Washington wine center under way

Wine tourism marches on. As western New York sees construction proceeding at a rapid clip on a center for wine and food near Canandaigua Lake that it hopes will draw tourists, ground has been broken in Washington state for the Walter Clore Wine and Culinary Center (seen here in architect's drawing).

It's a $9.2 million center, located in Prosser in the Yakima Valley wine region, that its backers foresee as both a destination for tourists and a place for winemakers to gather.

The facility, expected to open in May of next year, will have a 17,500 square-foot building, vineyards, organic gardens and a public park. The main building will have a restaurant, exhibition galleries, a theater, a demonstration kitchen, wine bar and a retail shop.

The center's namesake is the late Walter Clore, regarded as the father of Washington wine. The state is the No. 2 producer of premium wine in the United States, trailing only California.

To Dowd's Spirits Notebook latest entry.
To Dowd's Wine Notebook latest entry.
To Dowd's Brews Notebook latest entry.
Back to Dowd's Bar Blog home page.


Attention, wine-loving manly men

Let the backlash begin.

First it was winemakers unashamedly creating products aimed at the female market. Now, the latest niche is ... men?

Yup. Ray's Station, a California winery, has launched a line of merlots and cabernet sauvignons it says is just for men -- the kind who like to hunt and fish, as Ray's ads portray them; the kind who like manly emblems, like the galloping stallion on the label of "Hearty Red Wines for Men" (about $15 a bottle).

Brian Hilliard, head of marketing for Ray's Station, says they will produce no white wines before their time, or any other time. Whites, the folks at Ray's proclaim, are for women.

So, who exactly in that huge market niche labeled "men" is the target demographic?

Says Hilliard, "These guys, they're married; they've got a couple of kids. Wine is part of their lives, but it's not integrated in a way that they really force themselves to be knowledgeable."

Ray's Station is a six-year-old Sonoma County operation owned by Jackson's Estate Brands. Its production advantage is having a surplus of hillside-grown grapes from Jackson properties in the Alexander, Knights and Bennett valleys of the county.

"We have a lot of plantings and always have an excess of juice," Hilliard told the San Francisco Chronicle. "Cabernet and Merlot in the $11 to $15 category is the hottest in the industry, so we're hitting that point with wines made from 90 percent mountain fruit. We make some money, and the customer gets one heck of a value. It's not a brand that's going away. We can sustain Ray's Station for years to come."

To Dowd's Spirits Notebook latest entry.
To Dowd's Wine Notebook latest entry.
To Dowd's Brews Notebook latest entry.
Back to Dowd's Bar Blog home page.


An ancient land revives love of the grape

A few years back, I hosted a wine tasting at which I supplied the basic lineup but invited guests to bring a bottle along. The catch: It had to be from a country bordering the Mediterranean.

The average person's geographic knowledge being, regrettably, as shaky as it is, many of them were lost once they got past a short list covering Spain, Italy, Greece and France. Some suggested Portugal, then realized that was off base after checking a map. Others automatically excluded a number of countries, assuming no wine would come from predominantly Muslim countries. Still others did their homework.

By the time the evening was over, everyone knew you could find wines from such Mediterranean-bordering lands as Turkey, Slovenia, Greece, Albania, Croatia, Morocco, Israel, Lebanon, Jordan, Algeria, Tunisia, Syria and Egypt.

While most of those countries don’t produce what most people would regard as fine wines, you can find a few gems if you look hard enough.

I regard Slovenian wines, for example, as the Rumanian wine of the 2000s. Just as Rumania was sending us dirt-cheap, big-taste reds from the Premiat winery back then, Slovenia is sending us dirt-cheap, big-taste reds from the Avia winery today.

One of these days Turkish wines may regain the cache they had in bygone eras. Wine grape cultivation is increasing in that bi-continental nation on the eastern end of the Mediterranean, a region that in biblical times was known for its high-quality wine and which some modern researchers believe may well have been where wine originated.

The topic of wine-grape growing and winemaking can be prickly in Turkey, where Christian and Muslim practices sometimes clash.

Of course, when it comes to reality checks, commerce often trumps everything else. Take Wine Istanbul 2006, a trade show that was part of the 5th annual Gourmex Fair that just wrapped up in the Turkish capital of Istanbul.

Among the gourmet products being displayed and sold there to a gaggle of industry insiders will be wine, raki, vodka, whiskey, cognac and beer, according to its organizers. And, to show it's not a passing fancy, the show will offer exhibits of wine production equipments.

One example of the uptick in Turkish wine interest can be seen in a rural area of central Anatolia, about 65 miles north of the capital of Ankara. There along the Kizilirmak river in an area of treeless hills, about 20 of the 40 families in the tiny village of Uyurca grow wine grapes.

When the Ozbek family began planting grapes, "Our neighbors said it was wrong, against Islam, to produce wine. They said our soil would dry up and it would no longer rain or snow. But that was more than 10 years ago," Cengiz Ozbek, 37, said in an interview with IOL, a South African news service. "Then they saw how much money we started to make. Now they, too, are planting vineyards."

Turkey is the No. 4 producer of grapes in the world, but only 2% is used in wine production.

As IOL notes, "Nearly all Turks are nominally Muslim, but the country's secular system keeps religion on a tight rein and has long fostered a tolerant attitude towards alcohol despite the Koran's teaching that it is sinful."

"The old imam here was against the vineyards, but he left and was replaced by a younger, more pragmatic man who says it is a matter for the individual's own conscience," Ozbek said.

Uyurca boasts a mild microclimate and soil ideal for grapes. The villagers now produce about 500 tons of grapes annually, up from just 12 tons in their first harvest in 1996. It sells its entire production to Kavaklidere, Turkey's largest winemaker.

At one time, Christian Greeks and Armenians dominated the Turkish wine industry. When the empire collapsed after World War I, many left Turkey. Kavaklidere was founded by Turkish entrepreneurs in Ankara in 1929 and had the support of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, president and founder of modern Turkey.

Today, Kavaklidere has a production capacity of 18.5 million liters and a 35% share of Turkey's registered wine market. It exports about 20 percent of its total production, mostly to Europe. Its best-selling wines are Kalecik Karasi, Okuzgozu and Narince.

Another major player is Doluca, which got a $15 million upgrade two years ago that resulted in a new winery with the latest winemaking technology. Doluca has an annual production of 10 million bottles, with Villa Doluca and Ozel Kav its leading labels.

The main hassles Turkish wineries are facing today are a large illegal liquor market, which is cutting into domestic sales of alcoholic beverages and an ever-increasing tax burden. Tax on wine has grown by more than 100% since the Justice and Development Party (AKP), an Islamic group, came to power in 2002. Tax on beer has risen by 50% and on raki, the most popular liquor, 26%.

The AKP says it has no plans to outlaw alcohol, insisting it only wants better regulation of the trade.

As to the quality of Turkish wines, the smaller, independent wineries turn out some interesting blends. Kavakladire's mass-market wines are a decent middle-of-the-road product. Noted wine writer Daniel Rogov offers his tasting notes on a fairly broad range of Turkish wines I have found helpful.

To Dowd's Spirits Notebook latest entry.
To Dowd's Wine Notebook latest entry.
To Dowd's Brews Notebook latest entry.
Back to Dowd's Bar Blog home page.

Russian official seeks ban on some wines

Gennady Onishchenko, head of Russia's State Sanitary Service, has proposed a ban on the import of wines from Georgia and Moldova, citing health concerns.

"I request that legal measures be taken to stop imports of wine and wine-making products from Moldova and Georgia and manufactured on the territory of these republics," Onishchenko said in a letter addressed to the head of the Federal Customs Service, according to the RIA Novosti news service.

There is nothing inherently wrong with wines from the two former Soviet Union republics. The problem lies in a growing market for low-quality, unregulated bootlegged wines being sold as high-end Georgian and Moldovan products.

Citing numerous violations of health regulations, Onishchenko suspended health and hygiene permits for wine imports from the two countries effective Monday. The ban will stay in effect, he said, until the violations are eliminated.

Hygiene authorities in Moscow have already suspended wine import permits because 60% of the wine imported from the two countries allegedly fails to meet health safety regulations and is stored without documents indicating that pesticides were used during the wine-making process.

To Dowd's Spirits Notebook latest entry.
To Dowd's Wine Notebook latest entry.
To Dowd's Brews Notebook latest entry.
Back to Dowd's Bar Blog home page.


A hardcore passion for wine

Francis Coppola. Fess Parker. Greg Norman. Madonna. Sting. Olivia Newton-John. Natalie Oliveros. The list of celebrities-turned-vintners, or at least hiring winemakers to produce their signature wines, is growing at a rapid clip.

By the way if you don't know who Greg Norman is but you do know who Natalie Oliveros is, well, we know something about you.

Oliveros (seen here) is better known to her fans as adult video actress Savanna Samson. But to the wine world, she's a serious member of the community because of her Savanna Sogno Uno ("Dream One" in Italian) wine. In fact, she has produced wines for the Vatican.

Oliveros/Samson, 31, is from Watertown in upstate New York. She's the star of "The New Devil in Miss Jones." Her new wine just received a score of 90-91 out of 100 from the phenomenally influential wine guru Robert Parker for her Italian red. On Parker's scale, a score of 90-95 describes "an outstanding wine of exceptional complexity and character."

The wine was developed under the hand of Roberto Cipresso, a noted Italian winemaker Oliveros recruited for her project. Her husband, a wine merchant in Italy, introduced her to Cipresso.

"I never wanted to just do gimmick. That would just happen with me being a porn star, me having a photographer shoot the label, how risque could I get on the label — all those things," Samson said in a media interview. "I knew I wanted Roberto to make my wine. I just love his passion."

The wine label is Savanna, with the Sogno Uno its premier item. It's a blend of Tuscan grapes -- 70% Cesanese, 20% Sangiovese, 10% percent Montepulciano.

To Dowd's Spirits Notebook latest entry.
To Dowd's Wine Notebook latest entry.
To Dowd's Brews Notebook latest entry.
Back to Dowd's Bar Blog home page.


Italians claim grape science breakthrough

It might sound like a wild overstatement, but Italian scientists claim to have cracked the life code of the pinot noir grape plant, a breakthrough they say is to change the future of winemaking.

Experts from the San Michele all'Adige Agrarian Institute on Monday unveiled the results of six years of research in which they decoded the plant's genome -- the complex molecular chains that constitute each organism's unique genetic heritage, according to the ANSA news service.

"Today's event is agriculture's equivalent of the first moonwalk," said Riccardo Velasco, head of the team that decoded the DNA sequences. "Agriculture will never be the same again" .

Pinot noir, often known as pinot nero in Italy, is the first fruit and only the second food crop after rice to have its genetic material laid completely bare, ANSA reported.

Francesco Salamini, a former researcher with the Max Planck Institute and a member of the Institute's board, said the advance will lead to benefits for the environment because the information about the plant's gene sets will make it possible to produce new pesticides that protect it better but have less of an impact on the ecosystem.

ANSA said the research shows that the pinot noir genome is spread across 12 chromosomes and is made up of around 500 million bases of DNA. The institute, based in the northern Italian province of Trento, collaborated in the project with the US firm Myriad Genetics Inc., which has taken part in decoding human and rice genomes .

"It's a historic moment," said Mark Skolnick, Myriad's chief scientific officer. "Let's hope that next time we can toast with wine obtained from this research."

Pinot noir is a red grape used by winemakers everywhere. It is somewhat delicate, but is widely considered to produce excellent wines.

To Dowd's Spirits Notebook latest entry.
To Dowd's Wine Notebook latest entry.
To Dowd's Brews Notebook latest entry.
Back to Dowd's Bar Blog home page.

'Co-op' wines emerging in New York

Wineries at both ends of New York are creating what I like to call co-op wine.

Three Finger Lakes wineries have teamed up to create Tierce, a 2004 vintage dry riesling that will be released on May 5 at a dinner at the Red Newt Bistro featuring foods created by that restaurant along with Fox Run Bistro and Madderlake restaurant.

Peter Bell of Fox Run, Johannes Reinhardt of Anthony Road and David Whiting of Red Newt each contributed a portion of riesling wine, made from fruit grown on the slopes of Seneca Lake, to create 100 cases of a single wine. They also chose to use a screw cap closure because, as Bell said, "corks, natural or synthetic, have a tendency to affect the wine's aroma.

Down on Long Island, five winemakers have created Merliance, a 100% merlot blend with two barrels each from Pellegrini Vineyards, Raphael, Sherwood House Vineyards, Shinn Estate Vineyards, and Wolffer Estate Vineyard.

It will be unveiled on April 3 at Craft restaurant in Manhattan.

Meanwhile, also on the New York wine front, Chateau Buffalo is officially open for business.

The husband-wife team of Carl Schmitter and Suzi Maciejewski have created the first winery in Buffalo and Erie County, featuring their own dessert wines along with a selection of New York wines from various regions and many “Pride of New York” agricultural products such as jams and jellies, pickles, maple syrup, mustard, chutneys, etc.

To Dowd's Spirits Notebook latest entry.
To Dowd's Wine Notebook latest entry.
To Dowd's Brews Notebook latest entry.
Back to Dowd's Bar Blog home page.


Yakima Valley appellation split

The Rattlesnake Hills, southeast of Yakima in central Washington, has become the state's ninth federally recognized wine grape-growing region.

The U.S. Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau approved the Rattlesnake Hills for appellation status, effective March 20. The federal bureau awards appellation status to regions, also known as American Viticultural Areas, to recognize their distinct climate and soil features.

The 68,500-acre region lies within the Yakima Valley appellation, stretching from Union Gap, just south of Yakima, to north of Sunnyside about 45 miles to the east. Its loam soils hold moisture better than some other Washington areas and it historically is slightly warmer than the rest of the Yakima Valley appellation.

Gail Puryear, owner and winemaker at Bonair Winery in Zillah, and his wife, Shirley, were among proponents of the new appelation.

"We can ripen the warmest varieties, the sun-loving varieties like syrah and nebbiolo, but we have micro-climates because of the varying topography," he told the Associated Press. "Riesling does well in the cool micro-climates. We grow everything in between."

Dick Boushey, a Grandview grower who opposed the appellation request, told the AP the issue had become divisive in some corners. Half the 26 parties submitting comments to the government were opposed to the division of the current appellation.

"It just shows I don't really understand what it takes to be an AVA, and I guess I have a little bit less regard for what an AVA is," he said. "Whatever happens, we all need to work together. There probably will be more AVAs in the future, and I think we all want the same thing: to promote the area in any way we can."

If the application met all the criteria to be named an appellation, it just gives the Washington wine industry one more opportunity to market itself, said Robin Pollard, executive director of the Washington Wine Commission, a promotion agency funded by member fees on growers and wineries.

The Chelan area in north-central Washington and the Ancient Lake region near Moses Lake in central Washington have proposals for appellation status pending.

Washington is the No. 2 producer nationally of wine, after California. More than 350 wineries, 350 wine-grape growers and 30,000 vineyard acres support the more than $2.5 billion annual industry.


South Africa short on white wine

The glut of grapes in such major wine-producing areas as Australia and France certainly isn't being echoed in South Africa.

There is what industry analysts call "an acute shortage" of white wine in the Cape region, following last year's devastating drought after a surplus just three years ago.

This season's harvest is slightly better than the previous one, but still insufficient for domestic and export markets, leading to an increase in the already short supply of white wine.

Henk Bruwer, chairman of Wine Cellars South Africa, told SABC News, "We have to satisfy the demands of the local consumers and when you do that you have to make sure that you actually satisfy the trademark you are building, satisfy the palate and taste of the consumers. Don't let consumers down in a wine industry."

Because prices are determined by supply and demand, consumers are likely to have to pay more and wine sellers will have to import more as well.

To Dowd's Spirits Notebook latest entry.
To Dowd's Wine Notebook latest entry.
To Dowd's Brews Notebook latest entry.
Back to Dowd's Bar Blog home page.


U.S.-EU wine agreement signed

Winemakers in the U.S. and European Union got some protection for their practices and labeling Friday when the two entities signed an agreement to facilitate bilateral trade in wine valued at $2.8 billion annually.

The Office of the U.S. Trade Representative said the agreement actually was reached back in September after 20 years of negotiations but could not be finalized until the EU’s agricultural ministers granted approval, which came in December 2005.

Among key points:

• The U.S. agrees to curb the use of European geographic names such as "chianti" or "burgundy." Both sides agree to recognize certain names of origin such as Champagne in each other's market, simplifies certification requirements and defines parameters for optional labeling elements of U.S. wines sold in the EU market.

• The EU’s recognizes certain wine-making techniques used by U.S. vintners and a consultative process for accepting new wine-making practices. One of the major differences between U.S. and European vintners, for example, is the common use by Americans of oak chips to achieve a flavor European wine makers achieve by aging their wines in oak barrels.

The Europeans have long objected to the use by some U.S. winemakers of what some cal "semi-generic" labels, insisting they are specific to the regions in which the wines are made. Under Friday’s agreement, however, American wineries currently using them are exempted, something industry analysts speculate will continue to anger many European producers.

"Wine makers on both sides of the Atlantic have the right to be proud of how tradition, climate and expertise combine to create unique tasting experiences,” said Rob Portman, U.S. Trade representative. “This agreement honors these differences."

In 2004, global U.S. wine exports exceeded $736 million, with exports to the European Community more than $487 million, according to the USTR release. Total U.S. imports of wine from other countries in 2004 were nearly $3.4 billion, and U.S. imports from the European Community exceeded $2.3 billion.

To Dowd's Spirits Notebook latest entry.
To Dowd's Wine Notebook latest entry.
To Dowd's Brews Notebook latest entry.
Back to Dowd's Bar Blog home page.


Willy Frank dies at 80

Willy Frank, the outspoken New York winemaker who built on his immigrant father's belief that the Finger Lakes could become a major wine producer, is dead at the age of 80.

Frank died in his sleep during a business trip to Naples, FL., according to his son, Frederick.

Dr. Konstantin Frank, who fled Ukraine during World War II to come to the U.S., was one of the prime movers in planting delicate vinifera grapes. Willy took over in 1984 and moved the project well beyond those humble beginnings to create a successful, highly regarded company,Dr. Konstantin Frank Vinifera Wine Cellars, based on the shores of Keuka Lake.

More than half of New York's 212 wineries grow viniferas, which are rapidly replacing native labrusca and French-American hybrids that long gave the Finger Lakes a reputation for inexpensive, simple wines. Rieslings and gewurtztraminers have emerged as the most successful of the high-end grapes.

In addition to son Frederick, Frank is survived by his wife of 49 years, Margrit, his daughter, Barbara Guior of Summit, N.J., five grandchildren and two sisters.

To Dowd's Spirits Notebook latest entry.
To Dowd's Wine Notebook latest entry.
To Dowd's Brews Notebook latest entry.
Back to Dowd's Bar Blog home page.


Texas gets new viticultural area

Texas has added a viticultural area to its arsenal: the Texoma American.

It's an area along the Texas-Oklahoma border where horticulturist Thomas Volney Munson began cultivating grapes more than a century ago in what he referred to as a "grape paradise."

The federal government has designated a 3,650-square-mile area of sandy hills sloping to the Red River and Lake Texoma as the viticultural area.

"I don't know if it's 10 years or 20 years or 100 years, but the (region) will fill in and we'll have several thousands of acres of grapes around here," said Gabe Parker, owner of the Homestead Winery in Ivanhoe. "The land is appropriate for it."

The number of wineries in the Texoma area has grown from two to six in the past three years, and there now are 225 acres dedicated to vineyards in the fledgling area.

Texas has 109 wineries statewide, up from just 40 in 2000 to 109 this year, according to the Texas Wine Marketing Research Institute at Texas Tech University. The wineries' output makes Texas the nation's fifth-largest wine producing state.

To Dowd's Spirits Notebook latest entry.
To Dowd's Wine Notebook latest entry.
To Dowd's Brews Notebook latest entry.
Back to Dowd's Bar Blog home page.


Canandaigua Wine Changes Name

Constellation Brands Inc.’s wine division has taken on the name Centerra Wine Co., dropping its original name, Canandaigua Wine Co.

The newly-named division, one of four under the Constellation umbrella, will keep its headquarters in Canandaigua, NY, near Rochester.

“We are extremely proud of our history, but we have changed dramatically with the addition of premium and super-premium wine brands to our portfolio,” Centerra president William Encherman said in a statement. “The time is right to embrace a new name that brings to life the broad spectrum of brands we now represent, while capturing in a contemporary way our commitment to craftsmanship and innovation.”

In 2004, Canandaigua acquired the Robert Mondavi Corp., and since has launched its 3 Blind Moose, Trove and ultra-premium Houghton brands. Under the restructuring and renaming, Centerra's portfolio now includes Ravenswood, Cook’s, Arbor Mist, Vendange, Inglenook, Paul Masson Brandy, Turner Road Vineyards, Talus, Papio, Covey Run, Ste. Chapelle, LaTerre, Vendange, Nathanson Creek, Inglenook, Almaden, Alice White, Monkey Bay, Taylor, Cribari, Wild Irish Rose and Manischewitz.

To Dowd's Spirits Notebook latest entry.
To Dowd's Wine Notebook latest entry.
To Dowd's Brews Notebook latest entry.
Back to Dowd's Bar Blog home page.


Mass. OKs Re-Corking by Restaurants

Massachusetts has joined several other states in allowing restaurant patrons to take home unused portions of their wine.

On Thursday, March 2, the commonwealth's Alcoholic Beverages Control Commission issued a temporary ruling that put the new re-corking law into effect. Restaurants will be required to re-cork the bottle and seal it in a transparent bag.

Reaction in the trade has, as expected, been mixed. Some restaurateurs dislike what they see as the inconvenience and the need to train staff to comply. Others think it will increase wine sales to people who normally would pass on buying wine because they don't want to finish an entire bottle before driving.

The new regulations also require the restaurant to supply a receipt showing the date of the meal, including the purchase of the wine. Patrons are limited to one bottle of uncorked wine each.

To Dowd's Spirits Notebook latest entry.
To Dowd's Wine Notebook latest entry.
To Dowd's Brews Notebook latest entry.
Back to Dowd's Bar Blog home page.