‘Godfather of Zin’ tough act to follow

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Many a young man or woman has stepped into their father or mother’s shoes to continue a family business. Many a young business person has faced the challenge of stepping into a legendary business leader’s shoes to run a thriving company. Gary Sitton is in the process of becoming a more prominent player at Ravenswood Winery in Sonoma.

grape-sense-logoRavenswood is the iconic Zinfandel producer just on the outskirts of Sonoma, the city. Joel Peterson is a legendary winemaker in California and remains active at the winery. Any discussion of California Zin features Peterson prominently.

“I don’t consider myself to be Joel’s replacement. He is the Godfather of Zin and he is truly one of kind,” Sitton told Grape Sense. “Besides, he is still actively involved with Ravenswood today. He is a mentor and friend, and my goal is to continue to build upon his great winemaking legacy, showcasing California’s Heritage variety, Zinfandel.”

Gary Sitton in Barrel room 2

Sitton in Ravenswood barrel room.

Sitton credits Peterson for teaching him the nuance of making great Zin. “Joel taught me a Burgundian approach to winemaking. His use of indigenous yeast from each vineyard, in small open top fermenters was key to best expressing the terroir of each site. While on hiatus, I realized how special Ravenswood is and how the vineyards we work with make our wines so special. Some of these vineyards were planted
in the 1880s and survived Prohibition.”

Most of Sitton’s career is tied to Ravenswood as an assistant winemaker 2001-2006 and then as winemaker for a year in 2006. That ‘sabbatical’ occurred during 2008-2010 at Blackstone Winery then a five-year stint as Director of Winemaking at Clos Du Bois Wines. Sitton returned to Ravenswood in 2015 to assume the title of Director of Winemaking. Peterson remains active working with grape growers and
often working as a Zin ambassador to wine drinkers across the country.

Sitton was heavily influenced by Peterson by tasting his wines. “I had an epiphany while tasting site-specific wines with Joel, from the same grape, same winemaker, same winemaking program, but from different vineyard sites, and each wine was so different from the next,” Sitton said.

“As a result, I believe in Joel’s vision for what wine should be: that it is about place, about history and for Ravenswood, that it is deeply about Sonoma itself. It is an honor and a privilege to be back home continuing Joel’s 41-year legacy of expressive, high quality wines from some of the greatest vineyards in the greatest grape-growing areas in Sonoma and Napa.”

Ravenswood is widely distributed and offers an entry-level Zin found in many groceries, liquor stores, and better wine shops. Those better wine shops also carry some of the vineyard designate wines Sitton described above. Ravenswood Old Vine Zin, Sonoma, can be found across the Midwest, usually under $20.

When asked for wine recommendations, in general, I always tell people to go with a name you know until you learn the wines. If you don’t know Ravenswood – you should.

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Michigan Pinot Takes Giant Leap

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Blustone Vineyard

The Blustone tasting room sets atop a small hill on the Leelanau Peninsula.

“Wow, this Michigan Pinot Noir is great,” said almost no one ever.

I’ve been a booster of Michigan wines since first visiting in 2010. I have been back a couple times since then, the latest in 2015. Michigan, and  particularly upper state near Traverse City is the home of world-class white wines. The Riesling wines and Pinot Blanc can be matched against any found on wine store shelves.

The reds have been a different story. The Leelanau Peninsula and Old Mission Peninsula wineries struggle to grow enough grapes – get them ripe and make good Cabernet Franc and Pinot Noir.

 

Tom Knighton

Blustone owner Tom Knighton

The vines are aging and the wines are improving. I noticed a big leap in the reds from 2010-2015. But those wines are also aging well. During the 2015 trip I purchased two bottles of Blustone Pinot Noir. Blustone has a great vineyard site and beautiful tasting room. Back in 2015 the wines were very light in flavor but varietally correct. I thought that was the first step to making great wine.

 

The drawback to the Michigan reds has been the weather. There have been a couple of years recently when weather killed off the reds with late freezes and growing seasons just too cold to properly ripen the grapes. During a couple of recent growing seasons there was essentially no red grape harvest.

That’s the background to opening a bottle of Blustone Pinot Oct. 21. I drank the first Bluestone within a year of that last visit. It tasted like Pinot. It was very thin and not very satisfying.

The second bottle was opened last night. It had totally changed – for the better. The wine had been properly stored during the last two years. I had polished off a bottle of very well-crafted Oregon Pinot Noir and my friend and I wanted one more glass. I reached for the Blustone thinking it would be super light but good enough for my acquaintance’s inexperienced palate.

I was shocked at first taste that the Pinot characteristics were more pronounced. The wine was more Burgundian than typically thin. The wine in the glass had bright red fruit like cherry and strawberry along with a wonderful hint of spice on the finish.

Maybe the Michigan reds are underestimated. Maybe this was an odd exception. I have a bottle of a red blend from  Old Mission Peninsula I bought on that same trip that I need to dig out and see how it’s aged.  But there’s no question there is a spot in the market for Michigan Pinot Noir similar to what I tasted last night.

The biggest question is whether the weather will ever allow Michigan growers to produce enough Pinot grapes to get the wines beyond the state’s tasting rooms.

Six wines you should keep in house

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Some of us real winos keep a lot of wine around the house. Some winos have a basement or cellar or electronic coolers to store wine. Some crazy (or very serious) winos move from one city to another and realize they have a lot of wine.

But most people don’t buy by the case or half case. I know serious wine aficionados who buy a bottle or two at a time. There is nothing wrong with either approach. But with the holiday season fast approaching, maybe it’s time to keep a small supply on hand.

grape-sense-logoI’d suggest you always keep six bottles of wine in your home. It keeps you prepared for any meal and any guest. The list should include two reds, two whites, a Rose’ and a sparkling wine.

It’s easiest to start with the two reds. One of those reds should probably be Cabernet Sauvignon. Cab goes best with steak and big flavors. Any decent wine shop and even liquor store will offer several Cabernets at reasonable prices below $20. Mondavi, Louis Martini, Concannon, and many others offer good value and varietally correct wines.

Your second red wine should probably be on the lighter side. Personally, I’d recommend a Pinot Noir. Pinot is lighter on the plate. It’s excellent with seafood and other dishes not quite as bold as beef entrees. There are lighter style Pinots, think Oregon and Burgundy, and bigger bold Pinots often from California. If you want something other than Pinot, try a Spanish tempranillo, French Beaujolais, of Italian Dolcetto.

It’s easy to start the whites with Chardonnay. But do you like them buttery and oaky or clean and crisp? California’s big buttery, woodsy Chard has dominated the market for years. That style of Chardonnay pairs great with food. But in recent years unoaked Chardonnay has really boomed. The unoaked Chards usually give a fresher fruit taste, crisp, and nice acidity. If you want sheer elegance for a special occasion, buy white burgundy or Chablis Cru at your nearby wine shop.

Your second white wine is a little trickier because of the wide range of choices. Lighter whites which drink easy include the entire family of Pinot whites. Pinot Grigio is often the lightest of the family and is made around the world. If you like a bit drier white wine, move to the Pinot Blancs. Riesling is a favorite of many and is made from very dry to very sweet. Arguably, the world’s best Riesling comes from Germany or the Alsace region. But you’ll also find great Riesling from Canada, New York, Washington, and upper Michigan.

Keep one Rose’ in-house because it’s the most flexible wine on your small wine rack or cardboard wine box. There are a few great Pinot Rose’ wines from California and Oregon but real devotees will tell you the best Rose’ comes from Provence in Southern France. World-class Rose’ comes at less than $20 a bottle. That funky pink wine is about as far from white zinfandel as wine can get. French Rose’ is a great food wine for lighter dishes.

Sparkling wine sales are growing around the world. Drink more and you’ll want more. Too many people have very dry Champagne memories from weddings past stuck in their mind. Today’s entry-level bubbles should start with Italian Prosecco and Spanish Cava. Both offer tremendous values with top bottles available for under $20 and often less. You don’t have to spend $300 a bottle to get the best French champagne either. You can buy great grower bubbles, grower meaning grown and produced usually in small lots, in the $50-$100 range.

The holidays are here and you need wine handy. Enjoy it with guests or keep the bottles around as a great gift. These six wines will help you be prepared. The only better advice is double down and buy a case!

California focus now on recovery

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Hoosier friends have had a lot of questions about the California wildfires that devastated Sonoma and parts of Napa County.

The easy answer, and not intended as a curt one, is there should be no impact at all.

grape-sense-logoThe fires are extinguished and rain has wetted the valleys. And while a lot of focus has been on which wineries were destroyed and which ones just damaged, the human impact goes far beyond the winemakers.

Sonoma County officials recently announced that 1,121 structures were damaged while 652 were destroyed. The biggest part of those two numbers is private home and not classy, elegant wineries. The L.A. Times reports the home loss at nearly 3,000 homes in Santa Rosa alone. Any way you look at the loss its around five percent of all Santa Rosa homes, a city of 175,000 people. The difference in number can, in part, be attributed to the fog that happens after big disasters.

The residents who lost homes, or had their house partially destroyed, face huge challenges. It’s easy to think about the cost, insurance, and such. But the cleanup effort involves the Army Corps of Engineers and environmental agencies.

Experts have estimated cleanup costs at one billion dollars and report it could be well into 2018 before the effort is complete.

The area has boomed in recent years to make matters worse. The average Santa Rosa home price is $600,000 or about three times the national average. Still, that’s lower than living in San Francisco so many have migrated out into the valleys.

There are all sorts of people rushing to help. A conglomerate of officials and organizations have formed “Rebuild North Bay.” Nearly 250 local and state leaders came together Oct. 25 to coordinate efforts.

So why so much about Santa Rosa in a wine column? All those winery workers, owners, vineyard workers must have a place to live. The wine industry is very big business in Northern California. The financial impact reaches every corner of the state but especially in the heart of Sonoma or Napa.

There are fundraisers being organized large and small. Rock band Metallica and touring-favorite Dave Matthews have a benefit planned for Nov. 9 at San Francisco’s AT&T Park where the Giants play baseball.

There is good news on the wine side now that the smoke has cleared. Approximately 90 percent of the harvest was completed before the fires ravaged the area. The amount of damage to vineyards was limited. Even those wineries lost had most of their crop in the winery already aging.

The best information I’ve found says 27 wineries were destroyed or damaged.

So how can you help? Sure, you could send a donation to any number of organizations which you can find online. But most of the wine leaders make it even simpler for you to help. They have said to tell people to buy Napa and Sonoma County wines. And as you see the news of damaged wineries issuing a new release or rebuilding, then go buy their wines.

That’s a pretty good way to do a very good thing.

Purdue Profs reflect on Calif. fires

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The wildfires ravaging Northern California and its famed wine country will have a devastating effect there. But Purdue’s Professor of Food Science Christian Butzke expects little impact in Indiana.

grape-sense-logo“It might affect prices but probably not as terrible as the pictures suggest,” said the enology professor. “Vineyards are irrigated so they won’t burn as fast. This is a climate change thing. Spring and early summer brought a lot of rain and a lot of vegetation grew around the vines. Now that dried vegetation is on fire.”

 

Bruce Bordelon

Bruce Bordelon

Even those scorched vineyards will get a second life. “I assume it’s a matter of replanting,” said Bruce Bordelon, Professor of Horticulture and wine grape specialist. “In some cases that might be a blessing, a chance to change varieties or clones, rebuild old trellises, etcetera, that otherwise might not have been done. I guess it depends on whether they were insured and if insurance will pay enough to make up for the very high value of the land and grapes grown there.”

 

Bordelon added the disaster could aid future harvests. The large wine regions have had considerable labor shortages at harvest time. Bordelon said most new plantings could be set up for as much automation/mechanization as possible.

Butzke, who leads Purdue’s annual Indy International Wine Competition, sees the loss in a more personal way. He has many friends working in the California wine industry. “I have several colleagues and a business partner in wine country. This is quite personal.”

 

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Christian Butzke

Paradise Ridge winery was one completely destroyed on the first day of the fires. The winery’s owner Rene Byck has visited Purdue to help judge the annual wine competition.
There is one impact that could reach the Midwest. Though most wineries have harvested 70-90 percent of their grapes, smoke contamination could happen in the remaining fruit on the vine. “Damage from smoke can occur and it’s not a pleasant characteristic,” Butzke said. “It’s like sitting next to a campfire, you’re going to smell like smoke afterward.”

 

Fortunately, Butzke added, the biggest part of California’s harvest should be complete by now with the wines safely aging in barrels. The damage to any remaining fruit, especially late-ripening Cabernet Sauvignon, could be significant because of the wine’s high market value.

Barring further damage, neither professor thought there would be much price impact in Indiana when the 2017 vintage is released. Both lamented the terrible tragedy, loss of life, and damage to homes and businesses.

Hard to believe: 10 years of Grape Sense

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We all know time goes fast from time we’re aware of the calendar on the wall until we’re discussing retirement and beyond. Who could have guessed this little wine column would enjoy the success it has when it began in October 2007?

grape-sense-logoFrom five newspapers, mostly close to home base Crawfordsville, to more than 20 newspapers and websites across the state. At one point the column’s reach, based on print circulation numbers reached more than 300,000 Hoosier, Michigan, and Illinois homes. I only had one small paper in each of the two neighboring states but they’re worth including.

Today the number reached is harder to determine because several newspaper companies run the column as exclusive to their website instead of print. That’s okay because it still expands reach. If I had to figure out the number of homes I’d safely guess 200,000-250,000 homes.

That was always the goal to reach as many people as possible with some wine education. Arguably, the column has done that. It has also afforded me numerous opportunities to learn more about wine. The most impactful result was several press trips I participated in, and reported on here, to some of the great wine regions of the world. In 2010, I visited Paso Robles and it was back to California in January 2011 to Mendocino.

DrinkingWDon

Talking Oregon Pinot with Don Lange

But the big year for me was 2012. I took a press trip to Montpelier, France, in the Languedoc wine region for the world’s biggest organic wine trade show. That summer was another trip to the beautiful city of Bordeaux. In the fall, it was a quick trip to Chablis and its delicious whites in northern-most Burgundy.

 

I have led a couple of wine tourism trips in that time. The first trip to Oregon, which I’m thinking of repeating in 2018, really had an impact on my guests. I took four couples to Burgundy, France, in 2016 and it was my first as well. It takes a lot of time to comprehend the complexities of great Burgundy so I’m sure I’ll be going back.

The important thing about all those trips is I always tried to take you along here and on my blog.

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2014 travel group having fun tasting the wines of Alexana Winery in a beautiful outdoor setting.

More important than what Grapes Sense has done for the author is what I hope it has done for you. The most consistent message through 231 500-700 word columns has been to try new things, new grapes, and new price points. Visit winemakers and ask lots of questions about what they do. And always remember you learn more about wine in the vineyard than the winery.

For the future, I’m not sure. I still enjoy writing the column and seldom have much trouble with finding topics. Perhaps a bit more focus on food in coming months and a narrower look at some wines and wineries.

Vineyard workers’ thinning ranks

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Earlier this year Grape Sense featured a look at the potential of a labor crisis in Napa/Sonoma during this fall harvest season. The potential has become a reality for many in the nation’s premier wine region.

grape-sense-logoFor the past several years farm labor was paid $15 an hour. Napa has built dormitory type buildings over the recent past for housing as well. This year wages have jumped closer to an average of $18 an hour with some stories that big name wineries are paying more, much more. One unsubstantiated report had a $300-bottle of wine producer paying $45. Top pickers in Sonoma have been commanding up to $30 an hour the past couple of years.

The labor shortage covers a lot of issues. Federal immigration enforcement increased under the Obama administration. Additionally, as the largely Hispanic workforces ages their children are going to college and finding less physically stressful jobs. Sonoma County Winegrowers have more than 5,000 full time workers but hire an additional 2,600 seasonal workers for harvest. So it’s not a small problem.

 

HARVEST

Harvesting at Indiana’s Hubers a couple of years ago.

There are lots of anecdotes about husband and wife picking up their kids and moving to Napa. But after a few harvests, the married team learns they can work various positions in the thriving hospitality industry for more money and no back-breaking, long days of labor.

 

When harvest is complete, it will be interesting to see if there is actual fruit that got left on the vine because of worker shortages.

I’ve written several times lately about things going on in Oregon. The Willamette  Valley continues to be one of the more interesting regions to follow. The area’s Pinot Noir is now considered world class and is a hot commodity.

Family ownership of Silver Oak Vineyards, known for their outstanding Napa Cab, just recently completed purchase of Dick Erath’s last vineyard near Archery Summit and Domaine Serene – pretty fancy company. Erath, now in his 80s, was one of the valley’s pioneers. He long ago sold his ground-breaking winery to St. Michelle of Washington State.

The new money is being found from great Oregon Pinot Noir. It won’t be surprising to see more Napa names turn up there.

Speaking of Oregon, the vintners continue to kick up production. Sales grew by 12 percent last year from acreage of more than 30,000. In 2016 alone, 23 new wineries opened across the state. Cabernet grapes are the nation’s most expensive but Oregon Pinot grapes from top name vineyards can command more than $5,000 a ton. A ton of grapes will make about 60 cases of wine. There, you now can do some math.

Beaujolais a great house wine

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There are lots of different ways to experience wine. A wino can pick up a bottle at the nearest grocery, liquor store or wine shop. An oenophile can taste wines at a retail wine tasting and take home their favorites. A real wine geek can travel to the great wine regions of the world and buy from the producer.

grape-sense-logoBut growing in popularity is another method and that’s wine dinners. Wine dinners usually feature several courses paired by the restaurant’s chef and sommelier. I recently enjoyed a Beaujolais wine dinner in Indianapolis at Fletcher Place’s Bluebeard restaurant.

The hosts mentioned a couple of times that Beaujolais would make a great house wine. I certainly agreed by end of the night. Now, a bit of education before moving on. Most people know Beaujolais from the Nouveau which is harvested, fermented, bottled and shipped around the world every November. While that’s a fruity, and sometimes funky, wine it is not what you want to look for in a fine wine or house wine.

The Beaujolais grand cru wines are those from selected regions in Beaujolais. They are wines that are aged and worthy of your consideration. Beaujolais is a great house wine because most of the 10 grand cru wines can be found for $20 or less.

And if you have never tried Beaujolais the current vintage of Cru wines on shelves comes from the standout year of 2015. Legendary Beaujolais winemaker Georges Duboeuf recently called the 2015 vintage the best since 1947.

TMoulinhe wines I tasted at the Bluebeard dinner were good to outstanding. These wines are also not difficult to find. Many wine shops carry at least some Beaujolais.  We tasted Duboeuf wines with our dinner.

The Macon-Villages and Saint Veran chardonnay wines were a nice contrast and lovely whites. The Villages wine had hints of butter and oak for those who like their Chard in a traditional style. The Saint Veran was crisper, dryer, with lovely minerality and definitely a food wine.

The restaurant served the Villages as our ‘welcome wine.’ We were served a delightful salmon cake with the Saint Veran.

We sipped three Beaujolais red wines made from the Gamay grape. The Cote de Brouilly would have been a standout in most vintage years. The dark red wine was solid with with veal sweetbreads in a mushroom cream sauce.

 

Georges

 84-year-old Duboeuf still active at winery

The night’s standout wines were from Fleurie and Moulin-A-Vents, both considered top regions in the Beaujolais region and both from DuBoeuf. The Fleurie, served with pork loin, was silky smooth with a deep dark fruit flavor on the finish and smooth tannins.

 

The  Moulin-A-Vent was served with ostrich steak with a blueberry demi glace. The last wine was simply the best Beaujolais I have ever tasted. The rich, dark wine reminded me of a good Mourvedre from Southern France. If tasted blind, I’m not sure I would have guessed it was Gamay.

Each of these wines sold from $19-$23. All three reds were $20 or under.

Of course you can buy a few wines of your own, pair them up with dinner plans, and invite over a few friends for your own wine-tasting dinner experience.

If you are looking to keep something around the house to please all palates and guests, then try Beaujolais Grand Cru wines.

French continue buying in Oregon

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Many but not all of the United States’ major wine regions could be considered ‘mature’ regions. There certainly is not much room for growth in Napa Valley. California produces more than 60 percent of this nation’s wine.

Certainly, there are areas in California still maturing – Santa Barbara and Paso Robles come to mind – but big change isn’t happening.

grape-sense-logoEstablished areas still seeing change include Virginia and to a much lesser extent Leelanau Peninsula in upper state Michigan. The scale is different but the impact is real when new players move into town. No where is this scenario more evident than in Oregon’s Willamette Valley – a personal favorite wine region.

Oregon’s wine industry grew organically from a handful of pioneers in the 1970s who had a vision. Those leaders were people like David Adelsheim, David Lett, and Dick Erath. The boom, arguably, started in the late 80s when French icon Joseph Drouhin bought property and opened its Dundee Hills winery. About that time Don Lange started his family operation along with many others.

 

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Vidon’s Don Hagge

Most of Oregon’s wineries are small operations producing less than 5,000 cases annually – or smaller. But in the past few years the really big guys have bought up wineries, vineyards, and cast an eye on the reputation and thirst for Oregon Pinot Noir. Names like St. Michelle, Kendall-Jackson, Joe Wagner of Caymus, Foley Family Wines, Constellation Brands, Burgundy’s Jadot, and many more have moved into Oregon in a big way.

 

The companies coming into the picturesque valley have big bucks, big marketing power, and they own shelf space earned over decades in supermarkets and wine shops nationwide.

“It’s good for us; the fact that these people are coming puts a stamp of approval on what we’re doing,” said owner and winemaker Donald Hagge of Vidon Vineyards. “It makes us an even more valuable property. Does it hurt the small guy? I don’t think so. Jackson Family is now 10th largest in the world. They own 1,500 acres here and three wineries but they pretty much claim to leave (previous ownership) alone, let them operate on their own.”

Indeed, many of the big ownership groups have been rather stealthy in their purchase – at least to date. Few even realize St. Michelle owns Dick Erath’s winery – one of the valley’s real founders. Domaine Drouhin helped that second wave of the 80s establish the valley’s credibility but they are a big player. Drouhin proved that recently when it purchased a 200-acre vineyard south and west of its current property.

“I have no fears,” Hagge said. “They’re not interested in a place like this. Most of the wineries in Oregon are small and they’re going to stay small. Small wineries have difficulty; there is a lot of consolidation and many of them aren’t making any money. This is difficult but I don’t think that hurts us at all, it helps.”

Hagge makes a strong point that he can produce 1,000 cases of wine and sell it rather easily out of his tasting room. But his current production is slightly more than 2,000 so he struggles to sell his annual production. He has sold a good number of cases, discounted significantly by the nature of the business, to online flash wine sales sites.

The other major changes in the Willamette Valley through recent years has been the associated retail boom of lodging, restaurants and specialty shops. The natives are concerned about community but see the big investors as a welcome development.

“I think it affects us and our business here,” said Lynnette Shaw, owner of Republic of Jam in Carlton. “Those big companies have a lot more reach than this area has ever experienced before so with that reach we’ll have more visitors. The more people we can get in here and expose to this the better off we are so that part is very, very good.”

Shaw’s jam business first appeared as a unique and quirky operation during a 2011 visit. The long-term viability was certainly a fair question. The business is thriving today with its very unique twists and variations on jam.

The lesson is even economic investment causes businesses of all size to consider their futures carefully.

All wine news eventually has impact

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Developments on the west coast, or around the world, always has an eventual impact on what’s in your glass in the Midwest.

Amazon has its eye on wine too. Many consumers buy wine online. The trend has exploded in the last decade. A lot of the online wine buying comes through sites like Wines Till Sold Out, Last Bottle Wines, Cinderella Wines, Wine.com, and many others.

grape-sense-logoAmazon got a lot of attention when it purchased Whole Foods signaling a desire to get in the home-delivery grocery business. The mega online retailer has lined up a respected Oregon winery to produce brands specifically for Amazon sales.

King Estate Winery, in Southern Oregon, has created a company within a company called King’s Vintners. King will create five different lines of wine for Amazon. The first line is called Next and its exclusive to Amazon.

The news is a good omen for online sales. If Amazon is to become a major player in retail online wine sales at least their first step is with a respected Oregon winery. They’re not pedaling mass-produced plonk from some obscure region.

Some value wines have a pedigree. While online wine sales continue to explode, some wines have been around awhile that could be better than the average consumer might expect. Costco, the country’s largest wine retailer, features a limited selection of wines and their Kirkland Signature line of wines.

We’ve all bought ‘store brands’ at our local grocery. The soup, soap, or softener cost less and are often made by a major company. It’s no different with wine. Several major names in wine production produce the Kirkland brands. There are winemakers in several states making Kirkland wines for Costco in contract arrangements.

If you’ve tried the Kirkland brand send Grape Sense some thoughts on the wines.

Burgundy going high-tech to protect vines. The home of arguably the world’s best Pinot Noir and Chardonnay has taken a pounding from hail storms and frost the last three years. The unexpected summer hail storms shred the vineyard leaves and batter the developing fruit.

Many wineries have tried netting to protect the region’s historic vines but the use of a chemical weapon is spreading fast and proving effective.

Silver iodide is the weapon of choice in Burgundy. Silver iodide is used for cloud seeding. Vineyard workers can shoot silver iodide into the clouds. As hail forms in the clouds, the water molecules are naturally attracted to the similarly-shaped silver iodide crystals, and so the ice latches onto the silver iodide, rather than other water molecules. The end result is the forming hail comes down pea sized when it could have been golf-ball sized.

The bottom line is the process has been working. The cost of using the machines is relative cheap at $9 an acre. Burgundy leaders have deployed 140 of the chemical canons covering much of the area’s vineyards.