On Wine of the Week, wine expert Scott Greenberg tells the tale of how a sleepy California town became the home of a vineyard that champions sustainability.
For years, the sleepy Santa Lucia Highlands, located in Monterey County, California, was home to cattle, sheep, horses and row crops. But in 1979, Swiss born Nicolaus “Nicky” Hahn and his wife, Gaby, changed all that when they purchased the Smith and Hook vineyards, located about an hour outside of the city of Monterey.
At the time, the land, which had previously been used for grazing cattle and horses, was a blank slate where Hahn saw amazing potential for vineyards.
In 1980, the Hahns released their first wine from Santa Lucia Highlands (SLH), and then just eight years later, he led a successful campaign to establish SLH as an American Viticultural Area (AVA). In 1991, Hahn and his neighbors prevailed and a new AVA was born.
Over the next 30 years, Hahn’s commitment to both the Monterey County and Santa Lucia Highlands wine industry deepened and intensified, bringing critical acclaim not just to his winery, but to the entire region, which is ideally situated near the tourist destination cities of Carmel and Monterey.
Today, Hahn Family Wines is now run by Nicky and Gaby’s son Philip. The estate sustainably farms 650 acres of estate vineyards in the Santa Lucia Highlands, where their pinot noir and chardonnay wines have garnered international attention.
And they take sustainability very seriously, making it an integral part of their farming and business practices, taking a long-term view by recognizing that taking care of the land is a responsibility that lasts well beyond the current generation but for generations to come.
It is an ongoing obligation that starts in the vineyards, but is also practiced in their winery, and even in their tasting room. From growing the fruit, to making the wine, to delivering their product to consumers, and even the well-being of their employees, the Hahn family has demonstrated their commitment to sustainability. As a result, Hahn Family Wines is one of the first wineries in SLH to have all of their estate vineyards certified under the Sustainability in Practice (SIP) program and is recognized as a leader in the sustainability movement.
Lastly, the team at Hahn Family Wines is more like a family than a business. From the people who work in the vineyards, from the winemaking team to quality control, and even the people who work the bottling line, there is a sense of commitment dedicated to delivering the best quality wine possible for the money. And it shows in every bottle.
The SLH designation is used by Hahn Family Wines for wines made from grapes blended from their designated single vineyards. These wines are not just a wonderful value, but they also provide a glimpse into the Saint Lucia Highlands terroir.
The 2017 Hahn SLH Chardonnay is made using mostly fruit from the Lone Oak Vineyard and just a touch of new oak. The result is a wine that features lovely aromas of ripe pear and nectarine and a beautifully balanced mouthfeel featuring flavors of orchard fruit. A touch of guava slides in on the charming finish. Try it with soft cheeses and fresh fruit. $25
Another stunning value from the SLH lineup is the 2017 Hahn SLH Pinot Noir. In a word, this is a pretty pinot noir. The charming nose is full of aromas of baking spices and wild strawberry. In the mouth, flavors of red berry fruit, ripe strawberry and a touch of clove mingle together beautifully, supported by silky tannins and nice acidity. Perfect with duck or chicken. $30
Saint Lucia — for which the SLH region is named — was the patron saint of light, as represented by the crown of candles she wears in many traditional religious depictions. The Hahn wine program that features fruit from their single vineyards is called Lucienne, which is not only Nicky Hahn’s middle name, but also translates to “light.” A happy coincidence, indeed.
The 2017 Hahn Lucienne Lone Oak Vineyard Chardonnay is one of the best values for a high-end chardonnay in California I have come across in a long time. Aged for 14 months in 45% new French oak barrels, it’s just enough to give this wine a pitch-perfect kiss of oak. Aromas of apple, nectarine and baked bread are enticing. The mouthfeel is beautifully balanced between the flavors of Gala apple, ripe pear and white nectarine and the lovely acidity that keeps the fruit lively and focused. Just a touch of toasty oak comes into play on the long and delightful finish. Pair this wine with sand dabs or flounder. $40
If Lucienne is light, the 2017 Hahn Lucienne Doctor’s Vineyard is brilliant. There are only 1,100 cases of this amazing wine made, so start hunting it down now. Black olives and forest floor aromas waft up from the glass. Savory notes of dark fruit and dried sage attack the front of the palate while notes of black cherry and dark plum float on the long, elegant finish. A perfectly balance wine with an elegant structure. Grilled salmon would be happy to be in the company of this wine. $50
And be sure to listen to this week’s episode of The Vine Guy podcast
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Bold moves and strategic risks, beautiful vistas and historic lands, family ties and American dreams: The winemaking career of Francis Ford Coppola reads like one of the famous Hollywood director and screenwriter’s epic films.
Though perhaps best known for blockbusters like The Godfather and Apocalypse Now, Coppola could be considered an even more successful vintner. Since the 1970s, he’s built an empire that now produces more than three million cases from 340 acres of vineyards spread across several wineries in California and Oregon and includes brands such as Francis Ford Coppola Diamond Collection, Sofia and Director’s Cut.
Coppola also restored Inglenook, one of Napa Valley’s most iconic wineries, to top form. He first purchased a slice of the estate in 1975, rescuing the operation from jug wine depravity and ultimately lifting it to the upper echelons of the modern wine market. These efforts culminated with his controversial purchase of the trademark and brand from corporate control in 2011.
“Of all the things I’ve done in my life, there’s nothing that I am more proud of than the fact that this beautiful estate has not only been rejuvenated, but totally restored to the highest level,” says Coppola. “There is no debt on it whatsoever, and the Coppola family is united in being the custodians of one of the greatest wine estates in the world.”
A third-generation Italian-American born in 1939 and raised in a suburb of New York City, Coppola “never saw a dinner table that didn’t have wine on it,” he says. He fondly remembers the tales of his uncles stealing sweet California grapes from his grandfather’s home-winemaking endeavors.
After the success of the first two Godfather films, Coppola lived in San Francisco and wanted a summer cottage in the Napa Valley. Specifically, he sought land with some grapes in hopes of making wine with his family to give away for Christmas.
Instead, Coppola ended up buying the Rutherford mansion of Captain Gustave Niebaum and 100 acres of surrounding vineyard, all part of the original 1879 Inglenook estate. He moved in after the arduous multi-year, self-financed production of Apocalypse Now in the Philippines.
“It was both heaven and hell,” he says. “On one hand, it was this incredibly beautiful place. On the other hand, I was recovering from the Apocalypse experience and greatly indebted to the movie. In those days, interest was over 27%, so it looked hopeless that I was going to be able to survive, much less keep this beautiful property. So I was very frightened.”
When vintners sought to buy grapes to help pay his mortgage, Coppola decided to keep them for himself. His wife asked him what he knew about making wine. In turn, Coppola said, “I also knew nothing about how to make movies, and [we] were in the position where we might be able to do it.”
Introduced to first growth Bordeaux and grand cru Burgundy a decade earlier while at work on a film in Paris, Coppola knew he wanted to pursue that level of excellence in California, but he didn’t know a lot about premium wine. Familiar with Château Lafite Rothschild’s quality, he chose to follow their example by combining the old and new and named his nascent operation Niebaum-Coppola.
“If we made wine as a Bordeaux blend and held them for years before release, why couldn’t Napa Valley achieve that?” he asked. Robert Mondavi was one of the few to agree. “You’re right,” Mondavi told Coppola. “There’s no reason why Napa Valley wines can’t approach and equal, and even surpass, the great wines of the world.”
The inaugural 1978 Niebaum-Coppola Rubicon blend, which he held for seven years before release, quickly became a coveted Napa bottle, as did the ensuing vintages.
Business took off in the 1990s. Coppola acquired more vineyards, which included the original Inglenook plantings and chateau, and launched a number of popular brands. In the 2000s, Francis Ford Coppola Winery opened in Sonoma County at the former home of Chateau Souverain, followed in 2013 by Virginia Dare Winery, on the old Geyser Peak property in Geyserville.
Inspired by watching kids play in the Inglenook fountains over the years, Coppola opened a family friendly pool complex in 2010 at the Francis Ford Coppola Winery.
“I didn’t realize that I was establishing a new concept within the wine industry, where the goal was not only to have the people visit, but to come and spend all day there,” he says. “Now, it’s what everyone is trying to do.”
For Coppola, it all still comes down to family.
“The greatest joy is when the family can do something together,” he says. “I wanted to make a destination where the whole family goes and the children enjoy themselves. The grandparents enjoy seeing their grandchildren, which is what most grandparents want to do. The parents can learn about wine, and everyone can have lunch together. Every business I do is about keeping the family enjoying themselves together.”
For his vision, passion and incalculable contributions to the wine industry, Wine Enthusiast is proud to honor Francis Ford Coppola as recipient of our Lifetime Achievement Award. —Matt Kettmann
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Oregon wine sales broke $600 million last year, while the value of Oregon’s wine grape crop topped the $200 million mark for the first time last year, according to a new report.
The Oregon Wine Board’s newly released 2018 Oregon Vineyard and Winery Report, with analysis conducted by the University of Oregon’s Institute for Policy Research and Engagement, shows across-the-board increases in sales, number of wineries and acreage planted.
Oregon wine sales expanded to $607 million in 2018 from $550 million in 2017. The increase was driven by a 19% increase in direct-to-consumer shipments, according to the Sovos/Wines Vines Analytics 2019 Direct to Consumer Wine Shipping Report.
Global demand for Oregon wines remained high in 2018. Canadians purchased 47,338 cases of Oregon wine in 2018, representing 45% of Oregon’s export sales. Impressive growth was seen in Scandinavian markets, with a 59% increase in wines exported to Denmark, and Asia, with 15,258 cases of Oregon wine shipped. Exports to Japan, China, Hong Kong, South Korea and other Asian destinations also increased in 2018.
Oregon had 793 wineries at the end of 2018, an increase of 24 from the previous year. Most of the growth came in the south Willamette Valley, where 16 new wineries came online in 2018.
The number of acres planted to grapes went from 33,996 acres in 2017 to 35,972 acres in 2018, an increase of approximately 6%. The most substantial increases in acres planted were in the Rogue and Umpqua valleys.
Pinot noir, which represents 56% of all planted acreage in Oregon, grew by 5% in 2018.
Perhaps the biggest surprises were merlot and cabernet sauvignon, which increased in acreage by 26% and 25%, respectively, in 2018. Albariño, gamay and viognier plantings made it from the “miscellaneous” category to the report’s acreage charts for the first time.
Jim Bernau, the founder and winegrower at Willamette Valley Vineyards in Turner, thinks he knows the reason the Oregon wine industry is surging. “Oregon’s on fire right now because people recognize our quality,” Bernau says. “If you look at the Nielsen data, Oregon is number one right now.”
The Nielsen Co. collects data from scanned sales in U.S. retail stores. According to an Oregon Wine Board press release, recent Nielsen data shows Oregon wine sales rose 12% in 2018, compared to the total table wine category’s performance of -0.6%.
The complete report is available on the Oregon Wine Board website, along with reports dating back to 2005: industry.oregonwine.org.
Michael Alberty writes about wine for The Oregonian/OregonLive. He can be reached at email@example.com. To read more of his coverage, go to oregonlive.com/wine.
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Welcome to Forcett, Tasmania’s newest vineyard area, which is destined to become a big name in the Australian wine scene.
Bereft of vineyards just a couple of years ago, Forcett in south-east Tasmania, will soon have more than 200 hectares of wine grapes in the ground.
The arrival of stage three of the South East Irrigation Scheme from the Coal River has this small area of southern Tasmania buzzing about wine.
Major West Australian company the Fogarty Wine Group and sparkling wine producer Jansz are leading the charge to develop Forcett as a force for wine.
“This greenfield vineyard site is former cropping and wool country,” agricultural consultant, Marty Smith, said.
Mr Smith is overseeing the vineyard development for the Fogarty group.
“We’ve got around 36 hectares of vineyard to be planted over the next few months and are in the process of doing soil preparation before the first of 25,000 posts go into the ground,” he said.
“There’s a lot of local contractors and service providers involved from the soil works contractors to the irrigation and installation workers.
“The first vines here will be planted mid to late November and in total 115,000 vines will be in the ground by the end of the year.
The Fogarty vineyard is next door to the Jansz vineyard and both developments got the go ahead because of stage three of the South East Irrigation Scheme.
“The Fogarty group has vineyard assets across the country and their focus is high quality premium wine, and this new vineyard will also have that focus,” Mr Smith said.
“Pinot noir, chardonnay and riesling grapes will feature strongly but the vineyard will also contain some shiraz grapes as that variety becomes more and more popular in cool climate wines.
Area is changing
Beef farmer Brad Grattidge lives just up the road from the new winery and was a former Chair of the Irrigation Scheme, which he said was a struggle to get up and running.
“Initially we wanted the scheme to supply 20,000 megalitres but a number of local farmers decided not to purchase water, and the final scheme now supplies 3,000 megalitres,” Mr Grattidge said.
“The area is changing drastically and the land values have risen since the scheme was constructed, but the demand for water has also risen dramatically.”
The Fogarty group has also purchased land at Richmond where a 100-hectare vineyard will be developed and is now half-owner of the former Winemaking Tasmania building at Cambridge.
The company, which makes wine for around 30 Tasmanian growers, went into voluntary administration earlier this year before being sold to the Fogarty Group and entrepreneur Rod Roberts.
At Penna, just outside Richmond, the new Brinktop Vineyard is starting to take shape as the owners jump into their second time at constructing a new vineyard and winery.
Hampered by a lack of land
Todd Goebel and partner Gillian Christian developed the Coal Valley Winery at Cambridge back in the 90s and spent 18 years at the property before selling up.
“Back when we started at the Coal Valley there were only a couple of vineyards of around one hectare and you wouldn’t see Tasmanian wines on the menu at Salamanca restaurants,” Ms Christian said.
“At the Coal Valley Winery we were hampered by the lack of land, and we’ve been lucky enough to find this new site at Penna which will allow us to have an eight-hectare vineyard.”
“The vines have been planted and it’s going to take a few years to get up and running, but we do expect a small harvest in 2020,” Mr Goebell said.
And like the Forcett vineyard, the pair for the first time have planted some shiraz vines at Penna and expect the variety will go well.
Wine Tasmania said over the past five years new plantings have grown by 25 per cent and that growth means more than 2,000 hectares are under vine in the state.
While the total plantings are small when comparing to mainland Australia, the value of the industry is high because of the quality of the product in bottle.
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Wine has the power of prestige in its corner, with embedded perceptions of wealth, class, and privilege that are linked to specific regions and rankings. But could our long-standing markers of quality be outdated and shortsighted? Allowing ourselves to enjoy the aroma and flavor profile of a quality organic wine from Syria, Bolivia, or any other unlikely wine region can do more than just diversity our portfolios—it can change our perceptions of that region, help to elevate families out of poverty, and transform headlines of crisis into idyllic images of vineyards. As a wine buyer with an economics background, I believe that through better choices, our industry can offer opportunities to our guests that can affect lives globally. Does that sound far-fetched? It’s not. We’re already doing it.
As the wine director of Maydan and Compass Rose in Washington, D.C., I have helped create wine and beverage programs that showcase low-intervention, sustainable producers from lesser-known regions of the world. Our team has traveled to many of these countries—Bolivia, Mexico, Lebanon, Morocco, Tunisia, Turkey, and Georgia—meeting producers and hearing their stories directly. For the last five years, our program has been setting new standards of quality and value for our patrons while promoting a higher quality of life abroad.
Of course, it’s no magic elixir. We haven’t ended global warming or eliminated world hunger through our programs, but we have taken practical steps that make a difference, even if only marginal, and spur a deeper conversation. Because of our industry’s reach, it’s incumbent upon us to ask difficult questions about wine consumption and its impact.
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Global wine imports are nearly a $40 billion business, according to the trade publication World’s Top Exports—and growing on an average of 6 percent every year. (The United States made up 17 percent of total wine imports last year.) Wine’s economic impact and potential to be a force for social change have yet to be fully realized. Wine is a unique import because it’s a “premium product,” which means it can be sold abroad for a higher profit margin. The regions that could benefit the most from an influx of such capital, though, are typically overlooked in sommelier exams and on beverage menus.
Wine as an Economic Engine
For countries looking to expand their GDP, like Georgia, wine is an incredible tool. Georgia saw a record 86.2 million bottles exported in 2018. But this took enormous efforts by both Georgians and international buyers, and a willingness on the part of Georgians to evangelize on behalf of their product. Having traveled to Georgia several times and learned the stories of individual winemakers, I found that sharing those stories with guests is a valuable tool. An example is Baia’s Winery in Imereti, run by the sisters Baia and Gvantsa Abuladze, both of whom were under the age of 23 when they began making wine.
“Georgian wine is going through a period of renaissance and is at such a critical stage,” says Noel Brockett, the director of operations and sales of Georgian House of Greater Washington (also known as Georgian Wine House), which imports wine from the country and is based in Beltsville, Maryland. “Georgia gives American wine drinkers the opportunity to drink wines that have a direct economic impact on people with a face and a human story.”
When we first started selling Baia’s wine in our restaurants, we enthusiastically shared the sisters’ story and dreams with our guests. Every bottle of white wine we sold was used to fund what would be the next phase of their business: producing organic reds and pét-nats. We worked their vineyard during the 2018 harvest season, and their hospitality was overwhelming, in the best way. They were so proud to share the story of their expansion and financial independence and the role we played in that process in the oldest winemaking region in the world. Consumers in 2019 are asking for something new, but they also want to support sustainability and know that they’re contributing to something more. Sharing the story of Baia is an easy means to fulfill that desire.
Brockett reiterates this notion. “By putting more Georgian wines in front of your guests,” he says, “you’re encouraging them to be curious and to learn about wine and who it comes from. In turn, by choosing a Georgian wine such as Baia’s, we are helping inspire a new generation of Georgian winemakers.”
Turning our attention to Bolivia—the poorest country in South America, according to WorldAtlas, an educational geography site based in Quebec—we see the potential for wine exports to radically affect the cycle of poverty. Many of the poorest of the world’s countries are forced into the trade of raw materials, or commodities, rather than finished products, a circumstance that sustains a pattern of dependence and depletion. Bolivia is working to move away from the exportation of its natural gas, soybeans, and even water rights to export wine, which, as a premium product with a more substantial profit margin, allows basic resources to remain in the country.
Leading this effort are groups such as Chufly Imports, based in Washington, D.C., which works exclusively with Bolivian wine and spirits producers. Chufly’s founder, Ramon Escobar, cites a study by the country’s Ministry of Productive Development and Plural Economy that showed that 10 families are lifted out of poverty for every 25 acres of planted grapes. Given Bolivia’s yields, 500 families would be lifted from poverty if Bolivian wines represented a half of 1 percent of all wine imports to the U.S.
The average consumer would feel excited to be a part of this shift, but it takes will and effort from wine buyers to see these numbers realized—they need to have the opportunity to make the choice in the first place. “I want buyers to consider the impact a wine has on a community or economy among buying factors,” Tealye Long, a Chufly partner, says. “As someone who has seen the impact firsthand in Bolivia, it’s exciting to tell a different story beyond ‘natural and artisan’ and ‘big-brand family tradition.’ Most consumers don’t know one brand from the next, so it’s on the buyers to change their perspective on what’s important when building their wine lists.”
Starting an Intentional Beverage Program
What is important in our beverage programs, and how do we have confidence in our choices? You can purchase wine from both Georgia and Bolivia tomorrow with the right distributor. This means researching distributors and asking them questions. It may seem like an oversimplification, but how often do you ask your wine distributor, “Do you carry wines from Bolivia?” I also reach out to wineries directly to see if they have local distribution; if you find that’s not the case, you could import the wine directly, depending on your state. Thankfully, in D.C. we are able to direct-import wines that would otherwise take some time to make it into the U.S., if at all.
If your state allows for this, I find it best to start with the winery and work backwards. I will connect with a winemaker, either by finding them online or through a personal connection. From there, we will correspond via email to finalize which importer to use, either somebody they work with or one that we’ve worked with over the years. These relationships are imperative for success because there is no guidebook for this style of “ordering.” The benefit typically exceeds altruistic gains, as there is a financial motivation for the establishment, as well. Assuming your business can regularly purchase 8 to 50 cases per order, the price per bottle decreases significantly, sometimes up to 30 percent—the reduced number of intermediaries between the producer and the buyer means fewer markups. It takes a little outside-the-box thinking, persistence, and time but the end result is totally worth it. The consumer wins because they’ll gain access to a product that would otherwise not be available in their market, and the producer earns revenue.
Case in point: We expedited the U.S. debut of Couvent Rouge winery from the Bekaa Valley of Lebanon—the home of Abdullah Richi, a Syrian refugee who makes wine. His goal is to return home and make wine using indigenous Syrian grapes. When we heard his story and tasted the wine, we agreed that we would make a commitment to import all his wine, fast-tracking it into the States. Says Eddie Chami, an owner of Couvent Rouge, “[The importing into the U.S.] is a testament to the hard work and perseverance of our farmers, our local team, and to everyone that believed in us.”
This wine is a crowd-pleaser based on taste alone, but it’s become even more popular because it’s an investment in Richi’s future Syrian winery. I’ve found it’s critical to work with staff to help them communicate these stories to guests. I dedicate time each week to meet with staff, and together we discuss how to talk about each wine, how it came to us, and the impact it’s having in its country of origin.
The country’s indigenous grape varieties, incredible bargains, and off-the-beaten-path wine styles have sparked international interest
We’ve all experienced touching moments both in wine education classes and in service—a feeling of being transported to a bottle’s place of origin. Each glass is a time capsule from a particular location, and enjoying a particular wine could teach us that a region is more than just a news story. Wine is a medium for human connection. I will ask staff and guests, “Do you know what Syria looks like?” Many cannot picture the distinctive landscape, besides what they’ve seen in the media. I challenge you to imagine the elevation of the Andes, or the ancient terroir of Aleppo.
In purchasing wine, we have a power and a responsibility. We can continue as is, or we can tell new stories, ones that directly affect impoverished, neglected, or war-torn regions. We can help consumers rethink the way they drink and do good while having a good time. For us, that’s a double win. For the producers who need our support, it’s life altering.
Maria Bastasch is the wine director at Compass Rose and Maydan in Washington, D.C.
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Portland, Ore.—PORTLAND, September 12, 2019 – The Oregon Wine Board released its annual Oregon Vineyard and Winery Report today, showing continued momentum throughout the state’s wine industry in 2018. While the North Willamette Valley leads in quantity of vineyards and wineries—651 and 503, respectively—there are now 793 wineries across the state with 24 added last year. Wineries in the South Willamette Valley swelled by 16, the biggest regional growth in 2018, now totaling 89 in the region.
Total planted acreage of wine grapes increased by almost 6%, nearly 2,000 acres, increasing from 33,996 to 35,972, showing a healthy optimism in vineyard plantings. The highest growth rate in planted acreage last year was seen in the Umpqua and Rogue valleys with 10% more acres of grapes planted this year over last.
Data for the annual Vineyard and Winery Report was gathered by the Institute for Policy Research and Engagement (IPRE) at the University of Oregon. The reported sales growth trend echoes that of recent Nielsen data, which shows sales of Oregon wine at U.S. retail rose 12% in 2018 compared to the total table wine category’s performance of -0.6% versus the previous year.
For the first time, the estimated value of Oregon’s wine grape crop topped the $200 million mark in 2018 at $208 million, up from $192 million the year prior, an increase of 8.8%. IPRE researchers also found that Oregon wine sales expanded from $550 million in 2017 to $607 million last year, buoyed by a 19% increase in direct-to-consumer shipments, according to the Sovos/Wines Vines Analytics 2019 Direct to Consumer Wine Shipping Report.
Tom Danowski, Oregon Wine Board president, noted that industry momentum is due to the increasing recognition of Oregon’s reputation for quality and consumers’ willingness to seek out and pay for exceptional wines. “Visit any winery or vineyard now in the midst of harvest, and it’s easy to see the skills, experience and extra effort from winemakers, vineyard managers, growers, tasting room staff and everyone involved in the process of crafting Oregon wines,” he said.
Pinot noir continues to reign supreme among varieties, with more than 20,000 acres planted representing a modest 5% jump. The leading variety accounts for 56% of all planted acreage and 58% of 2018 wine grape production. Oregon’s second-most planted variety, Pinot gris, grew by 4% this year, now with 5,078 planted acres. Merlot grew by 26% in planted acreage, Cabernet Sauvignon grew by 25% in planted acreage, Syrah also made a large leap at 21%, and Cabernet Franc and Chardonnay continued their healthy ascents at 16% and 13% growth in planted acres, respectively.
New varieties that made their way to the chart for the first time include Albariño and Gamay. Viognier added almost 100 more planted acres, an increase of 38%.
Exports play a special role in Oregon wines being recognized on the international stage, with Canada being the leading the export market, accounting for 45% of export sales, and with Canadians consuming 47,338 cases of Oregon wine. Notable growth was seen in Scandinavian markets, with a 59% increase in wines exported to Denmark, and Asia, with 15,258 cases of Oregon wine exported supported by increases in exports to Japan, China, Hong Kong, South Korea and other Asian countries.
The complete report is available on the OWB website, with past years’ reports dating back to 2005: industry.oregonwine.org.
|Source: 2017 and 2018 Oregon Vineyard and Winery report, University of Oregon’s Institute for Policy Research and Engagement.|
About the Oregon Wine Board
The Oregon Wine Board is a semi-independent Oregon state agency managing marketing, research and education initiatives that support and advance the Oregon wine and wine grape industry. The Board works on behalf of all Oregon wineries and independent growers throughout the state’s diverse winegrowing regions. Visit oregonwine.org.
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Note: There are several links to articles embedded in the post following that give more context.
Deep within the State of the Industry Report that was released in January, I discussed the Cumulative Negative Health Message that is being spread by neo-prohibitionists. That message is resonating with consumers and wine sales are being impacted, particularly among young health-conscious consumers.
In fact, the total volume of wine sold through distributors in the US has turned negative in both restaurants and grocery/drug store sales in the 12 month period ending in June of this year. When was the last time that happened?
More recently in this blog, I wrote an article on one particular piece of “research” that was funded by anti-alcohol groups. The stated goal of the junk science was to “communicate possible cancer risks that exploit successful historical messaging on smoking.” Said plainly, the goal of the research was to use the known link between cancer and cigarettes and cross-pollinate that same cancer fear to wine consumption.
The volume of the narrative that is attempting to say wine consumption is “just like smoking” is growing and discussions have started regarding changing the warning labels on the back of wine.
I don’t know what new warning labels will say, but they won’t tell the story that moderate consumption is healthy. More likely, it will include a warning with the word cancer – no matter how weak the link is between cancer and moderate wine consumption. The wording in the warning label nearby is what is currently being suggested by one group.
My own view on wine consumption is obviously biased, but it is influenced by the consistent science that demonstrates wine consumption in moderation produces better health outcomes compared to those who abstain from consuming any alcohol. I believe wine is part of many cultures and enhances the enjoyment of food, family gatherings and life in general. I like food and wine.
Could there be a marginal increase in cancer of some type with wine consumption? Maybe, but overall health outcomes are enhanced when wine is consumed in moderation. Isn’t that the important news?
What will happen to wine consumption if this narrative continues and gains strength? IWSR wrote a piece suggesting the link being drawn between cigarettes and alcohol will drive new legislation.
What’s Your Opinion?
- Is the wine industry doing anything to combat this attack?
- Do you believe wine causes cancer like cigarettes?
- What percentage of current wine consumers today will agree that wine in moderation is good for you?
Please join this site on the top right-hand side of the page, and offer your thoughts below. I respond to everyone.
Please share this post on your favorite social media platform. We need to heighten the discussion of this topic.
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More people are looking for Italian wine online, but retailers don’t appear to have noticed.
While France still rules the roost when it comes to what people look for on Wine-Searcher, the big winner in terms of interest is Italy – but retailers aren’t keeping up with the changes in demand.
As we noted in a story last month, interest in Italian wine has been growing and Wine-Searcher’s figures certainly back that up. However, despite Italy displacing the US in terms of interest back in 2018, the number of offers – that is, the number of wines being offered for sale by retailers on Wine-Searcher – listed for US wines outstrips the number of Italian offers by almost one third. While Italian wines currently account for 16.44 percent of searches so far this year (and 16.95 percent of offers), US wines made up just 14.9 percent of searches but accounted for 22.4 percent of offers.
In the US itself – a hugely parochial market, where even French wine is subordinate to the local stuff – the numbers are closer, but still weigh heavily in favor of local wines. In 2014, Italian wines made up 14.72 percent of all searches and 13.41 percent of offers, while the corresponding figures for US wines were 37.1 percent and 45.75 percent. So far this year, Italian wines account for 15.63 percent of all searches, but the number of offers for Italian wines has fallen to 12.75 percent. US wines dropped in search numbers (to 34.55 percent of all searches), but remained almost the same for offers (44.85 percent).
It’s another good news story for Italian producers, after we reported in July on how Italian wine price growth was outstripping that of Bordeaux.
Globally it’s all about French wine, however. Wine from France has dominated interest on Wine-Searcher since the site’s inception 20 years ago, and consumers show no sign of getting fed up with it. Five years ago, searches for French wines made up 45.66 percent of all searches on Wine-Searcher (almost 44 million out of a total of 96m searches) and last year that figure peaked at 47.92 percent (72m out of a total of 151.5m searches). So far this year, French wines accounted for 47.16 percent of searches, or 48.1m out of 102m total searches. Conversely, the number of offers for French wines has fallen from 33 percent of the total offers in 2014 to 30 percent today.
Overall, the 10 most popular countries among Wine-Searcher users are the ones you’d expect, even if the order possibly isn’t.
France is followed by Italy and then it’s the US, Spain, Australia, Portugal, Chile, Argentina, Germany and New Zealand. However, Australia looks like it will be overtaking Spain soon, and Germany has climbed above Argentina so far this year. As far as offers go, the bottom four in descending order are Germany, Argentina, Chile and South Africa, which replaces New Zealand – this is most likely as a result of available volumes, rather than a lack of retailer interest in Kiwi wines.
The figures are based on searches from our 20 largest user countries, which provide some interesting snippets themselves.
The US is obviously the largest source of searches (almost exactly one-third of them, to be precise), followed by the UK, China, Hong Kong and France. But per capita searches offer a fascinating glimpse of how wine-obsessed those countries actually are.
US searches amount to 10.3 percent of the country’s entire population, which is quite impressive when you consider 30 percent of Americans don’t drink at all. The UK is even more impressive, equating to 12.75 percent of the national population. China’s huge population means that searches are a comparatively minuscule 0.45 percent of the total population and the equivalent of just 6.42 percent of French people have used Wine-Searcher so far this year. Clearly they are more interested in drinking it than searching for it online.
The most heroically enthusiastic users of Wine-Searcher, however, come from Hong Kong. With a population of around 7.5m people, the territory has racked up the equivalent of 80 percent of that number in searches so far this year.
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Growing up in Mazatlán, a town in the state of Sinaloa on the Pacific coast of Mexico, Luis Arce Mota would watch his father and friends share a bucket of boiled shrimp while drinking small bottles of Pacifico to fend off the heat.
“It was beer, beer, beer,” says Arce Mota, owner/chef of La Contenta and La Contenta Oeste in New York City. “Everything in Mexico is about class. Beer is for the people, the proletariat.”
Arce Mota did not grow up with wine, nor do a majority of Mexican immigrants to America. “The Mexicans in the United States are the people who couldn’t make it back home,” he says. “It’s hard work growing corn, especially when you make $10 a day. We don’t have access to jobs or education in Mexico. You have to [emigrate], work as a dishwasher and grow from there.”
Arce Mota arrived in the United States in the early 1990s and started his hospitality career in the dish pit of Carmine’s Italian Restaurant in Times Square. He worked for chefs like David Bouley, Michael Lomonaco, Michael Romano and César Ramirez.
Arce Mota’s wine education was informal, gradual and disconnected from the Mexican cuisine he cooked until he rediscovered wines from Valle de Guadalupe in Baja Mexico.
Now, at La Contenta, he offers arguably the only wine list in America comprised exclusively of Mexican wines.
When did Mexico start producing wine?
For most American wine drinkers, Mexican wine appeared seemingly out of nowhere. One day, we were content drinking Tecate, margaritas and mezcal, and the next, sommeliers were pouring tastes of Tempranillo-Nebbiolo blends that showed big fruit and a touch of sea salt.
Mexican winemaking is not new. It’s been practiced since Spanish conquistador Hernán Cortés was said to have brought the Mission grape (now known to be Listán Prieto) to the Americas in the 16th century. Jesuit and Dominican priests established vineyards at missions along the Pacific Coast in Mexico, just as they did in California. Unfortunately, phylloxera, the Mexican Revolution and staggering inequality were not kind to the nascent wine industry.
“In the music world, you can always feel a hit record developing, especially when you start getting calls from the middle of the country. I’m getting that exact feeling with Mexican wines.” —Tom Bracamontes, founder, La Competencia Imports
On the Baja peninsula, just south of San Diego, there were a handful of holdout producers. Arce Mota remembers trying bottles from L.A. Cetto and Pedro Domecq during the 1980s, but wasn’t impressed with the quality at the time.
“Until eight to 10 years ago, wines of Baja weren’t good,” says Lawrence Becerra, owner of fine-dining Mexican restaurant Sazón in Santa Fe, New Mexico. “Their techniques and equipment were antiquated, the water was dirty and the wines had a high saline quality. Then, good winemakers came in, used clean water and chose grapes for terroir.”
Jill Gubesch, the longtime wine director for chef Rick Bayless’ Frontera restaurant group, initially experienced Mexican wine in 2001 on her first trip to the country.
“The only wines available to us were from a small local wine shop,” she says. “They had been sitting in the heat, and the vintages were out of date…so you can imagine the kind of shape they were in.”
She didn’t give up on the wines, though. After visiting Valle de Guadalupe, Gubesch staged a winemaker dinner with Casa de Piedra and Adobe Guadalupe wineries. She managed to get a few selections imported for her wine lists at Frontera Grill and Topolobampo.
Mexican wine in restaurants today
Eighteen years later, Gubesch features up to 48 Mexican selections on her lists at Leña Brava, Frontera Grill and Topolobampo. She now has a large enough selection and supply of Mexican wines to pair with all five courses of Topolobampo’s tasting menu, her biggest seller.
The popularity of Mexican cuisine in America along with rising quality has created growing demand for the country’s wines. And largely, Tom Bracamontes is responsible for the supply. His La Competencia Imports represents around 20 wineries from Valle de Guadalupe, and he supplies, on average, 10% of their wine output to the United States.
Bracamontes founded La Competencia Imports in 2015 after working in the music industry and, later, spending nearly a decade in marketing for Napa’s Mi Sueño Winery. “I needed something more exciting than a $150 bottle of Cabernet,” he says.
“They’re our neighbors, for chrissakes. To me, it makes perfect sense to include Baja wines in an American restaurant.” —Lawrence Becerra, owner, Sazón
When Bracamontes visited Valle de Guadalupe, he found all the trappings of a great New World wine region with great food and hospitality, despite water and infrastructure issues. He, as well as sommeliers and winemakers, are particularly attracted to the lack of rules and standardization in the Mexican wine industry. There are no regulations or governing boards telling producers where to grow Chenin Blanc or that they can’t blend Italian and Spanish grape varieties.
The region has a handful of exceptional winemakers, several of whom make wines for multiple brands.
“I think of them as Dr. Dre or Pharrell,” says Bracamontes. “I want to find the winemakers or producers who are making great wine—or hit records—for more than one person.”
Among that lauded group are Daniel Lonnberg (Adobe Guadalupe, Hacienda Guadalupe, Hilo Negro, Literal, Canada de los Encinos and Emevé); Alberto Rubio (Fluxus, Bodegas F. Rubio and La Trinidad) and Lourdes “Lulu” Martinez Ojeda (Bruma, Palafox and Bodegas Henri Lurton).
Camillo Magoni’s winery, Bodegas Magoni, represents the progress made by the valley’s longtime winemakers.
“[Camillo] Magoni has been making wine in Valle de Guadalupe for more than 50 years and experiments with [over 100] different grape varieties,” says Gubesch. “He’s definitely the OG of Valle.”
At Cosme in New York City, Beverage Director Yana Volfson works with Vena Cava winemaker Phil Gregory to make the restaurant’s house red, or Tinto de la Casa. It’s a blend of Merlot and Cabernet Franc and sells for $25 per glass. Cosme has worked with Gregory since its launch in 2014, and Volfson says the wine pairs particularly well with smoky dishes like ayocote bean purée and lamb tacos.
“It’s a fuller-bodied wine that responds well to spice,” says Volfson. “There’s a hugging minerality that works with chiles, rubs and mole.”
A wealth of pairing opportunities for Mexico’s wines
To state the obvious, Mexican wine and food pair beautifully. At Yucatan-inspired Chaak Kitchen in Tustin, California, owner Ed Patrick suggests Roganto’s Piccolo, a red blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Tempranillo, Cabernet Franc and Merlot that would pair well with the restaurant’s 11-hour smoked cochinita pibil. Meanwhile, Gubesch is currently pouring the Bodegas de Santo Tomás 2016 Blanca México with uni tostadas. Made from the Mission grape, the wine “is little funky with a fino Sherry-like nose and a savory freshness reminiscent of the sea,” she says.
At La Contenta Oeste, a 2015 Santos Brujos Tempranillo adds a lovely fruit top note to the tomatoes, olives, raisins and plantains in Arce Mota’s branzino Veracruz. Need to pair corn and tomatoes? Try the Bodegas Henri Lurton Chenin Blanc.
“It makes people’s hearts melt to eat queso fundido with a Mexican red wine,” says Eric Jefferson, general manager of La Calenda in Napa.
Mexican wine sales thrive in metropolitan markets on the East and West Coasts, generally at higher-end Mexican restaurants, but they can fill niches on most wine lists. At Philadelphia’s meat-centric Kensington Quarters, which places a focus on Southern-style cuisine, sommelier Megan Storm pours Bichi wines, made in Tecate. For Jeff Harding, beverage director at Waverly Inn in New York City, Baja is represented right alongside Bordeaux. “If you like California wine, you’ll like Baja wine,” says Harding. “It’s fruit-forward and immediately accommodating. These wines are friendly right away.”
Becerra says Mexican wines can perform well with any American cuisine.
“They’re our neighbors, for chrissakes,” he says. “To me, it makes perfect sense to include Baja wines in an American restaurant.”
Finding a home in the finest restaurants in America
At The French Laundry, located in the heart of American winemaking in Napa, Head Sommelier Erik Johnson includes 14 Baja wines on his expansive 2,500-label list. As a 21-year-old who just passed both his Level 1 and Level 2 sommelier certifications, Johnson had an unusually early exposure to Mexican wines. While working at a resort in Arizona in 2008, he tasted wines like Grenache from Baja instead of the Rhône.
Johnson and his boss, Thomas Keller, both have a soft spot for Mexican wines.
“Our list is a representation of benchmark producers from around the world, an encyclopedic gathering of regions and producers that tell a story of where they’re coming from,” says Johnson. “That’s the uniqueness of this restaurant. It provides an environment, where if you want to learn about wine, you can. Mexican wines offer an extra level of versatility.”
Selling Mexican wine to a captive and sometimes California-wine-fatigued audience, has been relatively straightforward for Johnson and Jefferson.
At Empellón in New York City, Corporate Beverage Director Noah Small, highlights seven Mexican selections featured prominently on the menu. “If I had to pick just one category of red wine, it would be bottles from Mexico,” says Small, who plans to soon double the Mexican labels available. In a neighborhood dominated by lawyers, bankers and Cabernet, Small’s best-selling bottle is a $110 Tempranillo-Nebbiolo blend from Corona del Valle.
Arce Mota has had three groups of diners walk out of the restaurant when they realized the wine list is all Mexican, but increasingly, people come in just to experience the wines. Two guests recently bought two $96 bottles from Fluxus after having tried the wine at an upscale restaurant in Mexico.
In Napa, a bottle of Mexican wine on the French Laundry list can feel like a steal.
“How cool is it that you can go from the tasting rooms at Opus and Harlan and then try something you haven’t had before, a wine from Mexico?” asks Johnson. “A $150 bottle blows you away.”
Mexican wine may overdeliver for diners used to paying $100 or more for a bottle, but it’s far from entry-level.
“Mexico does not produce two-buck José,” says Bracamontes.
The challenges in getting Mexican wine to U.S. restaurants
The country doesn’t manufacture any significant amount of corks, capsules or labels, which generally have to be imported from the United States or Europe. A lack of warehousing and transportation infrastructure often thwarts exports outside Baja. Further complicating matters, winemakers sign grape contracts in U.S. dollars, which constitutes a considerable premium against the Mexican peso.
Most critically, there’s a serious lack of water in the region, which affects quality at lesser houses and quantity for the whole peninsula. Though wineries and export numbers have increased in Valle de Guadalupe, annual production has stalled at 2 million cases for the last decade, says Bracamontes.
That problem may be addressed soon. Vintners and estate owners have banded together to finance a water pipeline that could deliver enough reclaimed water from Tijuana to irrigate up to 25,000 acres. Valle de Guadalupe has almost 5,000 acres of grapes planted, and there are more than 10,000 acres of vineyards in greater Baja.
“The pipelines are actually being set,” says Jaime Palafox Granados, owner of Aldo Palafox Vinos y Viñedos and president of Baja California wine producers’ association. “We could provide water for those vines planted already and [perhaps triple] plantings.”
Palafox, Bracamontes and longtime producer Tru Miller of Adobe Guadalupe believe the pipeline could make growers’ lives a little easier while improving quality and lowering prices. With that, name recognition could increase. Napa growers have used wastewater as irrigation for years.
Others are more cautious. “I think you have to respect nature sometimes, and maybe not source water from other places,” says Volfson. “We’ve learned from history that you develop better-quality juice when you find ways to reduce production. There is opportunity and this wonderful interest in making more wine, but at what cost does that come?”
What does the future hold for Mexican wine in America?
The next few years will be important for the Mexican wine industry. Young, homegrown winemakers like Lulu Martinez Ojeda are on the lips of sommeliers across the U.S. Sales are up in Mexico, fueled by high-end dining in Mexico City and at resorts.
“I don’t think we’ve hit inflection point yet,” says Bracamontes. “In the music world, you can always feel a hit record developing, especially when you start getting calls from the middle of the country. I’m getting that exact feeling with Mexican wines.”
He’s begun to investigate the possibility to import wine from Coahuila, Guanajuato, San Miguel de Allende, Querétaro and Aguascalientes.
For Arce Mota, to serve Mexican wine is personal. He’s proud of a product made in his home country. He’s excited to share it with his guests. And as Mexican wine becomes more popular, he hopes that it will create a few more quality jobs back home.
“All the Mexican wines I can get, I will carry,” says Arce Mota. “We put them out into the market so people will know about them. For me, now that I understand, I want every Mexican restaurant to serve at least one Mexican wine.”
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In the wake of a U.S. Supreme Court decision that some say prevents states from discriminatorily banning out-of-state retailers from shipping wine to in-state consumers, a national retailers group is pushing to get legislation passed in Albany that would do away with a key part of New York’s current wine-sales legal structure.
The structure, according to the wine retailers group, effectively bans out-of-state wine retailers from shipping their bottles into New York while allowing in-state retailers to let their wine shipments flow.
The group, the National Association of Wine Retailers based in Sacramento, also says that 21 states currently have laws violating the Constitution in the wake of the Supreme Court’s ruling in June in Tennessee Wine and Spirits Retailers Association v. Blair.
And it says that it’s currently supporting a run of lawsuits that have sprung up this summer, after the Tennessee Wine decision, in seven states. The suits challenge the states’ respective ways of stopping out-of-state retailers and stores from sending their vintages into those states.
But in New York, according to the association’s executive director, Tom Wark, “we much prefer to go the legislative route than litigation,” in part, he told the Law Journal on Monday, because “New York is a very influential state and so the way [it] passes legislation [on this issue] will influence other states as they go forward, and we like the idea of that.”
In June, Justice Samuel Alito Jr., writing for 7-2 Supreme Court majority, ruled in Tennessee Wine v. Blair that a Tennessee law prohibiting out-of-state retailers from obtaining a state retail license to operate in-state stores was unconstitutional under the U.S. Constitution’s Commerce Clause.
“Because Tennessee’s two-year residency requirement for retail license applicants blatantly favors the state’s residents and has little relationship to public health and safety, it is unconstitutional,” Alito wrote, in part, in a decision that undercuts laws engaging in “protectionism” of residents, and that detailed why, in the alcohol-related context, Tennessee’s law was not saved by the U.S. Constitution’s 21st Amendment.
Alito’s holding did not directly address whether laws found in many states effectively banning out-of-state retailers from shipping to consumers were likewise unconstitutional, but a host of retailers and some lawyers believe the decision can be interpreted to mean that.
To make the argument, Wark and others in part point to Alito’s continual citing, as support for the majority’s position in Tennessee Wine, of the high court’s 2005 decision in Granholm v. Heald. In Granholm, a 5-4 majority court declared unconstitutional New York and Michigan laws that had allowed in-state wineries to ship directly to consumers but banned out-of-state wineries from doing the same.
“Most recently, in Granholm, we struck down a set of discriminatory direct-shipment laws that favored in-state wineries over out-of-state competitors,” Alito wrote in Tennessee Wine.
Now, according to Wark and a news release from his group, litigation is popping up across the country challenging as discriminatory—and as wrongly “protectionist,” despite opposition often citing the alcohol-focused, prohibition-ending 21st Amendment—laws that allow in-state retailers and stores to ship their wines to residents but prevent out-of-state retailers from engaging in such business.
The practical effect of a change in the 21 states’ laws would be twofold: One, there would be the obvious boon to businesses that would be able to ship their products to more consumers; and, as described by New York Times wine critic Eric Asimov, there would be “a wellspring of [new] opportunities to consumers” who could now “scour the country for hard-to-find bottles and the best retail deals.”
Both the New York Attorney General’s Office and the Office of Gov. Andrew Cuomo did not respond to requests for comment Monday, including giving no response to a question about whether New York’s laws, as presently constituted, are unconstitutional in light of the Supreme Court’s Tennessee Wine ruling.
The State Liquor Authority also did not respond directly to the question of whether New York’s laws are unconstitutional.
But in response to a broader question about the existing law in New York, a Liquor Authority spokesman, William Crowley, said that “in order to obtain a liquor store license in N[ew] Y[ork], an applicant needs to have a physical premises in the state,” and “the only businesses outside of N[ew] Y[ork] that may sell alcohol to N[ew] Y[ork] S[tate] residents are out-of-state wineries with a direct shippers permit issued by the S[tate] L[iquor] A[uthority].”
According to Wark, the push is on already to formulate a New York bill that will both hopefully pass through the Legislature and allow out-of-state retailers and stores to ship to residents.
“We hope to see a bill on this issue drop after the first of the year [in 2020],” he told the Law Journal, though he wouldn’t comment on whether there are particular state legislators ready to sponsor such a bill.
He added, “We’re in the process right now of writing a bill that will satisfy the State of New York’s requirements that out-of-state retailers [that, under the bill, would be allowed to ship into New York] comply with New York oversight laws, submit to New York legal jurisdiction and have to pay taxes to New York.”
Still, such a bill may be fought hard in Albany, regardless of the Tennessee Wine ruling and how it is interpreted by some, as wholesalers have reportedly felt harmed by, and taken action against, the growth of interstate wine shipment sales before. Two New York Times articles, for instance, have pointed out that wholesalers lobbied hard in recent years to make sure that states enforce their existing laws restricting interstate wine shipping. Many of those laws, said one of the articles, appeared to mostly go unenforced until the wholesaler lobbying came into play.
“The efforts to curtail interstate shipping, many retailers believe, are a result of heavy lobbying by wine and spirits wholesalers, supported by generous campaign contributions to state legislators and other elected officials,” a 2017 Times story headlined “Wines Are No Longer Free to Travel Across State Lines” said.
The story added, “In New York State, for example, wholesalers have given $2.7 million to candidates for office, compared with $678,000 donated by retailers, according to the Nation Institute on Money in State Politics.”
Wark said he hopes a battle in Albany for a new law is begun and fully engaged and that the battle is won next year.
“The Court spoke loud and clear in Tennessee Wine v. Thomas when it held that states may not discriminate against out-of-state wine stores by banning their wine shipments into the state, while at the same time allowing their own wine stores to ship wine to their state’s consumers,” he said in a statement. “While we support the lawsuits filed in seven states, we think lawmakers in the other 14, including New York, ought to take it upon themselves to follow the Constitution, fix their wine shipping laws, and give their consumers access to wines they can’t find locally.”
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