Uncorked Ventures Blog
My thoughts, for what they're worth, on the future of Pinot Noir in California and elsewhere.
Hey guys, Mark Aselstine with Uncorked Ventures.
Over the past two months in our Special Selections Wine Club we've done two high-end Pinots. From the Wine of the Month Club level we strictly do California, Oregon, and Washington. The reality is you end up getting a lot of Pinot since that's probably the most widely planted grape among those three states in essence because as far as red wine goes Oregon does almost exclusively Pinot on the high-end.
I had a club customer named Jerry who asked me quite honestly what I saw as the future of Pinot, so I thought this would be a good way to give a response because I do have some thoughts and I've given it a lot of thought over the past few months actually. I have four example bottles for you and I think it helps to show exactly what we're talking about both over the short and long-term specifically within in California but also in the wider wine world, and especially on the west coast.
The first example is a winery called Sola. It's actually based up in Napa, but in essence they're going to Cameron Hughes model. Cameron Hughes, if you're not familiar, you can pick up a Cameron Hughes Cabernet down at your local grocery store for 10 to 15 bucks. He sources either grapes although most usually it's bulk wine. What happens is 2014 is going to be a great example because it's a big finisher in California, so wineries ... I can't name any of them, but if they produce a $40 Pinot and they just simply get too much wine from their estate vineyard, now they don't want to send that all to retailers frankly because they don't always trust us to keep retail price the way that we should. Instead they either work with a winery like Sola which then bottles the stuff and ships it out for $20 retail or if they're a price point lower than that, you sometimes see it in Trader Joe's. Trader Joe's quite famously had a $25 Napa Sauvignon Blanc two years ago that they sold for six bucks and then I know it was a really well known winery. When the whole information got out they weren't very happy about it. In essence, you're going to continue to see projects like that, wineries making good wine, but can't sell it. That's the first thing.
Second thing. This is, I think, the best bottle. If you can get a look at it, it's the really cool setup of the barrel being lifted by the crane. This is Bluxome Street Winery. It's based in San Francisco. The winemaker was formerly at Ant Hill Farm which is repeatedly only when we ask winemakers, "Hey, what do you drink? What do you drink?" The guys who make huge Napa Cav that garner big scores Mike Smith's one from Quivet and Myriad who you're lucky to even buy from at this point, Chris Maybach said the same thing that Ant Hill Farms was almost required drinking in his house. A cool climate expression of Pinot, dainty almost where you feel like you can see through it, so Ant Hill is really hard to get. The waiting list is in a couple years, same winemaker at Bluxome Street. Bluxome Street shows two things that I think are important in the wine industry. First, cool climate Pinot. The further west you can go in Sonoma people are liking it right now and I think you're going to continue to see that. Bluxome Street, I also think speaks to something else that's almost just as important if not more important and it's the rise of the urban winery. Bluxome Streets and San Francisco, downtown San Francisco before the earthquake in 1906, this is where the wineries were. Wineries setup shop there. They figured it was easier to truck grapes into the city than it was to truck to people up to the wine country. I don't think that's any less true today. I think that wineries that are willing to figure out the details of having an urban tasting room where they don't have to fight for every single customer I think are going to do really well. Bluxome Street makes incredible, incredible wine. This is a single vineyard from Hurst Vineyard which is really well thought of in Sonoma. This is something that we ship in one of our wine clubs, we're proud of, they're proud of, everybody who goes into Bluxome Street just loves the place and that's the winemakers history, Ant Hill, and I think you will continue to see this. I bet you five years now they have a waiting list for their wine club too.
Next, speaking on the cool climate urbane, this is Comptche Ridge. Quite frankly the wine bottle does not do well on video. I've tried, it just doesn't. It tells you a little bit about Sonoma and Sonoma is always going to be one of their preeminent destinations for Pinot Noir within California. However, if you wanted to buy a piece of property in Sonoma, you probably can't afford it. If you're a winemaker, you definitely can't afford it. What do you do? You move further north and in a lot of cases further west where the land is cheaper. Comptche Ridge is literally cut out from an old redwood grove. None of those things are highly protected, so in essence it's in the middle of current redwood groves. It's the expression of Pinot that you would expect from the coolest climate that you can find in the state of California. It's probably the most burgundian. They're really, really light both in flavor and in ... When you can put it in your glass you can almost feel like you can see through it. We got a really good response to this wine in our wine club last month. Some of our folks are getting it this month. It'll pair wonderfully with Thanksgiving turkey like a lot of Pinot will. You're going to continue to see that, cooler, cooler vintages, but then on the outskirts of what we consider the current wine regions.
Lastly, speaking of maybe not the outskirts of current wine regions, that's Bergstrom. Bergstrom's up in Oregon. You're going to continue to see that. I think as time continues to go by you're going to see the people, consumers, and importantly some LEAs and people within the industry who have responsibilities for buying wine, I think I probably fall into that category at this point, are more and more both accustomed and familiar with Oregon, and you're going to see Oregon grabbing a larger market share. I don't know that they'll necessarily take that away from California because the two are so stylistically differently, but I do think that you're going to see them grabbing some market share from France. I think there are some other countries that fall into that same category. New Zealand, I think, is going to be a great example with the move to more acidity driven wines and the less of the fruit forward on the Pinot taste that people are increasingly looking for these days. I think you're going to see a different set of winners than you did probably 10 or 15 years ago. Oregon is definitely going to be on that list.
Once again, the history of Pi- ... Not the history, but the future of Pinot it's anybody's best guess. It's such a dynamic and moving market, but I do think you're going to continue to see more urban wineries. You're going to continue to see cooler, cooler climate fruit and you're going to continue seeing if your smart about what you're buying, you can get a great deal like Sola. If you are willing to try new things from different states, different countries, you can get a really good deal with some of the Oregon juice as well. Once again, Mark Aselstine with Uncorked Ventures. The future of Pinot, I hope you guys have enjoyed it. We're trying something different with a little bit longer videos every once in a while, so please let me know what you think. Thanks again.
I've taken the drive from San Francisco north up Highway 29 close to a hundred times over the past few years, I've never noticed Corison Winery sitting on the west side of the road though, just before you hit St Helena and the section of the 29 that the locals affectionately refer to as Napa Valley's main street, while all the while complaining about the continuously snarled traffic.
It might be that spot on the left hand side of the road that makes it slightly more difficult to reach for most people as they travel into wine country from San Francisco, or maybe people are already looking at the first views of non grape vines that they've had for ten miles as a string of restaurants and high end boutiques begins to appear in the quaint and charming St Helena, but Corison Winery is without a doubt, hiding in plain sight on one of the most famous stretches of road in the wine industry.
Here's an intro from the folks at Corison themselves, as a small word of warning, the sound is pretty low, but I thought it was important to let the people making the wine, talk about what makes them different and unique.
Welcome to Corison Winery. Cathy Corison is our founder, winemaker and [inaudible 00:00:06]. She’s one of the first female winemakers in the Napa Valley. She’s specializing in low alcohol, high acid Cabernet Sauvignon, 100% varietal. If you’re here, come give us a visit. Thanks! Cheers
I visited Wednesday September 17th and was greeted by what amounts to a beehive of activity. Harvest in Napa Valley is well underway and Corison was in the middle of harvested their famed estate Kronos Vineyard. Owner and winemaker Cathy Corison is an important figure on a number of levels, as is the property itself.
Cathy Corison also represents something that I hope we can get back to over time (although with land prices sitting at around $500,000 per farmable acre in Napa, that's increasingly unlikely) which is a winemaker who owns the vineyard from which they produce their namesake wines. These are higher in acidity and more balances than almost anything else produced in Napa-more soon on Corison and why the property and winemaker is important in terms of both the history, but also the future of California wine.
Even an industry as old as winemaking and an item as classic as wine isn’t safe from trends. And maybe that’s not such a bad thing. Here are some of the biggest wine trends happening, and whether or not they’re worth your time.
Natural Wine first got a bit of a bad rap when it came onto the market, with some criticizing the wine for insinuating that other wines were not natural. But, even otherwise mainstream labels are now turning to sustainable practices. Is it worth it to give Natural Wine a sip? Well, considering that the current generation of young wine drinkers wants its yoga pants organic, its baby food non-GMO and its cars hybrid, let’s put it this way: sooner or later you may not have a choice but to drink Natural Wine. So you may as well develop a taste for it now. (Editor's Note, a winery putting natural on their wine label doesn't actually mean anything as of today and within the industry natural is a secondary concern as you have the "regular" wineries on one side and the biodynamic folks on the other. Natural wine doesn't even move the needle for getting people riled up. Also, who drives a hybrid car anymore really, I thought everyone was going 100% electric....or maybe that's just Berkeley. Oh and we have a "natural" wine going out this month in our monthly wine club shipments, so there's that)
You know a glass from Chile or France is usually a good bet, but what about other regions whose wines are making their way into your beverage isle? China, Hungary, Germany and Turkey are starting to sell almost as well as the more “traditional” regions wines. Should you try them? Of course! In fact, the odds are that the flavors that seep into Chinese vines and thereby wines, compliment Chinese food well. And the flavors in Turkish wines compliment Turkish food and so on and so forth. The ingredients for both the wine and the food in theory come from the same soil, after all. Plus, wines from formerly less popular regions will be less expensive than those from oh, say, Burgundy, France or Napa, California.
Chardonnays make a comeback
In recent years, Pinot Grigio and Sauvignon Blanc have been the stars of the white wine world. Many believed they either had to go with the very clean, one-layer taste of Pinot Grigio, or the otherwise flavor-packed Sauvignon Blanc—Chardonnay was considered too sweet by many. But now cooler regions like Australia are making a name for themselves in the Chardonnay market, and with a cooler region comes a more tempered Chardonnay—something that falls right between a Pinot Grigio and Sauvignon Blanc. (Editor's Note, we don't typically think of Australia as a cooler climate, far from it in fact, but I have had a few interesting versions of Grenache from less known areas in the country that are in fact, cooler than you'd expect. The demise of Australian wine imports is an interesting story in itself for another day, especially because they are in fact from cooler regions. The great hope for Chardonnay fans is that a country like New Zealand that's a really cool climate, gives the grape a try)
Wine sellers and food markets combine
Several Whole Foods markets already offer wine tastings, as well as wine bars, on site. And you’ll begin to see many fine dining restaurants offering their bottles to go (un-opened, of course). So, should you only stick to places that are exclusively wine bars to sip your wine? Should you only buy bottles from markets, and stick to a glass at a restaurant? Well, that’s up to you. The truth is that some restaurants might hike up the price of their bottles, knowing that their loyal customers will want to patronize them over a BevMo, while others will charge less than that bottle would be at a market, because they got it at a wholesale or bulk buy price. Know the retail price of the bottle before buying it from a restaurant, and as for wine tasting in a Whole Foods, why not? You get to enjoy their famous hot food bar at the same time. (Editor's Note: We have a local "natural" grocery store that has a prepared food annex that has a weekly wine tasting on Sunday's, which is packed, permitting issues aside, it's only a matter of time before the big boys in the Supermarket business catch on.)
Have you ever peeked across a restaurant and noticed someone drinking out of a wine glass drastically different than yours and thought, “That one looks fun! Why didn’t I get one of those?” Don’t worry: your server isn’t playing favorites. You were given your wine glass for a very specific reason. Here is a breakdown of the different types of wine glasses. (Editor's Note: At home, we don't have a huge collection of these, far from it. In my house, there are two choices, first a steamless glass from Riedel that we use in our gift baskets and that we use on a daily basis. As you might expect over the past four years of running this business, I've put together a pretty good collection of regular stemmed glasses from wineries and tasting events like Family Winemakers and the Rhone Rangers, we have those for friends who don't quite know what to make of the steamless options. My brother in law Matt has a wider set of choices, all stemmed and highlighted by his Bordeaux glasses which we all enjoy simply because they fit an entire bottle of wine and lead to what we affectionately refer to as, healthy pours)
The Syrah glass is actually a relatively new glass in the world of wines. Designed by the Reidel company, the wide glass tempers the rather concentrated flavor of the wine, and the narrow top brings out the fruit flavors.
For a Bordeaux, with its intense flavors, you use a tall glass with a wide bowl. The long glass keeps the alcohol fumes from traveling up to the nose, and the wide bowl aids oxidation.
A Burgundy glass has a wide bowl like the Bordeaux glass, but the curviature is less dramatic and the top is slightly more open. The big bowl brings out the bouquet of the wine, which travels up even easier because of the tapered top.
Wine Stemless white wine glasses don’t just cut back on broken glasses, but they also encourage the drinker to hold the bowl of the glass with their hands, warming the wine slightly and releasing the flavors.
The Sauvignon Blanc looks a bit like a miniature standard glass—it’s slightly shorter and narrower. The smaller glass lets you appreciate such an aromatic wine, and the thinner top also helps the aromas come out.
For a Pinot Noir, you use the wine glass that looks almost like a standard wine glass, but has a wider bowl. This shape of bowl lets the wine aerate best, and the contours of the glass let the bouquet notes come through.
For a Chardonnay, you’ll use the glass that looks a bit like a big bowl. This type of glass lets lots of air in, which brings out the subtle nuances of the wine.
Don’t attempt to pinch the short stem of the brandy snifter with your fingers—the stem has been shortened so you’re forced to cup the glass bowl with your hands. Warming it brings out the aromas.
A glass for this type of wine actually has the shape of an opening rose bud, so that helps you remember it. The flared top of the glass helps deliver the glass directly to the tongue with little change in flavor and the medium sized bowl helps bring out the fruity elements.
Champagne And finally, the flirty champagne flute.
The tall, slender shape helps keep bubbles in, and the tapered rim brings the Champagne’s bouquet to the nose.
Robert Parker's Wine Advocate has gone from awarding a small handful of 100 point wines every year, to well more than 100 last year (and a pace this year, for well over 100 once again). What's that mean for the industry? There's no perfect answer as of yet, but we're all trying to figure it out. One thing I do know, selling based on scores alone, might get harder-
Hey guys, Mark Aselstine with Uncorked Ventures.
One of the interesting thing that's come up over the last few days, the Wine Advocate has now awarded over 500 bottles of wine over the course of their history at 100 points or a perfect score. Interesting thing is that there's a real proliferation of 100 point wines coming right now. 5 years ago, I think that the stats were that less than 50 wines had ever been awarded 100 points in the history of the magazine, and last year alone, there was 102 and there's been 68 already this year. That's kind of before the Bordeaux scores come out. We're looking at another kind of year with well over 100 100 point wines, and so it's just a note of when people get really into, "Well, this wine critic says it's 92 points versus 94 points," if you find somebody who has a similar palate to yours, that's probably a better way of going about it than looking just at the scores as you walk down the aisle. Frankly, I do it too, but it's something that I hope the industry in general can start to move away from (that's also coming from a wine club that talks about shipping wines only 90 points or better in quality, as opposed to scored at 90 points or above like our competitors), especially as kind of this score inflation thing goes out of control, which is what seems to be happening. Yeah, if there used to be a handful of 100 point wines every year, I think that makes sense. There's only so many perfect wines being made and now there's 100 or so a year. That just seems like a big number to me.
Anyway, Mark Aselstine, Uncorked Ventures, and this is the Proliferation of 100 Point Wines in the Wine Advocate.
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