Season 2, Episode 17: “Tasting Room Etiquette”

In the old days of the Long Long Ago, Before Corona, people would sometimes leave home and visit wineries directly to obtain their wine. This was often done as a ritual, accompanied by wine tasting, often with friends, sometimes even creating a party-style atmosphere. Everything changed when the Fire Nation Attacked Covid came into the picture. Now, with vaccines starting to be distributed, someday we might return to the halcyon days of visiting tasting rooms directly. But this leads to a couple of questions. The first is, “How should I act in a tasting room as a visitor?”

The second? “How should I act if I’m a tasting room employee?” When I visited Nassau Valley Vineyards a few years ago, I was horrified at the way the people on the other side of the bar were treating my fellow customers, and me. The two folks (who were not the owners, nor the winemaker, I should stress) would curtly and rudely answer questions, did not know the information about their wines, acted very put-off that they were working, and generally acted snobbishly and unwarm towards us. They would also ignore us at times. It was so bad that my compatriots at the bar actually asked me afterward if this was normal for a tasting room, once they found out that I worked at one myself. You see, this was their very first time visiting any winery. They found themselves completely put off by the experience, and were close to having decided that the whole thing wasn’t worthwhile until I told them that this was not normal, or proper. As an industry person, I was absolutely horrified by their behavior.

I decided, though, that I needed to get this bottle of their 2017 House Red (a blend of 70% Merlot, 16% Cabernet Franc, and 14% Cabernet Sauvignon) simply to talk about that side of the etiquette question. As for the customer side of the equation, I was specifically asked to do this episode by Dan Pierce, of Bodega Pierce Winery; we visited one of their wines last episode. This episode was our attempt to make a Meta-Episode, where we sort of acted like problematic tasting room people to show the point, though I fear this doesn’t come through as well as I would have liked. I apologize for this necessary train wreck of an episode…

Etiquette As A Customer:

  1. Be curious. Try new things! Break out of your box. Sure, you may like only Cabernet Sauvignon, but there’s a whole world of different full-bodied red wines out there, but you never know, you might find your new best friend.
  2. Don’t be afraid to be honest. It’s okay if you don’t like anything, and you can be polite about your dislike. That’s perfectly fine. But don’t go out of your way to say that something is miserable.
  3. Don’t wear heavy perfumes. These can block some of the delicate aromatics of wine from both your nose and the nose of other patrons.
  4. Spit if you’ve visted a lot of tasting rooms. Yes, you can swallow your wine. But if you’ve been visiting more than four or so, it might be wise to spit so as to preserve your palate, at the very least. It also helps you keep your wits about you. After all, we sometimes have that experience at the end of the day where our palate is shot, we visit the last winery, buy everything because we’re drunk and we think it tastes good and we open them later to be… disappointed.
  5. Corollary: Feel free to dump a wine if you don’t like it. That’s why the dump bucket is there.
  6. If you are part of a bachelor or bachelorette party, make plans in advance. Tell the winery you’re coming a few days ahead of time. It can be easy to be overwhelmed in a busy day when there’s a full crowd and suddenly another 15 people walk in.
  7. Do Buy wines, but don’t haggle. We’re happy to sell wines! That’s why we’re here! But just as you wouldn’t haggle in a supermarket over the price of a block of cheese, you shouldn’t haggle with the winery over the price of a bottle. It’s just rude.
  8. Don’t be an insufferable know-it-all. Yes, it’s okay to flex a little bit of wine knowledge. But the person next to you who is here for the first time may not know anything (more on that in a moment), and might feel super intimidated. There’s also a huge difference between being a wine geek and enjoying the sharing of information, and being the asshole who is trying to impress everyone for no reason (or to impress their date). Sometimes the tasting room staff don’t know as much as you might, either. And that’s okay…
  9. If you don’t know anything about wine, that’s okay! A good tasting room staff person should know, at least, just enough to make you comfortable with wine. One of the great things winery staff can do is teach the basics about wine to make you more comfortable. And remember, it’s wine. It’s not nuclear physics, it’s alcohol. There’s nothing that will explode in your face here if you DO get something wrong.
  10. Don’t be super loud. Don’t scream. Don’t yell. Some people want to contemplate the mysteries of glass. It’s okay to talk to others in a tasting room; indeed, encouraged, but be mindful of other people and their experiences. But your fellow patrons (and the person behind the bar pouring your wines) do NOT really need to know AT ALL about why your lover’s penis is better than your husband’s. (Yes. This happened to me. No amount of brain bleach has removed this memory. I’ve tried.). Save that talk for the ride home with the girls.
  11. Don’t Pressure/flirt with your wine pourer. We’re here to teach you about wine, and introduce you to new worlds within a glass. We’re not here to be flirted with. It makes us very uncomfortable. If you’re a dude pressuring a woman who’s pouring your wine, that’s not nice, but it has happened with women pressuring me as well, and I’m a dude. Neither side is okay.
  12. Tip, unless explicitly told not to. At least, I would say this is the rule for America. Many of us are barely making enough to scrape by, and that tip money will come in handy for rent, or helping pay off a student loan. You can tip based on tasting price OR total tab, but it doesn’t matter as long as you tip.
  13. Have Fun. Really, that’s what you’re hoping to do, right?

As for the rules if you’re working in the tasting room? Well, you’ll just have to listen to the episode. I’m sadly running out of space as to how much text will show up on the show notes…

Cabernet Franc Count: 7

I strongly recommend not doing anything you see in this photo inside of a tasting room. Things got a bit, uh, crazy when we recorded this episode…

Season 2, Episode 16: “AZ Uncorked: The Arizona Wine Guide, with Jenelle Bonifield”

Long-time listeners may know about my connections to the Wine industry in Arizona, where I got started, and it’s high time I return to my roots, pun intended. In this episode, I sit down with Jenelle Bonifield, who just released her fantastic new book AZ Uncorked: The Arizona Wine Guide. Alongside her in this episode is her daughter Isla, who you may remember from our group podcast at ODV featuring the New Jersey wines of Sal Mannino, and of course Megan and myself. Oh, and Jason Dudley makes an appearance giving us snacks to pair with the wine we chose to drink over the course of our discussion.

I’m not kidding when I say this book is fantastic, even though I helped write an introduction to a section. The photography is absolutely stunning and vibrant, and I’d love half of them to be sitting on my walls. (I honestly spaced about asking during the recording whether prints of her work in the book could be acquired; I was told later she is considering it). As it turns out, literal blood, sweat, and tears went into the production of this book. (For that particular story, you’ll have to listen to the podcast!) If you are outside of Arizona, you can grab a copy online at https://arizonawineguide.com/order-book/

The wine we drank while recording this episode is the 2017 Gallia, from Saeculum Cellars. This wine is a sultry, supple blend of Cabernet Franc and Merlot, and is a perennial favorite of mine from winemaker Michael Pierce. The percentages change a little every year, but it’s always a great bottle to grab. The grapes are sourced from Rolling View Vineyard in the Willcox AVA; farmed by Michael Pierce’s father. Thank you once again, Michael, for letting us record our podcast in your barrel room!

Cabernet Franc Count: 6

AZ Uncorked
Jenelle Bonifield poses with her masterpiece, and the 2017 Gallia by Michael Pierce

Season 2, Episode 15: “Flaws, Darned Flaws, and More Flaws”

Not every wine is perfect. In fact, not every wine can be perfect. Indeed, one could make a strong argument that it is the imperfections in a wine that can make a vintage stand out above its peers. But sometimes, those flaws can turn a fantastic vintage into, well, sour grapes, if not vinegar itself.

So it was the case with the bottle of the Trendsetter that I acquired. (I believe this bottle was the 2018 vintage; I cannot quite recall.) I had been excited to drink this Kansas blend for a while. The Wine Hippie herself had brought this bottle with her for me. The blend of the Trendsetter consists of Norton and Chambourcin, about 50% each, from Twin Rivers winery in Emporia, Kansas. However, something had gone wrong, either while I stored it, while she transported it, or during the winemaking process itself.

And you know what? Shit happens. It’s not a big deal. This is 2020, after all! You have to make do with what you can. And with such a stunning label (modeled on Maud Wagner, the first female tattoo artist in America), we just couldn’t let this one rest.

So we decided to make the best of it, and talk in this episode about something I had been meaning to talk about in this podcast at some point, anyway: Wine Flaws. This way you know when the wine in your glass is flawed, and what caused it!

Take a listen. Guest stars are James Callahan and Anna Schneider, of Rune Winery in Sonoita AZ. After all, who best to teach you about wine flaws than a winemaker themselves, right?

Trendsetter
The 2018 Trendsetter from Twin Rivers Winery in Emporia, Kansas, is our touchstone for discussing common flaws in wine.



Episode 51: Washington D.C.

We’re not quite done with season one yet! Sorry for the late post; it’s the height of crush and harvest here in Arizona, and I’ve been working myself raw. Our last non-bonus episode for the season is focused on Washington D.C.  In this episode, Michelle Petree (a friend of mine who dates all the way back to freaking Grade School) and I drink the 2017 Cuvée Noir, from District Winery; which is so far the District’s only urban winery and tasting room. This wine, a blend of Grenache and Petit Sirah, is their house take on Rhone-style blends, sourced from vineyards in California. (I affectionately referred to this wine repeatedly as a GPS, because boy howdy do I love puns.) In this episode, Michelle and I tackle some of the “darker” sides of the wine industry: wine additives and the grape trade. It turns out that we feel one of these is much darker than the other.

That being said, let me be emphatic right here: the trade of grapes and bulk wines from California is NOT necessarily a bad thing.  It’s all in what you do with what you get. I, for one, really enjoyed my experience at District Winery so much that I actually sent them my resume. They’re doing good stuff. It’s not their fault that nobody grows grapes in Washington D.C. anymore!  They are also wonderfully open both on their website and in the tasting room how things are done. And frankly, there’s no getting around the fact that sometimes, you absolutely have to source grapes from elsewhere because of market demand, a bad harvest, or because the grapes you want to work with don’t grow anywhere near where your winery is.  It is really hard, after all, to make a Barbera in, say, Maine. Also, let me be clear: the only “additive” in the wines from District is the Sulfites which are pretty much standard in everything; they’re not using Mega-Purple (which, dibs on that name for my future wine-themed metal band by the way) or anything else, but our conversation just went that way. (This reminds me: I need to do an episode about why Sulfites Are Not Evil at some point.)

Now that the disclaimers are out of the way: once upon a time, as I alluded to above, there were vineyards and wineries in Washington D.C. It is, as far as I could find out in my research, unknown what varietals were grown in the area.  Space was limited, of course, and after Prohibition hit, these vineyards were torn out, and the land where these vineyards once grew was urbanized.  Today, there simply just isn’t the space to grow vineyards in Washington D.C. itself. However, this aspect didn’t stop the founder and winemaker of District Winery, Conor McCormack, from opening the first winery in the area since Prohibition in 2018. As I alluded to above, many of the grapes being made into wine here are sourced from vineyards across California, but he is also sourcing grapes from vineyards in New York and nearby Virginia. (In fact, the amazing amber wine made of Virginia-grown Petit Manseng was the bottle that I took home for “research” and shared with some local Arizona wine folks. Frankly, it was really hard to choose just what to drink for this podcast.)

Anyway, stay tuned for the next two bonus episodes… then a short break before Season Two begins!

2017 Cuvée Noir
Michelle and I drank the 2017 Cuvée Noir side by side with a Châteauneuf-du-Pape; the only Rhone wine she had in her cellar. Such a tragedy.

 

Episode 40: Minnesota

Welcome to Episode 40 of the Make America Grape Again Podcast, where we explore the Land of Ten Thousand Lakes: Minnesota. Located at roughly the same parallel as Bordeaux, Minnesota has many challenges due to an often bitterly cold climate. That being said, the 2017 Voyageur from Alexis Bailey Vineyard is a vintage which shows that this state can hold its own against all comers.  The 2017 Voyageur is a blend of Frontenac, Marechal Foch, and Leon Millot, sourced from the Upper Mississippi River Valley AVA. All of these varietals are complex French-American Hybrid varietals, adapted to cold-weather climates; a topic we discussed a bit at length back in episode 34. It should be noted here that Alexis Bailey Vineyard is home to the oldest planted vineyard in the state of Minnesota, dating back to 1977, and is the second oldest winery in the state.

The climate of Minnesota is harsh, making viticulture difficult. Prior to prohibition, most winemaking in the state seems to have been focused around fruit wines. It can be honestly said that the history of Minnesota wine truly only begins with the work of Elmer Swenson. Indeed, it might be said that without this man, cold-weather viticulture would not exist. Elmer Swenson started to breed grapes in Wisconsin, thanks to an interest in grapes brought on by his grandfather, along with a reading of T.V. Munson’s Foundations of American Grape Culture. On a whim, Swenson brought some of his early hybrids to a field day at the University of Minnesota Horticultural Research Center. This led to him being hired by the department. The first varietals released from this program were in 1977: Edelweiss and Swenson Red. Many more varietals bred and adapted for cold climates have been released since then, including the Frontenac in this blend.

As mentioned above, Alexis Bailey was the first planted vineyard in the state, and also the first to produce a vintage made entirely of 100% Minnesota-grown grapes. Of note also, The Minnesota Grape Growers Association has had a dramatic role in promoting grape growing and winemaking not only in the state but also in other cold-hardy climates. Hosted annually with the support of both the MCGA and the University of Minnesota, the International Cold Climate Wine Competition is the only wine competition solely dedicated to the promotion of quality wines made mainly from cold-hardy grape varieties.

Today, the state of Minnesota has 70 wineries, and two American Viticultural Areas, including the largest in the United States; the Upper Mississippi River Valley AVA. This AVA covers an area almost 50 times larger than Bordeaux in France; a total of 29,914 square miles (77,477 square kilometers) located along the Upper Mississippi River and its tributaries in northwest Illinois, northeast Iowa, southeast Minnesota and southwest Wisconsin. Minnesota’s second AVA is the far more modest Alexandria Lakes AVA, which is also Minnesota’s oldest AVA.

This bottle was purchased online from the winery website, by yours truly. If you like this podcast and want to throw a few dollars into the bottle fund, you can find us on Patreon at http://www.patreon.com/TheMakeAmericaGrapeAgainPodcast, and there are various rewards available for supporters.

2017 Voyageur
The 2017 Voyageur is a stunning exploration of Minnesota terroir, from Alexis Bailey Vineyard in the Upper Mississippi Valley AVA

Episode 23: Rhode Island

The smallest state in the US, as it turns out, has a wine industry that rivals some of the biggest states.  Rhode Island is about the same size as the Greater Phoenix metropolitan area but has almost three times as many wineries as the capital of Arizona!  With 13 licensed and bonded wineries, the state (okay, technically Commonwealth) of Rhode Island has one of the most vibrant winery scenes in New England.

The history of wine in Rhode Island begins in 1663 when KingCharles II of England specifically included wine production among the land uses approved in the royal charter which established Rhode Island as a British colony.  As in so many other parts of the United States, the nascent wine industry in the region was wiped out by Prohibition in the early 20th century.  The industry picked up again in 1975 with the opening of Carolyn’s Sakonnet Vineyard, located near Little Compton.  Half of Rhode Island lies within the Southeastern New England AVA, and most of the wineries found in the state are found in this region, with few exceptions. (Key among these exceptions is Verde Vineyards, which we will hopefully meet in a later episode in season 2 of this podcast.)

The wine we’ve chosen to look at for our first look at Rhode Island viticulture is the NV Gemini Red from Newport Vineyards, which is a blend of 50% Merlot, with varying percentages of Landot Noir (a French-American Hybrid), Pinot Noir, and Cabernet Franc.  This bottle was acquired by yours truly on the same trip I acquired the 2014 Cinco Cães for our Massachusetts episode. That episode also happened to be our introduction to the Southeastern New England AVA–in this episode, however, Gary and I focus a bit more on the nature and purpose of wine blends.

Cabernet Franc Count: 5

rhode island
The Gemini Red from Newport Vineyards is our introduction to Rhode Island wines.