Thursday, January 19, 2012

Wine Travel Really is Work

The wine industry spends a lot of money worldwide to promote brands, regions, and wine tourism. One of the many ways the wine industry invests is press trips.

Depending on when you read this column, I’m either in France or just returned from a press trip.
Friends, co-workers, and acquaintances really lay it on thick when I’m off on one of these jaunts. I visited Paso Robles, CA. in 2010 and Mendocino County, CA. in January 2011.

The picture of a bunch of wine geeks with noses in a glass pontificating on aroma, finish, and terrior isn’t far off. And anyone who has ever taken such a trip will tell you it’s a pleasure to visit the regions and be given the royal treatment. The wine, food, and lodging are normally first class.

There are some ground rules almost every wine writer or journalist follows. First, there is no quid pro quo. Most marketing firms are pros who understand no journalist is going to promise to write specific stories or a story at all. It’s the same as free wine samples, which I do receive, there is no guarantee I’m going to write about the wine or certainly that I’m even going to like it.

But my response when approached by these trip planners is fairly simple. I write this column every other week for 18 newspapers. I have a wine blog, write for a quarterly magazine based in Anderson, In., and contribute a handful of stories each year to Palate Press – the National Online Wine Magazine. I have a lot of mouths to feed. I need content.

Chatting with Don Lange during a 2011 summer visit.
Such trips open my eyes to new wines in new regions and most importantly new ideas. Today’s column is the No. 85 since I started Grape Sense in October, 2009. That’s not counting more than 500 blog entries, two years of magazine stories and about a dozen major stories for Palate Press

But that image of the wine geeks around the table being wined and dined isn’t totally accurate. On some trips the day is scheduled 8 or 9 a.m. until 10 or 11 p.m. Two winery visits in the morning and three more in the afternoon. That means five wineries times six to eight wines a visit to be tasted. A side note, you do learn how to judge and appreciate wine employing the spitting method.

My Jan 21-27 trip to Montpellier, France is something new for me. It’s my first wine junket abroad and it’s centered on the 19th annual Mill├ęsime Bio - the world’s largest organic wine fair. All the wineries in attendance produce wine from organically grown grapes. It’s a private trade event where nearly 600 wineries pour wines for importers, wholesalers, and others who get it to retail shelves. 

There is a pre-conference program to educate the journalists on the organic movement in France and I’ve been set up with a fabulous full day of winery visits Jan. 26 before I return home. On that Thursday I’m lucky to talk to some of the founders and leaders of the French organic wine movement which dates back to the 1960s.

So all that’s great for the wine writer but what’s it all mean for the reader? I think it adds credibility to my wine writing. It greatly expands my knowledge base. It allows me to tell readers to try the powerful and balanced red wines of Paso Robles that come at half the cost of Napa Valley. It allows me to recommend Pinot Noir and Zinfandel from Mendocino that will blow you away. And after this trip, I’m going to know a lot more about organic wines and how the movement is improving the environment while providing a truly natural product.

I think that’s a pretty powerful message.

I will be blogging daily from Montpellier. Follow along at: or go back and read those posts. I’ll also be doing updates throughout each day on Twitter:!/howardhewitt

Italy's Favorite White Wine

Winter is the time for hearty food and bold wines. But every once in a while a change of pace brightens the day.

Two bottles of Italian Soave reminded me why the wine really hits the spot on hot summer days and how it serves as a refresher during the months of Syrah, Cabernet, and Zinfandel.

But first, a little background. Travelers to Italy often visit Tuscany and the Piedmont wine regions. But Soave wine country, located in the north eastern part of the country near Verona, offers beautiful vistas, a historic castle, and a wonderfully drinkable wine.

Soave is made from the Garganega grape, new to many wine drinkers. Soave wines can be 100 percent Garganega or blended with Trebbiano or Chardonnay. The wine has a delightful fresh and smooth feel on the palate with good structure and hints of citrus.

Soave has been around for years. It’s usually quite inexpensive and easy to find. Soave is also growing in popularity.  The Italian Wine Commission reports Soave exports to the United States increased by more than 20 percent from 2009 to 2010. 

“The microclimates and diverse terroir in the Soave production zone give our wines unique personalities with balanced structures, beautiful bouquets and fresh acidity,” Giovanni Ponchia, a Soave Consortium oenologist, said in a recent press release. “Our wines are versatile, great to drink fresh and they pair well with international cuisines.”

In addition to the overall category growth, the number of Soave producers selling their wines in the US grew by 16 percent.

The other interesting press note was that Italian Soave producers have been convinced in recent years that young American wine drinkers just didn’t know much about its wines.

Furthermore, the so-called wine trade (or wine writers, distributors, retailers) just didn’t think much it. A concerted marketing effort seems to have changed all that.

Soave is planted on the southern slopes of the Lessini Mountains on the southern edge of the Italian Alps.

There are three different types of Soave:
-          Soave DOC, which includes the sub-zones of Soave Classico and Soave Colli Scaligeri
-          Soave Superiore DOCG (2001) which also includes wines with the “Riserva” designation
-          Recioto di Soave DOCG (1998) a dessert wine not often found in the US

“The world is starting to embrace this complex yet easy-to-drink, food-friendly white wine,” said Aldo Lorenzoni, director of the Soave Consortium. “Enjoyed and highly regarded for centuries in Italy, we are eager to educate wine drinkers in America about the quality, elegance and romance of Soave wines.”

Soave is my favorite vacation wine. I discovered it a few years ago on a hot Florida beach. It should be easy to find and as inexpensive as most supermarket wines. It is a big change from the traditional Chardonnays and Sauvignon Blancs.

Soave wines are great for seafood and shell fish, grilled vegetables, some chicken and pork dishes.

Howard’s Picks:

The Suave Consortium sent two bottles of Soave for consideration. Bolla’s Soave Classico would probably be the easiest to find at a wine shop, liquor store, or even market. It has hints of pear and honey, light to medium bodied with alcohol at about 13 percent.

Re Midas 2009 Soave – This was outstanding Soave wine, one of the best I’ve ever tasted. It’s 100 percent Garganega grown on the hillsides of the village of Soave. It was very bright with citrus, mineral, and a nice lingering finish. The alcohol was 12 percent. SRP $9.99

Howard Hewitt, Crawfordsville, IN., writes about wine every other week for 18 Midwestern newspapers. Visit his wine blog at: