Joško Gravner is a leading/innovative/influential winemaker in the Collio hills of the Friuli region of northeastern Italy, on the border of Slovenia. Considered a pioneer of the modern-day orange wine movement, he follows an ancient, low-intervention style of winemaking, producing uniquely characterful wine.
Stu Devine is the proprietor of Devine Wine, a New Zealand marketing company. With a surname that means "of the vine" it's fitting that his specialty is in the wine sector, working in collaboration with two highly regarded New Zealand wineries. Devine’s career began in a vegetable and fruit nursery, tending to plants and eventually selling horticultural products.
“I really enjoyed the grape growers I worked with when I sold products for grapevines,” says Devine. “They were the salt of the earth and some of the most decent, easy-going people I had ever met, so I decided to follow in their footsteps and bought a vineyard of my own in Hawkes Bay.”
His experience as a grape grower then led to a job in viticulture at a large winery. But, as much as Devine loved tending the vines, his outgoing personality and, as he puts it, “big mouth” took him in another direction, namely wine sales. In 2006, Devine formed his company, a partnership with Rod McDonald of Te Awanga Estate in Hawke’s Bay and Paddy Borthwick of Borthwick Vineyard in Wairarapa where Devine oversees all U.S. sales activity.
“I just tasted their wine,” says Devine when asked his reason for choosing to work with McDonald and Borthwick, “and that’s how simple it really was. The wine showed their honesty, their good looks, and their charm. Just one glass and you will understand why I was captivated. I have created a company where I represent the wine that I have an absolute passion for.”
Devine stopped by Grape Collective to chat about what's happening in New Zealand's wine world today.
Lisa Denning: Can you tell us a little bit about your background and how you got into wine?
Stu Devine: My background goes quite a ways back. I've always been into horticulture. I was a nurseryman, I grew plants and then got a job selling products to apple growers and vineyards. I come from a small region in New Zealand called Hawke's Bay, and I bought a vineyard in '93 with both...
Chris Gaither, 38, is only the fourth Black person in the world to earn the Master Sommelier diploma and his wife of seven years, Rebecca Fineman, 43, in 2017 became the 25th woman to attain the title of Master Sommelier in the Americas chapter. The couple, who have two young daughters, say they are the only married Master Sommeliers in the world to own a restaurant, Ungrafted, which they opened in San Francisco in 2018.
As a child, Liv Vincendeau loved going with her mother to the first organic shops in the little German village of Wiesbaden where she grew up. The shops, she says, were very hippie-like and not trendy like they are today. Her mother, an organic gardener and cook, was a member of the local green party and she would frequently organize tree planting excursions throughout the local towns. Vincendeau's family also spent a lot of time in the countryside, hiking in the forest and visiting world heritage sites. Unsurprisingly, when Vincendeau moved to France she brought her childhood values with her. In 2014, she founded a small Loire Valley winery, Domäne Vincendeau, and never considered anything but organic farming to manage the property.
“I always wanted to build something beautiful and nice to live and work in,” says Vincendeau. “There’s no way I would use chemical products that could hurt me or anyone else working in the vineyards. People in the office at conventional wineries often don’t consider the vineyard workers who are the ones exposed to dangerous products. When it’s yourself out there you think about it differently.”
The desire to avoid chemical exposure is not only affecting wine growers. Consumers, concerned with food and beverage safety, are demanding organic products, those made without the use of synthetic chemicals or genetically-modified components. The organic wine market, while still relatively small, is rapidly growing and according to Grand View Research, is expected to increase 10.2% by 2030.
France is one of the leading countries of organic viticulture, with 17% of its vineyards farmed organically as of 2020 (Beverage Daily), and that number is rising. French wine growers are reacting not only to market demand, but to what they are seeing in conventional vineyards where chemically-treated soils lack a rich diversity of living creatures and vegetation. To the contrary, organic soils are teeming with microbiomes that are vital in maintaining a healthy ecosytem for grapevines to produce high quality grapes.
Sylvain Grosbois, owner of Loire Valley winery Domaine Grosbois in Chinon, began to farm organically in 2007. “As we started to listen to what our vines were telling us and to respect the soil and the life around them,” says Grosbois, “we noticed a huge difference in regards to the insect life and number and activity of birds. The soil is much more aerated and smells better, and the vine is more...
As Leonardo Beconcini tells it, the story of his winery begins in the early 1950s in the Colline Pisane appellation of Chianti. That’s when his grandfather Giuseppe, a sharecropper at the Marchesi Ridolfi estate, purchased the land he had been renting to start his own company of growing and selling agricultural products—everything from fruits and cereals to livestock. It wasn’t until Leonardo’s father, Pietro, took over the business that the focus turned solely to the making of simple Chianti red wine, typical of that time period, sold in straw-covered bottles called fiascos.
Like many of the next generation who take the reins from their elders, Leonardo wanted to improve the quality of what his father had given him. It was the 1990s and wine consumers were becoming more discerning about what they were drinking. He needed to have a better understanding of his vineyards if he wanted to improve the wines, so he began extensive research studies of the local environment. This undertaking led him to two local Sangiovese clones that he believed would make more exciting wines and which are now planted in his vineyards.
Beconcini's research also led to a fascinating discovery of what was then an unknown variety growing amongst the Sangiovese vines, and which he simply labeled 'X.' He was so impressed by the quality of the wine that these mysterious vines produced that he continued to cultivate them. It took more than eleven years and DNA analysis to identify the grapes as Tempranillo.
Most likely the variety had arrived in Chianti centuries ago, brought by religious pilgrims traveling along the ancient Via Francigena which runs through his wine estate. Today the winery produces the only commercially-produced Tuscan Tempranillo wines, two red and one rosé. The winery's portfolio also includes red and white wines from classic Italian varieties of Sangiovese, Malvasia and Trebbiano.
I caught up with Eva Beconcini, co-owner of the winery with her husband, to learn more about this innovative winery and what it’s like to be a small, organic wine producer making artisanal wine in a region with many big industrial producers.
Lisa Denning: Can you tell me a little bit about your winery?
Eva Beconcini: We are between Pisa and Florence, in San Miniato. It’s a wonderful city; a fantastic place and the town of the white truffle in Tuscany. We are an appellation of Chianti Colline Pisane but we only write Chianti on the label and we are in the new DOC Terra di Pisa. For the entire life of my father-in-law he was producing Chianti in fiasco, the straw bottle, so that is our roots, our tradition that we respect and we love and is a part of our blood. This is the winery of my husband, and we work together, but Leonardo is really the man behind everything because he knows the vineyards and all the vines and everything in the cellar as the winemaker. For three years we have also been working with an enologist who has entered the winery with respect for the work that my husband has been doing for years. He helps us to not have such heavy weight on our shoulders because we produce many wines and we have a lot of things to do and so it’s a good marriage.
We have been certified organic for 6 years and in the vineyards we do everything to maintain the fertility of the soil, like with manure, with planting cover crops, but in the cellar we really do nothing. During the past two years we have done some restyling of the cellar but we don’t really use high-technology; we do everything with our hands. We are creating at this moment a new cellar so we have bought a lot of vineyards, as well as land without vineyards where we have planted vineyards, in order to define our project for our winery. And we are very excited to start this project.
We use only our grapes from our own vineyards and we use only the yeast from the skins. We have started to do some white wines, but red winemaking is at our core. All the studies we do in our vineyards are used to make more types of wines. For example, we have found that Malvasia Nera, an ancient grape variety, can make wonderful wines and so we said, let’s do something interesting with it.
Can you tell me a little more about your location in Chianti; the terroir and how it influences your wines?
Our land used to be on the bottom of the sea 20 million years ago, so the soil is full of fossil shells; it’s white and gray. You walk on shells in the vineyards. We have a lot of white clay too and the shells are crushed and mixed into the clay. We have a lot of water under the soil. Our vines are not in stress, never, even in the summer when it is very warm because the roots are really deep. We really work the soil a lot during the autumn and winter as the clay is very compact and you have to crush it for the roots to go down and down.
As for the climate, we are between three rivers, the River Arno, the main river of Tuscany, the River Elsa, and the River Egola. It’s very important to speak about the rivers because the climate is mild—we are under the Apennines and all the cold winds are stopped by these two mountain chain...
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