Friday, November 13, 2009

To Certify, or not to Certify

I had a fascinating conversation with Mick Unti this morning. He called to respond to an email I'd sent him, asking about his viticultural practices - specifically, was the Grenache parcel the only vineyard he was farming biodynamically? Mick felt that the answer required more nuance than a short email reply.

To use the word "biodynamic" on a wine label in the USA requires certification by Demeter, the primary organization that monitors biodynamic farming here and around the world of wine. Demeter owns a trademark on the word "biodynamic" in the USA; so for a winery to use the word on their label without certification would be risking legal action. Getting certification, whether for biodynamic or more simply, organic, farming requires not just hard work, but hard cash. And for many winegrowers, it also means potentially giving up critical decision-making powers to outside forces. Winegrowers, being notably stubborn - I mean, you gotta be a bit crazy to want to work that hard! - often chafe at that last part; even if they have the cash on hand to pay for the distinction. Mick, for his part, isn't even sure yet that biodynamic viticulture is the end-all for Unti (he only started down the biodynamic road in 2005), though he is impressed with the results so far. Results, of course, are what I'm most interested in.

For me, the reality is that one day I tasted three wines from Unti Vineyards and all three knocked me out. That they are made without reliance on chemicals is clearly a bonus, but the most important thing to me is that these are delicious wines. If it is Mick Unti's choice not to join a club like Demeter, so be it. I can live with that as long as he keeps making great wine.

Friday, November 06, 2009

I don't care about points. I mean it!

I was just getting ready to make my first blog post since the end of June, when I received a telephone call from one of my wine sales reps. All of the people that call on me know a couple of things about me. I do not like calls on Fridays, and I do not care about points. So this poor guy had to apologize for calling on a Friday before telling me his company was receiving 10 cases of a wine that got 95 points and asking me if I wanted any. I didn't yell - I know he wanted to give me an opportunity to purchase a wine that would be in demand, and he did ask me first if I'd heard of the producer of this 95-point wine. If I had known the producer and loved previous releases of the same wine, I might have gone for it, but I didn't. End of story. Now, why was I going to blog today?

Oh yeah. I was talking to one of my favorite customers, who happens to know a lot about integrating social networking with blogging and emailing, etc. He suggested that when I blogged, I should send a facebook message and a tweet to let my followers know I'd just made a new blog entry. So, while I don't know if anyone actually reads these things, here I am, blogging.

When I started this journal the idea was that I would post regular, even daily thoughts, about wine. I'm just not that organized, or thoughtful, I guess. But I'm gonna keep trying, because I'm not ready to say I can't learn anything else.

I've had some great visitors the past couple of weeks. Robin Daniel Lail, daughter of John Daniel, Jr., great-great-grand niece of Gustav Neibaum, stopped by to taste her current releases with me. Her dad was the first person to put "Napa Valley" on a wine label. Her great-great grand uncle founded Inglenook in 1880. Inglenook wines were famous around the world before the turn of the 20th century, but prohibition put an end to that. John Daniel, Jr. ran Inglenook from 1933-1964 (when the name and brand was sold to Heublein and relegated to jug wine status), and made some wonderful wine. Their home became the home of Francis Ford Coppola. Their home vineyard, Napanook, became Dominus, when Robin teamed up with Christian Moueix in 1983. She left Dominus in 1994 to co-found Merryvale Vineyards, then went off on her own to start Lail Vineyards. I have tasted her wine over the years, and witnessed steady progress. The current releases are wonderful, even the Sauvignon Blanc!

This past Monday I had a visit from Sabrina Tedeschi, whose family has an estate in Valpolicella. Just two days earlier, Danny Barnycz stopped in to show me an iphoto of the label from an Amarone he'd just drank in New York: Tedeschi's Monte Olmi '04 - he wanted me to find it, and two days later I'm tasting it with a Tedeschi family member! The Amarone was great, and so was the rest of the lineup - I bought some of everything I tasted.

Then, on Tuesday (or was it Wednesday, or yesterday?) I tasted three wines from Unti Vineyards, Dry Creek Valley, California. Biodynamically grown Zinfandel, Grenache and Syrah -- all three tremendous, and so reasonably priced for the quality. I bought all three of those as well - they'll be in next week. Three home runs in just over a week - and just in time for the holidays!