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Tuesday, January 27, 2015
January 27, 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 TODAY on Tuesday, Jan. 27, 5:00-8:30pm at cafeteria 15L (1116 15th Street, Sacramento).

Union Wine Company

Underwood Pinot Gris, Tualatin, Oregon
Canned Wine Sparks Conversation, Sales Growth for Oregon Winery

Union Wine Company wants to change the conversation about wine. Founder and winemaker Ryan Harms believes potential wine consumers are turned off by the industry’s reliance on highbrow descriptions. So when his Underwood brand was due for a packaging redesign, he and his team looked for a new, conversation-starting way to approach customers. They found it in a silver 375 ml can.

Harms, who introduced canned, Oregon-appellated Underwood Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris at a food and beverage festival in Portland in late 2013, said when they first thought about doing this, it was more of a fun marketing “toy” to start a conversation with consumers. “We are literally packaging it so we can see how people react and start a conversation about not only wine in a can, but also some of the other aspects of the wine industry that I think can keep new consumers from coming into the space.

“I think some of the wine business is too traditional, and sometimes the way we look at things all comes from this one way of communicating about wine,” he continued. “Consumers don’t find it interesting. I know that I look enviously at the growth of other categories, and then you look at the product innovation, packaging innovation and simplicity in which they talk and market. Some of it is, ‘Duh, no wonder they’re successful, look at the way they are doing things.’ With wine, we sometimes get too lost in talking about why this piece of dirt we grow grapes on is so important. Maybe that is important to some consumers, but it sometimes gets lost in the conversation with a lot of other people.”

Underwood, which launched in 2006 as an on-premise bottled brand, is not the first winery to offer canned wine. It is, however, one of the first wineries to succeed in marketing premium, unflavored still wines in this format. And success has been incredible—sales increased 90 percent in 2014 over 2013.

As a result, Union Wine Co. is embarking on a growth phase, including launching an Underwood Rosé this year. They are also working on a vertical two-pack for off-premise retailers, offering 750 ml of canned wine on the same shelving space as the bottled products. This eliminates a common problem with alternative packaging tending to end up, as Harms said, “in weird little corners of the store.”

However, Harms is careful about how to best create a sustainable, long-term business in a region where production capacity is limited and growers tend to have smaller vineyard acreage than in neighboring states. “I’m taking some time to think about it from a master plan standpoint so we don’t just do things that we need today that we regret 12 months from now,” he said. “We are trying to take a deep breath and look at the best way to grow.”

Harms believes that the success of the canned wine is due not only to the quality of the wine, of course, but also sheer dumb luck and good timing. There’s a societal interest now in bold-yet-simple consumer packaging design, for one. Secondly, the barriers to a high-end alcohol product being canned have been broken down, largely by craft breweries. But he also understands that his canned wine is not a format for all consumers, and that’s fine with him.

“I hopefully am doing a better job of communicating with the end consumer that I really want to introduce my wine to,” he said. “It’s trying to go after what I think is a much bigger population of either very casual wine consumers or non-traditional wine consumers, with the hope that we will bring them into that space. That, in my mind, is a much bigger population and has the potential for a lot more growth and would be very healthy for the wine business. The can is one attempt on our end of trying to have something that, hey, maybe the package itself will make someone feel comfortable enjoying this in place of a beer or a cocktail when they are out and about, or sitting in the backyard with friends.”

The full story on our top 10 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.

Monday, January 26, 2015
January 26, 2015 | 12:32 PM

Selected Recent Sales of Grapes & Wines in Bulk for Jan. 26, 2015 courtesy of Turrentine Brokerage:

Bulk Wine

Cabernet Sauvignon 2013 wine, Lodi, 25,600 gallons at $6.00 per gallon

Cabernet Sauvignon 2013 wine, Napa Valley, 12,800 gallons at $27.50 per gallon

Pinot Noir 2013 wine, Santa Rita Hills, 12,800 gallons at $14.50 per gallon

Sauvignon Blanc 2014 wine, Lake County, 15,000 gallons at $8.00 per gallon

Pinot Noir 2014 wine, Sonoma Carneros, 6,000 gallons at $14.00 per gallon
 

January 26, 2015 | 11:30 AM

From Wine Market Council: 

In light of the severe weather developments in and around New York City today, and the projections of closures of roads, railways, and airports tomorrow, Wine Market Council is postponing its annual research conference in New York that was scheduled for tomorrow (January 27, 2015).  The Museum of Modern Art is cooperating with Wine Market Council to find another presentation date that will be workable for all and we will send you a notification of the new date as soon as possible.

January 26, 2015 | 8:59 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).

Treveri Cellars

Blanc de Blanc Brut, Wapato, Washington
Modern Sparkling House Focuses on Defining Washington Sparkling Wine

As one of the few dedicated sparkling wine houses in Washington, four-year-old, family-owned Treveri Cellars is helping to define the category for the state. Though the winery leads with traditional sparkling wines, like Blanc de Blanc and Blanc de Noirs, they also offer a modern mix of other sparkling varietals that draw from the family’s German heritage and the grape growing strengths of their state.

Founder and winemaker Juergen Grieb began his career making both still and sparkling wines in the Mosel region near his hometown of Trier. He came to Washington state in 1982, where he was largely a still winemaker professionally but a hobbyist sparkling winemaker privately. When the Grieb family, including Juergen’s wife Julie and their son, Christian, embarked on developing their own wine brand, they relied on the style that Juergen had always been most passionate about.

The bubbly is made in the traditional Méthod Champenoise way but is heavily influenced by Grieb’s German heritage. There, sparkling Riesling is common, often blended with Gewürztraminer or Muller-Thurgau. For this New World endeavor, Treveri produces single-varietal versions of all three, along with sparkling Pinot Gris, Syrah and Rosé.

“We have that freedom. There’s no law in Washington that says if you make sparkling, it must be these varieties,” said Christian Grieb, co-winemaker and vice president of sales for Treveri. “It always intrigued him what flavors you get and different complexities those flavors added to a finished sparkling wine. He always really enjoyed that and wanted to make single-varietal Muller-Thurgau, Gewürztraminer and Riesling separately and let them all speak for themselves. They are unique and aren’t a straightforward sell. But consumers are really receptive when you let them try it.”

Along with the freedom of producing bubbly in Washington, there are challenges. They are still learning what making sparkling wine in the state means in terms of varieties used, best vineyard sources and ideal flavor profiles. “We don’t have a colloquium of sparkling producers here where we can sit around and discuss what happened in this harvest or what did you do to combat the heat,” said Grieb. “We definitely are on an island in that regard. That’s what’s exciting about it, too, being one of the first people and going out there and trying these vineyards, what each AVA gives you for a sparkling wine. It’s still yet to be seen what all is going to be wonderful sparkling wine territory in Washington.”

The winery’s goal has always been to be uniquely a product of Washington state, which meant that they’d also be challenged with discovering what that meant. “We kind of bear the burden a little bit, being one of the first sparkling houses, because people expect certain things from us every year,” said Grieb. “We have that on our shoulders, especially now that we’ve created a unique flavor for sparkling wines. We can’t stop delivering on that very intrinsic Washington and very intrinsic Treveri sparkling wine. It was important too that we didn’t replicate what was already being done elsewhere. Washington has its own fruit and style, just like every other region does.”

One of the hallmarks of the Treveri Blanc de Blanc wines is their crisp acidity and green apple notes, which are notes that speak to the style of Chardonnay grown in the state. “Chardonnays in Washington speak for themselves—bright acid and very fruity, with green apple. It’s not necessarily tropical on the flavor wheel,” said Grieb. “The Blanc de Blanc is a fresher style sparkling wine, but it does have a nice, rich mouthfeel with some complexity from the extended lees aging and the 18 months in bottle. I also noticed that our Washington Chardonnays have a nice lemon curd balance to them. It’s not easy to replicate from other growing regions. It speaks very much to the place and time we are making wines.”

The full story on our top 10 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 23, 2015
January 23, 2015 | 12:43 PM

Are you going to the Unified Wine & Grape Sympoisum in Sacramento next week? Have you made a plan of which booths to visit yet? WBM has put together our annual Unified Guide to help you navigate through the largest wine trade show in the country. Click here to get started. Also be sure to come by and see us at our Wine Business Monthly booth (#1620) for a special subscription rate. See you there!

 

January 23, 2015 | 8:59 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).

Skinner Vineyards

2011 Dry Diggings (Syrah, Grenache, Mourvedre blend), El Dorado County, Somerset, California
Chance Glance Leads to Family Winemaking Revival

For Mike and Carey Skinner, becoming winery owners was a twist of fate, or perhaps destiny. For as long as Carey had known him, Mike Skinner was interested in genealogy and discovering more of his family history. So when their son Kevin and his wife were driving back from Tahoe and spotted a dot called “Skinner’s” near Placerville, California on an old atlas map, they figured they ought to check it out.

As it turns out, Skinner’s was the former site of one of America’s earliest wineries, established by Scottish immigrant James Skinner in 1861 in Rescue, California. Though the winery closed in the early 1900s, the original stone cellar still stands at the site. The Skinner family investigated and found that James was Mike’s great-great-great-grandfather. Mike’s interest was piqued, and within weeks, he and Carey flew from their Southern California home to El Dorado County.

“I teased him at the beginning,” said Carey. “I said, ‘Now that we’ve seen the land, is that enough or do we really need to own it and rebuild it?’ He wanted passion in his life again, and we were both really passionate about wine, so we decided to revive the family legacy.”

In 2006, the couple bought a 25-acre property a few miles away from the historic cellar, dubbing the site White Oak Vineyard. In 2007, they also added Stoney Creek Vineyard, a 67-acre mountaintop site at 2,740 feet in the nearby Fair Play AVA. The Skinners were determined to honor James’ memory by farming in the same area and with many of the Rhône varieties he produced. “What James saw in the 1800s is true today,” said Skinner, who believes the region is particularly well-suited to Syrah.

Between the two properties, the winery has 34 planted acres, including relative rarities that were originally farmed by James, like Trousseau, Carignan and the Skinner clone of Petite Bouschet. Fruit from the higher-elevation volcanic soils of Stoney Creek Vineyard tends to have more acidity and minerality while the White Oak Vineyard produces more of a full-bodied, rounded wine.

Winemaker Chris Pittenger, who has been with Skinner Vineyards since its first vintage in 2007, is charged with blending the vastly different profiles into a harmonious wine. He espouses a natural, fastidiously clean, minimalist winemaking technique. Sales manager Stephanie Simunovich calls him a “mad scientist,” describing how he separates fruit into micro-blocks by 10-foot elevation changes and ferments them separately (with wild yeasts) then later blends them together for an optimal flavor profile. Wine that doesn’t meet his and the Skinner’s high standards is donated to the Catholic church for use as sacramental wine.

“One of the things that impressed me about the Skinners is not only their commitment to the history of this family, but their commitment to this region and really fully embracing being part of El Dorado County,” said Simunovich. “They’ve really recognized the quality of the fruit and the land and the wines and wanting to be part of that tradition as well.”

Carey Skinner serves on the board of the El Dorado Winery Association, and the family takes every opportunity to give back to their local community in other ways. “When we got into this project, I told Mike that we would only go forward if we would make an impact with the local community, and we were always conscious about giving back,” said Skinner. “That’s just the way we live.” When the opportunity arose in late 2014 to finally acquire James’ original winery site, they once again demonstrated their commitment to their neighbors. The property is being renovated to match its original condition then largely used by local charities for educational outreach, farmer’s markets, as a food distribution center for low-income residents and possibly for an occasional winery event. “We think that James has got to be pretty proud of us; it’s inspiring,” said Skinner.

The full story on our top 10 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 22, 2015
January 22, 2015 | 10:00 AM

As usual Canada tops the list. We've been hearing a lot about China, and Mexico too, but Africa? Actually, Nigeria is among the fastest growing export markets for U.S. wine. It's on a small base, but wow.

  • Canada #1 country export market; +7% $ value ($448.5 million); +30% volume
  • Mexico #6 market; +12% in $ value to $23 million
  • South Korea #7; up 24% in $ value to $20 million; thanks to recent Free Trade Agreement and related momentum with a level playing field for our wines vis a vis competitor wine regions
  • Nigeria #8;  up 184% in $ value to $20 million
  • Japan, China and Hong Kong remain #3, #4 and #5 markets respectively, but it’s not all about Asia.
    * figures through November 2014
     

Wine Institute's annual California Wine Export Seminar takes place Tuesday, January 27th in Napa.
Register at www.calwinexport.com/seminar. Wine Institute provides analysis of foreign markets and information on market entry for wineries new to the export scene. Wine Institute representatives are located in Canada, Denmark, the Netherlands, Germany, Hong Kong, Japan, Korea, Mexico, China, Southeast Asia, Taiwan, Sweden and the UK for on-site support.

 

January 22, 2015 | 9:01 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).

McIntyre Vineyards

2012 Kimberly Merlot, Carmel, California
Longtime Grower Crafts Merlot in the Vineyard

Humble, laid-back and humorous, Steve McIntyre is a dominant force in Monterey County. As founder and manager of Monterey Pacific, the fifth-largest vineyard management company in the United States, he farms more than 11,000 acres in the region—though only about 15 acres go toward his own label, McIntyre Vineyards. For more than 30 years, McIntyre has been crafting wines and growing fruit for wineries large and small, at high-end and entry-level price points.

But from the start, he had trouble with a variety, an obstacle that he wanted to overcome. “For years I tried when I was up at Hahn/Smith & Hook, from 1984 to 1992, to make Bordeaux varietals that didn’t taste herbaceous and have asparagus or bell pepper characters,” said McIntyre of some of his earliest experiences in the region. “It was a real struggle. So Merlot for me was a chip on my shoulder. I thought, ‘Dog-gonnit, I am going to figure out how to do this’. Then we found a vineyard that is somewhat out of the way, and we figured out that if we get higher ambient air temperatures, we can get Merlot ripe if you keep it cropped to one cluster per shoot.”

The vineyard site is the 81-acre Kimberly Vineyard, named after his wife in lieu of an anniversary gift. “She was pretty jazzed about that,” laughed McIntyre. The gently sloping vineyard sits at an altitude of 350 feet at the foot of the Santa Lucia Mountains, at the intersection between the mouth of the Arroyo Seco Canyon and the Salinas Valley. It’s an alluvial fan, like most of the west side of the Salinas Valley, with granitic-based, sandy loam soils planted with clone 181 Merlot. Perhaps most importantly, the site is protected from the region’s distinctive fierce winds, resulting in the warmer micro-climate for ripening fruit. The vines are hand-harvested, kept at one cluster per shoot and use about half the amount of water as neighboring blocks.

When choosing blocks for his own brand, McIntyre looks to build upon his decades-long history with the region. The secret, he says, is to find the sites that consistently deliver flavorful fruit with little variation. “That’s really the secret to making profound wines—not just great wines but profound wines,” he said. “Identify special sites that are extremely uniform and that helps eliminate a lot of variables so the bell curve of ripeness is as narrow as possible.”

Helping, too, are vintages like 2012, which played out in ideal conditions. “It was the sweet spot for temperature almost on a daily basis,” he said. “For me, it’s all about avoiding the extremes. If it gets above 98 degrees out in the vineyard, it’s going to do some damage to the grape and the flavors and burst the berries that are exposed. But there just were no extremes; it was a perfect growing season. It gives the wine a brighter, fresher profile of ripeness.”

McIntyre brought on Byron Kosuge as winemaker, who shares his philosophy of minimalism. “We make the wine in the vineyard,” said McIntyre. “When we get fruit to the winery, we’ve just got to download everything Mother Nature’s put into it and do a good job of babysitting to prevent it from spoiling. We try to maximize flavor and minimize the characteristics that processing might impart. We prefer pure flavor and letting the grapes speak for themselves.”

Ultimately, McIntyre’s philosophy is one of cultivating his business in a sustainable way, socially, fiscally and environmentally, because it’s something he wants to pass between generations. “I just want to build on the shoulders of people who came before us, and maybe some of my family will eventually take over,” he said. “We’re just starting out here. What I enjoy is refining things and getting that experience filter to the point that you can hand it to someone and say, ‘Here’s our experience; now you build it.’”

The full story on our top 10 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 21, 2015
January 21, 2015 | 8:56 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).

La Chertosa

2012 Reserve Sangiovese, Sonoma Valley, Sonoma, California
Sam Sebastiani Comes Full Circle With the Launch of La Chertosa

When an industry stalwart like Sam Sebastiani returns to his Sonoma winemaking roots, it’s cause to take notice. Now in his mid-70s, Sebastiani has launched La Chertosa, a small, deeply personal label that celebrates and honors his family’s winemaking tradition. In many ways, it brings the Sebastiani story full circle, stitching together the disparate parts of a family story more than 120 years in the making.

La Chertosa begins not with its California launch in mid-2014 but in the late 19th century at La Certosa di Farneta, a monastery in a small Tuscan village near Lucca, Italy. It was there that Sebastiani’s grandfather, Samuele, first tended to vines and learned to make wine. He took those skills with him to California in the 1890s, founding the Sebastiani winery in the town of Sonoma in 1904. For La Chertosa, the anglicized version of the monastery name, Sebastiani is farming some of the same blocks of red-soiled Wildwood Vineyard that his grandfather worked with more than 100 years ago.

“It’s amazing; I’ve had the good fortune of retracing my grandfather’s steps,” said Sam Sebastiani. “I started going back to the monastery 30 or 40 years ago, and I’ve been there some 20-plus times. You get a feeling for what he left, for what he learned and then what he brought to Sonoma. If you go to that valley, it’s got red soil. It has a very, very similar feeling, when you look at the hillsides and topography, to Sonoma. I used to joke that I thought I took the wrong plane and got back out.”

Sebastiani hopes that this brand will be “a nice, simple business” that might one day be taken over by a grandchild. He’d retired from the wine industry several years ago, instead focusing on farming and wetland restoration on his property in Nebraska. “I hadn’t been out in the vineyards for a while, and people started asking me what was going on. I said, ‘Wait a minute, I used to do this every day, and I haven’t been doing it’. It spurred me on to look back at what I really enjoy doing,” he said. “I had switched over; I was farming corn, sugar beets and alfalfa in Nebraska. It’s a whole different type of farming. You’re basically farming commodities. It doesn’t have quite the same allure to my psyche that winemaking does.”

Sebastiani described that allure as the annual challenge to achieve a perfect wine—which, interestingly enough, he isn’t sure can actually be achieved. But the allure is in the attempt. “What you do is every year you try to get close to this ideal flavor profile that you might have for a particular varietal,” he said. “Then you’re done, and you’ve gotten really close, and you think, ‘If I had just done this or if I had just done that...’ So then you have to wait 12 months to redo it. You effectively have that game going on. It’s like perfecting any other sport. That’s kind of what keeps me going. You can get close, but I don’t think there is such a thing as a perfect wine.”

He believes every wine has an arc of life, one that may have mysterious dips and bounces in quality. So, he trusts his palate and his decades in the vineyards to determine flavors. “There’s a real value in tasting the grape itself in the field. That’s what gets you closer to the type of wine you’re going to make, not some chemical numbers,” he said. “I am attempting to develop a flavor profile in each vintage that will be liked. I have a philosophy that I don’t want any part of the wine to be overpowering, so it’s a full and rounded approach as opposed to a sharp punch to the stomach.” Sebastiani works with winemaker Derek Irwin, as well as enologists Zach Long and Blair Guthrie, to create the final wines.

The full story on La Chertosa ~ 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.

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.

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