Monday, September 29, 2008

Wycombe adds picking to schedule

Just a note that Wycombe Vineyards in Furlong, Pa., has added another public harvest to its schedule. They will be pulling the Riesling grapes off the vine this Saturday, Oct. 4. starting at 10 a.n. This date has been added to the schedule. And if you miss this one, they also are planning to be out the next Saturday, the 11th, as planned.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Instructor offers his take on ABCs of wine

Beyond the harvest ongoing at wineries across the region are seminars and workshops that are designed to give people a clue about what’s coming off the vines and into the bottle. Crossing Vineyards & Winery is one of a couple of wineries more proactive about that aspect of the business, and it enhanced its staff recently by hiring wire writer and fellow Temple grad Collin Flatt to teach a few of the courses it offers.

Reached earlier this week en route to his first class, The ABCs of Wine Tasting, Flatt said that he learned his basics at the
Wine School of Philadelphia under the extraordinary tutelage of Keith Wallace and Brian Freedman. "They are two of the best wine minds in the city," he said, noting that his education there in addition to time he spent living in Italy has prepared him well for this teaching gig. A longtime wine collector, there’s one thing he brought along with him that night besides his classroom materials: lots of opinions on how to teach the subject.

“You get two kinds of people who walk into a wine class,” he told me, the sound of traffic in the background, “people that don’t know absolutely anything and are interested, and people who think they already know everything. So basically the thing you have you start off with is dispelling a few myths.”

He went on to say that “the old-school method of teaching wine is read books, read books, read books. Know your name dropping and stuff . . . which is not the way to do it. The way to do it is to start off with sensory teaching, which is how I start all of my people off. I do something called the jellybean test, and what that basically is, you’re teaching them that your nose actually does all your tasting for you. Basically it’s the whole pinch your nose, chew a jellybean, you can’t taste anything. And when you let go of your nose again, well all of a sudden now you realize your nose is teaching you everything. So basically, people grasp that they have to trust their nose and basically trust themselves.

“I hate when people come in and say, Oh, this is supposed to taste like A, B, and C. Like I absolutely hate when wineries, etc., list that ‘Oh, you’re going to taste chocolate and jammy fruit and all this other crap,’ because then people start to try to push themselves to find these things in the wine that sometimes aren’t even there because everyone smells different things, everyone feels different things. You know, people have different levels of what I call a flavor Rolodex. And basically, the reason people can smell different things is . . . you’ll notice that your coffee drinkers will find a lot more chocolate in their wines. You’ll notice that people who eat a lot of fresh fruit are going to find more pear in their wine, that kind of stuff. You train your taste buds to, before you ever step foot in any type of wine teaching, you train your taste buds to find things that you already know you like.

“Basically, the reason I did really well with wines starting out is that I eat absolutely anything. There’s not one thing I will not touch. I eat everything. That’s kind of why I got into food, too, and the more you taste and the more you think about food when you’re eating it, etcetera, etcetera, you add cards to your flavor Rolodex. And those people who really pay attention to what they eat do very well with wine, because you remember things, and your nose is attached to your memory more than anything else. And if you’ve eaten certain things, you’ll be able to pick those things out. I find that the people who eat the most food do the best in my class. So that’s where I like to go first, and I’m also big on Pepsi Challenge. I like to put wine against wines and I don’t mean same kinds. If you have someone just sitting there looking at a glass of white and they’re tasting it, they might have a hard time finding things. But if you put a naked Chard up against an oak Chard, or if you put a chard against a
Viognier or a Riesling, you’ll find that people do much better finding flavors in there, because they’re able to compare A to B.

“No one sits there and drinks two wines at once, except for people like me, and [other] wine drinkers who will pop open 15 wines over the course of a weekend, you know, when you’re just drinking with friends. But when you Pepsi Challenge them, you really are able to dig stuff out.” And it will help them differentiate even the variations of a grape. Take
Chardonnay, for instance. “People are like, ‘Oh, I hate Chardonnay.’ Well, what you think you hate about Chardonnay might be the oaky, butteriness of it,” he said. “Well, that’s because you don’t like New World Chardonnay. So let’s put this New World Chard against an Old World Chard and see if you don’t find something completely different. You look at Old World Chard or naked steel Chard or neutral oak, you’ll find that the expression of chard is very tangy and actually has a lot of acid in it. A lot brighter fruit and not such muted butterscotch vanilla notes. So you really have to train people not to hate what they already think they hate.

“I’m big on Pepsi Challenge, I’m big on promoting a Flavor Rolodex, which is eat food, eat a lot of it, remember what you’re eating, think about what you’re eating. Think about the vegetables you’re eating, the fruit that you’re eating. And don’t force something that’s not there. That’s a big thing. [Someone will say], ‘Oh, I read that this wine is supposed to have a lot black currants in it.’ It’s like, how many black currants do you eat at home? Do you really know what a
black currant tastes like? You probably don’t.”

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Ahead for Sugarloaf: Grape Stomp, Winefest

Wanted to pass along this note from the folks at Sugarloaf Mountain Vineyard in the northwest corner of Maryland's Montgomery County.

Sugarloaf Mountain Vineyard’s 2nd Annual Grape Stomp Saturday and Sunday, October 18 and 19, Noon - 5 pm each day Come out and join the fall fun at our 2nd Annual Grape Stomp! We’ll have great music, food, vineyard and winery tours featuring our new tasting room and garden patio. You can enjoy tastings of our award-winning wines, including our new STOMP wine made especially for the celebration. To top off the fun, we’ll have a contest of grape stomping skill! Admission for those 21 and older is $10 and includes a wine glass and five tastings of select wines. Young adults and children under 21 are admitted free. Jump in with both feet!
On Sunday of the Stomp, SMV will host the presentation of the 2008 Royce Hansen Award by the Montgomery Countryside Alliance. The award recognizes the outstanding commitment toward protection of Montgomery County’s Agricultural Reserve. MCA is pleased to name the award after its first recipient and one of the architects of the Agricultural Reserve. MCA is committed to the preservation of agricultural lands, rural open space, and the rural wedge. It is SMV’s commitment to support the efforts which have resulted in our pastoral countryside.
We are looking for volunteers to work the STOMP. Shifts are 11:00 AM until 2:00 PM and 2:00 PM until 5:00 PM each day. All volunteers receive free admission and a complimentary bottle of wine. If you are interested in joining the SMV STOMP team, contact Kathy ODonoghue at

Volunteer for the Sugarloaf Mountain Vineyard Festival Team!Come join us for festival season! We are forming the team for the upcoming Riverside Winefest at Sotterley on October 4 and 5, 2008. The festival is held on the grounds of historic Sotterley Plantation on the Patuxent River in St. Mary's County, MD and serves as a fundraiser for the plantation. Volunteer shifts would be Noon-3pm and 3pm-6pm each day. Please see additional information in our Festival Schedule information below. All festival volunteers receive free admission to the festival and a complimentary bottle of SMV wine. If you are interested in joining the SMV Riverside at Sotterley Festival Team, contact Kathy ODonoghue at

Friday, September 26, 2008

NY outlines October promotions

Having written about this New York Wine & Grape Foundation initiatives a couple weeks back, here are some more details on what the state body has planned for October.
The fall has arrived, and with it the annual grape harvest and crush in New York’s wine country. Tons of ripe grapes of many varieties and colors are picked and delivered to wineries in all regions—Long Island, the Hudson Valley, Finger Lakes, Niagara Escarpment, Lake Erie, and Thousand Islands. There’s no better time to celebrate New York’s bounty of fine wine than October.

Throughout the month, more than 115 restaurants and 150 wine stores throughout New York State will be celebrating New York Wine Month by offering their customers hundreds of fine New York wines from over 30 wineries.

“October is the perfect month for celebrating New York wines,” said Jim Trezise, President of the New York Wine & Grape Foundation which is orchestrating the month-long promotion. “The 2007 vintage was the best in many years, and most of the wines are now available. It’s also prime time to visit wine country, combining the excitement of the harvest and crush with the beautiful fall colors.”

The promotion extends throughout the state except in New York City, where a separate “New York Wines & Dines” promotion is taking place. The major markets include Long Island, the Hudson Valley and greater Albany area, Syracuse and Utica, Rochester, Buffalo, North Country and the southern tier (Ithaca, Corning, Elmira).

“We are very grateful to our wholesaler partners, and to the hundreds of restaurants and fine wine stores working with us,” said Trezise. “There is a national ‘locavore’ trend toward buying local products, and the enthusiasm we have seen indicates that it’s popular right here in New York. In the case of wine, some call it ‘locapour’.”

For the October promotion, an entirely new web site ( was developed to guide consumers to nearby restaurants and wine stores wherever they live, as well as provide information about participating wineries. The web site lists all of the participating wineries, restaurants and stores. The site is searchable by region to make it convenient for consumers.

The Foundation is also supporting the promotion with radio and print advertising in every market, a customized wine list for restaurants, point of sale materials, and a public relations campaign.

The radio campaign describes the promotion and directs listeners to the web site. The companion print campaign, targeted mostly at lifestyle publications, actually lists the participating stores and restaurants, while also highlighting the web site.

A unique feature of the campaign is customized wine lists for the participating restaurants made possible by modern technology and a pURL—a personal URL. Basically, a standard template exists for an attractive wine list, including an introduction and a back-cover description of the New York wine industry. When the restaurant has selected the wines it will feature, it enters those (and their descriptions) into the pURL for a customized wine list that is then printed and shipped to the restaurant.

“New York Wine—Class by the Glass” point of sale materials have been created for wine stores and restaurants, including a large sign to hang over the New York wine section, case cards, and menu cards. These materials, along with the rest of the campaign, have been developed by Mason Selkowitz Marketing of Penfield.

The Foundation has also developed an additional, special series of point of sale materials, “New York’s Great Grapes”, that is on its main web site ( ready to be downloaded and printed by wholesalers, retailers and restaurants. The series includes the 18 most common varietal wines with photographs of the grapes, the wine in the glass, and some recommended foods to accompany it. Each of the items—such as shelf talkers, table tents, and case cards—also includes space for including information about individual wineries and wines being featured by restaurants and stores. The series was designed by artist Book Marshall, with photography by Randall Tagg.

The public relations campaign includes radio and television interviews in various markets to promote New York Wine Month, and to encourage consumers to patronize the businesses supporting local products.

"When we buy New York, we build New York,” said Trezise. “The wineries, restaurants and wine shops are all New York businesses which provide New York jobs and pay New York taxes. It just makes sense that we all work together.”

The event grapevine: Sept. 26-28

Featured event

6th annual Brandywine Valley Wine Trail Harvest Fest
Weekends of Sept. 27-28 and Oct. 4-5

The idea of the Brandywine Valley Wine Trail’s Harvest Fest hasn’t changed since its inception. As Lee Miller, the co-owner of Chaddsford Winery, wrote in an e-mail, the primary goal of the annual festival is to celebrate fall and introduce the 2008 vintages. “The idea of Harvest Fest is that it's pretty much the same every year,” she wrote, “but a chance for people to come out and see the vineyards, how the harvest is going, what's new at each winery, what new releases they have, etc. And we all offer a bunch of activities that will be a little different every year.”

What makes this year’s different, however, is that for the first time it’s being spread over two weekends, this one and next. Said Miller, “We felt that this would give them more opportunity to visit and enjoy the wineries, instead of rushing to get to them all in one day or one weekend.”

Harvest Fest Passports required to visit any of the six participating wineries are $25 and can be purchased at any one of them when you stop in,
online, or by calling 610.444-3842 or 866-390.4367. These entitle the holder to one tasting at each winery. If you just can’t make it to all six during these two weekends, the Passport can be used through Dec. 30.

But the real treat is getting to any of these wineries during the next two weeks. The places are buzzing with visitors grouped around the tasting bar, gathering for a tour or listening to some basic information about the wines they are sampling and the wineries that make them. And all the wineries we visited had something out to munch on.

On what’s a busy fall weekend for winery and wine trail events, here’s what’s on the schedule:


Boyd’s Cardinal Hollow Winery Crop, North Wales: Live music, Saturday, 5 to 8 p.m.,

Blue Mountain Vineyards, New Tripoli: 13th annual Picking Party and Grape Stomp ($$), Saturday and Sunday. 9 a.m. through the entire day; Fall Foliage Tasting ($$), Sunday, 2 to 5 p.m.,

Chaddsford Winery, Chaddsford: Harvest Festival ($$), Saturday and Sunday, noon to 6 p.m.; Reserve tastings ($$), Saturday, sittings at 1, 2:30 and 4 p.m.,

Clover Mill Farm Vineyards & Winery, Chester Springs: Open again, Sunday, 1 to 5 p.m.,

Crossing Vineyards & Winery, Washington Crossing: Fourth class in Wine 101 series ($$), Monday, 6:30 to 8:30 p.m., white wine,

Galen Glen Vineyard & Winery, Andreas: Octoberfest Tours of the Vineyard & Cellars, Sunday, tractor and wagon tours depart at 1, 2, 3 & 4pm.,

Kreutz Creek Vineyards, West Grove: Harvest Festival ($$), Saturday and Sunday, music, 2 to 5 p.m. both days and Saturday night concert ($$), 6 to 9 p.m.,

Moon Dancer Vineyards & Winery, Wrightsville: Music Friday (6 to 9 p.m.), Saturday (2 to 5 p.m.) and Sunday, 2 to 5 p.m.; concert ($$), Saturday, 7 to 10 p.m.,
George Wesley,

Paradocx Vineyard, Landenberg: Harvest Festival ($$), Saturday and Sunday, noon to 5 p.m., Saturday night concert, 5 to 9 p.m., Blue Bayou,

Penns Woods Winery, Eddystone: Harvest Festival ($$), noon to 5 p.m., music both days,

Twin Brook Winery, The Gap: Harvest Festival ($$), Saturday and Sunday; Harvest Festival concert ($$), Saturday, 6:30 to 9:30 p.m., Big Package, Weather permitting this concert will be held outdoors. If there is inclement weather the concert will be held in the Greenhouse. To ensure your spot please secure your tickets in advance since there is LIMITED ADMISSION for the Greenhouse,

Va La Vineyards, Avondale: Harvest Festival ($$), Saturday and Sunday, noon to 6 pm.,


Sugarloaf Mountain Vineyard, Dickerson: Live music by Danny Grizzle, Saturday, 2 to 5 p.m.,

Other MARYLAND winery events can be found at this link, VIRGINIA events at this link and New York events at this link


33rd annual Virginia Wine Festival ($$), Prince William County (Va.) Fairgrounds, Saturday, 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.,
information at this link

Uncorked Rockville (Md.) ($$), Saturday, noon to 6 p.m.,
information at this link

$$ – Admission charge

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Vendemmia Festival set for Sunday

This weekend probably ranks among the calendar year’s five busiest when you look at events involving wine across the region.

One of those will take place Sunday in South Philly, a few blocks up from where the Phillies will be playing their final game of the season. It’s the 12th annual
Vendemmia Festival at Vendemmia Square, located between Pattison Avenue and Hartranft Street at South Broad and South 20th streets, just north of FDR Park. Billed as a fall festival of wine and food, the event will begin at 2 in the afternoon and continue until 6. The entry fee is $40.

For that investment, you are given a wine glass and the freedom to not only taste as many wines as you want but the freedom to sample a number of foods that have been donated by restaurants across the city. The attraction of this event is the access to so many homemade wines: A spokesperson said yesterday that organizers were expecting between 125 and 150 winemakers to enter their wines in the competition. “A lot of them are local,” she said. “They make it in their basement. All we ask [of them] is to donate some of their wines for consumption at the festival.”

This event is held either the last Sunday of September or the first Sunday in October. Tickets are available only in advance; you can pay by cash, check or money order at 1841 S. Broad St. A table for 10 can be reserved for $400. You can call the Vendemmia Foundation at 215.551.3859 for more information.

This might have been a secret its first couple of years, but no longer. Organizers are expecting around 5,000 people to attend.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Maryland Festival sees glass completely full

The perfect weekend turned into the perfect attendance storm at the Maryland Wine Festival in Westminster, according to the executive director of the Maryland Wineries Association.

Kevin Atticks wrote in an e-mail earlier today that the 25th annual event drew more than 15,000 on Saturday, a record, and that the final number for the weekend was 23,695. And the PREMIER tent, which cost visitors an extra $25 (the festival fee was $20) to enter, lured in more than 600 guests. There, they could partake of gourmet food and premium wines, including some library wines from Catoctin Winery (now Frederick Cellars). Atticks said that “Black Ankle's wines were a hit, and Orchid Cellars' historic-recipe mead was very well-received.”

Twenty-three of Maryland’s 34 wineries participated, and both the new guard and what Atticks called the historic wineries – those such as
Basignani, Boordy, Fiore and
Woodhall that have been around for 20 or more years -- were represented. You would think the new competition from, among others, Sugarloaf Mountain and Black Ankle and the awards they’ve been winning might cause some panic among the more-established wineries. If that’s the case, no one is sharing that fear. After all, they have been holding out their hands to assist these fledgling proprietors.

Talk to the newcomers and they’ll all tell you that they’re indebted to the old guard for their assistance and encouragement as they went through the process of getting set up. No one set up roadblocks; instead they answered questions and shared information, and that seems to be happening across the state line in Pennsylvania, too. Consequently, Atticks said in a phone conversation this afternoon, that group now feels like they can share in some of the quick success that the new wineries have enjoyed.

“All of us came away from this festival very proud of what we were offering,” Atticks said. “I think what you’re seeing with the success of these new wineries . . . is kind of a revived industry pride. The older wineries, historic wineries as they’ve asked me to call them, I think really do feel and I think it’s appropriate, that the success of the newer ones came from the groundwork laid by these old wineries. [They see] that we would not have gotten the state support and the educational opportunities and the funding for these new start-ups and the high-profile marketing for these new starts-ups had there not been for the success and the perseverance of the historic wineries.

“It sure makes my job easier that the new wineries coming out are of high quality; well thought out, winning awards, getting grants, have solid business plans, are trying new things, are cutting edge. It’s hard for anyone to debate that.”

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Black Walnut owners can see the end in sight

From left, Lance and Valerie Castle and Jack and Karen Kuhn

There are four owners – two couples more specifically – wringing the hours out of their weeks with their eyes on mid- to late November as the goal for opening Black Walnut Winery. Once it opens, the Sadsburyville, Pa., winery would become the seventh member of the Brandywine Valley Wine Trail.

Lance and Valerie Castle and good friends Jack and Karen Kuhn all are immersed in day jobs that require plenty of hours. “And then oddly enough we all look forward to coming here and working 12 to 15 hours a day,” Lance Castle said during a phone conversation earlier today. “We have a great time and we have a lot of family and friends that comes and help us. Right now I have two crews; one is doing pressing that I’m helping with. Another crew is doing bottling. They’re all friends . . . all smiling and laughing and having a good time, and working here for free. And when they leave, they’ll thank me. It’s the neatest thing about this business so far. So many people go, ‘Thank you for letting us come and bust our butt for 10 hours.’” He laughed.

Hey, what are friend for than to lean on them for a project of this magnitude that began as a home winemaking hobby nine years ago? Castle said that he started making so much that “I told my wife, ‘We either have to cut it back or go to that next level.’ and oddly enough she agreed with me. It took us about 18 months took us to find this building.”

The almost 200-year-old bank barn is a 10,000-square-foot structure in which half of it is wedged underground; that perfectly controls the temperatures downstairs where Castle has his tanks and bottles. Upstairs, once an antique shop, is split up into a number of interesting rooms. Out back are a deck and a patio underneath overlooking a Koi pond. Castle figures to have parking for 40 or 50 cars on a lot that will be accessed off Octorara Road, just off business Route 30 and about 2 miles east of the intersection with Route 10. It’s about 5 miles down the road from Twin Brook Winery
, another member of the Brandywine trail.

Once the winery opens, Castle figures on selling somewhere between a dozen and 15 wines. No vines are growing on the property at present; he buys some from a couple members of the trail and the rest from a grape grower near Oxford, Pa., in southern Chester County. While he’s bottling inside, he’s working on hooking up sewer outside. It’s all been part of a large learning curve that Castle, who works for Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, said he couldn’t have expected when he began.

“I guess it’s all the different agencies,” he responded to a question about what has most surprised him in the process of becoming a winery. “I recognized you needed to be licensed by the state to have a winery; I recognized the ATF would needed to know about you from a tax perspective. But a 40- or 50- or 60-page submittal with I don’t know how many attachments for the federal government and interview and criminal background checks and you name it to make wine. Same with the state. And then having to be registered with the FDA. And the county and the township, the rules and regs about just being setting up a business, not necessarily a winery, was far more complicated I guess than I thought it was going to be.”

We were finished then and ended our conversation, but a half-hour or so later Castle sent an e-mail with information about his experiences that he felt were as important as the lessons about dealing with government’s red tape.

“I told you about all of the agencies we had to deal with during the process,” he wrote. “However, I missed the answer that I normally tell people, the amazing support that the other wineries provided to us during our start-up has been unbelievable. Normally businesses in the same area do not help each other, but the wineries seem to march to a different drummer. Each of the owners and winemakers can not do enough to help us get the information or contacts that we need to be a success. I do not know how I missed that, but it is really the most amazing thing about this whole process that I have seen.”

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Project to promote wines outside the West Coast

Does American wine exist outside of California, Oregon and Washington, the accepted triad of states that make up what’s known as “wine country?”

Dave McIntyre would like to think so. Haven’t heard of him? Well, honestly, I hadn’t either until Thursday when I was directed to
Wine Line, an Internet column that McIntyre has used as a reservoir for his thoughts on wine since 1999. A wine columnist for The Washington Post, he has made an enormous contribution to the understanding and appreciation of wine. Don’t believe me? Just check the string of stories that are stored under his Archives link.

But this story doesn’t so much focus on McIntyre as the plan that he and Fort Worth Star-Telegram wine columnist Jeff Siegel are cooking up to bring the rest of America and its wine production out of the cellar, so to speak. Gathering commitments to contributions from wine bloggers and writers all over the country, they have created a Web site called (you can look, but there’s nothing but a title there yet) that will serve as the posting point for all these stories on the wines and wineries in most of the country’s 47 other states. The project will begin in earnest Oct. 6 and over the next couple weeks should pack the site with links to the various columnists and bloggers and their posts on several regional wines or wineries.

Asked in an e-mail what led them to plan this, McIntyre wrote back that “we were thinking that ‘American wine’ to most people means California, Oregon and Washington, and that local wines are still regarded as novelties, something to be enjoyed at a festival or on a weekend outing to a winery. We're making the argument that with wine produced in all 50 states and the growth the last few years being outside California, that it's time to look again at local wines.”

They’ll do that with writers posting stories to their individual blogs either before Oct. 6 or during that week, with wine columnists from several metros (Washington Post on Oct. 8), DC Examiner and Atlanta Journal-Constitution on Oct. 9, and Siegel on Oct. 15) mentioning this project and linking to the site.

The site will contain links not only to each of the posts and newspaper articles, but also to regional wine-related information like state wine boards and trade groups, and RSS feeds for regional wine blogs and Web sites. Among the states and regions to be included: Georgia, Virginia, Texas, Missouri, New York, Maryland, New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado, Illinois, Wisconsin, Ontario, British Columbia, Michigan, Kentucky and Ohio. Now that I’ve committed, you can add Pennsylvania to the list, which in McIntyre’s words will provide the kind of extensive coverage to help wine drinkers “overlook the hype and overkill that surrounds the wine business in the United States. Wine is made in all 50 U.S. states, and it’s about time wine drinkers knew that.

“The number of wineries in the United States has more than doubled in the last six years," he added, "with most of that growth coming outside California, in states like Colorado, Virginia and North Carolina. With quality improving as well, local wine is no longer a novelty.”

Adds Siegel, also an author of the blog The Wine Curmudgeon, in the news release: “If you’re in Burgundy, you don’t drink wine from Bordeaux. But Americans think that if it doesn’t come from California, it must be crap. And that is just plain wrong.”

Friday, September 19, 2008

Sugarloaf winemaker: 'Wine was the perfect fit'

There was a time when Carl DiManno had his hands in an industry that powers engines and puts our world in motion.

In his third career now, the 41-year-old winemaker has moved to an industry that powers the imagination and sets our palate in motion. He’s left behind Houston, left behind working for two companies that produce fuel for the car to spend his days mixing the blends that make up
Sugarloaf Mountain Winery’s excellent line of wines.

“It’s my third career,” he said late last week after being asked how he transported himself into this current occupation. “I left Chevron in 2001 to go to UC Davis and learn wine. Chevron was . . . my second career. I made gasoline for Shell, went and got an MBA. Decided I didn’t want to be an engineer, then went ahead and started writing business plans and strategies and found that utterly detestable. So I was looking for something to do, something else where I could get my hands dirty and actually make something at the end of the day, and wine was the perfect fit.”

Going to school on the West Coast placed him in a couple of Napa vineyards, so he knows the pluses and minuses of working that coast. Minuses? Oh, just that it’s not quite the same challenge.

“Sugarloaf works with some fruit from out of state,” said DiManno, who began there in January 2004 and produced his first vintage two years later. “Some of the fruit I’ve worked with actually . . . I’ve thought, some of my peers in California would have been thrilled with the quality of this fruit. The real change is in the vineyard. It’s easy to grow good fruit in California. It’s really hard to grow good fruit on the East Coast, and when I compare notes with people out there, they ask, ‘Why are you bothering? You’re killing yourself. You’ve got the bees that we don’t have and the bugs we don’t have and rain in the summer.’”

What he finds particularly gratifying “at the end of the day when the wine goes in the bottle you’ve got a product that you’ve made sitting in your hand s. There’s a lot of pride and a lot of pleasure that goes into that, and accolades aside, really the highest compliment I can get is ‘Woahhh, this really doesn’t suck for a Maryland wine.’” He laughed on the other end of the phone. “That’s high praise. [You get] somebody dragged into a Maryland winery and they find it to be on par with a lot of things that are coming out of a lot of wine-growing regions. That’s a high point, and I say it like that because I’ve heard it put like that on a lot of occasions.”

In some ways you can call the Sugarloaf line offbeat, both with some of the names (Circe and Comus are Bordeaux blends) and the fact that a light-bodied red called Stomp is the closest thing they have to an off-dry selection. That contrasts greatly with many of Sugarloaf’s Maryland and Pennsylvania breathren, where sweet and fruit wines populate the list. “You go to the wine festivals and you see what sells and you know why people make some of the wines they do,” he said. “Because they pay the bills.”

So the nine awards secured last week in the
Maryland Governor’s Cup competition is particularly rich in irony. Happy, yes, although DiManno admitted earlier in the interview that these competitions can be exasperating. Trot the same wine before a different judging panel and it can be kicked around like a soccer ball, he said, drawing much lower scores. DiManno was asked if he’s been on that side of the table.

“Maryland does something called Maryland Wine Masters, which is actually winemakers who sit around before the Wine in the Woods event, and I sat in on that this year,” he said, “and we sampled wines. When we walked out of there we were pretty happy with the results as judges. We think we got good wines, but we also knew that there were two different sets of judges and one set would give the wine an 8 and the other set would give the wine a 6. Well, the problem is, the people giving the 6 may feel that’s a good, solid 6 and you should be happy with it, but when they tally the numbers it was the ones getting the high scores from the generous judges that went on to the final round. So that’s been my only experience with that side of it.”

The event grapevine: Sept. 19-21

Featured event

25th annual Maryland Wine Festival
Carroll County Farm Museum, Westminster
Saturday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Sunday, noon to 6 p.m.

There’s a reason why the schedule across the region takes a break. That’s to allow the spotlight to focus on the 25th annual
Maryland Wine Festival, which will draw 23 wineries and a number of other vendors. Entertainment and wine education seminars also are listed on the schedule.

To mark this anniversary, the event has added a trivia road rally and a premier pass for $45. This will entitle the holder to everything the regular $20 adult ticket provides in addition to entry to what they are calling the premier tent. There, you can sample the wineries’ premium wines, meet some of Maryland’s newest wineries who are not at the main festival and sample their wines, enjoy samples of foods from area restaurants, and receive a special anniversary gift. Gourmet food prepared by local restaurants also will be available.

Kevin Atticks, executive director of the Maryland Wineries Association, said it’s just a good time to create the pass, with 34 wineries now open across the state and that total increasing by several every year.

“[It will] provide an opportunity for the most committed Maryland wine lovers to taste some of the industry's low-production, super-premium and not-yet-available wines that wouldn't normally be poured on the main festival grounds,” he wrote in an e-mail. “The PREMIER tent will offer samples of local fare to pair with the wines, as well as a refuge from the crowds. We decided to offer this option this year to celebrate the fact that the festival is now 25 years old — and has grown to become one of the largest of its kind on the East Coast.”

Atticks said the festival “continues to be the premier festival in Maryland; it's the show at which most wineries debut to the public. We expect it to grow over the years as we add new features and wineries. Next year, we expect over 30 wineries to be in attendance.”

And here’s what’s going on elsewhere across the region, assuming you can tear yourself away from watching my Temple Owls heading north to take on big bad Penn State:


Boyd’s Cardinal Hollow Winery Crop, North Wales:
Wine tasting at Willow Creek Orchards, Saturday, 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.,

Blue Mountain Vineyards, New Tripoli: Fall Foliage Tasting ($$), Sunday, 2 to 5 p.m.,

Chaddsford Winery, Chaddsford: Reserve tastings ($$), Saturday, sittings at 1, 2:30 and 4 p.m.,

Clover Mill Farm Vineyards & Winery, Chester Springs: Open again, Sunday, 1 to 5 p.m.,

Crossing Vineyards & Winery, Washington Crossing: Wine Tasting for Singles ($$), Friday, 7 p.m.; Wine Tasting for Dummies ($$), Sunday, 2 p.m.; third class in Wine 101 series ($$), Monday, 6:30 to 8:30 p.m., Wines of the World; The ABCs of Wine Tasting ($$), taught by wire writer Collin Flatt, Wednesday, Sept. 24, 7:30 to 8:30 p.m.,

Hauser Estate Winery, Biglerville: Official grand opening, through Sunday, 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Friday, 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Saturday, noon to 5 p.m. Sunday,

Moon Dancer Vineyards & Winery, Wrightsville: Music Friday (6 to 9 p.m.), Saturday (2 to 5 p.m.) and Sunday, 2 to 5 p.m.,
Wycombe Vineyards, Furlong: Harvest Traminette grapes, Saturday, 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., with cookout to follow harvest; brings shears if you have them, RSVP on Web site or by calling 215.598.WINE,


MARYLAND winery events can be found at
this link, VIRGINIA events at this link and New York events at this link


25th annual Maryland Wine Festival ($$), Westminster, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday and noon to 6 p.m. Sunday,
information at this link

($$) – Admission charge

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Hauser Estate opening continues through Sunday

Just a reminder that the grand opening at Hauser Estate Winery on Cashtown Road in Biglerville, Pa., will continue through Sunday. While there aren't any additional photos to share with you, I can paste the rest of the schedule off their site:

Sep 19 - FRIDAY : Open until 7 p.m.* Melinda Hutton Photography- Will Showcase Local Floral, Fruit and Landscape Photos from 4:00- 6:00 pm* Win a Framed Photo! Drawing is at 6 pm* Food Available for Purchase by Crossroads Cafe'* HALLOWEEN EARLY! Dress in 1980's Attire and Receive 10% Off Your Wine!

Sep 20 - SATURDAY : Open until 9 pm* Several Adams County Artists Will Showcase and Demonstrate Their Talent and Creativity for All to See* Tours of The Underground Production Area at 1:00 and 4:00 pm* Food Available for Purchase by Seasons Bakery & Cafe'* COLGAN- HIRSH AITKEN WILL PERFORM FROM 6:00- 9:00 PM- FREE LIVE MUSIC!!

Sep 21 - SUNDAY : Open Until 5 pm* Food Available for Purchase by Seasons Bakery & Cafe'* Free Live Music!

Wine awards give and just as often take

Sugarloaf Mountain Vineyard won its share of awards in the Maryland Governor’s Cup competition, so winemaker Carl DiManno certainly had reasons to celebrate. Among the recognition handed out late last week was a “Best of Class” for its 2007 Pinot Grigio, four gold medals, two silvers and two bronze. Not a bad collection of trinkets at all for the several-year-old winery that’s tucked away in the northwest corner of Maryland’s Montgomery County.

Still, anyone who does something that can get entered and judged knows the elation and disappointment that the results can bring. As someone who’s been involved in newspaper for more than 30 years and entered a number of contests – and made the decision of who and what to enter for many of my co-workers -- there’s a realization that often what one thinks will win doesn’t, and what seems like a stretch to win is bestowed first prize.

In many ways it matches the gratification and frustration of those who enter wine competition, DiManno said. Asked how much stock a winery put in the awards it wins, he echoed what are often my sentiments after receiving the results: HUH!!!!

“Having not entered anything or submitted to Parker or Wine Spectator, I can’t speak from that standpoint,” he said. “But as far as contests or medals go, it is a complete scattershot. I swear that the wine that took the ‘Best of Class’ had been sampled on a Thursday instead of Wednesday, it would have been a bronze medal. There is no consistency whatsoever.

“The [20]05 Cabernet Franc from Sugarloaf went up to the East Coast International Wine Competition up in the Finger Lakes, which pulls in wines from California, New Zealand [etc.], and took a double gold. We sent it down to Virginia for the East Coast Vinifera Growers wine tasting and it took a bronze. There’s absolutely no consistency. . . .”

That doesn’t mean that he doesn’t like hearing Sugarloaf Mountain’s name called. As he said, “It’s nice to get them. The first couple medals we [won we] thought, ‘Woahhh, OK, we’re on the right track,’ and then . . . it’s funny. To enter the same wine in a different contest and see there’s absolutely no consistency whatsoever.

“With wine, there’s no definition of quality obviously, there’s no definition of good wine. It’s very subjective. It’s just, I’m more impressed when I hear things like the overall quality of Maryland is coming up,” he said. “I’d like to think that we and a few others have raised the bar, and now everyone is getting on their game. That’s encouraging.”

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Ravenswood prez to speak at Vintners' dinner

My thanks to Karen Cline -- who kicks out news you can use for the Brandywine Valley Wine Trail -- for the kind words (and a gentle kick in the butt) earlier this evening. Sometimes it's just nice to hear from folks who read this thing. Still in its early stages, getting the word out about its existence remains one of my more vexing problems. But, nothing that is insurmountable.

Anyway, Cline reports that Ravenswood Winery (Sonoma, Callif.) winemaker and president Joel Peterson has accepted an invitiation to speak at the trail's Vintners' Dinner Celebration at Longwood Gardens near Kennett Square, Pa. The evening event (6:30 to midnight) will be held Saturday, Nov. 8, in the East Conservatory and Ballroom. In addition to a wine reception and a dinner that will pair up with many of the wines from wineries on the trail, there will be dancing to the Brass Ensemble of the Kennet Symphony of Chester County and a silent auction that will raise money for The Little Rock Foundation.

Most of the proprietors of the seven wineries that make up the trail (the seventh, Black Walnut, is scheduled to open later this fall or after the holidays) will be attending. The cost is $135 per person. You can register online at the trail's Web site or call 866.390.4367.

Black Ankle wins Maryland's Best of Show

Black Ankle Winery is building up quite a resume. Now all it has to do is open its doors.

The winery in Mt. Airy, Md., that already has received a ton of press earned some more yesterday when it received the Governor’s Cup Award for “Best in Show.” This 19th annual competition was sponsored by the Maryland Wineries Association What drew top price for Black Ankle was its 2006 Crumbling Rock, a Bordeaux blend that includes Cab Franc, Cab Sauvignon and Merlot as the major players along with a touch of Petit Verdot. According to the
specs, the wines “spent 16 months in barrel, where they were topped and stirred weekly for 6 months, then topped bi-weekly until they were blended, fined, and lightly-filtered in preparation for bottling. The 2006 Crumbling Rock was bottled on April 2nd, 2008.”

It’s one of 10 wines that Ed Boyce and Sarah O’Herron are producing, and it’s a unique list; there are no sweet wines among the group. Six are white, including an Albarino that’s usually seen coming out of Spain rather than the Maryland Piedmont.

Association president Kevin Atticks wrote in an e-mail that there’s plenty of significance to a “rookie winery” taking the top price.

“The fact that a new winery — with wine from its very first vintage — has won the Governor's Cup is an incredible nod to the winegrowing prowess of our growing industry,” he wrote. “With Black Ankle Vineyards' win in the Governor's Cup, and also in the Winemasters Choice Awards, they have shown that locally-grown Maryland wine is of the highest quality and that sound viticulture and winemaking practices rule.”

Those who have watched the pair pour significant money and time into this new winery can’t be too surprised at the early success. They purchased a 146-acre farm in Frederick County in 2002 and began planting in 2003. What has delayed the opening of their tasting room, originally scheduled for July, has been this desire to erect a building that “uses as many materials from our farm as possible, including wood, straw, soil, rain and sun,” according to their site. Those who want to try their wines can head down to the 25th annual
Maryland Wine Festival this weekend at the Carroll County Farm Museum in Westminster. In fact, most of Maryland’s 34 wineries are expected to be pouring samples. And, if you can’t make that to try Black Ankle’s wines, that tasting room will probably open the following weekend, although nothing official has been announced.

"Thanks for the congrats on the Crumbling Rock - we are really proud of it," Boyce wrote in an e-mail. "We think our reds will be the backbone of our reputation, so the fact that it is garnering some acclaim is a good thing."

In addition to Black Ankle's best of the best, six other “Best of Class” awards were given out, including two each to Elk Run Vineyards and Boordy Vineyards. “In all, the awards included 25 gold medals, 46 silver medals, and 47 bronze medals.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

At Chaddsford, it's Roman wine 401

Want to taste wine at a winery in Eastern and Central Pennsylvania and Maryland? Sure, no problem. Happy to uncork a bottle.

Want to attend a concert? Almost all have something to offer; most that do have just wrapped up their own version of a summer concert series.

Want to come in and learn something about wine? You can, on the right day with the right person helping you. But there are a couple of exceptions where the vineyard has been turned into Wine U;
Chaddsford Winery is one of those places and Crossing Vineyards & Winery in Washington Crossing, Pa., would be another.

And if you look at Wine for Dummies as an intro course for “freshmen,” then the Wine in Roman Times that educator Frank Patterson will be teaching at Chaddsford starting at 7 on Thursday night could be considered more geared toward upperclassmen. It’s the first time that Patterson will offer the course at the winery, where he contributes his time not only as an instructor but also on Wednesdays and Fridays as a guide to the wine and winery, but the fourth or fifth time he’s given the presentation originally researched and assembled for Penn’s Museum of Archeology and Anthropology a decade ago.

In a sense, the more than two-hour slide show and presentation is a history lesson: the origins of wine, its journey to Greece and Italy and specifically Rome, where it flourished until Vesuvius blew its top in 79 AD and put the proverbial cork back in the bottle for a long while.

“I give them a historical approach [about the] significance of Rome in developing the wine industry,” he said earlier tonight, “and it was very, very critical what they did, very significant what they did in terms of manufacturing, in terms of agriculture, in terms of grape selection. It was quite an interesting history.”

That timeline eventually leads to Mastroberardino, a winemaker whose family has been making wine since the 1700s. He’s the one who persuaded the Italian government to fund his research on Vesuvius and the wines that were being made around that time. And that led to his putting in vineyards around the famous peak in Italy’s Campania region with grapes used in Roman times. Except, said Patterson, these new wines “were done in a very contemporary style, nothing like they were done in Rome.”

In fact, you can purchase these wines from the
Mastroberardino vineyard, assuming you’re bound for Europe or have your own method of getting them shipped to you from overseas. Or, you can attend the program and, at the end of the night, taste of some of these wines. The cost, by the way, is $30 and only a few seats remain.

This is one of a number of classes that Patterson teaches in the region, from wines of the world to a chemistry of wine lecture that draws on his background as a chemist with DuPont. It’s his former company that he credits for this wine passion; it sent he and his family to live in Italy for three years and (not surprisingly) he came home with a second career and an appreciation of the how wine has rooted itself into the global culture.

“I decided once I retired to teach wine courses, and that’s what I do,” he said. “I try to limit it because I am retired [and] I want to have fun in life.” He paused just briefly, then continued, “But this is fun for me though.”

Snapshots of The Vineyards at Mt. Felix

Peter Ianniello sent along a couple of photos from his new tasting patio that just opened, along with the winery on Thursday in Havre de Grace, Md. The Vineyards at Mt. Felix Manor will be open Wednesday though Sunday from noon to 8 p.m, and Monday and Tuesday by appointment. I'm still trying to find out the wine list they settled on; will post that information when I receive it. juices skids to start shipping

This note comes form the New York Wine & Grape Foundation e-letter:

AMAZON.COM has announced its intention to start selling U.S.-produced wine within the country by early October, giving a huge boost to the concept of direct shipment of wine to consumers and the potential that the U.S. may eventually become a serious wine-consuming country. Amazon is the world’s largest online retailer, so customers who may be shopping for something else will now be able to purchase wine just as easily if they live in the 45 states where this is legal (including New York). Traditionally, wine had to be sold through a “three-tier” system of supplier (winery), distributor (wholesaler) and retailer (wine store or restaurant) which was economically infeasible for small wineries and the many consumers who wanted to buy their products. In 2005 the U.S. Supreme Court issued a landmark ruling which liberalized the ability for wine producers and authorized businesses to ship directly to consumers. While most states have amended their laws to facilitate this, a few still do not allow it—reflecting the economically counterproductive states rights’ philosophy of the Repeal of Prohibition that has created 50 different systems within the United States. Direct shipment has given consumers many more choices than they had before.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Good (picking) time had by all at Basignani

It was time to pick the Seyval at Basignani Winery in Sparks, Md. What turned out to be the first public harvest of the seasoin drew a big crowd, many people coming back for a second and third time. Part of the attraction is spending the morning outside in the vineyard, picking grapes. But if we were all honest, we come for Lynne Basignani's food -- today it was lasagna and platter of fresh vegetables, etc. -- plus, oh, a couple bottles of wine and beer. Always enjoy the Zinfandel, and finally got a chance to taste the 2006 Chardonnary, the only Maryland wine that Bin 604 in Baltimore carries. Lynne and Bert, thanks. See you again soon.

They will pick again on Saturday in two week, and then at least the first Saturday in October. You can call to RSVP.

New winestand opens in NYC

This courtesy of the New York Wine and Grape Foundation:

LAKE EFFECT mist is a sure sign that harvest is approaching, and this week brought a spectacular example at Tuesday morning’s sunrise. With the air temperature at 53 degrees, the 80-degree Keuka Lake water created delicate vertical ribbons of mist that rose against a backdrop of deep red-orange blanketing the opposite hillside. It was a vivid reminder of how beautiful nature can be, and how fortunate we are to inhabit this earth. As fall progresses and the air temperature drops, the thin ribbons will morph into a layer of thick fog hovering above the lakes before it rises and spreads over the hillsides before evaporating into the heat of the day. Lake effect weather, both from Lake Ontario and the individual Finger Lakes, is vital to winegrowing in the Finger Lakes region, especially for the delicate European (Vinifera) grape varieties like Pinot Noir and Riesling. Similar benefits of temperature moderation accrue to vineyards in New York’s other major regions—Lake Erie in that region, Lake Ontario in the Niagara Escarpment, the Hudson River, and on Long Island the Atlantic Ocean, Long Island Sound, and Great Peconic Bay. The emerging Thousands Islands Seaway region also benefits from the broad St. Lawrence Seaway, though the winter temperatures get so low that growers there are wisely planting cold-hardy Minnesota varieties like Edelweiss and Frontenac.

VERAISON TO HARVEST is another sure sign of harvest season, and the first edition of the weekly newsletter appeared this week. With funding from our “Total Quality Focus” program, the Cornell Cooperative Extension Enology and Viticulture program specialists keep a watchful eye on how the crop progresses from veraison (when the grapes turn color, about now) all the way through to harvest. The information is gleaned from 55 vineyards across the state, and is supplemented by practical advice on how to maximize quality under whatever conditions exist in a particular year. Regional Cooperative Extension professionals provide details from their area, leading to an overall view like this beginning of the season’s first newsletter: “Last year at this time, we were talking about drought stress and reduced berry weight across NY—and the prospect of a compressed, early harvest season. This year, growers have had ample soil moisture, and have been coping with excess vigor instead of drought stress.” It’s a good reminder that wine is farming, first and foremost, and weather matters. This newsletter is just one of many examples of how Cornell has been a key player to the dramatic improvement in the quality of New York wines. For more information on the newsletter, contact Tim Martinson at or 315-787-2448.

NEW YORK STATE FAIR wraps up tomorrow, with this year’s Fair having at least three major improvements. The main entrance leads right into a new Pride of New York pavilion which sells hundreds of products from New York agricultural entrepreneurs, replacing the New York Lottery (what does that have to do with farming, other than common risk?). Pride of New York is a terrific program created by the Department of Agriculture & Markets to help consumers identify products produced by their New York neighbors—a great example of the “locavore” trend before it even existed. The Fair also a Witter Agricultural Museum, where this year we created a comprehensive display on the grape, grape juice and wine industry highlighting its history, diversity, growth and opportunities for entrepreneurs and employment. A new Wine Village was a major highlight, thanks to Assembly Agriculture Committee Chairman Bill Magee, the Department, and State Fair Director Dan O’Hara. Responding to concerns from wineries about last year’s Fair, Assemblyman Magee convened a meeting in December which ultimately led to the change. He also secured legislation allowing fairgoers to walk around the grounds with a (plastic) glass of wine, as they have always been able to do with beer; last year they had to stay in a small confined area when consuming wine, causing congestion and dissatisfaction. The new Wine Village in a spacious tent was supplemented by another prime location where wineries sold their products to consumers on the way to the grandstand for concerts or other activities; and a separate concessionaire who purchased and sold their wine as well. One winery owner with years of experience at the State Fair said their sales doubled this year. Commissioner Patrick Hooker and First Deputy Commissioner Bob Haggerty of Ag & Markets, which oversees the Fair, also deserve a lot of credit for their commitment to making things better.

NEW YORK WINESTAND at Union Square Greenmarket in New York City is Pride of New York’s latest venture, and yet another benefit to our wine industry. Situated in lower Manhattan, Union Square Greenmarket was the brainchild of Barry Benape and Bob Lewis, now Director of Marketing for Ag & Markets. It has transformed a previously run down and dangerous park into a bustling farmer’s market and friendly social network. While a few New York wineries (Anthony Road, Barrington, Chateau Renaissance) have been selling their wines at Manhattan greenmarkets for years, the New York Winestand is a new concept, bringing together New York wineries and Manhattan restaurants like Back Forty, Republic, and Parlor Steakhouse. A New York magazine blog dubbed it “locapour”. Last Friday, marking the Winestand’s debut, Anthony Road Winery sold all its wines. It will be open each Friday, and just look for the big green banner that says, “Buy Local. Buy Pride of New York.”

SILVER MEDALS are a solid achievement in any wine competition, and even more so in the tough international Decanter World Wine Awards. So congratulations to Casa Larga Vineyards (2005 Fiori Vidal Ice Wine), Glenora Wine Cellars (2006 Dry Riesling), and Sheldrake Point Vineyards (2005 Cabernet Franc) for their strong showing.

WINE CONSUMPTION among Americans is up, while beer consumption is down, spirits is about flat, and overall alcohol consumption is down, according to a new study published in the American Journal of Medicine. The lead researcher was Dr. R. Curtis Ellison, who appeared twice on 60 Minutes to explain the “French Paradox”, founded the Institute on Lifestyle and Health at Boston University School of Medicine, and frequently speaks at our conferences. Middle-aged people are consuming about a third less alcohol than 50 years ago, due to a combination of more people who don’t drink and more moderate consumption among those who do. Average alcohol consumption among men has gone from about two and a half to one and a half drinks per day. While the precise reasons for these trends aren’t clear, it’s reasonable to suggest that the public has heard about the health benefits of moderate wine consumption, the dangers of binge drinking, and the importance of integrating wine into a healthy lifestyle. If so, that’s good news all around.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Wine Spectator responds to hoax

Here is the official response from Wine Spectator, sent over this morning by executive editor Thomas Matthews:

Wine Spectator has learned that, for the first time in the 27-year history of our Restaurant Awards program, a fictitious restaurant has entered its wine list for judging.

To orchestrate his publicity-seeking scam, Robin Goldstein created a fictitious restaurant in Milan, Italy, called Osteria L’Intrepido, then submitted a menu and wine list to Wine Spectator’s Restaurant Awards as a new entry in 2008. The wine list earned an Award of Excellence, the most basic of our three award levels.

Goldstein revealed his elaborate hoax at a meeting in Oregon last week. He is now crowing about the fraud on his own Web site. The story has been picked up in the blogosphere, and now Wine Spectator would like to set forth the actual facts of the matter.

1. Wine Spectator’s Restaurant Awards

Our Awards program was founded in 1981 to encourage restaurants to improve their wine programs, and to aid readers in finding restaurants that take wine seriously. The program evaluates the content, accuracy and presentation of restaurant wine lists. It does not purport to review the restaurant as a whole.

In the program’s 27 years, we have evaluated more than 45,000 wine lists. There is no doubt that more restaurants offer good wine lists today than back in 1981. We would like to think that this program has contributed to that development. Further, our Dining Guide is a widely used resource by our subscribers. (View more information on the program at

2. How could a restaurant that doesn’t exist earn an award for its wine list?

We do not claim to visit every restaurant in our Awards program. We do promise to evaluate their wine lists fairly. (Nearly one-third of new entries each year do not win awards.) We assume that if we receive a wine list, the restaurant that created it does in fact exist. In the application, the restaurant owner warrants that all statements and information provided are truthful and accurate. Of course, we make significant efforts to verify the facts.

In the case of Osteria L’Intrepido:
a. We called the restaurant multiple times; each time, we reached an answering machine and a message from a person purporting to be from the restaurant claiming that it was closed at the moment.
b. Googling the restaurant turned up an actual address and located it on a map of Milan
c. The restaurant sent us a link to a Web site that listed its menu
d. On the Web site Chowhound, diners (now apparently fictitious) discussed their experiences at the non-existent restaurant in entries dated January 2008, to August 2008.

3. How could this wine list earn an award?

On his blog, Goldstein posted a small selection of the wines on this list, along with their poor ratings from Wine Spectator. This was his effort to prove that the list – even if real – did not deserve an award.

However, this selection was not representative of the quality of the complete list that he submitted to our program. Goldstein posted reviews for 15 wines. But the submitted list contained a total of 256 wines. Only 15 wines scored below 80 points.

Fifty-three wines earned ratings of 90 points or higher (outstanding on Wine Spectator’s 100-point scale) and a total of 102 earned ratings of 80 points (good) or better. (139 wines were not rated.) Overall, the wines came from many of Italy’s top producers, in a clear, accurate presentation.

Here is our description of an Award of Excellence:
Our basic award, for lists that offer a well-chosen selection of quality producers, along with a thematic match to the menu in both price and style.

The list from L’Intrepido clearly falls within these parameters.

4. What did Goldstein achieve?

It has now been demonstrated that an elaborate hoax can deceive Wine Spectator.

This act of malicious duplicity reminds us that no one is completely immune to fraud. It is sad that an unscrupulous person can attack a publication that has earned its reputation for integrity over the past 32 years. Wine Spectator will clearly have to be more vigilant in the future.

Most importantly, however, this scam does not tarnish the legitimate accomplishments of the thousands of real restaurants who currently hold Wine Spectator awards, a result of their skill, hard work and passion for wine.

Wine Spectator, 'winner' spar over hoax

Editor's note: The official response from Wine Spectator is on the next post.

Robin Goldstein didn’t sound like someone giddy with exhilaration over the “gotcha” he pulled on Wine Spectator magazine and its annual Awards of Excellence that date back 27 years. Explaining that it was part of the research for an academic paper about standards for wine awards, he turned in an application for an award creating a fake Italian restaurant (Oesteria L’Intrepido) and accompanying wine list. As Goldstein
explained on his restaurant site, he “named the restaurant 'Osteria L’Intrepido' (a play on the name of a restaurant guide series that I founded, Fearless Critic). I submitted the fee ($250), a cover letter, a copy of the restaurant’s menu (a fun amalgamation of somewhat bumbling nouvelle-Italian recipes), and a wine list.”

Then, as he explained by phone last night, came the e-mail from Wine Spectator congratulating him on the award, “which was shortly followed by a phone call from the ad sales department.” Wine Spectator and Goldstein dispute the amount of communication; Goldstein said it's the only call he got from the magazine. Wine Spectator said a staff member called the restaurant multiple times and that "reached an answering machine and a message from a person purporting to be from the restaurant claiming that it was closed at the moment."

Asked how wide his grin was upon receiving the news, Goldstein said the result was more sobering than satisfying. “I do think this is a problem and not just for Wine Spectator but for food and wine awards and experts in general,” he said. “I think there’s a problem with standards and so it troubles me. I’m not happy about the problem. It’s something I wanted to bring to people’s attention because I think the public deserves better for our experts.”

Wine Spectator executive editor Thomas Matthews was asked by e-mail today if he agreed with any part of Goldstein's criticism. He followed up the question with another question.

"What do we mean when we we talk about 'standards?'" he asked. "In my opinion, a credible awards program makes its criteria clear, then applies them fairly and consistently. That is the case with Wine Spectator's Restaurant Awards Program. The criteria that apply to each award level are clearly stated, to restaurateurs and diners alike. L'Intrepido's list met those criteria. The presence of 15 low-scoring wines -- out of more than 250 in all, many very high-scoring -- doesn't change that judgment. Every restaurant list, including the very best, offers some wines Wine Spectator hasn't rated highly. We aren't so tyrannical as to rigidly impose our own tastes."

On its Web site, Wine Spectator says the awards “recognize restaurants whose wine lists offer interesting selections, are appropriate to their cuisine and appeal to a wide range of wine lovers.” It judges the wine lists, not the food. Restaurants are judged primarily on the breadth and quality of their selection and the presentation of the list. Winners are broken down into three categories, moving from basic to best: the Award of Excellence for restaurants with around 100 selections (it was given this year to 3,253 restaurants); the Best of Award of Excellence for restaurants with around 400 selections (it was given to 802 restaurants); and the Grand Award for restaurants with 1,500 or more selections (it was bestowed upon 72 eateries in 2008).

Just do a search on Wine Spectator and awards and restaurants and it’s easy to see how these designations are used in advertising; no doubt you’ll find that recognition hung prominently on the walls of the restaurants, too. “We rely on the certificates that we see posted on the walls in restaurants,” Goldstein said, “and we rely on the awards that we see talked about on Web sites and in restaurant reviews, and it’s disconcerting to think there might not be much behind them. We need to demand more of our experts.”

Matthews wrote in an e-mail that the magazine charged no application fees during the first 20 years of the selection procress. But, he added, the success put significant burdens on his staff, requiring an entry fee that other awards programs, from the James Beard Journalism awards to the National Magazine Awards, charge. The program is entirely voluntary; no restaurant is required to enter, he added. All judging is done only by the editorial staff.

"Some might argue that the criteria for our basic Award of Excellence are too easy to achieve," he added in the e-mail. "But tell that to the chef-owner of a 40-seat bistro in a small Midwestern town, struggling to find the energy, knowledge and money to manage a wine program with 150 selections and several thousand bottles in inventory. Doesn't she merit recognition for her achievement?

"Our program was founded to encourage restaurants -- even modest restaurants -- to improve their wine programs. And in the 27 years we've been running it, wine lists across America have indeed improved. No other publication has devoted so much time, energy and resources to aid this progress."

All the winners were announced in the August edition of the magazine; Goldstein said he first came forward and told people what he had done at a meeting of the American Association of Wine Economists in Portland, Ore., on Aug. 15. Since then, references to Goldstein’s restaurant and wine list have been pulled from the magazine’s Web site and he has acquired a bit of a cult following as the Internet has helped news of the scheme take flight. For someone who said he's hopeful this improves the process, Goldstein said he’s encouraged by the response he has received from people who read what he did.

“I’m optimistic that this might change things based on the reaction from people,” he said, “from readers and from the media and from the food and wine communities. “It’s not encouraging that the reaction that came from Wine Spectator, which was more of a, you know, an accusation that I was some sort of eccentric fraud that sort of dealing with the real issue, which is that their readers expected more from them with this awards program that has been running for decades and that I would have expected something more along the line of ‘We plan to change our standards and we plan do something to confront the fact that this awards program might be functioning more like advertising than people think it is.’ Instead of getting that sort of explanation we got some sort of lashing out against me. But overall, given that my goal was to open the discussion and raise the awareness of it and sort of ask the public, are we getting what we expect out of our elite experts in the world of food and wine, the reaction has been positive and hopefully points toward some change on the way.”

And what changes would he make? Goldstein breaks it down into a short list, at least to use as a starting point.

“One thing would be independence of the bodies from the restaurant or wines or the entities that they are reviewing,” he says. “I don’t think that someone who reviews restaurants, for example, should be in the business of accepting money from those restaurants for advertising on any other purpose. That would be number one. Wine Spectator is far from the only offender in that regard. So, number one, don’t accept money.

“Number two, don’t even have a relationship with the entities you are reviewing. Don’t have this sort of implication . . . in the food world where you have writers going in and identifying themselves and saying, ‘Hey, I’m from such and such magazine, entertain me.’ You know, whether or not they are sort of accepting money from the restaurant it still seems not just because they are going to get special treatment but also because it creates a relationship that they then might feel obliged to honor. We’re all human beings and we feel really bad being honest if necessary saying something against someone we know or someone who’s a friend. So I think that plays in as well.

“And then finally, in terms of the nonexistent restaurant getting an award, I think just applying more editorial scrutiny and fact-checking in a real way. When you have so much misinformation out there and so many interested parties posting this information everywhere . . . I think it’s the role of the expert to be the one who says, ‘No, I’m going to be the one who verifies these facts in person. I’m going to be the one who shows up at the restaurant and sees if what I’ve read, posted by all these people who you don’t know who they are on the Internet. In my role as expert I’m the one who has to do that diligence.' ”

Two things there. One is the disclaimer that Wine Spectator positioned at the end of its online explanation of the awards. It read: “It's important to note that our awards evaluate wine lists, not restaurants as a whole. While we assume that the level of food and service will be commensurate with the wine lists entered by award winners, this unfortunately is not always true. We cannot visit every award-winning restaurant (although all Grand Award winners and many others are inspected by Wine Spectator editors), so we encourage our readers to alert us to discrepancies and disappointments. If you have any comments regarding your experience at one of our award-winning restaurants, contact us at”

Second, I’m in a business where resources are drying up nationally, where media owners with few exceptions and newspaper owners specifically are cutting back on manpower and resources. Investigative reporting? It’s decreasing by the week, a fact that hasn’t been lost on Goldstein, a former restaurant critic for the New Haven, Conn., paper whose book The Wine Trials was published at the beginning of the year.

“I know how hard it is these days for publishers, given that advertising dollars for print is somewhat drying up, it’s really hard to say put your foot down [and say] ‘We’re really going to enforce this division between editorial and advertising,” he says. “But I think it’s so important to maintain that level of integrity.”