Saturday, May 15, 2021

The Mendocino Wine Company

We just got in a case of Parducci Chardonnay, a wonderful example of its type.  Complex, clean.  Not manipulated in any way.  Oak?  Yeah, it's there.  But not unduly so.  It's really a lovely bottle of white wine at a reasonable price.  So we thought we would promote it here.  

We also thought we would report on Parducci, itself, since it's such a historic property.  Managed by the Parducci family since 1932, it's the longest continuously running winery in Mendocino County.  But now things are a little bit different.  While still run by the family, Parducci is now one of seven wineries included in The Mendocino Wine Company.  It's the only one in that group that we are familiar with.

There is much about business we don't pretend to understand.  At our station in the wine business we don't know what the arrangement is that those constituent wineries have with each other.  Are they a collective?  A cooperative?  Is The Mendocino Wine Company a business entity in itself or maybe a creation of a Wall Street insurance company?  There are players of all stripes from far and wide in the California wine industry today and while we here at V&C don't need to know their business, we are curious.

Being a small player in the wine business we understand how guys like us have to get every break we can in order to compete.  And we learn from others who share what they know.  A few years ago the rep from a well known Napa property shared with us how his company had to join other similarly sized wineries in order not to be overwhelmed by the competition.  Part of their collaboration was building one large shared winery to offset the cost of winemaking.  We also read a magazine article by Peter Seghesio who said the big players can lock the small guys out of distribution channels by their overwhelming volume of business.  As I recall, Seghesio ended up selling to one of those Wall Street Insurance companies.

At their website The Mendocino Wine Company devotes a lot of space to sustainability.  To their credit, that seems to be a cornerstone principle of the company.  They list several certifications to prove it.  All of the wines produced there are sourced from certified sustainable vineyards, some of which are certified organic.  

Water is an important issue to companies with this kind of value set.  Any by-products of wineries, even organic by-products, are not allowed to interfere with river ecosystems.  Water usage in general on the properties are limited both in the vineyards and for the use of the winemaking team.  100% of the water used on properties like these is reclaimed and then re-used.  

Cover crops and composting provide nutrients and prevent erosion in the vineyards.  Natural predators are introduced and maintained so toxic chemicals aren't needed.  Wildlife corridors and habitats are fostered.  Solar and wind power are the clean energy sources most favored.

All in all, The Mendocino Wine Company, however they are constituted, seems to be an asset to the industry. 

Thursday, May 6, 2021

Explore - Experience - Evolve

Our post title comes from the side of a wine box that just came in the door.  Kudos to whoever thought to sequence those words that way and then to apply them to wine appreciation.  

You wouldn't think boxes would be in short supply in the beverage industry since everything comes packed in them, but they are.  After a single use they apparently get discarded.  The large distributors in Atlanta have had to purchase boxes for re-packing loose bottles for smaller orders.  Our "Explore - Experience - Evolve" box is one of those in-house creations for one of the huge players in Atlanta so maybe the admonition was meant to apply to beer, liquor or something else.  Anyway, we like it.

We first dipped or toes into the wine business back in 1976 while doing the student thing in northern California.  Back then in that neck of the woods the wine business was really the California wine business.  The store I worked in had imports, to be sure, but the California wines were clearly front and center both on the floor and in the California consciousness.  I'm sure Georgia and Georgians support the the peanut and Vidalia onion industry the same way.

I'm a peanut lover and I'm fond of onions but I wouldn't consider myself a connoisseur.  But if, say, I was really locked into Spanish peanuts, I hope I would venture out occasionally to try other types.  Onions, in general, are great.  The only ones to avoid, in my opinion, are the ones that have been around too long.  Whew!  

I do like stinky wines though.  I mean I like the dry earthy reds of Tuscany or Spain that haven't been cleaned up for the American market.  The Spanish stuff always came naturally for me for some reason; Tuscany was a taste I had to acquire.  One time I told a supplier of this affinity I had and he brought in a half dozen of the stinkiest wines I ever tasted.  They were so ripe they were probably tainted.  He wanted me to stock them in my store.  Yeah, right.  If they were too much for me who claims to like such things, how could I in good conscience sell them to others. 

So if I like stinky wines then, following the dictum on the box, I should try the really-cleaned-up wines made by the mass marketers from California.  And I have.  And they are good.  Much better than that kind of thing was back in the 1970's.  But they lack distinction in the same way the overproduced music of Fleetwood Mac and The Eagles did back then when compared to something like The Allman Brothers Live at the Fillmore East.

It's a business though and you have to go with what sells.  But if you ever try that thing that is different from your usual, then at least you then have an understanding of what that thing is.  Maybe that thing isn't what you like.  Or maybe by trying it that one time you will remember it at a future time when your meal seems to call for just that wine.  Maybe you evolve.

Thursday, April 22, 2021

Decibel

Decibel Wines is a project of Daniel Brennan of Martinborough, New Zealand.  Brennan is an American from a Philadelphia restaurateur family of Sicilian descent.  Decibel is the primary label of a trio that includes Testify and Giunta, wines which are aimed at lower tier pricing.

Pinot Noir is the primary grape of Martinborough, which is at the southernmost portion of the northern island of New Zealand.  It has been grown there successfully since 1975, which is about when the wine industry started in New Zealand.  The Martinborough wine country conveniently lies one hour east of the New Zealand capital, Wellington.  

To the west are the Rimutaka Mountains which shelter the wine valley from undue rains from that side; in effect, creating a favorable wind tunnel of sorts that controls vine vigor, affecting flowering and leading to lower yields.  Perfect for Pinot Noir.  The grapes are organically dry farmed in this semi-maritime climate.  The soil is clay over ancient river bed providing perfect drainage for the vines. 

decibelwines.com is once again a website short on specific wine information but otherwise it's a very pleasant look/see.  The homepage prose is lovely as is the artwork.  Kudos to the designer.  It makes you want to know more and to do that you have to go elsewhere.

As pinot lovers everywhere will attest; when it's right, Pinot Noir has an elusive charm.  It's hard to put into words.  Fortunately we think we found some that pretty much nail it.  The wine is "spicy, juicy, plummy, gamey, light, dry and earthy and perfumy."  It also exhibits "dark cherry, forest floor and savory aromatics."  Or as one observer noted, "The nose is a smear of fancy strawberry preserves on a cedar cutting board.  The palate is cherries smeared on a dusty chalk board."  -Bingo!

Saturday, April 17, 2021

Hunky Dory Tangle

Hunky Dory is a project of Huia Vineyards of Marlborough, New Zealand.  Four wines are marketed under this label, a Pinot Noir, Sauvignon Blanc, rose and a blended white.  Tangle, the blended white, is the only one available in this market.  

Hunky Dory is also the name of the Allan family boat.  We're not sure how Tangle got its proprietary name.  Just a cute choice, I guess.  

hunkydory.com is like so many other winery websites.  It's weak.  But it's not as bad as those that try to create interest by romanticizing its product with stupid made up stories.  hunkydory.com just doesn't say much of anything.

The back label of the wine bottle says as much as the website: The wine is sourced from Marlborough and made by the Allan family.  It's construction is 61% Gruner Veltliner, 20% Sauvignon Blanc, 10% Pinot Gris, 5% Chardonnay and 4% Riesling.  It is also certified organic.

We consulted three reviews of the wine and the following is an amalgam of the three: This dry white wine has an aromatic nose of honeysuckle, quince, lemon and lime.  This bright lush citrus/tropical nose leads into a palate that adds ripe apple, pear, lychee, mandarin and spice.  Then this full flavored medium bodied white uses both minerality and acidity to balance out its component flavors and finishes with that same balance.    

4/18/21 Addendum:  We wrote this post about a month ago when we brought in our first case of Tangle.  Now we're told the Pinot Noir is available too.

Tuesday, March 23, 2021

Gavi, Part 1

We recently tasted a half dozen Italian whites from an impeccable supplier and settled on four new types for the store.  The one we bought the most of was the Gavi and it was the most expensive in the array.  While we have sold a lot of Gavis in the past, this one was special.  Hell, this one was remarkable.

Gavi has been called the finest white wine of Italy.  This one is light and dry, fruity and floral, and chalky and minerally.  You get where we're going here: This is complex white wine that none the less fits into a light body format.  Nice trick if you can pull it off.

When we say this wine is special we should qualify our enthusiasm with a little historical perspective.  When we got into this business forty years ago there was a lot of bad Italian wine on store shelves.  We didn't know how bad it was at the time because we were ignorant.  In fairness to Italy, there was a lot of bad wine from everywhere else also.  Suppliers, both domestic and importers, knew the American market was not wine-savvy and our public could be sold on lower quality.  We didn't know the difference.  Just make your pitch convincing and we'll bite.  

As we became more sophisticated taste-wise, SURPRISE, quality improved.  Transportation and warehousing improved first followed by winery technological improvements and some of the most profound of those improvements originated in Italy.  With internationally flowing investment money coinciding with the production, transportation and storage improvements; we now have the quality we were promised from the start.

The textbook might say a Gavi is a light straw (with green hues) color.  It has a fruity appley-nuanced nose and a taste that is fresh, dry and full-flavored while still elegantly light.  The Cortese di Gavi production region has been making this wine style for the past hundred fifty years.  Modern Italian winemaking, courtesy of technology, is now able to make this wine more structured and complex than ever before.  

Thursday, March 18, 2021

Gavi, Part 2

Gavi is the signature white wine of the Cortese di Gavi region in the province of Alessandria in southeast Piedmont.  It has a documented history going back to the 1600's.  So it has a pedigree.  Piedmont in northwest Italy is the finest wine production region of the country.  Gavi is the finest white of Piedmont.

Like all Italian whites, Gavi is seafood wine.  It is sourced forty miles from the Mediterranean coast.  That forty mile buffer distance is covered by the province of Liguria where a fruitier style white wine is made.  The Cortese grape of Gavi fame is also grown with less renown in other regions of Piedmont and can be purchased at a better price than Gavi.  But it's a different wine.  The Gavi is fruitier and its makeup is said to reflect the Ligurian influence.

Cortese is an indigenous grape of the Gavi region and is the sole variety allowed in the wine.  Gavi is a town also and it is ground zero for the 4,000+ acres where the wine is sourced.  If a wine is sourced entirely within the Gavi township it may be labeled Gavi di Gavi.

The Cortese di Gavi wine appellation earned its DOC (Denominacione di Origine Controllata) legal status in 1974.  In 1998 it received the highest legal wine classification, the DOCG.  The G is significant.  It means everything about the production and quality of the wine is guaranteed.  The wine must be 100% Cortese with yield limits and ripeness guarantees.  The wine must be made using traditional methods before each bottle is affixed with a numbered paper seal to prevent counterfeiting.

This wine is bone dry in character.  It is crisp and flinty on the palate with fresh acidity.  The Cortese grape thrives in the mineral rich soils of the region accounting for much of the description above.  Gavi has a floral bouquet accented by delicate lemon.  Fruit flavors include green apple and honeydew with almonds on the finish.

Tuesday, March 16, 2021

The Wine Group

With sales of fifty-three million cases of wine annually, The Wine Group is the second largest wine company in the world.  As generic as The Wine Group name sounds, you can understand how they may have flown under the radar for a lot of us.  Maybe that was the plan all along: Lay in the weeds as long as you can and then make your move.  Or something like that.

Actually The Wine Group didn't ambush anyone.  Some of us in the trade just weren't paying attention.  What The Wine Group did was they built their empire incrementally with sound business sense at every opportunity.  They did it "the old fashioned way" as John Houseman would have said.  Constellation, the mass marketer they recently surpassed, had been a juggernaut in its own right.  A recent serious miscalculation on their part, an error that will remain unmentioned here, may have been their undoing.  S__t happens.  If you want to know more, stop in the store for the details.

Does the elephant in the room, Gallo, have reason to fear The Wine Group?  Probably not.  But wouldn't that be something if they did!

The Wine Group was established in 1981 but their prehistory is worth documenting.  Giuseppe and Teresa Franzia were Italian immigrants to America at the turn of the last century.  They settled in the Central Valley of California where they bought eighty acres for their vineyards.  At their beginning they were growers who sold their grapes to interests in the Midwest and on the East Coast.  They may have had winery dreams early on but Prohibition curtailed that plan until its repeal in 1933.  The Franzias then took out a $60k loan and were in the business.

In 1973 the Franzias sold their business to Coca Cola which already owned Mogen David.  In 1981 Coke sold their winery portfolio to their wine division CEO, Art Ciocca.  The contrast in wine business acumen at this juncture is hard to ignore.  For people in the know, 1980 marks a turning point in this industry.  It had become evident that wine was going to catch on as a part of our culture.  The signs were there.  Moreover wine coolers were on the cusp of their own boom.  Coke should have seen that opportunity but didn't.  With their buying power in glass they could have dominated that market.  

Upon losing that Coke glass-buying asset, Art Ciocca innovated.  He created the bag-in-the-box format that continues quite profitably today.  Now The Wine Group represents more than sixty wine brands which are predominantly in-house creations but their portfolio also includes historic wineries they have purchased along the way.  In their portfolio are labels like Concannon, 7 Deadly, Cupcake, Imagery, Tribute, Almaden, Beso del Sol, Chloe and Benziger.  These and many others can be found in grocery stores everywhere.