Guest Wine Writer Series | № 13 | Michelle Williams | Rioja Alavesa, ES

Welcome to binNotes | redThread™

Inspired stories about wine and taste makers.

By L.M. Archer, FWS | Bourgogne ML

The month of May ends with an abundance of Guest Wine Writer contributions.

For those of you who are unfamiliar, last year I started inviting some of my fellow wine writers here on binNotes | red Thread™  to shine a light on any rare, obscure, or under-appreciated wine region for which they feel a special passion.

It’s a great way to learn from industry experts and relish some fine wine writing in the process.

Enjoy!

About Today’s Guest Wine Writer:

Michelle Williams | Rockin Red Blog

Rioja Alavesa: Going Its Own Way 

by Michelle Williams

Pablo and his sister Maria are the 5th generation of the Simón family to run their winery in Rioja Alavesa. Bodegas de la Marquesa Valserrano began in the 1880’s as a family winery and remains true to its roots today. In a region still utilizing traditional methods of hand-picking the grapes and employing mules to plow the vineyards, Pablo shares, “in the last decades there have been good technological advances and improvements in the means of wine producing, and as a consequence of that, nowadays even the humble small wine growers are producing wines more professionally, and without defects.”

Over this same decade, as Rioja Alavesa wines have improved, offering the wine consumer a true expression of their unique location, a rebellion has been brewing. Rioja Alavesa wines are part of the greater La Rioja DO. According to the DO regulations, no sub-region indication is allowed on the label. Therefore, unless the consumer is educated in knowing which wineries are in Rioja Alavesa, they will not realize the wine they are drinking is from the sub-region. In 2016, this issue boiled over, resulting in by the Asociación de Bodegas de Rioja Alavesa (ABRA) releasing a press statement threatening to leave the Consejo Regulador, the Regulatory Council representing La Rioja.

Rioja Alavesa is located in northeastern Spain, west of the Logroño, on the north bank of the Ebro River. It is one of the seven comarcas [demarcated regions] within the Spanish province Alava, with its capital located in Laguardia. Pablo Simón describes his home in an email, “Rioja Alavesa… is a hilly region going from the River Ebro up to the hills of Sierra de Cantabria. And so different profile of soils are into it, some better than others. But in general I would say that this area of Rioja Alavesa, together with some adjacent soils of Rioja Alta, are excellent for growing grapes, as they are, in general, in the northern and fresher area of Rioja and Ebro valley, in soft slopes of chalky soil (and limestone and clay) going down from the mountains to the river, oriented to the South, a bit higher in altitude (+/- between 450-625 meters) than the average of Rioja and with similar fresh Atlantic temperature, normally. Together with other positive element of Rioja Alavesa is that, although there are also a few big owners and producers, in general there are a lot of small wine growers and small-medium producers, with a family hand/homemade philosophy that try to show properly the genuine identity of the soil, climate and grapes of the area.”

ABRA has filed a proposal requesting the formation of a new “Denominación de Origen,” seeking for label information to include such [items] as terroir, lot and winemaking process, along with the words “Euskadi-País Vasco.” The Consejo responded by stating, “We learned about this initiative because of the media. This fact has been really shocking in our institution and we consider it a disloyalty. Not only they should have inform the Consejo before filing the initiative, but this action betrays the DO basic working principles.”

Can you imagine if every wine produced in Bordeaux, Burgundy, or Napa Valley only contained those words? No indication of Saint-Emilion, Margaux, Puligny-Montrachet, Howell Mountain, or Carneros? La Rioja is a vast wine region, yet within it are smaller, distinct regions such as Rioja Alavesa. Why would Rioja oppose allowing its wines and its loyal consumers a greater sense of the place of the wine? The answer is that Rioja wines are crafted from grapes sourced through the region and blended together. Rioja chooses to classify its wines based on how long they are aged in oak –  joven, crianza, reserve, gran reserve, rather than with vineyards or villages on the labels. Because most Rioja wines are a blend across the region in an effort to achieve a homogenous, easily recognizable wine, singling out the three sub-regions on the label would be detrimental to some regions that use largely bulk juice, while at the same time benefitting Rioja Alavesa, which produces hand crafted wines with minimal intervention with intentional expressions of terroir. Consumers of Rioja understand this well. It is trial and error to find high quality Rioja wines. Of course they exist, but without knowing anything about the wine from the label other than how long it was aged in oak, it requires much time and money to sort through the massive region to find the quality juice. Consejo’s objective to offer the consumer a homogenous wine representing the entire region has ultimately created an utter lack of consistency.

However, ABRA’s desire to create a new DO is met with mixed reactions. There is hope within the Rioja Alavesa wine making community that the issue can be solved without leaving Rioja, that a compromise can be found. Other wineries, 41 to be exact, believe they are not being heard; therefore, leaving to form a new DO is their only option.

Pablo Simón of Valserrano offers one perspective,We understand and agree [with] the underlying arguments [of ABRA], but consider that can be promoted without leaving the Denomination of Origin. We are part of Rioja DO and have helped humbly to build it since more than a hundred years ago, and so we feel part of Rioja. The problem, in which we agree with ABRA, is that Rioja is becoming bigger and bigger, and is represented mainly for the big groups, that have different interests to ours (or ways of achieving them), what affects the quality and identity of the wines, together to the prices, margins, etc. But we feel part of the club and want to follow in it, although we want to be better represented in it and some things to change. But from inside.”

Bodega Gil Berzal offers a different perspective, “We are enthusiastic about having the opportunity to have another option out of D.O. Rioja, which allows us to work in a more similar way to our philosophy. According to it, the vineyards, the soil, the respect for the environment and people, as well as to generate value trigger not just the production of quality wines, also wines which are able to touch. In addition, Rioja follows a general direction towards overproduction, without giving value to the product and to all that surrounds it. Thus, it forgets the old vineyard, the ‘terroir’, the scenery and the soils, and it gives importance just to the price, which includes every type of practices in the same boat. [Furthermore,] Rioja has forgotten its roots and it gives the prominence to the barrel, basing its attributes in the presence of the wine in touch with the wood. It does not even consider the type of wood or barrels which are used. Our area is different from the rest of areas included in the D.O. Rioja, due to the characteristics of the soils, climate, age of the vineyards, and the relief of the land. This is the reason to give Rioja Alavesa its worth. Finally, the province of Alava has been historically and culturally settled in the world of the wine, being the only cultivation widespread in the region of Rioja Alavesa. At the same time, the growing of the vine has been the only sustenance and way of living of its people.”

Though a split may happen, it is unsure how it will impact both regions. Wine industry insiders outside the region acknowledge the differences in the sub-regions soil and production techniques, but believe it is unclear how a split will impact the future sales of Rioja Alavesa since many consumers only know it as Rioja. According to Paco Berciano, writer, journalist and winemaker, “establishing a new DO is not the best solution because this one will be small and the differences are not so marked to launch a competitive product against Rioja DO.” Joan C. Martín, oenologist and writer of  the “Los Supervinos” guides, agrees Rioja Alavesa’s product “is more special and puts value in local and small productions versus big productions;” however, she recognizes “it will be difficult for the wineries because they will have to say goodbye to Rioja name, which is the reason why they are selling.” However, Ines Baigorri, director of ABRA states, We expect the project to thrive because we have worked on it for a long time in the legal aspect and in the proposal. In Europe there are thousands of DO and a lot of them coming, this is a reason why we are hopeful”.

There are rumors swirling that Consejo is discussing allowing changes in the Rioja labeling laws. Will it be enough to appease ABRA and the 41 wineries who seek to form a new DO? Ines Baigorri said ABRA is moving forward with the formation of a new DO despite possible concessions from Consejo. Will all 41 wineries stay onboard if they get what they want from Consejo? Only time will tell.

 

About the Author: 

Michelle Williams writes freelance about wine, food, and travel for Snooth and on her award-winning blog Rockin Red Blog. She is one of the Top 100 Most Influential Wine Bloggers. Michelle resides with her family in the Dallas area and has an affinity for pairing wine with music. She holds a master’s degree in History of the Christian Tradition and enjoys discovering the links between wine and religious history. Michelle’s passion for wine is equaled by her passion for knowledge; therefore, she embraces global travel to experience wine regions first hand.

Story and images printed by permission of the author, Michelle Williams 

For more on previous 2017 Guest Writer Contributions:

Susannah Gold | Falling in Love with the Douro

Caroline Henry | The Real Meaning of Terroir in Champagne Today

 

Copyrighted 2017 binNotes | redThread™.  All Rights Reserved.

Guest Wine Writer Series | № 12 | Caroline Henry | The Real Meaning of Terroir in Champagne Today

Welcome to binNotes | redThread™

Inspired stories about wine and taste makers.

By L.M. Archer, FWS | Bourgogne ML

This week I share an embarrassment of riches with you as guest writer and international Champagne authority, author and journalist Caroline Henry takes on “The Real Meaning of Terroir in Champagne,” just in time for #Chardonnay Day on May 25, 2017.

I consider Caroline’s gracious reprisal as a guest wine writer here on binNotes | redThread™ a true honor and rare privilege, and hope you enjoy her rare insight into this year’s Le Printemps des Champagne equally fascinating – cheers!

You can view her feature on the topic of Bioenergetic Wines here.

You can read my review of Caroline Henry’s book Terroir Champagne here.

 

The Real Meaning of Terroir in Champagne Today”

by Caroline Henry

Terroir, the dark horse winning the champagne race

The second Les Printemps des Champagne has come and gone, and with it the more than 1,000 visitors who descended upon the region for the event. The particularity of this specific event is that it grew from a group of young Champenois’s desire to explain their terroir.

Nine years ago, 18 winemakers joined forces under the banner of Terres et Vins de Champagne, to organize a tasting showing off their vins clairs (still wines) as well as their champagne. The aim of the tasting was to show the impact of the terroir on the grape variety in a specific vintage. Raphael Bérèche, one of the founders of the event elaborates: “We wanted to show that Champagne also has a myriad of terroirs and that grape varieties have a different expression depending on where in the region they are grown.” The still wines were shown as it is often easier to notice the terroir differences there rather than in the champagnes.

The first tasting drew a lot of interest from importers, trade and press, and after a successful second edition, other winegrowers decided to regroup and organize similar tastings. This in turn generated more trade and press interest, and more groups were created leading to the ‘officialization’ of the Printemps de Champagne. However, today’s twenty-two-tasting-event is a lot more about increasing one’s brand exposure than about explaining the terroir.

Can we deduct from this that when push comes to shove terroir still plays second fiddle in Champagne, at least beyond Grand or Premier Cru? I would argue against this, underpinning my position with a few observations from the Printemps the Champagne.

When we look at the attendance figures and the quality of visitors we quickly see that the events which continue to focus on terroir were a lot more popular than the others. Terres et Vins retained without a doubt its crown of most popular tasting of the week. Furthermore, the vins clairs only morning session had the most impressive trade and press presence. The session was by invitation only, and more than 250 people from all over the world attended to taste through more than 60 vins clairs. Some were looking to gather a better understanding of last year’s vintage, many just wanted to learn more about the various expressions of a grape variety across the different terroir. When asked why, the recurring answer was ; “it is important to understand the terroir to be able to better communicate about and sell the cuvees’. It seems customers prefer to know where and how the grapes are grown, rather than hearing about the technicalities of the winemaking. The latter is maybe also one of the reasons why tastings which focused predominantly on winemaking specifics drew only very few visitors, and often these visitors were champagne geeks, rather than decision or opinion makers.

Yet, even if there is a definite interest in tasting the vins clairs among the trade and press, it is important to note that showing one’s vins clair, especially at the same time as others, will expose a winemaker’s weaknesses.  Hence why many groups participating in the Printemps de Champagne prefer to focus on their finished cuvees rather than the still wines, especially after the difficult and rather heterogeneous 2016 season. The still wines do not lie: unripe and/or over-cropped grapes often translate into thin and watered down wines, held together by not much more than acidity and sugar; they are unbalanced and tasting them can be quite painful. It was long accepted that these painful wines were what made the best Champagne. Tom Stevenson, creator of the Champagne and Sparkling Wine Atlas, once told me that the best vins clairs are “bland in taste bar for the high acidity as it is the latter which holds the aging potential.” This is maybe why most experts consider 2008 to be one of the great Champagne vintages, even if many chefs de caves will admit that overall the grapes were picked too early, and this is the reason why the cuvees can be quite acerbic when opened today.

Besides reasonable yields and ripe grapes, the soil management contributes significantly to the balance and flavor of the grapes and hence the vins clairs. Exchanging chemical herbicides for mechanical weeding or a natural grass cover forces the vine roots to expand vertically rather than horizontally. It also aerates the soil and thus enhances the accessibility of ground water for the plant. This water allows the vines to absorb some of the mineral elements of the mother rock which in turn enrich the grapes by adding a certain sapidity to the ripe fruit. According to Jean-Baptiste Lécaillon, cellar master at Champagne Louis Roederer, it is this “sapidity, rather than the acidity, which brings longevity to the wine.

When we accentuate sapidity, which serendipitously also is the distinctive character of the terroir, we have one last reason why terroir (in the wider sense of the word) matters in the champagne making process; it is the dark horse which has been winning the champagne race through the creation of more pleasurable as well as wholesome cuvées.

You can learn more about Le Printemps des Champagne here.

About the author:

Caroline Henry is a journalist, writer and educator specialized in terroir champagne. She lives in Hautvillers in Champagne and is the champagne correspondent for Wine-Searcher and Decanter.

Ever since moving to Hautvillers in 2011, Caroline began to specialize in the myriad of the Champagne terroirs and the different alternative viticulture practices. Through her extensive research Caroline has probably the most in-depth knowledge on organic, biodynamic and bioenergetics champagne. She has a personal relationship with many champagne makers and a comprehensive understanding of the region’s soil compositions and vinification methods.   In March 2017, she self-published her first book Terroir champagne: the luxury of sustainable, organic and biodynamic cuvées which is available on Terroir Champagne. 

More terroir champagne stories can also be found on her blog, Missinwine. 

 

Story and images printed by permission of the author, Caroline Henry. 

Copyrighted 2017 binNotes | redThread™.  All Rights Reserved.

Burgundy | Wines of Intention

Today the French Winophiles take a tour of Chablis and Cote d’Or. For those of you who missed the  recap, you can find it here.

To paraphrase Winston Churchill, Burgundy is “a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma.”

As a wine writer, I’ve toiled countless hours earning designations and traveling the region to better understand it. I’ve also interviewed numerous Burgundian vignerons and negociants while on assignment for a variety of publications.

Yet, despite my efforts, the only thing I can say certainty is this: the more I learn about Burgundy, the more I realize I need to learn.

Queue the host gig here. Typically, I handle food and wine pairing in my series The Hedonistic Taster, so drilling down into one specific food and wine pairing with photos seemed like a no-brainer. Until it came time to pick the wine. Which touched off a whole new dilemma. Because Burgundy isn’t just a wine region. It’s a religion, replete with its own set of rituals, sacraments, and sins.

Moving to California has upset my altar. It’s also displaced my church, viz., my wine cellar. And so, as I rummaged through our ad-hoc wine refrigerator in search of a perfect pairing for this posting, I ended up a vertical tasting very much in keeping with “The Rubaiyat” by Omar Khayyam, except the “…jug of wine, a loaf of bread, and thou…” included two bottles of Domaine Taupenot-Merme Chambolle-Musigny, a french baguette, and some ruminations upon Burgundy…

Burgundy: Wines of Intention

L.M. Archer, FWS | Bourgogne ML

I miss our wine cellar, a casualty of our recent relocation. I miss the ritual descent into the basement, the length and curve of the silent hallway, the turn of the time-worn brass knob and pull of the discolored light cord, the click of illumination, the cool grip of air, the dim cast of shadows across neatly arranged rows of bottles of varying shapes and colors.

A room with no view, but natural temperature controls within its compact cement and stone confines, walls cobbled together by the original owners of this 1940’s beach bungalow. Walls flanked by modern, exposed IKEA-style wine racks full of wine club and Costco and wine maker samples. And against the back bulwark, a full-length cabinet with clear doors, doors with locks and hasps, locks and hasps requiring effort to open. Effort, and intention.

A room imbued with a past, a past far removed from its contents, especially those in the cabinet. For those wines demand the cellar’s temperate refuge most. Bottles arranged by village, climat, vintage. Wines flirtatious and fun while young, savory and sagacious with age. Wines of grace, elegance, and refinement.

Wines commanding care, attention and deference. Wines of breeding, and like a thoroughbred, use to crossing the finish line first – but in no hurry to do so. Wines worth the wait.

Wines brimmed with memories – of good friends, fine food, and much laughter. Wines worth sharing. Wines of Burgundy.

When choosing a Burgundy wine, I consider the following: the subregion, the village, the climat, the producer, and the vintage.

The subregion provides a frame of reference –  such as chiseled, mineral whites from Chablis, elegant reds from the Côte de Nuits, luxurious whites and structured reds from the Côte de Beaune, versatile, affordable reds, whites and crémants from the Côte Chalonnaise, approachable whites from the Mâconnais, and granitic, affable Gamays from Beaujolais.

The village supplies subtext, the climat nuance, the producer a known level of quality, and the vintage a snapshot of a specific terroir for that given year.

Most people opt to pair Burgundy as the ultimate grace note to a carefully orchestrated meal. I prefer to pair my wine according to the person(s) with whom I’ve chosen to share this holiest of sacraments; the meal proves an inspired afterthought.

Here, then, notes on my vertical tasting of 2008 and 2009 Domaine Taupenot-Merme Chambolle-Musigny wines.

 

About Domaine Taupenot-Merme

  • Romain Taupenot and sister Virginie represent the eighth generation at Domaine Taupenot-Merme of Morey-St.-Denis, located in the heart of the Côte de Nuits.
  • The domaine spans thirteen hectares of vines throughout twenty appellations within the Cote d’Or.

You can read more about Virginie Taupenot here.

About Chambolle-Musigny

  • Literally translated, Chambolle means ‘boiling fields’ (campus ebulliens).
  • Considered Cote de Nuit’s most delicate wines.
  • Account for some of the Cote d’Or’s lowest average yields.
  • Musigny, as with Corton, comprise Burgundy’s only two Grand Crus allowed to produce both red and white wines.
  • 2 Grand Crus : Bonnes Mares (red), Musigny (red & white)
  • 24 Premier Crus (red)
  • Musigny appended to Chambolle-Musigny in 1878.
  • Chambolle-Musigny ‘twinned’ with sister city Sonoma in 1960.

You can read more about sister cities Chambolle-Musigny and Sonoma here.

Wine: Domaine Taupenot-Merme Chambolle-Musigny Bourgogne Rouge

Varietal: Pinot Noir

Vintage: 2008

Alcohol:  13%

Suggested Retail: $88

TASTING NOTES:

Robe: Dusky garnet robe tinting towards tawny; decanting reveals sediment.

Nose:  Initial barnyard bouquet give way to secondary slip-thin red raspberry notes and leathered finish.

Palate: Dry, light body, fading acids, tannins. Waited too long to drink this one. A pity.

Wine: Domaine Taupenot-Merme Chambolle-Musigny Bourgogne Rouge 

Varietal: Pinot Noir

Vintage: 2009

Alcohol:  13%

Suggested Retail: $88

TASTING NOTES:

Robe: Deep garnet robe with discrete amber rimming.

Nose:  Spicey initial attack; opens to secondary notes of red raspberry, sous bois, violets, fading to tertiary hints of truffle.

Palate: Dry, still lively acids, noble tannins, finessed finish. A gorgeous pour.

More posts on The French Winophiles’ Tour of Burgundy, Part 1:

Jeff Burrows of foodwineclick lures us to “Northern Burgundy Served Up With Rabbit.

Jill Barth of L’Occasion schools us on “Thomas Jefferson in Burgundy.

Michelle Williams of Rockin Red Blog tipples towards “A Journey Through Burgundy, Part 1 Chablis and Côte d’Or.

Lynn Gowdy of Savor the Harvest hosts “St. Aubin in Burgundy Invites you to Dine.”

Martin Redmond of Enofylz Wine Blog  throws down “Back To Back White Burgundy; Chablis vs Côte de Beaune.”

Gwendolyn Lawrence Alley of Wine Predator serves up  Chablis and the Sea.

Jane Niemeyer of Always Ravenous ladles up White Burgundy paired with Corn and Lobster Chowder.

And don’t forget…

Chardonnay Day | 25 May 2017.

Join the conversation on Twitter: #Bourgogne #Burgundy #Chardonnay Day

A Tour Thru Burgundy – Part 2 | 17 June 2017 | 8-9 a CST

Leave a comment below before June 15th to participate, then follow the conversation on Twitter June17th: #Winophiles

Copyrighted 2017 L.M. Archer | binNotes | redThread™. All Rights Reserved

A Tour of Burgundy, Part 1 | Not to Late to Join Us May 20th!

Have a Thirst for Burgundy?

It’s not too late to join The French Winophiles for a Virtual Tour of Burgundy on May 20th 2017 at 10 a CST!

For those unfamiliar with the program, The #Winophiles are a group of wine writers and bloggers that love French wine. Each month we focus on an area or aspect of French wine, with topics ranging from regions, routes, food, travel, and history, to profiles and tastings…we expand widely and seek to learn.

Burgundy is the focus of the May and June 2017 #Winophile program.

Please join us May 20th as we taste through Chablis and the fabled Cote d’Or from 10-11 a CST via Twitter using hashtag: #Winophile.

Here’s our May 20th Burgundy Tour Guide for your perusal:

Jeff Burrows of foodwineclick lures us to “Northern Burgundy Served Up With Rabbit.”

Jill Barth of L’Occasion schools us on “Thomas Jefferson in Burgundy.”

Michelle Williams of Rockin Red Blog tipples towards “A Journey Through Burgundy, Part 1 Chablis and Côte d’Or.”

Lynn Gowdy of Savor the Harvest hosts “Saint-Aubin in Burgundy Invites You To Dine.”

Martin Redmond of Enofylz Wine Blog  throws down “Back to Back White Burgundy: Chablis vs. Côte” d’Or.”

Gwendolyn Lawrence Alley of Art Predator serves up  “Chablis and the Sea.”

L.M. Archer of binnotes mulls over “Burgundy: Wines of Intention.”

…and Jane Niemeyer of Always Ravenous ladles up “White Burgundy paired with Corn Soup.”

 

 

See you on Twitter this Saturday morning, May 20th  at 10:00am central (time conversion here). Your invitation is the hashtag #Winophiles. 

And don’t forget….#ChardonnayDay is May 25th. Here’s a link to the press release.

Santé!

Copyrighted 2017 binNotes | red Thread™. All Rights Reserved.

The Hedonistic Taster | № 19 | Achaval-Ferrer | Mendoza, Argentina

The Hedonistic Taster |  № 19 | Achaval-Ferrer | Mendoza, Argentina

by L.M. Archer, FWS | Bourgogne ML

Tastevin

“Wine should not be regarded simply as a beverage, but as an art of living, a pleasure.” – Henri Jayer

Welcome to The Hedonistic Taster, a binNotes | redThread™ trade sampling of gorgeous, small-lot artisan pours in an intimate tasting format.

The title derives from the term ‘hedonistic tasting,’ coined by legendary Burgundian vigneron Henri Jayer.

Santé!

Today’s Tasting:

Achaval-Ferrer | Mendoza, Argentina

Achaval-Ferrer is a boutique wine producer in Argentina.

Think Argentina is all about Malbec? Guess again!

In addition to Malbec, premium Mendoza producer Achaval-Ferrer offers exceptional small-lot Bordeaux blends sourced from their heritage, high-altitude fincas (estates).

To better understand the wines of Achaval-Ferrer, part of the SPI Group that owns Stolichnaya vodka, here’s a little primer on their fincas, which they’ve spared no expense to own and operate:

Finca Mirador

 Planted in 1921, Mirador rests at 700 m. above sea level in the town of Medrano. Surrounding vegetation includes olive trees, quinces, and rosemary, it includes four hectares of Malbec planted in alluvial and silt-clay soils.

Finca Bella Vista

Ten minutes outside the city of Mendoza, Bella Vista represents Achaval-Ferrer’s oldest finca (planted in 1910), and produces some of Achaval-Ferrer’s most prized Malbec.

Meaning “beautiful view,” Bella Vista also hosts Achaval-Ferrer’s wine tasting facility and cellar.

Finca Altamira

Altamira perches 1,050 m. above sea level in the La Consulta region of Valle de Uco, surrounded by ancient chestnut trees on the south bank of the Tunyan River. The vineyard, planted in 1925, comprises twelve hectares of un-grafted Malbec.

 Finca Diamante

The high altitude estate of Finca Diamante stands 1100 m. above sea level in Tupungato, Valle de Uco.

This vineyard contains “caliche,” a weak mantle of crushed calcium carbonate that imparts a distinctive character to the fruit, fruit used as a basis for Achaval-Ferrer’s Quimera blend.

Diamante includes 19 hectares planted on American rootstock to Merlot (7 ha.), Cabernet Sauvignon (5 ha.), and Cabernet Franc (7 ha.)

As with any great wine, the difference is in the dirt, as Achaval-Ferrer winemaker Tavo Rearte proves here.

Versatile and charming, Achaval-Ferrer wines suit any social occasion from casual BBQ to Sunday sit-down supper, particularly meals featuring grilled or roasted meats, fish and fowl.

Wine: Achaval-Ferrer Quimera Red Blend

Vintage: 2012

Alcohol:  14.5%

Suggested Retail:  $34.99

Specs

TASTING NOTES:

Robe:  Opaque garnet robe.

Nose:  Plum, white pepper, fennel, rose on the nose.

Palate:  Pomegranate, red currant, fig, floral bouche; medium body, acids, tannins, finish.

Wine: Achaval-Ferrer Quimera Red Blend

Vintage: 2013

Alcohol:  14.5%

Suggested Retail:  $34.99

Specs

TASTING NOTES:

Robe:  Opaque porphyry robe.

Nose:  Bramble, rosemary, thyme notes.

Palate: Blackberry, black currant, black olive bouche; medium body, acids, tannins, finish.

Wine: Achaval-Ferrer Malbec 

Vintage: 2015

Alcohol:  14.5%

Suggested Retail:  $24.99

Specs

TASTING NOTES:

Robe: Deep garnet robe.

Nose:  Cranberry, rose, balsam, lifted aromatics on the nose.

Palate: Red fruit, red cherry bouche; light-medium body, medium acids, tannins, finish.

Wine: Achaval-Ferrer Cabernet Sauvignon

Vintage: 2015

Alcohol:  14.5%

Suggested Retail:  $24.99

Specs

TASTING NOTES:

Robe:  Opaque purple-rimmed garnet robe.

Nose:  Red currant, herbal nose with a flinty back-note.

Palate: Prune, fig, cocoa, black fruit bouche; medium body, acids, tannins and finish.

Wine: Achaval-Ferrer Cabernet Franc

Vintage: 2015

Alcohol:  14.5%

Suggested Retail:  $24.99

Specs

TASTING NOTES:

Robe:  Opaque purple-garnet robe.

Nose:  Red fruit, plum, floral nose.

Palate: Plush red raspberry, cherry, plum bouche; medium body, fresh acids, silky tannins, seductive finish. A beautiful pour.

Learn more about Achaval-Ferrer here.

Achaval-Ferrer

Calle Cobos 2601 – Perdriel – (5509) Luján de Cuyo – Mendoza, Argentina 

Phone: +54 261 481 9205

Copyrighted 2017 L.M. Archer | binNotes | redThread™. All Rights Reserved

red Thread™ Exclusive: Decantering with Lauren Ackerman | Ackerman Family Vineyards | Napa

Welcome to binNotes | redThread™

by L.M. Archer, FWS | Bourgogne Master Level

Today’s Exclusive Interview:

Lauren Ackerman | Ackerman Family Vineyards | Coombsville AVA – Napa Valley

Lauren Ackerman blames the success of Ackerman Family Vineyards in Napa on a Bill Harlan quote. When asked why he bought cult winery Screaming Eagle at a time when most people considered retiring, he answered, ”If I don’t do this now, when will I?”

Ackerman, an equestrian-turned-vineyard owner, wine maker, and civic leader, unwittingly cantered into decanting after she and her husband Bob purchased a Coombsville horse farm replete with an old working vineyard in 1994.

Today, Ackerman Family Vineyards boasts a revitalized vineyard in burgeoning Coombsville AVA, a thriving joint venture with Lloyd Cellars, and an elegant new tasting room in downtown Napa christened The Aviary, part of their jaw-dropping Ackerman Heritage House renovation.

But Lauren Ackerman is the first to admit that the path to her family winery’s success has been neither straight, nor hurdle-free. Many times she considered giving up along the way. Each time, she asked herself the same question, “If I don’t do this now, when will I?” 

Over a series of meetings, phone calls, and emails with the redThread™, Lauren Ackerman provides an exclusive glimpse into Ackerman Family Vineyards‘ unlikely path to success in Napa Valley.

(Note: This interview has been edited for clarity and continuity.)

r/T™:  You and your husband Bob truly embody the ‘path less taken’ route to winery ownership. In 1995, Bob happened on what is now Ackerman Family Vineyards in Coombsville while searching for horses to purchase for you. By the end of the transaction, you owned not only the horses, but the sixteen acre farm then know as Stonehaven. 

Talk about the impetus that lead you to make that leap from ‘cantering’ to ‘decantering.’ I understand the Bill Phelps and Robert Mondavi provided encouragement, and that you and Magrit Mondavi shared a love of art?

Lauren Ackerman: Bill Phelps and Robert Mondavi were mentors to us. Margaret Mondavi was a dear, close friend and a mentor to me in so many ways. Not just wine, but how to give back to the community and live a gracious life.

The wine started it – sitting down with a glass of wine is where all these conversations started. We’re always going to be part of the Napa community, which is close-knit and supportive.  I’m happy I can bring up some of the historical aspects of Napa [through Ackerman Heritage House] that are different and unique, and wines are a part of that – it all kind of works together.

The key thing is that when we bought the farm, we had no intention of selling wine. Our first harvest 1994 –  we didn’t get to keep that harvest. In fact, we only made two to three barrels under the Stonehaven label, which we gave to friends. Over the years, these friends told us to consider selling the wine, that it was “pretty good.”

Eventually, we did – we made our first commercial vintage of three hundred cases in 2003. We’ve deliberately kept production small ever since, focusing on quality, rather than quantity. 

r/T™:  In 1997, you decided to replant pre-existing, phylloxera-infested vineyards on the property with drought-resistant Cabernet Sauvignon, and hired famed vineyard manager Mark Neal to complete the replant. In 2009, Ackerman Family Vineyards earned CCOF (California Certified Organic Farming), a three-year process. Why did you decide to invest in the organic certification, when you’d been farming sustainably from the vineyard’s inception? 

Lauren Ackerman:  We ‘borrowed’ Mark and his team through 2013. Mark Neal is still with us in vineyard, but he and his team are not in production.

In 2014, Rob LLoyd produced his first vintage with us. The consumer world doesn’t know that much about Rob Lloyd now, but they will. Rob established himself working for Rombauer and Cakebread Cellars, and now has his own brand, Lloyd Cellars, including Prescriptions Chardonnay. Rob also makes wines for Handwritten, Humanitas, and Jessup Cellars.

Rob’s got a natural ability, and is a wonderful guy. We’ve created a great partnerships between Lloyd Cellars and Ackerman Family Vineyards – his mother Dorothy Salmon is one of my best friends, so he’s truly part of  the family.

As for the vineyard, we’ve made no changes since achieving our CCOF certification, which took six years. The certification is really about the vineyard, not the wine. Technically, we don’t make ‘organic wines,’ we grow organic grapes. 

[NOTE: Ackerman Family Vineyards also grows Merlot, Malbec, Cabernet Franc, Petite Verdot, and Sangiovese for their Bordeaux and Cal-Italian blends.]

r/T™:  Are you surprised by the growth of Coombsville AVA?  Many consumers long overlooked this subregion, which boasts volcanic and alluvial easy-draining soils, the moderating influences of San Pablo Bay, favorable east/west aspects, early flowering, and later harvests.

Lauren Ackerman: Ackerman Family Vineyards was one of the first wineries in Coombsville in 1994. Back then, many considered Coombsville too cool, and looked for warmer areas. You have to remember the particular style at the time, when people were looking for bigger, juicier wines.

Today, the pendulum has swung. Now people want lower alcohol, more minerality, and deeper berries. Coombsville is known for this particular style, and is popular with restaurants because the lower alcohol doesn’t overpower food, and ages longer. We didn’t realize the aging capabilities until 2007, after we’d held back our first vintage for four years.

Because of these characteristics, the embrace by restaurant professionals and sommeliers has helped raised the whole appellation process worldwide.

In fact, during a subsequent trip to France, when they inquired where we were from and I responded, “a tiny AVA in Napa you’ve probably never heard of – Coombsville,” they recognized the name right away! I didn’t realize the impact of our AVA internationally until that moment.

r/T™:  These low-alcohol wines develop for two years in French oak barrels with minimal racking and no fining, followed by another two years aging in bottle. Why this focus on time-intensive aging?

Lauren Ackerman: Because of our vineyard’s minerality, the tannins need more aging, and therefore take a little more time.

However, we’re actually in the midst of changing aging protocols with our new winemaker. With Rob, who’s a bit of an artist, our first release this October 2017 will be our 2014. We’re putting them out there earlier, and getting good feedback.

r/T™:  In 2010, you purchased and painstakingly restored Ackerman Heritage House, a Queen Anne Victorian house in downtown Napa formerly known as The Gifford House.

In October 2016, Napa Mayor Jill Techel presided over the ribbon-cutting ceremony and grand opening of The Aviary Tasting Room and Ackerman Heritage House. Can you explain why restoration of Gifford House helps anchor the Napa community? 

Lauren Ackerman:  When I bought Gifford House, it suffered from over fifty years of deferred maintenance, and contained only one working bathroom for six people, with no shower.

From the outside it looked like a pink and purple haunted mansion; inside was lime green and purple. I saw this house, and thought, “Someone needs to save this house, because it has great bones underneath.”

So I did. It was quite a project, which took five years. I didn’t have a budget, and had to re-create the budget every year until completion. The 2014 earthquake didn’t help, which added about a year to the project.

The property’s carriage house, built between 1910-1918, and formerly used to house chickens, we’ve rechristened The Aviary, and converted into the Ackerman Family Vineyards and Lloyd Family tasting room. 

The Ackerman Heritage House provides the Napa community a rentable venue available for private events and dinners, and honors the heritage of all the families who owned the house before us.

Restoring the house wasn’t easy, nor a straight line. Many times I wanted to give up and sell it ‘as is.’ But what kept me going was an article I read about Bill Harlan regarding Meadowood, The Reserve, and his winery Screaming Eagle. To paraphrase, when asked why he built them at an age when most people think about retiring, he replied, “If I don’t do this now, when will I?”

I asked myself that when I considered purchasing this dilapidated house, so it was kind of leap of faith – and a belief that it would all work out. So, I do owe it to another wine maker for my leap of faith!

The key thing is that now that the door is open, and the project completed, it’s so gratifying how many people have responded positively. Many call it a ‘living museum, telling me,  “Wow, I feel like I’m stepping back in time.”

Especially the stained glass windows. Luckily, we restored the seventeen original windows prior to the 2014 earthquake. Now house has twenty-five – we added a few old and new ones. The windows alone – I can’t think of another residential house in Napa with that many stained glass windows.

But really, it’s a gift to the community, I’m just a steward. Ultimately, the house supports wine, and the wine supports the house, so it’s about cross opportunities. 

And so, I feel it was truly a gift when we were given the key to the city by Mayor Jill Techel, because part of the key to the future of Napa is the restoration of these Grandes Dames.

r/T™:  Anything else you’d care to share with readers about Ackerman Family Vineyards or your work in the Napa community? 

Lauren Ackerman: I’m excited to be a part of the new CIA at Copia. I use to be on the board of the old Copia, and even chaired for three years. Now that the Culinary Institute of America at Greystoke has purchased Copia as a satellite site, I’ve been invited back to as a Fellow member, which I’ve accepted.

The CIA has instituted many of same programs, as well as upgraded what Copia was doing back in 2001. So it’s a new, improved Copia, and I’m happy to be a part of that – to have come full circle.

r/T™:  Finally, if your experience being a family winery owner and philanthropist in Napa has taught you anything, it’s taught you…?

Lauren Ackerman: The first word that pops into my head is love. It’s taught me love. You have to love what you do, the people you work with, and the community. And I’ve received a lot of love back…that’s what’s most important.

For more information, or to make an appointment, please contact: 

Ackerman Family Vineyards

The Aviary at Ackerman Heritage House
608 Randolph Street
Napa, CA 94559

Copyrighted 2017 binNotes | redThread™.  All Rights Reserved.

Thank you:

Lauren Ackerman

Kristie Fondario

Wine Writer Confidential | № 6

Dear Readers:

Welcome to my latest installment of Wine Writer Confidential, where I spill, thrill and chill you with all the news unfit to print about my world of wine writing.

It’s a busy time of the year, but here goes…a few updates for you:

#wineStudio | Arinzano | May 9th 

Ever wanted to run with the bulls in Pamplona? Well, here’s your chance to at least virtually taste the wines of that region!

Yes, it’s a new month, which means a new round of virtual tastings with #wineStudio, my fave virtual wine community of wine writers, industry professionals, and social media influencers.

This Tuesday you can follow us on Twitter at #wineStudio from 6-7 p PST as we kick off a taste through the wines of Arinzano from Navarra, Spain.

Not only does this winery boast the prestigious Vino de Pago designation, but it also hosts a robust enotourism program, including…wait for it… a very cool annual Running of the Bulls tour to nearby Pamplona. ¡Salud!

Want to learn more about Arinzano?

You can read my interview with Pago de Arinzano winemaker and CEO Manuel Arinzano here.

You can view my Hedonistic Tasting notes on Arinzano wines here.

#Winophiles |  A Tour Through Burgundy | Part 1: May 20th

I’m also hosting the Facebook Group The French Winophiles through a Tour of Burgundy this May and June.

For those of you unfamiliar with The French Winophiles, it’s a formatted program that occurs on the third Saturday of each month. Members include wine, food and travel writers and enthusiasts who share a link to their themed food and wine pairing post with the group prior to the scheduled date, then meet for a tweet-up on that date. This May 20th and June 17th the topic is Burgundy.

On Saturday, May 20th, we’ll crack out our tastevin for some food and wine pairing through Chablis and the Côte d’Or. You can join us from 8-9 am PST, (10 am CST) on Twitter at  #Winophiles.

On June 17th, Part 2 takes us on a tour of  food, wine and travel through the Côte Chalonnaise, Mâconnais, and Beaujolais.

Food, Wine and Travel writers & Bloggers: Care to join the Burgundy Tour? Feel free to leave a comment below or IM me @binnotes. Santé!

 More Wine Writer Confidential:

Wine Writer Confidential № 5

Wine Writer Confidential № 4

Wine Writer Confidential № 3

Wine Writer Confidential № 2

Wine Writer Confidential № 1

Copyrighted 2017 binNotes | red Thread™. All Rights Reserved.