A ‘Wine Way’ to Keep Warm on a Winter Night

GluhweinNothing warms the soul on a cold night better than gluhwein — which transforms a bottle of red wine into a hot, spicy treat.

Gluhwein is especially popular in Europe, where it’s a wintertime staple at ski resorts and outdoor Christmas markets — almost as popular at hot cocoa.

This recipe is based on the gluhwein served in restaurants at the Mount Titlis ski resort in Engelberg, Switzerland. Non-oaky renditions of Zinfandel, Gamay and Pinot Noir are among the wine varieties that work especially well.



  • 1 cup water
  • 1 bottle (750-ml.) fruit-forward red wine
  • 4 tbsp. sugar
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 4 whole cloves
  • 2 oranges


  1. Thoroughly clean surface of oranges.
  1. Use potato peeler to collect outer rind from one of the oranges.
  1. Place water, cloves, cinnamon and rind in a small pot.
  1. Bring water to a slow boil.
  1. Stir in sugar.
  1. Reduce heat, and simmer for 2 minutes.
  1. Add wine to pot and heat, taking care to avoid boiling.
  1. Slice the second orange into thin wheels.
  1. Ladle Gluhwein through sieve to collect spices.
  1. Add one orange wheel to each mug and serve.
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Posted in Food and Wine Pairings/Recipes

Wine Books for Winter Reading or Gift Giving

iStock_000005364409XSmallAre you a reader? I am, and I only wish I had more time for that endeavor. With winter descending upon us, I hope to set aside a few evenings each week for sitting down with a good book and (of course) a good glass of wine.

Schiffer Publishing, a family company based in Pennsylvania, is one of my favorite sources of bedtime books — lavishly illustrated, with text that can be consumed in small chunks.

Founded in 1974 to mimeograph, ring bind and distribute a book about antique furniture and accessories in Pennsylvania’s Chester County, Schiffer Publishing now has more than 5,000 titles in its catalog, with subjects including antiques and collectibles; arts and crafts; military history; contemporary art and artists; architecture and design; food and entertaining; the metaphysical, paranormal and folklore; and pop and fringe culture.

There’s even a section in the catalog devoted to “breweriana” (dealing with all-things beer) and wine-and-spirits antiques.

If you’re looking for a good book to cozy up with this winter, or if you’re in need of a creative holiday gift for a wine lover in your life, consider these titles from the Schiffer Publishing catalog:

* Wine Antiques and Collectibles (Donald A. Bull and Joseph C. Paradi).

“Over 2,100 photos and text cover the vast array of wine memorabilia available. Included are tools for growing, harvesting and producing wine; cork removers and serving devices; games, signs and tokens for sales, and museum pieces from Spain.”

336 pages; $79.99.

* The Ultimate Corkscrew Book (Donald A. Bull).

“Showcases diversity and creativity in corkscrews over several hundred years. Displays categorical examples of eclectic and figural corkscrews and knives, along with current market values and amusing text.”

320 pages; $89.95.

* Screwpull: Creation and History of a High-Tech Corkscrew (Donald Minzenmayer).

“The story of the development and realization of one of the best devices in the world for removing a cork from a wine bottle, the Screwpull, and its inventor, Herbert Allen. Alongside hundreds of examples of experimental prototypes, patent drawings and many production models, the story unfolds to reveal Allen’s conceptualization of how the Screwpull should work, and how imitation knockoffs affected his market.”

176 pages; $59.99.

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Posted in Editor's Journal

Biltmore: A Unique Wine Field Trip for the Holidays

biltmoreNo trip to North Carolina is complete without a visit to the Biltmore Estate in Ashville — especially during the holiday season, when the mansion is bedecked with sparkling lights, and the estate’s winery releases a bottling with a special Christmas label.

The mansion, the largest privately owned house in the United States — with 178,926 square feet of floor space and 135,280 square feet of living area — was built by George Washington Vanderbilt II over a six-year period beginning in 1889. There are 250 rooms.

Various tours of the estate are offered, and a new exhibition, “The Vanderbilts at Home and Abroad,” provides an intimate look at the family that amassed a fortune large enough to be able to construct this nod to the Gilded Age, with its magnificent gardens and other “amenities,” including a working winery.

Originally the estate’s dairy barn, the Antler Hill Village & Winery offers complimentary tasting of Biltmore’s award-winning wines.

In 1971, George Vanderbilt’s grandson, William Cecil, first experimented with winemaking at Biltmore. From a harvest of French-American hybrid grapes planted within sight of Biltmore House, the inaugural vintage was bottled in the estate conservatory.

Unsatisfied with the wine — it would later be dubbed “the crush of horror” — Cecil sought advice from winemaking experts at the University of California at Davis. Although the researchers were uncertain that vinifera cultivation was truly possible in western North Carolina because of general growing conditions in the region, they worked closely with Cecil to suggest new advances in grape-growing methods and technology.

Cecil continued his effort to achieve his dream of making wine at Biltmore by moving the vineyard to the west side of the estate and expanding to 150 acres of vinifera grapes. In 1977, he traveled to France to persuade sixth-generation French winemaster Philippe Jourdain to oversee the development of Biltmore wines and help build the future of what would become the Biltmore Estate Wine Company.

In the decades since, Biltmore has grown and tested numerous varietals. Six of them — Riesling, Chardonnay, Viognier, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Merlot — have proven to be particularly well-suited for the western North Carolina terroir and the microclimate of the estate.

In an effort to expand its portfolio and consistently craft the highest quality wine possible, Biltmore also partners with select growers in North Carolina, Washington state and California, including Sonoma and Napa.

Winemakers Bernard Delille and Sharon Fenchak, despite their distinctly different backgrounds, share a common approach to winemaking as they create high-quality wines that are true to varietal character as well as food-friendly. Together, they have developed an outstanding portfolio of award-winning wines worthy of the finest Vanderbilt traditions of taste and style.

When asked to name his favorite wine, Delille says, “The one I’m drinking right now!”
A native of France, he joined the Biltmore Wine Company as assistant winemaker in 1986, rising to the position of winemaster in 1991. He is especially fond of sparkling wines, and enjoys crafting them according to the traditional méthode champenoise.

Delille’s background includes a master’s degree in biochemistry and certificates in microbiology and enology from the Faculty of Science in Lyon, France. Prior to joining Biltmore, he was a winemaker in the Pyrenees Atlantiques region.

Fenchak’s passion for winemaking brought her to Biltmore in 1999, and she attained winemaker status in 2003. In addition to creating fine wines, she is also involved in research and development for new grape-growing technology and production methods.

“As Biltmore wines continue to grow,” Fenchal says, “I hope to continue building the tradition of the Biltmore brand among wine enthusiasts locally, nationally and globally.”

Before Biltmore, Fenchal crafted wines for two different wineries in Georgia. The Pennsylvania native holds a master’s degree in food science from the University of Georgia, a bachelor’s degree in food science from Penn State University, and has served in both the U.S. Army and the Army Reserves. She became interested in wine while stationed in Vicenza, Italy.

Each holiday season, Biltmore produces what has become a favorite wine among the estate’s followers — one adorned with a label depicting a holiday scene. The 2014 Christmas at Biltmore White Wine (a semi-sweet wine) features the artwork of Terry Owensby of Swannanoa, N.C., selected in an annual contest conducted by Biltmore.

“This was my second year of entering the wine label contest,” Owensby said, “and my painting, ‘Enchanted Christmas,’ captures the feeling of the holidays at Biltmore. I have been painting 20-plus years as a hobby. I love Biltmore. As a kid in grammar school, we would take field trips there.”

A field trip to Biltmore — to explore the mansion, stroll the grounds and sample some excellent wines — should be added to any wine lover’s “Holiday To Do” list.

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Posted in Wineries of Distinction

A Holiday Wine Country Vacation Planner

XmasCardsTwo boxes of holiday greeting cards are sitting on the floor next to my desk. The cards are waiting patiently to be opened, written on, placed in envelopes, sealed, addressed, stamped and mailed.

Yes, I’m one of those people who still sends Christmas cards. To me, email greetings are nice, but they don’t count. Why? Because they require virtually no effort. When I receive a Christmas card from a friend, I appreciate the fact that they took the time to a) think of me, b) buy a card for me, c) write a few lines on the card, and d) buy a stamp.

An email blast? Not the same. A Facebook greeting? “Merry Christmas to all 2,479 of my closest friends!” Not even close.

So, after writing today’s blog, I will sit down at my desk, open those boxes of cards, grab my address book (yes, a real book with names, addresses and phone numbers handwritten in it), and get to work.

But first, I need to make room on said desk… which calls for a clearance of all the notes, flyers, media kits and other vinous miscellany that has been piling up since… well… the last time I cleared the desk.

Hopefully, some of the information that follows will help you plan your next wine country vacation or long weekend…

  • On the weekend of February 7-8, California’s hub of Alsace-style wines will play host to the 2015 edition of Alsace in Anderson Valley. Saturday events include an educational session, a grand tasting (featuring international wines and small plates), a food/wine pairing demonstration and a winemaker dinner. On Sunday, the local wineries will host open houses with their own special events. The various Saturday events are individually ticketed.

Info: http://www.avwines.com/alsace-festival/

  • Napa Valley’s Sequoia Grove Winery has launched “A Taste for Cabernet,” a private tasting room experience that presents the winery’s limited-production wines in the context of pairing Cabernet Sauvignon with food. The 75-minute seminar, led by wine educator Dean Busquaert, guides guests through a tasting of Sequoia Grove’s single-vineyard Cabs and the top-tier blend, Cambium. The experience is offered three times daily for $50 per person.

Info: dbusquaert@sequoiagrove.com

  • Looking for a place to unwind and re-connect with your significant other? The Applewood Inn, located in the heart of Sonoma County’s Russian River Valley, is just the place. Secluded and romantic, it’s a peaceful refuge with a unique spa, a Michelin-starred restaurant and a well-curated wine list.

Info: www.applewoodinn.com

  • Not every wine bar in Sonoma County specializes in Sonoma County wines. For Exhibit A, we offer Bergamot Alley, where (in-season) soccer games can be enjoyed with bottlings from Spain and France. “We’re just trying to have a little fun,” says co-owner (with Sarah Johnson) Kevin Wardell of the eclectic lineup of entertainment, which also has included movie screenings on Monday nights, bluegrass music, and a disco night on Valentine’s Day. Of the non-California wine list, Wardell says the idea is not to insult his home winegrowing region, but to celebrate the differences.

Info: www.bergamotalley.com

- – – – -

Tomorrow: A winery that takes the holiday season seriously.

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Posted in Editor's Journal

Sorting Out the Sparkling Wine Options

sparklingHosting a holiday party need not be a daunting, stress-packed endeavor. One easy-to-manage approach is to uncork a number of sparkling wines and serve them with pass-around appetizers.

By serving an array of wines and tasty finger food, you’ll satisfy even persnickety palates without the need for a formal, difficult-to-manage, sit-down affair.

There are four basic types of sparkling wine, not counting sweet sparklers such as Asti Spumante or Moscato. Serve all four, pair them with appropriate nibbles, and you have the makings of a festive, memorable holiday celebration.

* Blanc de Noirs — Describes a white wine produced entirely from black grapes. In Champagne, a Blanc de Noirs cuvée can be made from the two black grapes permitted within the appellation, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier. Here in the United States, most Blanc de Noirs sparkling wines are made solely from Pinot Noir. The color can range from pale straw to pale salmon, depending on how long the juice was left on the skins.

Appetizer suggestion: beef empanadas.

* Blanc de Blancs — Describes a white wine made entirely from white grapes. Nearly all blanc de blancs sparkling wines are made exclusively from Chardonnay grapes, although a handful are made from Pinot Blanc.

Appetizer suggestion: a creamy cheese, such as brie, spread on crackers or crusty bread.

* Brut — Describes a wine made from Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, the two star varieties of France’s Champagne appellation. Since both a white variety and a red variety are involved, Brut has the most complex flavor spectrum of any sparkling wine.

Appetizer suggestion: duck prosciutto.

* Brut Rosé — Describes a cuvee that’s based on Pinot Noir, from which it derives its pink color and most of its flavor.

Appetizer suggestion: stuffed mushrooms.

Knowing what you want to serve your guests is only half the battle. Vinesse offers a number of fantastic sparkling wines and sometimes, the best option is to grab one of our curated collections.  If you act fast, you might still be able to get your hands on their latest festive sparkling wine sampler designed to be perfect for end of the year toasts and celebrations on sale.

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Posted in Wine in the Glass

Dining in Style in Vienna

OrchestraNo trip to Vienna is complete without taking in a concert devoted to two of Austria’s most revered native sons: Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Johann Strauss.

Although Mozart died at the age of 35, his oeuvre includes more than 600 compositions, including sacred music; operas; lyrical dramas and other stage works; ballet music; concert arias, songs and canons; dances; symphonies; divertimenti; serenades and chamber music for widely differing ensembles, and concerti and sonatas.

Strauss lived more than twice as long, to the age of 74, and during his lifetime became known as the “Waltz King.” Beginning in 1856, concert tours across Europe triggered what has been described as “Strauss hysteria” — the Beatlemania of its time. Largely due to his influence, the waltz and other types of dance (the galop, polka, march and czardas) became integral parts of Viennese operattas.

AustriaDiningAmong numerous concerts performed regularly in the city, “Sound of Vienna” offers an entertaining mix of Mozart and Strauss favorites, performed by the Salonorchester Alt Wien.

Guests may attend the concert only, or purchase a concert-and-dinner package, which includes a gourmet three-course meal. A VIP ticket entitles the holder to dinner, the concert, a glass of sparkling wine during the intermission, a program and a CD.

Opt for that package, and you have a reason to dress up for a stylish evening of food, wine and music in one of Europe’s great cities.

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Posted in Vinesse Style

Zinfandel and Rhone Varieties Star at Bella

Bella1The year was 1999. President Bill Clinton defended himself against impeachment charges, “Shakespeare in Love” won the best movie Oscar, John F. Kennedy Jr. died in a plane crash off the coast of Martha’s Vineyard, and Lance Armstrong won the Tour de France for the first time.

Meanwhile, along an off-the-beaten-path road in Sonoma County’s Dry Creek Valley, the husband-and-wife team of Scott and Lynn Adams were establishing Bella Vineyards and Wine Caves, and crafting their first three limited-production, vineyard-designate wines.

The founding of Bella Vineyards was the culmination of a process that began in 1995 when Scott and Lynn, in partnership with Scott’s family, acquired the prized Lily Hill Estate. Featuring hillside Zinfandel vines planted in 1915, as well as a small winery, this spectacular property became the cornerstone of the Bella vineyard program.

Over the next two years, the program grew to include the mature Upper Weiss clone vines of Belle Canyon Vineyard, also in Dry Creek Valley, and the Syrah and heritage Zinfandel vines (planted in 1905) of Big River Ranch in the Alexander Valley.

While selecting this exceptional trio of properties, Scott and Lynn immersed themselves in the world of viticulture. With Scott overseeing the vineyards, the Adamses sold their house in San Francisco and moved to Belle Canyon. There, they tended the vines and learned the art of winegrowing from their renowned vineyard manager, John Clendenen. The couple also took classes in winemaking, viticulture and marketing.

In 1999, Scott and Lynn invited acclaimed winemaker Mike Dashe to their home at Belle Canyon, where they laid out their small-lot, vineyard-focused vision for Bella Vineyards. Impressed by their passion and commitment, Dashe joined the Bella team as consulting winemaker, with Lynn and Scott working at his side to produce Bella’s premier vintage.

With a young daughter, Julia Belle (after whom the winery was named), and another on the way (Lilia Rose, the namesake for the estate vineyard), a baby pouch quickly became one of the most essential pieces of winery equipment for Scott and Lynn.

As their daughters have grown up, so has Bella Vineyards. Over the past decade, Bella has earned a reputation for creating wines of exceptional quality that balance rich, vineyard-inspired character with poise and elegance.

Building on the success of its Vineyard Series, which spotlights small-lot Zinfandel and Rhone-varietal bottlings from exceptional, single vineyards, Bella unveiled its Dry Creek Zinfandel — the flagship wine for the appellation-focused blends of the Hillside Series — in 2001. That same vintage, the Bella team crafted the first wine in its Special Varietals series: a late harvest Zinfandel.

All three series of wines share the same labor-intensive, layer-by-layer approach that is integral to achieving Bella’s signature complexity and texture elements.

Throughout the evolution of the winery’s portfolio, the Bella team has remained dedicated to enhancing quality at every stage of the process. In the vineyards, of which Scott and Lynn acquired sole ownership in 2001, they have nurtured the cherished old-vine blocks, while meticulously replanting other sections to more ideally suited varietals.

As part of these replanting efforts, the Bella team placed great emphasis on diversity and excellence through their choice of clonal material, which included such notable selections as the Alban and two Tablas Creek (A and C) clones for Grenache, the Florence (of Rockpile fame) clone of Zinfandel, as well as Bella’s own old-vine heirloom clones. In total, Bella’s estate properties offer seven different Zinfandel clones, five Syrah selections and four Grenache, with numerous combinations of vineyard block, clonal material, vine age and soil type.

In keeping with their focus on Zinfandel and Rhone grapes, Scott and Lynn sold Belle Canyon (a vineyard primarily planted to Cabernet Sauvignon) in 2002, though they still work with a special two-acre block of the vineyard, which continues to be farmed for Bella by Clendenen.

In the winery, which in 2002 was expanded to include Bella’s spectacular wine caves, Scott, Lynn and Mike were joined by Bella’s gifted full-time winemaker, Joe Healy, who oversees all day-to-day winemaker operations.

Together, this talented team has helped earn the small-production, family-operated winery a cult-like following of Zinfandel and Rhone-varietal enthusiasts, who seek out Bella’s limited wines and flock to its special events. More than 95 percent of Bella’s wines are sold direct to consumer.

As a result of this thoughtful, personal approach, Bella has achieved quiet success and a passionate word-of-mouth following, even though its wines can be difficult to find in the general market.

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Posted in Wineries of Distinction

Where White Wine Rules: Austria’s Wachau Valley

Austria1The Wachau Valley is a UNESCO world heritage site and region of natural beauty, and lies in the Danube Valley between the Austrian towns of Melk and Krems.

The varieties Gruner Veltliner and Riesling prevail on 1,350 hectares, partly on very steep-inclined terraces. The best vineyard sites produce some of the best white wine in the world, often with decades of aging potential.

In the mid-1980s, a select group of innovative producers in the Wachau created their own “grading” system, called the Vinea Wachau, through which dry white wines are divided into three categories, based on their natural alcohol content by volume.

Aromatic, light-bodied wines up to 11.5% are called “Steinfelder,” named after the tall, feather-like grass, stipa pennata. The most common category is “Fiederspiel,” with 11.5% to 12.5% alcohol by volume. The later-harvest, rich, powerful, dry wines carry the term Smaragd.

The crystalline rock soils of the Wachau produce outstanding Rieslings. During the Ice Age vegetation, cover was poor and prevailing winds carried drifting sand that settled in the east-facing crystalline hillsides. This is where great, opulent and expressive Gruner Veltliner cultivated.

Austria2The extremely diverse geological terrain, coupled with the construction of terraces in the best aspects, and the cultivation of vines on the steep inclines by the Bavarian monasteries during the Middle Ages, has resulted in a spectacular and unique Wachau landscape.

The climate also plays a vital role, and two major climatic influences, the western Atlantic and the eastern Pannonian, interlock with each other. Furthermore, each single vineyard has its own microclimate, depending of its incline, exposure to the sun, soil terrain, as well as factors such as the dry stone walls and cliff sides that absorb the sun’s heat during the day.

The effects of the hot, dry summer and the harsh winter are evened out by the influence of the Danube River, and cool evening breezes from the more northerly Waldviertel region increase the diurnal effect of day and night temperatures during the important months prior to the harvest. It is thanks to this subtle factor that the fine and precise aromatics of grapes can develop.

You can read much more about Austrian wine here: http://www.austrianwine.com

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Posted in Wine Region Profiles

Sonoma Valley: The Ideal Wine Country Destination

The birthplace of the California’s commercial wine industry in the 1850s, Sonoma Valley now covers 14,000 acres of vineyards, accented by more than 50 wineries and tasting rooms.

Within its pretty patchwork of farms and some 13,000 additional acres of open parkland, Sonoma Valley is also home to many of the county’s best recreational and dining destinations, detailed here by Sonoma County Tourism.

First, fuel up for a day of tasting with breakfast at the cult-favorite El Molino Central. The small, white stucco, teal-trimmed eatery makes its mark with organic heirloom corn kernels hand-ground on a stone wheel for tortillas and tamales, and excellent chilaquiles made even better with a side of refried Rancho Gordo heritage beans.

If you’re looking for a pampered way to get around, the Sonoma Valley Wine Trolley awaits with a chauffeured tour in a vintage 1890s San Francisco cable car. This hand-built replica of an authentic trolley operates as a private charter vehicle that can handle groups of up to 28 passengers on six-hour field trips to top wineries.

Or, venture out on your own, starting with a don’t-miss classic. Founded in 1857, Buena Vista Winery is the oldest commercial winery in California, complete with caves that are actual historical landmarks. The aging tombs have recently been renovated for modern safety measures, but remain elegantly dark and mysterious.

Deerfield Ranch is another gem, featuring more than 23,000 square feet of wine caves, cut in the shape of a wine glass. Tucked behind Redwood portal doors sit hundreds of barrels, leading to the Grand Room furnished in overstuffed couches and chairs. Comfortable seating is a good idea, considering tasting flights can include up to 20 wines.

Next, catch your breath beneath the shade trees in the eight-acre Sonoma Plaza — the largest such plaza in California — and tour the surrounding National Historic Landmark adobe buildings designed in 1834 by the Mexican Governor Mariano Vallejo.

A stop at the Sonoma Valley Museum of Art is recommended, too, to discover the largest visual arts organization in the San Francisco North Bay region.

Lunch is calling now, and The Girl & the Fig on the Square is a delight for seasonal plates like duck egg ravioli with spring mushrooms, onion crema, green garlic, spring peas and baby carrots sprinkled in smoked paprika.

You’re in a perfect location, too, for shopping at numerous boutiques. There are dozens of great salons, galleries and stores all around the Square.

That evening, stay at Sonoma Creek Inn , a darling, reasonably priced 16-room hideaway. Many of the recently updated, colorfully decorated rooms have private outdoor patios or porches, and the hosts offer complimentary tasting passes at area wineries. Plus, they’ve partnered with Goodtime Touring Company for a 20% discount off bicycle rentals.

Or, you may want to stay directly in a vineyard. The private guest cottage at Landmark Vineyards in Kenwood tucks directly against the grapevines, with one bedroom, full kitchen, a sunny sitting room, bath and laundry facilities.

For even more luxury, The Fairmont Sonoma Mission Inn & Spa is an historic, mission-style property originally opened in 1840. It evolved into a health retreat for wealthy guests in the 1920s, and is now top-of-the-line contemporary, thanks to a recent resort-wide renovation that includes the entire lobby, heritage guest rooms, meeting rooms and landscaping.

Whichever lodging you choose, dinner at the AAA Four Diamond Award Santé restaurant at the Sonoma Mission Inn is a worthy indulgence. The upscale California cuisine eatery was completely revamped last spring for a chic, modern dining room and a new Santé Terrace overlooking the fire pit and the signature geothermal mineral pool.

The chef’s tasting menu spans four courses, while the wine list features more than 500 Sonoma and Napa wines.

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Posted in Our Wine Travel Log

Albet i Noya: A Leader in Natural Winemaking

AlbetINoya1“Natural wine” has been the hot topic of the new millennium in the world of wine, and at the forefront of that movement in Spain is Albet I Noya.

While the origins of viticulture at Can Vendrell go back to the Middle Ages, it was not until 1903 that the Albet family established itself at the estate.

According to the winery’s website, Joan Albet i Rovirosa came to Can Vendrell to oversee the replanting of the estate after the phylloxera plague that gripped the wine world, including the vineyards of Spain. This process involved planting American rootstock and grafting the desired variety onto that rootstock.

After replanting the vineyards, he stayed on as manager of the 210-hectare estate, of which 90 hectares were devoted to grapevines.

It was the fourth and current generation, Josep Maria Albet i Noya, that introduced organic farming methods to the vineyards. Josep Maria took over the management of the estate after his father’s death in 1972, and at the end of the ’70s started producing his first organic wines. With the success of his first wine produced specifically for the Danish market, the entire estate was gradually moved over to organic farming.

In 1998, an ambitious project was undertaken to test seven ancient grape varieties, from the point of view of vineyard management as well as winemaking potential.

The grape varieties have been recovered from old and abandoned vineyards, including one found on the Albet i Noya estate. The search for old varieties has been so successful that the family has planned a second phase of the project with seven more varieties.

“We believe some of these varieties date from before the phylloxera plague,” a family spokesperson says. “When phylloxera hit Europe’s vineyards, the price of grapes and wine in the Penedès went sky high. As a result, a lot of the less productive varieties were abandoned in favor of higher yielding ones.

“In the Penedès, we believe there were some 30 varieties more than are currently cultivated. We now know that often these lower yielding plants produce more concentrated fruit, so these could be excellent candidates for winemaking.”

Once the seven varieties (four whites and three reds) were selected, 500 vines of each were grafted — 250 with vigorous rootstock (Richter 110) and the other half with a less vigorous strain (41-B). The idea was to pick and vinify each strain separately.

The wines are being made in a small cellar, specifically designed for micro-vinifications with 500-liter tanks, and all the technological advances of Albet i Noya’s main cellar. With feedback from other winemakers and critics, and its own internal data, it’s decided which varieties have the potential to be planted more extensively to produce wine on a commercial scale.

It’s a project that has attracted the attention of grape growers and winemakers worldwide.

AlbetINoya2Of the 145 hectares that Albet i Noya controls, 80.5 are given over exclusively to the cultivation of vines. The estate vines cover the western slopes of the Ordal mountain range known as “Costers d’Ordal,” following the curves of the terrain in stepped terraces or on slopes exposed to the midday sun.

As in all good wine-growing land, the soil in Can Vendrell has low organic content, with a variable content of clay and sand on a bed of calcareous stone — a permeable base with good moisture retention.

The white varieties grown are Chardonnay, Macabeu, Xarello, Parellada, Moscatell, Viogner, Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling, Garnatxa Blanca and four experimental varieties. The red varieties are Cabernet Sauvignon, Tempranillo, Merlot, Syrah, Garnacha, Pinot Noir and six experimental varieties.

The Can Vendrell cellar was built in 1925 and houses the principal vinification processes. The Xapallà cellar next door was finished in August 2004 and houses the temperature-controlled warehouse, the barrel hall and a new bottling plant. The new gravity-based l’Era cellar was opened in 2010 to produce the estate’s top wines separately.

As defined in Spain, organic winemaking requires estates to maintain a level of hygiene far superior to that of a conventional cellar. By working only with grapes in optimum sanitary conditions, Albet i Noya is able to work largely without using SO2. Natural yeasts from the Albet i Noya vineyards, selected from the Xarello variety, are utilized.

The fermenting vats have an inert gas system (a mix of nitrogen and CO2) to prevent potential alterations in the wine. Again, the emphasis is on prevention rather than cure; as the wine cannot be chemically corrected, the hygiene of the cellar is key to avoiding disappointments.

It all adds up to great-tasting wines made naturally — something you’d expect from Spain’s leader in natural wines and experimental vineyards.

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Posted in Wine and the Environment
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