Uncorked Ventures Blog
We've all heard the saying, right? Lies, damn lies and statistics. Seeing the following chart made me think of that, given that we're lumping all $20+ into the "luxury" category I can't see how else to explain it.
One thing we've found with Uncorked Ventures and our wine club members, the folks buying Wine Exploration Club shipments differ in some important ways from those buying Special Selections memberships. I don't think that lumping them together is giving anyone a realistic look at the wine market, although it's fun to think that 19 of the top 20 "luxury" brands come from California, it is entirely dependent on how you define luxury.
It’s one of the giant problems in the wine industry, grapes grow faster at warmer temperatures and grow more consistently (both good thing for winery owners) but the resulting wine usually isn’t very good.
There in lies the real challenge facing the industry, can you find a range of wines which happily grow at warm temperatures, but produce a higher quality of wine?
We know that Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and especially Pinot Noir don’t react well to consistent 100 degree heat-that’s how we end up with so much almost undrinkable jug wine at grocery stores and drug stores across the country.
I saw a story the other day in an agriculture magazine about how researchers at UC Davis and bringing in native grape varieties from warmer European climates and are trying to plant them in the incredibly warm San Joaquin Valley in California. While our traditional grapes do not do well in those climates, might other choices from warmer parts of Europe like Spain, Greece and Italy fare better? It seems reasonable to think so and it’s an exciting project. More cheap and drinkable wine would be a good thing as the industry continues to expand.
Mourvedre is an interesting grape type for a number of reasons. To start, almost every wine drinker has had Mouvedre in a wine they’ve tasted, although only a small portion have ever had a varietal specific Mourvedre.
The reason for that is quite simple, from its beginnings in Spain (according to most genealogical histories, in the Catalonia region along the Spanish/French border) but more importantly in the Rhone Valley of France, Mourvedre has been a blending grape.
It’s often including with Syrah and Grenache in GSM blends, some of which have become increasingly famous within the wine world, especially with a GSM being named Wine Spectator’s Wine of the Year in 2010. That specific wine was a Saxum effort from the famed James Berry Vineyard in Paso Robles. Wine critic Robert Parker counts the James Berry Vineyard among the top five in the state, in effect calling them one of California’s Grand Cru’s. The simple fact that Mourvedre is given plantings in such an important vineyard says something about how the team at Saxum feels about the grape and its long term prospects.
In any case, Mourvedre is set to gain market share. To start, it’s a relatively easy grape to grow and it reacts well to warmer temperatures which are becoming a larger and larger concern for vintners. There are a number of reasons for its performance with warmer temperatures, not the least of which is an extended hang time, which helps to allow the grape to gain higher sugar levels and therefore higher alcohol levels. While there is always going to be debate about appropriate levels of alcohol in wine, no one can argue the amazing consumer and critical success being enjoyed by high alcohol California wines. Plus, as temperatures warm alcohol levels increase.
As you might expect, great Mouvedre’s are still relatively difficult to find. In some ways, it’s still a cult grape among the winemaking community. Given that the entire set of Rhone varietals was virtually extinct in California in the mid 1980’s until the Rhone Rangers saved them, there is still plenty of room to grow,
Some of our favorite Mourvedre’s and Mourvedre blends:
Saxum: Personally, any conversation about great Mourvedre has to start here for a number of reasons. Saxum makes a variety of Mourvedre and GSM choices from a number of local Paso Robles vineyards, when you can get your hands on them, they’re one of the best American examples of the varietal. A recent Los Angeles Times article had a great quote from owner and winemaker Justin Smith “"Mourvèdre is great here," says Saxum owner-winemaker Smith. "Ever since the beginning, when we used to bottle things like Syrah as a varietal, we would throw Mourvèdre in it. As we learn more about it viticulturally, we're increasing the portion of it. It has texture and weight and ripeness. It's a great foil for Grenache, which is high-alcohol and high-acid in this area. Mourvèdre is lower in acid and alcohol, so they really work well together."
Terry Hoague: Yes, this is the former NFL star turned winemaker. While the winery itself doesn’t specialize in Mourvedre, Saxum uses some vineyard space to grow the grape so the potential is obviously there. Their “5 Blocks” Syrah seems to be increasing its Mourvedre component on a yearly basis, with the wine now containing more Mourvedre than Grenache. Hoague crafts some of the most delicate wines in Paso Robles and is likely a winery which will continue to hone and expand Mourvedre production in the future.
Qupe Wines: Owner and winemaker Bob Lindquist is a legend in the Santa Barbara wine scene, largely responsible for the good standing of the warm climate AVA’s in and around Los Olivos and Solvang as well as the rest of the Santa Ynez Valley. In any case, Qupe does produce a range of GSM blends from a variety of vineyard sites. If you want to compare how Mouvedre affects a wine blend, this is a nice place to start since Qupe generally produces a varietal specific Syrah as well as a blend from each vineyard site. Opening both bottles will give you a really good idea about the depth of color and dark plum flavors often imparted by a well grown Mourvedre. Qupe also makes wines at high enough production levels that they are generally available at fine wine stores across the country.
Quivira Vineyards: Quivira is among the most environmentally conscious wineries you’ll find anywhere. From biodynamic farming practices to keeping pigs, chickens, bees and yes even a few turkey’s on the property to make sure the estate is sustainable over the long term. While Quivira has been long focused on Zinfandel, one of their most unique and interesting wines is a Wine Creek Ranch Estate Mourvedre. It’s one of the few true estate produced Mouvedre’s in California from a well known and respected winery. Production is smaller as you might expect at only 300 cases per year, but this is a really, really nice intro into the grape at a surprisingly affordable price point of $32.
Ridge Vineyards: I think everyone who drinks wine consistently knows Ridge by now, starting with their outstanding results in the Judgment of Paris so many years ago. The winery doesn’t make a varietal Mourvedre every year, but when it has in the past the grapes have been from the famed Monte Bello vineyard. That alone makes a Ridge Mourvedre worth looking out for. As a side note, Ridge along with a few other California vintners sometimes refer to the grape as Mataro, it’s French name.
McCrea Cellars: Doug McCrea has been incredibly nice to me since the beginning here at Uncorked Ventures although we’ve yet to feature one of his wines. He’s considered most responsible for bringing Rhone varietals to the state of Washington and he certainly deserves credit for making an affordable Mourvedre ($28). He’s also said numerous times that he thinks, long term that Mourvedre shows the most old world character of those Rhone grapes grown in Washington further speaking to his high opinion of the grape.
We hope this has helped to answer some of your questions about Mourvedre. It's an interesting grape that's well worth the time to get to know, especially given the likely increasingly numbers of plantings coming in the future.
In the United States every state holds the power to control how alcohol is marketed, sold and transported. At Uncorked Ventures we think that’s a good thing. More local control has been shown time and time again to help prevent and lessen underage drinking which is good for everyone in the wine industry, even those of us selling wine at price points which simply aren’t attractive to underage buyers. That being said, dealing with specific license requirements in states which allow out of state retailers to ship directly to consumers can be oppressive to small business. Some states go even further by preventing out of state wineries and/or retailers from shipping directly to citizens in their state, while also allowing in state wineries and retailers to ship wine directly to them. Aside from the obvious and clear violation of the Commerce Clause (which judging by the recent health care ruling, the Supreme Court still views as a valuable part of the Constitution given it was referenced in the majority opinion) that hurts consumer choice. If you live in Pennsylvania as an example, you can come to California to visit Napa Valley, but can’t have wine shipped back to your house. Is that really preventing underage drinking? Is it really doing anything other than restraining trade for out of state retailers?
I bring all this up because Canada has many of the same sets of rules and regulations regarding alcohol shipments from one Province to another. Their rules, like ours, were enacted after Prohibition. Unlike the United States though, where the federal government decided after Prohibition to get out of the alcohol regulation business, the Canadian federal government did have a set of laws on the books which eliminated a large part of winery to consumer shipments across Province lines.
From CNews: “OTTAWA - With the stroke of the governor general's pen, Conservative MP Dan Albas's bill to eliminate the federal ban on transporting wine across provincial borders became law Thursday”
It is, without a doubt an important step for consumer choice in Canada and we hope a good sign for continued loosening of restrictions which eliminate consumer choice as well as our ability to compete with business with local retailers.
It seems that biodynamic wine is in the news again, at least in the blogosphere thanks to Tom Wark at Fermentation as well as Steve Heimoff.
While both writers do a better job than I can at sharing their concerns with the movement, my thoughts have always mirrored theirs. We spend an awful lot of time talking to vineyard owners, winemakers and others within the wine industry.
At our core, we’re a wine club interested first and foremost in high quality wine, so if the industry thought biodynamics was a way to gain higher quality-I’d assume someone would have mentioned it during a meeting. Over the course of two and a half years, it simply hasn’t happened yet. That makes me wonder, if the entire wine industry in California, Oregon and Washington behind the times, or are some proponents of biodynamic wine making bigger claims than are actually based on fact?
At the end of the day anyone who lives and makes a living near wine country is going to care about the environment. Rising temperatures, seas and the destruction of the water table are all serious issues which are going to affect the wine industry over the long term. Anything wineries and vintners can do locally to help protect the environment is a really, really good thing and I think biodynamic wine has a place there to be sure. What I don’t want to see happen however, is a total commitment to biodynamics without a corresponding look into how wineries can be greener businesses overall. From the way a winery creates power to the packaging they use for in person sales and wine club shipments, there are ways for almost every winery in America to be a greener business. Let’s start there and then move on to biodynamics if the research appears more solid at some point in the future.
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