SEERS & PIONEERS

Leading wine luminaries from around the world reflect on the past 15 years, and look ahead


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Leading wine luminaries from around the world reflect on the past 15 years, and look ahead

A Special Report

"May you live in interesting times."
The origin of that quote is in dispute (some say it derives from a Chinese proverb) but its meaning is not. And certainly, Wine Enthusiast Magazine has lived in interesting times.
Since its founding 15 years ago, Wine Enthusiast has covered the wine industry during a period of unprecedented growth, turbulent change, intense international competition, revolutionary methods of distribution and an unprecedented increase in quality. Many producers in the Old World have re-examined their methods in both vineyard and winery. Potentially mammoth new markets are opening up in Asia. Women are playing more important roles than ever, at all levels of the industry. The birth of the Internet has led to innovations in marketing and retail sales. Sleeping giants have awakened: Washington State, Oregon, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Chile and Argentina are producing wines of startling quality and value. Cork's place as the crown of wine preservation is being questioned. Appellations are being created, reconceived or flatly ignored—all in the cause of quality.

But chronicling these changes month by month as we do can obscure the big picture issue by issue sometimes obscures the Big Picture. Here we ask prominent figures from the major producing countries to look back and peer into the future, to get a snapshot of the industry over time: where we've been and where we're headed.

California
Jess Jackson
By Steve Heimoff

Jess Stonestreet Jackson came out of nowhere 22 years ago, created a Chardonnay he called "Vintner's Reserve" under his new wine brand, Kendall-Jackson, and made history.
With that single innovation, Jackson created one of the top wine empires in America and helped launch the varietal explosion. The 73-year old former lawyer is getting a little grayer, but he is still firmly at the helm of his Santa Rosa-based hierarchy of wine businesses, which include, in addition to bestselling Kendall-Jackson, smaller prestige estates such as Camelot, Cardinale, and Pepi.

For all his power and wealth (he turned down a $1 billlion offer for the company a few years ago), Jackson is a fairly reclusive wine tycoon who rarely gives interviews. On this occasion, he sat down with Wine Enthusiast in his office and opined over a wide variety of topics, in his usual feisty manner.

Wine Enthusiast: Take us back 15 years in the California wine industry.
Jess Jackson: We experimented with wine for a few years before we started K-J in 1983. We made it in '82, sold it in '83. But I remember the wine industry from the '30s, '40s and '50s. Going back to the '30s, there wasn't a white wine in California worth drinking unless it was sweet. And the red wines were damned few, but there were some pioneers. You had, of course, the BVs [Beaulieu]. Then you went into the technological advancement of French oak that Mondavi pioneered along with a lot of others. I think Ambassador Zellerbach brought it in at Hanzell in the mid-'50s. Kendall-Jackson was one of the first pioneers, along with Dick Arrowood, Grgich and others who used French oak for Chardonnay, which was too oaky at that point. The fruit was buried, and it got oxidized because of too much oak. We brought in a fresh, fruit-forward, barrel-fermented, secondary malolactic, we did it all right. We used all the classic steps, but we did it on a mega-boutique basis.

WE: With a little sugar, too.
JJ: Yeah. That was deliberate—despite others' suggestions!—because I liked it that way. And I think the consumer liked it that way. And if you do it naturally, by leaving the natural fructose and not adding cane sugar, as the French do or an American producer might, then you have something that enhances the midpalate and the flavor, and you enjoy them. Kendall-Jackson was the breakthrough.

WE: Do you have any concerns about the so-called internationalization of wine—or more specifically, of varietals? By this I mean vineyards that are pulling their traditional grapes and replanting with Cabernet, Chardonnay and the like, and as a result it's all starting to taste the same.
JJ: But how do you prevent that? What they see is what sells in the American market, and the American market has been standardized to believe in varietals. K-J created that direction. We were the first ones to bring, nationwide, an awareness of what Chardonnay was.

In that varietal classification, we overcame white Burgundy, which is what everybody perceived as the white drink of the centuries. In doing that, we made the American public aware of varietal, rather than region. That may have been a mistake, because now everybody in the world can grow Chardonnay, and everybody can come into the American market to sell it. So mea culpa! But we created an awareness of a better white wine for the American consumer, and to that extent it was beneficial to the consumption of wine.

WE: Is family-owned better than shareholder-owned? Do you decry the trend toward going public?
JJ: Of course! Because the family is putting its own money and its own name behind the brand and building for the future generations, not just for the short-term quarterly dividend our friends on Wall Street are imposing on the wine industry.

WE: So are there new breakthrough varietals out there, or are we pretty much looking at Cabernet, Chardonnay, Merlot, Sauvignon Blanc? Does Pinot Gris have a prayer?
JJ: Sure. Everything has its place. Obviously there are trends. But what are the world's classic varietal viniferas? Those are the ones the consumer will keep coming back to, because they are the most intensely flavored and complex wines that can be naturally made. The fact that the consumer suddenly finds Pinot Grigio or Syrah is just fashion, herd instinct. That doesn't mean you're going to abandon Chardonnay. People have been talking about anything-but-Chardonnay since I've been here, and Chardonnay is still number one.

WE: So, in defining your activity over the past 15 years, you want to be known for making the industry more aware of the consumer needs?
JJ: True. I want people to appreciate the brand, and the marketing behind the brand, and the creation of an awareness in the American consumer of what Chardonnay was, what a varietal was, in the context of the market as it was in the early '80s. That's what Kendall-Jackson did, and that's what I want to be remembered for in wine. What I really want to be remembered for, though, is the ten leading judicial precedents that I created in the United States. I'm very proud of my legal carreer.


Oregon
David Lett

By Paul Gregutt

David Lett describes himself as "the founder and winemaker of The Eyrie Vineyards." In truth, he founded an entire industry. He was the first modern-era winegrower to settle in the Willamette Valley of northern Oregon, planting his vineyard in 1966 and making wines from Pinot Noir beginning in 1970. Lett produced the first Pinot Gris in America; he was instrumental in convincing the Burgundy grower and shipper, Robert Drouhin, to establish a winery in the Dundee Hills area of the Willamette in 1987. Lett continues to be a pioneer and a visionary—outspoken, opinionated and indispensable.

Wine Enthusiast: Today Oregon has some 160 wineries and 12,000-plus acres of vineyard, more than two thirds of it in the Willamette Valley and two thirds of that is Pinot Noir. There are several different styles. Whereas many high-end Pinots are big, dark, tannic wines with a lot of toasty new oak Eyrie's is leaner, more elegant, often fairly light in color, and not dependent on the flavors of new oak barrels. Why such a difference?
DL: I make wines for flavor, not scores; for pleasure, not power.
Pinot Noir is so delicate; it's a lighter- colored wine by nature. It's missing four of the nine pigments in all other grapes. If you let it get overripe you can get dark-colored wines, but you lose the flavor; and the only reason to grow Pinot in a climate as capricious as the Willamette Valley is for the flavor. Look at Europe; that's why Pinot Noir is planted in Burgundy, not in the Rhône Valley. You could ripen it consistently in the Rhône, but you don't get the flavor. Flavor in any fruit has to develop slowly and evenly, and then be picked at that point of ripeness.

WE: You pioneered Pinot Gris, making the first varietal version of it in 1971. Three decades later, it seems as if it has finally become Oregon's signature white wine. How do you account for that?
DL: We had to give Pinot Gris to restaurants and ask them to pour it by the glass, just to get people familiar with it. The success of Pinot Grigio as a variety has done a great deal to establish Pinot Gris, but we're now seeing it grown in places where it should not be grown. It's just as delicate as Pinot Noir.

WE: It's not unusual even for brand-new Oregon wineries to ask $40, $50 or more for a bottle of Pinot Noir. In the Two-Buck Chuck marketplace, aren't Oregon vintners handicapping themselves with these prices?
DL: We have to be able to cover our costs. The biggest factor for me is the cost of the grapes—it costs me around $4,400 an acre. That's $2,200 a ton (at two tons per acre) and that's a lot of money for Pinot.

WE: Vintage variation has been a problem for Oregon, at least as far as the critics are concerned. How do you feel about it?
DL: There are things I like to call terroir machines that produce a wine that's the same every year. There are people who firmly believe that that's a good thing to do. I'm a grape grower; I like to see what nature does. I embrace vintage variation because I love it; it makes life exciting.

WE: But it's the big, dark, ripe, jammy wines that get the high scores.
DL: Look at the vintages that get highly touted; they're the big vintages. We go back to the theme: big, dark, high alcohol, and then you oak it up to taste the vanilla, which is what your Mom put into everything she baked when you were a kid so it tasted really good and what have you got? Coca-Cola! It's vanilla, the international flavor.

WE: What trends do you see affecting wines sales?
DL: One thing that's very important for wineries is free access to free trade between the states. I can ship an AK-47 through the mail and the ammunition for it, but I can't ship a bottle of wine. This is insanity.

WE: Where will Oregon be in 10 or 15 years?
DL: I don't have a clue, but I can give you a hope. I always thought that after Cabernet, people would drink Merlot, and Pinot Noir would be next. But no, now we're in the Syrah phase. Hopefully, after the Syrah phase Pinot will become the people's choice. If they are going to become Pinot lovers, they have to have Pinot Noir that tastes like Pinot Noir.


France
Patrick Léon
BY MONICA LARNER

Not everyone likes to hear it, but we all know it's true: France is the reference point for winemakers around the world. Its techniques and growing practices—the language of wine itself—were born in this country the ancients referred to as Gaul.

Since Wine Enthusiast's inaugural issue a decade and a half ago, we have watched France share its knowledge with nascent regions around the globe, and have even seen it learn a new trick or two. We have witnessed a generation of internationally educated enologists move to the helm of France's storied wine families, and have reported on new regulations taking shape in Europe, the world's largest wine economy. As a result of these and other sanctions, "organic farming" and "quality" have become an integral part of wine's lexicon.
In order to better understand the changes that have shaped French wine since the 1980s, we spoke to a winemaker in each of France's four key wine regions—Bordeaux, Burgundy, the Rhône, and Champagne. That's not to shun the Loire or the exciting experimentation underway in Languedoc. We'll probably be lauding their viticultural advances before another 15 years go by.

To get an overview of the past 15 years of change in Bordeaux, we spoke with Patrick Léon, technical director of Château Mouton Rothschild; consultant to wineries in Chile, California and Italy; and former president of the Bordeaux Interprofessional Wine Committee (CIVB). Léon was also Wine Enthusiast's Winemaker of the Year in 2002.

Wine Enthusiast: Many have said that 1990 was a "better" vintage that 2000, but since winemakers knew more in 2000, they made a better wine than in 1990. What do they know now that makes this difference?
PL: I think probably the potential of the 1990 vintage was better than in 2000. But if I had to make the same wine I am making today 15 years ago, I think that the wine would be a little different because we know better. Vine-growing and winemaking is very difficult. It is not only a technique; it is a philosophy, an attitude. I make the comparison with the great chefs. A great chef, he will not make a new recipe everyday, but everyday he is cooking. In making wine, we make the wine once a year so it takes time to change and the changes are slow.

WE: The past decade and a half has seen the so called "globalization" of wine. Are we moving toward a more narrow range of styles in which terroir is being lost?
PL: I don't think the range of wine styles is more narrow today than 15 years ago. I think the new technological, international wines increase consumption and give young people the idea of discovering wine. From international styles, fruity and easy to drink, they will go on to our generic wines and then to our classified growths.

WE: What is going to be Bordeaux's next big thing?
PL: What is happening now is people are trying to replant old varieties like Malbec, Petit Verdot and, though just a few, Carmenère, a very old varietal from Bordeaux.

WE: Are there any dark clouds hanging over the future of your region?
PL: Always. I would recommend to Bordeaux and even to Burgundy, do not try to copy of the New World. Try to be in harmony with your roots and try to make the best with that.

WE: What are you plans for the future and where would you like to see yourself in 15 years?
PL: I will be retired at the end of this year to the vineyard my children own in Bordeaux. If they want a consultant I am happy to help them, but not to take the decisions. Of course I will go every winter to prune, just for the fun. Not to work, just for fun.

Rhône Valley
Marcel Guigal "Syrah is very popular in Australia, and in California as well. With the Rhône Rangers, we are very successful."

Marcel Guigal's bold winemaking has sparked a Rhône Renaissance. The quality, renown and prices of Rhône have climbed steadily since his arrival in the Valley in the 1970s, when he inherited the estate his father founded in 1946. Today, Guigal owns 50 acres of prime vineyards in the Côte Rôtie, from which he makes complex and expensive wines that showcase Syrah.

In measured English, Guigal discussed the highpoints of past decade and a half:

Wine Enthusiast: Describe what you feel are the most important changes in the Rhône in the last 15 years.
Marcel Guigal: The weather changed. We always have the harvest early and in the vineyard we use organic practices. We reduced the yield—less grapes, less wine and more quality. For the vinification, we now have an automatic press, better control of temperature, our own cooperage. We choose the best wood from the French forests and have improved the quality.

WE: Is there a wine from another region of France or another country that you wish you had made?
MG: I am very pleased with the Rhône Valley. In California, I know some vineyards that produce good wines and I also appreciate the wine of Italy. Do you know Sassicaia? The landscape is lovely.

WE: What has the Rhône done to compete with other countries such as Australia and California that also make Rhône-style wines?
MG: Syrah is very popular in Australia. In California as well, with the Rhône Rangers, we are very successful. We are also successful in England and in many other countries.

WE: Where will the Rhône be 15 years from now?
MG: I am 60 years old! I expect to be here in 15 years. I think we have, in the Rhône Valley, original vines with Syrah and Viognier, and we have the oldest vineyards in France, the steepest vineyards. We have character. The wines are lovely young, but the potential for aging is very important. For the competition in the future I am an optimist.

Australia
John Duval

By Daryna McKeand

When Wine Enthusiast published its first issue 15 years ago, John Duval had been chief winemaker at Penfolds for just two years. After graduating from the esteemed Roseworthy College—where, it seems, most of Australia's top enologists are educated—he took a position at Penfolds' Nuriootpa Winery in 1974 and never looked back.

As chief winemaker, Duval was responsible for overseeing all of Penfolds' winemaking efforts, but the position had one special perk: Like Don Ditter and Max Schubert before him, Duval became keeper of Penfolds Grange, Australia's first superpremium wine.
Duval left his position at Penfolds last year and is now establishing his own winery. Who better to speak of Australia's progress than a man who's made the country's best wine?

Wine Enthusiast: What was your impression of how much Americans knew about your wines, or Australian wines in general, back in the late 1980s?
John Duval: Because of Grange there was understanding [about Penfolds' wine] in the fine wine circles. I can't say that in general for Australia—I mean, 15 years ago, the knowledge and understanding of Australian wine certainly wasn't anywhere near what it is now.

WE: Do you think that most American consumers have a good understanding of Australia's appellations?
JD: I've just gotten back from a consumer event, and people there had a bit of an understanding of where Coonawarra is. Or that Barossa—well, a lot of people knew that Barossa—is around Adelaide. But if you had asked them to put the pin on the map sort of thing, it might have been a bit difficult. But there's a broad understanding.

WE: What single wine would you say really turned Americans on to Australian wine?
JD: At the opinion-maker level Grange has been really important. But then you get wines—I guess I'm sort of cross-branding within Southcorp—like Lindemans Bin 65, which have also been hugely important. I guess it started off as the "sunshine in the bottle" accessible flavor. As time's gone on, the amount of oak has been perhaps more subtly used, and there's a little bit more elegance creeping in to what were recently fairly overt wines. But that's...been an international trend; certainly you see that in California as well.

WE: Penfolds has been pretty open about what you might do to your wine to improve it, including acidifcation and tannin fining. Some winemakers aren't as forthcoming about this.
JD: A lot of the work we've done at Penfolds is concentrated on working with our growers and vineyard managers improving quality …and trying to get ripe grape flavors so that you don't have to interfere too much with the winemaking process. I mean, acid…you could probably talk ad nauseum with Australian winemakers about that. I'd much prefer to maximize flavor, and if we have to sort of adjust the acid a bit with natural grape acid, that's fine. I'd much prefer that than perhaps not have enough flavor and have to add sugar afterwards.

WE: What are your plans for your own wines?
JD: You're going to see the main culprits of Shiraz, Grenache and Mourvèdre and perhaps a bit of Cabernet. I'm not changing the theme too radically from what people are expecting from me.



Chile
Aurelio Montes
By Michael Schachner

As a wine-producing nation, Chile has progressed by leaps and bounds during the past decade and a half. At the forefront of this change has been Aurelio Montes, 55, head winemaker and a founding partner of Montes S.A.

We recently spoke with Montes to get an idea of where Chile stands today compared to where it stood in 1988, coincidentally the year in which both Wine Enthusiast Magazine and Montes S.A. came into existence. And to hear Montes tell it, you would not be hard pressed to tell the new from the old.    

"Value for money" is really all that Chile focused on back then, according to Montes. "The overriding feeling was that even if we pushed quality, there'd be no global recognition," says Montes. "There was a very gray vision of the future, and frankly, it was a depressing time. Politically speaking, we were looked upon badly and we were tainted by the whole Pinochet thing. We felt isolated, as if we could not capture the world's attention. Thus, many felt that all we had to offer was value."

By 1993, the dictator Augusto Pinochet had gone into exile and Chile was again a democracy. It was at this point that Montes says Chile "arrived" on the world scene. "All of a sudden, steel [fermentation] tanks were going in and we were going for ripe, forward fruit."

Montes and his partners helped spearhead this movement, but Montes insists that the one person who deserves the most credit for Chile's about-face is Miguel Torres of Spain, who first came to Chile in 1979 and spent much of the 1980s spreading the gospel of modern winemaking techniques and full-scale vineyard management. "Torres, more than the Marniers (Casa Lapostolle), Robert Mondavi (Caliterra; a joint venture with Viña Errázuriz), or the Rothschilds (Los Vascos), was the man who triggered things."

Fast forward to 2003 and the wines of the past half-dozen or so vintages. Montes says that today's wines are better than the wines of 10 or 15 years ago by a multiple of two to three times. And the world has taken notice. Today more than 50 percent of Chilean wine is exported, compared to a mere 5 percent in 1988.

"We have improved dramatically," he says. "Now we employ techniques like pruning, canopy management and crop thinning," that were foreign concepts until about 10 years ago. "We've been planting on hillsides and seeking maximum ripeness from lower yields."
So what about 15 years hence? "Fifteen years from now I'd love to see Chile considered among the top three winemaking countries in the world, behind France and Italy," Montes says. "If the younger generation picks up after us, and works as hard as us, I truly believe this is possible. Among the New World players, I think Chile can be better than Australia, and even California."

"The overriding feeling was that even if we pushed quality, there'd be no global recognition," says Montes. "There was a very gray vision of the future, and frankly, it was a depressing time. Politically speaking, we were looked upon badly and we were tainted by the whole Pinochet thing. We felt isolated, as if we could not capture the world's attention. Thus, many felt that all we had to offer was value."

By 1993, the dictator Augusto Pinochet had gone into exile and Chile was again a democracy. It was at this point that Montes says Chile "arrived" on the world scene. "All of a sudden, steel [fermentation] tanks were going in and we were going for ripe, forward fruit."

Montes and his partners helped spearhead this movement, but Montes insists that the one person who deserves the most credit for Chile's about-face is Miguel Torres of Spain, who first came to Chile in 1979 and spent much of the 1980s spreading the gospel of modern winemaking techniques and full-scale vineyard management. "Torres, more than the Marniers (Casa Lapostolle), Robert Mondavi (Caliterra; a joint venture with Viña Errázuriz), or the Rothschilds (Los Vascos), was the man who triggered things."

Fast forward to 2003 and the wines of the past half-dozen or so vintages. Montes says that today's wines are better than the wines of 10 or 15 years ago by a multiple of two to three times. And the world has taken notice. Today more than 50 percent of Chilean wine is exported, compared to a mere 5 percent in 1988.

"We have improved dramatically," he says. "Now we employ techniques like pruning, canopy management and crop thinning," that were foreign concepts until about 10 years ago. "We've been planting on hillsides and seeking maximum ripeness from lower yields."
So what about 15 years hence? No one could accuse Montes of lacking ambition. "Fifteen years from now I'd love to see Chile considered among the top three winemaking countries in the world, behind France and Italy," Montes says. "If the younger generation picks up after us, and works as hard as us, I truly believe this is possible. Among the New World players, I think Chile can be better than Australia, and even California."

Argentina
Nicolás Catena Zapata
By Michael Schachner

The 1990s were a true golden age for wine, according to Nicolás Catena Zapata, head of his family's eponymous Mendoza-based winery for the last 40 years. It was a period during which Argentina's wine industry, propelled by some forward-thinking individuals like Catena as well as international investment, shed its old-world habits and began to modernize.
"At the end of the 1980s, the Argentine wine industry was still dominated by what could be called the old Italian and Spanish winemaking styles," notes Catena, a Columbia-University trained economist born in 1939. "In general terms, this can be characterized as involving high-yield vineyard management along with rustic fermentation and aging elements, such as cement tanks and old, large vats. The resulting wines were usually flat and oxidized, with little fruit character or complexity."

Nowadays, anyone who has tried the contemporary wines made by the likes of Catena, Salentein, Viña Cobos or San Pedro de Yacochuya in Salta, among others, knows that Argentina's wines are packed with fruit and oak and are the farthest thing from flat or oxidized. Thus, when asked how much better today's wines are than their predecessors from 15 years ago, Catena was not short of words.

"The difference between the best Argentine wine 15 years ago and today is so drastic that it is difficult to compare," he says. "Today, the best Argentine wines can compete with any wine of a similar price and quality category, from anywhere in the world."
So what caused the giant turnaround? Catena says it was the slow transformation of Mendoza, Argentina's prime winegrowing land, from sleepy farm region to serious wine country. Also, he says, Argentina has accepted the principle that smaller is better when it comes to wine.

"In 1988, there were 208,000 hectares [about 500,000 acres] of vineyards in Mendoza," he says. "In 2001, the latest year for reliable statistics, that number had shrunk to 145,000 hectares [about 360,000 acres]. This reflects an increase in the planting of high-quality varieties and a decrease in the production of lower-quality wines."

In the meantime, when consumers pop the cork on a bottle of lusty Mendoza Malbec, they can thank folks like Catena for breaking the mold. Better yet, they can take comfort in the fact that Argentina's wines are only getting better by leaps and bounds.

"My grandfather used to tell me how proud he was that my father had built the family winemaking company into one of the largest in Argentina," Catena recalls. "I know that my father told his friends about how proud he was of my management of the business. Now I have come to the conclusion that my children are even more driven and greater perfectionists than me. I am sure they will produce wines far greater than those I have had the pleasure to make."

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