting our wine for their specificities will make the success of Virginia Wineries.

Stephen Barnard: Virginia has it’s fair share of challenges. We have the threat of late season frost, a season that could be wet or hot; and humid with late season rains, so ripening fruit can sometimes be an issue. We also do not have a long history of growing grapes and making wine so we are not quite sure what to plant and what to focus on. Our demographic is starting to get into wines and there is this wonderful curiosity of wine which is a whole new market waiting to be tapped which is exciting. We are not restricted by a certain style so we have room to experiment and play around, which for me, is very exciting.

David Pagan Castaño: Virginia is in the process of establishing itself as an important wine growing region in the U.S. I am excited to be a part of this rapid development, and I hope to bring a new perspective to the table that will put us on the global wine map. In this dynamic moment for Virginia, it is difficult to compare it to other wine growing regions of the world. It definitely has the potential to produce consistently high quality wines, and it will require a lot of collaboration to identify and take advantage of the characteristics of the region's terroir.

3) Where do you see the Virginia wine industry in the next 5-10 years?

Matthieu Finot: I've already seen so many changes in 8 years that I hope it won't stop here! Quality is up and will keep rising. We know more about which grapes grow well and how to manage the vineyard to so that premium grapes are brought into the winery. Time, knowledge, experimentation, and detailed focus will keep pushing up opportunities to craft high end wines. I think Virginia produces more and more world class wines; we need now to convince the world about it!

Sébastien Marquet: Coming from Burgundy (where wineries have existed more than 200 years) 10 years is a very short period of time. I am sure that the numbers of wineries will double and that the quality will be more consistent. We are lucky to have people who are supporting the wine industry and I am particularly thinking of Professor Bruce Zoeckklein, Professor Tony Wolf, and Governor Bob McDonnell and his wife (First Lady Maureen McDonnell).

Stephen Barnard: The future is no doubt bright. I see more consumers focusing on Virginia wines, once they get over the perception that we cannot make good quality wine at an affordable price point. We have a responsibility to ensure we keep raising the bar and promoting our product, not only our wines at Keswick, but the rest of the Virginia wines. I see the wineries streamlining their products and focusing on specific varietals and wine programs, not trying to make 30 different wines; hopefully we will have clearer understanding of what will give us the best chance to be competitive year in and year out. I think you will see Virginia wines and the area being spoken about as a quality wine producing state. You have got some young winemakers, who are extensively trained and knowledgeable, crafting some exciting wines that will wow the consumer.

David Pagan Castaño: If Virginia continues to work on its cooperative efforts, it will not only be a fantastic destination for wine drinkers, but its wines will also be in high demand in regions all over. The recent decision by the Virginia Wine Board to promote Virginia Viognier is an example of this type of cooperation. By concentrating efforts to improve and promote this varietal, the whole region can "get behind" a common goal that could eventually lead to a true appellation or regional standard that raises the quality of all wines. As in rugby, teamwork is essential to the success of any team. If we work as a team, Virginia will be a major player in the wine world.