Through the Grapevine

Don Quixote's Grape Trail

March 23, 2014

While I usually focus on great American vineyards, the wine trade is, after all global, and like many of you, that fits well within my personal interests, too.  As they say, the world is your oyster!   So, I thought that I would share some thoughts and insights into a region that produces 6% of the global grape supply, and happens to be the biggest single wine region in the world – Castilla-La Mancha, Spain.  To give a little perspective, this one region in Spain has about the same amount of vineyard acres as all of the USA combined.

(Photo by: ICRDO La Mancha )

Castilla - La Mancha is perhaps best known as home to the famous Don Quixote character immortalized by Cervantes.   Thankfully many of the historic, stately white windmills of this region, (that Don Quixote battled believing them to be dangerous monsters), still exist today.   Residents and wine adventure travelers alike enjoy these picturesque, regional landmarks that evoke vivid memories of the past.

Geralyn Brostrom (Photo by: ) Geralyn Brostrom

Recently, I was invited to participate in a seminar and tasting at the 2014 Castilla-La Mancha US Wine Tour here in DC.  The DC stop for the local wine trade was led by Georgetown University alum, world renowned wine expert and co-editor of the award winning book “The Business of Wine,” Geralyn Brostrom.  

You may be surprised to hear that DC is often included on a very short list of the more strategically important US wine markets for those exporting to the country, I mean, given the relative population size DC has as compared to the other cities targeted like New York, Chicago, San Francisco and Miami.  The only smaller strategic market across the USA for wine trade events now seems to be Las Vegas.  That city has dramatically changed from being very average wine town, to now having the highest concentration of Master Sommeliers in the world.

(Photo by: Gregoire Poirier)

Spanish wines, generally speaking, and those from Castilla-La Mancha in particular, offer some of the great values for quality wines that you will find anywhere in the world.  There are currently nine separate Denominacion de Origen or DO’s in this wine region (Appellations of Origin) of the like in the USA we have no true equivalent.  This is something our non-profit, The American Grand Cru Society ®, is focused on changing! 

Like the old world in general, there are many Spanish wine varietals that are not too familiar to most Baby Boomers and Gen X-ers in DC.  Thankfully, this is starting to change, driven by the range of interest among younger and typically more adventurous DC wine consumers. 

(Photo by: Gregoire Poirier)

I’ll share some insight to a great and representative producer (meaning anything they make are good to great) as well as a bargain priced red Tempranillo available at the Whole Foods locally right now! 

At this tasting event, unfortunately all too many of the wines being offered to our market from Spain are the same familiar French varietals, although sometimes blended with more traditional Spanish ones. (Yes, Spain does have a long relationship with the French wine trade so that legacy is long-standing). More interestingly, however, are the native Spanish varietals that can be equally amazing like Tempranillo, Monastrell, Graciano for reds or Airen, Malvasia, Verdeho for example as whites. (The value proposition of quality to price can reward you greatly if you do allow yourself to pursue wines made from these other great varietals!)

Dominio De Punctum Owner and General Manager Jesus Fernandez Visits DC (Photo by: Gregoire Poirier) Dominio De Punctum Owner and General Manager Jesus Fernandez Visits DC

Also, there is an impressive and growing presence of certified organic and even Demeter certified bio-dynamic wines coming from this region in Spain.  In fact, there are now over 118,000 acres of organic and biodynamic vineyards in the Castilla-La Mancha wine region today.  I would bet that this impressive and growing commitment, combined with great price points, and excellent wines, will help position this region of Spain as a major success story exporting to the DC market, in general, and the US market overall for many years to come.  

Favorite producer worth asking for at your favorite DC wine retailer: Dominio De Punctum

Wines are all made from either certified organic or Demeter certified bio-dynamic estate vineyards.

These were amazing and could recommend about anything you can find from this producer. Some of their labels include Viento Aliseo and Finca Fabian.

(Photo by: ICRDO La Mancha)

Look for this logo on the back of the bottle for wines from Castilla La Mancha (Photo by: ICRDO La Mancha ) Look for this logo on the back of the bottle for wines from Castilla La Mancha


Best local bargain find was a Vino De La Tierra De Castilla 2012 Tempranillo called PALLAS, available at Whole Foods. (Although each store has its own buyer, any store can place and order.  I found this offer at the P Street Store for only $6.99 a bottle!)

To your great health and happiness~


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Still the Best Crêpe in Paris?

October 28, 2013

Whenever in Paris, I love to visit Rue Cler – a quaint area of the city in the 7th arrondissement.  Back in 1996, a little crêpe stand on Rue Cler was identified by culinary great Marion Cunningham as, “The Best Crêpe in Paris.”  The restaurateur, originally from Greece, worked his crêpes stand almost every day for 19 years, serving visitors and locals alike with distinction. He was set!  After all, he got to live in Paris – undoubtedly one of the greatest living cities of the world - and was designated as “Best” in that city!  Now, his best friend and previous business partner, (also from Greece), runs the crêpe stand from his restaurant Ulysee en Gaule, also on Rue Cler, just a few steps away from the original site.     

Le Bristol Paris Lemon Sorbet (Photo by: Gregoire Poirier) Le Bristol Paris Lemon Sorbet
Paris is just one of those places that is truly very special.  If it isn’t obvious, I am a Francophile, and love the city of Paris.   This spectacular city was virtually leveled and rebuilt during the 19th century by Napoleon III, great nephew to the more famous Napoleon Bonaparte.   Napoleon III had a purpose which was to re-make Paris as the most pleasurable and livable city in the world.  (Napoleon III also convened the 1855 Paris World’s Fair which among many innovations also gave birth to the famous Bordeaux Wine Classification of 1855).  

Le Bristol Paris Chef Sommelier MS Marco Pelletier (Photo by: Courtesy Le Bristol Paris) Le Bristol Paris Chef Sommelier MS Marco Pelletier

The design and master plan of Paris still produces fantastic results today.  Paris gives everything one could want in a pleasurable urban walking, shopping, dining or simply good living lifestyle – whether you are visiting, live there and have a good job, have a successful local business, or you happen to be one of the .01% that can afford to live in the most exclusive neighborhoods or one of the a handful of the world’s finest 5 star hotels. 

Speaking of best in Paris, I recently had the pleasure of re-visiting Paris and was royally entertained at Le Bristol Paris, a Parisian Palace Hotel in the 8th arrondissement – and now the city’s leading 5 star hotel!  

Le Bristol Paris General Manager Leah Marshall (Photo by: Attie Poirier) Le Bristol Paris General Manager Leah Marshall

For many years, the George Cinq, a Four Seasons hotel, enjoyed that distinction and is still an amazing hotel in its own right.  More recently, though, Le Bristol Paris has claimed every title and accolade for 5-star hotels in Paris. The reason for this change is simpler than you might think in my view.  The core leadership team which had delivered the very successful run at the George Cinq has reunited, and is now working for the Oetker family who has long owned Le Bristol Paris as its flagship to the Oetker Collection of Masterpiece Hotels.  While always a leader in the coveted best in class category, together, the leadership team working with the passionately engaged owner have re-made and re-positioned Le Bristol Paris once again as “the” finest hotel in this magnificent city. 

While most of the world’s leading hotels struggle to balance world class service and standards without unnecessary pretension, that is not so at the Bristol.  The General Manager of the Bristol is Leah Marshall, one of the world’s most accomplished hoteliers.  She and her staff have created a friendly, high service oriented atmosphere, without the need for any added pretention.  Together, they have become the best in the city, and truly bring xenia, the art of hospitality, to all their guests and visitors.

Le Bristol Paris Chef Barman Maxime Hoerth (Photo by: Courtesy Le Bristol Paris) Le Bristol Paris Chef Barman Maxime Hoerth

The Bristol has two extraordinary restaurants and that have both earned coveted Michelin star  ratings, a beautiful garden dining area called Le Jardin and one of the most happening bars in the city, The Bar at Le Bristol.  They are all under the guidance of Michelin-three starred Executive Chef Eric Frechon.  Along with the outdoor terrace, The Bar at Le Bristol artfully blends high tech innovation with classic French design.  The mirror which is located behind the bar, even displays seemingly live shots of some of Paris’ most famous sites with some innovative technology.  All of the members of the staff are extremely knowledgeable, and have won many awards – whether it is in mixology for the Chef Barman Maxime Hoerth, or the world renowned wine program led by Master Sommelier Marco Pelletier. 

On our tour of the kitchens, Chef Frechon was ever present and charming.  The Pastry Chef delighted us with a quick demonstration of a lemon sorbet by using a lemon shaped mold and dry ice.  Not only was it delicious, it was beautiful to behold! 

The Bristol is all fine a good, but what about the best crepes in Paris, you ask?  Well, if you are lucky enough to find it – and you do have to look – the same crepes that Marion Cunningham dubbed as the “Best in Paris” still exist.  Now, it is the original recognized crepe makers’ best friend who prides himself with making crepes from the exact same recipe, with just the right amount of fresh squeezed lemon juice subtly added, and using the same original crepe stand.  I had more servings than I care to admit during my last visit to Paris, and yes, they are undeniably the Best Crepes in Paris! 

ps My personal favorite is a savory galette (a crêpe made with buckwheat flour) with bananas, cinnamon and a just bit of sweet brown cane sugar.  C’est magnifique!

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Sustainability in the Wine Industry

September 12, 2013

Sustainability as a term is now all around us, but what does this really mean.  The Wine Industry like others based on agriculture has well embedded market messaging these days about sustainability, with growing emphasis on the balance and healthy use of the land and processes to make the final wine product as an example.  While there are producers and wine growers who are absolutely following this path with passion very successfully, not all who are talking the talk are walking the walk.  This article serves to both introduce our new Sustainability Advisor to the American Grand Cru Society Sandra Taylor, and to share areas of importance from one of the world’s leading authorities about the subject of Sustainability in the Wine Industry. 

Grégoire M. Poirier, Founder, The American Grand Cru Society


My story is a journey that has taken me through different jobs and changing views about what corporate social responsibility (CSR) means to me, a journey that parallels the transformation of what CSR means to the rest of the world.

After several years in government,  I went to work in the chemical industry. This was the 1990s.  The Exxon Valdez spill had happened, so companies had the idea that it wasn’t smart to dump 11 million gallons of oil in a wildlife habitat.  But beyond that, companies weren’t paying a lot of attention to what we call social responsibility today.  When they did think of social responsibility, it was in the context of crises like the Exxon spill: social responsibility was basically restitution for bad things you had done.

Pontet Canet Pauillac (Photo by: Sandra E. Taylor with permission of winemaker) Pontet Canet Pauillac

If you hadn’t done anything wrong, there was nothing to worry about.

Fast forward to the 21st century - sustainability has become a common part of the business lexicon.  As an executive at Starbucks overseeing the integration of corporate responsibility into all business strategies, I experienced a new phase of CSR – that is, taking the principles of treating people and the planet well and integrating them across the entire supply chain and into everything a business does. The goal is to make sure future generations are not negatively impacted by decisions we ake today. Businesses now focuson the‘triple‐bottom‐line’of balancing economic, environental and social diensions of sustainability -- addressing the concerns of both internal and external stakeholders: the physical environment, job security, workplace environment for eployees, relationships with community andthe abilityof business to remain viable and profitable.

Today I apply this knowledge to the wine sector, researching what motivates sustainability in the wine industry around the world.

The sustainability performance of the wine windustry does not receive as much media coverage as some other industries. Nevertheless, environmental stewardship in winegrowing--responsible use of persticides and herbicides, fertilizers, management of scarce water resources, soil erosion, and solid and organic waste, in addition to the overuse of of available tracts of land-- has received much attention. Many wines have been produced and sold as organic certified or biodynamic.

Many external factors motivate sustainability in the wine sector; including effects of the environment on the winemaking process and the effect climate change can have on crops. Different varieties of grapes used for winemaking must be grown within certain average temperature margins in order for them to achieve adequate maturity.

Thus, climate change could potentially lead to the creation of new vineyards in areas that are currently unusable due to their harsh climates and will dramatically impact many of the most famous wine-producing regions in the world today, while prompting the opening of new areas to wine production in unusual places.

Vineyard in Canterbury, New Zealand (Photo by: Vineyard in Canterbury, New Zealand

Five Wine Sustainability Programs Around the Globe

In response to increasing concerns from consumers, government regulators, retailers and other stakeholders, national and regional wine industry associations around the globe have developed and promoted various environmental management systems or sustainability systems to their members. The systems typically foster improved environmental health, with some also having a focus on increased social responsibility and economic viability. Notable among these are systems in Bordeaux, California, Chile, New Zealand and South Africa designed to bring wine suppliers into the sustainability process.  While these systems vary due to local climatic, environmental and social conditions they  are all based on legal requirements, significant stakeholder concern, environmental and social impact, economic feasibility, potential risk to the company and certification to vineyards and wineries for compliance, and typically cover:

·         Soil Management

·         Viticulture

·         Vineyard Water Management

·         Pest Management

·         Wine Quality

·         Ecosystem Management

·         Bio-diversity and Wildlife Protection

·         Energy Efficiency

·         Winery Water Conservation & Quality

·         Material Handling

·         Solid Waste Reduction

·         Environmentally preferred purchasing

·         Human Resources

·         Neighbors & Community

·         Air Quality

In the process of my research on sustainability I had the opportunity to visit wineries in these regions, interview their winemakers and taste a selection of their  wines, all produced sustainably. 

In the Pauillac appellation of Bordeaux, Pontet-Canet has one of the largest productions of any classified growth in the Medoc. Grapes are harvested by hand at Pontet-Canet, (Photo by: Sandra E. Taylor with permsiion of winemaker) In the Pauillac appellation of Bordeaux, Pontet-Canet has one of the largest productions of any classified growth in the Medoc. Grapes are harvested by hand at Pontet-Canet,

Chateau Pontet-Canet

 Jean Michel Comme, Technical Director of Chateau Ponet-Canet is following a biodynamic approach to produce sustainable wine. “This is more than a program or technique,“ he said. “It’s a philosophy of life, a vision of nature. It doesn’t compete with nature. When there is a problem with the vine, we need to know why the fungus erupted and became a disease. We need to understand the disease and protect the plant, not just kill the disease. Biodynamic is active and efficient and improves the quality of the grape and therefore of the wine, allowing you to make more money.”

Andre Lurton Wines

Like many Bordeaux producers, Andre Lurton has its own well-established sustainability program involving balanced fertilization, biodiversity preservation, water management, health and safety and employee communications. But in addition it has joined in the recently launched 1st Association of EMS for Bordeaux wines, a unique program of cooperation and shared risks among 24 Bordeaux producers.

Trefethen Family Vineyards

The Trefethen family has worked to preserve agricultural lands in California since in 1968, and has become a model for sustainability in Napa.  It farms with a biodynamic approach, implements nearly all-organic practices  and all facilities and operations are solar powered. It has a water strategy for reuse and recycling in the winery, capturing rainwater and almost never using virgin water from its nearby creeks. Marketing its sustainability story to customers, especially its wine club members, has created loyalty among customers who appreciate the high quality wine and the traditions of environmental preservation and family ownership.

Elqui Valley is Chile’s northernmost commercially viable wine-producing valley.  It has long been known for its table grapes, papayas and other fruits, but it has recently getting attention for its world class Syrah and Sauvignon Blanc. (Photo by: Elqui Valley is Chile’s northernmost commercially viable wine-producing valley. It has long been known for its table grapes, papayas and other fruits, but it has recently getting attention for its world class Syrah and Sauvignon Blanc.


Caliterra is a leader in developing Chile’s sustainability program and one of the first companies to be certified. Market forces led them to pursue sustainability. The Chilean program emerged from a growing awareness of international consumers for environmentally friendly and socially responsible products. In particular a shift in purchasing practices by Nordic governments requiring stricter standards for accountability pushed Chile to move forward with the launch of its Sustainability Code.

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