#DrinkSouthAfrican Now!

Have you ever tried South African wines? If not, now is a great time to enlighten your wine experience with some unique wines from this country known for their high quality yet affordable wines, with a rich history in winemaking.

Beautiful vineyards of South Africa. Credit: Wines of South Africa

Wine Sales Devastated By Covid-19 Restrictions

A lot has happened in South Africa since our last post about their wine exports resuming after an abrupt ban in March due to Covid-19. National alcohol sales ban has remained in effect, except for a brief period in June, with no end in sight. South Africa is the 8th largest wine producer globally, producing some 974 million liters of wine in 2019, and $1.1 billion worth of revenues in wine exports.

Cargo ship

Livelihoods at Stake

Based on Wines of South Africa estimates, $18 million is lost every week in alcohol revenue since the ban, and 1 in 5 wineries may not survive, affecting the livelihoods of some 300,000 wine industry workers and their families. Even before the pandemic, about half of the country live below poverty line. Moreover, hospitality and food and beverage workers are equally devastated, who have been protesting for relaxation of restrictions.

Vineyard worker transporting grapes in South Africa. Credit: Wines of South Africa

#DrinkSouthAfrican!

Some good news: about half of South African wines are exported globally, and since exports are still allowed, global support is more important than ever. South Africa is a highly reputable New World region that produces a diverse range of grape varietals, such as red Pinotage (a cross between Pinot Noir and Cinsault) and white Chenin Blanc, and many wine styles worth trying. You can easily find it online or from your local wine shop. Taste, share and spread the word!

Many South African wines to choose from to pair with a nice meal and share with friends and family!

A Breathless Experience: My First Time Breaking A Wine Bottle With a Saber

Have you seen a champagne or sparkling wine bottle being broken open with a saber? I have not, until I was very lucky to have a chance to try it at Breathless Wines, known for their traditional method (the original method for making Champagne) sparkling wine in Healdsburg when Dr. Thach and our group visited!

What is Sabering?

A saber is a type of sword with a curved blade associated with light cavalry in the early modern and Napoleonic periods. The technique of breaking open a champagne bottle using a saber, called “sabrage”, was popularized after the French Revolution, when Napoleon’s cavalries celebrated their victory by using sabers to open champagne bottles.

A saber breaking open a champagne bottle. Credit: Last Bottle Wines

Safety First!

For someone who has never held a saber, let alone cut a bottle open with one, it can be quite intimidating. Luckily, Breathless has very careful protocols guided by their friendly experts. I was led by Sharon, one of the Founding Sisters of Breathless Wines. The “Saberer” first puts on protective heavy duty gloves and safety goggles. Because of Covid-19, an extra pair of disposable gloves are worn before the heavy duty gloves, and of course I was masked up like everyone else. Also, using a cold bottle makes it easier to break.

The saber, cold Breathless Blanc de Noir bottle, and protective gear

Power Pose

Having the correct posture helps to wield power. To start, Sharon demonstrated how to stand sideways, almost like an archer, and hold the body (where the label sits) using my non-dominant hand. Of course, the bottle must be pointed far away from anyone – everyone needed to stand back!

Sharon demonstrating the power pose and how to hold the bottle.

Learning The Technique

Next, Sharon demonstrated the actual technique of holding the saber, and how to strike the bottle. With the saber in hand, the blade sits at an angle to the bottle, and I took a few turns running the blade along the bottle towards the lip, which is the breakage point.

How to hold a saber and where to guide it

Blast off!

Finally, the wire cage was taken off as an extra step to make it easier. Shortly after the demo, I was ready. My hand went faster than I was mentally prepared and POP! Went the top. I did not apply much force, and it felt a lot smoother than expected. Indeed, I read later that it is simply the force applied at a fragile point of the bottle – with already much internal pressure – that breaks it. Some wine was lost, but I held it up in victory, still shocked at what happened just seconds ago. I was relieved no one was hurt!

This happened within seconds!

Serving the Wine

What good is opening a wine if you can’t enjoy it? After sabering, make sure to check for shards before serving. We all got to enjoy a fresh glass afterwards!

Dr. Thach gets the first glass!

Certified Saberer!

Certificate and cork wrapped in Breathless Seal

Breathless Wines awards every Saberer with a “Certificate of Completion”, and the cork sealed with their signature Breathless label. I am really grateful for such an unforgettable experience, and hope to lose less wine next time!

Try it Yourself!

For more information and to schedule this exciting Sabrage Experience, please click here:
https://www.breathlesswines.com/Visit-Us/Sabrage-Experience

Toast to an Eclectic Mix of Live Music this Summer with Robert Hall Virtual Concert Series!

Paso Robles winery Robert Hall is hosting a virtual music concert series, Robert Hall At Home Sessions, live-streaming indie musicians directly from their homes starting this Wednesday July 22. After each concert, the audience will have a special chance to peek behind the scenes and learn directly from the artists about their journeys, personal stories and more.

First Up: Roots Rock Duo, Larkin Poe

A different artist will be revealed before each session. This four-session series kicks off with Grammy nominated Larkin Poe, a roots rock sister duo Rebecca and Megan Lovell based in Nashville. Their latest LP, “Self Made Man,” is a tribute to their journey as artists from constant touring to producing their own music. 

Larkin Poe: Jul 22 Concert
Credit: Robert Hall Winery.

“The Good Life. Well Earned”

The chosen artists reflect Founder Robert Hall’s philosophy and the company’s tagline, “The Good Life. Well Earned”: endless dedication to producing the highest quality results, from every bottle to music for all to enjoy. Unwind, sip and enjoy the rest of the summer with great wine, beautiful music, and feel the community spirit virtually!

Four Sessions Starting July 22 at 5pm PST

Robert Hall At Home Sessions is live on Facebook starting July 22 at 5pm PST on the winery’s Facebook page @roberthallwinery. Future Robert Hall At Home Sessions will be streamed on August 5, August 19, and September 2 with new artists announced the week before each show. To receive updates on the line-up and see exclusive interviews with the artists, head to www.roberthallwinery.com/At-Home-Sessions

Have You Ever Heard of an Italian Wine Grape Called Colombana?

Considered to be a very ancient grape, Colombana Bianca is a white grape from Tuscany, also known by the names “Colombana Peccioli and Verdea.”  Legend states it was brought to Italy by an Irish missionary called St. Columban. He travelled throughout Europe, and gathered many followers who brought vine cuttings to northern Italy. They planted the vine and began to make wine near the towns of Pisa and Milan, but over the centuries the Colombana vines were replaced by other varieties, so it became very rare and was thought to have nearly disappeared.

Slopes of Fattoria Fibbiano. Credit: Fattoria Fibbiano.

Rediscovery of Lost Colombana Vines in Vineyard

Recently the Cantoni family, who own Fattoria Fibbiano Winery south of Pisa, Italy, rediscovered some lost Colombana grape vines growing in their vineyard. Upon analysis, they realized they were identical to those cultivated in Lombardy, Italy, under the name of the Verdea grape. They were excited by this discovery, because in the past, wine made from the Colombana grape in that region was known for its therapeutic properties.

The vines among Fattoria Fibbiano. Credit: Fattoria Fibbiano.

What Does Colombana Taste Like?

Because the grape is so rare, Fattoria Fibbiano decided to craft a new wine made with 100% Colombana grapes. The wine has a brilliant straw yellow color, with rich notes of exotic fruits, such as banana, pineapple, and papaya, with a nose of pressed flowers. It has a notable tanginess from marine soils, with rich acidity that makes it refreshing and deliciously easy to drink.

Colombana wine by Fattoria Fibbiano.

Crafting Colombana Wine

This 100% Colombana wine is produced with cold maceration on the skins at 50 degrees Fahrenheit in stainless steel tanks for 5 days, after which skins are pressed and the must obtained is fermented at a controlled temperature of 54F without using selected yeasts, bringing greater character to preserve authentic qualities of this variety of noble origins. After fermentation is complete, the wine is transferred into concrete tanks, where it rests for 4 months before bottling.

Where to Purchase Fattoria Fibbiano Colombana

Due to the rarity of the Colombana grape, Fattoria Fibbiano winery, was only able to produce only 3,000 bottles of wine. It was released in June 2020, and will be available in select wine shops in the US in the near future.

Not Just Your Average Canned Wine – Tips on Finding the Right One for You!

They are everywhere: from Trader Joe’s to online stores, pop-up bars to your friend’s party. Since Sofia Coppola’s pretty pink cans of blanc de blanc sparkling debuted in 2004, canned wines have exploded especially in the past few years. According to Nielsen, canned wine sales grew 69% year-on-year in 2018, and 79% in 2019. The variety is now diversified to seltzers, wine coolers offering “zero sugar” and “lower alcohol” options, even sake and more.

Sofia Mini Brut Rosé Coppola 4 Pack
Sofia Coppola’s Brut Rose.

The Case for Canned

Although canned wines often have no vintage, specific AVA or vineyard, and are not meant to age like fine wines, they are a great choice for many: it’s portable, chills faster, one can try something new without buying a whole bottle. Cans protect wines from oxygen and light, and a thin layer of plastic inside prevents imparting metallic flavors, which keeps white, rose and sparkling wines surprisingly well. Finally, they’re environmentally-friendly: aluminium cans are often recycled, and lighter weight means less carbon footprint during transport.

And contrary to what some critics say, it’s not just cheap wines that get put into cans – reputable vintners have been canning their wines too. That includes Sommelier and Wine Director of NoMad New York, Thomas Pastuszak, who started Vinny using exclusive Finger Lakes grapes, and ex-Sommelier Gina Schober of Sans Wine, who makes premium organic canned wines.

Credit: Vinny Wines.

My Positive Experiences with Drinking Canned Wines

My first canned wine was the much-hyped BABE rose, which I had seen across social media, and was excited to buy a pack at Vinexpo in Hong Kong 2017. Since then, I have tried canned Prosecco, Rose and Pinot Noir. I was very curious to find a canned Pet Nat from Nova Scotia, which is normally made by bottling before end of fermentation to preserve wild yeast and create light sparkling. Fermenting in a can is quite a feat! I’m also keen to try urban warehouse winery Infinite Monkey Theorem, who sources grapes from western Colorado and High Plains of Texas, and they’re available at my local BevMo.

2018 Benjamin Bridge pet-nat in 250mL can, $8.99 ea., available in Atlantic province liquor stores.
Benjamin Bridge Pet Nat 2019. Credit: Toronto Star.

Sizes of Cans and Drinking Tips

Canned wines come in a range of sizes, usually: 250ml, equal to 1/3 of a standard wine bottle, or 1.6 standard glasses; 375ml, roughly 2.5 glasses; 500ml, about 3.33 glasses. Just remember to share and drink responsibly, and finally, canned winemakers have noted a difference when you pour it in a glass, even if it’s plastic. Try for yourself!

Hey, I Want to Taste the Moscato in the Blue Can!

Just in time for summer, New Jersey-based Royal Wine Corp. is releasing one of America’s most popular Italian-imported Moscatos, Bartenura, in a new format of 8.5 ounce cans – about 1.7 glasses per can – in packs of 4. Bartenura was one of the first premium Moscatos in the U.S, with continuing growth every year since it was introduced in 1980s.

Credit: Bartenura

Refreshing Summer Drink

With a refreshing with a hint of sweetness, slightly effervescent and relatively lower alcohol content of 5% ACV, Bartenura is a perfect summer drink. Royal Corp has been trying to find alternative packaging formats for Bartenura while ensuring the signature aroma, quality, flavour and bubble is maintained. Consumers can now bring Bartenura cans to the pool, picnics, barbecues! Bartenura cans will be rolling out nationwide, and consumers can expect to see them in stores with a standard retail price of $15/4pack.

A can of Bartenura Moscato.

About Royal Wine

The history of Royal Wine Corp. began in the early 19th century in the town of Vrbové in Slovakia. There, the Herzog family crafted wines of royal acclaim for over 150 years, with each of six generations passing their legacy down to the next.  In 1948, Eugene Herzog, the head of the Herzog family at the time, moved his family and settled on New York City, and in 1958, after working his way up the company purchased with his four sons Royal Wine Corp.

Today, Royal Wine’s portfolio of domestic and international wines range from traditional wine producing regions of France, Italy, and Spain, as well as Israel, New Zealand, and Argentina.  Additionally, Royal Wine Corp.’s spirit and liqueur portfolio offer some of the most sought-after scotches, bourbons, tequilas and vodkas as well as hard to find specialty items such as flavored brandies and liqueurs.  The company owns and operates the Kedem Winery in upstate New York, as well as Herzog Wine Cellars in Oxnard, California, a state-of-the-art-facility that also features the award-winning restaurant Tierra Sur, serving the finest, Mediterranean-inspired, contemporary Californian Cuisine. @RoyalWineCorp; royalwine.com.

BRAND Napa Valley Launches #FromBRANDwithLove Giveback Sharing Package

Pritchard Hill winery, BRAND Napa Valley is running a giveback program, #FromBRANDwithLove for customers and Covid-19 first responders around the nation. Sharing the gift of wine, the “BRAND Care Package” is essentially a buy-1-get-1 for customers to spread the love with a distinguished bottle of wine and send another to a first responder as a token of appreciation for their selfless service.

Credit: BRAND Napa Valley, at Harvest 2019

BRAND Care Package

With the purchase of a $150 “BRAND Care Package”, worth $300 in value, customers receive a bottle of the prestigious 2016 BRAND Napa Valley BRIO Red Blend—an estate produced Bordeaux-style Red Blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, and Petit Verdot—for the customer and for a first responder of their choice, who will receive an identical bottle at no cost to them. Customers can purchase the “BRAND Care Package” online, nominate their first responder, include a personalized note, provide shipping information.

Frank Family Vineyards Welcomes You Back to Napa with “Sweet Caroline” Parody

Frank Family Vineyards reopened for in-person, by-appointment tastings on June 10th. The entire Frank Family team celebrated the winery reopening with a music video parody of Neil Diamond’s “Sweet Caroline”, featuring Patrick Davis of Songwriters in Paradise on guitar and vocals. Frank Family’s Marketing Manager Marisa McCann wrote the lyrics, covering their new safety protocols in light of COVID-19 regulations, such as limited party sizes, outdoor seating, and requirement of personal face coverings.  

A Snapshot of the Welcome Back “Sweet Caroline” Parody. Credit: Frank Family Vineyards

Welcome Message From Owner Rich Frank

“While the world has changed, our passion for sharing wine and memories with our guests has not,” says Owner Rich Frank who plays the role of Welcome Crew, Dancer and Sign Holder in the video. “We are so grateful to welcome guests back to Frank Family. In addition to our patio seating, we’ve set up tables outside in our front courtyard so that guests may sit with proper distance between them, and also enjoy our beautiful surroundings.”  

Two Reservation-only Premium Tastings

Frank Family Vineyards is open daily from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., offering two tastings by reservation only: the “Estate Tasting” ($50) on the back patio, estate courtyard and on the front lawn, and the “Wines of Winston Hill Reserve Tasting” ($70) held only in the courtyard.

About Frank Family Vineyards
Frank Family Vineyards was founded in 1992 by former Disney Studios president Rich Frank. First constructed as the Historic Larkmead Winery in 1884, the stone building on property is the third oldest in Napa and appears on the national Register of Historical Places. Today, Frank Family owns over 380 acres of vineyards in the Napa Valley, and in 2015 received Napa Green certifications for both the land and winery. Frank Family’s reputation for having the friendliest hospitality in Napa Valley has fans flocking to the tasting room on Larkmead Lane, which was named “Best Napa Winery” by the Bay Area A-List for eight years in a row, making it one of the most popular tasting rooms in wine country. The Patriarch was recently ranked #5 in California Cabernet by Vivino and the 2016 Lewis Vineyard Chardonnay Reserve as one of the Top 30 White Wines of 2020 and awarded it the #2 best Chardonnay in Napa for 2020. Frank Family’s Napa Valley Chardonnay ($38), Pinot Noir ($38), Zinfandel ($38) and Cabernet Sauvignon ($58) are distributed nationally.

Historic St. Helena Winery Charles Krug is Now Ropened For In-Person Tastings

On June 9th, Napa’s oldest winery, Charles Krug reopened its St. Helena estate adhering to local guidelines, after being closed since March 16th in compliance with California’s statewide Shelter-in-Place order. The reopening comes with a variety of new protocols that go above and beyond county and state recommendations to ensure health and safety for everyone.

Charles Krug Winery, Napa Valley
The New Cabana at Charles Krug for Safe Wine Tasting.

A Pleasant Physically-Distanced Wine Experience

5 new WiFi-enabled cabanas within the winery’s Picnic Grounds will be unveiled with the reopening. Although the cabanas were already under construction before the Pandemic, they are particularly timely to facilitate efficient physically-distanced wine experiences. The winery’s diverse culinary offerings will still be available on a modified schedule: artisan pizzas from Charles Krug’s wood-fired Mugnaini oven will be available Friday through Sunday, while local culinary partner, Tre Posti, will offer both cheese and charcuterie plates, as well as grab-and-go items.

Additional Winery Safety Measures

On top of meeting Napa County’s official safety guidelines including face masks worn by employees, extra hygiene protocol and more, Charles Krug’s tasting room consulted with Winery Safety Officer AJ Perez to implement stricter standards:

  • Comprehensive “Deep Clean” disinfecting, misting of general and targeted touchpoints in all areas of the winery before Grand Opening
  • Appointment-only booking to limit occupancy within winery
  • Outdoor-only tasting, with wine delivered in pre-poured glasses. Wine service will be guided by a masked Wine Ambassador from a safe distance
  • All tables, furnishings, and flat surfaces will be sanitized after each guest visit
  • A concierge will manage customer flow and monitor physical distancing while guests are waiting to be seated, entering or leaving the property 
  • Touch-free transactions, with goods being placed directly in the guest’s car or carried out by customers as they prefer
  • Water will be served in single-serve recyclable containers
  • Restrooms are cleaned every 30-60 minutes

About Charles Krug:
In 1943, Italian immigrants Cesare and Rosa Mondavi purchased the historic Charles Krug property, the oldest winery in the Napa Valley and longest-running tasting room in California. The brand was built on a foundation of family values, hard work and a European winemaking tradition; it remains a family-owned winery today, producing estate-driven, top of the line Napa Valley wines. The wineries are under the direction of Peter Mondavi Jr. and Marc Mondavi, who steward the family business passed to them by their father, legendary Napa Valley wine icon Peter Mondavi Sr.  The family is now proudly welcoming members of the fourth generation to the business, continuing a legacy started over 70 years ago and setting a foundation for generations to come.

Wine Tetris Blocks – How I Fell In Love with Wine

(Contributed by J. Onodera) My interest in wine is like a game of tetris, as the “blocks” slowly fell in place over time. It all started during spring break of my junior high school year, when I toured different colleges in the Northwest, one of them being Sonoma State University. As our tour group walked to the Wine Spectator Learning Center on campus, our guide mentioned that the university was the only one in California offering wine degrees in business topics, rather than the traditional Viticulture and Enology degrees. The idea of becoming a player in wine business sparked a sense of motivation in me, and that was how I laid the first row of blocks in the game of Wine Tetris.

“Wine Tetris”

Second Tetris Row – Learning about Wine through People

Laying the foundation of the second tetris row of wine had to do with interactions with other people.Having lived in different parts of California, I have many groups of friends from various demographics, which is also reflected in their drinking habits, ranging from drinking cheap beers to sipping pricier wines. Often at social gatherings with friends, we would open a bottle of wine and pair it with different foods, and then discuss the unique taste combinations that emerged. Through such experiences, I learned how to communicate and connect with different communities, and grow my wine knowledge.

Third Tetris Row – An Unforgettable European Trip

After my sophomore year at Sonoma State University, I decided to splurge on a 3-week cultural and food tour through Madrid, Barcelona, Milan, Venice, Florence and Rome. I’ll never forget that first day in Madrid, where I was introduced to Sangria – a glass jar filled with ice, red wine, green apples, oranges, and blackberries. Enjoying the ice-cold sangria with a spicy dish of paella was an incredible experience.  As I continued my tour across Europe, the wine and food encounters continued to blow my mind, and I fell more enchanted with the world of wine.

An Evolving Experience

Now as I pursue my degree in Wine Business, I’m really enjoying the chance to explore, develop my palette, and appreciation the diversity of wine. The tetris blocks are coming together faster now, and all of these experiences have made me more confident in my decision to study wine.