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Understanding Wine Tasting through “Brain Searchery” The Tale from Two Books

Posted By Neal Hulkower, Friday, May 25, 2018

What comes to mind when one engages with a glass of wine?  And how does technology-assisted “brain searchery” help us find the answers and make us more attentive wine tasters?   The sensory and non-sensory contributions to our enjoyment of this beverage are explored from two different perspectives in Neuroenology: How the Brain Creates the Taste of Wine (Columbia University Press, 2017) by Yale neuroscience professor Gordon M. Shepherd and I Taste Red:  The Science of Tasting Wine (University of California Press, 2016) by British wine writer, wine judge, and plant biologist Dr. Jamie Goode.  The latter was announced as the Domaine Faiveley Wine Book of the Year at the 2017 Louis Roederer International Wine Writers’ Awards.   While the stated objective, to offer a new approach to wine tasting, and much of the material covered are the same, the approach, emphasis and utility of each book differ as markedly as the author’s background.


  Acknowledging that there is still much to be discovered, Shepherd and Goode take us through the basics of how our senses work in combination with each other.  All five senses, not just the chemical ones which are smell and taste, come into play when we interact with wine.  The eyes drink first, taking in the color and setting expectations.  With the first sniff of the glass, orthonasal olfaction, what we experience when breathing in, triggers the smell receptors in the nose.  With the first sip, the wine blends with saliva and activates retronasal olfaction stimulating receptors inside the mouth and throat when breathing out.   Different areas of the mouth contain sensors that react to touch, pressure, temperature, and pain, and create the mouthfeel of the wine.  Taste buds house receptors that react to various chemical molecules called tastants that are contained in the wine-saliva mix and transmit signals to the brain.    
The sounds made by the wine as it moves around the mouth and is swallowed contribute to the experience.   In the brain’s orbitofrontal cortex, crossmodal processing combines smell and taste along with the other senses to create flavor.  So our perception of the flavor of a wine results from the multimodal interaction of the inputs from all the senses with retronasal smell and taste playing a dominant role.


Both books review the five primary tastes – sweet, sour, bitter, salt and umami – detected by the taste buds, with Shepherd going into a bit more depth on the anatomy.  In contrast, Goode emphasizes the aromatic chemistry of the wine coupling the names of impact compounds with the odors we detect.  Though he has a penchant for presenting the full names of chemical compounds, he moderates them with more taster-friendly references, for example, “Methoxypyrazine:  the most important one is 2-methoxy-3-isobutylpyrazine…is responsible for green, grassy, green pepper aromas.” (p. 88)   


But an understanding of what goes on in the brain when wine tasting is not complete without considering the non-sensory influences on our perception of a wine’s flavor.  Each taster’s accumulated memories of wines, especially those drunk regularly, seem to have an impact. Both books mention the work of Donald Wilson of New York University and Richard Stevenson of Macquarie University on how smell objects are formed by synthesizing inputs from our senses with how much we like or dislike the sensations.  Both authors also cite studies that rely on detailed “brain searchery,” much of it performed using Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI), to illuminate where and how our sensory and non-sensory inputs merge.   Because the author is himself an active researcher in the field, Shepherd’s book gives a more thorough technical discussion of what was learned and includes numerous drawings of the human head and other images and diagrams.  For example, he elaborates on how an aroma image is formed when the receptors transmit their responses to the olfactory bulb in the brain. 


Goode is clearly comfortable summarizing the results of fMRI studies but keeps it a little less technical.  He does relate concerns about the unnatural environment in which the experiments take place.  The subject’s head is immobilized, liquid is squirted in the mouth via a tube all while inside a noisy metal cylinder. “Yes, various brain areas light up…, but their context is hardly a real-world natural setting.” (p. 67) Nevertheless, he concludes that “even the limited data obtained so far are highly relevant for wine tasting and are important if we want to provide a robust theoretical basis for the human interaction with wine.” (p. 67)


One fMRI experiment that merited mention in both books was by California –based researchers Hilke Plassmann, John O’Doherty, Baba Shiv, and Antonio Rangel.  Classified as a study in neuroeconomics, it looked at the impact of price on the perception of taste.  Subjects laying in an fMRI tube were given wines whose retail prices had been revealed.  When different prices were assigned to the same wine, the scans showed more pleasure was derived when the subjects thought the wine was more expensive.


When it comes to practical advice for the wine taster, Shepherd is no Goode.   Not surprisingly, each author’s emphasis is on what he knows best. While Shepherd is clearly more enamored of the science, he lacks Goode’s tasting chops. Shepherd’s idea of “a new approach to wine tasting…can be summed up in the phase: the taste is not in the wine; the taste is created by the brain of the wine taster.” (p. 1) In the appendix, he summarizes a wine-tasting tutorial he had in 2003 with Jean-Claude Berrouet at Château Pétrus.  This was his first serious encounter with fine wine and inspired his book.  While the resulting text may be useful to specialists in neuroscience seeking a summary of knowledge gained to date, the advice given to serious wine tasters seems like an afterthought, offering little new or practical.  For that, Goode is much more effective at delivering the goods. 


Having presented the state of the science for the edification of the taster, Goode proposes a different model for wine tasting based on the objective.  Analytic tasting, the type practiced by professional tasters, must be done in a controlled environment free from any distractions which invariably will influence perception.  In contrast, tasting for pleasure is greatly enhanced by shaping the environment with music, lighting, companions, and food.  The wine critic should taste wine analytically but also “learn to extrapolate from the artificial setting…to the naturalistic setting in which the readers will be consuming wine…” (p. 202) “I am a firm believer in interrogating the wine…” (p.203) insists Goode.  Training can help, including tasting and developing a vocabulary, he advises.  I would add tasting mindfully and taking notes, especially when sampling better bottles.      


While Shepherd’s book speaks with authority on the state of the art in neuroscience and “brain searchery,” his relative inexperience in wine tasting makes it less suitable for anyone wishing to become a more observant taster.  On the other hand Goode’s book provides insights from a veteran taster who has clearly absorbed enough of the science to fashion credible models for tasters at all levels of experience.


Neal Hulkower is a mathematician and an oenophile living in McMinnville, Oregon.  His wine writing has appeared in a wide range of academic and popular publications including the Journal of Wine Research, the Journal of Wine Economics, Oregon Wine Press, Practical Winery & Vineyard, Wine Press Northwest, and The World of Fine Wine.  Occasionally, he can be found pouring quintessential Pinot noir at the top of the Dundee Hills.

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Where there's smoke, there's taint (maybe)

Posted By Aaron Mandel, AWS Director of Education , Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Where There’s Smoke, There’s Taint (maybe)


With the recent fires in Northern California, there has been a lot of concern about smoke taint in wines and what the wineries can do about the problem. So, I thought a brief discussion of smoke taint might be in order.


First, the problem of smoke taint in 2017 wines is being overblown. Many of the grapes in the Napa and Sonoma vineyards had already been picked. Even those vineyard that still had grapes waiting to be picked will not necessarily have problems with smoke taint. Smoke composition, concentration, duration of exposure and variety all play a part in smoke taint.


How does taint get into the grape?


So how does some taint enter the grape? Most of the smoke taint enters the berries through the cuticles. Basically, through the waxy layer on the skin of the grape. While the volatiles that give the taint may also enter the vine through the leaves, studies show that the movement of the smoke taint through the vine itself is very slow. The closer to harvest the grapes are to ripening, the greater the risk of smoke taint. Because the smoke taint enters through the cuticle, washing the grapes before crush does little good.


Why is it hard to detect early?


The actual compounds in smoke taint are glycosides. This means that the volatile aromatics- those you can smell- are connected to sugar molecules. Since they are bound to sugars, the volatile aromas are stuck in the juice they are not wafting about the air waiting for you to pick up their smell.  But the sugar bond with the volatiles can be broken. This may take place during fermentation, malolactic or during maturation. When the sugar bond is broke, the aromatics are freed.  When the wine is drunk, further breakage in the bonds may occur, increasing the sensation of smoke taint. This is the reason that smoke taint can be so difficult to assess. You pick the grapes, do the crush and everything smells just fine- you escaped. Then you ferment the grapes and things start getting funky.


Wineries are currently sending out grapes for testing to determine whether their grapes will suffer smoke taint. This is often done by performing small batch fermentations with grape clusters taken from various parts of a vineyard and then performing an analysis to check on the presence of the volatile compounds that cause smoke taint.


What if the grapes have smoke taint?


So, what can the wineries do if they have smoke tainted fruit or believe there is a risk of taint?
One thing is to avoid the breaking of the skins as long as possible. The skins have many volatiles in them so limited contact might help. Hand harvesting the grapes can minimize breaking of skins as long as possible and, of course, shorter maceration can help. Whole bunch pressing and pressing in fractions also can assist.


Of course, these methods are best used with white wines where skin contact may not be required. But what about red wines?  If the grapes have smoke taint, there is not a lot that can be done. Some wineries use reverse osmosis to remove smoke taint, but this method is said to only be a temporary fix and the smoke taint returns over time. Flash détente can also be used, since it removes volatile aromas and may remove some smoke taint. But Flash Détente is not 100% effective. It may remove the taint below the detection threshold of approximately 5-6 ppm if the level of smoke taint is slightly over that amount but it is not going to take a 50-ppm smoke taint level and lower it to 3. Even then, it is difficult to say what aromatic precursors in the wine may react with the smoke taint volatiles making the taint detectable at lower levels.


In the end, there is little that can be done with badly tainted grapes. Some “smoky” wines have been successfully marketed with smoke tainted grapes in the past for barbeques but the market for such wines would seem to be limited. Heavily charred oak barrels can also be used to mask the aromas, but the masking can only go so far.


At this early stage, it is impossible to say if there will be any real problem with smoke taint from the Northern California fires. I expect that a few vineyards will have smoke taint, but that the overall impact from taint will be relatively small. Fortunately, smoke taint is not something which carries over from year to year, so 2018 so not be effected from this year’s fires.


The larger concern is the effect on those working in the region. While most wineries escaped damage from the fires, whole neighborhoods were burned down. Affordable housing in Napa and Sonoma was already in short supply. The fires took lives, homes and property. The American Wine Society is raising money to help those affected by the fires. Please consider donating to the cause. In addition, please consider visiting the region. Many of the businesses in Northern California depend upon tourists. The fires cut tourism dramatically. Visiting for a few days will help those in the region get back on their feet.

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Tags:  American Wine Society  smoke taint  Wine  wine tasting 

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A look back at the 49th Annual AWS Conference

Posted By Neal Hulkower , Sunday, July 30, 2017
Updated: Wednesday, July 19, 2017


The American Wine Society (AWS) is the largest consumer based wine education organization in North America.  Dr. Konstantin Frank, a pioneering vinifera producer in New York’s Finger Lakes region, led its formation in late 1967.  It now boasts 165 chapters in 36 states and the District of Columbia including one based in Salem, Oregon.  AWS membership is approaching 6,000 and includes the entire spectrum from novice tasters to wine educators to competition judges to grape growers to amateur and commercial winemakers, supporting the characterization of “compleatness.”  While many chapters host tastings throughout the year, the main event is the annual National Conference.  From 3 to 5 November 2016, about 430 members gathered at the Hilton in Costa Mesa, CA, to learn, taste, and mingle.


As a first time attendee to a conference, I sat in on an orientation session.  Three panels of three first timers were invited to play “Who Wants to be an Oenologist?”  Multiple choice questions focused on the early history of the society, factoids about the California wine industry, and conference specific procedures.  I learned that Dr. Frank threatened to quit AWS because of its emphasis on hybrid grapes.


The Welcome Reception highlighted wines from Temecula, the nearest wine growing region to the meeting, as well as from Santa Barbara Winery. Buffets provisioned tasters sufficiently to serve as dinner.  Afterward, we adjourned to the hospitality suite to sample wines from North Carolina, Tennessee, and New York.


At registration, we were asked to rank our top three choices for sessions in each of seven periods, three one day and four the next.  I was assigned to all of my first choices.  Sharron McCarthy, Vice President of Wine Education for Castello Banfi, oversaw “An Extraordinary Tuscan Experience.”  The eight Banfi wines we tasted ranged from a refreshing 2015 Vermentino to a classy but still young Brunello di Montalcino Reserva.



As a volunteer, I was assigned to be room captain for the session “Virginia Wine Today” and had the pleasure of introducing the presenter, Richard Leahy.  Leahy is the author of the most authoritative exposition on wines of the Old Dominion, Beyond Jefferson’s Vines, now in its second edition. In 2012, he was my counterpart on the East Coast during our bicoastal simultaneous tasting of Virginia and Southern Oregon viogniers and cabernet francs.  The results appeared in the December 2012 issue of Oregon Wine Press.   Leahy tasted us through two whites and two reds to show how far Virginia has come.  While all were well made and enjoyable, my “oh yes” choice was the 2013 Barboursville Octagon, a beautifully textured Bordeaux blend.  “Want some,” I noted.


In “Nose to Nose:  Cognac vs. Armagnac,” Portland, Oregon based Hoke Harden (pictured  below), “the spirits and wine professor,” expounded on the differences between the two brandies.  We were presented with four examples of each.   A complex, bright Jean Fillioux Cep d’Or 1er Cru Grande Champagne, a “grower cognac,” earned a “yum yes.”  The supremely smooth and refined Jerome Delord Bas Armagnac 1981, bottled in 2011, earned an “oh yes” and nearly brought on tears of overwhelming admiration.  I did get some.


 On Friday evening, we assembled for the Showcase of Wine to sample products from several countries including Spain, Mexico, France, and the US.  Heavy appetizers served as dinner.  Table hopping facilitated mingling.


As an old fan of German Rieslings, I was particularly eager to attend “The New Classification of German Wines – the VDP Classification” led by Annette Schiller with comments from her husband, Christian.  The DC-based couple lead wine tours in Germany and France.  Since 1984, the Verband Deutscher Prädikats- und Qualitätsweingüter e.V. (VDP) has been developing a quality-based classification based on the Burgundy model to correct the mess caused by the 1971 law that diluted the prestige of many of the famous vineyards.  Two of the six lovely wines poured were produced by Dr. Ernst Loosen who, in addition to owning a facility in the Mosel region, collaborates in Oregon with Jay Somers of J. Christopher and in Washington with Chateau Ste. Michelle. 


“The State of Red Wines in the American Rhone Nation” was discussed and illustrated by six California producers. Randall Grahm poured his 2009 Bonny Doon Le Cigare Volant which displayed an amusing aroma and flavors showing nascent wisdom.  This wine is typically fermented with 50 to 60% whole clusters that are dried for a few days to ensure the stems lignify.  A drinkable, untypical 2012 Tercero Mourvedre showed very nicely.


Joel Peterson, founder of Ravenswood Winery, known for its zinfandel, guided “Exploring the ‘90s in Magnums.” He shared the 1994, 1995, and 1997 bottlings from Dickerson Vineyard, planted to 100% zinfandel in 1920, and the Old Hill vineyard, planted around 1885 to a mix of at least 27 varieties with about 68% zinfandel.  The wines made from Old Hill, especially the 1995, showed considerable youthfulness.


The final session, “Colorado’s High Elevation Wines, The Taste from the Top,” gave Doug Caskey, executive director at Colorado Wine Industry Development Board, the chance to pour outside the grape.  We were served a fragrant hard cider from a can and a sweet, pretty mead along with one hybrid and three vinifera examples.


A sparkling breakfast the first day and two lunches featured wine, as well.  The noontime meal on Saturday showcased noteworthy wines from Empordá, a region in Catalonia, Spain.  The 2015 Vinyes dels Aspres, Blanc dels Aspres, 60% Grenache Blanc, 40% Grenache Gris, earned a “yes.”  A novel Mas Llunes, Garnatxa Solera extended my experience with this versatile grape to the realm of dessert.  The Grand Banquet at which Peter Mondavi, Jr. accepted the Award of Merit for his late father, Peter Sr., concluded the conference on Saturday evening. 


The egalitarian nature of AWS and the welcoming spirit of its long time members are two of this “most compleat” society’s greatest assets.   Where else can an oenophile, budding or already blossomed, taste wines with experts from across the globe?  Where else can amateur and commercial winemakers share pointers?    For me, though, the seven sessions I attended were the best reason to participate in the National Conference.  The range and quality of the beverages and the information shared by the presenters kept this long time taster enticed, engaged, and even educated.  Sound good? From 2 to 4 November 2017, the society celebrates its 50th anniversary at its National Convention at Kalahari in Pocono Manor, Pennsylvania. For more information, visit http://www.americanwinesociety.org/.


Neal Hulkower is a mathematician and an oenophile living in McMinnville, Oregon.  His wine writing has appeared in a wide range of academic and popular publications including the Journal of Wine Research, the Journal of Wine Economics, Oregon Wine Press, Practical Winery & Vineyard, Wine Press Northwest, and The World of Fine Wine.  He can occasionally be found pouring quintessential Pinot noir at the top of the Dundee Hills.

Tags:  American Wine Society  Armagnac  Cognac  Hoke Harden  Riesling  Tuscan wines  Virginia wines  Wine  Wine Tasting  Zinfandel 

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Reflections on the AWS Silver Anniversary

Posted By John Hames, AWS Historian , Sunday, July 23, 2017
Updated: Wednesday, July 12, 2017

As you know, 2017 is the Golden Anniversary of AWS – 50 great years of wine education and appreciation.  It’s a significant milestone for the society but we had another milestone in 1992…..our Silver Anniversary.  In order to appreciate where AWS was after 25 years, I thought it would be nice to look back at what was going on during our Silver Anniversary year.


·        Randy Hurteau from Spartanburg, SC was the AWS President

·        We had close to 4,000 members and 70 chapters

·        Dues were $32 for a single or couple

·        The National Conference was in Rochester, NY and Co-chaired by John & Anne Stavisky.  Around 500 people attended the conference and sessions were mostly focused on winemaking and eastern U.S. wines.

·        Angel Nardone was in her tenth year as AWS Executive Director.  A position she would hold for eleven more years.



·        Dr. Andrew Rice was the Award of Merit recipient for his work in promoting the eastern U.S. wine industry and their shift to Vinifera grapes

·        Alton Long was the Outstanding Member Award recipient

·        The National Tasting project was in its third year of existence under the leadership of Pam Lackmeyer (you may know her as Pam Davey) and the theme was Chardonnay.

·        The Wine Judge Training Program graduated eight people, including two long-time members who continue to present memorable conference sessions, Gary Pavlis & Joe Fiola.

·        Matt & Carol Kristofik were in their third year as Co-chairs of the Commercial Wine Competition and there were 1,190 entries.  They would continue to run the CWC for (16) more years.

·        Karl Northrup & Nancy Hammond were co-chairs of the Amateur Wine Competition, and the Best of Show winner was Dale Marston from VA for his ’91 Chambourcin

·        Jane Moulton took over as Editor of the AWS Journal, a position she would hold until 2007. Bryan Fazekas was Editor of the AWS News.

·        Al Porell promoted the idea of starting a charitable foundation to promote enology scholarships and the American Wine Society Educational Foundation was formed.


 Recognize some of those names?  Dedicated members who were making a difference for AWS (25) years ago and many of them are still making a difference today. 

A lot changed as we went from Silver to Gold but this isn’t time to rest on our laurels.  Are you one of those dedicated members that will help us get to our Diamond Anniversary? 


John Hames – AWS Historian


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Terroir of Contrasts -- The Lehigh Valley

Posted By Roger Morris , Sunday, July 16, 2017
Updated: Wednesday, July 12, 2017


Pennsylvanias Lehigh Valley, which over time the Lehigh River has carved through the states eastern mountain range and its broad lowlands, is a study in contrasts.  So are its wines.

The upper Lehigh is a land of heavily forested canyons which gradually yield to rich, broad bottomlands and rolling hills before it joins the Delaware River at Easton on Pennsylvanias border with New Jersey.  Through the centuries, the valley has welcomed waves of immigrants who have hunted its forests, tilled its rich soils and worked in its factories and steel mills that once populated Bethlehem and Allentown.



In more recent years, residents of the valley have also made wines in great variety from both mountainside and valley floor vineyards that are planted in vinifera, French-American hybrid and labrusca varieties, which yield dry, sweet and sparkling cuvées. Most wineries offer the general store approach something for every taste though a few are boutiques.

Although wineries have existed here since the 1970s, the Lehigh Valley AVA was not established until May 2008.  It includes portions of six counties Lehigh, Northampton, Berks, Schuylkill, Carbon and Monroe. The area includes vineyards around towns from Jim Thorpe to  Easton, as well as parts of the Schuylkill Valley and the Brodhead Creek watersheds. The region provides a cool but humid continental climate and is located in hardiness zones 6b and 6a.


The first wine grapes were pioneered in the 1970s by Vynecrest, Clover Hill and Franklin Hill, followed by their wineries. Today, there are nine producers that are part of the Lehigh Valley Wine Trail.  Latest production figures indicate that there are about 230 acres being farmed, most of them belonging to wine producers and a few independent growers.  Forty of those acres are in Chambourcin, the favorite red hybrid grape for East Coast winemakers and the only varietal wine that everyone on the trail produces.


When Brad Knapp graduated with a Ph.D. in analytical chemistry in the 1980s, he was looking for employment in an area that produced wines.  My choices were IBM in Poughkeepsie and Air Products in Allentown, he says, so I started work with Air Products. By 1990, Knapp had purchased a vineyard site near Kutztown, got his winery license in 1993 and started selling his Pinnacle Ridge wines in 1995.  Twenty-plus years later, he continues to be excited about his choice of venues, tending three acres of his own grapes and another 22 that are sourced from growers.  But he sees changes coming. 


 Our region is following the growth path of others, Knapp says.  As weve become successful, outside investors with money and ideas have begun to move in. Indeed, Folino Estates, owned by a local family successful in the restaurant and construction businesses, has recently opened a modern winery and restaurant less than a mile from Pinnacle Ridge.


Galen and Sarah Troxell were also both doing corporate work when they decided in 1995 to plant grapes on his folks dairy farm in the valleys rolling hills near Andreas and which had been in the family for six generations.  Sarah, then in the pharmaceuticals business, cashed in her 401k savings plan so they could buy tanks to make wine.  We decided to invest in ourselves rather than the stock market, Sarah, who is the winemaker, says with a wit that is as crisp as some of her German-style wines.


The wine business is growing locally, but it is a slow growth, she says. Many people think about visiting wineries as a form of entertainment, but at Galen Glen were more about the farming, more of a European model. Indeed, as in many other areas of the country, most Lehigh Valley wineries supplement their wine sales with concerts and all-family events, as well as a venue for weddings and corporate retreats.




Although practically every vinifera varietal imaginable is grown in the Lehigh Valley, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Chardonnay and various German and Austrian white varieties seem to be the ones best suited for making the best wines.  Although most winemakers and winery owners profess to prefer vinifera wines, they usually plant one or two other species of grapes to satisfy two primary needs French-American hybrids, which are more disease-resistant and winter hardy, and native American or labrusca vines to meet the sweet-tooth demands of local customers. In addition to Chambourcin for making hybrid reds, Vidal is popular for making hybrid whites and for blending. Knapp calls Vidal his most reliable variety to grow.


We have always known what California is just learning, Knapp says, and that is that a lot of people like sweet wines, although many deny it. Nevertheless, some of us are getting drier in our winemaking, Knapp says.  Weve dropped our Concord and Niagara varieties.


Troxell reflects that position.  Galen Glen makes mainly dry, European-style wines, she says, And we grow all our own grapes, except for Concord and Niagara, which we purchase from Lake Erie.  Vineyards along Lake Eries Pennsylvania and New York shores have long been known for their labrusca plantings, which are used both as wine grapes and grapes for juices and jellies.  Additionally, state wineries may purchase grapes from out of state or even out of country.  However, the Lehigh Valley appellation claims that 85 per cent of its grapes are grown within that AVA.


Several wineries also producing sparkling wines, and many believe there is an untapped potential here for making bubblies.  Chardonnay and Pinot Noir grow well in the valley, but they also can produce the low sugars and alcohol that are desirable in making the best sparkling wines.  Additionally, a few wineries also produce wines from fruits other than grapes.


Traditionally, Pennsylvania wineries have sold most of their wines in their tasting rooms. While that is still the case, outside sales are increasing.  Pennsylvania is infamous for running its own state-controlled wine and liquor stores, and, while some Lehigh Valley producers do sell in state outlets, the commission Pennsylvania charges, and its often lackadaisical promotional attitude, scares away most small producers. 


For the past two decades, Pennsylvania wineries have operated an Option C having a small, limited numbers of outlets at local or regional locations.  We have two [remote] store locations, including Reading Terminal Market in Philadelphia, says Kat Collins, manager of the 40,000-gallon Blue Mountain Vineyard in New Tripoli. Additionally, we ship all over the U.S., Collins says. This Option D (shipping) was opened up by a 2005 U.S. Supreme Court ruling concerning interstate commerce.

Option E might turn out to be the most lucrative. In 2016, in response to repeated consumer campaigns to junk the state stores systems, Pennsylvania allowed qualified grocery stores and supermarkets to stock wines, selling up to four bottles at each checkout. A high-end regional supermarket chain Wegmans has been especially encouraging in providing an opportunity for Lehigh Valley wineries to offer their produce to the stores clientele.




Finally, there is the matter of price.  Although many wineries in southeastern Pennsylvania and in other Mid-Atlantic states have found success in limited-production, high-quality wines that sell in the $25-$50 range, Lehigh Valley wineries have felt constrained to test those markets.  Knapp sees $20 a bottle as scraping the upper limits, although a regional wine that he produced with two other wineries has sold moderately well at $30 a bottle. Of course, its hard to turn a profit and to save additional funds to invest in vineyard land, low yields and sophisticated winery equipment while selling wines in the $10-$20 range.


But, in the end, Lehigh Valley wineries have survived for a third of a century, their products are improving and a second generation of wineries many with good funding and with wine-school-trained winemakers is emerging. Indeed, the failure rate of the valleys wineries has been considerably lower than that of Napa Valley.


The future question is whether Lehigh Valley wineries will move up to the next level of quality that will be necessary to compete at higher price levels, and whether that step up will be led by the wineries themselves or driven by demand of increasingly sophisticated customers.


A version of this piece was published in the Summer, 2017 edition of the American Wine Society Journal.


About the Author     

Roger Morris is a Pennsylvania-based writer who contributes article to several publications, including Wine Enthusiast, Town & Country, The Drinks Business, Beverage Media and TheDailyMeal.com. Roger can be reached at londonbritain@msn.com.

Tags:  Lehigh Valley  Pennsylvania Wines  wines 

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New World vs. New World; conflict or complement?

Posted By Rick's Grape Skinny, Monday, July 3, 2017
Updated: Monday, June 19, 2017



In a nutshell, the fundamental difference between Old World and New World wines is one of geography. Old World wines hail from Europe – France, Germany, Austria, Italy, Spain, and Portugal principally, while New World wines are those that quite literally come from anywhere and everywhere else. That said however, when one is speaking of New World wines, they’re typically talking about wines from the US, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Chile, Argentina, and South Africa.



                  Is That All There Is?

 No, that’s not all there is…not by a long shot! First and foremost, there is the incredibly rich and intriguing history that is associated with Old World wines, and it’s a history that is actually related to what we know as Old World wine today. As a brief for instance, consider the Fall of the Roman Empire. What on earth could that have to do with Old World wine? Well, as wine-centric as the Roman Empire might have been…when the empire collapsed, the industry of growing grapes and making wine went with it. As fields became fallow, a comparatively few varietals survived centuries of agrarian neglect, and as winemaking resumed, these “survivors” became some of the principal grapes that then and now defined Old World wines. Similar examples abound.

Terroir versus Technique

As an extension of the Roman Empire theme, where certain grapes were discovered to be more durable and suitable than others for certain areas, suffice it to say that thousands of years of growing grapes and making wines throughout Europe cultivated a masterful, even scientific, understanding of which grapes grew best in certain regions and in specific kinds of soil and environmental conditions, etc.. As a result, Old World wines are by and large associated with and defined by the location and terroir in which the grapes are grown. Terroir is not just about soil. Rather, it’s a widely used viticultural term that encompasses soil chemistry and composition, micro- climates, temperature, light, elevation, precipitation, and other factors that might serve to distinguish the nature and make-up of where and how grapes are grown and the wine made. To a significant degree, Old World wines are more about reflecting and expressing the terroir…and less about the grape. By way of contrast, and while confessing there’s a lot more to the story, New World wines are far and away more about the grape than they are the terroir. To my way of thinking – fruity rich tastes, the structure and complexity of flavors associated with particular varietals and winemaking styles and techniques are more the objectives of New World winemakers – and almost to the virtual exclusion of terroir as an element of the final tastes and flavors. New World wines are more “formulated and crafted” if you will, where perfectly ripened fruit, fermentation techniques, high alcohol content, natural additives, creative blending, and intense oak aging play integral roles in defining the finished wine. It’s got to be flavor-packed!

 Is There a Difference in Taste?

I could summarize my answer succinctly by saying Old World wines are more subtle and earthy…and New World wines are more rich and fruity…but most would understandably ask, “What the heck does that really mean?” So, the best way to put your curiosity to rest is to taste Old World and New World wines -- each made from the same grape – side by side. Here are a few Old World versus New World suggestions:


Rhone Red (Syrah)


White Meritage/French Sancerre 


French Red Burgundy


FR White Burgundy


 Italian Chianti


Spanish Monastrell



 Australian Shiraz Bordeaux Red Blend 


NZ Sauvignon Blanc


Oregon or California Pinot Noir 


Californian or Chilean Chardonnay 


California Sangiovese


California Mourvêdre






Tags:  New World  Old World  wine tasting 

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Wine Gems in the Gem State

Posted By Ellen Landis , Monday, June 26, 2017
Updated: Thursday, June 15, 2017

 The next time you pop an Idaho potato in your shopping basket, consideradding an Idaho wine to go with it. Alright, you may not see one on your store shelves yet, but there are more than fifty wineries now in Idaho across more than 1,200 acres ofvines. If you're lucky enough to find one, you may discover a beautifully crafted wine that's worth a spot on your table.


 Idaho may beconsidered a newer wine region to some, but wine history buffs will be aware that the first grapes were planted in Idaho in the 1860s.  After prohibition, the first winery to open in Idaho was Ste. Chapelle in 1976, and the states portfolio of wineries has blossomed, expanding considerably since then. As an invitee to the Southern Idaho Media Tour put on by the Idaho Wine Commission, I tasted beautifully crafted wines from the two southern Idaho AVAs, Snake River Valley and Eagle Foothills.



The Snake River Valley AVA (Idahos first) was approved in 2007.   Atop the ancient Lake Idaho bed and residue of volcanic activity, and surrounded by mountains, it boasts diverse soils and elevations reaching 3,000 feet above sea level.  With 1,800 planted acres (across southern Idaho and into Oregon), this AVA features the largest acreage of vines in the state of Idaho. 


The Eagle Foothills AVA (the first sub AVA of the Snake River Valley) was established in 2015.  This AVA often sees more rainfall than the greater Snake River Valley AVA.  Well drained soils of sand, silt and clay, and elevations from 2,490 feet to 3,400 feet, are well suited to wine grape growing.  There are about 70 vineyard acres currently planted in this region. 

The latest area to gain status in Idaho is the Lewis-Clark Valley AVA.  Securing its designation in 2016, this AVA covers 479 square miles across the northwestern part of Idaho and eastern Washington.  There are now 80 acres of vineyards in this AVA.  It became Idahos third AVA (and the fourteenth AVA for Washington State). The area is home to steep canyons and plateaus.  The elevation (<1,960 feet) is lower compared to the other two AVAs, and the soil is primarily decomposing grasses with nutrient rich silt.  I look forward to exploring this region during a future adventure.


 There are more than 25 wineries within 35 miles of downtown Boise.  For further information about these producers and additional wineries in Idaho, visit the Idaho Wine Commission website at www.idahowines.org.





 Along with planning your own winery tour in Idaho, there are other delightful sights to take in and activities to experience around Boise, the states largest city and capital. The historic and recently restored Idaho State Capitol building located in the heart of town is an exquisite domed building created with four types of marble inside and crowned with a towering copper eagle. If youve always wanted to ring the Liberty Bell, something no longer allowed in Philadelphia, youre welcome to ring its replica installed at the front of the Idaho State Capitol building.


 The entire surrounding downtown Boise area has recently been revitalized, and it is hopping with energy. Day and night, youll find a variety of activities from which to choose (www.downtownboise.org). Highlights include cultural events (such as the Historic Downtown Boise Food and Cultural Tour), and sporting events (Albertsons Stadium is home to the Boise State University Football, and Track & Field programs, and at the CenturyLink Arena you can enjoy Steelheads hockey team games, and other events).  There are numerous galleries to investigate (such as the Art Source Gallery, Boise Creative Center, and Freak Alley Gallery), as well as several museums (for example, the Basque Museum, Boise Art Museum, and Idaho Black History Museum), and concerts (check out the downtown Summer Concert Series). Another popular activity is Idahos annual premier food and wine event, Savor Idaho, which takes place this year on June 11th (www.savoridaho.org). 




  Where to stay?  There are several hotel choices in downtown Boise.  I thoroughly enjoyed staying at Hotel 43; offering good service from knowledgeable staff, clean and comfortable rooms, and a central location.  Other hotels nearby include The Modern Hotel & Bar, Hampton Inn & Suites Downtown, Red Lion Boise Downtowner, Grove Hotel, Residence Inn by Marriott Downtown, and Holiday Inn Express Downtown.  For further information about Boises history and culture, places to dine and stay, indoor and outdoor activities and events, go to the Boise Convention & Visitors Bureau website, www.boise.org




 Opportunities to explore great sips and bites are endless.  Seek out A New Vintage Wine Shop (located in the nearby Meridian Crossroads Center), owned by Ilene Dudunake, her husband Harry, and their son Taylor (www.anewvino.com).  Here youll find a terrific selection of wines, beers and gift ideas, and a friendly wine bar.  Pop into lively breweries, wineries, cideries, pubs, cafes, and impressive downtown restaurants including Emilios, Juniper, Fork, and Capitol Cellars, just to name a few. I was quite impressed with the respect paid to the local farmers, ranchers, grapegrowers, winemakers, and brewmasters. Caterers (including Zee Christopher, Wild Root and Grit) and the aforementioned restaurants, among others, are serving high quality cuisine with a focus on fresh locally grown foods and locally crafted wine, cider and beer.


  Farm-to-table dining at its best!  I applaud businesses who recognize, and pay tribute to, the hardworking, dedicated Idahoans who are producing remarkable products to share with locals and visitors alike.


 If you havent been to Idaho recently, or ever, now you have new reasons to head on over and uncover a few gems of your own in this, the Gem State!


A version of this story appeared in the Summer, 2017, edition of the American Wine Society Journal. 


About the Author

Ellen Landis, CS, CSW, is a published wine writer, certified sommelier, wine educator and professional wine judge. She spent four years as a sommelier at the Ritz Carlton and 16 years as Wine Director/Sommelier at the award winning boutique hotel she and her husband built and 

operated in Half Moon Bay, CA.  They recently sold the hotel to devote more time to the world of wine.  Ellen is a moderator for highly acclaimed wine events, judges numerous regional, national and international wine competitions each year, and creates and executes wine seminars for individuals and corporations.  She has traveled extensively to wine regions around the globe. 

Contact Ellen at ellen@ellenonwine.com  

Tags:  Idaho  tourism  travel  Wine 

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Rocket scientist celebrates earlier career with wine release

Posted By Neal Hulkower , Monday, June 19, 2017
Updated: Thursday, June 1, 2017


For Don Hagge, space is not the final frontier.  The land is.  This one time space scientist began life on a North Dakota wheat farm and after a multifaceted career that included stints at NASA planted an Oregon vineyard.  In 1999, he established VIDON Vineyard in the Chehalem Mountains American Viticultural Area with his wife, Vicki, branding it with a contraction of their first names and pronouncing it vee-dohn.   The boutique winery above the 12.5 acres of vines produces 2000 to 2500 cases a year of mostly Pinot Noir with lesser amounts of Chardonnay, Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris, Viognier, Syrah and Tempranillo, all of it estate grown as of 2014.  Both the vineyard and winery are Low Input Viticulture and Enology (LIVE) certified and participate in the Carbon Reduction Challenge. 



 Don and I were brought together by Carl Giavanti, a Winery Marketing and Public Relations consultant, who was struck by our common background as “rocket scientists.”  After 2 years flying Navy planes in Korea, Don earned a Ph.D. in physics from University of California at Berkeley, as well as an Executive MBA from Stanford.  He is much more hands-on than I am.  At NASA Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, he designed experiments for Explorer 38, 39, and 40 and then became Chief, Apollo Physics Branch, at the Manned Space Flight Center (now Johnson Space Flight Center) in Houston.  On the other hand, my doctorate is in applied mathematics with a specialty in celestial mechanics, an analytical pursuit which I utilized to design interplanetary trajectories at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.  In contrast to Don, I am no “metal-bender.”


At 85, Don is almost a generation ahead of me.  As such, he met many of the first American astronauts.  In comparing notes, we both knew Karl Henize, one of the original scientist astronauts.  As a freshman astronomy major at Northwestern, I was a research assistant to Henize who had a groundbreaking experiment on Gemini 12.  In August 1967, Henize was named to the astronaut corps.  It wasn’t until July 1985 that he got into space at age 58, becoming the oldest person to do so up until that time.   Don was visibly moved when I told him that Henize died in 1993 attempting but not succeeding to become the oldest person to climb Mount Everest.   He still remains in contact with several former astronauts, tasting wine and exchanging e-mails with arcane subjects like “Gravity emergent?”


Don worked at NASA Houston from the time of Apollo 7 through Apollo 13 after which he had a varied career in high tech that included successful serial entrepreneurial ventures.  Before settling in his home in Newberg next to the winery, he lived in various cities in California, Idaho Falls, Seattle, and Portland.


The impending launch of VIDON’s Space Exploration Series was the impetus for our more recent meeting.  The series comprises three bottlings from the 2015 vintage: Apollo Chardonnay, Explorer Tempranillo, and Saturn Syrah.    The Chardonnay has a deep yellow color with green overtones and polished aromas.  It is mouth filling with a longish finish.  Drinking nicely now with reasonable acidity, it could age longer.  Only 25 cases were made.  Not surprisingly, both the Tempranillo and Syrah were still tight though clearly exhibiting varietal typicity.   The former had a juicy fruit aroma while the nose of the latter, co-fermented with a bit of viognier, exhibited mostly meat followed by spice.  Don made 140 cases of the Tempranillo and 148 cases of the Syrah.   A Valentine’s Day release is planned.


Having grafted his Pinot Gris and Pinot Blanc vines to Chardonnay, Don expects to make an Apollo Chardonnay reserve every vintage.  He is focusing on Syrah as an alternative to pinot noir for which there is no space series bottling.   However, he continues to produce 3 single clone Pinot Noirs each named for a grandchild, and a 3 clone blend that contains 777, 115 and Pommard.  Each is nicely balanced, restrained and elegant even in hot vintages.  There is also a Melange Pinot Noir that includes the 3 clones plus Gary Andrus’ suitcase clone, AS2.


Further evidencing that as time passes we all become more of who we are, Don remains kinetic, as Vicki is fond of noting.  He jumps on his tractor to mow and till as much to relax as to get the work done.   He finds outlets for his inventiveness and iconoclasm. “I’m a scientist, not a winemaker, therefore I’m not hung up on winemaking traditions,” he reminds us.  Don seals his bottles with glass stoppers and screwcaps even building his own bottler to accommodate the former.  He prefers translucent, food-grade polyethylene oxygen-permeable tanks to stainless steel for aging and argon to nitrogen to displace oxygen.  He built his own dispenser for the tasting room that uses argon to preserve wine for weeks.   To reduce exposure to oxygen, Don designed a bunghole/barrel aspirator with two tubes, one through which argon floods the ullage and provides pressure to push samples through the second.  He hopes to try it out soon.


Don’s skills are not limited to hardware.  He wrote the software for an online meta wine club that allows folks to purchase from several wineries without the usual constraints.  He calls it “Vin Alliance” and expects to go live soon.


Though no longer involved in the space business, Don and I have remained true to our respective proclivities.  While I continue to be paper bound, writing about wine rather than making it, Don applies his talents to making good things for us to drink. VIDON’s Space Exploration Series is testament to the fact that you may take the scientist out of the space program but you can’t take the space program out of the scientist.


For more information and to acquire VIDON wines, visit www.vidonvineyard.com.


Neal Hulkower is a mathematician and an oenophile living in McMinnville, Oregon.  His wine writing has appeared in a wide range of academic and popular publications including the Journal of Wine Research, the Journal of Wine Economics, Oregon Wine Press, Practical Winery & Vineyard, Wine Press Northwest, and The World of Fine Wine.  Occasionally, he can be found pouring quintessential Pinot noir at the top of the Dundee Hills.

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Tags:  Oregon wine 

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