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Tuesday, January 20, 2015
January 20, 2015 | 9:02 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).

Keller Estate

2011 El Coro Pinot Noir, Petaluma, California
Having the Patience to Allow the Vineyard to Find Its Personality

Nestled among the cool, windy and gently rolling hills of the Petaluma Gap, you’ll find a 600-acre estate winery producing some of the region’s finest Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. At Keller Estate, the showcase is, and always has been, on the fruit grown on their estate. The site’s potential for fine grape growing is what prompted them to plant their first vineyard in 1989, but the realization of the quality that could be developed there inspired the founding of the winery in 2000.

A biochemist by trade with a strong interest in plant biology, much of the direction Keller Estate has taken can be traced to Ana Keller, daughter of winery founder Arturo Keller. She got involved in 1998, just as the family decided to make wine themselves, and is now general manager. “I always had the idea we had to be patient and wait and learn and develop and get the credibility through hard work and focusing on what is important to us, the property,” she said. “We are about trying to define what makes this site unique. I make sure we address the issues that we see, whether it’s the vineyard or in winemaking, as early on as possible. I think that it’s minimal intervention with a maximum of observation.”

From the outset, Keller Estate has taken the time to, indeed, observe and learn what works best for their property and winemaking. After 14 years, Keller believes they have finally found the estate’s personality. “I’ve never wanted to be a tutti-frutti winery,” she said. “We’re the largest winery in the Petaluma Gap; we’re true estate. We’ve been pioneers. When you’ve been pioneers, you try out a lot of things. We’ve experimented with who we are and in pushing the limit of what we can do. What we’re working on now is really fine-tuning our barrel program.”

The family’s patience and commitment to learning are perfectly exemplified in their El Coro Pinot Noir. The source block is a windy 20-acre vineyard with volcanic, iron-rich reddish soils that lies on top of one of the estate’s hills. Originally planted in 2000 to six different clones on 6x8 spacing, the vineyard was later readjusted to tighter 4x6 spacing on a northwest orientation for better quality.

“I think in 2010, about 10 years after we planted the vineyard, we really started to understand it,” said Keller. “The first El Coro vintage was 2007; the vineyard then was about seven years old, and we had not done a single bottling. It wasn’t ready yet; the wines weren’t consistent, and it just didn’t feel like the wines had a personality. By 2010, we’d done three vintages, and we started knowing where the fruit wanted to go.”

Clones are brought in separately and undergo native fermentation in small tanks. Keller describes the El Coro as “layered, condensed, in-depth and structured,” a reflection of the ability to blend the separate flavor profiles and maturity levels with this practice. “All of our fruit would like to come in at the same time, but we try to bring in some a little earlier, some at the middle and some a little later,” she said. “That also gives us a broader palate of ripeness which, in turn, gives our wines more complexity. It’s one of the trademarks we’ve seen of the Petaluma Gap; it really opens the window of ripeness and where you can find phenolic maturity. We’ve always chosen to make wines that are balanced in alcohol. We haven’t tried to be trendy; we’ve just tried to ensure continuity.”

Current winemaker Alex Holman said the only way a winery is able to achieve this low-intervention style is by first creating the right conditions in the vineyard. “The propensity is to let it hang, but then the next thing you know, you’re at 14.5 or 14.8 percent alcohol and you’re fixing it in the cellar,” he said. “So we’re conscious of how we’re doing that.”

The full story on Keller Estate ~ 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.

by Curtis Phillips | January 20, 2015 | 4:39 AM

For the last few years, I have been a judge for the Vintage Report Innovation Award presented Bank of the West and Fruition Sciences as part of the Annual Vintage Report. This year’s winner was a vineyard irrigation project by a E&J Gallo Winery and IBM entitled "Effect of a Variable Rate Irrigation Strategy on the Variability of Crop Production in Wine Grapes in California." The lead researcher was Luis Sanchez.

While the original intent of this project may have been to decrease vineyard variability, it had the beneficial side-effect of decreasing water usage. In reflecting on his work, Dr. Sanchez noted that, “The goal was to decrease vineyard variability by increasing yield in the low yielding areas of the vineyard. By dividing the 10-acre experimental section of the vineyard into 140 irrigation zones we were able to irrigate each zone according to its average vigor or vine size (via NDVI) and ended up increasing water use efficiency.”

In my experience, the collection of data never poses as much of a problem as the meaningful interpretation of that data. The the involvement of IBM might suggest, this experiment relied on a fair bit of computing power to turn raw numbers into an actionable irrigation regime. Sanchez stated that the results exceeded expectations, “ We decreased variability after the first season and completely reversed the variability pattern on the second season. And we did this mostly through changes in berry weight. However, we expect a more permanent effect on vine capacity in the long term to be reflected as greater clusters per vine or berries per cluster.”

The intent of the award is to recognize “the most groundbreaking method, practice or sustainable approach used during the 2014 vintage.”

Further guidelines are that:
* Eligible techniques, approaches, methods and practices must be vineyard-based and yield provable results
* Approaches must have been used during the 2014 vintage (though they may have started earlier)
* The techniques - if not implemented in Napa Valley - must be exportable to Napa Valley terroirs
* The award is noncommercial: while experiments may rely on a branded technology, the award recognizes the experiment, not the brand.

The official press release for the 2014 Vintage Report Innovation Award may be found here.

Monday, January 19, 2015
by Hot Brands | January 19, 2015 | 10:00 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).

Halter Ranch

2012 Cotes de Paso (Grenache, Syrah, Mourvedre, Tannat), Paso Robles, California
Paso Robles Winery Focuses on Estate-Grown Fruit for Long-Term Growth

Located in the newly established Adelaida American Viticulture Area on the west side of Paso Robles, Halter Ranch is a winery in the midst of transformation. Over the next five years, plans call for Halter Ranch to increase production from its current 15,000-case level to 40,000 cases of estate-grown wine. It is the final step in what will be, at that point, a nearly two-decade-long journey of careful planning and investment into the business.

In 2000, Halter Ranch’s owner, Hansjörg Wyss, acquired the 1,600-acre property dotted with Gold Rush-era buildings. Initially, the site had just 40 acres of vines, planted largely to Rhône varieties that were sold to neighboring vintners. By 2005, Halter Ranch had expanded vineyard plantings and production for Halter Ranch wines, opening their tasting room in May of that year. They also began planning for a new, high-end gravity-flow winemaking facility. Built with a night-air cooling system and water reclamation and filtering systems, the new, sustainably designed facility opened in September 2011. Also arriving at that time were general manager Skylar Stuck and former JUSTIN winemaker Kevin Sass.

“Phase one of Halter Ranch was establishing a tasting room, wine club and a little bit of wine sales. In September of 2011, we started phase two,” said Stuck. “That marked the new change, when we got a new winemaker and the new state-of-the-art winery, and really started becoming the winery we are now.”

One of the first major projects for Sass and Stuck was to overhaul the property’s vineyard program. “When I was making wine at JUSTIN, we were producing almost 60 percent of the fruit off this property,” said Sass. “So I was very familiar with the ranch and what blocks I particularly liked and what blocks I particularly didn’t like. From the start of 2011 all the way until February of 2012, we were developing and redeveloping the property to put the proper rootstocks and clones and grape varieties in the right spot. It was a very big project. Now, the great part about it is that in this last vintage we are finally starting to see this fruit. We are really excited about what the future holds.”

Sass said that the level of control he has over every aspect of the estate-grown fruit has been a “blessing” for his work. He’s a researcher by nature and is continuing to build up his knowledge by, for instance, fermenting different clones separately. “That’s the excitement of having the ability to experiment here and having blocks that are all their own,” he said. “You can really see the differences between the clones and even sometimes clones reacting to where they’re planted.”

Halter Ranch currently stands at just over 281 planted acres, which is about the maximum possible for the property’s oak-covered rolling hills. It’s about a 60/40 split between Bordeaux and Rhône varieties, with some blocks devoted to other grapes particularly suited to the area, like Tannat, Tempranillo or Petit Sirah. “We’re not playing a bureaucratic game of ‘Are you making Bordeaux or Rhône?’—We’re in California,” said Sass. “We’re just trying to make the best fruit we can.”

As Halter Ranch reduces the amount of fruit they sell to other wineries, they will begin to grow their own case production to 40,000 cases. Stuck said their sales plans for the production increase will rely on bolstering direct-to-consumer sales, of course, but also in continuing to obtain distribution in somewhat non-traditional wine markets, like Alabama or North Carolina. “We’re really looking at opening markets,” he said. “I think when people in five years are looking at our distribution maps, they will wonder why we decided to be in Alabama instead of Chicago. A lot of people have no idea Alabama is a really sophisticated, thriving wine market. We love being in these interesting niche markets. We would rather be more meaningful to distributors in fewer states than insignificant in 50 states.”

The full story on Halter Ranch ~ 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.

Friday, January 16, 2015
January 16, 2015 | 12:09 PM

Connecting vineyard practices to wine quality, ROOTSTOCK, held by the Napa Valley Grapegrowers, features highly-focused seminars, vineyard and tasting trials, networking opportunities, and an exclusive exhibition hall. Exhibitor registration for this event, which takes place on Nov. 12, 2015, is now open. The event will take place at the Napa Fairgrounds from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. If you register by April 15, you will save 10%.

Last year, more than 1,500 growers, vineyard owners, winemakers, enologists and industry leaders attended Rootstock. Timed just as the 2015 harvest finishes and the industry begins to look towards the future, the 2015 Rootstock conference will provide access to high-level, provocative seminars and industry experts, wine trials and tastings, and an exhibition featuring over 120 of the industry’s highest quality viticulture and enology companies. For more information, visit www.napagrowers.org/

January 16, 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).

Fiddlebender/Cellar 433

Cannonball Red Blend (Tempranillo, Petit Sirah, Alicante Bouchet), Willcox, Arizona
Cannonball Aimed at Exposing Consumers to a New Wine Region

John McLoughlin wants to expose you to his pride and joy—his Arizona wines, of course. The brazen and indefatigable McLoughlin is the owner, grower and winemaker at Cellar 433, a winery based in the remote, high-altitude town of Willcox, Arizona.

McLoughlin calls himself, and Arizona’s wine industry, a pioneer, a cowboy or an underdog. He knows the challenges he faces in trying to establish a wine industry in a state that has largely been overlooked and ignored by American wine consumers. He doesn’t care. He’s often willing to bet money that somewhere in his portfolio of about 45 different wines across six different brands, you’ll be exposed to something you’ll like. The Fiddlebender line is right in the middle, a bridge between wines that attract more novice wine drinkers and those looking for high-end reserve wines.

“With Fiddlebender, the advantage I have is there is no comparison. There is great strength in that because it allows me, as a winemaker, to expose people to something they never knew they even liked before,” he said. “Nobody has any expectations from us. When I go to California, it’s really kind of fun because people don’t realize we grow grapes in Arizona. If you don’t like it, dump it. I tell the women, you didn’t really like chocolate until you tried it for the first time. I tell the guys, you didn’t like kissing girls until you tried it for the first time. I try to have people experience things they’ve never tried before.”

This quest for discovery is not just a winemaking philosophy for McLoughlin; it’s more like a personal mantra that he’s been developing since he was a teen. He clearly remembers his first glass of wine: He was 16 years old, visiting family in Germany’s Mosel region. They descended a gondola into the dark, dank and flooded cellar, plucking out a Pinot Noir to share with their American relation. He was hooked, and he’s been chasing that sense of wine discovery ever since.

It’s this philosophy that kept this Arizona native in his home state when he decided to establish his own winery. “I could have set up shop very easily in California. But I thought, you know, Arizona is untapped. It’s a challenge,” he said. “Nobody’s done it. Who wants to do what everyone else has done? Let’s show the world that there’s something going on here that nobody ever imagined. I thought, ‘We can farm here. Let’s be pioneers.’”

McLoughlin grows about 100 different varieties in his 150-acre Dragoon Mountain Vineyard in Willcox, nestled in a bowl-shaped valley at 4,500 feet. Part of being a pioneer, he says, is figuring out what works. “We don’t know what grows here. And just because something grows well doesn’t mean a winemaker can do something with it,” he said. “We are all trying to figure out what is going to put Arizona on the map.”

Growing conditions are truly unique. First, there’s the constant wind that goes from hot and dry in the spring to cold gusts in winter. Then there are the year-round 30- to 40-degree diurnal temperature swings, one that can turn a 90-degree June day into a 50-degree night. It’s also a closed (or endorheic) basin water system—there is no inflow or outflow of water beyond rainfall and evaporation.

Another, and perhaps the most critical, issue for winegrowers here is the need for qualified labor. “There’s a real void in the state right now of a large pool of wine-oriented staff,” said McLoughlin, who traveled to California in November of last year to lobby colleges to guide viticulture and enology students to Arizona. “Wine is a way of life. It’s a gift. We’re bringing interns in from Europe because I can’t get the Americans to come to Arizona. They just don’t realize what’s going on here. But if you come here, you can really make wine. You won’t just be schlepping hoses.”

The full story on Fiddlebender ~ 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 15, 2015
January 15, 2015 | 1:31 PM

In his annual “State of the States” address at the direct-to-consumer Symposium, Steve Gross, vice president, state relations at the California Wine Institute was excited to finally check Massachusetts off his list. By far the biggest DTC shipping news in 2014, Gross hopes to continue that success with pending legislation in other states. Here is a recap of the efforts:

Current Issues Facing Wineries:
Across the country, state governments and agencies are taking a closer look at wineries and their partners. States are actively checking common carrier reporting requirements, ensuring all the applicable state revenue is being collected—something wholesalers and retailers are pushing to make sure all players are paying their fair share.

Social media is another issue, especially in California. As a reminder, Gross pointed out that you can’t say something online that you can’t say in print or other media, and that you are responsible for content your consumers publish on your social media pages.

Massachusetts:
In order to fix some of the existing rules in the state, Free the Grapes and Wine Institute had to include a direct shipping law as part of the state budget (which came down to a yes or no vote that thankfully passed). Wineries looking to ship into the state must pay a $300 initial permit fee, with an annual renewal fee of $150, they must register online with the Department of Revenue and pay excise taxes. There is no sales tax on alcohol in the state, but wineries are limited by case volume: 12 cases per consumer, per year.

Currently, the state is taking about 4 weeks to process licenses. Wineries are reminded that they cannot take pre-orders, or solicit any business, from residents in Massachusetts until the license has been approved and issued. FedEx Ground and FedEx Express will open shipments into the state on February 1, 2015.

For more information on DTC shipping rules, visit: http://wineinstitute.shipcompliant.com/StateDetail.aspx?StateId=53

Pennsylvania:
Previous efforts to remove the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board failed, but Gross is optimistic about 2015. The new governor has stated that he is not a proponent of full privatization, but he believes that the PLCB needs to be modernized and DTC shipping is a major part of that. It is likely, Gross said, that wineries will see a flat 12 percent tax rate as some legislators said they could support that. A new bill will be introduced in the first quarter of 2015.

Indiana:
Watch for news of a new hearing to take place on Wednesday, January 21. Lobbyists are looking to remove two rules. The first says that those wineries with a wholesaler in the state are not eligible for a direct shipment license. The second rule states that all first time sales to consumers must happen at the winery.

New Jersey:
Gross is attempting to remove the capacity cap and requirement that corporate and LLC purchasers must pay the corporation tax on wine purchases.

Illinois:
Some “murky” legislation exists in this state, and it’s not clear whether wineries are required to collect sales tax on shipping costs. Now, a Chicago-based lawyer is suing a number of wineries for not complying with tax law. For more information on this, visit http://www.beveragelaw.com/booze-rules/2014/12/27/illinois-qui-tam-lawsuitsprivate-enforcement-of-a-state-claim-a-bonanza-for-a-plaintiffs-lawyer-and-a-rip-off-of-retailers


 

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.

 

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