Tuesday, May 26, 2020

Grape Spotlight: Old Mission Peninsula, Michigan Pinot Blanc

Pinot Blanc, the pale-skinned Pinot mutation that shares a genetic fingerprint with Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris, is favored in cold climate regions such as the Alto Adige region of Italy (Pinot Bianco), Alsace in northeast France, Baden and Pfalz in Germany (Weissburgunder), Niederosterreich and Burgenland in Austria (Weisser Burgunder), Canada's Okanagan Valley, and in Michigan.  The grape itself is quite versatile where globally it is used in the production of still, sparkling, and sweet dessert wines and in general produces a medium to full-bodied style of wine with apple and almond characters and finishing with abundant acidity. Oak treatments are possible but often overwhelm and mute the mineral and smoky characteristics.

In Michigan, Pinot Blanc thrives in the cool conditions and sandy soils of the Old Mission Peninsula AVA where Lake Michigan creates a very favorable grape growing environment. The “lake effect” snow protects the vines in the winter from freezing temperatures and provides a diurnal change in temperatures during the summer. Think refreshing acidity which is the case for the Left Foot Charley Old Mission Peninsula Michigan Pinot Blanc ($18).  This wine also features green apple and pear flavors along with racy saline and a round mouthfeel. Left Foot Charley also produces a single vineyard Pinot Blanc, the 2017 Island View Vineyard Pinot Blanc ($25) which is Michigan's oldest Pinot Blanc planting dating back to 1995. Cheers.

Saturday, May 23, 2020

Grape Spotlight: Szekszard Kadarka

Kadarka is the Hungarian equivalent to Pinot Noir, both in the glass and in the vineyard.  Once planted, Kadarka vines are temperamental - and like Pinot susceptible to grey rot and requires constant attention.  The most ideal environment for Kadarka is one with long hot summers that extend into the fall that not only allow late-ripening grapes to slowly evolve but also reduce the frequency of spring and autumn frosts. Szekszard, located in southern Hungary, is one such region.

The rolling hills of Szekszard are Hungary's most fertile agricultural region and enjoy both a Continental and Mediterranean climate. These dual climates provide a long growing season and the many valleys provide distinct micro-climates. During the summer, days can be stifling hot whereas the nights are fresh and cold. The soil is mostly loose loess particles that allow the vine's roots to dig deep in search of water.

Out of the bottle Szekszard Kadarka tastes similar to Pinot Noir but particularly of Hungary. It's generally light-medium bodied but extremely savory with noticeable texture. The sour cherry flavor mimics meggy - Hungarian sour cherries favored in cold soups and desserts.  What's most interesting is that Kadarka is not indigenous to the Magyar state and is thought to have originated near Lake Scutari on the Montenegro-Albanian border when the Turkish variety Papazkarasi was crossed with local Serbian variety Skadarsko.  This grape was brought to southern Hungary at the end of the 17th century by Serbian refugees encouraged to repopulate after years of Ottoman rule. And soon afterward, Hungarians adopted the grape as their own.

One example of excellent Szekszard Kadarka comes from Taste Hungary - Péter Vida Bonsai Oregtokes Kadarka 2017 ($20). It is produced from over hundred-year-old, gnarly-looking vines that a Japanese visitor likened to a Bonsai tree.  “Often you literally have to kneel in front of the rootstocks to prune them as these are ancient bush-trained vines,” winery founder Péter Vida said. “The image on the label – a mix of a Bonsai tree and an old vine – aims to convey the sense that the wisdom of the plant is bigger than that of humans even if it is diminutive in size.”

This is a delicious wine, light-medium bodied with a sour cherry dominance followed by slight spice and dirt. Expect a layer of texture and lifting acidity.

Thursday, May 21, 2020

Drinking Through Family History: Toms Brook, Virginia and North Mountain Vineyard

In the early 1740s two brothers, Charles and George Hottel, traveled a well-known route among German immigrants from Lancaster, Pennsylvania to Virginia's Shenandoah Valley. After finding available farmland at the foot of North Moutain at the headwaters of Toms Brook, they returned to Lancaster to lead their father Johannes Hodel (John Hottel) and other family members including their sister Barbara Anna, and her husband, George Keller back to the valley. Upon settling in the Shenandoah, they received land grants from Lord Fairfax, ending a twenty-plus year journey from Alsheim-Gronau Germany. In between, the family had arrived in Philadelphia, initially settled in Lancaster where Barbara Anna met and married Hans Georg Keller, a fellow emigrant from Germany who arrived in Philadelphia one month after the Hottels.

At Toms Brook, located northwest of Woodstock, George Keller would rise in esteem as a churchman and eventually being named by Governor Dunmore as one of the first eight Justices of the Peace in Dunmore (now Shenandoah) County. Their daughter Ann Keller married Henry Fravel, the son of Swiss immigrants, and whose family farm was ten miles away from the Kellers. In 1786 Elizabeth Fravel (the daughter of Ann and Henry Fravel) married Johannes Huber - another descendent of German immigrants and the great-grandfather of my grandfather's mother, Cora Agnes Hoover.

These early settlers are buried in various cemeteries in the area with John Hottel's grave marker now unknown in the old Keller Cemetary. However, his descendants erected a new memorial in the cemetery that was dedicated on September 11, 1982 -- 250 years to the day when the Hottel family arrived in America. That same year North Mountain Vineyard was established, most likely on land once farmed by one of these relatives. In fact, the winery is located on Swartz Road, a family name that married into the Hottel line and whose descendent circled back to the Kellers through a descendent of Henry and Ann (Keller) Fravel. Today the winery grows several cold-climate grapes such as Riesling, a grape the Hottels, Kellers, and Hubers would have recognized from their Rhine homeland. They might even recognize the European styled architecture of the winery.

North Mountain's estate vineyard is planted in primarily silty loam soils with the newer Sonnenberg Vineyard, located in the eastern half, and dominated by layers of sandstone. This vineyard is planted with Petit Verdot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Grüner Veltliner, Zweigelt, and Riesling.  The original western vineyard is distinguished by a layer of limestone and includes Chambourcin, Vidal Blanc, Traminette, Chardonnay, Cabernet Franc, and Cabernet Sauvignon vines.

During the partial re-opening of Virginia wineries, we stopped by North Mountain for curbside pickup for the 2017 Riesling ($25),  Grüner Veltliner ($24), and 2017 Zweigelt Rosé ($24). We will be opening these wines during the next few weeks and posting updates with the tasting notes. In the meanwhile here are the winery's notes for the Riesling and Zweigelt. The Grüner appears to be a non-vintage blend from multiple vineyards within the Shenandoah Valley AVA. Cheers.

2017 Riesling ($25)
100% Riesling grown on the west-facing slope of Sonnenberg, our hill behind the winery building. Peaches, pear, and apple on the nose, palate, and finish. A subtle minerality lingers throughout.

2017 Zweigelt Rosé ($24)
Our Winery, nestled in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia, presents this refreshing rosé wine with hints of pomegranate, zesty citrus, and ripe strawberries. Zweigelt is a native to Austria and was created in the 1920s by Professor Fritz Zweigelt, by crossing Blaufränkisch with St. Laurent.

Monday, May 18, 2020

Grape Spotlight: Žilavka of Medjugorje

The Mediterranean climate that attracts viticulture in Croatia's coastal regions do not end at the Adriatic but extend into Herzegovina -- the southern region within Bosnia-Herzegovina. Grapes have been cultivated in this region for at least a millennium, with vineyards planted in limestone soils from the coast to the city of Mostar. Žilavka is the predominant white grape that flourishes even during drought conditions.

St. James Cathedral
The grape is noted for its abundant acidity and sugar concentration providing the potential for high alcohol levels, two traits that influence its use in brandy distilling. As a single varietal wine, Žilavka provides an interesting nutty, sometimes pine-ish, character. Wineries often enhance the body with barrique oak aging, which doesn't dissuade from the nutty aspect of the wine. We found a couple of these styles in Mostar, but our most memorable was an unoaked version from a store in Medjugorje - the famous pilgrimage site.  The bottle was purchased from a market near St. James Cathedral and the clerk told us it was his family's label - translated "Homemade dry white wine".  The wine was dry, only 12% alcohol, and greenish with noticeable pine notes - made me think of Vermentino.  Looking forward to our next visit. Cheers.

Tuesday, May 12, 2020

A COVID-19 American Craft Beer Week

American Craft Beer Week (May 11-17) is the annual nationwide celebration of small and independent U.S. craft breweries. Join the celebration and support independent brewery businesses by giving the gift of craft beer through delivery of beer, beer-to-go, gift cards or merchandise, CraftBeer.com

In more joyous times, American Craft Beer Week would entail various celebrations at beer bars, restaurants, and breweries with consumers able to sample a wide array of craft-brewed beer. That was before COVID-19 and the nationwide shutdown that has disabled, not only craft breweries, but also the restaurants and retail outlets which were once strong outlets of the craft beer supply chain.

The Brewers Association (BA) is the membership organization dedicated to promoting and protecting small and independent craft brewers in the United States. The BA defines a craft brewer as small, traditional, and independent -- features which make these establishments particularly vulnerable during this pandemic. Many of these small brewers rely completely on tasting room sales and do not have the distribution arrangements for a wider audience. They are also independent and not partly or wholly owned by large conglomerates that have the cash reserve or financial ties to weather the crisis.

In normal economic times, there is creative destruction within the industry where a certain number of breweries will open and a smaller number closing their doors. However, with challenging profit margins, even in the best of times, many of our favorite breweries may not survive without our focused assistance. CraftBeer.com has published a Nationwide List of To-Go Beer Options by Breweries and for this week (and beyond) are asking consumers for their support. If you are ill or an at-risk individual, you should avoid going out, but consider purchasing a gift card or searching for local breweries providing delivery services. If you are healthy, take advantage of curbside beer service.  With our help craft breweries will ride this, and any future, COVID-19 storms.

Follow: #GiveCraftBeer and #SeekTheSeal