Fun comparing small-production Pinot

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There are lots of ways to enjoy wine with friends but when you want to add some twists and turns put the wines in a paper bag and try to identify or rank them.

Try a night of all one varietal or from different growing region. My small wine group, frequently referenced on this blog, has played about every wine game in the book and made a few others up.

Back in December three of us tasted three, small production, Oregon Pinot Noirs and ranked them. All three wines were from the much-praised 2014 vintage. Youngberg Hill‘s Natasha Block, Ghost Hill’s Prospector’s Reserve, and Alloro‘s Estate Riservata were the three Pinot Noirs. Alloro was our favorite. Here is that blog post.

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Tom Fitzpatrick, Alloro

All three tasters that night were pretty experienced wine drinkers and big Pinot fans. We repeated the exercise April 8 with a group of 8 regular wine drinkers. We had three wines from the same wineries but different bottlings: Youngberg Hill Jordan Block, $50, 87 pts Wine Spectator; Ghost Hill Bayliss-Bower Pinot, $42, 91 pts Wine Spectator; and Alloro Vineyards Estate, $35, 93 pts Wine Spectator. The marketing firm had sent me an additional small-production wine, Lenne Estate’s whereI have previously visited. We included the Lenne Estate Pinot, $45, 92 pts Wine Enthusiast, in our Sunday night tasting.

 

These four wines represented the Willamette Valley AVAs McMinnville, Yamhill-Carlton, and Chehalem Mountains.

We tasted the four wines, and made comment, in a random order. Then we reversed order and tasted again. I would describe the group as three very serious wine drinkers, including myself, who have consumed their share of Oregon Pinot, two more guys who have tasted great Oregon Pinot but probably not quite as geeky, and three guys who are new to the geeky side of wine.

We ranked the wines simply by personal palate preference. Lenne was a strong new entry to this round. When all was said and done, our bigger group picked Alloro as the clear cut favorite for the second time in a row. I might add the four new tasters didn’t know the results from our first effort. And another note, as the wine writer here, I agreed with the ranking both times. But it was tougher this last batch

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Steve Lutz, Lenne

Alloro and Lenne were the picks with seven winos picking one or the other as the best with Alloro having a fairly sizeable margin of victory. Ghost Hill picked up one first-place vote. Youngberg Hill was one of the wines most debated.

 

There are a couple points to be made here. First, my palate or any of my friends’ palates have nothing to do with your wine choices. If you like it, it’s great wine. But we all rely on recommendations, particularly from friends. Second, these are small to very small production wines and are not easy to find outside of Oregon with a few exceptions.

The bigger point might be if you travel to any wine country leave time on your schedule to seek out a few of the really small wineries. You’ll find great choices and those little guys really appreciate your business. Most personnel tasting room employees are anxious to share recommendations. I’ve found some great wine by asking “who else should I go see?’ in Oregon and Napa.

BLOGGER’S NOTE: I’ll have comment from all four of these winemakers, plus Vidon Vineyard’s Don Hagge, in a couple of upcoming newspaper columns. Of course, those columns are always posted here as well.

 

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Time to start stocking up on Rose’

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If it’s spring it must be a column about dry Rose’. If you are still shunning the wonderful dry – and yes, pink – Rose’ wines from around the world you are the fool fellow winos.

grape-sense-logoRose’ is beyond hot in the wine sales market – it’s a rocket ship. From mid-2016 to mid-2017, Rose sales in the U.S. increased by 53 percent in volume according to BeverageDaily.com and Nielsen sales data. Rose’ represents less than two percent of all US wine sales but the growth is unprecedented in any category.

While it is difficult to get up-to-date sales figures, the growth of French Provence Rose’ – the category leader – is stunning. In February of 2016, Nielsen reported an increase in sales over the previous 12 months of 54 percent on volume and 60 percent on value.

The growth rates for imported Rose, which comes from a number of countries but is dominated by the French, is crazy. Rose’ sales have outpaced the rest of the imported market for more than 10 years. In 2016, Provence Rose’ held 64 percent of all imported Rose’ sales.

IMG_1254 (1)More than 160 Provence wineries are exporting the salmon-colored wines to the US. For more than a dozen years exports of French Rose’ have grown every years at double digit rates.

Two of the biggest selling French Rose’ wines are Chateau d’Esclans Whispering Angel and Domaine Miraval’s short, stout bottle with the backing of Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie. Even these two best sellers come in at the mid $20 price point. It’s not unusual to see Whispering Angel under $20 down to $15 come end of the summer clearance – if there is any left. Several producer make several price levels of Rose’ with d’Esclans Garrus at the top of the pack at an average of $80 a bottle.

But if you’re not a Francophile there are plenty of Rose choices at home where quality is skyrocketing in the last couple of years. Oregon and California producers, particular those who grow Pinot Noir, have jumped into the booming Rose’ market. After attending a recent Rose’ tasting presented by one of Indiana’s biggest wine distributors, it’s easy to see the vast improvement in Rose’ of Pinot over past years.

But look around your wine shop for Rose’ wine from Spain, many of Italy, and Rose’ of Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Malbec.

It’s not just a summer sipper. Rose’ owns the summer and has eyes on becoming more a year around part of your wine shopping habits.

NOTE: Would you like some specific Rose’ recommendations? You’ll find a long lists of Rose wines Howard has tasted and recommends listed in the following post.

 

Howard’s 2018 Rose’ wine picks

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This post accompanies my every-other-week column which went out to newspapers and websites Mar. 29 about Rose. Here are some specifics wines to look for at your nearby wine shop and liquor stores. The full column will be posted on this site April 2.

whHoward’s Rose’ Picks: The Whispering Angel and Miraval are very good representations of Provence Rose’ but there are so many out there to choose from. I recently attended a distributor’s Rose’ tasting of more than 100 wines. Obviously, I could only taste a few but here are my picks and a couple of other recommendations.

I’m liking Oregon and California more with every passing vintage but the French are still the masters. When everyone started jumping into the Rose’ market a few years ago, there were some wines that lacked depth and structure. More recent offerings have been darn good Rose’. As any regular reader of my musings knows, I love Oregon.

The wines listed here may not all be easy to find but they are all sold in Indiana: Tablas Creek Patelin de Tablas, CA. – a blend of traditional Rhone grapes; Conundrum Rose, CA. – A well-known producer growing gamay; Mirabeau Pure, FR. – traditional Provence blend and probably my favorite of the entire tasting.; Lunda Nuda, IT. – an unusual blend of Sangiovese-Merlot from Multipulciano; Maison Louis Jadot Gamay Rose’, FR. – light bodied from one of Burgundy’s biggest names;

b_Miraval-Rose_zoom_7Cloud Chaser, FR. – lighter than many of the others but nice freshness; St. Andrieu, FR, – a nice choice if you prefer a bit more mouth feel; Esedune Cab Franc,- a bit above average but Cab Franc Rose’ continues to improve and take market share ; Canto Perdrix Tavel, FR. Tavel is often too big for my Rose’ palate but this one is more understated; Susan Balbo Malbec/Pinot, AR, – tasted this Argentinian winemaking rock star’s Rose’ several years ago and was underwhelmed. The 2017 version is quite enjoyable: Willakenzie Pinot Noir, OR.  – nice, well-balanced Rose’ … one of many from Oregon.

Of course this means I didn’t taste somewhere around 85. There were also several I tasted that I didn’t care for very much.

Cheers!

Stepping up your wine drinking

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So how do you take the next step in your wine drinking? Let’s say you have an interest or desire to drink better wine. Perhaps you feel stuck drinking the same $15 Tuesday night red or white.

grape-sense-logoThe easy answer is to spend more money. You can go out and buy a $30 bottle instead of the $15 and odds are good you’ll drink better wine. But perhaps the approach should be more discerning.

If you want to improve your wine picks then get into a wine shop or a liquor store, big box store, that has a big selection. And yes, you’re going to pay more for better wine.

Perhaps one of the most frequently asked questions is what’s the difference between a $15 and $50 bottle of wine. The answer isn’t neat and simple but several factors will help you appreciate the higher price beyond the taste.

Higher-end wines are usually made in small batches. Would you rather drink wine made in a silo or one made in a small oaken barrel? Would you rather drink wine where grapes are indiscriminately yanked from the vines by machines or hand-picked before heading to the winery? Would you like to drink wines where the vineyards produce seven tons per acre with no pruning or wines grown in a vineyard where leaves are trimmed for ideal ripening and fruit is dropped during the growing season to increase the intensity of the fruit? Those things greatly increase labor costs.

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There are reasons – good and bad – that bottle costs more than $100.

The biggest material expense is oak. Cheaper wines are aged in used oak barrels or oak barrels from less prestigious regions. In recent years, the much-derided use of oak chips has proven a popular and cheap alternative for low cost wines. Top-end wines are aged in new French oak barrels which can cost $1,500-$2000, while most are $1000-$1,200. American oak barrels often cost half or a third of that amount.

Is there a difference in the golf club you buy at the local big chain discount store and the club you’d buy at a top-flight pro shop?

There has always been something pseudo glamorous about a $100 bottle of Napa Cab. Now it’s hard to find a Napa Winey with a top bottling that costs less than $100. Napa’s top vineyard To Kalon is in such high demand that the vineyard owner will only sell to producers who price their wines at certain levels above $100 a bottle.

But, as noted earlier, lets move beyond price. One approach to drinking better wine is taking a wine you like and go online to see if the winery produces a more refined, and higher-priced, similar bottle. If the winery has a $15 Cab there is a good chance it also produces a $30-$50 Cabernet.

Going to a wine shop should expose you to someone with expertise who can ask you questions about what you’re drinking and suggest the next logical step. Logic doesn’t dictate going from $15 to $100. If you’re sold that bill of goods leave and don’t return to that wine retailer.

If’ you’re drinking mostly $15 wine, your next step up the wine ladder should be in the $25-$50 range. Look for wines from a specific region. If you’re buying Napa Cab – and that’s all it says on the label – the grapes could come from 16 different sites in Napa. That’s good wine but there are probably no defining characteristics. Instead, buy a Napa Cab from Rutherford, Mt. Veeder or Howell Mountain for nuance in the flavors.

You need to get to about the $50-$75 price point to start drinking the really fine wines. In lesser regions, $30-$50 will get you a really good bottle.

If you’re drinking wine costing less than $20 simply ask for some advice and try something that costs 50 percent more or double the price. You’ll consume much better wine.

Tommasi introduces Amarone to many

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Amarone is an under-appreciated fine wine that may be new to many wine drinkers. Amarone comes from northern Italy and is made in a process requiring the grapes be dried before pressed for their juice.

grape-sense-logoThis column is another in a series of interviews with winemakers, owners, and families about their passion for winemaking. Pierangelo Tommasi is a member of the fourth generation of Italians making Amarone wines. The Tommasi family owns several Italian estates and makes a variety of Italian wines. Pierangelo is something of a family spokesman. He works to market the Tommasi wines.

When a family business is rooted with such history, the passion is easy to understand.

Tommasi Famiglia

The current generation of the Tommasi family. Pierangelo is second from right.

“The time, labor and materials that go into crafting each bottle of Amarone della Valpolicella Classico set Amarone apart from other Italian wines, as few are as distinctive or precious as Amarone,” Tommasi began. “Our Amarone is produced from indigenous grape varietals Corvina, Corvinone, Rondinella and Oseleta grapes, all of which have thick skins, allowing them to dry for 100 days on bamboo racks with constant air circulation.”

The process of aging is unique for Amarone. During that drying period the grapes lose about half of their weight but the juice is concentrating. The wine is fermented and gains the color from skin along with the tannins and structure needed for a great wine. After fermentation, the wine is aged for three years in large oak casks.

 

Amarone is known as a wine of great depth and richness. And, obviously, it’s wine made from grapes which most Americans have never heard of previously. It is unlike other wines.

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Pierangelo Tommasi

“Amarone is a complex wine, but it is one of the most historical and beautiful expressions of one of the most esteemed Italian wine regions,” Tommasi said.  “Consumers should not be intimidated by the blend of grapes that go into Amarone, they should instead focus on the long aging potential of the wine and the full-bodied yet smooth and elegant characteristics that make it a favorable wine to pair with food.”

“Amarone della Valpolicella Classico is a wine one can proudly serve for special occasions, paired with red meats and ripe cheeses,” Tommasi said. “It is also a fantastic stand-alone wine, with the perfect balance of intense berries and soft tannins to make it easy to sip on its own. An ideal companion to enjoyable conversation.”

What I’m drinking? More bubbles!

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In the early years of this column I’d do a semi-regular feature called, ‘What I’ve Been Drinking Lately.’  Let’s bring that back in 2018. We’ll recommend specific wines that, in a way, become generic recommendations for easy-to-find wine picks.

grape-sense-logoMore and more bubbles are turning up on my wine rack. It’s taken too much time but after awhile any wine drinker will learn sparking wines aren’t just for New Year’s Eve, Valentine’s Day, or a wedding reception.

Good sparkling wine is a marvelous aperitif. A cold sparkler is a phenomenal porch pounder. Bubbles pair well with salads, lighter style seafood, and even fresh fruit.

Sparkling wine sales are growing around the globe. Whether its Cava from Spain, Cremant from Burgundy or Loire, Italian Prosecco, American bubbles, or the grand daddy of them all – Champagne from Champagne, France, bubbles are hot.

If you’re not a big bubbles drinker now, let’s find an easy place to start. Prosecco might be the easiest entry point for most wine fans. Prosecco comes from Northern Italy, largely made from the glera grape, and is very affordable. Most Prosecco wines are made dry like a tart brut. But the typical pear, honeysuckle flavors trick the palate into thinking it’s a bit sweeter.

MionettoAn easy starting point is Mionetto Prosecco. It’s fresh mouthful of fruit with light bubbles. Mionetto can be found at the entry level of $13-$16 and is widely distributed. Other entry level Prosecco include Bisol and Rebuli, among others.

I prefer my bubbles with a good chill. It won’t take you long to figure out where you like the temperature of your sparklers.

Like any other grape in the wine world, you’ll notice new layers of flavor and satisfaction as you climb the price ladder. Prices are quite modest for Prosecco and Cava starting at under $10. Consumers can find outstanding sparking wine’s in the $30 range.

There’s nothing like French Champagne but you won’t find one for 13 bucks. Good champagne starts in the $40-$50 range.

Let’s add its not a bad time to stock up. Most fine wine shops and liquor stores pack the shelves for the holidays through Valentines day. Look for prices to be discounted in the next few weeks.

And a final note for today, most all sparkling wine producers produce a sparkling rose’. In a brut you get a dry, and sometimes yeast hint, that isn’t pleasant to all palates. Sparkling Rose is a personal favorite. Rose’ is still dry, bubbly, but with a bit more fruit.

You won’t regret keeping bubbles on your wine rack.

Winemaking is always about farming

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Whether it’s the hills of Southern Indiana, the lush valleys of California, or limestone soils in Bordeaux, winemaking is farming. Most any winemaker will quickly share that great wine comes from great vineyards.

grape-sense-logoAdditionally, the best winemakers say they only get involved in a tiny portion of the winemaking process.

“A vineyard is by God,” said Italian winemaker Chiara Boschis, in Indianapolis to promote her Piedmont wines. “Winemaking is an art, such a long process from the grape to the harvest and then vinification. What is important is to be a good farmer. We have learned to be better and better farmers.”

Boschis is a bit of an icon. She started in the late 80s with her first vintage in the early 1990s. Her ‘old farm of Barolo’ had been worked for nine generations. “But being a girl, I was not really involved. Ah, a lost resource.”

So off she went to university to earn a degree in economics, which she hated. When her father purchased a nearby small winery in 1980, she jumped at the opportunity. “I wanted in, I wanted to have my hands in the wine. At that time Barolo was not as important as it is today. I was attracted to all the new ideas.

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Boschis talking Italian wine.

Pira & Gigli winery has been her workshop ever since. She believes in minimal interference. As a matter of fact, she calls her wines 99 percent vineyard and 1 percent winemaking.

She almost immediately started reducing the crop in her 10 hectares (about 24 acres) to improve grape quality. She became diligent in keeping her winery spotless. She called the 1990s the years winemakers learned what they needed to do to make the Barolo grape, Nebbiolo, a world-class wine.

“Back then the winemakers were called the Barolo boys,” she said. “I was the only girl. Women have always been the column of society, taking care of the kids, the budget, and the household. Now a lot of girls are taking up winemaking.”

That emergence in the 1990s was crafting Piedmont wines to be food-friendly and a bit lighter than previous tradition. “We wanted to reduce the crop to reduce the alcohol and sugars,” she explained. “We wanted to make wines of elegance, wine for food.”

Piedmont wines are for serious wine drinkers. The first step into Piedmont wine is Dolcetto. You’ll often find it labeled as Dolcetto d’Alba or Dolcetto d’Asti – that’s simply a geographic designation. It’s an earthy grape with bright fruit and can be found for around $20.

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Boschis explaining Piedmont’s winemaking regions.

Barbera is a real workhorse in the area and maybe the best value. The best Barbera wines are silky on the palate with lots of spicy notes. Barbera can range from $25-$50.

Nebbiolo is the rock star in northwest Italy. Wines labeled Nebbiolo are essentially ‘second wines.’ The wines are dry and tannic with a distinctive flavor of terroir and region. Nebbiolo can be found at a wide range of prices from upper teens to $50.

The very best Nebbiolo, in specified Piedmont regions not far from Turin, becomes Barolo. Barolo is considered by many wine critics and wine drinkers one of, and in some case, the best wine of Italy and even the world. The wine is made for food and to age. They are rich wines perfect for big food and Barolos usually have a pronounced finish.

Good Barolo is hard to find at less than $50 or $60. Boschis’ Barolo wines are generally $100-$120. So, Barolo isn’t going to be for everyone, its not easy to find unless you are in a larger city wine shop, but Barolo is a dynamite wine. Try a Piedmont in your price range with Italian beef or hearty sauces.

Watching sausage made educational

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No one really wants to see the sausage being made. Occasionally, there is reason to see how things come together.

grape-sense-logoGrape Sense is now in its 11th year of publication all around Indiana and viewed via social media coast to coast. People often ask if all ideas have been exhausted. That’s not really a problem. Opportunity sometimes provides ideas and new directions and that has happened lately. The 10 years of wine writing has opened up more connections with marketing firms directly to wineries and winemakers.

Numerous opportunities have popped up recently to interview winemakers in California, Oregon and even Italy. Reading winemakers thoughts about their approach to production and their views of the industry is really educational. A few weeks ago we featured Ravenswood’s Gary Sitton, who has replaced the legendary Joel Peterson. Today’s column features more specifics. We’ll feature more such features in Grape Sense throughout 2018.

Ravenswood is one of the leading Zinfandel producers in the country. Historically, Peterson’s efforts have not only propelled the winery but the varietal. Entry-level Ravenswood is widely available in Indiana. Select vineyard designate wines can be found at better wine shops.

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Ravenswood’s’ Gary Sitton

Sitton began our conversation talking about Ravenswood’s approach to Sonoma County Zinfandels.

“We pick the grapes just ripe, not over-ripe and allowing for the grapes’ natural acidity to bring freshness in young wines, but also the ability to age over time,” Sitton said. “Our winemaking techniques of really focusing on the vineyard enables us to create Sonoma Zinfandels as it is our home, as well as produce Zins from Lodi, Napa and Mendocino Counties, all of which are full of personality and can be traced across vintages.”

Sitton also appreciates getting into the tasting room to see how his wines are being received. “I try to make it into the tasting room when I can, to get some one-on-one time with our visitors,” he said. “I like to get a personal take and get a pulse to how they feel about our wines. I think it’s important to have firsthand insight from the people supporting us the most. More so, I think it is important to have a face behind Ravenswood, in the tradition of our Founding Raven (Peterson), as it shares the true human story of our Sonoma winery’s home.”

The entry-level wines, usually under $20, are approachable and give wine fans a good introduction to California Zinfandel. Certainly the vineyard designates, in the $39-$60 category, present richer and smoother Zins for a more refined taste.

“With Ravenswood County Series, Single Vineyard Designates, as well as our Vintners Blend wines, we believe we can continue to support wide national distribution, while providing options at different price points,” Sitton said.

And if you travel to Sonoma, Ravenswood is a great stop just outside the town of Sonoma.

Bill Oliver leading one sweet life

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Bill Oliver is leading a sweet life. His family’s namesake winery is known primarily for sweet wines Oliver Soft Red and White.

grape-sense-logoHe jokes about world domination when asked about his expansion plans. While world domination might be out of reach, many might be surprised to learn dominating 47 states isn’t out of the question. He’d easily achieve that milestone if he reaches his longer-term goal of one million cases of Oliver wine produced annually.

Few wineries outside of California, Washington state or Oregon produce more than 250,000 cases. St. James Winery in Missouri produces over 200,000 cases annually. Leelanau Cellars and Chateau Grand Traverse in upper-state Michigan are both well over 100,000 and pushing 200,000 cases. Texas has the Ste. Genevieve winery and 200-acre Mesa Vineyard, which produces about 600,000 cases each year.

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Oliver Tasting Room north of Bloomington

Oliver is positioning his Bloomington operation to become the biggest winery in the U.S. not located in California, Washington or Oregon. Wine production reached 400,000 in 2016, and Oliver expects to hit the half-million case mark in 2018.

“I don’t think there is anything wrong with saying we want to be a one million case winery,” Oliver said, after being reminded he shied away from sharing that number publicly two years ago. “It might be eight years or so to get there.

“We don’t know what the competition is going to do. We don’t know what the economy is going to do, so we set our sights on that and go for it. All I can ask is we put our best foot forward today, and whatever numbers happen, happen. It’s how we operate I’m concerned about. I judge success by how much we’re trying.”

Longtime Oliver staples Soft Red and White still drive sales. But new products like cherry Moscato and even newer Blueberry create growth. Last year, Oliver introduced Apple Pie wine made from apples and with a distinctive taste of – you guessed it, apple pie. The 10,000 cases made all sold and led production to ramp up to 25,000 cases in 2017.

Those wines accounted for 10 percent of Oliver’s growth last year. Oliver has products most Hoosiers never see. He added a line called Porch Swing that he offers exclusivity to large supermarket chains as his sales force goes state to state. He describes Porch Swing as similar to the Soft wines but with a bit of effervescence. HEB, the largest grocery chain in Texas, was the first to snap up Porch Swing.

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Bill Oliver

According to Oliver, sales were brisk. Oliver has had his entire line of sweet wines repackaged for the modern consumer’s eye. Even the landmark Camelot Mead has a funky new label. Mead started Oliver’s success in the 1970s.

“That goes way back for us,” Oliver said. “At first we were making that wine in volume, and it really kept the doors open. It was well before this craft mead phenomenon we see now. Back then we were the only ones doing it.

“We made it 45 years ago before it was cool. We’ve gotten good at it. It’s tricky, and we’ve figured a lot of the pitfalls out. We make this really clean, really fresh aromatic pure kind of mead from orange blossom honey.”

Additionally, the winery has four new secret wines in test production. He believes a couple of those wines have potential for huge sales. He’s quick to add that growth is not about ego, it’s about sales. “We’d like to be a lot bigger than we are, but I think we’ll get there,” Oliver said. “It’s more challenging than it once was. There’s a lot more players in the market we play in, which is sweet wine, and a lot more players in grocery stores. Groceries would rather deal with fewer suppliers; it’s just easier for them.”

A new 30,000-square-foot Oliver production facility is the first step in ramping up production and sales. That building has a bottling line and considerable warehouse space for mountains of sweet wines. A second production building of similar size is planned.

Oliver’s wines reach 22 states. The company’s sales focus has been the Southeast, with strong markets in Texas, Florida and Tennessee. Oliver said the sales staff is concentrating now on Georgia and the Carolinas. It could take up to eight years to reach one million cases, Oliver said.

He admits it doesn’t really matter whether they hit it, as long as they’re developing new products, maintaining quality and giving it all a good effort. He denies that distribution in all 50 states is a goal. But if Oliver was the biggest wine producer in 47 of those 50, he’d consider it one sweet deal.

Bubbles don’t have to be expensive

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The sale of sparkling wines and champagne has been booming. French Champagne, Italian Prosecco, and Spanish Cava have become year-round refreshing treats. And after years of predictions it could become a big player, England’s sparkling wines are finally turning up on shelves of U.S. wine stores.

grape-sense-logoGrape Sense has urged year-round enjoyment of bubbles, but everyone at least thinks of Champagne at the new year.

Let’s do a quick review of what’s available, something we haven’t done in a few years.

Italian Prosecco is one of the biggest booming wines in the world. The bubbles are lighter, and the wines are a little sweeter. Most Prosecco is made with Glera, native to northern Italy, but up to nine other grapes can be blended to make up to 15 percent of any Prosecco.

rubuliHere is an easy tip to make sure you’re buying quality Italian bubbles. Look for the region Valdobbiadene on the bottle. You don’t have to pronounce it, just remember it. Valdobbiadene is the premier region for the Glera grape.  You can find great Prosecco at most wine shops ranging from $15-$35. Rebuli and Bisol are good producers.

Spanish Cava is even more affordable. There are good bottles as low as $8-$10. Spain is the second largest producer of sparkling wine, second only to Champagne. Much of the Cava is made from Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, though local grapes like Parellada get involved as well. Look for an easy-to-find bottling like Poema or Segura Viudas is an even better producer.

U.S. producers in California have been around a long time. A personal and affordable favorite is Sonoma County’s Gloria Ferrer. Several different bottlings are available but the entry level Sonoma Brut is a great wine for $20. If you want something special, try the Gloria Ferrer Blanc de Blanc for just a few dollars more. A bit of education, a blanc de blanc is made of 100 percent Chardonnay while a Blanc de Noir would be Pinot Noir bubbles.

Other top California bubble makers include Korbel, Gruet, Roederer, Schramsberg, and Mumm.

HebrartOf course, no discussion of bubbles can exclude Champagne. French bubbles remain the benchmark all sparkling wine producers seek to reproduce. The classic Chardonnay and Pinot Noir bubble blends set the world standard. Many producers near Reims, France, about 80 miles north of Paris, have been making Champagne for hundreds of years.

Like many things French, champagne doesn’t come cheap. There are good bottles around $40-$60 but most people are more familiar with names like Dom Perignon, Bollinger, Krug, Moet & Chandon, and many others. Visit a wine shop and you’ll learn the names you know also make less expensive bottles.

A somewhat newer trend in Champagne is the emergence, at least from a marketing perspective, of grower wines. These are usually small production houses really focused on growing their grapes and making wine with a focus on terroir. In Indiana, look for a producer like Marc Hebrart. The Hebrart Brut sells for around $35 and the Rose’ bubbles about $60.

May you enjoy good health and success in 2018.