Tuesday, January 31, 2012

White Bordeaux,Chianti Classico from Organic Grapes

It's time to get back to some specific wines and I have tasted two since returning from France which are available in the United States and made from organically grown grapes.
Chateau Laubarit 2007 Entre-Deux-Mers - Or, we're talking white Bordeaux if that makes things a little easier. Forget it's Bordeaux and you can forget it's French. This is great white wine.

The white is a blend of  60 percent Sauvignon Blanc, 20 percent Semillon, and 20 percent Muscadelle. It's a white you could drink alone, as a cocktail or with dinner. I served a guest, who is not a big white drinker, this wine with roasted pork chops and roasted herbed potatoes and he loved it!

This is easy drinking wine with enough complexity to satisfy any wine drinker. The Semillon and Muscadelle give the wine a super soft palate feel. The alcohol content is a low 12 percent. At $16, you won't find a white that drinks any easier with this much palate pleasing presence.

Julien grabs a bottle for the photo!
Casina Di Cornia 2005 Chianti Classico Reserva - This winery was my very first stop during my recent trip to the Millesime Bio in Montpellier, France. I met  Julien Luginbuhl who just returned to his family wine-making business within the last year.

I love Chianti but find the quality so uneven with dollops of Merlot and uneven acid in many of the wines you find on U.S. shelves. The Cornia Classico Reserva was big bold dark cherry with balanced acid and a satisfying finish that didn't over power the fruit.

I love the fact the family uses Sangiovese and the old Italian varietal Canaiolo for the wine - NO Merlot. Being a Classico and a Reserva moves the price up a bit to the mid-$20 range, but it's worth the price.

Casina Di Cornia has been producing its wines with organically grown grapes for more than a decade.

I would challenge any wine drinker to taste either of these wines, both highly recommended, and not appreciate the fact that no pesticides, no herbicides or other chemicals - and only minimum sulfur - go into the production process.

Send comment or questions to: hewitthoward@gmail.com

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Thursday in Languedoc Countryside Was Trip's Highlight

Spending a full week in Southern France's Languedoc wine region was full of highlights. The week built to a full day out in the Languedoc countryside that really capped the week off.

I returned to Indiana Friday evening and have been recovering from the long flights. I have a lot of material to wade through. But I'm going to post some notes and build some albums as I got along.

Thierry Julien giving us a taste of Janiny wines.
Thursday was highlighted by a morning with Jacques Frelin who is a major figure in organic wine exporting to the U.S. His family is widely credited for starting the organic wine movement and starting the AIVB, the organic wine organization that sponsors the Millesime Bio wine fair.

Jacques took me to the 3 S bottling plant that serves many wineries in southern France and then on to Pezenas.

Thierry Julien's family also has a long history in organic vineyard practices. Julien is the current AIVB president.

The two shared candid thoughts about the perception of organic wine in the U.S. and why there remains much confusion. Their remarks are quite interesting. I'll be writing that story for Palate Press in coming weeks.

But I have a lot of material I can use in the newspaper column and elsewhere. And I have a lot of material that will eventually get posted here.

Here is a photo album built this morning from my Thursday in the Languedoc.
Send comment or questions to: hewitthoward@gmail.com

Thursday, January 26, 2012

The Languedoc Countryside with Organic Leaders

Thierry Julien, AIVB President
Southern France organic wine producers, and the Languedoc in particular, face an uphill battle in the United States trying to convince consumers that organically grown grapes and "organic wine" isn't a simple discussion about sulfites.

That is the shared opinion from two of the movement's leaders and founders. The AIVB's current president goes even further. He suggested in a late afternoon interview in his office in St. Bauzille de la Sylve that some U.S. producers (and perhaps others) suggest no wine with sulfites can be called organic not for the most definitive definition of organic but simply to protect market share.

Thierry Julien, current Association Interprofessional Des Vins Biologigues (organic wine producers), believe some of the constant U.S. debate centered on sulfites is not a true debate but one to surpress the growth of wines produced from organically grown grapes.

That is a bit of a taste from an interview I did with Julien at his winery and in his office in Southern France. Most of material I gathered today will be used for a Palate Press story about organic wine.

Jacques Frelin
My morning was with Jacques Frelin the first-ever president of the AIVB and General Manager of Terrior Vivants. Jacques is one of France's leading exporters of organic wine. He works with 35 individual producers a negociant - or wine buyer.

Frelin's family founded France's organic movement beginning in the mid 1960s when his father-in-law was getting ill dealing wih chemicals used in the vineyard.

Frelin is an eloquent and passionate spokesperson for organic wine. He speaks about the health of vineyard farmers and doing the right thing for the Earth and the environment.

He escorted me through an informative tour of the lab which scrutinizes his wines and assures all government regulation is met. Jacques makes it clear it's harder to produce wine made from organic grapes than traditional methods.

His and Thierry's comments are insightful and even provocative.

Languedoc's old vines and terroir
This is my last post from Southern France. I'm off early tomorrow morning for a flight back to Indiana. It's a long series of flights.

I have a world of material to share in coming weeks and months. I add a personal note of thank you to several people. First, thanks to the AIVB for including me on its annual press tour. San Francisco wine importer and distributor Vernonique Rasking and Maine importer Paul Chartrand for making the trip happen. Those two were also responsible for this remarkable day in the Languedoc countryside. And, one more thanks to Sarah Hargreaves, a local wine PR professional, for being my driver and translator today. We had great fun.

I hope/plan to sit down this weekend and write a wrap up post of things that won't fit into bigger stories, about my first-ever trip to France, and such.

I will have a newspaper column or two in coming weeks, a big piece on French organic wine on Palate Press in coming weeks, and other material to share from this trip.

Au revoir!

Send comment or questions to: hewitthoward@gmail.com

The Wine World Through a Buyer's Eyes

Importer Paul Chartrand and Perlage GM Ivo Nardi
MONTPELIER, France - Yesterday was the final day of Millesime Bio, the organic wine trade show, here and what a full day!

I spend most of the day with Paul Chartrand, a Maine importer of wines made from organic grapes. Paul, his northeastern distributor "Sam" and I made the rounds tasting plenty of wines and talking to current suppliers and tasting wines Paul may wish to carry in the future.

I was hoping to interview a couple of more people yesterday but I found the experience of tasting with a veteran wine buyer too valuable to pass up.

Marcella and I share a Prosecco toast!
We started our morning with a lengthy session (maybe 30-45 minutes, for this show a long time) with Perlage of Soligo, Italy. Perlage is one of, if not, the leading organic producer in Italy. Perlage is located in Prosecco, Italy's northeast region opposite Piedmont.

We tasted through several wonderful Prosecco sparkling wines all made from organic grapes. Though not a huge fan of sparkling wines, I've always found Prosecco among the most enjoyable. These were outstanding examples.

We chatted with family estate General Manager Ivo Nardi and his sales manager Marcella Callegari. Ivo speaks limited English so we conducted a short interview with Marcella acting as interpreter.

I learned a lot from Paul as he charted wine prices using a spread sheet to add shipping costs, his margin, and what he could sell the wines per case to U.S. distributors. Paul works in a certain price point. He takes the organic wine world seriously having been involved in food and wine issues since his college days.

And, you do get every winemakers full attention as a U.S. wine journalist. But when you have a U.S. wine importer along, that doesn't hurt either.

I should note for readers close to my home in Indiana, that Perlage is available in Indiana and many surrounding states. Friend Derek Gray of GrayBull Wines is Paul's Indiana distributor.

The Rest of the Day ...

We made many more stops throughout the day and in the afternoon Paul went into "power tasting" mode. We rushed from stand to stand but once Paul arrived at each customer's table he gave them individual attention and took the time to appreciate their wines.

We tasted outstanding whites from the Loire region, some more Italian, and a large range of Languedoc wines. Paul even took a suggestion from me and visited a producer I liked. We were rushing up until 5 p.m. when it was time to catch our buses back into the city.


Today may be the best day for photos and learning more about Languedoc. I'm spending the day at three wineries and talking to the current AIVB president and past president. We're having lunch in a small village and visiting wineries and wine cellars. Friends, it just doesn't get any better than that itinerary for a day in Southern France.

I will definitely get something posted tonight, maybe a photo album if nothing more. But it will be early to bed to catch a 5:45 a.m. taxi to the airport and head home.

Send comment or questions to: hewitthoward@gmail.com

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Young Guns Boosting Organic Wine Growth

MONTPELLIER, FRANCE – There are 587 wineries from around the world participating in the 19th Millesime Bio here and there seems to be just as many stories.

Men of 70 and 80 years old with domaine and chateau names which just sound historic are plentiful. But you also see the young guns. There are a substantial number of 30-something and even 20-something year old winemakers. Some are following in their father’s footsteps while others sought out the life of vineyard work and winemaking on their own.

Cyril Bonnet
Cyril Bonnet is a very young winemaker with a very long history. He is the seventh generation to make wine. Most of that history is in Champagne where his father and family still live making the iconic bubbly at Chateau Bonnet-Ponson. But Cyril wanted to go out on his own and now has Chateau Bonnet in Villaudric, just northwest of Toulouse.

Bonnet is one of those 587 producers trying to make a name for himself. He grows an odd little variety most outside of Southwestern France have never heard of before. He blends Negrette with other more common varietals and even makes a 100 percent Negrette wine.

Being a young winemaker at 28 with an obscure grape means marketing is important. He also is a believer in organic practices and is fully certified.

"It’s very, very important, to be exported to the clients and be here at Millesime Bio,” Bonnet said. “If you can’t come to this type of fair it’s impossible to make contact to customers. My father told me this one is important because it’s very professional, very simple and we love it.

“Maybe 30 years ago it was possible to make it just working in your vineyard with what you sell there at the farm. But now maybe 50 percent of the work is to go to find customers and the other 50 percent is to make a good wine.”

Bonnet is serious about organics and grew up knowing nothing else. His father started organic practices in Champagne in 1979. “My father is very sensitive to all ecology and puts more of an emphasis on being all organic. I agree with this position, but I don’t like the extreme side when it goes toward biodynamic.”

The wines were interesting. I liked the Negrette grape and it definitely has a different flavor profile. The wine was light on the palate and it made for very drinkable red table wine. Bonnet is producing about 2,200 cases of wine each year.

I was able to do 6 interviews and get a lot done today for future blogs, Palate Press, and the newspaper column. I am getting together with U.S. importer of organic wines Paul Chartrand, who works out of Maine, to taste our way through more wineries Wednesday.

Another Young Gun
Luigi Di Tuccio
Antica Enotria - Luigi Di Tuccio was handing the pouring, sales, and marketing chores mid afternoon at his family winery's table. He could also be described as a young guy. He was worked every aspect of the business with his father. His father was one of first in Italy's Puglia to make the move to organics and became a leader in the region.

The winery has some great varietals that aren't household names - Nero di Troia, Aglianico and white wine grape Falanghina. His wines are available on both coasts. The family makes approximately 8,000 cases annually.

Other stops ...

Romain Bouchard - Two young brothers with no real family history in the wine business decided to buy a winery that had gone out of business in the Chablis region. They are now making two Chablis and have found some success with wines being exported to New York.

Chateau de Fosse Seche - This fun young couple are making wines in trhe Loire Valley's famed Samur region. I tasted their Samur Chenin Blanc and found it not as light as others I'd enjoyed but sure tasty. They also had a very nice Cabernet Franc.

Sitios De Bodega - This started out as a case of mistaken identy. I was looking for a winery I would find later then the language barrier with a Spanish woman and my confusion gave us a laugh. I ended up tasting and liking her first vintage of Verdejo which I liked very much. Export manager Alejandra Sanz was a good sport, with pretty good English, in telling me about the new effort.

Domaine de Picheral - Boxed wine in France seems a pretty ridiculous opposites attract kind of thing. But I've seen lots of boxed wines at the fair. I approach with my typical Tew Parl Ongleah? "Do you speak English?" to get two shaing heads and plenty of laughs for the three of us. What the heck, we used hand signals and pointing - a universal language - to taste a pretty darn good Rose, and a rather forgettable red. It was fun.

Ploder-Rosenberg - Austrian winemaker Freddy Ploder was the most congenial host of the day. The short, stout man was an enthusiastic wine tour guide through is tasting. Sharing just the right amount of wine geek talk, history, and good humor. I liked the entire line. Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc ... with several of he wines done in different winemaking styles.

As I wrote yesterday, I visited quite a few more wineries but these were the most interesting stops. And I visited several and did interviews which will turn up in future writing.

Send comment or questions to: hewitthoward@gmail.com

Monday, January 23, 2012

First Day of Tasting in France; I liked Italian

MONTPELLIER, FRANCE – I visit arguably the most important wine country in the world and two of the three best wines I tasted today were Italian. What are the odds?

The three-day Millesime Bio opened today with thousands of buyers, importers, more than 100 press people and nearly 600 wineries presenting wine. The 19th annual gather here on the Mediterranean coast has to be seen to be fully appreciated.

Part of my day was taken up by a couple of interviews, technical problems, and getting my laptop somewhat functional. I still managed to stop by 8-10 different winery booths. Picking up printed brochures, taking notes and photos is just one of the ways to remember details.

Julien with a bottle of his Chianti Classico
My first stop was at the table of Casina Di Corina of Tuscany’s Italy region. The winery and family estate is located near the south central city of Siena. I spent a good bit of time with Julien Luginbuhl who just returned to his family wine-making business.

Julien’s father bought the property in 1979 and immediately began organic farming practices in the vineyards. “It was just his way of thinking then and it’s still the same now,” Luginbuhl said. “It’s my way of thinking.”

That wasn’t always the case because Luginbuhl initially decided he would make his name in different forms of agricultures and went off to university. But just this year he returned to the family land is now living in one of the guest houses and working the family winery.

He worries though that the family’s small property won’t be big enough as his older brother and he slowly take over the business. The winery currently produces a modest 2000-3000 cases a year. Julien is thinking the brothers might have to look at buy more hectres for grape production.

With 600 wineries, you need a strategy
The two wines I tasted were his Chianti Classico and Chianti Classico, both from 100 percent Sangiovese. Beautiful cherry fruit and understated acidity made these as good as any $10-$20 Chianti I’ve tasted. No regular wine drinker could pick them out as “organic” or anything else.

And that’s really the point of this gathering. The organic farming practices are very important to these world leaders in the organic grape growing business. But the first thing they have to do with each vintage is make great wine. No one will listen to anything about organics, not to mention buying a bottle, if it doesn’t taste good.

These Chianti wines were great examples of good Italian wines.

Nice Wines from Italy's Piedmont.

The other stop at an Italian table was with gentleman winemaker Alessandro Uslenghi of Nouva Cappelletta. I've tasted more good to great Chardonnay this trip than I ever expected. Cappelletta's Chard was light but rich in Chardonnay flavor, mild acidity, some nice pear on the nose. I also enjoyed his Cortese, three Barberra wines (one without sulfites) and a wonderful Rose.

Nebbiolo is many wine drinkers favorite grape and certainly one of mine. Monday I tasted my first Nebbiolo Rose' and it was fabulous. It was my "suprise" pick of the day. It had wonderful structure and acidity and intense fruit on the nose.

Allessandro's single vineyard Barbera, Minola, was just great wine. I've never drank a lot of Barberra but this one could change that habit.

Other stops ...

Domaine Virgile Joly - Every region has its up-and-coming star, even if not everyone agrees on who that might be. Virgile Joly s certainly one of those rising stars (if not already established as a leading winemaker) in the Languedoc.

He joined us for inner on Saturdayt night and I tasted through his wines Monday. He has a new Grenache Blanc that's wonderfully interesting and light white wine. I plan to sit down with Virgile today or tomorrow for an interview.

Domaine des Cedres - This Cotes du Rhone winery has solid Cotes offerings. Frankly, nothing spectacular but very solid representation of the region.

O'Vineyards - Here is a great story I'll be writing in in more detail in near future. Ryan O'Connell and parents moved from Florida to Southern France in 2004 and opened a winery. Beside the unusual migration, Ryan is setting new standards for social media and exploring ideas of wine tourism that are fresh for the area. His blog "Love That Languedoc" is a big hit.

Best Wine of the Day - But the very best thing I tasted all day was a traditional Languedoc blend from Carle and Courty and wine maker Frederick Carle. His Cuvee Marion (his daughter) was rich, nice acid, great balance, and lingering finish red wine. It's a blend of 70 percent Syrah, Carignan, and Mouvredre. It won a gold medal at this year's Millesime Bio competition.

Odd and ends ...

I certainly did taste more wines .... and more wineries. Those were some of the highlights. I'm hoping to catch up with importer Paul Chartrand today. Tomorrow he'll show me around to some of his favorite winery tables.

Also, I do try to post several Twitter updates throughout the afternoon. Just click the Twitter button at right.

Send comment or questions to: hewitthoward@gmail.com

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Technology Fried = No Detailed Blog Post

Dinner: Guineafowl
At last count, I tasted 43 wines today and fried my netbook power connection.

I was able to post pics to Twitter and one to Facebook. I hope to be back in business Monday. Several of my new French friends have offered to help.

Greqt day though. Hopefully, I can be back in business Monday. I have managed to get one photo up here: Dinner was Guineafowl :... our waiter said turkey. The french at our table were quick to correct him. It was delicious.

Did I mention the appetizer? A soft boiled egg surrounded by a seasoned foam with black truffles. It was damn tasty.

Yes, it said 43 wines at the top ...

Send comment or questions to: hewitthoward@gmail.com

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Kickoff Dinner with Organic Winemakers

The press trip for the Millesime Bio got underway tonight with a dinner at Plaisirs des Mets in the old part of downtown Montpellier.

We had three winemakers join us for dinner and pour their wines. I'm not sure if the dinner was typical French cuisine but the group found it interesting. The group is just as interesting. We have a five Danish journalists, several from Germany, one from Finland, and a British wine writer who splits time between London and the Loire Valley.
Dinner was every bit as interesting as the wines. We started with what most of us thought was some deviled crab in crispy shells - much like an egg roll. It was on some greens with a bit of sauce.Our choice of entree was simple fish or veal. I opted for the fish and it was great. The skin was crispy the white fish was really delicious and the bones were pretty easy to deal with. I didn't eat the head - just couldn't to it.

The dessert was off the charts. There were two rolled, crispy pastry shells filled with a chocolate grenache. One was a bit more bold than the other.

There was also a nice small foam and an uber-sweet, homemade vanilla ice cream. Some had coffeee and some did not after dessert. We all had more wine.

The wines were uneven, all organic, but for the most part very nice.

Joining us for dinner was Jean Paul Cabanis of Domaine Cabanis, who sat across form me. Marie Teisserenc of Chateau Du Luc and Virgile Joly of the winer that bears his name. Again, all are producing wines from organically grown grapes.

Jean Paul
These are truly small producers. Cabanais, as example, makes about 8000 cases of wine annually. His Mouvredre-based wine was the best of the night for me and a couple of others. It comes from south of Nimes and the southern most appellation in the Rhone Valley. He does all the aging in cement. The wine had a delightful nose, a bit of tartness on the finish and beautiful balance.

I had Jean Paul's wine with my fish and it was awesome. The Mouvredre blend also won a silver medal at this year's Millesime Bio.

Jean Paul got the evening started with perhaps the most unique offering. He poured his white claret wine, a grape almost always used for red wines. It had a nice tartness to go along with a unqiue nose and finish. He sells alot of this wine to Japanese buyers to pair with Sushi.

Joly had the best white of the night for my taste. His wines were the most consistent of the night as well. His new Grenache Blanc was light and refreshing. It had light citrus and beautiful blance.

Teisserenc's wines had prominent oak and in a couple of instances too much oak. But her '09 Vigonier was certainly different than many you'll find. It's fermented and aged in oak and comes out an unusually dark yellow for this grape. It's also an unusually high 15 percent alcohol.

Her best wine was a 2010 Chateau Coulon from Corbiers that was light with a blend of Carignon, Syrah, and Grenache. The grapes are all hand picked and handled in a manner her father started years ago.

Ok, so these producers won't be easy to find. But it makes a point I've made over and over again. Seek out smaller producers and you often find outstanding wines. The wines we tasted Saturday night didn't have any of the negative characteristics sometimes associated with organic wines - thin on the palate. Some were certainly better than others. But if I poured most wine drinkers the best of what we had tonight they would never haven known whether they were organic or not.

Send comment or questions to: hewitthoward@gmail.com

Arriving for Week-Long Stay in Languedoc Wine Region

Montpellier, France – The incredible charm and history of European cities never ceases to amaze me when I have at least a little time to wander the streets.

I left Indianapolis Friday at 1 p.m. and arrived this morning in Montpellier, France (via Atlanta and Paris) for a week-long press stay in this modern and ancient city that sets on the Mediterranean Sea. I’ll be attending the 19th Millesime Bio Monday through Wednesday. Tomorrow the press group will learn more about organic wines, visit a winery, and finish the day with dinner and winemakers presenting their organic wines.

A couple of interesting buildings facing Place de la Comedie
Before flying home Friday, Jan. 27, I’ll be spending Thursday visiting three wineries out in the Languedoc region. All three producers have significant history in the organic wine movement.

Today was about recovery from all that time in the air. So I had a short nap this morning and then met the marketing person organizing the press trip for a nice seafood salad lunch. I then took 2.5 hours to walk the old historic part of the city. I could walk the old streets and soak in the charm for a week without ever getting to a winery.

I love how alive these old European cities are. The huge pedestrian gathering spots and streets draw tourists, locals, and plenty of performing artists. I posted an album you can click here. A few of the photos are labeled but most aren't. I could look up all the history but as you can tell looking through its an area rich with Roman-style and French architecture.

This evening the 15-member press group gathers for the first time for dinner with a few organic winemakers pouring their wines. Hopefully, I'll have the energy afterwards to write a short re-cap of meeting the winemakers and enjoying my first dinner in France. Hopefully! If not, come back each night this week for stories, wrap-ups, photos and highlights.

Send comment or questions to: hewitthoward@gmail.com

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Smooth Australian Semillon Surprises

Semillon is a grape many novices have never tried and probably not even heard about. The grape is grown widely in Australia, France, Chile, and South Africa. I tasted some California grown Semillon in Mendocino County, CA., last January.

I think it's a wine many wine drinkers would really like if they give it a try.

I recently opened a 2008 Australian Jenke Vineyards Barossa Semillon. The family moved from Germany to Australia in the 1800s.

The wine is crisp and grassy like a Sauvignon Blanc with hints of lime and lemon.

Many white wines are just a one hit wonder, but the Jenke Semillon had balance, some action on the mid palate and a wonderful lingering finish.

You could have this wine alone any night or serve it with vegetarian dishes. I would be a marvelous pairing with roasted chicken.

I found prices all over the place on the internet ranging from $15-$23. I paid $19.99 at Cork and Cracker in Indy.

Send comment or questions to: hewitthoward@gmail.com

Indiana Scores at S.F. Chronicle Wine Contest

It's always great news when Midwestern wineries can enter the really big wine competitions and come home with honors.

Mark Easley, who runs the family-owned Easley Winery in downtown Indianapolis, has to be elated! He buys some of those great Michigan Riesling grapes and makes a Riesling that just won a gold medal at the San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition.

Congratulations to Mark for being a part of the ever-growing movement to improve Hoosier state wines!

Send comment or questions to: hewitthoward@gmail.com

Monday, January 16, 2012

A Full Immersion into Organic Wine World

I've downloaded the French language app to my iPhone and buried my nose in more than a few articles on organic wine. Next week I'll be attending the 19th Millesime Bio wine trade show on organic wines in Montpellier, France.

The Millesime Bio brings together wineries and members of the worldwide distribution network in a private trade fair. This year organizers expect 600 exhibitors from countries all over the world, drawing some of the world's leading wholesalers, brokers, wine merchants, sommeliers, caterers, and importers.

And like any such show, there will be a small number of wine journalists there as well. I will be attending, with a group of Northern European wine journalists, as guests of The Inter-professional Association of Organic Wines from Languedoc-Roussillon.

France's often overlooked Languedoc-Roussillon region, in southern France, is one of the leading organic grape-growing areas in the world. The region has 50,000 hectares under organic prodcution in 2010. That's 124,000 acres for you non-metric types.

Exhibitors pouring their wines will come from all over the world. The annual gathering also includes presentations and talks on organic wine laws and growing practices.

I'll have more later in the week. But I do intend to update throughout my time in France on Twitter, Facebook, and nightly updates here.

I'm blessed to have Veronique Raskin of The Organic Wine Company in San Francisco and Paul Chartrand of Chartrand Imports helping make the trip possible and arranging a few big highlights. The conference runs Jan. 23-25, but Raskin and Chartrand have arranged for me to visit three wineries on Thursday of that week before returning. I'll visit with founders of the Languedoc organic movement and the AIVB president.

It's quite exciting to visit southern France and be immersed in the worldwide discussion on organically grown grapes.

Send comment or questions to: hewitthoward@gmail.com

Friday, January 13, 2012

Wabash Magazine: Above the Rim

My wine writing and work in marketing at Wabash College do cross paths. I have written about a couple of our graduates in the California wine industry for our alumni magazine.Last summer I visited Willamette Valley in Oregon and have written extensively about that here, my newspaper column, Palate Press and elsewhere.

Our alumni magazine editor Steve Charles was preparing an issue with a travel theme. He asked me to write about my latest wine trip from a travel perspective. I really enjoyed telling the story of those behind the tasting room counters and behind the scenes.

Here is a PDF of those four pages as they appear in this issue of the Wabash Magazine.

Send comment or questions to: hewitthoward@gmail.com

Monday, January 9, 2012

A Saturday Morning of Fresh Goodness

The City Market is an old Indianapolis tradition
While this post is mainly for my friends in Central Indiana, I'd hope it also provides encouragement to anyone who reads the post to find Winter Farmers Markets in your community. But it's not just about farmers markets either. Small retailers, especially wine retailers, need you more than ever in the first quarter of the year. Business falls off and they need your support.

One of my favorite Saturday morning activities year round is driving 45 minutes south to Indianapolis and visit several stops where I can buy food and wine items I just can't get in a town of 16,000 where I live.

The farmers market delivers fresh produce in winter!
My Saturday started at the Indianapolis Winter Farmers Market inside the old City Market in downtown Indy. The City Market is worth the trip with its interesting food stands and variety of vendors. I bought a dry lentil/BBQ soup mix for the crock pot from U-Relish Farm before ever getting to the Farmers Market.

The winter market draws a huge crowd. I worked my way around the market then doubled back to buy some goodies. I picked up some very flavorful pastas at Your Family's Pasta stand. I've found many flavored pastas I've bought in the past not very flavored. I had a bite of some of the pasta at the Rubenstein's stand and the flavors popped.

The lemon/pepper pasta rocked.
I'm a sucker for chocolates, especially truffles. I picked up some chocolate-covered orange rinds from friend Julie Bolejack's Chocolate for the Spirit. Julie was working a different market Saturday but I was able to visit briefly with her husband. But you can never have enough, so I stopped and chatted with Suzanne Litteral at Litterally Divine Truffles and picked up a couple of dark chocolate truffles.

One of the more interesting and fun stops was with a young man behind the Smoking Goose table. The smoke and cure meats from Indiana farms with an eye toward handcrafting their products. I bought a Duck, Pear, Port Sausage. Really! I can't wait to try it.

I bought some fresh greens for a salad and was then off for other stops.

Buttercream icing to die for!
One of the real finds of the morning was Sweet Tooth Bakery on Indy's Massachussett's Avenue. I had driven by the place before but had the time to stop Saturday. Cupcakes! Oh my goodness, they have cupcakes. I bought some red velevet cupcakes with rich, smooth and creamy butter cream icing. Owners Jennifer Taylor and Anastasia Duis told me they feature speciality cakes - extreme decorations might be another way of putting it.

Just an interesting side note. I asked the two nice ladies how a tiny little business in the downtown area prepares for the Feb. 5 Super Bowl? They've already had one order placed for 5,000 snickerdoodles! Wow!

I had lunch and a glass of wine at old friend Jill Ditmire's Mass Ave. Wine Shop. Then I picked up a friend and we drove to the far northside to Vine and Table - a gourmet grocery and wonderful wine shop. V&T has one of the best gourmet cheese selections I've seen in Indiana. I bought a bottle of Loire Valley Rose' over on the wine side.

The next stop was at Ashley Lockwood's Cork and Cracker. I mainly stopped in just to say hello but anyone reading this knows how that works! I left with three bottles of wine.

We stopped at Fresh Market to pick up some grocery items to wrap up our day. A stop I didn't make Saturday but is normally part of my routine is just down the street from Fresh Market. I frequently buy pasta at Nicole Taylor's Pasta and Market.

One of the most frequently asked questions on this blog and my newspaper column is where I buy my wine. I have about four shops I visit frequently but the two above are certainly great ones for value wines in the Indy area.

Additionaly, I hope this serves to motivate you to get out and support small businesses like these during these slow winter months!

Send comment or questions to: hewitthoward@gmail.com

Friday, January 6, 2012

Rico Suave in a Bottle ... Errrr ... Soave

I became a big fan of Italian Soave on a hot Florida beach. It was very hot, I'm pale, I did what any self-respecting wino would do and that was head for liquor store.

I wanted a light white and found a Soave. I don't remember the producer, but they had a chiller and chilled it down for me. I sipped it on the beach, by the pool, and reading my summer vacation novel. I loved it. I've bought several since and find them super hot weather wines and excellent sippers.

Tonight, I opened to share the 2009 Soave Re Midas with my wine Dudes. We're doing an Italian night with some big red whoppers, so a nice light Soave seemed like a wonderful start to the evening.

First a little quick wine education. Soave is made from 100 percent Garganega grapes. Check the link if you want to learn more about this elegant little Northern Italy white wine.

The peach and pear on the front of the palate and the smooth mid palate made me easily forgive the disappearing finish. You'll get a hint of mineral but this 12 percent white wine is a sipper. Don't make it complicated at $10-$14 a bottle. Buy it, drink it and enjoy it.

Besides all that wine geeky stuff, how often do you get to post that famous Gerardo Mej√≠a video?

Send comment or questions to: hewitthoward@gmail.com

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Big Sales, Michigan Thrives, Silly Labels

Every now and then I stumble across some interesting wine stories that I think even novice wine drinkers might enjoy. And sometimes a post of "odds and ends" offers up tidbits that aren't enough for a newspaper column or blog entry.

So let's get to a list of interesting stuff:

Sales Are Up
Despite the economy and all the bad news you read daily Americans still enjoy raising a glass of wine. As a matter of fact, early indications are wine sales increased in 2011 by 14 percent! U.S. wine consumption took off in the early 90s. A surprising number of people credit the 60 Minutes television show and a story they did on French wine consumption and perceived health benefits.

Some of the buzz about Reservatrol has been silenced by recent science. But there remains boosters and believers that red wine in moderation does have health benefits. So keep drinking! My goal, is to live to 100. Ha!
U.S. Biggest Seller
You've seen it in your stores and it might not be everyone's first guess. But Barefoot wines are now the biggest selling brand in U.S. food stores. The brand, owned by E.& J. Gallo. The Barefoot wines were up 23 percent in sales last year. That is remarkable growth. It sells in most groceries for around $7.

Michigan Wine Boom Continues
I was really fascinated with the Michian wine industry when I made a three-day in the summer of 2010. I wrote this piece for Palate Press. The wines will really surprise first time visitors. I'm anixous to get back. The state's wineries are still getting good press, like this story in the Lansing Journal.

Sassy Bitch, Toads, Frogs & Other Critters
The proliferation of wine and savvy marketers has all sorts of funny, sassy, and risque labels reaching wine shop shelves. I stumbled across this interesting story in California's Santa Rosa Press-Democrat originally published in the New York Times. It's fun and educational on all things concerning wine labels.

Coming Soon ...
- I hate making promises because they don't always come true! But here goes anyway. I have several video interviews I conducted last summer in Oregon's Willamette Valley with some fantastic winemakers. The interviews were originally intended for a Palate Press video story that never came about. So I'm going to clip those down a bit and start posting them within a week or so. There is some really great stuff.

- I've been chatting with a number of people who have reached out to me with story ideas, including: A Michigan state professor who's bringing a new cold-climate grape to the state and a nationally known wine writer about value wine. I've made contact with a couple of Hoosiers in recent months for stories as well. If you like wine, you've seen the wine art - paintings, melted bottles and nicknacks. I met a woman in Indianapolis doing some nice pieces I hadn't seen before. And, I'm trying to arrange an interview with Indiana's top selling wine retailer.

- Now this one is really a tease. I'm waiting on word about a possible trip to one of the most iconic wine producing nations in the world. If this one works out, it will provide a real bounty of story ideas for all the outlets where I write. Stay tuned!

Send comment or questions to: hewitthoward@gmail.com

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

A Long Time Between Chilean Carmeneres

Chile, Argentina and others in South America are producing some outstanding varietal red wines and red wine blends. I love Malbec and Bonarda from south of the border but I'm still developing a taste for Carmenere.

I popped open Falernia 2007 Reserva Carmenere the other night and it had that dark purplish color the grape is known for and a pleasant nose.

I liked the rich dark fruit and thought it was pretty smooth wine until I got to the finish. Then, someone lit a match! The alcohol seemed way too pronounced against the dark fruit flavors. I went searching for the bottle to find the wine comes in at 15 percent alcohol. For me and this grape, that's a bit hot.

The grapes come from Chile's Elqui Valley and the Vicuna area. It sees about a half year in oak. It's a decent value at $15. The acid was still pretty strong 24 hours after opening.

The wine has a nice mouth feel until you get to that finish. Carmenere is a great grape for wine exploration. It's usually very affordable, a bigger wine, but with a nice big fruit component. The alcohol in this one will scare some people off. Nevertheless, it's a good value and a decent introduction to Carmenere. This arrived as a trade sample with another Carmenere, I'll be anxious to try the other!

(Falernia 2007 Reserva Carmenere, SRP $15, Trade Sample, No Recommendation)

Send comment or questions to: hewitthoward@gmail.com

Monday, January 2, 2012

A Personal Manifesto: Time to Step It Up!

So I wrote the obligatory Thanksgiving wine column, New Year's sparkling wine piece, and even the end of the year "best of" lists.

In the immortal words of the late Peggy Lee, "Is that all there is?"

I'm not about to write a New Year's Resolution column, instead this is a bit reflective and even self-criticism: I haven't done much with this blog and want to it move forward.

I just like this shot! Ha!
Penning 26 newspaper columns a year takes my best effort. I'm proud of my efforts and have even been known to brag a little. I've done some good reporting for the newspaper column while some wine writers don't seem to know the meaning of the word.

My stories for Plate Press have been some of my best efforts. Most blog visitors and even newspaper readers probably don't know I write a quarterly column for Madison, a quarterly magazine published by the Anderson Herald Bulletin. The magazine goes to higher-income homes in East Central Indiana. I write wine stories focused on higher-priced wines for that publication.

This is my 495th blog post so I'll hit some sort of milestone soon. I need to be writing 3 times a week or more to generate serious interest. My blog has done very well when I've done wine trips, or some of my wine travel. But it languishes the rest of the time.

My wine writing is a profit-loss loser. But it's supposed to be that way for a few more years. I'm paid for the Palate Press stories and the magazine efforts. I hope to do more with my wine interest in retirement, which is still a few years away.

I've read several prominent bloggers lately lament about wine blogs. Many have written how poorly written or uninteresting most blogs are. I agree. This blog falls into that category too often. My criticism is too much wine writing is for wine geeks like me and not the general public. That's an entirely different topic for a soon-to-be future post.

My frustration with my blog is reflected in the numbers. I had 105 entries in 2011. But I managed 151 in 2010 and 184 in 2009. I started the blog in October of 2009.

I want to do better and bring more opinion to current issues, reflect on things going on in the wine world that will matter to readers. Anyone who knows me, knows I'm one opinionated SOB. Yet, I don't bring that to the column and blog often enough.

The gloves are coming off and I think it will be fun. I'll still do reviews and share wine news for those who don't have time to digest all the stuff I see in my inbox. But I want to ad an edge of fun and opinion.

So no New Year resolution column or blog - I promise!

Instead, a pledge to work a little harder to bring more readers to Grape Sense - A Glass Half Full. The only way one can do that is to have something to say or share. Invite your friends. It should be fun.

Send comment or questions to: hewitthoward@gmail.com