Winemaking: January 2008 Archives

Foggy Bridge Winery

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By Robert Farmer

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The news that a winery would soon open in San Francisco's Presidio hit home for me quite literally. Or at least, close to home. My residence happens to be within an easy walk to the Presidio, that gorgeous former military base that is now a national park. And it's a frequent haunt of Yours Truly - ideal for Sunday afternoon walks with the family beneath the towering forest of Eucalyptus trees and among the array of historic structures that one by one seem to be getting new life. One such structure will be the home of the proposed new winery at Crissy Field. >

Foggy Bridge Winery would be the first winery every in a US National Park. It's the idea of Daryl Groom, former winemaker at Geyser Peak Winery to open a boutique, 8,000-case working winery and tasting room inside a 37,000-square-foot former Army machine shop. Plans also call for a 120-seat restaurant to be built into a former airplane hangar. While there are of course no vineyards surrounding the planned winery, that won't prevent Foggy Bridge from its plans of being a working winery. Grapes will be hauled over from Livermore vineyards to the facility and guests will be able to watch the full process during crush time. I for one can't wait to see the plan ripen into reality. The ongoing development and improvement of the Presidio makes one of my favorite spots in the City more attractive all the time. And the idea of a winery within walking distance from home and within eyeshot of the Golden Gate Bridge is something I can easily support. I'll keep you all up to date as plans develop.

Label Overexposure

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By Robert Farmer

bonny_doon_label.jpgOn the other side of the label - the wine label argument, that is - is California's trend-setting winery, Bonny Doon Vineyards, in Santa Cruz. Long known for its avant-garde approach to the wine biz, and for its rather whimsical takes on wine label, Bonny Doon announced recently that it would begin offering wine labels that list all the ingredients in its wines, as well as what ingredients were used to create those ingredients. Though it might be a case of TMI (too much information), and perhaps even a case of Who Asked For It, the winery hopes it will be a precedent-setting example of transparency that will help the consumer make better choices'certainly more "informed" choices, at the very least.

This is interesting to me, especially in light of the recently proposed Oregon legislation (see above) that hopes to mandate such transparency. But what this means, and what consumers will begin seeing on the labels of Bonny Doon’s, Demeter certified Biodynamic 2007 Ca' del Solo Albarino and the 2007 Ca' del Solo Muscat, is an esoteric catalog of such things as tartaric acid, yeast nutrients, bentonite, enzymes and sulfur dioxide. Many of these ingredients are benign and indeed no longer remain in the completely fermented and bottled wine. But, trailblazer though they are, Bonny Doon wants to expose it all. I’ve always like the Bonny Doon labels - typically fun, eclectic, and colorful. But I'm not sure I like this idea and I'm not sure it makes a difference.

Label me undecided.

Wine Label Larceny

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By Robert Farmer

labels2.jpgIf your New Year's Resolution included being more conscientious about what you eat and drink, then the addition of nutritional information to wine labels might strike you as a good thing. For those in the wine industry, however, the proposal is something less helpful.

As has been much in the wine-industry news lately, the Oregon State Alcohol Tax and Trade  Bureau (TTB) has proposed a requirement that winemakers there list nutritional information on their wine bottle labels. Now, you may be saying to yourself… What!? Because, like many people I know and with whom I have discussed this notion, the idea seems superfluous at best, idiotic at worst. And as we know when it comes to all things state-related, one state’s law can soon impact the nation. So it's not surprising the Oregon winemakers have been digging in their heels in opposition to this. You should be too.

The proposal presents a number of problems, both logistical and philosophical. From the former, it's not easy for winemakers to list the ingredients that go into their wines - it's an ever-changing array of components added with the temperament and nuance of an individual and generally with little consequence to the wine drinker other than a resulting product that they enjoy. Nutritionally? If you're that worried about what nutrition you're getting from your wine, I'm afraid you’ve got bigger problems than can be solved on a wine label.

And, speaking of the label, the ones that already have government-mandated copy publicizing alcohol content and the dangers thereof (which I agree isn't a bad idea), it's also the space that the winemaker relies on for telling the particular wine story - not to mention for grabbing the attention of the wine-buying public from its position on store shelves.

So, in other words, there are many reasons why this is a bad idea. For Oregon's sake and for overall wine-drinking sanity, let’s hope this particular label idea doesn't stick.





AVA Angst

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by Courtney Cochran

Thumbnail image for homepage-feature1.jpgI feel sorry for those of you who – like me – have been attempting to follow the US Alcohol and Tobacco Trade and Tax Bureau’s controversial proposed amendments to American Viticultural Area (AVA) regulations.  I feel sorry for anyone, for that matter, who is sorting through the piles of legalese and angry banter being circulated about the matter in newspapers and online, not only because it's all terrifically confusing, but also because the proposals at the center of the controversy shouldn't even be up for debate at all. 

Proposed amendments hinge on a fundamental shift in regulations that would prohibit wines hailing from smaller appellations located or “nested” within larger appellations (e.g. Oakville within Napa Valley) from listing both the sub- and macro-appellations on their labels. Besides this, there are other issues at play in the current mess, most importantly a proposed "grandfather” clause that would allow wineries founded between 1986 and 2005 to continue to use place names that are also appellations in their brand names (e.g. the soon-to-be-approved Calistoga AVA, as in the case of Calistoga Cellars) even though their wines may not satisfy the standard requirement that a minimum of 85% of the grapes used to make a wine be grown in the wine’s stated AVA. 

If all this sounds confusing – and WRONG – that’s because it is.

When a Spade Isn’t a Spade
When it comes down to it, listing both a sub appellation and a macro appellation – especially when the sub AVA is a new and/or little known region – is a key marketing tool wineries use to communicate what’s inside the bottle.  For example, a consumer might hesitate to order a Cabernet Sauvignon from “Wild Horse Valley” (popularly held to be Napa’s least-known AVA) but he or she might decide to give the wine a try if the bottle listed both “Wild Horse Valley” and “Napa Valley” on its label.  

As recognition of the Wild Horse Valley AVA and its wines grows, that indication on a bottle may very well become a source of differentiation that helps vintners from the area to sell their wines.   And while we're on the subject, differentiation is also the key economic driver that allows producers to charge more for their products than others charge for similar, undifferentiated products.  So, the most effectively differentiated products are not only more likely to sell, they’re more likely to sell at a higher price.

And don’t even get me started on what’s wrong with a wine’s inferring it comes from a certain place when, in fact, the legal threshold for grapes coming from that region hasn’t been met.

At What Cost Costs?
Rumor has it that the Alcohol and Tobacco Trade and Tax Bureau (TTB) proposed these amendments as a result of the growing number of sub AVA petitions the bureau is receiving and the its members’ desire to manage costs associated with processing the petitions and regulating wine labels that list an increasingly large number of regions.  The problem is, we need to look beyond these superficial costs.  Restricting geographic labeling can only hurt wineries and therefore – on a much larger scale – hobble the wine industry itself, one of California’s most vibrant and economically viable agricultural entities.  Moreover, I seriously doubt that the costs “saved” by TTB could equal the long-term fiscal impact of these changes on the industry.

As a sommelier I will always be in support of providing consumers with the most information possible about a wine – and in this case that means both sub and macro AVA identification.  And I will always press for veracity in wine labeling. 

For these reasons, I find the changes proposed by the TTB unacceptable and in need of review. At the end of the day, refuting TTB’s proposals and maintaining or more fairly altering the current AVA regulation policies will only help winemakers - folks who for the most part make wine with integrity and would also like to market their wines with integrity – not to mention sell a good amount of the stuff while they’re at it.  

To voice your own opinion on the subject, visit Docket No. TTB-2007-0068 at www.regulations.gov .

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