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2013 Brancaia Maremma Toscana Ilatraia

Brancaia: The Best of Both Worlds

Like so many New World winemakers, Barbara Widmer's childhood landscape wasn't shaped by a life amongst the vines. Her parent's journey into winemaking began, more or less, as a hobby that stemmed from the purchase of an abandoned hillside Castellina named Brancaia. "I grew up in Zurich; I had no ambition or dream to move to Tuscany," Widmer confessed in a recent interview. "My parents encouraged me to become Brancaia's winemaker, but I was totally against it." Instead, she studied architecture and soon found that the discipline demanded compromise, "I loved the design process, but I also started to realize that you have to understand the taste of other people. You have to accommodate other peoples' style, and I’m bad at doing things that are not to my taste." Charting a new course, she spent a year working for a winery in Switzerland before enrolling at the Swiss Institute for Life Sciences in Wädenswil. Studying enology and viticulture in a cool climate has graced her with a lighter touch and an appreciation for balanced acidity. "Working in a marginal climate is much more difficult," she admits. "It teaches you to be careful, to be aware that there is no guarantee that you’ll...

Vertical Harvest

Cultivating Self-Sufficiency in Jackson Hole

An interview with architect Nona Yehia of Vertical Harvest Jackson Wyoming is best known for its upscale resorts and breathtaking Teton mountain backdrop. It’s a city that averages 38 feet of snowfall annually, with a short four-month growing season. A playground for skiers and outdoor enthusiasts it may be, for gardeners not so much. Thanks to the vision of architect Nona Yehia and her co-founder, Penny McBride, the two have transformed the way Jackson receives some of its vegetables. In a town that’s long been dependent on trucked-in produce, Vertical Harvest is a step in the direction of sustainability. Their innovative three-story greenhouse occupies a narrow 1/10th of an acre lot and turns out an astonishing 100,000 pounds of produce each year; that’s roughly the same yield as a conventionally farmed five-acre plot. And in doing so, Vertical Harvest provides jobs for the developmentally disabled, some of Jackson’s most vulnerable population. Christine Havens: What prompted you to start Vertical Harvest? Nona Yehia: “It’s funny, I never set out to be a vertical farmer. I’m an architect by trade, and I believe in the power of architecture to build community. I’ve always pushed the boundaries in design, I’ve always been engaged. It’s a labor of love,” she laughs and...

Dr. Laura Catena

Research and Resilience at High Altitude

What one Argentine winery is doing to combat climate change. Climate change is everywhere, according to Dr. Laura Catena, and tackling these problems is a race, “We need to look at life at all levels, using science to preserve nature and culture, and we don’t have much time.” I recently had the opportunity to talk with Dr. Catena about what she and her team at the Catena Institute for Wine are doing to mitigate the effects of climate change. “A lot of what we’re doing now has to do with pruning and cover crops, but in the years ahead that won’t be enough.” Another strategy involves testing different clonal selections. In 1995, Catena and her team planted the French Malbec clone, Côt Noir in their La Pirámide Vineyard next to vines sourced from their historic 87-year-old Angélica vineyard. By 2003, they were able to confirm that the characteristics of the French clone differed greatly from Argentine Malbec selections. “Lamarck said that as the giraffe’s neck got longer, its offspring would also inherit a longer neck,” she explained. What Catena is referring to is the work of French naturalist Jean-Baptiste Lamarck, who proposed that organisms, both flora and fauna, pass on traits acquired during their lifetime to...

Mád Village

Tokaj’s New Golden Age

How a quiet revolution in Mád will change the way think about Tokaji. [caption id="attachment_11444" align="alignleft" width="450"] István Szepsy Jr demonstrates roots burrowing through soil layers.[/caption] To visit Tokaj is to pull back the curtain on an extraordinary place, an ancient place that, at first glance, appears frozen in time even as the region embraces change. Storybook houses cluster together, defining this village from that; only the town church spire rises above a jumbled roofline, glinting pale gold in the early morning light. The warm hue of the terracotta roof tiles echoes the Venetian red volcanic soils that are common in many of Tokaj’s Grand Crus. These, I explore with my guide, István Szepsy Jr. István is an 18th-generation winemaker. He speaks carefully and thoughtfully, like his father. He’s armed with technology, while steeped in old knowledge—the mutual evolution of generations of winegrowers and autochthonous grapes over centuries. For me, this place is a reference point, a means of understanding the purest expression of terroir. István takes us through the back roads, which in the village of Mád begin abruptly—there are scarcely more than 2500 inhabitants according to the most recent census. Our first stop is a local quarry; it’s en route to a...

Tony Hartl & Giuseppe Franceschini

White before Red: An Interview with Winemaker Giuseppe Franceschini

Born in Padua, winemaker Giuseppe Franceschini likes to think of himself as a gypsy. He studied enology at the University of Udine, following graduation, his wanderlust and curiosity led him to Veneto, Friuli, Sicily, Mendoza and most recently, Slovenia. From these experiences, Giuseppe absorbed a lifetime of regional winemaking styles, each with unique challenges and rewards that combine to make him one of the most creative, passionate winemakers on the planet. Over the years he’s racked up an impressive trove of gold medals, some of which include the Concours Mundial de Bruxelles for his work at wineries in Mendoza and Italy. His 2007 Bacan Malbec was recognized as one of the top 60 wines of Argentina from Austral Spectator Wine Guide, and his 2013 La Giostra del Vino Saltimbanco Pinot Noir scored 93 points from the Wine Advocate, and his Cabernet Sauvignon from Bodega Caelum scored 94 points from Guia Penin. So it’s no surprise that he’s just been awarded a gold medal for the 2014 Seed Malbec from The Drinks Business’ prestigious 2016 Global Malbec Masters competition. Giuseppe’s focus on white wines early in his winemaking career has enabled him to bring a sense of elegance and nuance to his reds—something he refers...

King's Vineyard, Tokaj

The Wine of Kings Has a New Successor

Why Dry Furmint will be the Next Big Thing   [caption id="attachment_11462" align="alignleft" width="300"] István Szepsy Sr. Gazes at a map of the Tokaj region.[/caption] This problem is one that the region’s vintners are acutely aware of, and, perhaps for the first time in decades, Tokaj is ready to reinvent itself. István Szepsy Sr., the region’s most acclaimed winemaker, has seen tremendous upheaval during his lifetime. His son, István Szepsy Jr., elaborated on some of the sweeping changes the family faced: “Everything went well until the end of the 19th century. The first big problem was when phylloxera hit in the 1890s. Our clay is close to the surface; we have conditions phylloxera thrives in. It completely obliterated the wines.” On the heels of phylloxera came the Communist occupation. “After phylloxera, everything collapsed. Tokaji wines disappeared from the map for nearly 100 years; within five generations, our culture and knowledge were lost.”When we think of Tokaji wines, we imagine Aszú, a honeyed elixir, a glinting treasure chest of apricot preserves, marmalade, quince, forest honey and that most compelling note of smoky, terroir-driven expression that is both indelible and unique. It’s vivid, pure and crystalline, a balance of acidity and glycerol richness that borders...

Ponzi Vineyards

Oregon’s Enduring Spirit of Collaboration

Robed in luxurious, perpetual green, Oregon's largest AVA is home to more than 270 wineries and over 1,000 vineyards. It's a region that has enjoyed marked growth over the past few decades thanks, in part, to a handful of families that arrived in the late 1960s with little more than determination and vision. "My father always loved manual labor and farming; he had a deep connection to the land," Alison Sokol Blosser confided. She's now co-president of Sokol Blosser, a position she shares with her brother, Alex. She recently took time out of her busy schedule to give us a glimpse into what it was like to grow up in Oregon's then-emerging wine industry. "My parents were history majors; they met at Stanford. Neither of them came from a farming or winemaking background, but they did have this crazy notion of wanting to work the land, doing something with wine and food culture." Alison's parents arrived in Oregon in 1970 and settled on a 5-arce parcel that had been home to a senescent prune orchard. "It started as a hobby, and for the first few years, we sold the grapes. Later, with encouragement from my grandfather, we decided to build a family winery....

Pastry Chef Ron Mendoza at Aubergine

Art of the Macaron: Cooking Classes at Aubergine

It’s small. That was my first thought on entering the tidy, well-lit kitchen at Aubergine. I had attended an eight-course dinner there the month before, a sumptuous and innovative menu featuring white and black Alba truffles, expertly woven into each luxurious course. I knew what sort of magic could come from the belly of this modest space. It would be my first time meeting Executive Pastry Chef, Ron Mendoza, a lanky fellow with salt and pepper hair and the sort of thick, square-framed glasses hipsters wear. The Chef directed me to my spot, at which point, he poured me a glass of Champagne. At my workstation I found a folder with the recipe, a neatly folded apron, towels, an assortment of containers and a piping bag and tip. As he went through the instructions, I noticed the other students taking copious notes. Mendoza smiled while mentioning that his favorite part of teaching macarons was watching student attempts at piping. How hard could it be? It’s a cookie. I am, after all, trained as a classical artist, a sculptor, and a winemaker no less. I watched him pipe out an entire tray in what seemed like mere seconds, gracefully moving from one macaron to the next with the precision...