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Pairing Diverse Foods with Pinot Noir. Mac McDonald of Vision Cellars Interview: Part Five

This the fifth part of my video interview with Mac McDonald of Vision Cellars.  In this segment, Mac McDonald speaks about wine and food pairing.  He discusses the incredible diversity of food that can pair with his Pinot Noirs, including some that he would never have expected.

Please enjoy this four minute video or read the transcript underneath it. 

This is Episode #59 of Understanding Wine with Austin Beeman.

Mac McDonald:

Well, what we do is, we don't make a lot of changes in the vineyard, especially the quality of the vineyard. When you taste Vision Cellar's Pinot Noir, we make seven of them, and we don't change anything in that in the sense that, we don't take a little bit of this vineyard to add to this vineyard to make that better. We want to do the expression of soil from that particular location. And so, we try to get these wines in the middle of the road so that we don't have a problem with the food pairing of it.

And many times, I've done a lot of dinners throughout the United States, and I've noticed that a lot of chefs, they pair different things with our wine. Last night, we were at a country club, and they actually had done some type of custard with one of our Pinot Noirs. And I looked at it at first, I thought, "Oh, I'm not sure about this." But, what was the kicker on it, they had a little bacon on the side of it, and it was a really great pairing. And then, I've had occasion where I never would've done this, by the way, but it's a constant thing that I do now.

I was at a restaurant at another country club and they served oysters on the half-shell with one of my Pinot Noirs, which is a little bit robust Pinot Noir, and I thought, "Oh, whoa. What are you guys thinking about here?" One of the best pairings that I had, as far as with oysters. So Miss Lil and I will often now go out and order a dozen of those small, little oysters and have a bottle of Pinot Noir.

So Vision Cellar's Pinot Noirs, we craft those whether you're doing grilled vegetables, whether you're doing grilled chicken, grilled beef, we have one of those wines in our bag that will fit that occasion, whether it's spicy or not. Because a lot of folks will call me up and say, "Mac, I'm having duck," for an example, and I'll say, "Well, how are you preparing it?" If they're from a certain area, like Texas for example, one of the first questions is what part of Texas do you live in? Because I know if you live in the northern part around Dallas or that area, you know you're not going to have it spicy. If you're living down in San Antonio area or Austin area, you may be a little bit more spicy with your food.

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So I may recommend a different one of my Pinot Noir, and so I think we want to make them all to go across the board with food, whether you're having sushi or whatever you're having. But then, if you get down to maybe touching with different spices, I may recommend something different. But, I think all of us in the Pinot producers, we're conscientious that we want all these Pinot Noirs to be able to fit with all types of food, and I think we've accomplished that very well.


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Glen Manor Vineyards 2013 Raepheus. The Most Memorable Wines of 2017

I didn't truly expect to find world-class wine in Virginia.  Good wine?  Probably.  A beautiful country and a great time visiting a friend?  Absolutely.  In a year filled with extraordinary dessert wine experience, I would not have expected that a Virginian Petit Manseng would be one of the most memorable.  But it was.

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The wine is liquid gold, done in the style of Southwest France's Jurancon.  It has been described as the 'apricots of the gods with the soul of raspberries."  One of the few dessert wines that blends the complexity of fine Sauternes with the delicate character of Eiswein.  It slides across the tongue like a sword cutting snow and then reveals absolute beauty beneath. 

Raepheus is not only the finest wine made in Virginia.  It is quite possible the best dessert wine made in the United States.

Glen Manor Vineyards is located in the Blue Ridge Mountains and the views are stunning.  More importantly, the terroir and climate of the vineyards provide a freshness and acidity that doesn't exist in most other Virginia wines.  Steep slopes and high elevations are also keys to the success.

For five generations and over 100 years, the family has owned the property.  It was not an easy life and for a long time the family operated as subsistence farmers.  In 1995, the realization came that less fertile land is ideal for vineyards.

I visited the humble tasting room.  I saw the beautiful property.  I also saw the hands and faces of the owners and winemakers. Glen Manor Vineyards is truly what many wineries pretend to be; a wine made in the vineyard.  That isn't easy, but it is kind of righteous.

What ever else the winery may be, they made the 2013 Raepheus.  One of my most memorable wines of 2017.


You Don't Need Expert Advice to Pair Wine with Thanksgiving Dinner.

You really don't.  If you are struggling to pair the "correct" wine with your Thanksgiving Dinner, you are maybe missing the point of Thanksgiving.  And perhaps also the point of wine.  Please allow me to explain...

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There is a deluge of Thanksgiving wine pairing articles are easy to write and easy to read, but the sheer number of them can make you think that pairing wine with your Thanksgiving table is somehow difficult.  It isn't.  It might not even be that important.

Thanksgiving is at its core a harvest celebration.  We give thanks for the bountiful crops of the summer and prepare for the lean times of winter.  The table abounds with a overabundance of meat, vegetables, and more.  And that is what makes the concept of wine pairing with it so irrational.

Precision wine pairing - finding the perfect pairing - is simply not relevant during a celebratory feast.  For most of us, the Thanksgiving meal isn't a crisp progression of courses.  It is a delicious free-for-all of flavors, family, friends, and probably football.  There are too many flavors in play, making a mouthwatering mingle of meat and vegetables.

Plus the flavors are relatively nondescript.  Turkey, potatoes, stuffing, corn, noodles, pumpkin pie!  These are some of the most versatile wine pairing foods in the world.  At most, you'll get a splash of sweet acidity in the cranberries and dark savory in the dark meat of the Turkey.  The neutrality of most of these flavors make wine pairing a cinch!

Love sweet white Riesling?  That will pair with Thanksgiving.

Love aged French Bordeaux?  That will pair with Thanksgiving.

Love explosively fruity Shiraz or Zinfandel?  That will pair with Thanksgiving.

The dirty secret is that almost anything will.  Better yet?  You can have all of the above at the same time.  If you enjoy a wine, you will enjoy it at your Thanksgiving Table.  But do not forget why you have gathered.

Celebrate the abundance of the harvest.  We have never had more choices.  The world of wine comes to our wine shops in a diversity that the kings of a few decades ago could never have experienced.

Time is fleeting.  Life is fleeting.  Family is fleeting.

Eat and drink and laugh and love with Thanksgiving.  Just don't stress out about the "perfect pairing."


7 Ways to Consistently Drink Bad Wine.

The wine world is difficult for anyone trying to drink truly bad wine.  The rampant flaws that plagued the wine world only a few decades ago have been mostly wiped away.  Modern wine-making techniques, refrigerated shipping containers, and a demanding wine trade have eliminated the vast majority of these issues.

Still, the modern world has gifted to us a new way of bad wine.   Bland, boring, corporate zombies of wine.  Wines made from irrigated deserts, high yields, and chemistry sets in the wineries.  And thankfully, these wines are slowly taking over our wine shops and restaurants.

To tide yourself over until the inevitable victory of boring wines,  here are seven ways to consistently drink bad wine.

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1.  Pick the 2nd cheapest wine on a wine list.

Sommeliers and restaurateurs know that most people don't want to appear 'cheap' and so the 2nd cheapest wine on a wine list is often one of the best sellers.  This is often where the restaurant puts its highest margin wine.  Frequently, this isn't a very good wine either.

2.  Buy wine in a big box store.

People love to buy from big box stores.  They think they are getting a great deal.  On most things they are right, but not in the wine aisle.  Any wine available in the kind of quantities that can service a big retail chain isn't going to be anything close to hand-crafted.

3.  Buy wine from a store without anyone in the wine department.

This is similar to number two, but is even more important.  If a wine store hasn't invested in qualified wine personnel in their wine department, you can bet that they are letting the ultra-large distributors run the show.  Those guys are going to put their corporate junk that "has to move" front and center.  You can count on the quality being sub-par.

4.  Buy wine from a wine club connected to a entity that doesn't normally sell wine.

I'm not talking here about that wine club from the winery you visited on vacation.  That wine is probably pretty good.  Nor am I talking about the wine club run by your local wine shop.  That is likely exceptional. 

I'm talking about the wine club run by a newspaper or some organization that promises discounts that are too good to be true.  They are correct.  The wine is consistently bland and boring.  It is also likely generic "custom crush" juice, since no one in the industry ever recognizes the labels they are selling.  This is a great choice for getting a bad wine on a regular basis!

5.  Buy any wine that you recognize.

Are you a wine expert?  Probably not, since they tend to want to drink good wine.  If you aren't an expert, please assume that reason you recognize the wine is because some large corporate wine company has dumped barrels of money into marketing to make you remember it.  They wouldn't do that if there wasn't hundreds of thousands of cases that they needed to move.  These wines are reliably awful.

6.  Buy a cheap red blend from California  (without doing copious research first).

Cheap reds blends are an important part of the wine world and a favorite of people that like good wines.  Just not cheap red blends from California.  The economics just doesn't work.  With the high costs of land and labor, you aren't going to get the value for money offered by a red blend from France, Italy, or Spain.

Also, most of these wines are sold on brand identity, not vineyards or regions or anything that denotes quality.  They are marketed like soft drinks and many of them have 'secret sugar' that makes your 'dry wine' anything but.  A great choice for bad wine.

7.  Buy Cheap Pinot Noir.

Pinot Noir is one of the greatest of all wine grapes.  Maybe the very greatest.  It is capable of wines of incredible finesse, elegance, purity, and complexity.  But you don't want any of that, and that's why you bought a cheap Pinot Noir.

Pinot Noir is such a finicky grape that it requires premium (expensive) land and skillful (expensive) cultivation.  This does not make for an inexpensive bottle of wine.

Cheap Pinot Noir often contains the minimum amount of actual Pinot Noir that is allowed by law.  Many California Pinots can contain up to 25% other grapes and they don't have to tell you that on the label.  Most of the popular cheap Pinot Noirs have so much blended into the wine that there is truly no hint of Pinot left in the flavor. 

It is perhaps the best way to get a truly awful wine in the modern wine landscape.


Is Your Winery Really an Art Studio?

Why is it so difficult for many wineries to consistently sell their wine?  Perhaps, it is because they are behaving more like an artist in an art studio instead of a business selling a product.  What do I mean?  Let's take a look.

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One of the fundamental rules of business can be summarized in this way. 

"Find out what people want to buy and make that thing for them."

This is at the core of how capitalism creates value for the world.  Customers speak with their dollars about the products they want to exist and businesses are compensated for creating that product for them.

This is the opposite of what an artist does.  Artists create the thing that they wish to create.   Then they hope and pray that someone can sell it.  The effect here can be startlingly original and insightful works of art.  It can also be why the phrase 'starving artist' is a cliche. 

We live in a time when many independent wineries are suffering slowing sales, shrinking distribution channels, and the pain of deep discount online retailers.  Rarely, do they understand why.

There may have been a time in the American Wine Business when winemakers could make anything their hearts' desired and sell it all.  Those days are passing quickly, if they aren't already gone.

None of this means that we need to sacrifice originally and quality.  That isn't the point here.

If we want the independent wine scene in America to continue, we need a generation of wine entrepreneurs that inject a little more business acumen into their 'art studios.'

Video: L. Mawby and the Rise of Sparkling Wine in Northern Michigan

Larry Mawby of L. Mawby / M. Lawrence discusses the rise of Sparkling Wine in the Leelanlau Peninsula of Northern Michigan.

This is Episode #53 of the Understanding Wine with Austin Beeman video podcast.

The History of Growing Sparkling Wine in Northern Michigan.

Larry Mawby:

"We've been growing grapes here for just a little over 40 years and I'm the second person to plant a vineyard here, so this is a young grape growing area by international standards. Even by U.S. standards, it's pretty young. When we started, we had no idea whether grapes were possible to grow here. We had no idea what kind of wines we could make. We had no idea whether we had any customers that would care and be interested.

There was a lot of experimentation at the beginning and there still is a lot. When we started, I planted all French-American hybrids, because those were the varieties that were available, that there was some experience from the Finger Lakes, New York, that was similar climatically to us. We thought we had a good chance that they would survive the winters and that they would ripen in the length of growing season that we had.

Then, we started to plant Vinifera. We started with French hybrids in 1973, and in 1981 I planted the first little bit of Vinifera. Those were vines that I got from Oregon. At that time, I was really interested and my role model probably was Burgundy. I love red and white burgundies, and I thought if we grow Chardonnay and Pinot Noir here, and make a credible table wines from those that would be a great thing.

We got cuttings from Oregon because they were the most serious producers of Pinot Noir in the U.S. in a climate that was anything like ours. California, doesn't make a difference what you do in California; we don't have that kind of climate.

We started growing those vines on a small scale in '81, and in '84 I decided to start making sparkling wine. Mostly at that point because all my experience, which was only 10 years of growing grapes and about 5 years, 6 years of making wine here commercially, was that we had short, relatively cool growing seasons, really quite cold but snowy winters, and that in cool growing seasons we struggled to get Chardonnay or Pinot Noir ripe enough to make a table wine but we always got them ripe enough for sparkling wine.

 The Brix levels that you want for sparkling wine are substantially lower, and because it's a relatively short growing season, because of the typical weather in the last month or so of the growing season, we get really good flavor to all of them at low Brix, which is really important for sparkling wine. That's one of the challenges that a lot of the California sparkling wine producers have is to get the Brix low enough to make a balanced sparkling wine, they have to pick really early in the growing season and there's no flavor development, so you end up with these awkward wines that have the technical parameters that you'd like but they don't taste right. That's why the really good sparkling wines in California are in the really coolest parts of the state.

We have naturally that kind of balance of sugar acid and flavor and aroma that develops, and it was pretty clear to me that sparkling wine was something that we could consistently do every year no matter whether it was a really warm year or a really cool year, we got the kind of flavor development that we wanted in the grapes to make nice sparkling wines. It was also clear to me that we had critically we had people from around the country and European sparkling wine critics had tasted the wines and said, "These have some real promise. You should continue do this sort of thing."

It was also clear to me that at that point, sparkling wine was only 15% of our total production. We weren't focused on it. We were making table wines mostly and we would make sparkling wine. It seemed to me that the real future was focus on sparkling wine, concentrate only on that, grow everything in the vineyard knowing that you're going to make sparkling wine from it, harvest it, ferment. Everything is about sparkling wine if we don't do table wines.

 By the time we started making sparkling wine in the mid-1980s, there were 5 wineries in this area. If a visitor came from, let's pick an Ohio, if they came from Cleveland or Cincinnati and wanted to visit the wineries here, they could come up and visit everybody in a weekend. It was doable. Well, by the mid-1990s, we had about 15 or 20 wineries, and we were adding a couple wineries every year or two. Today, we have 40, and so it was clear in the mid-90s that there were going to be enough wineries that visitors had to start making choices. They couldn't just come for a short period of time and see the whole wine region. They had to make choices.

What I wanted to do was to have them make a choice and have the people that walked into my tasting walk in interested in what I was doing, not just walking in, looking for cherry wine. I don't make cherry wine. We have other folks that do. We'd like people who want cherry wine to go to the wineries that make cherry wine and find that. It seemed to me that there was a possibility for us to specialize, but it took 4 years to eliminate 85% of my sales.

We make sparkling wine. If you're interested in sparkling wine, you think about us. If you're not, you think about somebody else."

Video: The Meaning of Wine with Larry Mawby of L. Mawby / M. Lawrence

Larry Mawby of L. Mawby / M. Lawrence answers Austin Beeman's signature question.  "What does wine mean to you?"

This is Episode #52 of the Understanding Wine with Austin Beeman video podcast

Austin Beeman: "What does wine mean to you?'

Larry Mawby:  "What does wine mean? Wine is an essential component of civilized life. It's like another food item. It's food for the soul as well as the body. It's a part of the civilized discourse around the table.

It's a lot more than that but that's the critically important piece.  For me, it's the way I make my living. For most consumers it is a tangible connection to a place.

A lot of customers vacation here.  Say, they live in Cleveland and it's January in Cleveland.  They open a bottle of my sparkling wine and they can be instantly transported to the time that they were here in Leelanau Peninsula in July and had a great time on the beach, in the water.

It's a great way for an urban dweller to connect to the rural, agricultural heart of the human experience."

 

Video: Going Deeper into Willamette Valley's Terroir. With St Innocent Winemaker Mark Vlossak (part 3)

Get ready for a master-class on the specifics of terroir in the Willamette Valley of Oregon.  If you ever wondered why Oregon is so exciting a wine region, this video will make it very clear.

Join us for eleven minutes with St. Innocent Winery's Mark Vlossak.  It's well worth your time!  Vlossak discusses the intricacies of terroir and how New World Wineries - such as those in Oregon - deal with discovering and using it.  The focus is on why factors influence terroir.

This is episode #49 of Understanding Wine with Austin Beeman.

This is part three of a five part video with Mark Vlossak.