Unusually delicious wines from an unusual maker
Last night, I pulled the cork on a bottle of Movia Veliko Bianco and on the estate’s Veliko Rosso. These are fresh, vibrant, unusual wines. Harvesting with lunar cycles, adding no sulfites, using natural yeast and employing extended maceration are just a few ways that the Movia estate makes its wine. It’s fascinating that the grapes are harvested and sent straight to the press never taking longer than two hours in transition from the vine to the crusher.
I have had the opportunity to meet and share a glass or two with Ales Kristancic. Ales is quit a character, a complete showman who is entirely passionate about his wines. Ales studied winemaking at the University of Padua’s Conegliano campus and did apprenticeships at Bordeaux’s Château Pétrus and Burgundy’s Domaine de la Romanée-Conti, but he is adamant in insisting that the best school and training he has ever received was that of his father. The Movia estate is in Slovenia, just across the Italian border from Friuli-Venezia Giulia. The vineyards are on both sides of the border. Whether it’s Collio, as the region is called on the Italian side, or Brda, as it is known in Slovenia, the land is the same and it is source to some of today’s most interesting winemakers in the world, like Gravner, Radikon, Kante and La Castellada.
I tasted the Movia big red and big white, which is what “Veliko” means in Slovenian. Veliko Rosso is a deep-flavored blend of Merlot, Pinot Noir and Cabernet Sauvignon. The color of the Veliko Bianco is pale yellow. The first thing that comes is a full nose of honey and apricot aromas, almost a hint of pineapple. In the mouth it is beautifully balanced with crisp acidity and lively flavors of pear and green apple. I think that Movia’s wines represent Ales’s personality. He harvests all varieties of grape that compose Veliko Rosso and Bianko as late as possible and macerates them together. This produces a truly new wine, without the impression of one variety standing out more than others. This approach is a success allowing the aromas and flavors of Veliko to range from fruity to more complex, creamy flavors.
We may not be European, but why do we need to be?
Written by award-winning blogger Fredric Koeppel, on May 9th, the blog post “America Will Never Have a Genuine Wine Culture” has a title that leaves nothing to the imagination. Koeppel opens the piece by illustrating his point with the romance many American wine drinkers have that idealizes the pan-European union of family, wine, and food. In short, think of this: a table placed in a picturesque spring country side, the table-top dressed with a fine white cloth and dotted with the best local food and wine, and surrounded by a single family; represented in multiple generations sharing in some good, good gusto. The epitome of European edible culture.
To support his position, Koeppel contrasts this image with that of a typical modern American dinner setting. The American table is quiet, unamusing, and business-like in demeanor—it’s a far cry from European conviviality. Although Koeppel does gesture towards a growing number of Americans accompanying food with wine at dinner, he underscores that this is not the norm. Rather, in Koeppel’s eyes, normal Americans descend from the conservative main streets of villages and towns of Americas’ Midwest, Plains, and South. A large sector of America where there exists, as Koeppel argues, “a love-hate relationship with alcoholic beverages.” He points to an article published in the local newspaper of Collierville, Memphis. One resident is quoted describing his local community fair in quaint terms: “It’s just part of Collierville. It is family-friendly, you know there isn’t alcohol served, and Collierville is all about family.”
In this statement Koeppel holds the meat of his argument: in America, wine is not compatible with family. Unlike other wine-writers who describe America’s wine culture as being in infancy, Koeppel goes one step further and denies that Americans can ever develop a true wine culture as the nature of our country is morally confused about the ethics of alcohol. He suggests that our country’s Puritan(ical) foundations prevent us from tolerating moderate alcohol consumption openly and assumedly in our daily lives.
Having grown up in both the West Coast and the Midwest, I offer that this generalization isn’t true. Perhaps there remains a subset that is the vestiges of a country about 80 years removed from Prohibition, and one where Puritan doctrine is preserved. Nonetheless, this picture is incomplete. Not to sound cliché, but this country is far too diverse in mind, method, and personality to be encapsulated by one town’s norms. Cities like New York, Chicago, Miami, New Orleans, Detroit, and San Francisco help show us how diverse our country really is – no one sector is a true microcosm. We are pocketed with diversity and traditions that this holds true to soul music, rock, R&B, country-western or jazz–and to wine.
In a piece that I posted in April of 2011, “The American Wine Culture, Fact or Fiction,” I defended America’s wine culture by arguing that America, like Germany, does not solely identify wine as our primary cultural libation, but, nonetheless, we have a rich wine culture. More than anything, I believe that within the last 30 years, in particular around wine producing regions, wine curiosity has cemented itself within the America psyche. This is most apparent in young people who, more so than their parents, have an itch to know wine. Wine trends itself to older folks, and young people know this. I always tell young 20-sums that wine is the new golf of the professional world. It’s an ice-breaker for people of different backgrounds regions to find common ground.
Our country is constantly in discourse about wine and many (young and old) are seeking to know more as conveniently as possible. Through this shared desire, a wine culture is taking root and cannot be ignored. However, I say it will be different than current European models. Perhaps this is why many people disagree regarding the existence of an American wine culture, because it is just so different. But I ask, isn’t every European country’s wine culture different from its neighbor? European countries may be unified in a mature confidence about their styles and wines, but they each have their own philosophies and can disagree with one another over basic understandings. Just take the use of barriques as an example. In France it is standard protocol for “traditional red wines,” but in Italy the use of barriques on Barolo for “traditional” winemakers such as Bartolo Mascarello is as close to sin as possible. There is no singular wine identity or philosophy that can unite the Old World versus the New or even within each. That is what makes wine so enjoyable. It can take on many forms and reflect the emotions and traditions of the people who attach social standards and norms to it, not the other way around.
America is truly changing. We are a much different people in look and behavior than our forefathers, and perhaps we need a few more decades or generations to pass before our wine norms crystallized and are taken seriously by our European patriarchs As long as American winemakers continue to improve and experiment with their methods, and as long as Americans keep drinking wine, we are bound as a country to share the works of our labor with our neighbors and community. We will change, evolve, and our opinions and our culture will too. I for one will be keeping the dream alive and working to define our countries unique wine perspective and I hope you join in on the conversation.
Domaine Dominique Gallois Bourgogne Rouge 2009
This week I have the pleasure of sharing my recent experience with a bottle of Domaine Dominique Gallois Bourgogne Rouge 2009. As with with all wine from Burgundy, it is all about the producer. The Gallois family, whose winemaking philosophy is simply “Respect and Modesty,” has been crafting cult-inspiring reds from a tiny four hectare estate since 1901; half a hectare is dedicated solely to this Bourgogne Rouge.
This bottle from the stellar 2009 vintage certainly over-performs, and it’s so versatile that you can enjoy it year-round. This juicy wine has a bouquet of soft, red fruit touched with a tiny bit of purple and red flowers. The wine delivers elegant, soft tannins on the palate to complement its laser-focused red fruit. The finish is surprising—so much longer than I thought it would be from an entry-level Burgundy. Essentially, this wine is made with declassified Gevrey Chambertin fruit, making it an excellent value at $29.99. I highly recommend pairing this wine with halibut, for the wine will make the soft, creamy flesh really stand out. Cornish game hen would also be a fabulous pairing. A mushroom quiche with herbs and Burgundian cheeses would a spectacular choice as well.
Marketing wine to everyone is hard, but does it need to be?
Wine, you have a public relations problem. It’s not you, wine, it’s us, the public. We get it, and we’re confused. You’re old and you’re new. You’re European and you’re American (and you’re also South African, Australian, New Zealand, Greek, Chinese, Lebanese and more). You’re a complex, intellectual enterprise with thousands of years of history and myriad potential evocations from thousands of different grapes grown in an infinite number of microclimates. You’re a simple drink made and bottled by a Real Housewife.
You’re the toast of emperors and the choice of art openings. You’re Boones Farm and you’re Pétrus. You’re white, you’re red, you’re pink and you’re orange. You are, quite frankly, hard to sell, even as more and more Americans are buying you.
As a person who has made the marketing of wine her bread and butter for the past few years, I see the complex bundle of issues present in selling wine. I’m lucky. IWM’s clients are a savvy group. They’re interested, engaged, fearless, and sophisticated. It makes my job easier. However, I when I look around at the kinds of marketing aimed at customers who lack this level of wine savviness, I despair.
Today’s issue of Businessweek features a piece by Elin McCoy, “Wines Targeting Women are Long on Legs, Short on Flavor.” The header essentially says it all, and in the article McCoy takes a look at several wines bottled and sold to women. McCoy asserts that in an effort to engage the sixty percent of US wine-buyers, winemakers are appealing to women consumers in pretty much the same way that makers of cosmetics, shoes, cars, yogurt or snack cakes do: by appealing to female aspirational vanity. She says, “According to the new ‘girly-wine’ brand marketers, we want to be skinny, to toss our hair playfully like ponies as we pick our bottles to match moods, not foods. We also crave an easy-sipping flavor profile with a naughty edge of sweetness.”
The brand that’s kind of the flagship of this style of marketing is reality TV star Bethenny Frankel’s Skinnygirl line, recently bought by the Fortune Brands for a reported 120 million dollars. That’s a lot of 100-calorie glasses of…whatever (though McCoy rates it highest of all the girly brands she tries). Skinnygirl is, as Mary Orlin pointed out in a Huffington Post piece earlier this spring, problematic. While a reduced-calorie Margarita makes some diet sense, a reduced-calorie glass of wine shaves a slender ten calories off, and as Orlin suggests, that reduction is as much a craven grab at female attention as it is insulting to women. “I’m a wine drinker, not a “female” wine drinker.” Orlin says, continuing, “Would anyone make a Skinnyboy wine?”
Well, maybe not. But they might make “wine for normal people,” if last night’s Mad Men is any indication. Grapefriend offers a recap of the episode, “Dark Shadows,” that includes a tangent where ad exec Roger Sterling attempts to recoup some of his mojo by acquiring kosher winemaker Manischewitz who, as Sterling so pithily expresses, wants to make “wine for normal people,” code in this episode for gentiles. While on the shiny surface the issue is marketing a niche wine to a larger public—and one that copywriter Michael Ginsberg cleverly solves with a bus-side advertisement depicting a case of Manischewitz beneath every bus seat—the larger issue to my mind is exactly how do you market wine to normal people?
Wine, I think, became intimidating when it gained validity. It was an effect of the very creation of wine discourse; the very thing that gave us a language of wine made wine impenetrable. And in many ways, the stuffiness and the inflated rhetoric that circulates around wine is not merely a vestige of a time when wine wasn’t something one did or talked about; it’s also the thing that keeps wine from being for normal people.
Normal people don’t need cute animals on bottles, cunning puns or model’s legs to “get” wine. Normal people need to grow up drinking wine, recognizing that some of it they like, other bottles they don’t, and either way it’s ok. As marketers, it’s our job to guide the innocent and rattle the sophisticated. It’s our job to make the sensual act of drinking something come alive in our words and our images. No mean feat, but something that we who love wine owe to it.
Working to make Chinese wines global
This week I had the pleasure to chat with Judy Leissner, proprietor of Grace Vineyard in China’s Shanxi province. Grace Vineyard has established itself as China’s premier producer of quality wine, and Judy’s unexpected journey from Goldman Sachs to assuming control of her family’s vineyard, thereby becoming a groundbreaking winemaker, has captivated the wine industry.
JR: What do you see as the current perception of winemaking in China?
JL: Most people certainly wouldn’t think of China as a wine-producing country, and certainly not being very good at it. It is important to ignore noises and keep you head down to go against the logical outcome.
JR: What needs to happen for people outside of China to consider trying Chinese wine?
JL: It cannot happen immediately. Time is part of brand building, and local producers need to work together for this joint effort.
JR: Who and what have influenced you as a producer?
JL: Jean-Michele Cazes of Lynch Bages and Miguel Torres. Both are so driven, yet down to earth and want to succeed not only for themselves but also for their countries.
(Judy also admires the branding and collaboration of Champagne producers as well as how Burgundy producers tend to their vines like their children.)
JR: Who are other Chinese winemakers we should look for?
JL: Demei Li recently won a Decanter award for his work with Jia Bei Lan and I admire his passion and commitment to educate. Also, Emma Gao of Silver Heights–this is a very small production with only about 3,000 bottles per wine, but it’s trying to be the best of the best.
JR: When you are not drinking your own wine, what are you drinking?
JL: I will open different wines at similar or higher prices to my own and see how they compare. Otherwise, depending on my mood, it will be Champagne or Pinot Noir.keep looking »