What’s in the Glass: Le Pigioulet Vaucluse

May 21, 2018 Comments off

le pigoulet artLe Pigoulet (Vin de Pays de Vaucluse), $22 MSRP: This deep-gold vin blanc from southern Rhone producer Vignobles Brunier (producer of the flagship Le Vieux Télégraphe) offers a nose of white fruit, pears and spice and herbs. It’s a lovely blend of 30 percent Rousanne, 30 percent Grenache Blanc and 40 percent Clarette.

The Rousanne component, a mix of white flowers, peaches, pears and spice brings a depth of food friendliness to this wine, which I first was served at the restaurant 626 on Rood in Grand Junction. Co-owner and wine buyer Brenda Wray has built an extensive and fulfilling wine list, one she changes on a regualr basis.

“I really loved this wine the first time I tried it,” she said recently. “I like the fact that’s it’s so food friendly and goes well with our menu.”

 

 

 

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Mother’s Day gets ‘Uncorked’ in the West Elks AVA

May 10, 2018 Comments off
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Mother’s Day offers the perfect beginning to a season of winery related dinners and special events in the West Elks AVA and the North Fork Valley. Photo and story by Dave Buchanan.

Some notes on events taking place in the West Elks AVA marking Mother’s Day (Sunday May 13) and beyond:

Mother’s Day Brunch at Alfred Eames Cellars – This is the first in a summer series of monthly smorgasbord-style brunches hosted by Eames and Pam Petersen. Hours: 10 a.m. until 2 p.m., cost is $15 for all you can eat (or until the food runs out). Live music from 11-2 featuring David Sheppard. Reservations requested but not required. Information and directions: 970-527-6290 or www.pams-jammin.com. Email: pvinsong@gmail.com. 11931 4050 Rd, Paonia.

Mother’s Day Dinner featuring Stone Cottage Cellars – The wines of Stone Cottage Cellars and the culinary talents of Chef Chelsea Bookout will be featured Sunday at the Locavore at the Auction House dinner, 530 Grand Ave., Paonia. 6:30 p.m., five courses paired with Stone Cottage Cellars wine, $70 per person. Reservations: PaoniaBreadWorks@gmail.com or 970-527-5376.

North Fork “Uncorked”, which highlights the wineries of the North Fork Valley and West Elks AVA wine country, this year happens June 15-17. Special wine dinners and events throughout the weekend, including two full days of tasting the newest releases and special food pairings at all participating wineries. Dinners are scheduled for June 15 at SkyHawk Winery and Leroux Creek Vineyards; June 16 – Stone Cottage Cellars, and June 17 at Alfred Eames Cellars (9 a.m.- 1 p.m. brunch only). Information: WestElksAVA.com or 970-390-4251.

 

 

What’s in the Glass: Ravenswood 2015 Belloni Vineyard Zinfandel

May 6, 2018 Comments off

Ravenswood 2015 Belloni Vineyard Zinfandel – $39 MSRP. Lush, bright, rich with boysenberry, spice and loads of dark fruit. That’s the easy part.

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These gnarled vines provide the lush fruit for Ravenswood’s Belloni Vineyard Zinfandel. Photo courtesy Ravenswood.

The story line on the Ravenswood website says winery founder Joel Peterson (is there a Zinfandel drinker who doesn’t know about Joel Petersen?) was first surprised and then enthusiastic when he initially saw the 90-year old vineyard Ricardo Belloni and his wife Natalia were farming in the Russian River Valley near Santa Rosa.

That was circa 1991 and ever since Peterson has used Belloni fruit to create deeply balanced and satisfying wines. While the 2015 vintage was challenging for most winemakers – drought and a cool spring (May average temperatures were reported below the January average) resulting in smaller crops – the Belloni vines provided a high-quality harvest. Drink now through 2025.

Is it sustainable? Focusing on a living wine and a healthier world

May 2, 2018 Comments off
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The fields, orchards and vineyards of the North Fork Valley provide a living laboratory for a hot-bed of awareness in low-impact agriculture. Cutting-edge techniques combined with methods gleaned from ancient cultures may provide insights to protecting a fragile environment. Story and photos by Dave Buchanan.

Even while our society is awash in products ranging from clothing to fine dining labeled as natural or organic, confusion abounds for consumers and often producers.

Partly it’s because the rules or guidelines that define what those terms actually mean confound most parties.

It’s also partly because consumers interested in “being green” can’t always find products that fit their expectations.

According to a 2009 study by the Grocery Manufacturers Association and the research firm DeLoitte, 54 percent of the more than 6,400 shoppers polled showed a preference for environmentally friendly products but only 22 percent actually bought green.

Several reasons were outlined in the study, major among them “communication and product education,” said the report.

“We found … it’s not enough to just put green products on the shelf,” said Brian Lynch, GMA director of sales and sales promotion. “We have to better educate consumers and leverage in-store communication to make the sale.”

It’s not so different in the world of winemaking. Wines can carry such varied labels as “low sulfite,” “natural,” “organic” or even “made with organic grapes,” all of which mean something different, and often nothing, to the consumer.

Broadly speaking, you can lump all winemaking under one of two processes: conventional and sustainable.

Conventional is how the great majority of winemakers pursue their art. Pesticides, herbicides and fungicides in the vineyard; preservatives, color enhancers and custom yeasts to provide desired flavors may be added in the winery.

“Sustainable” winemaking is the umbrella under which you’ll find natural, organic and biodynamic methods of winemaking. The rules get progressively more restrictive as you moved from natural to biodynamic.

According to the website RawWine.com, natural wine is farmed organically or biodynamically, following the strict procedures delineated by Rudolf Steiner, with minimal intervention in the vineyard and the winery.

“The result is a living wine – wholesome and full of naturally occurring microbiology,” said the website.

Sandra Taylor and Molly Clemens

Author and sustainability expert Sandra Taylor (right, in red) discusses her latest book, “The Business of Sustainable Wine” during VinExpo 2018 with Molly Clemens, a Ph.D student of Ecology at San Diego State University. Taylor’s book explains how sustainable agriculture may be our only cogent response to human-caused climate change.

Author Isabelle Legeron, MW, in her book “Natural Wine,” says a natural wine is one that can survive without a “technological crutch.”

“In its truest form,” writes Legeron, “it is wine that protects the microcosm of life in the bottle in its entirety, keeping it intact so that it remains stable and balanced.”

Sustainability includes using no additives or processing aids, including yeasts, in the fermentation process.

In her new book “The Business of Sustainable Wine,” Sandra Taylor says wine, unlike most other agricultural products, allows both producer and consumer to focus “on the wine grape’s place of origin and the details of the wine’s making.”

Taylor is a former executive for Starbucks Coffee, where she helped develop guidelines for Starbucks’ innovative work in sustainability for coffee, tea and cocoa.

I spoke with Taylor during Vinexpo 2018 in early March at the Javits Center in New York and during our conversation, she noted that despite a growing interest and awareness in a wine’s origin, the wine industry is lagging behind in sustainable agriculture, both in environmental terms and in meeting consumers’ growing demands.

In her book, she also draws a line between “sustainable” agriculture (including economic, social and environmental sustainability) and organic and biodynamic practices.

While Rachel Carson’s landmark 1962 book “Silent Spring” is universally heralded as ushering in the age of environmentalism, it wasn’t until the 1980s that Americans “began to seriously consider” where their food comes from or “what food production does to the planet, their bodies and their society,” Taylor writes. Her book is available through Grand Valley Books, 350 Main Street, in Grand Junction and other book sellers.

Other writers, including poet and environmentalist Wendell Berry, Frances Moore Lappé (“Diet for a Small Planet”) and ecologist Barry Commoner, further introduced Americans to the impacts of industrial farming and the benefits of sustainable farming.

Over the next few weeks, I’ll be talking to many winemakers who produce sustainable wines, including a group of more than 100 Italian winemakers at Vini Veri, the annual fair and exposition in Cerea, Italy, a small town in northern Italy a few kilometers south of Verona.

Those producers adhere to a dictum that avoids pigeonholing wineries as “bio” or “non-bio” but rather emphasizing, as the Vini Veri website states, “the best balance between human intervention and nature in the winemaking process.”

Next time, we’ll talk more about sustainability in winemaking and look at how it is practiced in Colorado winemaking. (Spoiler alert: Not so much.)

A tradition of hard work brings good news for lovers of Spanish wines

April 9, 2018 Comments off
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The farmers of Bodegas Zagarrón use both the traditional style of goblet or bush vines in the windswept plateau region of southeast Spain as well as using espalier (or cordon) viticulture. Photo courtesy Bodegas Zagarrón.

Bodegas Zagarrón in Mota del Cuerva, Spain, isn’t a single winery or vineyard, at least not in the traditional sense. It’s a cooperative of around 780 families farming more than 5,000 hectares (about 12,400 acres) in the windmill-dotted high plains of southeast Spain.

Mota del Cuerva is in the heart of La Mancha, about halfway between Madrid and Valencia on the Mediterranean Sea.

It’s a land of windswept plateaus cut by steep river gorges, and its elevation of more than 900 meters (3,000 feet) produces relatively mild winters and hot summers.

With the proximity of Valencia, most of the Coquense, as the locals are known, speak both Spanish and Catalan. Winemaking in the region goes back 200 years or more, but it wasn’t until after 1948, when local winemakers decided to pool their efforts, that the area has become internationally known.

Carles Moltó Domínguez

Carles Moltó Domínguez, the personable American sales representative for Bodegas Zagarrón, says his current favorite is the Sauvignon Blanc. Photo and story by Dave Buchanan

“The wines we produce in the bodega represent the traditions of our city and our people,” said Carles Moltó Dominguez, the Zagarrón representative. “Our city is very old (founded by the Muslim Arabs in 714) and it has had a culture of wine and working with grapes for more than 200 years.”

I met Dominguez in early March at VinExpo 2018, held at the Javits Center in New York.

He explained that pooling resources allowed winemakers to modernize their winery and share the costs of production, shipping and marketing. A massive modernization of the facilities in 2005 brought state-of-the-art technology and this dynamic gathering has helped the forward-thinking Bodegas Zagarrón win more than 60 award in international wine competitions.

But the past isn’t forgotten, Dominguez assured me.

“The people of Cuenca have a long tradition of hard work and working with wines and we want to reflect and honor this tradition in our wines,” said Dominguez. “We believe these wines are a result of that long tradition of hard work” in the vineyards.

The main varieties produced include such classic Spanish grape varieties such as Tempranillo, Airén, Macabea, Verdejo and Sauvingnon Blanc.

Today, the modern, high-volume winery produces well-made wines retailing for under $12 a bottle, all carrying the La Mancha DO (Denominación de Origen).

We tasted though Zagarrón’s selection of Tempranillo-based red wines, including a 100 percent Tempranillo, a Tempranillo/Petit Verdot blend and a Tempranillo/ Syrah blend.

When I mentioned I was partial to the Termpranillo Syrah blend, with its smooth tannins and deep flavors of red and black fruits, Carles Moltó Dominguez smiled.

“It’s very nice, isn’t it? Very food friendly,” he said.

And when pressed, he held out the 2017 “Garbeo” Sauvignon Blanc.

“This is my favorite, at the moment,” he said.

The elegant, well-balanced Sauvignon Blanc sparkled light gold under the harsh lights of the convention center, offering a nose of citrus and floral notes. In the mouth, the wine’s distinctive personality came out, revealing hints of citrus and tropical fruit, admirably offset by a gentle touch of grassiness and wet-stone minerality.

When it was mentioned the wine probably could command a higher price, Dominguez laughed and shrugged.

“You have to remember this is Spain, and a Spaniard knows very well how to enjoy the smaller things in life and how to be happy with very little,” he said. “While we obviously like money in Spain, it’s not the most important thing to us. Our prices reflect this philosophy.”

 

It’s time for a change, but is it spring or another blast of winter?

March 20, 2018 Comments off
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Early heralds of the season to come, these plum blossoms may or may not survive to produce fruit, depending on the weather. Some fruit growers in western Colorado say they get plums and apricots about one year in 10. Story, photos by Dave Buchanan

A change is coming to the high desert of western Colorado. Observant hikers already have noticed miniscule blossoms poking out from desert shrubs, including such early bloomers as shadscale and saltbush.

In the city, winter-weary eyes are greeted by puffy blossoms of plum, apricot and serviceberry, glowing popcorn-white against winter-dark wood.

For fruit growers, however, this means restless nights, knowing it won’t be long until their sleep is broken by the roar of wind machines keeping the frost at bay.

Meanwhile, the vineyards sleep on. Even as eager gardeners eye emerging crocuses and dig into the cool soil as if spring were buried there, the vines wait unperturbed.

The vines are not fooled.

“Everything is still pretty much asleep,” noted Horst Caspari, state viticulturist at the CSU Orchard Mesa Research Station. “They don’t wake up very quickly. Each week they lose some of their cold-hardiness and each week they get closer to waking up.”

Caspari let his eyes wander to the apricot and pluot trees outside his window at the research station near the northwest corner of B and 32 roads on Orchard Mesa. He doesn’t harvest the fruit; the trees are there for decoration and to act as Nature’s calendar of seasons.

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Winemaker Guy Drew of Guy Drew Vineyards in McElmo Canyon near Cortez in southwestern Colorado checks some early bud development in his grape vines. Growers regularly monitor bud growth and survival, looking for hints of the crop to come.

“Once the trees and vines get to bud break, all the cold hardiness changes,” he said. “Look at the apricots. I’d expect we’ll see the first flowers in the valley this week but if it drops to 29 degrees, you’ll lose them.”

Bud break, when nascent buds emerge from the protective cover and show themselves to the world, is when spring really arrives in the Grand Valley, no matter what the calendar or the thermometer says.

When a visitor remarked that his plum tree was “thisclose” to flowering, Caspari laughed.

“Well, you probably won’t have any plums to pick up this fall,” he said.

Records suggest that the last spring frosts are coming come earlier and the first fall frosts arriving later, adding a few days on each end of the Grand Valley’s growing season.

Caspari, who refers to killing frosts below 30 degrees, said that in the 54 years of records the Research Station has kept, the median date for the last frost (below 30 degrees) is April 25 while the first fall frost comes around October 23.

That’s not absolute, he emphasized.

“In 2016, we got hit pretty hard when we had 19.8 degrees on Nov. 16,” he said.

In those years, the same records indicate the valley has picked up “about a week” of frost-free (i.e., not a killing frost) growing, Caspari said.

A few days in the spring and about the same in the fall.

“We definitely have changed in the fall,” he said.

Of course, the changes are not limited to western Colorado.

NASA reports the average global temperature has increased about 0.8-degree Celsius (1.4-degrees degrees F) since 1880.

Two-thirds of that, says NASA, has occurred since 1975, just about the time U.S. wines broke onto the world’s stage at the famed Judgment of Paris.

During the 2017 Vinexpo in Bordeaux, France, growers and winemakers alike voiced concern about a warming climate and its effect on winemaking.

“Vines are very sensitive plants,” Gaia Gaja, co-owner of the 159-year old Gaja Winery in Barbaresco, Italy, told the French Press Agency. “They’re like a thermometer. They register every little variation that there is around them.”

Which brings us to spring of 2018, where things are bit behind last year.

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Late March still is too early in the Grand Valley for grape tendrils but it won’t be long until delicate leaves such as these add a shade of green to brown vines.

“I keep track of the budding time of my flowers, my bulbs, and it’s been pretty fascinating,” winemaker Nancy Janes of Whitewater Hill Vineyards said recently. “It has not been unusual historically for me to have crocuses bloom in the middle of February and this year my crocuses are just blooming right now.”

She said the warm days have been balanced by nights dipping into the low 30s “and that’s keeping things pretty dormant.”

Caspari also noted that the spring so far is about two weeks behind 2017.

“Last year we had bud break in the second week of March and we don’t normally get bud break in Chardonnay until the fourth week in April,” he said.

One way to look at the spring re-awakening, said Caspari, is to envision a circle, with winter cold at the bottom and spring warmth at the top. Does the temperature rise gradually, following the arc of the circle, or is there a sudden bottom-to-top jump, bridging the gap and going quickly from winter to spring?

“That changes how you think about what you have to do to have a crop,” Caspari said.

Most grape growers are busy pre-pruning, getting ready for that last flurry of cutting and shaping when the growing season finally arrives. Will it come with a rush or will western Colorado sink back into another spell of winter, delaying the bud break and pushing development later into fall?

Nancy Janes gazed out of her winery at the still-sleeping vineyard sloping away to the north. A few clouds could be seen drifting far over the Bookcliffs in the pale, late-winter sky.

“So far, it’s been a very nice winter for us,” she said. “And you know, grapes aren’t fooled easily. They know when things are ready.”

What’s in The Glass: #5 – 2018/Bonterra Organic Vineyards

March 3, 2018 Comments off
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Bonterra Organic Vineyards In Mendocino County, Cal., has produced organic and biodynamic wines since 1992. The winery’s three ranches are certified Biodynamic® by Demeter. Photo courtesy Bonterra Organic Vineyards.

There might still be some people who question why a winery would go through the effort to produced organic or biodynamic wines. Working without pesticides or synthetic fertilizers and chemicals requires more effort on the part of grapes growers and winemakers but the once you taste the purity and elegance of Bonterra Organic Vineyard’s lineup of wines, you’ll understand.

According to Bonterra’s founding winemaker Bob Blue, who got his jump into organic winemaking 31 years ago when he apprenticed under cult-status California winemakers Paul Dolan and Dennis Martin, “The key for making good wine is to have really healthy grapes.”

“We had the idea that if we farmed organically, we might make better wine,” Blue says in one of the winery’s promotional videos. “When we do organic, we get that balance in the vineyard.” The result, he says, is “the purest expression” of the grape.

It wasn’t easy at first, since even in the late ’80s few California winemakers understood the why or how of organic grape farming. Consumers, too, had to stretch their vision of what wine should be.

Today, “the consumers really appreciate what we do,” Blue muses in the video. “And we’ve achieved wines that are interesting and fun to drink.”

In 2017, Bonterra was recognized as American Winery of the Year at the annual Wine Star Awards ceremony hosted by Wine Enthusiast magazine.

Bonterra 2016 Pinot Noir –  $18 SRP (media sample) Made with grapes sourced from home vineyards and from contract organic growers across Mendocino County,  this firm-textured, fruit-forward wine offers initial aromas of strawberries, red currants and red raspberries and followed by flavors of more red fruits with a touch of oak, spice and vanilla.

Bonterra 2016 Viognier – $16 SRP (media sample). An initial  flood of apricot and wine peach aromas are followed by flavors of more apricot, peach, green apple and orange blossoms. Fermented in both stainless (70%) and oak (30%) with another eight months in oak to add a bit of vanilla spice, this wine is sleek, firm and vibrant.

 

 

 

Bob Blue,,founding winemaker first wines in 1992

By then, Bonterra Organic Vineyards already had ben producing organic wines,

Today, Bonterra will be recognized as American Winery of the Year at the annual Wine Star Awards ceremony hosted by Wine Enthusiast magazine in Miami, Florida. It will be the first time the American Winery of the Year award is bestowed on a vintner dedicated to organic farming, and signals the blossoming acclaim and popularity of this once-niche segment of the wine landscape.

we’ve done so because we feel that organic grapes truly make the best wines,” said Jeff Cichocki, Bonterra Winemaker. “We were pioneers at the beginning of the organic movement, and we continue to evolve and lead with research into best practices for organic farming.

Why bio wines:  more structural balance and require less manipulation during the vinification proces