Why Clones Matter – And Do they Trump Terroir? | Napa Valley Wine Academy



If you look closely at these bottles of wine, you’ll notice the labels don’t look like the ones you’ll find at a retailer. In fact, these bottles aren’t for sale. They were part of a specialized tasting sponsored by Gloria Ferrer featuring five different wine clones. Each of these Pinot Noirs were made from grapes grown in the vineyards planted near each other, but tasted wildly different. It was a perfect study in the importance of the individual vines.

Curious to know more? Or what I’m even talking about? Take a look at my latest piece for the Napa Valley Wine Academy’s Pouring Points blog.

Read it here: Why Clones Matter – And Do they Trump Terroir? | Napa Valley Wine Academy


Tasting California From The Barrel


For 31 years … Wait a minute. Think about that. 31 YEARS. That’s not even a decade after the Judgment of Paris made California wine significant … MacArthur Beverages has been hosting a barrel tasting of California wines here in Washington, D.C. It’s an opportunity to try (and purchase) the most recent vintages before they’re ready to be sold – and as the name “Barrel Tasting” suggests, even before the wines are bottled. 

Classic wineries pouring included Chateau Boswell, Hourglass, Girard, Miner, Pahlmeyer, Ravenswood and Ridge, as well as newer labels such as LaRue (one of my IPOB favorites), Relic and Donelan Family. It was comforting to see Hope and Grace – the very first California wine I ever fell in love with – pouring their Cabs, too. (Here’s the full participant list.)

A fun surprise (for me, at least) was to see so many Pinot Noirs (and some Syrahs and other varieties) from throughout Northern California (and dipping down into Santa Rita Hills). My understanding was this event in the past focused mostly on Napa Cabernets (but maybe I was wrong? or maybe this is a sign of changing tastes?).

But what I really enjoyed about the event was the energy in the room. Unlike other big tastings, many of the wines here have never been poured for consumers before. That made the tasting all about discovery –  discovering new tastes and sensations in the new vintages, and for the winemakers, discovering how consumers are reacting for the very first time.

Looking forward to next year’s event! 

A ‘Cloudy’ Wine Sees Its Terroir Clearly

Not bad for a Tuesday evening: After work today, I dropped by a happy hour sponsored by Cloudy Bay, a New Zealand winery that’s focusing on producing wines from the Marlborough and Central Otago regions.

The event was short, so this post will be, too. 

We tried two Pinots: A 2011 from Marlborough; and the Te Wahi (also from 2011), which blends two vineyards from the southern most part of Central Otago. 

The Marlborough wine is a crowd pleaser. Lots of juicy red fruit with silky soft almost-non existent tannins. The Te Wahi was slightly darker, a bit more elegant with herbal notes and more expressive of its terroir (after all, its name translates to “of the place”).

I have very little experience with New Zealand wines, but if these are indicative of what can be produced from this land, I’ll be eager to seek out more. 

(Curious about Central Otago and other New Zealand wines? Wine writer Cathy Huyghe is writing about her recent journey over at Forbes.com)

Pursuing Balance In New York


Comparing two Kutch wines at the IPOB conference in New York on Feb. 23

Today is the annual In Pursuit of Balance conference in San Francisco and here I am at my desk, fidgeting, stalking #IPOB on Twitter and Instagram, and wishing I was there – even though it was only a couple of weeks ago I was fortunate to attend the New York event.

I heard Ted Lemon give his Keynote on the history of California wine, followed by a seminar on how winemakers try to achieve their goals of “balance.” A few hours later, I took full advantage of the public tasting with 33 California Pinot Noir and Chardonnay producers.

As a non-industry participant, it was fascinating to hear winemakers talk about their decision-making processes, and then taste the wines that corresponded to their achievements and falters. It was as if I was eaves-dropping on their private club. Those who have followed IPOB know that the entire industry does not  necessarily embrace this group, and as Food and Wine Magazine Wine Editor Ray Isle teased in his introduction to the panel discussion, he thought he was coming to the “IPOB Church” and it was “nice to know this was a discussion and not a cult,” which gained laughter from the audience. 


The “Getting It Right” panel moderated by Food and Wine Magazine Wine Editor Ray Isle (left), winemakers Andy Peay, Bradley Brown and Jamie Kutch, and Sommelier Raj Vaidya (right).

Rajat Parr, the famed sommelier and winery owner who hosts the event with Jasmine Hirsch of Hirsch Vineyards, was clear to point out prior to the panel that the purpose of IPOB is to have a “discussion among friends” and it’s about “learning from each other… It’s not a fight against someone, not a ‘we’re better, they’re bad,’ it’s not that.”

As a first-timer here (these events began in 2011), I believe they were successful in that. Here are 33 winemakers who all have similar goals. This is not just an opportunity for them to have internal dialogues and market their wines to the industry, but a very approachable way for enthusiasts like myself to learn. Follow this up with the opportunity to taste and have individual conversations with the winemakers during the tasting portion of the event and you can’t deny it’s a fun experience for your mind and your taste buds! 

The group has posted videos of their seminars on its website. If you’re a fan of these wines, it’s worth the watch.


A magnum of the 2014 Red Car Rosé is chilled during the IPOB tasting in New York.


The folks behind In Pursuit of Balance, a group of wineries focused on “balanced” California pinot noir and chardonnay has updated their winery list.

I’m a fan of several on the list already: Copain (did you see the photo I posted this morning?), Flowers, Hirsch, LIOCO and Littorai. And a few more have been on my must try list for a while: Matthiasson, Peay, Red Car, Sandhi and Wind Gap. That’s not to say the rest of these aren’t worth your while. I’d be happy to get my hands on any of these bottles.

For those unfamiliar with the group, among their mission is to seek wines that are “profound vehicles for the expression of terroir.”  (You can read their manifesto here.) These are mostly smaller, family-owned wineries who take pride in what they do, with immense respect for the land.

And to me, without even talking about the complexity or brightness or acidity or fruitfulness of the wine, it’s that combination of understanding the nature and the people behind the wine, that add an extra, even more enjoyable, dimension to what I’m sipping.