Wednesday, June 29, 2011

A World of Cabernet Sauvignon: The Bordeaux Flight

I recently convened a tasting panel at the Vines Bar and Grill on Sand Lake Road in Orlando to investigate the characteristics of Cabernet Sauvignon grown under differing soil and climatic conditions.  The tasting was titled A World of Cabernet Sauvignon and its intent and framework were detailed in a previous post

The tasting was divided into four region specific flights: Bordeaux; Chile/Washington State/Bolgheri; Napa/Sonoma; and Margaret River/Coonawarra/Barossa Valley.  The Bordeaux flight is definitely a left-bank flight and largely drawn from the Medoc, the primary Cabernet Sauvignon space in the region. The characteristics of the Medoc and Graves have been detailed in previous posts.  This particular flight was comprised of the following wines: 1967 Chateau Montrose (St. Estephe); 1998 Chateau Mouton-Rothschild (Pauillac); 2003 Chateau Ducru-Beaucaillou (St. Julien); 1996 Chateau d'Issan (Margaux); and 2003 Chateau La Mission Haut-Brion.  Panelists notes are presented in this post.

Chateau Montrose is a Second Growth estate located in the commune of St. Estephe.  The uni-block, 65-hectare property lies on sloping ground in close proximity to the Gironde River.  The influence that the Gironde exerts is reflected in the fact that the estate harvests a full two weeks prior to any of the other Medoc properties. The estate is planted to 65% Cabernet Sauvignon, 25% Merlot, 8% Cab Franc, and 2% Petit Verdot.  The vines lie on gravel and black sand which, in turn, lies on a clay and marl subsoil.  The gravel in the soil originated in the Massif Central and the Pyrenees and aid in grape maturity by absorbing heat during the day and releasing it during the night.on gravel soil.  The estate produces  a Cru wine as well as a second wine named La Dame de Montrose. The estate wine is generally 65% Cabernet Sauvignon, 25% Merlot, and 10% Cabernet Franc.  Fermentation occurs in stainless steel tanks with a 30-day post-fermentation maceration for the estate wine.  The first wine is aged in 70% new French oak for 18 months while the second wine is aged in 20% new oak for 12 months.  The estate produces 19,000 and 9,000 cases, respectively, of its first and second wines.

The 1967 Montrose (Parker 82 points) was the first wine tasted.  It had notes of cedar, saddle leather, mint, must, and earth.  It was less-than-mouthfilling with dusky tannins and a hollow finish.  Ron Seigel (one of our panelists and someone who has probably drunk more old Bordeaux than anyone else in Orlando) reminded us that 1967 was a tough year in Bordeaux with lots of rain.  He doubted whether any other wine from that vintage would have held up as long as the Montrose had.
Chateau Mouton-Rothschild is a 75-hectare, First Growth vineyard located in the commune of Pauillac.  The estate is 40 meters above sea level on soil comprised of gravel over a base of sand, clay, marl, and limestone.  The vines, which average 50 years of age, is 80% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Cabernet Franc, 8% Merlot, and 2% Petit Verdot.  The estate produces two red wines (Estate and Le Petit Mouton de Mouton Rothschild) and one white (Aile d'Argent). The Estate wine undergoes natural-yeast fermentation in large wooden vats with 15-25 days maceration and 22 months in oak before bottling. Average annual production is 25,000 cases. 
The next wine tasted in this flight was the 1998 Mouton (96 points Parker).  This particular vintage was 86% Cabernet Sauvignon, 12% Merlot, and 2% Cabernet Franc.  Some pencil and graphite on the nose but this wine appeared to be in a closed phase.  All of the blocks are in place to reward a future drinker.  We placed this wine on the side to revisit later on in the tasting. 
Chateau Ducru-Beaucaillou is a 75-hectare Second Growth estate located in the commune of St. Julien on the bank of the Gironde at a point where the estuary is 4 miles wide.  The Gironde, because it moves large masses of air past the estate, moderates the temperature providing heat in the winter and coolness in the summertime.  The estate sits on an outcropping of Gunz gravel and the small white stones: (i) enhance soil drainage; (ii) reflect sunlight onto the tightly planted grapes during the daytime: (iii) store energy during the daytime and releases it during the nighttime hours; and (iv) keeps the ground from drying out during hot periods. The vines are 70% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Merlot and average 35 years of age.  In addition to the primary wine, the estate also produces a second wine (La Croix de Beaucailllou) from grapes grown on this property.  Two other wines (Chateau Lalande-Borie and Chateau Ducluzeau) are produced with grapes from other properties.

The grapes are hand-picked and sorted in the vineyards.  Batches are individually fermented (14 days) in stainless steel tanks with a 7-day maceration and twice daily pumping over.  Malolactic fermentation occurs in concrete vats and the resultant wine is placed in new French oak barrels for 18 months. 

The next wine up was the 2003 vintage from this estate.  This vintage was a blend of 80% Cabernet Sauvignon and 20% Merlot aged in 80% new oak and had been awarded a score of 96 by Parker.  The wine had a tannin index of 80, alcohol of 13.28, acidity of 3.10, and pH of 3.8, characteristics which show excellent balance, according to the winery. On the nose hints of chocolate and clove and ripe fruit.  On the palate this wine had a good feel, structure, and body with persistent soft tannins on the back end.  Because of the heat in 2003, this wine had a Napa structure but without the jamminess and alcohol. Excellent finish.  According to Russell, one of our panelists, this wine had the structure and body to be in the game for the long haul.  @thewinebarn indicated that he was not getting as much on the palate as the nose was promising but was pleased with the acidity levels. This wine was eventually selected as the wine of the flight by the panelists.

Chateau d'Issan is a Third Growth estate located in the commune of Margaux.  It is located on a 150-hectare property of which 52 hectare have been allocated to vineyards (30 hectares to production of the estate wine and a second wine Blason d'Issan; 11 hectares to the production of a third wine Chateau de Candale (Haut Medoc) and 11 hectares to the production of a third wine Moulin d'Issan (Bourdeaux Superieur)).  The soil is a combinbation of Gunzian gravel and clay-limestone. The vines are 70% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Merlot and average 35 years of age. The wines undergo a 6-day fermentation followed by 20-day maceration.  The estate wine is aged in 50% new oak for 16 months.  Annual production of the estate wine is approximately 10,000 cases.

The 1996 vintage of the estate wine (89 Parker) was tasted in this flight.  It was reminiscent of medicine and iodine and bell pepper.  On the palate it tasted of wet mold, underripe fruit, and tannin.  This was an unbalanced wine with massive drying out on the palate.  Ron said that he would have expected more from a 1996 Margaux as that commune had great wines in that year.
Chateau La Mission Haut-Brion is located in the Pessac-Leognan commune of the Graves sub-region of Bordeaux. The estate produces three wines: Chateau La Mission Haut-Brion (the estate wine); La Chapelle de La Mission Haut-Brion (the second wine); and Chateau La Mission Haut-Brion Blanc. Vines for the red wines are grown on 26 hectares of gravelly soil layered on a sandy clay subsoil. The vineyard is planted to 43% Merlot, 47% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 10% Cabernet Franc. The grapes are hand-picked at harvesting and sorted in the fields. The grapes for the estate wine are sourced from vines that average 27 years of age and the fermented juice is aged betwen 18 and 22 months in 80% new oak. The second wine is made from grapes picked from vines up to 7 years old as well as lower-quality wine from older vines

The final wine tasted in this flight was the 2003 La Mission Haut-Brion. For this vintage, the chateau began harvesting fruit on August 13th, the earliest start date ever. The Merlot harvest began on the 18th of August (the Merlot suffered, according to Jean-Philippe Delmas, Estate Manager) and the Cabernet Sauvignon on September 10th. The final composition of the blend was 52% Cabernet Sauvignon, 39% Merlot, and 9% Cabernet Franc.

This wine was previously tasted at the Masters of Wine La Mission Haut-Brion tasting in London.  At that time I had characterized the wine as having good structure and a finish of intermediate length.  The panel picked up pencil shavings and graphite on the nose but all in all felt that the nose was not saying much.  Ron said that La Mission for him meant scorched earth, tobacco, and road tar and he was not picking up any of that This wine had more of a Napa feel along with little acid and a middling finish.  The sentiment was that while the wine was disjointed at this time, it would mature into a more pleasing wine with patience.

The first flight was a wonderful platform from which to launch the remainder of the tasting.  Everyone was in excellent spirits, wine was flowing, and the give and take around the table was wondrous to behold.  At that time I did not want to be elsewhere.  One of the things to notice coming out of this tasting is that the Bordeaux drinkers were referring to the 2003 Bordeaux vintage as producing Napa-structured wines, thus revealing a little of the thought process that they have built up over time.

In my next post I will cover the AVAs of Columbia Valley and Walla Walla and then follow that up with the tasting of the second flight.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

A World Of Cabernet Sauvignon Tasting: The Wines

In a recent post I characterized the qualities of Cabernet Sauvignon and its place in the varietal firmament. Wines made from Cabernet Sauvignon grapes exhibit different characteristics in differing soil and climatic conditions. For example, cool-climate Cabernet Sauvignon wines tend to show notes of green capsicum and cedarwood while the same varietal in warmer temperatures tends to express blackberry and black olive notes. In an effort to explore and investigate this phenomenon, I pulled together a tasting that I labeled A World of Cabernet. This tasting was held at Vines on Sand Lake Road in Orlando on June 25th, 2011.

The tasting panel for this investigation included some of the more notable Orlando-area wine collectors and they contributed all of the wines for the event. The requirements for a wine to be included in the tasting regime were as follows: (i) originate in one of the designated wine regions; (ii) have a minimum of 75% Cabernet Sauvignon in the finished product; and (iii) be a minimum of five years old.

For the purpose of this tasting the wines were divided into regional flights: Bordeaux; Washington State/Chile/Bolgheri; Napa/Sonoma; and Australia.

In upcoming posts I will discuss the regions, estates, and tasting notes with special emphasis on regional differences.

Monday, June 20, 2011

1982 Bordeaux Tasting at the Bull and Bear

The now-legendary 1982 vintage is considered a marker in the history of Bordeaux wines due to (i) exceptional wines across the region and (ii) the emergence of Robert Parker as a force to be reckoned with in the wine-prognostication arena.  Propelled by the siren song of the vintage, a group of us got together at the Bull and Bear Restaurant at the Waldorf Astoria to taste a representative sample of wines from this noted vintage.  The results of that tasting are reported herein.

The touchstones of the vintage were (i) a successful and populous flowering in June and (ii) heat throughout the summer capped by a September heatwave.  The large crop of super-ripe that was harvested produced wines which were, according to the NY Times, "rich, supple, tremendously fruity, full-bodied, and already drinkable."

Skeptics took the position that the wines from the 1982 vintage lacked balance and were destined for short shelf lives.  Robert Parker stood alone in describing this as one of the all-time great vintages; and history has borne him out.  In a 2000 retrospective tasting of 61 of the  wines from 1982 Parker assigned 100-point scores to Lafite, Latour, Mouton Rothschild, Pichon Lalande, Leoville Las Cases, and Lafleur.

The tasting was divided into five red flights, and a sixth flight which had one white wine (Chateau Laville Haut-Brion Blanc) and a Sauternes (Chateau d'Yquem).  Each of the red flights was associated with a Bordeaux commune: Pomerol (I), St. Julien (II), St. Estephe (III), Pauillac (IV), and Pessac-Leognan (V).  Chateau La Lagune does not fall into any of the foregoing communes so it was arbitrarily assigned to Flight IV.

Flight I: Chateau Certan de May, Chateau L'Evangile, and Chateau Latour à Pomerol.

The first wine tasted was the Certan de May, a 98 point wine as rated by Parker.  A slight hint of green on the nose accompanying aromas of butternut, smoky vanillin, sweet herbs, red fruits and cedar.  Slight oiliness on the nose.  On the palate a round mouthfeel, tobacco, vegetality, with medium acid and a slight drying characteristic.

The L'Evangile was rated 96 points by Parker.  Aromas of dried rose petals, potpourri, acorn-fed meat, prosciutto, sugar cane, and cedar box.  On the palate reinforcement of aromas along with a chocolate creaminess and a long finish.  This wine was judged to be the wine of the flight by participants.

The Latour à Pomerol was rated 94 points by Parker in 2009.  On the nose carnation, smoke, cigar box. More of a Medoc than a Pomerol feel on the palate. Short, hollow finish.  Definitely the least complex of the wines in this flight.

Flight II: Leoville Barton, Gloria, and Leoville Las Cases

The Leoville Barton was rated 90 points by Parker.  Soil, wet stones, mint and vanilla on the nose.  Rich, almost creamy on the palate.  One dimensional. Adynamic finish.  Turned out to be the least complex of the wines in the flight.

Chateau Gloria was rated 91 points by Parker.  On the nose bacon fat, roasted nuts, black olives.  On the palate mocha, late-arriving coffee.  Elegant. Great balance and acidity.

The Leoville Las Cases (95 Parker) had notes of carmelized chocolate pudding, fresh pine, spice box vanilla, and sweet tobacco.  This wine was concentrated, a "big boy." On the palate, stiff tannins with a rich, lush, long finish.  This wine is still in its youthful phase.  This was the wine of the flight.

Flight III: Chateau Montrose,  Chateau Cos d'Estournel, and Chateau Calon-Segur

The Montrose (96 Wine Spectator) exhibited traces of volatile acidity.  Vanilla, rust, and metal on the nose.  Leather and cassis on the palate.  Good balance and long finish.

The Cos d'Estournel (Parker 96) exhibited notes of black fruit.  This wine was rich and concentrated with black olives showing through on the palate.  Balanced with acidity and fruit retention. Wine of the flight.

The Calon-Segur (92 points Parker) had almost pungent blood and iron characteristics along with soy sauce, worcestershire sauce, cedar, and some vegetality.  Blood and minerality on the palate.  Medium finish.

Flight IV: Chateau La Lagune, Chateau Pichon Baron, and Chateau Pichon Lalande

The La Lagune (90 points Parker) showed red and black fruit, cassis, leather, and cedar on the nose. Fruit comes through on the palate in addition to tobacco and earth.  Round mouthfeel and medium finish.

The Pichon Baron (92 points Parker) had green notes, mushrooms and vanilla on the nose.  Good round mouthfeel. Good balance. Palate-coating with a great finish.

The primary characteristics of the Pichon Lalande (100 points Parker) were roasted pine nuts and coffee.  Lush creaminess. Well balanced. Very long finish. Wine of the flight and, in a close tussle with the L'Evangile, wine of the night.

Flight V: Chateau Haut-Brion and Chateau La Mission Haut-Brion

The Haut-Brion (94 points Parker) was, disappointingly, maderized.

The 1982 La Mission Haut-Brion had been awarded 96 points by Robert Parker.  In our tasting we detected notes of mushrooms, earth, tobacco, molasses, and dried stewed fruits.  Layered, complex, with a long finish.

White and Sauternes Flight: Chateau Laville Haut-Brion and Chateau d'Yquem

The Laville Haut-Brion had notes of crushed pineapple, ocean air, boat exhaust, linseed oil and a certain waxiness.  On the palate freshness, gasoline, smoked lychees, stony minerality, volcanic ash.  Dry, balanced finish.  For us, a vino de meditazione.

The d'Yquem (92 points Parker) showed talcum powder, botrytis, creme brulee, cinnamon, and sweet white flowers along with hazelnut, almonds, coconut and lemon.  On the palate nutty and rich. Dry, long finish.

All in all it was a wonderful evening and as we went into the post-tasting dinner, we did so with a sense of accomplishment, a sense of having "crossed over to the promised land" and surviving to tell the tale.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Towards a Unitary Wine Drinking Architecture

With regional/commune wine-production centers, and local foods that are perfectly matched to these wines, the Mediterranean countries of France, Italy, and Spain have long stood as the epitomization of national wine culture.  In her book French Wine Drinking Culture ..., Marion Demoisser details a number of changes in French wine production and consumption which have had material, deleterious effects on the perceived "strong national wine drinking culture."  These forces are not unique to France, as both Spain and Italy are experiencing generational change in the choice and place of drinks.  I posit that these tectonic changes are a forcing function for a decline in the national wine drinking culture.

According to Demoisser, French wine consumption stood at 170 liters per capita on the eve of WWII but had fallen to 54.8 liters by 2007 (it was 45.23 liters per capita at the end of 2009, the last year for which data are available), an almost 300% decline in a period wherein the population increased by 48%.  This decline is attributable to a number of factors: (i) In 1980, 50.7% of the population drank wine on a daily basis compared to only 20.7% in 2005; (ii) wine has been replaced by water and other beverages in many instances as the liquid accompaniment to meals; (iii) a government clampdown on drinking and driving; (iv) an increased focus on healthy living, especially among the younger generation; and (v) an increase in beer consumption among young people.

Along with the reduction in consumption, France has seen changes in the profile of wine drinkers as well as in the types of wine being consumed.  Prior to 1970, the bulk of the wine being consumed was Vin de Pays and it was being drunk primarily by the urban and working poor.  In recent years AOC wines have been consumed in greater volume while the "plonk" wines have been on a steady downward slide.  AOC wine production went from 15,535 hectoliters in 1994-1995 to 17,536 hectoliters in 2005-2006.

In contrast to the negative forces highlighted above, the country has experienced, and,in some cases, continue to experience, a number of "new architecture" forces.  According to Demoisser, France has seen, among others: (i) a post WWII economic transformation and the emergence of a new middle class; (ii) a flight from villages to towns; (iii) transformation of the French diet and the rise of the "chef king"; (iv) acceptance of the bourgeois model of wine drinking as "moderate, ritualized, and status-oriented" as opposed to the prior working-class model; (v) the rise of wine as a focus of consumption rather than an accompaniment to a meal; (vi) the birth of wine tourism; and (vii) a proliferation of clubs, activities and discourses devoted to wine.

These opposing forces have seen the demise of wine as a staple of the French diet and "its rise as a cultural and aesthetic object" and the culture transitioning from a perception of ubiquitous wine knowledge to a three-tiered society with (i) 38% of the population (2005 figures) self-identifying as non-wine-drinkers; (ii) a middle grouping --- which she characterizes as the "wandering drinker" -- which has limited knowledge and only drinks occasionally; and (iii) the wine lover.  A large number of activities, media, and locales have sprung up to meet the needs of the wine lover resulting in a situation where, in France, "... there have never been so many wine lovers with such a prolific knowledge of wine."

I posit that the architecture described by Demoisser as the new French reality already exists in the US.  As pointed out in my most recent post, 90% of the wine in the US is drunk by 20% of the population and we have about 44 million "wandering drinkers."  There are a wide range of wine-related activities available for the initiated in both wine- and non-wine- producing areas and the opportunities for dialogue with like-minded individuals are endless.  The ease of interaction and communication with self-professed and acclaimed experts, flying winemakers, and oenologists allows the wine lover to readily expand his/her base of knowledge and create a wider chasm between that group and the wandering drinker.

I posit that this architecture will be the dominant wine drinking architecture for the foreseeable future given the technologies available today and the ease of transit between nations.  The architecture will drive dialogue with like-minded people wherever they are and will increase the challenge of wine marketers as they strive to bring new wine drinkers aboard.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Further Thoughts on an "American Wine Culture"

Recently, there have been a number of articles (Orlin, Wine: The View from Orlando, Inside IWM, Zester, Fermentation: The Wine Blog)  debating the presence or absence of a wine culture in the US.  In my article I took the position that America does not have a wine culture.  I will hold to that and provide additional reasons for my position.  I propose that while the US does not have a wine culture, there is a wine drinking culture within its borders.  And third, the discussion about national wine cultures obscures the really interesting development: the rise of a world wine drinking culture and the role of the US in the development of same.

First, some definitional issues.  The articles mentioned above speak of a wine culture but if you look at the Zester article, it is focused on wine growers.  The intent in my prior article was to focus on the wine consumer.  With this duality of possibilities in mind, I propose that national wine culture = national wine drinking culture + national wine growing culture and that national wine growing culture = region1 wine growing culture + region2 wine growing culture ...  The implication is that both a wine growing and wine drinking tradition is necessary in order to have a wine culture.  Theoretically, a country/region can have a wine drinking or wine growing culture without having a wine culture.  And yes, I do believe that hundreds of years of experimenting with grapes and soil have led to knowledge of the best locales for specific varietals.

Now back to my thoughts on whether or not America has a wine culture.  One of the factors in favor of an American wine culture cited by Orlin in her Huffington Post article was the fact that we had surpassed France (one of the countries known to have a wine culture) in our consumption of wine.  Gross consumption does not tell us much as the US has approximately five times the population of France.  A more meaningful measure of intensity is per capita consumption and, in 2009, France drank 45.23 liters per capita while the comparative number for the US was 8.96 liters (Source: Trade Data and Analysis).  In the consumption table, we are bracketed by Faroe Islands (9.1 liters) and US Virgin Islands (8.69 liters).

The lack of a broad base of wine drinkers is further borne out by comments made by Robert Nicholson of International Wine Associates in a KQED forum on the state of the Napa wine industry. Robert noted that the US market had a strong core of wine drinkers with 20% of the population consuming 90% of the wine sold.  The remaining 10% is drunk by 44 million marginal drinkers, which places a significant portion of the drinking-age population into the non-wine-drinking category.

Finally, the acknowledged wine cultures consume a significant portion of their wine in association with meals.  We do have a fast food culture and wine consumption and the drive-up window do not go hand in hand.  So no, I do not think that we have a wine culture or a wine drinking culture.

But  I do think that there is a wine drinking culture within the US.  In his 1993 paper (Religion and Ritual in American Wine Culture, Journal of American Culture, pp. 39-45), Robert C. Fuller stated "The consumption and appreciation of wine among Americans has gradually given rise to a distinctively American wine culture.  By 'culture" we mean the words, ritualized behaviors, and ceremonies that express -- and shape -- a people's understanding of themselves and the world they live in."  I accept and adopt Mr. Fuller's premise with two narrowing qualifiers: (i) wine culture here is actually what I have called wine drinking culture and (ii) this culture exists within the community of wine drinkers rather than in the broader America.  Mr Fuller goes on to identify some aspects of the culture to include: wine festivals in non-wine-growing areas; lectures, seminars, and structured blind tastings at those seminars; small tasting groups in cities and neighborhoods; zealous sharing of knowledge with anyone in earshot; a language of wine; and the pilgrimage to Napa valley.

So does the US have a wine culture? One that is as expansive as the beer culture, for example?  The answer is a very decided no.  But there is definitely a culture among lovers of the vine.  In my next post I will examine how this wine drinking culture stacks up against the French model.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

EU Labeling Changes and Their Implications: UC Davis EU Wine Law Conference

In setting the context for this discussion (UC Davis EU Wine Labeling Law Conference), Mr. Alessandro Baudino, Attorney and Partner in the firm Franco Baudino e Associati, pointed out that the EU was the world's leading exporter and importer of wine with 45% of its wine growing area, 65% of its production, 57% of its consumption, and 70% of its exports.  The current standing, however, reflects a point on a downward-tilting slope.  Europe experienced increasing production in the face of flat consumption from the 1960s to the mid-90s.  Since 1996, wine consumption has been declining and, while exports have been increasing, imports have been increasing at a faster rate.

According to Mr. Baudino, the Common Market Organization (CMO) has taken a number of steps to reduce the pressure on wine producers in member states.  In 1990 it implemented a financial aid policy for restructuring vineyards but this reform failed to meet its goals of reducing wine surpluses, aligning  demand and supply, and improving sectoral competitiveness.  The most recent initiative is the 2009 reform which targets improved wine producer competitiveness as well as perception of Community wine quality and preservation of Community wine-making traditions. Critical to the success of this initiative, according to Mr. Baudino, are rules on: oenological practices,\;  protected designation of origin (PDO) and geographical indicators (GI); and presentation and labeling of wine products.

The PDO/GI and labeling rules have garnered the most interest in the US, the former because it is fundamentally opposite to the way the wine industry is structured and regulated in the US -- as well as its potential for "big-stick" standards-setting worldwide -- and the latter because of its implications for companies selling in to that market.

The wine quality schemas in the EU member states can basically be collapsed into two categories: table wine and quality wine (with the Germans having some additional quality levels based on sweetness).  According to Article 1 of the Italian Act on PDOs, "A Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) is the name of a geographic area used to define a specific quality wine.  All the characteristics of the wine are due to natural ambient and human factors ...'terroir' " (Dr. Carlo Alberto Panont, member wine commission, Italian Ministry of Agriculture).  A PDO/GI designation is granted by the Community based on an application by a qualified organization through the Ministry of Agriculture of a member state.

The labeling laws are aimed at (Baudino): strengthening the reputation of EU quality wines; providing consumer-relevant information; coordinating the wine laws of member states; and guaranteeing fair competition in the wine market.  Implementation of the new rules began on August 1, 2009 but, according to Paolo Fabris, Attorney and Professor of Commercial Law at Turin University, wines currently on the market, or wines labeled prior to December 31, 2010, can be sold until stocks are exhausted.

The wine label has both mandatory and optional elements and can be written in any of the official EU languages.  The mandatory elements are: category designation (wine, liquer, etc.); the terms Protected Designation of Origin, or PDO, or Protected Geographic Indication, or PGI; the name of the PDO (St. Estephe, for example); country of production; bottler or producer; batch number; and allergens, if any.  The optional elements include vintage, varietals, and production method.

According to Baudino, sanctions for non-compliance are built into the code and include civil as well as criminal penalties for individuals or corporations assessed as liable.  Member states are responsible for developing compliance processess and monitoring for adherence to the laws.

Mr. Michael Newman, an attorney at the San Francisco firm Holland and Knight, addressed the implications of the wine laws for US producers selling in the EU.  Mr. Knight characterized the new EU laws as "a moving target" and "a challenge for Americans when they export."  According to Mr. Newman, the EU and US signed a wine trade agreement in 2006 which: (i) established predictable conditions for bilateral wine trade; (ii) replaced short-term EU derogations; and (iii) mandated that the US limit the use of 16 semi-generic names to wines originally in the EU.  The agreement included a "grandfather" clause that protected existing wines.  As he understands it, some of the names which could previously be used if allowed by the Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) -- names such as Clos, as in Clos du Val, and Chateau, as in Chateau St. Michel -- would once again be prohibited on a label imported into the EU.  The protocol allowed US companies to use these names until March 2009, after which two-year extensions would be granted upon application for same.  In September 2008 the EU gave notice that they would not extend authorization beyond 2009; meaning that the ability to use those names will expire once existing stock is exhausted.  The US wine industry has applied to the EU to continue to use 10 of the names but the application has not been acted on to this date.

Dr. Felix Bloch, Administrator in the Directorate-General for Agriculture and Rural Development of the European Commission, and Desk Officer for bilateral trade relations with the US, appeared to disagree with Mr. Newman's characterization based on the length and intensity (quiet) of his comments at the conclusion of the presentation.  Unfortunately I was sitting a little ways behind him and was unable to capture those comments.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Review of the UC Davis School of Law EU Wine Labeling Laws Conference

The European Union (EU) announced changes to its wine labeling laws in 2007 and began implementation on August 1, 2009.  The objectives of the new laws are : "To make EU wine producers even more competitive by enhancing the reputation of European wines and regaining market share both in the EU and outside; to make the market-management rules simpler, clearer, and more effective; to achieve a better balance between supply and demand; and to preserve the best traditions of European wine growing and boosting its social and environmental role in rural areas" (EU Regulations,, August 21, 2009).  In that the EU is one of the world's largest wine consuming blocs, implementation of these laws will not only affect consumers and producers within its borders; it will also have implications for non-EU producers selling into the region.

It was within this context that the University of California, Davis (UC Davis) School of Law convened a conference of government regulators, lawyers, and academics from the EU and US to explore opportunities for congruency in wine labeling laws.  The conference, titled Towards a Common Standard: New European Union Label Laws and Geographic Indicators of Origin, was held at the School of Law on the UC Davis campus from June 2-4.

Conference registration, and an accompanying lunch, was scheduled for the period immediately preceding the start of the conference. Both activities were temporarily halted by an evacuation of the building prompted by an ear-splitting fire alarm. After fire officials gave the all-clear, registration and lunch continued as scheduled.

The conference design provided ample opportunities for identification and debate of the issues facing the participants but also provided social settings wherein participants could "break bread" after the rigor of the debates.

The conference presentations were organized into four moderated sessions: EU Labeling Changes, Export Competitiveness, Governments and Control of Fraud, and Looking to the Future: Making Wine Laws Compatible.  The list of presenters was fairly balanced, with eight from Europe and six from the US.  Within the European team there was some imbalance in that five of the presenters were from Italy.  Further, given the importance of France to the world of wine, I was surprised that there were no French participants on the European team.

The conference kicked off with welcoming statements by Kevin Johnson, Dean of the UC Davis School of Law and Beth Greenwood, Associate Dean, Center for International Education, UC Davis Extension and Executive Director, International Programs, UC Davis School of Law.

Over the course of the following one and one-half days, attendees were treated to substantive presentations and spirited debate on issues of significant relevance but different answers depending on perspective.  The EU participants, faced with precipitous declines in internal wine consumption and intense competition from new world wines, see implementation of these laws as integral to retention of tradition and improving competitiveness of an industry under attack.  The Americans view the EU initiative as anti-competitive, forcing an EU approach beyond its borders, and as unhelpful vis a vis attempts to align international trade regimes.  In the final session, Dr. Felix Bloch of the EU stated that while the EU and US remain far apart in their positions regarding wine laws compatibility, they have moved closer and that he was looking to the future with optimism.

Conference organizers provided attendees with two educational opportunities: (i) a tour of the Department of Viticulture and Enology Sustainable Winery on the UC Davis grounds;

and (ii) travel to Napa for a tour of the Opus One vineyards and winery.

Both of these tours were optional but with an additional charge for the Opus One tour.  Both events were well attended.

All in all the UC Davis School of Law should be very pleased with both the construct and conduct of this conference.  It was the first time that the school had convened a conference on this topic and, in my opinion, it was close to a virtuoso performance.  James Lapsley of the UC Davis Department of Viticulture and Enology, and Whitney Denning had, respectively, technical and administrative responsibility for the event and both did an excellent job.  James, in addition to coordinating the speakers, moderated two sessions and accompanied us on all tours and ensured completeness of presentation by "tour guides" by prompting with pointed questions. Whitney was ever present with a broad smile and helpful suggestions and her on-site coordination and partner management was flawless.  I was a little mystified by a change in the conference pricing schema (a la carte versus fixed price) without an attendant explanation and the purpose of Session 2 within the framework of the broader program but these were minor blips in an otherwise well-executed program.

I will cover the conference material, positions, and debates in future posts.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Wine Drinking Culture in France: Book Review

Wine Drinking Culture in France: A National Myth or a Modern Passion? (Cardiff: University of Wales) is a dense, scholarly effort which uses French wine drinking culture as a case study of the construction and evolution of a national wine drinking culture.  This book is not for the faint of heart.  Its 221 pages could have easily been stretched to 600 with no dimunition in its meanings and impact (and it would have broadened its audience signiicantly).  It is an anthropological study (an ethnography for the initiated) which utilizes disciplines as diverse as sociology, political science, philosophy, law, and consumer market research to lay out a framework and context for a French wine drinking culture and its evolution through the years.

The author, Marion Demossier, is French but lives in England and this gives her a wonderful perspective: a local's access to the sources combined with the ability to observe the collected data from outside the bubble.  Marion is Senior Lecturer in French and European Studies at the University of Bath.  She holds a PhD in Social Anthropology from EHESS (School for Advanced Studies in Social Sciences) in Paris and has written extensively on wine, wine consumption, and wine drinking culture.  This book is the culmination of 15 years of fieldwork to include converstaions with wine growers, oenologists, consumers, wine lovers, and others in the field.

As for most ethnographies, the author utilizes interviews with experts in the specific field to gain insight into the subject at hand and some of that dialoge is presented in later chapters in the book.  But it is the theoretical foundation contained in the first five chapters that I find most interesting and that, I think, form a solid basis for the author's conclusions.

According to the author, the concept of a French wine drinking culture developed as (i) a result of regulation from the late 19th century onward culminating in the concepts of AOC and terroir; (ii) development of French oenological and gastronomic cultures; and (iii) the success of the efforts of the wine elites and the state in promulgating the "myth of French wine as an element of national heritage and patrimony."  This "wine drinking culture," with all its associated myths, symbols, and practices, has been under attack since the 1970s, according to the author.  During this recent period, "France has experienced the emergence of a wine drinking culture which symbolizes at the same time the decline of this commodity as part of of the staple diet of much of the nation and its rise as a cultural and aesthetic object."  With these momentous, bubble-bursting (mine anyway) words, the author launches into an extended discourse of the forces of change and the look and feel of the emerging picture.  Fascinating.

This is an excellent book. If you are a wine culture nerd, read this book.  If not, wait for the movie.