I lived long ago in budding winegrowing regions dependent on hybrid grapes, like New York’s Finger Lakes in the 1980s and Nova Scotia in the early 2000s, and also in areas not receptive to hybrids, but still, at the time, deemed very iffy for producing wine, like Oregon’s Willamette Valley in the 1970s. The seeming difference was that the former regions were considered climatologically impossible for European wine grape production, while the latter truly sat in prime Vitis vinifera territory, with adequate warmth and fewer limiting factors, like mildew or winter kill, but at the time they seemed totally marginal. Hybrid grapes helped establish some wine appellations like New York and Nova Scotia, leading ultimately to these areas making wine history withoutsticking resolutely with hybrids.
What is a Hybrid Wine Grape and What’s Hybrid’s History?
First, let’s define what a hybrid wine grape is and how that differs from, say, a cross. Historically, this goes back to advances in viticulture and the 19th century phylloxera epidemic. Phylloxera is a root louse, a parasite, native to North America. It kills vines. When Europeans discovered grape vines in the Americas, they saw great potential: a plethora of new grape varieties! New wines! A good example is the Concord grape, a cultivar derived from the American grape species Vitis labrusca. The problem was that these grape plants were actually distinct species from the European wine grape plant, Vitis vinifera. Unknowingly, they transported the root louse to Europe when they brought native North American vines back with them. They also turned out to not be great for wine making because of what’s often called a ”foxy” flavor in the resulting wine, especially that from labrusca.
These sneaky parasites found their way into French vineyards and ultimately spread to all wine growing regions, including Spain, Italy, and yes, even California (the louse was native to the East Coast). Almost everywhere, vinifera on its own roots could no longer be profitably cultivated. The solution to the phylloxera epidemic proved to be grafting the roots of North American species, which resisted the louse owing to thousands of years of evolution, onto vinifera vines, which had never evolved to resist this parasite. The roots were safe from the louse and the vine that grew above the graft produced the desired European grapes! Problem solved, somewhat (Napa Valley had to replant in the 1980s and 90s because the commonly-used American rootstock proved non-resistant to phylloxera). Abundant research and plant breeding went into identifying or creating, through crosses, the best non-vinifera rootstocks for winegrowing.
Viticultural scientists became experts in North American grape species and breeding, including crossing. A cross is not a hybrid. A cross is when two varieties from the same species are bred, producing a new grape variety of the same species, which, if it’s successful and genetically stable, can be reproduced through cuttings or other reproduction methods. Take, for example, Pinotage, which was created in the 1920s in South Africa from crossing Pinot Noir and Cinsault.
Inter-specific breeding can produce hybrids. In the early 20th century hybrids drew interest as well, in fact, because they can be another solution to phylloxera as well as other limiting factors like cold tolerance or mildew resistance. This is when two distinct vine species, Vitis vinifera and a North American species, like Vitis labrusca, are bred together producing a completely new type of wine grape plant that has phenotypic characteristics from both parents. The most successful early examples were French-American hybrids. Cornell University notes:
In the development of the French-American hybrids, the use of V. labrusca was avoided so as not to impart its strong flavor to the new selections. Many other wild American species were used, especially V. aestivalis lincecumii (the Post Oak Grape), V. rupestris (the Sand Grape) and V. riparia (the Riverbank Grape). The flavors of the French-American group are quite variable but much more subtle than the flavors of many varieties derived from V. labrusca.
Do Hybrid Grapes Provide Benefits in Winegrowing?
In the 1970s, I remember winegrowing in Oregon (and Washington) remained a question, with many critics and naysayers. That’s hard to imagine now as both are celebrated wine states, famous for wines made from European grapes like Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir, and Merlot. But adventurous Oregon and Washington winegrowers didn’t have to use hybrids. At first, they just used grafted vines and appropriate cool-climate varieties like Pinot Gris, Riesling, and Pinot Noir. The climate and the whole terroir in these regions proved the naysayers wrong, and great wines were produced using Vitis vinifera despite the relative lack of sunshine and harsh winters (compared to California).
In areas like the Finger Lakes, it was a different story. This region of Upstate New York had long produced wine, including sparkling wines, despite its continental climate, but from American grape varieties like Concord. Scientists, including prominently from my alma mater Cornell University, became interested in hybrids for such marginal climates—the area has very cold (vinifera-killing) winters and is cool overall in summer, so as late as the 1960s most European great varieties were seen as impossible to grow there. Viticulturalists thought the answer to improving wine quality lay in growing hybrids. So, they produced a bunch of them.
When I lived in Ithaca and Trumansburg, New York, in the 1980s, wines made from hybrid grapes dominated the local wine industry. The issue with wine made from hybrids was the flavor profile of the grapes, which although producing quaffable wines, were not what most wine drinkers accustomed to European varieties would shout about, even if they weren’t “foxy.” I remember refreshing white wines from Cayuga, a French-American hybrid originally hybridized by Cornell specifically for growing in the Finger Lakes region. Change occurred when an Eastern European scientist working for Cornell became convinced that cool-climate Vitis vinifera varieties could be grown there, especially on the banks of the Finger Lakes, where the huge volume of water in these very deep lakes provided suitable, moderated microclimates. His name was Dr. Konstantin Frank, and he was right! Today, the Finger Lakes is famed for its Rieslings and Gewurztraminers, but also grows Cabernet Franc, Chardonnay, and even Pinot Noir. So, it turned out to be similar to the winegrowing history in Oregon. The naysayers were wrong again.
Next, when I lived in Nova Scotia, Canada, in the early 2000s, aspiring winemakers turned to hybrids to survive the cool summer climate and harsh winters. The same was true in Ontario, which produces world-famous ice-wine from Vidal, a hybrid grape. Growing vinifera was considered impossible. Today, however, some estate wineries are producing fabulous wines from European grapes, such as Lightfoot and Wolfville Vineyards. There’s also a budding sparkling wine industry there. Again, the naysayers were proved wrong. Although most wineries still use hybrids in Nova Scotia (and Quebec), there’s a trend toward European grape production of very high quality wines.
Hybrids and the Future of Wine
This little story brings me to a few conclusions. First, the history of Oregon, the Finger Lakes, and Nova Scotia from the 1960s to today shows that Vitis vinifera, grafted onto the correct American rootstock, will flourish in regions that previous generations thought were marginal at best owing to the prevailing climate. Hybrids were important, in two of those locations, to propel winegrowing as a viable endeavor.
With today’s rapid climate change, wine scientists are again looking to hybrids for potential solutions, but this time to produce grape plants able to flourish and produce good wine in what are newly becoming marginal areas, but were previously prime terroirs, usually because of too much heat, changes to spring and fall weather, and too little water. The history of places I have been privileged to live in shows, however, that seemingly-marginal areas can become, over time, superb for winegrowing. The naysayers have been proven wrong time and again. The flavor profile of most hybrids also remains an important issue, although educating consumers about these wines could help.
Overall, I believe the most-viable future lies in sticking with Vitis vinifera, including exploring the use of native varieties that were uprooted from their native lands in the modern era to make way for popular varieties (like Cabernet Sauvignon in Bordeaux and Tempranillo in Spain). A key word here is “appropriate.” Appropriate technology transfer, including appropriate varietal selection, is a foundation of sustainable viticulture. Torres Family Wines’ effort in hot, arid Spain is a great example of such a program. Such varieties are often well adapted to local climes, to drought, and to more heat. Crosses of vinifera, too, hold potential, as with South Africa’s Pinotage. Scientific research is essential.
The moral is that marginal winegrowing areas have popped up again and again in wine history. They proved to be successful, with determination. Climate change is quickly producing marginal conditions in what were previously prime viticultural regions. One answer is hybrids. Another is appropriate varietal selection for the new climate (though if it keeps changing, that will be a continuing problem). Still another is moving production of the same popular varieties to new areas, with cooler climates under climate change, but that leaves the specter of famous terroirs being abandoned. Entire wine regions have disappeared in the past because of pressure from Mother Nature combined with human intervention. The naysayers regarding vinifera cultivation in Nova Scotia, the Finger Lakes, and Oregon were wrong. The naysayers about climate change and its vinous consequences probably are too.
We all stared, fixed on the computer screen displaying the rural Andalusian landscape – in Lucainena de las Torres, to be particular – from an aerial photograph. “This is protected forest,” declared the official from the environment department. The image exhibited in fine detail my farm’s long-treeless slopes pockmarked with occasional bushes, called retama, and lower vegetation, including fragrant native thyme and sage. “No, this is agricultural land, classified as vineyard,” shot back the agriculture official, whose office lay a few doors down the corridor in the squat, 1980s Junta de Andalucia government building. As far as I could tell, the two bureaucrats had never met before.
I had just delivered the paperwork declaring new vine plantings, an integral part of capturing a few approved hectares of Andalusia’s quota of Spain’s quota of the European Union quota for vineyards destined for wine production. Mine was one of two official Protected Designation of Origin sites in the perhaps ironically-named “Desert of Almeria” viticulture region of Spain’s most arid province. I had provoked the inter-departmental consultation and at that moment hoped that my over-cautiousness did not spell disaster for the first-year garnacha bush vines flourishing there.
Please read more at JancisRobinson.com . . .
A few years ago two Harvard Business School professors penned organic wine’s post-mortem: “the history of organic wine . . . provides a case study of failed category creation,” they said in 2017. When the Harvard Business Review published an online summary of the paper in April 2018, the title expressed a bit more optimism: “How Organic Wine Finally Caught On”. Still, the overall tone remained sour: “If you cannot remember the last time you had a glass of organic wine, you are hardly alone. Overall, less than 5% of the world’s vineyards are organic. In the United States, the world’s largest consumer of wine, only 1% of wine sold by volume was organic.” The esteemed business experts pointed to one ray of light: “we also found that the recent success of a related category — biodynamic wines — shows a possible way forward.”
Oh, how times have changed, especially from the sommelier’s perspective. Eco-friendly wine is a large market, with tremendous on-trade growth potential. Limited production natural wines are now highly-allocated treasures whose price can soar almost exponentially in the “gray market” due to consumer demand. Among Wine Intelligence’s five predictions for 2022 is: “luxury wine will need to burnish sustainability credentials,” while prediction number one is about lighter glass bottles for carbon footprint reduction. IWSR’s report on 2022 trends finds that both producers and consumers increasingly expect to find a clear commitment to sustainable practices when making purchasing decisions. “Consumer research shows that 48% of US alcohol drinkers say their purchase decisions are positively influenced by a company’s sustainability or environmental initiatives; rising to 72% among Brazilian alcohol drinkers, and 70% of urban affluent Chinese alcohol drinkers.”
Continue reading at Sommeliers Choice Awards . . .
Walk into an average bar in Spain and order a glass of red wine. The bartender will give two choices: “Rioja” or “Ribera.” Rioja is the longstanding, preeminent red wine producing region, famed internationally and increasingly producing a variety of styles, including fine whites, sparkling, and rose. Ribera, by contrast, is all red wine country and proudly so.
Ribera refers to DO Ribera del Duero, which has followed a remarkable trajectory towards quality, produces incredible wines, including the laudable vintages of Vega Sicilia, a winery that arguably blazed the trail others have followed. Both Rioja and Ribera del Duero (which refers to a 71-mile length of vineyards along the banks of the Duero River in northern Spain), focus on the Tempranillo grape. This is the flagship variety of Spain, now surpassing all others in terms of planted acreage. Notably, Ribera counts among the two most appreciated reds for daily drinking by the Spanish, and not, for example, Priorat reds, which are perhaps more famous internationally and have garnered the highest level denomination for quality (like Rioja) the Denominación de origen calificada (DOCa).
To read more, visit my article on ilovewine.com . . .
Imagine it’s time to buy your first wine glasses specifically made to enhance the experience of drinking and appreciating fine wine. This means glasses you’re not only proud to showcase at the dinner table with friends or important guests, but glasses that feel good, enhance aromas, flavors, and swirling, plus, let’s hope, don’t break too easily.
I’m on that search now. I’m considering both fine glass and crystal, both machine-manufactured and mouth-blown. I realize machine-made glasses will be heavier than the alternative. I want a set of at least six glasses and a better price for buying more than one or two. I’m looking at both “universal” glasses and separate sets for red and white.
Universal glasses suit all red and white wines, some even sparklers. Having distinct glasses for red and white wines makes for a more impressive table setting and also equips you better for serving different wine styles. Red wine glasses generally have bigger capacity and wider circumference, giving the wine more surface for air contact, important for breathing. They also lend a bigger space in the glass to capture aromas. The glass’ walls should slope inward toward the opening for the same reason. For white wines, air contact is not as critical (and could be detrimental) and as they are served cool to cold, the aroma factor is slightly less important. There’s a chance the narrower white wine glasses will hold the cool temperature better as well. Universal glasses suit those who don’t have a lot of storage space, or who consider treating red and white wines differently to be of minor importance.
Academic studies have shown that larger glasses in restaurants lead to greater wine consumption, so if you’re entertaining and want the guests to have a good time, this could be a factor too. Larger and taller glasses can make for an impressive table presentation.
Swirling is a critical component of the wine tasting process and thus, for this reason as well, I don’t want glasses with straight sides (accidents do happen). The glass should allow for easy, gentle swirling without fear of red wine escaping onto clothing, tablecloths, and carpets.
Two brands have recently surfaced from communication with friends, wine colleagues, and the media: Josephinenhütte and Grasl. For many wine connoisseurs, Denk’Art Zalto glasses have now replaced Riedel as the go to brand. All of these are mouth blown crystal, but I’m open to these brands and more.
The Wine Glasses
Josephinenhütte glasses were designed in 2019 by Kurt Josef Zalto, who left his eponymous company some time ago. They’re fine crystal, handmade, and feature an undulating shape to enhance swirling and aeration, but close at the top to prevent spills and capture aromas. They stand 9.45” tall. A set of six of his wine glasses costs $444.00, or $74 a stem when ordering directly from the company website. These are impressive, stylized glasses and clearly mouth-blown works of art.
Like the Josephine glasses, the Denk`Art Zalto glasses are handblown, but have a more conventional, if still elegant shape. The universal glass holds 18 ounces and is 9.4” high. The price is $59 a stem. The “Bordeaux” style glass is 9 1/4" in height, 23 ounces, and costs $61. Denk’Art recommends not handwashing these glasses, using a dishwasher instead, as “hand-washing can add pressure and torque to the bowl, stem and base which can cause breakage and potential injury.” Not for me, as I prefer handwashing.
Grassl Glass claims to be “the future of mouth-blown wine glassware.” The Elemental Series Versatile glass is an attractive universal glass holding a little over 14 ounces. A set of six glasses costs $240 ($40 per glass). These are for “everyday needs,” according to Grassl. Their Vigneron Series Liberté glass is bigger, at 17 ounces, and gets great reviews as a universal glass. The cost for six is $378 or $63 a stem. The white wine version is called Mineralité, “ideal for acidic wines with verve,” offered for the same price as Liberté.
I like the classic straight lines and apparent quality of Grassl, even the Versatile model, and 14 ounces is neither too big nor too small. They also offer a Champagne glass, not a flute, for the same price.
Spiegelau of Germany makes lead-free crystal glasses at more reasonable price points, though these wine receptables are machine-made. The Vino Grande red wine glasses hold 15 ounces and a set of four stems will cost you about $39, or $9.77 per stem. The white wine glasses in the same line also cost about $39 for four, with each one holding a potential 12 ounces. These are narrow-rimmed and long-stemmed glasses; if not fashion statements, they’re well designed. Their Style collection has a more angular, modern appearance and the red version holds an impressive 22.2 ounces. A set of four costs about $41. The white wine model of “Style” holds 14.4 ounces and the set of four is $45. One potential flaw is that even Spiegelau admits these glasses have “seamless stems (or nearly seamless),” an element of machine manufacturing. They are also heavier than many of the other options, which is practical, but perhaps less elegant in the hand
Zwiesel Glas technically makes glass (as opposed to crystal). However, their patented Tritan technology uses titanium and zirconium oxides instead of lead or barium to ensure strength even with a very thin glass design. This includes a high-temperature production process that includes tempering, including the rim, which is laser cut. They also have a track-record of eco-friendly production, including numerous ISO certifications. A set of four 23.3 ounce “Gigi” red wine glasses will set you back about $53 or $13.25 per stem. The Gigi line includes a unique quasi-hexagonal design, angular, and somewhat squat in appearance. Though unique in aspect, these tend more towards being Burgundy glasses than Bordeaux glasses. Lacking the elegance of Huette, the shape still provides for enhanced swirling and aeration, and the squat appearance belies the large features. The white wine versions are more upright and slightly taller, though still with hexagonal lines, and hold 17.9 ounces. A set of four costs about $54 ($13.50 per stem), and I believe they also serve well for sparkling wines.
Zwiesel has numerous lines of Tritan wine glasses, in fact. Three other attractive options for a universal glass are the “Pure Bordeaux” and the “Cabernet” glasses, at 23 ounces (10.5” tall) and 18.2 ounces (9.6” tall), respectively. Cabernet is $55 for a set of six. Pure Bordeaux is $84, or $14 per stem. There is also a Pure Sauvignon for white wines (13 ounces), about $78 for six stems. The Forte collection Burgundy/Light Red and White Wine glass looks great and holds 13.6 ounces. It’s 8 ½ inches tall and 3.2” at its widest point. A set of six glasses costs about $72 or $12 a stem. The bowl widens enough to enhance swirling and aeration, which, combined with the tapering sides, make this a practical universal glass.
I also came across Gabriel Glass from Austria, which, after perusing the myriad styles from Speigelau and Zwiesel, was refreshing in that it offers a single universal wine glass, though in two editions, machine made and mouth blown (“StandArt” and “Gold”). The latter are much lighter and delicate, though both are lead-free crystal. A set of six StandArt glasses costs $195 or $32.50 per stem. The Gold line costs more than double this. These glasses are seamless and dishwasher safe. In fact, as with Denk’Art Zalto, it is recommended not to hand wash these glasses. Gabriel Glass claims to have found the perfect dimensions for a wine glass, including a broad base of 95 millimeters (3.74”). The walls of the glasses are elegantly curved, not straight. They reportedly hold a potential 16 ounces and are 9” in height.
Finally, I’m looking at Master Sommelier Andrea Robinson’s THE ONE glasses, which are lead-free crystal made in Europe. Andrea designed a single universal glass, with different sizes for red and white, featuring a narrow opening, angled to enhance swirling, and good depth. The stem is pulled, not fused, which should result in greater strength. The opening size may be a bit small so that your nose will touch the glass when tasting—not something attractive to me—and they appear prone to breakage (though honestly that holds true for most thin crystal wine glasses). The red version is 9” tall and a 4-pack of either the red or white glasses costs a tad less than $50, or $12.50 a stem, which is a great price for light German crystal.
The Verdict: Which Wine Glasses to Buy
For those undaunted by budget I recommend buying Josephine Huette. The distinctive, well-considered design combined with each one being a unique mouth-blown piece, makes these a stand out. The Universal glass has rapidly become extremely popular among wine connoisseurs, and if you want separate red and white glasses, these are available too.
Runner-up: The Gabriel Glass
For those wanting an elegant set of red and white crystal glasses, I recommend the mouth-blown Grasl Vigneron series.
Runner up: Spiegelau Gigi red and white
What am I going to order? I cannot resist trying THE ONE red wine glasses from Andrea Robinson. German crystal, professionally designed, holding 19 ½ ounces, and only $13.50 per stem is hard to beat. But I will order four and see how they perform with different wines.
My personal choice for a practical, affordable, and elegant universal wine glass? The Zwiesel Forte collection Burgundy/Light Red and White Wine glass. I would prefer a glass holding more than 14 ounces (full capacity), but I like the practical design, price, and elegant look. They will be great for wine tastings. That said, I’m also order a set from the Gigi line, as a runner-up, but not the red glass. I prefer the Gigi white wine glass height and its enhanced swirling capacity, with a generous enough capacity of almost 18 ounces. I also favor Zwiesel’s strong and longstanding eco-friendly commitments.
Stay tuned for the next wine blog, where I will review the wine glasses received!
The hotel’s Gran Reserva-red room décor complimented by a vineyard view and a half bottle of 2016 Riscal wine followed a seamless arrival: car doors opened, luggage hefted away, the effortless hand over of the room key. They ticked every box of a five-star experience.
We had time for a quick drive through the surrounding vineyards before the Riscal tour began, and set our sights on one stop, like the Riscal hotel, an architectural landmark: Bodegas Ysios and its winery designed by Santiago Calatrava. Before, though, we witnessed the ceaseless activity of the 2021 cosecha, tractors crisscrossing the terrain, including a brief stop at Bodega Cosme Palacio in the process of receiving harvested grapes (under the close scrutiny of an official from the Rioja Regulatory Council, guardian of the DOCa).
Arriving at Bodegas Ysios via a long straight red gravel path, transversing the vineyards towards the elegant building framed against a mountain backdrop inspires the mind and the taste buds. We decided to sample the 2018 Ysios Blanco, made from old vine Viura, whose richness perfected the day thus far. This is a complex, fruity, layered wine with aromas of white flowers. It’s a testament to modern Rioja white wines. The care taken in vilification was obvious, I later learned that Ysios hand harvested the grapes in small 10 kg boxes to avoid crushing the fruit, which was then cold macerated for 12 hours for flavor extraction. Both the free-run and first-pressing musts were fermented in 500 and 225 liter French-oak barrels. An unknown portion of the wine was fermented on skins for 15 days to add complexity. A further 9 months of lees contact using clay amphora completed the process. Sipping this wine upstairs overlooking a sea of vines and swath of blue Alavesa sky left little more to desire.
We arrived back at Marques de Riscal just as the vineyard tour began, which led eventually to the winery, cellars, and a guided tasting of three wines, including the Riscal Verdejo, a Reserva, and a Crianza. Riscal’s wooden fermentation tanks contrasted with the shiny stainless steel lineup of Cosme Palacios. Too, the dissimilitude of the century-old winery buildings and the post-modern hotel perfectly expresses the complexity of Rioja, physically and in terms of wine, today. The old and the new, the traditional and the innovative co-exist, if not in total aesthetic harmony, then at least comfortably at ease with each other.
That evening at the hotel we enjoyed the views of Elciego, the local village, and decided to eat supper there instead of at the hotel. Every village in Spain has a bar, and this is where we enjoyed a typical light dinner with a glass of local red wine for 1/10th the price of Riscal’s admirable restaurant. It was chilly, no heat in the bar, but the wine and smart service warmed us up.
The next day we awoke refreshed and relaxed and headed out after a delicious hotel breakfast, to check out Haro, the historic capital of Rioja. We had a delightful snack and tried some great wine at the terrace of Bodgas Muga, one of my favorite producers, red, white, or rose. Muga made the 2018 Reserva from a typical Rioja blend of Tempranillo, Garnacha, Mazuelo and Graciano hand-harvested grapes and fermentation with indigenous yeast in wooden vats. Before I drank my glass, the wine had been aged for 22 months in oak casks: 80% French oak and the rest hailing from Central Europe and America. Delicious, balanced, expressive. The Muga rose perfectly complimented the local cheeses.
Then, we were off to France.
A rare chance to raise the curtain on the inner workings of the Bordeaux wine world is available to those starting out in the wine trade.
Bordeaux wine expert Jane Anson and business consultant Chinedu Rita-Rosa have teamed up to offer a new and exciting immersive experience to “get behind the scenes of a region that is key to the global wine market”: Bordeaux Mentor Week. Aimed at anyone commencing a career in the wine trade, Mentor Week will introduce participants to Bordeaux wines, winemaking, and distribution methods alongside rare access to select Chateaux. The program will take place in September of this year.
An example of the week´s program includes accommodation at Château La Lagune, Haut-Médoc 1855 3ième Cru: harvest work in vineyard and cellar; meetings with wine business innovators; as well as a Masterclass on The Place de Bordeaux, how it works, and how it is evolving. Mentor Week will emphasize organic and biodynamic farming techniques and philosophy, and also involves personal development, with mentoring sessions and instruction in olfactory analysis with focus on older wines.Accommodation and transport within the region for the official program is included for selected participants, and travel bursaries are possible for those who are not able to personally fund travel to this incredible French wine region.
Industry supporters include Quo Global, Wine Services, Château La Lagune and Bernard Magrez Grands Vignobles.
This promises to be an incredible experience for those entering the world of wine business.
Jane Anson has lived in Bordeaux since 2003 and is author of Inside Bordeaux (BB&R Press 2020, called a “category buster” by Wine Anorak and “the Bordeaux bible” by Le Figaro), Haut-Bailly (First Press Editions 2021), Wine Revolution (Quarto 2017), The Club of Nine (Katz Publishing 2016) Angélus (Editions de la Martiniere, 2016) and Bordeaux Legends, a history of the 1855 First Growth wines (Stewart, Tabori & Chang, 2013), as well as co-author or translator of over a dozen wine and travel books. She has won several awards for her writing, including Louis Roederer Wine Online Communicator of the Year 2020, and Born Digital Best Editorial 2020.
Chinedu Rita Rosa is the CEO and Founder of Vines By Rosa, the first black-owned wine export and marketing consultancy in Bordeaux France. With over 22 years of experience in the wine trade, she brings a friendly but firm African approach to the wine industry with a passion for success. Chinedu is also the President and Founder of the Bordeaux Business Network, an organization created to help English-speaking Entrepreneurs in the Aquitaine Region in France.
This opportunity is available to all subscribers of janeanson.com – or through nomination by a subscriber. “All you need to do is join up first or ask your employer or friend who does subscribe to nominate you,” says Jane Anson. Applications are open until April 30, 2022. Simply send your details, with information about your current role and why you would be interested in attending the week, to email@example.com, clearly marked The Mentor Week. All applications will be reviewed by a panel including Jane, Chinedu, and the industry partners, with the successful candidates announced by mid May 2022.
The regulatory board of D.O. Cava in Catalunya, Spain, just announced sales figures for 2021. I take a look at the fascinating trends and surprising developments, many of which are tied to a new commercialization strategy announced in 2020. Areas to watch: organic production and higher-end categories of the Spanish sparkler, where terroir takes center stage.
Announcing 2021 sales and export figures today, a press release from the regulatory board of the D.O. Cava in Spain also pointed out intriguing trends and encouraging practices related to this most famous of Spanish sparkling wines. Domestic consumption in Spain recovered last year, but the real news here is that exports of wine from D.O. Cava’s 38,000 hectares of vineyards saw jaw-dropping growth. Sales of Cava made from certified organic grapes and finer, longer-aged wines constitute two categories representing Cava’s future and the board’s new strategy.
The larger Rioja DOCa, with almost 66,000 hectares of vineyards, and Cava are the denomination of origin wines that lead Spanish exports. Cava outdid itself in 2021 with 17.34%, overall growth and a sales volume of 252 million bottles. The real standouts posted figures way beyond this, however; organic Cava sales grew 65% and those of the new Guarda Superior category by an astounding 104.25%. Rioja, for comparison, had overall growth of 8.6% in 2021, with sales of Gran Reserva wines showing a 15.7% rise.
Cava is a sparkling wine that, since July 2020, is placed into two broad categories (although all Cava is made from the traditional double fermentation method, the same as for Champagnes). Cava de Guarda includes wines aged in the bottle for a minimum of nine months, showing a lighter flavor of fresh fruit and citrus accompanied by fast, lively bubbles in the glass. This is the lower level of Cava wines. Cava de Guarda Superior is the higher level, and this is where the growth occurred. Superior includes three levels of wine: Reserva, Gran Reserva, and Paraje Calificado. Reserva wines must have aged a minimum of 18 months in the bottle; for Gran Reserva this time period is extended to 30 months, though many go much longer than this. The resulting wines have much more character, including flavors associated with sophisticated aged sparkling wines, including tertiary aromas. Reservas can run the gamut of sweetness styles from Brut Nature and Extra Brut through Semi Seco (semi dry) and Dulce (sweet).
Cava de Paraje Calificado is wine tied to a single vineyard or area. This is the regulatory board’s answer to many of the D.O. winegrowers’ goals of expressing terroir or terruño in their wines. In fact, a few years ago some famous producers left the D.O. over such issues; and the regulatory board has responded quickly, thoughtfully, and strongly. Paraje Calificado wines represent a concrete place, unique in expression, and quite distinct from even the broad Gran Reserva category. Here high quality and uniqueness are combined. These superbly complex wines age for a minimum of 36 months in bottle, some much more. Additional requirements for achieving this qualification include vineyards planted over 10 years ago; a maximum yield of 8,000 Kg/Ha; only manual harvesting of grape bunches; wines made on the property and always with a vintage; a limited extraction of 48 Hl/Ha; and serious oversight with complete traceability from the vineyard to the final sales point. Thus the vanguard in terms of fine wine production is also the wave of the future for the regulatory board. “As a D.O. based on origin, on our vineyards, and on long aging,” said President Javier Pages today, “we have a serious responsibility and a unique opportunity to take the exceptional success of Cava to even greater heights.”
The international wine world has taken note. Exports constitute 71% of total Cava sales. The European Union countries like Cava--a lot--but with a little more three percent rise, overall the E.U. is not the growth market. By contrast, sales rises in what the board calls “third countries” was considerable at 30.43%. While sales to Japan grew 7.94%, the bubbliest pace was in places like Austria (65.54%), Brazil (37.69%), and Poland (27.35%).
The news that really caught my attention relates to organic wines. Part of the new regulations established 2025 as the year that the entire category of Guarda Superior wines (Reserva, Gran Reserva, Paraje Calificado) must be 100% organic. That’s coming up very soon!
The number of bottles of organic Cava now exceeds 22,797,356, with an impressive growth of 65.43% compared to 2020. This shows the 2020 regulation taking effect, as more and more producers achieve certified organic status, having changed their viticultural practices; thus the board refers to “a state of transition for certain winemakers in the Designation of Origin.” This is good for the wine and its consumers, the D.O., and the environment. The Guarda Superior segment contributed hugely to the overall growth in sales, with a remarkable figure of 104.25%, representing 42.09% of the total organic Cava category.
This is a targeted trajectory for sales growth and strengthening quality that comes not only from the regulatory board, but also from the winemakers and grape farmers. One can clearly see that the new segmentation and zoning, the strong focus on sustainability, and the attention to producing unique, expressive sparkling wines that rival the best of Champagne is quickly paying off. Gran Reserva and Paraje Calificado wines represent a huge value in comparison with the prices of Champagne wines.
More changes are afoot, including education campaigns. This year will also see the launch of the first quality seals under the new regulations, telling consumers about the Cava’s geographical origin and product segment, such as Guarda Superior.
Charlie Leary earned his PhD in history at Cornell University. He has served as a wine director for restaurants in New Orleans, southern France, Canada, Costa Rica and Panama since 1995. He is a certified Spanish Wine Specialist, Cava Educator and Expert and has studied wine through Washington State University, the Wine Scholar Guild, California Wine Institute, and the Rioja Academy. Charlie is a member of the Circle of Wine Writers.