Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Making the Wine Industry more Sustainable

Spent an hour talking with Ron Hunt of All About Wine BlogTalkRadio, talking about Joy's JOY of Wine, and, yes - cemeteries ; D
Check out the link for the archived program!
Earth Day is a reminder for all of us to be more aware of how we use our resources on this planet, and to encourage environmental awareness around the world. Earth Day is celebrated every April 22nd  in more than 192 countries.

If you’ve been involved with the hands-on workings of a vineyard or winery then you know that there are a lot of possibilities to make the process more ‘green’. A host of options are available including recycling and reusing, managing energy more efficiently, better soil and water supervision, and enhancing the ecosystem management. 

Many wineries are moving toward sustainable practices by utilizing the 3E’s of sustainability - Environmentally Sound – Economically Feasible – Socially Equitable. 

Sustainable practices help conserve the ecological balance in our world by avoiding the depletion of natural resources. It’s the equivalent of leaving a winery or vineyard in better condition for the next generation, than the land or building was when it was originally developed.  These conditions include better supervision of water management, paying attention to greenhouse gases, and reducing the effects of global warming on the vineyard and winery.

Wineries throughout the world are attempting to become more sustainable. In the state of
California, assistance is available through sustainable winegrowing programs.  The California Sustainable Winegrowing Alliance offers reports and workshops on how to make the winery and vineyard greener. There is also an online self-assessment tool
to determine where your winery falls on the sustainability scale.

SIP Certified is another California program that works with vineyards, and consumers, to help them understand what it takes to become more sustainable.
This includes dealing with pollution levels, managing environmental waste, and finding different ways to protect and rejuvenate the world’s natural resources.

In the wine producing industry, sustainablity can be vineyard practices that conserve and use natural resources such as pest management, soil management, energy efficiency, and water management.

Controling vineyard pests is considered ‘green’ when using sheep to weed the vineyard, providing nesting boxes for birds that feed on vineyard pests, and by physically monitoring the vines for bugs, mold, and fungus.  

Sustainable water management can involve conserving water by using drip irrigation in the vineyard, and utilizing cover crops to help control the soil's water-retaining capacities.
Green energy management practices involve insulating wine tanks to conserve energy.  Wineries across the world are even learning how to harness solar energy and wind energy for their own use.

Winery buildings constructed according to the LEED green building program are another answer. LEED stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, which provides builders with an outline for implementing green designs and construction practices, green building maintenance, and better operation ideas.  LEED buildings are certified as “green buildings” by independent third parties. Currently, over 130 countries recognize and use the LEED program.  In America, it is overseen by the U.S. Green Building Council,

To make winery facilities more sustainable also involves conserving and recycling materials used there.  Returning bulk containers such as plastic barrels and shipping boxes to their suppliers for reuse cuts down on waste. Wineries could also recycle their bottles, corks, cardboard boxes, and wooden barrels.   

Wineries and wine shops can begin to go green by enacting socially responsible business practices. This includes purchasing supplies that are environmentally friendly.  Gift cards could be made from wood and still have a magnetic strip, signature panel and scratch-off bar code. Brochures can be made available by using snap tags and business cards exchanged through a QR (quick response) code that consumers can shoot with their smart phones.

For tasting room and wine shop sustainability, eliminate paper and packaging waste. Instead of paper or plastic bags for wine purchases, cloth wine bag carriers can be sold and customers encouraged to reuse them during their next visit.  Paper receipts can be replaced with electronic receipts.  Tasting notes can be written on white boards in tasting rooms.  If customers want to access the notes, they could find them on the winery web site, or by using their smart phones.

But it's not only wineries and wine shops that can help make the wine industry greener, consumers can also pitch in. 

Each year, U.S. consumers purchase over 300-million cases of wine – that adds up to over 3.5 billion wine bottles!  But only 30% of those bottles are recycled. Check with your local winery to see if they have a wine bottle recycling program in place.  Some wineries will even offer incentives such as free tastings, or a percentage off wine purchases when you bring back your used wine bottles.

Recycling glass bottles at home varies by community.  Wine and beer bottles are considered to be container glass and may be recycled in certain areas.  Check with your department of sanitation and find out more about local recycling guidelines.

Corks are also recyclable.  Some wine shops and wineries already have programs in place. Check with your local wine business to find out.  If not, you can mail your corks to one of these recycling programs:

Cork Forest Conservation Alliance @

There are hundreds of ways the wine industry and the wine consumer can help reduce waste and maintain our natural resources.  If we all do our part, we can build a more sustainable wine industry, and leave the world a better place for the next generation of wine lovers.

~ Joy

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Celebrating Malbec World Day

Join me next Thursday, April 25th at 7 P.M. Eastern time on All About Wine, when I talk with show host, Ron Hunt about Joys JOY of Wine  
Today, April 17th, is the 3rd annual Malbec World Day (MWD).  It was on this day in 1853 that a bill for the foundation of a Quinta Normal and a School of Agriculture was submitted to the Argentinean Provincial Legislature.  The bill became law five months later and led to the development of Argentina’s wine industry.

After the bill passed, Provincial Governor Domingo Faustino Sarmiento hired French agronomist Miguel Pouget to find a grape that would grow well in Argentina’s climate.  Pouget took several European vines back to Argentina and set up an experimental vineyard. The Côt grapes flourished in the higher, drier climate of South America. Over the years, Argentina's interest in Malbec has been on-again, off-again. But during the past 20 years, Malbec has established its self as the country’s best-known varietal.

Malbec grapes are bluish black in color and produce an inky red wine that has robust tannins and the flavors of berries and plums. It was a grape used mainly as a blending wine until Argentina began crafting 100% Malbec wines in the 1990’s. Argentina is now the fifth largest wine producer in the world.

Malbec was also an important grape in France until the killing frost of 1956. This frost killed off 75% of the Bordeaux region’s Malbec vines.  Some vines were replanted, but the grape is now used mainly for blending with Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Tannat.  In France, Malbec grapes are more intense and tannic.

In Argentine, Malbec stands on its own and provides an intense, dark wine with a smooth, silky finish. Argentina has over 76,000 acres (over 31 hectares) planted in Malbec. Eighty-six percent of those plantings are located in Mendoza. Because of the high altitude and favorable growing conditions, Malbec vineyards seldom have problems with molds, fungi or insects.  Therefore, they rarely use pesticides, making organic Malbec wines much easier to produce here.

Besides Argentina, Malbec is also grown in New Zealand, Italy, South Africa, Spain, and various regions in the United States.  The grape is still grown in southern France but has decreased in popularity since 2000.

In 2011, Malbec wine made up 97% of the total bottled wine sold in Argentina.  Over 90% of this wine is sold abroad to 118 countries.  The U.S. alone buys almost 50% of the bottled Malbec wine exported from Argentina.

Young, unoaked Malbec wines should be consumed within a year.  Malbec wines that have been oaked for a few months may be kept for up to 2 to 3 years.  Well oak-aged, robust Malbecs may be cellared for up to ten years. Malbec is a versatile wine that pairs well with beef, pork, goose, BBQ, lamb, and hard cheeses.


Wines of Argentina has declared April 17th Malbec World Day.  The MWD celebration has gained worldwide attention and is celebrated in at least 30 cities around the globe, including New York, Toronto, and Washington in North America.  Other countries taking part include South America, the UK, Africa and China.

To learn more about MWD events, visit or 

So where ever you are today, plan to raise a glass of Malbec in celebration of Malbec World Day, and one tenacious grape.

~ Joy

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Judging Wines - with a Purpose

The results are in for the 13th annual Finger Lakes International Wine Competition held March 23 and 24, in Rochester, New York.  Over 880 wineries received medals during the two-day competition and this year, I was privileged to be one of the judges. 

When competition chairman David Male contacted me last September about being a judge, I was thrilled!  This is a wine competition with a bigger purpose than just awarding medals.

The Finger Lakes International Wine Competition (FLIWC) is a relative new player in the industry.  It came about because of a suggestion by Peter Parts.  Parts, a member of the Camp Good Days and Special Times board, was looking for a way to raise money for the organization.  After hearing about a California wine auction and how much money it raised, Parts decided a wine competition and auction would be a perfect way to raise funds for the camp, and gain publicity for the wines of the Finger Lakes.

The  FLIWC is the largest North American wine competition held for, and by a charity.  That charity is Camp Good Days and Special Times, a not-for-profit organization that provides programs free of charge to children and their families who are battling cancer. Over 43,000 campers from 22 states and 28 foreign countries have attended the camp since 1979.  One hundred percent of the proceeds from the FLIWC, and the resulting Wine Auction Dinner, go to benefit Camp Good Days.  

Over 3,500 wines were entered in the competition this year, a new record. Wines came from all 50 U.S. states, four Canadian Provinces, and twenty countries.  The FLIWC is now the second largest wine competition in the United States.

Sixty-eight wine judges from seventeen states in the U.S., and over fourteen countries including Europe, South Africa, Czech Republic, Slovenia, Israel, and Argentina took part.

The judges had a variety of backgrounds in the industry and included winemakers, sommeliers, enologists, importers, retailers, wine writers, bloggers, wine educators, and consultants. Those selected knew wine, had a passion for it, and enjoyed sharing it.

Each table was made up of four judges.  At Table H, I was fortunate enough to be seated with three wine aficionados who held no guise to being wine experts, although with their wine knowledge and experience, that could have been said of each of them.  Judging with me was author George Taber, wine brand founder Bonnie Villacampa, and Eric Orange, founder and CEO of

If you know much of the history of U.S. wine, you will probably recognize George Taber’s name.  He was the Times Magazine reporter who broke the story that became known as the Judgment of Paris, and put the U.S. wine industry in the game. 

The Paris Wine Competition occurred in May, 1976.  The results rocked the wine world when a California Chardonnay and a California Cabernet each took first place over several revered French wines. The French wine industry was infuriated that two California wineries, with only a few years in the business, could conceivably craft better wines than the French.

George Taber was the only journalist who covered the wine competition. And it was his write-up about the results that brought California and U.S. onto the world stage as winemakers on par with France.  (The movie Bottleshock was loosely based on the competition and results.) 


Bonnie Villacampa is the co-founder of the wine brand Baron de Villacampa in the Rioja Highlands in Spain.  Bonnie was our table captain with good reason.  She holds masters degrees in Oenology, Viticulture, and Wine Marketing.  Bonnie is extremely knowledgeable about wines and understands the different techniques that result in good wine making.

Eric Orange is the founder and developer of the wine and food event website,  Local Wine Events lists food and wine events that are occurring in over 60 countries, including the U.S. Eric is also the Executive Editor of the weekly e-newsletter, the Juice, a wine and food calendar for events in specific areas.

Judging for the FLIWC took place in one large room. Participants at each table discussed the wines after each judge had made a decision. Wines were judged in double blind flights, which means that the judges did not see the brand of wine or know where it came from.

Each wine was judged on its own merit, not by comparison to the other wines in the same flight.  Every judge received a scoring sheet with the wine’s code number listed and the varietal of the wine. 

Judging criteria for each wine included the evaluation of its appearance, aroma, balance, varietal character, and finish.  Each wine was judged for what it was at the time of the judging, not for how it might evolve and what it could become at a later time.  All wines were served in Riedel crystal stemware in flights of eight.

Of the medals given this year, 100 wines received double gold medals.  This means that every judge judging that wine, gave it a gold medal.  Over 170 wines received gold medals.  Just over 1,250 were given silver medals, and over 1,360 wines received bronze medals.

Once the judging was completed, a select panel reviewed the winners in the Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Riesling and Ice Wine categories. From these the "Best of the Best" was decided on.

This year the "Best of" winners were:
Best Cabernet Sauvignon – Merriam Vineyards of California

Best Chardonnay – Bogle Vineyards of California

Best Riesling – Chateau Fontaine of Michigan

Best Ice Wine – Znovin Znojmo of the Czech Republic

But this competition would not take place without the assistance of over 150 hard working volunteers.  These people are the backbone of the event.  They are the ones who receive the wines, categorize them, transport them to the judging location, and set up the back room for the competition.

Once the competition begins, the volunteers work in a separate room, staging wine flights, making sure each glass has the correct code number on it to match the judging sheets.  They deliver the wines to the judging tables, clear past wines, keep track of completed score sheets, tabulate results, and when a is re-pour is requested, make sure it comes from a second, unopened bottle.

And if that isn’t enough, they also keep the judges in fresh supply of water, olives, crackers, and napkins, along with emptying spit cups and buckets, washing glasses, and preparing new wine flights.  And they do this over and over for two days, working together to make it all run smoothly.

Once the judging is over, volunteers prepare for the Camp Good Days Wine Auction Dinner.  This event is held about a month after the wine competition -This year on Saturday, May 4th.  The dinner will be held at the Rochester Plaza and Hotel & Conference Center in Rochester, New York.  Tickets are $150 per person and all proceeds from the Wine Auction Dinner go to Camp Good Days and Special Times.

After three days of wining, dining, meeting new friends, and judging some of the best wines in the world, it was time to head back to the ‘normal life’ of a wine writer and blogger.   

Leaving, I took away not only a sense of accomplishment and regard at having tasted some of the best crafted wines in the world; I also took away a sense of humility for having been a tiny part of an event that will help children from all over the world go to camp this summer, and for those few days, let them forget their battles with cancer - and just be kids.

~ Joy