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Metekhi Cathedral

Today Jim Laughren, CWE brings us a preview of a session to be presented at SWE’s 43rd Annual Conference, to be held on August 14th through 16th in Washington, DC. Read on as Jim tells us about the land (and wines) of the Republic of Georgia.

There is a land far, far away, nestled in the bosom of mountains high and rugged.  A land connecting kingdoms and nations east and west, it’s valleys once a crossroads of ancient trade routes. Hawks soar among the snow-capped peaks, and crystalline waters tumble and swirl through channels of rock and stone. A land whose hillsides are covered with vines and whose people are both warm and fierce. Silks and tapestries, sugar and spice, teas and porcelain and gold and ivory for countless centuries passed along its roads and rivers, wending in caravans from village to village.

Batumi (Adjara), Georgia

There is a land far, far away, coveted by many, its position well placed, home to a proud and spirit-filled people. A land invaded countless times, by kings and potentates, by czars and chieftains, by shahs and sheiks and sultans, a land that has been ruled by many even while those born to it planned and fought and strove to throw off the unwelcome yokes of conquest. A land where the earth is like unto a mother, the azure skies a cap of glory on high, hidden monasteries the custodians of faith and future.

There is a land far, far away, called after the sixth generation of Noah, a land old and beloved to its own long even before the days of Mesopotamia, before the ziggurats of Eridu, before Pharaoh walked the banks of the Nile, a land of small shelters and peaceful villages, a land where wine was made within the embrace of the earth, stored and shared much as it is today. A land whose people would be welcomed and greeted afar, for they carried with them the secret of wine, of nurturing the vineyards and bringing forth the magical drink.

Holy Trinity Cathedral of Tbilisi

You are welcome to join us as we explore this special land and its many gifts. You are welcome to taste the wines, made as they have been for millennia, from grapes with names unknown to most, with flavors most intriguing, and perhaps, if we are fortunate, with the same joy and appreciation as the defenders of this land, the creators of ghvino themselves feel towards this everlasting gift.

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Jim’s session—Georgia on my Mind—will be held on Friday, August 16 (2019) at 4:45 pm as part of the Society of Wine Educators’ 43rd Annual Conference, to be held in Washington DC.

About the speaker: Jim Laughren, CWE, is a wine writer and educator, a former importer and distributor, and the author of “50 Ways to Love Wine More: Adventures in Wine Appreciation” and “A Beer Drinker’s Guide to Knowing and Enjoying Fine Wine.” He has recently returned from what he terms a “pilgrimage” to the Republic of Georgia and will be sharing impressions, photographs, and, of course, wines from his visit. On August 15th, from 6:30 to 7:30 pm he will also be appearing at Kramerbooks, 1517 Connecticut Ave NW, Washington DC for a signing of “50 Ways to Love Wine More.”

Are you a conference speaker that would like to provide a preview of your session? Contact Jane A. Nickles at jnickles@societyofwineeducators.org

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Boot Camp. It’s the perfect way to describe the 9-hour day in store for those Certified Wine Educator (CWE) aspirants who have signed up for the Pre-Conference session that is (officially) known as the “CWE Preview.”

According to its creator, Jane Nickles, the CWE Boot Camp/Preview does not cover a huge amount of what she calls “facts and figures, names and dates, grapes and places.” These types of things, she believes, are better off learned in long-term, “quiet-time” study sessions with books, notepads, websites, and flashcards.

Instead, the jam-packed day will entail getting up and moving about, mocking the faults, essay domination, and something she calls “Speed Dating for Wine.”

The day begins with a one-hour session called “Wrangling Resources.” This section, focused on study skills, is designed to prepare candidates to make the best use of their study time by using the proper study techniques and the proper study materials. Also included is a discussion of test-taking skills and strategies for multiple-choice exams.

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Next up is what Jane calls “Breaking Bad.” This is an up-close and personal experience with wine faults. Attendees will get to know each wine fault in the CWE exam’s line-up by learning how the faults arise, how they can (potentially) be cured or avoided, and most importantly—what they look, smell, and (for the brave) taste like in an affected wine.

Following this section (and right before lunch), the candidates will be able to “Mock the Faults” by participating in a practice exam mimicking the actual CWE Faults and Imbalances exam.

After lunch the seminar will focus on the dreaded essay exam. In a session called “Five Easy Steps to Essay Dominance,” candidates will learn to pick the best essay question to attack, and create a sample essay outline using a 5-step method of essay design.

The next portion of the day begins with “Speed Dating for Wine.” The class will divide into small groups and while seated at small round tables, will learn to quickly analyze and spot the identifying features of 24 different iconic wines (divided into 4 flights of 6 wines each).  A previous participant says that this session could be titled “So, tell me what makes you special, Ms. Merlot.”

The day will wrap up with two “Test Flights.” These test flights are practice exams mimicking the Varietal/Appellation Identification test portion of the CWE exam.

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The CWE Preview will be held on Monday, August 12, 2019 as part of the Pre-Conference activities at SWE’s 42ndAnnual Conference, to be held at the lovely Mayflower Hotel (1127 Connecticut Ave NW) in Washington, DC.

The CWE Preview may be purchased on the SWE website catalog and store.

Attendees will want to read through the CWE Candidate Manual before attending Boot Camp. (The CWE Candidate Manual may be purchased via Amazon.com-the cost is $49). Bootcamp attendees will received a 90-page session notebook that includes lecture notes, tasting templates, and essay exercises for use during the workshop—as well as an 85-item sample CWE multiple-choice exam.

Session leader Jane A. Nickles currently serves as SWE’s Director of Education and Certification and is the 2012 Banfi Award Winner for the highest annual score on the CWE Exam.

For more information, please contact Jane Nickles – jnickles@societyofwineeducators.org

To read a first-person account of the 2017 Boot Camp (written by an attendee) click here. 

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The European Alps—stretching from France, Italy, and Switzerland through Germany and Austria and Slovenia—contain within them a diverse series of ecosystems. These include the Alpine lowlands—rich with deciduous trees and ideal for farming and vineyards. Higher up, the area is known for conifer forests of fir, spruce, and pine. Above the tree line, the valleys explode with the plants of the Alpine meadows: herbs, grasses, wildflowers, and shrubs.

The bounty of the Alps is reflected in the wine, food, and spirits of the region. These include:

  • Absinthe: The first-ever Absinthe Distillery was opened in 1797 by Henri-Louis Pernod in the Swiss town of Couvet [now part of Val-de-Travers])
  • Vermouth: The town of Chambéry, located in the Alps of Eastern France, has long been a center of vermouth production and is now home to several brands of vermouth including Dolin, Routin, and C. Cosmoz.
  • The wines of the Alps, which include those produced in the French regions of Jura and Savoie and Italy’s Val d’Aosta.
  • The wines of Switzerland, which include some fascinatingly obscure wines produced from the native grapes of region—which include Chasselas, Amigne of Vétroz, and Cornalin du Valais.
  • Botanical liqueurs: A range of fascinating and historic botanical liqueurs that includes Chartreuse, Génépy des Alpes, and Bonal.
  • Cheese: The legendary dairy farms of the Alps produce a range of cheeses that includes Emmental, Gruyère, Appenzeller, Comté, Abondance, and Fontina Val D’Aosta (as well as fondue and raclette).

Photo by Moroder (derivative work) via Wikimedia Commons

And then there’s Zirbenz, known as the Stone Pine Liqueur of the Alps. Zirbenz is a sweet, slightly bitter, fruity, and resinous liqueur flavored with the immature fruit (cones) of the Zirbelkiefer tree (also known as the Arolla Stone Pine Tree). The Arolla Stone Pine grows in the Alps and Carpathian Mountains of central Europe, and can thrive at elevations up to 2,300 meters (7,500 ft) above sea level.

Zirbenz is produced at the Josef Hofer Distillery in Steiermark (Styria), Austria. After the unopened (immature) cones of the trees are harvested, they are sliced open and macerated in a base spirit. This provides the liqueur with its natural earthy-red color and its slightly bitter, tannic finish. It’s something you have to experience to believe.

If you’d like to learn more about Zirbenz as well as many other wines and spirits of the Alps, join us for our members-only summit, “Alpine Trek,” to be held  online on Saturday, May 25th beginning at 10:00 am central time. Click here for more information on “Alpine Trek.”

References/for further learning:

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Big news! After years of parliamentary debate, the new spirits regulations of the EU—known as the rules regarding the “Scope, Definition, and Categories” of Spirits Drinks—has been published in the Official Journal of the European Union (May 17, 2019). These new rules will apply beginning on January 1, 2020.

The most interesting updates (imho) are those that implement some limits on the inclusion of sugar or other sweeteners. For instance:

  • Vodka “may be sweetened in order to round off the final taste. However, the final product may not contain more than 8 grams of sweetening products per litre.”
  • Rum “Rum may be sweetened in order to round off the final taste. However, the final product may not contain more than 20 grams of sweetening products per litre.”
  • Whisky (whiskey) was never allowed to contain sweeteners under the EU laws, however, the new regulation states it quite clearly: “Whisky or whiskey shall not be sweetened, even for rounding off the taste, or flavoured, or contain any additives other than plain caramel used for adjusting the colour.”

The new laws also provide the following definition of “single malt” whisky: “The legal name of ‘whisky’ or ‘whiskey’ may be supplemented by the term ‘single malt’ only if it has been distilled exclusively from malted barley at a single distillery.”

In addition, under the new regulations, there will be 44 categories of EU spirits. (Under the previous regulations, there were 46.) The changes to the categories include the following:

  • Category 13: The name “Bierbrand or eau de vie de bière” has been updated to read “Beer Spirit”
  • Category 28: The spirit known as “Anis” may also be known as “janeževec”
  • Category 32: A category for “Sloe-aromatised spirit drink” or “Pacharán” has been added
  • The separate category for Crème de cassis has been eliminated, but the product has been added to the discussion of Category 14 “Crème de (supplemented by the name of a fruit or other raw material used)”
  • The separate product categories for Guignolet and Punch au rhum have been eliminated, but definitions for these products have been added to the category of liqueurs (category 33)

The following specific rules are also noted:

  • Rum-Verschnitt is a product of Germany made by mixing rum with neutral spirits.
  • Slivovice, produced in Czechia, is a blend of plum spirit (plum brandy) and neutral spirits.
  • Guignolet Kirsch, produced in France, is a mixture of guignolet and kirsch.

These laws do not change the current geographical indications of any spirits; all PGI- and AOC-designated spirits remain as such.

It will be fascinating to see how these new rules affect the spirit drinks we know and love!

If you are so inclined, you may read all 127 pages of the new regulations here: New Spirits Drinks Regulations EU May 2019

Post authored by Jane A. Nickles, your blog administrator

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Deep Roots Winery – photo via the Naramata Bench Wineries Association

On May 13, 2019, the British Columbia Vintners Quality Alliance announced the approval and registration of two new geographical indications—Naramata Bench and Skaha Bench. Both of these areas are contained within and considered to be sub-appellations of the larger Okanagan Valley GI—itself located in the Canadian province of British Columbia just north of the US border.

The new appellations were approved by the British Columbia Wine Authority in January 2019; at that time the proposals (recommendations) were sent to the Minister of Agriculture as required under British Columbia’s “Wines of Marked Quality” regulations; on May 13 the registrations were complete.

Here are some details concerning these new GIs:

Naramata Bench: The Naramata Bench GI occupies the bench lands located along the south and east side of Lake Okanagan, extending north from Penticton Creek to the edge of Okanagan Mountain Park.  The area consists of rolling hills and a diversity of soils that make for a range of microclimates; however, the area tends to be slightly warmer—and enjoys a longer growing period and more frost free days—than the surrounding areas.

There are more than 30 wineries located within the Naramata Bench GI, including Bella Wines (specializing in sparkling wines), D’Angelo Estate Winery, Deep Roots Winery, and Serendipity Winery. See the website of the Naramata Bench Winery Association for a complete list. The entirety of the Naramata Bench GI covers just under 3,650 hectares; of these, 250 hectares (620 acres) are currently planted to vine.  The leading grapes of the region include Merlot, Pinot Gris, Chardonnay, and Pinot Noir.

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Skaha Bench: The Skaha Bench GI is located entirely atop of—and named for—a geological terrace that runs alongside the eastern edge of Lake Skaha. The area, located to the east and south of the city of Penticton, consists mainly of west-facing slopes that allow for cool air to drain downward toward the lake shore. This makes the land atop the 10-kilometer-long (6.2-mile-long) Skaha Bench slightly warmer than most of the surrounding area.

Wineries located within the Skaha Bench GI include Black Dog Cellars, Blasted Church Vineyards, Crescent Hill  Winery, Painted Rock Estate Winery, and Pentâge Winery. The entirety of the Skaha Bench GI covers just under 365 hectares; of these, 75 hectares (185 acres) are currently planted to vine.

With the approval of the Naramata Bench and Skaha Bench GIs, the Okanagan Valley now contains four total sub-appellations, including the previously-approved Okanagan Falls (established in 2018) and Golden Mile (established in 2014) areas.

References/for further information:

Post authored by Jane A. Nickles – your blog administrator

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This Saturday—May 18, 2019 at 10:00 am central time—we are pleased to offer one of our most popular webinars: The Insider’s Guide to the CSW Exam—presented by Jane A. Nickles, CSE, CWE: If you are currently pursuing the Certified Specialist of Wine (CSW) Certification, or considering the CSW as your next stage of professional development, this session is for you! This one-hour, online workshop will cover all aspects of the CSW, including what the test covers, how difficult the test is, what type of questions to expect, the resources available to students, and how long SWE recommends for study before sitting the exam.

Login Instructions: At the appointed time, just click on this link: May 18, 2019 at 10:00 am central time—The Insider’s Guide to the CSW Exam. Link will go “live” a few hours before the scheduled date. There is no need to register in advance.

When the SWE Adobe Connect homepage appears, click on “enter as a guest,” type in your name, and click “enter room.” Remember that each session is limited to 100 attendees, and that several of our past sessions have reached capacity. We are hoping to avoid this issue in the future by offering more SWEbinars, but it is still a good idea to log on early!

  • There is no need for a dial-in number; audio will be available via the speakers on your computer or mobile device.
  • If you have never attended an Adobe Connect event before, it is also a good idea to test your connection ahead of time (just click on the link).
  • If you are having any trouble with your Adobe Connect connection, please see our SWEbinar Trouble-shooting page.

This SWEbinar is offered free-of-charge, and open to the public! This session should last for about one hour as a live, interactive event.

If you have any questions, please contact Jane Nickles: jnickles@societyofwineeducators.org

Click here for more information on the CSW.

Click here for the 2019-2020 SWEbinar Calendar

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Today we have a guest post from Kate Brandt. While Kate was a student in my CSW online prep class, she mentioned on our class forum that the winery where she worked—Ampelos Cellars—was the first vineyard in the US to be “triple certified” organic, biodynamic, and sustainable. I was fascinated by her story and asked if she would like to write a blog post about the company. Lucky for us, she agreed, and we are so thankful to have Kate tell us this fascinating tale!

The Story of Ampelos Cellars, by Kate Brandt

As a Navy Spouse, I have had the opportunity to travel all over the world and visit some amazing places.  While living in Italy, I visited a small, 7-generation, family owned, organically farmed vineyard.  It was there I had my ‘A-HA’ wine moment and knew I wanted to spend the rest of my life learning about wine. It wasn’t until eight years later, when our family was stationed at Vandenberg Air Force Base in Central California that I got that opportunity … when I started working for Ampelos Cellars.

Peter and Rebecca Wonk

Owned and operated by Peter and Rebecca Work, Ampelos Cellars is the first vineyard in the United States to be triple certified Organic (USDA CCOF Organic), Biodynamic (Demeter) and Sustainability in Practice (SIP).  Located in the beautiful Santa Rita Hills wine region, Ampelos Cellars focuses on creating minimally invasive wines that tell a fantastic story about the soil and vines, making it easy for the consumer to enjoy the wines while creating their own great memories and stories to tell.

Peter and Rebecca bought their property in 1999 for a future a retirement project.  What a great and romantic dream, to wake up in the morning and have coffee while watching their dogs run through the vines, right!?  Then, a series of cancelled meetings following the 9/11 World Trade Center attack had them thinking they were done with the corporate world.  They pushed up their retirement dream and started in making wine full time.  In 2001, they planted their first vines – Pinot Noir, Syrah, Grenache and Viognier.  In 2004, they harvested their first 15 acres, and, in 2006, they converted their vineyard to organic and biodynamic farming.  They achieved their SIP certification in 2008, and their organic and biodynamic certifications in 2009.

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But what do all these certifications mean to the world of wine?

Organic Farming: Simply put, the main concept of organic farming is zero impact on the environment.

Organic farming follows standards for the use of natural fertilizers such as compost manure and biological pest control such as ladybugs and chickens instead of synthetic pesticides.  Also, organic farming uses techniques such as crop rotation, cover cropping and reduced tillage. This exposes less carbon to the atmosphere resulting in more soil organic carbon.  All of these practices are aimed to protect the earth, thus feeding the soil to feed the plant.

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Biodynamic Farming: Biodynamic farming was originally introduced in 1924, when a group of European farmers approached Dr. Rudolf Steiner (noted scientist, philosopher, and founder of the Waldorf School) after noticing a rapid decline in seed fertility, crop vitality and animal health.

Quartz crystals are buried in female cow horns because they are made of silicon which add more nutrients to the soil

It was the first of the organic agricultural movements when an English Baron, Lord Northbourne, coined the term “organic farming”, and the concept of “farm as an organism” was adapted.  It has similar ideas to organic farming in that it practices soil fertility and plant growth. However, there is a larger emphasis on spiritual and mystical perspectives such as choosing when to plant, cultivate or harvest crops based on phases of the moon or zodiac calendar.

Some biodynamic compounds used include:

  • Cow manure sprayed in the soil — Stimulates soil structure, humus formation, bacteria, soil life, fungi and brings energy and vitality to the roots. This regulates levels of limestone and nitrogen in the soil and increases water holding capacity of the soil.
  • Silica (quartz crystals) sprayed on the foliage — Allows leaves, shoots and clusters to enhance their use of light and heat. It improves photosynthesis, and assists with the plants assimilation of atmospheric forces.
  • Yarrow added to the compost pile — Attracts trace elements of sulfur and potassium, aiding plant growth.

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Sustainability In Practice: While Organic Certification only addresses the prohibition of synthetic pesticides and fertilizers, SIP addresses the whole farm by looking at how the farmer gives back to the community, environment and business.  The main goal is to help ensure both natural and human resources are protected.

There are 10 areas of SIP practices. Examples include:

  • Conservation and Enhancement of Biological Diversity — enhances and protects a biologically diverse agricultural ecosystem while maintaining productive vineyards.
  • Vineyard Acquisition/Establishment and Management — focuses on the decisions affecting the vineyard’s ability to sustainably produce high quality fruit with minimum inputs and manipulations.
  • Soil Conservation and Water Quality – focuses on protecting the resources necessary for plant life including land, soil, and water.
  • Pest Management – focuses on pest management rather than pest control, including controlling weeds, root insects, canopy insects, and diseases.

Chickens used for pest control and natural
fertilizer to the soil

Differences between the main farming practices:

  • Conventional
    • Get the biggest yields possible
    • Spray artificial pesticides and fertilizers
    • Quick profitability
  • Organic
    • Does not spray artificial pesticides or fertilizers
    • Does not focus on other farming aspects (energy, fertilizer, water conservation, etc.)
  • Biodynamic
    • Treats the whole ranch as one system; everything is in balance with Mother Nature
    • Waste of one thing is the energy for something else.
  • Sustainability In Practice
    • Focuses on energy, employee practices, water conservation, for example
    • Breaks farming down into 10 areas (some listed here): energy, water conservation, social equity, pest management, etc.

Ampelos is the Greek word for vine. Peter and Rebecca named the winery Ampelos because they believe every great wine begins with the vine and health of the vineyard. They have successfully achieved their dream of creating well-crafted, clean, natural wines through eco-friendly wine making. When I was in Italy, I realized I wanted to start a journey of my own in the wine industry. I had no idea then my journey would bring me full circle to a family-owned, triple-certified vineyard. I am lucky to learn from Peter and Rebecca and benefit from their experiences with every bottle I share as I continue on my voyage of wine with a full glass!

About the author: Kate Brandt is a proud Navy spouse and mother of two energetic girls.  She loves to travel, learning about (and drinking) wine, and enjoying treasured friendships.

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This Saturday—May 11 at 10:00 am central time—we are pleased to offer one of our most popular webinars: A Spirited Discussion: The Insider’s Guide to the CSS Exam. This is one for the spirits crowd!! If you are interested in pursuing the Certified Specialist of Spirits (CSS) Certification—or if you are just a spirits lover-bartender-mixologist-beverage aficionado interested in learning more about spirits and the CSS, this one-hour session is for you! Join our Director of Education, Jane A. Nickles, and learn what to expect from the CSS!

Login Instructions: At the appointed time, just click on this link: Saturday—May 11 at 10:00 am central time: A Spirited Discussion: The Insider’s Guide to the CSS Exam. Link will go “live” a few days before the scheduled date. There is no need to register in advance.

When the SWE Adobe Connect homepage appears, click on “enter as a guest,” type in your name, and click “enter room.”

  • There is no need for a dial-in number; audio will be available via the speakers on your computer or mobile device.
  • If you have never attended an Adobe Connect event before, it is also a good idea to test your connection ahead of time (just click on the link).
  • If you are having any trouble with your Adobe Connect connection, please see our SWEbinar Trouble-shooting page.

This SWEbinar is offered free-of-charge, and open to the public! This session will last for about one hour, and is offered as a live, interactive event.

If you have any questions, please contact Jane Nickles: jnickles@societyofwineeducators.org

Click here for the 2019-2020 SWEbinar Calendar

Click here for more information on the Certified Specialist of Spirits certification.

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Today we have a guest post from a frequent contributor that we know as Candi, CSW. Read on to see how Candi learned to appreciate some local small businesses that just happen to be wineries.

Small business is part of my DNA. All of my grandparents were family farmers. My father’s main business was a small electronics firm; as soon as he could, he too purchased a small farm. My brother and I each became self-employed after years of working as an employee. It’s just who we are.

So it stands to reason that I would seek out and support small businesses when it makes financial sense. I may be frugal, but I’m willing to pay a bit of a premium to support local restaurants, shops, etc.

Given my passion for vino, I have sought out opportunities to support small wineries. When we do a tasting trip, I seek out small vintners that I may have never even experienced for the target list. Extra points if the wines can’t be found elsewhere. Over time, direct-from-winery purchases have increased. Why not support wine as a small business and, sometimes, as a small farm?

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Very recently, I learned of a local event that would focus on small California family-owned wineries. It was one of my small-vintner buddies who clued me in, as he would be there. Sounds like another way to get a perspective on wine as a small business, not to mention a perfect way to spend a weekend afternoon. And my trusty designated driver, i.e. husband, willing to step up. I’m there. I’m so there.

The event was organized by an association for its members. More than 60 wineries participated. About 80% of the wineries have an annual case production of less than 10,000; about 30% produce 1,000 or fewer cases per year. Most major regions and a cross-section of AVAs were represented. It appeared that the wineries were targeting visibility to brokers, distributors, on-premise trade, and even direct-to-consumer.

My standard approach to an event of this magnitude is to do pre-event research. Just like tasting trips, I want to narrow the focus. As a professional, I’ve learned that I have a limit before palate fatigue sets in. For safety, education and enjoyment, I respect my personal limitations. To their credit, the association provided detailed information well in advance of the event. Even a spreadsheet listing participants, price ranges, key varietals, and contact information was available. Perfect.

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Prior to the event, I began to receive e-mails from some of the wineries. These detailed what wines would be poured, reminded me to stop by, etc. About 15% of the vintners sent these messages. A nice touch and a way to build anticipation.

For the event, I took a hard copy of my target list. Onsite, things were well-organized and staffed with ample volunteers. User-friendly organization, complete with tables in alphabetical order. A promising start.

Advance information, particularly the winery spreadsheet, proved to be very helpful. I did chat with a few attendees, seemingly Millennials, who preferred the app for smartphones that was also provided prior to the event. Not my cup of tea, nor my glass of vino. Multiple media strategies, however, can be a key way to increase exposure. Whatever is most user-friendly to the attendee is likely be adopted and appreciated.

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Armed with my trusty personal bottle of water, I began to execute my plan. As I limit the number of stops, it allows more time to chat with each vintner and to learn any geeky details or back story they care to share. Fortunately, there was less crowding than I’ve experienced at some events. The best part, for me, is learning from the vintners and staff. Less crowding means I don’t have to move on to be polite.

I learned of some wineries that were founded by “dreamers” later in life as an additional career. Some harvested grapes from tiny plots within key vineyards. Many continue to experience the high cost of doing business, particularly in glam areas like Napa and Sonoma. Most have opened since 2000, some as recently as 2017 and 2018.

Photo via: https://www.rescuedogwines.com/

Wineries were generally pouring current releases; there were a few new releases from vintages as new as 2016 for reds and 2018 for whites and roses’. My most interesting takeaway was the vast cross-section of varietals; clearly, some of the vintners had favorite grapes and chose to work with them. And, as I worked my way through my plan, I began to see just how many different varietals I could experience.

To illustrate, here is a list of a few of the wines that made a favorable impression. Granted, pricing and availability vary by location. But due to my frugal mindset, all wines listed are generally priced in the mid double-digits or less.

All of the wines except for Tablas Creek were new to me. I was learning that survival, even thriving, depend upon continued, increasing visibility as a key success factor. And not just for wineries. There were some other encounters. Many with…owners of small businesses.

This was an event done in a no-frills manner. The association relied upon a few sponsors for basic bread, cheese, and crackers so that palates could be cleansed and attendee risk managed. I met a few sponsors, and learned where I can buy their very tasty stuff locally.

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I saw one of my gym buddies there. Her husband is chef/owner of a restaurant. Another small business to seek out and support. Another business card into my bag.

I met the head bartender from one of our favorite restaurants; in fact, the place where we celebrated an anniversary. He noted that their top-selling brand is, yes, from a small winery.

I met folks visiting the area from Oregon. I now have a few recommendations of small wineries in their area to consider on our next tasting trip there.

So it wasn’t just the wineries that were getting increased exposure at the event. My opinion: small businesses need ongoing visibility to survive and even to thrive. That means multiple methods of communication: websites, focused e-mails, social media, word of mouth, any way to get their presence and their story out there.

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Maybe it was just a coincidence. The day after the event, I received an e-mail from a winery. They were liquidating and offering closeout pricing on their remaining inventory. One of those places where I’d signed up for a list years ago, so long ago that I forgot I subscribed to the list. Certainly the first message I’d had from them in years. A case study in what not to do? Possibly.

Since the event, I’ve received e-mails from several of the wineries. Reminders of what was poured, coupon codes for post-event discounts, thank-yous for stopping by. Follow-up and follow-through. Very wise.

If this event was any indication, small wineries remain alive and well. I also realized though, that it’s all about visibility, communication, flexibility, and just being out there.

As a small business owner, I will continue to support the same. Will you consider doing so as well? It is your choice. My choice is….

Small Winery Cheers!

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The SWE crew is just back from our first-ever “Specifically Spirits” mini-conference (held in Washington DC on April 26, 2019), and we are pleased to declare it a great success! We’d like to thank our attendees, many of whom were first-time participants in an SWE program. For those of you who couldn’t make it, here are a few of the highlights.

First up: “Herbs and Flowers, Weeds and Seeds: The Beauty of Botanicals” presented by Jane A. Nickles, CSE, CWE (yours truly). This session presented six botanically-infused spirits, while concentrating on the botanical components themselves. Attendees were each provided with nine (super-cute) labeled jars containing the botanicals and were encouraged to sniff, crush, and taste each one. The featured botanicals included juniper berry, coriander seed, angelica root, orris root, cardamom, cubeb berry, bergamot, rose hips, and allspice.

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Each botanical was introduced with its botanical information, typical taste profile, and bits of its local lore—for instance, did you know that allspice is named for its aromas (described as a cross between cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, and clove), but was originally believed to be black pepper—which is while it is often referred to as pimento or pimienta? Or that orris root is the dried root of the lovely iris flower?

The spirits (and botanicals) tasted included the following: Bluecoat American Dry Gin (featuring juniper berry, coriander seed, and angelica root), Drumshanbo Slow Distilled Gunpowder Irish Gin (featuring orris root and cardamom, Bobby’s Schiedam Dry Gin (featuring cubeb berry), Sacred Rosehip cup (featuring rosehips), and Italicus Rosolio di Bergamotto (featuring Bergamotto di Reggio-Calabria). Attendees were gifted a “botanical aroma kit” featuring 10 glass vials with aromatic botanicals as well as a selection of botanical teas and candies.

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Next up was “American Spirit,” presented by Ben Coffelt, CSW and Shields Hood, CSS, CWE. This session traced the history of the United States along with the history of American whiskey. Here’s how Shields and Ben describe the session: George Washington’s presidency. The Civil War. The Railroad. The Industrial Revolution. World War II. Through almost every step of the American journey, one spirit has been our constant companion: whiskey. From early Monongahela ryes to our modern finished bourbons, attendees will learn about the role whiskey has played in American culture and history.

The whiskeys that were presented (and tasted) included the following: Henry McKenna 10 Year Single Barrel Bottled-in-Bond Kentucky Straight Bourbon, Old Forester 1920 Prohibition Style Kentucky Straight Bourbon, Jack Daniel’s Sinatra Select Tennessee Whiskey, Whistle Pig 10 Year Straight Rye Whiskey, and Wild Turkey Master’s Keep Revival Kentucky Straight Bourbon.

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Following lunch, attendees were treated to a session by the name of “That’s the Spirit 2019,” presented by Trudy Thomas, CSE, CSW. Trudy is the Director of Beverage operations at the Gaylord Opryland Resort and Conference Center, and her session revolved around the latest trends that she has observed throughout the resort’s more than twenty food and beverage outlets, as well as her in-depth knowledge of the industry as a whole.

The trends (and spirits) that were featured in Trudy’s session included the following: craft vermouth (featuring Trincheri Sweet Vermouth), drinking globally (featuring Roku Gin), American brandy (featuring Copper & Kings Brandy American Craft Brandy), private barrel programs (featuring Casa Noble Single Barrel Reposado Tequila), and the importance of the story behind the pour (featuring Piggyback Rye).

Our final session of the day was “Cognac: a Culmination of Excellence,” presented by Hugh Lander, CSS. Cognac has long had the reputation as the “king of brandies,” and its quality and complexity place it alongside the finest of fine whiskies. This information-packed session discussed just what it is that makes cognac unique among spirits—starting with the region, the climate, the crus, and the soils.

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Hugh was able to break down the seemingly complicated aging requirements for cognac, and the audience was fascinated to learn that the reason some aging designations are in English (such as VSOP – “very special old pale”) rather than French is that England was historically considered the main market for cognac—and even today a huge majority of cognac is exported (and not consumed by the French)! To wrap it up, we discussed how the numerous regulations cognac must adhere to are actually the result of centuries of best practice in winemaking, distillation, and aging. The cognacs sipped along the way included Courvoisier VS, Remy Martin VSOP, Remy Martin 1738 Accord Royal, and Remy Martin XO.

An hors d’oeuvre reception and walk-around tasting featuring a range of spirits as well as local distilleries provided the capstone to the day. Featured distilleries included One Eight Distilling (Washington DC), Catoctin Creek Distilling Company (Purcellville, VA), Falls Church Distillers (Falls Church, VA), New Columbia Distilling (Green Hat Gin/Washington DC), Republic Restoratives (Washington DC), and KO Distilling (Manassas, VA). In addition, the lovely Sharron McCarthy was on hand to pour a delicious and minty Florio Fernet from Sicily, Sartori di Verona Villa Marzia Limoncello, and Castello Banfi Tuscan Grappa.

And a good time was had by all!

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