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What is a Vintner?

what is a vintner?

So, normally I talk about spending time with winemakers.  I’ve been told, I talk ad naseum about my time with winemakers.  But, then sometimes I’ll throw in the term vintner.  I had a wine club member ask about the difference and if I made a mistake, or if they interchangeable etc.  So what is a vintner?

Ok, so there’s one main difference between a vintner and a winemaker. While both can technically make wine, in the term vintner we generally think of them as selling wine, as much as, or more so, than making it.

I’ll personally use the term vintner to include winery owners who are actively involved in the day to day operations of the winery, without the minute by minute work of fermenting grapes during harvest (ie that aren’t in charge of winemaking)

Largely, you’ll see the industry use the terms winemaker and vintner interchangeably.  I don’t think that they should be because they’re different jobs.  Just like how a winemaker that has been made the general manager of his winery, has a much different job than someone who only holds the title of winemaker.

So what is a vintner? They’re someone who might make wine, might sell it.  Depending on the winery, their job can actually change quite a bit.

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A Cuvee by SIduri Wines

I ran into a Pinot Noir producer in Sonoma last week, he produced a yearly Cuvee of Pinot Noir.  It’s something more commonly associated with wines produced in Champagne, but given that it’s showing up on wine labels, I thought some others would wonder:

What does cuvee mean?

Let’s start with the most technical definition of Cuvee, from the federal government: Nothing.  Yup, the term Cuvee has no legal definition on a wine label.  Like many things that winemakers and more importantly wine marketers put on a wine label, there’s no real definition of Cuvee, they may think it will help the wine sell well, or it may something to them internally.  There’s really no way to know.

Cuvee in Champagne:

This is where we need to stop and think about how wine made in Champagne and really all sparkling wine programs are dissimilar than all other wines on the market (ok, so in fairness I am eliminating the very cheapest entry level wines in this discussion, Charles Shaw and other $4 and under wines aim to indistinguishable year to year as well).  Champagne houses really do want their product to be the same every year.  That’s why they often source from a large number of vineyards, that’s why Champagne doesn’t have a vintage listed on it and lastly, that’s why each house has their own unique starter that might actually be more important than the grapes they have coming in the front door.

In Champagne Cuvee refers to the first pressed juice.  It’s the best juice and is often bottled immediately by itself.  The remaining pressed juice is often blended much more

What is a Cuvee Wine?

In the United States and really, outside of the Champagne region of France, while there might not be a technical definition of Cuvee, there is a practical one when you speak with winemakers.  Most winemakers will tell you, that quite simply Cuvee means a blend.  Depending on the region, it might be a blend of different grapes, like a GSM from Paso Robles, or a blend of multiple single vineyards of Pinot Noir in Sonoma.

Cuvee Pronounciation:

It’s quite simply, Koo-Vay. Or Coo-Vay if you prefer and if that helps you understand the softer K sound.

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Does White Wine Have Tannins?

Do White Wines have tannins?

If you ask someone in the wine trade, does white wine have tannins?  Most of the time, they’re going to say no.  Really, that’s not correct.  All wines carry some level of tannins, but white wines certainly have less tannin than do reds.

What are Tannins?

Let’s start with the basics, tannin is the part of a wine which makes you want to pucker your mouth when you drink it.  It’s the “dry” part of the wine.  For some people, tannin comes across their palate as a bitterness (often leading to their preference for white wines).

The highest amount of tannin comes from grape seeds, skins and the stems. As you might expect levels aren’t consistent from white wines to red and even among different grapes, let alone when taking into account winemaking choices.

Winemaking Choices and It’s Effect on Tannin Levels in White Wine:

Tannin comes from contact with seeds, skins or stems.  When it comes to white wine, there are going to be times when the wine is in contact with the seeds.  Eventually, usually within hours, those are filtered out.  Secondly, yes, at times a winemaker will allow a white wine to soak in the skins for a time period.  At most a few hours, let’s call it 8 or so at maximum.  Normally not very long.  Lastly, while whole cluster fermentation has become a thing in red wine, in white wine you might see it for Chardonnay or even Sauvignon Blanc, but only for a few hours (less than a day to be sure).

In terms of the level of tannins in white wine, winemaking choices are going to have more effect on the level of tannin than are the varietals in question (the vineyard location will as well) but in reality, there’s simply not much in the way of tannins in your average, mass marketed white wine.

So the next time you hear the question, does white wine have tannins?  You’ll know that the only real answer is that, yes, but how much depends on a whole lot of other factors……but if you’re within the normal range of winemaking choices, a white wine doesn’t have much in the way of tannins.


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What is Cork Made Of?

what is cork made of?

I’ve spent a lot of time discussing closures for wine bottles, but perhaps the most basic is cork.  Although most people that drink wine know what cork looks like, some often wonder what is cork made of?

The basic answer here is that cork is made of wood.  But that’s not entirely true either.  Typically we think of wood as being the trunk of the tree, but cork is really only the water resistant cells that separate the outside of the tree’s bark, from the inside. If you stop and think about it for a second, normally seeing a soggy cork is a really bad sign right? It’s also rare.  Compare that with a piece of wood that you leave in the backyard before it rains.  The rain soaks in quite a bit right? So cork is a part of a tree, much like wood, but not exactly.

How Cork is Harvested:

Cork is traditionally grown in Portugal and is 100% sustainable.  It’s easy to think of sheep as something similar, you can shave off their excess wool and it grows back.  The exact same thing happens with a cork tree, the cork can be shaved off and it grows back.  That process of shaving and regrowing means that the product itself is sustainable, but also that while we traditionally think of cork as being made of wood, that’s not entirely accurate.

So what is cork made of?

The technically correct term is that it’s park of a tree’s bark, but yeah, most people are going to say it’s wood.  That’s close but not quite right.

Lastly, I found an interesting video that shows the process of shaving a cork tree as it happens in Portugal:

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How Many Ounces in a Glass of Wine?

How Many Ounces in a Glass of Wine?

If you look at the picture above, that’s the difference between a 5 ounce pour and a 4 ounce pour.  Keep reading and I promise I’ll show why that’s so important. So this is a question that does come up every so often, but how many ounces are there in a glass of wine?

The real answer, it depends on the amount of alcohol in the wine you’re drinking, but I’ll try and give you a good guideline.

First, according to the Centers for Disease Control a glass of wine is considered the following:

  • 5-ounces of wine (12% alcohol content).

The second part is what’s important there.  12% alcohol content, in America…..doesn’t really exist.  Sure I’ll see Riesling or some other white wine that sometimes hits that level (honestly, I remember the last 11% alcohol content wine I saw, because it’s so rare in this wine marketplace), but Chardonnay from California (the most common order in America) averages close to 14%.  I’d venture a guess that 15% is closer to reality than is 12%, especially for red wine.

The difference doesn’t seem like much at first blush, but there’s a fundamental different as you open your bottle of wine.

Secondly, it’s important to note that there’s about 25 ounces in a bottle of wine.

So under the CDC guidelines, that says there are 5 glasses of wine in each bottle.  But there’s not, because the alcohol content is actually quite a bit higher.  So instead of 5 glasses, there really are suppose to be 6. I think this is where a lot of people can easily drink too much, many people will tell you there are only 4 glasses in a bottle of wine.  But really, there’s 50% more for much of what we drink.

So how many ounces in a glass of wine?

It’s 4 ounces.

Yeah, I know, you were probably hoping it would be 5 like everyone says.  But it just isn’t because the type of wines that we produce have changed so much over the years.  Especially on the red wine side of things, there’s literally zero chance of that being true any longer.

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Dry Farming for Wine

Dry Farming or Lack Thereof in Lodi

There’s any number of hot topics in the wine industry, but by any account, dry farming is near the top of the list.

So here’s the general rundown.  There’s no legal definition of dry farming and any inclusion of dry farming on a label, doesn’t carry any rules or legal significance.

For our purposes, we’ll consider dry farming as the simple act of not irrigating wine grapes.

Also, here’s some more to know about the dry farming of wine:

  • Vines tend to need to more water when they are younger.
  • As vines age, their roots tend to reach very, very deep. That means that you can effectively dry farm your vineyard, if there is some underground water supply that the grapes are able to access.
  • Most winemakers generally feel that the lack of irrigation stresses vines quite a bit. That stress leads to less fruit being produced and therefore, better wine. There’s also quite a bit of debate, but many winemakers feel that crops grown in this manner, cannot over-ripen.  Many winemakers also feel that subtle flavors are increased in this growing process (this is of course up for much debate)
  • Many vineyard owners and winemakers will cheat a bit at the beginning pf planting a vineyard, they’ll water vines when they’re young and then back off and turn toward dry farming as they age and in theory, can access ground water more easily.
  • Dry farmed grapes tend to sell for higher prices than do irrigated crops.
  • Dry farming becomes increasingly popular as both drought comes and goes in some vintages, but also because as vineyard space becomes harder and harder to come by, that watering restrictions become more common. As an example of the latter, in the city of Paso Robles new vineyards are severely restricted on the amount of water they are allowed to use.


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What Is Bottle Shock?

Wine D2C Sales

Ok, so there was a rather fun movie by the same name…..but Bottle shock is a major concern for wine consumers across the country.

Let’s start with the basics, Bottle Shock is generally thought of as a negative condition that happens when the wine inside a bottle is moved around, a lot.

The first time this happens is when a wine is initially bottled.  It also will subsequently happen when the wine is shipped.

Over the years, consumers haven’t worried about bottle shock all that much.  After all, when the wine industry only existed in a 3 tier setup, why care all that much about the wine being moved in transit from the winery to a distributor to your local retailer? After all, it’s going to take the retailer a couple of days to get the wine displayed and then often a couple of months to get it sold, so there’s plenty of time for the wine to settle.

Then, this started to happen within the wine industry:

Wine D2C SalesLet’s also remember that 98% of wine is consumed within 48 hours of hitting your front door and consumers, should actually care about such a basic question as what is bottle shock? Increasingly, it seems so….but in reality given how people consume wine in America….no.

If I were an average consumer, without a rather large cellar I wouldn’t be at all concerned with bottle shock.

I find a couple of things in practice.  First, after a day or two of bottling, a wine seems pretty much the same as it was in barrel.  I have a ton more experience with this situation than the second.

Secondly, for wines that are shipped, younger wines seem fine.  In fact, if temperature was a concern, it’s often preferable to drink younger rather than older.

For aged wines that are shipped (people do not normally do this, for a reason) your real concern isn’t necessarily some nebulous expression of bottle shock, but really sentiment floating around the bottle.

So what is bottle shock?  It’s a general lessening in quality of a wine for a short period of time after it was transported.

More importantly, should you, as a consumer, be concerned about bottle shock: Nope.  Not at all.

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Can Wine Pick Up Tastes From Neighboring Plantings?

Eucalyptus Trees

Every so often this comes up here in California. Can wine take on flavors from things that are planted in close proximity? Does it matter what your neighbor is growing if you’re trying to grow wine grapes?

For the most part, it doesn’t.  But there are a few cases where it just might on some level.

Here’s the one classic example where it does matter.

Normally that example is in regard to eucalyptus, although there’s a spot in Sonoma that deals with the same questions in regard to lavender.

So can wine pick up some taste from plants that are planted in close proximity?

It’s not as insane as it sounds at first blush.

Back to my eucalyptus example, there actually has been quite a lot of research done in that regard. The reason is that eucalyptus grows freely in California, native to Australia, it doesn’t need extra water and grows to at least 50 feet pretty quickly.  As anyone with close by neighbors can tell you, eucalyptus trees block the wind and prying eyes quite well and quickly after planting.

So growers have planted more eucalyptus than they might care to admit.

The funny part? Eucalyptus has an oil that comes from the leaves, that seems to attach itself to wine grape skins. I’ve heard Wine Entusiast and a few winemakers refer to something along the lines of MOG (Matter Other Grapes) in regard to anything like this that gets added to fermentation.

For many folks, that’s a major issue (and yes, I am including yeast in this).  For others?  This is a sense of place?  It’s why winemakers want to have a conversation with you.  It’s why they want you to understand where the grapes were actually grown.

In any case, when we ask about other plantings transferring anything to your wine, we need to break the question down a bit further.  Can what’s planted effect the grape vine roots?  In this case, eucalyptus would be far enough away and have roots deep enough to not be a concern.

Can what’s planted transfer anything to the wine itself?  This is a lot harder.  Sure, some chemical compounds will transfer.  But, we don’t know what those are of yet.

As an example, there’s a ton of almond fields close to wine grapes, without anyone ever thinking that anything is transferred.

What I’d love to do, is ask winemakers on a wide scale, crowd source the answer.  Does anything close to your vineyards transfer to your wine?

We might, as an industry be surprised at the responses that we receive.

Having tried a Sauvignon Blanc that tasted like a lavender bloom, I can’t say no.

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What Does Domaine Mean?

So we typically see the term Domaine associated with wineries in France, specifically Burgundy.

Domaine is a French term, meaning territory.

You’ll sometimes see the term Domaine and the term Cheateau, also a French term of course, means something akin to a castle, or a country home used interchangably.  Even in France, home to some of the world’s most stringent wine laws, there isn’t a legal definition to either term.

I find the entire history of the term Domaine and Chateau interesting, in large part because in France the location of your vineyard and your winery are often one and the same.  There really shouldn’t be a huge difference in the two terms, other than slightly different histories and cultural connotations in parts of France.

So, when you see Domaine on a wine label, either here in California or abroad (yes, Domaine is typically used in France, but it does show up elsewhere, like South Africa), it doesn’t mean anything which is unfortunate because this is one spot where we might be able to convey some information for people actually buying the wine.

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What is a Garagiste?

what is a garagiste?

Ok, so this is a fun one.  What is a garagiste?

Garagiste, is a French term and is generally accepted to mean something along the lines of being a home winemaker. Over the years, the term Gargiste has taken on a slightly different meaning here in America.  Instead of simply a home winemaker, Gargiste has come to include those who make wine commercially, but in very small amounts.

New winemakers, making only a few hundred, or a thousand (or several thousand) cases a year are largely considered Garagistes, even if they’re making wine at a custom crush, or in some other rented space agreement.

There’s a few festivals featuring Garagistes around the country and if they’re a near tasting, they are well worth a visit.