Help Fund a Lawyer’s Highest Calling

What's the best thing a lawyer can do with your $20? Sounds like the beginning of a joke, right? But for right now, the answer is quite seriously this: try to convince the U.S. Supreme Court to let you buy wine when and how you'd like to.

For the first time in years, a case has made its way to the Supreme Court that deals with the (totally screwed up, antiquated, uncompetitive, inefficient, unfair and bullshit) laws that govern shipping wines to consumers across state lines.

These laws, put in place after the repeal of Prohibition, are byzantine relics of another age, one in which organized crime dominated the liquor business, and the moral compass of America was heavily anti-alcohol. Ratified on 5 December 1933, the Twenty-First Amendment to the United States Constitution contained the following statement: 'The transportation or importation into any State, Territory, or possession of the United States for delivery or use therein of intoxicating liquors, in violation of the laws thereof, is hereby prohibited.' Odd language, is it not, for an amendment that was re-legalizing liquor?

In that convoluted sentence, the Congress of the United States put the power to regulate the commerce of alcohol completely into the hands of the individual states, and paved the way for the complete nightmare that is America's Three-Tier System.

How much of a nightmare? Well for 25% of America, it's currently easier to order a gun over the internet than it is a bottle of wine? To buy wine in many states, you have to to make your way to a liquor store run by the state government, submit your state driver's license for a background check, and in at least one state's grocery stores, take a breathalyzer test before having the chance to shop a selection driven more by bureaucracy and the whims of distributors than by any sense of what you might want. In Connecticut, you can't order more than 20 bottles of wine within a two month period, and in Arizona, you can't have a winery ship you a bottle of their wine unless the winery can prove to the government that you've physically visited that winery first. These are just some of the ridiculous laws that vary across all 50 of our states, and force wineries, retailers, and consumers to spend millions and millions of dollars that they really shouldn't have to spend.

Sure, we believe in the "free market" here in America. But when it comes to alcohol we are the land of subsidies, forced monopolies, and sweetheart deals. Thanks to the 21st Amendment, 19 states have a direct financial interest in, and control of, wine sales within their borders beyond the basic taxes that all states levy on alcohol sales. This control can range from a complete monopoly on wine sales via state-run stores such as in Montana, Utah and Alabama, to laws (in 12 states and several more specific cities) that prevent consumers from getting their wine shipped to them from retailers or wineries, even if the shipper is in the same state. In any other industry, the level of collusion between state governments and alcohol wholesalers, and the fiercely anti-competitive arrangements they put into place, would clearly violate federal anti-trust laws. But not so with state laws governing liquor.

Unsurprisingly, these laws remain fiercely defended by those who profit mightily from their existence - state governments and liquor wholesalers - even in the face of rising consumer outrage. The Wine and Spirits Wholesalers of America (WSWA) has spent hundreds of millions of dollars successfully convincing many state legislatures that allowing wineries and retailers to ship wine across state borders would be tantamount to selling wine in toy stores, or handing it out free to teenagers on their way home from high school.

But let's get back to the Supreme Court. It has recently agreed to hear a case known as Byrd v. Tennessee, which is essentially a challenge to the laws in Tennessee that say out of state retailers can't sell wine to Tennessee residents. Or more specifically in this case, that Total Wine and More can't set up shop in Tennessee without being a resident (presumably they mean the executives of the business) of the state for at least NINE years. While this is the specific point of contention in the case, the various court rulings that have thrown it all the way up to the Supreme court make it clear that this case is an opportunity to clarify what the Commerce Clause (which says that the Federal Government can regulate commerce among the states) means in the context of the 21st Amendment (which says, specifically, that the commerce of alcohol is to be regulated by the states).

As you may or may not know, when the Supreme Court hears a case, anyone can file an amicus brief, which is a legal document filed by someone not party to the case, but who may have a strong interest in the case. An amicus brief is filed to make the court aware of that strong interest, as well as to bring relevant information to light that the outside party believes is relevant to the case.

Which is why the National Association of Wine Retailers and the Wine Freedom advocacy organizations have started a GoFundMe campaign to raise a little bit of money to file such a brief. This is your opportunity to help make the voices of wine consumers throughout the nation heard by the highest court in the land.

Stand up for fair commerce. Stand up for wineries, wine retailers, and wine consumers, all of whom benefit from the free market working the way it is supposed to. Donate today.



How to Properly Design a Wine List

When we talk about the design of a wine list, what is it that we're talking about? Most of the time, we're talking about the careful curation of choices for what wines go on the list.

But I'd like to talk about the other meaning of designing a wine list. Yes, I'm talking about literally what that list looks like -- the choices that were made in deciding how the carefully curated selection of wines should actually appear to the guest.

This conversation is going to be about aesthetics and the fundamentals of graphic design; about organization and readability; about context and creativity.

Wine list design, I must say, from the standpoint of someone who designs things for a living and pays lots of people who do, too, is almost universally awful.

For the past four years, I have been a judge for the global World's Best Wine Lists Awards put on by the World of Fine Wine magazine. Which means for the past four years I have read literally hundreds and hundreds of wine lists from around the world. And they suffer from the same flaws that you might find in any randomly selected corporate PowerPoint presentation, or homemade poster on the wall of a community center.

In short, they're not designed so much as just "put together." But it's surprising to me how often the wine list seems even less considered from a design perspective than the humble menu in a restaurant.

Granted, wine lists can be daunting things to contemplate putting to paper. After all, they're often long lists of similar looking combinations of words. But that is precisely why they benefit from (and much more than menus, really REQUIRE) the application of proper graphic design principles.

In an effort to improve the standards of judging for the World's Best Wine Lists in 2018, I personally reviewed every single wine list submitted to the awards. Thousands upon thousands of them. I can say with great authority, then, that the state of wine list design is universally deplorable around the world. In many cases there were literally only a handful of lists that were truly worthy of consideration for the award of Best Designed Wine List.

But the good news is that a few simple principles, thoughtfully employed, can really make a big difference. So without further ado, here's my point of view on what makes for a really nicely designed wine list, purely from a visual, organizational, and experiential perspective. Don't forget to put some great wines on it, too!

Legibility
This is the first thing that anyone will notice about a wine list, and you'd be surprised at how many wine lists get even this basic, forehead-slapping principle wrong. And many get it so, so wrong. Cramming too many wines on a page; not distinguishing between the name of the producer versus the name of the wine; choosing fonts that are tough to read; putting images in the background of the list; the mistakes are myriad. And that's not even including some of the more egregious errors of data -- missing vintage dates, inconsistent reference to the wine's place of origin, even missing prices (unforgivable).

The best wine lists are easy to read, to scan and to browse. Human beings have been printing things since the 15th Century, and only shortly thereafter did we realize that there were some things we had to to in order to make it easy for people to read the things we printed.



The Blue Hill at Stone Barns wine list is beautifully and elegantly readable.



How to Properly Design a Wine List
The list from The Mozaic restaurant in Bali, on the other hand, doesn't make for easy reading.


Layout
When you're going to put a bunch of text on the page, you have to make choices. How much text are you going to put on the page? How wide will your margins be? Will you have big titles at the top of your page? Will there be page numbers? Where will those page numbers go? These are just a few of the dozens of choices that should be consciously made as one designs the pages of a wine list, and these choices should be informed by both the content itself (length of the list) and the style and sensibility of the dining establishment. The layout of a wine list despite often consisting simply of text on the page, remains a visual exercise, one that is capable of expressing the restaurant's brand and personality (though some people go too far in trying to give their lists personality from a visual perspective)

The best wine lists don't crowd too much onto each page, leaving enough whitespace to make things easy to read, and to distinguish the various elements of the page.



How to Properly Design a Wine List

Hakkasan's many wine lists around the globe have a very considered design that utilizes whitespace, justification and columns to nice effect.



How to Properly Design a Wine List
As much as I like the list for what it has on it, the Cowboy Ciao wine list is a train wreck from a layout (not to mention a typographical) perspective.



Organizational Structure
As distinct from the choices of how to place text on the page, this principle is really about how someone has decided to structure the entire list. What are the top level categories, and how have those categories been further broken down into sub-categories, and sub-sub categories, and so on. This may seem trivial to the uninitiated, but there is a real art in deciding what the structure of the list will be. Will you organize it by country first? Or by grape variety first? Or by style? And once someone has selected one of those categories, how will the wines within that category be further subdivided? These choices depend, of course on the depth and breadth of the list itself, but also on the vision and strategy of the wine list's author.

The best wine lists are carefully structured and ordered presenting wines in hierarchical groups that are understandable and consistent.


How to Properly Design a Wine List

The list from the Restaurant at Meadowood is beautifully organized and categorized with clear labels and sections.



How to Properly Design a Wine List
The Black Swan in York, England is, unfortunately trying too hard when it comes to organizing the list. It has become a cipher.


Browseability / Navigation
This, of course, is closely related to the aforementioned principle of organization. The browseability and navigational cues built into the design of a wine list should, in fact, reflect the organizational choices that have been made throughout the list. Customers should be able to understand and recognize where they find themselves in the wine list through cues provided on the page. These can be as basic as a page number and a title at the top of the page that reads "Red Wines," for a list that might just have two categories (i.e. Red and White) but they should frequently offer much more, especially for lists that run to many multiple pages. These bits of information or other visual cues, known as affordances, can help orient the customer to where they are, where they might have come from, what it is they are looking at, and where they can go from here.

The best wine lists have clear ways of indicating the differences between groups of wines, which group of wines the customer is looking at, where those groups sit in the larger hierarchy of wines, and more.


How to Properly Design a Wine List

At Hellenika, a Greek Restaurant on Australia's Gold Coast, the wine list is eminently navigable.



How to Properly Design a Wine List
Apicus, in Tokyo, on the other hand has forced you to read almost every line to find what you're looking for.


Typographic Style
The fundamental principles of typography remain a mystery to most people, thanks largely to the magic of word processing. The most that many of us might approach typographic principles would be the debate over whether a period should be followed by one space or two before the next sentence begins (the answer, despite what your grade school teachers drilled into you, is one). In the context of any text on a page, typography involves the choice of the actual font, of course, but also many other subtle, yet powerful decisions that have both practical and aesthetic implications. Decisions such as how much space appears between lines of text, or whether text is centered on the page or aligned in columns all affect the readability or scannability of the list. Other decisions such as which words to capitalize, whether to use bold or italic type, and what kinds of punctuation to employ not only affect readability, but also make an aesthetic statement in themselves.

The best wine lists select readable fonts, and utilize the various elements of typography to create readability, visual hierarchy, and distinction between elements on the page. Because wine lists are mostly text, and I can't emphasize this enough, typography plays an outsized role in the effectiveness and aesthetics of a wine list.



How to Properly Design a Wine List

The wine list at The Barn at Blackberry Farm in Tennessee is a triumph of typographic design. Note the use of different fonts, italics for the wine name and small caps for the producer name.



How to Properly Design a Wine List
La Chaumiere in Calgary has not only failed to use type to assist the reader, they've eschewed any visual organization altogether, making for a supremely unpleasant scanning or reading experience.


Visual Elements
On the whole, apart from the content (i.e. the wines) which excite only the geekiest amongst us, most wine lists are right up there with phone books on the scale of reading material capable of holding the interest of the average person. In short, they ain't very interesting to look at. Very few wine lists attempt to offer any visual interest beyond the choice of font (which, if selected for that reason, is usually a major mistake). Quite surprisingly, this even extends to the use of color, which despite no longer being particularly cost prohibitive in this age of cheap laser and inkjet printing, nearly always seems to be overlooked as a tool by those designing lists. Some wine lists however, choose to adorn their wine lists with elements of visual interest, ranging from purely aesthetic curlicues, to grid and separation lines for organization, to actual illustrations (most often in the form of maps, and to a lesser extent, imagery of wine labels). Such elements more often detract from the experience than add to it, but done well, they can enhance the experience of perusing the list as well as convey the personality of the restaurant.

The best wine lists use visual elements, from color to illustrations, to decorations or other adornments to complement or supplement the text on the page, rather than distracting from the content of the list.



How to Properly Design a Wine List

Acanto in Chicago not only has an occasionally humorous sketch adorning their list, they're actually one of the few wine lists around the world using color well.



How to Properly Design a Wine List
Unfortunately there are far too many lists in the world like this one, from La Villa in Vietnam, where poor graphics are not only useless, they detract from the experience.




So who's really doing it right? Well, this year, our choice for the Best Designed Wine List in the World went to The Barn at Blackberry Farm, which is truly a joy to read, not to mention being a phenomenal collection of wines. Anyone would do well to (figuratively speaking) take a page from their book when it came to use of type, browseability, and overall layout. But that's just one of many ways to design a wine list well. If you're a wine director or a restaurateur, why not take a little time to make your wine list better? Can't afford to pay a designer to do it? I can tell you that there are almost certainly students of graphic design in your city who would doubtless give it a shot just for the chance to say they'd done it, or perhaps in exchange for a nice meal or two.

As with every interaction with the guest, the wine list has an opportunity to tell the story of your brand. Make it a good one. Or at the very least, make it understandable.



The Highs and Lows of Vintage 2018

In preparing to summarise the state of the 2018 vintage in some of America's top wine regions this week, I found myself relieved that the highlights did not include winemakers contending with raging wildfires, earthquakes or other natural disasters. Of course, this past year has not been completely free from fires in California and Oregon (and there was an ill-timed hurricane on the east coast) but these examples of force majeure thankfully weren't raging around the ears of wine producers as they brought in their grapes at the end of the season. That said, not everyone had an easy time of it in 2018.

Perhaps the toughest vintage stories this year come from America's east coast, where unusual and rather persistent summer rains made for an extremely soggy harvest in some places and, unfortunately, no harvest at all in a few unlucky cases.

'In general bud break was late, flowering was wet, and veraison was normal', said Jeff White, winemaker at Glen Manor Vineyards in Front Royal, Virginia. 'The big story of 2018 was the unrelenting rain. With the exception of about two weeks in late June we had non-stop rain and clouds throughout the growing season and then into the harvest season. The soils never dried out. The vines began to shut down early, thus not fully ripening the grapes.'

White didn't make any red wines in 2018, but has hopes that his whites and rosé will be 'very nice'.

Out on the North Fork of New York's Long Island, rain was more sporadic, and sunshine in slightly greater supply than in Virginia, according to Richard Olsen-Harbich, the winemaker at Bedell Cellars in Cutchogue, New York.

'Summer was slow to come but when it did we had a lot of heat and sun. The fruit really ripened quickly through a very hot and dry August and slowed down once September hit with sporadic rains', said Harbich. 'We've had lots of challenges this fall dancing between rain events, but we know how to deal with it. It's not our first rodeo.'

Read the rest of the story on JancisRobinson.Com.

This article is my monthly column at JancisRobinson.Com, Alder on America, and is available only to subscribers of her web site. If you're not familiar with the site, I urge you to give it a try. It's only £8.50 a month or £85 per year ($11/mo or $111 a year for you Americans) and well worth the cost, especially considering you basically get free, searchable access to the Oxford Companion to Wine ($65) and the World Atlas of Wine ($50) as part of the subscription costs. Click here to sign up.

Image of an early morning Pinot Noir pick courtesy of Brittan Vineyards.



Elevating Colorado Wine


What's the ultimate sign that an emerging American wine region has finally broken out of obscurity? An influx of winemakers from Napa or Sonoma eager to try their hand in the area? Showing up regularly on grocery-store shelves in other wine regions? Getting featured as one of the best wine regions you've never heard of in Vogue magazine? Having wines that regularly score more than 90 points in a major wine publication? The establishment of subappellations and stricter geographic labelling requirements by the government?

Many such milestones measure the path towards a wine region's greater prominence, but marking the inflection point of a wine region's ascendancy seems possible only in retrospect. Nonetheless, I recently found myself trying to gauge the trajectory of Colorado's wine industry, which has recently experienced every single one of these milestones, on my way to judge that state's annual Governor's Cup wine competition along with some very high-profile fellow judges.

While it beats digging ditches (and garners little sympathy from those who have yet to experience the sensation of tasting their 150th wine of the day), wine judging is, in fact, fairly thankless work. Which is why the world's largest wine competitions spend a good portion of their budgets compensating the judges who spend multiple days in windowless rooms courting splitting headaches while sorting through 100 glasses of mostly mediocre Syrah.

Read the rest of the story on JancisRobinson.Com.

This article is my monthly column at JancisRobinson.Com, Alder on America, and is available only to subscribers of her web site. If you're not familiar with the site, I urge you to give it a try. It's only £8.50 a month or £85 per year ($11/mo or $111 a year for you Americans) and well worth the cost, especially considering you basically get free, searchable access to the Oxford Companion to Wine ($65) and the World Atlas of Wine ($50) as part of the subscription costs. Click here to sign up.

Image of the Grand Valley AVA courtesy of the Colorado Wine Board.



Wine and Weed

Elton John sang of needing 'Three days on a diet of cocaine and wine, and a little weed just to level me sometime.'

Lowell George of the band Little Feat crooned 'And if you'll give me weed, whites and wine, and you show me a sign, I'll be willin'.'

The fruits of the vine and the blossoms of the cannabis plant have been enjoyed together for much longer than the two have appeared in popular song lyrics. But they've only recently become business bedfellows in America.

On 15 August, just 13 days after the second annual Wine and Weed Symposium was held in Santa Rosa, California, Constellation Brands announced it was investing $4 billion in Canopy Growth Corporation, a Canadian medical marijuana purveyor. Constellation, in addition to being the largest beer importer in the world, is also one of the world's largest wine companies, owning brands such as Robert Mondavi, Kim Crawford, Ravenswood and more.

In California, public sale of marijuana began in January this year, making it the ninth US state to fully legalise recreational cannabis, after several years of being one of 29 states with medical marijuana laws on the books. On 26 June, Oklahoma became the thirtieth such state. For those states who have taken the plunge, legalisation has begun to have sometimes dramatic effects on their economies, from influxes of tourism, spiking real-estate prices and, of course, millions of dollars of tax revenues.

In California, where the wine tourism business already makes a $4 billion contribution to the economy, legalisation hasn't meant that wineries throughout California have suddenly started putting on wine and weed pairing events. Quite the contrary, in fact. Proposition 65, which decriminalised marijuana in California, explicitly forbids almost any possible commercial pursuit involving marijuana and alcohol, just as similar laws do in the other states that have legalised pot.

Read the rest of the story on JancisRobinson.Com.

This article is my monthly column at JancisRobinson.Com, Alder on America, and is available only to subscribers of her web site. If you're not familiar with the site, I urge you to give it a try. It's only £8.50 a month or £85 per year ($11/mo or $111 a year for you Americans) and well worth the cost, especially considering you basically get free, searchable access to the Oxford Companion to Wine ($65) and the World Atlas of Wine ($50) as part of the subscription costs. Click here to sign up.

Image courtesy of the Wine Industry Network and the Wine and Weed Symposium.



What’s Happening to Zinfandel?

These days, wine festivals abound across America, especially those featuring Pinot Noir, which seem to be popping up by the handful in every major wine market in the country. There was a time, however, when wine festivals dedicated to a single grape were few and far between. Ten years ago, the hottest ticket in public wine-tasting events took place once a year in San Francisco. Consumers (and the trade) would line up hours in advance for the sold-out event, held in not one, but two massive event pavilions, and by its conclusion, the event would resemble less of a public wine tasting and more of a fraternity party gone wrong.

The Zinfandel Advocates and Producers festival, ZAP for short, was simply the biggest wine party thrown in San Francisco each year, showcasing over 200 producers' wines to literally thousands of eager, even fanatical wine drinkers.

A decade later, California Zinfandel production has dropped 16% from its height in 2008. ZAP has been downsized to a smaller, more intimate event, and a grape that was something of a darling among consumers seems less part of the national wine dialogue than it has ever been. So I set out to find out what's been happening to what many consider to be California's, if not America's, signature grape variety.

Zinfandel, an ancient variety known as Crljenak Kaštelanscki or Tribidrag in its native Croatia, made its way first, in the early nineteenth century, to New England, where it was popular as a table grape. Soon after, it became the choice of many an immigrant pioneer heading to California, where the Gold Rush fuelled an explosion in cultivation. The grape's dominance in California winemaking prior to (and even during, thanks to healthy home winemaking) Prohibition, coupled with its lack of 'noble French' origin led to Zinfandel being considered something of an American original - if not a native variety, then certainly a wine defined and perfected in its new home - something of the viticultural equivalent to the immigrant experience itself.

Read the rest of the story on JancisRobinson.Com.

This article is my monthly column at JancisRobinson.Com, Alder on America, and is available only to subscribers of her web site. If you're not familiar with the site, I urge you to give it a try. It's only £8.50 a month or £85 per year ($11/mo or $111 a year for you Americans) and well worth the cost, especially considering you basically get free, searchable access to the Oxford Companion to Wine ($65) and the World Atlas of Wine ($50) as part of the subscription costs. Click here to sign up.

Image of Soucie Vineyard Zinfandel in Lodi by Randy Caparoso.



America’s Broadening Palate

In 2017 America held on to its title as the top importer of wine in the world by value, buying wine worth $6.2 billion from around the globe, which amounted to 17.2% of all wine imported anywhere last year. Of that staggering amount (representing a 12.4% increase since 2013), Italy and France made up the largest share of suppliers, followed by, in declining order, New Zealand, Australia, Spain, Argentina and Chile. Within that group, New Zealand saw a 50% increase in imports (see Australia looks north), and both Italy and France posted serious gains, while Australia, Chile and Argentina's shares continued to fall by double-digit percentages.

Look further down the list of countries whose wines are imported to the US and the statistics start to get more interesting. Imports from Portugal, Greece, Canada, Austria and Israel each grew by 15% or more, while wine imports from the UK grew 238%, making England now the fifteenth largest supplier of wine to America by value (I do believe I can hear the glasses clinking in celebration down in Sussex).

It is tempting to correlate such statistics with other market research that demonstrates that the up-and-coming generation of millennial wine drinkers are the most curious and exploratory demographic when it comes to their tastes in wine. This generation has recently become the largest purchaser of wines by volume in the country. And according to the Wine Market Council, the youngest wine lovers drink imported wine 42% of the time, compared with their parents, who drink imported wine only 26 to 30% of the time.

But statistics can tell us only so much. More interesting are the reports from those actually importing, stocking and selling wines -- reports that clearly indicate the changing nature of America's tastes when it comes to imported wine. I contacted dozens of sommeliers, retailers and importers across the country this past week to learn what Americans are really buying and asking for - when they're not drinking wines from California, by far the major supplier of domestic wines.

Read the rest of the story on JancisRobinson.Com.

This article is my monthly column at JancisRobinson.Com, Alder on America, and is available only to subscribers of her web site. If you're not familiar with the site, I urge you to give it a try. It's only £8.50 a month or £85 per year ($11/mo or $111 a year for you Americans) and well worth the cost, especially considering you basically get free, searchable access to the Oxford Companion to Wine ($65) and the World Atlas of Wine ($50) as part of the subscription costs. Click here to sign up.



The Savvy Lake

'It's so crisp and cool and clear, I just love it', said pensioner Diane Tibbs while her husband Brad nodded in agreement as they both tipped back their glasses to finish them off.

'Easily half of what I buy, especially after April, is Sauvignon Blanc', said Marika Klaver, a 30-year-old corporate interior designer, who went on to explain that the balance of her wine consumption is split between Pinot Grigio and Merlot, a red that she adds to the mix as autumn rolls around.

On 5 May, these consumers, and more than 300 others, made their way to Lake County, California, to attend the 2018 International Sauvignon Blanc Experience. Even so, most drinkers of California wine may not have heard of Lake County, nor the Sauvignon Blanc conference that the region hosts in an attempt to remedy that fact.

Despite its level of obscurity, Lake County remains one of California's most interesting and valuable wine regions. Located just over the Mayacamas and Vaca mountain ranges, 40 miles (65 km) to the north of the Napa Valley, the Lake County wine region currently hosts more than 10,000 acres of vineyards and almost 40 wineries.

If the disparity between the number of planted acres and number of wineries strikes you as unusual, then you may not be aware of a fact about which Lake County remains profoundly ambivalent. No one knows the exact amounts (or if they do, they aren't telling) but somewhere between 10% and 15% of Lake County fruit ends up in wines that are labelled with Napa Valley appellations and another estimated 20% to 25% goes into high-end, appellation-designated wines from elsewhere around the state. Under current California law, up to 15% of the wine in any bottle can come from outside the appellation printed on the label.

On the one hand, growing high-quality grapes deemed good enough to supplement $150 bottles of Napa Cabernet would represent a feather in most wine regions' caps. On the other hand, Lake County quite reasonably seeks to legitimise itself as a growing region in its own right - a terroir worthy of recognition and patronage.

Hence the weekend trade conference and consumer tasting of Sauvignon Blanc, a grape that Lake County hopes to make synonymous with the region.

Read the rest of the story on JancisRobinson.Com.

This article is my monthly column at JancisRobinson.Com, Alder on America, and is available only to subscribers of her web site. If you're not familiar with the site, I urge you to give it a try. It's only £8.50 a month or £85 per year ($11/mo or $111 a year for you Americans) and well worth the cost, especially considering you basically get free, searchable access to the Oxford Companion to Wine ($65) and the World Atlas of Wine ($50) as part of the subscription costs. Click here to sign up.

Image of Vigilance Vineyards by Nathan DeHart, courtesy of the Lake County Winegrape Commission.



Which Weather is the New Normal?

Long used to depending on the weather, grape growers in California are largely scratching their heads these days, as long-standing patterns have disappeared in favour of a climate that seems to range from volatile to dangerous.

The 2017-2018 growing season will be marked forever by the disastrous and deadly fires that swept through the unseasonably dry Napa, Sonoma and Santa Barbara counties, only to be followed by devastating mudslides in January when a rapidly delivered four inches (100 mm) of rain destroyed a swathe of the already-fire-scarred community of Montecito, Santa Barbara, claiming 21 lives.

We Californians collectively held our breath for weeks, wondering if this was merely the first of many slides to affect the numerous scorched hillsides now vulnerable throughout the state. But no more rain was forthcoming. In fact, during what was supposed to be the peak of California's rainy season, less than an inch of rain fell in northern California. The drought relief supplied by last year's unusually wet winter seemed to have been extremely short-lived.

And yet, as March progressed, in an inversion of the typical season, more and more rain began to fall, culminating on 6 April when the phenomenon known as an 'atmospheric river' dumped more than eight inches of rain within the span of 30 hours on some parts of Sonoma and Mendocino counties, thoroughly soaking much of northern California wine country. Creeks and rivers quickly overflowed their banks, making roads impassable in some places, and in others, washing them away entirely.

'We're no longer getting rainfall in the normal months', says winemaker and viticulture consultant Steve Matthiasson. '[Our rainfall] is supposed to be a bell curve centred over January and February, but now it's double humped. For the last eight years, we've had fall rains and spring rains, and this strange dry spell in the middle of winter.'

Read the rest of the story on JancisRobinson.Com.

This article is my monthly column at JancisRobinson.Com, Alder on America, and is available only to subscribers of her web site. If you're not familiar with the site, I urge you to give it a try. It's only £8.50 a month or £85 per year ($11/mo or $111 a year for you Americans) and well worth the cost, especially considering you basically get free, searchable access to the Oxford Companion to Wine ($65) and the World Atlas of Wine ($50) as part of the subscription costs. Click here to sign up.



The Changing States of Somm


As I attended Napa's glitzy and convivial annual trade tasting and Premiere auction a few weeks ago, I noticed a camera crew snaking its way through the crowd of retailers, winemakers and wine buyers tasting the (very promising) 2016 vintage.

'Who are they?' I asked the winemaker whose barrel sample I had just spit out.

'That crew?' she replied, 'They're making SOMM 3.'

Apparently there will be another sequel in the series of documentary films that, with its first instalment in 2012, put the spotlight on America's growing fascination with wine professionals.

While the first movie was a fairly entertaining look at the trials and tribulations of a group of friends working to pass their Court of Master Sommelier exams, the follow-up proved to be a slightly incoherent paean to the world of fine wine that might have seemed entirely unrelated to the original, had not some of the characters from the first film appeared in the second.

Does the world really need another SOMM movie? In the six years since the first film, much has changed. If the film spoke to the rising wave of interest in the profession, that wave has crested and rolled into a somewhat chaotic and uncertain future.

'The old line floor somm jobs? They don't exist anymore', says veteran sommelier Mark Slater, who won a James Beard Award for wine service at Citronelle restaurant in Washington, DC. 'Twelve years ago, you couldn't get a job in Vegas unless you had an MS credential. But now all those jobs have gone away. If you see sommelier jobs posted, it's always "Sommelier/Assistant Manager", or something like that.'

In the industry, it's become known as 'Somm Plus' or 'Slash Somm'. Dedicated sommelier positions continue to exist in the upper echelons of fine dining, but such venues are becoming less common, and are especially rare outside New York, Chicago and San Francisco. Most restaurant growth across the country exists within the 'fast casual' and mid-market categories, where both white tablecloths and thick wine lists are rarely seen.

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