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24 Sep

The snobbery with which many Europeans view US wines is proving stubbornly resistant to change.

Despite monumental tastings, competitions, and positive changes in winemaking philosophy, Europeans still can’t seem to fully wrap their heads around American wine.

Even with the rise of high-quality producers in California, Oregon, Washington, and other American growing regions, the same negative stereotypes seem to prevail. So the question remains – in the mind of the European consumer, will American wines ever really be “as good” as those produced closer to home?

“American wines are still regarded as mass and huge production wines,” says Gregor Greber, owner of Zurich-based Napa Wine. Greber believes that although consumer awareness is starting to change, education on the subject is still needed. Earlier this year, Greber’s company hosted its own “Judgment of Zurich” tasting – and the results were surprisingly in favor of the States; five wines from Napa took the top slots amongst the group of tasters.

Greber’s importing business and restaurant, Napa Grill, focuses exclusively on wines from Napa. “The restaurant really gives the wines a true home. It’s a place for people to discover – and fall in love with – Napa Cabernet.”

Yet somehow, the stereotypes still remain. In Norway, Pal Dahle, owner of Tramontane Vinimport, notes that many people still regard American wines as “lower quality” than European wines.

“Part of this is due to history,” he explains. “The wines that drifted into Norway (and Europe as a whole) 15-20 years ago were indeed of inferior quality.” Dahle explains that while this is currently changing, regaining consumers’ interest takes time. “There is an enormous amount of American winemakers making wines in an Old-World style these days, that is, early harvest, low alcohol, high acid, etc. Quality is increasing steadily and the price is still fair.”

Dahle currently works with 12 different American wineries that he believes represents this style, including Kutch Wines, Black Sheep Finds, and Rhys Vineyards.

“Europeans actually view American wines as a luxury product – I’m saying this on behalf of the British market,” says Michael Sager, owner of London based wine bar Sager + Wilde. “This is because of the strong work done by IPOB and Jon Bonné in the past, as well as the work of Roberson Wines and Flint Wines as importers. They changed the perception of California wine post-Robert Parker.”

Sager explains, however, that many British consumers have come to compare the value (or lack thereof) of American wines to that of Burgundy, in that they are almost seen as “worse value” due to their rising prices. “This is why the third wave of natural and affordable US wine will be quintessential to the overall perception of US wines,” he states. Sager works with the wines of Domaine de la Côte and Sandhi (Rajat Parr & Sashi Moorman), Pax Mahle, Jaimee Motley, Steve Matthiasson, Abe Schoener, and more.

Keith Kirkpatrick, buyer at Roberson Wine, feels that Europeans’ inferior views of American wines isn’t just exclusive to America. “As a whole, I would say Europeans from winemaking countries view US wines as lower quality, but that would be the same for wines from anywhere else in the world, even other regions of their own country!”

He finds that, historically, there has been a view that US wine is either mass produced and low value or very expensive (100-pointers) and meant for collection, with nothing for the average consumer in between. “At Roberson, [we] show the huge variety of wines from small and medium-sized producers that sit in this middle ground and offer the best quality and value. Hopefully we have helped change this view at least in the UK.”

© Shutterstock
| The perception of US wine in Europe is that they are two-dimensional and over-extracted.

Kirkpatrick believes that there are certainly wines from the States that do indeed rival some of Europe’s best, both in terms of quality and value. However, it took some personal experience for him to form that opinion. “It was not until I started to spend time with the winemakers in California and explore the different terroirs for myself that I really understood the incredible potential of US wines.”

He also notes American producers are much more keen to work the market and sell their than Europeans producers, which is beginning to give them traction both on wine lists and online. Kirkpatrick finds that less-strict appellation laws also work in American winemakers’ favor. “[These producers] also have much more freedom to change quickly and react to market trends – so they have the opportunity to continue to grab the attention of the consumer and steal more market share,” he explains.

Totte Steneby, senior wine specialist at Zachys Wine Auctions, worked the floor as a sommelier in Stockholm as of 2007. In addition to running his own import company and sommelier education program, he also consults for a handful of California wineries. “I still think the average [European] consumer has a lot to learn about American wines,” Steneby says. “The stereotypical American styles seem to be what consumers gravitate towards, [which are also] the same styles that people who dislike American wine think is the norm.” Steneby feels that sommeliers in Sweden tend to be more confident in “classic” styles of American wines, which hinders them from tasting more progressive bottles. “There’s only a handful of sommeliers in Sweden who put in the effort of expanding their knowledge base and palate when it comes to American wines,” he says.

Steneby reveals that he has spent at least one month in California every year since 2015, which has greatly helped him to understand the versatility in styles/grape varieties in the United States. “These wines should be held to a high regard,” he firmly states. “For the curious-minded, there’s a lot of exciting [bottles] to be found.” He feels that, at the end of the day, the cost of American wine is their downfall. “Unfortunately, the domestic US market is strong on American wine and prices reflect that. A wine from Europe is, in most cases, cheaper for us here then the ‘same’ wine from US. That said, there are bargains to be had at every price level and of course very exciting wines. You just have to read and listen to know what’s going on.”

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the French as a whole don’t seem to be nearly as progressive in their opinions towards American wine. “For us buyers, American wines are too powerful and extracted. Finding quality often means expensive,” says Jan Bussière, owner Vins Urbains wine bar in Bordeaux. “[Certain] selections have a different approach (finesse, delicacy, etc.) but only on micro-cuvées.”

Victor Vautier of Early June restaurant in Paris agrees. “[In France], American wines have a high price and little visibility on the quality,” he says. Vautier notes that consumers’ perceptions of American wines have been slightly degraded by the classic stereotypes (noting “super oaky, only classic grape varieties used, etc.” as a few.) However, he recalls a unique experience with Lewandowski wines that personally changed his mind. “The wine was very good, but I imagine that it’s not representative of the American wine scene.”

Jules Deloffre, an off-premise buyer at Saint-Germain-en-Laye’s Cémiyon (located just outside of Paris) actually finds American wines to be very good New World selections. However, their image isn’t always viewed that way by his customers. “American wines aren’t ‘foreign’ enough to be considered exotic in a French wine store,” he says.

Deloffre also notes that France’s negative view of American gastronomy is additionally unhelpful in changing consumers’ minds about the perception of the country’s wines. “When my customers come back from Argentina or Chile, they talk to me about wines. When they come back from the United States, very rarely, do they talk about the wine.”

Fabien Suquet, chief sommelier at Experimental Group, also has a good perception of American wines, though he credits this to living in the States for three years. He finds that the French are now more interested in learning about American wines than ever, though price and “psychological barriers’ ” remain problematic.

“The French will order a bottle between €30 and €60 [$33-65] without advice, generally based on a grape that they already know but, beyond a recommendation, guidance is definitely necessary,” he explains. Suquet suggests that French wine bars offer American wines by the glass, as this creates a gateway for consumers to learn about new vineyards they may not have tried. “American wines are progressing enormously, leaving the notion of grape behind and putting more emphasis on the place of origin and terroir,” he says.

However, Mathilde Goujat, buyer at Paris’ famed Cherche-Midi sums it up best, and perhaps represents the most stereotypical image of French consumers’ relationship with American wines – he doesn’t work with them at all.

“They’re oaky, very concentrated, and lack acidity,” he says. “Not very good.”

Credit: Source link

24 Sep

Confident women have always been easy targets for ridicule. Women are used to having their credentials questioned, their appearance judged, and men given credit for their accomplishments. Even supposedly forward-thinking men are guilty of this deeply-ingrained casual sexism; recently so, Chris Funari, formerly of Brewbound.

The longtime editor of one of beer’s most influential publications was terminated from his position after he publicly ridiculed a number of beer influencers on a now-deleted segment of episode 44 of the Brewbound Podcast. Funari referred to a recent ‘best of’ list of beer influencers, making belittling comments about several accounts that he described as “chicks … in low-cut tops with beer,” going on to tell the women, “don’t make it so obvious.” (I’ll assume that when he says ‘it’, he means flaunting their bodies and sexuality publicly.)

Some rose to defend him, calling his termination over this incident “a waste” when considering his overall journalistic chops. Others, like Cat Wolinski for VinePair, supported the influencers Funari named, proclaiming: “all members of the beer community should be able to present themselves however they choose, so long as they’re not hurting anybody; it’s not up to us to dictate what’s best for anyone else.”

Clown Shoes, Tramp StampClown Shoes, Tramp Stamp

More and more conversations are covering the troublesome history that beer has with women.

Dominion Brewing, Double DDominion Brewing, Double DDominion Brewing, Double D

I tend to be less than thrilled when men decide to police women’s bodies. But as a woman covering the craft beer scene, I also struggle with the residual impact that hypersexual content from beer influencers has on how the world may view me in the same space. With more and more conversations covering the troublesome history that beer has with women while acknowledging the potential damage this new genre of social media interaction can have on all women, I’ve come to realise one important truth: it’s complicated.

A FEMEN protest at the Palais-Royal, ParisA FEMEN protest at the Palais-Royal, ParisA FEMEN protest at the Palais-Royal, Paris

FEMEN, a female activist group seeking to ‘complete victory over patriarchy’, use their bodies to protest at the Palais-Royal, Paris

When I was first asked to write about the influencer phenomenon in craft beer, I said no. I didn’t know any of these so-called beer influencers, and I certainly didn’t follow any on social media. My initial thought was: why would I go out of my way to spotlight women actively perpetuating negative stereotypes of women in beer?

But my feminist spidey-sense tingled. Freedom of self-expression, including sexuality, can and should be celebrated as an empowering act for women who choose to engage in their own versions of it. Many women proudly consent to publicly pose nude in the name of feminist liberation; to conquer feelings of vulnerability; to promote body positivity; or to counter the slut-shaming pressures society places on all women.

If I support women reclaiming autonomy over the way they’re perceived by the world, even if it differs from the way I wish to be viewed, why wouldn’t my attitude extend to women beer influencers?

For context, I personally define ‘influencers’ as social media personalities working to cultivate relationships and possibly monetise said relationships in a specific industry. They are often women, often white, but sometimes neither. They tend to have thousands of followers and actively engage with them through very stylised, high-quality composed photographs posted on a regular (often daily) basis. And——this is important——they may or may not actually work in said industry.

I agreed to meet with two of the most recognisable beer influencers on Instagram: Megan of @isbeeracarb (26.2k followers) and Melis of @thegirlwithbeer, 77.2k followers), who both happen to live in the same town as me. They also both happen to be women. Over the course of our hour-long interview, I ran through my standard questions about their backgrounds, how they got into beer, what they like about it, and so on. Finally, I got to what I assumed would be the crux of the interview, basically: “do you think it’s okay to post sexually suggestive images to promote an industry that’s historically been problematic towards its depiction of and relationship with women?”

Megan, aka @isbeeracarbMegan, aka @isbeeracarbMegan, aka @isbeeracarb

Megan, aka @isbeeracarb.

Melis, aka @thegirlwithbeerMelis, aka @thegirlwithbeerMelis, aka @thegirlwithbeer

Melis, aka @thegirlwithbeer.

Their answers revealed my own misguided prejudices towards their endeavours. They’re open about the fact that their shared ambition is to leverage their accounts as professional tools to create relationships and grow in the beer industry. Both women already work in beer (Megan is a brewer, Melis works at a brewery doing marketing and PR), so they clearly have passion and expertise to justify their roles as influencers to those, like Funari, who would question it.

I’m no fan of sexist, racist, misogynistic, or otherwise harmful ploys for attention dressed up as a marketing plan. But to collectively decide that the professional contributions women make to the craft beer community can be dismissed because they decided to challenge the narrative their bodies are solely for male consumption is lazy at best. Hugely offensive at worst.



Lily Waite, a UK-based beer writer, activist, and the founder of The Queer Brewing Project, has given exhaustive context to what’s sexy and what’s sexist in her essay The Male Gueuze — Cantillon, Cabaret, and Context for Good Beer Hunting. In the conversation about influencers’ roles and responsibilities in the industry, she weighs the benefits of women being able to choose how they’re portrayed against the reinforcement of the existing “sexist feedback loop” beer remains entrenched in.

Since its inception, beer has excused——if not actively perpetuated——inappropriate behaviour as part of a white male-dominated culture.Since its inception, beer has excused——if not actively perpetuated——inappropriate behaviour as part of a white male-dominated culture.Since its inception, beer has excused——if not actively perpetuated——inappropriate behaviour as part of a white male-dominated culture.

Since its inception, beer has excused——if not actively perpetuated——inappropriate behaviour as part of a white male-dominated culture.

“I think that there’s nothing remotely sexist about a woman choosing to use her body however she wants: that choice is hers and hers alone to make, and as such, is inherently empowering … [but] it’s impossible to look at female representation and the use of female bodies in relation to beer without considering the historical prevalence of sexism, and the history of explicitly sexist marketing used to sell beer,” says Waite.

Beer has long churned out sexist and often misogynistic beer labels, going as far back as the early 20th century. Since its inception, beer has excused——if not actively perpetuated——inappropriate behaviour as part of a white male-dominated culture. But as more people come forward with stories of sexual harassment and flagrant sexism, organisations like the Brewers Association and the Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA) in the UK are finally taking a stand against degrading marketing campaigns.

This history of women being portrayed as objects for the titillation of men is where the rub lies for today’s woke beer drinker when faced with some influencer imagery. But breaking down what individuals find empowering versus what a social group——in influencing’s case, mostly women——may find exploitative is key when diving into the intricacies of the influencer conversation.

“I consent to post these photos of myself,” explains Melis. She knows that showcasing her curves and savvy makeup skills isn’t going to be for everyone. “I understand that there will be some backlash or some negative feedback, and that’s totally fine. You can’t please everyone … but I get to decide what goes out there.”



Women are already more likely to be harassed online than men, and that ratio is increasing. Megan and Melis, along with many other women who interact on internet platforms, have numerous horror stories that include online trolls creating cruel memes of them, and strangers showing up at their jobs. They both strategically conceal certain information to minimise these types of encounters.

With that in mind, I wonder: is influencing worth it?

“The craft beer community is a cruel place for women,” sighs Megan. But she admits, “it’s worth it to me because part of my goal is to help other women out in this industry, in general, and especially in production. It’s a goal of mine to help normalise it in a sense.” Melis agrees. “It’s brought me so much more than I had before. I might have a few critics, but I have tens of thousands of people who support me. If I let other people’s opinion of me dictate the way I live, I would have a very unfulfilled and unhappy life. And I really enjoy my life.”

Jen James, aka @pumpedtopourJen James, aka @pumpedtopourJen James, aka @pumpedtopour

Jen James, aka @pumpedtopour.

Jen James, aka @pumpedtopourJen James, aka @pumpedtopourJen James, aka @pumpedtopour

I’d rate Megan and Melis’ most brazen content PG-13 at worst, so I feel like it’s a little surprising they get targeted to such a degree. There are plenty of borderline X-rated accounts out there, many of which are run by non-beer professionals. Sifting through hashtags like #boobsandbeer led me down a rabbit hole of over-the-top accounts of women who either aren’t aware of the history of sexualised imagery in beer marketing, or simply don’t care.

Even though I find her ‘Titty Tuesday’ photos to be sleazier than what I personally deem ‘suitable’, her naïve honesty and body confidence are actually kind of inspiring.

Jen James of @pumpedtopour (36.8k followers) is a beer fan and fitness junkie who decided to create an account to celebrate a beverage she loves while showing off her body as “living proof” that people can drink beer and be in shape. She’s vigorously enthusiastic and upfront about the fact that she goes for a wow-factor with her posts. “I get the occasional troll,” she comments breezily. “I honestly don’t pay any attention to it … I simply just block and move on. I have no time for negativity.”

Even though I find her ‘Titty Tuesday’ photos to be sleazier than what I personally deem ‘suitable’, her naïve honesty and body confidence are actually kind of inspiring. Still, her impact on women working in the beer industry is arguably more damaging than she may realise. But if the real problem lies with women reclaiming ownership over their bodies in the light of beer’s toxic history through sexual innuendo of any degree, how can I expect a casual imbiber to even be aware of that?

“There will inevitably be men who see women posing with a beer and devalue their experience and identity as a woman in the beer world, and simply see a body, and objectify them … it’s indicative of existing in a sexist society,” says Waite. She concludes that individuals can only be responsible for what they put into the world, not how the world reacts. “If you want to take a photo of yourself in a bikini enjoying that tallboy of haze and post it on Instagram? You go girl; you do you.”

Abby Fougerousse aka @craftbeermistressAbby Fougerousse aka @craftbeermistressAbby Fougerousse aka @craftbeermistress
Abby Fougerousse aka @craftbeermistressAbby Fougerousse aka @craftbeermistressAbby Fougerousse aka @craftbeermistress

Abby Fougerousse aka @craftbeermistress

It is possible to garner a following without resorting to overtly sexual content if that’s not your bag. Abby Fougerousse has run the account @craftbeermistress (14.9k follower) since 2011, but switched her personal account to focus on beer in June 2018. Although she doesn’t work in the beer industry, Abby got into craft beer around 2012 and is on a quest to visit every single brewery in Michigan. So far, she estimates she’s been to 192 (“they just keep adding more and more,” she laughs).

As a beer influencer, Abby fits a lot of my definition above. She’s a woman, she’s white, and she takes great photos. But unlike the stereotypical ‘influencer’, she rarely posts photos of herself. “I don’t put pictures of myself in with the beer … [but that] doesn’t mean I’m against it,” she explains. “It makes me sad that so much judgment is being placed on the women with accounts like that (even though there are men who do this too). Everyone should be able to style their account the way they want to and obviously it’s working for them.”

This live-and-let live approach is echoed by Megan and Melis, who say they get lumped in with aggressively sexual influencer content even though they consider their accounts to put beer first, bodies second. But all three women maintain that it’s the quality and quantity of the work that sets them apart.



Even as an outsider to the industry, Abby also hopes her Instagram account will help her explore opportunities and partnerships with breweries. And if not, it’s still fun to meet people and get introduced to different beers. But no matter what, Abby insistently avoids judging others for what they decide to put into the world. “Putting pictures of yourself out there does not hurt other women in the industry and no one should make you feel shame for that,” she says.

Making craft beer a better place for women is not a destination; it’s a journey. I don’t imagine we’ll ever reach the end of that road. But all in all, I’ve come to the conclusion that for all the damage being done to women in beer, it’s not always by women. A sexist culture that’s sustained by generations of male supremacist attitudes isn’t as concrete of a thing to judge compared to a flagrantly sexual photo. It’s always been easier to point the finger at self-assured women rather than confront the systemic inequalities that have gotten us to this point.

At the end of the day, it’s my responsibility to critically analyse context with the images I’m presented with and accept the fact that my truth isn’t going to be universal. The spectrum of opinion and impact is vast and differs for everyone. (Like I said: it’s complicated.) With that in mind, I’m not planning on taking many selfies with my beers in the future. That’s my choice. But to those who choose to do so: cheers.

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24 Sep

I was intrigued at the above video which chronicles the advent and popularity of plant-based milk products like Almond Milk and at the same time the decline in the consumption of real milk. Milk and wine were both described as a healthy part of a normal diet at one point. So what happened? It’s a little bit of Deja Vu.

      What Do Milk and Wine Have in Common?

It’s hard to believe that milk, which was once viewed as critical for strong teeth and bones and mandated in school programs by the National School Lunch Act in 1946, has now reached the point where it’s become unnecessary, if not outright unhealthy. 

We’re not talking about alcohol here. We are talking about milk! Apple pie. Americana. Wholesome food.

Today the total volume of all types of milk sold, the price of milk, and the number of dairies are all in decline because of various negative scientific studies. That’s not what I envision or hope for the wine industry. 

So how did milk’s star fall over the past 75 years and more recently, how did soy, rice, coconut, almond, and oat milk become such strong and growing substitutes? The CBS program in the lead video notes how the plant-based milk craze started. It all started with our changed view of fat.

      Negative Science

Fat started to become a negative thing to the consumer in the 70s when new studies focused on “healthy calories” and animal fats. That took on greater weight when popular consensus consolidated around two studies in the late 1980s that identified dietary fat as the single largest factor contributing to obesity-related health issues.

Fat, just like alcohol today was at one-time cast as the villain with respect to health outcomes. Was it accurate?

While that view turned out to be flawed inevitably, the account caught on in the press and drove people to consume more lean meats like chicken and fish, eat margarine instead of butter, limit the consumption of cheese, and seek out low and fat-free foods. 

The dairy industry adapted. If fat is bad for you, let’s sell more “skim milk” but change the name to “fat-free” milk and emphasize the evolving consumer trend away from fat. That was followed by extensions in low-fat milk, low-fat yogurt, ice cream, and cottage cheese.

The milk industry didn’t just roll over and agree on negative science. It mobilized industry associations both domestically and internationally and pushed back on the validity of the negative science of the age, funded new research and they advertised, including the popular Got Milk celebrity campaign. 

At the same time, the broader food industry jumped on the consumer trend by creating fat-free cheese and different varieties of processed snacks and convenience foods, using hydrogenated vegetable fat instead of animal fat and using more sugar in the formulas.

And what was the result of all that science that ran down the health impact of eggs, red meat, cereal, wine, and milk? Today we have the highest level of obesity – EVER as noted in nearby chart. 

And in an irony that underscores the fallacy in the manner in which consensus and truth in science evolve, studies now indicate that butterfat is an invaluable component for certain body functions. Butter is once again good for you. Not margarine. But even more, today the current science suggests that eating less saturated fat DOES NOT lower a person’s risk for coronary heart disease! Those emerging scientific facts drove whole milk sales higher over the last two years.

Consider how quickly the impact of positive health information contributed to the consumer changing back to real fatty butter and whole milk.

      The New Milk Threat

Plant-based milk has flourished of late, taking share from real milk because of notions of health and sustainability. Many believe that cow and cattle operations add materially to greenhouse gases and that methane is a major contributor to global warming. Add to that studies that focused on hidden sugars in breakfast cereals along with greater awareness of lactose intolerance, and the result is that total milk sales today are falling by the billions annually. 
Red meat has also gone through a similar swing as milk. Once too a necessary ingredient in the USDA Four Food Groups, it now suffers from scientific reports that link red meat to some cancers.

The combination of sustainability and the lingering questions about the value of red meat in a healthy diet lead many people to make the personal choice to move away from meat and adopt more plant-based diets including plant-based ‘milk.’ That seems to be the current health craze.

Interestingly, as the above video notes, much of the plant-based milk has additives, trace chemicals from processing, sugars, stabilizers, and even hydrogenated fat. It’s processed food and the science isn’t in on the health benefits and risks yet, but the tale that comes through today is plant-based milk is healthy and sales are soaring.

The story of milk’s decline reminds me of wine, which has gone from being part of a healthy lifestyle under USDA guidelines to now being viewed as unhealthy and like red meat, linked to very slight increases in some cancers in studies. 

      How Did Wine Become Unhealthy?

In much the same way as milk and red meat lost demand with the consumer, wine is losing today in the popular narrative because of negative studies that often start with an agenda to reduce consumption.

At one point in the 90s and early 2000s, science and the public narrative had wine as a HEALTHY component of life, possessing a positive impact on coronary heart disease and stroke.

The French Paradox, the Mediterranean Diet, and the work of Arthur Klatsky, MD who proved that moderate alcohol consumption led to better health outcomes compared to abstainers and abusers, all contributed to a positive health view of wine for the consumer and sales soared starting in the middle nineties.
Since then the anti-alcohol movement, caught behind in the battle for minds, has waged a consistent and progressive battle to rewrite the story. While the wine business has focused on peripheral skirmishes and lavished in strong consumer demand, the neo-prohibitionists and their paid research tried to ‘explain’ the French Paradox, rewrite Arthur Klatsky’s work, and go on the offensive by funding studies to try and link cancer and wine. They have been successful.
Then in February 2011, the World Health Organization which was emboldened with scientific momentum, met to plot strategy to “reduce the harmful effects of alcohol.” 

Left alone, that statement would have found agreement even from alcohol producers. We all recognize the negative effects of alcohol abuse and all want to limit those harmful effects. But reducing harmful effects wasn’t the outcome and perhaps was never the purpose. 
Instead, the WHO has worked at reducing TOTAL alcohol consumption, starting by attributing everything imaginable to alcohol, from venereal disease and hepatitis to mental illness. 

After demonization, they then drafted policies such as calling for higher taxes, requiring labels to be placed on wine reflecting the WHO cancer findings, and “enacting and enforcing bans or comprehensive restrictions on exposure to alcohol advertising across multiple types of media, and enacting and enforcing restrictions on the physical availability of retailed alcohol.” (Global Status Report 2018, p 15) 

The real goal of the WHO is the reduction in worldwide consumption of alcohol. They don’t distinguish between healthy consumption or unhealthy consumption patterns. They don’t care about the science that shows moderate consumption adds to positive health and life outcomes.

Wine’s Response to the Negative Health Message

How has the wine industry responded to the overt threat that is leading to declining growth rates? 

Like milk that went non-fat, the wine business is working on developing lower alcohol and non-alcohol offerings … and that’s it so far. Advertising like the Got Milk campaign? Nope. What about the wine industry organizing to combat the paid science? Nope. Nothing but silence from our industry so far.
Just like the food industry created processed food alternatives, the alcohol beverage industry is coming up with many alternatives such as spiked seltzer, and the non-alcohol industry is feeding other trends with sports and health beverages that both take share away from wine.

The wine industry is content thus far to talk about hospitality, the user experience, long days and cool nights, and how special our soils are. Maybe that’s enough?

What’s Your Opinion?

  • What should the wine industry do about this issue?
  • Can we learn anything from what the Milk Industry has done?

Please join this site on the top right-hand side of the page, and offer your thoughts below. I respond to everyone.

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24 Sep

Robert Biale Vineyards has submitted a plan to the city for a single family home subdivision on the land that now hosts one of its vineyards, co-owner Bob Biale confirmed.

The land, which runs along El Centro Avenue and is bordered by residential housing in Napa, has been in Biale’s family since 1937. Biale and his siblings, Sandra Rossomando and Mark Biale, who each own equal shares of the vineyard, began discussing the fate of the property a few years after the death of their father, Aldo, almost a decade ago.

Biale said the planned development and sale of the land is part of a larger effort to settle the family’s estate, which gained traction after the death of their mother, Clementina, in April of 2017.

“The simple truth is in order to save some land, we had to sell some land. It’s not an easy decision by any means,” Biale said, adding that Aldo’s Vineyard, Biale’s vineyard on Jefferson Street, will remain. “The fact is it was my grandmother’s home site, and to give that up – you can’t replace that. In our mind, it’s priceless.”

Randy Gularte, the real estate broker who is working with Biale on developing the project, said the lot would encompass “approximately 53 single family homes”. Gularte’s team, which includes designer architect Kirk Geyer and civil engineering firm RSA+, is currently reworking the submission based on comments from the city of Napa, he said.

“We’re looking forward to making it work for the city, because we definitely need housing,” he added.

Ali Shull, whose home on El Centro Avenue directly faces the vineyard land in question – which Biale and his family call the “Home Ranch” – said she’d first heard “rumblings” about the land’s future about two and a half years ago.

“What we’ve heard is that they’re trying to be cognizant of the style (of the development),” Shull said, adding she perceives the family as respectful toward their neighbors. “I think it’s a sign of the times. They’re the people that are left from a family that has owned the land forever… it’s just progress.”

One neighbor, who declined to give their name because they said they had hired a lawyer to discuss seeking concessions from the developers, said they’d first learned of the proposed development about a year and a half ago, when Biale sent out a notice. They described themselves as resigned to the fact that the changes were “coming no matter what,” aware that the land is already zoned for housing. Their property backs up to vineyard land.

Home Ranch Vineyard and Aldo’s Vineyard, a registered historic vineyard, are two of a dwindling number of vineyards that still exist within Napa city limits. Aldo’s Vineyard is one of 11 registered historic vineyards in Napa Valley.

Gularte has worked on one other development built on existing vineyard land inside city limits, he said. That project, just off of Orchard Avenue in Napa, was purchased and is being built out by Lafferty Communities, a San Ramon based-firm.

Nothing will change from a wine-making standpoint, Biale said, since the timeline of the family’s decision to develop the land provided time to find new grape growing sites. The grapes from Home Ranch currently go into Biale’s Black Chicken Zinfandel, but the new vineyards should “come online” in time to replace any loss of fruit, according to Biale.

“It’s a personal loss, but like all things, goodness can come from it,” Biale said. “From a winery perspective, we’re gaining incredible new vineyard sites, and from the city point of view, they’re gaining a beautiful project. We think it’s the right call.”

There’s still much to be done for the project before any building begins, according to Gularte: he and his team are hoping to complete a second submission to the city in the next couple of weeks. The ensuing timeline will be dependent on whether or not the city’s comments are approving, he said. From there, the submission must go before the planning commission, and then before city council. If approved, the project must be purchased by a developer before any ground is broken, Gularte said, adding that “another growing year” could come and go for Biale before they sell the property.

Shull, who has lived in her home on El Centro for eight years, reminisced about the vineyard at harvest time – its absence will be a loss, she said, but one she added ultimately wouldn’t impact her quality of life.

“It’s sad – Napa changes, and it’s sad, but it’s life,” Shull added.

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24 Sep

San Francisco Chronicle wine critic Esther Mobley was named feature wine writer of the year Thursday in the Louis Roederer International Wine Writers Awards, a prestigious international competition.

Mobley was recognized for her body of work in 2018, which included “Battle for Napa Valley’s future,” an insightful look at the 50th anniversary of the Napa Valley Agricultural Preserve and the controversial 2018 ballot measure, Measure C, that sought to limit new vineyard plantings.

In reporting the story, Mobley found Napa Valley bitterly divided over the measure. She went on to detail in the article how “Measure C, and the oak trees it aims to protect, epitomize a battle over what Napa Valley has become and what it should be.”

“The great wine country of California has met its match in Esther Mobley, who has in a few short years become not only the go-to expert on the region’s industry and its world-renowned wines. She’s also the chronicler of a way of life, found in the stories of the winemakers, and the histories of the vineyards and their future under climate change,” said Kitty Morgan, deputy managing editor of The Chronicle. “It’s her amazing range — whether she takes up pop culture trends or the serious business of cult wines — that sets her apart.”

The Roederer awards — named after famed French wine producer Louis Roederer — is arguably the most prestigious writing award for wine journalists outside of an award from the James Beard Foundation.

“This award doesn’t just recognize my individual work — it also reflects The Chronicle’s amazing, ongoing commitment to wine coverage,” Mobley said. “I’m lucky to be the only wine critic at a daily newspaper on the West Coast, and we’re uniquely positioned to tell the story of California wine.”

Mobley joined The Chronicle in 2015 to cover the state’s wine, beer and spirits. She previously was an assistant editor at Wine Spectator magazine in New York.

Justin Phillips is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. Email: Twitter: @JustMrPhillips

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23 Sep

It’s a little obscure, but that hasn’t stopped one producer slapping a hefty price tag on his wine.

By W. Blake Gray | Posted Saturday, 21-Sep-2019

Sometimes the price of a wine is intended to create respect. This is consumer psychology; if a wine costs $300, people think: “That must be good.”

Enter the first $300 Sagrantino.

Marco Caprai has spent most of his career promoting Sagrantino, a thick-skinned, tannic grape indigenous to Umbria, a region just north of Rome that has had trouble earning the respect of its neighbors in Tuscany. He led a movement to revive Sagrantino from near-extinction in the early 1970s.

Now he’s trying to get it into the heavyweight class of wine varietals. So he created a $300 version, Arnaldo-Caprai Spinning Beauty Montefalco Sagrantino. But unlike most $300 wines, which earn their prices on some combination of terroir and mystique, Spinning Beauty hopes to justify its cost from storage time.

Spinning Beauty is not released until it is 10 years old. The current release is the 2009. Most of that time – eight years – was spent aging in new French oak barrels. This came after it was fermented inside DIFFERENT new French oak barrels.

“This is the next step of Sagrantino,” Caprai said by Skype from Italy. “Sagrantino is a very good grape, but a very short story in the wine of today. Generally when people consider the Sagrantino, it’s young. This is one of the important characteristics of the grape. Longevity. It’s one of the most important characteristics of international wine. The project of Spinning Beauty is to give more attention to the capacity of aging for Sagrantino. It’s a project to contribute to the appreciation of the Italian native grape.”

You might expect the wine to be oaky, but it’s not so much as you’d imagine. It is, however, tannic as hell when you open the bottle. I opened it for dinner and, though it had a tempting aroma, complex and dense, I couldn’t enjoy it on the palate. The next morning I had a glass beside me while I interviewed Caprai, and I showed him the glass, but it was still pretty tannic to me. I left the glass and the bottle open all day.

That night, after being open for 24 hours, Spinning Beauty finally unwound and revealed layers of dark fruit, good balance and an extremely long finish. I had no trouble enjoying it. So, word to the buyer: open it the night before you want to drink it.

Caprai’s ideal peer group of wines are actually quite a bit higher in price than $300.

“There are some classic wine of Europe that are released after a very long time,” Caprai told me. “There were not a lot of wine with these characteristics. Vega Sicilia Unico. Penfolds Grange. Screaming Eagle. But not a lot of others. There was a small group of super wine.”

Penfolds Grange is a pretty good comparison. The Grange is expensive, and oaky as hell when it’s released, but if you wait long enough the Shiraz is rich enough to absorb all that oak. Spinning Beauty is more tannic, but less oaky, than Penfolds Grange.

“The technique is very classic. We did an integral fermentation,” Caprai said. “It is a fermentation of the red grapes inside the barrel. The barrel was open from the top. We put inside the batch of grapes after crush it. We start with a very slow fermentation because we put it in a cold room. The grapes remain for 10 days. After it started the fermentation, we bring up the temperature and transform the sugar to alcohol. We leave the juice on the skin for 30 to 40 days. People use it for very high-level wine in Bordeaux and Napa Valley.”

The first vintage of Spinning Beauty was 2006. Caprai says they have been putting aside five barrels per year and they choose the best three for the final blend.

“For us, it’s the essence of Sagrantino,” Caprai said. “The characteristic is the extreme capacity to maintain the quality for a very long time. Normally it’s very complex. We think that it’s ready now, but you could drink for another 20 years, 30 years.”

The name Spinning Beauty is an homage to Marco’s father Arnaldo Caprai, an Italian textile magnate who founded the winery. He expected Marco to follow him into the textile business.

“I haven’t worked very long with my father. My father was a very difficult man. Not easy,” Caprai said. “When I was a young man I prefer to work in the wine than in the textile. I don’t want to be only the son of Arnaldo. I prefer that Arnaldo was the father of Marco.”

Marco says that when he took over the winery, Montefalco had only five wineries, and today there are more than 80.

“Wine was one of the last challenge for the man of today,” Caprai said. “It’s a challenge where it’s possible to make something special. To put a small village on the world map of the wine area. To give to the next generation a legacy. About the capacity of the men to transform the land, the village, the economy of the area.”

He says his efforts at promoting Sagrantino – Montefalco Sagrantino got DOCG status in 1992 – also led to a revitalization of the restaurant scene. People came to Montefalco for wine, and they wanted to stay for dinner.

“Today in Montefalco there are more than 50 different restaurants,” Caprai said. “When I started there was one only. There are some very good restaurants. The food of Umbria was not complex. We have fantastic extra virgin olive oil. We have fantastic truffles. The tradition in Umbria is the lamb. The speck. And also the pigeons. Sagrantino is a perfect matching.”

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23 Sep

More than a century ago, Upton Sinclair’s “The Jungle” exposed unsafe and unsanitary conditions in our nation’s slaughterhouses. Sinclair singled out breakneck line speeds as a key source of misery, noting, “The main thing the men wanted was to put a stop to the habit of speeding up, they were trying their best to force a lessening of the pace, for there were some, they said, who could not keep up with it, whom it was killing.”

Sinclair’s stomach-churning account led Congress to create a new agency in charge of food safety in slaughterhouses. Among the reforms implemented were rules to slow down line speeds so that government inspectors could ensure that diseased or feces-covered meat and poultry did not end up on consumers’ plates. Now, if the Trump administration gets its way, pork slaughterhouses will be allowed to drastically increase their line speeds, with potentially disastrous results for workers and consumers.

A new rule, finalized today, would reduce the number of government food safety inspectors in pork plants by 40 percent and remove most of the remaining inspectors from production lines. In their place, a smaller number of company employees — who are not required to receive any training — would conduct the “sorting” tasks that the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) previously referred to as “inspection.” The rule would also allow companies to design their own microbiological testing programs to measure food safety rather than requiring companies to meet the same standard.  

Equally alarming, the new rule would remove all line speed limits in the plants, allowing companies to speed up their lines with abandon. With fewer government inspectors on the slaughter lines, there would be fewer trained workers watching out for consumer safety. Faster line speeds would make it harder for the limited number of remaining meat inspectors and plant workers to do their jobs.

The experience from a long-running pilot project that involved five large hog slaughterhouses offers some insight into the possible impact of such radical deregulation. Consumer groups reviewed the government’s data from the five pilot plants and other plants of comparable size. They found that the plants with fewer inspectors and faster lines had more regulatory violations than others.

Indeed, the pilot project gave no indication that allowing companies to police themselves produces safe food. Nevertheless, the USDA concluded that self-policing would ensure food safety based on a technical risk assessment that — in violation of Office of Management and Budget guidelines — was not peer-reviewed before the USDA published its rule. Later, three of the five peer reviewers indicated that the study was fundamentally flawed. The USDA has pressed forward with its rule regardless, dismissing this criticism as mere technicality.

It’s not only consumers of meat who would pay a price for this misguided and dangerous new rule. There are more than 90,000 pork slaughterhouse workers whose health and limbs are already at risk under the current line speed limit of 1,106 hogs per hour. Pork slaughterhouse workers will tell you that they can barely keep up with current line speeds. They work in noisy, slippery workplaces with large knives, hooks and bandsaws, making tens of thousands of forceful repetitive motions on each and every shift to cut and break down the hogs.

The USDA is ignoring three decades of studies indicating that faster line speeds and the forceful nature of the work in meatpacking plants are the root causes of a staggeringly high rate of work-related injuries and illnesses.

The dangerous nature of working in pork slaughterhouses has contributed to many plants experiencing a turnover rate of 100 percent annually. The title of an in-depth report on working conditions in slaughterhouses, just released by Human Rights Watch, says it all: “When we are dead and buried our bones will keep hurting.”

The USDA cannot issue regulations that undermine long-standing laws such as the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970. Perhaps for that reason, the USDA has gone to great lengths to hide from the public the dangers inherent in this rule.

In the proposed rule, the administration claimed to have conducted an analysis of worker welfare that found, contrary to the scientific literature, that workers are safer in plants with faster line speeds. But it never published the analysis or allowed the public to see it and comment on it for the record during its rulemaking. When the analysis finally came to light through an open records request, its glaring flaws were manifest.

The USDA’s Office of Inspector General has opened an investigation into the use of faulty data, the lack of transparency and other irregularities of this rule. But the administration is plowing ahead at the behest of big packinghouse companies.

It’s no surprise that the public is opposed to this. Not only were there close to 80,000 comments from the public sent to the USDA opposing this rule, but a survey found an overwhelming majority of Americans — in all parts of the country and across party lines — were opposed to this controversial rule.

Fortunately, Congress can still have a say on whether the USDA’s radical overhaul of pork inspection is allowed to go forward. An amendment put forward in the House of Representatives would ensure that no funds are used to implement this rule until all of the investigations into the USDA’s handling of the rule are completed. The Senate has yet to agree to the measure, but it should. The USDA should not be allowed to play politics with the safety of the American food supply and workers’ lives. 

Thomas Gremillion is the director of food policy at Consumer Federation of America.

Deborah Berkowitz is the Safety and Health Program director at the National Employment Law Project. She is the former chief of staff and senior policy advisor at the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

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23 Sep

MITZPE RAMON, Israel — In the Negev Desert, the sun beats down on a parched landscape of brown, undulating hills. But on a parcel of land here in southern Israel, trees grow in green rows, and fat bunches of grapes dangle amid lush leaves.

This is not a desert apparition. It is a research vineyard, where scientists are studying how grapes can best grow in this harsh environment.

The Negev is a far cry from the temperate climates of many wine-growing regions. Yet about 20 wineries have sprouted here over the past 15 years, along with a budding wine tourism business.

The researchers are focusing on this harsh environment for a reason: to study how wine grapes can grow in the desert conditions that dominate Israel. That knowledge will become even more valuable in a world with more frequent droughts and heat waves.

“Climate is becoming more and more unpredictable,” said Aaron Fait, a biochemistry professor at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev. “The desert model is a way to study how climate change will affect wine worldwide.”

The techniques being tested here on 30 varieties of grapes include the use of nets that provide shade, trellises that coax vines to grow in formations that limit sun exposure, sensors that measure soil humidity and thermal cameras that track how much sunlight grapes and leaves absorb.

To study innovations in winemaking, Dr. Fait works with several Negev wineries, as well as European researchers like Enrico Peterlunger, a professor of viticulture at the University of Udine in northern Italy. The effort started in 2014 with the Israeli irrigation company Netafim and support from the Italian and Israeli governments.

“Growers are concerned about climate change” in Europe, Professor Peterlunger said. In his region, he said: “It rained a lot in May, which caused some problems during flowering and fruit set. June, July and August were really hot, and that is not optimal for grapevines.”

Naftali Lazarovitch, a soil scientist at the Blaustein Institutes of Desert Research in the Negev, also studies desert viticulture at the research vineyard. Europeans “are looking at Israel and the way we are dealing with harsh conditions and trying to learn from it,” he said. “We produce more with less, that’s our objective.”

More than 40 percent of the earth’s terrestrial surface is made up of drylands, including tropical dry forests, savannas and deserts, that are home to roughly 2.5 billion people. These regions are already threatened by resource overuse and desertification and more vulnerable to extreme weather, including droughts, heat waves and dust storms, according to a recent report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

Most of Israel is arid; the Negev spans more than half of the country. Out of necessity, Israel has honed desert agriculture to yield bountiful crops. In the 1940s, the Polish-Israeli inventor Simcha Blass pioneered modern drip-irrigation systems that now are used around the world.

Desert agriculture has existed in the region since ancient times. The Nabateans, nomadic Arab peoples dating to the fourth century B.C., used runoff and built small stone dams to divert water to irrigate crops and grow wine grapes.

These innovations “will be more and more relevant to many countries as a result of global warming,” said Ofer Guy, an agricultural researcher at the Ramat Negev center. “Issues of saline soil and water, extreme hot weather and lack of water are going to be big problems in the global future as agriculture is forced into marginal soils,” he added.

“Today agriculture, and food consumption, is based on a small variety of plants that are relatively sensitive to salinity,” Mr. Guy said. “This poses a great challenge to humanity.”

In a region that gets about 300 days of sun each year, scientists closely study how crops are affected by shade, assessing the color, density and material of various kinds of canopies and netting. For example, when grapes ripen, researchers cover them with nets to shield them from the sun. This reduces temperature, but increases humidity and the potential to draw insects.

The Ramat Negev center works with local farmers, many of whom are not from farming backgrounds. This helps bolster an industry whose numbers are dwindling. In the 1950s, more than 70 percent of Israel’s population worked in agriculture, compared with less than 2 percent today.

“It’s difficult to be a farmer,” Mr. Guy said. “You’re like a gambler. You don’t have any guarantees. It’s a very big risk. In 10 to 20 years, if no one promotes farms, less and less people will want to be farmers. There’s a lot of potential and cooperation. There’s a lot to learn from us, and a lot for us to learn still.”

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23 Sep

A row over a winery horse has spent five years going through the French courts.

There are many dangers when someone moves from the city to the country, but smelly horses aren’t the first thing that springs to mind.

However, that is exactly the issue at the heart of a legal battle in Alsace that has been dragging on for five years, much to the chagrin of the horse’s owners, the family-owned Valentin Zusslin domain, which has been making wine in Orschwihr, southeast of Colmar since 1691. It produces wines from three different vineyards, including the Pfingstberg Grand Cru, which has been producing wine since 1299.

The estate has been biodynamic since 1997 and the flaxen-maned chestnut Breton – called Sesame – has been helping out at harvest time. And therein lies the trouble – it usually lives in a meadow bordering a neighboring property, where it lives happily and trots around, its fetlocks blowing in the wind. The owner of the neighboring property has taken the Zusslins to court, claiming that the smell of the horse and the number of flies it attracts is harming their holiday-rental business.

An online petition was started by Brussels resident Remy Boissert to persuade the appeal court in Colmar to throw out the case, citing the well-known advantages of using horses in the vineyard – better soil, zero pollution and so on – as well as appealing to tradition.

“More and more winegrowers, especially organic, biodynamic or natural, are using an external organisation for their horse-powered work or have their own horse, for which they have built a shelter and placed on a pasture on their farm,” he said in his petition.

“But more and more often, these winegrowers face … regulations far too restrictive for a single animal, or neighbors that feel annoyed by the presence of a horse and that go to court to make him disappear. Those are the same persons, often neo-rural, who dream of a sanitized countryside, without smell, without insects, without cockerels, without bells.”

The neighbor lost the initial case in the Alsace courts, but went to the appeal court to argue that the smell and the flies made life “impossible” for his clients and also argued that the horse wasn’t necessary, as the vineyards could be harvested by machine. He also argued that “there are many organic winegrowers who do not own a horse”.

Horses were once an integral part of the vineyard in France, but increased mechanization in the post-war period saw their presence diminish. However, recent years have seen a renaissance in their use; indeed, there are so many working in the vineyards of Burgundy that books have been written about them.

Alfred Tesseron of Bordeaux’s Château Pontet-Canet famously moved from tractors to horses 10 years ago, a move that saw other estates go the same way.

“Year after year, vineyard machinery has been growing more elaborate, more expensive and more comfortable for the people who use it,” he said in an interview at the time. “The tractors now have stereos, air-conditioning. The machinery is much heavier. An impacted soil is a less natural soil. A less natural soil produces less healthy plants. Less healthy plants produce poorer grapes. We have decided to experiment by bringing back horses.”

An increase in biodynamic and natural winemaking has also sparked fresh interest in vineyard horsepower.

And while some people might resent the presence of rural creatures in a rural setting, France as a country tends to come down pretty hard against those who complain that the countryside often smells or sounds a little too much like, well, the countryside.

Earlier this month a French court ruled that a rooster called Maurice could continue his dawn crowing despite complaints from neighbors, in a case that was presented cast a battle between the old rural way of life and modern values creeping in from the city.

One of Maurice’s owners, Corinne Fesseau, told Reuters the court in Rochefort, western France, rejected a demand from the neighbors that Maurice be silenced.

“Today Maurice has won a battle for the whole of France,” said Fesseau.

Maurice, a 4-year-old rooster, lives on a small island off France’s Atlantic coast. His crowing irritated a neighbor, Jean-Louis Biron, who is from the city and bought a second home next door to Maurice’s owners. Biron brought the court case.

Similar court cases against cows and church bells have been filed in France but none with the same emotive impact as Maurice the rooster, who elicited letters of support from as far away as in the United States, Reuters reported.

If you would like to show some support for Sesame, you can sign the petition here.

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23 Sep

For decades, salt has served one purpose and one purpose only behind the bar: to rim the glass of a cocktail. Stored in a small salt shaker with a piece of rice, a cardboard box with a metal pour spout, or a rimming tray soaked with lime juice, it was most commonly used to rim either a margarita or a Salty Dog.

Now bartenders and beverage managers are using salt beyond its once utilitarian function and exploring its myriad varieties—from artisanal salts that exhibit terroir, to flavored salts made by traditional processes or by enterprising new bartenders. 

The author and entrepreneur Mark Bitterman, an expert on salt based in Portland, Oregon, applauds the use of it in cocktails but argues that the first thing to ask before adding it to a drink is, “Do we even know what salt is?”

What Is Salt?

Salt is sodium chloride (NaCl), or the mineral halite, a combination of sodium and chlorine. To geophysicist Mika McKinnon, an adjunct professor at the University of British Columbia, based in Vancouver, halite is one of the “good flavored minerals” and the second most edible (the first being ice).

Salt is found all over the world, in water bodies or formed by water’s evaporation at “any coastline, desert, or lake, or where there used to be coastlines, deserts, and lakes,” says McKinnon. To extract the salt, it’s mined or harvested from the water through boiling or solar evaporation. 

The West Virginia artisanal salt producer J.Q. Dickinson, dries its salts—sourced from an ancient aquifer below the Appalachian Mountains—in sun houses, letting water further evaporate and the salts crystalize. The entire process takes six weeks from source to jar, according to the company’s cofounder Nancy Bruns.

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Bruns believes her salt is unique and “not a shy salt. It finishes with a little sweetness, very round and full-flavored.” That roundness comes from minerals such as calcium, magnesium, and potassium, which attach to the salt. “Technically, the brine runs through rock formations,” Bruns adds, “picking up all those different minerals”—about 6 percent trace minerals are added to her salt in this manner. Those trace minerals contribute not only roundness and sweetness, Bruns says, but a distinct brininess and sweet citrus note.

Left: Mark Bitterman (photo courtesy of Bitterman Co.). Right: Mika McKinnon (photo courtesy of Mika McKinnon).

Depending on a salt’s geographic location, its mineral content could run much higher. Bitterman describes Haleakala Ruby coarse Hawaiian sea salt—sold through his Bitterman Salt Co.—as having as much as 16 percent trace minerals, compared with less than 1 percent in kosher salt. To Bitterman, trace minerals equal flavor—he describes the Haleakala Ruby as “a big, fat, luscious salt. If you put that in something, you’ll know it.” 

Shannon Mustipher, a bartender and the author of Tiki: Modern Tropical Cocktails, believes there is a salt for every drink.

Her method of finding that salt has to do with where the salt and the drinks come from. She argues that “if it grows together, it goes together” and tries to pair spirits and beverages with salts from the same region, or incorporating ideas from the region’s cuisines. “I use various salts, depending on the end in mind,” she says. “For tropical cocktails, I have a tendency toward pink Himalayan. Cocktails involving gin or aquavit are great with lava- and ash-based salts. [I use] Maldon and flaky sea salts for martinis.”  

Flavored Salts

Flavored salts are made and used within specific cultures or crafted by chefs and bartenders themselves. “There are all sorts of cultural practices,” says McKinnon. “You take a salt and bake it; you blend it with other materials. [Or] you mix it with activated charcoal. You [can] shove it in with clay inside bamboo and [place] temperature controls on it [i.e., when baked at 1,500 degrees Celsius, it’s considered purple bamboo salt]. All of those [methods] can modify the structure of salt or coat it with other materials,” which contributes to both its flavor and texture.

Some examples of such flavored salts are kala namak, a sulfurous Indian black salt baked with charcoal and spices, and sal de gusano, a Mexican salt mixed with chiles and worm larvae. There are many ways to flavor salt, including smoking, baking, and aging, or by adding herbs, activated charcoal, fruit, or pepper. 

Mike Di Tota, the corporate beverage director of Corner Table Restaurants, uses a variety of flavored salts; one of his favorites, Tajín, is a mixture of salt, chiles, and lime juice from Mexico. He adds it to the rim of a hibiscus-infused tequila-and-watermelon margarita. “Not only do you have this beautiful crimson, ruby red drink,” he says, “but you have this really cool, flashy red salted rim.”

Di Tota also loves smoked salts, using a pinch of it in a cordial he makes with grapefruit and black cardamom—he combines that cordial in a drink with a smoked-salt rim, doubling the drink’s overall salinity.

Left: Nancy Bruns (photo courtesy of Nancy Bruns). Right: Gary Beauchamp (photo courtesy of Gary Beauchamp).

Experimenting with Salt

According to Gary Beauchamp, Ph.D., a flavor scientist at Monell Chemical Senses Center in Philadelphia, salt doesn’t just add flavor—it suppresses bitterness. “The sodium will reduce the intensity of bitterness,” he says, “[and] since the bitterness actually [suppresses] the sweetness, by adding salt you’ll enhance sweetness, suppressing the suppressor.”

In addition to the traditional salt rims, bartenders and beverage managers are adding salt directly to drinks, making a salt tincture, or creating salt foam. Each method yields distinctive results. 

Miguel Lancha, the cocktail innovator at chef José Andrés’s Think Food Group in Washington, D.C., uses various methods to add salt to drinks but is best known for using “salt air.” “[It’s] an emulsion made with water, lime juice, kosher salt, and Sucro [an emulsifier used in modernist cuisine],” he says. The cloudlike foam is scooped onto the surface of a straight-up margarita, contributing both salty flavor and texture to the drink.

Lancha also uses a saline formula with a water-to-salt ratio of 4 to 1. When using this salt tincture, Lancha adds “anywhere between two and six hits [or 1/2 to 1 1/2 dashes] to a drink, although most times, three to four hits gets me to the drink’s bliss point.”

Photo courtesy of Bitterman Salt Co.

Bartenders can also add salt directly to a cocktail. In each case, Mustipher believes that the addition of salt to a drink affects its texture, saying, “Salt can add body, weight, and mouthfeel to a cocktail.”  

With the vast array of choices—and the various functions that salt might serve—salt is ripe for experimentation beyond the same table salt behind the bar and the same two drinks. Bitterman suggests that bartenders should “go buy three or four good mineral-rich salts, buy three or four good rimming salts … and play.” With that variety, Bitterman believes, “you can accomplish all kinds of cool things, and frankly, it’s fun.”

Derek Brown is an expert on spirits and cocktails who is based in Washington, D.C. He is the author of Spirits, Sugar, Water, Bitters: How the Cocktail Conquered the World. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram @ideasimprove.

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