Author: deborahparkerwong

The dark matter of dirt

With millions of unknown species existing in a ton of soil, biologist Edward Osborne Wilson has called bacteria “the dark matter of the biological world.” While our knowledge of the roles known bacteria play in the vineyard enables us to make delicious wine, the unknown far exceeds the understood when it comes to analyzing these soil microbiomes. According to biochemist Paco Cifuentes, who has compared studies from hundreds of vineyards, there’s a distinct kingdom of organisms found only in soils farmed sustainably with organic fertilizers. When evaluating the health of a vineyard, the presence of these organisms becomes a marker for sustainability and diversity. “In a conventionally-farmed vineyard, you’ll find on average 500–700 different types of microorganisms,” says Cifuentes. “In sites that are farmed sustainably, we find anywhere from 1,000–1,200 microorganisms, the majority of which are bacteria.” This promotes an environment of checks and balances where beneficial organisms can effectively suppress harmful organisms and help prevent disease. That vast array of potentially present microorganisms includes “a dozen or so very distinctive organisms that never show …

Incredible bulk: The changing nature of the international bulk wine market is creating opportunities

It’s estimated that roughly 25 percent of the world’s wine production is sold as bulk wine, a segment that’s described by one broker as the industry’s “soft underbelly” and exists for most consumers in the form of virtual brands. With the rise in popularity of bulk wine-derived, private label brands (brands developed for retailers, hotel chains, and restaurants, which sell them directly to consumers) and more producers entering the market in recent years, bulk wine has shed its low-rent image and become a hot commodity. With a healthy 6 percent annual growth rate for the last six years—and no signs of lagging—capitalizing on the continuing growth that’s predicted for the global bulk market depends largely on where you sit in the value chain. Identifying opportunities means navigating between the supply side of producers, brokers, and contract suppliers, and the demand side that includes retailers and on-premise operators. Short-term supply outlook Staying one step ahead of expansions and contractions of the bulk wine market is key for short- and long-term planning. Increasingly, brokers and contract suppliers …

Red blends: Greater than the sum of their parts

While researching the current popularity of blended wines in preparation for a talk at the 2017 International Bulk Wine and Spirits Show about blends that begin life as bulk wine, I discovered white blends emerged as the exception rather than the rule. Consumer preferences for monovarietal white wines—Sauvignon Blanc is currently the fastest-growing white variety—are the likely drivers there, but that doesn’t stop winemakers from creating successful proprietary blends. In 2014, blended wines accounted for more than 40 percent of new entries to the U.S. market, with the lion’s share going to reds (29.3 percent) and whites accounting for just 1.9 percent. When surveyed, domestic consumers said they liked blended wines because they are experimental, interesting and trendy with better value. But it’s not the classic blends from regions like Bordeaux, the Southern Rhône, Valpolicella and Rioja they’re referring to; it’s the under-$25 blends that are marketed as nothing more than just that—blends. One striking example of success with modern blends is Dave Phinney’s Locations Wine portfolio, which goes even further by eliminating vintage and relying …

Edetària: Benchmark wines of Catalonia’s Terra Alta DO

Terra Alta is the most westerly of Catalonia’s DOs which are clustered around Barcelona and include Alella, Conca de Barberá, Costers del Segre, Empordà (on the border of France), Montsant, Penedés, Plà de Bagés, Priorat (DOPQ) and Tarragona. Both Cataluña and Cava are broader designations that also apply to the Catalonia region.

Sicily’s native grapes and the dawn of Italian wine culture

Archeologists researching the dietary habits of prehistoric Sicilians have discovered that wine was on the menu 6,500 years ago. The discovery made by a team of archeologists led by Dr. Davide Tanasi of the University of South Florida pushes the timeline for established viticulture in Italy back from the latter part of the Bronze Age (1600–1100 BCE) to the Copper Age (4500–3500 BCE). While excavating a site on Monte Kronio in the Agrigento province in southwest Sicily, Tanasi found tartaric acid and its salts both of which are natural by-products of winemaking on unglazed pottery dating to 4500 BCE. It’s believed that the Mycenaean Greeks established viticulture in Sicily during the Bronze Age but the discovery has unearthed a much earlier point of origin for Italian wine culture. Native varieties being trailed in the experimental vineyards at Donnafugata’s estate in Contessa Entellina. PHOTO: DEBORAH PARKER WONG As the history of winegrowing in Sicily continues to evolve so do the efforts of forward-thinking producers who are working to preserve the island’s native grape varieties. Sicily’s indigenous …

Rioja’s Enotourism Ready

Interested in exploring the Spanish wine region of Rioja?  I’ve got some firsthand, no-fail recommendations for tasting, dining, accommodations and cultural enrichment. If you begin your stay in Haro, there’s really no need to drive if you want to visit the eight wineries clustered around the historic Haro train station. They’re all within comfortable walking distance of the town center although most of the Spanish tourists I spotted were driving and taking advantage of the ample parking. The winery tasting rooms that I visited in Haro – La Rioja Alta, Muga, CVNE and Bodegas Bilbainas – and those at outlying wineries – Marqués de Riscal, Bodega Dinastia Vivanco, Torre de Ona – are all stylish, comfortably appointed and well equipped for English speaking guests. Muga’s tasting room was stocked with high-quality goods and teaming with eager shoppers who were offered gracious and informed hospitality. Walk-in tasting fees at CVNE were very modest and I had a quiet table to taste all eight wines on offer at my own pace. Lunch time, however, can pose a challenge as all the restaurants …