How should ‘terroir’ be defined in new world winemaking terminology? This is something that really has not been discussed much.

We historically talk about place, about microclimates and soils and temperature, about clonal materials used.

What about ‘winemaker intervention’ right from the get go?

Let me give you an example. When fruit comes in to many new world producers, the first thing that’s done is to sort the fruit. This is oftentimes done in a couple of stages. In its ‘simplest’ form, clusters are sorted on a sorting table and ‘underripe’ or ‘damaged’ clusters are discarded, along with MOG (materials other than grapes, including leaves, bugs, etc.). In many cases, a second stage is set up where the clusters are then destemmed and the grapes are looked up, and ‘imperfect’ ones are tossed. In the extremest of circumstances, and now showing up more an more in CA, optical sorting machines are set up to discard anything other than ‘perfect’ berries.

Many wine consumers yearn for yesteryear. They yearn for a time when grapes were picked at lower sugar levels, when natural acid levels were higher, and wines were not ‘over the top’. Guess what – there were no optical scanners then. There were not vibrating sorting tables then. Yes, perhaps some wineries hand sorted their clusters as they came in, but my guess is that many did not. And the wines turned out okay.

Just something to think about today. ‘Perfection’ is unattainable in our industry, as it is in almost everything in life. And I believe it’s our job to enjoy the ‘perfect imperfections’ in life that make things real, attainable, and enjoyable.

Cheers . . .

Does It Really Matter – Budweiser and ‘MacroBrews’ . . .


I really enjoyed the Super Bowl this past weekend. Yes, I was hoping the Patriots would win as I’m not a big Pete Carroll fan, but I was hoping for a close, exciting game and it certainly delivered on that! In addition, I always get together with a bunch of other folks to watch the game, including a few others who share birthdays around the same time as mine, and we just have a good time.

I’ve also enjoyed some of the commercials that have aired during the Super Bowl in the past, and this year’s was no different. Though there were plenty of ‘dark’ ones, I especially liked the Fiat and Coca-Cola ads – the former for its humor and the latter for its ‘feel good’ message.

For whatever reason, I do not remember the Budweiser ad that seems to have garnered a lot of attention and I’m not sure why. Perhaps I was grabbing for that second slider or grabbing another beer; or maybe I was making a pit stop.

In any event, it’s been interesting   reading the responses to that ad, so I finally had a chance to view it this morning, and I really do not understand why folks are reacting the way that they are. To me, this ad states what Bud is trying to convey quite clearly – their beer is a ‘classic’ and one meant to drink but not ‘analyze’.

This reminds me a lot of what continues   to happen in the wine industry. Look, if you’re reading this, you would probably put yourself in the camp of a ‘somewhat knowledgeable wine consumer’. Therefore, because of this, you’re supposed to ‘laugh’ when I say things like White Zinfandel and Sweet Moscato, right?

Guess what – not everyone is into discussing the next great IPA or whether this sour beer is more or less sour than the next one. Yes, there certainly are plenty of ‘beer geeks’ out there who love discussing these things – and think nothing about spending  upwards of $20 or more for a six pack or its equivalent of a ‘micro brew’ beer. That’s cool and I get it and have even been guilty of partaking in a few of these.

For the vast majority of consumers, though, this really may not have much appeal to them, just as a ‘natural wine’ or a ‘terroir driven Chinon’ may not to the majority of wine drinkers. This ‘pompous’ attitude (yep, I said it) will simply lead to ‘splintering’ in the beer drinking community, with folks ‘taking sides’. And ultimately, this will lead to a maxing out of how large the beer drinking community will be. And to me, this lay at the heart of what the ad was trying to convey.

Some of you are saying, ‘That’s cool. Keep the craft brew market small.’ Okay, but the growth in the craft brew industry is not based on ‘keeping it small’. It’s based on creating a wider audience for all of the products – whether it by Pliny The Elder or a smoked Stout from San Diego County. Without a growing market, you will not see new companies jumping in, and you will not see the selection and reach of the current companies sustaining.

So I say kudos to Bud for understanding who they are and trying to leverage that in an ever-increasingly snobby craft brew market!

I’m sure you have your opinion on this – let’s hear it!

The Power of Your Nose . . . and Ears . . .

springsteen and clemons

As most of you know, I make wine for a living – and dig it every day. One of my favorite aspects of what I do is how others get enjoyment out of what I do. To me, that makes it all worth it.

One of the other aspects of why I dig wine is how it can affect people – most of the time good, but sometimes not so. And what I’m talking about here is specifically aromas. Our sense of smell is so strong and so personal that no two people smell and react to the same thing in the same way.

I’ve had customers smell specific wines and I can see a glaze come over them – they’ve been ‘transported’ somewhere else. Perhaps it was when they were a kid walking on the beach or in a forest; perhaps it was during a special meal that they had a food that somehow my wine reminded them of. Or perhaps there’s a specific aroma that brings back a ‘negative’ event in their lives – they won’t like the wine no matter how much they may want to . . .

Why am I talking about this? Well, driving back from Santa Barbara this morning, I put in an old Bruce Springsteen CD and a flood of memories came back while listening to Born to Run. I clearly remembered my good buddy John DiGiovani and I listening to this and many other songs in High School – and him explaining what ‘the girls tried to look so hard’ meant. I remember my oldest brother Ira going to see Bruce at the ‘Fabulous Forum’ back in the day, and me staying awake the next night taping Bruce’s Roxy Theater concert on the radio on my dad’s reel-to-reel recorder. And I remember how ‘spiritual’ Clarence Clemons’ saxaphone playing was – and how sad I was when he passed away a few years back . . .

I also clearly remember the 16 mile mark of the New York Marathon that I ran a number of years back. As you crossed a bridge and entered Manhattan, you ran into a tunnel – and blasting over loud speakers was Born to Run.

I love that I can be transported so easily by music, or aromas, or a movie. It’s ‘time travel’ in the most fun of ways . . .

Just thought I’d share.


Does it Matter . . . Closures . . .

cork oxidation

As many of you know, I am a huge fan of the screw cap. Let me say at the beginning here that I do NOT believe it is the ‘perfect’ closure as I do NOT believe that there is such a thing.

But let me explain why I use screw caps for all of my tercero wines. Again, this is not to say that it is ‘better’, but there is a reasoning that I think is important to understand:

I do not like TCA whatsoever. For those who do not know what this is, during the aging process of corks, mold grows on the air drying cork. Sometimes, but not all of the time, a chemical compound is created that eventually becomes TCA, or tri-choloranisole for those who dig scientific names J

What’s the big deal with TCA? Well, at low levels, it simply steals the aromas from a wine, making it appear that it has none. At higher levels, it makes the wine smell of wet cardboard or of a damp basement.. That said, if you are not familiar with this smell, you probably would not pick it out as a ‘fault’ but instead might find the wine ‘earthy’ instead.  And guess what – this happens as soon as the wine comes in contact with the cork at bottling. No, you can’t tell in advance if a cork is infected unless you run costly tests on EACH cork and no, the problem does not ‘appear’ later on years after bottling.

The other thing about natural corks – one of it’s most endearing traits, the fact that it is ‘all natural’, is also one of its most challenging.. How can that be? Well, since it’s all natural, no two corks are identical. The individual cells that make up the cork itself are different shapes and sizes, and this allows for slightly different amounts of oxygen to be trapped within the cork prior to bottling and for different amounts to get through the cork during aging. This ultimately leads to ‘bottle variation’ and can, in worst case scenarios, lead to too much oxygen getting in and the wine becoming clearly oxidized. (See the picture above for an example of the same wine bottled under cork and the ‘variability’ that has led to wines of varying color and oxidation levels).

Therefore, one of the main reasons I use screwcaps is to ‘eliminate’ these variables. As a ‘manufactured’ product, there is much greater consistency with screw caps, and thus the ‘variability’ that exists with different size  cells does not exist here. There also is no chance of TCA being introduced to the wine from the closure itself. (And for those of you who will ‘argue’ that TCA does make it into wines in other ways, you are correct . . . but the VAST majority of TCA issues are cork-related).

I have no desire to make ‘sterile’ wines at all. Wines are ‘living creatures’ that will continue to evolve as long as they stay in bottle, and truly ‘blossom’ hours or even days after the bottle is open. But I take offense to the fact that a lot of ‘bottle variation’ that seems to be accepted by consumers is preventable, and as a consumer first and foremost and a winemaker second, I want to be able to stand behind my product and know with a greater degree of certainty that what my customers are consuming is what I desired them to be.

I am certainly open to your thoughts on this issue and welcome them.

Does It Matter . . . Ownership


This is the first in a series of blog posts where I’m asking pretty simple questions about aspects of our wine industry that may or may not be known to the general public – and if it helps determine whether or not you will purchase specific wines.

Kosta Browne is a winery that was started by a couple of servers at a restaurant who combined their tips to purchase grapes for their first wine.  Their brand garnered early critical acclaim and the original shareholders ‘cashed out’ a part of their equity by selling off to a smallish investment company a few years back. The cash infusion allowed them to build their own winemaking facility, among other things. Now, this investment company has ‘cashed out’ and sold its share to another investment company.

Why am I telling you this story? Well – there are many that feel that since the original owners have received all of this money and they have new investors aboard, the natural direction will be to grow bigger and probably charge more for their wines. And the feeling is that as you grow bigger, you cannot hold onto the quality you are able to achieve when you are smaller.

This really got me thinking about winery ownership and whether or not that does or should impact your support of a winery or willingness to purchase those wines.  I think most would agree that you would not support a winery owner that was, say, a murderer or something similar.

Would you support a winery owned by Billionaires? Or one that has an association with a large pharmaceutical or agricultural conglomerate? Or does if just not matter?

And what about if you didn’t know but found out later – would that change your opinion about the wine and purchasing again?

The reality is that many wineries in the US are owned by larger corporations or investment companies, some of which are ‘wine oriented’ and some of which are not. Others were started an are owned by multi-millionaires that made their money elsewhere and decided to get into the wine biz.

Does this or should this affect your support of such a winery?

I’m listening . . .


The Good, the Bad, and the . . .


As many of you know, I like to talk a little :-)  I also like to write a little :-) AND I like to take part in discussions about many things, including wine every now and then. I am active on wine bulletin boards and love the interactions that take place, and it gives me plenty of ‘food for fodder’ for blog posts, etc.

There is currently a somewhat heated discussion occurring involving a rather pricey Napa Cab that has been fun to watch – and take part in. This particular cab is produced by a well-established Napa winery that has a reputation for well-made wines, and has had that reputation for quite some time.

In fact, this particular cab was made in honor of their 40th Anniversary as a winery. That’s a long time to be making wines – and keeping the doors open for ANY business. So what’s the ‘issue’ here? Well . . . .

This cab happens to be made in a very ‘new world’ style. It’s rich, unctuous, and speaks little of ‘old world  cabs’ that the winery was known for in the past. Some might find it difficult to even determine what variety the wine is – something I personally have a problem with but others apparently do not. I don’t hold it against the wine or the winery – it’s the way they wanted to make this particular wine. And even though it’s ‘sweet’ to me, others have found it unbelievably drinkable – even at the retail price of nearly $60.

Side story – a very well-known winemaker once poured me a glass of wine and asked what I thought. I told him that it was an interesting wine but couldn’t tell what variety it was. ( It turned out to be a Grenache, my favorite variety, from a very sought after new world trophy winery.). His comment to me, which still rings in my ears years later – ‘when a wine is perfect, it transcends the variety.’ Yeah, right – BS!!!

So who has the ‘right’ to say whether this is a ‘good’ or ‘bad’ wine? Who has the right to tell you, me, or anyone else that they are ‘crazy’ or ‘wrong’ for enjoying a wine such as this one?

I’m curious to hear your thoughts on this . . .

On Enjoying Wines (Part 1) . . .

Conflicted 1


I stand a conflicted man today. Well, I’m ALWAYS conflicted in many ways – life is never as ‘straightforward’ as I would like it to be  :-)

Today, though, I am conflicted over something I see happen again and again with wines, especially those enjoyed by more of the ‘wine geek’ amongst us. There is a term oftentimes used in wine called ‘typicity’. This is a term that has been used for centuries elsewhere in the world where wine has been made a lot longer than here in the US.

It is a word that somewhat goes hand in hand with the often-used term ‘terroir’. Typicity has been used in places like France to ‘ensure’ that wines coming from a specific region show a ‘lineage’ to the other wines produced from there. For instance, if you produce a cabernet franc from the Chinon region of the Loire Valley in France, it should smell and taste ‘typical’ of others that have been produced there.

This ensures that traits and characteristics associated with a region, or grapes from that region, remain intact, and that, despite vintage variations and new vignerons arriving on the scene, that this remains the ‘rule’. This does NOT mean that a winemaker cannot go slightly ‘vogue’ and do something different, This also does not mean that ‘typicity’ cannot ‘evolve’ with changes in viticultural or enological practices.

Why do I bring this up? I’ve been enjoying a wide variety of wines lately, as have many of my friends who post about them on wine bulletin boards. I’m surprised and amazed at times, though, that wines that are not only enjoyed but compared with the greatest examples of a specific ‘variety’ show no such typicity to that variety. And therein lies the problem to me . . .at least to me.

How is one to compare and contrast wines from the same variety if there is no ‘similarities’ between the two of them? I’m curious to hear your thoughts . . .