Vol. 1 No. 31…Wineries of the Quebecois

One of the first things that strikes you when you get to Canada these days is how expensive things are. That is because like us they use a $ sign for prices. In the investment business, $ is reserved for the Greenback, and Canadian is labelled C$. Otherwise it would be a mess trading currencies.

But the good news is there is a 30% discount on the Canadian Dollar. When TB was a teenager he remembers it at a 6% premium. We stayed at the beautiful Frontenac Hotel in Quebec. Old, charming, and we were put in one of the newly refurbished rooms…it was huge! Quebec feels so French, and it is quaint. Highly recommended and there are some very nice restaurants on the main street of Old Quebec near the Parliament and the hotel.

Driving back, we re-entered the U.S. in New York and then went over to (note ‘to’ not ‘over), Niagara Falls on the U.S. side. We took the Maid-o-the-Mist for an up close and personal view of the falls. Spectacular…and WET! From there we high-tailed it to the Canadian side via the Rainbow Bridge to find our hotel, the Marriott Fallsview, closest to the falls and our 9th floor room was perfect. For about $30 more (Canadian), we could have upgraded but we felt that was the best height to see the falls, and it was. A beautiful light show at night as both of the falls changed color. Leaving our drapes open we could see them from the bed, or we could have chosen the in-room Jacuzzi! Adding to the pleasure is a restaurant right next door to the hotel, The Keg. Don’t let the name fool you, it sure did me, but it was a very nice, not too expensive restaurant on the 5th floor of the hotel next to ours. It had the second best view of the falls…after our room of course!

The next day, we left Niagara and quickly found ourselves surrounded by vineyards…very nice ones too. The area is Niagara-on-the-Lake, home to more than thirty wineries. Our server the day before had recommended the Colaneri Estate Winery and it happened to be our first stop…and what a stop it was. We turned off the highway and a couple hundred yards down the road took a driveway to the left. At the head was what appeared to be an entire Tuscan Villa…beautiful! So now, not only were the wines good, but the estate was impressive…very!!!The Colaneri family came over from Italy (near Rome). There are two sons who now run the business and amazingly they married two sisters.

They make 18 different wines: 11 whites and 7 reds. How do you make red wine when it never gets much above 70 degrees? They pick the grapes at their peak, then move them to a huge building that has wire crates. This provides airflow to the grapes and allows them to ripen further. It is an Italian process known as ‘Rapasso’. I tasted all of them and they are amazing. Colaneri makes three ice wines (Cab Franc, Vidal, and Riesling, all between 9.2-10.8% alcohol, and 200-250 grams residual sugar!). Also amazing is the fact that it took six years to build the Villa so far and it will take another six to complete! Now that’s passion and dedication…and as I said to my tasting room guide, “looks like the old saying, ‘if you want to make a small fortune in the wine business, start with a large fortune.'” With a straight face he said, “no, start with a huge one!”

From there we drove to the best known winery in the area, Inniskillin, famous for it’s Ice Wine. I tasted them all and they are amazing wines…they are the model to shoot for by the other wineries, and also the most expensive. Actually, though, buying at the winery in Canadian dollars put them way below the price in the U.S., ranging from $42-80. One is a sparkling Cab Franc, one a Riesling, and the make two Vidal’s, one of which (and my favorite) aged in wood for 30 years! By the way, those prices are for 375ml bottles, not the standard 750ml, but they are worth every penny.

While there I heard that Inniskillin was sold and is now owned by Jackson-Triggs, who makes very nice ice wines at a fraction of the cost of Inniskillin. It is easily obtained in the U.S. Researching the comment however, when I returned home, I found that they had operated under the same owner, which explains the common quality, but following a series of mergers both were sold to…drumroll please…one of the largest wine producers in the world, Constellation Wines. Constellation has been hard at work buying up some of the best estates. Who are they? They were nobody until the purchased Robert Mondavi in 2004 (the peak of Mondavi nearly coinciding with the release of the documentary, Mondovino. Constellation’s only wine was Richard’s Wild Irish Rose – most frequently found on skid row. If it was in a liquor store, certainly not a wine shop, it would be on the bottom shelf. So Constellation bought respectability, and to this writer at least, Mondavi – first visited by this writer in 1969, and the only winery I ever assembled a vertical selection of cabs from (1966-2000). I sold one case at auction, and the other donated to the University of Nevada, Reno where it topped their wine auction. Mondovino did no favors for the Mondavi (hmmm was the name translated ‘World of Wine” or Mondavi versus the wine world? Just asking!

From there we drove to the picturesque town of Niagara-on-the-Lake where we had lunch. There are several good restaurants there and if you don’t stop, you will regret it as there is a huge void from there on.

After lunch we stumbled on Stratus a very modern looking industrial type building, with an uber-modern tasting room. Here, as in all the wineries we visited, the staff knew their wines – unlike so many U.S. wineries. It seemed that most of them, if not all, had been working there for years. I should add that I asked at every winery I visited if they used organic (or are organic-certified), sustainable, or biodynamic methods and virtually all practiced sustainable farming (as did most of the ones in New York!), which puts them ahead of California, and sadly, light years ahead of Bordeaux where toxic chemicals are employed, even in the classified wineries and worse, lab testing has shown residual elements in wine tested from every winery!

Every aspect of being environmentally-friendly was employed, and beautifully I might add. Not only were the vines treated with as few natural fertilizers, etc., but the entire building was built with recycled wood and steel products, and even more impressive, even their tractors were run on bio-diesel! Stratus is Leeds-certified as sustainable. Their wines showed this attention to detail. They produce a full range of wines from the usual suspects to their Stratus Red, a blend of the Bordeaux grapes (Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Petit Verdot, Malbec -seldom used in Bordeaux now, plus Tannat from Southwest France). A stunning, well-made wine with very complex flavors and big enough to hold up, and improve, for many years.

In addition, their whites include Stratus White (Chardonnay, Semillon, Sauvignon Blanc, Gewurtztraminer, and Viognier). If the blend sounds like a ‘mouthful’ that’s because it is, bursting with flavors and nuances. Their ice wine (Viognier/Semillon) was very good, less on the sweet side with just 12 grams residual sugar, 14.3% alcohol (!), but the star of the show for me was their 2012 Botrytis Affected Semillon – wow! If you have never tasted a Botrytis wine you are in for a pleasant surprise. Only in years with the right moisture conditions late in the season does it exist. Amazing fruit bursts forth and this one, aged for more than a year in French Oak (60% new), is a keeper.

Next stop was Cave Spring Winery located in town in Lincoln, Ontario. That is the tasting room with the vineyards and winery a short distance away. They make a full range of white’s and reds, including sparklers and ice wines. I particularly enjoyed their Riesling, bursting with fruit flavors…tutti fruiti, comes to mind but not that cloying sweetness!

The last winery we visited is off the beaten path but Karen MacNeil mentioned it in The Wine Bible. I was there for one thing: their Gamay, which she says is the first really good one made outside Europe…that is a huge comment, pinot lovers as this Burgundian grape is off that style. Not a true Burgundy but soft in the mouth and a good every day wine.

From there, we began to wend our way home again, crossing into the U.S. over the bridge to Detroit from Windsor, Ontario on the Ambassador International Bridge. This aging bridge will soon be replaced by the Gordie Howe International Bridge, named after the hockey great of the Detroit Red Wings.

By the time we reached home we had driven over 4,700 miles in just under three weeks, we stopped along the way in Evanston, Illinois to stay with our friends then up to Wisconsin for the incredible tasting dinner at the Union House restaurant (see Vol. 1, No. 24). We never had to use an umbrella on the entire trip, but when we crossed the Mississipi into Minnesota, we had torrential rains for the final hour and a half home. Lucky, not only that we experienced the full beauty of the changing of the colors to Fall.

TB

©Copyright 2015 TBOW, all rights reserved.

 

 

 

Vol. 1 No. 30 …all I want for Christmas…

If you have someone on your Christmas list who is a winelover, perhaps instead of a bottle of wine a good book on wine would be a good choice. There are a lot of new ones out there this year. Too late you say? Perhaps not if they have a Kindle…available instantly.

Readers know I like Karen MacNeil’s The Wine Bible, just revised and a great reference when traveling, not just the U.S.but the world.

Also, there are these books,

Vino Business – The Cloudy World of French Wine by Isabelle Saporta – cloudy??? Very Dark Clouds! This book was written by a French investigative reporter with a wine background. The things she says about Bordeaux would be libelous if not true. Question is: why haven’t they sued her…or why is she still walking? Beats me, because she blows the lid of Bordeaux wine production and price increases which can be blamed by Chinese buying. But more than that they are buying (little or run-down) chateaus, but why? They are grossly overpaying but this might be a clue: the counterfeit wine business in China is off the charts. The name of choice there is Chateau Lafite Rothschild. So the counterfeiters use names like Chateau Laffite, or Lafite Harmony…just enough variation to get the non-wine savvy Chinese to buy it. Worse, some of it is made with either inferior grapes or table grapes with sugar and some horrible chemicals added. If you are like me, you will never buy a classified French Bordeaux again. Overpriced and not worth it. Note that this is not happening in Burgundy where the plots are too small to be able to control the market. If you can afford them, stick with the best names there.

Thirsty Dragon China’s Lust for Bordeaux and the Threat to the World’s Best Wines by Susanne Mustacich. She is a wine journalist now living in France, and the tone of this book is damning but not chilling like the first one. I recommend reading the other one first…as I did.
Another good book on wine is The Winemaker by Richard G. Peterson. I haven’t had time to read this but I spoke with the author on the phone and his experience is incredible. It was recommended by Mike Veseth of The Wine Economist blog and should be interesting to anyone wanting to get down to the nuts and bolts of the wine industry.
One of my favorite books this year is Tangled Vines by Francis Dinkelspiel and is about the fire at the former Navy torpedo factory on Mare Island, California. After the Navy abandoned it they turned it into a wine storage facility. It was huge with three-foot thick walls, the ideal place to store wine…unless of course there was a fire…which there was. This book is about a wine ‘snob’ who torched it destroying perhaps 350,000 bottles of wines from Napa and elsewhere, some of which were the entire library of wines for vineyards. But the book goes much further, to Los Angeles in fact, where the author’s relatives had a huge vineyard and some of those wines were lost in the fire. A fascinating read.
The last one is Shadows in the Vineyard by Maximillian Potter. A true story that reads like fiction of a plot to poison the vines of the great Romanee Conti vineyards. It also contains some interesting parts about how the vineyard came to be and about the pre-revolution French royalty.
The best to you all for a happy holiday season…make it merry…with wine!
Trader Bill
©Copyright 2015 TBOW, all rights reserved.

Vol.1 No. 29…Long Island wineries

While the Finger Lakes excel in white wines, and some surprisingly good reds, especially Cab Franc’s, Long Island, is comprised of two branches forming a claw, North Fork and South Fork, each with a different micro-clime and soils. I had some very nice wines, both red and white, in both areas.

Paumonok, is on the North Fork and was a McNeill favorite. Again, the Cab Franc was the standout. I could not visit that but I did visit several others and were impressed with some of the wines…most notably the Cab Francs.

Also on the North Fork, a very unusual one called One Woman winery. Seeing the little red house reminded me of the Heitz Cellars tasting room on Hwy 29, in Oakville. I was fortunate enough to meet her, Claudia Purita, a pleasant looking woman with hands that showed a lot of work in the vineyards. Her face also showed her time in the sun. But she was fiercely proud of her vineyard and wines, and that stood out to me…way out! Again, her Cab Franc was the standout.

A friend took me to Roanoke Vineyards tasting room where ran right down the list. They are the only winery I found that besides their North Fork vineyards bought grapes from Roman Roth on the South Fork. He was ‘discovered’ by Eric Asimov, a writer for Newsday and the New York Times and a very accomplished wine aficionado. He was the first writer I know of to be bold enough to write about Long Island wines…favorably. I now have faith in his judgment.

We sampled all their wines – all vitis vinifera grapes, no American or French-American Hybrids, a good thing. Their wines and the ones labeled the ‘Grapes of Roth’, were made with Roman Roth of Wolffer Estate Winery on the South Fork.

With that segue, we will cross Shelter Island, where we stayed in a nice house near a friend. Being an island, it requires taking a ferry over, traversing the island, then another ferry to the South Fork and Sag Harbor. Sag Harbor is a beautiful little town with little indication that there are vineyards close by – very close. We chose two:

Wolffer Estate is perhaps the largest vineyard and winery in the area. They too, use all vitis vinifera grapes and make the full range of wines you would find in California. Of particular interest are the Rieslings, as Roman Roth is a German and the day we visited was preparing for a festival wearing his Lederhosen and trademark Alpine hat.

He is a very nice man who is all about wine. He is as serious a winemaker as you will find anywhere in California, and very proud of his wines…especially the Rieslings. There is much attention to detail both in the winemaking and in the beautiful winery.

The other winery we visited was Channing Daughters which is further west. The name puzzled me but the founder Walter Channing, a successful venture capitalist, and artist whose works adorn the winery, named the winery after his daughters,

Rosie Orlando, my server, poured wines for me. I said I want to try the ones you think are the best and she didn’t disappoint me. We began with a Rosado, one of seven ‘pink’ wines they make,  with the right amount of acid to make a wine with a nice finish. Then another nice Cab Franc and a Refosco and a a North Fork Cabernet Sauvignon, which was a pleasant wine with soft tannins. All the above were priced at $20 – very fair. Next, Sculpture Garden a 91% Merlot blend that was unusual in that it had  6% Teroldego, and 3% Blaufranckisch. The grapes are foot stomped (?), punched down by hand, and then aged 24 months in older French and Slovenian barrels. This is a big wine the could last eight years or more and needs decanting as it throws off sediment.

The final wine was a 2010 Envelope, 62% Chardonnay, 28% Gewurtztraminer, and 10% Malvasia Bianco. A stunning wine.

All these wine represented good value and most were in the $20-25 range.

In summary, I felt that all the wines I tasted on Long Island were good to very good and a pleasant surprise.

TB

©Copyright 2015 TBOW, all rights reserved.

Vol. 1 No. 28…middle New York

Since, as I said in the last blog, we are going in reverse order of the actual trip, this edition will cover the Hudson River valley and a surprise just outside of Middlebury, Vt.

First, there is much to see in this region – winery-wise – that is, but there are some surprises. In Karen McNeil’s The Wine Bible, First Edition, published in 1985, she mentions a little-known fact: Brotherhood Winery in the Catskill foothills is the oldest continuously run winery in the United States. Founded in 1839, it produced sacramental wines – a fact that came in handy during our country’s lunacy, Prohibition, or as some called it: “the noble experiment”. TB is one of those as it most certainly was an experiment which brought the Mafia and other gangs to power, but it most certainly was not noble, as any number of Congressmen who voted for it would attest but continued to imbibe when it became a Constitutional Amendment, the 18th and was finally repealed by the 21st, but by then the damage was done and it took decades for the wine industry to stage a comeback.

Note that in The Wine Bible, she talks at length about Brotherhood Winery but there is nary a mention of it in the 2nd Edition. Also there were 18 pages devoted to New York wines in the original volume, but just 14 in the new one, although the type is smaller.

In the Hudson Valley, the only one mentioned by McNeill, and while I didn’t visit the winery, was Millbrook, located not far from Hyde Park, Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s home.

It is a beautiful winery, very pastoral, and set up for tourists, and the author recommended their Tocai Friulano which I found and purchased a bootle, and better still it wa the Proprietor’s Special Reserve, 2014 vintage. While it is not like Viognier, it has an unusual flavor, not the bitterness but a slightly green flavor, but it doesn’t mask the rich, creamy taste. At $20 it is a great buy. The rest of their wines, both red and white range from $20 to $35. If I am back in the area again I will be certain to visit.

While the Finger Lakes excel in white wines, and some surprisingly good reds, especially Cab Franc’s, Long Island, is comprised of two branches forming a claw, North Fork and South Fork, each with a different microclime and soils. I had some very nice wines, both red and white, in both areas.

If you are driving to Canada there are two routes you can take from the Hudson Valley. We decided to take the one that went through a sliver of Vermont. Along the way through farmlands we came upon Middlebury, one of the most beautiful and gentrified towns in America…with exclusive Middlebury College as an added draw. As we left town, I saw a sign for wine tasting and not having stopped that day, veered off to it. Just off the highway was a house set back with a parking lot in front. It was Lincoln Park Vineyard and Winery. Inside it was charming as was the server. Some unusual wines with colorful names, wouldn’t win any awards in California but altogether pleasant. If I had a place up there I could easily settle back in front of a fire with a glass of their wine.

They also had some innovative ideas. They sold Vermont cheese and some nice wine accessories but what caught my eye was a ‘wine growler’ engraved with their logo. I asked about it and was told you buy it for $5, have it filled with your favorite of their wines, and get the $5 off. Then when it is empty come in and again save $5. Pretty neat!

From there we drove north to Niagara Falls where I have some advice: only go on the U.S. side long enough to take the Maid-o-the-Mist, then head for the Canadian side. The place to stay, only one as far as we were concerned is the Marriott Fallsview, closest to the falls with an incredibly beautiful view. For dinner, a view restaurant was recommended to us by my son with the odd name The Keg. It was a beautiful restaurant, good wine list, and a view almost as good as the one from our room, five floors higher a hundred yards away.

After the next edition, we go to Quebec City where we stayed at the historic and beautiful Frontenac and got any number of surprises in Canadian wineries we visited…could have stayed three days longer, they were that good.

TB

©Copyright 2015 TBOW, all rights reserved.

 

 

Vol. 1, No. 27…the long road to New York

One of the reasons it has taken so long to write up the wineries in the trip was my visit to Dr. Konstantin Frank winery. I was given an information kit containing a biography of Dr. Frank, and it has altered how I want to cover the New York wineries I visited.

Before we get to that, in driving from Minneapolis to New York, we went through, Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, and Pennsylvania. I saw a few winery signs along the way but most made fruit wines or didn’t use vitis vinifera grapes and that causes me to lose interest. I may take another trip however to visit select wineries known for producing quality wines.

Not that there is anything wrong with the Marquette grape, developed by the University of Minnesota in 2004 and they explain it this way “is a cousin of Frontenac and a grandson of Pinot Noir” by crossing v.riparia grapes and others creating a complex hybrid that endures cold weather well and can fend off dampness and mold.

I have had several Marquette wines and found them quite tasty if well-made. The problem is the costs of small production wineries which can cause the prices to be high relative to some widely-recognized varietals. Some of the experimenters here though are following the steps of Dr. Frank and planting vinifera grapes like riesling, which is a good start.

Dr. Frank was born in Germany and grew up in the Ukraine, before the Russian Revolution. His history parallels that of the great Andre Teleschieff who made the famous B.V. cabernets of the late 60’s thru the 80’s. He visited Dr. Frank and they exchanged ideas. Had Dr. Frank been in Napa Valley, I am sure his name would be as recognizable to oenophiles as his counterparts. The Doctor was so enthusiastic on vinifera grapes that he advised many vineyard owners in order to spread the word.

Dr. Frank emigrated to the United States after WWII and with his doctorate in agriculture specializing in wines tried to get work at the New York State Experimental Station. His was an uphill battle being an outsider, having a Russian-German accent, and wanting to convert the New York vineyards from Concord, and Catawba grapes to the European varietals. They were convinced, without ever having tried it, that those grapes would not grow in New York. He set out to prove them wrong, and even though he was correct, they didn’t want to acknowledge his success.

Besides, the native grapes were French-American hybrids, which Dr. Frank loathed.He even believed that they could cause disease and although that theory was disproved he continued to rail against them for the remainder of his life. The term French-American is a misnomer in itself, as at the time it involved using inferior grapes, many from Algeria, another reason for his disapproval.

I have been to many  vineyards and wineries in the U.S. and Europe, but can’t think of any other setting that is a beautiful as the Konstantin Frank winery is. It is not far from Ithaca and Cooperstown (a must stop if in the area at the Baseball Hall of Fame), and just outside Hammondsport. The area was known for mainly two things: Welch’s grape juice – Welch was a teetotaler – is still the largest user of grapes in New York state and that is why, despite all the improvements, there are still more concord grapes than all the others combined.  By the way, concord grapes don’t have enough sugar to make wine, the alcohol would be too low. Welch’s adds sugar to get a palatable drink.

After spending a Sunday afternoon at the winery, I was captivated. Rare for me, and since there would be no ‘real’ wine industry without the exhausting efforts of Dr. Frank, I reversed the order I visited in so following the Finger Lakes will be the Hudson Valley and last Long Island (both North and South Shore). That will be in the next issue, followed by Canadian wineries, hopefully getting it all in before Christmas.

Hammondsport is at the foot of Lake Keuka, one of the Finger Lakes, so named because the resemble the fingers of a hand – alhough there are more than five. The other two significant to the wine industry are Canandaigua, and Seneca where Watkins Glen sits at it’s foot. Lake Keuka has high cliffs and it on the westerly side where the Frank winery is located on sloping lands which provide great drainage, a ‘bench’ if you will.

The soils of Keuka and Seneca are much different, the latter loamy and imparting a different flavor to the wine. The Frank’s have one vineyard there to produce a second riesling and while both are dry, the difference is apparent.

I tasted the entire line of their wines, from the sparklers (all made in the traditional French manner – methode champenoise), three brut’s and a blanc de noirs under the Chateau Frank label and a two Chateau Frank Celebre’s, a brut and a rosé, then on to the whites, and finally the reds. My server-guide was Meaghan Frank, granddaughter of the doctor. I enjoyed all the wines but would like to point out a few standouts:

Rkatsiteli: a wonderful grape from Georgia, near the Ukraine where Dr. Frank did his early work. It can be high in acid so it is harvested late so the sugars can form and reduce the acidity. I have only seen it at one other winery: Concannon, in the Livermore Valley of California. Due to the difficulty selling it because of the name I believe they gave up on it.

Saperavi: a red grape, also called the Black Russian, is also from Georgia, and becoming more widely recognized. It is primarily used as a blending grape. I verified that Dr. Frank brought in this grape, and with the help of another Finger Lakes winery, Standing Stone it was classified as a grape.

Their rieslings were wonderful, dry, with a clean finish. The winery has several winemakers, each responsible for and hired for their specialty, which I believe is why the entire lineup is so consistently good.

I forgot to mention their ice wine and even more interesting their 2013 Late Harvest Chardonnay and Riesling at 18% and 12% residual sugar! Full bodies but not cloying. Excellent wines.

When we left, we were hungry and Meaghan recommended a restaurant just down the road at Bully Hill, which was began by Walter Taylor, of the Taylor Family winery, which produced wines until it was sold to Coca-Cola. Predictably, Coke, like so many corporations did not understand the wine business and it went into bankruptcy three years later.

The restaurant was excellent, paid their employees a living wage so no tipping, and the manager was at the cash register to hear customer comments. So much for the theory that you won’t get good service if tips are involved. Think about it: when do you leave a tip? At the end of the meal! The server has no idea whether you are generous or might stiff them.

I  also visited another winery specializing in German wines over on Lake Seneca, J. Weimer, which produces some excellent German wines, especially a Dry Riesling. These wines were well-made and the winery was very nice, albeit without the view from the Frank winery.

Lastly, on a recommendation from a friend, we visited Ravines Wine Cellars on the other side of Lake Keuka and farther north. Their wines were also very good. I particularly enjoyed the reds, something I hadn’t expected from what I read about New York wines. If you keep an open mind, you will be surprised at the quality as I was.

TB

©Copyright 2015 TBOW, all rights reserved.

 

Vol. 1 No. 26 …not what I want to write about!

…BUT, I must. This website is about a passion for wine: winemakers, wine shops, wine enthusiasts, and of course, TB.

I read a blog yesterday that bothered me. Won’t go into who it was, but it was praising someone who runs completely counter to what we are about here. I will continue to read the blog because it is of interest to me, but have stopped reading another one that says you should never pay more than $20 for a bottle of wine, and developed a rating system (although the writer/author admits he has never taken a wine course, never participated in a wine tasting, which he is critical of, and to TB’s way of thinking is comparing apples to oranges – or should I say ‘wine’ to ‘plonk’).

While there are many good wines at less than $20, and some ‘passable’ ones (but lacking character), below $10, that is not what we are about here. Instead, we are about learning more about wine by trying new wines and most importantly, trusting your own palette as you are your own best wine judge. If you don’t like it, so what if Parker or some other wine writer gives it a 90? To do otherwise makes you a wine snob, not an aficionado.

The last three updates have been on, in order of appearance:

  1. the buyout of SAB Miller by ImBev, creating a global monopoly in Beer, and the corporate giants that are absorbing smaller, high quality wineries, which will ultimately result in lowering the quality of the wine due to the emphasis on ‘the bottom line’. The top three of these are Constellation Brands (virtually unheard of and with no quality label before acquiring Mondavi), Gallo, which is another of the top three globally, and Bronco Wines, maker of Two-Buck Chuck;
  2. a book, Tangled Vines by Frances Dinkelspiel, which covers the dark side of the wine ‘industry’ (don’t you hate that word?), and also the first California wines which were in Los Angeles in the 1800’s; and
  3. Dr. Konstantin Frank and the winery bearing his name. A true innovator, as was his friend Andre Tcheleschieff (the great California legend who trained so many well-known winemakers), and who collaborated with Doctor Frank.

TB hasn’t said boycott the brands of those big wine companies (although he did suggest doing so with the breweries), especially Two-Buck Chuck. Instead, he took a positive approach: drink your ‘Chuck’ or other inexpensive wine during the week but experiment on the weekends with at least one new, quality wine.

So what made TB feel the urge to crusade today? the blog mentioned at the top of this edition which was about a wine event to be held in January, the Unified Wine and Grape Industry Symposium, the largest wine industry trade show in the U.S. Bet you won’t see a lot of the small wineries represented there, and if you do it will be to keep their presence known, perhaps looking for a buyer?

Now to the meat: the blogger noted that Fred Franzia, CEO of Bronco Wine Company will be the keynote speaker. Franzia is a super-salesman and innovator, having bought Charles Shaw, and turning it into Two-Buck Chuck with the help of Trader Joe’s (no relation to Trader Bill but along with Trader Vic part of the inspiration for his pseudonym). This winery produces 20 million cases (240 million bottles!) a year and has produce over 6 billion, yes billion bottles since inception in the 1970’s. It no longer sells for $2 but more like the $4-5 range, but Franzia has said “never pay more than $10 for a bottle of wine”. Is the fact that he didn’t say $5 a warning of a price hike ahead? Time will tell…always does.

The blogger had visited Bronco’s operations in Napa (distribution center), Lodi (some vineyards of the 40,000 total in their portfolio), and Ceres in the San Joaquin Valley where the bulk of the grapes come from. He commented on the cleanliness and attention to detail. That however, is disputed at http://www.snopes.com/business/market/shawwine.asp

In addition, as I pointed out to the blogger, Franzia was convicted of a felony for blending inferior grapes with zinfandel and others, resulting in a huge fine of $4 million, but allowing Franzia (no longer associated with the box wine company of the same name), to not go to prison as several others did. Don’t just trust Snopes on this, Tangled Vines, talks about it in length including comments by the investigator and the prosecutor.

Having the distribution center in Napa, Bronco called it Napa Valley wine, until the AVA objected but they can still say, Napa, California. Does that sound like a high quality wine to you?…or one that is out to make money on volume? Sadly, I find people, mostly seniors, that only drink, Two-Buck Chuck. As reported everywhere: good wine is forcing out bad all over the world. That, however, does not mean all wines are high quality, just no serious defects, i.e. you get what you pay for.

To TB, despite all the efforts by those truly interested in making high quality wine, not simply making money, these wines thrive but people are reaching ‘up’ according to a wine industry study which saw the most growth in sales in the $10-20 range instead of stagnating in the <$10 range.

Now let’s look at the profit: Gallo Hearty Burgundy, once a darling the late Robert Lawrence Balzer, the pioneer wine writer, who seemed to equate it with the best California Cabs, in his reviews, is sold in magnums, 1.5 liters, instead of the normal 750 ml bottles. The price of a magnum is considerably less than two bottles of TBC. Also, there are wines sold by the gallon or in boxes of 2 liters or more, that are as good or better and cheaper.

Trader Joe’s acts as distributor and retailer (except in New York which prohibits it). This may have been the impetus for Total Wines to do likewise. A normal discount to a distributor is 30%, so Trader Joe’s is making a nice profit, as Total does with its ‘bin’ wines where it too buys direct from the winery resulting in profits of 30% or more, while making small profits on high quality wines – which are actually the best value to you, the consumer. Keep that in mind when you are looking for ‘bargains’.

Now let’s look at this from an environmental standpoint. The San Joaquin aquifer is the second largest in the U.S. Believe or not in climate change, that aquifer has been largely depleted by well-drilling by farmers, largely grape growers in an area that was and is not a natural agricultural area (oldies like TB will recall the 1986 book, Cadillac Desert by Marc Reisner, and last revised in 1993, one of the first ‘green’ books, as was the documentary movie, The Sea Around Us by Rachel Carson written in 1951, and we didn’t learn from that either).

The depletion by wells deeper than the height of the Empire State Building, is causing the land to sink, and arsenic levels to rise; not a good combination. In fact, there has been at least one class-action lawsuit over arsenic levels in wine from the valley. To TB’s knowledge, all have been dismissed as the levels, while high were not serious in wine do to the low consumption relative to water. The valley is very heavy in Almond trees and grape production, both of which consume large amounts of water, and in the case of wine, for what? To enrich the winery owners?

That is now off TB’s chest so he will get back to the New York and California wine pieces discussed far too long ago.

Best,

TB

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