Tuesday, September 30, 2008

France allows regions to do away with traditional 'ban des vendanges'

The Graves region of Bordeaux and Bourgeuil in the Loire have become some of the first appellations to do away with the traditional harvest start date, or 'ban des vendanges'.

As part of wine sector reforms initiated by the national appellations office (INAO), wine regions throughout France have been given the freedom to decide whether or not they wish to abolish the ban.

Allowing areas to abolish the harvest date can, in some cases, put an end to early harvesting and increase quality.

'Winegrowers went harvesting as soon as the ban was proclaimed without even looking at the maturity of their grapes,' one Loire winemaker told French wine site Viti-net.com.

The head of the Bourgeuil winemakers' union, Philippe Pitault said that his organisation would continue testing maturity and issue a 'correct' harvest date.

'That will reassure some winemakers who are not too sure of themselves,' he said.

In Bordeaux, and other wine regions in France, the ban des vendanges is a big part of winemaking folklore. Regions such as St-Emilion have maintained the tradition, as have Alsace and Beaujolais. The Graves appellation south of Bordeaux, however, confirmed it had put an end to the ban.

Some regions, including Saone et Loire in Burgundy, have deliberately issued very early harvest dates, maintaining the tradition and putting an end to early harvesting. The ban for the Saone et Loire was issued on 3 September.

Oliver Styles

Thursday, September 18, 2008

New Wine For Seniors

I kid you not... New Wine for Seniors

California vinters in the Napa Valley area, which primarily produce Pinot Blanc, Pinot Noir and Pinot Grigio wines, have developed a new hybrid grape that acts as an anti-diuretic.
It is expected to reduce the number of trips older people have to make to the bathroom during the night.

The new wine will be marketed as:


Para, USA

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

A winery in name only

Couple sets up shop in Houston to import, sell French wines
Tim and Phyllis Smith own a "winery"near Rice Village where they import and sell French wines. In order to operate their business, they had to obtain a winery license.

In 1973, Tim Smith bought a grand-cru Beaujolais in Paris for 80 centimes. That bottle of Morgon, for an outlay of about 20 cents, proved a life-changing experience.

"I thought I'd died and gone to heaven," he recalls wistfully.

Now 35 years later, Smith owns a winery in what was once a photographer's studio near Rice Village. Make that a "winery," since what Smith and his wife Phyllis really do with their French Country Wines is import and sell. In order to do both legally in Texas, they had to obtain a winery license.

If he's not yet a superstar in the cellar, he's got a refined taste for wines made by other people, especially those who are making it in small, reasonably priced quantities far off the beaten path, mostly in the South of France. One of Smith's Châteauneuf-du-Papes, the Domaine du Banneret, comes from a well-situated producer who isn't known even to the local tourist office, probably because he produces at most 400 cases each year.

It sells for $34, right at the top of Smith's price ladder. Fresh and harmonious in the glass, with a nice long finish, the 2004 Banneret drinks like it should cost at least twice that much.

"This wine is a perfect example of what we're trying to do," Smith said. "We wanted to expose people to the kinds of wines we like, wines you just couldn't find here. (The big importers) are looking to buy five pallets at a time. Some of our producers don't make five pallets in a year."

A retired litigator, Smith ultimately found his way into the wine trade to "keep me off the streets." His passion is finally close to profitable — despite the weak dollar, the numbing bureaucratic minefield one must traverse to become an importer-retailer and the fact that his portfolio consists of boutique producers that almost nobody in Houston had heard of.

"The label-approval process took six months," Smith said. "I never realized they'd be so nitpicky about it."

Smith acknowledges his naiveté as a fledgling wine merchant, admitting he might never have moved forward with his venture without the support of a certain Frenchman.

Francophiles Tim and Phyllis knew of Jean-Marc Espinasse only through his Web site, which featured a wine every day, and that of his wife Kristen, who's behind french-word-a-day.com. But when Smith e-mailed him, Espinasse replied within 24 hours. It seemed he had a small wine brokerage and was looking to expand in the U.S. market. They agreed to meet in Phoenix, where Kristen is from, and forged a partnership. About 60 percent of the wines Smith sells are acquired through Espinasse, including Espinasse's own Rouge-Bleu.

"As it turned out, we have very similar palates," Smith said. "But he has encouraged me to explore and find other wines. I want to keep our portfolio vibrant."

Smith's Web site is excellent, informative and easy to navigate. Through the Internet and word of mouth, augmented with well-attended biweekly tastings — there's one tonight at 6 p.m., featuring cheese from the Houston Dairy Maids — his customer base is expanding, and he's gaining restaurant placements, including Café Rabelais, Brasserie Max and Julie and, most recently, Aura.

If you're inclined to visit the shop, it's best to call first: 713-993-9500. As Smith says, "It's just me, and sometimes I've got to run errands." (Phyllis has a "day job" as director of projects for the M.D. Anderson Cancer Center.)

A more pleasant, less pretentious couple you will never find in the wine world. They know they're just the messengers; in the end, it's all about the wine they sell.

Houston Chronicle

Legal row over French wine classification

The wine classification system in France can make or break a vineyard Photo: EPA

A row over the highly competitive wine classification system that can make or break a vineyard is threatening the reputation of the Saint-Emilion chateaux, producers of some of the world's most famous wines.

The disagreement, which has led to a series of law suits, concerns the rating of 'les vins de Saint Emilion' by a jury run by the French Ministry of Agriculture.

Under the system, only a handful of the 800 vineyards are classified as le classement. The successful candidates are then divided into three categories; premier grand cru classe A, premier grand cru classe B and grand cru classe.

The row originates when the league table was revised two years ago. Then the le classement featured 61 chateaux including six new ones. Two others were promoted from grand cru classe to premier grand cru classe B.

But 11 vineyards lost their place, a relegation that can have a huge impact on a wine producer's income. Seven of the 11 vineyards that lost out went to court to challenge the decision.

After two years, Bordeaux's Administrative Tribunal upheld their claim this summer and ruled that the jury had failed to taste all the wines in the same conditions.

The 2006 classement was quashed and the eight promoted vineyards were relegated and the 11 vineyards were reinstated..

"This is a great moment for us," said Philippe Genevey of Chateau La Marzelle, which regained its grand cru classe status.

Perhaps unsurprisingly the losers take a different view and are looking to appeal the decision. Xavier Pariente, the owner of Chateau Troplong-Mondot said he had spent "dozens of millions of euros" to win a place in the grand cru classe B category.

"That's almost 20 years of hard work and investment by all the personnel here wiped out at the stroke of a pen. It frightens me and revolts me," he said.

Consumers are cutting back

Restaurants take the hardest hit in terms of wine sales

The pinch of higher gasoline prices on American wallets is adding to the reluctance of consumers to go out for a drink or dinner and drinks--all of which is hurting on-premises sales.

History suggests people don't necessarily drink less during difficult economic times, but a survey done earlier this month indicates more folks are enjoying a glass of wine at home rather than dining and drinking out.

"Wine is more likely to be consumed in dining establishments, which have been more heavily affected by the downturn in the economy than bars or nightclubs," confirmed Danny Brager, vice president of client service for beverage alcohol at The Nielsen Company specializing in marketing and media information.

More than 40 percent of the bar managers, bar owners and bartenders surveyed by Nielsen and data services provider Bevinco noted a decrease in consumer traffic while 25 percent have observed a decrease in the number of drinks ordered, and 22 percent say customers are ordering less expensive drinks. Wine drinkers are choosing house varieties more often, according to 9 percent of operators.

Consumers also said they're cutting back. "During a survey we did in May, about 50 percent of consumers told us they were going out less often; and when it came to fine dining, that number went up to 66 percent," said Brager. "Considering on-premises sales usually account for half of all wine dollars spent, these declines are huge."

Restaurants have also been hit by cutbacks in business travel and entertainment budgets, added Jon Frederickson, president of wine industry analysts Gomberg Frederickson & Associates.

"With restaurateurs ordering less, distributors are being very conservative in their buying," Frederickson added. "So the shipments from wineries are soft from some regions."

Off-premises sales of wine in the U.S. remained healthy through June with increases in both the number of sales and volume. "Over the past few months, cheaper wines have started to make a comeback in terms of their sales growth while the sale of more expensive wines has slowed down," Brager noted.

The double-digit increases for $15 wines over the past few years have also disappeared. "Some consumers who were spending $15 are now thinking how they can save a couple of dollars and still get some very good wines at little bit lower price-points," Brager explained. "We see a trend towards buying wine at stores that offer deep discounts or promotions or the convenience of one-stop shopping." In fact, higher fuel prices have contributed to a 4 percent decline in shopping trips.

Although wine purchases still account for a small percentage of online shopping, these sales are increasing rapidly as people look for ways to avoid using their own cars, Brager added.

Frederickson said his firm has noticed that wine clubs are experiencing a membership decline and lower participation at events and on wine trips as people rethink how much they want to spend on wine and related outings that involve driving.

"Many wealthier individuals have seen their stock market portfolios drop about 20 percent in value over the past year, so they're less likely to spring for expensive wine," he added.

Frederickson doesn't see the higher input costs being faced by grape growers and wine producers as significantly driving up prices for consumers. "Your favorite bottle might go up 25 to 50 cents, and that might influence your decision to buy something else, but there's such an array of products at so many different price-points, and prices can vary by a dollar every week with discounts and so forth.

"Obviously if you're looking at a brand like Two Buck Chuck which costs $1.99 in California, even a 20-cent increase will put some pressure," he added. "But the people putting out that wine are enjoying some enormous sales growth because the category seems to be growing very rapidly this year as people seek bargains. During hard times, people still like their wine but some do trade down."

Higher fuel costs are having less of an impact in areas such as British Columbia where more than 80 percent of B.C. wine is sold within the province and more than 25 percent at local winery gates.

"Another 28 percent is sold through B.C.'s liquor stores but not a lot of this business is done in the most northern areas of the province," said Lisa Cameron, the British Columbia Wine Institute's communications manager. "I think the problem will be for volume exporters facing steeper transportation costs."

Brager said there's no question people are eating and drinking more at home, but they still appear to want affordable luxuries. "So I think the wine category will fare relatively well, but markets need to adjust because there will still be consumers shifting product choices to stretch their dollar."

Frederickson agreed. "Yes, higher fuel prices and the economic slump are affecting on-premises sales, but people are still drinking their wine," he said. "They might be trading down, but we might also see them springing for a $12 or $20 bottle as a luxury item that's still affordable even during hard times."

Julie Gedeon

Bad news for French wine harvest

Bins of grapes are pictured in the St Emilion region in 2000

PARIS (AFP) — French wine authorities predicted Tuesday that this year's harvest will be smaller than the previous one due to poor weather and fewer vineyards.

Production is expected to reach 43.6 million hectolitres, close to five percent less than last year's 46.54 million hectolitres, which was already considered lower than average, according to the national agricultural body Viniflhor.

Harvesting of grapes began in southern France in late August after several months of rain, wind, hail and a spring cold snap that left Viniflhor officials pessimistic.

Table wines -- the lowest quality produced -- are expected to drop by 8.5 percent compared to last year while the prestigious AOC-labeled wines will be down 6.8 percent, according to Viniflhor.

"The cold snap in late March had a direct impact on some vineyards," Viniflhor said.

"From the Bordelais region to Provence, there was frost on April 6 and 7, at a critical period when the grapes are very vulnerable," it added.

Uprooting of vineyards has also caused a dent in production.

Under an European Union plan to combat overproduction, wine producers are offered compensation in exchange for curbing their vineyard capacity.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Vineyard properties remain a hot buy

Vineyard real estate prices remain strong in Napa County, especially for “lifestyle” homes with vineyard views. J.L. Sousa

The price of a residential piece of real estate may be falling. But you’d never know it out among the vines.

The demand for Napa County vineyard land is strong, and the future looks even brighter, according to industry observers.
David Freed is chairman of UCC Vineyards Group, a firm that specializes in vineyard property sales and owns vineyards from the Sacramento Delta to Santa Barbara. He said that he can look back at the past 10 to 15 years of transactions and count the number of vineyard foreclosures on one hand.

“Because of the scarcity of property in Napa, the sellers are in control,” Freed said. “I know of a property on Zinfandel Lane that was on the market for two years because the seller wouldn’t budge on his price. He recently got his price.”
Umpqua Bank’s Steve Kattner, senior vice president of the wine specialty group, said he is not seeing any crossover from the housing market. “I don’t see things slowing down ... barring some sort of agricultural disaster,” Kattner said.

Tom Jordan makes his living assessing vineyard properties in Napa. The principal of Associated Services Appraisal said that when he started here in 1974, no one paid $10,000 for an acre of vines. Now prices start at about $100,000 per acre, and in some cases reach more than three times that high.
‘Adult Disneyland’

In many ways it’s economics 101: Demand is outstripping supply.

But the economics are also driven by forces beyond the composition of the soil and the quality of the sunlight that strikes the land.

Large numbers of investors and wealthy individuals have long looked to own a piece of the wine country dream. Tony Correia, president of Correia-Xavier Inc., an appraisal service in Sonoma, said Napa Valley’s global reputation keeps the market vigorous.

“For many of us in my industry, this is an adult Disneyland,” he said. “It is a unique market with extraordinary capital and very savvy players for a limited supply of property.”

Jordan said some of the really big players actually don’t want the vineyards — they’re in it for the brand.

They sometimes acquire large pieces of property that come with a wine brand; they sell off the land and then buy grapes for their wines.

“Big companies want to build brand,” Jordan said. “It is not necessarily the land that they want. They can build the brand, not the land ... they are about selling image. They don’t really care about the real estate so much.”

While residential brokers take out listings in newspapers and plant signs on lawns, and commercial property brokers post billboards on available sites, vineyard deals are often done quietly.

“If we want to buy, we often hear about it over the fence,” Freed said. “Many vineyard properties don’t come to the marketplace. You have to get right on it. It’s a very tight market here.”

Just as corporations sometimes are in it for the brand, so-called “lifestyle” buyers are in it for something other than the grapes. They are looking for a dream home — commonly a second home — with grapes on the side. They pay a premium for it.

“These (buyers) pay more than the large-scale commercial grower” per acre, said Correia. “The lifestyle buyers are less concerned about the economics, and that has been the case for quite some time.”

Jordan said he has heard of 10- to 15-acre “lifestyle” parcels fetching up to $300,000 per acre.

Julie Nord of Nord Coast Vineyard Services estimated that developed cabernet sauvignon vineyards in the mountains can fetch $300,000 per acre, while on the valley floor prices are in the $175,000 to $200,000 range.

In the areas of Rutherford Bench, Howell Mountain and Oakville Bench, vineyard real estate can hit $400,000 to $500,000 per acre. Property transactions on those sites often include a wine label, inventory, mailing list or a crush facility.

It is a diverse group putting money in vineyards, ranging from individuals to investment groups and insurance companies — and even pension funds looking for long-term investments.

“There are a lot of foreign (investors) right now,” Jordan said. “Wine real estate is attractive because of the weak U.S. dollar. In the 1980s it was the Japanese, and now it is the Europeans. And there is a lot of wealth in emerging China.”

He said there have been major buys recently, including three big sales of chardonnay acreage in Carneros.

“We’re talking a couple of hundred acres, and that is a bit unusual.”

Pritchard Hill, in the hills east of St. Helena, is a hot property right now because of the reputation of the red wine being produced in the area by Chappellet Vineyard, Colgin Cellars and others.

“People follow wines and look for opportunities,” Jordan said.

Said Correia, “There is a lot of capital looking for some place to invest and right now winegrapes are attractive,” he said. “There is a lot of capital going into ag properties all over the world. (Investors) perceive strength in agriculture right now.”


Massive Bordeaux 2000 collection at Christie's

A major collection of 2000 Bordeaux comes under the hammer next month at Christie's London.

More than 3000 cases from some 70 chateaux will be auctioned on 15 and 18 September.

Christie's claims this is the first auction of a 'single bottled vintage', ie not en primeur. The wine belongs to a 'private European collector' and has been kept in bond since it was shipped from the chateaux.

The upper and lower estimates for the entire auction are from £1.27m to £1.6m.

Estimates for individual chateaux range from £7000-£9000 for a case of Lafite, £6000-£8000 for Latour, £3500-£4000 for Mouton and £3000-£4000 for Haut-Brion.

Chateau Margaux is not included. All lots are 12-bottle cases.

Christie's said in a statement that the wines on offer range from 'ready-to-drink wines, through a gamut of classed growths, to exceptional premier cru classe chateaux promising a long life ahead…'

decanter.com staff

Rosé consumption in the pink

The popularity of rosé has been confirmed as new figures show the number of regular wine drinkers who drink rosé has risen by over 60% in the last three years.

According to research commissioned by the WSTA, six out of ten wine drinkers now drink rosé compared to less than four out of ten in 2005.

The figures, contained in the latest Wine Intelligence survey, suggest the growth in popularity of rosé has come in part at the expense of red, with consumption of red wine falling by 10% over the past three years.

Although white wine retains its position as the most popular style, rosé was shown to be the most appealing to newcomers to wine.

WSTA Chief Executive Jeremy Beadles said, 'Even without a good summer it seems the taste for rosé continues to spread. Interestingly, the figures show women have increased their rosé consumption the most'.

The findings of the survey back up the results of a recent Decanter.com poll, in which 70% of Decanter readers considered rosé a serious wine.

Sales in rosé also appear to be on the up, with Sainsbury's reporting a 50% increase in sales the last three years, up 25% on last year.

'We have added 12 rosé's to our stock in the last year alone and now sell 40 different rosé varietals', a spokesperson from Sainsbury's said. 'There is a definite move towards fresher, less syrupy styles. Italian varietals such as Sangiovese are becoming very popular.'

Lucy Shaw

Remarks concerning this on Decanter.com

As a British wine writer living in Spain I'm not surprised to read about the increase in rosé wine consumption as detailed in Decanter. One only has to look at the bodega (wine merchants) and supermarket shelves to see the large range of rosados on offer to realise that here consumption of rosado is well established. For further proof look at the diners in restaurants eating their wonderful paellas - their wine of choice, almost exclusively rosado!

However I suspect, though I have no statistics as yet, that rosado consumption here will level out and remain essentially constant rather than rise like it is doing in the UK. I believe that the reason for this is as follows: in previous years white wine in Spain has been largely disappointing, with some notable exceptions of course, such as the Albariños of Galicia. This has meant that historically wine drinkers who have not wanted a full red to sip or to accompany paella etc have taken to drinking rosado.

However for me Spain is now right in the vanguard of super white wine production where areas like Rueda, Somontano, Penedés and others are now turning out lovely white wines in many different styles. Indeed the best white wine I have tasted this year and now one of my favourite wines is in fact from that bastion of red wine excellence Clos Mogador, DO Priorat! ('Nelin' is a blend pf Garnacha Blanca, Viognier, Marsanne, Macabeo and Pinot Noir and is a superb mouthful of fruit with a wonderful nose, a complexity and depth that one can only gain from the very best white wines, and a long, lingering, gorgeous finish - incidentally!).

Therefore I believe that the increase in rosé wine consumption in UK will be mirrored here, but with white wine as more and more Spaniards and ex-pats realise that Spain is no longer home to just red wine. Rosé wine will however hold its own (paella and mariscos without it is almost unthinkable!) so it will be, as in the UK, red wine that loses some of its market share.
Colin Harkness

As a french rosé drinker and Loire wine exporter I am happy to read that"...70% of Decanter readers considered rosé a serious wine". This is the way we do in Anjou area with our semi-sweet rosé (Rosé d'Anjou and Cabernet d'Anjou). I could also talk about the dry Rosé de Loire but I prefer to emphasize on the exceptionnal particularity of the semi-sweets. Who knows that these 2 wines could lay down for many years? Not many people I guess ! Well, I have tasted several time some old vintages of rosés d'Anjou from different Domaines: most of them were fantastic!! The last one I tasted was a 1956: wonderful. Same color as a cognac; lot of dry fruits aromas; lot of freshness; and a bit of acidity. Delightful!

But even whe these wines are young they are gorgeous: elegant, fruity, with freshness and a delicate sweetness.

I had recently a stand in a wine fair in UK and I remember the immense amazement of all the people who tasted these wines for the first time: they almost all wondered why they didn't find these kind of wines more on the shelves !! What else (as will say George Clooney)
Mr. Lionel Lafitte, Loire Links, Louerre, France

Thank you so much for the article on rosé by Lucy Shaw. We've been making rosé for four years now up in Washington and the overall work being done vis-"-vis quality, style and public awareness has dramatically increased in the last decade. And now we are truly seeing an increased visibility in rosé consumption. It is so gratifying, especially reading articles like yours. As I travel around the country tasting with consumers there are still corners that don't “get” rosé. But that's alright. We only need a handful of friends in every city to spread the word. Keep up the good work.

California grape growers wary of proposal on Chile exports

Grape lovers could have an easier time finding Chilean bunches untouched by the potent chemical methyl bromide, under new rules proposed Wednesday by the Agriculture Department.

At Chile's request, and after at least six years of study, the Agriculture Department wants to lift the long-standing requirement that Chilean table grape producers eradicate mites with methyl bromide.

Instead, Chilean producers would follow a new system of registration and inspections.

California table grape growers need not fear either infestation or competition, Bush administration officials insist.

"Most grape production in Chile takes place during U.S. winter months, when there is little or no fresh grape production within the United States with which to compete," the Agriculture Department noted Wednesday.

But the idea is being greeted cautiously in the San Joaquin and Coachella valleys of California, where 99 percent of all U.S. table grapes are grown.

"We still have to learn more," said Barry Bedwell, president of the Fresno-based California Grape and Tree Fruit League. "We know there's going to be overarching concern over the possible introduction of pests."

Kathleen Nave, president of the California Table Grape Commission, agreed that U.S. technical experts must still dig into the details in a five-page Federal Register notice.

"Once we do the analysis, we'll be advocating our position accordingly," Nave said.

Chilean producers currently fumigate their U.S.-bound table grapes with methyl bromide to protect against Brevipalpus chilensis, also known as the false grape mite. Barely 1 millimeter across, the tiny mites nonetheless can be big-time trouble.

The mites feed on leaves and can seriously damage vineyards in the spring. U.S. growers want to do everything they can to avoid them.

Chilean clementine, mandarin and tangerine producers have already been permitted to replace methyl bromide fumigation with a system that includes inspection.

Chile's plant protection agency began testing whether that system could work with table grapes and found that it did, Agriculture Department officials reported Wednesday.

The proposed system would require Chilean producers to register with the country's agriculture officials. Random fruit samples would be tested, and if a single mite were discovered, methyl bromide fumigation would be required for export.

California produces about 703,000 metric tons of table grapes annually. The domestic grapes are primarily shipped to the U.S. market between May and November. Imported grapes take over between December and April. Chile leads the way, accounting for about 75 percent of total U.S. imports.

The issue could further expose divisions among U.S. growers. Coachella Valley growers, whose crop comes in earlier than the San Joaquin Valley's, have in the past been more resistant to measures that would increase Chilean shipments.

Michael Doyle

Soil moisture monitoring saves water, improves wine grape quality

Those who have invested in water saving technologies are breathing a little easier than those who have not as California water supplies get even more scarce.

Victor Hugo Roberts, owner of Victor Hugo Vineyards and Winery in Templeton, Calif., is one of those who invested in high tech soil moisture monitors to manage his irrigation. This is his third year using the technology.

“We are probably reducing our water usage 50 percent to 60 percent of what we used to put out before we went to the monitoring system,” Roberts says. “We may start sooner and irrigate more often, but we’re not using as much water. Instead of one long irrigation cycle during the week in the warmest part of the season, we might go with two lighter irrigation cycles and still use less water.”

Applying more water than the soil will hold in the root zone only moves water out of the area where the vines can utilize it and reduce water efficiency.

Victor Hugo Vineyards and Winery specializes in a wide selection of hand-crafted lots of wine. The vineyards consist of 78 acres planted to Chardonnay, Zinfandel, Syrah, Petite Sirah, Viognier and five Bordeaux reds — Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Malbec, and Petit Verdot.

Drought management strategies are implemented from the time the vineyards are planted. Vines are grafted on four different phyllexora and nematode resistant rootstocks also specifically selected for drought tolerance. This enables Roberts to use mild deficit irrigation to concentrate flavors and further improve wine quality. The use of soil moisture monitoring allows him to tweak the irrigation input even more. Roberts contracts the soil moisture monitoring service through Precision Ag, Inc. in Paso Robles, Calif.

“This technology is much more sophisticated than the neutron probe,” Roberts says. “We have constant access to soil moisture conditions which allows us to deliver water only when we need it. The ability to record temperature data along with soil moisture is just another bonus.”

The neutron probe is almost antiquated technology, according to Lowell Zelinski, independent PCA and owner of Precision Ag Inc. “Soil-based monitoring systems that use capacitance sensors provide much better data than the neutron probe,” he says.

Zelinski believes that capacitance-based soil moisture monitoring is one of the best and most cost-effective ways to schedule irrigation in vines, trees and many other permanent and semi-permanent crops.

“Many methods of soil moisture monitoring are effective for telling you how much to water but don’t tell you when,” Zelinski says. “To optimize plant health and the plant’s use of water and nutrients, knowing when to water is just as critical as knowing how much. With the capacitance sensors you receive accurate, reliable, visual data that can answer both questions.”

The system can track temperatures, rainfall, leaf moisture, soil water, and a number of other factors and is so precise that water can be applied within a few minutes of when the system alerts the need for moisture.

“It gives you much more than just a snapshot of the situation,” Roberts says. “Our soils have a very high shale content, so they don’t hold moisture very long. It’s critical that we irrigate when the vines need the moisture, but at the same time, we don’t want to waste water.”

There are six wells on the property, but five are relatively shallow wells which makes water conservation even more important for Roberts. “Soil moisture monitoring gives us the capability of 24/7 analysis,” he says. “We put just enough water on without going beyond the permanent wilting point so we never put our vines into severe stress.”

Soil moisture monitoring systems vary in features. However, it is now reasonable to expect systems to come with sensors that measure multiple factors such as air temperature, relatively humidity, rainfall and irrigation events, and leaf wetness. Zelinski uses Decagon ECH20 soil moisture monitoring equipment.

“I’ve been amazed at what I’ve seen this season,” Zelinski says. “You can walk out in a vineyard and look at the vines, but you can never tell exactly what’s happening with soil moisture at any given point unless you have this capability.”

Although the name Victor Hugo is famous in 1800’s literature, Victor was supposedly named after a great uncle and a great grandfather (the man who anglicized the family name from the French name Robert to Roberts). There is no attribution to any literary connection, although the name certainly invokes a “bootstraps” type of ideology. Roberts has definitely pulled himself up into the respected echelon of the Paso Robles wine industry with that work ethic.

Roberts graduated from U.C. Davis in 1979 with a degree in enology. After three years of winery experience, he saw an advertisement in a wine industry publication for a winemaker at a new winery in the Paso Robles area. He took the position where he remained for 15 years as winemaker and general manager until leaving in 1997 to establish Victor Hugo Vineyards and Winery. Roberts was on the founding board for the Paso Robles Vintners and Growers Association and served three years as its first president. He was chairman of the Paso Robles Wine Festival for eight years.

In 1985, he and his wife Leslie, planted 15 acres on the Templeton property which today encompasses the family home, vineyards and a “laid back” tasting room.

Brenda Carol

Grgich celebrates 50 years of making wine - and history - the Napa Valley

Mike Grgich celebrated 50 years of winemaking in the Napa Valley Saturday. Guest of honor at the gathering was George Taber, author of “Judgment of Paris.” Grgich made the chardonnay that bested French wines in the dramatic tasting that put Napa Valley on the map. Lianne Milton Photo

Taber, 'Judgment of Paris' author, blasts 'Bottle Shock'
for leaving out man who made the winning white wine

Wearing his trademark beret, Mike Grgich surveyed the sold-out, wait-listed party at Grgich Hills Estate winery last Saturday and said, “I cannot describe how happy I am tonight. It is a gratitude that comes not one fold but many fold.”

The occasion was the 50th anniversary celebration of Grgich’s arrival in the Napa Valley. The young man escaped from Communist-ruled Croatia with a suitcase and $30 American dollars in his shoe and, a little more than a dozen years later, made a Napa Valley chardonnay that set the wine world on its head when it bested the French wines in a blind tasting that’s come to be known as “the judgment of Paris.”
Warren Winiarski’s Stags Leap Wine Cellars Napa Valley cab took high honors for a red wine at the same event, which catapulted the Napa Valley onto the world-wide wine map.

George Taber, author of “The Judgment of Paris,” which describes the historic tasting, was among the guests paying tribute to Grgich at the dinner.
Grgich, sprightly at 85, shared anecdotes of his early years in the valley when, following his father’s advice, he tried “to be better every day.” Grgich said, “He taught me do your best every day to learn something new, and if you can’t do something important in a day, make a friend.”

Grgich’s career in wine began when he was 3, he explained, because in his family “everyone worked in the harvest,” including his mother — who would put him in a vat with grapes for safekeeping while she worked. However novel a method of childcare it was, it worked, he observed: He had plenty to eat and a way to pass the time, squashing grapes.
From the time at university when a professor whispered to him that California was “paradise,” Grgich was determined to find his way there “because who wants to wait to die to go to Paradise?”

When he finally got to the Napa Valley in 1958 he set about learning to make wine from everyone he could, including the men who have since acquired the status of legends: André Tchelistcheff at Beaulieu Vineyards, Brother Timothy at the Christian Brothers Winery and Robert Mondavi, who launched his own winery in 1966.

The triumph at Paris, Grgich said, was, in a sense, everyone’s achievement. It was no coincidence, he noted, that both he and Winiarski had worked for Mondavi. “It showed that the U.S. could make wine as good as the French, which is what Robert Mondavi always wanted,” Grgich said.

Blasting ‘Bottle Shock’

Grgich, who made the winning wine for Chateau Montelena in Calistoga, only made a passing reference to the recently released film “Bottle Shock,” a film based on the Paris tasting, which, rather bizarrely, omits Grgich as well as Winiarski.

“If you have seen it,” Grgich remarked mildly, “you will notice I am not in it.”

In a private conversation, Grgich said he had been sent a copy of the “Bottles Shock” script but he could not sign off on it, he said, “because I couldn’t find anything honest in it.”

He also noted it was not the first time a controversy had arisen over credit for the winning chardonnay. In 2006, he said, when Copia, the American Center for Food, Wine and the Arts in Napa, hosted a 30-year re-enactment of the Paris tasting, he was invited and then “uninvited.” He was given to understand that the owner of Chateau Montelena, lawyer turned vintner Jim Barrett, objected to his participation.

Taber, the only journalist who attended the 1976 tasting, was considerably more scathing in his remarks about “Bottle Shock.” Taber spoke during the dinner. At his first mention of the film another guest booed and Taber said, “I agree.”

Like many, the author questioned the judgment that left Grgich out of “Bottle Shock.”

“It’s unfortunate,” he said, “because it’s a version of reality that’s not true. The movie, unfortunately, does not tell the truth about what happened at the Paris tasting.”

He had recently seen the film, he said, “and I think I saw Mike’s beret twice.”

“The film, he said, “committed two sins against the truth, the sin of commission and the sin of omission … I can’t think of any other word that describes what went on in that movie.”

Taber said the characterization of Steven Spurrier, the British wine merchant who organized the tasting, was entirely off the mark and reduced the man to a stereotype. As for Grgich, Taber said, “the movie doesn’t talk about the guy who made the wine. The man who made the wine that put Napa on the map is not in the movie.

“I know it’s Hollywood,” he said, “but a true artist doesn’t rape reality.

“Mike’s is a wonderful story,” Taber said. “It really is the American dream and there aren’t many as rich as Mike’s. The Paris tasting was important and Mike played a major role, and it wouldn’t have happened if Mike hadn’t got off that Greyhound bus.”

In response to criticism of the film, a spokesman at Chateau Montelena said he was unfamiliar with the circumstances of the 2006 tasting, and that Jim Barrett was traveling and unavailable for comment. He referred questions about the film to its Sonoma producers, Marc and Brenda Lhormer.

Marc Lhormer said the original script, written by Los Angeles attorney Ross Schwartz, did include Grgich as a major character. But after “Mike said he didn’t like it” and the script was criticized for having too many characters, the decision was made to rewrite it, reduce Grgich’s role, eliminate mention of Winiarski and focus on “the drama of Jim Barrett as a lawyer struggling against the odds to realize a dream of making a go of owning a winery.”

Lhormer, who added that neither he nor his wife Brenda had ever spoken about the project to Grgich, said the script had also been sent to Barrett, who did not object to it.

Calls from the Register to Ross Schwartz were not returned as of press time.

Ironically, Chateau Montelena has also been in the news recently because of its pending sale to French vintner Michel Reybier.

Looking to the future

However it may be portrayed on film, the reality of his big win in Paris was that it allowed Grgich to realize his dream of opening his own winery, which he and Austin Hills founded in 1977.

“I think this is my best success,” Grgich said, noting that his family-owned winery is not only on sound financial footing and producing estate wines from organic and sustainably farmed grapes, but it’s in good hands for a second — and possibly third — generation to come. His daughter Violet and nephew Ivo Jeramaz are dividing responsibilities for running the winery and making the wines.

Plus, Grgich noted, “Ivo has six children and my daughter has her son.”

Violet Grgich, a gifted musician, provided a grace note at the evening’s end. Performing on the harpsichord with her husband, Colin Shipman, playing the viola da gamba, she told the audience. “In honor of the Paris tasting and my father’s winning wine, and of George Taber being here, we thought we would play some French music.”

Correction: An erlier version of this article misstated information about Austin Hills


French wine sales plummet in credit crunch

French wine is now focused towards the higher end of the market Photo: STEPHEN LOCK

Sales of cheap French wines are falling sharply worldwide as cash-strapped British and American consumers feel the pinch of the credit crunch.

Producers of cheap French plonk exported less wine in the first half of this year compared to the same period in 2007.

A report released by the French export development agency showed that export volumes fell by 8.7 per cent in the six months to June as consumers say no to the much loved dinner time glass of red.

However, the value of French wine sent overseas increased by 8.2 per cent showing that consumer demand for French wine is now focused towards the higher end of the market as lower-quality European wines struggle to compete against exports from Australia, Chile and the United States.

The strong euro, which makes European wines more expensive for British and American consumers, is also affecting the lower end of the market.

"Contrary to popular belief, it is no longer the highest quality wines that are responsible for the bitter aftertaste of our exports," said the report by UbiFrance.

Continuing to sell well is the popular Bordeaux of 2005 while the biggest wines to suffer were France's vins de table and vins de pays, and bottles from the famous Champagne region which endured a drop in volume of 4.2 per cent.

How To Create Your Very Own Magnificent Red Wine Experience

Is there a better time to enjoy red wine than on a special occasion? I think
not. Make it a special experience with your woman or man. Even if you don’t
have a date you can still make it special by integrating red wine into this
special day, the colour alone makes it suitable! I want to offer some
suggestions as to how you can accomplish just that. In my opinion, there’s more
to accomplishing this task than simply picking up a good bottle of wine. Read
on to learn more.

I remember my first great red wine experience. The amazing thing: it really
wasn’t just the wine that made the experience a great one, but all of the
elements. Do this right and you can really make things impressive.

But you need to do these 6 things:

1. Find and enjoy the right wine.

2. Ensure the ambience is special.

3. Have a really good meal.

4. Successfully pair the right food and wine.

5. Make it intimate.

6. Document the wine.

So the secret to creating the great experience with red wine is in successfully
addressing each of the above elements and integrate them into the entire

I’ll now tell you exactly how to do that.
Firstly let’s address how to find and enjoy the right red wine.

There are really two major parts contained in this first element: finding a good
wine and how to sample and enjoy the wine. To begin, let’s discuss finding a
wine that both you and your significant other will likely enjoy (or just you
that’s fine too). I would suggest the guide to selecting great tasting wines
for less than $10. So once you’ve found the right wine you need to know how to
really enjoy the wine.

Let’s now discuss the second imperative element: ensuring the ambience is
special. To accomplish this you’ll need a dimly lit room to allow for a
soothing surrounding. Get your self some nice quality candles. I would
recommend unscented so that you can enjoy the smells of the food and wine
without interference. I recommend either beeswax or soy candles as they have
far less soot and release negative ions which purify the air.

You’ll also really want some nice easy listening music in the background. Of
course everyone's tastes in music differ, but it’s very important to get
something good and not something too generic, for example, don't play the kind
of music you’d expect to hear in an elevator. I’d recommend some nice classy
jazz piano music from a fellow Canadian I like: Diana Krall.

The third element is having a really good meal. You can certainly search the
net and get tonnes of recipes but it’s sometimes hard to judge the bad recipes
from the good ones. You can also dig out any cookbooks you have and give it a
try. However you can instantly access high quality recipes from a master chef
which are laid out in a step-by-step fashion by How To Cook Like A Pro. This
book comes in the form of an E-Book and is accompanied by free cooking videos
and guides on how to pair wine and food and how to enjoy wine. So this really
helps us with element # 1 and element # 4 (both of these elements were mentioned
above). I would definitely recommend checking it out. I think you’ll be really
impressed with the quality of this guy. Just think about how many special
experiences you’ll be able to create!

This leads into the fourth element: pairing the right wine and food. Obviously
the above mentioned bonuses (included with the above book) will help you with
this one. At this point, you’ll either need to decide what food dish you’re
preparing before you get your wine or vice versa. However you do need to make a
decision in this regard.

Last but not least, it’s essential to include an element of intimacy. This can
mean different things. That is, if you don’t have a date then now is the time
to really sit back and relax after your meal and continue enjoying your wine and
savouring the moment. If you have a date, then get intimate with him or her.
This really doesn’t need explaining.

Most important of all: make sure you document your wines. I keep a little
coiled book in which I rate the wine using my own scaling system (Use your own
simple with a rating of 1 to 4 or whatever). I also write down the name of the
wine and producer, the country and region (if available), percentage of alcohol
and most importantly my impressions of the wine. Don’t worry so much about
using the right terminology. Start by using your own descriptors and as you
learn more about red wine you’ll learn the correct terminology. This will
ensure you have a sincere winespeak and are not using pretentious words without
understanding them. You’ll also naturally remember the correct terminology and
the whole process will be meaningful for you (in my opinion).

In closing, following all of the elements I've discussed, will make any special
occasion even better. In future, you’ll associate certain foods and wines to
the music, the person you spent time with, etc. and vice versa (in other words,
you'll remember all the special things and be reminded of them from time to
time). It’s also a nice way to form memories that inspire you to create more
great red wine experiences in your life. You can continually use your
creativity to enhance things even more; for example, finding the perfect wine
glasses, silverware, dishes, etc. Putting your own personal touch on things and
using your own creativity makes your experiences very special and feels

Matthew Wagner
Red Wine Academy

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Bottle Shock

By some coincidence, the movie Bottle Shock was released on the day I went to California’s Napa Valley. Bottle Shock, a small but generally well-reviewed film starring such dependable B-listers as Bill Pullman and Alan Rickman, tells the story of one of the wine world’s most famous events: the so-called Judgement of Paris. In 1976, a young British wine dealer called Steven Spurrier who had failed to make much headway in cracking the French wine establishment had a bright idea.

The wines of California were growing in popularity across the Atlantic. But they were still derided by the French. Supposing he organised a blind tasting at which French wine experts judged French and Californian wines? The experts would not be told which wines they were trying. But if their dismissal of California wines was based on a genuine inferiority of taste, then that should not matter. The wines would come out bottom at the tasting anyway.

Spurrier managed to persuade the French experts to agree. And predictably, not only did California wines come out on top in many cases but it was also clear that the French really could not tell the difference. In one celebrated case, a French expert declared “what a relief it is to drink a good French wine” while drinking one from California. A journalist from an American newsmagazine was present at the tasting and his story made waves in the US. Other papers picked up the news and though the French stuck to their view, the Paris tasting gave California wine-makers the confidence to go ahead and compete forcefully on the world stage.

It is an unlikely subject for a Hollywood movie though given the recent success of Sideways and Mondovino perhaps wine is such a hot subject that people will want to see the movie anyway. And if the film makes him famous among a wider audience, Spurrier may not mind that Alan Rickman plays him with what the New York Times critic describes as a “parched low voice and an air of beleaguered pomposity.”

I thought of Bottle Shock because the French have not really changed their minds about California wine. They may be polite about it in public and may even have invested in California vineyards but the private disdain persists. The French criticism of California wines are based around the following points: n French wine is an agricultural product. Its quality depends largely on the soil on which the grapes are grown. The great Bordeaux vineyards, for instance, such names as Mouton, Lafitte or Haut Brion, have been renowned for producing excellent wine for centuries. This is because the vineyards themselves have such perfect soil that the grapes that grow there will yield amazing wine.

California wine, the French say, is an industrial product. There are few historically revered vineyards. Many famous wines are grown on land that its owners have purchased over the last ten or twenty years. In Napa, the producers don’t even grow all their own grapes but buy them from local farmers. So where is the sense of an agricultural product emerging from special soil? These wines are not based on the vineyard but on the brand name. Wine makers use science and tricks to create ‘special’ wines from ordinary grapes. n French wines are about elegance. California wines are about power. Ever since the influential wine writer Robert Parker began laying down the law, California wines have become more and more intense and full of fruit. Such wines, say the French, lack the subtlety of truly great wines. Speaking for myself, I have little time for old world snobbery and the French claim to historical prominence. If a wine is good, how does it matter how old the vineyard is?

On the other hand, I do tend to prefer the elegance of French wines over many of the fruit bombs that come out of California. Also, I don’t think that the French tendency to treat wine as an agricultural product is mere hype. Visiting the Burgundy vineyards, I saw myself how seriously the wine-makers took the soil. Often they would argue that the wine from the first row of grapes would be better than the wine from the second and third because the soil was better in the front. It is hard for the Californians to take that line because they don’t treat their vineyards as being that special. California wine makers dispute some of this. Besides, they argue, if French wine is so much better, then why did Baron Philippe de Rothschild, the owner of Mouton Rothschild, one of the great wines of Bordeaux, rush to make wine in California?

There are trendier, more expensive and better wines in California but few have the historical importance of Opus One. In 1978, Robert Mondavi, the leading California wine figure (he died a few months ago) was invited to Mouton by Philippe de Rothschild. Baron Philippe proposed a joint venture in California. Mondavi agreed and the two men set up a 50-50 partnership.

In 1981 Mondavi sold 35 acres of one of his vineyards in the Napa Valley to the venture. In 1983, another 50 acres were purchased. And in 1984, they acquired a 49-acre vineyard. Altogether, the venture had 134 acres. But there was no sense of designated vineyards with great soil like Mouton. Philippe de Rothschild called the wine Opus One and it quickly went on to get the highest prices ever for a California wine. The wine was subtler than many of its California contemporaries but the prices were a consequence of the brand values of Mondavi and Rothschild.

These days, Opus One is rarely talked of in the same breath as such great California names as Screaming Eagle or Harlan Estate but it remains one of the big boys. Its wines seem to me to be too intensely fruit-flavoured to bear comparison with Mouton itself but such is Robert Parker’s influence that even Bordeaux wine makers are making more intense wines so some of the old California-Bordeaux distinctions have broken down.

The winery itself is beautiful and they gave me both the 2001 and the 2004 vintages to drink. I thought both wines were very good but nobody I spoke to at the winery had any answer to the question about the importance of soil. If the Rothschilds believe they can produce great wine by buying parcels of land all over California, then what makes Mouton so great? In France, the Rothschilds make a different claim. They say that their wine is exceptional because Mouton is one of the best vineyards on earth. Both positions cannot simultaneously be valid.

Among the other wineries I visited was the spectacularly beautiful and hilly Spring Mountain vineyard. Spring Mountain is owned by a Swiss banker who has lavished funds on it, buying two other adjacent vineyards to create a huge estate. I spoke to Jac Cole, the wine-maker and was intrigued to find that his position was closer to the French wine-makers I had met. Cole reckons that good wine is a creation of ‘terroir,’ of the soil and the temperature mainly. He grows his grapes all over the vineyards and then harvests them in lots. He made me taste the wine from four different lots to demonstrate how the same grapes could yield such different wines in the same year only because they were cultivated a few hundred yards apart from each other. Of course he was right. There were huge variations in taste between each lot which he attributed to the soil, to altitude and temperature (parts of the vineyard are cooler than the rest).

His job as wine-maker, he said, was to take the different lots and to create a blend that reflected the best of each batch of grapes. “You could say that I am a flower arranger,” he said. “I arrange flowers that have already been grown.” Later, he expanded that to include the image of himself as a conductor of an orchestra. But even then, he conceded, the score is already written. The top Spring Mountain wine was – to my untutored palate at least – the equal of Opus One. So clearly the traditional, French-style approach to wine-making works in California as well.

But even after I had finished touring the vineyards, I was left with no answers to the big questions. Is California now better than France? (My instinct is to say no.) Does the vineyard not matter as much as the French say it does? In the end, it boils down to taste. If we drink it and we like it then it’s good. If we don’t like it, then no matter what anybody says, it is not good. Wine is about taste. And taste is personal and subjective.

Vir Sanghvi, Hindustan Times
New Delhi, India

Hong Kong, France sign memo on cooperation in wine-related businesses

HONG KONG,(Xinhua) -- Hong Kong and France signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) on cooperation in wine-related businesses on Tuesday.

The Hong Kong-France Memorandum of Understanding on Cooperation in Wine-related Businesses was signed by Secretary for Commerce and Economic Development of HKSAR government Rita Lau and French Minister for Agriculture and Fisheries Michel Barnier.

This first MOU that Hong Kong had signed on the subject, demonstrated the commitment of both sides to encourage wine- related businesses, Financial Secretary of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR) John Tsang said at the signing ceremony.

Tsang said under the memorandum, Hong Kong and France would facilitate and promote trade in wine. The two sides would strengthen co-operation, exchanges and the sharing of experience in areas including the stimulation of wine-related trading and investment activities, wine education and manpower training, promotion of wine-related tourism and wine culture, as well as customs cooperation against counterfeit wine.

He said France is the largest supplier of wine imports into Hong Kong, accounting for about 30 percent of Hong Kong's imported wines in 2007. In terms of value, French wine represented about 57percent of all wine imports to Hong Kong last year, with a growth rate of 108 percent compared with 2006.

Also speaking at the signing ceremony, the French Minister for Agriculture and Fisheries, Michel Barnier, said the MOU would produce a win-win solution for Hong Kong and France.

He believed France's "unique expertise and large diversity in production" made it the reference partner for wine trade and promotion, Barnier said.

He also noted that with its logistical and financial expertise, its unique knowledge of the Chinese mainland's market as well as the strength of its hospitality and retail sectors, Hong Kong is "the natural wine hub for Asia and is well positioned to catch the emerging business opportunities of the fastest growing international wine market."

Hong Kong became the first free wine port among major economies with the abolition of wine duty earlier this year. Since then, there has been solid growth in wine imports, wine auctions with record-breaking sales and announcements by renowned companies to expand their wine trading, distribution and storage business in Hong Kong.

Hong Kong's first International Wine Fair organized by the Trade Development Council of Hong Kong from Aug. 14 to 16, attracted more than 240 exhibitors from more than 25countries and regions as well as 8,800 buyers from 55 countries and regions.

Bi Mingxin

French wine export volumes fall, but values rise

French wine producers exported less wine in the first half of this year but got more for it than a year earlier as overseas markets opted for more expensive wines, a report said.

Ubifrance, the French export development agency, said export volumes fell 8.7 percent in the six months through June. However, the value of French wine sent overseas increased by 8.2 percent to 3.2 billion euros ($4.7 billion).

The author of the report, Herve Henrotte, warned against celebrating the rich returns, which "concerns only a small category of products, hiding a less euphoric reality."

While fine Bordeaux and other vintage wines are popular exports, lower-quality wines and lesser-known wine regions struggle against competitors from countries such as Australia, Chile and the United States.

And the strong euro, which makes European wines more expensive for U.S. consumers, combined with global economic woes to depress overseas sales at the lower end of the market.

Another worry came from the star product of the French wine industry, Champagne, which produced less than sparkling results with a drop in both volume and value by 4.2 percent and 1.3 percent respectively.

In contrast, exports of sparkling wines from the Loire valley, Alsace and Saumur "were very dynamic," the agency said in a report released Monday.

Vin de Pays, or country wines, lost favor in the U.K., U.S. and Germany -- markets that saw an increase in upmarket wines belonging to the expensive AOC, or Appellation d'Origine Controlee, category.

Exports of table wines were hit by Russia's switch to Moldovan wines.


River cruise with a carbon-free conscience

The route passes through some of France's most picturesque rivers and canals Photo: Getty

The Rhone, like all great rivers, has banks lined with great towns Photo: Getty

The route takes in Camargue, famous for its beautiful horses Photo: Getty

Fine French wines and cheeses keep the passengers thoroughly content

On a luxury barge holiday in the South of France Max Davidson finds that fun can coexist with planetary survival.

What goes at 200mph, then 2mph, is fuelled by fine French wine and leaves no footprint? Answer: a “carbon-neutral France” holiday devised by a tour operator with an eye for the eco-conscious 21st-century zeitgeist.

No cars or planes for the passengers gathered on L’Impressionniste, a luxury barge that plies the canals and rivers of the South of France, between Agde and Avignon. We may have arrived by high-speed train – Eurostar to Paris, then the TGV to Montpellier – but from now on we will be progressing at the speed of a well-fed French snail.

You can almost see the stress dropping from the faces of the passengers as the barge looses its moorings and the sunlight dapples the water and the first champagne cork pops on the sun-deck.

The 168-mile Canal du Midi, overhung with plane trees, is one of the glories of southern France: it was originally built as a trade route, a short cut from the Mediterranean to the Atlantic, but now has the verdant languor of a rural backwater. Contented ducks snooze in the shadow of the branches. Swallows swoop overhead. There is a smell of new-mown hay from the fields.

“Look!” I say, as something stirs on the bank. “A rabbit!”

“Don’t say that word,” yelps the captain, Nicholas, putting his hands to his ears. “Not on ship. It’s unlucky.”

“What? You mean French sailors are superstitious about rab-”

“Stop it. You may only refer to 'small fluffy animals with long ears’.” At which the poor man starts hopping about like a ham actor at the mention of the Scottish play. All very odd.

But what sybaritic pleasures lie in wait for us once the unmentionability of rabbits has been made clear. Our cabin, the Cézanne, is not quite as luxurious as the Renoir next door, but it is light and airy and appropriately decorated, with a still life of Provençal apples to whet our appetites for dinner.

Ah yes, dinner. They take dinner seriously on L’Impressionniste – the only thing taken more seriously is lunch. While the chef, James, works his wizardry in the galley, two jolly women from Shropshire provide the running commentary.

“Our white wine today will be a Côtes du Luberon from the Domaine Chasson,” announces Sarah. “The red wine will be a Saint Chignian.” Two bottles of each have already been uncorked; with only eight passengers to drink them, they are setting a cracking pace.

“And the cheeses…” Bonnie squints at her crib-sheet. “We have a Saint-Nectaire, which comes from the Auvergne, and has a grey rind, and a Bresse Bleu, which is a pasteurised blue cheese produced in the South of France.”

The basic idea, consistent with the carbon-neutral theme, is to consume as much local produce as possible. On the Etang Thau, a salt-water lagoon, we tuck into the local oysters, followed by thielles, Cornish-pastie type pies stuffed with octopus and tomatoes. In the Camargue, it is riz de Camargue and steaks from the famous local bulls.

On shore, we visit the Noilly-Prat factory in Marseillan and, later, a vineyard at Châteauneuf-du-Pape, near Avignon, where a master wine-taster, one of those Cyrano-nosed Frenchmen who could find the spittoon from 20 yards, puts us through our paces.

But this is not, by and large, a foodie holiday. Always reassuring to know that you will be well fed and watered, of course, but it is the lazy pleasures of a canal cruise that etch themselves in the memory.

After leaving the Canal du Midi, we head east, along another canal, towards the Camargue and the Rhône. The plane trees give way to marshlands, and the sea is only a few miles away. A solitary flamingo flaps towards the setting sun. A catamaran glides past, with a woman doing aerobics on deck. An old man slumbers over his fishing-rod.

One afternoon, we take a detour into the picturesque village of Pezenas, where Molière wrote many of his plays. Another afternoon, we cycle through the sand dunes towards the Mediterranean and take a pre-dinner swim. The boat goes so slowly that at times it seems to be standing still. But every day brings something different.

The white horses of the Camargue are famous the world over, but to see a pair of them shoot out of the tall grass and gallop along the bank, manes fanned by the wind, is a magical experience. On the opposite bank, in a timeless vignette of rural life, a thatcher in dungarees bundles up the sheaves of hay, watched by his dog.

The Rhône itself is a great beast of river, far wider than I had expected. At times, it is lily-pond still; at others, whipped up by the famous mistral, the north wind that blows down the Rhône valley, it is so choppy that Nicholas, at the helm, looks like Captain Ahab battling the waves.

Like all great rivers, its banks are lined by great towns, which have grown with the centuries. The second half of the week turns into a kind of A-Z – or rather A-A – of French walled cities: starting with Aigues-Mortes, fortified by the Crusaders; Arles, where Van Gogh shared a house with Gauguin; and Avignon, with its famous bridge, overlooked by the craggy Palais des Papes.

The human landscape is equally beguiling, with our fellow passengers proving a glorious mixture of the clubbable and the eccentric. The young couple from Brisbane are visiting Europe for the first time. The banker from Toronto keeps surreptitiously checking the Dow Jones on his BlackBerry. Lily, who divides her time between Canada and Barbados, is a shopaholic.

On the last night, we have a captain’s dinner, dressed in our glad rags, then dance the night away on deck, under a starry sky, with the lights of Avignon glowing in the distance and the dark, silent river gliding past.

“We shall miss L’Impressionniste,” I tell Nicholas, putting a drunken arm around his shoulder. I was feeling no pain – and, having opted for a carbon-neutral holiday, no eco guilt either.

Getting there
A six-night cruise on L’Impressionniste between Agde and Avignon costs from £2,471 per person with Abercrombie & Kent (0845 618 2213; www.abercrombiekent.co.uk) for Sunday departures until November 4. Price includes Eurostar and TGV tickets, transfers, tours and full board in a junior suite.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Trimbach to produce a Grand Cru

Top Alsace producer Maison Trimbach has revealed that it will produce a Grand Cru wine after years of strongly resisting the idea.

Pierre Trimbach told decanter.com that, as part of an 18-year agreement with the Couvent de Ribeauville, Trimbach would label wines made from the convent's vineyards as Grand Cru, where applicable. The convent's name will also appear on all wines made exclusively from its grapes.

For around 20 years, the Trimbach estate has purchased between one and 1.5ha of Riesling from the convent's Grand Cru Geisberg vineyard to go in the flagship Cuvee Frederic Emile.

The new deal gives the producer access to all the convent's vineyards – a total of 7.6ha – and complete control over how they are farmed.

The convent's vineyards are composed of 2.7ha Grand Cru Geisberg (primarily Riesling, with a tiny amount of Muscat), 0.5ha of Grand Cru Kirchberg (Pinot Gris) and 4.4ha spread over the Rotenberg, Ellenweiher, Lutzelbach and Rittloch vineyards (planted with Riesling, Pinot Gris, Gewurztraminer, Pinot Blanc and Pinot Noir).

Along with other acclaimed Alsace producers Hugel and Beyer, the Trimbachs have long criticised the boundaries of Grand Cru vineyards, which they claim have been expanded for political reasons to include parcels not worthy of the designation.

Tom Stevenson

Winery wins fight to stop trees

A South-West winery has won a two-year battle to stop a blue gum plantation being grown next to its vineyard, with Great Southern Plantations dropping the plan amid wrangling over whether the trees’ oily mist would contaminate grapes.

The company walked away from its proposal after owners of the property it was leasing asked the company to end its project so they could “live in harmony with their neighbours”.

It ends the sometimes heated dispute between Great Southern and Yanmah Ridge winery over whether the trees’ oily mist, which famously gives the Blue Mountains its blue tinge, would settle on its grapes and contaminate its red wine.

Manjimup Shire Council twice rejected the plans, a first for the heavily wooded region, after growing evidence showed that “wine taint” could occur but buffer zones to solve the issue could not be agreed upon.

An appeal was due to be heard before the State Administrative Tribunal this month.

Part-owner and Yanmah Ridge winemaker Peter Nicholas said he was relieved but disappointed that the matter was not settled in the appeals tribunal.

“It’s disappointing because it leaves other vineyards hanging,” he said yesterday.

“I think the proof is incontrovertible because the Australian Wine Research Institute has put forward compelling evidence that blue gums do contaminate wines. We would have won.”

Great Southern refused to concede the debate.

“It is important to point out that we have not withdrawn the appeal because we consider that reasons behind the neighbour’s objections have been proved,” a spokesman said. It did not believe there was conclusive proof eucalypts could ‘taint’ grapes on adjoining properties.


Wine Spectator Gives ‘Award of Excellence’ to Fake Restaurant

Yes, Wine Spectator magazine, which urges readers to “Learn More, Drink Better,” unwittingly gave an “Award of Excellence” to a non-existent restaurant in Milan. Wine writer Robin Goldstein is behind the hoax. Goldstein entered Osteria L’Intrepido and its fake menu in the magazine’s restaurant awards competition, paying the $250 entry fee, “[a]s part of the research for an academic paper I’m currently working on about standards for wine awards.”

Needless to say, the magazine’s editor was none too happy to learn the publication had been duped, writing:

This act of malicious duplicity reminds us that no one is completely immune to fraud. It is sad that an unscrupulous person can attack a publication that has earned its reputation for integrity over the past 32 years. Wine Spectator will clearly have to be more vigilant in the future.

No, the magazine’s editors didn’t try to visit the restaurant. But the editor wrote that phone calls were made that reached an apparently bogus answering machine message, a Google search turned up an address for the restaurant on a map, and the restaurant’s merits were even debated by (phony) Chowhound users.

It would seem that the magazine’s editors are grousing all the way to the bank. As The New York Times points out, “More than 4,000 awards were granted this year, so Wine Spectator made more than $1 million in fees.”

A note about the restaurant’s award has been removed from Wine Spectatator’s website, Goldstein writes, adding that a mention of the award appears in the magazine’s August print edition.

Photo by conskeptical via Flickr, (Creative Commons).

Posted by Jim Benning

The Wine Industry's Best Green Shipper Available Immediately

WTN Services(TM) Announces TemperEco-Pak(TM)

NAPA, Calif.--(BUSINESS WIRE)--WTN Services(TM), recognized as the "best in class leader" for providing direct-to-consumer solutions to the wine industry, has introduced TemperEco-Pak(TM), their green shipping option for wine delivery nationwide. TemperEco-Pak(TM) is the industry gold standard in green shipping packaging, and is the most affordable and efficient product currently on the market. WTN Services(TM) is offering shipping containers at $7.50 for a two-pack, $9.00 per three-pack, $18.00 per six-pack and $24.00 for the 12-pack shipper.

Custom made for WTN Services(TM) by Fagerdala USA, Inc., TemperEco-Pak(TM) is a curbside recyclable shipper utilizing green technologies that provide guaranteed climate-controlled wine shipping from point to point. Only WTN Services(TM) offers bi-coastal wine shipping by maintaining warehouses in both California and New York, allowing for shorter transit times, increased delivery options, and better quality control. In addition, by offering bi-coastal shipping options, transportation costs are often a fraction of what other companies can offer, and localized shipping is a more eco-friendly way to ship.

For increased security and peace of mind, WTN Services(TM) also offers a state-of-the-art, ultra contact temperature monitoring option called PakSense(TM). For an additional fee, PakSense(TM) can be placed in each TemperEco-Pak(TM) shipping container. When the recipient opens the TemperEco-Pak(TM), the monitor should be blinking green. Should the monitor be blinking red, the monitor can be sent back to WTN, where data on the monitor can be downloaded and transferred to graph the temperature fluctuations that occurred throughout the entire shipping process, allowing the user and provider to assess any potential threat to the quality of the wine before opening the bottle. For super-premium wines, the PakSense(TM) option is another level of quality control that can protect both the winery and the consumer.

For more information on the TemperEco-Pak(TM), please contact Jen Sims, WTN Services(TM) at 707-265-1514, or visit www.wtnservices.com.

About WTN Services:

WTN Services(TM) provides winery clients with timely and reliable solutions through proactive account management, leading-edge technology, key strategic partnerships and a bi-coastal warehousing network to enhance delivery.

Ambrosia and WTN Services(TM) operate under the umbrella of The Winetasting Network(TM) a division of 1-800Flowers.com(R) as the resource to provide direct retail access of exceptional California wines to passionate wine lovers throughout the United States. Those one-on-one relationships with wine enthusiasts across the country have provided impetus for creating unique collections, gifts, and clubs with highly sought-after world-class wines.

ReCORK America gains recycling partner

ReCORK America, a natural wine cork recycling program sponsored by Amorim Irmãos of Portugal and their U.S. sales affiliates, Portocork America and Amorim Cork America, announce the addition of Flora Springs Winery in St. Helena, as their newest recycling partner.

John Komes, proprietor and president of Flora Springs, is enthusiastic about teaming up with ReCORK America as an extension of his winery’s ongoing commitment to environmentally sound business practices.
“We have the responsibility to fulfill our roles as stewards of the earth,” said Komes. “We have already made huge strides in organic farming, the addition of solar power to our operations, and the use of recyclable shipping materials. ReCORK is a natural addition to our efforts.”

“Flora Springs is an ideal partner,” said Roger Archey, ReCORK’s program manager. “Their sustainability program dubbed ‘Flora Power,’ fits nicely with our goal to find ways to extend the lifecycle of natural cork wine closures through recycling and reuse. We can add from 20 to 50 years to a wine cork’s usefulness, while retaining the cork’s original CO2 absorption as a forest product.”
Flora Springs is offering cork collection during normal business hours at its tasting room (“The Room”) at 677 St. Helena Highway in St. Helena.

ReCORK America recycling program includes Whole Foods, Plump Jack, Calistoga Ranch and Honig Vineyards as part of a growing list of recycling partners.

Bargain Barrels for '08 Vintage?

A Bordeaux-style barrel from Seguin Moreau Napa Cooperage

Small crop, high prices, barrel alternatives and uncertain economy may mean discounts

Napa, Calif. -- It could be a good year to buy barrels. With a short crop expected, some cooperages may have extra inventory on hand that they don't want to store for a year.

The stated reason is the expected smaller than average harvest--the second in a row-- but the unfavorable exchange rate and rising acceptance of barrel alternatives seem to be factors, too.

The 2007 harvest in California was 3.2 million tons, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture forecasts 3.4 million tons this year, up 3% from a year ago, but most industry observers are skeptical, predicting 3.2 million tons or less, some even below 3 million tons.

"Customers don't know if this will be a small crop, and they obviously don't want to order barrels that they don't need," says François Peltereau-Villeneuve, president of Seguin Moreau Napa Cooperage. "This year, lots of coopers brought in more barrels than they may need."

Michael Peters of Barrel Builders in St. Helena, Calif., agrees. "The frost and other problems are creating a lower crop. Last year was also small, and some wineries still have barrels left from then, too. Many are waiting to see how many they really need."

Chris Dearden, winemaker and general manager at Benessere Winery in St. Helena, says he's personally run into a surplus of barrels. "Some coopers have stock in inventory now, when in the past they were sold out at this time," he says.

François Peltereau-Villenueve, president, Seguin Moreau Napa CooperageDearden, who formerly worked for Seguin Moreau, notes that the big cooperages must plan well in advance, starting to produce barrels for inventory and shipping them to the U.S. from June to September. "They couldn't make and ship all the barrels they need at once. Many offer early-delivery discounts to encourage ordering early," he says.

Dearden also imports wine barrels for Gamba USA. His barrel company only deals with custom orders, so shouldn't suffer, but he notes, "It really hit us in 2005, which was a huge year. We could have sold many more barrels." The wine grape crush in 2005 was 3.74 million tons, an increase of 35% over 2004.

Doug Fletcher, vice president/director of winemaking for the Terlato group, oversees activities at Chimney Rock, Rutherford Hill, Alderbrook, Sanford and Terlato wines. He says, "Most wineries bought their barrels this spring before anyone knew what the harvest size would be. So in general, I think you will just see an increase in the percentage of new oak in the '08 wines."

Peters, like many others, feels that the cost of barrels is a big issue, however, and Scott Harrop of United Barrels in Napa says, "The exchange rate is a big factor in how many barrels we sell."

According to Peltereau-Villeneuve, barrel pricing in Euros went up about 15% in the last 12 months because of the exchange rate. Chris Phelps, the winemaker at Swanson Vineyards & Winery, Rutherford, Calif., says his average barrel price rose from $924 last year to $1093, an 18% increase.

Harrop at United Barrels is now importing less expensive Ukrainian barrels for the first time this year to help compensate.

Chris Phelps, winemaker, Swanson Vineyards & WineryFletcher agrees that the problem is the cost of barrels. "The real problem is the exchange rate. The massive increase in barrel costs parallels the exchange rate."

Another big factor is alternatives to barrel. "The biggest wineries are going to adjuncts in a huge way," says Barrel Builder's Peters.

Harrop also reports big growth in barrel alternatives. "They won't be in $100 bottles of wine, but they're even being used in expensive wines. There's less feeling of embarrassment about it, too," he notes. "The southern hemisphere wineries use them, and they're even legal now in France."

Harrop admits his selling season is usually over by now, but he's still expecting 20 to 30% of his orders to come in. "The winemakers are waiting for the go-ahead from the accountants in this uncertain economy," he explains.

Fletcher says," I don't know how flexible the discount will be for coopers who have excess barrels. If coopers produced more barrels on speculation they are surely stuck with them."

Still, some coopers may not be willing to sit on the expensive barrels. "For those who don't want to finance that inventory for a year, they may decide to sell at a discount," Peltereau-Villeneuve says. "It's likely that some wineries will make good deals on barrels during the harvest."

Paul Franson

Tasting Notes

Chers Amis,

To shed some light on a father and son team who have spent the last 70 years toiling the earth and ending each day with good food and wine. Why can’t we extend the same luxury to ourselves? Thoreau famously wrote that most men lead lives of quiet desperation, but seemingly not so much here in France where I’ve fallen into the pace (peace) of life, which means that work is secondary to life, and yes, I'm broke.

Paul Jacqueson Rully 1er Cru Pucelles 06 is in keeping with the TWS theme of grace and not a 'putassier' wine, which would be rude to translate. We had a bottle of this demure loveliness at Bissoh, my favorite Beaune restaurant, with sushi and a gang of les Francaises who only eat their legumes from the garden and prefer very precise aromatics, minerality and detail - here the unique quality lays within its burst of white flowers and subtle fondue, length, and charm, a light kiss of oak - I would think it was a Ramonet Boudriottes if tasted blind.

For those out there that don’t need to be schooled, I shouldn’t have to mention that Jacqueson is of the finest estates in the Cote Chalonnaise, having established this reputation early on with insistence on hand harvesting and natural vinification. Uncle Clive says they are the best source for White Burgundy in the lower Cote.

From the Burghound:

Moderate wood frames notes of acacia blossom and citrus hints that can also be found on the detailed and vibrant medium weight flavors that are delicious, round and complex, culminating in a linear, mineral-infused finish that delivers excellent length. I very much like the balance here. 89-91 points


Cool climate wines

Grapes grow in different ways depending on what soils and climates they grow in. And in the last few years, a number of California winery owners have expressed irritation that their growing regions’ wines aren’t as highly rated as are wines of other, warmer areas.
Many of the growers who seek a better public image say they are in cooler climates, and their wines are not as full-bodied and as rich, and thus not as acclaimed, as are wines from warmer areas.

This is a generalization, of course, that ignores the fact that great rieslings, pinot noirs and chardonnays usually are made in areas that are cool. But for most other grapes, such as syrah, zinfandel, cabernet sauvignon, merlot, sangiovese and petite syrah, warmer climes produce flavors that seem to be more respected and in demand these days, especially with those who rank wines by putting scores on them.
When grapes grow in a hot climate in which the nighttime temperatures stay pretty warm as well, sugar develops in the fruit faster than the ripe-fruit flavor does. So, for instance, in the hot central San Joaquin Valley, it’s pretty hard to make a “great” wine because flavors tend to be rather simple.

Some grapes are simply in need of warm, but not hot, areas. For instance, you find very little cabernet sauvignon planted in truly cold climates, such as in the western Russian River of Sonoma County. There, pinot noir is the lead grape.
Cabernet can make an elegant wine near the Russian River, but big and bold is what’s in vogue, and you simply can’t make that sort of cabernet in such a cold area. Napa Valley is warm enough to grow cabernet to perfection, but cool enough to keep the balance of the wine appropriate.

And in France’s Burgundy district, where cool-loving pinot noir flourishes, cabernet is outlawed.

So it was fascinating for me recently when I traveled two hours from Melbourne to the verdant Yarra Valley to visit De Bortoli winery and to ask how a winery can survive with cabernet and syrah (shiraz) in a world in which warm climates seem to be in the driver’s seat.

De Bortoli is one of the Yarra’s largest producers. It has 480 acres of prime land, having just acquired 80 acres from a neighbor that was planted largely to cabernet. Yet Yarra is chardonnay and pinot noir country.

And tasting through the latest De Bortoli wines, including the stylish 2007 chardonnay ($25) and 2007 pinot noir ($30), both of which won’t be released until October, I found that these are clearly made to reflect the cooler nature of the region.

Both wines are more delicate and refined than are warmer-climate brethren. And a 2005 cabernet sauvignon ($30) is also delicate and restrained.

Winemakers David Slingsby-Smith and Sarah Fagan revel in the delicacy derby. They say the winery operated by head winemaker Steve Webber is favored by those who love the more European, structured style of wines.

Then I tasted an as-yet unreleased 2007 shiraz ($30), and found it to be distinctively flavored with black pepper and herbs, racy black cherry fruit. It is a wine to serve with food. It demands food.

Fagan then noted that Yarra Valley shiraz will hardly ever make a fat, unctuous shiraz. This is almost exactly what writer Max Allen wrote in his 1999 Yarra Valley wine guide book:

“Yarra Valley shiraz will probably never be able to match McLaren Vale or the Barossa in the oomph stakes — but the argument for it is stronger than that against.”

I love cooler-climate red wines when they are made with balance, and I always find pleasure in the modest yet still distinctive De Bortoli wines.

Fortunately, such wines have other followers too, few though they may be. As much as I like full-flavored red wines, I see the absolute need for the wines of restraint and delicacy that De Bortoli does so well.

Wine of the Week: 2007 Craggy Range Sauvignon Blanc, Martinborough, Te Muna Road ($25). This dramatic white wine has the lime/lemon/grapefruit aroma we associate with New Zealand sauvignon blanc. But this wine is from the North Island and has a lot more restraint that do most of the Marlborough SBs from the northern tip of the South Island. This wine has great structure for aging, but it’s superb now with seafood and Thai dishes.

Dan Berger

Australia becomes New Zealand's biggest market

Australia has overtaken the UK as the biggest export market for New Zealand wines, according to the country's winegrowers' association.

Although exports to the UK increased by 8% last year, the Australian market grew by 37%. The increased consumption of New Zealand wines in Australia means the country's market is now worth NZ$247m (£94m), overtaking Britain, which consumed marginally less – NZ$240m (£92m).

However, according to Stuart Smith, chairman of national wine body New Zealand Winegrowers (NZW), the attempt to persuade UK consumers to pay more for New Zealand wines has been successful.

'The average bottle of New Zealand wine sold in the United Kingdom [is] now £6.47, which is £2.09 ahead of the nearest competitor,' he said.

In total, New Zealand's wine exports increased 14% year-on-year and are now worth NZ$797m (£305m). The NZW expects export sales to hit NZ$1bn (£380m) by 2010.

Erica Loi

The Sipping News

If you had just one bottle of wine to enjoy your last day on earth, what would it be? A helpful resource for any preplanning is "1001 Wines You Must Taste Before You Die." Joining other books in the "1001... Before You Die" series is this 960-page tome, which compiles contributions from 44 notable wine professionals, including Clive Coates, Hugh Johnson, Tom Stevenson and Terry Theise.
Four major sections - sparkling, white, red and fortified - include a wide selection of international wines - from Burgundy grand crus to California Cabernet Sauvignon - listed alphabetically by producer. Price range and drink-by dates of each wine are given; along with history about the vineyards and owners, along with tasting notes. Color photos of vineyards, wineries and wine labels help visually connect a specific wine to its specific place.

One quibble: It would be nice to know when the contributors tasted wines, though part of the book's beauty is that the recommendations are as much about the producer as they are about a particular vintage.

"The producer is almost always more important than the vintage," general editor Neil Beckett writes in the book's introduction. With "1001 Wines," you'll learn about, and hope for, a taste of some of the world's most sought-after wines.

"1001 Wines You Must Taste Before You Die," edited by Neil Beckett

Lynne Char Bennett

Carmen Wines Go Green with Lighter Wine Bottles

There are worldwide concerns for the environment, and everyone is doing their part to decrease the carbon footprint, especially consumers and industries. Consumers are demanding less packaging and the use of recyclable materials in their goods -- and wineries are a perfect example of adopting these ecological measures. Carmen is the first winery in Chile and in South America to follow environmental initiatives which began with the WRAP Wine Institute (Waste and Resources Action Programme) in the UK to create lighter glass wine bottles.

Carmen -- the premium winery from Chile -- has reduced the weight of its Classic tier wines. This initiative has resulted in scaling down the average bottle weight from 17.28 ounces to 14.81 ounces, a 15% reduction that will result in savings of more than 343 tons of glass per year. By using lighter weight wine bottles Carmen's carbon footprint is dramatically reduced, which in turn has a positive environmental effect across the entire supply chain. The decrease in bottle weight lowers the output for energy consumption, manufacturing materials, waste management and also facilitates resource handling.

For Carmen, the lightweight bottle is one more step toward reaching even greater constructive impact on the environment. "The search has just begun to establish the right weight in all of our wine packaging," commented Juan Pablo Ruiz, Carmen Export Director for the USA market. "According to extensive market research, the lighter wine bottles retain the essential packaging functionality and do not affect brand integrity, which makes for a winning situation. When it comes to environmental concerns and wine packaging, less is definitely more."

Ecological concerns have led many countries, such as Ireland, one of Chile's largest wine markets, to adopt strict environmental measures to care for the planet, including reducing packaging and recycling glass waste. As an example, the UK market -- the world's largest wine importer -- consumes approximately one billion 750ml bottles of wine each year, which in turn results in approximately 2.8 million tons of glass packaging entering the country's waste stream each year. Glass bottles represent almost 40% of all household beverage packaging, and reducing the weight of wine bottles will have a major impact on the environment. Decreasing bottle weight in Carmen wines is expected to result in savings of more than 1,875 tons of CO2 emissions each year - which is roughly the equivalent of the emissions from 500 cars!

About Carmen Winery
Carmen--founded in 1850 as the first Chilean winery--has a history of innovation and success. In 1987, the Claro Group acquired the brand to focus in the international premium wine segment. A new winery was built in 1992 and new vineyards were planted to produce the best quality wines from Chile and export them worldwide. Today, with exports of over 500,000 cases to more than 60 countries, Carmen is one of the most important Chilean wineries. Carmen owns 1,626 acres in the most prestigious Chilean growing areas such as Alto Maipo -- famous for its superb Cabernet Sauvignon -- Casablanca and Limarí.