Remembering Steven Spurrier

 

Remembering Steven Spurrier

Steven Spurrier passed away March 9, 2021 but his legacy will live on forever.  I was fortunate to have met him in the Napa Valley about 15 years ago, just after starting Golden Gate Wine Cellars.  I was not the “star struck”, but I recall a nice chat with him on how I got into the business, and he gave me some pointers, one of them… believe in yourself!
  

 


 

Steven Spurrier blew up the wine world
with the Judgment of Paris. His legacy lives on.

Story contributed By Dave McIntyre
in The Washington Post

How and what we now drink is, in no small part, Spurrier’s influence.

 

People rush in at the Paris wine academy to sample wines from California at a tasting session of American wines on July 4, 1975, in Paris. Doing the servicing chores are Academy head Steven Spurrier and assistant Patricia Gallagher. (Jean Jacques Levy/AP)

To converse with Steven Spurrier was to feel as though you’d known him all your life. He was generous with his friendship, his wisdom of wine and art, his joy of life. Wine is a generous drink, and wine lovers tend to be generous people. Spurrier was wine’s generosity personified.

Spurrier died March 9 at his home in Dorset, England, at age 79. His life has been recounted in several tributes since, so I won’t repeat it here. His main fame stemmed from the middle 1970s, when he owned a small wine shop in Paris, Cave de la Madeleine, and the first private wine school in France, the Académie du Vin. To commemorate the American bicentennial, he organized a tasting of top California wines and invited some of Paris’s wine elite to score them blind — with labels concealed — along with some of France’s best. When California chardonnay and cabernet sauvignon topped Burgundy and Bordeaux, the wine world’s ancient hierarchy was shattered. Vintners around the world realized that with enough investment and work, they could make wines to rival the best of Europe. The tasting became known as the Judgment of Paris and was portrayed in the 2008 movie “Bottle Shock,” in which the jovial Spurrier was played by a dour Alan Rickman. Spurrier described the highly fictionalized film as “more bull—- than bottle shock.”

Nicolás Catena, who spearheaded Argentina’s wine renaissance, was inspired by the Paris tasting. Chastened by the tasting results, French wineries in Bordeaux and Burgundy improved quality in their own vineyards, and began investing in California, Chile, Argentina and elsewhere. Any new wine region striving to make a reputation for itself cites the 1976 Paris tasting as inspiration. That’s Spurrier’s legacy. Today’s oenophiles who revel in a pinot noir from Patagonia, a chardonnay from Tasmania, a riesling from Michigan’s Old Mission Peninsula, even the traditional qvevri wines of Georgia now in vogue, should raise a glass and toast Spurrier. We live in a wine world that he in no small measure helped create.

“We were trying to bring wine back from the nadir of Prohibition and elevate it to national consciousness,” says Warren Winiarski, the founder of Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars in California’s Napa Valley and producer of the 1973 cabernet sauvignon that topped the red wines in Paris. “That tasting was an affirmation that it could be done. The official hierarchy did not have the ability to keep people from making beauty wherever they were,” he told me.

Spurrier later opened wine schools in London, Canada and Japan, and for nearly three decades wrote a monthly column for Decanter, Britain’s leading wine magazine. In 2008, he and his wife, Bella, planted pinot noir and chardonnay vines on their farm in Dorset, near the English Channel, on the same geologic ridge of chalk as Champagne. Their Bride Valley label joined the nascent rise of English bubbly. In recent years, he became a publisher, founding the Académie du Vin Library to keep influential wine books in print as well as new works.

France was Spurrier’s first wine love, and his palate gravitated toward Italy later in life. But he never stopped rooting for underdog regions. I first met him in 2013, when he came to Richmond to keynote the Virginia Wine Summit. He became an advocate of Virginia wine, returning annually to judge the final round of the Governor’s Cup competition. In 2019, when the judging was held in Washington, my wife and I invited him to our house for dinner. He had never seen a smart speaker before, and kept walking into our kitchen to bellow, “Alexa! What’s the weather?” He’d cackle with delight when it responded. That was his boyish curiosity, his unbounded fascination with anything new.

Our paths crossed several times that year, including the International Pinot Noir Conference in Oregon and a Napa ceremony where the Smithsonian honored Winiarski. We traveled together through the Okanagan Valley of British Columbia, a region making outstanding wines and ready for its moment on the world stage. Everywhere he went, Spurrier was treated as a rock star, but he always had time and a smile for friends old and new. His generosity and lack of pretense were forever evident.

“For all he achieved in wine, I admired Steven most for his gentleness, his kindness,” says Paul Draper, who made the 1971 Ridge Vineyards Monte Bello cabernet that placed fifth in Paris but first in a reenactment 10 years later.

Last year, Spurrier’s Académie du Vin Library published his memoir, “A Life in Wine.” The cover photo shows a young Spurrier in the Cave de la Madeleine, surrounded by cases and bottles of France’s finest wines, a carefree Englishman inviting us to enjoy the good life. Turning the pages, I hear his voice relating anecdotes not just of his life, but of wine and life more broadly. It’s not simply a memoir, but a conversation. And in this conversation, we become friends all over again.

A single vineyard expression of Pinot Noir from the folks at Luli

The Pisoni family and Master Sommelier Sara Floyd make a great team. Mark Pisoni tends to the vines, while Jeff turns it into good wine that Sara brings to the table.  I am excited about two new releases, both just 100 case productions. The wines were sourced from the Monte Linda, and Lemoravo Vineyards, both located in the Santa Lucia Highlands.

Luli 2019 Pinot Noir Monte Linda (95 cases produced)
GGWC 42.99
FREE SHIPPING on 12 or more!
Use code LULIMV during checkout

Can mix & match with other Luli wines

Residing high above the Salinas Valley at almost 715 feet in elevation, Monte Linda Vineyard is in the southern portion of the Santa Lucia Highlands AVA. This vineyard sits above the morning fog line, allowing for greater sun exposure, while at the same time seeing cooler nighttime temperatures, allowing the vines to rest and achieve a longer growing season. These conditions, along with the vineyard’s rocky soils, create deeply textured wines with notable structure

Tasting Notes by Jeff Pisoni: ”Hailing from a 15 acre vineyard nestled in the southern end of the narrow Santa Lucia Highlands, the 2019 Luli Monte Linda Vineyard Pinot Noir is brimming with notes of ripe plum, cherry liqueur, baking spice and fresh sage. Gentle extraction of color and structure through native fermentation and twice daily punchdowns has packed this medium ruby wine with concentrated flavors of juicy red cherry, Mission fig, and berry crisp, while savory notes of clove and spiced tea leaves create additional depth on the palate. This truly layered experience finishes with refreshing acidity and soft, elegant tannin that cannot be ignored”

Luli 2019 Pinot Noir Lemoravo (105 cases produced)
GGWC 42.99
FREE SHIPPING on 12 or more!
Use code LULIMV during checkout

Can mix & match with other Luli wines

The Lemoravo Vineyard is set 400 feet in elevation in the southern hills of the Santa Lucia Highlands. The vineyard is planted among the decomposed granite alluvial fans that make up a series of isolated islands among the benchlands. This site places the vineyard in rugged soils and heavy fog. As a tribute to this land’s history, the name is a three-word portmanteau as a tribute to the region’s former crops: Lemons, Oranges and Avocados.

Tasting notes by Jeff Pisoni: “An homage to the groves of lemons, avocados, and oranges once grown on the same 26 acre site, the 2019 Luli Lemoravo Vineyard Pinot Noir is a beautiful representation of this varietal grown in the southern reaches of the Santa Lucia Highlands. Medium ruby in the glass, this wine boasts a profile of ripe plum and spiced red fruits on the nose. As this wine coats the palate, pure flavors of berry compote, red cherry, rhubarb, and baking spice lead the way before soft, velvety tannin, hints of toasty oak, and focused acidity complete the full sensory experience.” 

Click here or on the links above to order!
Call 415-337-4083 or email frank@goldengatewinecellars.com for availability and priority allocation!

The “Perfect” Cabernet has arrived!

This might be one of the very best Cabernets to come from Knight’s Valley (even better than Peter Michael, really!)  The venture is owned by Norma Hunt (wife of the late Kansas City Chiefs owner Lamar Hunt – who pretty much invented the Super Bowl).  This gorgeous property is well-situated, and when you bring in the Quarterback – Wide Receiver duo of wine (Philippe Melka and Jim Barbour), you can only achieve one thing – SUPER BOWL-like fame with the accompanying quality.

Perfect Season 2018 Cabernet Sauvignon “Estate” Knight’s Valley
GGWC 154.99
FREE SHIPPING on 6 or more
Use code PERFECT during checkout

Only 239 cases of the PERFECT SEASON Cabernet were produced, so it won’t be around for a long time.  This 100% Estate Grown Cabernet is well-crafted and offers up amazing aromas of red and black stone fruits, a hint of chocolate and a whiff of spice cabinet as I call it.  Amazing, voluptuous body that is loaded with intense concentrated, yet very well-manicured and balanced fruit.  More black stone and espresso / mocha on the mid-palate merging into a long lasting and lingering finish of elegant tannins.  THIS IS  A MUST HAVE CABERNET FOR YOUR CELLAR!

Philippe Melka Winemaker notes: “The 2018 Vintage of Perfect Season represents the best of our estate vineyard.  A beautiful nose of freshly-baked blackberry tart, juicy dark currants, red plums, cherry compote, and warm baking spice builds excitement for what’s to come.  On the palate, the wine is full and broad and includes touches of dusty cocoa, graphite, and dried lavender.  The finish is long and lingering and dominated by dark fruits.”

A few other Cabs worth checking out in the same quality category:
Bevan 2018 Ontogeny Proprietary Red, Napa Valley – 99 Points – OFF THE CHART!
Barbour 2018 “Estate” Cabernet, Napa Valley – G.O.A.T!!
Castiel 2017 Cabernet Sauvignon, Estate, Howell Mountain 95 POINTS
Rewa 2018 Cabernet Sauvignon Estate, Coombsville, Napa Valley VERY LIMITED

Click here or on the links above to order!
Call 415-337-4083 or email frank@goldengatewinecellars.com for availability and priority allocation!

Superb, Powerful, & Resonating 96 Point Red!


 

Chris and his wife JoAnn Cherry moved to Paso Robles in 1996 to open a restaurant, partake in the burgeoning wine scene and raise their children in the country. In 2001 they purchased their first grapes to make wine for their restaurant. And so began Villa Creek Cellars, a real expression of west Paso Robles’ Rhone grape varieties. A sort of “farm-to-table” i.e farm-to-bottle venture.

The James Berry Vineyard from Saxum fame is a little bit the Chateau Margaux of Paso Robles – Chris said:  ”If you cannot make spectacular wine from this source, you should stay out of the kitchen.”

Villa Creek  2018 GSM High Road – James Berry Vineyard 96 Points
GGWC 84.99
FREE SHIPPING on 6 or more
Use code VILLA during checkout

Vinous 96 Points: “Deep, bright-rimmed ruby. Powerful, mineral-accented black/blue fruit and floral oil aromas pick up exotic spice and pipe tobacco nuances with air. Fleshy, juicy and impressively concentrated, offering ripe boysenberry, black raspberry, cherry liqueur and violet pastille flavors that tighten up steadily on the back half. Densely packed yet energetic as well, finishing with resonating florality, gently gripping tannins and superb persistence.”

Winemaker Notes:2018 High Road is our 16th vintage crafted with grapes from James Berry Vineyard. Justin Smith of Saxum fame grew up on the property and took the reins from his parents Pebble and Teri several years ago. This is a stunning family owned and farmed vineyard in west Paso Robles’ esteemed Willow Creek District. This wine has texture, finesse, and approachability along with weight, complexity and the ability to cellar. Deep garnet in color, it offers amazing aromatics of black and red fruits, cured meats, west Paso lupine and spice. Its palate is sexy, rich and textural with just enough verve to have you salivating for more. While enjoyable now it will deliver in spades with a few years of patience in your cellar. Drink 2021-2035.”

Click here or on the links above to order!
Call 415-337-4083 or email frank@goldengatewinecellars.com for availability and priority allocation!

Paul Hobbs disciple’s HOT new Pinot from “Grand Cru” grower

Brycen Hill runs the vineyard operations for Paul Hobbs, and recently started his own label called Keltom Roots in appreciation of all that has formed and enhanced his life.  The Keltom Roots name is portmanteau of Brycen’s parents’ names: Kelly and Tom (pronounced kel·tum).  The  label features an illustration of an organism in field guide-style that matches the characteristics and qualities of the vineyard & variety.  Brycen’s focus is making small-lot, single-vineyard wines that match the beauty of the natural world, with balance and purity.  

This inaugural bottling is sourced from famed famer Jim Pratt’s Morchella vineyard in the Russian River Valley.

KELTOM ROOTS 2019 Pinot Noir “Morchella” Lakeview Vineyard, Russian River Valley
GGWC 39.99
FREE SHIPPING on 12 or more!
Use code KELTOM during checkout

Sourced from a single vineyard farmed by famed grower Jim Pratt, the 2019 Morchella Pinot Noir is a vibrant, fresh style of Pinot Noir made primarily from Dijon clone 114 grown in the cooler Green Valley sub-AVA of Russian River Valley. The wine has an energetic medium-pale ruby color. Aromas of bright cherries, dried rose petals, clove, and violet develop in glass. Naturally balanced acidity brings out elements of cranberry, raspberry, hibiscus, black tea, and rosemary. 

Winemaker Notes: “This youngster will improve in the bottle over time, and can be served now through 2027. The 2019 was an excellent vintage to launch Keltom Roots’ inaugural release. We had plenty of rain in the early part of 2019 that was followed by warming temperatures that led to a very succinct bloom period and excellent fruit set. Gentle warm weather continued throughout the year allowing for even ripening. Harvest arrived unhurried, allowing for ideal acidity retention and expressive maturity.”

Only 125 cases were produced!

Click here or on the links above to order!
Call 415-337-4083 or email frank@goldengatewinecellars.com for availability and priority allocation

Hot NEW Thomas Rivers Brown 4 BARREL “Inaugural” Cabernet Release

The story of Hobel Wine Works began in 1998, when Cameron Hobel first met friend and winemaker Thomas Brown in Napa. Cameron was working as the Director of Business Development of a wine auction site and Thomas was working as Assistant Winemaker at Turley Wine Cellars. Their mutual love of great wine led to many shared dinners and glasses of wine, where they discussed the prospect of finding a project that would allow them to work together in producing a world-class wine. The opportunity finally arose eleven years later, with the premier release of the 2009 Hobel Cabernet.  This is the TENTH release, the 2018 vintage crafted by Thomas Rivers Brown and will really wow you, it is AMAZING!  We also have an INAUGURAL RELEASE with the new “THE BURL” Cabernet Sauvgnon in the lineup.

Hobel 2018 Cabernet Sauvignon “The Burl” , Napa Valley – INAUGURAL RELEASE
RETAIL 114.99 ~ GGWC 109.99

FREE SHIPPING on 6 or more!
Use code HOBEL18 during checkout

OK to mix & match with other Hobel

 
Vinous 97 Points: “The 2018 Cabernet Sauvignon The Burl, emerges from Heritage School Vineyard, which is also in the Franz Valley School District. Inky, deep and super-expressive, the 2018 packs a serious punch. Inky dark fruit, chocolate, spice, licorice, lavender and spice all race out of the glass. Sumptuous and exotic in its beauty the 2018 is positively stellar. I would give the 2018 vintage a few years to settle. It is another magnificent wine from proprietors Cameron and Bahaneh Hobel and winemaker Thomas Rivers Brown.”

Winery Notes: “2018 is our inaugural vintage for The Burl, sourced from the Heritage School Vineyard, which sits directly across the street from the vineyard for “The Grain” in Calistoga. Since we lost The Grain in 2018 and also The Arris (don’t worry it will be back in 2019!), we were excited to be able to add The Burl to our lineup.  The wine is produced from all Clone 337 and sourced from two different vineyard blocks: the steep Hillside block provides structure to the blend and the dry-farmed and gentle sloping Lakeview block provides depth and richness. The wine spent 20 months in Darnajou oak barrels, 75% of which were new.  The Burl exhibits a lifted nose of sandalwood, pine resin, baking spice and black walnut, interlaced with blue and black fruits. The palate is deep and lush, again highlighted by black fruit, milk chocolate and wood spice. Great freshness carries the finish on and on, enhancing the detail in this wine. Hobel fans will see a lot of familiar notes in this wine – dare we say, Grain 2.0?!”
 
Winemaker Notes: “With the exit of The Grain from the Hobel lineup, it just made perfect sense to source from Heritage School Vineyard, which lies just across the street. Our team has worked with the vineyard since 2008 and intimately knows the nuances of the different blocks. The vineyard delivered outstanding fruit in 2018. We chose to pair the very steep Hillside block, which gives the wine its structure and backbone, with the dry farmed Creekside block, to add depth and density. The Burl has a lot of parallels to those produced from its neighbor across the street, with the savory notes and fresh vibrant long finish.”
 
Also check out this other AMAZING Hobel release:

Hobel 2018 Cabernet Sauvignon “The Figure” Napa Valley
RETAIL 114.99 ~ GGWC 109.99

FREE SHIPPING on 6 or more!
Use code HOBEL18 during checkout

OK to mix & match with other Hobel

Vinous 95 Points: “The 2018 Cabernet Sauvignon The Figure emerges from the Pozzan Vineyard on Franz Valley School Road, just across the street from Engelhard, where this brand started. A wine of tremendous aromatic intrigue and complexity. The Figure has so much going on. Dried flowers, mint, iron, sage, blood orange and cedar give the 2018 striking aromatic layers to complement its dark red fruit. The Figure has a ton of potential. I get the impression things are just getting started with this site” 
 
Winery Notes:Figure: The distinctive pattern that results from various grain orientation and by annual growth rings, rays, knots or deviations from natural grain —  The 2018 Figure shows initially understated notes of earth, wood char and vanilla on the nose, which are quickly enveloped by aromas of warm blackberry compote. The palette is defined by dense dark fruit – blackberries and boysenberries – laced with a touch of salty brown sugar.  As we typically see with The Figure, there is an immediate suppleness, due to well-integrated tannins, but with 2018 there is another level of depth and it will benefit greatly with bottle age.”
 
Winemaker Notes: “ I may sound like a bit of a broken record but every year of vine age and added attention to farming in the Pozzan Vineyard is really paying off for The Figure bottling. Our predictions of what was to come for the 2018 Figure after early sampling from barrel have come true. The Figure is deeply colored, with layers of dense fruit and an exotic perfume. It still has plenty left in reserve to unwind with some cellar time. If you loved the 2016 Figure, the 2018 is several steps up and a great candidate for cellaring.”

Click here or on the links above to order!
Call 415-337-4083 or email frank@goldengatewinecellars.com for priority allocation.

My Favorite Neighbor Cabernet is back, with a 96+ POINT rating!

I am thrilled to pass on outstanding news! Once again, Jeb Dunnuck & Robert Parker have reviewed My Favorite Neighbor 2018  as one the highest scoring wines in its price-point!

In fact, it outscores 99% of the wines in the world across its price-point! 

A very exciting time to be part of MFN’s growth as it continues to garner great accolades from Robert Parker, Anthony Galloni, and Jeb Dunnuck. And it tastes great too!

What started as an homage to Stephan Asseo of L’Aventure Winery and his Bordeaux roots quickly became an obsession. Stretching wide across the Westside Hills of Paso Robles is clay soil amazingly similar to those found in Napa and Bordeaux. Today, these special sites are farmed meticulously by the farmers who have become My Favorite Neighbors. With their dedication to the land, we are able to craft a world-class wine without any shortcuts or compromises. Welcome to the Neighborhood.

My Favorite Neighbor 2018 Cabernet, Paso Robles
GGWC 64.99
REE SHIPPING on 6 ore more
Use code MFN18 during checkout

Winery Notes: “The 2018 vintage of My Favorite Neighbor is a crowd pleaser.  We think Jeb Dunnuck said it best with his tasting notes: “The 2018 My Favorite Neighbor is a step up, offering a more complex, elegant style in its crème de cassis, black raspberries, toasted spice, crushed flowers, and graphite aromas and flavors. Deep, full-bodied, and incredibly textured on the palate, with silky tannins, it has no hard edges, a deep, opulent style, and a huge finish. It’s going to compete with just about anything coming out of Napa today.” Shipping is inclusive with the purchase of a case.”
 
Jeb Dunnuck 96+ Points: “The 2018 Cabernet Sauvignon is similarly deep purple/ruby-hued and has slightly more red fruits with lots of black raspberry, cassis, toasted spice, unsmoked tobacco, and incense aromas and flavors. It almost has a Margaux-like perfume and is medium to full-bodied, seamless, and wonderfully balanced on the palate. Some chalky minerality comes through with time in the glass, and it has plenty of tannins and a great finish. It’s not an over-the-top blockbuster and impresses just as much for its elegance as its richness.”
 
Robert Parker 95 Points: “The 2018 Cabernet Sauvignon is made up of 77% Cabernet Sauvignon, 9% Petite Sirah, 8% Petit Verdot, 2% Malbec, 2% Cabernet Franc and 2% Syrah, aging in 70% new French oak. Deep ruby-black in color, it gives up luscious crème de cassis, blackberry pie, kirsch, mint chocolate, vanilla bean, coffee and grilled meats scents with touches of tobacco and sweet spices. Medium to full-bodied, it offers intense, expertly managed, ripe fruits and loads of spices with a firm, finely grained frame and great freshness, finishing long and spicy”

Click here or on the links above to order!
Call 415-337-4083 or email frank@goldengatewinecellars.com for availability and priority allocation

HOT FROM THE PRESS: A BIG WHITE WINE FOR RED WINE DRINKERS

Arbe Garbe (pron. Arbay Garbay), literally “bad weeds”, is what they call the cover crops on the Friulian Colli Orientali (“eastern hills”). It’s the mid-nineties, same scenery; two philosophy students are paying for tuition by picking grapes in the Jermann vineyards. Long hours of hard work and dream-sharing, they find one too many ideas in common. Bob Dylan, Neil Young, Kerouac, whispering incessantly in the back of their minds, they lift their deep roots and go. He picks up his guitar and she takes nothing but a flower in her hair and love in her eyes, and they come to California.

Those days are long gone, but they still have deep roots and their dreams. Never ceasing to work hard and with passion, they have eventually reconnected to their native culture through the winemaking tradition. All that they have seen and felt and envisioned they expressed in every step of the process that brings this wine to life. They’ve always been enamored with the big Friulian white blends (55% Malvasia, 25% Ribolla, 20% Tocai, sourced from three first-rate vineyards – Catie’s Corner, Tanya’s Vineyard & Pagani Ranch) and wanted to pay homage to their heroes and their dreamy creations. With the same hedonistic approach, they have created an ever-changing blend that embraces the melting pot they’re in and love, California, and the one they’ve left behind.

Arbe Garbe 2019 Proprietary White, Russian River
GGWC 41.99
FREE SHIPPING on 12 or more
Use code ARBE during checkout

The Arbe Garbe White Blend (50% Malvasia, 30% Tocai, 20% Chardonnay) is absolutely gorgeous. The wine is medium to full in body, offering bright, floral aromatics that lead to apricot, lemon confit, jasmine and mint. Beautifully perfumed throughout, the wine offers a compelling interplay of exotic fruit, lifted aromatics and pliant texture. Not surprisingly, it has much in common with the white blends of Friuli. The latest Arbe Garbe White is all class.
 
Winery Notes: “The  White Wine from Arbe Garbe is an unusual—and fabulous—blend of 50% Malvasia Bianca, 30% Tocai Friulano and 20% Chardonnay, what winemaker Enrico Maria Bertoz calls “the Holy Trinity of Friuli,” where he was raised. The Malvasia is split into portions, with one portion whole-cluster pressed, a second portion on skins for 12 hours and a third portion on skins for 24 hours. These lots are then blind tasted to create the final blend. The nose explodes to musk, lychee, warm peaches, charcuterie and beeswax with high-toned notes of fresh green herbs. The medium to full-bodied palate has a gorgeous silken texture, ever-so-slightly creamy, with kaleidoscopic bursts of ripe fruit in the mouth. It’s concentrated while still incredibly light on its feet, addicting in its freshness and long, textured finish. What a gorgeous vintage for this wine!”
 
Also check out these other great Arbe Garbe Wine:
BENANDANTS 2018 MALVASIA BIANCA “CATIE’S CORNER” RUSSIAN RIVER VALLEY 94 Points
ARBE GARBE 2018 MALVASIE LATE HARVEST “CATIE’S CORNER” RUSSIAN RIVER VALLEY – 93 POINTS

 

Click here or on the links above to order!
Call 415-337-4083 or email frank@goldengatewinecellars.com for availability and priority allocation!

How does a crop’s environment shape a food’s smell and taste?

How does a crop’s environment
shape a food’s smell and taste?

By Carolyn Beans
in ScienceNews.org

  


Soil, climate and microbes may shape the flavor of crops like wine grapes, shown growing in New Zealand.

About seven years ago, Kristin and Josh Mohagen were honeymooning in Napa Valley in California, when they smelled something surprising in their glasses of Cabernet Sauvignon: green pepper. A vintner explained that the grapes in that bottle had ripened on a hillside alongside a field of green peppers. “That was my first experience with terroir,” Josh Mohagen says.

It made an impression. Inspired by their time in Napa, the Mohagens returned home to Fergus Falls, Minn., and launched a chocolate business based on the principle of terroir, often defined as “sense of place.”

Different countries produce cocoa with distinct flavors and aromas, Kristin Mohagen says. Cocoa from Madagascar “has a really bright berry flavor, maybe raspberry, maybe citrus,” she says, while cocoa from the Dominican Republic “has a little more nutty, chocolaty taste.”

The couple estimates that back in 2013, when they founded Terroir Chocolate, about 50 other small batch chocolate companies in the United States were also touting terroir as integral to their products’ flavors.

Since then, terroir has continued to take hold as a marketing strategy — and not just for wine and chocolate. Terroir labels are also becoming more common for products like coffee, tea and craft beer, says Miguel Gómez, an economist at Cornell University who studies food marketing and distribution. Consumers “are increasingly interested in knowing where the products they are eating are produced — not only where but who is making them and how,” he says. People “value differences in the aromas, the flavors.”
 

Hop plants grown in Washington’s Yakima Valley have a distinct chemical composition due to the soil, weather and how the plants grow.

The definition of terroir is somewhat fluid. Wine enthusiasts use the French term to describe the environmental conditions in which a grape is grown that gives a wine its unique flavor. The soil, climate and even the orientation of a hillside or the company of neighboring plants, insects and microbes play a role. Some experts expand terroir to include specific cultural practices for growing and processing grapes that could also influence flavor.

The notion of terroir is quite old. In the Middle Ages, Cistercian and Benedictine monks in  Burgundy, France, divided the countryside into climats, according to subtle differences in the landscape that seemed to translate into unique wine characteristics. Wines produced around the village of Gevrey-Chambertin, for example, “are famous for being fuller-bodied, powerful and more tannic than most,” says sommelier Joe Quinn, wine director of The Red Hen, a restaurant in Washington, D.C. “In contrast, the wines from the village of Chambolle-Musigny, just a few miles south, are widely considered to be more fine, delicate and light-bodied.”

Some scientists and wine experts are skeptical that place actually leaves a lasting imprint on taste. But a recent wave of scientific research suggests that the environment and production practices can, in fact, impart a chemical or microbial signature so distinctive that scientists can use the signature to trace food back to its origin. And in some cases, these techniques are beginning to offer clues on how terroir can shape the aroma and flavor of food and drink.
 
What is terroir?

Scientists and food enthusiasts point to many components of place that may shape the aroma and flavor of food.

Climate: Including humidity level and minimum temperature

Sun exposure: How much light, and the time of day when sun is strongest

Soil: Is the plant set deep or shallow? Ratio of sand, silt and clay affects drainage

Food production: Drying cocoa beans in the sun or over a wood fire, for example

Topography: The elevation, slope, and orientation of a plant

Neighboring plants: Adjacent crops that compete for water or nutrients

Agricultural practices: Such as when and how vines are pruned and grapes are harvested

Insects: mites and aphids that eat hop plants and others

Microbes: The bacteria and yeast and other fungi on grapes
 
Coffee’s chemical fingerprint

Ecologist Jim Ehleringer of the University of Utah in Salt Lake City studies trace elements that plants passively take up. Those elements are a direct reflection of the soil. “Trace elements do not decay and so they become characteristic of a soil type and persist over time,” Ehleringer says.

To see if they could trace a coffee to its origin using the coffee’s blend of trace elements, Ehleringer and his team recently measured the concentrations of about 40 trace elements in more than four dozen samples of roasted arabica coffee beans from 21 countries. Roasting beans to different temperatures can affect the concentrations of individual elements. To correct for this roasting effect, Ehleringer calculated the ratio of each element to every other element in a sample, which remains fairly constant, even with roasting.  

In the Aug. 1 issue of Food Chemistry, his team reports that coffee beans from different regions can have distinct chemical fingerprints. A coffee’s chemical quality “comes down to geology,” Ehleringer says. Three samples of coffee beans from Yemen, for example, had a ratio of boron to manganese that was shared by less than 0.5 percent of coffee samples grown elsewhere.

Trace differences

The ratios of trace elements boron to manganese and calcium to cesium are enough to distinguish Yemeni coffee beans from those grown in other parts of the world.
 

Other researchers have used similar elemental analyses to find chemical signatures of place in products ranging from wines produced in distinct growing regions in Portugal to peanuts grown in different provinces in China.
 
The technique is valuable for validating origin when terroir is part of a product’s allure. Coffee farmers in Kona on Hawaii’s Big Island, for example, are using the results of an elemental analysis to support a class action lawsuit, scheduled for trial in November, against 21 major retailers. The suit claims those companies falsely market their coffees as “Kona” when the beans were actually grown elsewhere.
While an elemental analysis can authenticate a product’s terroir, it does not suggest that geology shapes flavor. Trace elements alone, says Ehleringer, “impart no flavor or taste.”
 

Coffee beans, like those grown by farmers in Yemen, have distinct concentrations of trace elements, depending on where the beans were grown.

Tracking cocoa to its source

To try to link flavor to place, some scientists go after different chemical signatures altogether. At Towson University in Maryland, chemist Shannon Stitzel is tracing cocoa to its roots using organic compounds, which are mostly produced by the cocoa plant itself. The concentration of specific organic compounds in a plant can result from a complex mix of interacting factors — from the genes of a particular variety to components of terroir like climate and agricultural practices.

Stitzel works with samples of cocoa liquor — cocoa beans that have been fermented, dried, roasted and ground into a paste — from across the globe. At room temperature, cocoa liquor is a solid. But with a bit of heat, the paste melts into a glossy liquid that Stitzel describes as “a little thicker than honey.”

Using organic compounds to assign the cocoa liquor samples to their countries of origin is “not nearly as clean as when you do it with elemental analysis,” she says. In unpublished work, she was able to use an elemental analysis to accurately link cocoa liquor to its country of origin about 97 percent of the time.

But Stitzel turned to organic compounds because their presence may ultimately help explain the flavor differences that she, like the Mohagens, thinks very clearly exist between cocoa liquors from different countries. “You can open up each of the containers and the aroma is entirely different,” she says.

Stitzel recently identified concentrations of organic compounds in cocoa liquor from Vietnam, Indonesia, Honduras, Ecuador and Mexico. She then used a statistical technique known as a discriminant analysis to group samples based on similar concentrations of nine organic compounds, including caffeine, a similar compound called theobromine and an antioxidant called epicatechin.  
On the American Chemical Society’s SciMeetings online platform in April, Stitzel reported that this chemical fingerprint was enough to accurately identify the correct country of origin for about 90 percent of the samples. In some cases, however, the samples didn’t form neat groups by country. Cocoa liquor samples from Honduras formed two different groups, depending on roasting temperature. Samples in the Honduras group that were roasted at the highest temperature were hard to tell apart from samples from Ecuador and Vietnam.

Stitzel now wants to add more compounds to the analysis to boost her sourcing accuracy and to connect regions to specific flavor compounds. “We’re still … trying to understand which compounds might be related to flavor,” she says. Her recent analysis already shows that caffeine, theobromine and epicatechin, which all produce a bitter flavor, can help set apart one country’s chocolates from another’s.

The roasting effect

Using a statistical technique known as a discriminant analysis, researchers grouped cocoa liquor samples according to similarities in the concentrations of nine organic compounds. Each country’s samples clustered together, except for those in the Honduras group that were roasted at the highest temperature; they overlapped (circled) with samples from Ecuador and Vietnam. 


Analysis of organic compounds in cocoa liquor by country

The aroma of place

Other researchers are finding that terroir leaves an imprint on the molecules that shape food’s aroma. Plants produce compounds known as aroma glycosides, which contain a sugar component linked to a volatile aromatic compound. When intact, aroma glycosides have no scent. But breaking the sugar-volatile bond — via high temperatures, low pH or enzymes from yeast — sets the volatile and its aroma free. The bouquet of a nicely aged bottle of wine is made up, in part, of aroma volatiles in the grapes that yeast enzymes let loose over time.

Many beer brewers, however, would rather your IPA have the same reliable flavor whether you pop open the bottle this Friday or in October. When volatile aromatics let loose in a bottled beer, that’s no good for large-volume brewers who need to ship consistent-tasting products. Brewers call that volatile release “beer creep,” says Paul Matthews, a senior research scientist in the Washington state branch of Hopsteiner, an international commercial hop grower and processor headquartered in New York City.
If brewers add hops (the flower of the hop plant) to beer early in the brewing cycle, heat breaks the sugar-volatile bond and the aroma from aroma glycosides is largely lost before bottling. The remaining flavor is more consistent over time. But when craft brewers make “dry hopped” beers like IPAs, adding the hops after the boiling stage, this late addition allows many aroma glycosides to go into fermentation and then into the bottle intact. The compounds release volatile aromatics as yeast enzymes break bonds even after the bottle is capped. So the aromas of these beers are more likely to “creep” over time.

Because genetics influences aroma and flavor, Matthews is exploring whether it’s possible to better control aroma glycoside concentrations through breeding. Breeding hop varieties to have lower concentrations could diminish the “beer creep” problem faced by large-volume craft brewers who distribute their beer over long distances.

At the same time, Matthews and colleagues are investigating the potential of breeding hop varieties to have higher aroma glycoside concentrations for use by smaller craft brewers, who are less concerned about shelf life but want to enhance the aroma of their beers.
 

 

Levels of four aroma glycosides, which can give beer its distinct aroma, were compared in the same hop plant cultivars grown in Washington’s Yakima Valley (shown) and Idaho’s Kootenay River valley. One aroma glycoside stood out as different depending on where the plant grew.
NICHOLI J. PITRA AND P.D. MATTHEWS/HOPSTEINER

Matthews recently tested whether aroma glycoside concentrations in individual hop cultivars are determined more by genetics or by terroir. “Of course, they are determined by both,” he says. “But if they are more genetic, we can breed for them.”

In collaboration with colleagues, including phytochemist Taylan Morcol of Lehman College in the Bronx, part of the City University of New York, Matthews grew the same 23 genetically distinct hop cultivars at two commercial fields with distinct terroirs. Matthews calls the Yakima Valley site in Washington state “desert in the shadow of Mount Rainier.” The other site, in the Kootenay River valley in Idaho, is “much more boreal — pine forest and humid,” he says.

At each location, the team measured the concentrations of four aroma glycosides in each hop cultivar. Genetics indeed played the biggest role in determining how much aroma glycosides a hop plant produces, the researchers report in the Aug. 15 Food Chemistry. The concentrations of three of the aroma glycosides differed across cultivar types but remained fairly similar within the same cultivar grown in the two locations.

But for one aroma glycoside, terroir trumped genes in a big way. At the Kootenay site, all of the cultivars produced low concentrations of hexyl glucoside, a molecule that gives off a grassy aroma when its sugar bond is broken. But at the Yakima site, every one of these same cultivars, with genetics matching the plants in Kootenay, produced about two to eight times as much hexyl glucoside.
“There is a terroir difference,” Matthews says. The team can’t yet pinpoint which component of terroir causes the spike in hexyl glucoside at the Yakima site. The best guess: mites and aphids.
 
Terroir trumps genetics 

Hop plant cultivars grown in Washington’s Yakima Valley produce higher levels of hexyl glucoside than the same cultivars grown in Idaho’s Kootenay River valley. The reason may be mites and aphids. 
 


Growing location affects hexyl glucoside levels in hop

At Yakima, those critters, which munch on the hop plants, hang around for a longer portion of the growing season than at the Kootenay site. Matthews and his colleagues hypothesize that the plants might produce hexyl glucoside chemicals as a defense against the pests. When a mite or aphid munches on the plant, the volatile may be released to attract insects that will eat the mites or aphids.
The researchers are planning a follow-up experiment to test whether hop plants exposed to these pests in environmentally controlled chambers produce more of this grassy hexyl glucoside than hop grown under the same environmentally controlled conditions without the pests.

Microbes leave their mark

People have understood the importance of yeast in wine fermentation for at least two centuries. About six years ago, food microbiologist David Mills of the University of California, Davis and graduate student Nicholas Bokulich, now a food microbiologist at ETH Zurich, discovered that groups of microbes may help shape the flavor of wine. Unique microbial communities in different California growing regions can predict which metabolites will be present in the finished wine, Mills, Bokulich and colleagues reported in 2016 in mBio. “Metabolites are any product of metabolism in any organism,” Bokulich says, adding that yeast, other fungi and bacteria each make varying contributions of metabolites in different wines.
“Those metabolites … have an aroma and a flavor,” says Kate Howell, a biochemist at the University of Melbourne in Australia. One of Howell’s own studies, she and her team reported online in August in mSphere, suggests that fungal species in particular shape the metabolites — and thus aroma and flavor — in wine from different growing regions in Australia.
Howell and colleagues studied microbes at 15 vineyards growing Pinot Noir grapes across six wine regions in southern Australia. At each vineyard, the team extracted fungal and bacterial DNA from the soil, as well as from what’s known as the “must” — destemmed, crushed grapes that haven’t yet been fermented. Then, the team identified 88 metabolites in the finished wine.
Different wine growing regions had distinct microbial communities in both the soil and the must, which appeared to influence the unique compositions of metabolites in the finished wine. The researchers found that over 80 percent of the metabolites found in the various wines were linked to the diversity of fungi found in the grape must. High levels of Penicillium fungi, for example, resulted in wine with low levels of octanoic acid, a volatile compound that can give wine a mushroom flavor.

Fungal distinctions

The diversity of yeast and other fungi found in grape must (the crushed grapes that haven’t yet been fermented) differs across distinct wine growing regions in southern Australia that produce Pinot Noir grapes. Researchers linked these fungal communities to distinct collections of metabolites that affect aroma and flavor in the finished wine. 
 
Howell hopes vintners may someday be able to manage microbes in the soil and throughout the fermentation process to bring out the best of the local microbial terroir. Today, nearly all of the yeasts that vintners purchase to add to their grape must are isolated from French vineyards and other famous wine regions, she says. “That doesn’t present the same value of place as encouraging diversity in the fermentation in the place that the grapes were grown.”

For his part, Quinn, of The Red Hen, eagerly awaits more scientific explorations of terroir. He would especially like to know why wines produced from the limestone-dominated Kimmeridgian soils in Chablis, Sancerre and Champagne, France, all have a chalky, salt-like mineral taste. Scientific research helps explain how wine reflects its place, Quinn says, “from the climatic elements to the microbial elements, what the earth is saying, and why [a particular] wine is so delicious.”
 

Rewa, Rewa on the Wall who makes the best Cabernet of all…

Rewa is yet another venture of ace winemaker extraordinaire Celia Welch. The Rewa vineyard is located in the Coombsville appellation in the South Eastern part of the Napa Valley.  The vineyard is planted on shallow rocky white volcanic ash in the slightly cooler growing area of the Napa Valley.  Rewa Vineyards represents a significant project from perhaps the best terroir in the budding Coombsville AVA.  Only 150 cases of this “gem” were produced. I highly recommend you jump on this now before the press gets a hold of it!

Rewa 2018 Cabernet Sauvignon Estate, Coombsville, Napa Valley
GGWC 229.99
FREE SHIPPING on 3 or more
Use code REWA during checkout

The fourth release from Rewa is a more intense and focused wine. The 2018 Rewa Estate offers up a barrage of aromas and flavors that jump out of the glass on impact.  Loads of bright dark stone fruit, a touch of anise and cassis and a whiff of spice on the nose are followed by a very full bodied, intense yet extremely well-balanced bold and structured Cabernet.  The palate is loaded with vibrant black stone fruit, a touch of Coombsville minerality and an array of bright, complex fruit that are harmoniously balanced.  The wine finishes long with fine grain tannins and long incredible flavors.

Vinous 96 Points:Rewa’s 2018 Cabernet Sauvignon is a fabulous wine that really exalts the unique attributes of Coombsville. A whole range of graphite, cured meat, smoke, licorice and menthol add striking layers of complexity to a core of inky dark blue/purplish fruit, with grippy tannins that give the wine shape as well as character. Underbrush, floral and spice notes linger. This is a positively stellar showing from Rewa and winemaker Celia Welch.”

Celia’s Tasting Notes: “The 2018 vintage of Rewa Cabernet Sauvignon is irresistible with notes of fresh violets, dried herbs and boysenberry.  The palate begins with black plum, blueberry compote, and cassis with graphite, flint, dried herbs and dried flowers adding interest and further complexity.  Although the wine is dense and highly concentrated, the vineyard’s volcanic tuff and cobble soils lend sufficient minerality to the fresh character and structure of this classically styled wine.”

Also check out these other great Celia-made wines:

Check out these other Celia Welch Wines:
CASTIEL 2017 CABERNET SAUVIGNON HOWELL MOUNTAIN, NAPA VALLEY 95 POINTS
CORRA 2017 CABERNET SAUVIGNON, NAPA VALLEY 95 POINTS
SCARECROW M. ETAIN 2018 CABERNET, NAPA VALLEY 97 POINTS
KEEVER 2015 “ESTATE” CABERNET SAUVIGNON, NAPA VALLEY

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Call 415-337-4083 or email frank@goldengatewinecellars.com for availability and priority allocation