Sunday, March 12, 2017

An Open Letter to the Maryland State Licensed Beverage Association

His torch is at thy temple door,
Avenge the patriotic gore
That flecked the streets of Baltimore,
And be the battle queen of yore,
Maryland! My Maryland!

Just this weekend, while in town to do a book signing, I went into two establishments in Baltimore hopefully buy a few bottles of local wine. Neither liquor store/ wine shop had any wines to offer. And more so, the owners and clerks went out of their way to bad mouth Maryland wine, telling me that it was "inferior" and "not very good." They in fact, said one, they outright refused to carry it.

This was not the first time I have run into this situation, especially within Baltimore's city limits. This is in fact the fourth or fifth time in the last two to two-and-a-half years. I was appalled.

Firstly, I was always taught never to disparage another man's livelihood unless it was harmful to others. Sure, you can have your own opinion, but to present a negative opinion as fact, is downright wrong. I wouldn't go around saying, oh, don't go into that store, they don;t know what they're doing. They couldn't tell you the difference between bourbon, rye, single malt nor blend. Which, in three of the five cases, was in fact true. And none could tell me what a Baltimore rye was (btw, a Baltimore rye is at least 51% rye, 49% a blend of other grains).

It's funny. In other regions, in other countries, the regional shops and restaurants support the local wineries, distilleries, breweries, etc. Celebrate them. That's part of their selling technique. The concept being, 'It'll be hard to find anywhere else! Buy it here!'

But to tell consumers that the state's wine industry doesn't know what it's doing, or doesn't make a good product? And there were plenty of questionable products from other regions on all the shelves. No store was spared the cheap brands and awful sweet plonk that were for sale at great prices and mass produced by the super tanker-ful.

As a retailer in my lifetime several times, I understand the issues of the multiple SKUs and the limited space, more popular national brands, etc. But to bad mouth local industry? Seriously.

If this had been one incident, I might have been able to laugh it off. But I must say, five stores, all in Baltimore, ripping local wine. And, it was amazing to me, because when asked what wines or wineries they didn't like, they couldn't name one. Not one! But they had no problem bad mouthing the industry despite.

I was curious, so I asked a few other local folks I knew. All said the same exact thing: Oh no, if you want local wine, you have to go to the winery, or there's one good store in Frederick, MD, that has an excellent selection. Baltimore is a local wine dessert.

Now, Baltimore has long been one of my favorite cities. Long before we decided on the Hudson Valley for our home, Maryland was first on our list. We were enamored with the Inner Harbor and the Eastern Shore, and Western Maryland. And we've gone to many games at Camden Yards.

So, here is my request to the Maryland State Licensed Beverage Association - educate your people. Partner with the Maryland Wine Grower's Association and Maryland Wine! Raise awareness of your local wine industry. At least get your membership to stop bad mouthing Maryland wine! It's time to put the skirmishes of the past behind you (ah, yes, you know what I am talking about), and befriend the one thing that would make your stores unique. You don't do into California wine shops and not find any Napa or Sonoma wines; in Burgundy it's almost the ONLY thing you can find at Burgundies; in Spain the same thing. And here's another fun fact - stores closest to the winery always sell the most wine of any liquor store in the supply chain from that nearby winery, The one that's closest to the winery. Go figure. Doesn't make sense, does it? That's a lot of wine your members are leaving on the table.

I have traveled to California (Napa, Sonoma, Temecula, Santa Barbara), France, Spain, Italy, Chile, Virginia, New York (Finger Lakes, Hudson, LI), and many other regions. And let me tell you, there are some spectacular wines available made in Maryland!

On the other hand, I challenge the Maryland wineries to show case their wines to these retailer in a more imaginative way. Think outside the box. Band together and come up with mixed sampling cases, or some such other concept. It's not just all on the retailer. Push harder. Be more creative. It's not always about spending money - sometimes it's that more valuable resource - time.

Here's a top ten list to help you out! Please pass this along to your owners and clerks.

1. Black Ankle Vineyards
2. Boordy Vineyards
3. Big Cork Vineyards
4. Old Westminster
5. Slack
6. Sugarloaf Mountain Vineyard
7. Thanksgiving Farm Winery
8. Port of Leonardtown Vineyards
9. Fiore Vineyard (especially their distilling)
10. The Vineyards at Dodon
11. Cassinelli Vineyards
12. Millstone Cellars
13. Bordeleau

The list does go on...but that's a baker's dozen.

These are talented winemakers. Passionate owners. Dedicated workers. Making wines that have been reviewed on numerous websites, in newspapers, magazines, even the venerable Washington Post.

It' time to recognize that your state is making terrific wines and spirits. And tell those owners and clerks they don't know what they are talking about!

    Image result for (md) "east coast wineries" Image result for slack "east coast wineries"

 Image result for (md) "east coast wineries" Image result for slack "east coast wineries"   Image result for (md) "east coast wineries"
Image result for slack "east coast wineries" Image result for big cork "east coast wineries"  Image result for slack "east coast wineries" 
 Image result for slack "east coast wineries"  Image result for sugarloaf "east coast wineries" Image result for "east coast wineries" millstone
Image result for (md) "east coast wineries" Image result for fiore ryeImage result for (md) "east coast wineries"

Monday, March 06, 2017

Has The Glass Ceiling For Quality Hybrid Red Wines Been Broken?

glass ceil·ing  * noun * an unofficially acknowledged barrier to advancement in a profession, especially affecting women and members of minorities.

I remember once being in a fine wine making establishment in North America where they made very very good Pinot Noir and Cabernet Franc. I I asked the man pouring our tasting if they made any Baco Noir, as I knew that it was grown in the region.

He looked at me a askance and rolling his eyes said, "Baco Noir is a gorilla in a tuxedo! We will never make Baco Noir!"  It was clear to me at least that is prejudices showed him to be a fool.

Such is the plight of hybrids especially in the dry red wine world. I have seen so called wine expert's and wine writers wrinkle their noses at the very mention of the word "hybrid". As if good to very good red wine could only be made from a dozen or so officially approved vinifera grapes.

However, take heart hybrid makers and lovers. Recently there have been some break troughs.  The March 2017 issue of Wine Enthusiast gave Hudson-Chatham Baco Noir Middlehope a score of 91 Points! 

And they gave Huber Dornfelder from Santa Rita Hills 91 Points also!  Dornfelder is not technically a hybrid, because it was bred using vinifera. But make no mistake about it. It was created by scientists in 1955, and not released for wine production until 1979. It is not a name that many American wine consumer are familiar with, nor are many wine writers well versed in. IT IS NOT AN ANCIENT NOBLE GRAPE. Thus, I feel it belongs in the conversation.

Of course, there have been other highlights within the last six months! Eric Asimov featured Victory View wines Marechal Foch the New York Times just late last year!!!


And Shelburne Vineyards' and Lincoln Peak's Marquette have also drawn some very strong positive reviews after last year's tastings in Vermont sponsored by The Cork website!

And let's not forget, that despite a slew of Merlots and Cabernet Sauvignons from Long Island, one of the consistant award winners for red wine in New York state have been Keuka Lake Leon Millot!

The question is has this in the glass ceiling been broken for hybrid red?

To be sure, there are wonderful Baco Noirs being made elsewhere, such as in Oregon (especially Giradet, Anthony Dell, Bradley Vineyards, and Chateau Lorane) as well as Canada (Henry of Pelham, Reif, Sue-Ann Staff, Peller Estates, 20 Bees, Lakeview and Ridge Road) to name a few.

First off, one has to congratulate the forward thinkers like Wine Enthusiast and the New York Times, and even The Cork Report for promoting these wines.

Hybrids have always been controversial, it seems. They are the outcasts of the wine world, where tradition seems to matter more than innovation. Since Dr. Konstantin Frank and a cadre of French farmers first insisted that the wine resulting from the grapes killed chickens,there seems to have been a prejudice against hybrids, especially red hybrids. This was a patently false statement. Hybrids don't kill anything any faster than any other grape.

Baby boomers seem to lift their nose high in the air and bristle, if the varietal red wines seem to come from anywhere but the great grape growing regions. However, Gen X'ers seem much more open and interested, and seem to be giving these grapes and wines new life.

Of course hybrids fell into their own kind of cycle of abuse. They were thought to be inferior grapes. Thus winemakers made inferior wines with them. Red hybrids eventually found their way into many sweet or inexpensive blends. This only reinforced the feeling in the wine community of their place in the grape and winemaking pecking order.

But as new wineries stretched out into colder territory, and as mid-west and west coast winemakers look for new varieties to help separate themselves out, hybrids have found a new partner. Winemakers who were willing to treat them like vinifera both in the field and in the cellar. With crop thinning and leaf pulling, and with care on the crush pad and bedded down for the winter in fine French and American oak, some beautiful things were happening. The results in the last 10 years with the improvement of wine making techniques in the east has led to a slew of great drinkable and indeed collectible dry red table wines made from hybrid red grapes.

I think it is important to note too that younger generations (Gen Xers sand Millennials) have been more interested in local craft beverages and more open to trying these wines, than their more died-in-the-wool parents and grandparents known as Baby Boomers.

I also have noticed that there are more and more collectors who have made a habit of collecting East Coast red wines, who include dry red table wine's made from hybrid grapes in their collections. They are very enthusiastic about these wines.

Will Baco Noir, Marquette, Dornfelder, Chambourcin, Marachel Foche, Chelois, and Leon Millot ever replace Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Zinfandel, Tempranillo, Syrah, Pinot Noir and the like? I doubt it.

Has the glass ceiling been shattered? Maybe not. But we are at a tipping point for sure. It is especially nice to see the glass ceiling starting to crack a little and seeing real appreciation among wine experts and enthusiasts for the fruits of those winemakers labors who do put the effort into these fine products.

So, pull out your best Riedel wine glasses and pour yourself a Baco Noir, a Dornfelder, or whatever it is you like. And savor some if the new wines coming out of both coasts.

And watch out for that ceiling about to fall down!

Sunday, March 05, 2017

Core Gin Has Arrived!!! And it is Sneaky Good!

Look what Derek Grout and Peter Upstill have been up to! Those sneaky guys have quietly been making GIN! And I walked in and caught them red-handed bottling their first batch for sale!!!! Love the label. Like Core Vodka, it has the apple label on the other side, instead though, it's a bright granny smith green.

Derek Grout

Peter Upstill

I tried the gin at room temperature...not the temperature I usually drink it at. Like Derek's other stuff, his light hand is delicate and tasteful. This isn't an over the top, club you on the head kinda gin. This is subtle with floral notes, some fruit notes as well, and of course a nice dollop of juniper. Super, super, super easy to drink! Smoooooth! This gin is soft, but sneaks up on you. It's sneaky good!

A great new addition to the Harvest Spirits lineup of distilled products! 

(photos of Derek and Peter:

KyMar Farm Distillery Malt Whiskey - Something Special! (NY)

In November of 2016 KyMar Farm Distillery released their first whiskey. For those of you who are uninitiated,KyMar Farm Distillery is an award-winning craft winery and distillery located in the northern foothills of the Catskills. KyMar specializes in partnering with regional growers to bring local agricultural products from the field to the glass.

According to them, "KyMar Farm Distillery is pleased to announce the development of a new beverage, a whiskey made from a beer mash. Currently, there are only a few whiskeys of this type available in the United States. Traditionally, whiskey is defined as spirits distilled from a fermented mash of grain such as corn, wheat, or barley. KyMar's whiskey expands the category: it is brewed from a base of select beer mash and hops, which add depth and complexity to the flavor. The mash is first cooked by KyMar's brewing partner, then fermented and distilled at KyMar's Charlotteville location. The whiskey is proofed and aged in new American oak barrels for six months, then mixed into a Solera Aging system that blends previous batches with the next batch coming into the system. All of this contributes to the unique complex flavors of the spirit."

"Part of our craft is experimentation!  We are thrilled with how well the whiskey that we will be releasing based on Craft Brewers favorite Beers are turning out," said KyMar founder and distiller, Ken Wortz.

"We're excited to feature a beer-based whiskey in our portfolio of products," said distillery partner Erik Christman. "It's got a unique flavor that's rarely been explored in the industry."

I know for a fact that Ken really likes Bob Hockert, founder of U.S. Barrel, which is located outside of Lake Placid. He ages almost everything else in Bob's barrels, so I am assuming that this whiskey was aged in those as well.

I was visiting Derek Grout at Harvest Spirits who asked me if I had tasted it yet. And I told him I had not. He pulled out a bottle and poured me a drop from the 2nd batch, bottle number 35. Talk about the fraternity of distillers!

It was a big luscious whiskey with big baked apple up front, a nice hint of wood and spice, with caramel an vanilla. And a nice ending, with a creamy spiceness that lingers a little.

This is truly a local product, right down to be aged in New York state oak. A wonderful new little whiskey you really need to try!

Saturday, March 04, 2017

Chatham Brewing - 10 Years And Still Growing (NY)

Jake Cunningham, Tom Crowley and brewer Matt Perry are still making beer ten years after they first started in the little alley down the day in the middle of Chatham! They've certainly grown over the years! Congrats to these guys! Great job!!!! This is just a little photo album. Check out pictures from the partylast night, with like a 1,000 of their close,personal friends. And then the trip down memory lane below.

Also, here's a link to a great story by our mutual friend, Karrie Allen:


Great beer! Congrats! Here's to another least!!!