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.

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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.

 

Four guys and three Oregon Pinots

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For wine geeky types there isn’t much better than a Saturday night with friends and a few good wines.

I’ve been doing the wine writing thing for 10 years now and I do get wines from marketers. Earlier this year I got a bunch of Oregon wine from a marketer representing several small-production Oregon wineries. Seemed like a fun idea to line up a wine from each of three wineries and get the “Wine Dudes” opinions. And boy, did they have opinions.

org winesAll 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. We tasted the wines in that order and then went back down the line re-tasting to form our opinions.

A short summary of some thoughts. The Youngberg wine got better the longer it was open. The guys were hoping for a little more structure than we found later as the wine opened up. It’s from the McMinnville AVA and retails at $50. We all thought it probably needed another year or two and possibly a long decant.

The Ghost Hill and Alloro were our two favorites of this exercise, even though we liked all three wines. We went back and forth for a couple of hours about these two wines. Ghost Hill takes its grapes from the Yamhill-Carlton area and is truly small production wine with just 141 cases made of this juice.

 

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Dudes Barry, Patrick & Alex

The guys loved the balance of fruit and finish in the  Ghost Hill. The wine had the depth of character that makes you think about the Pinot in your glass. One of the guys questioned the $55 price point but I found it consistent with other wines  in that price range.

 

Alloro’s Estate wine from the Chehalem Mountains was the most drinkable of the three – even though it did have a slight advantage with a good decant. Bright red fruit and a refreshing lightness made for satisfying sips. Alloro makes just 300 cases of this wine for $45 a bottle. Interesting to note that Wine Enthusiast gave this wine an incredibly strong 95 points.  We agreed it was a 90-point wine but maybe not quite a 95.

These small production wines will not be easy to find outside Oregon, quite frankly. Small operations like this though should be on your visitation list if you go to Oregon. You can contact the wineries, linked up here, to see if they can ship the wines.

We had such fun doing this comparative tasting, I’m sure there will be more.

Still time for a Christmas bottle of wine

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Holiday parties, family gatherings, and festive weekends make up the holidays for most of us. A bottle of good wine adds to the festivities or makes a great gift for a friend, host, or party gift.

grape-sense-logoNow that I work part time in wine retail, the number of customers wanting suggestions is surprising. It’s very satisfying to talk a customer through some options and hope you’ve made them and the gift recipient happy.

If you want to give wine during the holidays you’re job is much easier if you know just a little bit about your friend’s wine drinking habits. Do they drink red or White? Do they like bold wines or lighter bodied wines? Do you know if they have a favorite winery? And do you know the general price range of the wines they drink.

Let’s face it, you wouldn’t want to take a grocery store wine to someone who is drinking Napa Cabernet or French Burgundy.

Knowing those few characteristics not only helps you buy a better gift but it will help your wine shop specialist recommend ideas for a perfect gift.

Now, how about some suggestions?

veranLet’s mention a couple white wines and a couple of reds. A beautiful gift is a bottle of French white Burgundy – or Chardonnay. White burgundy is rich, subtle and elegant. You can spend $60-$70 easily on a bottle of Puligny-Montrachet or $100-$300 on a bottle of Batard-Montrachet. But let’s face it, most aren’t spending in that category. But you can still give white Burgundy. You’ll find several in the $15-$25 dollar range at your nearby wine shop. Try Drouhin’s Saint-Veran’s for a smooth introduction to white Burgundy. Saint-Veran’s is widely available for $15-$18.

Italian whites seem to be improving by the year. Often the grapes and wines will be new to people. The wines tend to be bigger on fruit while maintaining a food-friendly dryness. And they tend to be really tasty. Look for Trebbiano, Garganega, Vermentino, or Verdicchio.

When it comes to red wine, there is never a better and safer gift than Pinot Noir. Even a consumer of big, bold red wines can appreciate the finesse and depth of good Pinot Noir. The trick is finding good Pinot at a reasonable price. That is where you might need some help so don’t be afraid to ask for recommendations.

 

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Try an Oregon Pinot Noir.

I think the sweet spot for affordable Pinot Noir is $20-$35 for a bottle of entry-level Oregon Pinot Noir. I’ve never thought you could find much Burgundy at that price but was recently impressed with Prosper Maufoux burgundy. You can find the Maufoux at better wine shops for around $20.

 

Finally, drink more sparkling wine. You can find delicious Italian Prosecco and Spanish Cava starting for as low as under $10. You should keep a couple bottles around the house just for fun. The very best Prosecco – look for Valdobbiadene on the label – can be affordable at $20-$30.

Champagne is never cheap but always worth it. Entry level French champagne – the world’s best bubbbles – can now be found in most markets at $35-$50. Of course, the price on legitimate French Champagne can go up to hundreds of dollars per bottle.

Lift your glass and enjoy your holiday!

‘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.”

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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.

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.