All posts filed under: California

Vinexpo Explorer shines global spotlight on Sonoma County, Calif.

Vinexpo Explorer presented the gathering of wine buyers and press from 27 countries with an opportunity to take a deep dive into the region and its terroir, personality, and the myriad wine styles produced in Sonoma County. Spirited interviewed some of these buyers, most of whom were first-time visitors to the region, to gather their firsthand impressions of Sonoma County wines.

Cabernet with a twist

The practice of finishing whiskey in wine barrels has been around since the 1860s, when scotch producers first utilized Sherry butts as a means of transporting their spirits. But, the tables have now turned and winemakers like James Foster of Stave & Steel currently seek out whiskey barrels – Kentucky bourbon barrels, specifically – as an alternative oak-aging regime for its wines. This approach is hardly new: By the 1970s, Scotch producers had switched almost entirely from Sherry butts to bourbon barrels. They had also started experimenting with still-wine barrel finishes, although the practice didn’t become an established part of the single-malt market until 2004.  A short decade later, the first whiskey barrel-finished wines – primarily Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel and Shiraz – hit the shelves. While wine barrels can add fruitiness, body and even sweetness to whiskeys, it’s what bourbon casks can add to wine that intrigued Stave & Steel’s Foster. Foster who is Senior Director of Super Premium Wine for Livermore, Calif-based The Wine Group selected “freshly dumped” Kentucky bourbon barrels and ran trials …

Micro-lot Cabernet from Napa’s rockiest site

Cobbles reminiscent of the kind you find in the Southern Rhône aren’t the first thing you typically encounter in a Napa Valley vineyard. At Game Farm vineyard, owned and managed by Alex Vyborny and son Ben, it’s what differentiates their site from many others in Oakville. That cobbled terroir drew Goosecross Cellars winemaker Bill Nancarrow who sources fruit for the independent C. Elizabeth brand to the site like a bee to honey. 

Picchetti Winery scores big with 2017 Sauvignon Blanc

At first glance, this ethereal Sauvignon Blanc which is described by Mike Bruzus, associate winemaker at Picchetti Winery, as “almost color less, the palest straw” could be mistaken for water. But from the moment your nose comes within a few inches of the glass, there’s a rush of aromas, a jumble of fragrance that includes pink grapefruit, pineapple, gooseberry, honeydew melon, guava, lychee and mineral notes of wet rocks and saline. A precursor of what’s to come when you taste it and a certain indicator that this isn’t a “simple” wine.

Imagery repeats as CA State Fair California Winery of the Year

In a repeat performance, Imagery Estate Winery founded by Joe Benziger in 1985 has been honored for the second year running by the California State Fair as the 2018 Golden State Winery of the Year. Benziger, who was at the helm for the 2017 award, has now retired but serves as guide and mentor for his second daughter Jamie Benziger, 31, who stepped up as winemaker in 2018.

Paraiso Vineyard: The backbone of the Santa Lucia Highlands AVA

Spanish missionaries at Mission Soledad first planted vineyards in the region now known as the Santa Lucia Highlands AVA in the late 18th century. But winegrowing on the windswept terraces of the Santa Lucia mountain range began in earnest in 1973 when Rich and Claudia Smith established the Paraiso Vineyard. Parasio is the tenth iconic vineyard to be acknowledged by the California State Fair as Vineyard of the Year.

Twelve months of bubbles

From Asti to Champagne, bubbles were a bright spot in 2017.  While sparkling wine is no longer confined to special occasions, it continues to mark some of life’s most memorable occasions and its charm can elevate the most mundane moments. For many, 2017 was a year of exuberant highs and abysmal lows which made living in the moment and being grateful for predictable things like the quality of a DOCG Prosecco from Cartizze or the toasty aromas of a Champagne aged on the lees for a decade all the easier. Here’s a look at what I discovered about bubbles during 2017’s twelve months of tastings. January began with a traditional sparkling toast courtesy of the Boisset Collection whose exceptional Buena Vista “La Victoire” Champagne ($50) honors the history of Sonoma’s Buena Vista winery, the first to introduce méthode traditionelle sparkling wine to California in the 19th-century. “La Victoire” is a blend of 70% Pinot Noir from Premier Cru vineyards from the Montagne de Reims, and 30% Chardonnay mostly from Grand Cru Mesnil sur Oger and Chouilly. The wine …

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 …

IBWSS Recap: a first for California

The IBWSS was the first-ever bulk and private label wine and spirits event in California Close to 1500 wineries, distilleries, importers, distributors and retailers met in San Francisco for the debut of the highly anticipated International Bulk Wine & Spirits Show on July 26 & 27. At the event, suppliers and buyers traded and attendees learned about the latest trends in bulk wine and spirits, including methods to use private labels as a way to win over customers, boost loyalty and drive new sources of revenue. The event saw unprecedented success with most exhibitors walking away with deals or potential contacts with buyers. Exhibitors had the chance to meet buyers from Gallo wines, Trader Joe’s, Kroger’s, Bevmo amongst many others.  Buyers came from all over the United States and were not limited to the vicinity of the Californian wine industry. In the post-event survey, 80% of the exhibitors reported a high level of satisfaction with the show quoting that they were pleased with the number and the quality of buyers that they met at the …