Wine News

TO: WAWGG members

1.  Micro-Oxygenation and The New Wine for the 21st Century
2.  Developers plan Yakima Valley wine country golf resort
3.  Argentina awards focus on affordable wines
4.  Armagnac can help fight obesity
5.  Sarkozy: I will relax wine advertising regulations


1.  Micro-Oxygenation and The New Wine for the 21st Century
By Alan Goldfarb,

Item: We have gone way beyond the issue of cost. …the real advantage to alternatives is accuracy because you can zero in on a particular blend of flavors and then consistently repeat it. We have now effectively mimicked the barrel by using a rainbow of products.

The operative phrase in this discussion of micro-oxygenation from Runquist is“…you can zero in on a particular blend of flavors and then consistently repeat it.”

But the questions that flow from this are many. Do winemakers really feel compelled – in the increasingly fierce competitive world wine market – to consistently repeat what they’ve made before? Do they really want to “zero in” on the kinds of wines which preceded the last? Are the stakes so high that it’s become commerce über alles?

Is this what the art and craft of winemaking has come to, after being seemingly besieged by an astounding implementation of a myriad of technology? And have the rest of us—labeled by some as Luddites and traditionalists—been thrown onto the odd-bins barrel and left to stew in our recollections of “I remember when …?

As evidence, one only has to navigate–for hours on end–the maze of contraptions, machines, computers and devices with their commensurate jumble of hoses, wires, and cords found at the recently concluded Unified Wine & Grape Symposium trade show. You are left with the unavoidable conclusion that there’s something going on here. And many of you unassuming but faithful wine consumers don’t quite know what it is.

By using these shiny stainless steel contraptions with their red and green diodes lighting the way, your wine and my wine, although it might taste good, may not be the wine you think it is.

By the use of de-alcing machines which extract several degrees of alcohol from your wine, and micro-oxygenating devices which pump small degrees of air into your fermenting wine sans oak barrels, twenty first century wine is certainly not your grandfather’s, not your father’s, and maybe not even your wine, any longer.

But what the hey. The wine is good, right? Or so the progenitors of The New Wine proclaim. And the wine sells, as the CFOs of The New Wine say. So, what’s your problem, bub?

Is the Wine We Knew A Thing of the Past?
The problem is that, in the end, the marketers and the PR flacks may have it right. Terroir? That’s so 20th century. Appellations? That’s a good story. But what does it all mean? Americans are drinking more wine than ever before, which in turn means more wine is being sold than ever before. Raise a glass and adjourn to the counting house.

{mospagebreak}What you thought you were drinking may no longer be the hands-off, I-don’t-touch-the-wine, natural agricultural product from Somewhere. So, if all you care about is that your wine tastes great, and you don’t give a fig as to who did what MOX machineControl panel for a MOX machine which makes wine taste great by removing any sign of terroir.
to it and/or where it came from, there’s no need to read on. But if you still want to taste the origin of those grapes in your glass, you obsolete, provincial hick you, read on MacDuff.

They call it MOX, inside-wine speak for micro-oxygenation, and those in the know don’t want you to know too much about it because they’re afraid that you won’t understand it. Worse yet, they’re concerned that you’ll think they’re making Franken-wine.

First, the process is somewhat technical, but if you’ve learned what an oak barrel does, you can learn what MOX does. Second, they’re not making monster wine. In fact, those that use micro-ox, firmly believe that what they’re doing is actually making the wine better. And they may be right.

By MOXing the wine (mostly red, but increasingly whites), all the green or herb flavors which can be inherent to growing a fruit, but is anathema to many winemakers, can be eliminated. Color can be enhanced. Flavors can be heightened. The feeling in the mouth can be enchanting.

By MOXing, water usage can be cut by 30 percent. Labor costs can be reduced. Wines can come to market faster, which in turn reduces inventory, and speeds up cash-flow. Finally, the costs and collateral damage wrought by cutting down oak trees, can be reduced.

That’s because MOX is mostly employed for wines which sell for under $25 and accordingly can eventually eliminate the use of expensive oak barrels. (Note: The use of MOX for wines over $25 is on the rise.) Micro-oxygenation is performed on wines in stainless steel tanks. Oak barrels, which have been used in part because of their porous property which allows a certain amount of air in – oxygenation as opposed to oxidation – are beginning to be phased out in some of the largest wineries which heretofore used them for their low-end products.

How To Make Barrel Aged Wines without the Barrel
To replicate the properties of the barrel, the procedure is used in conjunction with oak “products.” That is, oak chips, oak blocks, oak staves, and even oak powder, can singularly or collectively be put into the hopper.

By carefully monitoring the dosage of oxygen, and by constantly tasting the progressing wine, a wine can be ready to go to market in from nine to 11 months. As opposed to from a year to 36 months in barrel, which has heretofore been the length of time it takes for a wine to be deemed ready. The result, of course, is the savings of millions of dollars for the cost and shipping of oak barrels.

French barrels go for around $800 each. But by installing French oak staves in a neutral barrel, the cost is about $95. A new American oak barrel costs between $300 to $400, while American oak staves are $85. A 5,900-gallon stainless tank will cost about $16,000. The French oak stave inserts for this tank would cost $6,000. American oak staves would be about $5,000.

Additionally, according to a survey by Wine Business Monthly, wood chips and blocks continue to be the most popular alternative to barrels. Staves, in either barrels or stainless tanks, remain the second most popular alternative. Oak powders, also known as "flour," are the third most popular alternative and are generally added during de-stemming and fermentation, aiding greatly in the extraction of color, particularly in Pinot Noir.

From a low of 8 percent of small wineries in 2002, the practice has grown to a current high of 16 percent of wineries which are now using micro-oxygenation. For mid-size wineries, the growth since ‘02 has jumped from 30 to nearly 50 percent, and currently 83 percent of all large wineries use this practice.

{mospagebreak}Large wineries seem to use it primarily for cost-cutting while small and mid-size wineries use it to improve quality. Speed to market is another consideration, with close to 25 percent of small and mid-size wineries, and 44 percent of large wineries taking advantage of the time-saving method.

One advocate of the use of micro-oxygenation is John McKay. He had been the director of winemaking at the Napa Wine Co. in Oakville in the Napa Valley from 1998 to 2004. Today, McKay is a consultant with three primary clients for whom he makes wine at NWC, which is one of the largest custom-crush facilities in the country. NWC, he said, has 25 tanks which micro-ox for its clients.

John McKay, wine consultant, is a proponent of micro-oxygenation.
In his opening remarks as a member of the MOX panel in Sacramento at the grape seminar, McKay revealed that his introduction to the procedure was strictly pragmatic if not economic.

“The reason I got involved had to do with a lot of bulk wine which was on the herbal side. (Before MOX), the best offer we had (for the wine) was $12 a gallon. But after three months (with MOX), we sold it for $16. That sold me.”

McKay has been using MOX since 2000 with the Marilyn Merlot brand for whom he consults. He employs the process on about 25 percent of the wine.

“You have to be aggressive with MOX, but not everybody pushes the wine as hard as I have done. Not everyone tastes every week. You can overdo MOX. You can cook a wine (by over-oxidizing) if you’re not careful. But in coastal areas, wine can take a lot more oxygen.”

Consultant Michel Rolland, who was depicted in the film, “Mondovino”, as being a zealot of MOX, now has said that he is "not a fan of micro-oxygenation.” And Randall Grahm, who is considered one of the smartest and also one of the great characters of the wine world, may be a proponent, as evidenced by a quote attributable to him four years ago. “As a tool, it can certainly be abused and lead to wines which might be thought of as over-extracted and perhaps robbed of their personality,” he reportedly remarked. “But I think that if it is used wisely, it can actually work towards making wines more expressive and truer to themselves.”

John McKay believes MOX perhaps makes wine less true to their origins. “Terroir is such a difficult issue. I do think that there is such a thing as terroir … it makes a difference in wine but there are a lot of things in the production of wines which mitigate terroir to some degree,” he told Appellation America. “… (And) a lot of what is happening today with commercial wineries mitigates terroir.”

McKay went on to say that MOX “doesn’t solve all your winemaking problems. It eliminates all the major issues, but it doesn’t guarantee that you won’t have some of these problems.”

Michael Havens, the winemaker at Havens Wine Cellars in Napa, is extremely candid and is a proponent of micro-oxygenation (but not of de-alc).

{mospagebreak}“Micro-oxygenation is a tool which allows me to choose more precisely among the potential developmental pathways for a wine,” he wrote in an e-mail to Appellation America from New Zealand. “In particular, it provides a way to select the structural and textural identity of a wine, whether more structured and reductive or more textured and fully-opened.

“You should be clear that MOX is not simply a tool to push a wine toward softness and marketability — that is always a choice the winemaker makes. He/she can just as well use MOX to make a hard-boned, long-aging wine if so chosen. “I’ve been using MOX since 1997 …,” he continued, “My original observation was simple: Why bring the wine to the oxygen (traditional racking) when it’s possible to bring the oxygen to the wine?

“Today, MOX is standard procedure for us, though each wine gets its own treatment based on its makeup and our intentions. It gives us the opportunity to have a dialogue with the wine, to begin an O2 (oxygen) regime and see how it responds then adjust appropriately. This technique thus requires more, not less, direction from the winemaker, when compared to simply following some traditional scheme.”

Concludes McKay, “What really matters here (is that) the typical consumer is not going to know the difference. It’s pretty difficult to tell the differences organoleptically (between aromas and flavors).”

{mospagebreak title=Developers plan Yakima Valley wine country golf resort}

 Developers plan Yakima Valley wine country golf resort

{mospagebreak title=Just test}YAKIMA, Wash. -- Construction will start this summer on a planned $500 million, Tuscan-themed golf resort with views of mounts Rainier and Adams in the Yakima Valley wine country, developers said this week.

The Vineyards, about seven miles northwest of Zillah and less than 20 miles from Yakima, will target Seattle residents looking for a second home on a championship-quality golf course in Washington's sunny wine country, Rich Barnes, a principal with Colorado-based Eagle Resort Development, said Friday.

"We felt a market niche is there that is conspicuously not being filled," said Barnes, who has developed destination resorts in Colorado, Idaho and Mexico. "It's an area that has been overlooked for many years for what it has to offer."

Depending on views of the 18-hole course and Cascade Range volcanos, lots will sell for $250,000 to $1 million, the developers said. A total of 582 housing units, including 230 private homes, a 100-room condominium hotel, and a combination of patio homes, town homes and villas are planned on 500 acres atop Rattlesnake Ridge.

"This is a top-quality, high-desert destination resort," said Gary Scott of Portal West Corp. of Ellensburg, part of a joint venture group behind the project. "Everything says this is a 'yes' for the Yakima Valley."

Yakima development and tourism officials welcomed the project and its potential for economic development and jobs.

Dave McFadden, president of the Yakima County Development Association, said news of the development comes at a time of substantial job creation, low unemployment rates, and ongoing efforts to attract new business and investment in the Yakima Valley.

"The Vineyards is so well-nested in the vision we are trying to enhance," he said.

Stan Martinkus, a representative of Washington Wine Country, a nonprofit organization promoting the wine industry, said The Vineyards would appeal to people with money to spend at 50 nearby wineries and other Yakima Valley attractions.

The Vineyards would not be as large as Suncadia, which opened in Kittitas County in 2004. Suncadia covers about 6,000 acres, and is expected to eventually include more than 3,000 homes, golf courses, condos and hotel rooms.

Construction of The Vineyards will occur in phases, starting in June with the first nine holes of the 7,561-yard golf course, with play beginning in 2009, Barnes said. The first home sites will be available in August 2008, he said.

Plans call for the project to be completed by 2015.

The developer is SBC Development LLC, a joint venture partnership of Eagle Resort Development, Scott's Portal West Corp. and Craig Schultz of Yakima, president of Craig Schultz Properties LLC. Barnes and Dan Fitchett are the principals in Eagle Resort Development of Crested Butte, Colo.

{mospagebreak title=Argentina awards focus on affordable wines}

3.  Argentina awards focus on affordable wines
By Beverley Blanning MW in Mendoza,

Judges at the first Argentina Wine Awards had consumers firmly in their sights as they dealt out prize after prize to drinkable and affordable wines.

Nine trophies were awarded in a ceremony at Terrazas winery in Mendoza last week. Only one of the trophy winners, the Luigi Bosca Gala 3 white blend, costs more than £10 a bottle.

San Juan newcomer Don Domenico winery picked up the Syrah trophy for its Finca Don Domenico de Huanacache Syrah 2006, a wine expected to sell in the UK for around £6 a bottle.

Father and son winemakers Jorge and Matias Riccitelli won two of the top awards, for Bodega Norton Privada 2003 (best red blend) and Fabre Montmayou Malbec Gran Reserva 2005 (best Malbec).

The award for best Cabernet Sauvignon went to Bodegas Santa Ana La Mascota 2005.

James Forbes, the UK director of Wines of Argentina, said 'The results of the competition show that Argentina can make great wine at all prices. It is exciting to see so many new wineries doing so well. This is the future for Argentina'.

Leading winemaker and judge Roberto de la Mota said: 'The decision of the judges sends a very clear message to Argentina. We need to produce fresh, fruity wines with good drinkability – wines to enjoy, not just wines to win awards.'

The judges praised the overall quality of wines in the competition. Jancis Robinson MW noted the 'steep improvements in Argentina, even in the last five years' and Robert Joseph described the entries as 'a world class collection of wines'.

Speaking before the ceremony, Oz Clarke urged Argentina to focus on producing wines with 'a sense of place' and to avoid producing 'brands of emptiness' like Yellowtail and Blossom Hill. Several judges expressed disappointment at the low number of white wines entered for the competition.

The competition was judged by team of eight UK wine professionals and four Argentinian winemakers. Of the 447 wines entered, 368 received awards: 24 gold, 145 silver and 199 bronze.

{mospagebreak title=Armagnac can help fight obesity}

4.  Armagnac can help fight obesity
By Sophie Montagne,

Regular consumption of Armagnac can help prevent thrombosis and heart attacks and aid weight loss, scientists have discovered.

The research, carried out in 2005 and published in the scientific journal Thrombosis Research, showed that Armagnac, with or without alcohol, helped prevent the accumulation of blood platelets which cause thrombosis in the arteries.

A team at the University of Bordeaux, headed by professor of pharmacology Nicholas Moore, have since researched the effects of Armagnac on weight loss.

Laboratory rats were fed a high-fat diet and regular, moderate doses of Armagnac.

Compared with rats who were fed the same diet but with pure ethanol in place of Armagnac, the Armagnac rats showed significantly less weight gain.

This proves, the Bordeaux team says, that it is a specific quality of the Armagnac, believed to be extracts from the grapes or the Gascon wood used to age the spirit, that help reduce weight gain.

{mospagebreak title=Sarkozy: I will relax wine advertising regulations}

5.  Sarkozy: I will relax wine advertising regulations
By Oliver Styles,

Right-wing French presidential candidate Nicolas Sarkozy has announced that he will give more freedom to wine advertising in France should he be elected in May.

According to news agency Reuteurs, Sarkozy, currently French interior minister, told a group of winegrowers in Sancerre that he would allow advertising to show wine consumption as long as it was 'reasonable'.

His pledge counters the strict 1991 Evin law which regulates tobacco and alcohol advertising. In its current form, the law prohibits any incitement to buy or drink wine, any appearance of wine advertising on television or in cinemas and strictly regulates what can be said or portrayed in other advertising.

Both the Bordeaux and Burgundy wine trade associations have found advertising campaigns blocked after health associations and ministers claimed they were in breach of the law.

However, Sarkozy's proposal to relax the stance on wine advertising follows recent moves in the French government in which ministers have attempted to reduce the scope and power of the Evin law.

Two years ago, ministers voted in favour of allowing smell, taste and colour to be discussed in adverts. Sarkozy, who is a teetotal, said the matter was one of national pride and competition.

'Wine is not just an economic activity, it's a French tradition, a French identity, a French know-how,' he told the winemakers. 'We cannot ask you to be competitive when others have the right to use advertising and you don't.'

Sarkozy also said he wanted to see a more 'balanced' way sharing the wealth between wine producers and distributors.

'By continuing to wring out prices, the winemaker is no longer going to be paid for his hard work,' he said.

He did not say how this would be achieved.

The presidential candidate also said he would remain firm on the strict drink-driving laws in France – a policy he is responsible for bringing in, and one that has been cited as one of the main factors contributing to falling wine consumption in the country.

Sarkozy said his policy had saved 10,000 lives and 100,000 injuries.


Vicky Scharlau
Executive Director
Washington Association of Wine Grape Growers
203 Mission Avenue, Suite 214
PO Box 716
Cashmere, WA 98815
509-782-8234 phone
509-782-1203 fax

The Washington Association of Wine Grape Growers are advocates for the business interests of Washington wine growers/producers whether they are new or seasoned.  The vision of the Association is to encourage a positive business environment that allows continued growth and production of world-class, Washington-grown wines. 

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