Columbia Falls Man Making Wine With Montana-Grown Grapes U.S. News & World Report
From the Vine treats the viewer to beautiful scenery, but more than that, a life rescued by making wine.
November 12, 2020
How many good wine movies are there? Sideways, sure. Bottle Shock? Meh. The French release You Will Be My Son? One of my favorites, though no one seems to know about it (seriously, check it out). Let’s throw the newly released From the Vine, starring Joe Pantoliano, into the thumbs-up zone.
I was initially wary of this film, because the “middle-aged guy has crisis and realizes he needs to change his life” genre is pretty well worn, but hey, plots are a dime a dozen anyway: “kid’s parent dies and evil step-parent has to be dealt with” could apply just as easily to Cinderella as it could to Hamlet.
In From the Vine, Marco Gentile (Joe Pantoliano), CEO of a car company, hits an ethical dilemma when he realizes the board of directors isn’t going to allow him to keep the now-deceased founder’s green, environmentally responsible initiatives going. A workaholic, he’s also estranged from his wife and adult daughter. In a moment of crisis, he quits his job and abruptly moves back to the small town in Basilicata, Italy, where his grandfather once had a vineyard.
Pantoliano, known for his roles as the murderous Ralph Cifaretto in The Sopranos and the traitorous Cypher in The Matrix, may come as a surprise as the charming, lovable Marco. He deftly manages to balance Marco’s fish-out-of-water confusion at the quirks of his new home with the character’s deeply etched sense of loss. As Pantoliano said when I spoke to him, “Marco’s really lost; he’s in search of something. He doesn’t even realize he’s lost the love of his wife. He’s lost his daughter. He’s lost everything that really is important. Even his native language. But going to Acerenza, feeling the magic of this village, returning to a time that’s untouched, in a way it tells him—and us—that there’s more to life than dying and being the richest guy in the cemetery.”
So what about the wine? Of course, the key to any good movie about wine is that wine is just a vehicle to bring us into the drama of the characters. The grandfather’s vineyard has been taken over by the local government for non-payment of back taxes. Marco buys it back, hires the townspeople to help him start making wine again, and in doing so brings life back both to himself and to Acerenza. When his wife and daughter arrive on a mission to bring him back to the U.S.—he’s cleaned out the family 401K to invest in the vineyard, and they basically think he’s lost his mind—they’re seduced as well by Italy, by the vineyard, by winemaking, and by the taste and sensuality of good wine. That’s not a metaphorical statement either: Marco and his wife’s relationship is amusingly rekindled as they’re standing knee-deep in a vat of crushed grapes.
Pantoliano drew a bit on his own experience as an Italian kid in Hoboken. “I was born in 1951. We had tenement buildings and basement cellars, and 100-by-200-foot backyards, and I remember all these old guys having three or four vines, and making red from it in their basements,” he told me, but largely the movie was a voyage of discovery for him as well. I asked him if making it also made him want to own a vineyard. “Not at all!” he said with a laugh. “But I’d certainly like to live in Italy for a while, and spend more time there.”
From the Vine isn’t a dark movie. Marco’s internal crisis may drive it forward, but the joy he finds in making wine, plus the quirky denizens of Acerenza, the stunning beauty of the Italian vineyards, and moments of sheer comedy lift it up; the film pulls you along with delight, not despair. No spoilers here—you’ll have to watch it to see how his newfound life in Basilicata and his need to reconcile with his family gets resolved. Safe to say, though, it involves vines and wine.
As we look back at the best of 2020, we’re showcasing the videos that helped us pass the time through the worst of the crisis. Whether it was having fun with the creative contributors to our “Wine at Home”–themed video contest, cooking new meals, tagging along with a famous California chef or learning more about wine regions with our editors, there was something for every wine and food lover this year. Our top videos also included Q&As with star vintners and winemakers, an inside look at the Wine of the Year and our staff’s favorite cocktail recipes for at-home happy hours. So raise your glass, sit back, and enjoy this reel of 2020’s best clips!
Wine of the Year 2020
This year, wine lovers from around the globe tuned in to see Wine Spectator’s 2020 Wine of the Year reveal. Longtime executive editor Thomas Matthews, lead taster for Spanish wines, unveiled the Bodegas Marqués de Murrieta Rioja Castillo Ygay Gran Reserva Especial 2010 and explained how Murrieta’s flagship bottling, produced only in top vintages, stands at the head of the class in Rioja and the world. For more information on all Top 100 Wines of 2020, check out our Top 100 video page to hear from our senior editors about what makes the Top 10 wines special and explore other regions, grape varieties and wine styles featured in this year’s list.
Video Contest Winner
Drink the Best in House Arrest
For our “Wine at Home”–themed 2020 video contest, creative wine lovers make the most of being stuck in one place. This year’s winning submission from the Campione family brightens the day with wine, a zany sing-along and some fancy footwork. The Campiones took in the most viewer votes, followed by “New Normal” and “2020: A Year to Shred.” Check out the rest of the finalists and honorable mentions!
How to Buy Wine
Earlier this year, we visited Total Wine & More for some buying tips from retail pros. Our quick and easy guide helps wine lovers get the most out of shopping for wine, with advice on questions to ask and how to get the best bottle for your buck. Check out more of our great tips on serving, decanting and saving wine!
How to Open Sparkling Wine
‘Tis the season! This year we offered a quick tutorial for bubbly lovers around the world. Celebrate your wins of 2020 (no matter how small), toast to a better year to come, and learn the right way to pop a bottle of sparkling wine from one of our pros!
ABCs of Burgundy
Our primers on some of France’s most popular wine regions drew lots of viewers this year. Burgundy produces some of the world’s finest Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays, but it can also seem intimidating to those new to wine. Senior editor Bruce Sanderson and associate editor Julie Harans break down the terroirs, the grapes, the classification system and where to look for values (with some helpful pronunciations thrown in) in this educational video.
ABCs of Bordeaux
Bordeaux produces some of the world’s most prestigious bottles, from châteaus with centuries of history behind them. But Bordeaux wines don’t have to be complicated or expensive. Senior editor James Molesworth and associate editor Julie Harans walk viewers through the grapes, geography, wine styles and the 1855 Classification.
Sazerac No. 9
The Wine Spectator staff has been making the most of our time at home this year, experimenting with new recipes and revisiting old classics. Our Staying Home series gave readers new activities to try at home, from creating homemade pizza to Halloween-themed cocktails. In one of our top videos, news editor Mitch Frank introduces us to his original take on a classic New Orleans cocktail, with a little inspiration from Saints quarterback Drew Brees. Frank (and son) also shared an aperitif cocktail creation, a blend of gin and Americano called the Allora.
Associate tasting coordinator Cassia Schifter and her trusty assistant Puggsy Bogues kicked off the summer with a delightfully refreshing cocktail starring sparkling wine, tequila and grapefruit juice. And don’t miss another favorite of Cassia’s, the Sherry-based La Viña cocktail!
Baked Brie in Puff Pastry
Just in time for holiday meals, Wine Spectator‘s cheese geek Robert Taylor shares this super-simple recipe for a decadent, gooey, comfort-food splurge for any occasion. And if cheese is in your plans for any upcoming celebrations (and why wouldn’t it be?), check out some of last year’s top videos, including how to cut and wrap cheese!
Sausage King Bruce Aidells
In November, Wine Spectator and chef Charlie Palmer launched the American Artisan video series, where the Restaurant Award–winning chef, restaurateur and hotelier takes us behind the scenes with California wine-country food purveyors, craft-cocktail creators and winemakers. The series kicked off with butcher and sausage maker Bruce Aidells. Tag along as these longtime friends and culinary icons share memories, talk shop and make fennel sausage porchetta!
Wine Star Roundtables
A Tribute to Dad
On Father’s Day, we showcased special tributes from wine stars around the world—Joe Wagner, Laura Catena, Gaia and Giovanni Gaja, Carissa Mondavi and more—who told us about their special relationships with their fathers. See how leading wine pros answer other questions, such as “Who is your wine hero?”, “What has working in wine taught you?” and “What was your first sip of wine?” in our Wine Star Roundtable videos!
A Perfect Match: Cacio e Pepe
Which wine should you pair with this year’s most popular episode of A Perfect Match? Two of Wine Spectator‘s recipe editors and testers talk cooking tips and explain why a light skin-contact white wine from Italy pairs so well with this cheesy pasta recipe from chef Chris Borges of Wine Spectator Award of Excellence winner Josephine Estelle restaurant in New Orleans. Other favorites included Mango Miso Salmon with Chenin Blanc and Roasted Oysters with Grüner Veltliner. Don’t miss our entire series of Perfect Match videos and accompanying recipes!
Grilled Lamb and Charred Corn
To help ease the transition from summer into fall, we kept the backyard grilling going with some alternatives to steak and burgers—hearty meat and cheese dishes that make use of late-season corn, tomatoes, fruit and herbs. On an idyllic day at Vegetable Power Farm, Wine Spectator‘s Steven Merkel and farmer Shazana Goff grilled lamb chops, to be dressed with mint-gremolata butter, and charred corn that was then slathered with a tangy compound cream cheese. This 5 Favorites recipe, from chef Joe Carroll of Brooklyn’s Fette Sau and St. Anselm, calls for an easy-drinking red!
Wine Star Spotlight
Spotlight On: Newton Vineyard
Our Spotlight series of short interviews highlights famous names and rising stars in wine. Representing the new faces now at pioneering Napa wineries, Newton Vineyard general manager Jean-Baptiste Rivail and winemaker Alberto Bianchi teamed up to talk about working with mountain and valley floor Cabernet, sustainability and their excitement for the 40-year-old estate’s future.
Spotlight On: Stephan von Neipperg
The Bordeaux superstar—whose family’s properties in St.-Emilion include Château Canon-La Gaffelière, Clos de l’Oratoire and La Mondotte—talks about his early wine-tasting education, his commitment to environmentally friendly grapegrowing and making wines of energy and restraint.
Virginia is rich with history, so it’s no surprise that the practice of winemaking in the Commonwealth dates back to 1609, when the earliest settlers of Jamestown planted vines in an attempt to produce a cash crop utilizing the vital soils of the New World.
But the journey to great vino didn’t happen overnight, and like a true American success story, Virginia wines overcame several disheartening failures over a 400 year span to become one of America’s leading wine producers. Today, the Commonwealth’s quality wines earn the respect of great winemakers and sommeliers all around the world, and with over 280 wineries, Virginia comes in 5th for the most wineries per state. But Virginia’s first vintages and those to come for nearly 300 years were far from the respected quality of Virginia wines today.
Three distinct failures marked the Virginia wine industry since its inception. Early colonists, commissioned European winemakers, and even Thomas Jefferson, one of the most accomplished Americans, encountered difficulties that stalled the early settler’s plans to establish wine-making grapes as a cash crop in the New World. These failures and other significant roadblocks never deterred the spirit of innovation and drive to make Virginia a successful wine country, but rather pushed the Virginia wine industry to try again each time.
Attempts by Colonial Cultivators
The early colonists came from England with a goal of finding new lands to plant cash crops, especially vines. Captain John Smith wrote about native vines in Virginia, saying that the plants were “in great abundance in many parts that climbe the toppes of the highest trees.” However, the early Virginia colonists soon discovered that these unfamiliar grapes created poor quality wine with an unpleasant taste compared to their European counterparts.
After giving up on utilizing Virginia’s native vines, the colonists decided to import a variety of French vines. In 1619, during the meeting of the first legislative assembly of the New World, the House of Burgesses passed Acte 12**, which required every male households in Virginia to plant ten vines of the imported vinifera grapes for the purpose of growing and making wine. One of the first settlers to follow, and even surpass, the requirements of the law, John Johnson, planted 85 acres on the land that is currently occupied by Williamsburg Winery. The vineyard recognizes the history of the region with their Acte 12 Chardonnay, a popular vintage for the winery. Several laws over the following 50 years attempted to coerce settlers into the cultivation of vineyards, but none were successful in the long run.
European Winemakers Try Their Hand at Virginia Soil
After a century of failed attempts by colonists to produce quality wine from native grapes, the General Assembly commissioned Frenchman Andrew Estave in 1770, naming him the official winemaker and viticulturist for Virginia. Estave studied the soil in Virginia for two years before he began planting 100 acres of the European vine, vitus vinifera at Jockey’s Neck outside of Williamsburg (this farm became the Williamsburg Winery in 1983, when the Duffeler family purchased and developed the land to restore it to its former purpose). Like the colonists before him, Estave’s efforts failed too – he believed because the vines were too fragile for the Virginia climate. Virginians were actually importing more wine during this period—the opposite of what England had intended when settling the colonies.
Thomas Jefferson’s Lifetime Pursuit of the Perfect Wines
Thomas Jefferson, noted as America’s first wine connoisseur, was passionate about making Virginia a great wine-growing state. Along with George Washington, George Mason, and approximately 25 other early influential leaders, Jefferson started the Virginia Wine Company, whose aim was to finally establish vineyards as a cash crop in the state. But while Andrew Estave dealt with the vine crop failures on the eastern side of the state, Jefferson began experiencing his own frustrations with viticulture.
In 1773, he gave 2,000 acres of land adjacent to his home at Monticello to Italian viticulturist, Filippo Mazzei, and worked with him to plant the European Vitis vinifera vines. After careful study and research, they found some early success in their cultivation efforts, but this positive turn was unfortunately short-lived. Although there is some disagreement in the Virginia history community whether it was the start of the American Revolution or an infestation of pests, the vines were wiped out once again by misfortune. Today, you can still visit the grounds where Jefferson and Mazzei attempted to grow the vines, which are now home to the aptly named Jefferson Vineyards.
Jefferson’s failure to establish a successful vineyard did not discourage his passion for wine. In 1801, he was elected president and is said to have spent $10,000 on wine during his administration, considered a vast fortune in that time. He continued to persevere, pursuing his passion to see Virginia wines becomes successful. While his own personal crops did not find success, the influence and tenacity he brought to Virginia viticulture helped the winemaking industry gain momentum and recognition.
Norton’s Hope for the Virginia Wine Industry
In 1817, Dr. Daniel N. Norton of Richmond began developing his own grape that joined the Virginia-native Vitis aestivalis vine with common European grape varieties. Although there is a lot of mystery surrounding the process and origin of his vines, the resulting hybrid grape was resilient against common North American pests, survived Virginia’s climate zone, and produced high-quality, dry table wine with intense flavors.
In fact, a Norton red wine bottled by the Monticello Wine Company received an international award at the Vienna World’s Fair in 1873 and by 1890, Virginia was producing 461,000 gallons of wine, making us the 5th largest wine producer of the period.
But just as winemakers like Norton found initial success, several pivotal and successive events in American history halted the progress of the Virginia wine industry: The Civil War, Prohibition, and then the Great Depression. By the time the 1930’s ended, all of Norton’s vines had been destroyed to comply with Prohibition laws, and the lack of funding during Great Depression halted any progress made.
From Italy, With LOVE: How Wine Entrepreneurs Persevere
It wasn’t until the 1960s that Virginia saw a renewed interest in winemaking. In 1976, Italian winemaker Gianni Zonin decided to expand his wine business internationally, purchasing a parcel of land near Charlottesville. The Zonin family has been making wine since 1821 and is famous in Europe for their winemaking ability, owning the largest private vine growing company in Italy.
Gianni Zonin sent his family’s vineyard manager, Gabriele Rausse, to Virginia to grow European grapes, just as many had attempted before him. But unlike the early colonists, 18th century European winemakers, and American Forefather Thomas Jefferson, Rausse astoundingly found great success, becoming the first to successfully plant Vitis vinifera in Virginia, creating what is now known as Barboursville Vineyards.
Instead of keeping his newfound industry secrets on establishing vines in Virginia to himself, Rausse consulted with many other winery start-ups to share his knowledge and expertise, allowing for the continued growth and success of Virginia viticulture. In 1980, the number of wineries in Virginia grew to six, then 26 in 1995, 107 in 2005, and today, over 280 total wineries throughout the state. Rausse now works as Monticello’s director of gardens and grounds, and because of his impressive achievements in winemaking, he is known as, “The Father of the Modern Virginia Wine Industry.”
Virginia’s 280+ wineries are spread all across the state, from the coastal plains to the Appalachian Mountains. The widespread presence of wineries around the Commonwealth is an ode to the many Virginians before who dreamt of the success the industry has found today. Discover a few of these wineries on your next vacation and learn why Virginia is for Wine Lovers!
This post has been updated
Wine consumption is up among millennials, but you couldn’t tell from the way it’s being advertised.
Marketed around tasting notes and points, instead of any sense of fun, wine is still perceived as intimidating. Grape varieties, regions and industry terms can be hard to grasp. To make it more approachable, we should meet the new wine drinkers, millennials and Generation Z, where they are: on such platforms as TikTok and Snapchat, and apps such as Vivino.
Millennials drink wine, but their approach is vastly different than previous generations, who chose bottles based on various publications and their scoring systems. Millennials use technology and social media as their first resource for discovering wines; Vivino, for instance, is the most-used wine app in the world with more than 47 million users. Instead of judging what they drink, the wine world should try to understand what they do and don’t like about the industry. After working in retail over the past few years, and interacting with plenty of young people along the way, here’s what I’ve learned.
Generally speaking, millennials think of wine as a social drink, a connector that is meant to be shared. They look at wine as entertaining and engaging. While the industry frets about losing young drinkers to hard seltzer, the seltzer companies do a much better job of marketing to millennials and Gen-Z drinkers.
The industry mistakenly assumes that millennials have chosen beer, hard seltzer or other low-alcohol beverages over wine. Meanwhile, millennials indicate to me that hard seltzer and wine can coexist; why should they have to choose?
One interesting lesson may lie with the natural-wine movement. Many winemakers, sommeliers and media dismiss it as an excuse to make faulty wines. Whether the juice in the bottle is good or bad is a different story, but the natural-wine community has embraced hip labels and interesting techniques, and has marketed itself as easygoing and approachable, thus drawing the interest of millennials.
Reggie Leonard, 35, associate director for career connections and community engagement at University of Virginia, remembers the moment he got bitten by the wine bug. “The thing that made it all click was when I watched Action Bronson tasting natural wines in France on YouTube,” Leonard said. “I had never seen wines with those colors, and had no idea there could be so much variety and so much fun with wine. I loved how much Action and the fellas were in the streets of Paris, drinking something traditionally relegated to white linen-lined tables on a sidewalk, in shorts and a T-shirt.”
That weekend, Leonard got a bottle of 2015 Frank Cornelissen Munjebel.
“I had instantly gone from $6 Carmenere at Trader Joe’s to a $55 bottle of natural wine grown on the side of Mount Etna in 20 minutes, and have been diving deeper down the wine rabbit hole ever since,” he said.
Victoria Principato, 24, a research analyst who created the podcast Yuptown, worked at Wardman Wines while in college. “I didn’t know much about wine . . . so obviously I wasn’t buying the good stuff,” Principato said. “I think I had this vision that . . . [wine] had to be expensive to be good. I just kind of felt intimidated. I learned it is a communal experience and can be accessible. I learned there is not only one lens to see wine through.”
Wine sales were down in 2019, but according to a recent study in Wine Business Monthly, consumption has increased during the pandemic, and the rise in virtual wine tastings has been a much-needed way to connect. That might be one of the keys to making wine more accessible and relatable. We can enjoy all the nuances in a glass, the exploration of terroir to palate, and the sharing of wine even if it is on a Zoom call. We can showcase untraditional pairings, such as champagne and ramen. And if we want wine to continue to be relevant, the industry needs to connect to consumers’ emotions, one glass at a time.
Here are suggestions for a few bottles to share and enjoy — socially distanced, of course.
Treveri Cellars ‘Blanc de Blancs’ Brut (Yakima Valley, Wapato, Wash., $17)
Bubbles, such as this Chardonnay sparkler, bring the party. Sparkling wine is often treated as if it’s not wine, but it pairs well with a multitude of foods and shouldn’t be relegated only to celebrations, even if celebrations look different these days. Alcohol by volume: 12 percent.
Ovum Big Salt 2018 (Willamette Valley, Newberg, Ore., $20)
The wine world loves the word quaffable, and this blend of Riesling, Gewurztraminer and more is exactly that: refreshing, salty and great year-round. It works for happy hour and the main course. Buy two bottles, because you don’t want to be without it. ABV: 12.5 percent.
Old Westminster Carbonic (Westminster, Md., $10)
Wine in a can. Yes. Good wine comes in different containers, and the carbonic process makes this cabernet franc interesting without being complex. ABV: 12.1 percent.
Salvatore Martusciello Ottouve Gragnano della Penisola Sorrentina (Campania, Italy, $16)
This sparkling red, a blend of Aglianico and Piedirosso grapes, has been popular over the past few years, and I understand why. It’s fun, it’s approachable, and it’s delicious. It’s perfect for pizza or truffled mac and cheese. ABV: 11.5 percent.
A previous version of this article included an incorrect name for the Salvatore Martusciello Ottouve Gragnano della Penisola Sorrentina. This version has been corrected.
© Halcón Vineyards
| The mountaintop appealed to the Gordons when they were looking to start out winemaking.
A UK couple are pushing the envelope on a California mountaintop, making a very different style of wine.
By W. Blake Gray | Posted Tuesday, 24-Nov-2020
This is the best type of wine story: I discovered some fantastic wines. The story behind them is interesting, they’re world-class in the glass AND they’re not too expensive.
Gordon claims the climate and soil for his vineyard in California’s Mendocino County are nearly identical to those of Côte Rôtie. The wines taste like it. This is Syrah as you rarely find it anywhere else: aromatic, floral, light-bodied but full-flavored, with notes both pretty and feral that keep bringing you back to the glass.
Yet here is a sign that it’s still difficult to sell great Syrah in the United States. Halcón, which is basically a two-person operation, only makes 500 to 600 cases of Syrah a year, and Gordon actually exports some of that to Europe because people who tasted the wine asked him to send it and Americans aren’t queueing up to buy them. These are wines for the Europhile palate, and anybody else who likes truly cool-climate Syrah.
“I believe grapes should be grown on the edge of their viability,” Gordon told Wine-Searcher. “You wouldn’t see us buying fruit from Lodi and picking in July. That’s not our style. The French learned some things over the centuries from planting on the edge. And we truly are the edge. Except in ’16, since 2015 ([Côte-Rôtie has] been distinctively warmer than us. I’ve been telling people that if you want cool-climate Syrah, you should come to us rather than the northern Rhone because we’re cooler.”
The Halcón property is in the Yorkville Highlands AVA about 750 meters above sea level near Anderson Valley. Anderson Valley is known for being cool-climate Pinot Noir terroir. Now drive uphill for 20 minutes.
After multiple switchbacks, you arrive at a windswept ranch with thin soils. Sometimes it feels warmer at night than during the day because it’s above the fog line. During the day, wear a warm jacket, even mid-summer.
Gordon and his wife Jackie found the place while looking at properties in Anderson Valley. They’re both originally from the UK, but moved separately to Silicon Valley; they met online while both were in California. He works in tech; she works in real estate. They still have their day jobs because so far making world-class Syrah isn’t profitable.
“All techies migrate here eventually,” Gordon said. “Like many people you get sucked into the food and wine culture. We’ve got such good examples of both. We had some wine growing up. We used to go to northern France for vacations, like in the Loire, for example. There was wine around, but liking cooler-climate wines was a preference from being here. Just a palate preference. I liked what Wells Guthrie was doing with Copain and Ted Lemon from Littorai. I was buying wine from them. I gravitated toward the Anderson Valley area. I had this romantic notion of planting a vineyard and making wine.”
Gordon looked in Anderson Valley itself but he liked the ridgetop property high above it. The previous owner hadn’t planted grapevines, perhaps daunted by the financial challenge, but had done soil studies. The Gordons bought it in 2004. They considered planting Pinot Noir, but decided the variety wasn’t tough enough for the site.
“We recognized early that we needed some vigorous plants to survive in this environment: very windy, very thin soils,” Gordon said. “We’re struggling to get more than a ton per acre from Syrah from some parts. God knows what we’d have got from Pinot. It is financially challenging and has been. They say give it 10 years. It’s really on the edge. I read about people talking about thin soils and think, they haven’t seen what we have.”
© Halcón Vineyards
| Life above the fog line is at the edge of what grapevines can cope with.
This is why I told Gordon he’s not charging enough for these wines. The yields are small enough that his business may not be sustainable at retail prices under $40, which is where they are right now. This made me wonder about Gordon’s tech career earnings.
“I never had that home run, but definitely made a little bit of money in the late ’90s,” Gordon said. “It paid for the vineyard. I worked for a company that did cable modems that got acquired. My specialty is telecoms. I’ve done cable modems. I ended up as CEO of a company called SkyPilot for a while.” He currently works at a larger tech firm and is glad about it, because startups wouldn’t allow him weekends off.
“We do about a third of the pruning ourselves. So we’re there every weekend,” Gordon said. “We bring the crew in after us to do the other two-thirds. They typically want to leave too much because they are used to the valley floor. If we leave too much we’ll end up with unripe fruit.”
Dancing on the edge
In fact, the Gordons seem to enjoy flirting with unripe fruit. In addition to Syrah, they have planted some Mourvèdre, a heat-loving vine from the southern Rhône; they claim theirs is the coolest Mourvèdre vineyard in the world. I can’t verify that but I can say, as a Mourvèdre fan, that I’ve never seen a modern one before with less than 13 percent alcohol. And to be honest, I’m not really sure how I feel about Halcón Mourvèdre. I openly love the Syrahs and cannot recommend them highly enough. Their Grenache-Mourvèdre-Syrah from estate fruit is OK.
Their Pinot Noir and Petite Sirah, both from purchased fruit, are delicious and interesting and of a type with the Syrahs: leaner, more aromatic, grown in places where ripening the varieties is not a given.
“We couldn’t ripen Petite [Sirah],” Gordon said. “It wouldn’t work so we buy it from a vineyard that’s a little further inland. We buy our Pinot from Oppenlander Vineyard, which is close to the town of Mendocino [to non-Californians: the town of Mendocino is on the Pacific Ocean and it’s very chilly; Anderson Valley is comparatively a hotspot]. It’s a very cold location. Oppenlander is a little cooler than our vineyard. Before we had been buying Pinot from a valley floor location but it didn’t fit with what we were doing at our site.”
Mourvèdre, in addition to being heat-loving, is a very late-ripening grape. Gordon says they can ripen it because the rainy season in northern California doesn’t start until mid-November.
“We keep it very small and we pick it very late,” Gordon said. “That’s how we can get it ripe. We get a lot of benefit from plants shutting down for the year. Your color increases, the seeds harden, and you get stems starting to really ripen and also harden.”
But that Mourvèdre – is it good? Is it weird? Both? It smells of citrus fruit, black fruit and pepper. It’s light and lively on the palate, mostly red fruit, with nice acidity. It doesn’t seem to have the brooding darkness that Mourvèdre usually brings to a wine. It’s a very different take, and I didn’t know how to react to it. Fortunately I’m apparently in good company, as Gordon said Jancis Robinson told him she “had a hard time getting her head around it”.
The Gordons had a consulting winemaker for the first few vintages but now Jackie makes the wine.
“We follow a really light touch,” Paul Gordon said. “We don’t inoculate. We try to avoid any adjustments we can but we’re not religious in that respect. If it takes a little acid adjustment we will do it, to make a solid stable wine. We follow a low sulfur regime. We’re happy to let things go without sulfur. We’re high-risk people.”
If you like cool-climate Syrah, their risk is your gain.
Wines from grapes are popular but what about wines made from other fruits or even flowers?
Wine prepared from different kinds of fruits available all year long is a part of Kodava heritage. Believed to be introduced by the British, this tradition is generally passed down from one generation to the next.
“Kodavas have traditionally been making wine and other types of fermented beverages. I remember my grandmother, father and uncle making wine in their free time and they would often experiment with the ingredients and the process,” says Cheppudira Gita Chengappa, who learnt to make wine from her grandaunt’s recipe book on traditional Kodava dishes.
Earlier, Kodavas would make wine for home consumption. But with a drop in revenue from coffee and pepper plantations in recent years, many women have taken up winemaking professionally to supplement the family income.
The growth of tourism and the consequent mushrooming of home-stays also boosted the demand for homemade wines. The demand for homemade wines has remained steady even during the pandemic.
The fruits used for wines change depending on the season. It is grapes in January, oranges in February and March, pineapples in April and May. The plums that grow in the rainy season are used to make brandy.
Winemaking comprises three stages: fermentation (when the fruits are allowed to ferment), maturation (the period after fermentation and before bottling, when the wine is filtered and stirred) and ageing (after the wine is bottled).
Though wine becomes ready for consumption in a month or two, allowing it to age a little makes it taste better.
“Wines achieve the right flavour and taste best after six months,” says Machimada Manjula Madappa, a winemaker.
For Mookonda Rozy, it was the appreciation she received for her first batch of wine that made her take it up professionally. She now makes over 500 bottles of wine in a year.
Apart from the traditional grape wine, Rozy makes wine from pineapple, kiwi, bird’s eye chilli, star apples, betel leaves, dates, hibiscus, rose and shanka pushpa (blue pea) etc. Her Irish coffee wine is quite popular, which she sells at Rs 800 a bottle.
While many women individually prepare wine at their homes and get orders by word of mouth, government organisations such as the National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development (NABARD) help them form clusters, provide capital and help market their products.
One such cluster is Kodagu’s ‘Nature’s Best Food Cluster’ formed under Madikeri and Virajpet Taluk Organic Producers’ Organisation.
“Within the cluster, groups of 10 to 15 women are formed. Each group is engaged in a particular activity such as making wines, snacks, chocolates, jellies, cakes, etc. Their products are sold under the Flavour label in NABARD’s Rural Marts,” says Mundanda Nanaiah, former Kodagu District Development Manager of NABARD, who was instrumental in establishing the cluster.
“Our wines are purchased by tourists as well as for functions. We sell around 60 bottles a month,” says Vilina Kariappa, who is part of the winemaking group.
So next time you visit Kodagu, do try these unique blends.
As “clean wine” continues its upward trajectory, natural winemakers say they’re being pushed out of a movement that they started. The Goop-esque term, which describes a minimally processed vino, usually hawked by “people in dresses standing in a field,” and, um, Cameron Diaz, isn’t regulated (also see: food). And that’s doing damage to the people who’ve made it their life’s work to sell wine with fewer preservatives and additives. “Making wine is really dirty and mechanical,” winemaker Megan Bell tells Food & Wine. In other words? There’s nothing natural about being clean.
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The New York sommelier’s wines are shipped around the world
by: Ken Boddie and KOIN 6 News Staff
Posted: / Updated:
PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — Several African-Americans have made their way to the top of the wine-making world, including a New Yorker who has established perhaps the largest Black-owned wine brand in America. And his wines are made in Oregon.
André Hueston Mack of Maison Noir Wines is living his legacy: creating wines for the masses and leading the way for African-Americans in the wine industry.
“Everybody should enjoy wine. It’s not reserved for just the elite,” Mack said.
Maison Noir Wines have a different flavor, literally and figuratively. There’s the “Knock on Wood Chardonnay,” “Love Drunk” rosé, “Bottom’s Up” white table wine and “Other People’s Pinot Noir” to name just a few.
“I grew up on hip hop, skateboarding, punk rock and being able to put all those things — infuse them together — you know, makes it very enjoyable for me,” said Mack.
Mack was raised in Trenton, New Jersey, and eventually made his way into the world of finance at Citicorp. But he wasn’t satisfied.
“I became really immersed in wine and started studying and kind of worked very hard toward the title of being a sommelier,” said Mack. He said his love of wine was originally ignited by the TV sitcom “Frasier” and the character’s knowledge and appreciation of fine wine.
Mack became one of the top sommeliers in America, first at Chef Thomas Keller’s world-famous French Laundry restaurant in Napa Valley, then at Per Se in New York.
“And you know, just to have the audacity to quit one of the top five jobs in the world as a sommelier to say that I’m going to hop on the other side and start making wine — you know, a lot of people weren’t doing that,” said Mack.
-Especially African-Americans in a mostly white industry.
“I think people are used to it now and there’s a lot more diversity,” Mack said. “We have a long way to go but the industry’s really opening up.”
André Mack’s New York state of wine extends all the way across the country. His wines are produced in Oregon’s Willamette Valley — an area regarded as one of America’s premier wine-making regions.
“Some of my favorite pinot noirs domestically came from the Willamette Valley in Oregon,” said Mack.
Mouton Noir, or “Black Sheep” wines started in 2007. Now named Maison Noir, or “Black House,” they are shipped to nearly every state and throughout the world and are especially popular in Sweden and Southeast Asia.
Mack’s wines — and shrewd use of social media — have drawn the attention of sports teams and major corporations including Cadillac and Microsoft. He’s an author and a self-taught graphic designer who started a streetwear company even before the debut of his wines. Mack owns a wine shop, a ham and charcuterie bar and a bakery — all near his home in Brooklyn.
Mack is focused on his current path.
“I’m just in a space where I want to build things and create stuff,” he said.
| There are plenty of women in the wine industry, but much fewer at the gatekeeper level.
One of the things about defending the old, white, male demographic is how routinely hard we make it for ourselves (although I’m not old, I keep telling myself).
Five days ago, halfway through reading “The problem with the old white men of wine” piece by French bloggeur Antonin Iommi-Amunategui, the critical faculties began to kick in. Doubtless, the French wine industry is ruled by a clique of paunchy, reactionary, harrumphing Caucasians, but to hang a bunch of hang-ups and generalizations on the back of one poor-taste drawing is a bit much, isn’t it?
Sure, these guys (including top French wine critic Michel Bettane) might have sent some pretty rude, colourful texts to women in the wine trade but we were missing context, weren’t we? And, just like that, I was defending institutional power.
But what if Iommi-Amunategui was right? How would we know? How do we make the powerful justify themselves? Well, with quite a lot of pain. But there comes a point where the onus shifts onto those in power to make their case. Because it’s not just France is it? Look at the Court of Master Sommeliers’ implosion, for instance.
Even if you don’t like a wine, how many times have you thought it was okay to attack someone’s choice of career, in person, via email? I’m reasonably confident I don’t need to explain how entitled this is.
The story made it to the national news, which called it a “critique”, which is nonsense (one even called it “a review”, which is just laughable). Emailing a wine producer to abuse them is no more a critique than forced emasculation is a “therapy”.The only sections of his message pertaining to the wine were “this is the worst Pinot Noir I’ve tried in years … the wine I tried was disgusting”. The rest can be summed up thus: “stop making wine; don’t you know who I am?”
“Critique”? One of the things Jim Harre will have noticed about his really negative critiques in wine competitions is that they don’t get published. We all make noises about the “vin de merde” case that came up about 20 years ago, but the truth is wine critics aren’t really that biting anymore. Go do it: go find an excoriating tasting note published by an international publication. Good luck.
And sure, there’s a lot to be said in support of impulsive, righteous anger, but I don’t think you get to use that defence when you are a self-professed international wine judge, someone who heads up an industry. Is this how Harre regularly judges wine?
Is it that this was just a soft, easy target? A natural wine, a small producer, a woman, etc. That really tells us a lot about established wine judges, doesn’t it? The minorities, the different, the new, the small, the underrepresented or the misunderstood: they’re fair game to give a playful kick in the guts to if you’re an international wine judge of some repute. You can’t claim to be a gruff, straight-shooter when you’re kicking the small guy. That really is some very small-dick energy.
What’s worse is that this is greeted by silence, either out of fear or acquiescence or even implicit support. Think of the Court of Master Sommeliers saga again or the sexual abuse scandals in Canada and France – how many people spoke out? How many people had to have known – even by rumor? How long did it go on? There’s no doubt it’s hard to speak out against the powerful, especially in such a small industry as ours – and even more so for the victims – but everyone else?
Well, let’s be honest: a lot of people are scared to speak out, scared simply to voice an opinion about those in positions of power for the very real fear that there will be repercussions. Powerful people are powerful because of institutions. They can leverage institutions, they can leverage whole sectors of the wine industry against you. Or they can threaten to do so, which is just as bad.
So what should have happened? Well Harre should have apologized. He hasn’t and, in New Zealand at least, New World supermarkets (for whom he is a chair of their wine awards) is standing by him. I don’t know what their policy on institutional bullying is, but given they are defending their man’s abusive screed, you’d be forgiven for wondering if they hadn’t concocted the whole episode together in a bid to get some publicity. After all, it’s unlikely small-scale natural winemakers are going to enter supermarket wine awards, so it would have been a relatively safe tactic. Sure, if any young, natural winemaker was tempted to have a shot at a gold medal, they’ll think twice now. So no, the status quo will do nicely, thanks.
Further to the notion of this being some hateful stunt is the wine in question. A 2018 Pinot Noir Nouveau. What was the expected flavor profile here? Something akin to a Volnay Santenots? A lesser Clos Saint-Jacques just getting over the initial bottle shock? Here’s a headline: “Nouveau-style wine doesn’t age well, according to international wine judge.” Well, there’s an earth-shattering insight. How many years on the international circuit do you have to have before you start pulling those bunnies out of hats?
And it is on these grounds that a winemaker should seek other employment? You can’t libel yourself, but what was said harmed the winemaker’s professional reputation and that, in a fair few countries, is libellous. You can have a “vin de merde”, you cannot have a “vigneron de merde”. Harre can say what he likes about the wine, but he can’t call into question the ability of the winemaker. If his puerile note had been published by anyone other than the recipient, I think it’s fair to say lawyers could have been invoked. Maybe some old white men can check this with their friends in the legal profession?
And now, you see, I slip into the stereotype of a certain old, white male. It’s not all old white men, says Iommi-Amunategui at the start of his piece. But how do we know?
So there is a danger that we might fall into a stereotype (if we haven’t already) of the old, white man in a position of power in the wine industry. A stereotype that comes close to being deserved. So I think it’s vital, now, to break up this demographic. It is a demographic I will soon join, and I have no desire to blamed for, or to allow, the sins of my fathers.
There are two avenues here. One is to ramp up the call to embrace more people of colour, more women, more minorities, more LGBTQI representation, and so on in areas of power. The other is to ask if these powerful institutions themselves are even necessary in their current iteration.
As it stands, getting to be an international wine judge is a privilege and a responsibility – it does not entitle anyone to demand someone’s head on a platter just on a whim.