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Guest Stars
Guest Stars

The producers take to the road

Winemaker Roundtable

How much of a priority for you is visiting other wine regions? What is the NEXT wine region you plan to visit, and why?

Bob Betz, Betz Family Winery (Washington). Visiting other wine regions is mandatory for any grower or winemaker intent on making world-class wine. Firsthand experience with alternative styles, methods and philosophies not only provides the impetus for excellence but shatters the “group-think” that can emerge in any region or cellar exposed only to itself. Mediocrity results from inbreeding, from a lack of contact outside any area, regardless of reputation.

A year in western European vineyards in the early 1970s was my own baptism, even before entering the Washington industry. Countless work/pleasure trips back to those international regions since, as well as to most others on our own continent, have provided perspective, methods and an understanding of the competition. I often chide my fellow Washingtonians that whenever they get a little big for their britches, they should step inside the cavernous tasting halls at VinExpo in Bordeaux and marvel at the hundreds of appellations, countries and producers all looking for customers. Lack of awareness of what’s happening across the globe smothers one’s ability to compete on this world stage.

Next up: Tuscany. I can’t go often enough. Although I’ve only made one sangiovese (2004), my thirst for these wines can’t be quenched. Add to that the people, culture, history and heritage of this most appealing of regions, and I try to have it on the annual calendar.

Louis Barruol, Château de Saint Cosme (Gigondas, France). I frequently visit other regions. It is good fun and it allows one to keep in touch, to discover new things. My next visit will be to California. I love to visit other vineyards but this is not where I find ideas or solutions for my own wines. These useful ideas come from yourself, from your own thinking about what you do.

Michael Twelftree, Two Hands Wines (Barossa Valley, Australia). I put a huge priority on meeting people and tasting in other wine regions. I get to Burgundy on average twice a year and always target meeting and tasting at a few of the top domains, along with a few up-and-coming or less known producers, whilst bike riding and walking many of the better sites. The business I have in Burgundy, Mischief and Mayhem based in Aloxe-Corton, was lucky enough to vinify its first domain wine in 2012, as we purchased the old Domaine Pinte in Aloxe, which came with vines, cellars and a house.

In September last year I headed down for a week in Côte-Rôtie, Hermitage and Cornas with our viticulturalist, Toby Bekkers. We spent as much time as possible walking the vineyards, by taking a car to the top of the hill and walking down to another car. One afternoon we stumbled on Guigal’s La Turque vineyard, and another day we traversed the Bessards section of Hermitage; this was intermixed with tasting at Jamet, Chapoutier and Tunnel, amongst others.

In 2013 I hope to finally make time to visit Christophe Baron at Cayuse in Washington State. We have met only a few times, once at Hospice du Rhône in 2002 (when we were both getting started) and a year ago at a Wine Spectator event in Las Vegas. I think he’s taking a very interesting direction with his vineyards and winemaking and I’d really like to taste the results for myself.

Manfred Krankl, Sine Qua Non (Central Coast, California). Visiting other wine regions isn’t as much a “priority” to me as it once was. Part of it is just a matter of available time. But I DO believe visiting other regions is important so as to keep an open mind, to see new and different ways of doing things and to re-energize oneself. Ultimately conditions—the terroirs if you prefer—are so different from our own that not that many things can be successfully transferred. But seeing different ways, different styles, talking to wine growers in other parts of the world always stimulates and gets the grey matter working.  And that is very interesting, and very fun.

We are doing a small joint project called Chimère with our friends at Clos-Saint-Jean and Philippe Cambie in Châteauneuf-du-Pape. So my next trip will probably be to the southern Rhône (again), but I am chomping at the bit to visit South American vineyards. Chile and Argentina in particular.

Josh Bergström, Bergström Wines (Oregon). I have a strong personal belief that point of reference is very important when evaluating and appreciating one’s own efforts in wine growing. Visiting other wine regions and producers is just as important as opening a great bottle of wine from somewhere other than your domain. The sights, tastes, conversations, feedback and experiences of other people’s environments and work all help to shape your own experiences and efforts . . . hopefully. You do not need this to be a great winemaker, but I believe that the world of wine is so rich with tradition and history and folklore and stories and techniques that it would be a shame not to try and see and smell and taste it all.

I personally plan on visiting the wine regions of Washington State (here in the U.S.), Burgundy, Portugal and Corsica in 2013.

Laurence Féraud, Domaine du Pegau (Southern Rhone, France). Anytime I have an opportunity to visit another wine region I do.

1. I need to find some free time in my business schedule. Usually it is maximum of three days.

2. I need to fix appointments with the other winemakers, if my friends don’t organize the wine tour.

3. We need to be a small group and share discovery of the wine region.

I like to continue my education in many wine regions: different vineyards, grape varieties, culture, winemaking, and of course meeting winemakers, becoming friends and sharing food and wine. In mid-February I expect to see my friend from New York in Paris. Then I will join her to visit a few winemakers in Champagne. I never have enough Champagne in my cellar. Bottles are drunk too fast! We might also plan a June tour in the Saar and Moselle. I love German wines.

Brian Bicknell, Mahi Wines (Marlborough, New Zealand). I love visiting different wine regions and feel I gain a lot from doing it—not so much in terms of wine styles or what we can do with fruit from our vineyards but more in terms of invigoration and keeping my mind fresh. Tasting widely at home in the winery helps keep you current on regions and style transitions over time, but visiting wineries, talking with people who live wine, and sharing their wines, really helps you to understand a region, and I find it inspires me to maybe try something different, or just focus more intensely.

The wine world is pretty small and as well as visiting other areas I really love catching up with wine people here in Marlborough. The vintage period is always great for that and having various people here at the winery for dinner with the vintage crew is always a highlight.

The next region I plan to visit is Burgundy as I love the wines, the people, the food and the intimacy of the wineries. I am aiming to be there in June.

Chester Osborn, d’Arenberg (McLaren Vale, Australia). Visiting wine-producing areas is always a buzz and useful; however it was more useful when I was younger and more naive. Nowadays I seem not to have the time with all the demands of sales travel and kids. I would say for the first 10 to 15 years of wine production it is imperative. The first year of being chief winemaker I took six months off and went to Europe with several Aussie winemakers. This was great, four wineries a day and buckets of drinking research. It was 1984, early days of the Bordeaux revolution and before Burgundy sorted its shyte out. When I visit other wineries now it doesn’t seem to influence my techniques. This all being said, my next trip is to Chile and Argentina for two weeks from January 11. This is also with the kids so not as winery-focused as in the past, but I will visit quite a few.

January 11th, 2013 | one comment

One Response to “The producers take to the road”

  1. Visiting other regions is very educational. It keeps me from getting too focused on my way of doing things. I try and visit another wine region at least once/year; from the Yarra Valley in Australia to Stellenbosch in S. Africa, there’s so much to learn I never tire in the exploration.

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