lisa denning

  1. Behind The Booth: Wine Producers' View of Vinitaly

    Behind The Booth: Wine Producers' View of Vinitaly

    Vinitaly's significance as a catalyst for international trade and industry growth is evident from its size, drawing 4,600 exhibitors and over 1,000 top buyers from 68 countries for its 55th edition in 2023. The fair, hosted by Veronafiere in collaboration with ICE, the Italian Trade Agency, is considered indispensable by many wine producers for engaging with industry professionals. However, as with any large organized event, challenges arise, prompting wine producers to reassess the benefits versus the costs.


  2. Château Gruaud Larose: The Tasting of The Century

    Château Gruaud Larose: The Tasting of The Century

    How should one approach a rare wine tasting of Bordeaux vintages ranging from four to 105 years old?

    Nicolas Sinoquet, CEO of Château Gruaud Larose, advises against having expectations; instead, one should accept the wines as they are and reflect on the personal memories they evoke. Beyond taste, he says that older wines can connect us to history and provide a moment for reflection. Sinoquet suggests trying the wines and discussing your thoughts without worrying about sounding foolish, as there is no right or wrong when talking about wine.

    Founded in 1725, Château Gruaud Larose is one of Bordeaux’s oldest wine estates. Situated in the Médoc's Saint-Julien appellation, it is among the fifteen Second Cru Classés, a top-quality designation from the famous 1855 Bordeaux wine classification.

    Only four families have led Gruaud Larose during its nearly 300-year history: the Gruaud & Larose families, the Balguerie and Sarget families, the Cordier family, and, since 1997, the Merlaut family. Under Sinoquet's leadership, the chateau continues to evolve while respecting its longstanding heritage.

    During a media event in New York City hosted by Sinoquet, guests tasted 30 Gruaud Larose vintages dating from 2020 to 1919. This extraordinary tasting, where every vintage, even the oldest, proved lively, was a unique journey through time. 

    Before the tasting, Grape Collective talked with Sinoquet about evaluating younger versus older wines and whether to decant the older ones. Other topics addressed included the chateau's use of organic and biodynamic methods and the effects of climate change.

    This is an amazing experience tonight, tasting Gruaud Larose vintages over a hundred years old. I don't think I've ever tasted wine that old. What can we, your guests, expect to experience? And what should we be looking for?

    Don't expect anything. Take the wines for what they are. Some will be fresh, and some will seem old. The only thing you need to do when you drink those old wines is to be patient and to be connected with yourself. The old wines are not necessarily the tastiest wines that you're going to try, and you need to intellectualize what you are drinking. Say, "Okay, this wine is 20 years old. What does it remind me of when I drink it? Does it remind me of my grandmother? Does it remind me of, I don't know, the old house that I went to during my vacation? Stuff like that. To me, that's really a link with history. It's not about taste. To me, it's more about memory. And so you have to come fresh. If you are a specialist, you can see the link between every vintage because the size of the estate hasn't changed, so you'll see a clear line between every vintage. And there is nothing right or wrong when talking about the wines.

    It's about how you perceive them, right?


    Do you feel that out of all these vintages we're tasting tonight, the ones considered milestone vintages have gotten noticed for a reason?

    There are some, the big wines, '82, '89, '90, ‘37, that are considered milestones, but then, once again, for me, it’s something very personal. The first one I tasted, for instance, or the one I had with good friends or my family in a happy or sad moment. For instance, I love the '01 or '04—they are not big wines, but I have had good moments with them. So I'm very pleased when I open a bottle. And then you are already in a good mindset, so the wine tastes better.

    And when would you say, generally speaking, that the wines reach their peak maturity? 

    To me, it depends on what you're looking for. If you like strong berry notes, I wouldn't recommend drinking a Gruaud Larose before ten years of age. And then depending on the vintage, 10 to 30 years. And then, after 30 years, you're entering another world, and there is no end. I tasted wines that were 160 years old, and they're still alive. But they are old wines, so it's different.

    Do you have any tips for people who will open an old bottle of your wine? Should they decant it?

    No, they shouldn't decant them because they're extremely fragile wines. The ones that you're going to try, for instance, tonight, we just opened them. You open and drink them in an hour or two but don't decant them. You decant only the young ones because they need some air.

    Do you like to taste the older or younger vintages first?

    We met with about 80 people earlier today, and they all asked me the same question. My answer is that it's up to you. I taste the young ones first. Tonight, for dinner, we will start with the young ones because that's my choice. Many people start with the old ones, saying, "My palate is fresh, so it's going to be easier for me to taste those fragile wines."

    So it’s another personal decision.


    Lisa Denning: You’ve been the CEO since 2012. What direction are you taking this historic chateau?

    Nicolas Sinoquet: I would first say that we try to continue what has been done in the past. I consider that we are only here for a short period of time, even if it's 30 or 40 years. And we don't own the estate; we just lend it to the next generation. So we ensure that we will not destroy the estate or do crazy stuff. And then what I want to do is to be more precise in the way we work. That’s the main objective. I think of Gruaud Larose as a hand-cut diamond.

    And because of the terroir we've got—it's an exceptional terroir—probably one of the most beautiful terroir in the Medoc. And doing this, sometimes you don't make the extra effort to ensure your wine is exceptional. So what I wanted to do first is to make sure that we're making this effort, being more precise and more modern in the precision of the wine and then move to organics.

    When you talk about more precision, you're talking in the vineyards and the cellar?

    Everywhere. So, one generation left the estate, the vineyard manager, and the winemaker. Then, we brought some new people in with a new vision and better school knowledge. We were making great wine before, but now we can explain why and be more precise. 

    What is your winemaking philosophy? 

    Precision and making classic and elegant wine. We don't want a wine that doesn't fit the terroir. We don't extract too much, for example. We respect that terroir is a big thing. It's not trendy. But being well-balanced. Sometimes, people in wine consider themselves artists, but we are more like craftsmen. We just use what we have and try not to transform it but to reveal it, and to shape what we've inherited from the site.

    Are you certified organic?

    Yes. We are certified since 2022. This has also changed how we see the vineyard and our relationship with our environment, meaning the soil, the people, and our long-term relationship with the estate. To me, that was the main thing.

    You've also embraced biodynamic practices in the vineyards. Have you noticed a difference in the wines since starting?

    Honestly, I don't know. Because there are so many things that impact your vineyards, meaning the climate, the soil, the way you work, the people you work with. So, moving to organics was a big step. And then biodynamic, I don’t know. We are not certified, so we are working on it. To me biodynamic, part of it is bullshit, part is not. But it's more linked with your personal experience and because it's different from one vineyard to the other. And so we have to be extremely humble when it comes to biodynamic or organic. We need to learn. So you go step by step. And I think our wines are more lively than they used to be. But is it because we changed some stuff? Is it because of the organic? Because of the way we work, the people who are working with us? I don't know. It's multifactorial. I'm sure there is some impact. Of course, there is some.

    So it's one of those things where time will tell.


    People will be doing a tasting one hundred years from now, and hopefully, they will know.

    Maybe they’ll say what a nightmare the ‘22 and ‘23 are! [Laughs]

    Let's talk a little bit about climate change. Are you addressing that in the vineyards, in the cellar?

    No, not yet. Right now, climate change is obvious, but it has positively impacted Bordeaux wine. The Cabernet in Medoc needs more heat, so there is no problem with that in Bordeaux. Okay, fine. I think we are also taking out the leaves around the grapes. We can leave the leaves if there is too much direct sunlight or wind. So there is some methods that we are using now that we can stop and that will help with the climate change. People are trying to use new varietals and it's not doing well. It's too early. Maybe in 20, 30, 40 years. I don't know. But right now, it's too early.

    So you're not doing that kind of experimentation yet?

    No, what we've done is we’ve increased the size of the vines, and then you've got more leaves, and then it helps to do more photosynthesis, but it's not linked directly with climate change.

    How are you engaging with today's younger consumers who are inclined to explore more unconventional wines?

    I think the wine we're making is more accessible. They are not as tough as they used to be. I ...

  3. Clos Mogador and The Rise of Regenerative Viticulture

    Clos Mogador and The Rise of Regenerative Viticulture

    Human-generated carbon dioxide is the primary contributor to global warming, and its impact will only intensify if ongoing greenhouse gas emissions are not reduced. In response, people from diverse sectors are taking action. Farmers, in particular,...

  4. Georgia's Ancient Wine Culture: A Story of Resilience and Revival

    Georgia's Ancient Wine Culture: A Story of Resilience and Revival

    Georgian wine culture, among the world's oldest, predates many ancient civilizations. However, due to the country's tumultuous history, it has faced numerous challenges that have affected its development and recognition.

    Currently, Georgia's wine industry is undergoing a renaissance characterized by enhanced quality, intensified marketing efforts, and a consequent surge in global interest. The recent airing of a double-length segment on 60 Minutes about Georgian wine, titled “Ancient Vines,” attests to the growing buzz surrounding the country’s wine history, traditions, and native grape varieties.

    Today, there are approximately 2,000 wineries in Georgia, ranging from large-scale to me...

  5. Next-Gen Bourgogne Winemakers Thriving Without Inherited Vineyards

    Next-Gen Bourgogne Winemakers Thriving Without Inherited Vineyards

    When Canadian Matthew Chittick moved to Bourgogne in 2011 to start his winemaking journey, he worried about being accepted by the local vignerons.

    “I was thinking, ‘I’m only 29. How will I talk to people with 30 years of vineyard experience?’” he said. Fortunately, things worked out well, and not only have he and his Parisian-born wife Camille successfully founded Maison MC Thiriet, they’ve also formed many lasting friendships.

    The French wine region of Bourgogne, widely regarded as the benchmark producer of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, frequently attracts ambitious, young winemakers from across the globe to its alluring terroir. However, the area is steeped in centuries-old winemaking traditions, and wineries are typically handed down through the generations. New arrivals have a hard time finding property for sale, and if they do, it doesn't come cheap.

    The price per acre of vineyards starts at around $70,000 on the lower end and reaches staggering figures in the millions throughout the renowned Grand Crus. According to Safer, a French land acquisition firm, a single hectare of vines in the Côtes d'Or averaged about $7 million in 2020, a 4% increase from the previous year.

    Nevertheless, success stories are not unheard of. Some newcomers, without familial vineyards or generational expertise, are able to navigate the intricate process of finding, buying, and establishing their own wine estates. During a recent visit to the region sponsored by the Bourgogne Wine Board (BIVB), I met three young winery owners, including Chittick, who have established new estates in a place where vineyards have long been synonymous with lineage. These next-gen winemakers, driven by passion and, perhaps, a bit of luck, are joining their Bourgogne-born peers in crafting wines with a sense of place while safeguarding the land for future generations.

    Domaine La Croix Montjoie

    One tale of success is that of Domaine La Croix Montjoie in Vézelay, a beautiful village in Bourgogne’s north-central area, about 60 miles northwest of Beaune. The estate, founded in 2009 by Sophie and Matthieu Woillez, draws its name from a cross situated at the juncture between Vézelay and Tharoiseau, part of an ancient pilgrimage route.

    Vézelay is an appellation known for crafting high-quality, affordable, Chardonnay-based white wines from its clay-limestone soils. The clay contributes to the fruitiness and roundness of the wines, while the limestone imparts a minerality reminiscent of the more famous Chablis. Domaine La Croix Montjoie produces about 120,000 bottles annually of AOC Vézelay white wine and AOC Bourgogne Rouge. The Woillezs have, in a short time, become known for diligently producing fresh, mineral-driven wines that represent Vézelay's unique terroir.

    The young couple met while studying agronomy and enology in Montpellier, afterward working in Bordeaux and the Rhône Valley before pursuing their dream of owning a winery. Initially, they looked for property in Beaujolais, where Sophie's grandparents had been winegrowers, but found nothing suitable. Turning their attention to Bourgogne, they focused outside the most pricey areas, discovering a Vézelay property with breathtaking views of the Morvan mountain foothills.

    “We found ten interesting hectares adjacent to a 19th-century farm that were very low priced for Bourgogne,” said Sophie. “I think sometimes things work out by chance, and we are very happy to be a part of Bourgogne.”

    Woillez noted when she and Matthieu first arrived, the local wine producers were watching them to try and understand who they were and how they wanted to work.

    As they understood that our arrival was good for the appellation and the vineyards, they became friendly,” said Sophie. “Vézelay is a small appellation that is not well-known like the stars of Bourgogne, and there is not a lot of competition between the producers. Everybody knows each other, and people, like us, who work hard and want to promote good Vézelay wines are welcomed into the close-knit community.

    The young couple has also strengthened bonds with the local community by engaging in village life. “I am an active member of the local and regional tourism offices,” said Sophie, “and the Association of Women and Wines of Bourgogne. Matthieu is very involved in the BIVB (Bourgogne Wine Board) and is President of the Vézelay appellation.”

    Showing how newcomers often bring new perspectives, Domaine La Croix Montjoie welcomes visitors, a departure from the historical practice of limited winery access in Bourgogne. Tastings and tours are available year-round, with a summertime pop-up wine bar on the terrace which draws those seeking a scenic aperitif.

    Additionally, in keeping with the ethos of the up-and-coming younger generation, the Woillezs are dedicated to the long-term health of their vines and soil. They have been practicing organic since 2018 and certified in 2021, embracing eco-conscious practices despite the difficulties posed by the region’s typically cool and damp climate.

    “Vézelay is so beautiful and well-respected that vintners here are trying to farm without the use of synthetic chemicals,” affirms Sophie. “With climate changes bringing more sunshine and warmth, it has become easier. Today, 50% of the vineyards in Vézelay are organic or in conversion, whereas the average for organic viticulture for all of Bourgogne is less than 10%.

    Domaine de La Monette

    Adding a unique take on the story is Pierre-Etienne Chevallier, proprietor of Domaine de La Monette in the Mercurey appellation of the Côte Chalonnaise region. While Chevallier is not a newcomer to Bourgogne since he was born and raised in the region, his story is not one of inheritance; he became the first in his family to establish a winery when he acquired an estate in January 2023.

    Chevallier's journey into winemaking took an unconventional route. “I didn't begin my life with wine, but rather with politics and literature,” he said. “However, I realized I needed to be outdoors, working with my hands, and I've been working in the wine business for nine years now, primarily in production.”

    Following a three-month stint in Sonoma, California, Chevallier returned to Bourgogne, where he found work at several local estates. His story illustrates how individuals shaped by international exposure and varied work experiences can thrive in Bourgogne, bringing fresh perspectives to a traditional environment.

    The Bourgogne-born Chevallier said that his local origins helped him navigate the purchase of his estate. However, the main reason the community accepted him was his experience in the field. “To be accepted here,” he noted, “it’s crucial to prove that you know what you are talking about. And also, because of my previous jobs, I already knew a lot of winemakers.” 

    And most important, says Chevallier, is to have a deep understanding of the specific region where you plan to establish a winery. Working at Domaine du Cellier aux Moines, situated in nearby Givry, provided Chevallier with valuable connections in the local winemaking community. Philippe Pascal, the proprietor of Cellier aux Moines and former LVMH executive, had his own sets of hurdles when creating a winery in Bourgogne. Originally from the Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes region, Pascal came from a family whose business was in the textile industry. When he and his wife Catherine arrived in Bourgogne in 2004, they were initially considered strangers, despite Catherine being from Beaune. It took years,” Pascal told Grape Co...

  6. 'Wine Witch on Fire': A Conversation with Author Natalie MacLean

    'Wine Witch on Fire': A Conversation with Author Natalie MacLean

    In her new book, Wine Witch on Fire: Rising from the Ashes of Divorce, Defamation, and Drinking Too Much, wine writer and educator Natalie MacLean brings a unique blend of personal reflection, wine expertise, and historical intrigue to her story. In this candid memoir, MacLean delves into sensitive topics, from her struggles with drinking to facing professional attacks and online bullying. Her story weaves in centuries-old tales of witches, adding an unconventional layer to her narrative.


  7. Fausto Albanesi of Torre dei Beati Winery on Loyalty to the Land

    Fausto Albanesi of Torre dei Beati Winery on Loyalty to the Land

    Torre dei Beati is a winery in Loreto Aprutino, a charming hilltop town in central Italy's Abruzzo region. In 1999, Fausto Albanesi and his wife Adriana inherited a small parcel of family vineyards, sparking a shared passion that changed their lives. At the time, winemaking offered a creative escape from their day jobs, with Fausto employed as an engineer and Adriana as an accountant.

    Their journey towards full-time wine production spanned 17 years, and today, Torre dei Beati produces some of Abruzzo's most noteworthy, terroir-reflective wines. The winery's 52 acres of native, organically-farmed grapes are planted between 800 and 1,000 feet above sea level and about 15 miles from the Adriatic...

  8. Chianti Classico UGA Classifications Approved

    Chianti Classico UGA Classifications Approved

    Chianti Classico, one of Italy's most prestigious wine regions, announced on July 5th, 2023, that the Italian Ministry of Agriculture has officially approved its Additional Geographical Units (UGA) classification system.

    The Chianti Classico appellation now encompasses 11 distinct areas, whose names—San Casciano, Greve, Montefioralle, Lamole, Panzano, Radda, Gaiole, Castelnuovo Berardenga, Vagliagli, Castellina, and San Donato in Poggio—can be included on the bottles' front labels, starting with the 2020 vintage.

    In June of 2021, the proposal to subdivide Chianti Classico's territory received unprecedented approval from its wine producers, with an overwhelming 97% casting their votes in its favor. Following a two-year wait for government approval, the region's labels can now aptly convey the remarkable diversity of its land.

    Aiding Consumers

    The UGA classification is based on various factors, including physical, environmental, and human. It mirrors practices seen in other renowned wine regions like Burgundy, with its AOCs (Appellations d'Origine Contrôlée), and Barolo with its MGAs (Menzione Geografica Aggiuntive). Through these systems, consumers can connect the dots between a wine's intricate nuances—aromas, colors, and flavors—and its delineated territory.

    Specific to Chianti Classico, wine buyers can now make informed purchasing decisions by understanding, for instance, that wines from Panzano will exhibit a darker hue and fuller body than those from Lamole. 


  9. Trentodoc: One of Italy's Most Prized Sparkling Wines

    Trentodoc: One of Italy's Most Prized Sparkling Wines

    Trentodoc is a sparkling wine produced in northeastern Italy's mountainous Trentino region. Formed in 1993, the appellation has the distinction of being Italy's first classic method sparkling wine. However, its origin can be traced back to the early 20th century to Giulio Ferrari, whose love for Champagne inspired him to try his hand at making bubbly wine in downtown Trento. Little by little, Ferrari built his empire, inspiring local wine producers to move in the same direction, and today, he is the most well-known of the appellation’s 67 wine producers.

    Trentodoc vineyards are cultivated at high elevations in the foothills of the Dolomite Alps, between 650 and 2,625 feet above sea level. The area's soil, formed around 250 million years ago, is made of decomposed rock with limestone, contributing to the grapes' strong aromatic and mineral profiles. Furthermore, the region's large diurnal shift, the difference between day and night temperatures, ensures the wines have great acidity and pure fruit aromatics.

    Trentodoc wines follow strict production guidelines, including aging requirements that mirror Champagne's. However, most producers exceed the 15 month-minimum, leaving the wines to age for ten years or longer before releasing them to the market. Extended lees aging brings complexity and elegance to the wines and is a signature of the region's quality-focused winemaking.

    Grape Collective caught up with Sabrina Schench, Director of Trentodoc’s wine consortium, to talk about the appellation's evolution. 

    Lisa Denning: Can you tell me your background and how you became the Trentodoc consortium’s director?

    Sabrina Schench: I got my law degree at university, and I have a Master’s degree in Communication as well. I went to Madrid, worked there for two years, then returned to Italy and began working with the Chamber of Commerce for wine promotion and then with the Trentino tourism board. In 2012 the Trentodoc association hired me as director.

    Can you tell me a brief history of Trentodoc and how it became an appellation for sparkling wine?

    The story started in the 1800s when a few wine producers began trying to make a traditional method sparkling wine in Trentino. Then in 1902, Giulio Ferrari, the most famous oenologist and agronomist of Trentino, learned from his travels that there was a similarity in the climate and the terroir between Trentino and France. He started the production of classic method sparkling wine in the city of Trento, and then other producers followed him. In 1984, the association I represent, Trentodoc Institute, was founded. The recognition of the denomination of the region came in 1993 (It was one of the first DOC for a sparkling classic method worldwide), and then in 2007, the collective trademark ‘Trentodoc’ was born. Now there are 67 producers.

    How would you say Trentodoc's sparkling wine distinguishes itself from other Italian sparkling wine?

    Trentodoc’s identity comes from the mountain environment and from its very long tradition. The secret of Trentodoc itself is the elegance and freshness: the acidity coming directly from the mountains and the Dolomites. Trentodoc comes from Trentino, a region in northern Italy where 70% of the territory is higher than 1000 meters, 20% over 2.000 meters, and 93 mountains over 3000 meters.

    How would you say the appellation has evolved since 2007?

    I think the secret was working very closely with the producers, meaning we have a very close relationship with them. They started to believe strongly in the Trentodoc trademark. We work very hard on the promotion, and at the same time, the growing market for sparkling wine, in general, has gone up. I think a lot of circumstances have contributed to Trentodoc’s success.

    What is the best way to get the word out about Trentodoc wine in the US? I don’t think the average U.S. consumer knows about the wine.

    You're right. In fact, Trentodoc is very popular in Italy, but in the US, we have a lot of work to do. I think that you need to push a lot on communication. We were the region of the year for Wine Enthusiast in 2020. We are partners of both the Master of Wine Association and the Italian Sommelier Association, two ...

  10. Book Review: Italian Wine Unplugged 2.0 Offers a Deep Dive Into Italian Wine

    Book Review: Italian Wine Unplugged 2.0 Offers a Deep Dive Into Italian Wine

    As wine lives, breathes, and evolves, so must wine study books change over time. The best reference books about wine reflect this natural evolution with updated editions that add to an original wealth of material. 

    Italian Wine Unplugged 2.0 is a second-edition book that builds upon the success of Italian Wine Unplugged Grape by Grape, a study guide for students and lovers of Italian wine that debuted in 2017. Compiled by a team of wine experts and educators, the first edition quickly became a benchmark and has been used as the core textbook for the Vinitaly International Academy (VIA), a leader in Italian wine education. 

    As its subtitle, Grape by Grape, suggests, the first edition focuses on Italian grapes, specifically 430+ indigenous varieties. Within its pages, you will find all the well-known varieties like Sangiovese and Nebbiolo as well as the obscure, hard-to-pronounce grapes such as Susumaniello...

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