<![CDATA[(Un)Common Grape - Blog]]>Tue, 21 Feb 2017 19:19:39 -0800Weebly<![CDATA[Cave Spring Cellars: A Study in Riesling]]>Sun, 29 Jan 2017 19:32:23 GMThttp://uncommongrape.com/blog/cave-spring-cellars-a-study-in-rieslingPictureNiagara Falls, slightly frozen.
"Ooh, that sounds fun. I've always wanted to know how they make ice wine." That was the response I got when I mentioned I was heading to Canada to visit a winery. Understandably so, given that this was the view I got on my way up there. And, I knew I was taking a risk flying to Buffalo in January, which gets an average 25 inches of snow during the first month of the year. ​I wasn't quite sure what to expect but tasting a lot of ice wine seemed likely; after all, that's what the Niagara Peninsula is known for, right? In reality, of the 22 wines I tasted during my visit to Cave Spring Cellars, only one of them was an ice wine, and we really only tasted it as an afterthought.


I met Tom Pennachetti just before lunch on a Thursday. The flight had been brief--shorter than my normal commute in fact--and the drive fairly straightforward (though I was a little surprised they had let me into Canada so freely, this being the day before the inauguration of the president who's election had caused such an interest in moving to Canada that the Canadian embassy site had crashed). We went over some business, case depletions and sales incentives, etc. and then Tom took me on a tour of the winery. I learned a little about their family--Tom's father started growing grapes in the late 1970s and founded the winery in 1986 with Tom and his brother Len. Shortly after, winemaker Angelo Pavan joined the team as well. Tom's wife is even involved. At this stage, most winery tours are fairly similar. This is a stainless steel tank, this is an oak barrel, and so on, so I look for the anomalies, the things that stand out. And on this tour, that didn't take long.

One of the first things Tom showed me was their wastewater treatment room. That's right, they have their own wastewater treatment room. They use a system that reduces the biological contaminates of their wastewater by as much as 99% before being reintroduced into the municipal water system. While definitely cool and unique, this probably was a lot more interesting to someone who knows more about microbiology or engineering than me. It was the barrel room that got me excited. Barrel rooms are almost always my favorite part of a tour, but it was here that Tom showed me that not only were they using some tonneaus for their wines (a 600 liter barrel as opposed to the typical 225 liter barrel or barrique) but they had just ordered some foudres (1000 liter or more barrels). These kinds of barrels are pretty traditional in regions like Alsace and most of Germany for storing white wines like riesling, but most other regions just use stainless steel tanks. Using a large barrel like this, however, tends to produce a slightly softer, rounder wine with some of the more austere characteristics taken away. Cave Spring is also aging their wines in these vessels on the lees (the dead yeast) which also adds complexity and weight.

PictureMap showing the Niagara Escarpment to the left of Lake Ontario.
We talked a lot about geology and geography, some of the most important factors in grape-growing, as well as the temperature moderating effect of Lake Ontario (large bodies of water keep year-round air temperatures more consistent). We looked at a bunch of maps, another favorite of mine, but all of this was just prep for our visit to the vineyards that afternoon where I got to see what we talked about. First, however, we ate lunch at the restaurant they also operate in town, the star of which was the creamy, velvety, butternut squash soup that was perfect for that chilly day. And we accompanied it with their Brut NV sparkler made from 100% Chardonnay, a lovely pairing.

PictureThe 17 wines we had lined up for that afternoon.
After touring the vineyards we tasted through the majority of their wines, 17 in all, which allowed me to see the vast differences there can be despite all being made at the same winery and coming from the same small region in Ontario. Being a cool climate region, 78% of what Cave Spring produces is white wine. Of that, over 50% is dedicated to riesling, so its no surprise that we tasted more riesling than anything else. While they make a very interesting cabernet franc, a pinot noir that's nothing to shy away from, and a fun gamay, riesling is clearly the star of the show.

Of these, they have a couple regional wines and then some estate bottlings, coming from vineyards they own entirely. These are up on the Beamsville Bench, at the top of the escarpment and therefore have a particular soil composition as well as better drainage and sun exposure; really all the things that make great wine great. Something super interesting about the soil--well, at least to me--is that these soils up on the Beamsville Bench are limestone rich. So much so that one of their wines is even dubbed "Dolomite" a nod to the dolomitic limestone, a calcium rich white rock, found in the region. Limestone almost always produces great wine. And this limestone comes from how the Escarpment was essentially carved out a long time ago exposing these premium soils.

All this made for some pretty spectacular wine. My favorite of the trip was hard to pin down as there was a bready sparkling NV blanc de blancs, a sensual and balanced 2015 Chardonnay Estate, and an herbal and silky 2014 Cabernet Franc Estate. But the showstopper for certain was the puckery 2015 Riesling 'Adam Steps' followed closely by the steely and floral 2015 Riesling CSV. Both of these wines were beautiful and elegant now but have no doubt a long life ahead of them. The flavors kept unfolding and the depth was purely enjoyable. To be honest, far better than anything I expected out of the Niagara Peninsula.

​And, oh yeah, their ice wine was pretty good, too.


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<![CDATA[Welcome Back]]>Sat, 14 Jan 2017 00:22:46 GMThttp://uncommongrape.com/blog/welcome-backPictureI get to take the train everyday!
Sadly, it’s been some time since I’ve been able to write anything, at least anything worth reading. But, there’s been many changes going on in recent months. The biggest is that I transitioned to a new day job in the wine industry, going from working part-time consulting on the retail side of things to full-time brand management at the country’s largest fine wine distributor. That required a lot of work to wrap things up in my old roles and a lot of focus to get up and running in my new post. This new job has been wonderful so far, though there’s a lot to learn as I am managing a portfolio of wines from Australia, Greece, the Balkan states (think Serbia, Macedonia, and Croatia) as well as South Africa, New York State, and even Champagne. Most of these are regions I know very little about so I am super-excited to expand my knowledge in these areas. Plus, this side of the business is entirely different from anything I’ve done before so there’s a lot to learn simply about the business of wine.

I also finished up two wine courses I was working on, one focusing on the wines of Bordeaux and the other the first in a series of courses as I strive towards my Diploma in Wines and Spirits. I learned some fabulous things like the correct fining agent to use to fix a hazy wine (bentonite in case you were wondering) or one with too much protein (casein); or that despite being a white wine only appellation, Entre-Deux-Mers actually has more red grapes planted; or that weeds are actually healthy in the right doses, but can be eradicated with a flamethrower if that’s how you roll. I’m happy to say I completed both of those courses successfully, and what I’ve learned will absolutely be influencing what I’m able to do here (I mean, who doesn’t want to read about flame weeding?)

On top of that there were little events like Thanksgiving and Christmas and New Years and friend’s and family’s birthdays and home renovations and car repairs, you know, the rest of normal life. Thankfully, despite my break from writing, I did not take a break from wine. In fact, with my new role, I am getting to taste a plethora of interesting bottles that I would never have even known about before. Yet again, the world of wine amazes me. I’ve gotten to try a few assyrtikos, sauvignon blanc from the vineyard the furthest south in the world, vranec, semi-sparkling orange wine, and more.

And in keeping with the theme of changes, we’ll be making some much-needed updates to the website here. Not only with a facelift, but some new sections about wine regions and grapes, media pages, and perhaps what I’m most excited about, a place for you to share your stories about wine. I hope you had a good end of 2016 like I did and are just as excited for all the new things to come in 2017. For my part, I can’t wait to make wine a bigger part of our lives. I hope you’ll join me.


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<![CDATA[The Good People in Wine]]>Tue, 11 Oct 2016 15:10:30 GMThttp://uncommongrape.com/blog/the-good-people-in-winePictureTom Leonardini II
One of the things I love most about the wine business is not actually the wine. Of course, that's good, too, but some of the most rewarding experiences I've had have been because of the people, not the wine. This past weekend I helped organize an event for a retailer that brought in several winemakers from Napa Valley to pour and promote their wine. Most of them I had spent time with before, and I was glad to get to do so again.

First, there's Tom Leonardini II of Whitehall Lane Winery in St. Helena. Tom is like the quintessential California guy. He's laid back, calm, cool and just wants everyone to have a good time. But he also knows his business and knows how to get things done.

Then there's Stephen Corley of Corley Family Monticello Vineyards. Stephen and his brothers run their family winery that their dad started forty years ago. Stephen's a business and salesman and is super friendly. He's the kind of guy that would be a loyal, lifelong friend.



PictureStephen Corley
Next there's Fiona and Hal Barnett who own Barnett Vineyards. They are some of my favorite people in the wine business. They are warm and generous and I think in many respects, remind me of my wife and I. They love welcoming people into their home, love good food and wine, and love to travel. In fact, in planning for this event I also shared recommendations for visiting Quebec as they'd be coming straight from there to the wine tasting. Their winemaker, David Tate, (and his wife) are also really fun people.

And there's also Brian Brown of Emerson Brown. I don't know Brian that well, although this was the third time we'd seen each other in the past three months or so. He's definitely on the rise in the wine industry, though. He was working for a great winery, Vineyard 29, before starting his own project with friend Keith Emerson. In addition to Emerson Brown in Napa, he's got a project in Paso Robles called Onyx which I'm fascinated by. I'm pretty excited to see where Brian's career is headed.

And finally, there's Miles MacDonnell, owner of Round Pond EstateI've gotten to spend a decent amount of time with Miles over the past year or two as he's been involved in many events I've been a part of. And his winery has become one of my favorites in Napa. I think Round Pond has done a phenomenal job at creating a complete and incredible experience. In particular, I love how they have really highlighted the food and wine combo, employing an in-house chef to really focus on pairing wine and food. They also have a pretty active olive mill, making their own olive oils and vinegars. I also get along really well with their winemaker, Muiris Griffin who I think is doing a killer job.

Now I'm sure there are incredibly fascinating accountants and financial planners; and I imagine there must be captivating engineers and lawyers. But I think there's something unique about food and wine that attracts a certain type of person who loves life, and loves sharing it with others. In fact, while some of the wineries in Napa were started by farmers or people already in the wine business, there are so many who got their start in finance or technology or selling cars. That's really why I love wine. It's not about the beverage itself, it's about the people who make it and the passion they put into it.

What about you? Who have you met in the wine industry (or through wine or food) that you admire?

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<![CDATA[Dinner With Amarone]]>Fri, 16 Sep 2016 20:49:55 GMThttp://uncommongrape.com/blog/dinner-with-amarone
"We recommend it also by itself, as the ideal meditation wine." This is the description Cesari gives to its 1997 Bosan Amarone.

"An ideal meditation wine."

I'm not sure I've heard a better description for a wine. A wine perfect for sitting quietly, contemplating inner peace and seeking a higher understanding. That's the kind of wine I want to drink. And the other night, I was able to do just that. Along with eleven other people, I was invited to drink this wine alongside a great meal. The wines being showcased that night:
  • 2012 Cesari Amarone della Valpolicella Classico
  • 2007 Cesari Amarone Bosan
  • 1997 Cesari Amarone Bosan
This was not a meal for the lighthearted. The food was spectacular as well, but the wine shined. And these are all big, bold and yet elegant wines. I tend to think of Italian wine as having a certain earthiness to it. I often find flavors of dried orange peel and cherry and sometimes leather or tobacco. And while you can sometimes get this out of Amarone, it has a much more fruit-forward nature. 

Cesari, founded in 1936 (meaning they're celebrating 80 years) by Gerardo Cesari, is located in the Amarone della Valpolicella zone of production of the Veneto. Amarone has certainly changed in 80 years, not the least of which is that production has drastically increased in recent years. In fact, in 1990 there was just a little over a million gallons being produced and just a over a decade later there was three times as much. The process for producing Amarone is a little different because they use partially dried grapes which gives the wine more body and a unique, slightly raisin-y character.

Traditionally the grapes are harvested and then dried on large straw mats in well-ventilated barns. The process has been updated a bit, producing a cleaner, more correct wine that has less chance of develop mold or rot, but the general concept is the same. Pick the grapes, let some water evaporate out and then continue with the winemaking process. Allowing water to evaporate concentrates flavors (because there's less water diluting them) and also decreases the weight (again because there's less water). That means that it takes even more grapes to make the same amount of Amarone wine. This whole process that is a bit more labor intensive and requires more raw material does increase the cost of the wine a bit; but you can still find some great examples under $50. 

The goal of the dinner was to highlight the wines of Cesari, and in the process, maybe learn something about Amarone. I, for one, did not know that Amarone had single vineyard production. It's becoming more and more common around the world, but Cesari has been doing it for a while, so it's not some fad. Their vineyard holdings have been fine-tuned over the 80 years that they've been around. The Bosan is just one of four single vineyard wines they make. And it's definitely something spectacular.

In fact, the 1997 was one of the youngest old wines I've ever tasted. Despite being almost twenty years old, this wine was fresh and vibrant, with almost no signs of age. There were plenty of red fruit notes: strawberry, cherry, even a little cranberry, and lots of good acidity. Some of that could come from the fact that the Bosan vineyard has a lot of volcanic soil, something that I think tends to make wines that are incredibly long-lasting (like some of the great wines of Alsace). I could see this wine still being good in another five or maybe even ten years. At the very least, it is without a doubt a wine that would aid in meditation.
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<![CDATA[I Made Catawba]]>Fri, 09 Sep 2016 21:34:22 GMThttp://uncommongrape.com/blog/i-made-catawba
Catawba - deep, pink-skinned Labrusca grape variety that was extremely popular in the 19th century and is still widely grown in New York State. Identified in North Carolina in 1802, it produces white and pink, still and sparkling wines from dry to very sweet.

That's all famed wine writer and Master of Wine Jancis Robinson's 800 page tome, The Oxford Companion to Wine, says on this grape. And yet:

"The first wine I made was pink catawba," Layne Montgomery tells me when I visited m2 wines in Lodi last month. He grew up in the South Missouri/Arkansas area, and has been making wine commercially since only 2004, only a few years after trying it out on an amateur basis first. In fact, Lodi--really America's grape capital--has a big amateur winemaking scene I came to learn. LAVA, or the Lodi Amateur Vintners Association, has seen no less than ten of its members move on to commercial operations in its fifteen year existence.

m2 started in 2004 by Layne and his wife (hence the second 'm') in a warehouse, the only space they could find. But a couple years ago they moved to their current location on East Pelletier Road in Acampo, just north of Lodi. It's a beautiful, open concept building that can almost be completely opened to the vineyards thanks to modular sliding walls. The exquisite blend of wood and steel help the low-profile building feel elegant and yet natural, unobtrusive to its surrounding vineyards.

I got to taste through just about all their finished wines in the tasting room before Layne walked in. The 2013 Soucie Vineyard Old Vine Zin was great, though the 2014 Select Block Zin that followed was even better. There was even a surprisingly good Tempranillo and an even more surprisingly good Petite Sirah. Then, Layne took me into the barrel room and we tasted seven or eight barrel samples, some of which will most certainly be killer. Somewhere in there, Aaron Shinn stopped in to go over some business with Layne, but instead he hung out while we talked and tasted. It was clear they get along well as he joked about Layne's attire. "The guy has two shirts, that one and the same one in blue."

Aaron's family runs a vineyard management company that deals with over 2,000 acres. And, even though he's practically just out of college, he's even working on his own projects. He's been doing it all his life, so he knows Lodi really well. That's when I learned how young Lodi is as a wine region. "Ten to fifteen years ago it was mostly the big guys," Aaron said. "Constellation, Gallo, that sort of thing. There were no small wineries like m2 back then." And Aaron and his family still deal with a lot of those clients, but he's excited about working with people like Layne. "Selling to Layne is good for the industry," he said.

Layne chimed in: "Ten years ago, we'd get visitors now again...by accident. They'd be driving by and see a sign for a winery and figure they'd stop in. Now they come here on purpose." And given how good the wines are, I don't blame them. But a growth in small wineries can have its challenges, too. Prices are bound to go up; after all, more competition means more demand. And it's still a small town. As Layne said, "If you f-- somebody, they're gonna know." It can keep you honest, but it can also prove difficult.

For my part, I think Layne will be all right. He's got a good product, and he's not playing around. He makes good wine, and he's honest about it.

Have you ever had wine from Lodi? What are your thoughts? How about another small wine region? I'd love to hear from you.
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<![CDATA[Tasting Tomasello Wines]]>Fri, 02 Sep 2016 15:27:17 GMThttp://uncommongrape.com/blog/tasting-tomasello-winesIt looked like a normal farm stand, buzzing with all sorts of people, extra busy because it was CSA pickup day. The open walls let in the fresh, sweet summer air. There were blueberries and peaches, beans and peppers, the smell of doughnuts wafting from the back. And a wine bar at the back. This was Dreyer Farms in Cranford, NJ. It's one of several outlets where Tomasello Wines sells its wines and I was there to taste.

PictureThe entrance to Dreyer Farms.
New Jersey laws around wine sales can be pretty complicated--and difficult--but this is one law that works in favor of New Jersey. Turns out, NJ wineries are allowed to set up retail outlets at a few places around the state in order to sell their wines direct to consumer. This was the first time I'd seen it and it seemed like a perfect fit. After all, wine is just another form of produce. I was there with Danny Klein, Regional Vice President for the American Wine Society, who I had just interviewed, and he had to pick up some wine but we figured while there, we might as well taste.

​We were hosted by Nadine who was absolutely honest and helpful; we were happy to be interrupted by her frequent visitors who either wanted to taste as well, or were there to pick up their monthly wine selections (part of a wine club partnership they have with the CSA). And despite being relatively new the wine business, she knew what she needed to, had a great attitude (half the battle in sales) and was super willing to learn (most of the rest of what you need in sales--at the end of our tasting she asked, "So what am I doing wrong? I'd love for you to critique me.")

PictureCourtesy of Tomasello Winery.
We tasted two whites, a riesling and a rkatsiteli (a strange Georgian variety, the country, not the state), and a smattering of reds.  The wines were mostly ok; the whites had ok acidity and decent fruit. The reds mostly had too much acidity, which translates to fruit that didn't quite get ripe with lots of earthy and sometimes vegetal flavors. I'm actually pretty all right with this style of wine. Bordeaux used to taste a lot like this, though has gotten more expressive over the past couple decades. However, this isn't a popular style of wine right now. Bordeaux changed their style through a combination of changing climate, better technology, and a better understanding of the land and grapes. We can control two out of three of these, so New Jersey will most likely be able to improve, but as always Mother Nature is that, quite big, unknown variable.

There was one wine, however, that quite surprised me: the 2013 Palmaris Petit Verdot. Despite the sweet and delicious smelling doughnuts, of which I probably should have bought some, this wine was deeply aromatic. Lavenders, sweet tobacco, and vanilla poured out of the glass. And there was plenty of flavor, too. Smokey plum and blackberries, chewy like I expect petit verdot to be, but not inky like many of them are. I thought it was really well balanced and had a great, long, silky finish. Palmaris is the high-end line of Tomasello, so I was hoping it would be good, and it didn't disappoint.

Maybe Petit Verdot has a good future here in the Garden State. It is a hardy variety and resistant to mold. It's dark, weighty flavors make it good to pair with game and lamb, or grilled foods, but it's propensity to be a little on the jammy side makes it good to pair with spicy foods as well. I'll be looking forward to tasting this wine more in the future, and hopefully finding other petit verdot bottlings from New Jersey. And if you get a chance, you should definitely pick up a bottle of this as well. It's not cheap, $50 a bottle, but this may be one of the few NJ wines that I think might actually be worth that.

Thanks again to Nadine for a great tasting and to Danny for taking me along for the ride. Santé!

Have you ever had any cool, unexpected wine experiences like this? Leave me a comment and tell me about it.
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<![CDATA[Greek Food and Wine Pairing]]>Tue, 30 Aug 2016 11:44:03 GMThttp://uncommongrape.com/blog/greek-food-and-wine-pairingDespite loving both food and wine, I don't always pair them the way that some food and wine sites would lead you to believe is a necessity. Sometimes it's not practical or I'm craving a wine and a food that aren't necessarily a good pairing. Mostly I just don't plan far enough ahead, and my wine collection isn't nearly vast enough to account for all scenarios so I end up settling. And that's all perfectly okay. However, a good pairing can make both the food and the wine taste better and so, whenever I can, I do my best to find that perfect combination.

While we don't make it very often, one of my favorite meals has become homemade pitas. We cook up some ground pork, I'll make the pita bread from scratch and Jamie will mix up some tzatziki. We'll cut up fresh veggies and sometimes make a spicy sauce, this time with fresh hot peppers from the farmers' market. And I also looked for a good bottle of wine that would pair well with the freshness of the cucumbers, the savoriness of the meat and even possibly the heat of the spicy sauce. I call it Greek food because that's what it makes me think of, even though I know it may not strictly speaking be Greek at all.

Therefore, my first thought was to go with a Greek wine. A nice Assyrtiko would work well, I thought. It has a nice salinity that would compliment the veggies while still having a bit of body that would work with the meat and acidity to deal with the spice. It was also hot out and I knew a good, refreshing white would be preferable to any sort of red. However, my local store that typically has a decent Greek selection was sadly lacking that day. But I knew I definitely wanted something with similar characteristics. So I picked up a Muscadet, a lovely and simple white wine from the Loire Valley in France.

Upon returning home I realized I had forgotten there were still two open bottles of Spanish white wine in the fridge from a dinner we had done a few days before. This was certainly a twist. But then I thought, while the other bottles weren't completely fresh, what better opportunity to test out different pairing combinations to see which wine worked best?
Picture
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We started off with the albariño. This was good, but "a little too tangy", as my wife put it, and I agreed. There was good acidity with the albariño, but the fruit was a little too tropical. Next up, a dry muscat. This was a great wine the first night opened, and still great these few days later. Not a bad pairing, great for the spicy sauce, and ok with the meat, however the fruit overpowered the flavor of the veggies just a bit. A little too much orange.

​Lastly, the muscadet I bought for the occasion, which turned out just lovely. There was a good balance of acidity and it wasn't too overpowering. The fruit, more on the citrus side, complimented the savoriness of the dish nicely. And the meal turned out very nicely, too. Very tasty, indeed. So, to recap:
  1. I don't pair food and wine all the time. I would love to, but it's often inconvenient or requires more planning than I remember to do, and that's ok. It makes me yearn for (and understand) the concept of "what grows together, goes together." It certainly makes pairing a lot easier when you don't have to think about what to buy. You would buy what was local because that was what was available. 
  2. I like trying different pairings. The best way to learn what goes best together is to experiment. While there is no doubt that same pairings work, it may be surprising to learn about others. I wasn't sure about my muscadet and pita hunch--and I'm glad it turned out well--but if I never tried it I would never have known.
  3. When I do have the foresight to work out a pairing, it almost always makes the experience better. While the wrong pairing doesn't necessarily ruin a meal, the right pairing can definitely enhance the meal. In this instance, the food was good on its own, and the first two wines were perfectly fine, but the third one was like an added component that enhanced already great flavors.

Do you pair wines with your food all the time?  Or do you pick them each separately? If you do pair them, what's your method?

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<![CDATA[The Most Famous Wine Region You've Never Heard Of]]>Fri, 26 Aug 2016 15:54:29 GMThttp://uncommongrape.com/blog/the-most-famous-wine-region-youve-never-heard-ofMy room, at the top of a hundred year-old water tower, overlooked grapevines and cherry trees as far as the eye could see. On my morning runs it was easy to get lost amongst the over 100,000 acres of vines, more than any other appellation in the United States I would come to learn, in fact almost three times that of Napa.

The festivities started at Mohr-Fry Ranch; hundreds of acres of 12 different grape varieties, 2 varieties of cherries and 25 different types of heirloom beans. We tasted wines from 12 or so different wineries, all who source grapes from the Ranch while munching on brick oven pizza and faro salad and listening to Bluegrass music. The next day was full of tastings and seminars at Hutchins Street Square, the high school Robert Mondavi attended that has since been turned into a conference center. Dinner that night was a myriad of events from vineyard tours, blending sessions and downtown divertissement at one of the 100 or so wineries in the region, up from only five just 15 years ago. One of the country's largest winegrowing regions, that produces grapes for some of the country's best and biggest wineries is starting to make a name for itself.
This,
​is Lodi.



Being from New Jersey, where there's a city of the same name, it almost always follows that I need to clarify that no, this is not Lodi, NJ (thank goodness) but instead a little town in California about an hour southeast of Sacramento. Lodi has a long history of winemaking, going back to the mid-19th century. It's located just outside gold-mining country, and at the northern tip of the Central Valley, famous for its agreeable climate and fertile soils suitable for agriculture. In fact, it is one of the most productive agricultural centers in the world with more than half of the fruit, vegetables and nuts grown in the United States coming from here. This gave it the perfect environment and audience for winemaking. The thirsty miners (many of whom were European immigrants) missed the wine culture of their home countries and so many of those who weren't mining got into the grape business. This is what the Mondavi family did a little over half a century later, before moving to Napa. Since that time, Lodi has long been known as a bulk wine region. Some of the country's biggest wine companies buy a large proportion of the grapes out of Lodi. Companies like Constellation (the company that bought the Mondavi operation), E & J Gallo, The Wine Group, and Bronco Wines (responsible for Two Buck Chuck). Chances are you've had wine made from grapes grown in Lodi, even if it doesn't say so on the label, which is why most people have never heard of it (and think I'm talking about New Jersey).

But in the past couple decades, some of these growers, and a number of new players, have begun making their own wine, and I've got to say, the results so far are stunning. Stay tuned for more detailed reviews but some of my standouts from the trip were:
  • m2 Wines -- started by Layne Montgomery and his wife. I got the chance to spend some time with Layne who is not only a killer winemaker, but a standup, witty and authentic guy.
  • St. Amant Wines -- I met Stuart Spencer who runs the winery with his mom (his dad has passed away) and also had the pleasure of eating with Nate the assistant winemaker. Great guy, really interesting chemist/biologist who got into winemaking just recently
  • Harney Lane -- this is where I learned that Spanish varietals, like Albarino and Tempranillo, have a pretty interesting future in Lodi
  • PRIE -- I didn't get a chance to spend a lot of time with this wine, but wow, what I did taste was off the charts

What experience do you have with Lodi wine? I'd love to hear about it (even if it's Lodi, NJ, which, for both our sakes, I hope it's not).

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<![CDATA[Family Businesses: How Wine and Convenience Stores Meet]]>Fri, 05 Aug 2016 20:46:13 GMThttp://uncommongrape.com/blog/family-businesses-how-wine-and-convenience-stores-meet
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The Currado Family.
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Kyle Krause and his wife.
Recently I heard about the sale of Vietti Winery in the Piemonte region of Italy to the Krause family, At first, I was saddened by the news as I assumed this was another small, family winery being gobbled up by a major corporation. It's been a year full of winery sales and so this was just the latest to fall in the increasingly competitive and money intensive wine world. And, more than that, Vietti is a winery that we have long adored, visiting back in 2012 and loved drinking ever since (and before). It felt extra sad to think about that amazing winery, cut into the hillside, buried partially below ground in order to keep from ruining the landscape of the historic town of Castiglione, being molded into another Disneyland or factory pumping out quantity over quality. There's an increasing fear of globalization as it impacts wine, that it will prompt a McDonaldization as it were and the race to be the first to "over a billion bottles sold". Not that Vietti would likely reach a billion bottles, but the pressure for profits in a growing wine segment is sure to be there.

Vietti Winery is currently run by Luca Currado, who gave us a tour when we visited; he also makes the wine. He took over operations from his father, Alfredo (married to Luciana Vietti), who really made the winery what it is today. And he took over from his father-in-law, Mario Vietti. Many members of the family have been involved in the business as it has passed from generation to generation and grown throughout that time. They are located in the heart of the Barolo region and while they make a bit of Barbera and a few other things, they really specialize in making excellent Barolo, from Nebbiolo. They are also pretty well-known for the white made from Arneis. As a family who has been involved in winemaking in Piemonte for about a century, they are also dedicated to the local ecosystem and economy. Their labels--beautiful labels--are even designed by a local artist.

The Krause family owns the Kum & Go convenience store chain, headquartered in Iowa. They were founded in 1959 by William Krause and Tony Gentle. The company is currently led by Kyle Krause, who's interests span everything from wine to professional soccer (he also purchased a team back in 1989). His love for wine, Piemonte in particular prompted him to purchase a few vineyard sites over the years. And that's not an easy task. There's limited land, and it's highly coveted (and expensive). That's because they are the fifth largest convenience store chain in the country, with over 400 locations and almost 5,000 employees. But, I am impressed with what they describe as their core values. From the Kum & Go website:
  • Passion – We love what we do, and it shows in our work
  • Integrity – We do the right thing, even when it is difficult
  • Teamwork – We believe that greatness is only achieved through teamwork
  • Caring – We have genuine compassion for our customers, associates, families and communities
  • Excellence – We expect and deliver superior performance
And, to continue, "Another thing that makes us unique is our dedication to the communities in which we serve. Kum & Go is proud to donate 10% of its profits back to charities and local communities. Philanthropy is a part of what we do and who we are, and we strive to be good neighbors in our towns and cities. Building sustainable stores is another way that we support our local communities. What makes a convenience store sustainable? Learn more about oursustainability efforts and LEED certified stores." That's kind of impressive. 

I just heard an interview with Luca Currado, talking about the sale. And while I'm still not 100% convinced of the upside, Luca is adamant that both families, who have been friends for a number of years, are passionate about working together to make the best wine they possibly can. Luca is excited that by partnering with the Krause's he'll have access to those vineyards that Kyle Krause has bought and there may be a little more capital in the bank. And that's always helpful. It does sound like they may pare down the wines they make, which is fine, but I do get nervous that prices will rise as they focus in their winemaking on the higher end brands. They make a great $20 Nebbiolo that I worry will go away--or creep towards $30. But, I am glad that it seems Kyle Krause shares the same values as the Vietti/Currado family. "We have to keep improving to get to where we want to be. We want to be a great company," Krause said of his own company, which I guess now includes Vietti.
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<![CDATA[Unusual Wines]]>Wed, 27 Jul 2016 19:36:14 GMThttp://uncommongrape.com/blog/unusual-winesWe had another wine dinner this month with an unusual theme. That was actually the theme, unusual wines. One of the members of our impromptu wine dinner club dubbed it the "clean your cellar" night. And while that may have been partially true, it was an interesting night nonetheless. The montepulciano was fine, the Indian Cabernet/Shiraz was unique for sure, but that was nothing really.

The night started with a Turkish wine called Dömisek, some sort of muscat blend. The wine had been picked up in Turkey, so none of us could really understand the label. We had doubts from the beginning, as it was obvious the wine was pretty cloudy. These suspicions were only confirmed by the aroma emanating the moment I pulled the cork, which, after stumbling for a few moments, I could only describe as chicken soup. Yep, that's right, good old, Campbell's chicken soup. It tasted more or less the same, with a hint of tangerines and tuna can water. We knew we were in for quite a night.

Everyone had their own idea of "unusual" so there were wines from different places (like India or Turkey). Wines from old vintages, and wines that maybe shouldn't really be called wine. But the one rule was that we all had to try each one. And we did. I didn't enjoy all of them, but it was certainly a good experience. Notes below, judge for yourself.
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The selection at dinner.
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Dömisek Muscat Blend
​Like I said, Campbell's Chicken Noodle mixed with tangerine and tuna water. I hope there's better options out there in Turkey. Someday maybe I'll get to find out.





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1995 Newton Unfiltered Chardonnay
This was probably the crowd favorite. It was old yeah, but still quite beautiful. Butterscotch was the dominant characteristic. With some toffee and apple notes, but perfectly dry. It had a lovely, lingering finish. One member found notes of grilled pineapple. I liked it.


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1985 Olga Raffault Les Picasses 
I had high hopes for this one. It was well-aged and from an impeccable producer. And it was definitely an interesting wine, and despite some moderate decanting, it was pretty stemy and green. It felt young, which surprised me, but definitely possible. Absolutely a cool wine, but a bit of a disappointment. I had a hard time telling whether it was too young or too old. Regardless, I'm glad we tried it.



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Mr. P's Cashew Wine
Yeah, we finished the night with a real winner. This one was from Belize. It really wasn't that bad; it mostly tasted like a port. Nutty (duh, it's cashew wine) and slightly fruity as well. But pretty simple and not incredibly interesting. But all things considered, not so bad. Of course, then there's the name, Mr. P's.

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2014 Sula Vineyards
This was the Indian wine, from Nashik. It was a Cabernet/Shiraz blend with an extremely smoky aroma and flavor. So smoky, in fact, that I'm pretty sure there was smoke taint of some kind.



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Collefrisio Montepulciano
Pretty innocuous, but also a bit astringent. Probably the least interesting of the night, but all in all, perfectly fine.





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Night Train Express
Yeah, so, about that. I'm not sure how much to really say about this. We all agreed it tasted like cough syrup. Pretty much paint thinner disguised as fruit flavored wine. And at 17.5% alcohol, it's definitely not made for the easy drinking. So, if you see this on the shelf, keep walking. Seriously, I'm doing you a favor.

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