Archive for March, 2014

Oregon Pinot Noir including Sokol Blosser Winery

March 10th, 2014

Oregon Pinot Noir at the Sokol Blosser WineryPhoto credit:

Enjoyed last week a dinner in Vancouver with my long time friend Alex Sokol Blosser co-president with his sister Alison at Sokol Blosser Winery ( and since July 1, 2013 the winemaker. Also the date they opened a brand new Tasting Room cleverly wood designed by Allied Works to connect with the land among the tall old oak trees with spectacular views of Yamhill Valley. Their first pinot noir vines were planted in 1971 in the rich red Jory soils of the Dundee Hills in Oregon. Today they continue their “good to the earth” policy through sustainable practices and certified organic farming. We enjoyed Chef David Hawksworth’s brilliant matches of chestnut agnolotti, kale, black truffle & parmesan with an acid balanced 2011 Dundee Hill pinot noir (coolest since 1971), followed by local duck breast, carrot puree, turnip, and brown butter duck jus paired with an earthy 2008 Estate & 2010 Goosepen Block. Interesting story told by Michael Kelly Brown their Director of Consumer Sales & Marketing about the single vineyard name from around 2001 involving a French sustainable practice of bringing in geese to prune by eating the vine leaves but they would not do so and ended up in the freezer and in goose down pillows but the name Goosepen without fences remains.

Alex and Alison SokolAlex & Alison Sokol

Pleased I recommended Alex as the knowledgeable Oregon wine consultant for our annual IWFS Vintage Chart. Interesting to see the top 7/7 marks for vintages 2012, 2008, 2005, and 1999. Alex states “Oregon does acid best and that the cooler years provide the structure for the fruit (like big bones in the human body to support more muscle) otherwise the wine may show too flashy”. I enjoyed reminiscing about all their vintages with Alex & Michael from the first difficult one in 1977, 78 pretty good, 83, 85, 89 all lovely (and 87 OK) and they have a few bottles left of 83 & 85 at around $250/bottle, 90, 93 & warm 94 (even ripened 4 acres of cabernet sauvignon before last harvests of it in 95/96), 02, 04 good ones while 05, 06, 07 more difficult harvest conditions, 07 & 11 lovely acid balance for ageing while 08 & 12 fuller riper richer conditions. Scores of 6/7 on the IWFS Vintage Chart to 2010, 2007, 2004, 2002, 1998, and 1993.

Oregon has made good progress in spotlighting world class pinot noir. Their 3 day International Pinot Noir Celebration ( now the 28th annual on July 25-27, 2014 at Linfield College in McMinnville is still a hot ticket. We enjoyed at our September 2012 IWFS Festival the delicious 2007 Domaine Serene Evanstad Reserve. I like how the Oregon terroir is continuing to be defined. Veronique Drouhin-Boss head winemaker at both Domaine Drouhin in Oregon’s Dundee Hills and Maison Joseph Drouhin in Burgundy knows well the differences between some of those limestone soils of Burgundy and the mostly volcanic soils of Oregon. Remember some comments I believe attributed to her in Forbes on terroir that Dundee Hills shows more elegance and charm like a Chambolle-Musigny while Eola-Amity Hills is bigger structured a little like Gevrey-Chambertin but both uniquely Oregon. Encouraging recent outside investment continues with Jackson Family purchasing Solena Estate and Maison Louis Jadot buying the 20 acre Resonance Vineyard planted in 1981 with the Yamhill-Carlton AVA of Willamette Valley. Watch out!

What do you think about the quality of Oregon pinot noir? What is your fav Oregon pinot noir vintage?

Have you tried Pinot Noir from Oregon?

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A Sober Ukraine

March 7th, 2014

A Sober Ukraine
RIA Novosti archive, image #850809 / Vladimir Vyatkin / CC-BY-SA 3.0 [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

By Joseph Temple

In the city of Odessa, tourists from around the globe arrive every year to enjoy its scenic beaches, an architecturally stunning opera house, and the Potemkin Steps, which take them directly from the city center to the beautiful shores of the Black Sea.  Rebuilt by Catherine the Great in the late eighteenth century, it has all the charms of Old Europe.  And of course, what would a visit to this coastal city be without having a glass of its famous sparkling wine.

As the largest wine-producing region in Ukraine, Odessa – like other areas in the Crimean Peninsula – benefits from a continental climate where its winters are moderated by the seas, making it an ideal spot to harvest grapes.   In fact, from its southern shores to the Carpathian Mountains, Ukrainians have been making wine since fourth century B.C.  Growing many varieties that include Rkatsiteli, Muscat, Aligoté and Riesling, perhaps the greatest structure honoring the country’s wine heritage is the Massandra estate.  Built by Czar Nicholas II in the late nineteenth century, this winery was renowned for producing some of the world’s best vintages by using the most modern operations of its time.

But even with this rich history, it is an industry that was almost wiped out nearly three decades ago.  Similar to how American wine barely survived the man-made disaster known as prohibition, Ukrainian wine also fell victim to deeply flawed social engineering.

Massandra winery main building, CrimeaThe Massandra Winery.  Located in the Crimea, it was built under the orders of
Czar Nicholas II so
he could enjoy the finest wines at his nearby castle on the Black Sea.

The story begins in May of 1985, two months after Mikhail Gorbachev assumed power of a declining Soviet Union.  Times were hard and the streets of Moscow were being overrun with alcoholism.  Running on a slogan that called for a “sober population,” Gorbachev tried to combat this epidemic by legislating morality.

And in true Communist fashion, extreme price fixing took place in order to make it financially impossible for the average citizen to drink.  By September of 1985, a bottle of sparkling wine increased by fifteen percent, while vodka and brandy shot up a staggering thirty percent.

Not confined to tackling just the demand, Gorbachev also went directly after the supply.  Seeing wine as a prime source of alcoholism, orders were given to not only reduce the output from Soviet wineries but to physically rip out the vines that produced this drink.  For nearly three years, field after field was systematically eliminated, reducing the total acreage by an entire third.

Gorbachev Anti-Alcohol PosterA Soviet poster during the Gorbachev led anti-alcohol campaign of the mid 1980s.

As author Brian Sommers writes, “in communist societies, wine producers are pretty low on the pecking order because they produce consumer goods that are associated with wealth.  For a time during the Gorbachev era, wine and all other alcohols were considered a societal evil.”

And nowhere was this new reality felt more than across Ukraine.  In 1985, along with other republics, the Soviet Union was the world’s third biggest producer of wine, behind only Italy and France.  One year later, nearly 800 square kilometers (almost half) of Ukrainian vineyards were wiped out as part of an edict that accomplished little in the long run.

Gorbachev’s policy played out almost the exact same way it did in the United States during the 1920s and early 1930s.  While alcohol-related crimes did indeed drop during this crackdown, many Soviet citizens went underground to satisfy their thirsts.  As home brewing and wine making exploded, the loss of taxable revenue took its toll on the economy.  Reformer Nikolay Shmelev observed in 1988 : “By giving away revenue to the bootlegger, the government in the last two years has sharply increased its budgetary imbalance.”

Nearly thirty years later in the vineyards of Ukraine, the ripple effects of its Soviet past are still being felt to this day.  Although production is at almost 400,000 tons of grapes annually, productivity is as low as 6.6 tons an acre.  Unable to keep up with their own domestic consumption, Ukraine must import wine from other countries just to meet the basic demand. However, there is a renewed hope that with increased access to western markets and investors, Ukrainian wines will experience a renaissance with its bottles being sold across North America and western Europe.

Have you tried any wine from Ukraine?

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March 3rd, 2014

Pichon Baron review
By BillBl [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Just attended along with 23,000 others our educational 36th annual Vancouver International Wine Festival #VIWF showing 1,750+ wines representing 14 countries over 8 days. The theme country this year was France represented by 52 wineries and there was also a special focus on bubbles. 177 wineries (with principals attending) gathered together in one room showcasing their wines over 3 days as well as 54 other special events including a Gala Auction.

One highlight was a wine tasting of Chateau Pichon-Longueville Baron (PLB) conducted by Christian Seely. I mentioned in my blog last week how well their 89 just showed and I did a spotlight on this property last year on February 18, 2013. However thought I should update that profile for the newer vintages presented here together with the special insights of Christian Seely provided at the seminar.

PLB was acquired by the AXA Insurance Group in 1987. Christian Seely personally is celebrating 21 years with AXA the first 7 spent at Quinta do Noval in Portugal. Since 2000 he describes himself as “an Englishman in France managing a French vineyard seeking out that elegant harmonious terroir”. He praises his corporate owner as using a family mission approach with a perspective for long term capital value appreciation rather than yearly profits which helps him with his quality decisions. In 2006 he requested an expensive expenditure for a second barrel cellar. He was asked what is the investment return and his simple answer was “the tannins will become finer” – by no longer having the casks 4 high and with better working conditions. It was approved.

1990: Started the tasting with the oldest the great 1990 composed of 63 cabernet sauvignon (CS)  & 37 merlot (M) at 67hl/ha yield (“maybe more – if reduced to 45hl/ha would show more ripeness in the mid palate now”) still showing freshness, texture and complexity – compared with the hot tropical exotic spicy wilder 1989 twin tried twice last week.

1996:  Higher CS 80% & 20%M but very high yields and less selection. Since 2000 have made much less of their Grand Vin with lower yields and better selection. 72 total hectares of vineyards with 38 of them having that very special old vine CS grown on a plateau of gravel. Grand Vin in 1996 at 385,000 bottles now reduced to 170,000-190,000. Before 20% or so of production was going into the second wine Les Tourelles de Longueville (that also includes more M grown on the more suitable richer soil) but now it is about 50%.

2001: 70CS, 27M & 3cabernet franc (CF) that is not spectacular like 2000 but “relatively cool conditions resulted in a classic and underestimated wine at only 36hl/ha”.

2003: 65CS & 35M very hot dry variable atypical conditions but a most successful open exotic PLB harvested early September 11 at a reasonable 30hl/ha and even less on the Grand Vin plots with roots deep in gravel seeking out nutrients compared to their sister property Petit-Village in Pomerol where M grapes on shorter roots in clay shrivelled on the vine. At PLB two pickings first an elimination pick and then a 2nd perfect pick for an almost “Napa wine in Pauillac”. Acidification was allowed in 2003 but PLB didn’t do so.

2005: 64CS, 33M, and 3CF with 3 distinct orderly pickings & everything perfect for a classic vintage. Wonderful freshness and just starting to open up again but needs at least another 5 years to resolve the still evident tannins.

2009: 67CS & 33M Hot summer where everyone was euphoric during a perfect harvest. Even winemaker Jean-Rene Matignon (since 1985) commented “at least I lived through one great year in 2009”. Wine is showing an extraordinary ripe exuberant personality. Lots of sunshine with the average temperature 2 degrees higher than 2010. Also tasted their second wine Les Tourelles de Longueville in 2009 with only 25%CS and higher 60M & 15CF which was soft, herbal attractive and forwardly but so different from the Grand Vin.

2010: 79CS & 21M Cooler than 2009 but lots of sun resulting in just as good and probably a better year. Not as seductive but discreet showing enormous depth complexity, and precise structure (“more tannic structure than 2005 but less evident because of the purity and freshness of the fruit masking those tannins”). Another quality year of different twins but I got the impression that this may be the Christian Seely favourite. Mine too!

Do you prefer the riper exotic forward styling of the 2003 & 2009 vintages or the harder more classic styling of the 2005 & 2010 vintages?

What's your preference?

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