Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Wine Advocate to start winery consulting service

A new consulting service, "Wine Benchmarking" by Robert Parker's Wine Advocate, being launched this fall was introduced to the Colorado wine industry. I've reached out to Editor-in-Chief Lisa Perrotti-Brown and will update this post with more information when/if I get it.

Described in the announcement, the Wine Advocate is providing detailed advice to wineries for $800 per winery. For this fee, wineries will get two of their wines assessed by Wine Advocate reviewers and receive two tickets to a "Wine Benchmarking Seminar" in February 2018. Additional wines for evaluation may be submitted subject to availability and volume pricing is available on request. It appears that the main difference between this evaluation and the normal published evaluation is that wineries will receive personalized notification of where their wines sit qualitatively to their peers. The Wine Advocate reviewers will also provide specific actionable advice that may be taken in the vineyard and winery to address detected shortcomings - as well as possible opportunities for future wine quality enhancement. This information will be provided to wineries in confidential, sealed envelopes after February's seminar.

It would appear to me that this new service may result in a new direction from the fiercely independent critical approach Mr. Parker has espoused for years. However, this publication is Mr. Parker's now in name only. I am all for wineries hiring consultants to help with their businesses, but I don't see how an independent critic can start taking money from those he/she is reviewing and still claim complete separation from the trade. I can't imagine how this statement: "it is imperative that I keep a distance from the trade. While this may be misinterpreted as aloofness, such independence guarantees hard‑hitting, candid, and uninfluenced commentary" remains on the Writers Ethics page on RobertParker.com form much longer.

Don't get me wrong, as a proponent of small regional wineries, I think this could be a great opportunity for wineries to improve their wine quality, improve their scores and increase sales. Yet, shouldn't this kind of feedback be what wine reviews are all about in the first place? I've been advocating that all regional wineries submit wines for critical review to Wine Advocate, Wine Enthusiast, and Wine Spectator. Critical feedback is very important to the wine industry. So is for-hire consulting services. My personal hunch is Mr. Parker had nothing to do with this. 

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

2017 Colorado Governor's Cup Results

Happy Colorado Day! I can't think of a better way to celebrate Colorado than with Colorado Wine!

Last month, the Colorado Wine Industry Development Board (CWIDB, and for which I work part-time) held the Governor’s Cup Colorado Wine Competition. This year was the sixth incarnation of the largest, and most prestigious, statewide commercial wine competition (actually the First Lady's Choice was awarded the first year because the Governor had not given consent to use the title). The 2017 Governor’s Cup Best of Show winner will be announced at the History Colorado Center during the public tasting of the Governor's Cup Case. Modeled after the Virginia Governor's Cup Case, the top twelve wines will be the wines that the CWIDB use for the next 12 months for its marketing and educational endeavors.

A total of 325 wines from 45 local wineries were judged by a panel of sommeliers, wine writers, consultants, and winemakers from Colorado and around the country. This is almost a doubling of entries in just the past three years. Not to take anything away from any of the judges, but the most notable judge (once again) was Warren Winiarski, the world's first "flying winemaker." Winiarski is most famous for starting Stag's Leap Wine Cellars and winning the Judgement of Paris tasting in 1976. A bottle of 1973 S.L.V. Cabernet Sauvignon now sits in the Smithsonian Museum for that monumental accomplishment. But before changing California wine history, Winiarski made his mark in Colorado. When Warren and I first met almost five years ago, he told me that he wanted to come back to Colorado to see what the industry is up to these days. He keeps coming back year after year. He even brought Mark Chien, Program Coordinator for the Oregon Wine Research Institute, out to Colorado on his own dime as a resource for Colorado wine growers. 

Other notable judges include: Doug Frost, Master Sommelier, Master of Wine and overall renaissance man; Andrew Stover, D.C.-based regional wine pimp and Wine Enthusiast 40 under 40 Tastemaker; Jeff Siegel, aka The Wine Curmudgeon; and Tina Caputo, Wine Storyteller and host of "Winemakers Drinking Beer." 

The Governor’s Cup Case is composed of the top 12 wines and just so happens to include a cider, mead, white, red and dessert wines: the definition of diversity. There are 12 unique varietal and blended wines. This is the first year that the Governor's Cup Case does not have multiple wines from a single winery or duplicate examples of a specific cultivar (Syrah, Petit Verdot, Cabernet Sauvignon or Cabernet Franc have made up a bulk of the case in the past). This is the fourth straight year that Bookcliff Vineyards is represented and six of the wines in the 2017 Case have been in the Case previously. That is the model of consistency!

Does the fact that no single variety or style stood out this year mean that Colorado has no specific wine to hang its hat on? Well, that question is hard to answer when less that a quarter of all producers submitted samples and many of those that did, did not send their entire lineups. Nevertheless, the case does include wines from two wineries that have never been included in the case before! Progress one step at a time!

2017 Governor’s Cup Case:

Bookcliff Vineyards (Boulder), 2016 Riesling
Carlson Vineyards (Palisade), 2015 Tyrannosaurus Red Lemberger
Colorado Cellars (Palisade), Raspberry Wine
Colorado Cider Company (Denver), Grasshop-ah Cider
Creekside Cellars (Evergreen), 2014 Cabernet Franc
Guy Drew Vineyards (Cortez), 2015 Syrah
Meadery of the Rockies (Palisade), Strawberry Honey
The Infinite Monkey Theorem (Denver), 2013 The Bubble Universe Sparkling Albariño
Two Rivers Winery (Grand Junction), 2015 Port
Decadent Saint (Boulder), 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve
Whitewater Hill Vineyards (Grand Junction), 2016 Sweetheart Red
Winery at Holy Cross Abbey (Cañon City), 2015 Reserve Merlot

Governor’s Cup Wine Competition Public Tasting will be held at the History Colorado Center (1200 Broadway, Denver) starting at 6:30 p.m. on August 3. Tickets start at $45 for General Admission or $75 for the VIP ticket that will allow a tasting of previous Governor's Cup winners. You can find tickets here!

Also new this year, the CWIDB received a grant from the Colorado Tourism Office to create a documentary about the Governor's Cup. Here is a teaser for the video:

Governor's Cup—judges promo from IAN FRANK // FILMS on Vimeo.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Dr. Harry Oldman on replacing Jeb Dunnuck in the Wine Advocate

Dr. Harry Oldman has been quiet for quite sometime here on the blog, but he hasn't quit quite yet. His last appearance was his rant on Andy Warhol wines a little over two years ago. He recently asked if he could respond to the paparazzi rumor mill about his supposed impending employment at a renowned wine publication (other than this one). I don't normally dabble in speculation, but I figure I should give the old man a chance to set the record straight.

It may seem as if I have been laying low for awhile now, but I actually been working real hard in the wine industry. I was quite surprised that I was able to gain employment in the wine industry with my background as a blogger. We all know wine bloggers never amount to anything in the wine industry.

Ever since January 21, I've been working as communications director and press secretary for a major East Coast winery. I know what you're thinking - East Coast wine is an oxymoron, kind of like affordable Napa Cab or affordable health care. But after working at the highest levels of the greatest winery on Earth, I've had change of heart - granted it was a medically necessary heart transplant - about non-California wines.

I was having dinner with my friends Jared and Sergei one evening last December when they told me that their boss' hand-picked personal assistant wanted me to be the public face of his I mean his son's winery. I've been busy ever since giving daily briefings to the Atlantic Coast wine media. I've of course banned all cameras and bloggers (No Fake Media Allowed) from attending, but Jim Acosta and Jay McInerney, who is usually drunk or high, show up everyday. I suppose dealing with these two losers is a part of making wine great again.

I've been amazed with how I've gone from being a retired computational physicist to being stalked by the wine paparazzi on the Interwebs. This rise of epic porportions almost didn't happen. I remember the day so clearly. August 22, 2016. That was the day I lost one of my best friends. He was there one day and gone the next. At my age it is bound to happen, but when a moderately notorious wine writer decides to stop writing about wine to write about Crooked Hillary it is a dark, dark day. I almost gave up wine myself. I was in a funk - thank god it wasn't a 12% Contra Costa Carignan-type funk - but an emotional funk that cracking open my 15-yr vertical of Harlan Estate was able to break. That's what friends like Jared and Sergei are for. Without them opening this backchannel for me I wouldn't be in the position I am in today.

And what position is that exactly? Well, approximately 12 people in the entire country have seen my name mentioned over on WineBerserkers.com as  the likely replacement for Jeb Dunnuck's beat in Robert Parker's Wine Advocate. Apparently Jeb decided that he actually wanted to review wine for consumers instead of traveling the world in the Singapore Dog, Pony and Wine Show. And what a pony he was. But now the speculation has turned to who will fill the heir apparent's shoes. Funny how my name got thrown into the mix. We must find the leakers! This is a big deal! Word even spread to the Robert Parker Bulletin Board. Now 14 people suspect that the one and only Dr. Harry Oldman will fill the bung-sized void to review the wines of Central California and the Rhône Valley.

Can you imagine a world in which that would actually happen? Oh boy, watch out when old Dr. Oldman strikes pen to paper in the fully made-over print editions with full-color photos, with over 25% more tasting notes and articles. I will personally guarantee that my writing will be more than 25% more colorful! If you thought the feud between the Hosemaster and Levi Dalton was epic, just you wait. I once saved Wine Spectator, why not add one more American literary icon to my resume?

Despite how much sense this move would make, I must deny this speculation. Seeing as I was instrumental in helping drive the creative direction of this site, it is possible I could have done the same for another even more prestigious wine publication. I can confidently say that I've been a wine journalist, editor and taster for over a decade and am a regular wine panelist, speaker and educator for events and organizations worldwide. Those qualifications alone would make me qualified to replace Jeb. Writing alongside Bob would give me a bigger podium from which to mock those who mock he who shall not be mocked.

No, Dr. Harry Oldman will not be replacing Jeb Dunnuck. Joe Czerwinski, former managing editor of Wine Enthusiast will be the new reviewer in Monkton. He will fit the corporate environment and bow down to the Master herself. For all those claiming end of days at the Wine Advocate better eat their shorts now. The ship has been righted and Joe will help Bob regain the glory of the early 1990s. This morning there is joy in Mudville! This all being said, I will not deny that I will not be joining the Wine Advocate in some capacity in the future. I better get back to my podium, I see McInerney waking up from his nap.

I will let the tweets speak for themselves.

Saturday, April 1, 2017

Inside 'Scoop:' Mega Wine Merger Planned

After years of battling each other, America's largest wine producers are joining forces. In a stunning development (and not just my first blog post in almost four months), E & J Gallo and Jackson Family Wines are on the verge of announcing a joint venture of epic proportions. The joint venture will be limited to the production and distribution of a single global wine brand: Cat Box White.

Cat Box White will be a blend of Sauvignon blanc sources from the wineries' global portfolio of vineyards and come in three-, five-, and a brand new nine-liter boxes. A majority of the grapes used for the new wine brand will be from New Zealand, France and California, though vineyards all over the world will be utilized to meet production goals. Rumor has it that Cat Box White is planning to produce over 100 million nine-liter cases of wine by its third year. Joe Wagner, of Copper Cane Wines, has been contracted to oversee the launch of the new joint venture and develop a line of lifestyle products Cat Box lovers will enjoy. Scented candles will be the first of many ancillary Cat Box-branded products.

“This makes us a much more capable competitor up against the really changing landscape,” said Barbara Banke, wife of the late Jess Jackson. “It is clear Gallo and Jackson Family will be a stronger, more competitive U.S. wine producer than either company can be on its own. With Constellation buying up many of the world's hottest brands, and thus their consumers, we decided it was in the best interest of our small family-owned companies to work with Joe to create a brand that people will be immediately embrace." Banke added that while she thought everyone will love this wine, they will specifically market to single women.

Besides cost savings, the merger will create the world's strongest brands which many consumer will be able to identify from its distinct aromas. "Cat Box White will feature the fresh fruit, brisk acidity, and the typical, uh, distinct, uh, aromas wine lovers have come to expect from cool-climate Sauvignon blanc," explained Joseph E. Gallo, CEO of E & J Gallo Winery. Gallo said that cool-climate wines and alternative wine packaging are two of the hottest trends in the sommelier industry right now and they hoped to get Cat Boxes in as many restaurants as possible.

Gallo will have a 58 percent economic stake in the joint venture, compared with Jackson Family’s 42 percent interest, but both companies will have 50 percent voting interest. The wine will be manufactured at each producers various facilities and then blended, finished and bottled at a brand new facility in Calico, CA. The manufacturers' suggested retail price $7.99 for 3-liter, $13.99 for 5-liter, and $19.99 for 9-liter boxes in the U.S. market. Price information for international distribution was not available.

While Gallo and Jackson Family currently compete against each other, Steve Heimoff, former director of wine communications and education for JFW and current political journalist, said the companies’ strengths complement each other. "By working together Cat Box White will be a strong competitor to Franzia box wine and potentially steal market share from the American Lager beer segment." Heimoff added, "this joint venture is also sure to destroy the terrible Trump Winery in Virginia."

Harry Oldman, part-time wine blogger added, "Happy April Fools, you fools!"

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Phylloxera identified in Colorado

I don't normally do this, but as I helped craft the press release and have inside knowledge of this situation because of my position with the Colorado Department of Agriculture, I am just going to repost the original press release here:

On November 29, 2016, an insect capable of damaging Colorado’s wine grape crop was confirmed in Mesa County.  US Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Research Service entomologists positively identified grapevine phylloxera (Daktulosphaira vitifoliae) on Vitis vinifera grapevines in the Grand Valley American Viticultural Area (AVA), which is a federally designated grape production area in western Colorado. Phylloxera is an aphid-like insect that feeds aggressively on grape roots.

“Nearly 75 percent of our grape acreage is in the Grand Valley AVA, which stretches along the Colorado River between Palisade and Grand Junction, and is known for its unique environment and high elevation allowing for production of world-class quality winegrapes,” said Doug Caskey, Colorado Department of Agriculture’s Executive Director for the Colorado Wine Industry Development Board.

In its full life cycle, phylloxera can take multiple forms. The most serious and damaging form, which was recently discovered in Mesa county, feeds on roots of grape plants. It can damage the plant by disrupting water and nutrient flow. Initially, infested plants appear weakened, stunted, and with leaves lighter in color which may look like they are suffering from a nutrient deficiency. In addition, phylloxera can live out another stage of its life on grapevine leaves. This less serious form feeds on leaves that causes leaf galls to develop, but generally not on V. vinifera.

“The Colorado Department of Agriculture and Colorado State University are actively investigating the source and working with the vineyard owner to contain and eradicate the pest. Extensive surveying is also continuing to determine the scope of the infestation,” said Laura Pottorff, CDA’s Nursery and Phytosanitary program manager. “Hopefully we caught this quickly enough to protect Colorado’s grape crop.”

Recommendations for Grape Growers

The Colorado Department of Agriculture is urging vineyard operators to contact their supplying nurseries to find out what, if any, procedures they have in place for identifying and stopping the spread of phylloxera. Colorado grape growers should also take the following precautions:

1. Watch plants for symptoms of chlorotic leaves, stunting and other symptoms that mimic nutritional deficiencies.  If detected sample the roots of plants for presence of phylloxera.
2. All harvesting and cultivation equipment should be power washed or sanitized between fields.
3. When purchasing grape nursery stock, request that the plants be hot water dipped prior to shipment.
4. Examine and inspect all new nursery stock prior to planting, or schedule an inspection by CDA staff.
5. Consider use of root-grafted grape nursery stock.


Colorado has approximately 150 grape growers tending 1,000 acres of vineyards and more than 140 licensed commercial wineries.  These vintners produced 166,000 cases of wine during the 2016 fiscal year, which equaled more than $33 million in sales.

Phylloxera is native to the eastern and southeastern United States, where native American grape species (such as Vitis riparia and Vitis labrusca) co-evolved with the insect. Though it has spread around the world since the mid-19th Century to many other wine regions, prior surveys found no evidence of phylloxera in Colorado’s commercial vineyards. Grape species native to the U.S. are generally resistant to phylloxera, but V. vinifera vines have no natural resistance whatsoever.  This is why phylloxera nearly wiped out all the vineyards in Europe once it survived the trans-Atlantic trip in the mid-19th Century. On V. vinifera grape cultivars, phylloxera normally infests only the underground parts of the plant and eventually kills the vine. The leaf-feeding, gall-producing form is not present. In susceptible American Vitis species and hybrids, the full life cycle occurs, including the leaf-galling form. Colorado had been one of the few wine regions worldwide to not have been affected by phylloxera and as such many grapevines are self-rooted on V. vinifera rootstocks.

Additional Resources

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Frontier Airlines sheds light on how to operate a winery

Let me start off by saying Frontier Airlines is a terrible company. From its ownership by Republic Airways and dismantling of Midwest Airlines to current owner Indigo Partners, Frontier Airlines has been run by arrogant, greedy and apathetic people. Even its own pilots think so. Yesterday, the Air Line Pilots Association released a statement blaming Frontier's abysmal operations on "the same executive mismanagement and misplaced focus on cost-cutting that has placed Frontier at the very bottom of the industry in operational performance and customer satisfaction. " No winery should aim to operate like Frontier.

I'll get to what wineries can learn from Frontier, but it will take a bit of ranting to get there.

Thursday, July 28, 2016

The Judgment of Denver

At last week's 2016 Colorado Governor's Cup wine competition I, in my capacity with the Colorado Wine Industry Development Board, organized a wine tasting I'm calling "The Judgment of Denver." For those that do not know, in 1976 British wine merchant Steve Spurrier organized a blind tasting with French wine judges (wine journalists, critics, sommeliers, merchants or winemakers). The wines were broken into two flights; in the first flight, the judges rated 10 Chardonnay, 6 from California and 4 from Burgundy and in the second flight, they rated 10 Cabernet Sauvignon-based red wines, 6 from California and 4 from Bordeaux, France. In each of these flights a California wine, a then relatively little known wine region, was declared the winner. Stag's Leap Wine Cellars' 1973 S.L.V. Cabernet Sauvignon was the top red and Chateau Montelena's 1973 Chardonnay bested some of France's best – and most expensive – wines. The results were published to the world in TIME magazine and forever changed the American – and global – wine industry.

Each year at the Governor's Cup we do a calibration tasting to have the judges calibrate their palate/scores to benchmark wine (that benchmark isn't always high). This year, I decided to model the calibration portion of the competition after the 1976 "Judgment of Paris" because it was the 40th anniversary of that original blind tasting and Warren Winiarski, founder of Stag's Leap Wine Cellars, was once again one of the judges. These two facts seemed like good enough reason to reenact the tasting once more – multiple retastings of the original wines and a New Jersey vs. French wine tasting have been reported on many times.

At the Denver tasting, 16 wine judges1 (wine journalists, critics, sommeliers, merchants or winemakers) from around the U.S. tasted Colorado wines against French and California wines in a blind setting. The French and California wines selected were from the same producers as in 1976 including the winning producers: Chateau Montelena and Stag's Leap Wine Cellars. Unlike the Judgment of Princeton, no First Growth Bordeaux were in the mix. Hundred dollar French and California wines are worthy enough competition! Prices of the French and California wines were $30–$110/bottle. I selected Colorado wines that would not appear in the Governor's Cup competition later that day. Prices of the Colorado wines were $15–$50/bottle The results were as similarly surprising as the original tasting. Although, the winner in each category was a California wine (Chalone Vineyard for the whites and Ridge Vineyards Estate Cabernet Sauvignon for the reds) CO wines are at the same level qualitatively.