(images: delawaretoday.com, gophila.com, vinology.com, newdaleville.com)
“It is my life’s work to identify and bring out colors, smells and flavors that not only typify my region but are also delicious.” – Eric Miller, Chaddsford Winery
A few months ago, I started a mini-series of posts about how to become a ‘wine geek’ (see Part I and Part II for more background). This post is the (long overdue) third installment of that series.
The ultimate wine geek is probably the winemaker – what budding wine geek hasn’t (at least for a minute or two) entertained the thought of growing their own grapes, and making and selling their own wine?
I went to the source to get an insight into what it’s like to run your own winemaking operation. Following is a short interview with winemaker Eric Miller, proprietor of PA’s most celebrated winery, Chaddsford.
I asked Eric to reflect on winemaking after celebrating Chaddsford’s 25th year. The result is a fascinating look into what it really takes – passion, know-how, and a fair amount of luck – to make and sell your own wine…
From the point of view of an experienced Winemaker: what resources do you feel give wine lovers the most ‘bang for their buck’ as beginners just exploring wine, and then as more experienced wine consumers?
The best resources for a new wine drinker: avoid tight-assed views stuck on old world rules and regs. I teach a twice annual class on what wines taste like, the words to describe them with an international selction under the primary headings of: light fresh fruity dry (white annd red), light fresh fruity sweet (iIonly show a white), med to full body dry white, med to full body red usually a cab, pinot, syrah or shiraz, and a fortified sweet red like lbv porto.
My suggestion would be to get the terms down in an environment like that. If that is not available just go to the myriad of shops that do tastings and begin to get vocabulary in tune with taste. If that is not available throw a series of parties and have a hell of a range of wines for friends and you to taste. The important thing is to taste like a banshee.
“There are few printed publications or blogs that are tuned to the beginning wine drinker, unless you want to begin with prejudice or excess info.”
Or if the new-be is really bold go as close to the source as you can. Winelovers like me will talk eagerly to someone truely interested. (you get a dozen newbes together and iI will speak). There are few printed publications or blogs that are tuned to the beginning wine drinker, unless you want to begin with prejudice or excess info.
What are the most essential resources for you as a Winemaker (excluding your own know-how and expertise)? I.e., the top 3 or 5 resources that you could not live without, and to which you find yourself returning on a regular basis?
What I do to learn is to formulate questions. That is so hard. Then what I do is put it on paper, see how it looks and put together a budget. Then I contact industry friends to see who is working on those topics and send my agenda. When the serious know someone is serious he or she will find time to chat.
To learn about the restaurant industry I read “restaurant wine review”. To learn about production I scan “practical winemaker”, “the american society of enology and viticulture” and “vineyard and winery management”. To understand what it means I make a date with our enologist and she gets excited or answers and shuts me down. Or I call our state viticulturalist, and he either answers me or sends me on down the line. It is never easy.
After 25+ years of successful winemaking, what advice would you give to wine lovers that want to expand their knowledge of wine? What advice would you give to those that may want to someday enter the wine trade?
I do not have 25 years of succesful winemaking. I have 25 years of trials and some successes. I would say to those who want to learn wine to make the hard decisions about what they want: is it sales or production? One needs to know a bit about either but the disciplines require a life time to get good at. Especially in this varying east coast climate.
“Climate trumps all but judgment.”
Here we are faced with climate change for most vintages and to produce wines typical of the region (and not colored by infections) the first critical thing is to know the effects of site, soil and climate on the development of non-terroir affectations. Climate trumps all but judgment. Being an east coast winemaker today is a commitment to research. I need to be bled dry of information by someone with a depth of technical understanding of the chemistry of our soils, the effects of our climate on what the vine uptakes and how a vineyard should be established so controls are limited. I have limited interest in how to sell. My simple mind says that in today’s world of wines we have simple divisions. Superstars that have cult status to carry them, mass marketed products and regional wines with only local interest to carry them.
The future of a successful marketer is to move a lot of wine off the shelf. That’s a matter of money and marketing. My future is as a local product with regional identity. It is my life’s work to identify and bring out colors, smells and flavors that not only typify my region but are also delicious.
In the course of time I have made wines that a) do not taste like California wines or are from California, Australia, Italy or cost less than 12 bucks a bottle and so are rejected by a significant number of wine drinkers b) suck and I will never be forgiven or tried again c) are exemplary examples of this region and fit the wine-model of only the most broad-minded or uninitiated wine drinker.
“Any good winemaker, if you want my recommendations for someone thinking of getting into the biz, has gotta love delayed gratification. Be bold. And never, never, never, never never, never quit.“
What that means to those who want to sell wine might be to avoid anything that is new and not-yet-established. Or it might mean that those who see the next big thing will become recognized clairvoyants. How can i make recommendations?
I have been revising my thinking about how best to handle tannins and acidity and fruit character in terms of soil amendments and cultural practices and pressing and timing of malo-lactic fermentations and frankly my attention is gravitating to ’08 and ’09 releases and analysis of tissue and soils from this growing season in terms of the ’08 vintage.
Any good east coast winemaker, if you want my recommendations for someone thinking of getting into the biz, has gotta love delayed gratification. Be bold. Find other winemakers who will talk and keep on trying. And to quote my new friend, Patrick Feury, and Winston Churchill – never, never, never, (Churchill has a tommy gun in this photo) never never, never quit.
How about you ask me the same questions in 10 years?
(images: eyesonafrica.ne, shebeenpub.com, news.aunz.yimg.com, experienceholidays.co.uk)
Following is guest post from Henré Rossouw. Henré is the social media strategist and blog author of WineCountry.co.za, an umbrella wine, food and lifestyle portal dedicated to the Paarl Wine Region. Paarl’s rich history, quality wines and breathtaking scenery makes it one of the wine landmarks of South Africa.
The Masters of the Universe
From sunny South Africa, the country that brought you Pinotage, Nelson Mandela’s Long Walk to Freedom, Oscar winning performances by the monstrous Charlize Theron and talented Gavin Hood, sporting icons such as Gary Player and Ernie Els and now, the US Masters Champion of 2008, Trevor Immelman, I would like to extend a warm welcome to all of Joe’s readers.
While Joe cares for the most precious little thing on earth, he has granted me the opportunity to grace you with some wine flavoured news from my country.
Of course, very few articles about South Africa these days make it past the first couple of paragraphs without mentioning the unfortunate stain that Apartheid left on our page and the impact it had on our people, our economy and also our wine industry…
Since that fateful day in 1994 when the barriers of Aparthied had been torn down, our country went from strength to strength. I also can’t help but contribute our country’s rise to stature to our Rugby World Cup winning team that beat the New Zealand All Blacks on the 14th of June, 1995 at Ellis Park in Johannesburg.
Due to an unfortunate incident prior to the final, it was almost seen as a touch from God that Chester Williams (born in my hometown Paarl) became only the second “player of colour” to don the Springbok jersey. Chester today is still seen as an icon to just about every rugby fan in South Africa.
Since 1994, the wine industry in South Africa boomed once again. For a country with a 350 year old wine history, the end of apartheid signified the beginning of New World penetration. Despite global recession, our international exports in 2001 have increased a massive 17.1% from the previous year.
While South Africa’s industry is very small, ranking in at only 16th with about 1.5% of global plantings it is our production and quality that sees us at 7th position, accounting for 3% of the world’s wine.
“Since 1994, the wine industry in South Africa boomed once again. For a country with a 350 year old wine history, the end of apartheid signified the beginning of New World penetration.”
Of course, it is our signature red grape, Pinotage, a cross between Pinot Noir and Cinsaut (grown under the name of Hermitage in South Africa) that distinguishes us from other wine producing countries.
Pinotage, a portmanteau of Pinot Noir and Hermitage, was first created by a South African Viticulture professor, Abraham Izak Perold in 1925 and received its first recognition in 1959 when it became champion at the Cape Wine Show.
Fast forward a couple of years, the birth of the Internet as it is known today, and a new trend in Internet usage – loosely termed as social media – and it was a winery from my neighbouring town, Wellington, that revolutionised the South African wine industry.
By employing blogging (this thing you’re reading here) as sole marketing tactic, Stormhoek Wines received international acclaim for groundbreaking marketing innovation!
They offered a free bottle of Stormhoek wine for each person commenting on their blog and also published a renowned UK liquor store’s discount voucher on their blog.
The rest, as they say, is history. A little closer to my home, it is the Paarl Wine Region which we thought could do with some much needed exposure. Nestled between the historic wine landmarks of Stellenbosch and Franschhoek, it is widely known in local circles that Paarl, with its 105 wineries, produces some of the finest quality wines in South Africa.
The WineCountry website and blog pays tribute to this place I call home and we’re looking forward to playing host to more international visitors exploring the beauty of the Cape Winelands.
Till next time!
– The Plonk signing off.
Last week, I posted an article with my Top 10 Budget Wine picks. In the dreamy, sleep-deprived bliss of fatherhood, I totally missed the opportunity to invite you to submit YOUR favorite low-cost wines.
Blame it on the magic of having a new baby in the house – the kind of special magic that wakes you at 3AM and keeps you up until 6AM soothing a small, crying human being and saying things like “Aaaaaawwwwwwww…. What’s the matter sweet lil’ munchkin?“
Anyway, let’s make up for this gross oversight!
Got a great “budget wine” recommendation? Shout it out in the Comments!
1) You have to think the wine is good
2) The wine needs to be widely accessible
3) The wine needs to be cheap (ideally under $15 USD, but certainly not more than $20 tops).
In other news: My stint in “new baby-land” continues, and so far I am really digging being a dad. To help me out and give me some extra diaper-changing time, there will be more interesting guest posts for you next week. Stay tuned…
(images: Joe Roberts)
That time when a young man’s fancy turns to love.
And to thoughts of what wines are best to get that love just a little bit tipsy. Or maybe a lot tipsy, depending on the moral stature of the young man.
Although the weather here in the Mid-Atlantic/NE has been a bit unpredictable lately, I know for certain that Spring is finally here. I am sure of it, because I receive regular calls and post mail from Chemlawn asking if I want to participate in their lawn care program (apparently, it’s Spring and my lawn looks like crap).
I had originally planned to write a nice, conventional little post about Wines for Spring. I was even going to call it “Rite of Spring” (get it?) which sounded cute to me (despite the sacrificial death portrayed in the ballet of the same name).
Then the Dark Side took over. Literally…
You see, Quite a bit has been written (very well, I might add) already on the subject of lighter wines for lighter-weather times. For example, WineLoversPage.com has a great recent recommendation of a sparkling pink Prosecco for Spring.
There are many other wines that would serve you well on a Spring picnic. Like a spritzy Vinho Verde. Or a light rosé, which is a nice option for easing out of your heavy Winter reds into lighter Spring fare.
But you know what?
Even though it’s Spring, the evenings are still on the cool side here in eastern PA. And I don’t want to give up those heavy Winter reds just yet.
Maybe I’m just not down with the vernal equinox, but I still find myself liking my wine dark. And when not dark in color, I want that wine dark in character – bold and “heavy.”
To bolster my stubborn stance, it seems the general wine-buying public isn’t easy to sway either when it comes to changing their wine drinking habits. In the Winter, people drink big, bold wines like Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Merlot.
And in the Spring and Summer, they drink: Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Merlot.
At least, that’s the tale that the wine retail sales figures in the U.S. tells.
Who am I to upset the applecart?
Welcome to Spring. Drink whatever the hell you want!
There will be plenty of time in the months ahead to savor those crisp, fruity, spritzy, mouth-watering and thirst-quenching lighter wines.
For now, savor that chill in the air that greets you when the sun goes down and the wind picks up just a bit, for just a second. That’s a little stab of Old Man Winter’s cane, as he pokes you lightly in the gut. You know what he’s saying?
I’ll be back.
As you take a swig of that last big, dark, gnarly, 14% alcohol red wine you had stocked up on when it was snowing outside, just look Old Man Winter in the eye and tell him something for me:
Whatever. I’ll be waiting. And I’ll have more of this killer Shiraz with me, too.