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Thursday, January 15, 2015
January 15, 2015 | 9:00 AM

Every year, when Wine Business Monthly chooses our annual list of the top 10 Hot Brands, we look for vintners, growers, wineries and wines that are making a statement in our industry. While quality is always our first and foremost consideration, Hot Brands is not simply a list of the best or most interesting wines we’ve tasted during the year. This list delves more deeply into what it means to be a part of the American wine industry. These are wineries that best exemplify their region or variety, or that dared to take big risks (with big rewards) in creating a new category or technique. In 2014, that common thread was that these wineries are all pioneers in some way. Each of the wineries on this list are helping to forge new paths that will be used for generations to come.

We are releasing the Top 10 Hot Brands in alphabetical order, one per day, leading up to the Unified Wine & Grape Symposium. Wine Business Monthly will be serving these wines to winemakers, grape growers and industry members at our annual gathering Bottle Bash during Unified on Tuesday, Jan. 27, 5:00-8:30pm at cafeteria 15L (1116 15th Street, Sacramento).

Concrete Wine Company

2012 Old Vine Zinfandel, Lodi, California
Combining Old and New Technology for an Entirely Different Wine

As the saying goes, everything old is new again. And in the case of Concrete Wine Company, old winemaking techniques are being made new with 21st century technology to create a patent-pending flavor profile they call the Vertical Palate.

Concrete Wine Co. is a new brand that launched in August 2014 by three partners: Tyson Rippey, who is the director of operations at custom crush facility Lodi Vintners, where Concrete wines are made, and winemakers Joseph Smith and Barry Gnekow, who both make wine at the site for other brands. Lodi Vintners is, according to Rippey, the oldest wine production site still standing in Lodi. Built in 1900, a number of large concrete fermentation tanks were added in the 1940s. More recently, in 2010, it also became home to one of the few flash détente machines in North America. Flash détente is an extraction technique that heats grapes or must in a vacuum chamber, which instantly transforms the grapes’ cell walls into steam and instantly releases all the grapes’ flavors, anthocyanins and tannins.

According to Gnekow and Smith, flash-extracted wines have several attributes that can’t be otherwise achieved. The process can be used to eliminate off-flavors from air pollution, as well as any microbes or bacteria that might exist on the grapes. Also, the extraction rate with flash is, by their estimation, almost double that of traditional methods. “A lot of people use it for problematic stuff, but we think there are so many directions you can go with it,” said Smith. “If you’re running clean fruit through it, it’s amazing what you get in the end. You get a way better product.”

The brand concept was born out of the trio’s love for the concrete fermentation tanks as well as their embrace of the flash détente technology. “It seems like people are discovering that concrete tanks are cool in the last five to 10 years, and we’ve been like, ‘Yeah, we know they’re cool; we’ve been using them forever,’” said Rippey. “The major thing for us is it’s getting a lot of air in there. The fact that concrete is porous makes it like fermenting in a barrel in many ways.”

The wines are made as a blend, a mix of the three techniques that creates the so-called Vertical Palate. With the 2012 Old Vine Zinfandel, 40 percent concrete-fermented wine and 40 percent flash-extracted wine fermented in oak barrels is blended with 20 percent of wine fermented in stainless steel. “When we go to put the blends together, what we’ve noticed is in the mouth, flavor doesn’t go sideways, it goes up,” said Gnekow, explaining the origin of the name. They also believe the technique may add 20 to 30 years to the lifespan of a wine.

The trio knows that there is some confusion or even criticism of the flash technology, especially in an era where minimal intervention is gaining popularity. But they believe the system, which is essentially just heat and a vacuum, is a natural, positive winemaking technique that produces superior flavors while also saving time and labor costs. “The people who are into the non-intervention way of making wines, they aren’t going to be a fan of this. But we’re not marketing to them; we’re marketing to people who like good wines,” said Rippey.

“We want to do something that people are not used to,” said Smith. “This is who we are. We want to use new technologies. We want to stand out and be different from the rest. For us, it’s not the flash that we’re praising. It’s not the concrete that we’re praising or the traditional fermentation. It comes down to one simple thing—that we’re going to do everything possible to make this wine taste better. That’s what we do. Those three pieces that we are playing with is what’s working better for us. We’re not scared to put that out there. Marketing-wise, are we going to get shot in the leg? I don’t know.”

The full story on Concrete Wines ~ and all our Hot Brands ~ will be available in our February 2014 issue of Wine Business Monthly. You can find it here starting Feb. 1, or come by our booth (#1620) at Unified and pick up a copy. Click here to subscribe to WBM.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015
January 14, 2015 | 2:20 PM

Wine Business Monthly's January 2015 digital edition is now available.

Inside January 2015 you will find:

Merlot Varietal Focus
2015 Unified Guide
Winemaker Trials in Smaller Wineries

Click here to subscribe to WBM

January 14, 2015 | 9:30 AM

Every year, when Wine Business Monthly chooses our annual list of the top 10 Hot Brands, we look for vintners, growers, wineries and wines that are making a statement in our industry. While quality is always our first and foremost consideration, Hot Brands is not simply a list of the best or most interesting wines we’ve tasted during the year. This list delves more deeply into what it means to be a part of the American wine industry. These are wineries that best exemplify their region or variety, or that dared to take big risks (with big rewards) in creating a new category or technique. In 2014, that common thread was that these wineries are all pioneers in some way. Each of the wineries on this list are helping to forge new paths that will be used for generations to come.

We are releasing the Top 10 Hot Brands in alphabetical order, one per day, leading up to the Unified Wine & Grape Symposium. Wine Business Monthly will be serving these wines to winemakers, grape growers and industry members at our annual gathering Bottle Bash during Unified on Tuesday, Jan. 27, 5:00-8:30pm at cafeteria 15L (1116 15th Street, Sacramento).

Brys Estate Vineyard & Winery

2013 Dry Riesling, Traverse City, Michigan
Delicate Riesling, the Cornerstone of Michigan Wine
 

Like any young wine region, Michigan has struggled to gain a foothold in the American wine scene. Wine Business Monthly completed a Michigan Riesling tasting in 2014, and we were impressed with the overall quality of the wines. They were uniformly well-made, varietally distinctive and had a good handle on sugar and acid balance. There were recognizable vineyard and winemaking stylistic differences, which is good to see, yet there were enough points in common to give us an idea of the region as a whole. In looking for the state’s best Riesling, we found Brys Estate Vineyard & Winery, located in the heart of the 19-mile-long, three-mile-wide Old Mission Peninsula.

Located in the Northwestern corner of Michigan, Old Mission Peninsula juts northward from its foot at Traverse City, dividing Lake Michigan’s Grand Traverse Bay into two arms. Old Mission Peninsula is protected by a phenomenon known as the “lake effect.” With depths of around 400 feet to the west and 600 feet to the east, the bay acts as insulation against the region’s harsh seasonal climate. In summer, the temperature at Brys Estate is 10 to 12 degrees cooler than that of Traverse City; in winter, that’s reversed. If the bay freezes, as it did in 2014, growers will lose plants and production. Even in “normal” years, there’s the threat of spring frosts or September rains that arrive mid-veraison.

But, as South African-born winemaker Coenraad Stassen says, winemakers learn to adapt. “Mother Nature throws you a curve ball, but that’s what makes it fun,” he said. “You’re able to counteract and make changes on the fly and hope things work out. The positive is that we can produce wines that are very expressive of the soils where they grow and very expressive of the region. They maintain their beautiful acidity and aromatics that I think are very unique to this area.”

Stassen’s winemaking style is to make as few adjustments as possible in the cellar as he believes manipulation tastes artificial in the end result. For Riesling, in particular, he focuses on producing wines with intense aromas and good flavors and acidity rather than hitting a particular set of laboratory numbers. “What you taste in the vineyard is pretty much what you taste in that bottle,” he said. “I’d rather pull fruit at 19.5° or 20° Brix when the acidity is at seven grams versus trying to get high sugars, which we normally don’t get, and end up with something that’s flabby.”

For the 2013 Dry Riesling, he harvested at 6.5 tons per acre, with grapes at 20.5° Brix, a pH of 2.9 and 10 grams of acid, stopping the fermentation at 2.9 percent residual sugar. “It’s crazy when you look at the numbers, but the wine is beautifully balanced for me,” he said.

“Riesling is definitely the variety we need to focus on if we want to compete on any global stage,” said Stassen. “I always say, it took Burgundy 500 years to figure out the best varietal to grow in that region. We’re just breaking the surface when it comes to figuring out the best wine we can make and best varietals that suit here. Riesling is one of the varietals that fits this region and fits this area. A couple years down the line, I see us becoming the next hot Riesling producer in the world.”

The winery’s Michigan-born founders, Walter and Eileen Brys, first planted the property to vines in 2001. In 2006, Stassen, who’d come to the region in 2003, was hired as winemaker. Under his direction, the winery has devoted about half of its production to red wines, a rarity in the Riesling-dominated state. The decision was made, in part, to help determine the future of the region. “I think, like any wine region, you go through growing phases. You are figuring out what variety grows best,” he said. “Maybe the next time I have to pull out a vineyard and replant it in different varieties, maybe some of those reds won’t make the cut. That’s a learning curve that we’re going to have to go through.”

The full story on Brys Estate Vineyard & Winery ~ and all our Hot Brands ~ will be available in our February 2014 issue of Wine Business Monthly. You can find it here starting Feb. 1, or come by our booth (#1620) at Unified and pick up a copy. Click here to subscribe to WBM.

Thursday, January 8, 2015
January 8, 2015 | 12:34 PM

Winejobs.com released a report detailing wine job posting trends as of December 2014. As the wine industry’s leading online job site, Winejobs.com has a unique vantage point over industry trends. The Winejobs.com index indicates that job postings in 2014 increased 15 percent from 2013, and were 45 percent higher than 2012.

The increase in the winery job index was driven by increases in winemaking and hospitality jobs.

The winemaking job index increased 27 percent from 2013, and was 56 percent above 2012.

The hospitality index increased 26 percent from 2013, and was up 86 over 2012.

The sales and marketing index decreased 11 percent from 2013, but was up 3 percent from 2012.

 

Thursday, December 18, 2014
December 18, 2014 | 12:06 PM

Across the newsdesk this week from Wine Institute was an announcement that FedEx will begin direct-to-consumer shipping to Massachusetts on Feb. 1, 2015:

FedEx has informed Wine Institute that, effective Feb. 1, 2015, FedEx Express and FedEx Ground will open the state of Massachusetts for legal shipments of alcoholic beverages.

-FedEx Ground and FedEx Express will both transport legal alcoholic beverage shipments into, out of and within the state of Massachusetts starting Feb. 1, 2015.
-Please note, unauthorized shipments of alcoholic beverages destined for MA prior to a Feb. 1, 2015 delivery date may not be accepted for delivery and/or returned to shipper.
-Per FedEx policy, all alcoholic beverage shipments may only be tendered by licensed entities that have executed a FedEx Alcohol Shipping Agreement.
-All alcoholic beverage shipments must comply with all FedEx policies and federal, state and local regulations.
-Wine is the only type of alcoholic beverage that is allowed to be shipped to consumers.

FedEx does not provide legal advice to third parties. Questions not related to FedEx policy should be directed to appropriate legal counsel and the Massachusetts Alcoholic Beverages Control Commission.

(The new direct-to-consumer statute goes into effect on Jan. 1, 2015. Under the new law a winery must hold a Direct Wine Shipper license that has been approved by the MA ABCC and be registered to pay excise tax in order to ship to MA consumers.)

December 18, 2014 | 9:51 AM

Have you checked out the latest issue of WBM? Here is a preview you what is inside of the December 2014 issue of WBM.

As this issue of WBM heads out to subscribers, the grapes are in, the fermentations are bubbling along, and the year is winding to a close. As they catch their breath, winemakers here on the West Coast are talking about one of the earliest and largest harvests on record, and about the outstanding quality. They really mean it, too.

As we often do at this time in Wine Business Monthly, we’ve paused to reflect on the year’s milestones while looking ahead to the future. Inside you’ll find a recap of the years’ key wine business headlines with key people moves, along with a review of significant transactions and macro-trends shaping the tightening agricultural labor market.

The year saw a huge earthquake hit the Napa/Sonoma area, and this issue includes an article reviewing some of the lessons learned, lessons that really just need to be re-learned, or at least lessons that bear repeating.

This issue also includes a look at this trend that’s going on with winemakers using concrete fermenters, and an article about bench-top labelers—the kind that smaller wineries, i.e., most wineries, can afford. Winemakers like the results they’re getting from those concrete fermenters, even if they aren’t quite sure why.

Winemaking is about the pursuit of quality and one way winemakers improve quality is by experimenting and trying new things. Doing this in a systematic way is called a trial. One article in this issue reflects on how winemaking trials are an embodiment of the pursuit of quality and includes tips for making winemaking trials more meaningful.

California experienced a third year of one of its worst droughts in the past century. It was a watershed year, the year that the state passed a sweeping law addressing groundwater regulation. As this issue heads off to subscribers, voters are poised to decide the fate of a proposed $7.5 billion California water bond. An article in this issue summarizing findings of our 2014 Vineyard Survey shows that 65 percent of vineyards get their water via wells. Most growers still aren’t using flow meters to monitor water use in their vineyards, but their use is growing and should continue to with the impending new groundwater regulations.

As 2014 comes to a close, the industry seems to be in an interesting position in terms of supply. One might think a third record-sized harvest in a row would create a state of “oversupply” but many are hedging their bets. The supply of grapes and bulk wine out there seems to be relatively balanced, in part because of a perception that the 2015 harvest could come up short if the California drought continues unabated.

Here’s to improving wine quality, embracing the future and to more rain!

–Cyril Penn, editor

Click here to subscribe to WBM.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014
by Cyril Penn | December 16, 2014 | 2:30 PM

Wine Spectator just broke the news that the Jackson Family purchased a vineyard in South Africa.

I think Jackson Family Wines was waiting to make the announcement but the embargo is lifted. Jackson Family Wines chairman Barbara Banke confirmed the purchase during an interview with Wine Business Monthly last week.

Jackson Family is planning to release a Chardonnay, Capensis, co-produced with Antony Beck, whose family owns Graham Beck Wines.

"That’s the latest and greatest, and it's a beautiful vineyard in Stellenbosch , very high, steep, and, it's fabulous, fabulous Chardonnay," Banke said.

Maybe the venture will help to raise awareness of Wines from South Africa in the U.S. a bit. Wines from South Africa aren't that well known to U.S. consumers.

"We’re going to bring this one over and maybe that will open the door a little bit to some of the high end," Banke said. "It’s hard, because you go to South Africa and you taste some fabulous wines and they don't really make it over here."

"There are great wines that are coming out of South Africa,' Banke said. "Some are made by my friend Antony’s company. There's sparkling wines from Grahm Beck, Savingon Blanc from Steenberg, there's Rustenburg: there are all kinds of great wines."
 


 

Monday, December 15, 2014
December 15, 2014 | 2:05 PM

Winejobs.com released a report detailing wine job posting trends as of November 2014. As the wine industry’s leading online job site, Winejobs.com has a unique vantage point over industry trends. The Winejobs.com index indicates that job postings decreased 5 percent from November 2013. The index is up 14 percent so far this year.

The sales and marketing index decreased 46 percent from its level in November 2013, and is down 14 percent year-to-date.

The hospitality index increased 41 percent from its level in November 2013, and is up 27 percent for the year.

The winemaking job index rose 31 percent from its level in November 2013, and is up 26 percent year-to-date.
 

December 15, 2014 | 11:55 AM

In this video from 2012, Champagne Jayne shares her top tips for best value Diamond Jubilee Champagnes.

Champagne Jayne is fighting the French champagne police!

 

Wednesday, December 10, 2014
by Cyril Penn | December 10, 2014 | 5:00 PM

Silicon Valley Bank's Financial Conditions Survey shows the industry is doing well overall with a surprising number of wineries saying they expect to take modest price increases. Results also show that wineries expect to buy more grapes in 2015, a sign of a healthy industry.

The slide below shows more wineries were disappointed with their wholesalers this year, though. What's behind that?

The full report will be out soon. Meanwhile, here's the link to the slides.

 

Summary

* 82% of wineries reported overall financial health of "good" or better for 2014. This is up 7% over the previous year. This trend is expected to continue as the grapes from three strong harvests (2012,2013, and 2014) make their way into the market.

* Consensus view of 2014 shows 79% of respondents reporting having a good year or better. The Sierra Foothills, CA region reported the largest proportion of disappointment which correlates directly to issues felt during the California drought. Over 41% of respondents from that region reported feeling some issues from the drought.

* 60% of all wineries are projecting price increases per retail bottle with only 6% projecting a decrease in 2015. The majority of increases are expected to be small across all price points except the >$69 range. Wines with a price point >$69 are the most bullish with 45% reporting increases of moderate to strong.

* Wine sales continue to be dominated by the Baby Boomer generation contributing to 44% of all sales with Gen- X’ers coming in at 29%. Three year trends indicate little change amongst the generational buyers in the market today.

* Overall, 93% of wineries reported the quality of grapes harvested as good/excellent for 2014. Wineries in the Pacific Northwest further benefited from the 2014 harvest with 62% of Washington wineries and 85% of Oregon wineries reporting higher yields than average. The next closest region was Napa, CA with 43% of wineries reporting higher than average yields.

* Only 36% of California wineries reported a measurable affect from the 2014 California drought with the most significant issues being felt in the Central Valley, CA, Central Coast, CA, and Sierra Foothill, CA regions.

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