Saturday, July 24, 2010

2006 Willowcroft Farm Vineyards, Cabernet Franc, Virginia

Terry post:

There are nine grades of cork exported from Portugal for the purpose of stopping wine in bottles. Those grades are:
  • Flor

  • Extra

  • Superior

  • 1st

  • 2nd

  • 3rd

  • 4th

  • Agglomerated

  • Colmated

I bring the grades of cork up for discussion because corks are so very important when it comes to the health of a bottle of wine. A good cork retains the labor of the winemaker while a bad cork provides a route for oxygen to invade and destroy.

The truth of the matter that bad corks are rare. Really rare. I have not pulled a bad cork in ages, until this evening. When I pushed my corkscrew into the 2006 Willowcroft Cabernet Franc, the cork moved down the neck of the bottle - I was able to retrieve the cork, but I had my concerns about the poor seal.

My impressions: Light ruby in the glass. Almost nothing on the nose, with repeated sloshings being necessary to release a hint of cherries. Moderately tannic. Short dry, herbal finish.

Second thoughts. It is my belief that a 2006 Cabernet Franc is is an old wine - likely past its prime. So, I should not be too disappointed with the results - cork problem or not.

My first bottle from Willowcroft was a surprisingly approachable Riesling with food friendly characteristics.

I has hoping that this Cab Franc would be equally pleasant. It brings me no pleasure to observe that is was not.

~ Terry

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

2008 Willowcroft Farm Vineyard, Riesling, Virginia

Terry post:

Summer Wine Series

According to the maps app on my Droid phone, Willowcroft Farm Winery lay at the end of a three-mile dirt road. As my wife and I bounced down the narrow dirt road I seriously questioned whether my navigation unit had lost its digital marbles.

Fortunately for me Willowcroft is three miles down a dirt road and after the trip I can report that the wines are very much worth the bumpy ride.

We arrived around 2:00 p.m. this past Sunday afternoon and were struck by the beauty of the site. A lot of wineries are beautiful to view but a scant few have a gorgeous view across an adjoining valley and the Blue Ridge Mountains from its hillside location. Willowcroft does.

Working behind the counter, Chuck (very helpful) provided us samples of eight wines: five whites and three reds. We tasted an un-oaked Chardonnay, Seyval, Albarino, Riesling, Vidal Blanc, Red blend, Merlot and Cab Franc for only $5 per person. The Riesling and the Cab Franc were far and away the most interesting. I would note for my friends in Iowa that Willowcroft is offering a Traminette this year for the first time - while I wasn't able to taste it, Chuck thinks that it is a good wine. Maybe next time...

My impressions: Pale in the glass. Green apples and citrus profoundly on the nose. Medium bodied with sufficient acidity acidity to stand up to more than the typical Riesling pairings. Best when cold. Flattens out a little when it warms up. Ever so slight hint of tannic astringency at the end - grape seeds maybe? Moderately long citrus finish. Recommended.

Second thoughts: The typical pairing for Riesling is with spicy curry dishes, Chinese take out and other entrees which don't seem to fit any other wine. At 1% RS this is not a typical Riesling and combined with an almost Sauvignon Blanc like-backbone it is deserving of more upscale dining considerations than "take out". I think this wine would stand up very well with pasta dishes with butter or cream based sauces - particularly were seafood in the mix. Don't get me wrong: this is not a razor sharp Chardonnay. But it is balanced so nicely it would be a shame were not its full potential realized.

$15.99 at the winery.

~ Terry

Monday, July 12, 2010

The Value of Wine Competitions

Brad Post

Before this weekend I must confess to being a bit skeptical about the judging process at wine competitions and the value of their results.  Science is on my side too (Journal of Wine Economics, Volume 3, Issue 2, Fall 2008, Pages 105–113).  This study found only about 10% of judges were able to replicate their scores, that is, if they judged a wine as a bronze award, later they might judge it as a silver or no award.

One of the hallmarks in the scientific method is reliability of findings, in other words can we be confident of our results, and in wine judging that would amount to being able to reproduce similar judging scores on different days or on different flights of wines on the same day.  My reference study suggests fairly convincingly that competitions might be unreliable.

So, if the results are unreliable and the judges are unable to replicate their own findings why would a winery submit a wine to a competition?

My firsthand account of a large, multi-state wine competition suggests there is great value in submitting a wine to a well-organized and run wine competition.  Of course the “value” comes with an important caveat – what do you, the vintner/winery, expect or desire from the experience? 

Create a Buzz.   Some wineries may submit wine(s) in an effort to increase their medal count as a means to convey to the public the value of their wines.  Award winning wineries proudly and deservingly display their awards and trophies to an adoring public.  The public, in turn, frequently defers to the judgment of experts when determining a wine pick. 

PR Value.  Great wines get attention!  Wine competitions provide an opportunity to get a second or third opinion on the quality of our wines.  High award winning wines (silver and gold awards, in particular) are very good wines.  Having the gravitas of skilled wine panelists whose expertise aligns with a winery’s desire for recognition is a public relations opportunity waiting to happen.  When properly managed wine competition awards can get a winery a tremendous amount of free-media exposure.

Disconnect?  It’s rumored that wine judges prefer big, bold, dry traditionally made red wines so their opinions and expertise are disconnected to the reality of our tasting rooms and regular folks.  While personal tasting preferences may lean in this direction it is also true that good wine is good wine and well-trained judges easily distinguish the difference between good and not so good wine.  

Opportunity Knocks!   The best wines were well-balanced wines.  Midwestern grapes are typically high in acidity, much like German Rieslings, and as a consequence many these competition wines were better suited with some residual sugar.  And the best ones, over and again, possessed varying degrees of sweetness.  Best varietals were consistently identified, stylistic patterns developed, and if I were making wine I would take a hard look at what the judges loved and what our consumers love and notice this one thing – they are very similar.

Final Thoughts
After tasting hundreds of wines, as an observer during this competition, my perspective about wine competitions were significantly altered.  Having a highly skilled panel of experts tasting my wine, even if the result wasn’t what I had hoped for can be informative.  Winery’s whose entries did not earn a medal could simply dismiss the findings as evidence of poor judging.  To me that would be missing a BIG opportunity.  If my wines didn’t earn a medal in a competition where I thought it was medal-worthy, then I’d reevaluate my wines and ask for advice and critique from other winemakers.

A region/state can learn a lot from a competition, such as what grape varietals/cultivars are winning.  Like I mentioned, good wine is good wine, and many of the new hybrids are making excellent wine; although, many of us may need to adjust to the reality and limitations of these grapes.  Just like winemakers in Germany aren’t making Cabernet Sauvignon but instead concentrate on grapes that grow well and make the best possible wines, in a style that enhances their varietal character, so too should we (the Midwest) focus on making wines from our best vines in a suitable style.

My experience at the competition completely shifted my perspective and now my appreciation for the judging process is radically improved.  We frequently turn to science to lend strength to our point of view and in our empirical world-view wine judging does not live up to this high standard; however, despite this fact, I am encouraged by the professionalism of the expert panel and how closely their results likely mirror consumer preferences.


Monday, July 5, 2010

2009 Port of Leonardtown Winery, Vidal Blanc, St. Mary's County, Maryland

Terry post:

Summertime Wine Series

The wine laws in Maryland are a morass of legislation designed for one purpose and one purpose alone: to protect financial interests of the beer and the booze wholesalers, distributors and retailers. For all the talk in Annapolis regarding supporting small business they have utterly failed to act in a meaningful way to support the state’s small wineries and that is a damned shame.

Fighting against the entrenched interests in Annapolis are a handful of grape growers in St. Mary’s county who have founded a co-op through which to sell their grapes and produce their wine. Due to the cruelly-burdensome alcohol laws in Maryland, the wine is available at the winery and at a very small handful of local restaurants and retail outlets. The wine cannot be shipped.

The Port of Leonardtown Winery is located in solid concrete building along side a small creek. Outside it is very basic. Inside is where the magic takes place.

On a very hot Sunday afternoon I spent about 90 minutes with two of the co-op members: Gerald and Connie Byrne. I sampled everything which they had to offer and found two which I chose to buy and take home for further study.

My impressions: Pale straw color in the glass. Austere when poured chilled, unfolding to melon and pears at it warmed in the glass. Moderately acidic edging towards tartness - food friendly. Short herbal finish. Drink now. Recommended.

I paired the Vidal Blanc with my wife’s hearty fish stew served over toasted French bread with pressed garlic and olive oil. They were superb together.

Bottom line: The Port of Leonardtown Winery makes a graceful Vidal Blanc which is well suited to pair with Maryland staples such as fish, chicken and crabs. The winery is a small gem which restaurateurs and wine lovers alike should embrace and appreciate NOW.

$15 at the winery.

~ Terry

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Terry post:

Summer Winery Reading List for 2010

Every year the newspapers, hosted television shows and magazine create some sort of recommended reading list for those whose near-term plans including lounging on a beach somewhere.

These lists generally are packed with fiction offerings - the sort of get-away reading which is best enjoyed away from home.

I am going to take a slightly different view of summer reading: reading to increase productivity and focus the mind of the business side of the vintner. So, here is my recommended reading list for the summer of 2010.

“Good to Great” by Jim Collins. I have recently re-read this book and found it less impactful this time around, yet still a must-read for anyone who works to make their business successful for the long run. Mr. Collins provides simple guidance which business owners can take to heart and exploit. It is interesting to note that several of the “Good to Great” businesses listed in the tome have gone belly-up since the first publishing of the book.

“Heart of Change” by Jon Kotter. Another b-school favorite which places a great deal of stock in the need to commit emotionally to economic ventures. For those who are passionate about their business yet see the need to change - this is a must read.

“Blue Ocean Strategy” by W. Chan Kim. Seriously outside-the-box thinking in this easy to read book which has spawned a subculture of followers. Awhile back, I suggested to Iowa wine growers that their inability to grow the typical California grapes was not a weakness. Using Blue Ocean Strategy, I suggested that Iowa has an advantage over California in grapes that are unique to Iowa advantage should be exploited.

“Twenty Love Poems and a Song of Despair” by Pablo Neruda. I have always felt that there was something poetic about making wine. While this book has nothing to do with wine making, it has everything to do with love and passion - virtues necessary to be successful in life. Written by the 20th centuries finest poet in any language.

~ Terry