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How Huge Retailers Do Bulk Wine

Kirkland Malbec Argentina 2015

One of the issues with doing these so much off the cuff, eventually you forget something. In this case, it’s how major retailers do bulk wine. Here’s some information on what they do, although it’s perfectly acceptable wine, if you ask a winemaker they’ll tell you, they can’t take any chances when doing a wine like this.

Hi guys, Mark Aselstine with Uncorked Ventures. I talked yesterday about the bulk wine market, and I realized that I had forgotten one important factor. This is a great example of what I forgot. This is a Kirkland Malbec. Kirkland, if you’ve been living somewhere under a rock, is Costco’s own wine brand. Excuse me if I sometimes will refer to Kirkland’s, Costco, et cetera. It will still always be price going to make.

In any case, there’s one other part of the boat wine market that does exist, but it’s just out of reach for 99.9% of retailers even. That’s how most of Costco functions. They’re not buying wine that’s been made for somebody else, or made and not been able to be sold. They are in essence, contacting a winemaker and saying, “I would like you to make us some wine, and here’s kind of the particulars that we want.” That’s how this goes down. There’s some wine clubs that do it that way. We don’t. I think this is a better model.

The Costco stuff, the Kirkland brand, is well scored and well reviewed. That’s because they’re really picking and choosing winemakers to work with. For me, I think there’s a lot to be said for people getting wine at an affordable price rate, but there’s also a lot to be said supporting the industry as a whole. If everybody only by his bulk wine, then we’re left with only bulk wine on the market, and that’s not a good thing for the industry.

It’s a little bit of this, a little bit of the, but the bulk wine market definitely one other choice, than if you have a whole lot of money, and you have a whole lot of way to sell a whole lot of wine. You can start to make some other choices, and really plan stuff out a little further in advance, almost like you’re a functioning winery in and of yourself. I hope that helps a little bit. Once again, Mark Aselstine with Uncorked Ventures. I hope you guys are having a good one so far.

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Shiner and the Bulk Wine Market

This is a Shiner

Where do many of my competitors get a lot of their wine? From the bulk wine market. Here’s what a shiner looks like, here’s some info on the bulk wine market and here’s when I think it’s appropriate for a retailer to use the bulk wine market.

Hi Guys. Mark Aselstine with Uncorked Adventures and a happy beginning of the week to everybody. So I got asked a few days ago, by a customer, about the bulk wine market, and why I feel kind of that there’s … for the most part the bulk wine market isn’t someplace that a wine club should really be venturing. So the bulk wine market really breaks down to a few different segments. So first, if you were gonna bulk out some wine, often a winemaker will talk to somebody like me and ask if, “Hey, I made a little bit extra.” Or “Hey, my day job is taking a little bit of extra time, can you take a barrel or two?” I think that’s a perfectly reasonable way for a wine club to operate and to add some bulk wine to the portfolio under a different label.

There’s also declassified wine. And you run into this more often than the first version. And that’s where a winery isn’t very happy with what they’ve produced, and they don’t want to put it under their own label. So they’re willing to give it somebody else. And they’ll bottle it and send it off under a different label so that the winery who actually made the wine is never at risk for losing their brand name. In my opinion, a monthly wine club that does that is not doing you much of a service at all.

So, third way that wine gets sold. Winery makes a lot of wine. Winery bottles it. So this would be a shiner, as you can see, the cork is completely empty. Well, the cork doesn’t have a label on it, but you can tell there’s no label on the bottle. So this is a Sonoma Chardonnay that is a shiner. And then they’ll sell shiners and then somebody can slop a label on and do it. I think that’s also a fairly reasonable way for a wine club to get some wine out.

In reality I think part of providing a service, at least in my opinion, is that you teach people a little bit about wine. And the easiest way to do that is to talk about real wine makers, and real vineyards, and real wine labels, and not do this kind of third party stuff where there’s no real paper trail and there’s no real way to know what’s actually in the bottle. And I know that probably makes me different and maybe a little bit even unpopular in this crowd. But it is what it is.

So in any case … so that’s a quick run down of the bulk wine market. This is a good example of what a shiner actually looks like, and I hope everybody’s having a good week so far. Talk to you soon.

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Dry Ice During Fermentation

dry ice during the beginning stages of fermentation

As shown above, dry ice is often used by winemakers during many stages of fermentation, but especially at the beginning of fermentation.

So why use dry ice?

First, dry ice is just frozen carbon dioxide gas, so there’s no by product left in your wine.  Dry ice goes directly from a solid to a gas, leaving your liquid sitting comfortably underneath.

More importantly, why?

First, the goal is to keep what is referred to as a cold ferment.  Often wineries and winemakers are stuck for space.  They’d love to simply keep their grapes from A-Z at a standard temperature.  But, space is a major issue, so there’s often no ability to keep your grapes inside a cool room at all times.

In the video above, these grapes are being sorted outside, on a day that was close to 100 degrees.

One thing that most people don’t realize, yeast is what turns sugar in grapes to alcohol and therefore wine, but yeasts die when they get too hot.

For a winemaker that wants to use only naturally occurring yeasts and doesn’t want to have to add anything to their fermentation, using dry ice is one outstanding and natural way to help that occur.

A secondary benefit of using dry ice is that the gas can pool in small amounts, especially in the area where the container ends.  For winery staff, it’s something to be aware of because that’s a health risk, but it’s also a health risk for bacteria.

Dry ice in that way creates something of a roadblock to bacteria while allowing yeast to do their work, a sort of win-win during fermentation and one reason why I’m surprised we don’t see the practice used more often.

BTW, that’s $100 per bottle Pinot Noir being produced there-

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Secondary Vineyard Sites

Couloir Pinot Noir Marin County Chileno Valley Vineyard 2014 Front Label

What happens when all the “good” vineyard sites are taken? Usually winemakers and vintners end up looking at regions that are slightly out of the normal spot.  Sometimes….that ends up working incredibly well.  Here’s an example.

 

Video Transcription:

Hi guys. Mark Aselstine with Uncorked Ventures. I’ll hold this up so you can see it. So this is a bottle of Couloir Pinot Noir and just to get a little more specific, I’ll make sure I don’t mess this up. It’s the Chileno Valley Vineyard. I don’t think that exact vineyard here in this case was the most interesting part but I think the general AVA is. So this was Merin County. I’ve talked about it. If you’re a wine club member, you’ve received on of these at special selections or reserved selections level. Those are our red wine clubs. This was 94 point spectator I believe and it’s like 45 bucks retail so really one of the better value wines of the year. I guess if you consider quality to be part of value, which I do.

I think was this is, it’s 13.9 percent alcohol, which I think is also kind of interesting. I think what this kind of shows is that over time we’ve seen the incredibly diverse and kind of intense planting out of regions. Napa is 100 percent out of land for the most part. Western Sonoma County is kind of getting there quickly. If you want to source grapes or if you want to plant some grapes, you’re in these less desirable areas. Marin is this little stretch of land, as you leave the city of San Francisco and drive across the Golden Gate Bridge, you hit Marin. It’s a really wealthy area. It’s where a lot of people, if you want to find better house in the Bay Area and you want to be able to drive into work in the morning across the Golden Gate and you’re willing to deal with traffic, but you want some land on the other side, that’s kind of the best place to do it. You need a couple of million dollars to make it happen but it is what it is.

It’s been considered this fringe area. Not warm enough to really grow that many grapes or to grow anything all that well, but not cold enough to completely be discounted either. Marin has maybe 200 acres or so of grapes growing and vines in the ground. We’re starting to see some critics’ scores really pick up for it. The interesting thing is as the climate changes, and we’ll leave that alone for the most part in this space, but just to say that it is a little bit warmer than it used to be. If you get a couple of degrees warmer during the summer, maybe all of a sudden instead of having this marginal growing area, you have something that’s dead center for pinot.

Without a doubt that is the hope of some folks that are planting there. This is also a question of the industry kind of shifting itself over. A generation ago, the thought of barely ripening pinot in California was stupid. Nobody would want to even try it. They left that for the French and they said that they will just continue making this kind of ripe lush pinot and everybody go their separate ways. But the industry has taken a step back and gotten more classic, old world in style as far as looking for more acidity and more tannin, especially in lighter reds like pinot. That has made these secondary growing regions more popular. I think you’re going to continue to see that. Spots like the Santa Lucia Highlands, which can really value acidity, is probably more similar to Merin in overall climate than Merin is to say the Russian River Valley, which just a half hour or so to its north.

I think that’s something you’ll continue to see. I think we’re starting to see more winemakers generally interested in it. One of the real challenges for winemakers is that if they have these kind of … I was talking to somebody the other day where they have vineyards that they source in Mendocino, and vineyards that they source in the Santa Cruz Mountains for different pinot projects. They live somewhere in the middle and they’re driving two hours each way and often need to get to both of them the same day, so they’re in the car eight hours total or so to make it happen. It just seems a little silly for a lot of people. Silly in that they can’t really do it consistently enough or as consistently as they want to be able to get themselves into the vineyard and see what’s happening with the fruit. This offers an alternative because it is so much closer to home.

Mark Aselstine with Uncorked Ventures. Heat here locally has calmed down quite a bit. We had 105 degrees in the city of San Francisco about a week or so ago and that was kind of nightmarish since no one has AC. We had lightening strikes last night, which was kind of interesting. But everything seems to be calming down a little bit and hopefully we’ll get back into regular wine club shipping here very quickly.

Once again, I hope everybody’s having a good one and we’ll talk to you soon.

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Every So Often: Cava

Cava Being Poured

Hi, guys. Mark Aselstine with Uncorked Ventures. So, today, something a little different. So, this it a Dibon Brut Reserve, but the important part here is it’s cava.

If you’re not familiar, cava is just the Spanish term for sparkling wine, for lack of a better definition. Sparkling wine’s kind of interesting, right? We mostly call it champagne, but we can’t legally call it that if you’re not making the wine in the Champagne region of France. So, that leads to a number of marketing challenges. There’s a wide assortment of issues that go along with that.

For California vintners, you have some folks who stubbornly still call it champagne, and end up getting dragged into court over it. You have others who are happy to just go with the more generic California sparkling wine. You have other regions that are now building their own sparking wine portfolios, and they have their own brand. It’s like champagne is, it’s really just a brand name, at this point. So, cava in Spain, prosecco in Italy is probably the best known.

This came up because I talked about yesterday, about how yields in cooler climate vineyard sites are often much lower than they are in warmer ones. The average sparkling wine is made in a cool climate vineyard site, and it’s stuff that just doesn’t get ripe normally. So, in California, we look at that, and most sparkling wine is made of pinot and chardonnay here, in the state of California. Those are planted in parts of the vineyard, or part of the state that’s not going to get ripe all the way, and they end up making a sparkling out of it, and that’s perfectly fine, and it works well.

I think the logical question that comes up then, next, is so what happens next? If California can’t produce anything, Washington’s pretty warm, and it’s not going to produce a lot, although I do think, I talked about some of the Puget Sound AVA stuff the other day, and perennial vintners. I think there’s a chance for folks like that to make a damn good sparkling wine in the western part of the state of Washington. Oregon obviously can do it, although they seem to be singularly pinot focused, perhaps to a fault.

You’re going to see other countries, in other regions, that are maybe not as necessarily normally wine-focused come into this marketplace. I think the Czech Republic’s a great example of this. They have a long history with fermentation sciences. They make some great beer, that’s to be sure, and they do have wine production facilities available. Really, when you talk to wine makers, they’ll tell you a couple of things. First, the important thing is not to learn to make wine. The important thing is to learn how to handle fermentation. When you have a large group of people that already know how to handle fermentation, then that gives you the opportunity to make quality wine.

So, I think you will see Czech Republic making wine. I think you’re going to see someone in South America, I don’t want to – I hesitate to try to guess exactly who it’s going to be – will start a sparkling wine program that $10 to $15 dollar a bottle sale in the United States, if not a little bit lower than that, and I think there will be other regions in eastern Europe that try to come into that market segment, too.

Once again, I just thought it was a little bit interesting, based on yesterday, coming and talking about what happens at a lower yielding vineyard site. The lower yield is good for high quality wine, but it does limit what you can put there, and what a winery could produce. That’s one of the reasons why sparkling wine isn’t made in the numbers in California that it is elsewhere, and that’s why we have a generic sparkling wine designation here in California, instead of cava, prosecco, or champagne, because they have a larger market segment [00:03:38], and they have more producers.

So, once again, Mark Aselstine with Uncorked Ventures, hope everybody’s having a good one.

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The Main Question To Ask During Harvest

It's Not Pinotage, but it's Pinot Noir and as close as I could get in Sonoma

Hi guys, Mark Aselstine with Uncorked Ventures. I haven’t done one of these in a while, but there’s a few reasons for that, not the least of which is that I was spending some time sourcing some wine up in the Pacific Northwest that you’ll see in the next coming months as part of wine club shipments.

So I thought, harvest is starting to ramp up. If you’re on any winery email list you’re likely getting an update or two from folks that I’ve spent time with and talked to in the last few days. There are some very early pickings of stuff coming in, of a Russian River based wine maker who’s picking some Trosseau Gris, or picked yesterday, some Tousson Gris out in Lodi. That would be about the earliest that you could ever expect anything to come in. I know there’s a Napa winery that I spoke with earlier this week that has some Sangiovese rose coming in on Thursday.

So you’re starting to see the ramp. It looks increasingly like this year the Sonoma folks are going to be absolutely slammed in the middle of September with Pinot grapes. Napa usually runs 10 days to two weeks or so behind them, and so you’re looking at a lot of Cabernet, and kind of other Syrah and stuff coming in to the valley probably at the beginning of October.

So we’ll have some fun content for that. We’re going to try to get up this week to a night pick. If you’re not familiar, often grapes, they want to have picked in the early morning hours before the heat gets to them. With warm temperatures that we’re having, that pushes it even earlier into the morning. Just to put this in perspective, the specific pick I’m talking about, they’re talking about a three to five AM start time, start to finish. So it’s just to put that in perspective what time we’re talking about when they say a night pick, it truly is in the middle of the night.

So I’m joined by a bottle of Pinot, so outside of the things that you’ll hear about harvest and how this is a great vintage, and this might be the best vintage ever and all kind of the normal kind of BS that goes in the industry, the other thing that you aren’t going to hear about is you’re going to not hear about the drought, and you’re going to hear about people saying, well, the drought’s gone, but when it comes to Pinot, and I think this is a good example of this, because this is Santa Lucia Highlands juice, that’s a reasonable price point, kind of in the mid 20 dollar range.

For Santa Lucia Highlands and for other kind of high class and well respected pinot destinations, why can’t they produce a wine for 20 bucks? Or 15, or 10, or whatever, pick your favorite price point. And the answer to that is partially going to be told during harvest. So Pinot by nature, especially in California is grown at the outside of kind of where the industry started. Cabernet took the kind of Cabernet, Merlot, Bordeaux varietals standard vineyard placements, and the stuff that was considered marginal and not quite perfect was where Pinto went in. And that’s worked out fine, because Pinot’s a cooler weather grape and California in large part vineyards and growers have kind of figured it out.

But when it comes to harvest, then you’re going to hear a second part to that. Yes, this marginal vineyard site that we love for Pinot and it’s perfect for Pinot, oh, but we actually don’t get that much fruit from it. And that’s actually the issue. If you grow a Cabernet on a good site, you can get even in Napa with controlling yields as much as you can, you probably get two to four tons per acre without having to try real hard. There are large swatches of Pinot Noir vineyards on some coast that they love to get four, I mean they would literally throw a parade. So that’s really the just of it and that’s why prices are higher for Pinot than others.

So when you’re reading about harvest and everyone’s telling you how great harvest is, there’s a couple of things to watch for. So first, watch when picks are actually happening. That’ll give you an idea about if it’s a warm or cool vintage before you hear all the kind of marketing hype that goes along with it. And then second, if anyone releases what their yield is, that’s incredibly important. In the wine industry, we often talk about acidity and tannins and all this stuff and really at the end of the day, the easiest way to tell about the quality of the wine is to ask how many grapes they get per acre, what’s the yield. And that’s really the main question and unfortunately for consumers, that’s one thing that’s not shared very often. I’ll tell you from experience, just walking through the average vineyard, you can really tell the difference.

So that’s a quick update, and we’ll get some more content up this weekend. I hope everybody’s having a good one so far.

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After Destemming: Sanviogese Rose

Sangiovese ready to be picked

It’s actually pretty amazing how quickly this happens.  A 6+ month growing season, with at least 6 passes by a professional vineyard management company, harvest starting at 4am, finishing up by 6am.  Then some generic cellar work and finally dropping the grapes into a series of destemming and crushing machines.

Out comes Sangiovese Rose less than 3 hours after the grapes were picked.

This will age for about 6 months before release, but when a winemaker tells you that 95% or 99% of the work happens in the vineyard, it’s especially true for Rose where winemakers are really only concerned with the color: note, this came out pretty much perfect with a single pass.

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Destemmer Part 3

Finally, we’re getting close.  As you can see, the vast, vast majority of the green parts of the vine have been removed.  Much of what’s being dropped are grapes, or some combo of grapes and grape juice.

The small amount of greenery that you still see will get trapped in a wide filter before the grapes are crushed as part of this process.

As you can see, this is a pretty darn efficient process.

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Destemming Part 2

So here’s the main point of the destemmer-removing as much non grape material as possible.

We talk a lot about tannins in the wine industry and I think people generally understand that tannins come largely from grape skins, jacks and the stems themselves.

What people generally don’t know though is that there are different types of tannins inherent in each of those categories. Tannins found on skins and within seeds of the fruit is generally gentler on your stomach because of their carbon structure than are those found in the stem.  That’s the real reason most wineries want to remove as much of this stuff as possible.

Here’s how much is removed and as you can see, technology has made this an incredibly efficient process.  It also helps to answer why the wine we drink today is actually better in terms of quality than what was produced in mass a generation or two ago.  Technology allows winemakers to follow through with what they’d like to do, like getting grapes completely destemmed.

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Destemming in Video: Part 1

Ready to Process Sangiovese Grapes

People often wonder how wineries separate the stems from the grapes.  After all, when winemakers choose to include stems and offer whole cluster fermentation, that’s something that’s talked about almost immediately. So it’s clearly not the normal way of doing things.

Destemming by hand is basically impossible.  To destemm a ton of grapes by hand, you’d need at least a week and perhaps longer.  In fact, I doubt you’d finish before fermentation organically began, or before your grapes went bad.

So here’s how the destemmer works in practice.  If you look at the right hand side of the video, you can barely see it, but there’s a 1 ton contained of freshly harvested Sangiovese being slowly dumped onto this conveyor belt.

That’s done to not overwhelm the machine which can process grapes only so quickly.

The grapes and stems are taken up the conveyor belt and then dropped into the destemmer in small groups, the size of a few handfuls.

In this case, the entire process of destemming about a ton of grapes takes about a half hour of work for a single winery employee.