The advent of the grape harvest (and the “everything else” harvest) in western Colorado reminds me how the hopes of spring and efforts of summer come to fruition in autumn.
Last spring, as is habit, I was in northern Italy’s Veneto, the heartland of Prosecco DOCG where in a steep-hilled triangle roughly denominated by Valdobbiaddene, Conegliano and Vittorio Veneto some of the world’s best sparkling wine is made.
Two days earlier I had left Verona and Vinitaly and now was enjoying the view from top of the Marsuret winery in Valdobbiaddene with Alessio Marsura, who was explaining to a couple of visitors the lay of his family’s vineyards.
Marsuret Azienda Agricola was founded in 1936 by Alessio’s grandfather Augostino Marsura (Marsuret is a family nickname) and nearly 80 years later the family continues to produce award-winning wines in the heart of the most-prestigious of the Prosecco DOCG zones.
Despite also still recovering from the hectic experience that is VinItaly, Alessio said he was enjoying the quiet of the surrounding vineyards as he graciously shared his family’s Superiore di Cartizze Prosecco DOCG.
“From here,” he said, turning toward the still winter-brown hills, “You can almost see the vines where this wine is grown. It looks better in the summer, of course, but this gives you an idea of the difficulty of growing grapes in such steep area.”
The he turned.
“We make only five of our Valdobbiadene DOCG Proseccos and during the fair (VinItaly) someone called them ‘cult wines’, ” he said with a laugh. “Like your shirt.”
At the time I was wearing a wine-dyed jean shirt from Robert Mondavi and he was referring to article from the Vinitaly press corps that said the deep-indigo shirt was one of “two cult objects to be worn” during the fair.
The shirt, made by the Crawford Denim & Vintage Co. of Manhattan Beach, Cal., is hand-dyed with the Mondavi Heritage Red blend and features wooden buttons made from wine barrels.
Alessio turned away to look at the bare vines, and said the promise of summer seemed a long way off.
“There is much to be done between now and harvest, it’s barely spring,” he said. “So maybe it’s a good time to drink good Prosecco and get ready for a summer’s work.”
The well-traveled author Susannah Gold this week is in Sardegna, the second-largest island in the Mediterranean Sea (Sicily is the largest) and as she notes in this post, home of Europe’s second-largest cork factory. Enjoy.
I have the good fortune to be in Sardegna as I am writing this. A magical and mysterious land, I think of it as a place of beaches, crystal blue water, rocks, sun, sheep, silence, Vermentino, Cannonau and Pecorino,. What I didn’t know was that it also has the second largest cork factory in Europe after Amorim. I once interviewed the head of that Portuguese company but I have never had the opportunity to visit a factory – until now.
Italy is one of the most important producers of cork in the world. Of the 2.2 million hectares of cork forests, some 225,000 of them are in Italy, 90% of which are in Sardegna and the other 10% in Sicily, Calabria, Lazio, Tuscany and Campagna. The wine industry is without a doubt the largest client of the cork industry and uses 70% of Italy’s total cork production.
While some countries…
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As anyone with a backyard garden can attest, that cool and wet weather we enjoyed in May, dubbed “Miracle May” by some water watchers, left most of western Colorado about a week to 10 days behind the regular time when it comes to harvesting fruit and vegetables.
The same is true for grape growers, many of whom this weekend said they still are waiting for their grapes to ripen fully.
The wet spring following a mild winter was very good for the crop, which appears to be one the best in recent years.
“We’re a little behind but all of the fruit looks great,” said John Behr of Whitewater Hill Winery on 32 Road. “It’s really nice to be able to drive down the rows and see bunches of grapes.
“I could get spoiled.”
Deep winter freezes and late spring frosts repeatedly have sliced into the area’s grape crop since 2011, leaving many winemakers, particularly those who prefer to stay 100-percent Colorado grown, to cast an anxious eye at their dwindling supply of available wine.
“I’m down to eight wines and I usually make 17,” said Nancy Janes, Behr’s partner and the winemaker for Whitewater Hill. “So I’m really glad this year came along.”
Janes and a few other growers already have picked some early ripening white-wine varietals but most growers said their grapes need at least another week or so of warm, late-summer days and cool nights to fully develop the desired levels of balance between sugars and acidity.
John Garlich of Bookcliff Vineyards said his grapes in the Vinelands area south of Palisade were about 10 days out from harvest and John Barbier at Maison La Belle Vie Winery in Palisade said his are at about the same stage of development.
Still, Barbier said he’s eager to take full advantage of a big harvest.
“My reds are getting a bit short so this year will be very good for us,” he said. “I want to stay 100-percent Colorado and refuse to buy (out-of-state) fruit, so I can use a good year.
“I think this year I will make some extra cases of wine because I know I can store them and they only will get better with time.”
“I already got some early Chardonnay from Kaibab (Sauvage) and everything else was about normal,” she said. “But after veraison things are little slower and taking a bit longer to get ripe. I can’t explain it.”
Naomi Smith of Grande River Vineyards said she was anticipating a big crop and that Grande River winemaker Rainer Thoma was ready for “things to pop.”
“I think everything is going to ripen all at once, just like the cherries and peaches did,” Smith said. “I think this is going to be a good year for us and other growers.”
Procrastinators beware: Late arrivals to Saturday’s Festival in the Park, the signature event for the annual Colorado Mountain Winefest, were stopped by a sign near the front gate announcing “Event sold out.”
What? Sold out?
How could that be?
For the first time in the event’s 24-year history, ticket sales this year were capped. While a cap of 6,000 tickets (plus the 350 VIP tent admissions) into tree-shaded Riverbend Park might not seem like much, you couldn’t get one if you waited until Saturday morning.
“We sold out late yesterday,” said Cassidee Shull, executive director for the Colorado Association for Viticulture & Enology, during a brief interlude Saturday prior to the gates opening. “We sold out of everything – the dinners, the wine bus, the VIP tent.”
That eye-catching red-and-canary yellow at the front gate warning “No Tickets Available” revealed how much this event, again this year sponsored by Alpine Bank, has grown in its two-plus decades and was a very public announcement that Colorado’s most-populer wine-oriented get-together no longer strictly is a local event.
“We really want to people to pre-plan their Winefest,” said Shull, reflecting the oft-heard comments about potential over-crowding. “If we can get them in the habit of buying their tickets ahead of time, it will keep this a fun experience for everyone.”
Shull said last year’s record attendance at Winefest fell just short of 6,000, a level that seemed just about the max in the comfort zone for both wineries and attendees.
At times, particularly during the mid-day crush, the lines at the winery booths get long and a bit pushy as winelovers, helped along by a little inebriation augmented with a bit of dehydration, jostle for their favorite pours. Putting a lid on tickets sales may help keep some of the crowding under control.
Next year’s Colorado Mountain Winefest, the 25th annual, is set for Sept. 15-18. Just sayin’.
So who is Natale Verga?
If you guessed an Italian winemaker you’d get credit for being mostly correct.
But there’s more.
I first saw the name Natale Verga, a winery in Cermenate, a small (9,000 population) commune in the Province of Como in northern Lombardy, while gazing at the Italian section in my local wine shop.
I was looking for an affordable Barolo, an oxymoron in most cases, and my eye was caught by Verga’s straightforward label, which simply reads “Barolo,” the winery and the vintage. Hanging from a shelf-talker was the price, a very modest $19.99.
That’s about $16 less than the next-closest price and way below what many other Barolo DOCG winemakers are asking.
On the shelf below was a similar label reading “Barbera D’Alba,” this one a DOC priced at $13.
Natale Verga is the current proprietor of the family owned winery founded in 1895 by Giancarlo Verga. Information even on the website is scant, but this much is available: The winery is huge and typically modern, with lots of shiny stainless steel and the capacity to handle 25,000 bottles per hour.
Thanks to seven different labels and multiple wines (the Natale Verga label includes 21 different wines), aggressive marketing and multiple investments in new technology, the wines are distributed in more than 30 countries.
A video on the website, narrated by Natale Verga, tells an interesting story of the 120-year old winery but oddly skips over what Verga’s monologue refers to as “difficult challenges” and unexplained “unfair play,” apparently from competitors.
“Today we are facing a new challenge,” Verga says in the video without bothering to elaborate. Then he affirms, “We will overcome any difficulties” and goes on to thank some employees who stuck around “when it would have wiser to leave.”
With that cryptic remark, what Natale Verga has overcome is the price hurdle of an affordable and quite delicious Barolo and Barbera D’Alba.
Notes: Natale Verga 2008 Barolo DOCG (current vintage is 2010), $19.99, purchased. Notes of roses, blackberries, dark plums.
Natale Verga Barbera D’Alba DOC, $12.99, purchased. Mocha, dark cherries and raspberries.
Last week at Fisher’s Liquor Barn I saw what’s becoming a rare sight: A person pacing back and forth in the California Cabernet aisle, apparently overwhelmed by the hundreds of wines available.
What’s rare about this is not what the customer was doing, since we’ve all spent our share of time looking here and there and not quite finding what we want, but the manner in which she was doing it.
Not a cellphone, iPad, mini-tracker or any of the other online wine guides was in sight.
Instead, she was looking for wine in all the right places: On the shelf and, shortly, in the good company of Rick Rozelle, the store’s wine buyer and resident go-to wine guy.
There are scads of wine guides available (just Google “wine guide”) online and in nearly every newspaper and glossy magazine you’ll see a wine columnist offering his or her breathless advice.
Learning about wine used to be personal: Just you or a small group of friends, going one-on-one with your wits and a bottle of wine.
But that’s all changed, says author Jancis Robinson in a recent article.
Thanks to the cellphone and the multitude of wine-specific apps at your fingertips, “screens, not books or newsletters, now provide the world’s wine lovers with easy ways to make buying decisions.”
And it’s not just at home but as common in restaurants, bars and liquor stores.
“I used to see people come in here every week with the wine section of the New York Times but now they all have their iPhones out, tapping away,” Rozelle said recently. “There’s way too much information out there.”
As Robinson notes, there are apps for scanning labels (Delectable and Vivino), websites that compare prices, availability and DYI wine reviews (Winesearcher.com, About.com) and even websites for novices (wine-4-beginners.com).
“It is not surprising that today’s armies of wine consumers feel bold enough to share their opinions of those wines,” Robinson said.
To her dismay, Robinson is finding her voice and her 40 years of experience tasting and writing about wines getting lost in the maelstrom.
“I am increasingly aware that my voice, once one of just a few, is now one of an army of wine lovers confident enough to voice their opinions,” she writes. “I would honestly be delighted if every wine drinker felt confident enough to make their own choices … But I do recognize that for many people it will always be simpler to be told what to like.”
It’s easy to take part in what Italian wine expert Alfonso Cevola calls the “Babel standard.”
“It also speaks to how we get our information and what kind of currency we subscribe to (regarding) perceived expertise, whether it be a recognized one or one among our peers,” Cevola writes. “I find also the aspect of trust plays into this.”
Ah, yes. Trust. Which is what you build when you find and use that source of expertise. It might be in some shiny magazine or the online video, but it’s often just as easy, and more reliable, to find a salesperson who makes the effort to know you and your taste.
It takes time, but maybe not 40 years.
Which is why, once Rozelle asked the young lady what she had in mind, it took him but a few minutes to have her smiling and moving toward the check out counter, the right wine in hand.