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August 09, 2011

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Bryan,

Please explain why the Hemel-en-Aarde valley does not meet your definition of cool climate (as expressed in your puzzlement over South Africa's presence at the event). We've had many discussions of this term, but they tend to circle around intangibles like "elegance," "restraint," and "liveliness," with "subtle oak," and "no buttery flavor," etc. Are these factors not possible in the Hemel-en-Aarde, or are you basing this distinction on meteorological factors?

Thanks for the post, Bryan. I've got a couple questions -- and Julia actually makes a few points that exacerbate my confusion.

First, I don't think it makes a lot of sense to say that Italy, Australia and South African were out of place. There are cool regions in each, I imagine, just like there are in California.

Is the definition of "cool climate" really based on the climate -- or on winemaker style?

You can make wines that are lively anywhere (add acid), with subtle oak and no buttery flavors (winemaking decisions), right?

I think the concept of "cool climate" wine is one we discuss in not-so-hot regions, but I'm not sure I agree with this definition. You can make wines that 'seem' cool climate most anywhere if you make certain harvest and winemaking decisions I think.

It's also disappointing that so few New York (especially Niagara USA) wineries participated.

Was it a matter of them simply not knowing about the event?

Julia

I gather you are basing your comment on this:

"There were a number of standout wines at this tasting, including some from regions most people wouldn’t assume were cool climate." or

"Many would question how Australia, Italy or South Africa would be considered a cool climate or question what they have in common with Burgundy or Niagara."

Your knowledge of South Africa geography and terroir goes well beyond the average consumer's. In the context of my story I do raise the question of what similarities regions like Australia, Italy and SA have in common with Burgundy and Niagara but I raise them from the perspective of the average consumer or skeptic.

From what I took away from speaking to the winemaker, the Hemel-en-Aarde is indeed much cooler than say Simonsberg or other areas within Stellenbosch and most certainly cooler than Paarl.

I just don't think the average drinker is familiar with cooler subregions like Hemel-en-Aarde in SA, Tasmania in Austrailia or even Friuli in Italy.

Given the fact that I've tried to tackle this topic in the past - unsuccessfully in my opinion - I tried to convey the ideas of the organizers in this story. Just like wine itself the idea of cool climate, elegance, restraint, liveliness and subtlety are all subjective.

Lenn

"You can make wines that 'seem' cool climate most anywhere if you make certain harvest and winemaking decisions I think."

Am I making a leap when I interpret this statement as saying that a Finger Lakes style Riesling could be made in the Sonoma Coast region if the winemaker and vineyard manager decided they want to make a FL style riesling?

Bryan: I think you are making too big a leap there. That's a specific region, which is far more difficult to match compared to "cool climate chardonnay"

Looking at it another way, there are plenty of wines made in what I consider cool climates that DO NOT fall into the category of "lively" "subtle oak" or "no buttery flavors" -- right? We've all had over-oaked New York chardonnay that has undergone full ML.

I've had wines from Burgundy that wouldn't fit that description either (but have had wines from Cali that would.)

Are those not cool climate chardonnays?

That's the challenge with these sorts of definitions. I use "cool climate" myself in my writing, but this discussion has me re-thinking that.

I think the general definition that the organizers were going for was that "cool climate" is part geography and part style.

This discussion that has you re-thinking your use of the term is one that I find interesting enough to address again and again. It's about branding and defining what you aren't perhaps more than what you are.

I'm not saying that I understand it completely or can be for lack of a better term "the decider" on who or what wines should be called "cool climate" but I do realize that there are regions, wineries and winemakers that use this term to differentiate their wines.

It's similar to a winery that uses the term "terroir driven" wines. There are plenty of things a winemaker can do to actually mask the terroir just the same as he or she can mask a wine's cool climate origin. That doesn't mean their soils/geography doesn't have terroir, it just means that the wine does not show its origins.

I personally wouldn't call a NY winery's red wine that has massive new oak and has had some manipulation to bulk up the alcohol a "cool climate" wine no matter where in the state it grows. But ultimately that's subjective and why this topic is interesting to me.

Why is it so offensive to some that certain climates may be too warm to produce specific varietals with elegance, finesse and typicity? I sure have dealt with enough people telling me that reds can't be made in NYS because of our climate due to their lack of familiarity with the region.

Bryan, we've both heard the "New York can't do reds" shtick hundreds of times. And we've had the same reaction that I had to your questioning of South Africa's legitimacy at a "cool climate" event. I believe that high quality reds can be made in New York State, and wines with the positive terms you've attached to "cool climate" in this piece can be made in South Africa despite its Mediterranean (not desert, as some may think from the "Africa" part) climate. I take offense to folks generalizing about New York reds just as I do to generalizing about any region. New York and South Africa are both interesting examples because they tend to be underdogs on the international scene. They both battle misconceptions, and I hate to see you, a passionate New York wine advocate, furthering one in your post--even if it's inadvertent (I know you've raved about certain SA chards, as I have).

For the record, I don't think generalizing about non-underdogs (Cali, Australia) is helpful either. Slamming another region doesn't make your wine better. The charge that “warm climate” chardonnay is “over-oaked and lifeless” could fall into the "is warm or cool climate a winemaking style" discussion, but it also runs the risk of accusing all chards from areas with warm climates of being poor. I don't think that's helping anyone.

This is indeed a fascinating discussion. And while I agree with so much and disagree with as much - I find that just discussing Chardonnay is so worthy. I think Chardonnay is worth defending...

Here is a grape that thrives in both the so-called cool climate and the warmer ones. It produces a wine that speaks volumes of the terroir regardless. And it speaks volumes of the winemaker's intentions.

Whether you like those intentions or not - someone out there clearly does.

Be that as it may, what we have here is a survivor grape, and a champion. It's age worthy and complex, it's delicious young, and old. It's pliable and yet it stands for the region....

I know so many will champion Riesling (I agree mostly) but when one has had Riesling from CA or SA you'll agree it falls on its face - but Chardonnay stands firm. I'm so sorry that you are bored with Chardonnay...I am not.

Frankly, a well put together tasting of Chardonnays has a better chance of demonstrating terroir from appellations the world over than any other grape in existence.

Naysayers of California Chardonnay need to try Littorai and Stony Hill. Those who would besmirch the Africans should try Glen Carlou and Mulderbosch. And those who would be unkind to NY need to try Peconic Bay Steel Chardonnay, la Barrique, Arrowhead Springs, Lenz, Fox Run, Paumanok, etc. etc. etc.

Don't get me started on Burgundy...!

Bryan writes: "We all know it. Chardonnay has an image problem." Nonsense! You just follow what has become a tired lack of any knowledge of wine marketing. Or you have been limiting yourself to drinking inferior Chardonnays.
Chardonnay continues to be one of the largest selling wines. And one of the best, if not the best white wine. That you may dislike some chardonnays is another story and your privilege. There are many excellent Chardonnays all over the world and like with any other varietals ( Riesling, Pinot Noir, you name it...) there are excellent, good and not so good wines made from the grape. If all you know are the bad ones, broaden your horizon and get to appreciate the better ones. They may be pricey but they will show you why your statement is too superficial and if you want to be a credible critic you have to dig a little deeper.

I never associated chardonnay with cool or hot climate and this post has me thinking. I always assumed that the finished chardonnay product is the direct result of the winemaker and less to do with climate.

It is great to see so many options and styles being produced here on Long Island like steel fermented, wild fermented, skin contacted, old neutral oak and new oak and being blended with rose and other whites.

For years I was on the fence with chardonnay. I no longer am and I find myself and my palate tasting, drinking and enjoying more and more chardonnay. I threw away my ABC t-shirt.

In any event, great post. Wish I was there. It's great to be giving chardonnay some love.

Thanks for the comments all!

I do want to clear up what seems to be an on going theme here "Bryan dislikes chardonnay. He doesn't think good chardonnay can be made in warm climates."

My story has a bit of playfulness in it that it suspends disbelief and goes along with the story line the organizers of IC4 have written. The idea of an overnight "grape makeover" is obviously simplistic and just as the television shows that makeover people, homes, communities it's aimed at a populist consumer.

I've enjoyed many Burgundian, South African, Californian, Austrian, Chilean and New Yorkian chards in my life and I will continue to do so. In fact I'll be attending an all chardonnay tasting that I organized this Sunday night with my wine group. I'm lucky enough to make chardonnay from my home region and I have nothing but respect for the grape and its history.

The organizers of the event weren't looking to say that Chardonnay can only be good from certain regions. They simply believed that the loudest voice of chardonnay was coming from mass-produced poorly made versions. By bringing in the producers that attended they wanted to show that many people are making chardonnay that bring out the best in the grape.

As someone that spends every weekend in a NY tasting room I know that the bad rep chardonnay is widespread. If I didn't push the fact there IS something known as unoaked chardonnay and that a NY chardonnay will likely not resemble the house chardonnay at their local bar or restaurant, they would refuse to even taste it.

Since half of the people from outside the NY region that come into the tasting rooms without experience with our wines, I thought this story would be fitting for a state that deals with common misconceptions like "we only make native wines", "we can't ripen red grapes" and "our wines are expensive"

I just wanted to chime in about Bryan and chardonnay.

Perhaps more than anyone on the NYCR team, Bryan is interested in and curious about the grape and the wines that come from it.

As he mentions in his latest comment, he's echoing the organizers of the event here. Nothing more or less.

Bryan, here you go again:"Since half of the people from outside the NY region that come into the tasting rooms without experience with our wines, I thought this story would be fitting for a state that deals with common misconceptions like "we only make native wines", "we can't ripen red grapes" and "our wines are expensive" "
Where do you get your "facts" like "half the people..."?
It is better if you state your opinions as your opinions but such statements do not add much credibility.

Charles

I think you read my comment in a way that I did not intend it to be read. When I wrote "Since half of the people from outside the NY region that come into the tasting rooms without experience with our wines", I intended it to imply that half of those people don't have experience with that particular winery's wines. It was poorly written and certainly lacking the thought I usually put into my posts.

I have nothing but respect for your family, your business and your wines but I think you are looking at what I am saying from the view of a very niche market. Long Island produces some amazing wines and I would even list many of yours as being some of the best currently being made, but LI and the visitors LI receives is in no way the norm for the rest of the state.

I don't think I'm making a leap or damaging my credibility by mentioning that people have preconceived notions about wine, wine regions and wine prices. If that's the argument you are making then I can only recommend you spend some time in tasting rooms in the Hudson Valley, Finger Lakes, Lake Erie or my home of Niagara sometime soon. It may lend some credibility to my viewpoint.

Bryan,

Thank you for your considered response.
Years ago I gave up prognosticating as it is virtually impossible to tell what kind of wine experience a visitor may have, until they start tasting and have a conversation. I like to listen to the words they use. I learn even from novice wine drinkers. And in the end it is a very personal experience. Also there is a case to be made that our palates vary and different people may taste the same wine differently. For all these reasons I always caution against generalizations.

Cheers,

Charles

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