VINE CUTTINGS May 2001

News and Notes from the World of Wine




A Four-Star Night

Michel Rolland, Winemaker of the Year, with his wife

The wine world raised a glass on January 29 in New York City, when Wine Enthusiast magazine hosted its First Annual Wine Awards dinner. The sparkling event, which was held in the Skylight Room at Maloney & Porcelli, was given to honor the people, the winery, and the wine region that have made the most significant impact on the world of wine in the year 2000.

Leading figures in the wine world gathered for an exquisite dinner and top-flight wine. In addition to the award recipients, their families and winery team members, industry leaders from Southcorp, Fedway, Banfi, Kobrand, Pasternak, Caravelle and Scheffelin & Somerset were in attendance. The entire event, from the socializing to the speeches, was in the spirit of a celebration of winemaking, of genial competition and generous acknowledgment of the works of others.

Wine Enthusiast publisher and editor, Adam M. Strum, welcomed the guests and thanked them for their contributions, acknowledging that everyone in the room was lucky to work in an industry so rich in tradition. Prior to the presentation of the first award, he announced that each award recipient would have a star named in his honor. In addition to the award statuette itself, each honoree was given a map of the galaxy highlighting the location of the star and a note of registry.

Alan Stillman, Adam Strum and Jess Jackson

The awards were first made public in Wine Enthusiast's Best of Year 2000 issue, and were chosen by the magazine's editorial board. The first award was Wine Region of the Year; accepting for Australia was Consul General Michael Baume. Baume set the tone for the evening with his self-deprecating and witty remarks about Australia's scrappy rise in the world market, noting that Australia is the only nation that eats its national animal, further advising that the combination of Shiraz and kangaroo meat cures all ills.
The award for Winemaker of the Year was given to Michel Rolland, the Bordeaux-based consultant, also known as "the flying winemaker." Rolland consults for over 100 wineries the world over, and strongly hinted in his remarks that he would like to consult in Australia.

Joel Aiken, vice president of winemaking, accepted the Winery of the Year award on behalf of Beaulieu Vineyard. This being the centennial year for BV, Aiken honored the achievements of legendary BV winemaker Andre Tchelistcheff. Aiken finished with a heartfelt toast to "those damn Aussies," praising them for supplying such fine wine and serious worldwide competition

Wine Man of the Year was Jess Jackson, founder of Kendall-Jackson Estates. In his warm acceptance speech, Jackson acknowledged the French, the Italians, the Spanish, and all those who taught the American industry to make wine, and expressed his pride in how far the nation's winemakers have come on their own. He referred to his retirement, noting that he loves being a farmer, that he loves growing things. And with that tribute to the land and to the ever-growing U.S. wine industry, the evening came to a close.

— Tim Moriarty

Crushing the Numbers

The year 2000 was a record one for the California winegrape industry, according to statistics issued by the state's Department of Food and Agriculture. Mild weather allowed the industry to harvest and crush 3.3 million tons of winegrapes. This represents an increase of 27 percent over 1999's crush, and bests the record year of 1997, which saw 2.9 million tons.

The increase was due to 32,000 new bearing acres coming into production over the past year, combined with yields that were normal to above average.

Red wine varieties increased 28 percent to 1.8 million tons; white wine grapes grew 26 percent to 1.5 million tons. The leading grapes in order were Chardonnay (20 percent of the total), French Colombard (13 percent), Zinfandel (12 percent), Cabernet Sauvignon (11 percent) and Merlot (9 percent). These were followed by Chenin Blanc, Rubired, Barbera and Grenache. All told, 99 varieties were crushed in 2000.

Over the past 10 years, certain districts have seen dramatic rises in tonnage: Solano/Clarksburg (up 353 percent over 10 years), Sacramento Valley & Northern California (209 percent increase), Lodi/Woodbridge (206 percent) and San Luis Obispo/Santa Barbara (158 percent).

In terms of prices received, using as an example of the top red and white grapes: In 1990, Chardonnay sold for an average of $1,128 per ton. In 2000, Chardonnay earned $928 per ton. In 1990, Zinfandel's average price per ton was $391. In 2000, Zin will go for $466 per ton. Though it seems as if prices are not rising dramatically, and in some cases are falling, the state-wide averages are deceiving: the price for premium grapes destined for quality bottlings are indeed rising; wide swings in prices from region to region in California are responsible for the low averages.

—T.M.

PREMIER NAPA VALLEY SCALES NEW HEIGHTS

It rained heavily at the Premier Napa Valley barrel tasting and auction on February 24, and the Napa River was rising ominously. Despite the deluge, an enthusiastic crowd of 500 drove up to St. Helena and parked in a muddy field at Charles Krug, then dashed to shuttle buses for the short ride to the old Christian Brothers stone winery, where the event was held.

But then, a flood wouldn't have stopped the attendees of the 5th annual Premier Napa Valley—a tasting, lunch, benefit auction and schmooze-fest extravaganza held exclusively for the wine trade: restaurateurs, merchants, distributors, marketing people and affiliated fellow travelers. Many of these folks had felt shut out of June's annual Napa Valley Wine Auction because the lots there were getting so expensive. They wooed the Napa Valley Vintners Association (NVVA) for their own event, the Association mulled it over, a consummation ensued, and Premier Napa Valley was the happy spawn. This year, 120 vintners each made a one-of-a-kind barrel of their best wine for their best customers.

And what wine it was. You can't put a price on this stuff. At least Screaming Eagle is available, if only in theory; most Premier Napa Valley wines are made in five-case lots—that's 60 bottles. No one will ever taste these wines, outside a small circle of friends. But there's an upside. Because the vintners feel free to experiment, they're a little more daring. Clos du Val did a 100-percent Cabernet Franc, Flora Springs a Sangiovese, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc blend, while Pine Ridge prepared a mixture of Tannat, Malbec and Merlot. "The main thing is uniqueness," says Beaulieu's education director, Joel Butler, MW. "The first thing we look for is, What do we have that's really excellent and unusual?" Beaulieu's offering was a barrel of 1999 Cabernet Sauvignon from BV2, one of its famed Rutherford vineyards. Cuvaison presented a Cabernet Sauvignon blended from six Napa Valley districts: Howell Mountain, Mt. Veeder, Oakville, Rutherford, Calistoga, and St. Helena. "You want to put your best foot forward," for the sophisticated industry crowd, explained winemaker John Thatcher.
At the auction, the bidding reached a record amount of $920,800, which will be used to support the NVVA's activities. The highest amount paid for a barrel, $38,000, was for a special blend of Lewis Cellars 1999 Cabernet Sauvignon. A barrel of Shafer's 1999 single-vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon, called Sunspot, fetched $36,000 ($600 per bottle). A Dalle Valle 1999 Cabernet Sauvignon, unblended, brought only a little less, $35,000.

—Steve Heimoff

 
Spotlight on Pinot

The Pinot Noir producers of New Zealand are smiling. New Zealand, a country that produces only 0.2% of the world's wine, is noted for its scintillating Sauvignon Blancs. But in late January, the country proved to an appreciative international audience attending Pinot Noir 2001 that its Pinot Noir should not be ignored.

Held in New Zealand's capital city, Wellington, the conference attracted 460 passionate Pinot lovers, winemakers and media from a dozen countries. The setting in the Civic Square, with its shops, restaurants, café's, museums, art galleries and harbor close by, was a physical contrast to the event that inspired it, Oregon's International Pinot Noir Celebration held in McMinnville.

Keynote speaker Jancis Robinson, MW, contrasted Pinot Noir with Cabernet Sauvignon, and spoke about the allure of Pinot, a wine that "seizes your heart before it hits your head" and "dances on the palate rather than marching across it." Her overview of the regions that can produce a "decent" Pinot Noir set the scene for Stephen Cary's photographic journey of the world of Pinot Noir outside of Burgundy.

Other speakers included Warren Moran of the University of Auckland, who spoke about "Terroir—the Human Factor," while Ghislain de Montgolfier talked about Pinot Noir in Champagne and scientist Ian Hall gave an inspiring lecture on truffles.

Between two days of consumer-oriented lectures, there were many opportunities to taste wine and fine food prepared by some of New Zealand's leading chefs.

In the international tasting chaired by N.Z.'s Bob Campbell, MW, the panelists—James Halliday (Australia), Harvey Steiman (U.S.), Robert Drouhin (France) and Damien Martin (N.Z.)—discussed the finer points of the definition of Pinot Noir, while delegates tasted examples of the grape's product from the panelists' countries.

A New Zealand regional Pinot Noir tasting saw seven wines introduced by their respective winemakers, from Auckland in the north to Central Otago, which is the world's most southerly Pinot Noir-producing region

At the formal closing session, Robinson, Halliday, Steiman, Drouhin and de Montgolfier joined in a lively discussion on issues raised during the conference. They could not, however, come to a consensus on which Pinot Noir-producing region rates second to Burgundy.

The conference finale was a train trip to the Martinborough wine region approximately an hour north of Wellington. Delegates transferred to buses for a three-vineyard mystery tour, ending up at different venues for a vineyard feast.

— Sue Courtney

FOCUSING ON MONTEREY

Not so long ago, Monterey red wines were associated with descriptors like "vegetal." Poor planting decisions and bad viticultural practices resulted in wines, particularly Cabernet Sauvignons, that were underripe and downright green. What a difference 30 years have made. Grape varieties like Pinot Noir, Syrah and even Cabernet Sauvignon are now on the upswing.

But many consumers—and even people in the wine business—still don't understand Monterey wines. Six vintners—Steve Pessagno, winemaker for Lockwood Vineyard in the San Lucas appellation, Robb Talbott of Robert Talbott Vineyards, Dan Lee of Morgan Winery, Dan Karlsen of Chalone Vineyard, Mark Chesebro of Bernardus Winery and Jack Galante of Galante Vineyards—organized Focus Monterey, a symposium and tasting for the wine trade and press at Bernardus Lodge in Carmel Valley. The aim, Pessagno said, was to raise awareness of Monterey County and "to dispel, hopefully, some of the old news."

The participating vintners are scattered throughout Monterey County, and in 45-minute presentations, each talked about the advantages—and challenges—of their respective locations. Talbott, for example, focused on his Chardonnays, which provide a vivid illustration of how different the terroirs of Monterey County can be. The Chardonnay made from Sleepy Hollow Vineyard in the Santa Lucia Highlands, where the soil is richer, tends to be more generous and showy. The Chardonnay from his rocky, low-yielding Diamond T Vineyard is more austere and concentrated and takes a few years to reveal itself. The differences are almost completely the result of where the grapes were grown because, Talbott said, there's virtually no difference in the way the wines are made.

Chesebro and Galante brought red wines made from Bordeaux varieties grown in Carmel Valley. Far from vegetal, Chesebro's Marinus (a red blend) and Galante's Cabernet Sauvignons have ripe, juicy fruit and good intensity. Mountains block most of the marine influence, so temperatures in Carmel Valley tend to be quite hot during the day—hot enough to ripen Cabernet—but cold at night, preserving acidity in the grapes.

Pessagno talked about the San Lucas appellation, toward the southern end of the county, an appellation he described as having an "in- between" climate that allows him to work with a range of grape varieties. His Chardonnays, for example, are quite ripe but still retain good acidity. At the same time, his red VSR Meritage is not at all green, with lush fruit, firm tannins and some mineral undertones.

In the Chalone appellation, on the eastern edge of the county, Karlsen believes that the soil—limestone and decomposed granite—is the defining factor. The climate at Chalone can vary greatly from year to year, but Karlsen said he doesn't see a lot of variation in the wines. The soils lend a characteristic minerality to the Chalone wines.

Vintners in Monterey County are still fine-tuning which grape varieties and clones grow best on which sites. At Morgan, in the Santa Lucia Highlands, Lee is experimenting with a wide range of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir clones. From the 2000 vintage, he poured wines made from three clones of Chardonnay and three clones of Pinot Noir. Although all were made in roughly the same way, the differences were astonishing, with the Chardonnays ranging from Sauvignon Blanc-like to rich and tropical, and the Pinots running the gamut from tart and structured to rich and complex.

Big wine companies like Robert Mondavi, Gallo and Kendall-Jackson have taken notice of Monterey's potential and have undertaken large plantings in the county. Pessagno hopes to continue to get the word out to consumers, at least in part through future Monterey Wine Festivals, an event that's held each spring in Monterey.

— Laurie Daniel

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