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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.

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.

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