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  1. Black Wine Businesses Are Cultivating Their Communities

    Black Wine Businesses Are Cultivating Their Communities

    Black Wine Businesses Are Cultivating Their Communities "Over the past two years, we and others have written a great deal about the wine industry finally embracing diversity. Hanging over that, however, has been an uncomfortable question: Is this real, or is it just talk?" Dorothy J. Gaiter and John Brecher

  2. Israel’s Eli Ben-Zaken on How to Harvest Optimism in This World

    Israel’s Eli Ben-Zaken on How to Harvest Optimism in This World

    The new year is always a good time to look forward as well as back and with Rosh Hashanah coming early this year, we thought we’d check in with Eli Ben-Zaken, one of Israel’s most revered winemakers. At a time when vintners across the globe have faced enormous challenges, he seems to have seen it all: war, heat, fires, climate change and COVID. What we wanted to know is: How does anyone stay optimistic anymore?

  3. Climate Change on Long Island: Fears of Flooding and Pierce's Disease

    Climate Change on Long Island: Fears of Flooding and Pierce's Disease

    The science is there. “Scientists say the Long Island of the future will have shorter, wetter winters and oppressively hot summers, with seas rising and storm surges so strong they will threaten beaches, salt water marshes and infrastructure." Dorothy J. Gaiter and John Brecher on the issues for New York winemakers as it relates to climage change.

  4. Tastings in Wine Country Will Never Be the Same  -  On the Menu: Deep Dives, Deeper Pockets and a VW Bus

    Tastings in Wine Country Will Never Be the Same - On the Menu: Deep Dives, Deeper Pockets and a VW Bus

    With the pandemic receding in many parts of the U.S., your thoughts may be returning to a long-delayed visit to California’s Wine Country. If so, you should be aware of this: The tasting experience has changed and those changes, in many cases, will be permanent.

  5. Leave the Gun, Take the Pinot Blanc: Why ‘The Godfather’ Inspires Ram’s Gate’s Joe Nielsen

    Leave the Gun, Take the Pinot Blanc: Why ‘The Godfather’ Inspires Ram’s Gate’s Joe Nielsen

    When we posted an item about Pinot Blanc last year, a reader responded: “I was searching for a California Pinot Blanc yesterday at BevMo. Not a one to be found but they did have 800 Chardonnays.”

    Such is life for Pinot Blanc, which is mostly associated with Alsace when people think of it at all. Our long-time U.S. favorite was from Chalone Vineyard in Monterey. Over the years, though, good Pinot Blanc, from all over the world, became harder and harder to find. We often described them as “lumpy,” which is difficult to explain but it’s not a good thing. They just kind of tasted neutral and sat in our mouths, although, of course, there are always exceptions.

    By 2019, according to U.S. Department of Agriculture figures, there were only 324 acres of Pinot Blanc in all of California. (Chardonnay: 89,357). We even assumed – assumed, but hold on – that Chalone didn’t make it anymore since we haven’t seen it in some time and there are no recent vintages available online.

    But then we had a Pinot Blanc that made us sit up. “Seriously good wine,” we wrote. “It has a real intensity to it, like it’s very ripe, so it pops in our mouths. And yet it’s also very easy to enjoy. Fleshy white fruit, maybe some melon.”

    This was the Ram’s Gate Winery 2020 Estate Pinot Blanc ($38) – and, as it turned out, the Pinot Blanc we’d posted about last year was the 2019, both sent by the winery. There’s clearly something good happening here.

    Ram’s Gate was founded in Sonoma 2011 by four high-powered, wine-loving friends: Michael John, Jeff O’Neill, Paul Violich and Peter Mullin. In 2018, they hired Joe Nielsen, now 35, as director of winemaking. He’d previously been the head winemaker for Donelan Family Wines in Sonoma County after first making wine in his home state of Michigan. Ram’s Gate makes 12,000 to 14,000 cases of wine a year, with Pinot Noir and Chardonnay its stars, and has 28 acres of vines, including four acres of Pinot Blanc.

    Ram's GateRam’s Gate made 421 cases of the 2020 Estate Pinot Blanc and it’s hard to find, but, still, we were eager to find out Nielsen’s secret for outstanding Pinot Blanc, so we gave him a call. His answers have been condensed and edited for space.

    Why Pinot Blanc?

    Sometimes the most captivating wine for me is a delicately constructed but really thought-provoking white wine and the Pinot Blanc does that for me. I always say it’s a “Godfather” wine that kind of whispers something really important and it kind of grabs you and pulls you in. It’s not a yelling wine. It’s not a shout. It’s more of a whisper. But what’s being said is kind of intricate.

    What makes yours special?

    What’s unique about our site is that we have three different AVAs that overlap here: Sonoma Coast, Sonoma Valley and Carneros. It’s rather cool temperature-wise, more so in the summer, and then it actually flips and it’s a little bit warmer in the winter time than most of Sonoma Coast or even Sonoma Valley. So I was offered the job and I was evaluating my assets, what do I have to work with here, and I see planted we have Chardonnay and Pinot Noir and that makes sense, but then we had Syrah, Grenache and Pinot Blanc grown on the site, plus Sauvignon Blanc. Well, it doesn’t seem like those are the varieties I would expect to be growing right by each other. Grenache is typically very late-ripening, requires a lot of heat. Pinot Blanc I hadn’t made since working in Michigan and I thought if Grenache does well here then Pinot Blanc ought not to work well here and if Pinot Blanc works well I can’t imagine Grenache works. And the truth is that they both work and it’s because of this maritime climate that we have. So I’m picking Pinot Blanc maybe Sept. 15 and I’m picking Grenache maybe Oct. 15 but both of them get ripe.

    What’s your vision of your Pinot Blanc?

    They don’t have that intense aromatic naturally and then people’s instinct when they can, especially in California, is to ripen them pretty far with the idea that if I ripen them longer I’ll get more flavor. And I think when you do that you kind of lose the varietal character. So there is that sweet spot of trying to find where you’re not picking too early where you’re maybe getting some unripe fruit character but not going to the point where you lose the identity. To me, Pinot Blancs that I really love have this kind of cross between a Golden Delicious apple and some pear Anjou and I want that crispness, I want that freshness that I think is varietal. And then getting a little bit of that exotic stone fruit character is pretty. I like when there is a small hint of reduction that comes across as Parmesan cheese, but ever so slightly. And I’m like bingo, there it is.

    How do you do that?

    If you make it too floral it kind of competes with Riesling. If you make it in a barrel you kind of have to compete with Chardonnay and if you were just to do stainless it might be too much like Pinot Gris. So the way I combat that is to try to do a little bit of everything. We do some in stainless, some in neutral barrels, we foot stomp a portion of it to let it really soak on its skins. We also have three different clones growing here. On our four acres we have four different Pinot Blancs we’re making each year if not more and we kind of play with variations on a theme so to speak. It’s fun for us after harvest to play with all of these components. The cuvée of them all makes that wine way more compelling. My winemaking goal is three Cs for a wine: It must be complete, complex and compelling. 

    Ram's GateIs it a hard sell?

    No. The Pinot Blanc is sort of a fan favorite. It’s something that’s unique for us. There’s plenty of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir and Sauvignon Blanc being made. Pinot Blanc is an alternative white that from a very simple business sense is an opportunity to be different. We do have an opportunity where we get a lot of new wine drinkers. We’re one of the first stops coming into Sonoma Valley from the southern part. We have a real soapbox opportunity to be educators and set a bar for wine styles. We’re building trust with our customers so they are more adventurous. But I just also really love it. 

    We were impressed with the consistency of your wines, from lower-end to higher-end, even your rosé. We called them “nicely intense, with great acidity and wonderful balance.” How do you accomplish that?

    It’s not our decision as winemakers the price of that bottle of wine. It is our promise to perform regardless. While in that artistic frame of mind you can’t say, well, this is just X amount of dollars so let’s focus on the hundred-dollar wine. It’s all important.

    To me, consistency is really important. I kind of look for inspiration in the Old World. When you see a brand anywhere and they have 20, 50 years of consistency, look at that vision. Before a tradition becomes a tradition, do people notice, do people know? I want someone to be able to pick up a bottle in 10 years and say, oh yeah, that’s a style of wine from Joe. We’re starting t...

  6. Remember Al Capone’s Vault? We Open an 18-year-old Nouveau 

    Remember Al Capone’s Vault? We Open an 18-year-old Nouveau 

    We are about to open a 2003 Beaujolais Nouveau, right here, right now.

    We can hear gasps all over the world, like when Janet Leigh got stabbed in the shower, the ball went through Bill Buckner’s legs, Donald Trump was declared the winner over Hillary Clinton.

    Nouveau is the ultimate drink-this-minute wine. It’s a celebration gulper, meant to age only as long as it takes to get it home. In fact, one way to know you’re in a bad wine store is whether it’s still selling last year’s Nouveau well into the current year.

    We never intended to age a Nouveau long enough for it to be eligible to vote. For years, we hosted a Nouveau party on the day it is released, the third Thursday in November. In 2003, we had a bottle left over and we thought it might be fun to see what it would taste like in a year. Then, it kind of got lost in the cellar. 

    The larger issue here is about aging wine. Newcomers to wine are often intimated by this subject because they’ve heard there is a mysterious “perfect age” for wines, although the perfect age for most wines is today. Truth be told, even long-time wine lovers are nervous about this subject because, heavens, what if they open their 2005 Lafite-Rothschild too early and therefore commit what, in the wine world, is sometimes and unfortunately called “infanticide” – or wait too late and find it old and tired? (Disclosure: We have a 2005 Lafite and we do look at it from time and time and think, hmmm.)

    Similarly, newcomers sometimes think a wine is worth big bucks just because it’s old. Over the years, we have received many letters from people – especially around Open That Bottle Night – who have, say, a bottle of Mateus that Granddad bought in the ’60s that they’re sure is the Hope Diamond of wines because it’s ancient. It’s not. At the other end of the spectrum are wine aficionados who say a newly released fine Bordeaux or Burgundy is “undrinkable.” Well, sure, it will be better later, but any wine that is truly not enjoyable on any level today is not going to miraculously get delicious in time.

    Our columns often have a kind of news peg – Father’s Day, Thanksgiving, even Presidential elections. The news peg here is more existential: We both have important birthdays coming up this summer and we’ve been thinking quite a bit about the pros and cons of age. 

    All of this is why we’re going to open our 2003 Nouveau. Will this be a Capone’s Vault moment? Will the wine be like the beautiful woman at the end of the movie “Lost Horizon” who suddenly shrivels and dies of old age when she leaves Shangri-La, a scene that scarred John for years? 

    Nouveau should not be aged. Period. “Old Nouveau” may be the ultimate oxymoron. But some of the better regular Beaujolais, the crus from the 10 special villages, such as Moulin-à-Vent and Morgon, are excellent with two or three years and sometimes more if well-kept. Some time allows their youthful vigor to calm a bit while they also retain the fruitiness, earthiness and charm that make them so lovely. They’re all made from the Gamay grape.

    As we’ve written, better Beaujolais is in the midst of what we hope will be a transitional period. Nouveau was so popular a couple of decades ago that too many consumers confused it with the real thing. When Nouveau became déclassé – for many reasons, including too much hype, rising prices and questionable quality (we don’t like bananas or anchovies in any of our wines) -- so did the good stuff.

    That’s such a shame because better Beaujolais is such a delicious, versatile wine that can be a great bargain, too. 

    Our 2003 Nouveau is from one of our favorite Beaujolais producers, Paul Durdilly et Fils. Their Nouveau was a winner year after year and so were their other Beaujolais. This is a trusted name. We search for it. We are not expecting this old Nouveau to be very good and uphold this fine name, but that’s not the point. This is more like opening a bottle rescued from a centuries-old shipwreck and just being curious.  Is there any fruit left? It is truly vinegar? We feel like “India...

  7. Infiné 1939 Pinot Grigio: A Son 'At Last' Fulfills a Father's Dream

    Infiné 1939 Pinot Grigio: A Son 'At Last' Fulfills a Father's Dream

    "Inside the uniquely shaped bottles of Infiné 1939 Pinot Grigio and Infiné 1939 At Last, a white blend, is a son’s love and admiration for his late father, “gone too soon,” the son, Marc Taub, told us the other day, describing his dad, David Taub."

  8. Surprise of Texas: Bending Branch’s Dr. Bob Makes a Sizzling Rosé Sparkler from Tannat

    Surprise of Texas: Bending Branch’s Dr. Bob Makes a Sizzling Rosé Sparkler from Tannat

    We taste many wines for this column and we always hope for the best, but, look, we’re human; we do open some with greater anticipation than others. One wine we tried recently was a sparkling rosé of Tannat from Bending Branch Winery in Texas. Here are the first two words of our tasting notes: “We’re surprised.”

    It’s not news that ...

  9. Dorothy J and John

    Gundlach Bundschu Gewürztraminer in Two Bottles: Decanting Drama

    "We had had other wines from GunBun, as people call it, but had not recently had its Gewürz until pioneering winemaker David Ramey of Ramey Wine Cellars wrote a couple of years ago that if we loved the Navarro, we had to try the GunBun. "

  10. Dorothy

    Post-Verdict: Keeping the Focus on Diversity, Equality and Inclusion

    "After we began absorbing the guilty verdicts delivered to former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin for the murder of George Floyd, an unarmed Black man, one thing became clear to us: People cannot step back from working for racial and social justice, equality, and inclusion."

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