A few quick thoughts on the 2017 Four Graces Pinot noir from the Willamette Valley.
Paula Marie and Steven Black named Four Graces in Dundee after their four daughters when they founded the estate in 2003. Legendary Oregon winemaker Laurent Montalieu (Bridgeview, WillaKenzie, Solena, Kudos and Westmount) crafted Four Graces’ early vintages-which quickly captured acclaim.
In 2014, the winery became part of the Foley Family’s extensive portfolio of brands that includes nearly two dozen wineries in California, Oregon, Washington and New Zealand.
Owned by Bill Foley, who also owns the NHL’s Vegas Golden Knights, the holdings of Foley Family Estates includes many well-known names such as Chalone Vineyards, Chalk Hill, EOS, Firestone, Guenoc, Lancaster Estate, Merus, Roth, Butterfield Station and Sebastiani as well as Foley-Johnson in Napa. In the Pacific Northwest, Foley also owns Three Rivers Winery in Walla Walla and Acrobat in Oregon–acquired from King Estate in 2018.
Today, the heart of Four Graces are two sustainably farmed estate vineyards. The Foley Family Vineyard, located in Dundee, covers 110 acres on red volcanic soils with a few parcels biodynamic. The 90-acre Doe Ridge Vineyard in Yamhill-Carlton is planted on marine sedimentary soils.
The Willamette Valley Pinot is a blend of plots from the two vineyards. The wine sees around nine months in French oak with about 15% of the barrels being new.
Ample red fruit but this wine needs at least another year or 2 to show more.
Medium-intensity nose of red fruit-cherries, cranberry and raspberries. A little earthy component around the edge but somewhat muted.
On the palate, the earthiness comes out more with a mix of forest and garden herbs. It’s a bit Burgundian with medium-plus acidity, firm medium tannins and a medium body. The red fruit carries through but, overall, the wine feels fairly shy and tight. Moderate finish introduces spice components (cinnamon and clove) that suggest potential.
Usually with WV entry-level Pinots ($25-30), the wines are ready to go on release. But this Four Graces really needs some time.
Like many wine lovers, my inbox has been flooded this week with notes from wineries and wine shops detailing their response to the Coronavirus outbreak. Even places that I’ve not heard from in years, such as shops I patronized in the early 2000s when I lived in Missouri and Florida, have suddenly rediscovered my email address.
It’s great that so many businesses are being proactive in closing to protect employees and guests. It’s also a smart move to offer free deliveries and curbside pick up.
But that’s not what I need right now.
As much as I love shopping for wine, a barrage of “BUY! BUY! BUY!” is going to get a quick ‘delete.’ At worst, it may even prompt me to unsubscribe. That’s because even though I do want to support small businesses, it’s just not where my head is at the moment.
Instead, my thoughts are taken up with concerns on how my high-risk dad is doing 5000 miles away. Or whether my sisters are going to be laid off and need help with bills as they juggle homeschooling their kids. Not to mention my own quarantine situation here in Paris.
So when I go to my inbox or social media feeds, I’m looking for something that I desperately need.
Something to do or look forward to that breaks me out of this rut of endless bad news and worry. I need something that feels somewhat normal even though every single thing around me feels alien and bizarre.
The emails and social media posts that resonate the most with me right now are ones that give me an outlet to not think about Coronavirus for a moment. Yet, I fret that in the desire to do something (and drum up sorely needed sales), many businesses are going overboard. It’s not a bad idea to want to communicate to customers. Nor is it misguided to let folks know that you’re still open for business even in a reduced capacity.
But it’s more about how you go about it.
1.) Drop the Form Letter Speak
I’m going to splice together text from several different emails I’ve received this week. Even though some are from wineries and others from wine shops, I doubt many will pick out the splicing because they all sound pretty much the same.
During these challenging times, we’re are so grateful for the overwhelming heartfelt support from you — our amazing customers. We would like to announce the following steps that we are taking in response to the Coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak in the community. The well-being of our staff, customers, and the community remains our top priority, and we will continue to adapt and adjust these measures due to the evolving circumstances.
In compliance with the California public health mandate, our tasting rooms are temporarily closed. We appreciate everyone’s patience and understanding during this unprecedented time.
The positive news is that the rest of the business is up and running. If you’d like to place an order, you can do so online, or by speaking to one of the team. Whether you are self-isolating, lying low or just love good wine, keep your spirits up and enjoy FREE delivery.
Please stay safe and healthy, follow CDC guidelines, and we’ll all make it through this together.
Sincere thanks for all of your support!
Your customers have likely already received at least a dozen of these emails with several more still to come.
If someone is going to know exactly what an email says before they open it, it’s not an effective email. Businesses must find ways to break out of the formula. One way is to turn it back to the customer with a personal touch. Such as:
How are you holding up? As you may have heard, our tasting room is temporarily closed. But our staff has been coming in each day to check in on our wine club members. Please feel free to call or email us if you just want to chat, have questions about what we’re doing at the winery, or even need some wine sent your way. We’ll figure something out…
Think of how different it feels to receive the second email as opposed to the first. They both basically convey the same thing. (Hey, our tasting room is closed, but we’re still here and can get you some wine!) But the first feels formulaic while the second feels sincere and empathetic.
2.) Offer more than just wine to buy and free delivery
Yes, we all love wine. But right now, we need a little more than free shipping.
You have to realize that most all your customers are going to be focusing a lot on those bottom tiers of physiological and safety needs. But as more communities get locked down in isolation, that middle tier of needing communication and connection (belonging) is going to be more prominent.
This is when wineries and wine shops need to offer more than just their products. They need to offer themselves. We always talk about how the wine industry is a people-oriented business. That’s never going to ring more true than it will over the next several months.
Now is the time to think outside the box about how to reach consumers–not just to sell, but to connect. Numerous creative ideas are emerging from forward-thinking wineries like Kendall-Jackson which is planning a series of virtual concerts, cooking classes & yoga.
Several wineries such as St. Supéry are launching virtual tastings. While this runs the risk of being overdone, it’s a starting point for other creative ways to utilize platforms such as Facebook Live, Discord or Zoom to interact with consumers.
But there are so many other ideas that can be explored.
Movie night with your own Mystery Science Theatre 3000-type Rifftrax.
Wine + indulging your inner Tom Servo & Crow = a hella fun time.
I would love to be in a Zoom room listening to winemakers riffing films like Sideways, A Walk in the Clouds, Wine Country, Bottle Shock, A Good Year, etc. The awesomeness potential could be off the charts.
And it’s fairly simple to do, not requiring the purchasing of any movie rights. Select a movie that is currently available on Netflix, Amazon Prime, Hulu or even YouTube. Pick a date and time where folks can start watching at the same point. Encourage them to keep the movie on mute and then have fun drinking and riffing.
Virtual Book Clubs
Independent bookstores and libraries are taking the lead on this, but there is no reason why wineries and wine shops can’t follow suit. With many titles available on eReaders, lots of folks are going to be turning to books for a change of pace. You can discuss popular wine books or something completely different. This could be done on a Facebook and Instagram thread or, better still, setting up an interactive Zoom room that folks can participate in face-to-face (virtually).
Whether it be wine education games or silly scavenger hunts around the house, it’s all good fun for a few moments of distraction. And, honestly, it’s probably a better use right now of your Instagram than glamour shots of the vineyard and bottle porn.
While folks want diversions, you have to toe the line to avoid sounding tone deaf. Things aren’t very glamorous these days and likely won’t be for a while. It’s important to acknowledge the hardship and uncertainty even when you’re trying to provide other outlets.
This is especially important for wine shops to stay connected with the community. Many shops use their wine classes to help differentiate themselves from their competitors and build relationships with regular attendees. You can still have face to face interactions with your customers–just in a different format.
These classes should be free since you’re not providing wine and food. Though you could take a page out of the wineries’ virtual tasting book by offering a discounted package for delivery beforehand. But most people aren’t going to want to open up 6 to 8 wines at home. And you can’t bank on them having a Coravin.
So I would encourage you to build your classes around one bottle of wine to taste while listening and interacting with the instructor. The other bottles in a delivery pack could be “homework” for later to try at their leisure.
The important thing is to keep offering these classes–to keep offering that connection.
While it’s easy to get overwhelmed now, we’re all in this for the long haul.
It’s likely going to be several weeks, maybe even months, before things start feeling normal. Every wine business need to take that distant vision in their planning.
The craving for a distraction and normalcy is only going to grow. Wine can be both a blessing and balm during these troubling times. But wineries and wine shops need to do more than just ask for a sale.
They have to acknowledge the other needs that consumers have and find ways to deliver more than just a great bottle of wine.
We’re celebrating one of the world’s greatest wine grapes because of an important document from March 13th, 1435. In an old cellar log from 585 years ago, the estate of Count John IV of Katzenelnbogen in Hessische Bergstrasse noted the purchase of “Riesslingen” vines.
This is widely considered to be the first written account about Riesling. While Jancis Robinson pegs the date as March 3rd, 1435 in Wine Grapes and some sources say it was actually February, the trade org Wines of Germany has declared that today is as good of a day as any to give our regards to Riesling.
I’m totally down with that.
As frequent readers of the blog know, you don’t need much to convince me to drink Riesling. Besides how incredibly food-friendly it is, I absolutely adore how it expresses terroir. From fantastic Australian Rieslings coming out of Mudgee to Napa Valley and numerous Washington State examples, these wines all exhibit their own unique personalities.
Yet they’re always quintessentially Riesling–with a tell-tale combination of pronounced aromatics and high acidity.
While the details of those aromatics change with terroir, that structure of acid is tattooed in typicity. If you don’t overthink it too much with flavors that can tempt you to wonder about Pinot gris, Gruner Veltliner and even Albarino, that acid is what should bring you home to Riesling in a blind tasting. Master of Wine Nick Jackson describes this well in his excellent book Beyond Flavor(received as a sample), noting that, like Chenin blanc, the acidity of Riesling is always present no matter where it is grown.
However, while Jackson describes Chenin’s acidity as creeping up on you like a crescendo–with Riesling, it smacks you immediately like a fireman’s pole. On your palate, all the other elements of the wine–its fruit, alcohol and sugar–wrap around Riesling’s steely acidity. Jackson’s firepole analogy is most vivid when you’re tasting an off-dry Riesling because while you can feel the sense of sweetness ebb, like a fireman sliding down, that acid holds firm and doesn’t move.
Seriously, next time you have a glass of Riesling, hold it in your mouth and picture Jackson’s vertical firepole. It will really change your blind tasting game.
And for some great benchmark bottles to try those skills out on, may I suggest the geeky good wines of Nik Weis St. Urbans-Hof in the Mosel?
Glass window feature of St. Urban at a church in Deidesheim.
Along with his wife, Daniela, Nik Weis is a third-generation winegrower based in the middle Mosel village of Leiwen. His family’s estate, St. Urbans-Hof, was founded by his grandfather, Nicolaus Weis, after World War II. Named after the 4th-century patron saint of winegrowers who hid in vineyards to escape persecution, Weis’ family estate covers 40 hectares along the Mosel and its southern tributary, the Saar.
Many of these plots, including choice plantings in the villages of Ockfen and Wiltingen in the Saar and Piesport in the Middle Mosel, were acquired by Nik’s father, Hermann Weis.
Hermann was also the notable pioneer of Riesling in Canada. Bringing some of his family’s unique proprietary clones of Riesling to the Niagara Pennisula, Weis founded St. Urban Vineyard in the 1970s. Now known as Vineland Estates Winery, cuttings of the Weis clone Riesling from the original vineyard has been used to spread the variety all across Canada. The clones are also used in American vineyards–where they are known as Riesling FPS 01.
But the Weis family’s influence is also felt keenly in Germany as the keeper of the “Noah’s Ark of Riesling.” In his book, Riesling Rediscovered, John Winthrop Haeger notes that the Weis Reben nursery is one of the most renowned private collections of massale selected Riesling clones around. Founded by Weis’ grandfather, the source for much of the bud wood is the family’s treasure trove of old vine vineyards going up to 115 years of age.
Moreover, Master of Wine Anne Krebiehl notes in The Wines of Germany that without the efforts of Weis and his vineyard manager, Hermann Jostock, much of the genetic diversity of Mosel Riesling would have been lost.
Vineyards and winemaking
Depending on the vintage, Nik Weis can make over 20 different Rieslings ranging from a sparkling Brut to a highly-acclaimed trockenbeerenauslese. He also grows some Pinot noir, Pinot gris and Pinot blanc as well.
Nik Weis’ wealth of old vine vineyards makes it easy for him to make this stellar bottle for less than $20.
The family estate covers six main vineyards–three in the Mosel that all hold the VDP’s highest “Grand Cru” designation of Grosse Lage. When these wines are made in a dry style, they can be labeled as Grosse Gewächs or “GG.” These vineyards include:
Laurentiuslay, planted on gray Devonian slate in the village of Leiwen with vines between 60-80 years old.
Layet, planted on gray-blue slate in the village of Mehring with vines between 40-100 years old.
Goldtröpfchen, planted on blue slate in the village of Piesport with vines between 40-100 years old.
Along the Saar, Weis has two vineyards with Grosse Lage status and one with the “premier cru-level” Ortswein status (Wiltinger). Compared to the greater Mosel and the Ruwer, the Rieslings from the Saar tend to have higher acidity because this region is much cooler.
In The Sommelier’s Atlas of Taste (another must-have for wine students), Master Sommelier Rajat Parr and Jordan Mackay note that despite its more southerly location, the wider Saar Valley acts as a funnel bringing cold winds up through the valley. However, those vineyards closer to the river benefit from enough moderating influence to ripen grapes consistently for drier styles while vineyards further inland tend to be used for sweeter wines.
Bockstein, planted on gray Devonian slate in the village of Ockfen with vines between 40-60 years old.
Saarfelser, planted on red slate and alluvial soils in the village of Schoden with vines between 40-60 years old.
Wiltinger, planted on red slate in the village of Wiltigen with vines dating back to 1905.
As a member of the German FAIR’N GREEN association, Weis farms all his family’s vineyards sustainably. To help reflect the individual terroir of each plot, Weis uses native ambient yeast for all his fermentations.
This was my favorite of all the wines. High-intensity nose of golden delicious apples, apricot and peach with some smokey flint.
On the palate, this wine was extremely elegant with 8% ABV that notches up to medium-minus body with the off-dry residual sugar. However, the high acidity balances the RS well and introduces some zesty citrus peel notes to go with the pronounced tree and stone fruit. Long finish lingers on the subtle smokey note.
Medium-plus intensity nose with riper apples and apricot fruit. It is also the spiciest on the nose with noticeable ginger that suggests some slight botrytis.
On the palate, while medium-sweet, it tasted drier than I expected from the nose. This wine spent some time in neutral (5+-year-old) oak, which added roundness. That texture consequently helps to make this 10.5% ABV Riesling feel more medium-bodied. Moderate length finish is dominated by the primary fruit, but I suspect that this wine will develop into something very intriguing.
It’s crazy to think of drinking century-plus old vines for only around $18.
Sourced from the Weis family’s oldest vines that date back to 1905, this is an insane value for under $20.
High-intensity nose, this is very floral with lilies and honey blossoms. A mix of citrus lime zest and green apples provide the fruit.
On the palate, there is a slight ginger spice that emerges despite it tasting very dry and not something that I would suspect with botrytis. Still well balanced with high acidity that enhances the fruit more than the floral notes from the nose. Long finish is very citrus-driven and mouthwatering.
Another very excellent value sourced from low yielding vineyards between 30-50 years of age.
High-intensity nose with white peach and apricots as well as minerally river stones. This also has some petrol starting to emerge.
On the palate, the stone fruits continue to dominate with a little pear joining the party. Off-dry veering towards the drier side of that scale. The high acidity makes the 11% alcohol feel quite light in body. Moderate finish intensifies the petrol note–which I really dig.
Medium-plus intensity nose. Very citrusy with ripe Meyer lemons. In addition, some apple and honey blossoms emerge to complement it.
On the palate, the lemons still rule the roost with both a zest and ripe fleshy depth. The ample acidity makes the wine quite dry and also introduces some minerally salinity as well. At 12% alcohol, this has decent weight for food-pairing but still very elegant. Moderate length finish stays with the lemony theme.
On YouTube, Kerry Wines has a short 1:37 video on St. Urbans-Hof. It includes some winery views as well as gorgeous vineyard shots that surprised me. While you certainly see those classic steep Mosel slopes, there’s also much flatter terrain as well. I haven’t had the privilege yet to visit the Mosel but will certainly need to check that out.
Note: This wine was a sample at the 2019 Wine Media Conference.
A few quick thoughts on the 2019 Audrey Wilkinson Gewurztraminer from the Hunter Valley.
Now owned by the Agnew family of Agnew Wines, Audrey Wilkinson is a historic estate in the Hunter Valley. Founded in 1866 by brothers Frederick and John Wilkinson, it was the first vineyard established in Pokolbin.
When Audrey joined the family estate in 1897, he introduced cement fermenters and new techniques for handling the grapes in the winery. His wines would go on to win numerous awards at some of Australia’s most prestigious wine competitions.
Acquired by the Agnews in 2004, the heart of the Audrey Wilkinson vineyard is still one of the oldest in the Hunter Valley. The family maintains a 20 ha estate that includes a small block of Gewurztraminer.
There would be no excuse for not pegging this as Gewurz in a blind tasting. It has the typicity nailed.
High-intensity nose– lots of lychee and rose petal terpenes. This screams Gertie from across the room. However, it also has lime and apricot notes adding complexity.
On the palate, the wine tastes distinctly dry with the lime note emphasizing medium-plus acidity. Very mouthwatering. There is a fair amount of weight and roundness with some phenolic texture. It’s not distracting at all with the fruit balancing well with the full-bodied weight of the wine. Long finish lingers on the lychee with a slight ginger note coming out.
This wine is probably not going to make its way to the US, unfortunately. However, at around $18 USD (Wine Searcher estimate), it would be a very solid bottle if it did. Most likely in the US, you’d see it more on restaurant wine lists. No doubt, its dry style, fresh acidity and high quality would pair very well with a variety of cuisines.
I can easily see a savvy somm falling in love with this wine. And if you happen to come across it, I’m sure you will too.