California Drought Over, For Now


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It’s spring in California wine country.

‘As the vines break bud and come out of dormancy closer to a normal time this year, they’re finding that the fields are fully saturated with water’, says Napa winemaker Aaron Pott of Pott Wines. ‘We have been cutting the tall grass in the vineyard rows and breaking out the weed eaters to get under the vine. The grass is taller than the vines in many areas. With ample water in the soils the growth should be quite fierce this year in the early season.’

From Santa Barbara to Mendocino, birds are chirping, new leaves are unfurling on the vines and we can now say that the state is finally, officially, completely out of its drought. That doesn’t mean scientists have stopped worrying about water in California, however.

‘There are dozens of different definitions of drought and therefore lots of different ways of …

BC – Sparkling With Confidence


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While this column in both name and purpose focuses on the American wine scene, I find it difficult not to pay some attention to happenings only a stone’s throw across the border. The wine industry in Canada’s province of British Columbia has been developing in earnest for only about the last 30 years, but recently it seems to have shifted into another gear entirely, both in terms of quality and sophistication as an industry.

When I wrote ‘a stone’s throw’ a moment ago, that was not merely a figure of speech. If one were to walk east along the US-Canada border from the most northerly point in Washington state, for most of the next 700 km (435 miles) a single step off the border to the north would land you in BC wine country. Sitting between the 49th and 50th northern parallels, the region sprawls east from Vancouver Island, but …

The Era of the Brand Ambassador


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Selling wine in America is difficult, and getting more so. Leaving aside the highly constrained ability for wine producers to ship directly to consumers, getting one’s wine into shops and restaurants requires the assistance of a distributor licensed to sell wine in each individual target state. Since 1995, while the number of wineries in America has tripled to more than 9,000 and the volume of wine imports has more than doubled, the number of distributors available to deliver all that wine has dropped from more than 3,000 to fewer than 1,200, as company after company either goes out of business or is acquired by bigger fish. Today, two of those fish alone, Southern Glazers and Breakthru, control more than 60% of the wine distribution in the country.

Distributor consolidation has had wide-ranging impacts on the wine trade as a whole, but they can all can be summed up as: fewer …

Where (Else) Wine Geeks Gather


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berserker2018.jpgOne of the most essential of wine’s gifts has long been its ability to bring people together. This truth expresses itself in the world of wine in two distinct ways. We share wine among those with whom we gather, in joy and celebration of our shared humanity. Equally, though, when wine becomes the subject of our passion, we gather together in pursuit of deepening that enjoyment. Wine geeks love to talk wine. And for the past decade, thousands have been doing so on an oddly named website that most of the wine world has never heard of, but which continues to have an increasingly influential role in the world of wine.

Todd French was a music geek before he was a wine geek. French studied cello performance at Wesleyan University in Illinois and then went on to get his masters in musicology at the University of Southern California while also …

The Holiday Gift Guide for Wine Lovers Who (Already) Have Everything


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Giving gifts to wine lovers during the holidays can be anxiety inducing. Especially if your recipient tends to have many of the basics covered when it comes to wine. And forget about what a hassle that people like me tend to be. I’m one of those wine lovers who already has most of the gear that he wants, and has very strong opinions about everything else. Sound like anyone you know?

I’ve said before that buying wine for your favorite wine lover can be an exercise fraught with peril. Many wine lovers I know would much rather choose their own wine than have someone buy something for them. Many of you know what I’m talking about when I describe the pang of guilt we feel when someone has clearly bought a pricey bottle of wine that we would pass over quickly in a wine store if we were looking for …

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Vineyard Labour – Deportations vs. Deposits


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Amid a tide of animosity focused on people of Mexican and Latin American descent in the US, the vineyard workers of the West Coast have recently brought in another harvest. Occasional labour shortages have had a perhaps surprising cause. Rather than dodging ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) raids, vineyard workers in Napa and Sonoma in particular are desperately seeking somewhere affordable to live.

Anti-immigrant rhetoric hit fever pitch just before our mid-term elections, as President Trump and the Republican party fixated upon a caravan of Central American migrants making their way north from Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador towards the American border. Trump and his political allies decided to use these asylum seekers as an opportunity to rail against the state of US immigration policy and the ideology of their political rivals in the hope of affecting election outcomes.

Even though this ‘dangerous’ migrant ‘invasion’ has hardly been mentioned by …

Help Fund a Lawyer’s Highest Calling


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What’s the best thing a lawyer can do with your $20? Sounds like the beginning of a joke, right? But for right now, the answer is quite seriously this: try to convince the U.S. Supreme Court to let you buy wine when and how you’d like to.

For the first time in years, a case has made its way to the Supreme Court that deals with the (totally screwed up, antiquated, uncompetitive, inefficient, unfair and bullshit) laws that govern shipping wines to consumers across state lines.

These laws, put in place after the repeal of Prohibition, are byzantine relics of another age, one in which organized crime dominated the liquor business, and the moral compass of America was heavily anti-alcohol. Ratified on 5 December 1933, the Twenty-First Amendment to the United States Constitution contained the following statement: ‘The transportation or importation into any State, Territory, or possession of the …

How to Properly Design a Wine List


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When we talk about the design of a wine list, what is it that we’re talking about? Most of the time, we’re talking about the careful curation of choices for what wines go on the list.

But I’d like to talk about the other meaning of designing a wine list. Yes, I’m talking about literally what that list looks like — the choices that were made in deciding how the carefully curated selection of wines should actually appear to the guest.

This conversation is going to be about aesthetics and the fundamentals of graphic design; about organization and readability; about context and creativity.

Wine list design, I must say, from the standpoint of someone who designs things for a living and pays lots of people who do, too, is almost universally awful.

For the past four years, I have been a judge for the global World’s Best Wine Lists Awards …

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The Highs and Lows of Vintage 2018


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In preparing to summarise the state of the 2018 vintage in some of America’s top wine regions this week, I found myself relieved that the highlights did not include winemakers contending with raging wildfires, earthquakes or other natural disasters. Of course, this past year has not been completely free from fires in California and Oregon (and there was an ill-timed hurricane on the east coast) but these examples of force majeure thankfully weren’t raging around the ears of wine producers as they brought in their grapes at the end of the season. That said, not everyone had an easy time of it in 2018.

Perhaps the toughest vintage stories this year come from America’s east coast, where unusual and rather persistent summer rains made for an extremely soggy harvest in some places and, unfortunately, no harvest at all in a few unlucky cases.

‘In general bud break was late, flowering …

Elevating Colorado Wine


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What’s the ultimate sign that an emerging American wine region has finally broken out of obscurity? An influx of winemakers from Napa or Sonoma eager to try their hand in the area? Showing up regularly on grocery-store shelves in other wine regions? Getting featured as one of the best wine regions you’ve never heard of in Vogue magazine? Having wines that regularly score more than 90 points in a major wine publication? The establishment of subappellations and stricter geographic labelling requirements by the government?

Many such milestones measure the path towards a wine region’s greater prominence, but marking the inflection point of a wine region’s ascendancy seems possible only in retrospect. Nonetheless, I recently found myself trying to gauge the trajectory of Colorado’s wine industry, which has recently experienced every single one of these milestones, on my way to judge that state’s annual Governor’s Cup wine competition along with some …

Wine and Weed


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Elton John sang of needing ‘Three days on a diet of cocaine and wine, and a little weed just to level me sometime.’

Lowell George of the band Little Feat crooned ‘And if you’ll give me weed, whites and wine, and you show me a sign, I’ll be willin’.’

The fruits of the vine and the blossoms of the cannabis plant have been enjoyed together for much longer than the two have appeared in popular song lyrics. But they’ve only recently become business bedfellows in America.

On 15 August, just 13 days after the second annual Wine and Weed Symposium was held in Santa Rosa, California, Constellation Brands announced it was investing $4 billion in Canopy Growth Corporation, a Canadian medical marijuana purveyor. Constellation, in addition to being the largest beer importer in the world, is also one of the world’s largest wine companies, owning brands such as …

What’s Happening to Zinfandel?


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These days, wine festivals abound across America, especially those featuring Pinot Noir, which seem to be popping up by the handful in every major wine market in the country. There was a time, however, when wine festivals dedicated to a single grape were few and far between. Ten years ago, the hottest ticket in public wine-tasting events took place once a year in San Francisco. Consumers (and the trade) would line up hours in advance for the sold-out event, held in not one, but two massive event pavilions, and by its conclusion, the event would resemble less of a public wine tasting and more of a fraternity party gone wrong.

The Zinfandel Advocates and Producers festival, ZAP for short, was simply the biggest wine party thrown in San Francisco each year, showcasing over 200 producers’ wines to literally thousands of eager, even fanatical wine drinkers.

A decade later, California Zinfandel …

America’s Broadening Palate


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In 2017 America held on to its title as the top importer of wine in the world by value, buying wine worth $6.2 billion from around the globe, which amounted to 17.2% of all wine imported anywhere last year. Of that staggering amount (representing a 12.4% increase since 2013), Italy and France made up the largest share of suppliers, followed by, in declining order, New Zealand, Australia, Spain, Argentina and Chile. Within that group, New Zealand saw a 50% increase in imports (see Australia looks north), and both Italy and France posted serious gains, while Australia, Chile and Argentina’s shares continued to fall by double-digit percentages.

Look further down the list of countries whose wines are imported to the US and the statistics start to get more interesting. Imports from Portugal, Greece, Canada, Austria and Israel each grew by 15% or more, while wine imports from the …

The Savvy Lake


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‘It’s so crisp and cool and clear, I just love it’, said pensioner Diane Tibbs while her husband Brad nodded in agreement as they both tipped back their glasses to finish them off.

‘Easily half of what I buy, especially after April, is Sauvignon Blanc’, said Marika Klaver, a 30-year-old corporate interior designer, who went on to explain that the balance of her wine consumption is split between Pinot Grigio and Merlot, a red that she adds to the mix as autumn rolls around.

On 5 May, these consumers, and more than 300 others, made their way to Lake County, California, to attend the 2018 International Sauvignon Blanc Experience. Even so, most drinkers of California wine may not have heard of Lake County, nor the Sauvignon Blanc conference that the region hosts in an attempt to remedy that fact.

Despite its level of obscurity, Lake County remains one of California’s …

The Changing States of Somm


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As I attended Napa’s glitzy and convivial annual trade tasting and Premiere auction a few weeks ago, I noticed a camera crew snaking its way through the crowd of retailers, winemakers and wine buyers tasting the (very promising) 2016 vintage.

‘Who are they?’ I asked the winemaker whose barrel sample I had just spit out.

‘That crew?’ she replied, ‘They’re making SOMM 3.’

Apparently there will be another sequel in the series of documentary films that, with its first instalment in 2012, put the spotlight on America’s growing fascination with wine professionals.

While the first movie was a fairly entertaining look at the trials and tribulations of a group of friends working to pass their Court of Master Sommelier exams, the follow-up proved to be a slightly incoherent paean to the world of fine wine that might have seemed entirely unrelated to the original, had not some …

Will Basketball Be the Next Sideways?


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It all began with Instagram. Some of the more wine-savvy among the 35.4 million fans following NBA basketball star LeBron James noticed that LeBron seemed to like wine. In November of 2014, during the Thanksgiving Holiday, James snapped a photo of a 2008 Darioush Cabernet Sauvignon from Napa, writing ‘I’m thankful for this lovely bottle of wine I just had’.

Wine postings on James’ Instagram feed became more numerous in 2016, as he snapped photos of 2010 Colgin IX Estate, 2004 Opus One, 1990 Sassicaia, 2013 Staglin Family Booth Bella Oaks Cabernet, 2009 Ch Pontet Canet and more. Last November James posted a photo of a whole line-up of bottles, including 2004 Pierre-Yves Colin Morey Chassagne Montrachet, 2007 Mayacamas Cabernet, 2004 Quintarelli Amarone Classico, 1997 Sassicaia among others. His photo included the postscript, ‘PS don’t talk to me about wine like u know it if you really don’t know …

Introducing VINEYARD Sonoma County


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Even before the day fully breaks, the fields come alive. The first hint of light on the horizon brings with it a cacophony of song as the birds move from their night’s seclusion out into the vines. If the fog has settled in through the night, this time can be eerie, as rows of gnarled shapes slowly emerge through the brightening light. Or, in the absence of a marine layer, the vineyard shrugs off the night to glow in the colors of the season as the sun approaches the horizon and then slips its way into the day.

Frequently, as the sun pierces the fog or sparkles in the frost-laden grasses between the rows, George Rose is waiting, camera in hand, to capture something of the day’s beauty in first light. His quiet footsteps among the dark vines will startle jackrabbits, blacktail deer and the occasional stray skunk. The whisper …

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In Case You Were Wondering if Forbes.Com Was Journalism


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Bloviation by politicians and nutters aside, most people are aware that professional journalism has its own code of ethics that anyone who studies journalism in school learns the same way doctors learn the Hippocratic Oath. Anyone unfamiliar with the specifics of such ethics can get a refresher at the Society for Professional Journalism.

One of the key tenets of such ethics surrounds independence, in particular the disclosure of conflicts of interest. News organizations and journalists as a group have a professional obligation to avoid conflicts of interest in their reporting whenever possible, and to disclose them if they exist.

The one area of exception to this strict disclosure has historically been the editorial page and the Op-Ed, page, so named for being opposite the editorial page of a newspaper. Historically any publication that had an editorial section or an Op-Ed section might be understood to feature objective journalism throughout the …

2017 – The Dangerous Vintage


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In 2017, the United States suffered the most weather-inflicted natural disasters in a single year since records have been kept. Eighteen separate events, ranging from tornadoes to hailstorms, from floods to wildfires, exceeded $1 billion in estimated damages, with the total weather-related damage for the year totalling more than $300 billion and climbing. Much of the country was considerably warmer than average, with several parts of the country experiencing severe drought, while others experienced record inundations of rain, thanks in part to one of the most active hurricane seasons on record.

So how did wine fare in one of the wildest weather years in recent memory? I reached out to vintners across the country to see what the 2017 vintage looks like.

‘Weather was moderate throughout the growing season which helped retain acidity’, says Kelly Koch, winemaker at Macari Estate on the North Fork of Long Island in New York. …

Napa Luxe


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What is the defining characteristic of a wine region? The answer depends on who you ask, of course, but typical responses often range among the many distinctive aspects of the wine world: geology, topography, oenology, or even culture. The Mosel has its steep slate soils, Châteauneuf-du-Pape has its distinctive blend of 14 grapes, Chile’s Maule Valley has its twisted old vines of País and Carignan. And what of California’s Napa Valley? Beyond an affinity for Cabernet Sauvignon, an argument could convincingly be made that Napa has become known simply for luxury.

Perhaps this is why the recent news that Colgin Wine Cellars had sold a 60% interest to the luxury-goods giant Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton was met with an inaudible shrug after the initial volley of press releases and news briefs. Colgin, owned by Ann Colgin and her financier husband Joe Wender, is a tiny producer perched on top of …