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Do Wine Aerators Work & Are They Worth the Money?

People like gadgets. I know I do. There’s always the hope for a better mousetrap; some way to make our lives easier, teeth whiter, recorded music sound like a live performance. There are plenty of wine gadgets on the market, many of which sell amazingly well. But do they work?

Read more: Do Wine Aerators Work & Are They Worth the Money?

John Alban Traps Philippe Guigal in an Elevator and other Tales of HdR

This is the third installment of my conversation with John Alban regarding Hospice du Rhone and the advancement of Rhone variety wines globally over the past 20 years. Don’t miss part one and part two.

Highlights among Past Tasting Seminars at Hospice du Rhone

The first two articles in this series touched on the passion of both Hospice du Rhone organizers and its attendees. Hospice du Rhoners, and I include myself among them, really love Rhone variety wines. We like to learn about new ones, meet people who share our enthusiasm and discuss the wines we taste. But passion alone cannot sustain an event such as Hospice du Rhone.

“The success and the excitement and the sustainability of Hospice du Rhone ultimately comes down to one simple fact," says John Alban. 'And that is the quality of the wines poured. You could do all the things we do. You could try to introduce all the passion, enthusiasm, the celebration. But if the wines didn’t live up to all that hullabaloo, people wouldn’t come back.”

Perhaps the most dramatic example of the quality that keeps Hospice du Rhoners coming back, and attracts new ones, is the E. Guigal Tasting Seminar led by Philippe Guigal in 2008. It was a remarkable tasting of nine wines, including the famous "La La's."

  • 2006 E. Guigal Condrieu
  • 2006 E. Guigal “La Doriane”
  • 2006 E. Guigal St. Joseph Blanc
  • 2005 E. Guigal Hermitage Blanc “Ex Voto”
  • 2003 E. Guigal “Brune et Blonde”
  • 2005 E. Guigal “Vignes de l”Hospice”
  • 1998 E. Guigal Cote-Rotie Chateau d’Ampuis
  • 2004 E. Guigal Cote-Rotie “La Mouline”
  • 2006 E. Guigal Cote-Rotie “La Landonne”

Making this seminar happen was no small feat. John told me it took the most years and the most trips to France of any he's produced. In his opening comments at the seminar, Philippe Guigal spoke with amusement about how he reached his decision to put on a tasting at Hospice du Rhone.

He and John Alban were in an elevator in France, leaving a venue after yet more discussions. Alban reached over and pushed the emergency stop button. “We’re not leaving the elevator,” Alban told him, “until we come to an agreement on when you’re coming to Hospice du Rhone.” Smiling, Philippe said, “I think he may have been serious.”

Doing a tasting seminar at Hospice du Rhone is no small decision for a winery. Even the quantity of wine needed is daunting — these seminars seat 400 people. Alban both appreciates those who do it and marvels at what Hospice du Rhone has become.

“It’s almost unbelievable. How does Philippe Guigal wind up in Paso Robles pouring hundreds of bottles of wine that people are on a waiting list to purchase for huge amounts of money? And he’s there giving them away and talking about them at Hospice du Rhone. Just that phenomenon right there show’s there’s a certain lunacy to all this.”

Some Hospice du Rhone tasting seminars, such as that of E. Guigal, provide attendees a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to try highly exclusive wines. Others, like “Blinded by the Whites,” introduce people to new categories of wine. And some, including those scheduled for this year’s event, expose unique geographies or introduce individual winemakers and their passions.

The 2012 Hospice du Rhone Seminars

Each of this year’s seminars are connected somehow with the history of Hospice du Rhone. The first, 'Why Spain (Continues to) Rock,' focuses on Priorat with an ensemble of the region’s best Rhone variety specialists. It reprises a 2006 tasting that was among the most surprising ever for attendees. Once again, it will be led by Eric Solomon, proprietor of European Cellars, a prominent importer and specialist in Priorat wines.

John Alban explained the impact the first Priorat seminar had on Hospice du Rhoners and, ultimately, himself. “People went into this seminar with unpronounceable names, unpronounceable regions, unpronounceable soil types, everything was a just a garble of syllables that nobody had any experience with. In the end, people got fired up. You know, I was getting cards and emails from people a year later saying, “I’m in Priorat!” People who had never heard of Priorat before, now they were sending me cards and letters from there.” With emotion in his voice, Alban said, “It’s hard not to feel pretty pumped up about something like that.”

Christopher Baron of Cayuse Cellars in Walla Walla appeared at Hospice du Rhone in a 2004 seminar on Washington Rhones with Doug McCrea of McCrea Cellars. At the time, Walla Walla wasn’t on anyone’s radar. “It was so far ahead of the curve,” says Alban. “Many years later after he really came into prominence and notoriety, people would come to us all the time and ask, 'Have you ever thought about doing a seminar about Christophe.' I’d say, "Yeah, we did one.'” Fortunately for those people, he's back this year in 'The Return of the Bionic Frog.'

I am intrigued by his use of biodynamic farming and reputation for  minimal intervention winemaking. So, I’m looking forward to the tasting with Christophe Baron who John Alban described for me. “He’s hysterical. He’s engaging. He’s brilliant. He’s talented. He is this rare combination of a winemaking phenom and a showman — in all the best ways, not a contrived way, not a superficial way — and what greater treat than to be able to put someone in front of people who wows you with the wines and dazzles you with their personality and their perspective.”

Alban says that d’Arenberg’s Chester Osborne, who will lead “Research, Revelations and the Art of Being Different,” is very similar. “I would almost say that Chester and Christophe could be twin brothers from two different continents. Except they don’t look anything alike. They have wonderful senses of humor. They are great philosophers and winemakers, etc. etc. There some obvious differences. One makes a huge amount of wine, one makes a small amount of wine. But I think that’s part of that Australian-Walla Walla dichotomy. Australia really does things big. Walla Walla is small.”

Osborne’s seminar will detail studies he’s done on geology and sub-regionality in McClaren Vale. He’ll explain the corresponding changes he’s made in viticulture and winemaking. And, of course, it will feature some of the best wines of South Australia.

Several times during our conversation, John Alban referred to this 20th anniversary Hospice du Rhone as a family reunion. He did so particularly with respect to the seminars. And the hosts of “A Collective Quest” are almost as inseparable from HdR as they are from each other. Yves Cuillion, Francois Gaillard and Pierre Gaillard are the founders of Les Vins de Vienne. [For more about Les Vins de Vienne, I recommend this article by Blake W. Gray at Palate Press.] With Yves Gangloff who is not involved with that particular project, they have become known to Hospice du Rhoners as “The Four Amigos.”

The involvement of these winemakers with Hospice du Rhone goes back to the early days when John Alban and Mat Garretson were making regular trips to the Northern Rhone trying to get participation. Yves Cuilleron was so receptive to us,” Alban explained. “He wanted to know more and more about it and started laughing and giggling. We’d say, ‘Who wouldn’t want to go to Paso Robles?’ We played off of that and off of what we were, which was goofy and passionate. He got it and wanted us to meet some of his friends. They told anyone and everyone in the Northern Rhone and helped open a lot of doors for us. They’re like four angels that picked us up and continue to flap their wings and elevate us.”

Acceptance of Hospice du Rhone in the Rhone Valley

The participation of Cuilleron, Villard, Gaillard and Gangloff helped legitimize and expand HdR’s status as a truly international celebration of Rhone wines. Their enthusiasm and the dedication of Hospice du Rhone staff ultimately led to complete acceptance of the event by producers of the Northern Rhone.

One symbol of this acceptance was emulation. According to Alban, “France took on putting together an event which they now have up and down the Rhone Valley. They have it every other year and it was inspired by Hospice du Rhone. They’re very candid about that. It’s a much bigger thing and government funded. It involves all the producers of the Rhone Valley. We’d like to see Hospice du Rhone’s of sorts pop up all over the world because that’s our mission.”

Another symbol of appreciation for Hospice du Rhone among producers of the Northern Rhone came as a complete surprise to the HdR staff. “There was a very persistent request that the Hospice du Rhone gang be in Cote-Rotie for a big tasting,” John told me. There were a number of dear friends who did a great job of putting a lot of positive pressure on us to be at this thing. They wanted us to know how important it was. So we were completely unsuspecting. We just knew they were organizing a tasting and were trying to build more interest in the Northern Rhone for Hospice du Rhone.”

”What we didn’t know was that they have this society — and you know the French are big on their ancient and long-lived fraternities — The Decurion of Cote-Rotie, the organization of Cote Rotie producers. And they made me a member of this group. I didn’t see it coming. I guess they admit like four people each two years. They called me up and put the medal around me and kissed me on both cheeks and did all these things the French people do. It really was pretty overwhelming.”

"Up on the mezzanine above me were all these families, fathers and sons. The fathers had all rejected the idea of a Hospice du Rhone. Well... many had, it’s not so black and white. But I could look at so many of the fathers who had rejected this idea thinking, ‘We’re French, you’re American. How can we work together? This makes no sense.”

”But their sons [were accepting]. And now the sons were kissing us on both cheeks and the fathers were smiling. They’d gotten it by now. There were only warm feelings. That’s a moment I’ll remember my whole life. And it wasn’t about me. That’s important. They just picked someone to put the medal on and kiss. It was about Hospice du Rhone — all the people that had come, all the interest and enthusiasm, the sales that it sparked, and also about all the new relationships.”

”Throughout Hospice du Rhone, there’ve been all these collaborative wines that have emerged where French and American producers have teamed up and started making wines, started labels together. They all met at Hospice du Rhone. It’s really an unbelievable story in that sense and not one that can be attributed to any one person. It’s not my story. It’s not Vicki’s story or Mat’s story. It is purely the story of Hospice du Rhone.”

If you’d like to be part of the continuing story that is Hospice du Rhone, there’s still time to get tickets. The 2012 celebration takes place in Paso Robles, April 27 - 28. For more information and to get tickets visit www.hospicedurhone.org.

If you’d like to read even more about Hospice du Rhone, here are some additional articles:
Looking Forward to Hospice du Rhone 2012
10 Big Wine Events to Look Forward to in Early 2012

Recap of Hospice du Rhone 2011 - Day One
Recap of Hospice du Rhone 2011 - Day Two 

There’s more coming from my conversation with John Alban. Look for that next week, before the big event. For the remainder of this week, I’ll be posting brief articles on a range of subjects at NorCalWine. The majority of my time, however, will be spent doing in-depth research on the vineyards and wineries of the Lodi AVA for future articles.

 

Follow NorCalWine on Twitter for breaking wine news, information on events and more. Become a fan and join the NorCal Wine community on FacebookAlso check out our comprehensive Northern California winery listings. They are very useful for planning a tasting trip or just getting in touch with a winery.

This article is original to NorCalWine.com. Copyright 2012 NorCal Wine. All rights reserved.

Which California Counties Added the Most Vineyard Acreage in the Past Five Years?

California_Wines_logoIn honor of California Wine Month, I'll be providing a variety of details about the scope of the state's wine industry. Last week, I published California Wine by the Numbers. Today, We'll look at growth in vineyard acreage. Tomorrow, I'll highlight those wine grape varieties seeing the biggest growth.

California’s wine industry is growing not just in sales volume, but also acres under vine. In the past five years, California added 76,651 acres of wine grape vineyards, an increase of 17.5% from 2006. The expansion is broad-based. High-volume growing areas added vines, but so did the highest-quality regions. No county experienced a decrease. The biggest increases in acreage came in counties that already had substantial plantings.

The 12 California Counties which Added the Most Vineyard Acreage, 2007 - 2011

County

Acres Added

Total Acreage in 2011

San Joaquin

10,783

71,403

Fresno

9,651

41,808

Monterey

9,595

45,110

Sonoma

8,777

57,056

Napa

7,332

45,801

San Luis Obispo

5,193

30,720

Madera

3,418

35,334

Sacramento

3,192

19,486

Kern

2,934

21,093

Yolo

2,905

12,632

Santa Barbara

2,537

17,178

Mendocino

2,092

17,173

[Only one other county, Merced, added more than 1,000 acres.]

Fast Fact: San Luis Obispo County has nearly 31,000 acres of vineyards. That's almost as much as New York State (approximately 32,000 acres).


As you might expect, counties with the largest percentage growth in vineyard acreage over the past five years are relatively low in plantings overall. Marin County, which is emerging as a very good cool-climate growing region, boosted its vineyard land by nearly 66% but is still well under 200 acres overall. Other small, yet high-quality, growing areas with significant growth are El Dorado and Santa Cruz counties. Surprisingly, Fresno and Monterey counties, among California’s biggest growers of wine grapes, managed to increase their plantings by roughly 25%.

The 14 California Counties which Increased Vineyard Acreage by more than 20%, 2007 - 2011 

County

Percent Increase

Total Acreage in 2011

Marin

65.6

167

Colusa

39.1

1,577

Riverside

33.4

1,039

Shasta

33.3

98

San Benito

31.3

2,616

Glenn

29.3

1,046

Calaveras

28.2

675

Contra Costa

27.8

1,878

Yolo

25.5

12,632

Fresno

25.3

41,808

Monterey

24

45,110

El Dorado

22.4

1,847

Santa Cruz

22

445

Solano

21.4

3,560


The 6 Counties with Zero Growth in Vineyard Acreage

County

Acres Under Vine

Kings

1,541

Mariposa

57

Orange

1

Sutter

99

Tuolumne

30

Ventura

52

 

Source: The raw data was provided by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, National Agricultural Statistics Service

 

Follow NorCalWine on Twitter for breaking wine news, information on events and more. Become a fan and join the NorCal Wine community on FacebookAlso check out our comprehensive Northern California winery listings. They are very useful for planning a tasting trip or just getting in touch with a winery.

This article is original to NorCalWine.com. Copyright 2012 NorCal Wine. All rights reserved.

Napa Valley Premiere - Competitive Juices Yield Record Prices

On Saturday, February 22, 225 one-of-a-kind lots of meticulously produced Napa Valley wine were offered at auction to some of the world’s most passionate and well-moneyed wine sellers and restauranteurs. Four-and-a-half hours later the last gavel fell and a record $5.9 million had been realized, nearly doubling last year’s take which had been an all-time record itself.

2014pnv-6671
The gavel falls on the last lot at the 2014 Premiere Napa Valley Auction.
Photo Bob McClenahan.

The proceeds of Napa Valley Premiere go to support the efforts of the Napa Valley Vintners in promoting, preserving and improving that AVA, but there’s much more on the line. There is pride. There’s reputation. And, to some extent, there’s the promise of winery revenue. Stratospheric auction results aren’t an abstract number. They are to some degree a measure of the winery’s reputation, the star-power of the winemaker. Top results mean a press release and the opportunity to edge the price of all wines upward.

One particularly competitive winemaker stumbled toward me, crestfallen. “I’m a loser!” he said. This from a guy who was actually among the top sellers. But a handful of lots had gone for more than his best. Moments later when the 60-bottle lot of Scarecrow made by Celia Welch sold for a mind-blowing $260,000, he looked like he wanted to throw up. He was now “loser” by an order of magnitude.

For the most part though, Napa Valley Premiere was an “all smiles” event. Dozens of winery-hosted events earlier in the week had drawn trade buyers, top sommeliers and press to the valley. New releases, library wines and the auction cuvees were poured side-by-side. There were big dinners, quiet meetings, cocktail parties, dancing and more.

The after-lunch auction itself was preceded by a tasting of all the lots that morning in the historic barrel room of the Culinary Institute of America at Greystone. It’s the best meet-and-greet-and-taste that this country’s most important wine region offers with samples poured by the winemakers, proprietors or both for a crowd small enough to enable friendly conversation and detailed questions.

I didn’t taste every wine this time, opting instead for deeper conversations and very detailed notes on a select number of wines which I was reviewing for the St. Helena Star. Alder Yarrow did make it to nearly every barrel though, so keep an eye on Vinography for his commentary.

Of the wines I did taste, I found much to love. There was the savory complexity of the Mt. Brave and the dynamically fruited Ovid. Oakville Ranch offered yet another supple, stunningly gorgeous Cabernet Franc. Inglenook’s wine is showing heightened sophistication under estate manager Philippe Bascaules. New label Pulido-Walker debuted with a wine made by Thomas Brown that offered amazingly pure aromas of freshly crushed black currants. Another wine by Brown, for THE GRADE, offered mineral-laden scents and a beautifully creamy mouthfeel. Schramsberg refreshed and delighted with a late-disgorged sparkling wine from the 1993 vintage. I taste thousands of wines every year. Many of them are truly excellent. Nonetheless my pen was shocked to be writing scores such as 95, 96 and 97 with such frequency. 

Quick Stats for the 2014 Premiere Napa Valley Auction

Auction lots - 225
Total revenue - $5.9 million
Average bottle price - $283
Highest-selling debut offering - Pulido-Walker for $65,000

Top Ten Lots
$260,000 from The Wine House for 60 bottles of Scarecrow made by Celia Welch
$100,000 from Beverage Warehouse for 60 bottles of ZD Wines made by Brandon deLeuze and Chris Pisani
$100,000 from Zoes Restaurant for 60 bottles of Shafer made by Elias Fernandez
$100,000 from Bounty Hunter for 60 bottles of Schrader made by Thomas Brown
$90,000 from Wine Library for 240 bottles of Robert Mondavi Winery made by Genevieve Janssens
$90,000 from Wine Library for 240 bottles of Cakebread Cellars made by Julianne Laks
$85,000 from Wine Library for 120 bottles of Bevan Cellars & Chateau Boswell made by Russell Bevan
$80,000 from Cliffewood Wine Syndicate for 240 bottles of Reynolds Family, Constant and David Arthur made by Steve Reynolds
$80,000 from Imbibe Wine & Spirits for 60 bottles of VHR Vine Hill Ranch made by Francoise Peschon
$80,000 from Total Wine for 240 bottles of Silver Oak made by Daniel Baron

Top Five Bottle Prices
$4,333 for Scarecrow
$1,666 for ZD Wines
$1,666 for Shafer
$1,666 for Schrader
$1,333 for VHR Vine Hill Ranch

Most Represented Winemakers
Thomas Brown - eight wineries
Philippe Melka - seven wineries
Aaron Pott - four wineries

Top Grossing Winemakers
$340,000 - Celia Welch
$302,000 - Philippe Melka
$255,000 - Thomas Brown
$113.000 - Russell Bevan 

Top Buyers
Total Wine & More of Potomac, MD
Bounty Hunter of Napa, CA
Cliffewood Wine Syndicate of Little Rock, AR
Wine Library of Springfield, NJ
The Wine House of Los Angeles, CA
Gary’s Wine & Marketplace of Madison, NJ
Nakagawa Wine Company of Tokyo, Japan
Beverage Warehouse of Los Angeles, CA
Yakiniku Hiroshi of Honolulu, HI
Meritage Wine Market of Encinitas, CA
Zoes Restaurant of Virginia Beach, VA
HEB of San Antonio, TX.

Specifics on each wine can be found at http://premierenapawines.com/2014/

Download a Full List of 2014 Premiere Napa Valley Auction Wines & Realized Prices

Follow NorCalWine on Twitter for wine news, information on events and more, or friend me on Facebook. This article is original to NorCalWine.com. Copyright 2014. All rights reserved.

Good Wine: A Matter of Degrees?

Chardonnay_grapes_close_upI tried a wine the other day at a walk-around trade tasting. It was an unoaked California Chardonnay. The winemaker poured it for me from the bottle displayed on the table.

I brought the glass to my nose with an open mind. The wine’s aromas surprised me: powerful but with an odd green figgy note. I took a sip. The wine was heavier than I anticipated, very round and without texture. The flavors were similar to the nose with fruit that was simultaneously green and cloyingly ripe. I was seriously disappointed.

I had been anticipating — perhaps even hoping for — a crisp wine with taut flavors. I expected green flavors, but wanted them to be of green apple and citrus. The winemaker said he strives to deliver minerality. I had gotten some, but it was too much like the aroma of an empty beer can. The wine was not something I’d recommend.

Later, I was standing near the same table when a women walked up. “Thank you so much,” she said to the winemaker. “This unoaked Chardonnay is my favorite wine of the tasting.” “Wow,” I thought to myself. “Either her taste is waaaay different than mine or I’m missing something.”

A few minutes later, I ran into someone who’s opinion on wines I value highly. He’s a master sommelier with an excellent knowledge of Burgundy. “Could you do me a favor?” I asked him. “Try that unoaked Chardonnay over there and let me know what you think.”

The master somm came back to me a few minutes later. “Thanks so much for turning me onto that wine,” he enthused. “It was really good. Exactly what I look for in an unoaked Chardonnay.” A storm of question marks and exclamation points burst over my head.

I walked directly over to that table again. “May I try the unoaked Chardonnay again,” I asked the winemaker. “Absolutely,” he said. Then he reached under the table and pulled a bottle from an ice bucket hidden behind the tablecloth. He poured. I sniffed. Tart fruit, citrus with a hint of tropical, limestone and steel.

I took a sip. The wine was very cool and fresh with a light, chalky texture. The flavors were crisp and the body medium-minus. It was a really good wine.

The difference, in this case, between a bad wine and and a good one was a matter of degrees — Fahrenheit. It’s impossible to know exactly, but I’d say the wine I tasted first was at about 62°. That’s an appropriate temperature for medium- to full-bodied red wines but too warm for most whites. The second pour was closer to 50°, the proper temperature for light- and medium-bodied white wines.

The difference in both temperature and perceived quality was extreme in this particular case. A delta of as little as three degrees can make a significant difference in the way a wine smells, tastes and feels. Warmer temperatures emphasize sweetness, ripeness of fruit, oak and alcohol. Cooler temperatures enhance the perception of acidity, tart fruit and minerality while making the body seem lighter.

You can easily experiment with this at home. Pop one of your favorite wines into the refrigerator for an hour. Take it back out and pour some in a glass. Give it a try, thinking about the aromas, taste and mouthfeel. Keep trying the wine at 15 minute intervals as it warms up in your glass. Experiment with a few different wines and you’ll soon find the temperature zones you prefer for different styles of wine.

For more specific advice on the best temperatures for different types of wine, and for other tips on serving wine, take a look at this article: Serving Wine.

By the way, I’m very happy to recommend the 2010 Joyce Vineyards “Stele” Chardonnay Monterey County ($16, 13.7% alcohol). It’s made solely from Dijon clone Chardonnay from the Franscioni Vineyard, fermented cold in stainless steel tanks. There was no malolactic fermentation, oak aging or stirring of lees. Serve it well-chilled.

Follow NorCalWine on Twitter for breaking wine news, information on events and more. Become a fan and join the NorCal Wine community on FacebookAlso check out our comprehensive Northern California winery listings. They are very useful for planning a tasting trip or just getting in touch with a winery.

This article is original to NorCalWine.com. Copyright 2012 NorCal Wine. Photo of Chardonnay grapes by Dan Random. All rights reserved.