Shayn Bjornholm is a Master Sommelier and holds the Examination Director position for the Court of Master Sommeliers. In this episode, Jackie and I connect with Shayn on several important topics about the wine and beverage industry. As a top educator, Shayn is a fantastic resource and a wealth of knowledge. Check out this exciting episode for a refreshing perspective on wine education in the United States.
Since the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic, wine professionals have been forced to rely on virtual training to keep up with education in the industry. As such, many of us have actively jumped into hosting Zoom education classes for our customers as well as fellow industry professionals in order to stay informed and inspired with the lack of in person connections. Over the summer, I had the pleasure of interviewing Sarah Hwang, co-owner of Domaine Huet in Vouvray. Anyone in the wine industry would agree that Domaine Huet is quite possibly the premier producer of this historic Loire Valley appellation in France. Their world class Chenin Blanc wines range in levels of sweetness, and are carefully farmed according to biodynamic principles and traditionally vinified yielding some of the most exciting white wines produced on the planet. I was honored to have this special time with Sarah, her passion for the business and top quality wine is clear and it was inspiring to learn more about the history of this great domaine and the details connected to their holdings, farming, production, and personnel. I have outlined a general timeline of Domaine Huet with details below from my conversation with Sarah.
Gaston was joined in 1971 by his son-in-law, Noël Pinguet, and 1979 by chef de culture, Jean-Bernard Bertholmé. Together, they crafted legendary wines from their three parcels—with the vineyards and nature dictating which grapes would become Sec, Demi-Sec, or Moelleux. The estate always held back significant stocks of older vintages, and these wines’ near immortality has helped to further the Huet legend. In 2002, with Gaston ailing, a financial partner was needed to ensure the continuation of the estate’s rich legacy. Anthony Hwang, from New York, purchased a majority stake, and today his children reside at and direct the estate, ensuring that this benchmark producer has a strong future. With Bertholmé in charge of winemaking since 2012, the domaine may be making its most consistently great wines ever. It was one of the earliest adopters of biodynamics, and recent wines, perhaps more than any in the domaine’s history, achieve a fascinating level of transparency, purity, and knife-edged balance.
· Domaine founded in 1928, Chenin Blanc has been associated with Vouvray since the 9th Century
· Started by Victor Huët, a Parisian bistro owner
· Le Haut-Lieu, first vineyard to be purchased (lies on the Première Côte, or first slope) – Grand Cru
· Le Mont purchased in 1957 and Clos du Bourg in 1963, both in the Première Côte
· Gaston took over in 1937 – 55 years in charge
· Gaston was joined by Noël Pinguet, his son in law in 1971 and 1979 Jean-Bernard Berthomé (manager today)
· 2002, Gaston was ailing and needed a financial partner. Anthony Hwang from New York purchased a majority stake. His children reside at the estate. Sarah and Hugo Hwang, brother and sister Duo
· Since 2012 Berthomé has been in charge of winemaking.
At their discretion, the estate produces Sec, Demi-Sec, Moelleux, or Moelleux 1ère Trie (“first selection”) from any of the three principal vineyards: Le Haut Lieu, Le Mont, and Clos du Bourg. A superb sparkling Pétillant is also made, drawing grapes from all three vineyards, as well as from other small parcels on the estate. Le Haut-Lieu began as the original Huet vineyard and is nearly 9 ha. It has the richest soils of the domaine’s three crus—a deep limestone-clay— the wines from this site are generally the estate’s most approachable. In some vintages, small quantities from nearby estate parcels may be added to Le Haut-Lieu.
· Styles span from sparkling, dry, semi-sweet, and dessert level sweet
· Le Haut Lieu- 9 ha, has the richest soils, a deep limestone clay. Generally the most approachable of the three vineyards.
· Le Mont – This and Clos du Bourg are the greatest vineyards in Vouvray. Undisputedly a Grand Cru. Less clay and more stone than Le Haut-Lieu
· Clos du Bourg – Gaston believed this to be the greatest vineyard in Vouvray. With the Première Côtes shallowest, stoniest soils.
· Cuvée Constance – Their ultra-sweet dessert wine produced since 1989, only in top years.
‘There has been a lot of talk about this next song. Maybe … maybe too much talk.’– Bono at Red Rocks, Under a Blood Red Sky Tour, 1983
Anyone old enough to remember Bono’s iconic introduction of the band’s early-80’s anthem also has the perspective necessary to appreciate the sea change in American consumption habits over the past 40 years. Afterall, at the time U-2 was commemorating the horrors of Bloody Sunday the USDA was proposing that ketchup be recognized as a vegetable for purposes of American school lunch programs.
And although our attitudes towards healthful consumption have indeed evolved since that time, within alcohol beverage ideas around better-for-you consumption appear still to be stuck in a 1980’s time warp.
There has been a lot of talk about “Better for You” in wine. Frankly maybe a little too much talk. As an advocate for sustainability, as a small business owner, and as a wine professional my attitude is that it is time for action. While Big Wine has sought to contain the meaning of the movement to low sugar (any dry wine by definition is low in sugar) the potential for this movement is BIGGER than just low-sugar, and the stakes are far higher. We are at such a pivotal point in our societal awakening to not recognize that we are selling this opportunity short.
I own and operate a small wine shop and specialty food store in Boulder, Colorado. Given our proximity to a major research university and the highly engaged citizens who make up my clientele, learning what better for you can and should mean in wine has been both a pleasure and necessity. In my view there are a few key metrics that retailers and retaurateurs should consider in building a better-for-you category.
- Purity – it has been said that sometimes it is less important what you DO put in your body that what you DON’T put it in your body. While sugar is a very important piece of the purity picture, at least inasmuch as consumers are seeking out dry wines, other attributes of purity such as freedom from pesticides are arguably more important. Wineries have the power to remove or reduce industrial contaminants from their products through practices such as working with certified organic vineyards and by limiting the sort of synthetic additives they make into their wines in the cellar. Clean Label Project also offers a Certified Pesticide Free certification. As of this writing IBG Wines’ Lifevine brand and Albertson’s O Organics platform are the only brands currently to carry this certification.
- Transparency – making healthful choices should be a fundamental exercise in individual freedom and responsibility. However, as Rob McMillan has pointed out in his annual report SVB on Wine the wine industry has not been a leader in such simple steps in consumer transparency as serving facts panels and ingredient labeling. Ridge winery has long been a leader in this regard, having included ingredients on their back panel for more than 20 years.
- Sustainability – in the end nothing is more impactful to our individual health than the health of the planet and our ecosystem. Retailers who care about better-for-you should select for wineries that are vertically integrated and that place sustainability at the center of business.
Because these issues are so important to me, I choose to support our progressive brands in my store. I like to work with wineries that are willing to push the boundaries to craft sustainable, better-for-you brands. At the Boulder Wine Merchant we champion in small progressive brands that are committed to changing the world for the better. We support female and minority-owned brands and foster the same expectation of diversity and inclusivity on our retail shelves as we do within our team member roster. There is no better time than the present.
Here are a few of the brands and producers I have been following lately:
1) Cono Sur in Chile – An award-winning carbon neutral winery, farming 300 ha of organic vineyards and producing great wines at value prices.
2) Benzinger – This winery has been a leader in the industry for biodiversity, solar, water conservation, and other sustainable strategies.
3) Long Meadow Ranch – An outstanding winery that is focused on a full-cycle organic approach the farming and wine production.
4) Hiyu wine farm in Oregon is a pretty awesome example of a winery, farm, and restaurant working as one organic unit and producing amazing food and wine in the process.
5) Duck Pond Cellars in Oregon – received certified USDA organic status for its winery in Dundee, Oregon. The first commercially farmed vineyards in Oregon to remove the use of glyphosate (pesticide) in the farming process and have received the Clean Label Project Purity Award.
Join me in changing the world for the better one glass at a time.
Middle-class America experienced food insecurity during the COVID pandemic for the first time since World War II. The additional travesty lies in the fact that globally, we lose around $1 trillion per year on food that is wasted or lost. According to an article by the Guardian1, “Americans throw away almost as much food as they eat because of a “cult of perfection”, deepening hunger and poverty, and inflicting a heavy toll on the environment.” The truth of the matter is that vast quantities of fresh produce grown in the US are left in the field to rot, fed to livestock or hauled directly from the field to landfill, because of unrealistic and unyielding cosmetic standards. This includes the less than perfect Roma tomatoes that never make it onto grocery store shelves, bruised or damaged apples, or slightly wilted or damaged leafy greens that never find their way into a salad mix. It also includes food by-products like the billions of pounds of fruit from the coffee plant, grains used to brew beer, and the pulp that is removed from fruit juice. However, if the Upcycled Food Association gets their way, these natural sources of protein, fiber, and sugar will be upcycled to help create a more sustainable and resilient food system.
So how does upcycling work? Think of it like shopping at an outlet mall- they might have a few imperfections. For example, you can find beautiful and delicious blueberries in the produce department at your local grocery store. However, many blueberries likely didn’t make the size, shape, color, or sweetness specifications. In a nutshell, they didn’t make the cut. But, that doesn’t mean that these blueberries may not be a perfect ingredient for a blueberry-based granola bar, cereal, or maybe even an antioxidant-rich cosmetic product. According to the Upcycled Food Association2, upcycled food is based on the philosophy of using all of what you have, doing more with less, and elevating all food to its highest and best use.
The benefits of upcycled foods:
- Upcycled foods can help reduce the 70 billion tons of greenhouse gases from food loss and waste while creating economic opportunity and jobs for people around the world
- Upcycled foods can help feed a growing population with less deforestation and pressure on the environment
- Food waste accounts for 8% of all human-caused greenhouse gas emissions and reducing food waste is a solution to help combat global warming
The downside? The upcycled food movement is still in its infancy. In order for finished product manufacturers to create upcycled food products, they first need to identify possible ingredient sources. “Hi, this is Brett calling. Umm…do you have any grapes that you were planning to throw in the garbage today, till into the soil, or feed to the neighbor cows?” Figuring out how to identify these possible ingredients real-time is still a work in progress. Maybe it’s time for a new take on Craigslist.
Interested in learning more? You are in luck. First, check out this PBS special3 on the upcycled food movement that just aired last week. Second, the Upcycled Food Association has a new certification with on-package labeling program that will be unveiled later in 2021. You can learn more about it at https://www.upcycledfood.org/
I can’t wait to read about the adult beverage industry finds their own niche within this new dynamic movement.
Born and raised in Colorado, Brett Zimmerman discovered his passion for wine as a waiter while studying at the University of Colorado. His love of food and wine and high ambition, landed him sommelier positions at the highly acclaimed Charlie Trotter’s in Chicago and celebrated restaurant Aqua, gaining tremendous knowledge along the way. He successfully opened his own restaurant, Mateo in his native state, and after three years, he left the restaurant business to focus on his true passion – fine wine – taking a position as Colorado’s General Manager of the American Fine Wine Division of Southern Wine and Spirits. This dedication to his craft culminated in the spring of 2007, when Zimmerman successfully passed his Masters Examination and earned the highly coveted distinction of Master Sommelier (only 269 hold this certification in the world!).