Wine Economist World Tour 2018 Update

wtHappy New Year to all. The Wine Economist World Tour is back on the road in 2018. I’m looking forward to speaking at regional wine industry meetings in Washington, Idaho, and Colorado, plus the big national meeting in Sacramento.

Here are World Tour stops for January and February 2018.

January 2018

  • The World Tour comes to Grand Junction, Colorado where I will be speaking at the VinCO Conference & Trade Show January 15-18. I’ll be giving three talks: “Secrets of the World’s Most Respected Wine Regions,” “The Future of Small Wineries,” and “Around the World in Eighty Wines.” Looking forward to meeting everyone and learning more about the Colorado wine industry.
  • Unified Wine & Grape Symposium. January  23-25, 2018 , Sacramento California. I will be moderating and speaking at the “State of the Industry” session on January 24. It looks like this year’s discussion will be especially interesting and informative. I hope you can attend.

February 2018

  • Washington Winegrowers convention and trade show February 6-8, 2018 in Kennewick, Washington. I will be speaking at the “State of the Industry” session on the morning of February 7.
  • The Idaho Wine Commission’s annual meeting will be on February 13-15 in Boise.  I will be speaking about global trends and local impacts on the morning of February 14.
  • Local meets global: I’ll talk about “Around the World in Eighty Wines” from the vineyard point of view at a special evening meeting of the Tacoma Garden Club  on February 21, 2018.

Hope to see you at one of these events or somewhere else down the wine road in 2018.

Field Notes from a Visit to Madeira: The Island Where Old Barrels Go to be Reborn

justinos

Madeira is a Portuguese island off the coast of Morocco, a short 80 minute flight from Lisbon. When it was discovered in 1419 it was uninhabited, but now a quarter-million residents plus hundreds of thousands of tourists fill the island.

Madeira is famous for soccer (the Funchal airport is named for native son and Real Madrid striker Cristiano Ronaldo), its beaches, gardens, and mountains, too, which rise more than 1500 meters above sea level. And wine, of course.

I had been vaguely aware of Madeira (“Have some Madeira my dear”) for some time when I had the good fortune to read a terrific book called Oceans of Wine by David Hancock that opened my eyes to Madeira’s unexpected wine history (America’s founding fathers toasted the signing of the Declaration of Independence with Madeira) and unique production technique, where heat and long barrel-aging play important roles.

There followed a number of memorable Madeira experiences, which I recorded in my book Around the World in Eighty Days. Sue and I twice enjoyed a 1875 Barbieto Malvasia Madeira wine at the end of great meals at The Herbfarm restaurant in Woodinville, for example, and we shared a special bottle of Broadbent Madeira with her parents and their neighbors on another occasion.

Calling My Name

I could hear Madeira calling my name, but the opportunity to visit did not present itself until a few weeks ago, when Sue suggested that we add a long weekend in Funchal to a trip to Madrid and Porto, where I spoke to groups of local wine producers about U.S. market export opportunities.

Tourists come to Madeira for many reasons. The big draw seems to be the beach scene and the coastline near Funchal is lined with busy resort hotels. Others are attracted by walking and hiking opportunities in the beautiful mountain areas. Funchal is also a cruise ship port, so hundreds of tourists flood into town each day and disappear back on board each night at dusk. They find the attractive market, the beautiful gardens, and lots of cafes and restaurants.

Sue and I stayed at a small hotel just behind the cathedral, which put us right in the mix of tourists and local residents and just a short walk from Blandy’s, one of two Madeira lodges we visited during our stay. Blandy’s was founded in 1811 and has been throughout its history a family-owned business. A few years ago it partnered with another family firm, the Symingtons of Porto, to create the Madeira Wine Company, which makes and markets several Madeira wine brands.

1957

Madeira Wine History

Our tour of Blandy’s gave us a sense of the rich history of Madeira wine. The upper floors of the lodge were uncomfortably warm for us, but the barrels of wine seemed pretty happy there. The reason for the heat, if you don’t know the story, is that many years ago some Madeira producers noticed that the wines they sent abroad seemed to be transformed by the time they spent in hot ship holds.

Initially they thought that the rough movement of the ocean was the key, but they eventually learned that it was the heat that helped the wine oxidize in a particular way that made it both delicious and gave it long life. Madeira wines today spend years in old barrels (no new oak flavor is imparted) in warm rooms and the results are just as striking as they were in Jefferson’s day.

The high acidity of the base wine keeps Madeira fresh through its maturation process. Although we think of Madeira as a sweet old wine best paired with Christmas cake, Madeira ranges from dry to sweet and invites extended study — characteristics it has in common with Sherry wines.

New York Times wine critic Eric Asimov recently released his very personal list of 2017’s most memorable wines. A Blandy’s 1992 malmsey was highlighted. It was unforgettable, he said. We enjoyed the wines we tasted at Blandy’s, including the fresh and lively 1957 Bual pictured here.

Past and Present

A visit to Blandy’s is all about history, tradition, and romance and I think it should be on every tourist’s must-do list. A visit to Justino’s is a completely different experience. Justino’s once had a lodge in central Funchal like Blandy’s but they moved their operations to an industrial park outside of town a few years ago where the romance level and visitor head count are much reduced in exchanged for increased production scale and efficiency. (Blandy’s also has a modern production facility located away from town).

1999Winemaker Dina Louis showed us around the facility and helped us taste through the wines. The barrel room was again the center of the visit, but this time it wasn’t the heat that got our attention but the age and condition of the barrels themselves.  Both firms employ teams of coopers not to build barrels, as you would expect in a winery somewhere else in the world, but to keep ancient barrels in use, lending distinct character to wines. Madiera wineries scour the world looking for really old barrels in which to age their wines.

There is something about the old barrels and their individual histories and characteristics that Dina Luis finds fascinating and she spoke movingly about a particular barrel that contains her dream wine. Is barrel terroir a thing? Dina convinced us that particular barrels imparted particular subtle influences and made us really want to explore this idea more deeply.

Sue and I stumbled across a project that was underway where used Irish Whiskey barrels were imported and used to age Madeira wine for an Irish client. Then the wine is bottled the barrels will be sent back to Ireland to be filled with more Irish Whiskey — each product lending character to the one that came before. Apparently this sort of barrel fusion is part of the tradition in Madeira, where sailing ships would stop and fill their empty barrels (which previously contained other wines or spirits) with Madeira wine.

Champagne, Madeira, and a Resolution

As we toured Blandy’s and Justino’s and tasted the wines I couldn’t stop myself from finding parallels between Madeira wine and Champagne. Nobody would confuse the two wines in a tasting, but they do share several characteristics. Both begin with acidic base wines, the acidity necessarily to retain freshness through the production process. (Conventional table wines are made in Madeira and we tried as many as we could, but only found a couple that we liked — I think it must be difficult to find balance with such high acid levels).

The base wine for both Madeira and Champagne is then manipulated through an extended process — a second fermentation in the bottle for Champagne and long, hot barrel-aging for Madeira. The art of blending is important in both cases, too, with non-vintage multi-year blends most common. We like to say that wine is made in the vineyard, but these wines are both really made in the cellar.

Madeira’s ability to age makes it special, although we tasted lovely 3-year and 5-year wines, too. The oldest Madeira on my personal tasting list remains that 1875 Barbieto, but the 1934 Justino’s that Dina Luis let us sample is just as memorable.

Sue and are very lucky — our travels this year took us to Cyprus, where we tasted Commandaria — one of the oldest wines in the world — and to Madeira, where they make wines than can last for more than a century.  We found unexpected wines in Spain, Portugal, and Argentina, too. But you don’t have to travel so far to discover new wines — globalization brings a world of wine to your neighborhood shops.

What’s the takeaway here? The world is full of interesting and delicious wines and maybe we ought to try a little harder to take advantage of this great diversity. Seek out new wines from new places and then circle back to under-appreciated old wines from old places. That sounds like a worthy New Year resolution!

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Many thanks to António Filipe for helping to arrange our visit to Blandy’s and to Bartholomew Broadbent for doing the same at Justino’s.

The Wine Economist Guide to 2017 Wine Books to Give and to Read Yourself, Too

books

The holidays are a great time to give someone you know a book and an even better time to sit down (with a glass of wine) and read one yourself. Wine books are especially welcome this time of year because, well, they are wine books, so how can they not be interesting and fun?

Here are the books we’ve reviewed at The Wine Economist this year. Any of them would make a great gift to that special person. All of them are good reads and worthy of your attention.

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Caro Feely, Glass Half Full: The Ups and Downs of Vineyard Life in France (Summersdale, 2017). The next chapter in the saga of a family who move to France, buy a vineyard,  and struggle to find success and happiness.

Cracking Croatian Wine: A Visitor-Friendly Guide, by Dr. Matthew Horkey and Charine Tan (Exotic Wine Travel). Everything you always wanted to know about Croatian wine but were afraid to ask. A worthy addition to this series of exotic wine guides.

Warren Moran, New Zealand Wine: The Land, the Vines, and the People (Hardie Grant, 2017). A survey of the Kiwi wine industry and its history by someone who has lived through that country’s double wine revolution.

John Schreiner, Icon: Flagship Wines from British Columbia’s Best Wineries (Touchwood Editions, 2017). A guide to British Columbia’s best wines and wineries by the dean of B.C. wine-writing.

Wine Myths & Reality by Benjamin Lewin (Vendage Press). New edition of Lewin’s big book about global wine an how it is changing. Indispensable.

Benjamin Lewin MW, Guides to Wines & Top Vineyards Series. (Vendage Press). A series of very useful and intelligent guides to select wine regions. Unusual analytical depth and detail.

Patrick Alexander’s The Booklovers’ Guide to Wine: A Celebration of the History, Mysteries, and the Literary Pleasures of Drinking Wine (Mango). Irresistible survey of  wine with something for everyone — novice to expert.

Sarah Lohman, Eight Flavors: The Untold Story of American Cuisine. Simon & Schuster, 2016. Not a wine book, but reading about how American food has been transformed might make you think about American wine differently.

Patrick J. Comiskey,  American Rhône: How Maverick Winemakers Changed the Way Americans Drink (University of California Press). Comiskey charts the rise and fall and hopeful rise again of Syrah and other Rhone grape varieties in the U.S.

And last but not least, my new book  Around the World in Eighty Wines (Rowman & Littlefield). Now you know why this post is filed under “Shameless Self-Promotion). Happy reading!

New Wine Books: Lewin’s Intelligent Guides, Caro Feely’s Half-Full Glass

519f2bibmmol-_ac_ul320_sr204320_Herewith brief reviews of a series of regional wine guides by Benjamin Lewin MW and the newest volume in Caro Feely’s series on her family’s wine and vineyard experiences in France.

Not Your Usual Wine Guide

Benjamin Lewin MW, Guides to Wines & Top Vineyards Series. Vendage Press, various dates.

Benjamin Lewin travels the world analyzing the changing character of wine and writing about it in his many books and columns.  A few years ago he decided to re-purpose some of this research into a series of “Intelligent Guides” to the world’s most famous wine regions.

Thus the research for his Wines of France became the raw material for a number of guides to individual wine regions. Satisfied with the results, Lewin moved on other regions. Here is the list of Lewin guides so far (a guide to Mosel and Rheingau is due out next year).

Bordeaux: Left Bank
Bordeaux: Right Bank
Southwest France
Burgundy: Côte d’Or
Chablis
Southern Burgundy & Beaujolais
Champagne
The Loire
Alsace
The Rhône
Languedoc
Provence
Barolo & Barbaresco
Tuscany
Port & the Douro
Napa Valley & Sonoma

These aren’t your usual wine guides. They don’t give tourist-friendly hotel and restaurant recommendations, for example. Your smartphone can do that. But they do dig down in surprising depth given their slim size in the facts and controversies that are key to a region’s wine identity.

Each compact volume, available in inexpensive e-book or paperback formats, first analyzes the region in terms of the key characteristics, dynamic forces, and critical issues and then moves on to analytical profiles of producers and their wines.

The choice of e-book and print-on-demand paperback formats allows Lewin to keep the books up to date. In fact, he is just now releasing updated and expended editions of the guides that include both profiles of the producers he sees as most important and mini-profiles of many others.

Lewin writes that

The series is partly a response to the view that wine books are becoming an increasingly specialized niche (except perhaps for reference books), and that people are more interested in focusing more precisely rather than reading broadly. The guides are partly oriented towards people who simply want to know about a region (so the text follows a similar approach to my books) and partly for people who may be interested in visiting producers (so there are details in the profiles, using symbols à la Michelin, to help with planning, and maps to show producer locations).

I loaded a couple of the guides onto my tablet for a recent speaking trip to Spain and Portugal. I found the guide to Port and the Douro to be remarkably useful. Clear, interesting, focused, analytical — it helped me understand a region that I was already familiar with in more depth and detail, especially the controversial beneficio system of the 1930s that continues to shape the Douro wine industry today.

The Alsace guide made me sad — but in a good way. We haven’t been to Alsace in many years and reading it made me realize how much we missed on earlier visits and how urgently we need to go back! And it helped me understand the variability I have experienced with wines from different Alsace producers, too. Fascinating!

Lewin’s guides, like his other works, are clear, detailed, and analutical. Lewin constantly asks questions and drives to answer them. He doesn’t hesitate to share his opinions, but always backs up his arguments. The result, for me at least, is a deeper understanding of the region and its changing place in the wine world.

Now back home, I have had time to read several other volumes in the series and I found each to be utterly fascinating. If you want to understand one of the wine regions in the series or contemplate a serious wine tourist expendition, Lewin’s guides are the place to start your research.

France Meets the Archers

51k899bjjnl-_sy344_bo1204203200_Caro Feely, Glass Half Full: The Ups and Downs of Vineyard Life in France.  Summersdale, 2017.

Glass Half Full is the third volume is a series of books where Caro Feely chronicles her family’s struggle to make a life and make a living by making organic wine on a small vineyard estate in France. Caro and her husband dreamed that vineyard dream that so many of us have, but unlike others they took bold action and moved to France with their two small daughters.

Feely’s books should be required reading for anyone thinking about taking such a big step. Really, Silicon Valley Bank and other specialist wine industry lenders should have cases of this book and the previous volumes in their offices to hand out to people who come in looking for start-up winery loans!

What emerges from Feely’s clear prose is a realistic view of the wine business from the perspective of a small French vineyard. It is a positive story: the wines are great and the effort is worth it. But the physical and emotional toll can sometimes be very high. Everything that can go wrong does go wrong at some point (I think Mr. Murphy has a law about this) and stress levels run high.

I enjoy Feely’s books, including especially this new one, on many levels. I fell like I’ve gotten to know the Feely family a bit over the years and the personal stories and accounts of learning to live in France are part of the attraction. But, wait. There’s more.

Caro Feely weaves into these accounts a good deal of practical information about life in France, viticulture, winemaking and the wine business, too. In this regard Feely’s books remind me a little bit of the long-running British radio show The Archers, with its continuing story of rural life. Listeners these days think of it as a radio drama pure and simple, but it was actually created back in the 1950s with farm education to raise productivity and feed the nation in mind. Listeners came for the drama, but left with useful information about new farming practices and technology.

Caro Feely’s books are fun, informative, and moving, too. Highly recommended.

books

Around the World in Eighty Wines visits Natalie MacLean on Facebook Live

Recently I had the pleasure of visiting with Natalie MacLean, editor of Canada’s largest wine review site, on her “Sunday Sipper Club” Facebook Live program.

Here’s a link to the program website, which includes both the video replay and some of the many comments from Natalie’s engaged, informed, and very enthusiastic viewers.

https://www.nataliemaclean.com/blog/mike-veseth-wine-economist-around-the-world-in-80-wines/

As you can tell from the video, Natalie and I had fun talking about my books, including especially Around the World in Eighty Wines (now available in hardback, Kindle and audiobook formats on Amazon.com) and the good, bad, and ugly of writing about wine.

What’s Ahead for Wine Tourism in Mendoza? Lessons from a Rock Opera

monteviejoThe United Nations World Tourism Organization’s global wine tourism conference in Mendoza, Argentina was full of contrasts as you might expect in a high desert region that is punctuated by isolated vine-filled green oases.  The morning sessions featured conventional conference formats — speakers, panels, Powerpoint slides, dark rooms, coffee breaks (and really good simultaneous translation — thanks for that!). And then …

Hardly Working?

The afternoon and evening session moved out of the conference center and into the wineries, so that international participants could take in the landscape, marvel at the wonderful winery architecture,  appreciate the warm hospitality, sample the many winery experiences, and of course enjoy food and wine as any wine tourist would.

Does this sound like hard work? Very few of our friends feel sorry for us when we post about these experiences on Facebook, but it really is work because Sue and I are always observing and analyzing both what the wineries do (and how they do it) and the reaction from their guests.

moonshot2This was particularly interesting at the UNWTO conference because our fellow delegates were mainly tourism people who see opportunities in wine whereas Sue and I come at this more from the wine side, where tourism is one important element. The organized winery visits were interesting to us because they highlighted the tourism offerings rather than the wines themselves.

A reception at Bodega Séptima, for example, showed off its striking architecture and invited guests out to the big patio to stare at the moon and stars through telescopes while sipping wine. Wine tourism and astrological tourism combined.

A visit to Bodega Norton featured an opportunity to ride bicycles through the vineyards followed by a late lunch and then a chance to paint with wine (I saw a rabbit in the vineyard, so that was my artistic contribution). Norton’s program stresses active involvement, which is always more engaging than passive participation.

asadoThe historic buildings and ancient vines were a highlight of our asado lunch at Bodega Nieto Senetiner, where we were treated to a sensory experience organized around a Torrontes perfume and a Malbec cologne. This was interesting even though it violated the first rule of a wine tasting — don’t introduce any scents that might mask the wines’ aromas. It worked as a tourist experience, but would turn off any serious wine lover.

The Missing Link?

Sue and I enjoyed these experiences, but we noticed that something was often missing. The wineries worked very hard to show off their delightful wine tourist offerings, but they missed many opportunities to tell their stories and reinforce their brands. Perhaps this was by design because of the special character of the UNWTO audience, but it seems to me that it is always important to tell your story and build your brand.

Two of the most effective wine tourism programs we have experienced are Larkmead Vineyards in Napa Valley and Sandeman in Porto. The two wineries differ in almost every way but this: there is a clear story, which is told in several ways, and everyone you meet tells the same essential story, reinforcing the message.

A goal might be for each winery visitor to encounter the defining story three times in three different ways during a visit and to be able to share it with friends. You might call it the “Tommy” tactic (after the rock opera composed by The Who). See me, feel me, touch me, heal me. Stimulate all the visitors’ senses and touch them in a way they won’t soon forget.

The Next Step?

Perhaps this is the next step that Gabriel Fidel hinted at in his conference presentation, which encouraged the Mendoza wine tourist industry as well as the rest of  us to think beyond the current focus on creating experiences.  The facilities in Mendoza are world class and the experiences, including food pairing sessions, vineyard walks and rides (on both bikes and horses), and so forth are great, too.

All the pieces are here in Mendoza. Now the wineries and local wine tourism officials need to steal a tune from Tommy so that they all come together with the defining stories of the wineries and the region to create an total experience that resonates with visitors from around the world.

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Four Takeaways from the Global Wine Tourism Conference in Mendoza

ucoSue and I are back from the second United Nations World Tourism Organization global wine tourism conference in Mendoza, Argentina. It was an intense and interesting few days in a welcoming and dynamic part of the wine world. Here are a few things we think we learned at the conference. More to follow.

You’ve Come a Long Way, Baby

Mendoza has come a long way as a wine tourist destination and they are justifiably proud of their accomplishments. Unlike Napa Valley, which is next door to cosmopolitan San Francisco and fast-paced Silicon Valley, Mendoza takes a bit of effort to visit, so its emergence as a tourist hub, is noteworthy. We were impressed with the renovated airport, which features more flights to more places more often and will surely help boost wine tourism in the future.

When Sue and I visited Mendoza a few years ago we noted that it wasn’t very easy for an independent traveler to visit many of the wineries and this problem has been addressed in several ways. Some wineries have opened tasting rooms in the city, effectively bringing the vineyard to the tourist. Among the other efforts is a special hop-on hop-off bus that visits select wineries. How convenient! We also saw many tour operators who put together custom tours of wineries as well as the many other visitors options in region.

Mendoza has a lot to be proud of when it comes to wine tourism, but the many Argentine officials and local dignitaries who spoke at the conference’s first session perhaps could have shown greater restraint. Bad news: the talking went on so long that lunch, which was scheduled for around 2 pm, was actually served closer to 6 pm. Good news: our lunch began with deep-fried empanadas served hot and fresh outdoors in the Bodega Norton vineyard. Incredible.lunch2

Don’t Look Back

Gabriel Fidel is a sort of Renaissance man. Scholar, business leader, public servant, politician — he wears many hats in Mendoza and he has been influential in the rise of the wine and wine tourist sectors.  His talk charted the evolution of wine tourism in this region and included a warning not to be too proud of the past, because the future holds more challenges.

Twenty years ago, Fidel explained. The challenge was to get wineries to accept visitors at all. They just get in the way! Okay, then once wineries got the messages about the importance of visitors there was a need for facilities, then services and trained staff, and then finally some attention to creating experiences beyond the typical tasting room offer. Wine tourism does not take place in a vacuum, so wineries need to match the programs in other wine regions and take into account the level of service that tourist expect in non-wine settings, too.

Now the challenge, Fidel said, is to move ahead again rather than just taking satisfaction in past achievements. Don’t look back, Satchel Paige said, something might be gaining on you. And in this competitive environment, it is gaining fast.

Wine Tourism and Sustainable Development

My contribution to the conference was a short speech on how wine tourism can be a tool for sustainable regional development. Done right, I argued, wine tourism can benefit people, planet and profit. Done wrong … well, there can be real problems. I cited specific success stories as well as critical issues, highlighting the strategies needed to anticipate and address problems.

One journalist who attended the conference wrote to me to say that she hadn’t really thought much about the impact that tourism can have on local people and the  world they live in and now she could appreciate its importance. I guess my message got through.

We visited one winery where our guide quite unintentionally revealed how wine tourism transforms local communities.  His father was in the construction business and, were it not for winery development, that’s what he would be doing, too.

But now the opportunities are in wine tourism and hospitality more than traditional occupations such as construction.  His family struggles a bit to understand the changing local labor scene (and the changing nature of work itself) and how exactly he can earn a living drinking wine, as they see it, and talking to strangers like us all day rather than working hard to make, build, or grow things.

Mendoza to Moldova

The transformative impact of wine tourism will be tested in Moldova, which was named as the host nation of the 2018 UNWTO global wine tourism conference. Moldova is probably the most wine-dependent country on the planet. Wine is the largest export category and the country is working very hard to open up markets in the west and in Asia and to reduce its long-standing dependence on the unreliable Russian market for wine sales.

Selling more wine at higher prices would be great for Moldova, but wine tourism is perhaps strategically more important because of its ability to increase rural incomes outside of wine production and sales. Wine tourism done right stimulates the hospitality industry with potential impacts on crafts and other local industries. Wine tourism has great potential to draw visitors to Moldova and stimulate rural development.

Hosting an international conference like this is a big, expensive job. Good luck to our Moldovan friends as they plan next year’s events.

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Sue took the photos above — the view from Bodega Moneviejo in the Uco valley and the delicious late-lunch empanadas at Bodega Norton.