Uncorked Ventures Blog

Mark Aselstine
August 27, 2011 | Mark Aselstine

Wines from New Zealand

I enjoyed a glass of Boulder Banks Pinot Noir from a previous Wine Exploration Wine Club shipment last night and it made me think about New Zealand wine and the immense differences in both winemaking styles and end results from those in California.

Since starting Uncorked Ventures wines from New Zealand have been of interest and with our recent change of the Wine Exploration Wine Club from an international focus to solely California, Oregon and Washington…..there was nothing left to do with a single bottle than to open it.

So what’s the deal with wine from New Zealand? To start, the Pinot Noir and white wine’s grown on the islands are typically much more acidic than almost anywhere else in the world (Germany being a possible exception with their Riesling). This higher acidity is both a winemaking choice as well as a product of the cool, even cold breezes coming in off the Pacific Ocean. In fact, many of New Zealand’s top vineyards sit closer to the ocean than they do anywhere else in the world. This proximity creates a dramatic change in the wine. Secondly, winemakers in New Zealand took a cue from their dairy industry close to 40 years ago and used stainless steel containers to ferment their wine. These days, that’s standard practice world wide, but 40+ years ago everyone assumed the alcohol in the wine would kill anything which we didn’t want there. Personally, if there isn’t a change in the wine quality, I’ll take clean surfaces, thanks.

There are certainly a few famous wineries from New Zealand which are widely available in the States. Kim Crawford is a name which jumps immediately to mind. Many of the Kim Crawford wines offer a nice introduction to New Zealand’s winemaking style, at prices which are incredibly reasonable given the quality of wine. Many bottles imported are scored at around 90 points by major wine critics while being priced at around $20

Mark Aselstine
August 25, 2011 | Mark Aselstine

9/11 Wine

I’ve mentioned before in this space that there are over 5,000 commercially active wineries in the United States, while that represents a lot of choice for both consumers and independent wine clubs, it can be a challenge for a winery to make a name for itself without high scoring bottles of wine.

Many local wineries I’ve spoken with, especially those in Southern California yearn for a national profile with which to market themselves, which would help in both direct to consumer sales as well as gaining contracts with one of the four remaining national wine distributors. They all lament the fact that it simply isn’t easy.

I never thought I’d be mentioning the tragic events of 9/11 on a wine blog, but when a winery bottles a wine and labels it a 9/11 wine I wonder, is this more about raising money for the National Memorial and Museum, or is this simply about selling more wine while gaining a foothold in the national media for your brand?

No one outside the winery knows for sure what their most important goal was (charitable or financial) and while it isn’t a project I’d want to be associated with, I can and do respect any attempt to help raise money for a memorial which has been entirely too long in the making. As the winery’s general manager said, “people have different ways of giving back” which is certainly true, but in this case when so much has transpired and wounds will continue to be fresh for years to come because of the enormity of the loss, I hope the winery itself will exercise caution when marketing the product.

Mark Aselstine
August 24, 2011 | Mark Aselstine

Gary Vaynerchuk Retires from Wine Videos

We won't often link to competitors in this space, but we couldn't see the following without making a comment on a number of levels.

Gary Vaynerchuk retires from wine videos.

Other than Robert Parker on the review side, I don't think you can compare Gary V's utter dominance of the video realm of wine to anyone else in the industry.  He helped to not only create the medium, but continued to define it during his time at Wine Library. I'll certainly miss his style as I think his brand of bringing wine into a level that everyone can understand (who else compares a wine flavor to a 50/50 bar?) which was badly needed in the industry when he started and continues to be a need to this day. Too often we see tasting room employees acting like everyone coming in the front should know everything about wine, especially when you compare that to the average winemaker who is among the most approachable people we've ever met.  For his influence on the wine industry, Gary V will certainly be missed.  Given our short attempts at adding video to the site and our Youtube channel, I can also appreciate the drain that a daily video must have been.  It's a lot of work to be sure and while the Daily Grape wasn't ever really daily, I can certainly understand why not.  All of this is to say that Gary V is certainly going to be missed by the wider wine industry on a daily basis, but I highly doubt that we've seen the last of him.  If you haven't read Crush It, it's almost required reading for anyone doing business online and if we can build Uncorked Ventures to have the same type of industry acceptance that Gary V has created for himself, we'll be incredibly happy and fortunate to have done so.

Lastly, I do have a brief personal note. I also must admit that having spent some time guest writing over at Cork'd (a previously closed Gary V project) I got to know Jon Troutman a bit through email.  Jon was and always has been a close Gary V associated (they swing the camera around to show him off during the final video) and I've come to respect the way he carries himself in the trade immensely.  I hope that there are as many opportunities for Jon in the coming months as there are for Gary V.  By all accounts, he deserves them.

Mark Aselstine
August 20, 2011 | Mark Aselstine

Female Winemakers in Short Supply

Maybe it’s our entrepreneurial spirit, but both Matt and I are intensely interested in the business of wine. We both came into the wine industry without any formal experience outside of loving wine and collecting it ourselves, which I think still gives us a sort of outsiders perspective.

One thing we’ve noted is that we find very few female winemakers. In fact, there aren’t a ton of female assistant winemakers or cellar masters either. It didn’t surprise me when Reuters released an article about the state of female winemakers, especially in California.

While I don’t want to speculate at length on the reasons behind there being relatively few female winemakers, I do have a few ideas on the subject. I don’t think there is anything structurally wrong with the wine industry which is preventing women from gaining the top job at many standout wineries throughout the west coast. Additionally, I don’t believe that winery or vineyard owners think women are any less capable of being their head winemaker, but the culture of many wineries is to promote from within and women aren’t as well established in those feeder jobs as of yet.

I do know that one of the main ways to become a winemaker is to begin as an intern (yes, an unpaid one) and then slowly move from cellar master to assistant winemaker and finally to head winemaker. It’s a progression which can be broken with education and the lower number of female winemakers in Southern California can likely be attributed to not having a top flight wine education program within 300+ miles and the simple fact that cellar master jobs often require knowledge of driving a forklift and the ability to lift 50+ pounds at a time. That isn’t to say women aren’t qualified for cellar master jobs, far from it, just that if I think of my wife or any of my female friends as an example, that wouldn’t be the path they'd choose if they wanted to make wine. Anyone who has worked in a human resources department can likely tell you that it is important to promote from within when you have qualified candidates and the lack of educational opportunities when it comes to wine in southern California (and frankly the lesser opinion many hold of the wineries operating in the area) certainly isn’t helping bring in strong qualified candidates from outside these wineries.

As many would expect, the premiere United States wine regions of Napa Valley and Sonoma are incredibly competitive when it comes to winemaking jobs and are having UC Davis give the region a continual supply of qualified candidates keeps the pool of available candidates as diverse as anywhere in the world, even if there is still plenty of room for improvement in access to those coveted head winemaking jobs.

Mark Aselstine
August 18, 2011 | Mark Aselstine

Champagne Region Ready to Pick

Champagne Vineyard Thanks to: http://praziq.blogspot.com/

It’s been an interesting week, moving 500+ miles has a way of eating up all of your free time. That being said, I’m now both relatively settled in and looking forward to continuing my work on this blog.

One thing which caught my attention this week was the fact that Champagne is allowing one of the earliest harvests on record this year. French wine tends to be among the most controlled in the entire world and the fact that there is a controlling body which decides when picking grapes can occur wouldn’t sit well with many American vintners, but it is a fact of life in France.

As it turns out, 2003 was the earliest picking date on record, happening only one day sooner than 2011. Given the amount of conversation going on currently within the wine community about the affects of global warming on old world regions which are more stringent on the types of grapes which can be planted and when they can be picked, earlier and earlier picking dates can be construed as an ominous sign by some and simply a small sample size according to others. How regions deal with even small changes in temperatures is going to have a dramatic effect on wine quality in the coming years, but we’ve heard a number of winemakers talk about the potential side effects of late. It’s not all doom and gloom though with the Champagne region. Farmers in the area increased production 20% year over year (thanks Decanter) to deal with world wide increases in demand.

Pinot Meunier is the first variety to be picked, followed by Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.