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