How to Meet Winemaking Heroes in New Hampshire: Winter Wine Week 2017

The New Hampshire State House, in Concord, NH.

 

The wine industry slows down in the winter a bit.  There isn’t much to see at the vineyards.  There’s just a bunch of gnarly roots in the ground; it’s pretty desolate.  While the vineyards enjoy their solitude, the winemakers and the companies that represent them have more time than during the spring or at harvest to reach out to consumers.  Wine competitions, Public/trade show tastings, and other meet and greets are common, but rarely do they last a whole week long.
This January, I had the distinct pleasure to be invited to New Hampshire’s Wine Week, hosted by their state liquor board, The New Hampshire Liquor Commission.
The event invites locals and visitors to explore and socialize with world renown vignerons in retail outlets, in larger formal tastings, and in local gastronomic hotspots across the state.
New Hampshire’s size is relatively compact – especially to a Canadian tourist, such as myself.  I had prepared myself for significant travel time, getting to each place on the itinerary.  Traveling from town to town, from the interior to the southern border seemed onerous, but it was extremely well run.
Gen. John Stark, of Derryfield/Manchester, NH.
Moreover, for a week-long event it means people across the state can participate locally.  Both inside NHLC stores and in select participating restaurants, patrons had the opportunity to meet and taste with winemakers, as they toured across the state.  The culmination of the week was a final grand tasting at the Raddison Hotel, in Manchester, New Hampshire.
For the majority of wine week, I spent much of my time in Manchester; a town dominated by charming eighteenth/nineteenth century architecture, carefully preserved, with a veneer of futurism provided by outside investment.
The population of Manchester already swells with tourism.  It’s the most populous city in New Hampshire, and tenth in New England.
They’re unabashedly proud of their local history.  Along the Merrimack, historical preservation has kept much of the heart of the city as a monument to its past.
It’s a state with very little taxation, so this preservation has mostly come from individual interest and not from a municipally run organization. This interest has been on a local level (through fund raising) and through outside investment.  Historic buildings have in some cases become the headquarters for tech startups, such as the old mill-houses along the Merrimack where it reaches Amoskeag falls.
As a quick side-note, part of the entire Wine Week’s intention was to raise money for charity; specifically, the Easterseals New Hampshire.  $1.675 Million has been raised since the event’sinception a decade ago.
Millhouses along the Merrimack River.
The week’s events were coordinated by the New Hampshire Liquor Commission;  a ‘control state’ monopoly (please save your auditory gasps until the end of the paragraph) whose success lies behind their unique position of low state taxation and background setting as a getaway/stop-over to other vacation spots in the New England area.
People from Massachusetts and other surrounding states make their way to New Hampshire for the selection available at much lower costs than other states with higher tax rates.
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Maria Sinskey, a sheep, and a cool quote.
In Canada, we enjoy our high taxes on social luxuries.  More accurately, we enjoy what they pay for, but we die a little bit inside every time we buy a bottle of wine.  That’s beside the point, however.
New Hampshire’s Wine Week a week-long festival showcasing an appreciation of local food and the selection of available fine wine.
While wine events like these are common in many other places, even in the frigid North where I live, these events were more intimate, much larger than average, and provided the opportunity of a “taste and buy.”
A dozen winemakers from California, Oregon, Washington, and abroad were touring local restaurants and retail outlets allowing enthusiasts and those in the industry the chance to interact and enjoy a nice meal paired with their wines.
Frog Leap’s John Williams and his fantastic Merlot. Make sure you open the right end.
I was fortunate enough to have had the chance to sit down with: Cristina Mariani-May, of Tuscan legend Banfi, and John Williams of Napa icon, Frog’s Leap.
In the state capital of Concord, we enjoyed a light lunch, while they showcased the product of their labour.
As much as wine experts and enthusiasts love to inflate the celebrity of their favourite winemakers, once you meet them you realize how much you can relate to them.
John Williams lamented always having to be the less famous of celebrity John Williamses.
While Frog’s Leap has always been able to make a solid Cabernet and Zin, but his passion lays behind the Merlot that he’s been producing since 1994, in Rutherford.
Rutherford is well known for dusty soils well suited to Cabernet Sauvignon.  John feels that when California’s star rose and all of the attention gravitated towards Cabernet Sauvignon over Merlot, it made it very difficult for winemakers who felt they made particularly distinct Merlot to make a go of it.
Cristina Mariani-May from Banfi contributed a wine for almost every course!  Obviously, we had to have Banfi’s amazing Brunello di Montalcino.  If you have never heard of Banfi before, this is where the heart of this enormous house lies.  They are in a large part responsible for the international reputation that Brunello now enjoys.  Chances are at a liquor store near you, you can pick this wine up.  It is the ubiquitous Brunello and I can’t say that is something to complain about.
We began with an IGT Vermentino, called La Pettegola; apparently the name of a loud seagull that agglomerate in large gatherings.  It’s also apparently a slang term in Italian for how women sound chatting in large groups.  The wine is pretty much ideal for kicking off social gatherings.
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It was really hard to not discuss politics.  I’m going to derail this whole segment just to mention that while I was in New Hampshire, there were televisions, broadcasts and travel bans.  Obviously, it would concern anyone, whether they were the ones targeted or not.  All I can say is that a little conversation and wine was pretty reassuring. IMG_20170125_011706_256.jpg
Our final course was deep fried Oreos (even as someone who grew up on Quebecois cuisine, I have to say that was especially bad for me…)  Paired with Brachetto D’Acqui.  I am not really one for desserts or pairing sweet desserts with sweet wine.  Wine pairing should be about complimenting flavours – contrasting flavours and finding interesting things that are compatible or that compliment one another. Everything considered, the food and wine were both great.
Actually, Brachetto D’Acqui is a lot of fun, if you manage to find it.  God bless inexpensive sparkling wine.  Brachetto can be different sweetnesses; from pretty dry to juicy and sweet.  It often has a lot of bright cherry and strawberry flavours to it.  Instead of pairing it with dessert, either have it a dessert with some cut fruit or berries, or maybe put  it alongside salty prosciutto.
This gathering was intimate, special, and unique.  The main event was what was called “The Winter Wine Spectacular.”  There were 1800 wines available at the Radisson’s conference hall.  It was pretty impressive.  Usually, at one of these events there is a theme based on region.  This saw wineries from all over the globe – including the winemakers in person.
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Michael Davies from A to Z, in Oregon.

This is Michael Davies, of A to Z, in Oregon.  What he’s holding is an experimental rose where he has tried growing and incorporating Sangiovese.  That would be quite a challenge in Oregon.  It’s a finicky grape that likes fewer climates than even Pinot Noir.  This wine,though somewhat of a mixed bag, for an experimental wine, was delicious.  These are the sort of people you g to these events to meet –  the innovators that move the conversation…. Can… Can we all just take a moment to appreciate that mustache?

There is a lot to see and taste at events, like this.  sometimes you have to bite off what you can chew.  It was pretty dsapointing that I wasn’t able to meet the winemaker from Firesteed, Mondavi, and Erath – all of which were supposedly there.  You have to pick your events carefully.  I, certainly, have unfinished business and will be back as soon as I can.

 

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The Charming East Coast Beckons: Learning The Secrets of the Wines of Atlantic Canada

A review of “The Wine Lover’s Guide to Atlantic Canada” by Moira Peters and Craig Pinhey ($37.95):
 
As the Canadian wine industry grows, it has become increasingly pivoted on the wines of British Columbia’s rugged and dramatically changing climes and Ontario’s collection of viticultural pockets, where Burgundian, Alsatian, and German styles of viticuture express themselves in New World Soils.
A recently published work by Moira Peters, a wine educator and professional sommelier, and Craig Pinhey, a sommelier and writer from living in New Brunswick fills in a widening information gap about Canada’s neglected East Coast wine regions.
‘The Wine Lover’s Guide to Atlantic Canada’ does not entirely resemble other dense, esoteric wine texts.  It attempts to capture the aesthetics of the regions through a photgraphic and factual presentation of a region quickly being recognized as a producer of fine wine (especially sparkling wine).
Benjamin Bridge’s Nova 7: a moderately sweet, lightly fizzy sparkling from the Annapolis Valley, Nova Scotia.
Because each province’s strategy for controlling the promulgation of alcohol does not necessarily facilitate cooperation with one another, many Canadians west of the St. Lawrence might be shocked to encounter a thriving wine industry spanning Eastern Canada.
Not yet a commercial dynamo, information on the producers is scarce.  Unless you are lucky enough to live in a province with a control board savvy enough to have negotiated wine from a larger producer (like Jost or Benjamin Bridge) or the winery is staring you in the face as you drive through Gaspereau Valley, the opportunity to try these wines are rare.
It is getting better, however.  Most of the East coast remains a destination wine experience for vacationers and lucky locals.  Though as the reputation of the wine gets better, so does the demand for their wine and interest in what each region specializes in.
Information about what sort of wines are available in each region used to be limited to a collection of vague online articles and academic texts aimed at botanists and ampelographers studying the soil (too academic for the average enthusiast).
‘The Wine Lover’s guide to Atlantic Canada’ fills this demand for information at just the right time in the region’s development.
The volume reminds me of the digest written by Rod Philips to comprehensively lay out Ontario’s wine regions in context with one another.
Both volumes provide a complete picture: there is useful information about style, grape varietals, fruit wines, and climate. There are also charming anecdotes from the proprietors and winemakers about where they live and what they do.
All Canadian wine regions have had their difficulties reaching people’s dinner tables. The book describes a wine region with an outlook that emphasizes the struggles of a wine region to overcome the prejudice and invective new regions encounter.
This phenomenon is something observable and familiar to those who have watched Ontario and B.C. grow and mature over the last three decades.
It would have been observable in the mid twentieth century, as people scoffed at the idea of Australia producing anything resembling a fine consumer luxury.  The same goes for South African Cape and Argentina.
Atlantic Canada’s wine regions are not quite like other wine regions.  They are committed to what grows well in their soil.  There is even a commercially dedicated breeding program in Kentville, Nova Scotia to discover and explore what possible varieties can grow in the soils of Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and elsewhere.
New Brunswick, Newfoundland, and Labrador are all mentioned for their thriving fruit wine industries, which cover a range of styles from sweet to dry or table wine to distilled spirits.
The overwhelming majority of the book, which is just over two hundred pages, focuses on Nova Scotia.  The other regions combined take up roughly the same amount of space to discuss.
This can be forgiven, though, since Nova Scotia is definitely the innovative engine responsible for the recent surge in popular interest for East Coast wines.
Moira Pinhey and Craig Peters knew exactly the digestible details to include so as to capture the attention of fellow wine enthusiasts.  This book would also be a suitable conversation piece for someone who appreciates the beauty of the East Coast.  The charming landscapes and abstruse nature of the wineries make ‘The Wine Lover’s Guide to Atlantic Canada’ a compelling and fast read.
Greg is a self-styled “wine raconteur” interested in the education amd appreciation of wine and other consumer luxuries. He has studied with the Wine Council of Ontario, the Wine and Spirit Education Trust, The Wine Scholar Guild, and is currently engaged in a graduate degree focusing on the risk and regulation of controlled substances.