Whenever I’m passionate about something, I just dive right in and immerse myself in it. I started blogging about wine as a self-taught hobby but started taking classes and going to tastings whenever possible. The world of wine is so expansive and there is always something new to learn, so I was thrilled to see a full-blown conference—Vinosummit—right in my hometown.
Ancient World, Old World, New World; The History of Wine in Six Glasses
Presenter: Max Kast, MS, Director of Education for Broadbent Wines
With the glasses set, stage set, and wines poured, we kicked off the conference with a history lesson by Max Kast. Max is equal parts charming as he is geeky. His enthusiasm for the history and little details is inspiring. We started off with the age-old question—how long have we been making (and drinking) wine? Turns out, it all started in 10,000–7,000 BC, when grapes (Vitis Vinifera) grew wild, but humans quickly tamed them in the Transcaucasia area. The oldest evidence of winemaking was found in the Republic of Georgia and remnants of amphora clay was found in 6,000 BC. Shout out to the Phoenicians (modern day Lebanese—shout out to my heritage) for bringing early cuttings of Vitis Vinifera to modern day Europe.
Fast forward to the Middle Ages, where the most important viticulturists were clergy, monks, and nuns (probably the best thing to come from religion). We can thank the Cistercian monks for elevating the journey of wine. They started paying attention to the differences in the weather and the vines, recording the affect on site to site. Starting to ferment sites separately, they noticed that each site had its own aromas and tastes. That’s how we began the creation of single cru.
In the Renaissance and beyond, sulfur came into play for stabilization, we started bottling wine, fortifying wine, creating better glass bottles to transport wine in, and taking plantings into the new world. The rest is history.
The reflect on that history, Max served up six distinct wines to taste.
- De Martino Viejas Tinajas Cinsault, Itata Valley, Chile, 2016
- Hermann Kabinett Riesling, Erdener Treppchen, Mosel, Germany 2017
- Gusbourne Brut Reserve, Kent, England 2014
- Broadbent, 10-year Sercia Madeiral, Portugal
- Elderton Estate Shiraz, Barossa Valley, Australia 2016
- Chateau Musar Rouge, Bekaa Valley, Lebanon 2011
Each wine was delicious in its own right but I have a special place in my heart for Riesling, an excitement about British bubbles since I first tried one at George’s, and Chateau Musar because of my Lebanese heritage. Chateau Musar was particularly interesting because they view each vintage as a historical record and always use the same mix. No matter what the conditions of the year were, they always make a wine. It’s poetic.
Max ended the session by answering questions about his favorite vintage and geeking out about his latest reading materials, including some recent articles and out of print books. It was the perfect way to start the day.
Napa Valley Rocks – Exploring Cabernet’s patchwork diversity, sponsored by Napa Valley Vintners
Presenter: Nicole Ramos, WSET L3, FWS, SWS, WSET Certified Educator
I took the next session because I’ve never been to Napa Valley (gasp)! It was presented by my good friend Nicole, so I was sold. We focused on Cabernet Sauvignon, which at first may not seem so diverse, but YES—there is enough difference in the Napa terroir to warrant the volume its being made in and the examination of six different Cabs in this session.
When you think about Napa, you think about America’s heart of the wine industry, but when you look at the stats, it’s a small region with small producers—only comprising 4% of volume of product for California’s wine and 0.4% of the world’s wines. The Napa Valley Vintners were founded in 1944 with the mission to promote and enhance Napa Valley. There are 550 members who share the common goal of producing wines of the highest quality, providing environmental leadership and preservation of the valley for the future.
You can find 50% of the world’s soil orders in Napa Valley, with 33 soil series. There is Alluvial soil—which is deep, rocky and well-drained soils with moderate fertility, Fluvial soil—silts and clays deposited along the banks of the Napa River, and Mountain soil—thin and rocky, clinging to hillsides.
We tried six wines that showcased the varying terroir. Here are some random notes.
- Farella Vineyards, Coombsville 2016
This area has a climate similar enough to Bordeaux. This wine winemaker focuses on acidity levels. It had fruit on the nose with green notes. Hint of volcanic bits. Nice tannins, not astringent at all. Far Niente actually goes to them year after year for grapes.
- Barnett Vineyards, Spring Mountain District 2017
Coming from the mountain region, fog rarely touches top of spring mountain district, so there are lots of challenges. They harvest on foot and there is a longer hang time (harvesting 2-3 times later than valley floor). This wine had notes of black fruit and raisins. The ripeness is attributed to extra hours of sunlight. It felt like a thinner wine. It’s young and needs time.
- Crocker & Starr RLC, St. Helena 2016
Pam Starr is a badass woman! She radically changed the yields in the vineyards and focused on quality. The wine has dark fruit and is concentrated and rounded. It has more formed tannins.
- Round Pond Estate, Rutherford 2016
It’s owned and operated by the MacDonnell family. Estate wines come from vines planted to gravel soils that give intense, expressive and full-bodied wines. There is a waxiness to it, blue fruits, not sweet or jammy. There were notes of chocolate. Full-bodied with high alcohol.
- Kenefick Ranch Chris’ Cuvee, Calistoga 2016
Tom Kenefick bought the ranch in 1978, developing it as a passion project on the weekends. The soils are of volcanic origin, giving good drainage and limiting green growth. It is ripe on the nose, almost jammy. It was fresh compared to first wine and had soft tannins. So much fruit. Juicy but balanced, with some vanilla.
- Somerston Estate Celestial Block XCVI, Napa Valley (Just east of Chiles Valley) 2014
This was an established AVA in 1999 and is a long corridor in the Vacas Mountains that experience a constant stream of wine. The wine was not jammy, not too ripe. Not as green or herbaceous—Just right. It was very balanced—not one thing stood out. Delicious!
I learned so much and CANNOT wait to visit Napa Valley!
A Practical Approach to Blind Tasting Based on Theory and Deductive Reasoning
Presenter: Eric Hemer, MS, MW, Senior Vice President, Director of Wine Education, Southern Glazer’s Wine & Spirits of America
Who doesn’t love blind tasting!? Ha—I sure don’t. It honestly gives me so much anxiety, so I was thrilled to take Eric Hemer’s approach.
There are several factors you need to consider—sight (color), nose (aroma and intensity), and palate (flavor, structure, and length). You also need to think about the climate of the wine (how’s the acid, alcohol, and nature/quality of fruit). Given those factors, you need to listen to yourself, know the markers for classic grape varietals, and use benchmark wines tasted in the past for reference.
We blind tasted eight different wines. I realized I’m better at deciphering whites and only guessed three of eight varietals. I guess I need more practice!
The Pillars of Jerez: A Sherry Education
Presenter: Claire Henderson, Senior Brand Manager, González Byass USA
One of my favorite sessions of the summit. I had no major knowledge of expectations of Jerez, and boy was I surprised! With a Scottish accent and a full knowledge of Jerez, Claire was captivating and informative, giving me a newfound love of Sherry. Master blender Antonio Flores, who was actually born in the cellar, always says, “Everything worthwhile in life needs some effort.” And boy is he right.
What is Sherry? A fortified wine that you drink slightly chilled in a wine glass. Despite the fact that a lot of people think of it as a dessert wine, it is versatile and good with food.
There are several pillars of Jerez that construct Sherry. First is the white soil which is unique to Jerez, which is only similar is in Champagne. Since vineyards are not allowed to irrigate, the soil comes into play majorly. It’s high in chalk content and acts as a sponge, which absorbs high amount of rainwater. It has 10% clay, which allows the water to sit on a clay layer at the top when it absorbs all the water it needs. It’s high in mineral content with saline character, which gives character to the wine. The white soil color also gives an even maturation to grapes because color. The whiteness of soil reflects sunlight back up.
There are only three different grape varieties (white varieties) allowed in Jerez: Palomino (95% of what is planted), Pedro Ximénez, and Muscatel. They use a Solera system for fermentation with biological or oxidative aging.
The tried the following wines by González Byass.
- Tio Pepe Fino
This wine was pale yellow with a pungent, yeasty aroma and it was surprisingly dry! I totally dig it. I can totally see myself enjoying this instead of regular still wine.
- Viña AB Amontillado
This wine had both aging processes because it needed the flor but also had to be oxidized. It had notes of hazelnut and yeast, which followed through. It was slightly sweeter. It was essentially a 12-year-old Tio Pepe.
- Alfonso Oloroso Seco
This one didn’t have that yeasty, brioche quality. It was more notes of orange peel and had a bit more sugar. It was still dry enough but smooth and more flavorful.
- Leonor Palo Cortado 12 Años
Palo Cortado is something that happened by accident. It’s like a Fino on nose but an Oloroso on the mouth. It’s made by using Fino fine must oxidized as an Oloroso. It definitely was a more complex wine.
- Solera 1847 Cream Dulce
Now this one totally skewed to the sweeter side—what you think of when you think dessert wine. I got notes of raisins, vanilla, oak, and caramel.
- Nectar Pedro Ximenez
This is another that was definitely a dessert within itself!
- Gonzalez Byass Finest Dry Añada Palo Cortado Vintage Sherry 1987
And last, but not least, we were in for the best of treats! This Sherry was actually a vintage wine which is not typically a common practice. Every year, they set aside 200 casts of their best must. They set it aside and let it age as a vintage Sherry, without any blending, for 25-30 years. Of this vintage, there were only 900 bottles made worldwide. This one was so complex and structured, and light on the mouth. It was soooooo yummy.
Now I have to put Jerez on my wine travel list.
A Tale of Two Counties: Leadership in Sonoma and San Luis Obispo, CA
Presenter: Joseph Spellman, MS, JUSTIN Vineyards & Winery
Closing out day two was a look at Sonoma and San Luis Obispo with Joseph Spellman. I actually sat with him that day at lunch and he was truly a riot—vastly knowledgeable but funny and relatable.
Working for JUSTIN Vineyards and Winery, we went through the history, the differences in vineyards, and—of course—a tasting.
- Chardonnay Sangiacomo 2017
- Chardonnay Rodgers Creek 2017
- Chardonnay Lorenzo 2017
- Charonnay Overlook 2017
- JUSTIN Cabernet Franc 2018 (Barrel sample)
- JUSTIN Merlot 2018 (Barrel sample)
- JUSTIN Cabernet Sauvignon 2018 (Barrel sample)
- Isosceles 2016
The Chardonnays showcased different qualities from the different sites they were grown in (Sorry, no notes). I’m not a huge fan of oaked California Chards, but it was interesting to try them all. From the barrel samples, I truly loved the Cabernet Franc. It was interesting trying all of the samples that make up Isosceles.
The day ended with the grand tasting! There were nearly 100 wines and spirits served, so plenty to try! I went table to table with Amanda and Sarah trying everything we possibly could. From Greek to Italian to Spanish wine and beyond, it was the best way to end an eventful conference.
I can’t wait until next year!