Share |

Going Full Circle in Chicago

It began with finding hidden gems and ended in trying to discern what we know and don’t know about spontaneous fermentations.

Last week, Full Circle Wine Solutions, the California-based public relations and marketing firm operated by Evan Goldstein and Limeng Stroh, held its 5th Annual Beverage Conference at the Drake Hotel in Chicago. It proved to be a great two-and-a-half day event allowing attendees to learn more about wines and winemaking, find wines that they might want to add to their beverage lists or to do extensive networking. All in all, there were 13 seminars on two days of working lunches, breakouts, a grand tasting, and by-invitation-only dinners, including one led by blue-bereted Chef Francis Mallmann.

Among the more-interesting discussions:

Old-Vine Chilean Cariñenas. know that a DOC is an official designation for any country’s winegrowing areas – whatever name is used – but Chile’s unofficial VIGNO designation for chiefly old-vine Cariñena wines could be considered a “producer DOC.”  The group has strict production regulations that are about to get stricter, and they have uniform label language, as would an official DOC. In fact, the group has been hesitant to ask for an official Chilean DOC, because, as leader Julio Bouchon said in so many words, they are afraid that the government would screw it up by letting large producers make the rules less-stringent.  Could these de-facto DOC’s pop up elsewhere?

Old-Vine South African Chenin Blancs. At the presentation and tasting of these increasingly popular SA wines, the term “RS” kept popping up during the panel discussions. And, indeed, several of these lovely wines did finish with a sweetish accent. My concern is that the wines will cause consumers to “Rieslingize” the category – “I don’t drink South African Chenin Blancs because they are too sweet!” It’s a temptation and a problem that every floral white wine faces in leaving in too much RS. And South African Chenins don’t need it – they are lovely wines that with crisper finishes could appeal to Burgundy lovers, but not if that are also trying to appeal to KJ Chardonnay fanatics.

Show Us Your Terroir!  The idea that spirits can show terroir is an interesting one, but a seminar with a Bourbon producer and a Scotch producer did little to advance the argument. Heavy peat and Sherry finishes overpowered any possibility that the nuances of locally grown grain would come shining through.  I’m waiting for some craft Bourbon producer to tell me, “The whiskey is made in the cornfield.”

Spontaneous Fermentation Is Fomenting.  Panel leader Peter Granoff rightfully steered the discussion away from trying to define native or indigenous yeasts and instead concentrate on the concept of spontaneous as opposed to induced fermentation.  I know many famous and successful winemakers who take different sides on this issue, but the things that intrigue me about spontaneous fermentations are the “why” and the “what.” It became clear that the panelists who use spontaneous ferments have little idea of which yeasts are at work in their wines, so it seems like they are doing it primarily because they like the concept. One of the reasons they like the concept is that it broadens the idea of terroir – local yeasts for local grapes. The problem is that yeast migration is so pervasive that if your friendly neighboring winemaker 10 miles down the road goes out into her vineyard in the morning then pays you a visit an hour or so later, she brings her terroir-induced yeasts with her into your winery. So will the wind. So can shared equipment. And so on. In other words, it’s like trying to be organic when the guy in the adjacent vineyard is spraying with a helicopter on a blustery day. Yeasts happen.

Malbec, Say Hello to Shiraz.  I talked to a few people who thought, as I did, that the Argentine Malbecs were in general not as impressive as they have been in past vintages. The question arose as to whether the producers are unintentionally expanding the category the way the Aussies did with Shiraz a half-generation ago.

And the Winners Are... I tasted a lot of good Cabernet Franc and was especially proud that an East Coast Franc from Barboursville Vineyards was among the best. There were a lot of great Chilean reds on display. Bodega Garzon from Uruguay continues to impress, illustrating that if you are going to invest a fortune in an estate, do it wisely. And, finally, when I sat down at a luncheon featuring regional, out-of-the-spotlight Right Banks reds, I smiled with each glass poured. It’s good to be back in your adopted home.

No votes yet

Recommended Reading

No related items were found.