Thursday, June 19, 2008

Montes wines to release first Napa Cabernet

Chile's Montes Wines will release its first Napa Valley wines in September – the first Chilean company to expand into the United States.

Export manager Carlos Serrano told Montes wanted to be in Napa 'because we like a good challenge'.

Their first Californian release, a 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon from Napa Valley grapes, will be sold both in the United States and worldwide.

Next year's offering will also include Syrah sourced from Paso Robles, which will go into a blend whose exact composition has yet to be finalised.

Some 7,500 cases will be released initially, with the ultra premium wines selling at around US$70 per bottle. The company eventually aims to produce 20,000 cases annually.

Montes is buying grapes from various growers and renting facilities at the Artesa winery in Carneros. Serrano said Montes plans to stay at Artesa rather than build its own winery in the region.

Winemaking duties have been assumed by Larry Levine, former head winemaker at Franciscan Estates, and Aurelio Montes, co-owner and chief winemaker of Montes.

'We have been down this road before in Argentina. Right now, we're just getting to know our neighbors and learning how things get done there,' said Serrano.

Jimmy Langman

Schwarzenegger, Bachelet back California-Chile agreement

California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and President of Chile Michelle Bachelet have witnessed the signing of an historic wine agreement.

The leading wine research bodies of Chile and California have joined forces to sign a wine accord to drive studies into a range of wine-related issues.

The agreement was signed last week by UC Davis and two Chilean research organisations, Vinnova and Tecnovid.

It covers joint studies into sustainability, energy efficiency, green winemaking, wine flavours and phenolics, as well as the economics of the wine industry.

'This partnership between Vinnova SA, Tecnovid SA and the University of California, Davis will address some of the most critical issues facing the wine industry today,' said Wines of Chile president Rene Merino.

'The evolution of winemaking calls for greater attention to sustainable winemaking practices as energy usage, carbon footprints and climate change take on greater importance.'

California and Chile share broadly similar climatic conditions and grow the same principal grape varieties.

The agreement is part of a celebration of the 40-year-old Chile-California Partnership, a broader collaboration covering the academic, business and governmental spheres.

It was signed by Vinnova president Rafael Guilisasti, Tecnovid president Patricio Middleton and Neal Van Alfen, Dean of the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences at UC Davis.

Richard Woodard

Italian wine fraud 'witch hunt' spreads to San Gimignano

The blitz on Tuscany's top appellations has spread to San Gimignano as producers accuse the Italian press of mounting a witch hunt.

According to the Consorzio of the San Gimignano Denomination, 30hl (hectolitres), the equivalent of 4,000 bottles, of red San Gimignano were confiscated by the authorities.

However, the head of the Consorzio, Giovanni Panizzi, was quick to downplay any suggestion that the more popular and well-known Tuscan white wine, Vernaccia di San Gimignano, was under investigation.

'Not one bottle of Vernaccia di San Gimignano has been confiscated, and there is absolutely no investigation underway for Vernaccia,' he said.

'A small producer, whom we cannot name, was apparently using oak chips for wine that was destined to become San Gimignano Rosso and for another lot that was to become Chianti DOCG,' said Consorzio vice-president Walter Sovran.

The use of wood chips is prohibited in Italy for both DOC and DOCG wines.
Sovran told that the wine will be declassified to IGT status and the authorities will not press charges as the wine had yet to be released onto the market.

He also attacked the press and the authorities for their part in the ongoing Italian wine scandal which has put top regions including Brunello di Montalcino and Montepulciano under the spotlight for allegedly illegal winemaking practices.

'The real issue is that producers in Tuscany are becoming victims of what is turning out to be a witch hunt,' said Sovran, who is also head of the Il Palagio estate.

'The Italian press initially reported that 60,000hl of Vernaccia di San Gimignano had been sequestered, when Vernaccia was not even involved. Also, total Vernaccia output is only about 45,000 hl, so all the facts were wrong.'

He added that Tuscany's top white appellation, which must be made with a minimum of 90% Vernaccia grapes, has already felt the effects of the articles.

'As a result of the misinformation reported by Italian newspapers and websites, various German importers have now requested certificates guaranteeing the wine [is genuine],' he said. 'They have even threatened to block imports until they are satisfied that Vernaccia is not involved in any attempt at commercial fraud.'

The Consorzio is considering legal action against the newspapers.

Kerin O'Keefe

Stellenbosch boffins search for source of 'burnt rubber'

Researchers in South Africa have launched a hi-tech scientific investigation into the causes of the distinctive 'burnt rubber' aroma found in many of the country's red wines.

The University of Stellenbosch has joined forces with wine industry research body Winetech to undertake the research, which was initiated by Wines of South Africa (WOSA).

Wine writers from the UK in particular have long identified a distinctive aroma commonly found in South African wines, variously described as rubbery, burnt, smoky, green or dirty.

Beginning this month, the scientists will use an array of techniques, including microbiological and chemical analysis, infrared spectroscopy, as well as a gas-chromatography-olfactory analysis. No fixed timescale has yet been given to the research.

'We wanted to do something constructive to see if we could get a better understanding of what the aroma is and the cause of it,' said WOSA UK market manager Jo Mason.

The aim is to educate wine growers and producers, but not necessarily to completely eradicate the flavour. 'There's a large middle ground where there is a South African character which we're not looking to lose,' said Mason.

'We're not looking to create homogenous wines that could come from anywhere.'

Some commentators have suggested that the aroma might be caused by leaf-roll virus in South Africa's vineyards, but Mason questioned this.

'South African viticulturalists say they don't have a huge problem with it – and it's not unique to South Africa anyway,' she said.

Richard Woodard

TendreBulle - the only gay wine in the village?

France's first gay wine – TendreBulle Gay Vin by Domaine de Boyer – launches on 1 July.

The wine, a sparkling rosé from Languedoc-Roussillon, will show two stylised heads, almost kissing, on the bottle. Underneath are the words 'Gay Vin'.

The letters G and L, for gay and lesbian, will appear on the capsule.

'I added the letters after some women at a wine fair told me the wine is only for boys,' said the wine's creator, Jacques-Edouard Pailles, a winemaker whose property is in Saint Martin de Villereglan, in the department of Aude.

Pailles said he started out wanting to make a rosé wine that would be called the gay wine of Malpierre, one of the local place names, but could not, because of AOC regulations.

'So then I thought it would be fun to make a happy wine, something festive, as in happy which is what gay used to mean in the middle ages,' he said.

About 13,000 bottles have already been made of the non-vintage, méthode champenoise Gay Vin. The wine will cost €6 per bottle and is available by order from Domaine de Boyer.

Sophie Kevany
Bordeaux, France

Winery looks to nitrogen bottling solution

A south-west Western Australian wine bottling facility is looking to switch to nitrogen gas so it can continue its operations.

The Capel Vale Winery usually uses carbon dioxide to bottle wine for 100 WA wineries, but has been unable to source any CO2, because it is no longer being produced, due to the gas shortage.

The winery has now opted to use nitrogen gas which costs three times as much.

Site manager Keith Warrick says he is negotiating with his supplier, working out the logistics to get the nitrogen to the south-west.

"They have at least had somebody on site that's determined the appropriate location for the bulk vessel, the amount of engineering that's going to be required to get it up and running," he said.

"[If] all of those things come together we should arrive at a continued operation with the only transition being a change from CO2 to nitrogen."

China Organic Agriculture Buys Vineyard: Business or Pleasure?

In another case of a company outgrowing its name, China Organic Agriculture (CNOA.OB) has decided to buy a vineyard in California called Bellisimo Vineyard and will start selling wine in China. Bellisimo produces grapes for other wineries (including E&J Gallo) and also bottles its own Bellisimo-branded chardonnay, merlot and cabernet. CNOA calls this wine "premium", but those familiar with E&J Gallo will know that this is hardly the case. Perhaps they can fool the Chinese consumers by calling it premium California wine, but soon enough the truth will out. If there's one thing that defines the nouveau riche in China, it is that they are not stupid. At least not for long.

And of course, these grapes are not organically produced. How that fits into a company called China Organic Agriculture is far from certain.

But look at the beautiful pictures of the vineyard located just north of Calistoga in Napa Valley. Can't you imagine CNOA's management team relaxing in the beautiful Tuscan-styled villa, playing tennis next to the lush lawn, and lazing by the Olympic-size swimming pool? With an annual revenue (latest figures from 2005) of less than $0.5 million, and with only $25,000 (yes, twenty-five thousand dollars) of that from actual wine sales, I suspect this move is really less about expanding into "premium wine" and more about buying a vacation home for CNOA's own nouveau riche insiders.

When there's no one to stop you, I suspect many people out there would do the same. Wouldn't you?

Canada's wine sales post strong domestic growth

The vineyard is:
The demonstration vineyard at Tinhorn Creek Vineyards in British Columbia.

Vancouver, B.C. -- A growing taste for wine in Canada has helped spur sales of locally produced wines in the country's two major grapegrowing regions, Ontario and British Columbia. An annual analysis of alcohol sales by Statistics Canada, the federal statistics department, shows that wine now accounts for 17.6% of the total volume of alcohol sales in Canada, up from 12.6% in 1997.

While imported wines have gained ground against domestic wines in the past decade, the volume of domestic wines sold in the year ended March 31, 2007 surged 18.2% to top 175 million liters. Domestic wines now account for 43.1% of total wine sales in Canada, down from 46% in 1997.

In British Columbia, where domestic wines have enjoyed double-digit sales growth over the past decade, sales of premium wines rose just 7% in 2007. That was about half the 13.6% growth in sales posted by wines from Ontario, the country's other major grapegrowing region.

Growth was dampened because of a low crop in 2005, said Shaun Everest, general manager of Tinhorn Creek Vineyards in Oliver, and chair of the marketing committee of the British Columbia Wine Institute. "We've been on this tremendous growth curve, and so that's great, but then because of the low crop we had a bit of a flattening out ," Everest told Wines & Vines. "It's not because consumers don't want our wines.
It's because we had a low crop."

Still, wine sales in B.C. are mirroring the national trend, and domestic sales should resume more aggressive growth in the current sales year as wines made from the better harvests of 2006 and 2007 come on stream.

Nationally, greater demand for domestic wines has helped divert product away from export markets. While the United States was the single biggest importer of Canadian wine in 2007, importing 6.3 million liters, Canada exported less wine during last year than at any time since 1999. Wine exports peaked during the decade at 43.9 million liters in 2002, but have dropped steadily since. In 2007, exports of Canadian wines stood at just 7.2 million liters.

Dan Paszkowski, president and COO of the Canadian Vintners Association, said exchange rates played a factor in the decline in exports--Canada's dollar strengthened against the U.S. dollar through 2006 and 2007--as much as short crops and strong domestic sales.
"A stronger Canadian dollar does have an impact," Paszkowski said. "But if there is a growing market in Canada, obviously the returns in Canada are attractive."

Ontario is dissimilar from B.C. because of its ice wine production, which accounts for about half of its wine exports. Most wineries in B.C. don't even pursue export markets because of the lack of product--ice wine or otherwise--to sell.

"The demand domestically for B.C. wines has been growing so much that there aren't many wineries in B.C. that are even engaged in exporting," Everest said. Tinhorn Creek, for example, hasn't exported any of its wines for the past three years.

Statistics Canada figures also highlight that Western Canada, which continued to enjoy economic boom times through the 2007 fiscal year, was the primary growth area for wine sales countrywide.

The provinces of Saskatchewan and Alberta saw the strongest growth in volume of wine sold, posting gains of 11.2% and 10.4%, respectively. Indeed, Saskatchewan also posted the greatest growth in wine sales of any province over the past five years, with sales rising 47.8% to 5.8 million liters.

The only province to see lower volumes of wine sold over the same five-year period was Newfoundland, which saw sales drop 6.7% to 2.6 million liters.

Among foreign wines, the wines of France dominated the national shopping cart at 62.3million liters in 2007, followed by Italy (52.9 million liters) and Australia (52.4 million liters). Canada's imports of wine from the U.S. totaled just 40.9 million liters.

A statistical summary of beverage alcohol sales in Canada is available from Statistics Canada.

Peter Mitham

More than 1,000 honor Mondavi

Twelve hundred people gathered in Oakville on Wednesday evening to remember the celebrated life of Napa Valley vintner Robert G. Mondavi, an extraordinary man who lived his dreams and helped elevate the reputation of California wines around the world.

A packed, convivial crowd of family members, Napa Valley vintners, growers, chefs and former employees gathered for the invitation-only event on the back lawn at his namesake winery on what would have been Mondavi’s 95th birthday.

In tribute to a man who loved a party, there were fun, fond memories shared and much fine wine and food served in tents manned by 13 local restaurants ranging from Meadowood to Mustard’s Grill to Angele and LaToque.

With the temperature hovering at 95 degrees, attendees wore everything from T-shirts and flip-flops to suits and ties as a 12-piece band played songs such as Dean Martin’s “Volare,” said to be Mondavi’s favorite song.

“We’ve been so blessed by all the stories that have been recounted, all the letters received about our dad,” said his daughter, Marcia Mondavi Borger.

“He had the ability to egg us all along. You could feel the pulse here, feel everyone’s desire to excel.”

Her brother, Tim Mondavi, added, “It’s a little like coming home.

“And nice to be here, though bittersweet, of course.”

Choking back tears, Tim Mondavi ended with a toast to his father, recalling how he lived every second of his long life, not only changing the world of wine but “our world through wine.”

Mondavi, who died May 16 at age 94, was the son of Italian immigrants and spent the early part of his life in Minnesota. At age 10, Mondavi’s family moved to Lodi, where his father Cesare found success buying and shipping wine grapes to Italian families across the United States who were looking to make homemade wines during Prohibition.

The Mondavis eventually moved to Napa, taking over the fabled Charles Krug Winery in St. Helena, which continues to be owned by Peter Mondavi and his sons, Marc and Peter Jr.

Robert left to start the Robert Mondavi Winery in 1966.

Over the next decades, Mondavi presided over and helped advance the cause of California wine, tirelessly traveling the world and hosting countless visitors to make the point that Napa wines could be counted among the finest in the world.

“Wine to me is a passion,” Mondavi wrote in his 1999 autobiography, “Harvests of Joy: How the Good Life Became Great Business.”

“It’s family and friends. It’s warmth of heart and generosity of spirit.”

In late 2004, he sold the business to Constellation Brands for $1.3 billion, still serving as an enthusiastic ambassador for his namesake wines as his health began to decline.

Mondavi, with wife Margrit always by his side, also remained a regular fixture at the signature Auction Napa Valley, a charity wine event he helped found decades ago, and any event supporting his other chief causes, Copia: The American Center for Wine, Food and the Arts in Napa, the Napa Valley Opera House, the Napa-based Oxbow School and the Robert Mondavi Institute for Wine and Food Science at UC Davis.

Inducted into the Vintners Hall of Fame in 2007, Mondavi, honored as a pioneer, was described as someone who always set the highest of goals and consistently led the wine industry to ever-greater achievements, true to his creed, “Go forward, this is only the beginning.”

Mondavi also was involved in Continuum, a high-end cabernet sauvignon winery project with his son. The first bottles were released this spring.

A public celebration of Mondavi’s life is scheduled for July 5 at the Robert Mondavi Winery.



The New York Times featured an article on the Brunello upset in Italy. Wine journalist Eric Asimov calls news that the TTB has dropped its threat to block imports of brunello into the U.S. "a step forward, given that the laboratory analysis apparently takes a long time and the margin for error is great." Instead, the U.S. will accept certification from the Italian government that the wines comply with the rules.

Wine & Spirits Daily


In an interview with Bloomberg, Xavier Ybarguengoitia, chief executive of Paris-based Estates & Wines, a division of LVMH Moet Hennessy, says the company's strategy is selling expensive bottles despite the tough economic conditions. He said demand for wines that cost $15 or more has risen, and Estates & Wines will focus on that top 1% of the market. As a result, he said, the Estates & Wines division has experienced "double-digit growth" in the past six years, outpacing Moet Hennessy.

Ybarguengoitia said the company doesn't need any more vineyards at the moment, but may consider "buying some more in 2011," particularly in a premium wine area that focuses on the top end of the market.

Wine & Spirits Daily

Another Reason To Drink Wine!


The Chicago Sun-Times has an interesting article on equivalency, which argues that there is no such thing as a standard drink at bars and restaurants. William Kerr and colleagues with the Alcohol Research Group hit several bars in northern California and found that "the typical wine, beer or mixed spirits drink in bars is larger than a standard drink, often by 50 percent or more."

The average glass of wine was 43% larger than a standard drink and the average draft beer was 22% larger than the standard 12 ounces. The team did no testing of bottled beer. And while shot glasses "are pretty uniform," mixed drinks with liquor were 42larger than the standard serving.

Factors such as glass size and the percent of alcohol by volume help make the on-premise drinks stronger, according to the study. However, Kerr said "probably the most important factor is the intentions of management and the bartender."

For example, restaurants and bars tend to pour large glasses of wine so customers feel like they are getting their money's worth.

The research, sponsored by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, will be published in September in the journal Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research, but was released online this week.

Wine & Spirits Daily

Move over, California; other states are producing their own fine wines

With more than 90 percent of the nation's wine production taking place in California, the achievements of other states' tiny wine regions almost never make it to the radar screen.

Yet many of the other wine regions are now making some spectacular wines.

Two states, Washington and Oregon, have long been credited as successes, but in my view, not for the right reasons.

Washington: It is rightly praised for its great cabernet sauvignons and merlots, but in the last decade, its greatest strength has been with riesling, from dry all the way to dessert styles.

Oregon: Its pinot noir has gained wide praise, but the truly great Oregon pinot blancs, rieslings and pinot gris have always, unfortunately, taken a subservient role.

So which other states are adding to this national diversity in wine drama? A single column this short can't do justice to the greatness I see emanating from elsewhere, but here is a snapshot:

New York: With four distinct wine regions, the Empire State produces stellar wines, including merlots and chardonnays of Long Island and the excellent French-American hybrids of the Hudson Valley. The most exciting wines in New York are the dry and off-dry rieslings from dozens of wineries in the picturesque Finger Lakes. Now selling so fast it's hard for wineries to produce enough for the demand, New York rieslings' success portends potential for this variety in the coming decade.

New York also produces an astonishing array of superb "other" wines, including wines from native American as well as hybrid grape varieties.

Michigan: Here again, riesling leads the pack, and with some drama. Wines from the Old Mission Peninsula have won major awards and gold medals at California wine competitions, and demand is pushing prices to levels Michiganders never imagined. But other grapes, such as gewürztraminer and pinot noir, also have shown great potential, and that has spurred winery development. Moreover, cherry wines are more popular than ever.

Virginia: Thomas Jefferson's failed ventures as a grape grower and winemaker have, two centuries later, been vindicated with some of the most exciting wines in the nation.

Made in a more reined-in style than California's full-blown, concentrated and powerful red wines, the reds of Virginia are led by two other Bordeaux grapes. Petit verdot and cabernet franc now both make exceptional red wines, while the Rhone white viognier, the French-Italian star pinot gris, and Jurançon favorite petit manseng all seem to thrive here.

Missouri: Winter weather that is so brutal to vines that it precludes the growing of French grapes has meant that Show-Me residents must grow special cultivars. With superb French-American hybrids vignoles (a floral, pineapple-y white) and seyval leading the way, Missouri wineries have developed a following for their distinctive wines. A recent addition to the scene is Norton -- a native American vine that yields a near-black wine with dramatic potential.

We have no space left for the excellence of Ohio riesling, Wisconsin Foch, Rhode Island gewürztraminer, New Mexico sparkling and red wines, or the great variety coming out of Texas. Even Georgia, Indiana, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Colorado are making their own statements.

With each of the 50 states now having at least one commercial winery, new wine tasting experiences are surfacing in places some people didn't know existed.

Dan Berger

French Wines Kick Up Their Advertising Heels

French wines are taking things up a notch (or two or three) with a new promotional campaign in the U.S. Calling it an "ambitious" three year marketing blitz, the "Wines of France" are hoping to "boost gains" and "build consumers' knowledge of French wines." The umbrella campaign will see an increased annual spend of $2.6 million for 2008 and cover all avenues of promotion.

Wines of France says it will launch "an aggressive sales promotion campaign" across the U.S., but focus mainly on the key markets of New York metro, Washington DC metro, South Florida, California, Illinois, Texas and Massachusetts. This will include tastings in both the on- and off-premise, as well as a host of promotional materials for all stores backed by French music.

The promotional campaign will be accompanied by a new website, that went live earlier this week. It's aimed at educating Americans about grape varietals and French wine regions, in addition to featuring interviews and a "Question of the Week." Wines of France spokesperson Sheri Sauter Morano, Master of Wine, will also choose "My Top French Wine Picks," which features wines that fall in the $8 and $25 range.

It's no secret that French wines have struggled in recent years as U.S. consumers (among others) have increasingly opted for cheaper, easier to read labels. Earlier this month France approved a five-year plan to modernize its wine industry and help it better compete internationally. The most controversial initiative was a proposal to create three categories of French wines. A new mid-quality category, called the "Wines of France," most closely mirrors New World wines by including the grape varietal on the label (instead of grape origin) and using cheaper production practices, such as adding wood chips and tannins.

Recall that the EU recently passed a new wine system to cut down production and help European wines better compete internationally as well.

Wine & Spirits Daily