Saturday, December 6, 2008

Prohibition effects still weigh on wine industry

Repeating myself, I know, but in the spirit of sharing some of the more universal wine sentiments from Jim Trezise of the New York Wine & Grape Foundation, here are some excerpts from this week's e-letter.

HAPPY 75TH ANNIVERSARY! (SORT OF). Prohibition is dead. At least in theory. Yesterday marked the 75th anniversary of the Repeal of Prohibition, ironically pushed over by ratification from the most anti-alcohol State, Utah. Alas (and with apologies, though I wasn’t born then), New York State was the hotbed of the Prohibition movement, that “noble experiment” to legislate human behavior which created bathtub gin, speakeasies, and organized crime. The 18th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution which created Prohibition in 1919 was repealed by the 21st Amendment in 1933—the only time a truly stupid law has ever been overturned in this way, requiring two Constitutional Amendments (whoops!). But the problem was, and still is, that wine was included in the definition of “intoxicating liquors” (objected to by the President, but overruled by Congress). In addition, the federal government punted, leaving it to each state to determine how to deal with “intoxicating liquors.” Like wine? That’s why the “United States” is, in effect, 50 different countries (states) in terms of where wine is sold (at the winery and/or through direct shipment to consumers and/or direct distribution to retailers [which may be liquor stores, grocery stores, drug stores, convenience stores, etc., depending on the state] and restaurants and/or through wholesalers). Each state is different—with different laws and regulations, bureaucracies, and tax structures—so the bureaucratic nightmare is overwhelming for most New York and other American wineries, which are primarily small farm family businesses. It is truly amazing that so many people of passion have elected to get into this business and stay in it, given all the obstacles our various levels of government have thrown at them. And while I don’t want to spoil the anniversary celebration, it is important to realize that there are many people—on state, national, and international governmental levels—who essentially want to revive Prohibition (without actually saying the word) through taxes, trade barriers, sampling regulations, and other means. There’s one country, for example, which doesn’t allow wine advertising and is considering a ban on sampling in tasting rooms. Where? France! And if it can happen there, it can happen anywhere. That’s why organizations like Farm Bureau (state level), WineAmerica (national) and FIVS (international) are so vital to the health of our industry. Anyway, Happy Anniversary—and may the next 75 years bring true Repeal. Cheers!
GRAPES AND HEALTH is a fascinating, multi-faceted subject discussed by scientists from Hawaii to Boston this week in San Francisco at a seminar hosted by the National Grape and Wine Initiative (NGWI), the private sector strategic planning organization for research and education. One scientist noted that there are at least 1,600 compounds in grapes that affect human health. And did you know that raisins are good for you (and your kids’) teeth? Yes, those sticky sweet things, besides having lots of iron, have fructose and glucose (good sugars), but virtually no sucrose (bad sugar), and their stickiness takes away lots of other bad things in your mouth that could otherwise lead to problems. And what’s happening in your mouth affects the rest of your body. So eat lots of raisins—but not most commercial raisin bran, which contains lots of sucrose (read the label). Concord grape juice also has many health benefits, and current research is expected to confirm protection against Alzheimer’s and other dementia. In fact, we’ll be sponsoring a major media and trade event in New York City on the health benefits of Concord grape juice, when we hope to light the Empire State Building purple for the event. Table grapes also have various benefits, as does grape seed extract sold in many health and nutrition stores. We’re not allowed to talk about wine (ssshhh!!), but there are even rumors that regular moderate wine consumption has incredible, multiple benefits including the reduction of risk of heart disease, cancer, and other common killers. In short, the humble little grape is powerful medicine.

Va La: Up on Zafferano, down on Viognier

Some snapshots taken outside and inside Va La Winery.
Brought a bottle of Zafferano from Va La Family Vineyards in Avon Grove, Pa., to dinner last night and shared it with several dining mates. Now this was outside Dallastown in York County, at an exquisite eatery called Tapenade Bistro (dinner is served there only on Friday nights). So people recognized Avon Grove ("mushroom country, yes?") but had never heard of the winery nor the unique names that make up its list of wines. Zafferano is a 100 percent cold-fermented Pinot Grigio that went beautifully with our meals; it also gave me the chance to spread the word about one of my favorite little regional wineries.

We stopped at Va La a few weeks ago on a Saturday and did the two-floor tour; several tastings on the main floor that were paired with cheeses and, in one case, chocolates from local farmers and merchants, and then a move upstairs to try several more. The place was bustling on both levels, bad news only for a tiny parking lot that requires some imagination to find a spot when the crowds fill up the place on the weekends. But between the grand bar that dominates the first level and the artwork you find heading upstairs, and the warmth and attention given by owner Anthony Vietri and his staff, and the stable of delicious wines that feature names unlike any others -- La Prima Donna, Mahogany, Cedar, Silk and Siranetta, to name most of them -- it's worth dropping by and tasting what's been squeezed out of the seven acres that the family cultivates.

One note for those who follow the business: Vietri said he's pulling out all of his Viognier and replacing it primarily with Petit Manseng. While you can't beat the Viognier for its fragrance -- just hold a glass of Va La's Fioretti under your note for a minute or two and slowly inhale a few times -- you can beat yourself up trying to nurture the grape because of its susceptiblity to diseases. Wake up one day, Vietri said, and half of what was thriving yesterday is suddenly kerplunk. So, it's time to move on, with few regrets.

Woodhall readies for busy December

The winery that first got us excited in local wines is Woodhall Wine Cellars down in Parkton, Md. We started showing up at the 25-year-old winery for everything from their barrel tasting to their soups weekend to the library tasting and sale they have for only case club members. There aren't too many wineries that "blow the dust" off their wines in the cellar and sell them, but Woodhall does. It's enjoyable tasting wines from grapes that might have been growing in the early to mid 1990s or even the early 1980s, the latter of which they put out for tating last year. Brought home one of their 1985 Cabs and opened it six months later. It had held together splendidly. So have the 1991 and 1995 Cabs I've brought back from their sales. Appropriately, that's taking place this weekend, again for those who have bought cases there in the past. I believe the times will be 1 to 4 p.m. today and tomorrow.

But what prompts me to write this entry on Woodhall isn't so much the library tasting as the bit of commentary that the lovely Debbie Morris put at the top of the winery's December e-letter. Call Morris the queen of hospitality; she's generally there when we pop in on the weekends and no one can provide a more pleasant and hospitable greeting. You can't help but sit down and relax for a bit. She noted the following:

WELL, Maryland wine did it again. We posted an 18.2% increase in sales for 2007. That marks the seventh year in a row in which the increase has been in the double digits. And the number of wineries continues to grow. We are now up to 34, with more on the horizon. Is the industry breathing easy – not on your life. We lag behind neighboring states on the number of wineries and the per capita consumption of locally produced wine. We are continually faced with new bureaucratic barriers to conducting normal business operations. And consumers keep commenting “I didn’t know that there was a wine industry in Maryland.” I guess that you’ll have to redouble your efforts to get the word out – We are.

And so am I. It's the chance to get the word out on an industry that many don't realize exists that has served as the motivation for this daily labor of love. Always fun to introduce folks to something they've never tried; I can only hope that this blog continues to grow in popularity so it can shed even more light on two states, Pennsylvania and Maryland, that are only beginning to make strides toward producing wine that can hold its own against the best nationally and, in a few specific cases, internationally.

Two other notes from the e-letter. There's this one on the cookie challenge and wine sale that starts next weekend:

December is a fun time at Woodhall. We decorate, We frost cookies with kids. We serve hot mulled wine when you come to see us. We have an expanded selection of gifts, including made-to-order baskets, quality wine gift sets, stocking stuffers and other neat gifts.

DECEMBER 13/14, 12-4 pm Kids Cookie Challenge and Wine Sale

Quite a combination, but it works. Bring the kids to frost sugar cookies. Enjoy a cup of hot mulled wine (the kids get hot chocolate) and pick out your case of holiday wine at the “first 100 days” discount price of $100. We’ll be featuring gift items from Moose Ridge Alpacas, The Pampered Chef, and jewelry by Silpada and crafts by Victor DiPace. On Sunday , from 2 to 5 pm, Christmas music will be offered by the quintet, The Dreadful Grapes.

DECEMBER 20/21, 12-4 pm. More Cookies and Wine Sale

If the kids liked the cookies, bring them back. If you were busy on the 13th and 14th, here’s another chance for the kids to get their fingers messy with frosting, and you to get a case of wine for the holidays at the “first 100 days” sale price. No music though.

And, finally, this one on some wine and food pairing suggestions for holiday food.

Here are Woodhall’s holiday wine recommendations:

Roast or Smoked Turkey/Duck/Goose and Salmon
Jubilee Reserve Barbera Cabernet Franc
Pinot Noir Sangiovese
Chambourcin Vignoles

Roast Chicken/ Cornish Game Hen/Rabbit
Golden Run Reserve Vidal Blanc Rose’ of Sangiovese
Seyval Pinot Noir
Chardonnay Any of the Sweeter Wines
Gunpowder Falls White

Roast Beef/Veal/Lamb
Copernica Reserve Cabernet Sauv. Chambourcin
Parkton Prestige Cabernet Franc
Jubilee Reserve Barbera Cabernet Sauvignon
Jubilee Reserve Merlot Angler Red
Gunpowder Falls Red Party Garnet

Stuffed Ham Maryland Style
Chardonnay Sangiovese
Seyval Angler Red
Chambourcin Party Garnet

Ham with Pineapple, Cloves and Brown Sugar
Patricia’s White Pinot Noir
Rose’ of Sangiovese Any of the Sweeter Wines

As a generalization, match the character, not color, of the wine with the character, not color, of the food. If the food is slightly sweet, consider an off-dry wine. If the food is a bit acidic, (e.g. fish in a lemon sauce), choose a slightly acidic wine. Slightly bitter foods (red meats, green vegetables) call for wines with tannin. Salty foods go best with off-dry or sweeter wines.

Remember, however, that a food/wine match is greatly influenced by the seasoning used in the preparation of the food. For example, spicy preparations match well with off-dry, floral wines – the hotter the spice, the sweeter the wine. And heavy sauces and grilling can change the classification of fish and fowl from light foods to heavy foods.