Fires threaten iconic California wineries: A Dispatch from Sonoma by Slow Wine senior editor Elaine Brown

The North Coast of California was hit last night by a rash of wildfires. Most of the fires were sparked by gusting winds taking down trees hitting above-ground power lines. Fires spread quickly with one of the largest, the Tubbs Fire in Santa Rosa, spreading to over 25,000 acres in a matter of hours. The Tubbs Fire has burned portions of the northern part of the city of Santa Rosa and forced the evacuation of two area hospitals and thousands of people…

Click here to continue reading a dispatch from Sonoma this morning by Slow Wine senior editor Elaine Brown.

Could this be Freisa’s moment in the sun?

Scrolling through the 499 winery’s Facebook this morning, I was reminded of Carlo Petrini’s August 2016 article in the Turin edition of La Repubblica (the Italian national daily): “The hegemony of Barolo is putting other Langhe wines at risk” (translation mine).

The piece echoed something that I’ve been hearing Langhe growers say for a long time.

Over the last two decades, the lucrative nature of the Barolo trade has prompted many producers to plant Nebbiolo in vineyards where grapes of a lesser god were once traditionally grown.

“Nebbiolo used to be planted only [in parcels] where the snow melted first,” Maria Teresa Mascarello said to me some years ago when I visited with her at her family’s historic cellar.

It’s always a revelatory experience to drive around Langhe during the winter and see how the sun melts away the flakes in the top crus before it shifts its efforts to the surrounding blocks. And this tradition is reflected in the Piedmontese dialectal term sorì, used to denote the best hilltops for raising Nebbiolo. It comes from (and is akin to) sol or sole in Italian. It means well-exposed [to the sun] or sun-bathed.

When I finally had the opportunity to taste 499’s Freisa a few weeks ago in Los Angeles, I couldn’t help but think to myself: is this Freisa’s moment in the sun?

This delicious wine, grown at 499 meters a.s.l. in the township of Camo, is the brainchild of two Barolo veterans: Mario Andrion (Castello di Verduno) and Gabriele Saffirio (Brovia), who have both had a hand in producing some of my favorite expressions of Langhe viticulture. It was fresh and bright, with nuanced floral notes that really impressed and surprised me. But it still had that tannic character that you expect from Fresia. A really original and utterly delicious wine.

With Barolo setting records in release prices these days (thank you, 2010!) and Moscato d’Asti (which they also grow) becoming more and more alluring thanks to the growing interest in sparkling wines, it’s hard not to think of Mario and Gabriele as Don Quixotes.

It’s great to see the interest in Langhe growing among wine collectors across the world. But it’s also wonderful to see these young Langhe growers not allowing their viticultural heritage to be eclipsed by Barolo’s bright star.

Slow Wine Snail winners announced today on California Guide blog

When he founded the movement in the late 1980s, one of Carlo Petrini’s most brilliant moves was to call it “Slow Food” — the natural antidote to fast-food.

The disyllabic moniker immediately became an international battle cry for those defending traditional foodways. And it still resonates just as powerfully with the movement’s current generation.

And what better emblem than the snail to represent the nascent group? Not only is the gastropod the emblem of slow pace and slowed change, but it’s also an indicator of healthy soils. Grape growers will often point to the vineyard presence of snails and other small creatures as a sign that the site is free of pesticide.

Of course, the snail is also something delicious to eat.

Today, Giancarlo Gariglio, editor-in-chief of the new Slow Wine guide to the Wines of California, has announced the winners of the guide’s Snail award, the top honor conferred by the guide.

Click here to view the winners and to read about the significance of the prize.

I’m the coordinating editor of the guide. Elaine Brown and David Lynch are our senior editors. We congratulate the winners!

Praying today for Las Vegas, America…

Any American who’s ever been to Las Vegas knows that it is the all-American city.

Americans from all walks of life travel there each year, for all kinds of reasons.

As one of our nation’s business and entertainment hubs, it embodies our industriousness, our entrepreneurship, our contradictions, our hopes, and our dreams. In so many ways, no city in America is more American than this glittering city in the desert.

It’s also one of the leading American destinations for the high-end wine trade. I know so many top wine professionals — some of the nicest people in our business — who work there.

Today, Tracie and I are praying for Las Vegas, America.

Like all of our fellow Americans, we are overwhelmed by the news from Nevada this morning. G-d bless our sisters and brothers in Las Vegas. G-d bless America.

May your fast be easy and your year ahead filled with sweetness and health…

Tomorrow is Yom Kippur, the Jewish Day of Atonement, the last day of the Ten Days of Awe that follow Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish new year.

I’m not an observant Jew and we aren’t raising our children Jewish.

But each year, Yom Kippur is a day of reflection for me.

What a year it’s been… A year of some of our greatest joys fulfilled and a year of some of our worst fears realized.

Our sweet daughters are healthy and happy and are already enjoying their school year, ballet, painting, drawing, and music. My beloved wife Tracie and I are both working hard and our professional lives have been rewarding this year on many levels.

But all around us — literally all around us, in our neighborhood, in our community, and in our city — people are still suffering from the impact of the storm.

We are filled with hope but also deeply concerned about the year ahead: the continued fallout of the storm here at home, the ongoing and often challenging recovery from natural disasters across the world, the turbulent political climate, the threat of war, the seemingly unstoppable rise of intolerance…

Tracie and I will face many challenges in the year ahead but the blessing of our family fills us with joy and purpose.

May your fast be easy and your year ahead filled with sweetness and health…

Italy’s most expensive wine? Monfortino current release reaches new heights…

“Roberto Conterno’s 2010 Monfortino has been released,” wrote Italian wine blogger Alessandro Morichetti today on the popular site Intravino. “And nothing will ever be the same.”

His Lampedusian wail is making sound waves across social media this morning as observers of the Italian wine trade reckon with the reported 800 to 1,000 euro current-release price for the blue chip wine. This figure marks the first time that an Italian wine makes a market appearance on par with the wines of Bordeaux and Burgundy, observed Morichetti.

“Our fate is sealed,” commented revered Italian wine writer Armando Castagno on Facebook.

“These properties will end up in the hands of multi-national corporations… It’s obvious that one by one… the best Langa wineries will end up in hands that aren’t Italian, just as their wines do,” he wrote.

He was referring the Langhe Hills of northwestern Italy, also known colloquially as Langa, where the highly coveted and collectible wines Barolo and Barbaresco are produced.

“The narrative of farm life and [agricultural] tradition in Langa inspired by [the novels of] Fenoglio and Pavese CAN BE KISSED GOOD-BYE,” he noted [sic], alluding to the great post-war writers of the once impoverished Langhe Hills.

“It’s the market, baby.”

In his post, Morichetti quotes from a dinner-table conversation “from a few years ago” with winemaker Beppe Rinaldi, one of the Langhe Hills’ most zealous defenders of Barolo’s cultural purity and socio-economic independence.

“There are a number of reasons I would never do it,” Rinaldi said referring to the skyrocketing prices of wines and land in Barolo country. “But it would be good for everyone if someone did do it.”

With Conterno’s new benchmark price for Barolo, it would seem that Rinaldi got his wish.

Image via Intravino.com.

Slow Wine California now online, prizes and producer profiles coming soon…

The following is a preview of one of my posts this week for the new Slow Wine Guide to the Wines of California. Our site came online this morning. The Slow Wine prizes will be announced shortly. Producer profiles will follow.

Above: The western edge of the Santa Ynez American Viticultural Area. The Pacific coast lies just a stone’s throw away.

The time is right for the Slow Wine California.

Perceptions of gastronomy’s cultural value have changed radically since the Slow Food international movement was founded in the late 1980s in Piedmont, Italy as a champion of traditional foodways threatened by Italy’s growing appetite for fast-food. As a wide-eyed undergraduate student in Italy on my junior year abroad in 1987, I was keenly aware of the controversy sparked by the newly opened McDonald’s at the foot of Rome’s Spanish Steps. It was that year that I first heard the name Carlo Petrini, the essayist and political activist who had founded Slow Food the previous year. In 1989 he would publish the Slow Food Manifesto, a battle cry for an emerging generation of Europeans who saw their culinary traditions being eclipsed by the march of industrialism and the growing popularity of Coca Cola and assembly-line pseudo-sustenance.

“Speed became our shackles,” he wrote. “We fell prey to the same virus: ‘The fast life’ that fractures our customs and assails us even in our own homes, forcing us to ingest ‘fast-food’… In the name of productivity, the ‘fast life’ has changed our lifestyle and now threatens our environment and our land (and city) scapes [sic]. Slow Food is the alternative, the avant-garde’s riposte.

(Click here for the complete manifesto and click here for a Slow Food timeline.)

Borrowing from the fencer’s lexicon (with his “riposte,” the sport’s return thrust, made after parrying a lunge), he underlined the urgency of his cause and mission.

Click here to continue reading my post today for the Slow Wine California blog…

Italy’s Blade Runner vintage 2017: “I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe.”

That’s an image captured this week in Montalcino where the grower completed harvest last Friday.

To the layperson, it may just seem like a picturesque Tuscan vineyard. But to the trained eye, it’s a truly bizarre image, the type that belongs to the “never seen anything like it” category, as one Montalcino farmer put it. The vines should be beginning to shut down now, the natural progression of the vines’ yearly rhythm. Instead, the vines are actually producing more vegetation (the opposite of what typically happens after harvest, wrote the author of the image).

Many Italian growers have remained silent on social media about the immense challenges they face with the 2017 harvest. But privately, I’ve been receiving emails from across the Italic peninsula recounting the pervasive effects of one of the strangest vegetative cycles in recent memory.

“It’s been a Blade Runner vintage,” wrote my friend and client Stefano Cinelli Colombini, who runs his family’s historic farm in Montalcino. “I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe.” (He’s referring to the legendary “Tears in Rain” monologue from the movie.)

Stefano’s been one of the few winemakers I know who has openly chronicled this unparalleled and uniquely odd vintage (and I’ve been translating his notes regularly for the winery’s blog).

There’s a famous adage in Italian viticultural apocrypha: there are no bad vintages, there are just vintages where we make less wine. Stefano’s still optimistic about the Brunello his vineyards will deliver this year, even though the yields are extremely low.

Between the early onset of spring and then the disastrous late spring frosts, between the crushing heat of the summer and the late end-of-days rainfall (not to mention that hailstorms that plagued many parts of Italy), one thing is for certain: no one will forget the otherwise unimaginable 2017 vintage.

L’shanah tovah: may you be inscribed and sealed in the Book of Life for a good and sweet new year…

On Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish new year, we eat apples and honey as a symbol of the sweet year ahead we hope G-d will grant us.

.לשנה טובה תכתבי ותחתמי

L’shanah tovah tikatevi v’taihatemi.

.לשנה טובה תכתב ותחתם

L’shanah tovah tikatev v’taihatem.

May you and yours be inscribed and sealed [in the Book of Life] for a good and sweet new year.

From Chabad.org:

Let us turn our heads heavenward and, while thanking Him for sparing so much human life, beseech G-d to restore health and wellbeing to those who are suffering!

Let us ask G-d for a Happy, Healthy and Sweet New Year for the entire universe! Our High Holiday prayers, we are taught, have an extraordinary effect on the year ahead – let’s seize the opportunity!

Let us make firm, tangible resolutions to better ourselves and increase our mitzvot, in both our interpersonal and our G-d-and-us relationships.

And let us all simply shower one another with blessings!

Thanks for being here. I’ll see you next week. Happy new year…

Slow Wine Guide to the Wines of California: prizes to be announced next week

As strange as it seems, it was on a chilly November night in Piedmont — as voting in the 2016 U.S. presidential election was already well under way — that Slow Wine editor-in-chief Giancarlo Gariglio first suggested we create a Slow Wine guide to the wine of California. We sipped sustainably farmed Timorasso, dipped organic torilla chips into organic salsa (just to add a layer of surreality), and by the time we said goodbye, we knew we were on the verge of having a new U.S. president and a new vade-mecum to California viticulture.

That’s San Diego winegrower Chris Broomell, above, in June of this year. Together with his wife Alysha Stehly, also a winemaker, he produces some of the most compelling wines that I’ve tasted in 2017. Not just delicious but also thrilling (at least to my palate) for the new direction that he’s driving grape farming and vinification practices in an often overlooked and undervalued American Viticultural Area, San Pasqual Valley.

Next week, Giancarlo (our editor-in-chief) and I will begin posting the winery and wine prizes, winery profiles, and tasting notes on a new blog we are launching for the guide, which will be released as print media early next year. We’ll also be posting about our methodology, the rationale behind the guide and the prizes, and the overarching ethos of Slow Food and Slow Wine and why we felt the time was right for a Slow Wine Guide to the Wines of California.

Thanks to everyone who’s been so supportive of this new adventure and challenge. And special thanks to my daughters and wife Tracie who have seen a little less of me in recent weeks as I’ve been holed up in my office editing, writing, editing, writing, editing, and writing and editing some more.

It’s a very exciting project and I can’t wait to begin sharing it with you next week. Stay tuned!