The Demystified Vine

Taking the mystery out of wine exploration!

I read a lot of literature on wine. If you know me personally, you know that I carry around a wine-related book in my purse, so that I can read about wine for that 10 minutes while I’m riding the train to work. Karen MacNeil’s The Wine Bible is getting to be a bit heavy to trek around with…

As of late, I’ve been indulging myself on the vine-hopping stories of Jay McInerney in his book A Hedonist in the Cellar.

McInerney inspired me to try Condrieu!

McInerney inspired me to try Condrieu!

In between his tales of sipping Condrieu while in the Rhone Valley of France or having dinner with Michel Chapoutier, McInerney does conjure a very big truth about wine: it is always, and always will be, accessible.

Wine accessibility? So freakin’ what, you say?

Well, you see, I’m always struggling to find that sweet spot for talking about wine snobbery (see here, and here) because I think we, as wine lovers, have a duty to help others feel more comfortable with the libation we so proudly sip & savour. Wine snobbery is alive and well, and I, personally, can’t help but be excited to spread that enjoyment. (Hey, you don’t know if you really like something unless you try to understand it!)

Wine accessibility is important, and I’ll tell you why in a few moments, but first…

Wine is accessible through food pairings

Wine is accessible through food pairings

Pop Quiz!

Winelover, how many people have you heard say the following? Choose all that apply:

a) “I don’t know anything about wine”
b) “I don’t understand wine”
c) “I don’t drink wine”
d) “I’m not good at tasting wine”
e) All of the above
f) All of the above (plus more)

Recall in your mind the impression that these comments left you with. Chances are good that the reason that folks were saying these things is because they don’t feel wine is accessible to them. I get it. Not everyone needs to like wine or drink it for that matter, but how many of those people might actually want to learn about wine but are simply too intimidated by it? Confidence plays a big role in this, and in my experiences, all it takes is a little understanding and guidance.

“[Wine] can provide intellectual as well as sensual pleasure; it’s an inexhaustible subject, a nexus of subjects, which leads us, if we choose to follow, into the realms of geology, botany, meteorology, history, aesthetics, and literature. Ideally, the appreciation of wine is balanced between consumption and pleasure on the one hand and contemplation and analysis on the other.” [pg. xiv, A Hedonist in the Cellar]

Golden kiwi fruit; a taste descriptor for white wine.

Golden kiwi fruit; a taste descriptor for white wine.

My suggestion for you, winelover, is a simple one. The next time someone says one or another of the multiple-choice options in your pop quiz above, which I’m sure you passed with flying colours, help dismantle his or her fears by creating that accessibility. Help that person make the connection that wine is not just all about the extremely specific descriptors of brioche and vine-ripened golden kiwi that may sputter out of our mouths. Wine is, at the very least, about enjoyment, and at the most, about connecting with the world around us.

Cheers!

September 3, 2016

During the recent Wine Bloggers Conference in Lodi, California, Master of Wine Andrea Robinson stated, “Wine is much more niche than sports.” Of course, this got me to thinking about wine snobbery and what exactly that all means.

I’ve spent hours reading about wine (and wine snobbery for that matter), and it is a concept that continues to come up in conversations, whether they be direct or indirect.

Good cheap red at a cafe in Paris

Good cheap red at a cafe in Paris

This morning on the rainy bus ride heading to the ferry terminal to go to Vancouver Island, I started chatting with the lady beside me. An easy conversation around, “What do you do?” ensued, as per usual when new people meet, and it was a pleasant conversation with a stranger. She is a 3D animator who hails from Edmonton but lives in Vancouver. Low and behold, the time came for me to mention that I am a teacher, but I am also in the “wine business”. Like the hands of the clock striking midnight, the question arose as to whether or not I like (and consume) cheap wine.

Without sounding exasperated (and really, I was inside), I approached the question openly by addressing that yes, I do indeed consume cheap wine. I can name “cheap” bottles, as one would say, that are my “go to” wines to have with a meal. (Cono Sur Viognier stands out at this very second. Ten bucks CAD for that bottle – a real deal!)

I paint abstract pieces that are wine-themed!

I paint abstract pieces that are wine-themed!

“At some point, you know the differences between a quality wine and a cheap wine and how it is made,” I stated gently, “and when you know that difference, you tend to simply enjoy the quality wine more.” She nodded, trying to understand where I was coming from, after blankly stating that she is “not a wine person”.

“Generally speaking, everywhere in the world, there are big wine producers and small wine producers. Big producers throw whatever grapes they can get into a wine, whereas small producers make small batches typically from local grapes in their area, if not their own estate. People who really enjoy wine tend to enjoy wines that express a sense of where they came from, as opposed to a ‘generalized’ flavour of something.”

Grand Cru? Yeah, of course!

Grand Cru? Yeah, of course!

“It’s all about preferences,” I continued after some pause, “and enjoying wine is like the person who is into art but prefers abstract pieces to pastoral scenes, or the sports fan who will watch every hockey game but loathes football.”

“When it comes to wine, you like what you like.” She concluded.

“Exactly!” I enunciated. “There’s nothing wrong with football or hockey, or liking or not liking art. Wine is all about personal preferences. And as an addition, small wineries can make crap wine, too! One just needs to learn what they prefer and enjoy that.”

“You’d be surprised at how many people conclude ‘Oh, you are really into wine? You must not like cheap wine’ when they talk to me.”

Clearly, she wasn’t headed in that direction. After all, she appeared to be a level-headed girl who can think for herself. But this whole “wine snobbery” concept has to, at some point, go into the bucket that is being kicked.

In his novel, A Hedonist in the Cellar, James McInerney candidly addresses how a delight for wine seeps into the hearts of those who appreciate this realm:

Our love of wine is the fraternal bond that brings us together, and it is the lubricant that stimulates our conversation, but it’s a polygamous relationship that encourages and enhances our other passions. It leads us to other subjects and leads us back to the world. It lifts us up and delivers us from the mundane circumstances of daily life, inspires contemplation, and, ultimately, returns us to that very world, refreshed, with enriched understanding and appreciation.” [pg XV]

Much like art brings artists together, or sports fans gather to celebrate the World Cup, wine lovers come together in the same way to enjoy the bounty that grape harvests bring.

And so, if you like what is cheap and cheerful, enjoy it. And if you like ridiculously expensive Condrieu, enjoy that, too.

That lady and I never exchanged names once the bus reached the terminal, but I am fairly certain that we didn’t need to. We were just two human beings having a friendly conversation on the bus. Phones not included.

Cheers!

AcquiesceBottles

Photo courtesy of Acquiesce Winery

Lodi may be full of Zinfulness, and be the largest grape growing area in California at 110,000 acres, but Acquiesce Winery is breaking down preconceived notions about the AVA, and is surrendering itself to being a stand-alone, small-production winery.

What Does it All Mean?

According to dictionary.com, the word “acquiesce” is a verb meaning to “submit or comply silently, without protest”. Why would one name a winery with such a term? After all, everything is in a name, as one of my memorable university professors so duly noted one day during a Shakespearean lecture.

Sue Tipton, the winemaker at Acquiesce Winery, tells us a bit more.

We named the ranch Acquiesce when we purchased the property and at the time, we had no intention to become a winery. The name comes from a K.D. Lang song of the same name and its fun how it ended up being our guiding philosophy when it comes to our wine making

Tipton says the goal for her wine making is to use what nature has provided her and take a “minimalist approach” to crafting beautiful wines.

Acquiesce has become our mantra — to submit to nature, to yield to the vineyard, to acquiesce to the grapes so they present their own true character.

Vines With History

With having sourced their vines from Chateau Beaucastel in the Rhone Valley in France, one can only imagine how intriguing Acquiesce’s wines must be. I mean, let’s be real. Sourcing vines from one of the best chateaus in all of France must contribute to some divine energy in Lodi! (Well, being a huge fan of Beaucastel, I’ll keep thinking that anyway.) And since Lodi has straightforward weather patterns, they need not worry about freakish hail storms or frost-bitten vines.

Sue Tipton in Vineyard

Winemaker, Sue Tipton

So what, you say? Well, this certified green winery is, for a fact, only making white wines. Being an area of California that is highly valued, shall we say, for its Zinfandel production, it is fascinating that Acquiesce’s wine production is only white wine-based, but also making white wines using Picpoul, Grenache Blanc, Bourboulanc, and Viognier grapes. Tipton recognizes that Lodi’s land is more than a place to produce grapes for boozy reds.

The Lodi region has very good soil and temperatures for growing white grapes and with the cool delta breeze that blows nearly every evening, the average temperature of the grapes themselves during the growing season is optimal.
Here at Acquiesce we chose to do all white and all Rhone varietals because they are our favorites and because whites work so well here. We are not the only ones who think so as there are a good number of whites done in Lodi that are quite delicious.

As their production totals 1,500 cases per year, Acquiesce’s wines are small-batch and well-cared for. Tipton, in addition, practices a “no oak” rule in order to ensure her wines are showcasing the fruit and terroir that Lodi has to offer.

image

Rhone Inspired Winemaker Dinner at Acquiesce Winery – Friday, August 12th, 2016

As a result of creating fresh, lively wines that reflect the land, this also leads to Acquiesce’s creations to be, as Tipton calls it, “a chef’s dream companion”.

 

Rhone Inspired Winemaker Dinner

The lot of us that landed dibs on the “Pick a Peck of Picpoul” excursion during the recent Wine Bloggers Conference were pleased when we arrived at Acquiesce for the winemaker’s dinner. I’m sure the natives of Lodi could hear us on our limo bus chanting “Ac-qui-esce! Ac-qui-esce!” as we roared down the streets drawing nearer to the winery on that hot evening.

The wines were so perfectly paired, that many of us were silenced as we delighted in the prosciutto wrapped melon with mint basil pesto paired with the crisp 2015 Picpoul Blanc. Being food and wine lovers, we are no stranger to the bliss that culinary delights can afford us. Lest we not forget the Heirloom tomato Panzanella salad with the 2013 Grenache Blanc, or the crisp duck confit with the 2014 Roussanne. I’m drooling just dreaming about it. Yes, I’m drooling while dreaming about duck. (I like alliteration.) A bow of gratitude to Chef Jennifer Kupka, from Chef Lodi Airport Cafe, for preparing such a phenomenal meal.

My wine-loving friends, if I may be so bold, I encourage all of you to visit Lodi. Its charming vineyards and welcoming winery owners will not only fill your boots with wine, but also fill your hearts with pleasure!

Cheers!

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Opening reception at Mohr Frye Ranch

Opening reception at Mohr Frye Ranch

My recent trip to Lodi, California, one of the high-production AVAs in the state, left me with another reminder that shifting perspectives is important.

We all live with impressions, experiences, and perceptions of the world around us. Before I headed to the land of Zin for the Wine Bloggers Conference, I was waffling between being “stuck in Lodi” or, well, not. Of course, I chose the latter. (Sorry folks, I had to use the Credence Clearwater Revival reference at least once.) I sincerely support the idea that the Wine Bloggers Conference changed the face of Lodi for almost all wine writers and bloggers who attended the conference.

Mettler Family Vineyards

Mettler Family Vineyards

What I came to realize through my travels and information-filled conference, was that Lodi is packed to the gills with serious farmers who have a solid sense of community. Yes, almost everyone and their grandparents are growing grapes for big production, but these farmers also grow for themselves.

Ever heard of Pinotage from Lodi? Didn’t think so. Yet, Mettler Family Vineyards is indeed making Pinotage, in addition to Aglianico. I am no stranger to either of these wines, as they are two varietals that I would pick off the shelf because I want to drink them. So, during the opening reception of the Wine Bloggers Con when I heard through the grapevine that there was a booth with Pinotage and Aglianico, you know where I immediately headed.

Peltier Teraldego

Peltier Teraldego

Why so hasty, you ask? Simply because a) this was my first night experiencing what I understood to be a high-production area for winemaking and b) because I had no idea that Lodi was even entertaining the idea of making Pinotage and Aglianico.

As it turned out, the surprises did not stop there.

Peltier Winery & Vineyards is making Teraldego. Umm, hello! And it was, if I may be colloquial for a moment, FREAKIN’ AMAZING. I spoke to Ian Bender, the Director of Marketing & Design with the winery, and this is what he had to say about why Lodi should be known for more than just Zinfandel:

We love Teroldego and it has become one of, if not, our favorite varietal! We planted it in 2002 just south of our now pop-up tasting room/warehouse. We believe it is important to showcase Lodi as being a diverse wine region, not just for Zinfandel but literally almost any varietal around the world. Lodi Appellation lends itself to doing just that, first by being such a Large AVA and second within the Appellation thrives a multitude of climates and soils. This allows us to grow so much more than just Zin. The Schatz family (Rod & Gayla) grow more than 17 varietals and farm more than 1,600 acres of family owned & operated vineyards. I think we (the Lodi Region) are gaining traction and heading in that direction. Holding the title of 2015 Wine Region of the Year from Wine Enthusiast is a significant accomplishment and great exposure for the region. I think Lodi has been viewed as the Zinfandel stepchild region in the past (a “what good can come from the central valley?” connotation) and we are so much more than that. We are proud of what we grow, produce and bottle and we want the world to know that.

And then there were three. Acquiesce Winery makes Grenache Blanc and Picpoul. I’ll be doing a write-up on this winery soon.

I didn’t get a chance to try all of the gems, I am sure, and I also know that every region is going to be making wines from not-as-well-known grapes. However, one must consider that life is full of surprises, and we can’t know how utterly awesome something is until we stumble upon it and see it in its true light.

Cheers!

I Have a Crush on Lodi

Valerie Stride, WSET ADV Certified

The 2016 Wine Bloggers Conference in Lodi, California has officially ended, and I can tell you I was left with a little more love for Lodi than I had before.

Demystified Vine

Demystified Vine poses for a photo on South Hutchins Street

During wine training courses, lots of knowledge is imparted on eager learners, but one thing I do recall learning about Lodi is that it was the “high production area of California”.

Sure, Lodi is definitely one of the largest grape-producing areas of the sunny state of Cali, but there is so much more to it than that.

Here are my takeaways from the conference that developed my amour for Lodi.

Photo used with permission from Lodiwine.com

Photo used with permission from Lodiwine.com

-=It’s not all about Zinfandel!=-
Lodi is well-known globally for its Zinfandel production, however, let’s set the record straight, folks. Lodi also grows amazing grapes like Cinsault, Picpoul, and Grenache Blanc, in addition to other agricultural crops like walnuts and almonds!

-=Lodi is HOT, baby!=-
My goodness, I’ve never felt heat before like in Lodi. The days are sunny and dry – the kind of dry that makes you feel as dry as the sand on the ground. (Well, with only 17″ of rainfall per year {*cough*} it’s no wonder I was consuming H2O as if my life depended on it.) There is less diurnal range (the temperature difference between day and night) in Lodi than other areas of California, but temperatures definitely soar during the day and drop at night.

Demystified Vine

Acquiesce winery in Lodi is making small batch white wines

-=Lodi has more land than you think!=-
With over 110,000 acres of growing land, that makes it easy for there to be over 750 growers in this small area of California. In contrast, Napa, one of the most popular grape-growing areas of California, has only 45,000 acres to make wine from!

-=It’s not all about mass production!=-
While a lot of grapes are grown and sold to bigger producers in the area and beyond, many of Lodi’s growers are doing their own thing and making some fabulous small-batch vino.

-=Lodi is home to some seriously senior vines!=-
Believe it or not, I saw some of the thickest vines in Lodi that I have ever seen in my wine-country travels. This region prides itself on its Zin-tastic grapes, and the stat is that this “Zinfandel Capital of the World” is making more than 40 percent of Zin in California itself.

Demystified Vine

Thick vines in Lodi, CA

For more information, make sure to visit the Lodi Wine Commission website. If that doesn’t excite you about Lodi, have a conversation with me!

Have you been to Lodi? What were your experiences or favourite finds? Leave a comment below; I’d love to hear from you!

Cheers!

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