It's so easy to just lay low. So easy to just slow down and take it all in. Don't get me wrong, because sometimes it is fantastic to just be inert. But for me that describes a lot of life including my own. And today I will carpe diem, even if it is just to write about wine. Though I did see the movie Bumblebee with my daughter. I enjoyed it. It had a spunky protagonist, amazing action and CGI that was just enough to keep my attention but not crazy enough to just make me wonder about the computer graphics.
But I digress. Today's questions is: "Examine the advantages and disadvantages of deliberate stem inclusion, or additions, during the winemaking process."
Stem inclusion occurs when winemakers take the whole cluster of grapes and ferment with the entire bunch en masse. This occurs in many of the world's wineries and regions. Though Burgundy with it's world renown Pinots (Domaine Romanee Conti) and Gamay (Beaujolais) are some of the most well known there is no wine regions not practicing this style in some manner.
The decision on whether to go stem or stemless lies in great part to the winemaker and the style or wine to be made. It is though that in years where there is a great ripeness to the grapes there is often more instances of stem inclusion versus vintages where the grapes achieve less ripeness and then winemakers will shy away from stem inclusion to focus on the flavors of the grape itself.
If one picks their grapes and therefore whole cluster and stems, the taste that is gained will be of a more herbaceous, green nature while late harvest grapes, whole clusters and woody stems yield more of a forest floor, dark floral, spicy and even black tea flavors. Adding stems can also lighten the color of wine, which in the case of Burgundy is natural because of the thin skin nature of Pinot Noir. But this affect may be undesirable in dark skin grapes like Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah and Nebbiolo. Lighter wines may be perceived as less appealing to critics and consumers.
There is also the practice of partial stem inclusion where maybe 50% of the wine is stem soaked while the other is just juice of the grapes. 100% stem inclusion can be encountered as easily as 100% juice alone. It seems to depend on what the winemaker feels is important to that particular batch. Because depending on the year stem inclusion could be quite high or next to nothing. All wine makers want to make great wines and the use or disuse of stems is just one of the choices available to make that happen.
If you fail to plan then you plan to fail. This little bit of advice was read or heard somewhere and made an impression. Obviously I'm one of those people that needs to set goals and little by little try to achieve them. In 2019 I will fight in at least two BJJ tournaments. This first will be the Pans in March and the second will be the Masters in August.
Both of these tournaments are IBJJF and I may venture into some local tournaments also. Last year I competed in two Grappling Industries competitions and did well enough to let me know that my skills are indeed improving. These tournaments are very much like taking wine tests. You spend a great deal of time before hand practicing: drilling note cards on regions, terroir, varietals, growing methods, training methods, fermentation process, finishing, bottling and labeling.
And That's just the note cards. You must taste, and that takes time and effort. Time and effort to distinguish the minute differences of say Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand (grapefruit bomb to the face with a ton of grass) vs Pouilly Fume (more subtle fruit and the smokey minerality the silax brings). Repetitions of drinking Pinot Noir to see the difference in acidity between Burgundy and Oregon.
Lastly, depending on which group you're studying for you'll need to dance the dance of "service" where you gracefully practice opening certain wines, answering questions on the fly and all the while keeping composure. Not as easy as it sounds. Just like jiu jitsu. The similarities in practice, at least to me are very similar.
In jiu jitsu I'm just figuring out that in trying to flow (shout out to Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi) work or a few techniques chained together. And practice the hell out of it. Same with wine. Remember the FFEW? Fruit, floral, earth and wood generally make up every wine you're bound to try from bubbles to still white or red and even to late harvest and dessert wines. These four descriptors chained together will give you a great feel for any wine. I'm still trying to figure out what I'm gonna do to further my wine learning.
Enough babbling about what I do and move to on the wine question of the day. Identify the most important trunk diseases in vineyards around the world. How can they be best controlled and managed?
The most important trunk diseases affecting vineyards today are Esca which is prevalent in Europe, Eutypa in California and Botryosphaeria and Phomopsis dieback. While these are the four main culprits causing slow sickness in wines they are similar in the way that they attack and finally kill a single plant and if not dealt with the entire vineyard.
Controlling these diseases should be viewed on an individual basis because how you deal with a young vineyard will be different than treating a mature one. One must first know that they have a problem of this type. Symptoms include black spots or wood cankers, stunted shoots and finally dead spurs.
If the vineyard is young then one should start with clean stock. A vineyard will produce much more slowly than are healthy one. Abiotic stress should also be considered because over or under watering, poor planting practices and overcrowding in planting will cause young vines not to concentrate on their own immune system.
Pruning is also a major factor in contracting trunk disease because if one prunes in December then the vines will take a longer amount of time to heal than if you pruned later in the season. If one delays pruning just a couple of months into February one will find that the ability of the vine to heal will takes days rather than months.
There is also the practice of double pruning which starts in December or January with the first pass often pruning about a foot or twelve inches above last season's spur. The second pass will occur in February or later on. This pruning session will go down to the spur. This way the initial prune is removed and if it is infected (the initial cut) then it is taken away from the plant.
After pruning should come active wound with lime sulfur. This will aid in the prevention of incoming spores. There are chemical alternatives to sulfur but then you are adding foreign chemicals that may add problems later on in the consumer.
If a mature vineyard of ten to twelve years is infected then one can perform sever cuttings or surgery requiring the removal of specific sections or whole plants themselves. In Australia they will cut four inches below the infected area, In New Zealand they double it going for eight. Some old world wine regions like France will cut twelve to eighteen inches above ground and chuck the rest.
The contaminated sections should be carted off to a distant location and burned. This is because if the infected sections are left, the disease inside the wood could still be flourishing and still shoot out their spores affecting yet more plants.
If you've never been to Wine Republic on Friday night or Saturday afternoon we taste. Tonight we had three old world classics. We started off with a lovely Sauvignon Blanc from Langudoc Roussillon. This guy hit just like a Pouilly fume, subtle citrus pith, a touch of green apple, a little hawthorn, a little lemongrass and the minerality like liking a wet stone. Domain Gayda En Passant Blanc gives a beautiful twist on old world sauv blanc. Do it.
We then rolled west to Spain, Rioja. You know what's coming. Yeah. Tempranillo. Hacienda Lopez de Haro Crianza. At first sip you get that cherry, plum and fresh fig. And you also get a savory nature of tomato that flow nicely into linden flowers, a touch of cedar and tobacco. Lastly because of the American oak you'll find nice vanilla, dill and dried coconut.
Batting clean up, even though there are only three wines, comes a sangiovese based Toscana. Azienda Agricola Marjorie Poggio Auricle Toscana invokes aromas and flavors of red cherry, strawberries and plum. Dried rose petals lead you to herby thyme, tomato, tobacco and leather. These use Slavonian and French oak to bring subtle vanilla, cinnamon and clove.
What's not to love. Now we are gonna get into the super serious business of cover crops. Because the question I will address today is: "Is the use of cover crops worthwhile in viticulture?"
Oh yes, even the Romans thought so when they planted bean in between the rows of vines. The reasons that cover crops is worthwhile in vineyards are many. Main benefits include reducing erosion, improving soil fertility and increases the ability of the soil to hold water. One also gets a greater degree of biological diversity in the roots but also above ground in that certain cover crops will attract beneficial spider and mites that attack vine parasites. Additionally, certain cover crops will act as nitrogen fixers adding this specific nutrient without the aid of chemical means.
One of the main reasons to use cover crops is the great reduction in soil erosion. We do not want to repeat the great dust bowls of past generations but when farms continually farm the land without proper rest the soils become depleted and turn effectively dust like, making the top layer easily dispersed and lost in the long run. Cover crops connect the usually barren rows between the vines. These crops also keep the top soil from being distributed in heavy rains and keeps runoff water from carrying away even more soil.
Second would be greatly improved soil fertility in that certain crops will bring greater nitrogen and will bring a more varied diversity in the soil than just adding a bag of chemical fertilizer by spraying or drip irrigation. Also the addition of decomposing cover crops act as an addition food source for beneficial breakdown in a healthier tilth or soil condition. There is also the added benefit of crowding out unwanted weeds that drain the ground of nutrients that would otherwise be used by the grape vines.
Water runoff is one of the best things about cover crops since dry, packed earth tends to let water run away once it is completely saturated. In addition to the soil depletion when runoff occurs, sensitive root systems are unnecessarily exposed and make the vine more susceptible to attack by a variety of creatures. Also during the rains, barren earth between vine rows makes mud and the mud makes it very hard to move around the vineyard. With cover crops this is not an issue because the cover crops allow movement over the ground without disturbing the soil.
All these things lend to a vineyard less reliant on chemical or conventional methods. Many organic and biodynamic vineyard use cover crops specifically because of these benefits. These benefits often intermingle with one another creating a harmony in the vineyard that treats it like one giant living organism versus just plants that need to be sprayed with the cheapest chemicals and most meager bags of single chemicals like nitrogen. When cover crops fix nitrogen it does so in a manner that adds many other benefits besides just the one nutrient.
The decomposition alone creates waxy zones that keep more nutrients in the soil which would have to be added manually if other methods were utilized. There is also the possibility of harvesting the cover crop as a secondary product source. If one were to plant clover then one would be able to have bees come and use them for honey, propolis and royal jelly. Plus cover crops make the look of vineyards much more aesthetically pleasing.
After seven and a half hours I have conquered my inventory list at the store! If you could see me right now I have both my hands raised in fists, at least I did when I finished. One of the best things that we do here at Wine Republic is roll through out wines and switch them out on a regular basis. Think of it like a restaurant that changes it's menu. Pardon me while a take a sip of water and figure out what wine I'm going to have with dinner.
My body is recovering nicely from yesterday's workout but is a constant reminder that I do not have a healing factor like the fictional but totally awesome Logan/Wolverine. And while I am resolved to reading more actual literature this year I have read my fair share of comics, DC and others also for you comic fans thinking I only read Marvel. That would be like drinking just one wine. How incredibly boring is that?!
We'll jump into the Master of Wine question right away. Today's question is, "There has been a great deal of innovation in packaging design and formats in other alcoholic beverage categories. Why has the wine industry been slow to follow suit?"
The main reason is habit. Looking at the definition will help explain what I'm talking about. Habit is defined as: 1 "a settled tendency or usual manner of behavior" 2a "an acquired mode of behavior that has become nearly or completely involuntary" 2b "ADDICTION" 2c a behavior pattern acquired by frequent repetition or physiologic exposure that shows itself in regularity or increased facility of performance."
People in general will fall into patterns because patterns are more efficient in terms of energy expenditure. You don't need to think about what to do because habits create neural pathways that make a certain actions or thoughts appear to happen instantly. If you sleep on your left side and always get up on the left, there will be a feeling of strangeness if you are forced to sleep or get up on the right side.
Now I will speak about the wine consumers in the US. America is growing per capita in wine drinkers compared to the world with China following close behind. In the US where prohibition changed the way people think about wine, wine is only considered "real" wine if it comes in a bottle. Take the humble boxed wine. Now boxed wine has certainly earned it's reputation as an underachiever but to say that all boxed wines are not worthy is a fallacy of the highest order.
On a personal note, when we have had boxed wine in the shop it has been harder to sell the wine because people come in with a preconceived notion that because the wine is boxed it can't be good. But because our customers trust us (my wife and I are trained by the Court of Master Sommeliers and the International Sommelier's Guild) they'll give it a shot and without fail they come back and love the wine.
There have been some wines that have come in cans that also garner little love. Once again in our store we have had these nonconventional containers and they were more difficult to sell. Even with the benefit of easier carrying and consumption. Not to mention that can are collapsable and can be recycled with ease. When describing these wines I had to go full somm and describe the FFEW: fruit, floral, bath and wood components with great care. There is also a difference in preference when wines in different containers are the same wine!
The second definition of habit was addiction, in capital letter no less. When someone is addicted to something be it drugs, sex or wine in bottles it will be extremely difficult to change their mind. How hard is it for someone to loose weight when they are in the habit of excess calories coupled with little exercise. The same can be said of the American consumer. And while I am speaking anecdotally, at our store there is a marked difference in the choice of wine and the package that they come in. So much so that we only carry a few boxed wines yearly and canned wines only in the summer.
Make no mistake at the quality of these wines, they are fantastic but people cannot wrap their head around the fact that good wine doesn't have to come in a bottle. The resistance that people show seems to be natural or else there would not be myriads of books dealing with habit. Creating the right habits, breaking bad ones. Certainly one of the main habits that wine drinkers have is the sexy glass.
Whether we're talking about the Bordeaux shape, or the Burgundy/Pinot bottle or the German reisling bottle. People will continue to buy more wine in bottle than in other options. One way this may be help is if the iconic vineyards like Lafite or Domaine Romanee Conti were to switch to boxes or cans. Would you still be hungry for a left bank Medoc if it came in a box? What if DRC came in a can? Would you still spend thirteen thousand dollars on it? I'm not sure I would but at this point I'd have to sell a kidney to buy a DRC, can or not.
Wine merchants and winemakers are bright people, so the reason that they don't change as quickly as other is that they know already that if they change the packaging they can expect a certain drop in sails. Even with the added cost to production with corks or screw tops, the bottles themselves and the special equipment it takes to put on labels I believe that wine makers will resist at least for the near future changing their beloved bottles.
I am in pain. But then again I am a big wimp. The last two week have seen an amazing increase in sloth, me/RJ obviously. So today I go to my morning jiu jitsu class and gassed out after about forty five minutes. Normally I'd blast through an hour of class and another half hour of sparring. Not today.
One of my favorite things about hard things is that they make you humble. Now don't think I had my buttocks handed to me, I'm not that terrible. It's just that it is truly hard to gauge any improvement in this sport because the gains are accumulative and take some time to appreciate. Plus you're sore as you would be if an elephant sat on top of you, which is very similar to jiu jitsu.
So as I feebly walk into the shop my wife tells me about a message and something about an interview. It's Outside magazine which I actually read because I would love to be more of an outdoorsman but realizing that it actually takes time to hunt, find an appropriate mentor to teach me, I have to settle for stories about people that actually do. Look into Outside magazine's online article on us that discusses sustainable, organic & biodynamic wine.
That is certainly enough of crying about how my body aches and cool interviews, it's now time to get to the next wine question I'm going to answer from 2018's Master of Wine theory portion. The question is, "How important are environmental credentials in marketing wine?"
In today's market where grocery stores are surely in the lead with Whole Foods, Trader Joes, Sprouts, Lakewinds and various other co-ops with foods that take environmental standards to the forefront. The United States has that USDA Organic circle which is helpful and a plethora of others like Salmon Safe and LIVE certifications.
Salmon Safe wines are located on hills that end in a river that salmon swim in. It does the salmon little good if you spray poisonous chemicals on your hill vineyard and the runoff goes right into the lakes. Many wineries in Oregon, Washington, Northern California and British Columbia.
LIVE certification is another third party certification that have checklists that you can see online detailing vineyard and winery checklists. They also have a Green and Yellow list compiling the allowable practices in dealing with pests. The states in the US that utilize LIVE certification are Idaho, Washington and Oregon.
The thing about the USDA Organic sign is that this circular sign so recognizable to Americans means nothing to the French, nothing to Australian winemakers, etc. Each country will have their own parameters, rules and regulations regarding winemaking and their environmental certification.
One type of certification known as Biodynamic certification. Now I know that this is a really amazing way to grow grapes and make wine but when I first heard of it I scoffed like nobody's business. Growing up in the middle of Illinois gives one a definite appreciation for farms. So much so that my first job was detasseling corn, which is good way to realize farming is not as easy as it looks.
"This is a bunch of voo doo, if you ask me.", I remember saying when I first heard of biodynamic practices. But when it was explained to me then I got it. Think of organic practices, no synthetic pesticides, herbicides and the like. You add this to the farmer's almanac.
Have you ever been to the ocean? The moon, depending on if it's waxing, waning will exert enough gravity to pull the waters to high tide. This is been shown in water droplets as well, which could account for the sometimes bizarre behavior in people during full moon.
Moon position is important and especially so in the spring and fall when one is planting and harvesting their grapes. In the spring you want the greatest pull on the water so young vines and old vines can get water and nutrients with the smallest amount of energy spent possible. And in the fall with the same idea, this is known as the Harvest moon.
There are many other specifics dealing with biodynamic wine but one of the best things is that a body that follows biodynamic practices offers a Demeter certification known globally and has the same standards. Which makes it easy to buy biodynamic wine in Adelaide, New York or Excelsior, Minnesota.
These specific environmental credentials are important because certain people look for organic food and wine is certainly food. The steady growth of grocery stores mentioned earlier show that people want and are willing to search out environmentally conscious wine. For example at our wine shop Wine Republic, we feature only sustainable, organic and biodynamic wine.
Who buys these types of wine? The same people that shop at Whole Foods. Same people that eat from Trader Joes or look only at the "Health Food" section in conventional markets. A lot of Crossfitters and athletes of all stripes and sports constantly search out for the cleanest food they can and when they shop for food they look at labels. Therefore it is a positive thing to announce one's environmental certifications.
Can you believe it's 2019 already? Well here it is and all the world right now is probably wondering about what things are in store for us for the new year. There are those of us who make resolutions and fail to stick with them and alas I and everyone else at Wine Republic am human and prone to mistakes and setbacks. But last year I heard a quotation by Ernest Hemingway that said, “There is nothing noble in being superior to your fellow man; true nobility is being superior to your former self.”
Last year I managed to loose 56 pounds and started to train jiu jitsu again after a period of time. I fought in 2 tournaments and get second place in the first in gi and no gi, the second I got first place in gi and 3rd place in no gi. I also started getting really serious in my wine studies getting a Nez du Vin and started smelling, ney drilling smells every day. I also started to look to improve my writing about wine (& writing in general).
It's interesting because some of the best writing on wine comes from some Masters of Wine. They write quite a bit and that seems to be the secret sauce. Who would have thought that practicing writing everyday would make you a better writer? If you practice a sport every day you will see improvement over time and that is the same with wine. So to bring you the best in organic/biodynamic wine i'll be writing more daily to not be so brutish in my scribblings.
One of the things Masters of Wine do to prove their worth is to answer in writing specific questions about wine. These questions cover many things in the wine world from first planting in the vineyard, to selection, pressing, diseases that affect grapes, fermentation, bottling, shipping, etc. These guys and gals answer a battery of questions and are given three hours to answer three questions in writing.
I'm not going to do that 3 answers in 3 hours but I am going to answer them one at a time, referencing the specific question I'm answering to the specific test. In 2018 the first question on the Theory portion was, "Many wine regions can produce wines at a wide range of price points. Referencing at least two of such regions, compare and contrast methods of managing vineyards for high priced wines and low priced wines." Here we go...
Many things go into the making of wine. Location is surely one of these factors. Buying land in Burgundy will be much more expensive than Minnesota. The difference in land price alone would make Burgundian wine already more expensive even if the method of production were exactly the same. Also areas with consistently good weather like Napa or Marlborough NZ will spend less on management systems because they will not have to account for bad weather and an uneven grape ripening season. A winemaker that resides in a place known for a lot of sun and little weather fluctuation will probably spend less money on thing like chaptalization and acidification because the grapes will be able to ripen in predictable manner.
A place like the the Central Valley wine region in California that plants much wine destined for bulk wine tend to have huge vineyards grown in vastly straight lines on flat surfaces so the trackers can pick and trim vines without having to turn which saves money while smaller vineyards on uneven ground like in Alsace where the vineyards grow almost straight in the air machines cannot go. People must pick the grapes and this will also make a difference in the final pricing of a wine.
The practice of picking just the grapes that turn purple after veraison (like auslese in Mosel) vs picking the whole bunch at the end of the year will cost more in the manual labor thus making this style more expensive. When people go to tend the vines, it will increase the price of any wine. Mechanization, whether in picking, destemming will decrease costs and does this regardless if it a mega-vineyard making 2 buck Chuck or your favorite left bank Bordeaux.
Also, the way one tends the vineyard will add dollars to your final bottle. Conventionally made wine that uses chemicals for weeding, fertilization will almost always lower cost versus a method that uses organic, biodynamic and similar practices. For instance, the practice of putting Yarro or Nettles (biodynamic/DRC/France) into vine preparations will be more costly than Yellowtail in Australia that uses conventional wine methods including man made chemicals for weed and pest management.
Location will also raise or lower the cost of wine depending on where the final consumer is. Someone is Paris will pay less for a Loire Valley wine than an Australian Shiraz. Shipping adds dollars to every bottle depending on where the original growing and bottling is done compared to where it will actually end up. So California wine will probably be cheaper for somebody in Chicago than an equally produced vino from Italy.
These are but a few of the mitigating factors affecting the price of wine. Ultimately, we must fine the wine we like. Cheers.