Tuesday, September 7, 2021

Cultivating exciting biodynamic wines at Troon Vineyard

Troon Vineyard in Oregon's Applegate Valley has been a pioneer in biodynamic winemaking, and the winery's commitment to regenerative agriculture is evident from the moment you set foot on the expansive property. 

There is much science behind the process, but it feels like there's a little magic here, too. And I'm not talking about cow horns, although they certainly play a role. It's more the smile on the faces of the winemakers and vineyard managers, the happy wag of the tails of the big dogs, the way even the sun seems to shine a little brighter on the flourishing vines. Quite simply, Troon is a happy place. And the combination of biodynamics, talented winemakers and viticulturists, and happy magic combines to make some pretty exciting wines.   

I had the opportunity to visit Troon during the recent Wine Media Conference in August. As part of that group, I met a number of the people who are creating these low-intervention wines. One of the folks embodying the cheerful spirit of Troon is Craig Camp, general manager. Craig originally convinced the winery's owners to take this biodynamic journey, and he has witnessed the positive difference in the grapevines since they have. 

One of the first things that strikes you when you visit Troon, is the idea that this place is a farm, not just a vineyard. There are vegetable and flower gardens along with grapevines. Walking further, you see the large fenced area for sheep and the energetic dogs who guard them -- and who know when Craig is about to give them a treat. 

And the land is tended with respect. Biodynamic farming, an agricultural approach developed by Rudolph Steiner in the early 20th century, seeks to restore balance to nature. How do modern viticulturists apply these techniques? Creating biodiversity in the farm is one approach as is turning to natural solutions to solve vineyard challenges.   

But what about the wines? In short, they are exciting and delicious. There's a playful approach and new ideas are welcomed. Winemaker Nate Wall waxed enthusiastically about his new amphorae, which he told us give wines a different texture than those stored in stainless steel or oak.  

Winemaking styles can also be playful; Troon is making a Piquette, the trending, upcycled beverage that is low alcohol, slightly fizzy, and fun.  There's also a Pet Nat - the category that is slightly carbonated as the wine is bottled while still fermenting. The Troon version is Pet tanNat - a fun play on words, as the grape used is Tannat. 

Beyond these playful offerings, there are still wines that are wonderful expressions of the varietal grapes they contain, including Vermentino and Syrah from a range of vineyard sites. Blending wine is also important, and Troon is making white, red, and rose blends, too.  I've tasted Troon wines numerous times over the past years, and the quality is always very high. 

On the occasion of our visit, we were treated to a wide range of wines served with a fantastic, wood-fired meal prepared by the authors of Fire + Wine, Mary Cresslar and Sean Martin, who also own a catering busines, Ember and Vine. The smokey, delicious fare - all prepared outdoors - was a delicious match for the vivacious wines. 

Visitors to southern Oregon can stop by Troon's tasting room to sample and buy the wines. The winery also has a VRBO onsite for those wishing to relax among the vines.  

Of all the wineries I visited during my recent trip to Southern Oregon, Troon holds a special place for me. The combination of care of the land, innovative winemaking, and a happy spirit make this a wine destination to remember. 




Sunday, September 5, 2021

Albino Armani's quest for quality Pinot Grigio in Italy's Triveneto

As the 16th generation winemaker of his family, Albino Armani is passionate about the mountain-rimmed vineyards where he nurtures one of Italy's most important export wines - Pinot Grigio. 

His family owns 750 acres of vineyards in the Triveneto, comprised of Veneto, Trentino-Alto Adige, and Friuli-Venezia Giulia. 

I recently attended a virtual tasting hosted by Albino where his passion for the wines of these regions was evident. In fact, Albino has served as the president of the Consorzio DOC delle Venezie. In that role, he was committed to winemakers elevating the overall quality of Pinot Grigio in the area, and he convinced 10,000 grape growers to reduce their yields by 40 percent! These efforts to improve quality were instrumental in the former area labeled by the government as IGT now qualifiying for the more prestigiuos DOC designation. As such, all the DOC delle Venezie wines are traceable and blind-tasted to assure quality. 

As we were introduced to the region, Albino told us that he feels the best Pinot Grigio is from the mountains. Pinot Grigio forms tight clusters that can be susceptible to mold and disease, so the breezy, elevated vineyard sites where his wine grapes grow are beneficial to this variety. 

In this tasting, we explored distinct Pinot Grigios from different parts of the region. What was so suprising is the differences among them! Albino says that the three regions in the DOC are like a mosaic, and oenologists can have fun seeing how grapes from the different soils express their terroir. 

Our tasting included:

Albino Armani Pinot Grigio delle Venezie - Lime, celery, and thyme on the nose. A fresh wine with lemon and herbs on the palate, minerality and good acidity. 

Albino Armani Pinot Grigio Friuli - Nose of chamomile, minerality, with white peach and apple and minerality on palate. The wine has nice texture and body. Albino told us these vines have to fight through rocks to get through to soil, which is only 7 percent of the earth in this area. 

Albino Armani Pinot Grigio Corvara, Valdadige - This single vineyard wine had an intense nose with camilla mixed with caramel. On the palate there was white peach, pear, minerality. The wine had good structure, minerality, and ample acidity. Albino told us that limestone rock walls above the vineyards reflect sunlight onto the grapes, increasing the ripeness. 

Albino Armani Pinot Grigio Colle Ara, Terradeiforti - This wine has a slight copper tint, reflecting that the grapes are macerated on their skins briefly (8-24 hours). The nose had candied ginger. The palate had pear and more ginger, and the wine had a prickling acidity and a long finish. 

One important note is that Albino is committed to growing grapes sustainably. One of the most important factors in enabling sustainable winemaking, according to Albino, is growing the right variety in the right place. For Pinot Grigio, he says that means having "wind, altitude." In fact, Pinot Grigio is a variety that needs some of the coolest temperatures among wine grapes. 

All the wines in this tasting ranged in price in the U.S. from between approximately $10 - $20 -- a remarkable value for the quality delivered. They are available at Total Wine among other retailers. 

The U.S. is the number one export market for Pinot Grigio, and it is our third most popular grape. Wine lovers would be advised to reach for one of the Albino Armani bottles to taste expressive, high quality Pinot Grigios that are a true value. 

Monday, August 16, 2021

How Can Wine Bloggers Improve Engagement - Wine Media Conference 2021


How can wine bloggers improve engagement? 

Wine bloggers sometimes struggle to see engagement with the posts they've worked hard to create. Yet there are some simple tweaks they can make in their blogging and social posting that can help. At the 2021 Wine Media Conference in Eugene, Oregon, I was honored to be selected to present a lightning talk  that leveraged my career in digital marketing and my 15 years as a wine blogger. The presentation  was titled “How to Stand Out in an Overloaded Media World.” Here’s a re-cap of my talk.

Message overload

There are 6,000 tweets a second, 350 photos on Facebook per hour and 7.5 million blog posts a day. The digital landscape has definitely become crowded. And while Instagram adaption has been very successful (with the U.S. representing the biggest user base), so many users means more competition for your message.


The key to gaining attention and engagement is a fun acronym – MUTTS. Message, Uniqueness, Timing Testing and Socializing.


It’s never been more important to be focused and not present a scattered message on your platforms. Being newsworthy and including photos and videos also help engagement.


To have a chance at the first search engine results page (SERP), a narrowly focused topic helps. Don’t just blog about Pinot Noir – write about a rare grape, a specific region, etc.


The worst time to Tweet is after 8:30 p.m.  For Facebook and Instagram – weekends are a dead zone, while midweek midmorning to early afternoon are best times.


Marketers always test their message, send time, and more.  For Twitter, try testing the same content at 10 a.m. and then 3 p.m. – and repeat it for a couple weeks. Soon, you’ll have some data to base your audience engagement on.


Once the hard part is done and you’ve created content – the fun part is socializing it to all your channels. And remember to adjust messaging to platform – your Instagram should look different than your Facebook than your LinkedIn.

I was honored to be a speaker at the 2021 Wine Media Conference and look forward to the next.



Saturday, August 14, 2021

South Willamette’s Pfeiffer Winery - A love story in wine

Pfeiffer Winery in south Willamette is located in a prime location for Pinot Noir. Owner Robin Pfeiffer enjoys telling the story of how French investors eagerly tried to buy 70 hillside acres of his family’s farm - tipping him off that the farm should pivot to grape growing.  

The pivot worked in the best possible way. Robin and his wife Danuta now run a very successful vineyard and winery. Success to the couple means selling 90 percent of their grapes to King Estate.  That doesn’t mean they don’t enjoy making wine. In fact, their estate Pinot Noir is a labor of love - for the grape, the familial property, and each other. 

On a recent visit with the Wine Media Conference, we tasted the Blue Dot Pinot Noir - fresh raspberry and black cherry on the palate, good balance, a touch of acidity adding vivacity and long finish. I also enjoyed the estate Pinot Gris, which had lush tropical fruit on the nose & palate and a rich mouthfeel.  According to Robin, the Blue Dot Pinot Noir is the wine that he and Danuta share as they watch the sun set into the Pacific on romantic getaways to the coast.  

Pfeiffer winery is a local Friday night destination, and the garden was full of guests enjoying the wine and dancing to a live band.

Although Pfeiffer wines are not available beyond the tasting room, it was fun to get a look at the hillside vineyard that provides so many grapes to prestigious Pinot Noir.  

Saturday, June 5, 2021

Clink Different Seeks to Expand Wine Lovers' Flavor World

The ongoing Clink Different promotion is a pair up of an unlikely duo - wines of Bordeaux and wines of Germany. While France and Germany may seem like unlikely partners, in fact both have long, esteemed histories in wine dating back over 2000 years. And with those long histories comes a level of confidence in what grows well in certain terrain.  

I attended a fun media tasting led by the very knowledgeable and engaging Cristie Norman, Co-Founder and President of the United Sommeliers Foundation and Wine Enthusiast's 2020 Educator of the Year. 

Cristie led us on a taste journey across some lesser-known grape varieties that she encourages consumers to try. 

First up was the Weingut Strum 2019 Silvaner Trocken, which retails for $19. Cristie recommended this white wine made from the Silvaner grape with sushi, fish dishes, salads, and stir fry.  I found it delightful - with a fresh, grassy nose, high acid, good weight, and a long finish.  

Next we went to Bordeaux for the Dourthe 2019 La Grande Cuvee Bordeaux Sauvignon Blanc. This affordable wine retails for $14. With a very aromatic nose of lemon and vegetal notes, the wine delivered fresh tart citrus flavors and high acid - perfect for goat cheese, creamy pasta, and shell fish. 

Moving on to the reds, we tried the Schnaitmann 2017 Steinwiege Lemberger. This grape is also known as Blaufrankisch.  With a nose of bramble fruit and bell pepper, the palate was structured with perceptible tannin, a stewed red fruit flavor, and a long finish. This wine retails for $37. 

Finally, we were treated to a fascinating wine made from 100% Petit Verdot - a 2018 from Chateau Belle-Vue.  The opaque, inky purple color of the wine struck me immediately. The flavor delivered on the promise of the color - this is a big wine, with lush black fruit and grippy tannins indicating that the wine can certainly age. Cristie suggested gouda cheese, dishes with mushroom, or a nice steak to pair with this bold wine, which retails for $25. 

I enjoyed these wines made from some lesser known grape varieties and appreciated that this campaign is encouraging consumers to drink "outside the box" and experiment with new varieties.  You can follow the @clinkdifferent campaign on Instagram and Twitter to see what's next. 

Sunday, March 28, 2021

Theresa Heredia Crafts Captivating Chardonnays and Silky Pinots at Gary Farrell Winery

Walk through a city and you’ll notice distinct differences from one neighborhood to the next. In Manhattan, the creative energy of the Chelsea Gallery district is a different world from the soaring skyscrapers and hard-driving speed of the Financial District.

It’s the same in wine regions. The AVA of the Russian River Valley is a large expanse, and a stretch of several miles can make a big difference in vineyards – more ocean breeze, higher elevation, and distinctive soil variation. In fact the Russian River Valley has more soil types than France!

Theresa Heredia has been the winemaker at Gary Farrell winery since 2012. One of the aspects of Gary Farrell that attracted her is that the winery has no estate fruit but sources grapes from some of the best vineyards across the Russian River Valley.  She compares this to the role of “negociant” in Burgundy. Although Gary Farrell winery doesn’t own the vineyards, Theresa works closely with the vineyard managers, especially when it comes to picking decisions. She endeavors to have their fruit picked early to try to get good acidity and manage the alcohol.

She aspires for her wines to have Burgundian elegance and restraint while also showcasing the unique aspects of the Russian River Valley.  Theresa told us that she wants to make expressive wines that have a sense of place.  In a guided tasting for media, Theresa walked us through seven wines made from grapes sourced from various neighborhoods of the Russian River Valley. The distinct flavors and aromas of each wine was striking considering they all came from one AVA.

We started with three lively Chardonnays:

·         2017 Olivet Lane Vineyard Chardonnay – Santa Rosa Plains  /  Notes of ripe yellow apple dancing with vibrant lemons with a dash of minerality – a Chardonnay with bright flavors and good length  and refreshing acidity.

·         2017 Ritchie Vineyard Chardonnay – Laguna Ridge / Made from small bunches of grapes, this wine was very concentrated with lemon and floral aromas and a round mouthfeel with apple and pear – also with the lift of acidity.

·         2017 Rochioli Vineyard Chardonnay – Middle Reach  /  A lush Chardonnay with notes of caramel, baked apple and a dash of pineapple on the nose, on the palate more baked apple flavors along with a shot of acidity to lift the lushness.

Then we progressed to the silky Pinot Noirs:

·         2017 Bacigalupi Vineyard Pinot Noir – Middle Reach  / Classic Burgundian style Pinot with earthy notes along with the red fruit flavors – juicy yet complex wine. Theresa told us she does some whole cluster additions to this to add some tannin.

·         2017 Hallberg Vineyard Pinot Noir – Green Valley  / A tart cherry nose and black and red fruit on palate with white pepper on the black cherry midpalate and bright acid.

·         2017 McDonald Mountain Vineyard Pinot Noir – Sebastopol Hills  /  Rosemary and red fruit on the nose with bing cherries and baking spice on the palate. Theresa told us the cold temperatures in this vineyard produce lots of acidity in wines from here. She also noted that she does 40% whole cluster when fermenting this wine which adds some dusty tannins.

·         2017 Martaella Vineyard Pinot Noir – Santa Rosa Plains  / Black plum nose with loads of ripe cherry on the palate and refreshing acidity – this is a real crowd pleaser of a Pinot Noir.

Overall, I found the wines to be balanced with regard to alcohol, fruit, acidity, and tannin but fairly bursting with lively flavors.  Theresa Heredia is most assuredly a precise winemaker who brings a clear vision to the wines she creates.  We are all the better for it when we partake of her creations. 

Monday, September 14, 2020

Velenosi Virtual Tasting Impresses at Wine Media Conference

The annual Wine Media Conference (formerly Wine Bloggers' Conference), went virtual this year like so many events in an effort to keep everyone safe. Fortunately WMC organizers were able to arrange a few wine tastings in which attendees were able to receive samples by mail and taste online together. One session featured wines from Velenosi winery in a tasting led by Italian wine journalist Laura Donadoni.

The family winery was founded by Angela Velenosi in 1984 in the historic Ascoli Piceni area of Marche, just 20 kilometers from Italy's Adriatic coast. The family grew the winery ambitiously over the years, and now they produce over 2.5 million bottles which are sold in Italy as well as 52 export markets. Velenosi wines have been lauded by top wine publications as well as Gambera Rosa, Luca Maroni and more. 

The WMC participants at the virtual tasting of Velenosi wines were impressed by the depth of flavor and quality levels of the four wines presented during the virtual tastings. Many participants were also delighted to taste a new variety they had never tried. The virtual tasting included this selection of Velenosi wines: 

Querciantica Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi DOC Classico - Light gold in color, this wine offered citrus notes of lemon and lime on the nose and palate, along with white peaches and a slight vegetal note. The wine has high acidity as well as a touch of minerality. It was a delicious medium-bodied white that would pair well with many chicken and fish dishes. 

Querciantica Lacrima di Morro DOC Superiore - This rare wine is created from the ancient Lacrima di Morro grape that is indigenous to and found almost exclusively in the Marche region. Described by Laura as a polarizing wine, this is vinified completely in stainless steel, yet offers a vanilla note that is totally from the grape as well as cherries and herbs. 

Il Brecciarolo Rosso Piceno DOC Superiore - A blend of 70% Montepulciano and 30% Sangiovese, this wine had a very aromatic nose with toffee and rosemary notes. The palate offered sour cherries, medium acidity, and a long finish. Aging in used barrique mellows the wine without overwhelming the fruit with flavors imparted by oak. A delicious red that is widely distributed in the U.S. 

Roggio del Filare Rosso Piceno DOC Superiore - This was an impressive, full-bodied wine with intense aromatics of black fruit, coffee, and violet. The opaque wine was inky purple with a purple rim. I enjoyed the smooth mouthfeel with well-integrated tannin. The wine offered ripe black and red fruit on the palate, and there was a very long finish. The 2019 was drinking well, but I am curious about having this wine again in five or more years. 

The WMC Velenosi wine tasting allowed participants to learn about and enjoy a less-heralded region of Italy that is truly worthy of attention. I'm sure many of us will look for the wines of Velenosi in our local shops and appreciate the wines of Marche more frequently after this instructive, tasty evening.