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.
Coly Den Haan, owner of Vinovore, a Los Angeles-based wine shop that focuses on female winemakers, used the word “free-for-all” to describe what’s being predicted as one of fall’s biggest wine trends: Co-fermenting.
Co-fermenting fully embraces an “anything goes” mentality. Fruit? Throw it in. Wine? Throw it in. Cider? Throw it in. At its core, it is about taking different grape varietals, harvesting them together, and fermenting them together. The result is a wine that often represents a specific synergy and harmony from grapes or fruit that grow together from flowering to harvest and then integrate further during fermentation. For these producers, the co-existence of the wine starts in the vineyard and depending on the harvest maturity for each grape variety, the winemaker can extend the fermentation longer by adding freshly harvested grapes to an already fermenting tank and keep this co-fermentation process happening for a longer period. The goal is for the flavors to find balance and integration throughout the entire winemaking process. The co-fermentation technique relies heavily on the vineyard and grapes to do the majority of the work, and the winemaker is partially removed from the process. Ultimately, co-fermented wines offer a unique personality that is often representative of the vintage and the vineyard—definitely an expression of nature.
Now, co-fermenting is not to be confused with wine blending. Wine blending is where different grape varietals are grown, harvested, and fermented—separately. Only after the grape juice has been fermented are the two wines brought together for blending purposes. The result is a wine that offers more opportunity for the winemaking team to show their skill with balancing flavors, texture, and aromatics for a wine that is produced by virtue of blending. It is also possible to have more control with individual grapes, tanks, and barrels. Therefore, if any problems arise during the harvest, it is easier to identify the source and make decisions to avoid problematic tanks or barrels. Wine blending also allows for a winemaker to specifically highlight a certain flavor profile by using particular grapes to achieve the desired result in a finished wine. In areas like the Rhône Valley Syrah adds dark purple fruit notes, violets, pepper, and spice. Whereas Grenache provides lower acidity, rounder mouthfeel, higher alcohol, and flavors of ripe strawberry, red cherry, and dried herbs. It is up to the winemaker to determine how that blend of flavors will best fit together.
Did you catch that difference?
There are a few things that I love about this new co-fermentation trend:
- At its core, it embraces sustainability. Think about it. If you are a farmer and you have a few rows left of different grape varietals, those grapes can still be used in the making of a new novel wine. Rather than let any of the harvest go to waste, co-fermentation allows for tinkering and experimentation- combinations that may never have been contemplated can be new small batches. Think of it as a new wine Research & Development department.
- As someone who likes to cook, I really compare this style of producing wine to making a sauce or dish that includes all of the ingredients being added together at once instead of cooking things separately and combining later. In the end, flavors that start together before fermentation will ultimately have more harmony and integration. Flavors that are blended later can certainly achieve complexity and balance, but these wines are often found to maintain unique individual characteristics associated with a specific flavor. As with food, if wines are not blended and balanced well, these flavors can come across as disjointed. Ultimately, blending is an art as can be represented by great Champagne or Bordeaux. Yet, I love the rustic complexity and integrated detail that is associated with wines that are co-fermented. They are not always perfect, but they definitely have character and style.
So, thinking about trying a co-fermented wine? Here are a few of my personal favorites:
- 2018 Ingrid Groiss Gemischter Satz – This is a field blend of at least 17 different grapes grown in the Weinviertel region of Austria. Ingrid Groiss is a young, talented winemaker in the area who is using her skill combined with tradition to produce some of the most exciting wines in Austria today.
- 2018 Bedrock Wine Co. ‘Bedrock Vineyard’ Sonoma Valley – This bold and powerful red wine is a field blend of 75% Zinfandel, 20% Carignan, and 5% Mataro, but includes a total of 27 varieties. Morgan-Twain Peterson is a Master of Wine and an awesome winemaker with a passion for finding producing wines from old vine sites throughout California.
- 2011 Movia Veliko Belo, Brda Slovenia – Aleš Kristančič produces this exotic co-fermentation of Ribolla, Sauvignon Blanc, and Pinot Gris, which happens to be one of the most thought-provoking wines on the planet. Aleš farms his vineyards biodynamically and ages his wines in barrel for an extended period prior to bottling. This 2011 is current vintage, a white wine that spends almost 5 years in wood. Movia is known for producing exciting wines filled with energy and passion and capable of aging for decades in the cellar.
Nielsen reported that alcohol sales in stores were up 54% in late March 2020 compared to that time last year, while online alcohol sales were up nearly 500% in late April. At my store, we are experiencing increased sales, but this increase comes with additional responsibility and potentially at the expense of others in the business. While I feel fortunate for the increase there are challenges associated with operating and keeping staff and customers safe and healthy. In addition to public health responsibilities, the industry is struggling with the dramatic reduction in sales from the closure or reduced operations of on-premise businesses.
According to the National Association of American Wineries, winery creativity and innovation is filling the chasm of sales caused by shuttered tasting rooms and restaurants. Popular strategies include curbside winery pickup, reduced shipping costs, special Direct-to-Consumer promotions, winery personnel home delivery, wine club specials and virtual wine tastings.
Beverage Daily recently released a report outlining shifts in consumer behavior opening up new opportunities including local products, low/no alcohol drinks, sustainability, and premiumization.
I have a few additional trends that I’m seeing at the store that I’d like to add to the list.
- The emergence of the domestic bartender. I don’t know about you, but not being able to go to some of my local water holes means that I’m not able to try new artisan mixed drinks and my favorite bartenders’ unique concoctions. Just as me and my family are enjoying more meals at home around the dinner table, I’m enjoying more tinkering and experimentation with spirits, fresh squeezed juices, and liquors. Oh the joy of egg whites!
- Virtual happy hours! When speaking to friends that typically work in a more traditional office environment, I am hearing about the rise in popularity of virtual happy hours. Rather than meeting up with friends at the local brewery or distillery, colleagues are jumping on zoom calls, hosting meetings, and doing so while enjoying an adult beverage in the comfort of their own home. One of the perks is that happy hour can start earlier in the day. Hey, it’s 5 o’clock somewhere
- An uptick in people treating themselves. Since the start of the pandemic we have noticed the majority of our customers are purchasing more product at a lower price point than they were before COVID-19. That said, in the absence of travel, gym access, spas, and restaurants we are finding that many customers are spending more on fine wine than ever before. Enjoying a world-class bottle is one of the ways people can treat themselves to a nice experience at home. The next time you are out buying wine, consider purchasing less product and increase the quality of your wine. It is a good way to treat yourself in these crazy times.
When it comes to wine, beer, and spirits, what new trends and traditions are you seeing?
Just a few months ago, actress and author Cameron Diaz launched her vegan, clean, and organic wine brand, Aveline.
And just today, I heard of Snoop Dogg’s new collaboration with the Australian wine brand, 19 Crimes. 19 Crimes takes its name from the full list of infractions that would result in automatic exile for an 18th century Englishman. The offenders were famously sent to sea, destined for a continent on the opposite end of the Earth. Once reviled criminals, they would eventually be celebrated as founders of Australia.
In CNN’s interview with Snoop Dogg, Snoop indicated that his reason for signing on for the partnership with 19 Crimes was that it aligned with his support of prison rehabilitation in that “it represents and celebrates second chances.”
While I will admit, I have not tasted Cameron Diaz’ Avaline or Snoop Dogg’s 19 crimes, both celebrities draw attention to social and environmental causes bigger than just a glass of wine.
At the end of the day, having a great tasting product is no longer enough. It’s about using your dollars as a vote for the food systems you believe in. While Ms. Diaz has been under scrutiny given the use of terms like “clean” and “natural”, her effort to promote a wine brand committed to being vegan, made with organic grapes, and free of sugar, colors, and concentrates is laudable. If nothing else, it has started a conversation (and a heated one at that.)
Ultimately, I believe that consumers have a right to know what’s in the products that they buy- and this includes wine. I also believe that marketing terms should be defined- if not on the label, then on the website. I also am a strong believer and proponent that sometimes what’s NOT on a label is what’s most important. Additionally, celebrities can shine a light on social causes and environmental causes worthy of additional discussion. I can toast to that.
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!).