Monday, August 4, 2008

Stretch run to the next harvest

It’s early August. Sultry days. Warm nights. Easy living, for the most part. One glance around the office tells you half the staff is on vacation.

The living’s not quite so relaxed at the winery. In the vineyards they are pulling leaves and positioning shoots. In the winery they are hustling to finish bottling, says Kari Skrip, who manages the business end of
Clover Hill Vineyards & Winery in Breinigsville, Pa. Bottling not only adds more wine to the shelves, but just as important clears out the tanks for the next harvest, which gets under way in around month. Skrip says they have bottled and released their 2005 chambourcin, their 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon, their 2006 Sangiovese, and the one fruit wine they produce a year. In this case, it’s peach wine, and it likely won’t last long before it’s gone, Skrip says. Sweet sells, although she says that trend is beginning to shift just a bit.

“We grew up drinking Kool-Aid and soda and things like that,” she says, responding to a question about whether this appeal of sweet wines is regional or national. She says it’s the latter. “So we definitely have a sweeter palate. Now in this area, Concord grapes, people are so familiar with that type of taste and that fruitiness and they love it and taste it and say, ‘This tastes like what my grandparents grew in the back yard.’ So it’s almost sort of whimsical kind of drink for people in the area.

“But across the board, I have to think, our sweeter wines are the equivalent of the California White Zins. People do drink them. But we have noticed a shift, more and more people are drinking dry, and that’s a natural progression. Most times, people will start out drinking something sweeter and then it’s a little bit too sweet. Next thing you know, all they want to drink are the Cabernets, you know, something big and red. That’s a pretty common thing in the U.S. in general.

“Our area? I mean, we sell and make a lot of Concord, we sell and make a lot of fruit wine . . . that usually goes quickly for us. The peach will come and go pretty quickly. But like I say, for us, when we first started, it was all Concord and Niagara and Catawba, and now I would say, Concord competes with something like our Riesling, which is semi sweet as far as one of our biggest sellers. So you definitely see, across the board, people are moving more toward that semi sweet or dryer range.”

Their Cabernet Sauvignon, she says, is the top seller among the dry wines. “One, because people are familiar with the name. Sangiovese, we do that in limited quantities, but that’s a really great wine for us. I’m surprised by it. We planted some as an experiment and the grapes did real well, so we started making some small lots of wine from it, and that’s one we’re hoping to plant more of in the upcoming years because people just really go for it. I didn’t think people would, but they love it. I sort of thought people would not be familiar with it at all, and I’m kind of surprised how much they are familiar with the grape Sangiovese. That’s become really popular for us as a dry wine. But Cab, that’s by far our most popular.”

Kari’s parents, John Jr. and Pat, opened Clover Hill in 1985, although grapes were first planted there in 1975. “We have some of those original [vines],” she says, “however we’ve started to rip some of the stuff out over the last 10 years and just replanted a bit differently. When my parents started the winery they kind of did it as a hobby, and now that it’s a commercial business for us we kind of we’ve replanted thing a little bit differently than when we started out.”

Kari’s brother John III now is the winemaker for a business that has grown to five satellite sites plus the winery. Some new vines were planted last year. More will follow. They haven’t marketed anything as old vine, although Skrip says the Pinot Noir, for instance, is a wine they’ll be eager to see develop as the vines mature. It’s not such a bigger difference between younger vines and older vines. But like the Pinot Noir, our Cab, even Chambourcin, the older they get the better quality fruit than some other things like Vignoles and Cayuga, [where] it doesn’t make a whole lot of difference. Certainly you’ll get better quality as they get over, but not as big of a difference as some of the other varieties.”

New York: Same problem as surrounding states

I've been trying to reach Jim Trezise, the director of the New York Wine & Grape Foundation, for more than a month now. One of the subjects I wanted to talk about was how well the state does in getting its wines into restaurants. Lo and behind, he touched on that subject in the latest e-letter.

He writes: LOCAVORE movement is far more advanced on the west coast than in New York, where we of course like to think we’re trendy even though we often lag in areas like this. A great example is the Westin Bellevue hotel near Seattle, the host hotel for this week’s Riesling Rendezvous conference at Chateau Ste. Michelle. As you check in, they let you know their Cypress restaurant features ONLY Washington and other Northwest wines—sorry, no French, Italian, or even California. The selection is eclectic, the staff enthusiastic, the food pairings superb. I asked the manager how this came about—like if it was a specific promotion backed by a trade organization (No)—and he said: “Naturally. We’re in Washington, which has great wines, so why not let our guests taste them?” I asked the same question at several restaurants that had good, if not exclusive, selections of local wines. Same answer. In other words, on the west coast, they get it! Can you imagine that in New York City? With only one exception—“The View” restaurant at the Marriott Marquis, which has had a “New York Tasting Menu” inspired by Bert Miller—you would be hard pressed to fine ONE New York wine in Big Apple hotels. Don’t get me wrong: I Love New York, I’m proud of it, and I applaud its exciting diversity—in people, attractions, and wine. But for a supposedly sophisticated city, it’s largely ignorant of the great wine regions surrounding it, and certainly not loyal to them. That’s one of the reasons we’re concentrating more of our promotion efforts on the Big Apple, including an expanded “New York Wines & Dines” program in October.