Posts Filed Under on the road
In this episode of 1WineDude TV, I talk (on location!) with with Alexandra Manousakis, whose family makes wine from Rhone varieties on the Greek island of Crete. Aside from prettying up things here on 1WDTV, Alexandra gives us an insider’s take on Crete winemaking history, along with her insights on the challenges facing Cretan wine on the international stage. Yes, the cicadas are annoying (believe me, I removed 90% of their noisy asses from the video already!); get over it, and enjoy…
1WineDude TV Episode 52: The Challenges (and Ironies!) of the Modern Crete Wine Biz
Geographic isolation engenders resourcefulness. As well as entire rooms that smell like caramel and sultanas.
Let’s start with the resourcefulness.
When Scottish friends George Sutherland Smith and John Banks decided in the 1860s that they couldn’t wait for materials to be shipped in to them to build All Saints, a winemaking property on the bank of the Murray River in Rutherglen’s Wahgunyah, they did what any self-respecting Aussies would do; they did it al themselves. Smith and Banks went ahead and established their own brick kiln so they could make their materials; presumably in a hurry to finish, fingerprints can still be seen in the bricks where Chinese workers laid down the material that had just barely cooled.
The result of their ingenuity is a structure that was once believed to be the largest winery in the southern hemisphere, an imposing building modeled after the their home country’s Castle of Mey (All Saints Estate was purchased in 1992 by the Brown family of Milawa, and Brown descendants Eliza, Angela and Nicholas now run the show), and built “on the back of money made running paddle steamers up the Murray and selling dry goods to miners” according to their PR folks.
The surfeit of caramel and sultanas come to us by virtue of All Saints hosting a tasting of Rutherglen’s now most famous wine export: “stickies” in Aussie slang, fortified dessert wine to the rest of the wine world. For my visit, All Saints had poured, for a comparitive master-class tasting, glasses of nearly every Rutherglen producer’s Topaque offerings, from the simpler Rutherglen level all the way through to what are called “Rare” with good reason: they’re made in tiny quantities, and aged somewhere around thirty years in barrel.
It was the Rares in which I was most interested, because… well, because I’m not above that sort of thing but primarily to tell you what they taste like, even though the chances of finding them stateside are fairly… rare…
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“Lento y fuerte.”
This is how Benjamin Romeo – possibly Rioja’s most celebrated modern winemaker since his 2004 Contador red wine received a 100 point score from The Wine Advocate – described how he speaks.
Measured and forceful.
Which, it turns out, is a perfect descriptor for most of Romeo’s wines, as well as for his general approach to life.
To wit: when I met him at the delivery area of his state-of-the-art winery in San Vicente de la Sonsierra, Bodega Contador, there was very little in the way of introduction, and literally nothing in the way of ascertaining what my group wanted to get out of our visit.
“Mira, mira,” he said, “es el plan,” while then launching into a description of what we’d be doing that day together. We would be touring his vineyards, hilltop church bell tower cellar, then back to the winery. Romeo even dictated when and where we’d be taking photos during the tour.
My Spanish isn’t great, but I garnered three things about Benjamin Romeo during our meeting: he curses (a lot – for example, roughly translated on the 2010 vintage: “2010 is f*cking incredible… it’s the bomb… the sh*t!… they’re very thick…”); he is fiercely proud of his wines (to the point where he seems to have trouble understanding why anyone wouldn’t like them); and he packs those wines with so much bombastic, hedonistic flavor that they’re just about bottled reflections of the man himself and are almost guaranteed to be… divisive…
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California sparkling wine has come a long way (baby) since German draft-dodger and later NYC barber Jacob Schram decided that the hot and sunny knolls of Calistoga in the 1860s looked like a suitable place to plant vines like those he’d left behind in his beloved Rhineland (after all, he’d seen hills far steeper – and a lot more difficult to farm – back in Germany).
Schram wasn’t making bubbly back then – that Calistoga climate barely managed the mostly German varietal still wines that he produced there, so much so that he hired Chinese laborers, fresh off work on the railway lines, to dig the site’s now-famous hillside caves in order to protect his wines from the heat (pickaxe marks are still clearly blazoned into the walls). So, Schram would probably be as surprised as anyone by the success that his namesake – Schramsberg – has had in the domestic sparklers department (though Schram was no slouch – by the time of his death due to complications from paralysis in 1905, his winemaking venture was quite successful, and he’d counted among his friends people like Robert Louis Stevenson).
Schram’s son Herman wasn’t so lucky; lacking his father’s passion for the business, he couldn’t overcome the double-fisted body-blows of phylloxera and Prohibition, and tax records form the time suggest that the winemaking family business stumbled mightily by the time it was sold in 1912.
That Schramsberg could again be firing on all winemaking cylinders 150 years later probably seemed just as unlikely in Shcram’s time as any California sparkling wine being able to stand toe-to-toe with some of the best that Champagne has to offer in our time; yet (based on my recent visit this past June), both are clearly happening at this Calistoga hamlet…
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