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What’s Grower Champagne?

“Champagne is on the verge of profound change. There is a growing realization in the region that its viticulture has become slovenly and the subtleties of its terroir have been neglected. The era of great growers and great vineyards is just beginning.”
Andrew Jefford, The New France

In Champagne, only about 4,000 growers make their own wine; the rest sell their grapes to the cooperatives or to big brands like Moët & Chandon and Veuve Clicquot. In fact, big Champagne houses account for about 70 percent of total Champagne production and about 97 percent of sales outside Europe. They have long been the names that stand for Champagne.

But in the past several years, things have started to change. More growers have begun exporting their wines. And more consumers have been buying them. The reason for this new popularity is terroir—the untranslatable (and frequently invoked) French term for the confluence of weather, soil and aspect that gives a vineyard an identifiable character. Unlike the big houses, which buy grapes from all over Champagne (sometimes from as many as 1,000 different vineyard sites), growers make wines with grapes from a particular place. That sense of terroir, coupled with good prices (often 10 or 20 percent less than the big brands, and sometimes even lower), has incited sommeliers to add names like Pierre Paillard to their wine lists, even according them special categories in some cases. For winemakers too small to have marketing teams, publicity departments or, for that matter, much wine, this is a clear underdog victory

How to spot when a champagne has been made by the producer that grew the grapes rather than by a bottler that bought and blended the wine. Virtually all champagne front labels carry a little code next to the name of the producer as follows:

NM négociant-manipulant, one of the big houses/maisons/négociants
RM récoltant-manipulant, a grower who makes his or her own wine
CM coopérative de manipulation, one of the co-operatives
RC récoltant-coopérateur, grower selling wine made by a co-op
MA marque d’acheteur, buyer’s own brand, usually a made-up label

So to find a grower’s champagne, look out for the letters RM.

Click here to find out more about Champagne Pierre Paillard in British Columbia or click here for Alberta

The Joy of Wine

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Wine is a product of nature. But nature is rarely under its very best conditions. Most of the time very good wine is the product of nature being gently guided by the hand and wisdom of man. Guiding the land through its cycles from dormant vines in winter sleep, through the growing season, the wine making, aging, and finally bringing the finished wine to the table. The balance between the product of nature and the guiding of the hand of man is the essence of the finest of wines and the philosophy at Rombauer Vineyards.

If you know nothing else about Rombauer Vineyards, know this: The company is all about family and “The Joy of Wine” (it’s even emblazoned on the corks). The genesis of the notion came from Koerner Rombauer’s great aunt Irma Rombauer, the original author of the seminal cookbook, The Joy of Cooking. Following Aunt Irma’s lead, Koerner approaches life with an equally joyous attitude, from motoring about in one of his vintage automobiles and piloting his Cessna jet to the flavour-packed Napa Valley wines he and winemaker Richie Allen fashion each fall. The entire family works closely together, on a day-to-day basis, to craft ultra-premium varietal wines from California’s best grape-growing regions.

Koerner Rombauer was born and raised in Southern California, in the small, agricultural town of Escondido near San Diego. He attended public schools in Escondido and went to the same high school as Joan Ransome, who would later (in 1959) become his wife. Koerner’s first great career passion was flying; he began with the California Air National Guard in 1956.

Upon leaving the service in 1965, Koerner became a commercial pilot with Braniff International. He and the family, including two children by then, moved to Dallas, Texas. Koerner flew as a captain on Braniff’s South American route.

In 1972, the Rombauer’s moved their family, two horses, and five dogs to the Napa Valley. They chose the area because it reminded them of the small-town, agricultural environment in which they had been raised and it appeared to be a clean, safe place to raise children. They purchased 20 acres of beautiful hilltop land on the Silverado Trail, near the town of St. Helena.

“The vineyards make the wine. I like to keep individual lots separate as long as possible so that their distinctive character can develop. I like each wine to follow its own pattern, rather than trying to force it into some preconceived pattern. The real artistic challenge is in blending these small, barrel-aged lots, and producing the best possible outcome for each vintage. I like to bring the growers in to taste with us, to see what everybody’s contributing to the final blend, and ask a lot of ‘What if?’ questions. All that feedback really helps.” – Richie Allen, Winemaker

When the Rombauer’s moved to Napa Valley they had no intention of starting a winery. They did, however, have a great appreciation for the role of wine in the fine dining experience. It didn’t take long in their new surroundings before they became fascinated with the wine industry and, in 1976, they became partners in Conn Creek Winery.

Although the first harvest was in 1980, the wines for that vintage were crafted at Shafer Vineyards in Yountville. Rombauer Vineyards was officially founded in 1982 by Koerner and Joan Rombauer. The winery features caves that extend for over a mile into the hillside. The caves provide a constant temperature and humidity that result in optimum conditions for aging the wines.

Rombauer wines are consistently ranked high in the wine trade journals. Many of the finest restaurants throughout the country include Rombauer wines on their list and feature them by the glass. The joy of wine is something that’s important to Rombauer. Whether you are a collector of fine wines or like to have wine with food, wine is something that truly should be enjoyed. Rombauer Vineyards puts a lot of hard work and tender care into making fine wines. And because wine is a simple product to enjoy, emphasis is given to taking the mystique out of enjoying fine wines.

The emphasis on the joy of wine comes from the heritage of the Rombauer family. Koerner’s ancestors made wine in the famous Reingau region in Germany and as mentioned earlier, his great aunt, Irma Rombauer, wrote the book The Joy of Cooking. Hence the focus on wine as complements to good food and good friends. Every family member is actively involved in the day-to-day operation of the winery from selecting grapes for the winemaking process and getting the wine to market.

The Rombauers produce several varietal wines, such as Carneros Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Estate Grown Zinfandel from the vineyard below the winery, and a blended reserve wine called Le Meilleur Du Chai, which means the Best of the Cellar.  At Rombauer Vineyards, they take the time to hand craft and nurture their wines. Season after season, year after year. They’re pleased to say the fruits of their labor have paid off. At wine competitions and where it counts – in every glass.

Mrs. Rombauer passed away in December 2002, but left a legacy of two children, five grandchildren, and the winery.

The Winemaker

Richie Allen joined Rombauer Vineyards in 2004 as an intern. The winemaking team liked him so much that they offered him full-time employment as Enologist. He became the Assistant Winemaker in 2005, then Winemaker in 2008. Prior to working at Rombauer Vineyards, Richie worked at Penfolds and Oakridge in Australia as well as in New Zealand at Church Road in Hawkes’ Bay and Vavasour in the Marlborough region.

The Vineyards

“The vineyards make the wine. I like to keep individual lots separate as long as possible so that their distinctive character can develop. I like each wine to follow its own pattern, rather than trying to force it into some preconceived pattern. The real artistic challenge is in blending these small, barrel-aged lots, and producing the best possible outcome for each vintage. I like to bring the growers in to taste with us, to see what everybody’s contributing to the final blend, and ask a lot of ‘What if?’ questions. All that feedback really helps.” – Richie Allen

HOME: 7 acres, Zinfandel (Joan’s Vineyard)
ATLAS PEAK: 20 acres, Cabernet Sauvignon
CARNEROS: 210 acres, 200 acres Chardonnay and 10 acres Merlot
HACKETT (Stags Leap District): 5 acres, Cabernet Sauvignon
HIGH RANCH (Calistoga): 40 acres, predominantly Cabernet Sauvignon
STICE LANE (St. Helena): 30 acres, Cabernet Sauvignon

Click here to find out more about the wines of Rombauer in British Columbia

Video: Truchard Vineyards

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Truchard Vineyards was established in 1974, when Tony and Jo Ann Truchard came to the Carneros region of the Napa Valley and purchased a 20 acre parcel of land. They transformed what was an abandoned prune orchard into a vineyard and began selling the fruit to a local winery. Through hard work and dedication they quickly developed a reputation as one of the outstanding vineyards in Carneros. Over the past 31 years the Truchard Estate Vineyard has grown to 400 acres, of which 270 acres are planted. The Truchards now sell grapes to more than 20 premiere Napa Valley wineries.

The Truchard Estate Vineyard is a series of hills and valleys, which contain a variety of soils: clay, shale, sandstone, volcanic rock and ash. The various combinations of terrain, geology, and marine-moderated temperatures provide unique winegrowing conditions. Currently the vineyard grows 10 different grape varieties, making it one of the most diverse estate vineyards in California.

In 1989, the Truchards began making wine for themselves using only their estate-grown fruit. An old barn on the property was converted into a winery; this barn became the symbol for Truchard Vineyards and adorns the top of the wine label. With the addition of a 10,500 square foot wine cave, the winery has become a beautiful, modern facility. Only 20% of the grapes from the Truchard Estate Vineyard are reserved for Truchard wines. The winery makes 11 different wines, producing a total of 16,000 cases per year.

Truchard wines are produced with the vineyard in mind. They’ve always considered themselves “a big vineyard and a small winery”. The wines are hand-crafted using traditional winemaking techniques and exemplify the high quality fruit of the Truchard Estate Vineyard. They are truly: “wines with a sense of place”.

Click here to find out more about the wines of Truchard Vineyards in British Columbia

Tantalus Vineyards

Tantalus Vineyards is leading the way in sustainable winery and vineyard practices in British Columbia. Their new state of the art winery completed in March 2010 will be the province’s first LEED (Leadership in Environmental and Energy Design) certified winery. The new winery waste water treatment system is also the first of its kind for a BC winery. Known as a Sequencing Batch Reactor, this cutting edge technology allows them to naturally treat the winery process water and domestic sewage with the final outcome clean and safe enough to use in irrigating the vineyard.

They practice sustainable farming in the historic 60 acre vineyard. Rather than forcing outcomes, they strive for balance in the vines and they achieve this by using local organic composts and soil treatments, minimal watering and a 100% hand tended vine canopy. They do not use artificial fertilizers, herbicides or pesticides. Tantalus is proud to be working with their neighbor Arlos Honey Farm. They have 25 Arlos bee hives in the vineyard.

Josef Chromy Wines, Tasmania, Australia

Josef Chromy Wines operates by the doctrine of minimal impact viticulture. Some of the Vineyard/Winery practices include:

  • Practices to minimize soil compaction
  • Buffer Zones that encourage natural predators
  • Maintains a grass “sword” between rows to stop soil erosion
  • The cleanest, most efficient, state of the art winery in the state.
  • A state of the art water purification plant that recycles ALL water to a quality to put back into the vineyard.
  • Grape Marc is processed into cattle feed

Josef Chromy Wines is also the first Tasmanian Winery to employ the new Lean + Green™ wine bottles:

Josef Chromy Introduces New O-i Light Weight Bottles to Tasmania

With the increasing reputation and sales of the Josef Chromy Pepik range of wines and in conjunction with Plasdene Glass-Pak, Jeremy Dineen, Chief Winemaker at Josef Chromy Wines is pleased to announce a Tasmanian first with the 2010 Pepik range of wines bottled in the environmentally friendly Lean+Green® wine bottles.

Australia’s wine industry has received a significant boost with glass container maker O-I’s launch of the substantially lighter weight and more environmentally friendly Lean+Green® range of wine bottles. With weight reductions of between 18% and 28% and retention of the bottle’s premium appearance, this represents one of the largest breakthroughs in wine bottle making in Australia.

The tyranny of distance via the absence of a local manufacturer has long disadvantaged Tasmanian wine producers, along with the added expense of shipping empty containers into the state. For Josef Chromy Wines Lean+Green® wine bottles not only deliver domestic cost savings but increases international competitiveness as export markets become more insistent of producers Environmental and Sustainability credentials.

The new Lean+Green® range of wine bottles has been highly acclaimed in Australia, winning five national awards for both sustainability and design criteria.

Benefits for Tasmania:

840 more bottles packed into a 20ft shipping container; offering a loading increase of 6.25%. (This is particularly advantageous to the Tasmanian wine industry reliant on the manufacture and supply of glass bottles from the mainland); A 20% reduction in energy use to produce the same number of bottles;

An average 12% drop in water usage per container; Brand integrity maintained as the new technology upholds current bottle designs; and A weight reduction per case of wine of 1.5kg or 24000kg for the 2010 production.

O-I Production Benefits:

The substantially lighter weight and more environmentally friendly bottles will save at least 20,000 tonnes of glass packaging a year; Overall water savings of 4720kL or the equivalent of 6.3 Olympic swimming pools a year; A carbon dioxide saving of more than 11,130 tonnes of CO2 per annum – or the equivalent of 4120 less 4- cylinder cars on Australian roads each year*.