Uncorked Ventures Blog

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.

Mark Aselstine
August 8, 2011 | Mark Aselstine

Not to be missed at Family Winemakers

In our last blog entry we mentioned that Family Winemakers of California has another tasting event in San Francisco coming up shortly. We thought a few of our readers might be interested in a couple of wineries that we’re looking forward to meeting and tasting with at the event. While some of our old favorites will be there including Audelssa, B Cellars, Carter, Demetria, Dranonette, Keenan, Pisoni (easily the most fun table in the place most years), Pride, Round Pond, Siduri, Sojourn and a few others….we wanted to mention three names which previously haven’t appeared at the event in this space.

Figge Cellars: A small production Pinot Noir house in Monterey, Figge is probably the first winery we’ve ever seen to proudly proclaim that they are neither Napa Valley, nor Sonoma County. Instead they grow their grapes in the cooler still environment of Monterey. Frankly, we appreciate a winery that simply says they aren’t mass marketed. Neither are we and the focus on authencity is something which makes us very interested in meeting the people behind Figge.

Patland Estate: We can certainly appreciate the thought that when you visit Napa Valley that it is easy to imagine yourself living the wine country lifestyle and making wine as well. We certainly did the same thing before starting Uncorked Ventures although I personally think the life isn’t quite as glamorous as many people make it out to be (winemakers spend as much time driving fork lifts as they do actually blending wine). All that being said the opportunity to taste and visit an owner/winemaker pouring the wine himself or herself is among the biggest thrills any avid wine drinker can have. We appreciate that the family has spared literally no expense by buying Cabernet Sauvignon from the famed Stagecoach Vineyard.

Von Holt Wines: If there ever was a unique story behind a winery, this might be it. We’ve seen plenty of Bay Area locals grow up to own vineyards after working in the wine industry for a while, or even making a fortune in high tech, but we’ve never seen a winery owned by a former secret service agent before. We’re sure that the attention to detail and selfless nature of the Secret Service lends itself well to owning a winery, albeit in a much less stressful environment. More than anything else we’re looking forward to trying another creation which counts Ed Kurtzman among its employees. Ed is easily one of the foremost winemakers of cool climate Pinot Noir in Sonoma County and his projects always offer something distinctive. As with any great winemaker, their assistant winemakers often pick up much of their experience and expertise and we’re excited to try our first bottle made by John Fones.

Time Posted: Aug 8, 2011 at 1:11 PM
Mark Aselstine
August 5, 2011 | Mark Aselstine

Family Winemakers of California- San Francisco 2011

Family Winemakers of California

One of our favorite events every year is the Family Winemakers tasting. Matt and I have attended in the past few years both in San Francisco and Del Mar (San Diego). For wine distributors and retailers Family Winemakers offers a nice opportunity to get to say hello to people from a wide geographical area all in one place while tasting wines and making plans for either more extensive tasting trips, or purchases. As a consumer, it’s quite simply the best wine tasting event of the year.

2011 Family Winemakers Public Tasting
Sunday August 21st, 3:00 PM until 6:00 PM
Festival Pavilion
Fort Mason Center
San Francisco, CA 94123-1382

We’ve often asked if we have any tips for consumers. While others have covered tasting etiquette and tips in great detail we’d offer the following suggestions.

• Don’t be afraid to spit. There is a lot of wine there, drinking too much usually doesn’t help you enjoy the event, especially when Ft Mason can get really warm.
• Find a safe ride home.
• Come with a plan. Know which wineries you’ll absolutely want to taste and which one’s you’ll taste if there is enough time. Tables are generally clustered in alphabetical order, so it makes it pretty simple to follow your list.
• Lastly, HAVE FUN!

Mark Aselstine
August 1, 2011 | Mark Aselstine

Allowing Access at Pride Vineyards

We’re often asked by customers and of course friends and family about good places to taste wine. Depending on someone’s experience and budget, there are of course plenty of great choices in Napa Valley.

Pride Mountain Vineyards

Napa Valley Vineyard (© Photographer: Tom Purcell | Agency: Dreamstime.com)

One of our favorites though is Pride Vineyards, which does a good job at making its tours easily available and appropriate if you are cellaring wine at home, or if you’re enjoying your first glass. While not a perfect fit for our wine clubs because they are both relatively large (at least in relation to the wineries we normally ship at 20,000 cases of wine per year) Pride does make some good wine.

One thing which we also love about Pride (and something which we think more wineries should do immediately) is having a more hands on area where guests can see vines up close and even try a grape off the vine. I know the first few times I are a grape directly off a vine I was incredibly surprised about sugar levels and how sweet the fruit could really become under the best growing conditions. It really is an eye opening experience for wine drinkers of all types, especially when they see the differences in sizes between grapes up close. It’s another step in the wine world demystifying itself and attempting to be more approachable. Given that virtually every winery owner and winemaker I’ve met are incredibly happy to share information about their process and are approachable, it’s good to see those same traits being passed more easily into tasting rooms.