Friday, November 6, 2015

The Cost of a Typo....Or, How Important it is to cross your i's and dot your t's......

Full disclosure and transparency is important.

I stopped in at my local garage the other day to get my truck worked on. (Urey's Garage in Brogue on Rt. 74--they do a great job!) He mentioned he saw me in the paper. Having been in the paper a lot recently, I asked him what he saw. He said it was for a liquor violation.

Not what I hoped he would say.....but he was right.


Here's the article from the York Daily Record:

Here's our side of the story.  The headline makes it sound pretty bad, but it's actually pretty simple. It was an honest mistake.  In fact, it's a typo.

For any off-site event we go to, we have to apply for a permit. They cost us $30 each day (payable to the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board), and are usually rubber-stamped by the licensing division in Harrisburg. We will do a total of about 35 days of off-premise licenses in 2015 (some of which are multi-day events.) Since we started doing this in 2002, we've probably filled out over 300 individual permit applications.

These days, the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board supplies an online form that you can fill out, which works great if one remembers to over-write every field on the form from the last time it was used. That's what happened for an event in mid-August. We had the license properly displayed and the fee paid for that festival, but unfortunately the form's date was from a different festival. It was a typo, an oversight and it meant that we were in violation of a state liquor law.  A member of the State Police Liquor Enforcement dutifully noticed this violation and reported it.

The date on the license was a month removed from when it should have been, and the officer said that if it had been a little less, maybe he would have just given a warning. PLCB--rightfully so--takes violations like this very seriously and are recommending a $250 fine. We will pay that.

For a typo.

There are, of course, wineries who try to sell wine without licenses. (I have heard of numerous wineries that have knowingly or unknowingly done it.) We, on the other hand, naively displayed our invalid license not knowing it included the wrong date. An honest mistake. Just a bit costly.

Even crazier is the fact that the reporter, Mark Walters ( @walt_walters on Twitter) at the York Daily Record, decided sending a message to our winery's Facebook page at 6:30 PM was enough to justify that he could write that we "could not be reached for comment" a few hours later when he posted the story.

Now, I don't have any journalistic background, nor do I claim to know what journalistic integrity it.  But with a story about something as serious as a violation of a state liquor law, I'm thinking he should have tried a little harder.

(FYI: I posted a comment on his story and emailed him.  Turns out he "could not be reached for comment" either.) (11/7/15: see postscript below)

Anyway, I thought you all should hear our side of it before the rumor mill gets going too far.  And, just to be clear, this isn't about the PLCB or state liquor laws.  They are fair laws, fairly enforced and adjudicated......and we simply screwed up one little part of one form.  This is more about letting you all know that the news story may have made it look like we were doing something illegal--which we were--but there's more to the story than what you may have heard.

So, in the end, feel free to share with me in the comments section any of your stories where a simple typo cost you some serious bucks and mud on your face....just think how you'd feel if you were caught speeding and had it published for the whole world to see.


Postscript: On 11/7/15 Mark Walters called me.  We were both able to tell our side of the story to each other.  I sympathized with his need to make a deadline with his story, while at the same time I tried to stress with him the PR damage this causes a small business.  I'm hoping that in the future this doesn't happen again....mostly because we're going to watch our typos, but also because he has my cell phone number now.  I commend Mark for reaching out today.

Friday, October 16, 2015

Why We're Using More Barrels at Allegro

I think it's almost impossible to make great red wine without barrels. It's also impossible to make great red wine without great fruit.

Barrels are only useful if the fruit demands it and can handle it. It has to do with the structure of the wine and it's phenolic content. Most red wines that I've made I now look back on and wonder if the fruit was good enough to take advantage of the use of barrels.

Winemakers have a love/hate relationship with barrels. We love what it can do for a wine, but at the same time they're a pain in the ass. They're heavy, they're hard to clean and keep sound, and they're expensive. But if you get the right fruit in the right barrel, magic happens.

There's nothing wrong with not using barrels. Most consumers probably think most wine is made in barrels. It's not. If you're paying less than $13 for a bottle of wine--which is the majority of wine in this country--chances are it never saw a barrel. The way the economics work, you can't sell wine in barrels cheaply. Most wines are made in tanks and have added oak chips for the flavor aspect, and then have oxygen microbubbled through the tank to simulate barrel aging. Again, nothing wrong with this, it's the reality of the price point.

 Keep in mind that winemakers don't use barrels for oak flavors. It would be a whole lot cheaper and easier just to add oak chips or sawdust or oak flavorings. Most well-run wineries do. But if you're trying to make great wine, nothing replaces a great oak barrel. It's through the micro-oxygenation of the wine through the oak staves and the interplay of that oxygen with the tannins in the wine where the magic happens. Barrels are mostly for affecting the mouth-feel of the wine and more lifting the fruit. They are meant to be a nuanced spice, not a condiment.

Every region needs to find the correct type of barrel for its wines. Most great wines in the world use barrels where the oak is sourced from France. This is a cold-climate region where the trees grow slowly with a tight grain. The French oak barrels are known for their subtle flavors and ability to enhance wines from cooler climate regions (like Pennsylvania.) If I were to use American (or even Pennsylvania oak which I have done in the past) on my wines, they would be over-powered by the barrels (see the "condiment" comment....) At Allegro, we use almost entirely French oak barrels.

The only reason to use barrels other than French is a financial one. American oak barrels are $300-400 each. You can find Eastern European barrels for $500-600. Good French barrels usually run $1000 each. Now you know why wineries here in the east might not use French barrels.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

2015 Library Tasting

A few months ago, we hosted a library tasting of our reserve red wines.  I always say that these are my favorite events to do, and this one was no different.  There's nothing like spending an evening with a bunch of old friends....and the wines were pretty good, too.

I thought I would post here my thoughts on the wines pre-tasting.  The surprise of the night was the '87 which at first encounter was much more of a wine than I expected it to be.  It faded very quickly to a bare minimum of interesting, but it was fun while it lasted.

2007 Cadenza (Merlot 76% / Cabernet Franc 16% / Cabernet Sauvignon 8%)

This is classic distinctive Cadenza nearing the top of its game.  The Merlot percentage was grown by our friend Jan Waltz, allowing for this wine to be very approachable earlier in its life.  It’s starting to wake back up after shutting down for a few years and should hit its peak in a year or two.  It’s always been a difficult wine not to like.

2007 Bridge (57% Cabernet Franc / 36% Cabernet Sauvignon / 7% Merlot)

This is our “second wine” in the Bordeaux tradition.  2007 as such a beautiful vintage that we felt that these barrels should be destined for something special.  Aging has borne out that intuition.  This wine is very approachable and is at its peak of pleasure.  Being Franc-centric, it’s a very different style.  It lacks the structure for long aging, but still shows well.

2001 Bridge (62% Cabernet Sauvignon / 38% Cabernet Franc)

The first Bridge was a collaboration between John and myself.  It was meant to be a “bridge” between his Cadenza and mine.  And, truth be told, it’s how I learned the rudiments of making a Cadenza.  I’ll share them with you if you like.  Turns out making Cadenza is more about reading between the lines than memorizing a script.  The Cabernet portion was from Allegro, and Nelson Stewart grew the Cabernet Franc.

2002 Reserve Merlot (89% Merlot / 11% Cabernet Franc)

This vintage is what changed my mind about Merlot.  It was a hot and dry year, cut short by rains in October.  Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc suffered, but the Merlot was picked before the weather worsened.  It was the first vintage of Merlot we brought in from Waltz, and it was truly an eye-opener.  This wine is one of those that showed well in its youth, while still possessing the power for the long haul.  It’s also the first wine to showcase our cellar’s terroir, featuring a new winemaker and non-Allegro wine sources all the while tasting like an Allegro wine.

1998 Cadenza (95% Cabernet Sauvignon / 3% Cabernet Franc / 2% Merlot)

This is the last Cadenza made by John and Tim.  John was not a fan of this wine, thinking it’s “feminine” style wasn’t “Allegro” enough.  Turns out he was wrong.  Just like the 1982 Bordeaux vintage, this one had opulence and longevity.  I remember tasting this wine young while still in a tank (as well as on the day we bottled it), and it had gigantic structure to it.  The acidity was lower than most vintages, yielding a wine with more approachability.

1994 Cadenza (Cabernet Sauvignon 85%/Cabernet Franc 12%/Merlot 3%)

For me, this has always been the “roasty’ Cadenza.  I remember back in 2002 having a bottle with John at a Chef Series dinner and thinking it was nearing its peak at the time.  I think he’s right, as the acid is starting to rise and the wine is getting tougher and tougher.  But the perfume usually opens my mind every time.

1987 Cabernet Sauvignon

If I remember correctly, this wine is similar to the 1985 in that it was not a Cadenza vintage yet it was most likely a pretty wine in its youth.  These days it’s very fragile, and whatever positives it still clings to evaporate very quickly.  A good example of why some wines should be cellared and others consumed.

1983 Cabernet Sauvignon

This is a wine that I have never tasted.  It’s partner wine is the 1983 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon, one of my favorite wines ever from Allegro.  It’ll be interesting to see in what way this wine differs from the Reserve version.  There’s a chance that it’s an identical wine, since John and Tim only had one Cabernet vineyard.  They may have done two pickings, or they may have made one wine and used only the best barrels for the reserve.  In any case, I don’t think we’ll be disappointed.

2010 Reserve Merlot ($29)

This is only our second Reserve Merlot at Allegro, and its provenance is an interesting story.  Suffice it to say that the fruit was grown at Karamoor by Nelson Stewart.  This wine saw ten months in new French oak barrels, and it is just starting to come into its own.  It’s not a powerhouse wine—as the fruit was from fifth-leaf vines—but its silky seductiveness and complex aromatics after it opens up are going to be with us for a while.  I suspect this wine will have a similar character and trajectory as the 2002

2010 Cadenza (42% Cabernet Sauvignon / 39% Merlot / 19% Cabernet Franc)

One of the most balanced Cadenzas we’ve ever had, the 2010 reminds me of what I imagine the 1983 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon might have tasted like thirty years ago.  Enticing and seductive in youth with an inner core of strength that speaks to its potential longevity.  The Cabernet portion was grown here at Allegro, and Nelson Stewart grew the Merlot and Cabernet Franc at Karamoor.  This year signaled perhaps a switch from the Merlot-heavy Cadenzas to one where Cabernet plays a greater role.

-- February 7, 2015 --