Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Wine regions of New Jersey

Now that wines from New Jersey have caused a stir by holding their own against high-quality offerings from Burgundy and Bordeaux, it is only fitting that we seek a better understanding of the state's wine production environment.  This post attempts to meet that requirement.

Vineyards and wineries are distributed all across the state but there is a heavier concentration of establishments in the south.  According to data provided by Dan Ward of Rutgers University in his AAWE presentation on viticulture in NJ, the state has experienced rapid wine-related growth as seen by the increase in wineries (from 15 in 2000 to 58 (including pending applications) in 2012) and acreage under vine (from 551 acres in 2002 to 2000 in 2012, an annual average increase of 14%).  The soil suitability index created by the Dan Ward team shows that 1.094 million acres (18% of the state's acreage) is most suitable (on a scale ranging from moderately suitable to most suitable) for wine-grape growing.  The gap between the acreage under vine today and the acreage that is most suitable for grape growing is an indication of the potential that the state possesses.

Overall, NJ is considered a warm environment with 2500 to 2600 growing degree days in the north and 3500 to 3600 growing degree days in the south, placing the state's wine-growing areas into Regions II, III, and IV of the UC Davis Heat Summation Scale (Dan Ward, Rutgers University).

In an attempt to ensure the quality and consistency of the wines being produced in the state, NJ growers  instituted a program in 1999 called the Quality Wine Alliance (QWA) wherein wines are submitted to a review panel and, if deemed to have met or exceeded the review board requirements, they are awarded the QWA designation.

There are three designated wine regions (AVAs) in NJ: Warren Hills, The Central Delaware Valley, and the Outer Coastal Plain (OCP).

Source: http://njvines.rutgers.edu/images/statewide/statewide-overview.htm

Central Delaware AVA

This region, the smallest of the three AVAs (95,162 acres), was awarded its designation in 1988 and occupies territory on both the Pennsylvania and New Jersey sides of the Delaware River.  The northern end of the AVA is Musconetcong Mountain and the southern end is at Titusville, both in NJ, but portions of PA territory is incorporated along the way.

Based on Rutgers University's NJ Climate Zone map (see below), both the NJ portion of the Central Delaware Valley AVA and the Warren Hills AVA fall into an area designated as the North Climate Zone.  According to the climate scientists at Rutgers, this zone has a continental climate with prevailing winds from the southwest during the summer months and from the northwest during winter.  This zone is the coldest of the state's five zones with annual snowfall of 40 - 50 inches as compared to 10 - 15 inches in the far south.  Air rising over the highlands and mountains that are characteristic of this area causes clouds and precipitation while the rest of the state remains clear.  The incidence of summer thunderstorms is higher in this zone than in any other.

Source: http://climate.rutgers.edu/stateclim_v1/njclimoverview.html

This region is noted for growing French-American hybrids, native varieties, and vitis vinifera.

Warren Hills AVA

Warren Hills, as was the case for the Central Delaware Valley, gained its AVA designation in 1988.  The AVA covers 182,000 acres and is framed by the Delaware, Paulinskill, and Musconetcong Rivers as well as the Sussex County line.

The Warren Hills AVA falls into the previously described North Climate Zone.

The AVA is distributed over a number of "northeast-trending" ridges which are separated by broad valleys of similar orientation.  Elevation across the AVA ranges from a high of 1500 feet on Kittatinny Mountain to a low of 160 feet along the Delaware River.  The slopes in the AVA suggest good drainage while their orientation (south- and southeast-facing) provide good sun exposure, both highly desirable characteristics in a cooler climate grape-growing environment.

The soil is a sandy loam overlaying sedimentary (sandstone, dolomite, limestone, shale) bedrock.

The growing season is approximately 180 days long with cultivars at risk for low-temperature events such as spring and fall frosts and winter cold.  The grape varieties grown are vitis labrusca and French-American hybrids (cold hardy and "less foxy") and some vinifera on south-facing slopes in the southern reaches of the AVA.

Outer Coastal Plain AVA

The largest (2.25 million acres) and youngest (AVA designation in 2006) of the NJ AVAs encompasses most of the landmass in the south and southeastern portion of the state. Twenty wineries and commercial vineyards are currently operational in the AVA.

The OCP AVA falls fully within the Rutgers University Coastal and Pine Barren Climate Zones and has a part of its southern flank in the Southwest Zone.  The Pine Barren Zone, according to Rutgers, is characterized by rapid nighttime radiation of the heat collected by the soil during the daytime, resulting in "surprisingly low" minimum temperatures when compared to adjoining climate zones.

The Coastal Zone's climate is moderated by the Atlantic Ocean benefiting from the effects of warmer ocean water during the autumn and early winter and cooling breezes from the ocean in late spring and early summer.  The region is at risk for damaging winds, precipitation, and flooding resulting from the occasional nor'easter (between October and April), hurricane, and tropical storm (summer months).

The climate in the Southern Zone is moderated by the Delaware Bay and this results in the longest growing seasons of all the NJ climate zones.

The topography of the OCP is mostly flat with some low hills.  The soil is sandy or sandy loam with excellent drainage and moderate to low fertility.

The grapes grown in the region are similar as for the other AVAs but, in addition, there are some small plantings of Italian and Spanish varieties.

© Wine -- Mise en abyme

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Judgment of Princeton shows that NJ is about more than just Jersey Shore

When I initially saw the program for the recently concluded American Association of Wine Economists (AAWE ) Annual Meeting, I noted a segment titled Judgment of Princeton which was to be chaired by George Taber of Judgment of Paris fame.  I had not heard much about NJ wines previously and so did not feel that they had the relative pedigree of the Napa wines that went up against the French (and won) in 1976. This was, in my mind, David versus Goliath; and Goliath would win this one.  Turned out it wasn't that cut and dried.

Prior to the results being announced, Dr Orley Ashenfelter, Joseph Douglas Green Professor of Economics at Princeton University, and AAWE President, covered the ground rules for the competition. According to Dr. Ashenfelter, the French wines were all purchased. For the NJ wines, producers who wanted to participate in the competition were asked to provide one red and one white wine and these (100 wines from 50 wineries) were all gathered in Princeton. The whites were required to be Chardonnay and the reds Bordeaux varietals. The wines had to be made from grapes grown wholly in NJ and the offering winery had to be bonded in the state.

Below is Dr. Karl Storchmann’s (Clinical Professor of Economics at NYU and AAWE Vice President) recap of the tasting. This recap is used with his express permission.

At its Annual Conference in Princeton, the American Association of Wine Economists (AAWE) organized a wine tasting called “The Judgment of Princeton.”  It was modeled after the 1976 “Judgment of Paris.”  In 1976, British wine merchant Steve Spurrier organized a blind wine tasting with 9 French judges who were associated with the wine industry in various ways (wine journalists, critics, sommeliers, merchants, or winemakers).  In the first flight the judges rated 10 white wines, 6 from Napa and four from Burgundy.  In the second flight the judges rated 10 reds, 6 from Napa and four from Burgundy.  In both tastings, a wine from Napa, then a relatively unknown wine region, was declared the winner.  George Taber of TIME magazine, the only attending journalist, reported the results to the world.  The results caused considerable surprise in France and the USA and helped to put Napa wines on the global wine map.

At the Princeton tasting, now led by George Taber, 9 wine judges from France, Belgium, and the US tasted French wines against New Jersey wines.  The French wines selected were from the same producers as in 1976 including names such as Chateaus Mouton-Rothschild and Haut-Brion, priced at up to $650 per bottle.  New Jersey wines for the competition were submitted to an informal panel of judges, who then selected the wines that would compete.  These judges were not eligible to taste wines at the final competition.  The results were surprising.  Although the winner in each category was a French wine (Beaune Clos de Mouches for the whites and Chateau Haut-Brion for the reds), NJ wines barely differed in their average rank from the French wines.  Three of the top four whites were from NJ while the best NJ red was ranked third in the red category.  Prices for the NJ wines were typically one-third to one-twentieth the price of their French counterparts. 
Data Dr. Storchmann's; framework provided by author

A statistical evaluation of the tasting, conducted by Princeton Professor Richard Quandt, which was similar to an earlier analysis of the Judgment of Paris, further shows that the rank order of the wines was mostly insignificant.  That is, if the tasting were repeated, the results would most likely be different.  From a statistical viewpoint, most wines were indistinguishable.  Only the best white and the lowest ranked red were significantly different from the other wines.
There was a third similarity to the Paris tasting.  In Paris, after the identity of the wines was revealed, Odette Kahn, editor of “La Revue du Vin de France,” demanded her scorecard back.  Apparently she was not happy with having rated American wines number one and two.  At the Princeton tasting, both French Judges preferred NJ red wines over their counterparts from Bordeaux.  After the identity of the wines was disclosed, the French judges were surprised but did not complain.  In contrast, several tasters from the U.S. did not want their wine ratings to be published.

The judges for this event were:
Jean-Marie Cardebat, Professor of Economics, University of Bordeaux
Tyler Coleman, DrVino.com
John Foy, Wine Columnist, The Star Ledger
Olivier Gergaud, Professor of Economics, BEM Bordeaux Management School
Robert Hodgson, Fieldbrook Winery
Linda Murphy, Decanter
Daniel Meulders, Professor of Economics, Universite Libre de Bruxelles
Jamal Rayyis, Gilbert & Gaillard Wine Magazine
Francis Schott, Stage Left Restaurant, New Brunswick, NJ.


So what did I think about the tasting? First, I am always amused when new world wines -- riper fruit, more approachable wines -- are pitted against relatively young Bordeaux wines -- later bloomers. Second, I had not tasted any NJ wines prior to the conference but tasted a number of the wines at the conference reception and at lunch on the first full day. With the exception of an unoaked Chardonnay, I had not been too impressed. On the post-conference tour we visited two wineries and tasted the wares of three producers. On that visit I had the pleasure of speaking to the owners, and tasting the wines, of Amalthea Cellars and Heritage Estates. I was heartened by both experiences. Third, in the wrapup, George Taber spoke about holding the tasting within the parameters established by Steve Spurrier in his Paris tasting. One of the diferences in the two tastings that I noted was the number of academics on the judging panel in the Princeton tasting when compared to the Paris tasting (There is probably no significance associated with this fact but I thought I would mention it anyway.).

What will be the impact on NJ wines going forward?. The tasting no doubt gives a moral boost to the industry as current and future owners and investors see vindication of their efforts and passion. The industry will also, no doubt, seek to gain marketing leverage from the event. As a matter of fact, by the time we visited the wineries on Sunday, they already had flyers showing how the wines that they were pouring had done in the tasting. Such flyers, and other leveraging of the tasting, will undoubtedly increase the sales of NJ wines at the "cellar door" and could potentially serve to attract new market entrants. The results may also serve to bring more press- and critic-attention to Garden State wines and cause shoppers to take a second look at a NJ wine label if they encounter such in a retail establishment or restaurant.

© Wine -- Mise en abyme

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Champagne: The traditional method

Champagne is one of the world's most celebrated wines, the beverage that is, almost universally, tied to adult rite-of-passage events.  The production of Champagne is among the most complex wine production processes and the quality of the product is a testament to the art of blending as practiced by the Chefs de Cave of the prominent Champagne Houses.  This post covers the traditional method for the production of Champagne.  While this method is utilized in the construction of many of the world's sparkling wines, they lack one of the key Champagne critical success factors; grapes grown on the soil of the Champagne region.

The first "blending" decision that is made by a Champagne House is the mix of grapes that will be included in the cuvée or vintage for a specific year.  In my recent post on the terroir and viticulture of Champagne, I pointed out that the Houses only own 10% of all grapes grown in the region.  They have access, however,  to fruit from a broad range of cru vineyards in the major districts and the decision as to which variety to acquire from which cru in which district will have an impact on the style of wine that is produced by that House in that season.

The steps associated with the traditional method follow.


The starting date for picking the grapes is set by the CIVC (the organization that "coordinates the common interests of wine growers and producers in Champagne") which bases its decision on input from the ripening observation network which was initially established in 1956.  This network allows input variables from 450 control plots to be analyzed and the grapes tracked for ripeness by cru and variety.  Decisions on picking dates, quantities, and alcohol levels are a direct result of this analysis.

Over 100,000 pickers are involved in harvesting the ripe grapes and moving them from the field to one of the 1900 pressing stations that are located throughout the region.  The grapes are picked in clusters and then placed gently into waiting plastic bins.  Picking normally begins in the cool of dawn in order to preserve as much of the grapes' freshness as possible.  Chardonnay is generally picked one or two weeks later than Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier.


The grapes are weighed at the pressing center and relevant information recorded in the pressing logbook.  The grapes are then pressed as whole bunches in a process that is called fractionated winemaking.  In this process, the free-run juice is drawn-off first in three successive pressings.  The product of these pressings is called the cuvée and the middle of the three is called the coeur de  cuvée (heart of the cuvee) and is said to possess an ideal balance of purity and structure.  The maximum amount of juice that can be harvested during the cuvée pressing is 20.5 hl.

The second component of this fractionated winemaking is the heavier press called the taille.  In this stage the juice is harvested in two or three high-force presses that occur subsequent to the removal of the cuvée.  The juice collected at this point is darker due to the impurities extracted from the grape skins.  A total of 5 hl of juice can be legally harvested at this stage.

The cuvée and taille have similar levels of sugar but the cuvée has higher levels of malic and tartaric acids while the taille has higher levels of oxidants, minerals, and pigments.  A total of 25.5 hl of juice can be legally harvested from a 4000 kg marc of fruit.

Addition of Sulphites

The fruit extracted during the press flows into open tanks which are separated by cru, variety, and pressing (If the intent is to make Rosé Champagne via maceration, then the juice stays in contact with destemmed black-skinned grapes  for 24 to 72 hours until the desired color is obtained.).  Sulphites are added to the juice at between 6 and 10 g/hl in order to combat mold and bacteria and reduce the risk of flavor-killing oxidation.

First Racking (Débourbage)

Impurities are removed from the juice through a process called débourbage where the solids fall to the bottom of the tanks while the clear juice is drawn off from the top.

Alcoholic Fermentation

The resulting clear juice is transported to the vat room for alcoholic fermentation.  Today most fermentation is carried out in stainless steel tanks, a change from the prior norm of oak fermentation  (Oak seems to be making a comeback and I will cover its use in Champagne in a future post.).  The juice is chaptalized as necessary to bring it up to 11% potential alcohol after which yeast is added to initiate alcoholic fermentation. Fermentation runs between 10 and 14 days before all the sugar in solution is converted to alcohol and carbon dioxide.  The carbon dioxide produced at this phase is allowed to escape.

Malolactic fermentation is initiated if is a part of the house style.

Cold Stabilization and Clarification

The base wine is cold stabilized to prevent tartrate precipitation later in the life of the wine.  The wine is then racked off the solids and clarified further through fining and/or filtering.


The next step in the process sets Champagne apart from other sparkling wines and sets the Champagne Houses apart from Grower-Producers.  In order to produce Champagne that aligns with the House style, the Chef de Cave has to memorize and blend wines from a broad array of crus from the current vintage plus wines from the reserve as necessary.  The Grower, on the other hand, is working with a smaller geographic area and a far smaller number of vintages as the base wines for his/her blend.  In the case of a vintage Champagne, the blend can only contain wines sourced from grapes that have been harvested and fermented in the vintage year.

In-Bottle Fermentation

The blended wines are placed into Champagne bottles to which liqueur de tirage (a solution of wine, sugar, and yeast) is added and then the bottle is capped with a crown cork seal.  This addition precipitates a second fermentation, this time in the bottle.  As the bottle is capped, the carbon dioxide created during fermentation cannot escape and the bubbles formed as a result is absorbed into the liquid.  The process by which these bubbles are formed is called prise de mousse and the longer the period, the more refined the bubbles.


After the sugar has been exhausted, the yeasts die.  The breakdown of the dead yeast cells by enzymes -- autolysis -- adds complexity to the aroma, flavors, and mouthfeel of the Champagne if residency is maintained.  Champagne is legally required to remain on the lees for > 16 months if a non-vintage and > 3 years if designated as vintage.  Quality houses normally age their non-vintage wines for 3 to 4 years and their vintage wines for 7 to 8.

Remuage and Disgorgement

When the house deems that the Champagne has spent enough time on the lees, steps are taken to remove said lees from the bottle.  This is a two-step process with the first step (remuage) designed to move the sediment from the body of the bottle and into the neck and the second step (dégorgement) designed to expel the sediment from the bottle.  In the first step, the bottle is moved slowly from a  horizontal to a vertical, neck-down position, while simultaneously turning it a few degrees at a time to dislodge the sediment from the walls.  This process had historically been done by hand but is now done by a machine (gyropalette) which has resulted in a dramatic reduction in transit time and a marked increase in throughput volume.  Large format bottles are stilled "riddled" by hand.

In the disgorgement phase the bottle is passed neck-down through a freezing brine solution which causes the freezing of the sediment-containing liquid in the neck of the bottle.  Removal of the crown cork seal will cause the pressure in the bottle (6 atmospheres) to forcefully expel the frozen material from the neck.

Liqueur de Dosage

A mixture of base wine and sugar (liqueur de dosage) is added to the Champagne bottle in order to top it up and to attain the desired sweetness level, measured in g/l:

  • Zero dosage -- 0 to < 3 g/l
  • Extra brut -- 3 to < 6 g/l
  • Brut -- 6 to < 12 g/l
  • Extra dry -- 12 to 17 g/l
  • Sec -- 17 to 32 g/l
  • Demi-sec -- 32 - 50 g/l
  • Doux -- > 50 g/l
The bottle is plugged with a standard Champagne cork and a steel cage placed around the neck and over the cork to hold it in place.  The bottle is shaken vigorously and left to sit for 6 months to ensure full integration of the liqueur de dosage into the wine.


The above described method produced 322 million bottles in 2011of which 69% (222 million bottles) were produced by the Champagne Houses with the remaining 31% produced by Growers.  Fifty-six percent of the Champagne produced was consumed in France with the remainder being shipped abroad to the United Kingdom, United States, and Germany among others.  This export market is dominated by the Champagne Houses as only 13% of Grower Champagne is exported.  The Champagne House-Grower split is more evenly balanced within France with 55% of consumption being sourced from the Champagne Houses.

© Wine -- Mise en abyme

Monday, June 11, 2012

Characteristics of a "Wine Techie"

Are you a "Wine Techie?" Is there a Wine Techie in your future?  Is there a cure for it?  Well those were some of the questions that raced through my mind as I sat in on a session titled "Who are the Wine Techies" at last weekend's American Association of Wine Economists Conference, held this year at the Princeton University Campus in Princeton, NJ.  The paper, based on a study conducted by Dr. Marianne McGarry Wolf, Mitch Wolf, Leanne Brady, and Hanna Peszynski (Wolf et al.), all of California Polytechnic State University in San Luis Obispo, CA, concisely framed the study objectives and methodology, defined the identified target, and provided enough of a framework to allow us to recognize this character if we encounter him/her in a dark alley one night.

The stated purpose of the study was to (i) identify a segment of the consumer market that is interested in discussing wine via interactions on social media platforms and (ii) to tease out the characteristics of persons occupying this space to include: demographics, purchasing behavior, positioning, attitudes, and media habits.  The methodology comprised of applying a survey instrument to 382 random respondents in San Luis Obispo and then analyzing the collected data for context.  The survey was applied in San Luis Obispo because it was recently tagged by Demographics Daily (web-only publisher of demographic and metropolitan-level statistical data for all regions of the US) as the best test market of the 3,141 US counties because it is most representative (based on a number of statistical indicators) of the broader US.

After collection of the data, the first order of business was to isolate the target segment from the broader sample.  Individuals were placed into the target segment based on responding "strongly agree" or "agree" to the question: Would you join a website that facilitated discussion about wine and the wine industry?  Persons who responded "positively" to this question were classified as "Wine Techies."  All other respondents were classed as Non-Techies.   The data show that 26% of the sample can be characterized as Wine Techies.  With this breakdown, the team was then able to pursue further analyses of the data, both globally and by segment.

The data show similar Wine-Techie/Non-Techie profiles for income, gender, marital status, and education but that Wine Techies were more likely to be Millenials (49% to 38%) and less likely to have kids (27% to 18%).  Both groups had similar beverage affinities (beer, 79%; wine,100%; sparkling wine, 46%), expenditures on wine ($56.47/month), and wine purchase volumes (4.14 bottles/month), but the Wine Techie purchases were concentrated in the higher price ranges (41% in the $13.50-and-above range versus 28% for the Non-Techies) while Non-Techie purchases led in the price ranges to the south of the Wine Techie sweet spot (73% versus 49%).

When asked to evaluate a set of wine-buying criteria, both the segments and the broader sample identified Good Value for Money and Varietal that I Like as highly desirable characteristics (score in excess of 80 in table below) and Grown using Biotechnology and Having a Screwcap as being the least desirable characteristics (below 60 in the table below).  As shown in the table, there is not a single instance where the Non-Techie group scores a characteristic higher than does the Wine Techie group

In term of attitudes, analyses of the data show that Wine Techies are more likely to (i) enjoy talking about wine with friends; (ii) be foodies; (iii) use a website that provides the latest news about wine and the wine industry; (iv) consider themselves connoisseurs; and (v) get information about wine from phone apps, online magazines, LinkedIn, Yelp, and Open Table.

This, then, is a Wine Techie.  If you see yourself in this profile, then you are a Wine Techie.  And, further, you are not alone.  So thank the folks at CalPoly for helping you find the true you. And then get up out of that chair and go find/convert a fellow Techie.

© Wine -- Mise en abyme

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Champagne wine region: Terroir and viticulture

Almost like no other, the word Champagne resonates with both the drinker and non-drinker; with the casual drinker and the celebrant; and, especially, with lovers of the finest vintage cuvées of the Champagne Houses, produced, as they are, in only high-quality years.  Champagne is the foremost sparkling wine in the world and has come to be, moreover, one of the defining markers of luxury.  Sparkling wines are made the world over but only sparkling wines made from grapes grown in legally defined areas in Champagne, and constructed using the rigidly defined methodé champenoise, can be called Champagne.  I will explore the path taken to construct this temple of luxury and pleasure beginning with this post on the terroir and viticulture of its home region.

Champagne (translates to "open countryside") is located 160 kilometers east of Paris and, at 49º N latitude, its northern portions are at the northern edge of the world's wine-growing regions.

The formulation of the Champagne region was a two-step process beginning with a 1908 decree delimiting the area within which the wine could be produced and culminating with a 1927 law which specified: the limits of the wine-growing region; grape cultivation, pruning and harvesting; and the fermentation method in the bottle.

Located as far north as it is, Champagne has the lowest average temperature of any French wine-growing region and, consequently, grapes do not ripen adequately over the course of a growing season.  The northernmost outposts of the region are about 290 kilometers from the English Channel and are subject to oceanic influences.  These areas experience regular rainfall but very little variation in temperature from season to season.  As the traveler journeys south, however, continental climatic influences come into play to include: winter and spring frosts; summer sunshine coupled with violent thunderstorms; cold, wet weather in June; and hailstorms.  Mean rainfall in the region is 700 mm.

The soil in Champagne is composed of massive chalk deposits interspersed with rocky outcroppings and covered with a thin layer of topsoil.  The chalk deposits in Champagne are finer-grained and more porous than other French limestone soils -- and have extremely high concentrations of the mineral marls Belemnite (younger and found higher up on the growing slopes) and Micraster (older and located on the valley floors) -- while the rocky outcroppings are 75% limestone plus chalk and marl.  Chalk has excellent drainage as well as water-retention properties in that its micro-pores can absorb water during wet periods and slowly release it during drier periods.  In addition chalk will also reflect sunlight and heat thus aiding in the ripening of the grapes (Click here for a fuller description of Champagne's soils).

There are 34,00 hectares of vineyards in Champagne, 3.4% of France's vineyard total.  The Champagne vineyards are worked by 15,000 growers (an average of 2 ha per grower), 150 cooperatives, and 300 Champagne Houses.  Growers own 90% of the vineyards but sell most of their production to Champagne Houses.  The Champagne Houses own 10% of the vineyards but account for 69% of Champagne shipments (champagne.fr).

Champagne's vineyards extend over 5 districts (shown in the map below) and 319 villages.  The districts are Montagne de Reims, Vallée de la Marne, Côte des Blancs, Côte des Bar, and Aube.   Montagne de Reims is a forested plateau south of Reims that is known for rich, full-bodied Champagnes and the dominance of Pinot Noir, with some Chardonnay plantings in Trepail and Villers-Marmery.  Vallée de la Marne has Epernay as its core as it hugs the banks of the River Marne. This area is best known for Pinot Meunier but Pinot Noir and Chardonnay grow well here also. The soil here is comprised of a limestone topsoil overlaying layers of Belemnite and Micraster chalk.  Chardonnay is dominant in the Côte des Blancs and Pinot Noir in the Côte des Bar.  The soil in the Côte des Bar is Portlandian cap rock overlaying Kimmeridgian soil, a geologic profile that is much closer to Chablis than to the rest of Champagne.

Source: champagne.fr

The best Champagne vineyards are planted on slopes at elevations falling between 90 and 200 meters.  Such locations situate the vineyard high enough to be clear of the frost and low enough to avoid extreme weather.  This siting also places these vineyards smack dab in the middle of the Belemnite formations that are slope-located.  The vineyards are predominantly located on south-, east-, and southeast-facing slopes which average 12% but can be as high as 60% in areas.

Unlike the Burgundy wine region, the Grand/Premier Cru designation for a vineyard is not necessarily an indication of a vineyard's quality.  Rather, the designation -- Échelle des crus (ladder of growths) -- is an index of price based on the quality of grapes from classified vineyards.  Grapes from Deuxieme Cru vineyards can be assigned scores of between 80% and 89%, grapes from Premier Cru vineyards can be assigned scores between 90% and 99%, while Grand Cru grapes are assigned scores of 100%. As formulated, the score that a grape-lot is assigned within a specific season is an indication of the price that the Champagne House is willing to pay in relation to the pricing for Grand Cru grapes in the season.  The Champagne vineyards with Grand Cru designation are shown in the table below.

The allowed vineyard pruning methods are specified in the Champagne AOC requirements.  The allowed methods, along with their characteristics, are presented in the table below.

Source: Compiled from Michael Edwards, The Finest Wines of Champagne (University of CA Press) and champagnegallery.com.au

The dominant grapes used in Champagne are Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and Pinot Meunier.  After many years of testing, these grapes have been shown to best provide the needed inputs for quality Champagne: (i) a good balance of sugar and acid; (ii) rich, subtle taste, and (iii) an affinity for bubbles.  In addition to these three, Champagne can also include Petit Meslier, Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris, and Arbane.  These are rarely used and only in small quantities.

My next post on Champagne will cover viniculture and maturation.

© Wine -- Mise en abyme

Monday, June 4, 2012

To Kalon: Chronology and genealogy of a vineyard for the ages

Oakville's standing as one of the world's premier wine-growing region has, to a large extent, been based on the presence of the To Kalon Vineyard -- the California Farm Bureau's 2011 Vineyard of the Year -- within its borders.  The vineyard soil is comprised of gravelly loam on the slopes and alluvial, loam, and clay soils on the valley floor.

The Crabb Period
Oakville graduated from a water stop on the Napa Rail Line to the steps of the wine region hall of fame with Hamilton Walker Crabb's (spelt Crabbe in Julia Flynn Siler's The House of Mondavi) 1868 purchase of 240 acres of land from E. L. Sullivan for establishment of a vineyard (According to oakvillewinegrowers.com, Crabb arrived in California in 1853 looking for gold and finally settled in San Lorenzo.). Crabb built his first winery in 1872 and by 1877 was producing 50,000 gallons of wine annually from 130 planted acres in the vineyard that he, at that time, called Hermosa Vineyards.

Crabb was considered the "first true horticulturist" to be associated with Napa wines.  He grew more than 400 grape varieties on his property (he had brought in cuttings of "noble varieties" from France) and was a leader in the research efforts to develop phylloxera-resistant rootstock.  He shared his viticultural knowledge with his peers and sold them thousands of cuttings from his vineyard.  He is reputed to have been the first to plant Cabernet Sauvignon and Sauvignon Blanc in the valley.

In 1879 Crabb purchased a 119-acre parcel from Eliza Yount, bringing his vineyard size to 359 acres, the eventual size at the time of his death in 1899. By 1886, Crabb had adopted the name To Kalon (the good; the beautiful) for the vineyard.

Crabb's association with the 135.7-acre Davis parcel -- prior to his 1891 short-term purchase -- solidifies its consideration as a component of the historic To-Kalon Vineyard (To-Kalon Vineyard National Register Nomination):
  • Crabb had planted the first vines on this property (at that time owned by his in-laws-to-be) in 1873 and had been purchasing the fruit to include in his To-Kalon wines since 1879.
  • Crabb purchased the land at auction in 1891 and immediately sold it back to his daughter-in-law via a mortgage valued at one-third the price he had paid for the property just seven days earlier. In 1893 he filed a quitclaim deed for the property and Margarethe Davis (his daughter-in-law) sells the property to A. L. Williams in November of the following year.
  • Prior to the 1891 purchase, Crabb regularly referred to the parcel as his own
  • According to the nomination,, "Additional primary sources state that the historic To-Kalon Vineyard was contiguous and stretched from the highway back to the foothills."
Historical To-Kalon boundary
(Source: Graeme MacDonald)

Click here to learn about another interpretation as to the components of the historical vineyard.

The Churchill Period
To Kalon was sold to a banker named E. W. Churchill subsequent to Crabb's death.  In 1911, he set aside 20 of the vineyard's acres to be used by the US Department of Agriculture for viticultural research.  The Department had established a research station in Oakville (Oakville Station) in 1903 and placed it under the stewardship of UC Davis.  Today UC Davis manages 40 acres of land at Oakville Station where experiments aimed at improving viticultural practices are conducted on Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Petite Sirah, Syrah, and Zinfandel vines.  The grapes grown at Oakville station are sold to wineries to be used in the production of table wines.

Wine was produced at To Kalon from the time of Crabb's death until the winery burnt to the ground in 1939.  With the winery gone, the Churchill family decided to sell the estate.  The estate itself appeared to have grown in size because 335 acres were sold to Martin Stelling ( a San Francisco steel manufacturer), thus becoming a part of the 2000-acre Stelling Estate, while 89 acres were sold to Beaulieu Vineyards and became its Beaulieu Vineyard #4, source of the legendary Georges de Latour wines made by André Tchelistcheff.  Churchill had acquired 359 acres from the Crabb estate and had set 20 acres aside for the Department of Agriculture which should have brought the To Kalon acreage to 339 acres.  Sometime during the Churchill tenure, then, an additional 85 acres were added to the original vineyard to support the sale of the reported acreage to Stelling and Beaulieu Vineyards.

To-Kalon (with Stelling extensions) at the time of
Martin Stelling's death (Source:guildsomm.com)

Martin Stelling died in an automobile accident in 1950 and his estate was held in trust for his son Douglas Stelling.

Mrs. Hedwig Detert purchased 43 acres of the To-Kalon Vineyard in 1954 from Caroline Stelling after the death of her husband. Mrs Detert wanted to buy the house in the hills above the vineyard but was told that she would have to buy some land in addition for the deal to go forward (Remember that at his death, the Stelling estate had in excess of 2000 acres of land). Mrs. Hedwig agreed and named the purchase Detert Vineyards. Shortly after the purchase, Mrs Detert turned the vineyard over to her sons and they divided it up and worked it as two separate vineyards. (Today the MacDonald Vineyard is 21 acres in size -- inclusive of 3 acres purchased from Robert Mondavi for construction of the buildings currently resident on the property -- while their second cousins farm 25 acres.).

In 1962, Ivan Schoch, Stelling's former foreman, approached the Mondavi's, then the owners of Charles Krug, about buying some of the Stelling land.  The Mondavi's jumped at the chance and bought almost 500 acres of the property, inclusive of most of the original Crabb acreage, for $1.35 million.  The property was held by the Charles Krug parent company C. Mondavi and Sons.

After his expulsion from Charles Krug, Robert Mondavi set out to establish his own winery.  This initiative began with the purchase of  11.6 acres of the original Crabb estate.  Subsequent to Mondavi's purchase, discussions were begun about converting the Stelling property into a commercial development with a small winery at its core.  Robert Mondavi signed on to be the winery operator and gained a small parcel of Stelling To Kalon property on which to build his own winery. The land development project never came to fruition but, with investment assistance from Sicks Rainier Brewing Company, Robert Mondavi Winery was able to purchase an additional 230 acres of To Kalon Vineyards from the Stelling holdings.

Charles Krug board action subsequent to Robert Mondavi's ouster sought to alter his voting rights and ownership share, prompting a Mondavi suit against his former company.  Mondavi prevailed in his suit and gained most of the To Kalon properties held by C. Mondavi and Sons as part of the settlement.

When Robert Mondavi and Baron de Rothschild agreed to the joint venture that is today's Opus One, the Baron contributed the working capital while Robert Mondavi contributed the choicest fruit from To Kalon, wines, and the sales and marketing apparatus.  In 1981 Robert Mondavi sold the To Kalon Q Block (35 acres) to the joint venture.  The viticulturist replanted this plot in 1995 with low-yield, high-density, phylloxera-resistant rootstock.  In 2008 Opus One acquired another 48 acres (K Block) of the To Kalon Vineyard from the Robert Mondavi Winery.

Source: opusonewinery.com

Beckstoffer Vineyards acquired Beaulieu Vineyard #4 in 1993 to add to its stable of heritage vineyards -- vineyards blessed with history, great land, and great fruit.  Subsequent to the purchase, Beckstoffer replanted the vineyard (1994 - 1997) with multiple clones of Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc, modern trellising, and closer vine spacing.

Beckstoffer had, back in the 1970s, been an early proponent of the AVA system but his thinking has evolved and he is now an avid booster of vineyard-designated wines.  Beckstoffer requires that winemakers purchasing his fruit designate the vineyard of origin on the wine label.  Schrader Cellars followed this dictate and placed the To Kalon name on the label its 2000 Cabernet Sauvignon which was made from Beckstoffer-sourced grapes.  Robert Mondavi promptly filed suit against Schrader and Beckstoffer for infringement of copyright.  After a year of back and forth the suit was settled with Mondavi granting a perpetual, royalty-free trademark license to Beckstoffer allowing him to use the To Kalon Vineyard designation for grapes grown on his part of the original Crabb estate.  In 2007 Beckstoffer placed his To Kalon property under a land conservation easement that guarantees that it will remain agricultural land into perpetuity.

The vineyard plots associated with the "historic" To-Kalon vineyard is shown in the map below while the acreage distribution is illustrated in the pie chart following.

The Mondavi acreage is used as the source for Mondavi Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve, Oakville District Cabernet Sauvignon, Fumé Blanc Reserve Sauvignon Blanc, and I Block Fumé Blanc (The Mondavi website gives the acreage as 550 acres on one page and 450 acres on another). The Mondavi To Kalon Vineyard is planted to Sauvignon Blanc (I Block; 60-year-old vines), Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Malbec, Petite Verdot, Syrah, and Semillon.

The Oakville Station acreage fuels the Silverado Vineyards UC Davis Oakville Cabernet Sauvignon, Cornerstone Cellars Napa Valley Red Wine, Cornerstone Cellars Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, and Stepping Stone Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, among others. 

The Opus One K Block is planted to Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, and Petit Verdot while the Q Block is planted to Cabernet Sauvignon and Petit Verdot.  These grapes are used to produce Opus One.  

Beckstoffer Vineyards is planted with multiple clones of Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc and is the source for wines such as Alpha Omega (2007-2009), Bacio Divino Cellars (2004-2007), B Cellars (2004-2008), Carter Cellars (several labels, several vintages), Macauley Vineyard (several labels, several vintages), Paul Hobbs Cabernet Sauvignon (2001-2010), Provenance Vineyards (2003-2007), and Schrader Cellars (several labels, several vintages) among others.

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