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Zen and the art of Cabernet Sauvignon

May 4, 2011 12:37 pm - Posted by Tracy Ellen Kamens in Drink

At 25, Patrick Campbell belonged to a Zen Buddhist colony in Sonoma County. Although he already possessed a master’s degree in religion and was a professional musician, he wasn’t certain what his ultimate path would be. Among his first tasks at the colony, Patrick Campbell was assigned to tend the community vineyards, which ignited his passion for viticulture.

Three years later, Campbell left the Buddhists to pursue his new path and purchased vineyard land in the Sonoma Mountain AVA, which had originally been planted in the late 1880s.

Campbell spent his initial years selling grapes to Chateau St. Jean and Kenwood until the lure of making his own wine became too powerful to ignore. He experimented with a barrel or two until he felt confident that he could make wine on a larger scale. Consequently, he produced his first vintage in 1981—the Laurel Glen Cabernet Sauvignon.

Thirty vintages on, Campbell has much of which to be proud. Laurel Glen was included in Paul Lukac’s book, Great Wines of America: The Top Forty Vintners, Vineyards, and Vintages and has developed a loyal following.
However, Campbell’s path with Laurel Glen has come to an end. Instead, with his recent sale of the winery, Bettina Sichel picks up where he leaves off.

Sichel’s current journey began in November 2008 when a conversation with a friend ended with his statement, “We should buy a winery together some day.” After hanging up the phone, Sichel realized that it was the perfect time to consider such an opportunity. By July 2009, the investors and an action plan were in place. Knowing that they wanted a winery with name recognition and a good history, Sichel found Laurel Glen to be a perfect fit. She acknowledges that it wasn’t easy, but notes that buying Laurel Glen “is the culmination of everything I’ve worked for.”

Sichel is joined by winemaker Randall Watkins, consultant winemaker, David Ramey and viticulturist, Phil Coturri. Under Coturri’s tutelage, the vineyards are being farmed organically, along with a focus on dry farming, a more open canopy and fewer clusters per shoot.

But, despite these changes, Sichel holds fast to Laurel Glen’s illustrious history and stressed that the vibrant acidity that is characteristic of Laurel Glen will remain untouched. With Sichel at the helm, the winery is poised for continued success.

Written by Tracy Ellen Kamens, Ed.D., DWS, CWE

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Produced in Portugal for over 2,000 years, Vinho Verde literally translates as “green wine”. Yet, the name actually refers to the wine’s youngness and freshness, rather than its color in the glass. In fact, while many people are familiar with white-hued Vinho Verde, it is also made as rosé and red wines and in still and sparkling styles. read more

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La Soirée des Grands Crus takes New York by Storm with a New Generation of Bordelais

February 4, 2011 5:47 pm - Posted by Tracy Ellen Kamens in Drink

With a vinous history stretching back to the 1700s, coupled with imposing castle-style architecture, France’s Bordeaux wine region is usually associated with the old guard and more established wine drinkers. However, a recent event in New York, La Soirée des Grands Crus, provided a glimpse into the new Bordeaux.

Held on January 27, 2011 at SoHo’s Mercer 82, La Soirée brought members of the Union des Grand Crus de Bordeaux together for a special consumer wine tasting event. These producers are responsible for only 5% of Bordeaux’s total production, yet many have become quite renowned. Among the most highly regarded in their region, these chateaux include both classed growths (those  having earned the Grand Cru Classé designation), as well as vaunted, non-classed wines. Winemakers and chateaux proprietors were on hand to pour the wines, putting faces to the bottles and permitting tasters to learn more about the wines they were drinking. These talented leaders are blending tradition with a modern sensibility as they continue to advance the wine legacy that is Bordeaux.

Looking around the room, it was obvious that the faces behind the tables were youthful and energetic, but had there been other changes in Bordeaux, aside from a shift in the average age? Jean-Jacques Dubourdieu, son of esteemed consultant Denis Dubourdieu, joined the family business, Denis Dubourdieu Domaines, in 2006, after completing graduate studies in business and marketing. He attributes two things to his fellow colleagues that differentiate them from their parents. Chief among them is the discovery of new markets, noting that, in the past, it was easy to sell Bordeaux wine at home. However, Jean-Jacques acknowledged that, today, they need to find new markets in which to sell their wines. He admitted that while the U.S. is not a new market, it is an important one and added that China is now a major market for them. A second distinguishing feature of the new generation, according to Jean-Jacques, was that they have started to simplify and demystify wine. He suggested that for their parents, wine was a bit more intellectual and feels that they lost some consumers that way. Consequently, “We are trying to make it easier to help people learn about wine” he said.

Anne Le Naour, serves as Directrice Technique (Technical Manager) for Château Grand-Puy Ducasse and has been with the chateau for approximately one year. When asked how the new generation of Bordeaux was impacting the region, she reiterated Jean-Jacques’ point of view and indicated that they are finding new ways to communicate with the consumer. Moreover, Anne asserts that her winemaking philosophy is greener than that of her parents and shows more sensibility to the environment. More specifically, Anne has stopped using pesticides and is spraying for mildew less frequently. Working for Groupe Crédit Agricole, she makes wine at four different properties and is ultimately responsible for three red wines, one dry white and one sweet white. She believes that her approach to winemaking doesn’t mean abandoning what her parents did as she remains steadfast to the tradition of the terroir. Yet, she seeks new ways to make wine that better shows off the vineyard.

Also among the changes taking place in Bordeaux is the significant investment being made by newer owners. Bruno LaPlane, of Château Malartic-Lagravière and Chateau Gazin-Rocquencourt, explained that the Bonnie family bought the former estate in 1996 and “everything has changed.” The family’s heavy investments have included the purchase of new equipment ranging from fermentation vats to oak barrels, along with wide replanting of the vineyards. Additionally, the family has increased the property’s size from its initial 19 hectares to today’s total of 53 hectares, seven of which are planted to white grapes.

Echoing the business perspectives of Jean-Jacques and Anne, Yannick Evenou, Vice President for Vignobles Clément Fayat, which owns Château La Dominique, stated that, “We [the new generation] are more open to market demands. We understand competition from other wine regions.” Yannick further points to the more recent recognition that people like to taste wines while they are young instead of cellaring them for a long time and the adaption of winemaking to meet that demand.  He also noted a willingness to share information with one another.

Similarly, Ludovic David, Directeur Général for Château Marquis de Terme, highlighted the winemaking philosophy of the younger generation, proposing that they are crafting more modern wines. He described these wines as showing more ripeness and more accessibility, permitting them to be drunk and enjoyed much earlier than the wines from the past. Overall, he affirmed that today’s winemakers are aware that there is more competition in the wine world from Chile and other New World countries and, accordingly, the younger Bordelais understand that they must improve the quality of their wines to compete in this marketplace. Ludovic also emphasized the progress made in the vineyard, a shift from the enological focus of the 1990s, and reinforced Anne’s comments, citing that there is more respect for ecology, such as the adoption of organic viticultural practices.

Finally, what makes all of this change possible is the sentiment shared by Laurence Brun, Director of Château Dassault in St.-Emilion. Laurence advised that, “It is easier now to let one’s son or daughter be in charge of the winery. It used to be that the parents would make wine until he or she died. Now it’s a real revolution with children working together with their parents – making it a true family affair.” Laurence grew up at the chateau, first working with her father and then replacing him at the chateau, becoming the fourth generation of her family in the wine business. While her daughter, aged 25, has decided that she is not quite ready to work in the winery, Laurence has encouraged her to do so.

As next generation of owners and winemakers take the helm of these storied estates, it seems clear that changes are indeed taking place in Bordeaux. The philosophies and insights held by the younger set appear to be bolstering Bordeaux’s place in the competitive market and sustaining its position as one of the world’s fine wines. In this regard, they are serving as stewards of both the Bordeaux legacy and the Bordeaux land.

Written by Tracy Ellen Kamens, Ed.D., DWS, CWE

Tracy Kamens is a Contributing Writer for Wine Portfolio and a Certified Wine Educator.  Check out her blog at http://grandcruclasses.com/winederful/