Learning from the Trailblazers

“Quality all comes down to one thing: vineyard practices,” according to Frank Morgan, moderator for the U.S. Wine & Beverage Industry Expo (USBevX) session entitled Pioneering the Commitment to Quality: A Roundtable Discussion with Winemaking Trailblazers. “This is the one factor that the pioneers in the Mid-West and East Coast winemaking industry have as the feature uniting them together. Often overlooked is the growing aspect,” says Morgan. “With regards to The Quality Revolution, the theme of USBevX 2017, there is so much emphasis on wine quality, but not much discussion on what went into that behind the scenes.” Morgan, the associate editor of Virginia Wine Lover magazine, the only print publication dedicated to that state’s wine industry, is a well-known wine news writer and blogger, writing frequently on Virginia’s pioneering winemakers.

Morgan says that a primary goal for this session is to shine a spotlight on the folks that have had both a commitment to farming from day one, and have employed conscientious vineyard practices, all geared toward making the highest quality of wine possible from their terroir. As far as the winemaking area he knows the best, Morgan says, “In Virginia, the last 3-4 years have been a real watershed in terms of recognition of quality. In the larger wine world, Virginia wine is now being recognized as a fine wine and an ultra-premium wine producing region.”

The panelists are an array of those who have had the vision to create world-class wines from the get-go. Sometimes that has meant experimenting to find the farming practices that work best in a particular region. Sometimes it’s finding the grape varietal best suited. But throughout, it’s working to make the end-product a fine wine. “I don’t personally know Rich Olsen-Harbich, but like Jim Law (of Linden Vineyards), he is focused on farming and on the growing side,” says Morgan. Josh Grainer, who runs vineyard operations for RdV Vineyards, worked for Jim Law at the start of his career and now is a champion of sustainable vineyard practices. “Luca [Paschina] is someone who has been around for 25 years, and so much of Luca’s personality is in every bottle,” says Morgan. “The knowledge transfer from people like Jim Law expands over time. Jim or Luca or Joshua can’t move the industry on their own, and they are not going to move people who are not interested in moving. Jim has shared so much knowledge in this industry. A conference like this can help disseminate information.”

Grapes tended with an eye towards world-quality wines are garnering attention for the area. A 2011 article by Dave McIntyre in the Washington Post, which reviewed the (at the time) new RdV Vineyard’s Bordeaux-style wine, perhaps summed up the trending upswing in quality for the entire region. When compared against a Parker-rated 94 point French and a 98 point Napa wine, McIntyre said simply, “It’s really good.”

Asked about wines built for the sightseers, Morgan notes, “If they are established for a tourist industry, there are many people who believe that you can’t make good wine. Look at Williamsburg Winery, they have an 18-room country inn, two restaurants… and the wines from their estate grapes are exceptional.” He notes, “You can be whatever you want to be. There will be guys making blueberry wine and happy with that.” Getting over the challenge of the world perception of East Cost wines being “sweet” may continue to present a marketing challenge. “Some vineyards make sweet wines, then they use that money to fund their higher quality wines,” says Morgan. Overall, he thinks, “People that make wine want to make a quality product… our mission is to raise awareness on how to accomplish that.”

For this session at USBevX 2017, Morgan states, “The ultimate end goal is to hear about the experiences and opinions of these four individuals. What quality means to them, and how to get there. I hope we can identify commonalities amongst the four. These people mean it [quality grape growing] and practice it. Let’s define it, and identify commonalities… and share that with the audience.”

USBevX 2017 will take place in Washington, D.C., February 22-24, 2017. To learn more, visit www.usbevexpo.com.

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