De-Mystifying Whole-Cluster Fermentation

whole clusterWhole-cluster fermentation is gaining rapid interest as a winemaking practice, but how much does the average consumer really know about this mysterious method and its effects?

“Whole-cluster fermentation is the act of using the entire bunch or cluster of grapes, including the stem, in alcoholic fermentation,” says Winemaker Eric Hickey of Laetitia Vineyard & Winery, who has used whole-cluster fermentation for about a decade. “The winemaker can vary the amount of whole clusters included in the fermentor. For example, in our case, I use anywhere from thirty to seventy percent whole clusters in a given batch.  The remaining percentage in the fermentor is made up of de-stemmed grapes.”

The use of whole-cluster fermentation began as an experiment for Hickey, who has made a career of exploring different approaches to Pinot Noir from Laetitia’s Arroyo Grande Valley AVA estate. “We have a vast array of plantings, clones, and diversity when it comes to Pinot Noir,” he said. “Not all of our lots do well with whole-cluster, but through all of our trials over the years, we’ve located the specific clones and sites that work well.”

In Burgundy, where Pinot Noir is king, whole-cluster fermentation has been used for hundreds of years, perhaps somewhat out of the convenience of tossing an entire bunch into the fermenting vessel. The hallmark of whole-cluster wines – a signature burnt tobacco note entwined with the fruit aromas and flavors – became synonymous with the Pinot Noir variety in Old World winemaking.

Eric Hickey

Eric Hickey

“It’s not always obvious, but there’s an extra layer of structure to whole-cluster Pinot Noir,” says Hickey, “and when it’s at its best, there is a dusty chalkiness to the mid-palate.”

Whole-cluster fermentation can be practiced on any variety, and is often used to tone down fruit characteristics and add another dimension to the wine. (For example, Hickey also uses whole-cluster fermentation on Grenache from the Santa Barbara Highlands Vineyard for the NADIA Wines label.) While New World winemakers have used this method for many years, a fruit-driven, de-stemmed Pinot Noir became popular as the variety gained a foothold in the United States market in the late 1980s and 1990s. Today, the pendulum is swinging the other direction, with many winemakers moving away from “pure-fruit” Pinot Noir by fermenting clusters whole to impart complexity, tannic grip, and a lift on the palate.

Laetitia_Pinot_Noir_Whole_ClusterWEBTo bring this style further into balance, when Hickey whole-cluster ferments Pinot Noir, he leaves the intact bunches to rest in the fermentor after harvest rather than crushing them immediately. In this anaerobic environment, fermentation then begins within each individual berry as yeast penetrates the skin wall under the pressure of carbon dioxide, a process called carbonic maceration. “When fermentation takes place inside the berry, you tend to get very high levels of delicate red fruit and floral aromas,” says Hickey. “In the case of the whole-cluster technique, the high fruit tone is a good counter balance to the earthy tobacco characters the stems provide.”

Each vintage, Hickey rounds-out the Laetitia Pinot Noir program by offering a whole-cluster Pinot Noir made from clones conducive to the practice. The most recent release is the 2012 vintage, which included Pinot Noir from clones 115 and 2A to produce a wine marked by focused flavors and a refreshing grip in mouth feel. Crisp notes of cassis, whole-leaf tobacco and black peppercorn mingle with a touch of sweet oak and sultry black tea on the nose and palate. With its heightened earthiness, the 2012 Laetitia Whole Cluster Pinot Noir pairs well with similarly earthy cuisine such as roast duck, sautéed porcini mushrooms, or eggplant lasagna.

“Consumer response [toward whole-cluster wine] has been great,” says Hickey. “It usually appeals to those who prefer a Pinot with more power, structure and less ‘pure red fruit’ on the nose.”

 

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What we learned: Wine apps

It’s never been a better time to buy the right wine. With so much content available so quickly, we’ll never again wonder what to drink with our osso buco on a Friday night (…or mac ‘n cheese on a Tuesday night!).

We’re talking, of course, about wine apps. At the recent Wine Bloggers’ Conference we polled our fellow wine folks about which apps they use to make buying and tasting decisions. Here are the big winners:

298_298_cor-kz-top-apps-for-wineCor.kz: Powered by CellarTracker.com, Cor.kz allows you to type in the name of the wine you’re considering (or even scan the bar code!) and gain access to over 2,000,000 notes and ratings from experts and from the huge CellarTracker community of wine drinkers. $1.99, available for iOS and Android.

47f1aadf-d960-48dd-8611-fbcddf1eb54cVivino: “Never pick another bad wine.” So says this app that identifies wine labels from a photo snapped on your device and immediately accesses reviews, rankings and price comparisons – right there in the grocery aisle or wine shop. Vivino also claims to be “the world’s largest community for everyone who enjoys wine.” Free, available for iOS and Android.

icon_256Delectable: Like Vivino, this app immediately recognizes whatever wine label you snap with your camera and offers reviews and buying info, but has a social side that allows your own personal friends to weigh-in along with leading winemakers, critics, and sommeliers.

icon_256 (1)Guurgle: While Guurgle is still very California-centric, they benefit from being powered by people who really know and love wine. This app is terrific for touring California wineries and includes maps and events listings to inform your next excursion.

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Singer-songwriter A.J. Croce comes to Wine Country

salon roux logoWe at Parker Sanpei have always loved the people and service at Salon Roux in Paso Robles – but now we love them even more.

This full-service salon and spa located in the heart of wine country recently announced a special benefit concert to celebrate its fifth anniversary featuring singer-songwriter, A.J. Croce, with special guests, The Janks, to benefit Studios on the Park’s “Kids Art Smart” program. Presented under the stars at Castoro Cellars Winery, the concert will be held Saturday, August 23. The event begins at 6:30 p.m.

ajcroce_salon_roux_concert

Croce, son of legendary singer-songwriter Jim Croce, began his career at age 18 opening for B.B. King, and has since spanned genres from jazz to Americana to blues to pop. He has been seen and heard on national television including Jay Leno, David Letterman, and MTV, and received glowing press from The Wall Street Journal, Rolling Stone and People Magazine. Croce’s eighth studio album, “Twelve Tales,” was released by Compass Records and recorded with six legendary producers including: Allen Toussaint (Dr. John, Eric Clapton); the late “Cowboy” Jack Clement (Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash); Mitchell Froom (Crowded House, Los Lobos); Tony Berg (Fiona Apple, Bob Dylan); Kevin Killen (Elvis Costello, Peter Gabriel), and Greg Cohen (Tom Waits, John Zorn). Additionally, “Twelve Tales” includes a song Croce wrote with legendary songwriter and musician, Leon Russell.

Croce’s last performance in Paso Robles was in support of Jon Anderson of YES. He’s received stellar reviews including a sentiment by Willie Nelson who said “The future of entertainment is in good hands.” Salon Roux Proprietor and Concert Coordinator, Jacque Leonard, calls Croce’s music, “jaw-droppingly, amazingly great.”

A. J. Croce

A. J. Croce

“Salon Roux holds a party every year to celebrate our anniversary,” said Leonard. “For our fifth year, though, I wanted to do something that gives back to our community that has supported us. The ‘Kids Art Smart’ program brings children to Studios on the Park to paint, draw and get creative, Monday through Friday. I know that if I hadn’t been in art classes through school, I wouldn’t be where I am today. Our goal is to raise enough support for “Kids Art Smart” through this benefit concert to cover their costs for the coming school year.”

“Kids Art Smart” brings local elementary students to Studios on the Park in Paso Robles, directly utilizing the artists studio setting for unique art education studying and creating works of art in mediums such as ceramics, collage, oil pastels, printmaking, and watercolor. Since 2011, more than 4,000 public elementary students have visited Studios on the Park for hands-on professional art classes completely free of charge and during school hours. Ordinarily these students (47 percent of whom are considered low-income and at-risk) receive no formal arts education.

Individual tickets to the benefit concert are $50 each. VIP tables include wine and dinner, and are $250 for two people, $500 for four people and $750 for six people. Tickets are available for purchase at Salon Roux by calling 805.239.9499 or by emailing info@salonroux.com.

Additionally, Thomas Hill Organics Bistro will be serving a dinner consisting of Paella accompanied by organic mixed greens, roasted seasonal vegetable and date flan tartlets for $15. Castoro Cellars wine will also be available for purchase.

For more information on this must-see concert, please visit http://www.salonroux.com/concert.html See you there!

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What we learned: The Digital Divide

We had intended to give frequent updates on what we learned at the Wine Bloggers’ Conference this year, but that proved nearly impossible, so copious the information and quick the format. Here, we’ll present our take-aways by category. Today, it’s about the so-called “digital divide” between wine producers and their patrons in the digital age.

A breakout session entitled “The Business of Wine” led by  Tim Hanni, MW, and Paul Mabray of Vintank reminded us how critical it is to provide digital media to our winery clients with ambitious, personal, and creative connections to their customers.  Some notes:

Tim Hanni, MW

Tim Hanni, MW

Notes from Tim Hanni, MW

  • “Sixty to eighty percent of consumers are mystified by wine. We have to ask ourselves: are we going out of our way to mystify consumers about wine?”
  • “Anybody can make very expensive, highly-extracted, new-French-oak wine. It’s never been easier for people to make good wine. But nobody’s putting any thought into the market itself. We’re devoting too much thought to the product, not enough to the consumer.”

Tim Hanni, MW is an internationally-recognized wine expert and professionally-trained chef. He is one of two Americans to first earn the title Master of Wine and is recognized around the globe for his groundbreaking “Vinotyping” – making wine drinkers more confident about their personal wine preferences. 

Paul Mabray

Paul Mabray

Notes from Paul Mabray, Vintank

  • “[The modern wine market] is the most competitive market in human history. [In 2013] there were 200,000 wine products in the U.S. But it’s also hard because everybody makes great wine.”
  • “Everyone is telling the same story: Family-owned. Artisan. Terroir. Service is the only differentiator.”
  • The wine industry’s biggest challenge right now is the internet. “Digital Darwinism” means if you’re not designing your website/blog mobile-friendly, you’re already getting left behind.
  • “The old critic everyone listened to was Robert Parker, Jr. The new critic everyone listens to is the stupid ‘like’ button.”
  • “It’s like Hollywood: everyone wants to work in wine. And it sounds so sexy until you have to put it in your gas tank. The wine industry pays [poorly], and we’re losing our best people because of it.”

Paul Mabray is Chief Strategy Officer at Vintank, the world’s largest software solution for social media management for the wine and restaurant industry. A more in-depth exploration of Paul’s ideas can be found in a transcribed lecture he recently presented here.

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Wine Bloggers’ Conference kicks off!

imageOnly for the love of wine would we ever get up this early on a Saturday morning. No, not to drink wine – to blog about it!

Paul Mabray of Vintank discussing the intersection of wine and tech.

Paul Mabray of Vintank discussing the intersection of wine and tech.

We are privileged to participate in this year’s Wine Bloggers’ Conference in the Santa Ynez Valley. We’ve already shaken Paul Mabray’s hand and talked about the digital divide in the wine industry. Heaven! Stay tuned here for more updates on the conference and what we’ve learned.

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WORLD CUP: I’ll drink to that!

BrazilOur post from June 4 shared how our friends at La Cosecha Bar + Restaurant in Paso Robles are celebrating the World Cup with flavors from this year’s host country, Brazil. We also mentioned that the popular eatery would create an ad hoc cocktail menu for the quarter finals, which are now well underway.

For Tuesday’s match, the cocktails included

Brazil
Caipirinha – caçacha, St. Germaine, limes, turbonado syrup

vs.

Germany
Vitus Shandy – Vitus Hefenweizen, lemon juice, simple syrup

And for yesterday’s match, the competitors were

Argentina
“Frenet About It” – Frenet Branca, Coca-Cola

vs.

Netherlands
Nethertini – brandy, citronage, lime juice, simple syrup, orange bitters

La-Cosecha-Bar-and-RestaurantThis Saturday, the match is between Brazil and the Netherlands, and Sunday, it’s Germany vs. Argentina. The team from Parker Sanpei will be at La Cosecha, showing our spirit with a cocktail that roots for our favorite team! To learn how to join in the fun, visit http://www.LaCosechaBR.com or call 805.237.0019.

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Patting ourselves on the back.

It’s not often that we at Parker Sanpei pat ourselves on the back, but recently, the love for what we’re doing in the lifestyle public relations industry is worth sharing.

Barbara Keck, WineBizNews.blogspot.com

Barbara Keck

Longtime journalist and wine writer, Barbara Keck, put some wind in our sails discussing work we’ve done for Arroyo Grande AVA producer, Laetitia Vineyard & Winery. On her blog, she published a post entitled, “Laetitia Wines are Not Only Good, but Well-Promoted.”

Laetitia Vineyard and Winery shares their love for their Santa Barbara terroir and provides some excellent pairing notes and recipes. I am aware of this because every once in a while, I receive a press release that is so good that it’s worthwhile passing on in toto to my blog readers. This is the case with the information provided by Parker Sanpei and Associates about their client Laetitia wines.”

Xochitl Maiman

Xochitl Maiman

Another blogger, Xochitl Maiman of the blog I’ll Drink to That!, attended the CABs of Distinction event we put on for our friends at the Paso Robles CAB Collective, and had this to say:

“In such a short time, the PRCC (Paso Robles CAB Collective) and Parker Sanpei have created an influential and well-run series of events that will undoubtedly provide the PRCC with their optimal goal of effectively spreading the word about Paso Robles Cabs and Bordeaux varietals.”

Eve Bushman

Eve Bushman

And yet another blogger, Eve Bushman, who has served as judge at the Los Angeles International Wine Competition and writes the popular blog Eve’s Wine 101, had this to say about CABs of Distinction:

“[CABs of Distinction] was by far the best press event I’ve attended. Thank you for all of your care, Parker Sanpei.”

 

With kudos like this, we can’t complain. Thanks to all of our friends and fans for making our work and the wine/food/travel PR industry such a pleasure.

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