Monthly Archives: February 2014

Sonoma to go 100% sustainable by 2019

Impressive news, although its ambitiousness is probably more what strikes me than an understanding of what is actually meant by being 100% sustainable. In any case, here is the press release issued by the Sonoma County Winegrape Commission, and it does throw some light on how this sustainability will be implemented in practical terms.

Click here to read the full press release.

The main points are listed below (and I’m quoting from the press release):

  • Sonoma County is committed to becoming the first 100% sustainable wine region in the United States through a three-phased program to be completed within the next five years.
  • The first phase of this effort will focus on helping winegrowers assess their sustainable vineyard practices through trainings and educational sessions focused on over 200 best management practices such as land use, canopy management, energy efficiency, water quality assessments, carbon emissions; healthcare and training for employees and being a good neighbour and community member. Although many vineyards and wineries are already implementing sustainable practices, the goal is to assess and collect the assessment data of 15,000 vineyard acres per year for the next four years until every acre of planted vines are under assessment for sustainability.
  • Phase two will involve the Sonoma County Winegrowers working with vineyard owners to achieve certification. To ensure against “greenwashing”, third-party verification and certification programs will be used, focused on environmental, social and economic viability and continuous improvement.
  • Another critically important factor to this initiative is transparency, which will be accomplished through regular progress updates, an annual Sonoma County Wine Region Sustainability Report Card and a vineyard and winery real-time tracker on the SCW website.

Sonoma County has some of the world’s most prized grape-growing areas in the world with the first vineyards dating back to the 1820s. The region’s unique combination of rich geological history, fog patterns generated by its 70-mile Pacific Ocean coastline, and topography has given rise to 16 unique American Viticultural Areas (AVA) that house about 500 wineries. Each AVA offers distinct climate, soils and temperature areas perfect for growing world-class Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel and more.



Koshu – made in Japan

A single grape variety, from a country that I never thought had its own grapes. Koshu is the name of a white grape, but also of a town in Japan around which it is grown and the wine produced. Koshu is a small town not far from Tokyo, in the Yamanashi prefecture. On the map below, the area is marked orange. Its main claim to fame is its wine production, from this one grape – a single wine but many nuances. japan-map

Koshu is probably not the most exciting or unusual grape variety you’ve ever encountered, but it seems to be surprisingly versatile and it does a great job at producing reliable, enjoyable, fresh white wines, some of it sparkling. At this tasting held in February 2014 in London, eleven producers showed around thirty wines. Some were lees-aged and richer, spicier, more complex, while others had a neutral, subdued style, and again others a lot of youthful fruitiness with candy sweetness. In general, most wines were young with relatively low alcohol levels (could be a great plus in the growing fashion of low-alcohol wines), and without a lot of perceptible acidity, although according to the descriptions tartaric acidity levels are in the range of 6g/l (which is fairly high).

Koshu is a bit of a mystery grape. In Wine Grapes, Jancis Robinson, Julia Harding and Jose Voulliamoz write that while the Japanese claim the variety as their koshu grapesown, this is hard to justify as it comes from a species that is not indigenous to the island. It seems likely that it was either introduced from Eurasia or crossbred from indigenous Japanese varietals. The bottom line is that, so far, scientists have been unable to relate Koshu genetically to any other known grape variety, so its exact origin remains unknown.

So how did the Japanese start making wine? The Koshu of Japan website tells us that “winemaking in Japan was started in 1874 by individuals living in Yamanashi Prefecture’s Kofu City. The first winery where full-scale wine production began was established in 1879. The Dainippon Wine Co., Ltd., founded in 1877, had sent two young men to France. What they learned there led to the start of wine production in Japan using the local Koshu grape… Following the end of World War II, wine production increased dramatically. There are now 80 wineries in Yamanashi Prefecture.”

The two producers I particularly liked at this tasting were Aruga Branca and Kurambon.

Aruga Branca Brilhante (sparkling, 2008)

Quite fruity nose with yeasty notes. The wine was aged on the lees for 36 months, and underwent 3 further years of maturation after disgorgement. Light-bodied, low in alcohol and with a good backbone and sharp mouthfeel, but a richness of flavour, almost rum-like.

Aruga Branca Pipa (still wine, 2009)

Obvious lees – and oak – influence: aromas of bread, butter, sweet vanilla and coconut. Palate rich in nutty, yeasty flavours, fruit is not pronounced. Acidity very gentle. Quite creamy, almost full-bodied with medium alcohol and intense minerality.

Four Seasons, Kurambon (2013)Kurambon

A very neutral wine, with just a touch of biscuity lees influence. Good acidity, some fruity candy sweet notes. Very restrained but pretty.

Sol Lucet, Kurambon (2013)

Fruity and youthful and slightly savoury. Acidity again very moderate. Medium body and low-ish alcohol. Melon, peach, pear and coconut, with good minerality. Well made.

Sol Lucet, Kurambon (2011)

Lees influence quite prominent on the nose, together with citrus fruit. Savoury palate with slightly more intense acidity. Subdued style but with lots of mineral notes, especially on the finish.

Southern Europe – stay local or go global?

Decanter recently held a themed tasting of Southern European wines – from Greece, Italy and Bulgaria. Most of the wineries represented were Italian, unsurprisingly, since they’re the world’s largest importer of wine. But I was interested in what the Greek and Bulgarian producers had to show – I came away only half satisfied. Firstly, there were only three Bulgarian wineries at the event, as opposed to twelve Italians.  Secondly, they only brought red wines with them, and most of these were neither well made nor interesting in other ways. Well at least I got to know a couple of local varieties.

The Greek wines were a more interesting mix, and there were quite a few on the Italian stands that made the trip worthwhile. Not all the usual Sangiovese and Pinot Grigio, but several barely known indigenous varieties from small appellations, and some even organic.

While quite a few wines are made from international varieties, the Italians, and especially the Greek, seem to be comfortable working with their local ancient grapes, and I believe they have a much better chance of surviving on the international market if they promote what is unique about them – the local grapes, the local traditions – especially when we’re talking about small and barely known appellations, wine regions. I’d much sooner taste a red or white Mavrud from Bulgaria than a Merlot or Syrah produced there, because it will probably resonate better with local soil and climate, and wine-making traditions will have evolved around these indigenous grapes. While a Centesimino from Ravenna is likely to always remain a niche product, it will have preserved something unique and original, a piece in the global wine-making puzzle that is just as worthy of attention as the global superstars.


The region represented was Plovdiv/Trakia. The wines, alas, all red, except one rose but I’d rather skip that altogether. In general I found that the wines were not ready to drink: too many grainy tannins, roughness, and the fruit was either overripe or too green (ageing won’t help that…). The best I tasted were blends, one made of the local variety called Mavrud with Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon, the other all international varieties. I would have loved to see more well-made indigenous wines, whites too! Hopefully next time?

Semela Premium Reserve 2006

Mavrud 50%, Syrah 25%, Cab Sauv 25%

A smooth and ripe wine with bright ruby colour, black fruit and quite a bit of oak influence (vanilla and spicy flavours). Good acidity, some green leafiness. The finish is not particularly long and all in all the wine is quite simple but it’s well made and pleasant to drink.

Enira Reserva 2008

A really yummy blend of Merlot, Syrah, Petit Verdot and Cabernet Sauvignon. Luckily, they even managed to keep the alcohol level down, at a rather unusual (in today’s world) 13%. The wine is ready and together, the tannins are smooth and the ripe fruit is complemented by lots of spice: coffee, vanilla and cloves.


Of course, again, what interested me most were indigenous varieties, and I had a feast! I tasted the aromatic and grapey Moschofilero, a white varietal; the well-known Greek red Aghiorghitiko, another white called Vilana, and even some varietals unique to Crete and the Aegean Islands: Kotsifal, Vidiano, Athiri… but the loveliest of them all was a Malagouzia.

AXIA Malagouzia 2013

This wine was made in the region of Amynteo, in the middle of continental Greece, from the white Malagouzia grapes, grown on a sandy/limestone plateau. The nose has the vegetal, green, almost pungent character of a Sauvignon Blanc, with that unique prickly gooseberry aroma. And the palate it is smooth with nicely integrated acidity and fairly subdued flavours – until you come to the finish! Suddenly there is a totally unexpected burst of the most beautiful floral notes. A memorable and delightful wine, to be drunk young, while its floral charm lasts.

Assyrtiko 2013

A white wine from Crete, from the grape variety of the same name. Its beauty lies not in intensity but in its elegance. A pleasant, savoury white with high acidity, unintrusive, youthful fruit flavours, a touch of lees influence and some savouriness. The wine comes from the island of Crete.


The Italian wines all came from the northern-ish region of Emilia-Romagna. I was astonished by the number of local grape varieties I had never heard of (e.g. Pignoletto, Albana, Centesimino). But some of the well-known grapes also produced unusual and lovely wines. For example, a Pinot Grigio from near Piacenza…

Campo Bianco Pinot Grigio, DOC Colli Piacentini 2013 – organic

A fairly intense, youthful, cheerful nose. Pretty aromas of fresh fruit and honey. What makes the otherwise pleasant and fruity palate really interesting is a touch of smokiness, but the dominant flavour is still honey. A very enjoyable, mineral and fruity wine – and the person saying this is not generally a fan of Pinot Grigio!

Fondatori, Albana Secco, DOCG Romagna 2012

A characterful white produced by the Merlotta winery. After a pretty, floral, fruity, honeyed nose, the palate surprises with intense oat/grain flavours – from lees ageing – and smokiness, combined with peach and pear fruit. Full-ish body and high acidity with well-integrated alcohol. Lovely!

Arcolaio Centesimino, IGT Ravenna Rosso, 2009

A very well-made red wine from unique variety with the most charming name. Centesimino, the winemakers tell me, is a weird and ancient variety unique to the Ravenna area. It produces extremely floral, aromatic wines, which is quite unusual for a red. The Centesiminos I taste have a distinctly muscat-like aroma. This one by the Leone Conti winery also presents warm, rich, smooth, juicy flavours, red fruit, and a touch of muscat on the palate as well. A medium-bodied wine with very warm alcohol. Interesting, unusual.