Latest Posts

Alentejo's WASP program

Five years of Progress for Alentejo’s Sustainability Program

Producers in the Portuguese winegrowing region of Alentejo— whose vineyards encompass about 18,000 hectares, or almost a third of the country—have made significant gains in sustainability under the guidance of the Wines of Alentejo Sustainability Program (WASP).

Launched as a membership program in 2015 by the Comissão Vitivinicola Regional Alentejana (CVRA), WASP offers a certification path that aims to tackle environmental and societal challenges while reducing operational costs and improving the economic health of its members.

“In developing WASP, we benchmarked the most relevant international schemes on sustainability, being strongly inspired by the OIV [International Organisation of Vine and Wine] guidelines as well as [those established by] the California Sustainable Winegrowing Alliance and Wines of Chile, due to the similar characteristics of these [three] regions,” says João Barroso, sustainability manager at the Alentejo Regional Winegrowing Commission, which works with the CVRA to implement the program.

João Barroso, sustainability manager at the Alentejo Regional Winegrowing Commission, works with the CVRA to implement the WASP program.
João Barroso, sustainability manager at the Alentejo Regional Winegrowing Commission, works with the CVRA to implement the WASP program.

“We also received input from the University of Évora and the Alentejo Winegrowers Technical Association as well as individual Alentejo grape growers and wineries.” Since the program’s inception, its membership has grown steadily and currently comprises 411 wineries and vineyard owners representing approximately 45% of Alentejo’s considerable vineyard area.

Much of that growth can be credited to the support and incentives WASP offers free of cost: In addition to consultancy and assistance with implementing and monitoring sustainability-related practices in the field, the program provides training led by Barroso that’s focused on water, energy, and waste management in both the vineyard and cellar, representing a key value-add for the hundreds of members that have participated.

WASP in Action

The program’s impressive gains over the past five years are indicative of an organization that is striving to build a big membership through inclusion. While the majority of members are already certified organic, it’s not required; others are also part of the Integrated Production of Wine—a separate sustainability program launched in South Africa in 1998—which allows for the limited application of synthetic inputs in the vineyard.

Instead of excluding them, WASP opts to focus on reducing the use of herbicides and pesticides by providing education about alternatives such as cover crops to increase organic matter in the soil and the application of natural nitrates.

In addition, the use of sheep, geese, and bats is encouraged for both managing insect populations and pruning vines. “We are mostly focused on promoting biodiversity in the vineyards with auxiliary insects and cover crops,” Barroso explains. “By establishing ecological corridors and buffer zones around our [members’] vineyards, we have increased the number of insect-eating mammals and birds and have significantly reduced the use of pesticides and spraying.”

WASP participants have also decreased their dependence on pesticides by using equipment that captures and recycles spray drift, reducing chemical use by up to 50%. Another top priority is water conservation, as the production of just 1 liter of wine requires 14 liters of water on average. Producers are reducing their consumption by installing water meters, closely monitoring use, and implementing water-management plans while improving maintenance on their irrigation systems; as a result, some are now using as little as 1.2–5 liters of water to produce 1 liter of wine.

For WASP members, an indirect effect of adhering to these sustainability-driven practices has been better wine quality, according to Barroso, who notes that “savings as a result of conservation can be used to invest in better equipment and next-generation technology.”

Among the producers looking to the future is Herdade do Esporão, which has developed a 9-hectare vineyard to test 180 grape varieties (about 150 of which are indigenous to Portugal) in order to identify those best adapted to the warming climate. “Alentejo consistently has the highest average summertime temperatures in all of Europe,” says Barroso. “We are not planning for climate change; we’re living it.”

The Path to Certification

In order to officially verify its members, WASP launched its third-party certification in July 2020. Producers can work with one of four certifying bodies: SGS, Bureau Veritas, Certis, and Sativa. After conducting the first certification audits in late November, Borroso says that “we anticipate having our first certified producer by the end of the year and at least five producers certified by the first quarter of 2021.”

WASP logo
WASP logo

To become certified, producers must reach what’s known as the “developed” level for each of the requirements defined in the program’s 18 chapters; they also must source at least 60% of their grapes from vineyard areas also registered in the WASP program.

WASP’s success hasn’t gone unnoticed: It was recognized by the European Commission with the 2019 European Rural Innovation Award and is now one of the EU’s Rural Innovation Ambassadors for 2020. The program’s initiatives have drawn the attention of researchers and sustainability groups from the University of California, Davis; Wines of Chile; Italy’s Viva la Sostenibilità nella Vitivinicoltura in Italia (VIVA); and many others hoping to draw inspiration from its progress to improve their own practices.

Over the next five years, Barroso expects WASP to continue making gains toward its overall goals as a result of promoting the use of ecosystem-management services specifically designed to make vineyards and organizations more resilient and adaptable to climate change.

“Climate change is not a one-region or one-country fight,” says Barroso. “Alentejo and Portugal have benefited from learning from other world regions, and we are now proud to also be looked at as a sustainability frontrunner.”

Tasting Notes from WASP-member Producers:

Herdade do Rocim 2017 Olho de Mocho Reserva Branco This monovarietal Antão Vaz shows crisp, mineral citrus and a touch of vanilla; the lush body reflects five months of daily lees stirring.

Malhadinha Nova

2019 Peceguina Antão Vaz Exotic floral and tropical-fruit aromas point to a ripe style on the palate, with lemon and grapefruit flavors and a saline, mineral finish.

Luis Duarte 2019 Rubrica Branco This blend of Antão Vaz with Verdelho and Viognier offers delicate aromas of white blossom and a creamy body with notes of white peach and young pineapple.

Herdade do Esporão 2012 Vinha das Palmeiras Alicante Bouschet Scents of violets, sweet tobacco, and dark berries announce flavors of red and black plums as well as dark spices in a structured medium body.

Carmin 2017 Monsaraz Alicante Bouschet Bright aromas of black plum, mulberry, and dark earth lead to a medium-bodied wine showing cedar and black pepper as well as tasty, still-youthful tannins.

Master the World blind tasting kit

The Gold Standard

This tasting kit is survival gear for pros and enthusiasts alike.

Studying wine without the experience of tasting it in real-world settings such as trade events and seminars is frustrating at best. One elegant solution,
developed by author and educator Evan Goldstein, MS, and his business partner, Full Circle Wine Solutions CEO Limeng Stroh, has quickly become the gold standard of study tools for professionals and consumer enthusiasts.

I first learned of the Master the World (MTW) tasting kits in late 2018, when
Goldstein and Stroh mounted a successful Indiegogo campaign to launch their company. The kits contain six screw capped, 187-milliliter bottles of wine selected by a panel of Master Sommeliers and access to both a proprietary online-tasting platform and live webinars led by Goldstein and his colleagues.

“While we had planned for a soft launch once we went live in January 2020, the pandemic accelerated that launch to hang on and grow,” says Goldstein. “[In] the new normal of structured tastings being relegated to the confines of your dining room table or living-room couch, we have seen an enthusiastic response from the trade and consumers alike.”

With travel severely restricted during the lockdown—limiting access to field
research—keeping our tasting skills sharp has proven challenging. Here’s how three industry professionals are using their MTW kits to broaden their horizons.

Santa Cruz native Scott Thomasen is vice president of sales Mountain West, air, seas, and export markets for Vino del Sol, a regional importer of Argentine wine. “With a portfolio of 12 wineries, the kits help me understand other regions; they also keep me from becoming myopic and developing cellar palate,” he says, noting that two wines from the Vino del Sol portfolio are included in the kits for Argentina (as they were designed for blind tasting, we can’t disclose the labels here). “Most consumers aren’t aware of these wines, and it’s a great way to introduce them to these regions and producers.”

Wine Enthusiast’s Wine Star Awards 2020 Person of the Year Heidi Scheid
can’t wait for her kit to arrive each month. Scheid, who is also the executive vice president of Scheid Vineyards in Monterey County, participates in a tasting group with friends and family members, but she says that it’s not structured enough for someone who wants to constantly keep learning about wine: “When you’re on your own, it can be very hit-or-miss, [but] these kits work on so many different levels.”

Scheid adds that she gets the most out of her kits when she’s tasting along with the live webinar: “The presenters are such gifted speakers, and they make the information very accessible.” Then, when she and her partner taste together, he gets to enjoy the wines and she gets to exercise what she’s learned by acting as his guide. She also has high praise for the kits’ slick design and packaging developed by Goldstein and Stroh.

Master the World blind tasting kit
Photo credit: Master the World

Kat Thomas, yoga instructor and former wine education and training manager at The Hakkasan Group in Las Vegas, Nevada, is preparing for the Master Sommelier exam and using the MTW kits to replicate the conditions of sitting for the tasting portion. She points to the webinars and online tools—including a “Full Workout” blind-tasting mode for sensory evaluation and a “Quick Picks” mode that encourages tasters to try to guess what’s in their glass—that Goldstein offers with each kit as the biggest value-add: “You have an opportunity to self-check against the tasting notes of the presenters during the live webinar and use the online tool.”

Thomas is also using the kits to lead a private class of eager consumers through blind-tasting sessions, the objective of which is enjoyment. As she explains, “The kits are perfect for exploring on your own, but many consumers genuinely enjoy having a guide.”

Taint or Terroir? (Chinese translation)

Rex Ting-chia Ting DipWSET has translated Taint or Terroir for our Chinese readers.

Las Pilillas-2

Bobal: Past, Present and Future (Chinese translation)

Chinese translation by Rex Ting-chia Ting, DipWSET

Rex Ting-chia Ting, DipWSET has translated Bobal: Past, Present and Future for those who read Chinese. Enjoy!

Brut Sous Bois Q & A with Mathieu Roland-Billecart

No one needs a reason to drink Champagne but ringing out 2020 is certainly a good opportunity to reach for something beyond your sentimental favorite. In an effort to learn more about Billecart-Salmon’s Brut Sous Bois, I asked Mathieu Roland-Billecart for the inside scoop on this particular cuvée.

Mathieu Roland-Billecart is the seventh-generation of his family to oversee Billecart-Salmon. He took over the management of the family holding company and joined the supervisory board in 2013 and became CEO of the Group in 2019. He now manages all the activities of Champagne Billecart-Salmon, including the tasting committee that shapes and validates all the house’s vintages.

Billecart-Salmon Mathieu Roland-Billecart
Billecart-Salmon CEO Mathieu Roland-Billecart

DPW – Brut Sous Bois which was first introduced to the U.S. market in 2011 has been compared to Burgundy on several occasions. What do you think of the comparison?

MRB – If people mean it as a compliment then great! There are similarities in terms of grape varieties and terroirs to a certain extent with Champagne when you look from afar, but the two regions are quite distinct when you look at them closely in my opinion. I think where the comparison might come from is that the Brut Sous Bois is vinified in 15 year old Burgundian oak barrels, which give it additional structure and depth to a typical base NV Champagne.  It is also the non-vintage we age the most on lees before release (c. nine years on lees for the current release) hence there is a richness to it that make it more of a gastronomy wine than a lighter champagne for an easy aperitif.

DPW – Brut Sous Bois has settled nicely into its very specific style niche and is competing easily with wines that are triple and more of its price. Would you say the wine represents the best quality for its style on the market?

MRB – I am biased perhaps but I certainly agree it is right up there and it is a must try for all wine lovers! With Brut Sous Bois, you have a non-vintage wine that is older than the majority of vintage champagne on the market, including in the prestige category. The blend also includes a majority of grand cru and premier cru so you have amazing quality for the price for those that are looking at a richer style of Champagne. It is also particularly well suited to be paired with food like poultry, mushrooms, (hard) cheeses, etc.

DPW –  Although it’s not a direct comparison of style, there are oak-aged Blanc de Blancs receiving very high scores. Is it complexity from the composition of the blend that sets Brut Sous Bois apart or are there other points of differentiation that are more significant?

Brut Sous Bois Champagne
Brut Sous Bois

MRB – It is really a combination of factors that makes the Brut Sous Bois blend unique. It, of course, includes the three mains grapes which makes it different from a Blanc de Blancs but there are more technical differences that set it apart:

  • The selection of some of our best parcels are vinified in our oak barrels across Pinot Noir, Meunier and Chardonnay with a significant proportion of grand crus and premiers crus.
  • The fact we use barrels that are 15 years old on average give richness to the wine through the micro oxidation without making the wine overly marked by the taste of the barrels (that you can get with new barrels).
  • The very long ageing on lees (six/seven years minimum and c. nine years in the last release) allow the wine to gain additional complexity.
  • A balanced dosage – always decided by blind tasting with our tasting committee – to be able to have a balanced and harmonious tasting experience.

DPW –  Given the percentages of Pinot noir and Meunier in the blend, are there any plans for a rosé?

MRB – No plans of that nature currently. Our Brut Rosé has a very distinct identity and we already have a very wide range with 12 cuvées, but never say never.

DPW – What vintage is the base wine for the current release of Brut Sous Bois?

MRB – Base year 2010 with c. 1/3 of reserve wine

DPW – Reviewers have commented that the oak influence has been dialed back from earlier vintages, please elaborate on that observation.

MRB – That’s correct, we have indeed ‘refined’ the style since the very first releases… the oak barrels are getting older, we have aged the wine more on lees, and adapted our selection of parcels to have more finesse. We constantly challenge ourselves to make better wines and we are not scared to adapt/change if we feel it delivers better quality. Whilst it is 100% vinified in barrels it is important this cuvée shares the full Billecart DNA: Finesse, elegance and balance.

DPW – I’ve read that this style relies on partial ML but the house is known for often blocking ML. If partial, why does this work better with the oak fermentation and aging regime?

MRB – For the house as a whole, there is nothing systematic about ML at Billecart-Salmon, we taste every tank after alcoholic fermentation and decide whether to do the ML based on the year, parcels, grape variety etc. hence the vast majority of the blends are partial ML.

Now if we are more specific about Brut Sous Bois, you are correct that because the chai of barrels tend to get more of the top parcels (that typically have greater power and depth), we tend to block (almost) all ML. This is to preserve the tension and freshness with a vinification method (barrels) that tend to bring more oxidation and we also know that the wines from the chai are very likely to end up in cuvées that we age more (Brut Sous Bois, Nicolas Francois, Louis Salmon etc.)

DPW –  Is Billecart Salmon’s hallmark technique of double cold settling of particular importance to this style?

MRB – It is across the board, but I would not say this is more important for Brut Sous Bois than the other cuvées. The double cold settling combined with our cold fermentation is one of the main reasons our wines tend to have the finesse and elegance that is the signature of Billecart-Salmon.

Billecart-Salmon Chai
Billecart-Salmon Chai

Five Reasons to Love Grenache, Garnacha Blanc and Gris (Chinese translation)

Chinese translation by Rex Ting-chia Ting, DipWSET

Protected: A New Chapter in California Wine History

This content is password protected. To view it please enter your password below:

Taint or Terroir?

A tipping point for the appreciation of smoky wines

Wildfire is certainly a factor of terroir. This unwelcome truth is bringing about a shift in the U.S. wine industry’s attitude toward the flavor of wine made from grapes that have been exposed to smoke.

After historic fires in 2017, many winemakers in Oregon and Washington decided to embrace the volatile compounds associated with smoke exposure in grapes such as guaiacol and 4-methylguaiacol, which are released during fermentation.

While using techniques like whole-bunch pressing to minimize smokiness, they didn’t try to hide it entirely. Because these volatile phenols reside in grape skins, whites and rosés that are pressed off of the skins immediately after harvest carry less risk for taint.

Oregon producers take a new approach

Winemaker Darryl Joannides of Viola Wine Cellars in Portland made a lightly smoked Dolcetto rosé that was a hit at local wine bars. “We focused on making younger, fresher styles that we could get to market quickly,” he says. “If I’m faced with that situation again, I’m planning on making as much rosé as I possibly can.”

Teutonic Wine Company’s Barnaby Tuttle, meanwhile, produced a skin-contact Riesling that tested for high levels of guaiacol in a style he dubbed Rauchwein (a play on Rauchbier, or “smoked beer” in German). The resulting wine had a subtle smoky aroma, more texture than the average Riesling, and a mezcal-like finish.

In his 2019 book Flawless: Understanding Faults in Wine, Jamie Goode characterizes smoke taint as an automatic fault. But it’s one winemakers are going to have to contend with, given the fourfold increase in forest fires in the Western U.S. since 1986 and the fact that, according to a recent article in The Lancet, the number of days per year of high bushfire risk in Australia is expected to increase as much as 70% by 2050.

Consumers enjoy smoked flavors

Consumers enjoy the flavor of smoke in many food and beverage products, including wine: When derived from the process of aging in toasted oak barrels, low levels of guaiacol and 4-methylguaiacol are described positively as toast, smoke, char, and even camphor. But when they overwhelm a wine’s varietal character, they’re treated as a fault.

In the extreme, smoke-tainted wines are often described as smelling and tasting like a wet ashtray, medicine, or burnt bacon (which some of us admittedly enjoy). Sensory testing at the Australian Wine Research Institute (AWRI) has shown that up to 20% of people cannot taste smoke flavors in wines that others find unpalatable. For the remaining 80%, the smoky phenols can go undetected until the wine comes in contact with the enzymes in their mouths, which break them down and release them.

To mirror or mitigate

It’s not possible for winemakers to eliminate the risk of producing a red wine that’s faulted by offensive phenols, but they can mitigate it through carbon filtering, reverse osmosis, and manufactured yeast strains. According to researchers at AWRI, oak treatments and tannin additions can also mask some of the effects of mild smoke exposure by amplifying the same compounds that are found in wood smoke, including lactones, eugenol, and guaiacol. Some of these also exist in certain grape varieties, like Syrah.

What can we expect as winegrowers in Australia, Chile, France, and the United States are increasingly forced to adapt their winemaking practices and styles to account for devastating fire seasons?

Anticipate more rosés, early-drinking reds, and even skin-contact whites as they seek to get the most out of high-quality fruit that might otherwise be destined for the bulk market due to smoke exposure.

Vodcasting for Success

The 2020 Wine Media Conference, August 20 – 23, may have been virtual this year but it was as robust as ever. My talk explored vodcasting, a catch-all term for prerecorded video segments that feature a host/s and guest/s designed to be published across several online outlets and social media platforms. 

Vodcasting is where podcasting is headed. In July, Spotify announced that it added video content creation for its podcasters. Viola, they are now vodcasters. One of my favorite wine industry podcasts is Levi Dalton’s “I’ll Drink to That” but watching Levi record a podcast would be like watching paint dry. A vodcast needs to be visually compelling.

Superb vodcasting relies on the quality and reliability of your recording software and internet connection. By adopting a format for your vodcast that works towards the goal of ‘one and done’ and requires little or no editing, you can create media assets that have value and be prolific.

In my talk I covered basic technology and best practices however, I didn’t address looking your best on camera. You’ll find tons of tips out there on how to do that with the simplest being “Use the fix up my appearance-setting when you’re recording a vodcast on Zoom.”

The final questions is what to do with your content once you’ve created it. The 2020 Wine Media Conference offers plenty of guidance. There are sessions like those by Phil Pallen who breaks down Instagram, Scott Fish from 32 Digital dishing up straight talk about SEO strategies and Kelly Wagner offering social media savvy.

Optimizing the video and audio quality of your vodast

Wifi for all its splendid convenience can be unstable. When you’re recording a vodcast using your preferred video conferencing platform, use a wired Ethernet connection. If WiFi is your only option, work within 20 – 30 feet of your router which is referred to as the “overpowered” zone. Range extenders are handy but they don’t make your signal stronger, they simply extend it.

Bandwidth requirements for recording using video conferencing tools are a minimum of 6 Megabits per second (Mbps) to 10Mbps. If there are other users sharing your network, you’ll need 10Mbps to 20Mbps which provides enough ‘headroom’ for everyone’s traffic. For optimal video and audio quality, minimize the load on your network when recording a vodcast.

Clear the Decks

I’ve adopted a simple housekeeping routine for my computer prior to recording a vodcast or video conferencing which includes closing any applications that may be running in the background, closing open browser tabs and turning off notifications. I’ll usually have Powerpoint running to share slides but if the presentations are overly large and tend to lag, I’ll use a correctly-displayed pdf instead.

Low battery power will cause performance problems so always plug in. Typically, when battery power starts getting low, your laptop will prioritize processing and powering the screen over powering devices like webcams. If your CPU can’t keep power to your microphone and camera stable, the quality of your vodcast will suffer.

Audio and video conferencing via VOIP software requires a lot of processing power from your computer. It has to both encode and upload audio and video to the service you’re using in real time. This is heavy lifting for your machine so expect battery life to be brief.

The single most helpful tool I’ve added to my system is an externally- powered Universal Serial Bus (USB) hub. Every external device I own is connected to my computer by USB and my laptop just couldn’t power them all resulting in an unstable system that caused audio latency and frozen video. With the addition of an externally-powered hub, my set up is now very stable and my computer is freed up for running and recording using my video conferencing software of choice.

The Allure of High Definition

80% of US households have a High Definition television set and consumers are used to seeing High Definition video. As such, I consider this a priority for optimizing the quality of your vodcast.

My Logitech HD webcam C920 is mounted on my monitor at eye level and the dual microphones deliver clear stereo sound. The 16:9 aspect ratio means I can’t switch to standard format in some video conferencing platforms. The 16:9 aspect ratio requires a rather large green screen; mine is eight feet by seven feet to be exact. I’ve made a green screen that I can put up and take down in less than a minute and it’s been key to the polished, higher production value of the Planet Grape Wine Review vodcasts I produce and host.

The author hosting a vodcast in her home office.

Improving Audio Quality

When vodcasting I don’t want a visible microphone in the shot so getting the quality sound I need from my webcam is a bonus. If there’s unavoidable background noise, I’ll resort to earbuds that have a microphone. A low-profile desktop speaker like a Jabra is another option as well.

One of the easiest ways to get good audio is to record in a furnished room. My small office has a carpet and some soft furnishings but it’s my fleece green screen that works as an acoustic panel. If you have a space with a lot of hard surfaces, you can strategically position stand alone-acoustic panels to improve your sound quality.

Lighting 101

As the host of a vodcast it’s absolutely key to get lighting right but it’s a lot harder when it comes to your guests. Even celebrities are frequently seen in video segments with less than ideal and truly unflattering lighting. My goal is consistency and I like the look of warm LED bulbs (3000K – 3400K) the best against lighter backgrounds. You can adjust the warmth of your adjustable but cool LEDs using a standard photography gel filter; Rosco Sun comes highly recommended.

Vodcasting Formats for Success

When you’re presenting virtually you lose any advantage you might otherwise have from being in person with your audience. Your content and the quality of your video recording must carry the day. As a writer, I’d rather spend my time writing a script than editing poor-quality video. In fact, the format that I enjoy using the most requires little or no editing.  Most video conferencing platforms have some simple editing tools but the InShot video editing application comes in handy for on the fly-editing.

Vodcast Format #1 – Slow Wine Guide Virtual Visits

What:  15 to 30-minute hosted segments where winemakers describe the three wines that are being listed in the 2021 Slow Wine Guide.

Why:   We could not make winery visits this year for the guide due to shelter in place restrictions and recording virtual visits was the ideal way to help promote the wineries participating in the guide now and in 2021. The recorded segments are a high-quality media asset that are currently being vodcast on several websites and social media platforms and will continue to be used through 2021.

How:     The information gathering portion of the interview and any housekeeping is done upfront before I begin recording. I’m only recording the last 10 minutes of the Zoom conference call. By that time I’ve established a level of comfort with my guest and they’ve had a chance to rehearse some of their talking points.

I typically taste along in the background while the winemakers talk which gives me something to do and keeps them doing most of the talking. Using a consistent format means little or no editing on my part and allows me to produce more content. The recordings are uploaded to social media within minutes and archived both on the cloud and an external hard drive.

Vodcast Format#2 – Planet Grape Wine Review Vodcast Series

What:              Two to 20-minute segments on seasonal wine and food topics targeted at the hospitality industry.

Why:               We saw a demand for video content for the hospitality industry which looks underserved.

How:              Segments are closely scripted for time management and to prioritize messaging. We typically record two or three at a time and use a green screen to help provide context for the topics and to add visual impact and a higher level of production value to the segments.

Our Premiere Napa vodcast has about 140 views which is very similar to Wine.com’s recorded segment featuring Frog’s Leap, Grgich Hills and Tablas Creek wineries. There’s plenty of opportunity to expand the online reach for these segments.

I’ve shown you two possible formats to use as a model for your own vodcast and offered some ideas about low-cost gear that performs well and will help insure that the quality of your recordings. The vodcasts that I’m producing and hosting are successful in terms of production value and a return on the investment in the amount of time required to produce and publish a valuable media asset. The sky’s the limit as to what you can do with your vodcast content once you’ve created it. Happy vodcasting.

Taking a Closer Look at Modern Hybrids

In the search for alternative ways to control grape vine diseases while reducing the use of synthetic herbicides and pesticides, a cadre of modern hybrids—second- and third-generation interspecific varieties— are demonstrating considerable promise in both the vineyard and the glass.

A team of researchers from universities in Trento and Udine in Italy and Geisenheim in Germany recently published a groundbreaking study of the 2013, 2015, and 2016 vintages of 16 disease-tolerant hybrids. It analyzed their lipids, volatile compounds (low-sulfur compounds and esters derived from fermentation), and non-volatile compounds (grape tannins, anthocyanins, and minerals) and compared the data to that of Vitis vinifera varieties.

Chemically, disease-tolerant and vinifera varieties are identical in terms of the types of compounds they contain, though the levels of some of those compounds vary. Hybrids have higher amounts of polyphenols and their tannins are typically lower (though more evident in some hybrids than in others).

Lower levels of anthocyanins (color pigments) were found to be the biggest differentiator between the hybrids and vinifera varieties, while vintage variability was identified as a significant factor in overall wine quality. Interestingly, low-volatile sulfur compounds contribute complex aromas like quince, truffles, and flint in disease-tolerant varieties but present as off-flavors in vinifera wines.

Among the white varieties studied were Muscaris and Souvignier Gris, created in 1987 and 1983, respectively, by German scientist Dr. Norbert Becker. Souvignier Gris, a cross between Cabernet Sauvignon and Bronner, is a cultivar with a loose canopy and robust red-tinged skin that is compared to Pinot Gris; Muscaris, a Solaris and Yellow Muscatel hybrid, resists both mildew and frost to produce acidic white wines with intense nutmeg notes. Muscaris was approved in Austria as a Quality Wine Grape
Variety in 2018.

Souvignier Gris, a cross between Cabernet Sauvignon and Bronner.

Christof Winkler-Hermaden, who runs his family’s eponymous winery
in the Vulkanland Steiermark region of Styria, started trialing Muscaris
and Souvignier Gris ten years ago.

“Both are easy to cultivate,” he says.
“We are spraying 85–100% less and seeing much better soil structure in
these vineyards.”

Having vinified both varieties, Winkler-Hermaden notes that Souvignier Gris shows more complex aromatics than its reputation for being neutral suggests, evoking “a blend of Sauvignon Blanc (gooseberry, passion fruit); Riesling (apricot); and Pinot Gris (pear, classic Pinot Gris mist)”; it also boasts fresh, lively acidity that exhibits minerality very well. Depending on the climate, soil, and ripening potential of the vineyard, it can deliver a high-quality expression.

Muscaris, a Solaris and Yellow Muscatel hybrid.

Winkler-Hermaden’s Muscaris vines are now in their 11th year, producing full-bodied wines that are similar to Pinot Blanc on the palate. “If picked at the right time, it exhibits aromatics of honeydew melon, lemons, grapefruit, and nutmeg,” he says. “We’ll be able to produce a Riedenwein [single-vineyard designate] with this variety in the future.”

Although he hasn’t vinified them, Winkler-Hermaden has tasted wines
produced from two of the red varieties featured in the study, Carbernet Cortis
(a cross between Cabernet Sauvignon, Merzling, Zarya Severa, and Muscat Ottonel) and Carbernet Carbon (a Cabernet Sauvignon–Bronner hybrid). He compares them to Cabernet Franc, though he notes that “they are typically made with a lot of wood and the addition of tannins, which obscures their varietal character.”

Winkler-Hermaden—who is a member of the quality-obsessed producer consortium Steirische Terroir & Klassik Weingüter (STK)—adds that several of his colleagues in Styria are also trialing disease-resistant varieties, including fellow STK member Weingut Frauwallner, Kobatl, BIO-Weinbau Thünauer, and Ploder-Rosenberg.