Virginia Twitter Taste-off Today

Apr 25

TwitterThe second annual Drink Local Wine conference and Twitter Taste-off is taking place today at Lansdowne Resort in Loudoun County, VA. The focus is wines of Virginia and Maryland.

More more details on the conference, visit To read my blog posts on my favorite wines, tune in today between 2:45-3:45 as I upload tasting notes live.

Maryland Passes Progressive “Winery Modernization Act”

Apr 22

Just in time for Tax Day, the Maryland General Assembly, on the last day of the 2010 legislative assembly, unanimously passed the The Maryland Winery Modernization Act. Industry members and advocates hailed the bill, saying it will unburden the Maryland wine industry from Prohibitionist-era shackles and bring the state’s industry into parity with those of other wine-producing states.

While a much-hoped for provision allowing direct shipping to adult wine consumers was NOT part of the bill, Maryland wine producers are still greatly pleased that it will enable the following things which were previously prohibited:

  • Wineries can sell their wines at farmers markets
  • Wineries can purchase and transport bulk wine from one another
  • Wineries can produce their wines at other bonded facilities
  • Wineries may produce up to 1,900 gallons of brandy annually (either for fortification–as with port-style wines–or for artisanal grappa-style spirits)

Aside from the first provision, the other provisions of the bill are mostly regulatory in nature and affect the freedom with which wineries can make, blend, and transport their products, something producers in most any other industry except nuclear power can do without much thought to state government regulation on a scale endured by the Maryland wine industry since Prohibition.

Note: some Maryland wines will be poured at the upcoming Drink Local Wine conference at Lansdowne Resort in Loudoun County, which is situated within sight of the Maryland/Virginia state line on the shore of the Potomac River. For more information on the conference, speakers and schedule, please visit

Live Wine Blogging/Twitter Tasting to Take Place at Drink Local Wine conference in Loudoun on 4/25

Apr 11 will hold its second annual conference April 25, 2010, at the Lansdowne Resort in Loudoun County, Va. The event, sponsored by the Virginia Wine Board, will focus on the diversity and quality of the 157 wineries in The Old Dominion and will feature a live wine tasting where attendees can blog or tweet about wines as they taste them.

Drink Local Wine 2010“The Virginia Wine Board is pleased to sponsor the second annual Drink Local Wine Conference,” says Rock Stephens, the wine board chairman. “In 1979, Virginia had only six wineries and today we have well over 150. From the Shenandoah to Jefferson’s Monticello to George Washington’s birthplace to Virginia’s Eastern Shore, we are proud of the diversity and quality of wines produced in Virginia and look forward to providing attendees the opportunity to experience, as well as, sample some of our outstanding vintages.”

The conference, which is open to the public, will feature some of foremost wines in Virginia, the top winemakers and growers, and the region’s leading sommeliers. In addition, some of the best wine bloggers and writers in the country will attend.

DLW 2010 will include three panel discussions focusing on issues unique to Virginia and regional wine – its grapes and terroir, how the state’s winemakers have used social media to advance their cause, and why local wine should be part of the local food movement. There will also be a Virginia Twitter Taste-off, where participants will be able to blog or Twitter about the wines they’re tasting. Admission is $65, which includes the three panels, lunch, and the Twitter Taste-off.

Virginia is the fifth-largest wine producing state in the country, and the state has made important strides in the past decade in producing world-class Chardonnay, Viognier, Cabernet Franc and red Bordeaux-style blends.

DLW 2010 follows the success of’s first conference in Dallas in 2009, which featured Texas wine and sold out within days. DLW also holds an annual Regional Wine Week in October, in which more than 40 wine bloggers, writers and columnists from the U.S. and Canada write about their favorite regional wines, ranging from Ontario to New York to Florida to Texas to Colorado.’s goal is to spotlight wine made in the 47 states and Canada that aren’t California, Washington, and Oregon. It’s the brainchild of Washington Post wine columnist Dave McIntyre and wine blogger Jeff Siegel, the Wine Curmudgeon.

Other conference sponsors are Landsdowne Resort, Tuscarora at the Mill and Magnolias at the Mill.

Virginian Andy Beckstoffer Inspires WU Audience to Follow Napa’s Example

Apr 02

The most memorable speech and inspiring wine-related speech that I, or perhaps anyone in the audience has heard, was given by renowned independent grape grower and vineyard owner Andy Beckstoffer, during the keynote lunch at Wineries Unlimited on March 11th.  Beckstoffer summarized the major developments that had transformed Napa Valley from a sleepy agricultural district 50 years ago to the most well-known wine producing region in the U.S. today.

Prior to the luncheon event, Beckstoffer spoke on a grower panel, explaining how he developed the formula tying grape tonnage prices to the final cost of a bottle of wine (100 times the bottle price should equal price per ton). “Generally, in agriculture the grower wants to overproduce and the processor wants to underpay.  Our scheme eliminated that.  Everyone worked for maximum quality in the grapes and the wine and for effective marketing.  This brought an increase in wine quality.”

Beckstoffer deftly summarized other major developments in the evolution of the wine industry in Napa Valley, which he pointed out was only 50 years old at most; “In 1970 the price per ton for cabernet sauvignon in Napa Valley was less than the price for the Napa Gamay variety.”

The world economic crisis of late brought “trouble to paradise,” he noted, adding that all U.S. producers face the dual threats of cheap imports and “American” labeled wine which regulations currently allow to contain up to 25% imported wine, which he urged the audience to join him in petitioning for a change to the TTB.

However, Beckstoffer concluded his address on a positive note for Eastern producers. He observed that the new Millennial generation “couldn’t care less” about what their parents drink, though they are promising wine consumers. “It’s a brand new world and East Coast wines have as much chance as anyone.  I can hear a Pennsylvania-born Robert Mondavi saying just that today!” Beckstoffer concluded by declaring “the main ingredient for a successful wine future, whether in California or here, will be an entrepreneurial spirit.  Wines from the American East Coast could rival import sales in the U.S. and that would be wonderful for all of us.  It’s up to you!  California will likely always be the major player, but there is a larger spot for Eastern U.S. wines [in the market] if you want it.”

Beckstoffer’s speech, used by permission

MARCH 10, 2010

I’d like to thank the Vineyard and Winery Management magazine, which I do read, very much for inviting me to speak to you today and you for coming to listen. I am honored and delighted to be here. One thing that you should know at the beginning is that while I live in California, I am a Virginian, born and bred, married to my childhood sweetheart from Richmond, Virginia. I should also tell you that I am a graduate of Virginia Tech. That is, however, not the reason that I know of Bruce Zoecklein and respect his work here. I further know that the father of the American wine business was Mrs. Jefferson’s boy, Thomas. He probably never heard the word “California.”

When Richard Leahy asked me to speak here, he didn’t specify what I was to talk about. He only gave me the conference theme “Balance of Costs and Quality for profits.” More direction, however, came from friends who said that they were coming to hear how California did it. How we get all the publicity and all the high ratings and prices for our wines. I don’t pretend to know your viticulture or even your business in any detailed way. Since I spoke earlier this morning at the panel discussion about quality, cost, profit AND OUR GRAPE PRICING FORMULA, I would like to take my time now to talk about the bigger California picture. I would like to tell you a story of California wine history in a way that will hopefully challenge you to create a better story of your own.

The California story is not unlike the story of a great vineyard. The total equals more than the sum of the parts. But an understanding of the parts can help attempts to repeat it.

It wasn’t until 1967 THAT dry table wine sold more volume in the U.S. than sweet wines. So, any modern California story can start there less than 50 years ago. In 1969 I participated in the acquisition of United Vintners and its major brand, Italian Swiss Colony. We felt at the time that United Vintners revenues were equal to Gallo’s (we could not get reliable data on the family-owned Gallo) because UV’s product mix was more weighted to the higher-priced dry table wine while Gallo’s total volume was somewhat higher. Paul Masson and Almaden defined the premium table wine business. There were 30 wineries in the Napa Valley, but only six– Beaulieu Vineyard, Inglenook, Louis Martini, Charles Krug, Christian Brothers, and Beringer–had any business to speak of.

In 1970 Gallo bought 50% of the grapes produced in the Napa Valley. In 1970 the price per ton for Cabernet Sauvignon in Napa Valley was less than the price for the Napa Gamay variety. Today Italian Swiss Colony no longer exists. Paul Masson an Almaden are jug wines. Two of the six top wineries—Inglenook and Christian Brothers–no longer exist as Napa Valley wines. Charles Krug is not a major super-premium player. Gallo is about the only guy left standing. Beaulieu Vineyard belongs to the giant Diageo and is no longer considered in the top rank. Louis Martini belongs to Gallo and Beringer to Foster Brewing from Australia. None of these brands are really part of today’s story of high-scoring, high-priced, extreme quality California wines that some now feel define Napa Valley, Sonoma, and the best wines of California.

So, what happened in California? Whatever it was, it happened while many of us here were around. This is not a story about something that happened 2,000 years ago in a foreign land.

First, it must be said that California has a unique climate and the soils to produce quality winegrapes. Napa Valley and the coastal areas are particularly blessed with a Mediterranean climate: warm days, cool nights with adequate rainfall. This climate exists in only 7 regions of the world.

Second, different from Europe’s fine wine business, in California modern vineyard and winemaking technology was allowed to blossom. California had the academic institutions, U.C. Davis, Fresno State COLLEGE, Cal Poly at San Luis Obispo, to train the new scientists and managers. Then there was Andre Tchelistcheff and other older vineyardists and winemakers who accepted us graciously and were only too willing to share their knowledge and experience.

GRAPE GROWING IS A BUSINESS AND WE ORGANIZED FOR STRENGTH, ANALYTICAL ABILITY, LEADERSHIP AND A UNITED FRONT FOR A GROUP OF INDEPENDENT ENTREPRENEUR FARMERS. In 1975 we founded the Napa Valley Grapegrower Association to enhance the social, economic and political status of grapegrowers. Through this organization the grape farmers began to demand a seat at the table. The focus on vineyards and sustainability had its start!

A disaster hit the Napa Valley in 1989. The modern phylloxera infestation ruined 95% of Napa’s vineyards. That was turned into an expensive but major opportunity by the Napa vineyard owners. Combating phylloxera required new rootstock but the Napa vineyardists replaced not only the rootings but also the scion woods, the vineyard spacing, the trellis systems, YIELD EXPECTATIONS, and most vine manipulation and irrigation schemes. The replanting was complete by the mid 1990’s and a new age of grape and wine quality began around 2000. Napa Valley took on a new leadership role in the world of grape and wine quality. The $100 per bottle wines began to appear with the 2002-2004 vintages, as the ripe flavors and high alcohol of the new wines fit the palate of James Laube and Robert Parker. All those great soils, bright young minds, AND GROWER ORGANIZATION cannot prevent a natural disaster, but the human spirit can turn it into an opportunity.

California has a youth culture where people expect us to do things first. The sunshine, the movie stars, the history of Americans going West to seek their fortune can be very energizing; can demand that you try something exciting. demand That you not just take up space on the earth. In agriculture winegrapes hold a special place. As someone said, “No one ever got laid over an apricot!” Basically it was an entrepreneurial spirit that manifested itself in the wines as well as in Silicon Valley.

Then there was Robert Mondavi. Up until sometime in the late 1970’s or early 1980, the major Napa Valley icon was Andre Tchelistcheff, a production man, and the major California marketer was Ernest Gallo, a standard wine producer. Then came Robert Mondavi and the Napa Valley and California wine business was never the same again. Bob did a couple of things. His first mission was to say that drinking wine was healthY. The California Wine Institute fought him on this out of concern for product liability. In 1980 America experienced the “tobacco suits” when the producers of cigaretts were ravaged by lawsuits and the “evils of tobacco.” We were holding our breath awaiting the same assault on the sins of alcohol and wine. In 1991 CBS and 60 Minutes aired “The French Paradox.” Soon thereafter the U.S. Health people produced the Nutritional pyramid with wine as a healthful food. The California wine Institute picked that up, embraced Robert Mondavi’s mission, and wine became a health food and not a “sin.” Bob then said that wine was part of the good life, and our wines were as good as the Europeans. He talked a lot and he traveled a lot.

We promoted quality, and vineyards, and vineyard history and focused on the location of our vineyards, their appellations—whether it be California or Napa Valley. Today there are no vintners in the Napa Valley. they are all “winegrowers.” We couldn’t promote our sub- appellations such as Rutherford or Oakville without saying Napa Valley as well. our family owns some quite famous vineyards: To Kalon, Dr. Crane, AND VINEYARD Georges III. Those vineyards could not so well know if not located in a proven vineyard area. It would not be credible for a great vineyard to exist in a viticultural wasteland. A rising tide lifts all ships. Ten years ago the best Napa Valley wines were “Reserves.” These were winery blends of different vineyard grapes. The program emphasized the skills of the winemaker. Today the top wines are “vineyard designates” with emphasis on the vineyard’s contribution to quality. CALIFORNIA WINES ARE AGRICULTURAL PRODUCTS– NOT PRODUCTS OF SOME CHEMICAL MANUFACTURING PROCESS.

Wines were and are sold and tasted in every kind of store in California. Clothing stores sell wine in California! Sometime around 1980 the Napa Valley Vintners, which had been a men’s luncheon society, hired an Executive Director, began to get serious, and soon became a major marketing force for California wines with Napa Valley at its head.

For the finest, wine prices began to rise and we tied the price of grapes to the final retail bottle price. Generally, in agriculture the grower wants to overproduce and the processor wants to underpay. OUR scheme eliminated that. Everyone worked for maximum quality in the grapes and the wine and for effective marketing. This brought an increase in wine quality.

Up until the mid 1970’s the French Chateau owners were primarily responsible for determining wine quality and vintage ratings. The wine tasting in PARIS IN 1976 and “the Judgment in Paris” changed all that. Robert Parker and James Laube did not come onto the scene until the mid 1980’s. fortunately for all of us, the main wine critics now spoke English and lived in America. All of this came together and inspired hundreds of young viticulturists and winemakers and entrepreneurs to emphasize quality in their history, vineyards, grapes, and wine and TO CHANGE CONSUMER PERCEPTIONS AS MUCH AS TO SATISFY EXISTING ONES and to market aggressively.

Before I leave this I would like to mention one item of concern to us all: the American Appellation. Today federal labeling laws allow wines with an “American Appellation” to contain up to 25% foreign wines. Today there are few wineries using the appellation, but with the current global wine supply situation and cheap labor and government support overseas, it could become a major threat to the integrity and profitability of our business. The California Association of Winegrape Growers (cawg) in conjunction with the New York Wine Grape Growers Association, and the Oregon and Washington Association of Wine Grape Growers, has filed a petition with the TTB to eliminate this foreign component. I strongly urge you to become more knowledgeable about this situation and request your local organization to join us in this petition.

Now, in 2010, there is AGAIN “Trouble in Paradise!” The U.S. and world economic collapse started in 2008. Many of the $100 wines that had never earned the right to make that charge have faltered. During the post-phylloxera planting rush many Napa lands that should not have been, were planted. The resulting grape and wine quality has brought us the $14 Napa Cabernet that PERHAPS diminishes the “Napa” brand franchise. The world is beginning to criticize california’s high alcohol, high pH wines as not complimentary to food and potentially lacking ageability. The new Millennium generation could not care less about what their parents liked in wine!

Is there anything in that story that could not happen here on the East Coast or that doesn’t provide opportunity in 2010? There are 70 million millennium American young people aged 16 to 33 arriving on the scene and they are experimenting with wine early. They have little respect for history and their parents’ tastes. They can be viewed as a threat to California and an opportunity for you. Perhaps the major winemaking company in the world, Constellation, is a New York company. Why are they concentrating on California? It’s a brand new world and East Coast wines have as much chance as anyone. I can hear a Pennsylvania-born Robert Mondavi saying just that today!

Imported wines are really inroads into our wine business. We in California are concerned about imports and we should be concerned about you. Their climate and soil in many places are arguably no better than yours. You have access to all of the technology. Students from the East Coast attend California schools. The main ingredient for a successful wine future, whether in California or here, will e an entrepreneurial spirit. Wines from the American East Coast could rival import sales in the U.S. and that would be wonderful for all of us. It’s up to you! California will likely always be the major player, but there is a larger spot on the Eastern U.S. wines if you want it.

The Wine Loft Opens in Style in West Broad Village, Short Pump

Apr 01

Just in time for spring and a warming economic future, the West End of Richmond has a new classy wine bar and restaurant called The Wine Loft. It opened on March 26 with a gala ribbon cutting accompanied by the sabering of a bottle of Veuve Cliquot. Local dignitaries, Virginia winery owners, media and other guests enjoyed fine hors d’ oeuvres with a range of fine Virginia wines.

The Wine Loft RichmondLocated in the West Broad Village on Broad St./Rt. 250 just west of I-64, the Wine Loft is accurately described by its publicist as having “a warm, sophisticated atmosphere.” While it has some of the chic of SoHo, comfortable couches and soft lighting make it relaxed but tasteful. The wine list offers 65 wines by the glass and another 200 by the bottle, with prices ranging from $6 to $65 per glass and $24 to $370 per bottle. The food is Mediterranean-focused, not over-done, and complements a range of wines.

The first Wine Loft opened in New Orleans in 2002 and has more than 25 corporate and franchised-owned locations across the country. The West Broad Village Wine Loft is owned by Jeff Ottaviano, a pilot who was reportedly so inspired by visits to Tuscany he decided to share his love of food and wine by opening the Wine Loft in Richmond’s West End.

I enjoyed attending the gala opening, and was impressed that the only wines offered at the gala were Virginia wines, many of which were top-notch like the Octagon 2005 from Barboursville. Also impressive was Ottaviano’s commitment to helping the local community; for every bottle of Virginia wine sold between now and the end of the school year, the Wine Loft will sponsor a weekend backpack of food for an at-risk child in Richmond, Henrico, and Chesterfield schools (weekends are times when public resources are not as available to children).

I asked Mr. Ottaviano a few questions about why he decided to open the Wine Loft in the West Broad Village, the weekend backpack program, and his support of the community and Virginia wines:

RL: Was it repeated visits, or one special visit to Tuscany that inspired you to open the Wine Loft? Please describe the wines or experience that led to the decision.

JO: I have only been once,  for about 2 weeks.  Growing up in an Italian family I was exposed to wine very early, and I can assure you it was not anything good.  Just a bunch of old poor Italians trying to make their own in the basement.  However, my grandfather always seemed to trick me by telling me it was Italian coke.  After I eased in with Chianti, my palate, and love of wine took off from there, next thing I know I was enjoying the Super Tuscans and one of my favorites, Amarone.  I moved on to California wines and just kept going.  To this date, one of my favorites was a 1994 Altamura Cab Magnum that a friend poured for dinner.  Nice friend, huh?

RL: What do you feel the Wine Loft will offer Richmonders and West End residents that isn’t already being offered?

JO: I believe we have successfully brought a “true” wine bar to Richmond.  An upsacle, sophisticated, yet approachable place.  We are able to offer 75 wines by the glass at this point.  I would imagine we are the only place in Virginia that is able to offer Rubicon, Far Niente Cab, Amarone, Catena “Adrianna” malbec, and Octagon by the glass.  Our list ranges from nice value wine to a Quintessa.  We try to hit everyones palate and budget.  You will agree, wine is a social experience and that is what we are really providing.  The atmosphere, music, food, wine, and great service.

RL: What led you to sponsor the backpack program, and why the tie-in with Virginia wine sales?

JO: I have a good friend of mine who is on the board at the Central Virginia Food Bank and introduced me to a variety of their programs.  The first time I heard about the backpack program was when it had just started and I took my daughter to her first day of school.  The principal was telling us how they discovered many kids comning to school on Monday very tired, lethargic, low energy and unfocused.  They realized school lunch on Friday was the last meal they ate until Monday.  It really hit home.  This seemed like the perfect opportunity to give back what Christy and I have been so fortunate to receive these past couple of months.  What better way then to support our local Virginia Industry at the same time?

RL: Describe how you feel Virginia wines deserve to be served alongside those of more famous regions.

JO: When I started researching, tasting, and enjoying Virginia wines to be included on our wine list, I never imagined I would find so many that I thought stood up to any region in the world.  Virginia has come a long way to producing some very fine wines.  I believe they are getting a lot of attention and recognition these days for doing so.  The Viognier, Cab Franc, Norton, Merlot, and bordeaux style blends seem to be world class.  Of course there will be some wines that do not stand up, but I would imagine every region has those as well.  I think we have put together a very nice list representing some of VA’s best wines.  I was very happy to already have the King Family Meritage ‘07 on our list before they recently won the Governors Cup for it.