a reason to write: a visit with emidio pepe

Biodynamic, Uncategorized

Every now and again, you encounter a moment… a day in your life that you instantly realize will forever be apart of you. Beneath the books, flashcards and tastings that have come to swallow my life in the past couple years, today was a day that caused me to pause and really reflect on why I fell in love with this magical fruit turned wine when it is handled with utmost, unequivocal intention.

In short, this special man and his wine will cause a girl to write…

Emidio Pepe got his start in the 60’s, back when most were leaving the agriculture in search for industrial work in the northern cities of Italy. Even before he could conceive of it, harsh chemicals or even oak were not in his plan. He named the winery Aurora– meaning the birth of something new in Italian. And while many scoffed, going so far as calling his vision a house of cards (to which he responded with a cellar designed in such a fashion to challenge the skeptics), he chose instead to follow his instinct.

Walking with his granddaughter Chiara today through the pergola vines, an ancient training system no one has the time, patience or economy to wish to maintain, we learned of the ‘why’ that ran beneath the roots. The soil is the most fundamental part of the entire process. Keep it healthy, the rest will follow. Looking out into the fields, there was an energy no one could really deny– a vibration that resonated in rhythm to the nature surrounding the spaces between.

Pepe is steadfast in his principles: no herbicides, no pesticides, minimal or no added sulphur and not a lick of oak. He with is daughters, Sophia and Daniela who have take over the estate representing the fourth generation, will hold these wines until they have come to a place for understanding. For the Trebbiano, this often means a few years. For the Montepulciano, 2008 is only just coming to market after 8 years of coming into its own. Their credo insists they collect healthy grapes, otherwise, they simply will not make wine. Never will they compromise principle and ultimately quality. Though they sent for analysis of the juice to a lab to get an idea for harvest times, it is Emidio’s instinct that best determines where is best to pick and when. Much comes down to his prophetic, omniscient gut. He was even planting, pruning and harvesting according to the moon before Biodynamic viticulture was a thing just because it felt… right.

Perhaps you have envisioned the age old image of women stomping on the grapes and drinking wine through harvest– a delicious fantasy to conceive. Here… it is a reality. Pepe takes tradition to another level. Whites (Trebbiano and Pecorino) are brought in, crushed by foot (3 or 4 people with boots) for about 45 minutes. The juice that seeps through the barrel is then pumped into tank for fermentation. The Trebbiano particularly is often bottled in the spring before the weather warms up so it can finish malolactic fermentation in the bottle–acting as a preservative from bacterial development and allowing them to avoid the addition of sulphur. For red grapes, there are hand grated through a wire rack that help the grapes to fall down whole into the receiving bucket without the stem which harvest bitter tannins. Montepulciano has enough on its own. It is then hand fed into a vat where it will ferment long and cool for up to 25 days using only spontaneous yeast for its development. This is a crucial characteristic to their wine.

As if that were not enough, after they age in tank for a couple years followed by a slumber in the cellar for another few more years (or decades), there comes time to get it to market. Pepe does not believe in filtering. In fact, he tries to avoid even rackings (transfers of one from one vessel to another) at all cost, keeping the action to only a couple moments in the lifetime of a wine, as anything left behind in the tank is a removal of the wine’s soul. And so, come time to bottle, grandma Pepe hand disgorges each individual bottle. No funnel, no hose. Bottle to bottle, she allows a tiny bit of air to see the wine. She can also check each wine for imperfections at this point. Each wine receives a new cork (so a 2007 might have a 2016 cork). She then hand capsules and labels each bottle herself.


Not only that, she made one of the most memorable meals I will never forget. From local egg crepes with parmesan and chicken broth to homemade spaghetti with duck marinara and finally to a homemade roast chicken with some kind of lovely fat braised potatoes. I have never been so happy to gain 5 pounds as I have this past week. I highly recommend it to everyone.

We enjoyed 04, 09, and 12 Trebbiano. Then 13 and 14 Pecorino. Finally, for the reds we had 84, 00, 02, 07, and 10. We were even fortunate to celebrate two birthdays from the family, so an exception of 70 and 93 were brought to the table. Of the whites, the 04 Trebbiano was sublime, it changed its mood at least 10 times in the course of 7 hours. From quite and shy, to honeyed and nutty, to salty and savory. The reds ranged from high toned, delicate cool vintages (84 and 70) to more engaged and talkative 00 and 07. There was such promise for the entirely too young 2010. Honestly, this evening with regards to the reds, the 08 had my heart. A gorgeous wine I am only too eager to try again when it arrives to Colorado in a couple months. But really, who am I kidding. Each had a personality that begged for you to drink them in isolation. Spoiled we were to taste them all side by side and decide which the fit the weather, mood and food tonight. Tomorrow, it would likely be another. That’s the thing about consuming the energy of a year’s harvest.

I am honored to represent these wines. And I thank the Pepe family for welcoming us into their home as they did for food, drink and a place to sleep. They have impressed upon me such an image of generosity and sincerity, a sense of family and tradition. They have inspired me to follow my instinct and do what feels… right.

2004 Trebbiano: Deep golden hue and developing with hints of almond skins, wet hay and a beeswax. Gains momentum in the glass and becomes a bit brinier with a few hours to breath.

2009 Trebbiano: Nuanced on the nose with nuance nettles, chamomile and wildflower honey. Softer acid and welcoming.

2012 Trebbiano: A bottle of complex energy waiting to work through a whole lot of lovely. As though each time you bring to the rim, there is a different story to be told. This is a wine that is incredibly young but so promising and compact. A phenolic texture really advances the palate and lingers on the finish.

2013 Pecorino: Incredibly chatty on the nose with bright, youthful aromas of white flower and orange peel. The warmth of the vintage snuggles on the palate and works to balance the natural acid of this grape.

2014 Pecorino: So young, delightful and honest. This wine demands to make itself a little more interesting each vintage it sits in Pepe soil. I am all too anxious to watch this wine develop in the next couple years. Right now it is shy and humble.

1970 Montepulciano: Wet leaves and shitakes, this is a wine that needs autumn, a fire and perhaps a long discussion on Russian literature.

1984 Montepulciano: The coolness of the vintage does not try to hide. What begins in a very high toned fashion of dried citrus peels, apricot, mint and balsam fir developed over time into a gorgeous collage of dried rose petals and leather bound books from grandpa’s library. Overlooked…

1993 Montepulciano: Wearing impressive concentration and smelling displaying a spicier expression. This has a smokier, dustier personality of cured meats and pepper. A beauty that no doubt is hardly mid-stride in its life.

2000 Montepulciano: One of Pepe’s favorite vintages, and I can easily see why. There is so much intensity of black cherry fruit, violets and secondary aromas combined with such structure and length. This wine is a baby, just beginning to show its development.

2007 Montepulciano: Forte– this is a strong, rich red that reflects the warmth of the vintage. Dried fruit, cocoa and forest floral form a wonderfully competitive bouquet that is sure to resolve itself in time, once they learn to play nicely. This is a wine that is wound up tight and certainly could use a little time.

2008 Montepulciano: A gem in its youth. This wine is incredibly well integrated and delicate. Speaking in hushed tones, there is a little bit of everything one could want (and even a little sediment, as the winery waits until 10 years to disgorge!). Harmonious so soon, it seems one that would be a delight to cellar several and watch evolve starting now…

2010 Montepulciano: Compared to the famously regarded 2001, the 2010 packs a punch and has every intention to be as good as everyone believes it will be. There was so much depth and intensity to this wine. Though it is hardly in a place to truly understand its story just yet, it really is a remarkably well built wine that no doubt will be a star performer at the 100 year anniversary in 50 more years, according to Mr. Pepe.

If you care to view a fantastic video of their estate, go to: https://vimeo.com/113795120.

euro scribbles: winter “work” the south of france.


An otherwise frail, gentle looking woman of about just under feet and perhaps seven decades of time on earth elbows me to hobble into the train before me.  As I stumble to get my balance back, I think, ‘Ah yes, it feels good to be back in France.’

A hazy afternoon of planes, trains and automobiles, I’ve ventured deep into the heart of the Languedoc with the owner of the import company I work for to meet with one of our loved producers in a little place called Minervois at Chateau St. Jacques d’Alba. Back in the day, it wasn’t a glamorous fairytale house that got you the prestigious title ‘Chateau.’ All it took was two wells and a chapel, as the British owner Graham Nutter explained to us. Sure enough, he had a handsome stone house, a gorgeous modern facility and a tiny little chapel off in the distance that has seen everything from pilgrimages to war to re-establishment and now an estate winery all in the course of 1000 years. This place has an old soul, a general feeling that hugs you throughout your visit.

Graham was the most gracious host. He made us a wonderful dinner of duck breast and ratatouille, complete with 2007 Marc Colin En Remilly, 2002 Domaine des Comtes Lafon Volnay Santenots du Mileu and then a 1999 Domaine Dominique Laurent Hospices de Beaune Mazis-Chambertain. The first displayed a wonderfully tense dance of elegance and opulence, the second was delicate and impeccably focused, the final was the most open and talkative– a perfect compliment to the plate of fromage. Great conversation and more history than you can imagine of the Languedoc (this man was such a great story teller) fleshed every second of our visit to make it truly memorable.

I saw a bit of the landscape the next morning, as I was feeling rather ambitious (and anxious from all the prior day’s sitting) to go for a jog. I found out quickly that the violent tramontane winds which were so kind to shuttle me quickly into town were only too eager to be my enemy on the way back. I had always heard of the strong winter winds that swept through the Languedoc, just as the mistral winds funneled through the Rhone. Still, I had never felt it on my skin, so personally, as I did today. This ferocity of character in the climate has always appealed to me– why I can’t explain. I suppose I think of the wines from Southern France as sort of survivors in a way. Always wanting a little more water. A little more calm. But rolling with the punches as they come. Builds character. At least, that’s what my ever pragmatic dad would say.

What struck me most about Graham was his very logical, efficient way of thinking. When he came upon this estate in the early 2000s, it was ideal in so many ways…excepting that he knew it would be a lot of work to restore both the houses and the vineyards to bring it up to snuff and situate himself in a way that the world would recognize his wine as one of the best in the area for quality and typicity. He reached out to a well known soil expert Jean Pierre Cousinie to apply his ‘Cousiniere Method’ to achieve vine and soil balance using organic fertilizers and mineral spraying. It took just a few years, and his vines were responding. Not only were they producing healthier fruit, they were building their own defenses against drought and diseases.

His vines were ungrafted, a point he seemed nonplussed or intentional about when I inquired. I was amazed that it wasn’t a consideration, as the vast majority of France is on rootstock. They certainly didn’t sit upon sand where he was, but he also didn’t feel it was something to worry about at this point. Plantings are primarily Syrah, then Grenache, some Mourvedre, Cabernet Sauviginon, and a decreasing amount of the high yielding, unruly (at times) Carignan. On northeastern facing slopes are the white grapes: Vermentino, Viognier, and Roussanne.

Our time spent in Minervois was so brief yet incredibly rich with history, education and really delightful company. I whole-heartedly recommend anyone and everyone to visit this estate and meet Graham. He even rents out his gites (small homes/cabins) on the property as well.

And so, what with our quiet, quaint interlude in this sweet Languedoc appellation, we pile into the car less than 24 hours later and press on the main event: the 2015 Millesime Bio, an exposition of the world’s (though mostly Europe… okay, mostly French) smaller, eco-focused operations. It is a common theme in our portfolio, so it will give us great opportunity to connect with many of our current winemakers as well as open the door to meeting new ones (we hope!).

Geeking out yet again: 7th Annual Wine Geek Dinner 2012

Biodynamic, Bubbles, cheese, cooking, Uncategorized, Wine Blog

This has been the second year I have been fortunate to attend the incredible Wine Geek Dinner, put on by my dear friend and part owner of Elysium Fine Wines, Trevor Martin (aka my Lopez de Heredia dealer). Each year he slaves away for literally days before this event, prepping the dishes and scribbling like a madman on his tattered menu that is scotch-taped to his kitchen cabinet. He goes to such lengths to pull this off in a way that might have you thinking you were surely at a 3-star Michelin restaurant rather than a humble garden level apartment in the Highlands. While he is busy ordering a 7 lb wheel of the stinkiest Muenster months out, our job as the lucky few guests is to pair his six course creation. At this point we strive to find bottles that are either quirky, thought-provoking and/or dusty.

What I found most interesting this year was that out of 13 bottles, we only had 2 reds. Bubbles, oxidized wines, old whites and fortifieds were coincidentally what all us geeks wanted to play with this year–it is a trend toward whites that I have been observing this whole last year. I am curious as to what that’s all about. I thought it was just me, but it most certainly is not.

I always love to give a little play-by-play to those who are curious. So here you are, my friends. Le menu avec les vins:


Puff Pastry, Fava, Asparagus, Mushroom-Meunster Cream, Baby Shoots

’93 Nikolaihof Vinothek GV & a ’06 Helfrich Grand Cru Steinklotz Riesling

My eyes feasted on this first course as much as my tongue–the first ever in the history of WGD to be 100% vegetarian. An absolute cinch with the ’93 Nikolaihof Gruner Veltliner, this garden fresh starter was met with remarkable acidity and depth. This defined a truly sensational pairing, where both the food and its wine were made even more incredible when fused together. It was though my mouth became a magnifying glass. Such bliss.

The Riesling was outstanding. More than anything, it held its own with a rather tricky dish when one think of the vegetal compounds that can mess with wine. It was not enhanced, perhaps… but more importantly, it was not hurt by the dish. It was exquisite from the first taste to the last.

Butter Poached Lobster, English Pea Puree

1990 Laurent Perrier Grand Siecle Alexandria Rose

It is always such a treat to sip on old bubbles, especially when it is as lovely as the Grand Siecle. A honeyed salmon hue, the bubbles were far from gone. Tiny and fierce, those bubbles raced to the surface with awe-inspiring persistence.


                                         Garlic Pork Sausage, Flageolets, Chicory                                                                                                

                                ‘09 Clos Cibonne Tibouren Cotes de Provence                     ‘                                                 ’98 San Lorenzo Verdicchio 

Holding the hyperbole, this was still one of the best plates of pork and beans I have ever tasted. This homemade sausage brought out a little fruit that was silent on its own in the legendary Tibouren– a grape that inspired Andre Roux to rip up the Mourvedre in the ’30’s for Tibouren’s natural place in Provence. It had geek all over it. Very cool wine. I could stare at that playful label all day long. The ’98 Verdicchio was one of my contributions. Man, that was cool. This wine spends 9 years on its lees in steel and cement, then an additional year in the bottle. One might be shocked it sees no wood. Picked only in the best years from vines that bear a couple bunches of fruit, this wine only amounts to 2700 bottles. We won’t see it again until 2001 is released… in a couple years.

Colorado Rack of Lamb, Grains, Spring Vegetables, Mache, Natural Jus

’04 Ciacci Piccolomini d’Aragona Brunello di Montalcino & ’82 Borgogno Barolo Riserva

Need I say much? This lamb was cooked to perfection. The Brunello was a bit young–but honestly, who cares. It was pretty lip-smacking with its sexy strength. The Barolo? I am biased, see… That is my birth vintage. I am quite proud of that fact. I have been lucky to try this one before about a year ago. Both times have been remarkably different, but both so very good. It reminds me that wine is very much a living, evolving thing. Unpredictable and multifaceted.

Les Fromages

A.E. Dor Pineau des Charentes 50 year

Stuffed to the brim and aching, I couldn’t resist the assortment of cheese to mop up a beauty of a fortified he had on the table. We began to open a couple others as cheese turned into strawberry crepes. We try a 2004 Piazzano Vin Santo, a 2006 Tre Monti Casa Lola Passito from Emilia Romagna and finally a ’92 Scheurebe from Lingenfleder in the Pfalz. Scheurebe, by the way, is the illegitamate cross of Riesling with some unknown varietal, according to a fellow geek. Very technical.

We are all a little starry-eyed at this point, but we don’t care. The name of the game is total, ridiculous indulgence for one night a year. And what a way to do it.

more bootcamp diaries on spring mountain: day 2

Biodynamic, california wine, organic wine, Wine Travel

It’s been a few days now since my return from Spring Mountain… but I just can’t stop thinking about my short time there. It was actually more idyllic than I imagined it could be. Rolling vineyards, clear afternoon skies that relentlessly pushed past the contemplative morning fog, a slight breeze to raise the hair on my arm and remind me it was real. Incredible this was all just a quick plane ride away. No jumping across ponds and walking with a French translation handbook. I could ask whatever I wanted and be answered in Fahrenheit, acres and tons.

Thankfully, every hour of our day was pretty well planned out, or I y have curled up on the nearest hammock and become compost in a few months time. That second day—really my first ‘in the field’—began with a seminar atCain Vineyards with the entire group. The vineyard managers at both Cain and Spring Mountain Vineyard were there to discuss the history, climate and general viticulture of the AVA.

It was a very chilly morning, but already I sensed the sunny, warm forecast would pull through. My caffeine-free host dug through a few now probably petrified pieces of meat at the base of his freezer to retrieve some forlorn beans (thank God!), and I could fulfill my wish of having a cup in hand while my warm breath cut through the morning air.

We heard again what we had already heard so many times since arriving to this mountain: 2011 has been a cool, rainy season since the start, and the grapes just aren’t where they typically should be at this point. Many Cabs are barely breaking 21 brix, and they have several weeks, maybe even months until they can achieve their desired sugars and phenolic ripeness. And it only gets rainier as we exit summer in Cali.


Rain in June during budbreak. Rain in the past couple weeks. The two times that rain is the last thing you wish for: the beginning during fruit set and harvest. Alas, the theme of the week: Mother Nature has her own plan. All you can do is work with her and hope for the best.

So what is a farmer to do?

These were not your average farmers. That’s one thing I learned real fast. They made a cognitive decision to move up the road from the Napa Valley floor—a place that grows world class fruit just by spitting out a seed—up to the hills. A place that has much shallower soils ( a few feet vs nearly 40 feet on the floor), twice as much rain (60 vs 30 inches), erosion, mildew, not to mention lower yields due to problems at budbreak and harvest. Paloma, for example, loses half their crop every 2-3 years to shatter—a problem that occurs when a vine is not self-pollinating and blossoming when it should be due to rain or other stress.

Spring Mountain may be a terrific environment for grapes to grow…but it’s not the easiest to place to be a grower. In order to get the grapes to where you want them to be, you have to understand a lot more than just giving the plant some water and praying that the sun shines. You must learn how to manipulate the canopy, when to drop fruit (in order to concentrate more energy on the still hanging clusters), how to deal with lethal pests without highly toxic chemicals, how to taste a grape’s ‘doneness’, how to keep the soil not too wet and not too dry, but also sometimes the most important? How to leave it all alone. Sure, this is something any quality winegrower must know. But some places are just more challenging than others…consistently.

After discussing all the ways they different in management, they did manage to come together on one thing: organic farming. Though Spring Mountain Vineyards is less likely to take it all the way to certification (though they could), Cain is well underway. Both feel they have gleaned more ‘terroir’ through highly sustainable methods and their grapes and soils seem healthier and happier than ever.

Pests are a problem in any garden, and certainly no exception here. Dealing with it organically was fascinating to learn about. My favorite was hearing about how they have dealt with mealy bugs by unleashing another similar looking pest to lay larvae in the female mealy bug. Before long, the eggs hatch inside her, and she is eaten by her own offspring. Lovely. They have also been combating sharpshooters with bluebirds! Spring Mountain Vineyards have specifically tackled this problem head on by building over 800 boxes in the past couple years due the dramatic decrease they have witnessed.

Organic and responsible sustainable farming demands patience, money and a commitment, for sure, but rarely do growers go back when he or she sees the results of being a good steward to the land, as both vineyard managers agreed.

My next stop was the impressive Vineyards 7 & 8—a very stunning winey with a polished, modern tasting room. After entering the grand doors, I was immediately in an open room complete with a wrap-around panoramic window overlooking the valley. A long wooden table with nearly 25 chairs sat in the center with a path of water stones traveling up the middle. We clanked our glasses of Pierre Morlet Champagne (a distant relative of Luc Morlet—their winemaker at 7& 8), threw on some rain boots and headed to the vineyards. We learned how to taste the grapes for ripeness (Chardonnay was possibly harvested the day after I left!), and we actually pulled grape samples for the lab. When we got to the lab, we learned how to test the pH and brix levels.

We then toured the caves and barrel sampled. It was really interesting to try the same clones of Cab from the same plot of land treated in different barrels. I could finally wrap my head around the influence of barrel toasts. Medium toast allowed more fruit, floral and pepper to come through while heavier toasts provoked a smoky, chewy, cedary side.

We then ended our day at Paloma, where we learned about the history of this hard-working estate that has made it now for almost 30 years on not much more than a few people. For a long time, it was just Barbera Richards tending 6,000 vines alone from January through October, while her husband Jim made sure to keep his day job and pay the bills back in Texas. I wanted to meet her so much, but I didn’t get the chance. Understandably, she had a lot going on with harvest, visitors, the ’09 release, shipments, etc. After all, it’s still a two-person show for the most part.

In their second vintage, they were at the top of Wine Spectator’s annual top 100 list—their 2001 Merlot was Wine of the Year. An incredible feat to say the least. They pick in small lots and make wine in small lots, a detail that is palpable on the palate. They don’t mess around much with the formula, as each vintage shows notable consistency, even in mediocre years. In the vineyards, my group gets a good look at Paloma’s unique way of trellising—a Geneva Double Curtain that has been revised 4 times over the years in order to get it right. While the majority of his neighbors stick mainly to Vertical Shoot Positioning, this is what works at Paloma. So, as Sheldon points out, why mess with it? I couldn’t agree more with this down to earth operation.

We headed back and made some dinner with a few other participants. Sheldon is a terrific cook and has clearly passed it on to his son who is climbing fast up the ladder in Canada as an aspiring chef. We had smoked chicken, roasted squash with egg and parmesan, bacon wrapped green onions and watermelon salad. Along with this delicious meal, we enjoyed 4 vintages of Paloma Merlot (2006-2009). Right now, my favorite is 2008—so open and eager to engage with my taste buds. It had finesse, minerality and a very integrated, supple mouthfeel. Though 2007 may have shown the most promise from its heralded vintage, it was still quite buttoned up even after a long decant. That puppy is for ageing. 2006 showed wet leaves, mustiness, ripe plums and a savory note. I loved the nose. And as for the 2009, it was just a baby—promising but just too young to get it to say much more than ‘I have a lot of potential, I swear!’

And so, I ramble on… This was such a loaded trip, and I hope to get one more out to summarize my final day there in the next week. It was phenomenal. Every estate tasted so damn different from the next. I just couldn’t believe it. Phenomenal. Stay tuned, and I will do my best to wrap this up!

Sulfites: My newfound nemesis.

Biodynamic, health, organic wine, sulfites, Wine Blog, wine news

January has long since been my least favorite month of the year. In fact, I begin to fear its arrival just as I am clearing my Christmas dinner plate into the garbage. My stomach notes that familiar drop, that uneasy turn… then memories begin to flood.

I have come to associate January with loss, having seen the closest people in my life slip from me this cold, dark month. And no matter how much I set my mind to embrace this wintry month each year–booking plans, dinners and parties sure to get me through–the other shoe always manages to drop.

Today I said goodbye to my cat. I know. It’s just a cat. He didn’t even die. But I learned recently that I have developed some intense allergy-induced asthma. Sure enough, she was a constant component.

How, you might wonder, does this tie into wine? Well, I shall tell you. In just a week, I have learned more than I ever thought I would about this annoying disease. For one, allergens are the enemy.

I wasn’t quick to turn myself in to the doctor’s office. For about ten months, I have been enduring many sleepless nights up coughing, sniffling and sometimes drugging myself to sleep with Benadryl. I reviewed the control factor in my life, realizing the only daily control factors were my cat… and my wine. Neither of which I wanted them to confirm.

And then there’s that one night… the night every asthmatic can relate to, when you are sitting straight up, coughing without stop, literally gasping for oxygen and wheezing with every inhalation. The thought dawns on you that you are actually scared to fall asleep, for what if you don’t get up? You swear you will see the doctor if some force beyond this world will let you wake up. You make a deal. You fall asleep. You wake up and keep that promise, and call the doctor.

I got my answer pretty quickly: ragweed and cat. I asked about wine, and they reassured me that I wasn’t allergic. However, the next part intrigued me. Though I wasn’t allergic to wine, sulfites are a well-known allergen and asthma irritant. Like scented candles, chemical cleanign products and dust, I am not ‘allergic’ so to speak, but I am sensitive to a plethora of allergens now.

I began to panic. How does one carry on a career with wine? Will it get worse? What does it mean to be reactive to sulfites? Suddenly, it occurred to me how many customers constantly came in and told me they were ‘allergic’ to sulfites. I didn’t believe so many people could possibly share that intolerance. When people asked me if I had sulfite-free wine, I simply said few if any exist… and of the rare wines that see no sulfites added, they’re not all that exciting.

So call it karmic retribution, I am now forced to research it more. And what I am learning is fascinating.

Perhaps a definition is needed first. Sulfites are compounds that are naturally produced from yeast during fermentation, but they can also be added to arrest fermentation and more importantly preserve the wine (it is, after all, a living fruit that will spoil) and its aromatics. Most winemakers also add sulfites to prevent oxidization and insure some degree of ageability without the threat of turning the wine into vinegar or promoting bacterial growth. Aside from ‘organic’ wine, which does not see added sulfites, most wine gets a dose.

What people don’t realize is that the levels are relatively low at roughly 10 mg per glass. Compare this to 2 oz of many dried fruits at a concentrated 112 mg per serving. White wines actually contain slightly more than red, another interesting fact I learned. Also, while sulfites are linked with headaches, this is still not proven so. In fact, it is almost certain to be a urban wine legend. However, what is true is that some people are sensitive, even allergic to, sulfites. Actually, I discovered that women are significantly more reactive to sulfites (definitely true with my customers, as no man has EVER had this issue).

It has also been noted that steroid dependency (inhalers, oral tablets, shots), also increases one’s sensitivity to sulfites. In fact, most people who struggle with sulfites also use a steroid of some sort regularly. Another reason I really want to try and kick this naturally.

When sulfites are ingested, sulfur dioxide is formed in the airways, triggering bronchospasm. Sulfites are found in so many foods: condiments, jams, dried fruits & vegetables, hard cider, soup mixes, and of course wine. Sensitivity does not always mean stop altogether. From what I have learned it means to choose your battles. Minimize overall intake and if you have to have that glass, just cut back on that days’ other sources of sulfites. Some people do, however, have dangerous reactions, even fatal, and must know their limits. See a doctor if you fear you are one of the 5-10% that has a severe allergy.

This has been a lot to take in, however, I am learning that there are so many things, even outside of sulfite ingestion that I can do to treat asthma drug-free. First things first, remove known allergens. Sadly, that was my buddy– a big, chubby Siamese cat. Got a sneak peak at her new home today, and I think she’ll have a good life with her new siblings– another cat and dog. I also turned my apartment upside down and cleaned like mad today, which is critical for keeping allergens low. I am buying an air purifier tomorrow, taking a ton of Vitamin C and trying to cut down to ice cream only once or twice a week (from about five days), in order to keep to mucous down. This goes for all dairy… even cheese (sniffle). I have also turned to dark side and bought, yes… a neti pot. I have yet to really figure it out. I swear I keep getting salt water stuck in my head. But the theory is that it will keep my sinuses clear, prevent post nasal, minimize coughing, but most importantly, allow me to analyse wine better with a healthy, clear nose.

Am I nervous this could develop into a more serious problem? You bet. But I’m not only an optimist, I have never been one to beat those kind of odds. Luckily, I am pretty average. I mean, heck, 20 million people are reported to suffer from asthma. And that’s just who is reported. So of course I have it. Only 5-10% of those, however, are really allergic to sulfites. The day I make those odds is the day I guess I’ll need to seek out my other hidden talents.

Until then, Salud! And thank God for February…

Sources used:




And the many people I know who deal with it daily and have found many natural ways to cope just fine.

a white… for rigid red wine sippers.


As a wine buyer for a shop in Denver, Colorado, I am always deeply intrigued by what wines turn the mass public on or off.  And why?  I hold in-store tastings twice weekly, allowing for me to really peel away the layers of presumption that paralyze so many when it comes to wine.

I get it.  Wine can be scary.  So often it is easier to simply regurgitate the unwritten manifesto of socially acceptable wine aphorisms:  “I don’t really like Riesling.  It’s too sweet… I like really, really dry wine… I am not a fan of white wine…”  That way, no one will think you sound inept.  In fact, the majority will recognize the code immediately and probably identify you as a connoisseur.

Sadly, though, you are likely missing out on some wonderful wines.

Take white wine.  That’s nearly half of the world’s wine alone.  Gone.  Disregarded in flash of a second.

The other day, about half my tasters took one look at the 2007 Nikolaihof Gruner Veltliner Hefeabzug and, with the wave of a dismissive hand, politely turned it down.  Only red for these folks.

I dared them.  Try it.

At $23 a bottle, I was amazed to see how many self-proclaimed red wine-drinkers walked away, Gruner in satchel.  All biases aside, this was a wine that got people’s attention.  And for good reason.

Nikolaihof is the oldest wine estate in the Wachau region, dating back 2000 years to Roman times.  It is one of the most revered and respected of Austria’s wineries.  The breathtaking Wachau valley resides between the towns of Krems and Melk, just along the Danube River.  It is the westernmost wine area in Austria.  A region that is continually recognized for producing the best quality wine in the country, as the Wachau experiences the greatest fluctuation of temperature, allowing for superb acid development and complexity.  Nikolaus and Christine Saahs, the owners of Nikolaihof, grow five other varietals outside of Gruner Veltliner (GV), but Riesling and GV are certainly the source of their pride.

What makes the Nikoaihof Estate Gruners so unique is that they actually manage to produce weighty whites as opposed the more typical crisp, zippy style GV.  They see old oak barrel aging, and this ‘entry level’ selection, for example, goes untouched, gaining all it can from time spent on its lees (about four months, in fact), hence ‘Hefeabzug’ (the German term that refers to bottling straight from the lees).  The result is a focused, textural, age-worthy Gruner.  Nikolaihof is also the first winery in the world certified Biodynamic by Demeter, the largest biodynamic certification organization.

What probably sets them apart most, though, is the respect they have for the vines, the land, and the entire natural process.  A fundamentally ‘biodynamic’ concept, the Saahs believe that, “You shouldn’t shove a wine along; just give it a controlled peace so it can develop itself.”  The Saahs practice low yield agriculture, relying on natural yeasts for fermentation, old barrels, and extended lee contact in order to cultivate wines with structure and character that is evident in the first sip.  American importer Terry Theise believes this is one of the ‘greatest wine estates on earth.’  He describes them as ‘settling’ and ‘singular’, attributing their sublimity to its basic characters…“hale, trustworthy, unaffected, substantive but never tiring, explicitly connected and numinous with a gentle force.”

I would describe them myself.  But sometimes, as in this case, the effusive, exquisite perception of another wine writer can be deliciously more descriptive due to pure devotion to the subject matter.  Clearly, Theise is in love.  And love is a language not to be equaled if articulated to near perfection.

On a final note, bringing us full circle, Theise feels, “[The Nikolaihof wines] are candid and honest.  They are all the reasons we should love wine but few of the reasons we actually do.  We are very busy measuring our pleasure, locked away in our self-conscious cells.”

So.  Even if you don’t like white wine, branch out of your self-conscious cell with this one.  Never have I seen so many converts.

There is nothing smarter and more socially acceptable than a democratic palate.

Lalalala…Lulu. A rosé that makes you think.

Biodynamic, california wine, french wine, Kermit Lynch

I was smitten.  The moment I held that Mourvedre in my mouth, it was over.  Finally, an American rosé that was not only fun, delightful, light—the usual suspects of an unpretentious pink—the 2008 Bedrock ‘Ode to Lulu’ Rosé was positively provocative.

I  was to think about that rosé for the rest of the night.  Its pale, somber tone that flickered ever-so-often with the blush of youth when caught unaware.  The texture, the depth, the echo of the lees upon which it slept for three months before it was bound to the bottle.  It almost had a haunting quality… a sense that it could not be understood without the knowledge that its grapes were born of those 120 year old Mourvedre vines.

I needed to know more.

Morgan Twain-Peterson is no rookie when it comes to winemaking.  He grew up with grapes.  He is the son of Joel Peterson, founder of Ravenswood Winery.  He found his own way, though, and worked his way up, earning a masters from Columbia, acting as a wine buyer/seller in New York, currently finishing his Master of Wine degree (a highly prestigious feat), and going on to run Bedrock Vineyards in Sonoma.

Many people in the wine industry are quick to admit they love rosé… they are quicker, though, to follow such a ‘bold’ announcement with a comment such as, “Well, I mean, they are just so fun.  Not complex by any means.  But certainly lovely and light.”

What struck me about Morgan is that he, much like myself, sees rosé as having so much more significance.  He explains,  “[Rosé is] as much for pure pleasure as for intellectual stimulation[1].”  Rosé, when handled properly, has as much potential to provoke thought as any other complex wine.  For example, grapes must be picked at lower alcohol levels to preserve its personality.  This is almost as important as its careful crushing, pressing, maceration, sur lie contact, bottling, and slumber.  If the rosé is alcoholic, dull, and off-balance with residual sugar levels, then it is simply a poorly made rosé—a resourceful byproduct that lacks integrity and satiates easy economical gain.  Unfortunately, this defines the majority of rosé.  Fun for a night, maybe even two, but not the one you want to write home about to your friends and family.

The 2008 Bedrock ‘Ode to Lulu’ Rosé achieves a remarkable balance between buoyant light-heartedness and near austere roots of historicity that inspire minutes, even hours, of lingering contemplation.  The name alone–‘Ode to Lulu’–speaks to its dual nature, as it clearly has a foothold in New World soil but translates an Old World message and style, honoring the revered Lulu Peyraud of Domaine Tempier in Bandol through the aged Mourvedre vines of Sonoma.  From the fresh accessible fruit and citrus intonations to the deeper-seated notes of earth and old vine structure, it is an understatement to say what a refreshing feeling it is to behold such a gem of  a rosé, particularly from the states.

[1] http://www.bedrockwineco.com/importance/rose/

Biodynamic: All it’s cracked up to be? Part 2, So…

Biodynamic, organic wine, Wine Education, wine news

Are you still there?  Good.  Why might this actually work?  Think about it.  An incredible amount of time and manual labor is put into biodynamic wine.  Not only is the planting and preparation conscientiously ceremonious, the reaping of grapes are meticulously done by hand, the crushing applied with utmost delicacy, and the entire mindset is saturated with respect for the earth and its contents.  It is a leveling of life forms; all have equal significance—farmer and fruit.

Jamie Goode’s website, www.wineanorak.com, includes a wonderful guide to biodynamic winemaking practices and politics, fit for the curious passer-by or the deeply enthralled wine enthusiast: http://www.wineanorak.com/biodynamic1.htm.   Goode begins by providing a provocative aside regarding a blind tasting at Domaine Leflaive back in 1997.  When asked their preference between two whites, 12 out of 13 individuals from Corney & Barrow unknowingly agreed upon the same selection.  Anne-Claude Leflaive revealed that although the two wines were essentially the same, they were taken from different plots of land—one biodynamic, one not.  It was a 2006 Puligny Montrachet 1er Cru Clavoillon.  The next year, Leflaive went completely biodynamic.

Of course, as even Goode explains, there remains the concern that biodynamic agriculture is far from scientifically rooted and, therefore, continues to be regarded with skepticism as to its overall unquantifiable effectiveness.  As such, biodynamic practices risk becoming a cultish, transient trend.  Winemakers, like Rhone producer Michel Chapoutier, believe that “unless the observations of the effects of biodynamics are underpinned by a theoretical scientific understanding, biodynamics are in danger of becoming a sect.”[1] This is a legitimate fear.  Unfortunately, few winemakers are in unison with this motion towards scientific development, as biodynamic agriculture is fundamentally unconventional, or, at least, non-western in its approach to farming.  Also, as Goode underscores, biodynamic viticulture almost demands improvisation and as such gleans a variety of interpretive alterations—agricultural decisions are influenced by the winemaker’s personal relationship with the land and what he/she feels is necessary to maintain the greatest possible balance—spiritually and physically.

Above all, biodynamic wines represent time, thought, and integrity.  These winemakers have a responsibility to hear the song of their soil, outline its character, cater to its particular needs, strengths, and weaknesses.  There is no hierarchy—they cannot control the vineyard; they are part and parcel of the process itself.  They mediate and motivate, parent and protect, talk and listen to the land.  But that is all that can be done.  Therefore, each bottle comes to embody the emotions, material, weather and sounds of the vintage itself when given the proper tools to actualize its potential.

Here are a few biodynamic producers I find to be quite exceptional:

Beaux Frères (Oregon, http://www.beauxfreres.com/)

Hegdes Family Estate (Washington, http://www.hedgescellars.com/)

Ceàgo Vineyards (Mendocino, CA, http://www.ceago.com/)

Domaine Leroy (Burgundy, FR, http://www.domaineleroy.com/)

Domaine Dujac (Burgundy, FR, http://www.dujac.com/)

Domaine Leflaive  (Burgundy, FR, http://www.leflaive.fr/fr/)

Domaine Vigneau-Chevreau (Loire, FR, http://www.vigneau-chevreau.com/cadre_ang.htm)

G. Humbrect & Fils (Alsace, FR, http://www.vins-humbrecht.fr/domaine-en.html)

Zind Humbrecht (Alsace, FR)

Marcel Deiss (Alsace, FR, http://www.marceldeiss.com/)

Querciabella (Tuscany, IT, http://www.querciabella.com/)

Hirsch (Austria, http://weingut-hirsch.at/)

Nigl (Austria, http://www.weingutnigl.at/)

Nikolaihof (Austria, http://www.nikolaihof.at/)

Clos Martinet (Priorat, Spain)

[1] : http://www.wineanorak.com/biodynamic1.htm

Biodynamic: All it’s cracked up to be? Part 1, What is it?

Biodynamic, food pairing, organic wine, Wine Blog, Wine Education, wine news

A little loony.  In all honesty, that was my first impression of biodynamic wine.  Cow horns and moon cycles?  That was it.  I had heard enough.  Maybe if I were looking to pair the wine with granola… but I was not.

However, this questionable process that seemed only to promise a passing fad a few years ago, a process that seemed all-too-conveniently correspondent to the sudden rise of interest in organic culture—the era of Whole Foods fanaticism—has only proved to grow more popular with time and explanation.  Admittedly, this meta-green project has even begun to crack my cynicism.  And so, I have dedicated some time and this blog into trying to further understand this curious choice of viticulture.

Biodynamic agriculture was created and outlined by Austrian philosopher-scientist, Rudolph Steiner, back in 1924.  He was driven by the need to infuse spiritual/holistic significance into the physical world through philosophical methods.  He sought to give purposeful weight to material existence—a process termed ‘anthroposophy.’   Biodynamic winemaking stemmed from his agricultural assertions.  For him, it was not merely about successfully growing edible fruit or even identifying the pragmatic steps needed to achieve a desired food or flower.  To reduce the production of life to a mere scientific equation created a disconnect.  Steiner insisted upon encouraging the soul of the land to speak through philosophical practices.  He saw the land as a closed, living system where all was integrated—the soils, the growers, the grapes, the animals, and even the insects.

A number of ‘preparations’ go into the caretaking of a biodynamic vineyard.  Some include the stuffing of cow manure in a cow horn, burying it for the winter and then working it into the spring soils.  Similarly, the earth receives a quartzite and rainwater blend, the flower heads of yarrow fermented in a stag’s bladder, stinging nettle tea, and oak bark fermented in the skull of a domestic animal.  These and other components are diluted and then energized through a process called ‘dynamization’ and finally introduced back into the land with respect to various lunar and solar cycles.