Heidi Barrett is new winemaker at Fantesca Winery

Big news from our friends on Spring Mountain, Fantesca Winery. Former Screaming Eagle winemaker Heidi Barrett has joined Fantesca! To say this is big news is the understatement of the year, and congrats to Duane and Susan for landing Ms. Barrett!

Next week is Winefest in Minneapolis (which, amazingly, gets better and better every year). Duane and Susan are key supporters of the University Pediatrics Foundation and will have a table at the Friday night tasting. Look for them, and be sure to say congratulations.

From the Fantesca website: “We are pleased to announce the hiring of Heidi Barrett as our new winemaker. Hailed “The First Lady of Wine” by Robert Parker, Jr. for having received an unmatched four perfect 100 point scores, Heidi Barrett brings a level of esteem and winemaking experience unlike anyone else. With another 100 point score from the Wine Enthusiast, Heidi Barrett is the only winemaker ever to have received five perfect scores from the top wine critics in the country. When it comes to Napa cult wine, Wine & Spirits Magazine states that “Heidi Barrett is the reigning queen”. Fantesca Estate & Winery is Barrett’s first new project since leaving Screaming Eagle in 2006.”

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2007 Australian Viognier: Run, don’t walk

Viognier grapesI had the pleasure of sitting down and speaking with Louisa Rose, head winemaker of Yalumba in March 2008 (quite an honor, considering the harvest was coming in at that very moment). Louisa is arguably one of the top, if not the top, Viognier winemakers in the world today. In the world of Yalumba, with multiple properties and multiple labels covering the $7 to $200 gamut, they find winemakers with particular varietal specialties and put them in charge of the program in a vertical fashion. In other words, the Louisa Rose touch is felt from the Oxford Landing Viognier ($), to the Y Series Viognier ($$), to the Eden Valley Viognier ($$$), to the legendary ‘The Virgilius’ by Yalumba ($$$$). It’s a great idea on Yalumba’s part to do this.

Anyway, back to why 2007 is something to seek out. The first Viognier was brought to Australia in 1968. You may remember that in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s the Australian government was actually paying vineyard owners to pull out their vines (especially those old, under producing vines like Grenache planted in the 1800’s. Ouch). So this clone of Viognier brought in 1968 was picked for YIELD ONLY. Viognier to begin with is a vine that can easily overproduce and overgrow … it has a tendency to put three clusters out on each shoot, which is unbelievable. Here is the kicker: this low quality 1968 clone of Viognier was the only clone of Viognier in all of Australia until now!

In 1999 Yalumba was picked (because they run the highest quality nursery in Australia) to go out and find some new Viognier genetic material for Australia. They visited Yves Cullierion in the Northern Rhone, Tablas Creek in California, and other top producers around the world. They visited during harvest, so they could inspect each vine and decide from which to cut. The selection was rigorus, but then the real work began.

Upon bringing the clones back to Australia, they were held by law in quarantine for TWO YEARS (Australia doesn’t mess around with new genetic material coming to the island … the wrong choice or a louse passenger could potentially wipe out the industry). After two years (2001), Yalumba was able to get their hands on the vines and start propogation and testing. Four years after that the vines were producing, and two years after that they are now in the bottle. And that bottle is the 2007 vintage.

Last week at the office we popped a 2006 Yalumba Y Series Viognier. It was beautiful, with all the peachy apricoty goodness we’ve come to know and love. Then we popped a 2007 (which is shipping now). It was a dramatic moment. There isn’t much that will make the World Class Wines sales staff shut up, but this nectar did. The layers of detail, the brightness, the complexity, and the balance were unreal.

This is a defining moment for a country and a grape that are far too often overlooked. Seek this wine out, and when the 2007 Yalumba Eden Valley Viognier hits the street grab every bottle you can.

Click here for a pfd file profile on Louisa Rose.

Vin Italy 2008: a few quick observations

I just got back from a wonderful week at VinItaly 2008. A few observations (more details at a later post):

VinItaly was better run than ever this year. Less chaotic and easier to get to on the business days.

The buzz around 2004 Barolo was evident (even Gary Vaynerchuk is in on the action). The consorzio for Barolo was swarming everyday. Also lots of talk about the 2007 white wines in Northern Italy. 2007 whites are built more about texture, ripeness and structure, perhaps slightly less aromatic than 2006, but much more rich, and serious.

Also in plain view, was an emerging new profile for red wines. The taste for brighter, fresher fruit, less extracted styles, perhaps driven by the Pinot Noir craze and recent popularity of cuisines that emphasize lighter flavors. Even the wines from warmer places like Puglia and Sicily were less prune and more red juicy fruits.

The pendulum is also swinging back to more traditional winemaking methods, especially at the high end of the price spectrum. Overall, it was clear that the new generation of winemakers in Italy are well-educated, savvy, and making some of the best wines ever. It was also a year for tougher negotiation in light of the weak dollar.

As mentioned, more later. For now, a little jet lag recovery…

Choosing a screwcap over a DOC

Allegrini, one of our favorite Italian producers, has decided to leave the Valpolicella Classico DOC, chosing instead to label their wine with simply the ‘Valpolicella’ label. This is not a casual move … the ‘classico’ designation carries weight and defines the wine as being from a far better region. So why did they do this?

It all has to do with the Stelvin, or screw-top, closure. In the Italian wine laws, it is stated that the wines from Valpolicella Classico DOC must be finished with a cork. “We’ve been waiting for regulations to be amended in this DOC so we could use the screwcap finish. But they haven’t, so we pulled out of the DOC. The closure is more important to us than the denomination.” says winemaker Franco Allegrini.

This is another example of archaic European wine laws stifling progress in important areas. Congrats to our friends at Allegrini for having the guts to stand up to it! We look forward to seeing the Stelvin closed Valpolicella.

A fine article on the Screwcap v. Cork debate can be found here at the Avenue Vine website.

A small green dot can convey a lot

Before diving into this post, take at look at the wine list from The Slanted Door in San Francisco (arguably one of the better restaurants in that great city). They identify their organic and biodynamic selections with nice subtle icons. A moon, a star, etc.

The organic/sustainable/biodynamic issue is hot at the moment, and shows no sign of slowing down. I can’t reasonably see a day when people fade from the issue and say ‘Do you have any wines with chemical influence? I like those!’ This is not a pendulum swinging … this is a cultural shift in how we eat and drink.

If your restaurant takes the sustainable/organic/biodynamic positions seriously, consider adding icons like The Slanted Door has. Just be sure to train your staff on how to talk about these topics! (We can help with that, hint hint.)

For retailers, what if you had a subtle but consistent indicator of organic/biodynamic/sustainable wines? An inexpensive rubber stamp set of leaves and trees is all you need. Or even just a small green dot … as soon as a customer asks ‘what does the dot mean?’ you have the door open to a conversation.

Tasting note: Gaillard Saumur Rouge 2005, Loire Valley

We’ve come across a fantastic post from Alder at Vinography on the 2005 Chateau Gaillard Saumur Rouge.

We love this wine dearly, and cannot add anything more to the great description he gives. My only wish is that more wines like this were in demand … this is a singularly distinctive wine that speaks of a place, is great with food, and is biodynamically farmed. And as mentioned in the comments on this wine, the Loire is so often eclipsed by the likes of Burgundy, Bordeaux, and the Rhone.

It’s wines like this that will truly set your shop or wine list apart from the rest! Click here to see the post.

The end of the Yellow Pages, or why you need a website.

“As a wine retailer/winebar/restaurant, do I need a website and how do I make good use of it?”

Before answering the questions, keep in mind I just read a local newspaper article saying that 85% of people who receive the yellow pages never open it and proceed to (illegally) throw it in the garbage. (Recycling companies are required by law to take them). Think about that — the big yellow book, which from 1915 to 1997 was pretty much the only way to find a business of any sort, is now just landfill fodder. And the phone companies still try to charge for ad space in that dinosaur! Okay, back to the questions…

To answer the first question (Do I need a website) the answer is a screaming, jumping, fist pounding YES! You need a website like you need a phone and a sign in front of your establishment. It’s that simple. It’s how people will find you and decide to spend money with you. More on what constitutes a good website in another post. Onto the next question:

I’ve casually asked four customers this week what their website address is.

  • One scrawled down an old-school address like http://www.freewebsite4u/mywineshopname or something like that. Obviously a late 1990’s attempt at a website and unfortunately I’m sure he paid the ‘bargain sum’ of $299 or more for it. Sad part is he’s still using it.
  • One handed me his business card and said “Oh, it’s right there. Or just Google our name and we pop right up.” (or just Google “wine retail saint paul mn” and their name is right there).
  • One said “I don’t need a website. Haven’t needed it before, so why do I need it now?”
  • One said “We’ve been thinking about a website” (what? since 1999?)

Guess which of the four has seen in-store sales rise over 17% every year for the last four years?

A website is today’s equivalent of your grandfather’s yellow pages listing – it’s how your new customers will find you. Simple as that. Anybody reading this blog is obviously web-savvy enough to understand this. But it’s taking it to the next level that is so important: You have to make sure people find you before they find the competition. Lucky for all of us, Google is the clear choice for search engines and their interfaces are so powerful that entering the information once will immediately point people your way when they type in your store or restaurant name.

Go here (the ‘Adding a business to Google’ page) and relish in the fact that NOBODY of any sense pays a monthly fee for a yellow pages display ad (or radio ad, or television ad).

Read Seth Godin’s books for more info on 21st century marketing … it’s a great starting point for understanding ‘Web 2.0’.