Living Anxiety Free in the Tariff Age

Many of you have inquired about the tariff situation and how it will impact our portfolio. Let’s take a look at what we know, the good news, the bad news, and our plan moving forward.

Any non-sparkling, non-flavored, non-fortified wine labeled 14% ABV or lower arriving into the USA in a package 2L in size or smaller from France, Spain, Germany, or the United Kingdom is now subject to a 25% tariff, to be enforced at port of entry by US Customs Agents until further notice. Now there are plenty of exclusions if we think about this – Most notably any/all Sparkling Wine, wine from France’s warm regions (think Rhone), 3L bag-in-box wine, Modern-style Rioja, and Ribera del Duero to name a few – None of these categories are impacted. Other European countries, notably Italy, Portugal, and Austria, are also NOT impacted. Keep in mind the rest of the world (USA, Argentina, Chile, Australia, New Zealand, etc) are obviously NOT impacted.

Global warming crosses paths with Trump policy again here, albeit in a twisted manner, as warm vintages (2018! 2019!) mean ABV’s that are 14.1%+ thus avoiding the tariff. Believe it or not we just shipped 2018 Sancerre with labs that checked in at over 14%! An unintended consequence will be the rise of the 14.1%+ “Cuvee Américain” – Our friends at Domaine Clos des Lumieres, for example, just selected all of their higher alcohol tanks for our upcoming Rosé and Rouge 750ml Cotes du Rhone bottlings, which keeps us tariff exempt at 14.1% and 14.2% ABV respectively! Clos Lumieres Rouge and Rosé in 3L Bag in Box format? Those versions will come from the lower ABV tanks! Silliness. We might as well have a laugh.

I know where your brain is going right now…What about the a legal 0.5% +/- margin of error that has traditionally been allowed by governing bodies on both sides of the pond? The thinking earlier this month was to have wineries pull up their lab analyses on all categorically impacted wines labeled 14% or below, and have them relabeled at 14.1% ABV if their labs came in at 13.6% or higher. Quick thinking importers encouraged this, and dozens went as far as resubmitting TTB label approval requests with new 14.1% ABV levels on anything that qualified this way. Unfortunately this strategy will not work – US Customs is running their own lab analyses against randomly selected 14.1%+ wines, and proceeding with a tariff on anything that shows American lab numbers of 14% or below.

The big losers? Burgundy, Beaujolais, Provence Rosé, most Loire, most lower tier Bordeaux, Southwest France, Alsace, Alsace, traditional Rioja, Rias Baixas, German Riesling, and Natural Wine (pretty much all Natural Wine…).

HERE IS THE BAD NEWS. Initially we hoped the issue would be resolved prior to the October 18th deadline, but as things stand today we see no resolution with nothing apparent in the works. There are a few different thoughts as to where this is going and when it will end:

Cyrus The Optimist: “Trump wants the tariffs to ‘sting’ but not ‘cripple’ and that they will quietly go away in early December once he has made his ‘point’ in Fox’s news cycles.” Colleen The Realist: “Tariffs will be reversed in about six months (this corresponds to the timing of the expected WTO resolution against Boeing subsidies, which is essentially a reverse case of the Airbus related WTO case that opened the door to the current US tariffs, which would in effect create opposite counter tariffs against American wine imported into Europe).” Zane The Pessimist: “Dammit we are stuck with these indefinitely, or at least as long as Trump is in office.” Mary The Alarmist: “Nooo….We will end up in an escalated trade war with Europe and that these could expand into additional categories and push tariffs as high as 100%.”

Our take at Grape Expectations is that we end up somewhere in the middle between Colleen and Zane.

HERE IS THE GOOD NEWS. Compared to most of our peers our business will be minimally impacted. Why? First off, we only have 200 items in the impacted categories out of the 1,200+ items we stock. Most importantly, we import almost all of the wines in the impacted categories directly. Why do tariffs make direct-importation a larger advantage than ever before? Let’s break out the calculator on an impacted bottle of cool-climate French wine we import, which also happens to be carried by a well-known national importer in the states we don’t operate in ourselves:

Let’s say you have a national importer bringing in a bottle of 13% ABV French wine from a well-known producer, who after exchange rate is paying the winery $4 USD per bottle. This company would pay roughly $1/bottle freight and tax, bringing the landed cost at their warehouse to $5 per bottle. This type of national importer has a standalone corporate office, a marketing budget, a National VP Sales, a team of Regional Sales Directors, and some Area Sales Managers for the major markets. Add to that the associated travel and entertainment that these employees bill on company cards, and all in all this means the company needs to add about a 25% margin to cover costs, plus 5% in additional margin so that they can end the year with the customary 5% net income that the Board of Directors expects their well-compensated CEO to generate. This means the importer sells to the distributor at 30% margin or $7.14/bottle. The distributor pays about $0.50/bottle in freight and state tax, takes its (very necessary to survive) 30% margin, and we are looking at a $11.19/btl wholesale price point for the retailer. The retailer takes a 30% margin and prices this wine at $15.99 for the consumer. The consumer happily buys this wine from coast to coast where it is a leader in it’s high-volume category.

If you add a 25% tariff to this, you end up with a landed cost of $6/bottle, an $8.57/bottle price to the distributor, a $13.29/btl price to the retailer, and an $18.99 price to the consumer! Yikes.

But, you ask, what if you are a distributor who imports most of their wine themselves? That you work at our humbly appointed office space and import this same exact wine? You would pay the same $4/bottle to the winery and the same $1/bottle freight and tax for a landed cost of $5 per bottle. You would add the customary 30% distributor margin plus, say, maybe 10% extra margin to account for the financing/additional warehousing footage associated with direct importing, and you would sell this bottle for $8.39 to the retailer who would sell it at $11.99 to the consumer. Cool.

If you add a 25% tariff to this and keep everything else the same, you’d end up with a $10.49 price to the retailer who would sell it at $14.99 to the consumer, which still leaves you below the EXISTING pre-tariff national retail price for this item and this is with zero help from the winery.

What if we were to tell you that these are exact numbers on one of the best selling wines in our portfolio?

You mean to say Grape Expectations tariff-impacted prices will the same as or better than much of the pre-tariff status quo? Yes – Our ability to source directly puts us at a relative advantage as our West Coast Distribution pricing on own-imported products is generally 25% lower than similar quality (or in some cases exactly the same) products carried by national importers.

On a macro level this situation will mean fewer products in market. Many products carried by “old-model” national importers, small and large, will simply price themselves out of the market with these tariffs, if they stick around.

WAIT AREN’T WE ALSO NATIONAL IMPORTERS NOW? What does this mean for our distributor partners? We set up our “National” arm with current market conditions in mind (i.e. that margins would continue to compress in our industry), and therefore we are able to operate our National Portfolio at razor thin margin compared to industry standards (10-15% out of CA, and sometimes as low as 2-3% in the case of volume DI orders). Our offices and warehouses are paid for, and we reject the idea of a large national “sales team” instead assuming that our distributor partners prefer to manage their own sales internally, with the above-mentioned compressed pricing model used in place of “ride withs” as the recipe for success.


1) Will the volumes of our country’s larger national importers and retailers allow them to renegotiate prices with suppliers in this time of political chaos and end up at a competitive advantage compared to smaller firms? This sounds interesting, but thus far we don’t see that happening. We are seeing the opposite this week actually, with massive reservation cancellations from major importers and retailers. There just does not seem to be enough room to budge when you look at the realities of the 2019 vintage in many tariff impacted regions (Macon saw 40% lower yields in 2019, for example). Bordeaux will be an exception here, where yields were very high in 2019, with backstock also at record highs.

2) Will this sort of increasing populist wave continue to push downward pressure on the Euro for an even more favorable exchange rate? This is very possible – Think about Boris Johnson and his drive yesterday to push Brexit through by Halloween. A weaker Euro Zone economy will push exchange rates lower than the already delicious 1.13 rate, negating much of the tariff induced price pressure (remember, just a few years ago we were at a 1.35 rate).

3) Will bulk bottling European wine within the United States become a “thing”? It just might – Wine importers in China, for example, deal with their own autocracy and tariffs, and bulk bottling is common practice in China to skirt these. Bulk bottling is already the norm now here in the United States with grocery-category New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc due to the insane price of dry goods within New Zealand (i.e. it is cheaper to ship giant bladders from New Zealand to California and bottle stateside). Remember, anything crossing customs in a package 2L or larger is exempt! We will likely have a go at bulk bottling assuming the appellations in question allow it (some will and some won’t). Several of us here have done this already in the past.

HERE IS OUR PLAN. New shipments of many of our tariff impacted items will arrive stateside between now and the end of the year (we turn inventory fast and often over here). These items will see, on average, about a 15% increase in price effective November 1, with our hope being that we will be able to negotiate a 10% discount on most impacted items with most our winery partners, thus covering the 25% tariff in aggregate. As I mentioned earlier in many instances this means that our “new” price will still remain lower than what you’ve seen “pre-tariff” in states serviced by other companies on these same items. Have we been spoiled in Grape Expectations-land all these years? Yes. But use your imagination and plug some of your favorites into Wine-Searcher to see what we mean.

Items stocked from impacted areas by our national importer partners will remain at the same price through the end of the year as these are purchased from stock already in the USA, and have a more sensitive baseline price due to the national importer-related margin economics mentioned earlier. It is important to note that none of this talk is intended to implicate our fine partners on the importer side – The importers we do work with (it is a short list) are firms who share our lean philosophy, bring us wines at sensational value, and we project similar 15% increases on their items as they negotiate pricing with their suppliers and receive new loads from Europe Q1.

Hopefully this clarifies the subject for you a bit. Here is to living large without tariff-related anxiety and to a strong finish to 2019.

By |2019-10-24T16:32:04+00:00October 23rd, 2019|Economics, France, Germany, Spain|Comments Off on Living Anxiety Free in the Tariff Age

New Podcast – Brendan Carter of Unico Zelo (part one)

John sits down with Brendan Carter during his recent trip to Seattle. They talk Aussie soil, Unico Zelo’s history, and about a new model for wine cooperatives in the 21st century (hint: hipster winery co-ops are now a thing, and this might just upend some major wine regions over the next several decades).

Click here for the episode link on Spotify, and here for the episode link on iTunes.

By |2019-07-09T14:39:10+00:00July 9th, 2019|Australia, Podcast|Comments Off on New Podcast – Brendan Carter of Unico Zelo (part one)

New Podcast – Gunderloch with Johannes Hasselbach

We are pumped to distribute this iconic Rheinhessen producer in the Pacific Northwest! Our friends at David Bowler Wine sent sixth-generation winegrower Johannes Hasselbach our way to help get things started, and Johannes sits down with John to cover the bases on all things Gunderloch.

Click here for the episode link on Spotify, and here for the episode link on iTunes.

…and a full transcript is below if you still use AOL and don’t enjoy the convenience of passive audio!!!

JG:                    Hello and welcome back to another episode of Grape; Unfined, Unfiltered. I’m your host, John Griffin and today we’ll be speaking with Johannes Hasselbach of the historic Rheinhessen producer Weingut Gunderloch. I recently caught up with Johannes at the Ace Hotel in Seattle where we spoke about changing times, soils, Australian Riesling, and local beer. All right, let’s get to it.

JG:                    So Johannes, welcome.

JH:                    Thank You.

JG:                    Glad you could make it. How are you doing today? How was your, how was your day out in the market today?

JH:                    Pretty awesome I have to say. Some good customers you have here. Some really interested, uh, wine geeks and a lot of places for good German Riesling I would say, so that’s good.

JG:                    Nice. This is your first time here or…

JH:                    It’s my first time working here. I have friends in the area, so I was here privately, uh, 10 years ago. It’s a long time, but now I’m actually on business. Sounds strange, but it is like, it is.

JG:                    Well, you know what? Welcome to town.

JH:                    Thank you.

JG:                    So let’s see, let’s start off. So Weingut Gunderloch. Okay, so what’s the difference between your last name, ? Hasselbach and Gunderloch. Where does the difference in name come from, I don’t know.

JH:                    So we are, we are family business even though sometimes people think I’m like the sales representative or something because I have a different name. But actually since six generations, my family is running the estate at home in Nackenheim. But as it seems we have some gene defect or something because we only have girls as children. I’m actually the only, the first male person to take over the winery.

JG:                    Really?

JH:                    So every generation, the um, yeah, the name is changing and I have two kids at home, uh, two girls. My mother has nine grandchild’s, eight of them are girls. So it seems to continue this way. So the next generation you have to accustom yourself to a different name again.

JG:                    Wow, that’s, that’s, that’s incredible. Well you can always try for another child?

JH:                    Yeah, we’ll see.

JG:                    So you started touching on the history of the winery in general. So you’re saying right now you’re in your sixth generation. Who started the whole mess, who started it?

JH:                    So who got me into trouble, you mean?

JG:                    Exactly.

JH:                    Okay. Yeah. That was my great, great, great grandfather, Carl Gunderlochoffer, that’s a good German name, a very wealthy banker. He had a bank house called Gunderloch in Mainz in my, in a city next to my hometown. Um, for some reason he seemed to get bored of money and so he started to become a winemaker and made my life a little bit more interesting. Sometimes it would be nice to have a bank house in the back as well. But now it’s uh, yeah, it’s a different, different business. It’s a agricultural business that I’m in and it’s extremely interesting. But he had the vision to select land to make wine on that actually nobody wanted to have at this time. So he picked very steep slopes on very rocky soil. So that means we have to invest a lot of work power into that and you don’t have as many grapes as the other guys at the flatter part of the area. So people thought he was a bit crazy maybe.

JG:                    So at the time people were thinking more quantity versus quality.

JH:                    Yeah, but on the other hand, as a small family business as we are, you cannot compete with the big guys. Just like trying to be more efficient, trying to be faster, trying to be more on the cost side. As a family, as I understand it, you have to get experience with a piece of land and try to extract the uniqueness of this piece of land for that Riesling is the perfect tool for that is what we’ve been doing for the last six generation. I think my great, great, great grandfather was right picking this special spot for growing grapes.

JG:                    Wow, that’s cool. So are you doing other crops besides grapes?

JH:                    No, well, we have some chickens at home and we have some, some vegetables, but that’s it. Like I’m, I’m a winemaker.

JG:                    You’re sticking with the grapes?

JH:                    I am, that’s what I can.

JG:                    Oh that’s good. Sounds good. Tomatoes in the summertime. Grapes the rest of the time. Yeah. And your background. So if I remember correctly, you have been basically working with the winery now for what, 10 years?

New Speaker:   No, not as long.

JG:                    I mean did you grow up in the cellar as a little kid, like running around, getting in trouble and having your father yell at you?

JH:                    Yeah, picking grapes, getting yelled at and uh, throwing the ball in the press and stuff like that. Yep. That happened. Um, but I grew up on the winery. Um, my life plan was maybe a little bit different than what it ended up. I studied accounting at university. My sister was planned to be the winemaker, at out estate and for some reason she fell in love with a crazy Austrian winemaker, so she took happily off to Austria, making now wine there and that opened up the door for me, come back, uh, and continue the family business, so..

JG:                    Winemaking or accounting? Let me think about that for a second.

JH:                    It’s like the one thing that brings you into winemaking they say is if you like hard work and if you’re not good at math, that qualifies you as the winemaker.

JG:                    Or if you start off with a lot of money.

JH:                    Yeah. Right. So no, actually it’s like the first step into the winery was continuing the family business, my responsibility for what my generations before me created, but now getting experience working there again, understanding much more, tasting much more that really feeds the fun and really creates joy doing the work. When I was, uh, when I was young, I didn’t like work, it was too exhausting for me.

JG:                    I hear you.

JH:                    But now it’s a bit different. I really enjoy doing the physical labor. It’s a nice mix. If you sit on the tractor, you work in the vineyards, you go to Seattle, sell some wine, you meet customers. It’s amazing. It’s a great chance that I have. And it takes some time until you see the complete picture of it.

JG:                    But you grew up in the whole environment, so it’s not like your family was doing something completely different. Uh, running a retail store or something and then all of a sudden you decided to become a winemaker or to join the wine business. It was culturally in your family’s blood.

JH:                    Pretty much. It’s, it’s in our blood. Somehow, it’s in our genes and, and uh, when I’m away from the winery, uh, for four or five days, I start to miss the vineyards and I want to get back home. So it’s really nice. I didn’t, I wouldn’t have thought that it would happen this way because when I was young I really wanted to get out of the village. I wanted to go see the world and leave the small village of Nackenheim behind. Now it’s a complete different thing. I really enjoy living there and raising my family in the small village. Uh, yeah, it’s uh, it just changed everything.

JG:                    Yeah. You appreciate it.

JH:                    Yeah, definitely.

JG:                    Do you have… How many kids?

JH:                    I have two kids now.

JG:                    Two kids.

JH:                    Two girls, of course, as it is in our genes.

JG:                    Dog? Cat?

JH:                    A cat. A cat and some chickens.

JG:                    No dog!? Wow.

JH:                    We had dogs in our winery, every generation, but for some reason I ended up with a cat.

JG:                    Cats are easier to work with. Um, so when did you actually start working with the winery full time? So you were doing accounting a little bit.

JH:                    Yup. Did a one year trip around the world.

JG:                    Woe…

JH:                    Just to get some experience and didn’t feel like starting working right away after university. So I took my girlfriend at the time, now she’s my wife and the mother of my kids. We went around the world including a six week sailing trip around Vancouver Island, which was pretty amazing.

JG:                    Wait a minute.

JH:                    And then I started to come back home. Um, vintage 2013 was the first year where I took over the control of the cellar at home and then 2016 I inherited the winery from my parents. So it’s like, it’s a very historical estate with a rich history of over 130 years. But on the other hand, our team at home is very young and dynamic. We are really open to question and redefine what we are doing there and like that we are not falling asleep because we are a historical winery. I think we have to, especially as we see it right now, the weather patterns are changing tremendously in Germany. We see much different seasons than we have seen before. The vineyards react completely different to that and so the wine making is changing big time as well. So everything that my, the generations before us learned, experienced it, it’s not wrong, but it has to be questioned. Like, for example, just in the last generation of my parents between maybe 1970s and now everything changed like from grapes didn’t really get right because it was too cold to the question is it still cold enough for Riesling in our area? Um, I think that is like the question cannot be answered with yes or no, but I think there’s a lot of things that we actually can do to support our vineyards in extreme conditions and climate change and luckily and quite interestingly, we see that in the last series of very warm vintages, the wine actually maintain the elegancy, maintain their freshness and that has a lot to do with rethinking, winemaking completely like practices in the vineyards, practices in the cellar. Everything is now in question and we are trying to find the perfect way of helping our vineyards and guiding the wine in the cellar without influencing it too much. But believing inside what we are always have been doing and trying to extract the style that resembles the soil, the climate, everything. And that’s what Riesling is made for basically. Yeah.

JG:                    Okay. So you were working with your father for, I don’t how many years, when you started trying to, you know, maybe implement some changes or some new ideas like, hey look, the climate’s changing, we’re having warmer vintages, you know, and you’re trying to get your father to like, oh, except those ideas. Was it a battle?

JH:                    Um, it wasn’t a battle, but they were interesting times to say like this. So of course my, my father was a brilliant winemaker. He had a lot of experience and he produced wines that really are standing out. He knew exactly what he wanted and then all of a sudden a young guy comes around and tries to do everything different without any experience. There were some interesting discussions at the dinner table at home, but at the end we are reunited by the belief that we have to work for our vineyards. So that was what is always the same between the six generations making wine in our family, we always believed in the vineyards and so we have to do everything in their favor. And so I did a lot of experiments alongside working with my father, so I was working maybe like two or three seasons together with him. Then unfortunately he got sick and could not work in the cellar anymore. Um, and and this two, three years, I did a lot of experiments. I listened a lot to what my father told me. And I think somewhere there’s a mix between the two sides, like trying new stuff, but also soaking up the experience that at the end it’s a puzzle play. Like everything is a small piece of the puzzle. I’m not saying I have solved the puzzle yet. I’m still looking for some pieces.

JG:                    It’s a moving puzzle.

JH:                    Yeah, definitely and every experience can be a part of the of this. And I think that’s how it will hopefully continue for the next 30 years when I will make wine in our estate is that every season, every year gives us new challenges, new question marks, new ideas. And, and because I think as a winemaker you cannot believe that you will invent a cooking recipe for making wine. It’s not like a formula.

JG:                    For the next 50 years, it’s going to be like so. It doesn’t work that way. I mean that’s the thing. I would imagine that your father was probably thinking like, you know what? I have a lot of experience, I’ve seen changes myself, and the changes that he was seeing while you were working with him. You know what? He’s probably thinking like, yeah, this is good for the future, you know?

JH:                    Yeah. And as I said, it’s a mix between traditional delivery of knowledge and then I’also new ideas and yeah, that you take into, into the big picture of making wine.

JG:                    Wouldn’t it be fun to meet your great, great, great, great. I don’t know how many greats, grandfather and have a bottle of his wine with a bottle of today’s wine and see the difference and see the expressions, like that would be super fun.

JH:                    Yeah and I think a lot of these things are actually coming back to us. So we had a quite industrial phase in the last generation because the knowledge exploded basically. The knowledge that we know about wine, but it doesn’t mean that everything that has been discovered is useful for us because I think there’s much more interesting ideas and things that my great, great, great grandparents did before they had the knowledge, but they developed a kind of feeling. They looked at the vineyards, they looked at the grapes and that told them what they needed to do. So they had a different approach to winemaking, which is much less technical than sometimes we do it these days. And I think also there is a really cool mix to, it’s good to know what can go wrong, but that doesn’t mean that you really have to do everything to avoid it because that would also exclude a lot of this unexplainable stuff of winemaking. It’s, it’s, this is some part of the fascination that you cannot explain everything that happens when you make wine.

JG:                    Well, it’s like people almost want to have every year, every vintage taste the same.

JH:                    Yeah. It’s not Budweiser.

JG:                    Yeah, it’s not Budweiser, but you know what, Budweiser has it’s place.

JH:                    Are you selling Budweiser?

JG:                    No, but I drink it sometimes.

JH:                    And yet it’s, every year is different and every year the things we do to react at different and that makes I think our business so special that it cannot be replicated each year. No, none of my Riesling will tastes the same as it did the year before.

JG:                    And you as a small family winery, you don’t want to be that way. You want to have soul, you want to have distinct Gunderloch, something. Something that’s telling about the, you know, you’re steep vineyards and all these thing. And, uh, what was the red, the red rocks, the red…

JH:                    Red slate.

JG:                    Red slate.

JH:                    Red clay slate to be very technical. Um, it’s unique soil that you will only find in a four kilometer stretch along the river Rhine.

JG:                    Really?

JH:                    And it’s only 250 meters deep. So it’s like it’s really limited. The origin of our vineyards is tiny compared to all the other regions and it’s 80 hectares in size. My family owns around like 25 of these 80 hectares. So we are quite significant holder of this soil. But it’s so interesting to see that even though it’s just one soil, it’s only one grape variety that we really work with, the variety that we can create within this very small and dense (?), it’s quite fascinating and that’s what Riesling can do. It can be everything from bone try and the majority of Rieslings we sell is actually dry. Some people still have a picture that Riesling is always a sweet. I think that can be true. It can be fascinating sweet wines, but it can also be very serious, dry wines. Like there are not many grape varieties that can really create a wine that shows a sense of place and time. I think Riesling is one of them. Pinot noir definitely as well, maybe chardonnay, but they’re not many that really can show a certain region as good and as in such a big variety that uh, Riesling can do. And that is the fascinating part which keeps our family going.

JG:                    That’s true. I think it keeps a lot of families going. I mean, it keeps German Riesling going in general, I think. Because, you know, the top producers, people flock to these top producers because of that. And like, this really expresses this terroir or whatever you want to call it.

JH:                    Definitely.

JH:                    So the red slate thing is pretty funny because everyone sees black slate everywhere. Not Everywhere. But you know, you see it in Priorat, you see it in the southeastern part of Austria. But the red slate I’ve never heard of. That’s pretty, pretty interesting.

JH:                    To be more technical, um,

JG:                    Red clay slate.

JH:                    Yeah. It’s different. You find beautiful red slate vineyards in the Mosel Valley (I think that’s what he said) rarely, for example. But the type of red clay slate that we have, it’s unique to this small part where my family is making wine. Um, it’s uh, actually one of the oldest soils that you can make wine of. It’s 290 million years old. And what it basically is is compressed sand, desert sand. For sometime 290 years ago, Germany was on the equator and so there was a big, big desert and then the desert sand got covered and covered and covered and push down and put under pressure. And where the Rhine Valley carved out the steep slopes of the Rhine valley, that’s the only place where you find the soil. After that it digs deep. It goes away. But just where the Rhine was digging out the valley on the steep slopes, that’s where you find the soil.

JG:                    And over the years with erosion and the clay slate breaking down, it becomes , is there a threat of, you know, in the far future of it being gone.

JH:                    There’s alway erosion. It’s a defining factor of our vineyards. And it also defines very strongly how we can manage our vineyards. And I think when you look at this, like terroir is such a bad word because it has been abused and nobody really knows what it means, but if you think of our region, of its terroir, of its origin, of its specialities, these challenges of the erosion, they define what we do. So I would actually also include this in our thinking, in the definition of our area. We have special limitations that we can do and all of this makes us take different decisions and defines our way of making wine as well. So when I look at a piece of land and if I want to fully understand how the wine tastes, I also always look at what are the problems, what are the challenges? Because I think not, if you look at the greatest vineyards on the Earth, none of them is really good farming land. Like they all have their challenges.

JG:                    Rocky, too steep, two inches of topsoil. Woohoo, you’re not going to grow much cauliflower on that stuff.

New Speaker:   But I think this is also coming back to the founding moments of our winery that’s coming back where you can say like a piece of land has it’s characteristics had its challenges and that defines the wines that are coming out of it and I think this is something that you have to take into account when you look at a vineyard. Of course it has positive effects, but if it’s only fertile land, if it’s perfect water supply, if it’s like everything is like i in paradise, I don’t know if that would be a perfect vineyard land because then it would be like, vineyards need some challenges. They need to struggle a little bit. The winemaker has to think, has to develop a concept, how to best treat the vineyards to react to this challenge. I think all of this at the end makes up for the wine that comes out of it.

JG:                    I think the whole concept of terroir will definitely be facing some redefinitions in the near future because places that have famous terroirs, you know what? That terroir is going to change with rising temperature.

New Speaker:   In our 130 years of history, 2018 was the first year we ever started picking in August. And so this is something like my, my father, if he had experienced, he would have thought I’m crazy, but that was the only way how we could actually counteract these extreme temperatures that we had in 2018. On the other hand, it’s fascinating to see how elegant the wines of this vintage actually tasting right now. So in my microcosmos, in my small world, the answer to climate change is not growing different grape varieties. I mean, in a global picture, climate change has to be fought with all means. Um, and there are still some people that believe it won’t exist, but we see it. So in the global picture it’s a different answer. But in my microcosmos as a winemaker in Rheinhessen, in Germany, that makes Riesling, I think the answer is to find ways how to help the vineyards to react to this situation. And that is everything. We have a lot of tools in our hands. We have canopy management, which is extremely useful. We have changed our canopy management completely around in the last couple of years because we saw how effective that can actually be to help the grapes. For example, when we go leaf plucking, we strip the southern, uh, northern side where the sun doesn’t hit, we strip it open. It’s a very natural way of reducing the yields and training the skins to be more resistant to sun, to rain. So it’s really powerful tool. But on the southern side, we leave the canopy completely intact to prevent the heat and the sun hitting the grapes and then late in the season the only pluck the young leaves, the young light green leaves because they have a lot of photosynthetic energy. The old green leaves, they only shade. We leave them. But 20 years ago nobody was thinking about that. That was not an issue.

JG:                    They were just thinning.

New Speaker:   Yeah. And so canopy management, soil management, yield management, we are not like in earlier times you would say like the less yield you have in your vineyards the better and big yields are not good at all. But in this case, it doesn’t mean like less yield is always better. It can be too much reduction. So what we are doing in our winery, we trying to train our vineyards to a slower vegetative pattern, just like less soil movement. Uh, maybe start out with a normal year and then very carefully thinning out by leaf plucking by small corrections. But for example, I don’t like green harvest. Green Harvest for me is after long vegetation period you tell your vineyards, you have done a mistake, you have produced too many grapes. So when you cut out grapes, the reaction of the vineyard will be putting all its energy in less grapes. And that will mean we will have much more higher sugar levels and high…

JG:                    And a shorter season and it will rush to ripeness and it won’t be properly, ripe?

New Speaker:   Yeah. So this is like, it would be completely counter productive to do green harvest in some years. And so yeah, coming back to one of the earlier questions, like all of this has now to be experienced and learned and understood.

JG:                    And on another note, you were talking about the red clay slate. I’ll send you the podcast I did recently with Brandon Carter from Unico Zelo. He’s in Adelaide hills in Australia where they’re growing varieties and they came up with what would survive with minimal water, basically because it’s a desert almost, and it’s all red sand there. And it’s really interesting and they’re coming to a lot of the same ideas that you are.

New Speaker:   Yeah, we can learn a lot from these areas as well. How do they deal with the challenges?

JG:                    I mean their challenges are extreme. I mean we were talking the other day about Australian Riesling. You know, their growing season is short.

New Speaker:   Much shorter than ours. Yeah.

JG:                    It’s extreme and it can still manage to get really interesting dry Riesling, you know? And they’ve been doing it for a while there too. I mean it’s not like, it’s not like something new.

New Speaker:   But I think there’s a rich, rich Riesling history and some really amazing wines are produced over there. Some good friends of our winery make amazing Rieslings in Australia.

JG:                    So who do you like?

New Speaker:   Ah, I’m a big fan of Jeffrey Grosset and his wife Stephanie. They are, we have a exchange as well. We talk a lot and uh, Franklin Estate, Hunter Smith and his family in the Franklin River area. Amazing wines. And then, yeah, New Zealand, there are so many crazy areas and just having contact with these people and exchanging with them.

JG:                    You did some harvest than New Zealand, right?

JH:                    Yeah, I worked in New Zealand, which was pretty relaxed kind of making wine over there.

JG:                    Yeah. New Zealand relaxed!?

JH:                    Yeah.

JG:                    I thought it’d be really uptight and stressful there (joking of course).

JH:                    No, no. The people are, the Kiwis are really a good crowd. And I worked in Martinbourugh Vineyards. They’re a very nice Pinot noir producer. Some Riesling. Yeah. Fascinating culture and seeing so many young motivated people in the wine industry. That was kind of new to me. Going there, going to Australia, going to New Zealand and also, my first experience in winemaking was Canada.

JG:                    Canada!?

JH:                    Maybe not the prime destination. Not yet, but it’s a really, really amazing wine culture developing there. It was honestly an excuse to go skiing and I need to justify it against my parents “so why do you go to Canada”?

JG:                    So obviously this was in the Okanogan.

New Speaker:   Yeah, it was in the Okonagan.

JG:                    Yeah, because East Coast Canada. Uh, the mountains there aren’t so big and the snow kind of sucks. Okay. So we were talking about your estate vineyards, which are about 20, 20 how many?

JH:                    26 hectares.

JG:                    26 hectares. And that’s 26 out of 80 hectares that are basically based on this red clay slate.

JH:                    Yes.

JG:                    So are all the wines you produce estate wines?

JH:                    Um, the majority is, so we are focusing on our vineyard sites, that’s where we put all our efforts on. Of course you have to keep into account that working on the steep slopes is quite costly. So we have to invest four times the amount of hours that you are doing on the flat vineyard sites. And sometimes people forget that and unfortunately cannot charge four times the amount of money for our wines that the others do. Maybe in the future. We don’t know. But so we are also, let’s say, make the bank a little bit happy, producing

JG:                    The bank.

JH:                    A project wine wine together with growers from the region which is called Fritz’s Riesling. A wine that carries the name of my father because he basically was looking for the perfect tool to communicate a more modern style of German Riesling. Not like the really old traditional, big volume cooperative stuffs, but something that is addressed to the entry level. Interesting price point, but carries a soul that is produced by a small family estate in a style that is very flexible, not bone dry. There’s a nice fruit in it. So this is a project that we do together with some grape growers from the region.

JG:                    Oh really? So it’s kind of a collaboration.

JH:                    It’s yes, something like a cooperation, but it’s, it’s a nice addition to what we carry out on under our estate name Gunderloch because Gunderloch wines are like a true ambassador of it’s soil. Can be like for the first time wine drinker, they are serious wines. So they ‘re not just easy going. So the Fritz’s Riesling is really nice addition to that because it really is pure Riesling, 100% joyful wine and a good, for everyday drinking basically.

JG:                    And there’s a rosé I heard too.

JH:                    Yeah, that’s in the same line up. There’s a Fritz’s Rosé.

JG:                    Nice. I like the Fritz’s rosé.

JH:                    Yeah. It’s quite interesting mix because it’s not coming from the obvious grape varieties that you use for rose. It’s a Pinot Meunier-based rose.

JG:                    Pinot Meunier?

JH:                    Yeah, my father was a big fan of champagne, so we planted some Pinot Meunier around 20 years ago. We always lacked the time to really start our sparkling projects, also for the last 20 years it went always into the rose. So maybe I have now a little bit more time to start my sparkling project, which I really would like to, but for the meantime it makes an amazing, yet, characteristics with strong and different or so very fruity, but the typical Meunier kind of fruit. So it’s easy drinking. There are some, some nice character behind it. Yeah, perfect for the coming summer.

JG:                    All I know is we tried a bottle yesterday and it was easy drinking.

JH:                    That’s good.

JG:                    How much of that is coming to the US this summer, summer 2019.

JH:                    So it’s on the way here. It will arrive hopefully early enough to catch the good weather. We are not a huge binary so there’s not like not millions of liters around in our winery, but it’s a decent size. So you, if you like it, you will not run out.

JG:                    How many bottles? 20,000?

JH:                    Uh no, not as much. Like maybe 10,000 bottles.

JG:                    How many bottles does the winery total, more or less.

JH:                    So the total winery, like the Gunderloch estate wines are, depending on the season.

JG:                    Yeah, minus the Fritz stuff. Just the Gunderloch estate.

JH:                    Yeah, like around 150,000 maybe in a, in a really, really strongly year 200,000 bottles, but mostly around 150, 175,000 bottles.

JG:                    And the concentration of that is and which wine?

JH:                    The Jean Baptiste, which is probably the most renowned wine.

JG:                    Who’s that?

JH:                    Jean Baptiste was my great, great, great, great grandfather. The banker. Yeah. So he started our winery and we make this wine in his honor. For the last 25 years since we are doing this wine, this has every year been our most important wine. It’s actually bigger than the Fritz’s Riesling. It’s our liquid ambassador, our liquid business card. Perfect, like very balanced style. Very. It’s fruity, but it has a rather nice minerality in it. It’s light in alcohol, it’s very fresh, but crisp as well. So really balanced, perfect wine to pair with seafood, spicy food, but perfect apperitive wine by itself as well.

JG:                    Sure.

JH:                    Liquid the air conditioning, I like to call it.

JG:                    Mmmm, liquid air conditioning. Can I use that?

JH:                    You might steal that. Yeah.

JG:                    Cool. Okay, another question; It seems like a lot of the wines that you’re focusing on for the US are trocken.

JH:                    Well, that’s an interesting question. I have not answered this question for me finally because we see the tradition here in the US as it’s understood that the Riesling is always a little bit of sweetness involved. And this is what, it’s okay because this is we, we make amazing sweet Rieslings. What I want to do at the moment is to show that actually Riesling can do much more to it than just spesweet Riesling because the bone dry Riesling from our estate vineyard you get a lot of character and you get a lot of message and they’re not the easiest to understand wines around, definitely. But they are very strong ambassadors of their origin and I think, and I feel that there’s a really big chance for these wines in the future and the market, especially as we have a very open minded young generation of wine drinkers growing up and it’s two things. They’re not interested in only drinking sweet, easy drinking wines and they’re also not, they don’t have this background that they have, like they don’t carry around the knowledge of the, the old generations that have been only exposed to sweet German wine. So it’s like for us, like a blank piece of paper, but we can really try to convince people that it’s all about quality and no matter what style of Riesling you’re drinking, when it’s about quality, you will enjoy it. If it’s un-interesting sweet entry level stuff, you will forget it. But if it’s intelligent made wine with the history, with an idea behind it, it doesn’t matter if it’s sweet or dry, every time it will be a perfect ambassador from the region that it’s coming from and this is what I think where we have a great chance.

JG:                    Yeah, I agree completely. I think like you’re saying, the younger wine drinkers coming up, you know they don’t have a preconception of Riesling really. They don’t have a preconception of a lot of things. Rose. You talk to older people, you know, 50, 60 years old. They thought rose was going to be sweet, the stuff that came from California 30 years ago or something, 40 years ago, and it’s not that way. Younger people, boom, hey, you know what? Rose bring it.

JH:                    Yeah.

JG:                    Same thing with a Riesling. If they get a dry Riesling it’s like, oh, this is just like drinking a chardonnay or something like that. It’s dry, it’s delicious. It’s interesting. It kind of goes great with the food I’m having,

JH:                    But I think this misconception maybe is going away.

JG:                    I agree.

JH:                    Because as I said, there are young people, open minded, looking for great quality. It’s not only wine but products with a regional identity. And I think this is a huge chance that we have, especially with Riesling, to create an ambassador of our regional identity that we have in Germany.

JG:                    That’s forward thinking, unlike some parts of the world right now. They’re not forward thinking, but that’s a different story. Well, I think that kind of wraps it up actually for my questions at least. Uhh, well hold on a second. One thing. (The sound of a beer can being opened). Ah, prost.

JH:                    Prost.

JG:                    Um, what beer is this anyway?

JH:                    It’s a local Indian Pale Ale. Very beautiful. I cannot pronounce the name

JG:                    Uh, Bodhizafa. This is from Georgetown brewing in Georgetown.

JH:                    Very tasty.

JG:                    It’s very tasty. Well, Johannes thanks a lot for spending the time with me to talk about your family winery.

JH:                    Thank you.

JG:                    (Closing comments)Yes, that Bodhizafa IPA was pretty good and I don’t even like Ipa. Thanks again to Johannes for taking the time, and if you haven’t yet, be sure to check us out on Instagram at Grapexwine. Until next time. Have a good week.

By |2019-06-20T15:18:42+00:00June 20th, 2019|Germany, Podcast|Comments Off on New Podcast – Gunderloch with Johannes Hasselbach

New Podcast – Right Bank Bordeaux with Jean-Phillipe Saby of Famille Saby

Our lineup from Vignobles Saby is on fire these days, especially Chateau Bertin, Chateau Rozier, and Chateau Hauchat. Jeff gets down and dirty with the always loquacious Jean-Phillipe Saby of Vignobles Saby to break down current releases. We also get a sneak peek at a few new upcoming additions, including Chateau Reindent which will replace our entry-level “Chateau Saby” Bordeaux Superieur. Cabernet Franc as the future in Bordeaux? Jean-Phillippe thinks so and shares his thoughts on that front. There is a raging party going on in the background so apologies if there is some crunchiness in the background…

Click here for the episode link on Spotify, and here for the episode link on iTunes.

By |2019-06-05T14:26:22+00:00June 5th, 2019|France, Podcast|Comments Off on New Podcast – Right Bank Bordeaux with Jean-Phillipe Saby of Famille Saby

New Podcast – Roberto Echeverria of Viña Echeverria

John connects with Roberto Echeverria where they cover everything from cool climate varietals, natural wine, and forest fires.

Click here for the episode link on Spotify, and here for the episode link on iTunes.

By |2019-05-28T16:14:40+00:00May 28th, 2019|Chile, Podcast|Comments Off on New Podcast – Roberto Echeverria of Viña Echeverria

New Podcast – José Manuel Bouza of Bodega Bouza

Yes we are still eagerly awaiting our next load of Bouza, and if we weren’t already pumped up for new vintages of Tannat Reserva and Albarino we REALLY are now that we’ve spent a few days in Seattle and Portland with new-generation leader José Manuel Bouza. We presold a lot of wine, and recorded some audio, topics include:

  • An overview of Bouza’s history and their setup
  • Why you find Albarino in Uruguay and why it grows so well there
  • The original idea behind Bouza’s highly-acclaimed “Parcela Unica” bottlings

Click here for the episode link on Spotify, and here for the episode link on iTunes.

By |2019-05-20T17:54:43+00:00May 20th, 2019|Podcast, Uruguay|0 Comments

Ca’ Gialla – Spring 2019

Marco Porello is the third generation of his family to produce wines in Roero, and he works the land with the help of his sweet mother, Nonna Porello (pictured). The family owns 15 hectares of vineyard land in total and these vines sit in Canale and Vezza d’Alba, two of Roero’s twenty-three villages. The Canale vines sit on the Monbirone Cru which is composed of marine clay based soil, and the Vezza d’Alba vines sit on the Tanone Cru on sandy, limestone rich soil.

Climb up to the castle that sits above Marco’s home village of Canale and you’ll leave with a better understanding of how Roero fits into Piedmont as a whole – In simple terms to the South of the river you have the more famous (and more expensive) Langhe and where you stand (to the North of the river) you have the more humble (but often overachieving) Roero. Most people think Arneis when they think Roero, and while we love some Arneis this is shortsighted. Roero Nebbiolo and Barbera can be sensational and almost always come at a humble price.  Michael Austin of The Chicago Tribune sums the situation up perfectly, basically saying that the wines of Roero are like the really good Rolling Stones tribute band at your neighborhood bar, that they are so dialed and so close to the original, that you’ll gladly fork over $20 to see them (and see them often) instead of $200 to see Mick and Keith themselves at the arena.

Marco Porello is one of the most “known” names in Roero, and he produces two lines – His namesake Marco Porello line which is sourced from the estate’s oldest vines and sees a bit more wood, and a more value-oriented line called Ca’ Gialla, named after the yellow house on site inhabited by his mother and also made from 100% estate fruit, albeit with no new wood and slightly younger vines on average. Of these two lines Ca Gialla fits our portfolio the most strategically as it gives us affordable Piedmont options that show real personality and detail. The only thing holding these back from becoming “can’t miss” in our book was the packaging, and we’ve spent some time reworking these labels as you see below.

All wines are farmed naturally without the use of herbicides or pesticides, and all yeast is indigenous. Marco is working towards organic certification.

About that castle…The castle hovering above town is now a restaurant and hotel (the prior Contessa blew all of her money on booze and gambling a few years back and was forced to sell), and we enjoyed the view over some semolina crusted veal, tasting Marco’s 2018’s with big smiles.

Ca’ Gialla 2018 Nebbiolo Roero, surprising soft and round at this early stage, very good
Ca’ Gialla 2018 Barbera Roero
, dark, dark fruit, balanced, fresh, delicious
Ca’ Gialla 2018 Arneis Roero
, slightly yellow (ripe vintage), but full and fresh

By |2019-04-24T17:21:21+00:00April 24th, 2019|Italy, Piedmont, Travel Report|0 Comments

Schiavenza – Spring 2019

The local Piemontese dialect for sharecropper is “schiavenza,” and this much-buzzed about estate takes its name from the sharecroppers who formerly worked the property’s vineyards during the time that it functioned as a hospital and school as part of the Opera Pia Barolo (you can think of the Opera Pia Barolo as a similar entity to the Hospices du Beaune). Brothers Vittorio and Ugo Alessandria revitalized this property in the mid 1950’s when it was in need of such work, and things are thriving under the current second generation, with farming and winemaking led by son-in-laws Luciano Pira and Walter Anselma.

A name like Schiavenza should give one a clue as to the style here; this is a “traditional to the bone” property with a foundation of organic farming and Slovenian botti, nothing more and nothing less. Vineyard holdings have expanded over time, and the estate is made up of ten hectares split between Serralunga and Monforte.  These include the heralded crus Prapò, Bricco Cerretta, and Broglio. 

We sat down with Walter Anselma, plowed through some Pomerol samples (there’s no better way to evaluate important samples, than with a very good winemaker in a very different region), and then dug into the good stuff – Schiavenza’s current bottled releases. Thus far we’d had quite the eventful string of visits in Barolo, but when we tasted Walter’s 2016 Barolo Serralunga from botti we were floored. To achieve this kind of finesse with equal levels of concentration is at the same time astounding and unreal. We bring you good news – Traditional winemaking in Barolo is all well. 

Also worth noting is the family’s restaurant, which sits above the winery and sports one of the best views in Barolo for those fortunate enough to score a patio seat. We went through some recently bottled wines while eating the two food specialties that Piedmont executes best –  Carne crudo (hand chopped raw veal seasoned with salt, pepper, and just pressed olive oil) and tajarin (paper thin narrow egg noodles dressed in ragu). Walter informed us that one can use up to 40 egg yolks in one kilo (2.2 lbs) of flour when making tajarin. How can you leave this place thinking anything else than what a glorious time in history it is to be alive as a human!

Schiavenza 16 Dolcetto d’Alba, outstanding, difficult to find a better one
Schiavenza 15 Nebbiolo d’Alba, typical if a bit on the light side
Schiavenza 13 Barolo Serralunga, softer style, good flavors
Schiavenza 13 Barolo “Broglio,” fuller, more perfumed, lifted
Schiavenza 13 Barolo “Ceretta,” bolder, deeper, more tannin, excellent
Schiavenza 13 Barolo “Prapo,” more of everything, memorable

By |2019-04-23T04:26:24+00:00April 23rd, 2019|Italy, Piedmont, Travel Report|0 Comments

Zeni – Spring 2019

The Zeni family has spent the last 140 years dedicating themselves to producing individual wines in and around Verona. In total 125 acres are farmed here, 75% of which are planted to red varietals. They operate two wineries, with the primary winery being based in Bardolino on the shores of Lake Garda. We carry most of Zeni’s classic line (Bardolino, Chinatto, and Valpolicella), their Ripasso “Margone,” and their flagship Amarone Vigne Alte. Most of Zeni’s production (and all of the particular items we carry) represents traditional Veronese wine at its finest – Pergola trained vines, no barrique, minimal intervention, and lowes in appellation (ie almost zero) residual sugar levels on Ripasso and Amarone.

Fausto Zeni is the newest generation to run things here, and the winery appears to be thriving. Their Ripasso “Margone” and Amarone “Vigne Alte” are exactly what we look for in terms of style, and you’ll all have the opportunity to go big on both as we’ve queued up two large loads for you.

As for Chiaretto? That typical Veronese style rosé you keep hearing about these days? We are lucky enough to still have some 2017 from Zeni and it is in such a perfect place right now in terms of fruit/balance/complexity…If you are reading this and have access to a bottle do yourself a favor and pop one!

Zeni 2018 Chiaretto, Fresh, full dry, very pleasant
Zeni 2018 Bardolino, Decent color, easy drinking
Zeni 2017 Barolino Classico Superiore, More of everything, stylish
Zeni 2016 Corvina GT, Dark, fresh, some spices, quite full-bodied
Zeni 2016 Costalago, Dark, ripe commercial style, have to say pretty delicious
Zeni 2016 Ripasso, Typical, big, soft, drier than most you’ll find
Zeni 2013 Amarone “Vigne Alte,” Very good, more elegant style, RS has been reduced to less than 10 grams with recent vintages
Zeni 2013 Cruino, Concentrated, soft, very nice. Made with Corvina in a Amarone/Ripasso style
By |2019-04-16T16:49:25+00:00April 16th, 2019|Italy, Piedmont, Travel Report|0 Comments

La Carlina – Spring 2019

The brother and sister duo of Camilla and Francesco Scavino founded La Carlina in 2014 at the foot of the Medieval castle that towers over the village of Grinzane Cavour. The name “La Carlina” is a reference to the farm of their grandmother where the family would celebrate and party, which is also the place where Camilla and Francesco began experimenting with winemaking as teenagers. You could probably call La Carlina Piedmont’s “newest” producer – They’ve been producing their own wine for about five years now and are releasing their first Barolo this year. Overall holdings are actually pretty significant, consisting of 8 hectares of Barolo alone! Vineyards are scattered between the hills of the Langhe and Monferrato (although most vines conveniently sit at the base of the winery), and farming is strictly organic. 

Until several years ago the family would sell all fruit to the local cooperative, but things changed when Camilla and Francesco’s father needed a larger space to house his growing specialty pasta empire – His company, Pastificio Langhe, is one of Italy’s best producers of naturally colored and uniquely shaped noodles. The old University winemaking school sat next to their main Barolo vineyard, and they found that it was abandoned and consequently for sale…This meant room for everyone to grow – Turn the classrooms into a pasta factory and fill the basement with casks of Barolo! You just can’t make this kind of stuff up sometimes…

There aren’t many “hipster” winemakers in Barolo, a tradition-soaked region where one hectare of land is valued at 3 million Euros, but Francesco is one of the few. For us this means an openness to experimentation that we take for granted in places like Saumur or Kremstal, but rarely see in Piedmont. As for Camilla, she is as smart as they come but at the same time constantly bubbling over with charm and laughter.  

Carlina’s two examples of Favorita are can’t miss items – One is fermented in amphora with extended skin contact and the other is clean and uber-crisp, only seeing steel tank. As for Barbera Superiore you don’t see much of the category in the market overall, and Carlina’s example is top rate with opulent fruit and minimal wood. We can’t wait to pick up their Barolo – It fits an interesting slot in the Grape Expectations portfolio as Grinzane Cavour Barolo is famously elegant and arrives a bit lower in price than similarly pedigreed wine from Serralunga or La Morra, et all. If we work out the right numbers with Camilla this could end up our “Crous St. Martin” equivalent in Piemonte and with eight hectares they actually have some volume to play with!

La Carlina 18 Favorita – Bright, crisp, fresh, outstanding
La Carlina 17 Favorita Riserva – Slight color from skin contact, almost peachy, very broad, unique
La Carlina 16 Nebbiolo Langhe – Medium bodied Nebbiolo, plenty of red fruit, classic
La Carlina 17 Nebbiolo Langhe – Slightly younger than the 2016, promising
La Carlina 17 Barbera d’Asti – Terrific freshness here, purple fruits, hard to put this glass down
La Carlina 16 Barbera d’Asti Superiore – Textbook low-yield Barbera, wood well-integrated, superb
La Carlina 15 Barolo – Elegant style, strawberries, roses, mineral… packed with flavor and complexity and showing well even at this young an age.

By |2019-04-16T15:25:57+00:00April 16th, 2019|Italy, Piedmont, Travel Report|0 Comments

New Podcast – Manfred Felsner of Weingut Felsner

The new Felsner container has arrived in our warehouse and folks are licking their lips around here! We talked Manfred Felsner into letting us record his thoughts on a variety of topics, and distilled things down into a ten minute clip for you. Topics include:

  • Why a vineyard with a mix of young, middle-aged, and old vines is rare in Kremstal but a kind of secret weapon
  • Why Kremstal might be the new Provence in terms of sexy, textured rosé
  • The importance of extended lees contact i.e. why Manfred refused to bottle Gruner until the last possible moment

Click here for the episode link on Spotify, and here for the episode link on iTunes.

If you’ve been living in a cave and don’t listen to podcasts yet, you can read the interview transcript below instead:

JM:                   So we’re here with Mr Manfred Felsner from Weingut Felsner and we’re talking about release dates when it comes to Austrian Gruner veltliner. A lot of people in the US market especially, you know, they want brand new vintage Gruner right away. And a lot of what we’ve tasted has led us to believe that fresher isn’t always better. It’s certainly the case with Felsner, always has been. Here’s Manfred telling us why that is, why he believes in giving us fall bottling Gruner rather than Gruner that is bottled in the winter of that year.

MF:                  Oh, well with Gruner Veltliner needs a time of contact on the lees because the lees is keeping him fresh. There is a process called autolysis and every day coming some new bubbles from the lees and gives him a fine CO2 and in the end it makes him a younger for a long time. So a wine who is bottled in autumn time keeps for sure five, seven years. If you bottle the wine in springtime then it’s very quick old, maybe after one year. So that’s why I like wines were bottled in autumn. Then you, you have fun with this wine for the next 7 years for sure.

JM:                   Oh Wow. So one year versus seven. That’s pretty, it’s a pretty incredible difference.

MF:                  Uh, yes. 2017 was in generally a really dry year, maybe one of the dry years from all. So we had no rain for three months, but the vines are helping themself. We had a similar effect like in Sicilia, so when it was to dry, they did nothing for one month and then in August we had an nice rain. And then the sugar content was growing up very quick. So when we pick the grapes, we had an nice sugar content, but also a nice acidity. And 2017 Gruner was in spring time a little bit rough because there was some tannins because it was very try. But then later in the summer times it gets smoother and smoother and now it’s really perfect. He have a nice acidity. The tannins are away now and even nice mineralic taste. And it’s a great, for me it’s like really a great, vintage, which will keep long in the vinotheque.

JM:                   Great. And tell us about your vines. Something that we always tell our customers when we’re talking Gruner, when we’re talking about Felsner, is that you guys are so different because you have this, these holdings, of very, very old vines. You know… some of the… if you looked at producers and Kremstal and you looked at the age of their vines, you guys have probably on the whole, the oldest portfolio of vines. Um, tell us about that and what that does for the finished wines.

MF:                  Uh well, when I left the vintner school we learned after 25 years you have to pick out the vines and make a new vineyard because then they are two less fertile. But I found out that the wine from the old vines, have more aroma spectrum as the young vineyards and so I was one of the first in the region who start to make always new vine. So when the one vine was dying, I pulled him out and put a new one. So, and now our oldest vineyards are more than 60 years old. So it would be a lie to say every vine is 60 year old, but I have a mix from one to 60 years because every year some hundreds are died because they are too old and that I picked them out and make a new vine in. And so I have always a blend of different years. But in some [unintelligible] the wine is very special because you have the extract from the old vines because their root system is very deep, sometimes more than 10 meters or you’ll have more facet of ground floor and the young wines are a little bit thinner, which is also good. So because when a white that is too fat, it’s also not good. So the mix of young and old vines, it’s really interesting. It’s a big aroma spectrum.

JM:                   And it looks like we have a little bit of 2018 vintage as well.

MF:                  I bottled these on Wednesday, so just a little shy, some pallets because I need for the German market. But I generally like to bottle when I get the order because if they are on the lees it’s better for the wine.

JM:                   So let’s talk about rosé. You know, we’re coming right into rosé season. We have that amazing Zweigelt rosé from you. Tell us about that. Let’s taste it too.

MF:                  Yes. Uh, the, the global warming is helping us a little bit at the moment because when I was in vintners school 27 years ago, I liked the bronze rosé, but now I found out they are high in alcohol, they are oily, they have no acid. And now our rosé is tasting like in the Provence around 27 years ago.

JM:                   Wow. Wow.

MF:                  So we have a really fresh, lively rosé. Nice summer terrace wine, works also good with seafood, uncomplicated, easy to drink with seafood, also pour just to have fun. I think in future that people will talk more about Austrian rosé because the business is growing every year because we have this nice acidity which makes him so, so nice to drink.

MF:                  Should I tell you about the production also?

JM:                   Totally.

MF:                  Yeah. There are two possibilities to make rosé wine. You can either put it away after crushing the grapes for red wine. So if you’re crushing the grapes for red wine, you can give 10% away then you have a rosé and the red wine is more concentrated. But I don’t like this type of rosé because he’s rough and he have also tannins. What we do, we harvest mostly the north part of the vineyards, our terraces are running west-east. We are cutting mostly than north part. Then we have chill (?) growing grapes and then we pressed them very quick, like white wine and we wasting the color. But the wine is more white in character and so sometimes it’s like a Riesling, just a rosa, which is really nice to drink.

JM:                   Totally. Yeah. I think this is, this is interesting because I liked the comment about just being kind of similar to a throwback Provence rosé, where a lot of Provence rosé now is, you know, has less acidity than you would want. It can be sometimes almost banana-ee in really warm years and this has that really beautiful elegance, real pale color. Now you can tell that it’s not a saignee wine when you look at the color, you know, even for something like Zweigelt, which you’d expect a lot of color from. Its real pale color is beautiful. It’s paler than prior vintages. I feel like.

MF:                  Yeah, it’s the color of the grape. Zweigelt it’s not so much a peaks of color, like a Cabernet is, just 30% of the Cabernet. So that’s the reason why the rosé is just porky pink. But the nose is very nice. I have raspberries, strawberries in the nose, so…like a summer wine…

JG:                    Like a summer one. I like it. Okay, well that was informative and insightful. Thanks a lot Jeff for bringing that to us. Danke Schoen Manfred and all that talk of rosé is making me thirsty. Okay. Time to go. See you next time.

By |2019-04-11T15:37:47+00:00April 11th, 2019|Austria, Travel Report|0 Comments

Sordo – Spring 2019

The venerable house of Giovanni Sordo lies in the heart of Castiglione Falletto and has been producing traditional Barolo for just over 100 years.  It’s a family-run winery now in the capable hands of Giorgio, Giovanni’s son, the third generation of the family.  Everything here is sustainably farmed, and current holdings come out to 53 hectares in total, making Sordo one of Piedmont’s most recognizable producers.

Producing separate “Cru” bottlings is surprisingly something new at Sordo – Until about five years ago most everything went into their regular DOCG Barolo. The family holds an insane collection of elite-level cru vineyard sites covering the townships of Castiglione Falletto, Serralunga d’Alba, Monforte d’Alba, Barolo, Novello, La Morra, Verduno, Grinzane Cavour and Vezza d’Alba and they are the only existing Piedmontese winery that can boast offerings from eight different specific Crus.   We enjoy showing wines from Sordo side by side, as Sordo’s “naked” approach to winemaking means marked differences in the characteristics of each site (you’ll never see a barrique inside these walls). Take a look at the video below and you’ll see what we are talking about.

Here at Grape we love selling some older wine and as you’d guess we asked Giorgio about older vintages, both large and regular format. To our surprise there are plenty of options on that front! If you are an active wholesale customer of ours you can expect a craaazy back vintage pre-arrival offering this week…including the below bottlings, all of which are singing right now.

Sordo Barolo Riserva DOCG 2006 Monvigliero
Sordo Barolo Riserva DOCG 2005 Rocche di Castiglione
Sordo Barolo Riserva DOCG 2005 Perno
Sordo Barolo Riserva DOCG 2005 Gabutti
Sordo Barolo Riserva DOCG 2005 Parussi
Sordo Barolo Riserva DOCG 2005 Ravera
Sordo Barolo Riserva DOCG 2005 Monvigliero
Sordo Barolo Riserva DOCG 2004 Rocche di Castiglione
Sordo Barolo Riserva DOCG 2004 Gabutti
Sordo Barolo Riserva DOCG 2003 Rocche di Castiglione
Sordo Barolo Riserva DOCG 2003 Perno
Sordo Barolo Riserva DOCG 2003 Gabutti
Sordo Barolo Riserva DOCG 2001 Rocche di Castiglione
Sordo Barolo Riserva DOCG 2001 Perno
Sordo Barolo Riserva DOCG 2001 Gabutti
Sordo Barolo Riserva DOCG 1999 Gabutti

By |2019-04-08T16:05:22+00:00April 6th, 2019|Italy, Piedmont, Travel Report|0 Comments
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