Showing posts with label Holocene Wines. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Holocene Wines. Show all posts

Wednesday, June 29, 2022

The Pinot Gris You Never Knew

Pinot Gris is often thought of as the grape next door - commonplace, approachable, and pleasant. Originating from France, Pinot Gris is mostly used to make a dry white wine that is zesty with notes of stone fruit. The grape is also known as Pinot Grigio in Italy, where the style of wine made tends to be lighter and livelier with higher acidity. Either expression of the white wine makes for easy sipping in the summer but not something that wows the palate.

Grayish-pink Pinot Gris by Reinhold Möller

It’s Not Really White

What you may not know is that Pinot Gris is not even a white grape. In fact, it is a mutation of Pinot Noir, where one of the two cell layers responsible for berry color is missing anthocyanins. It is crazy to think that both grapes are genetically identical except that the skin of Pinot Gris is grayish-pink (“gris” is gray in French) while the skin of Pinot Noir is deep dark red (“noir” is black in French).

Anthocyanins by Bruna Branco on Unsplash

Anthocyanins are color pigments found in many blue, red, and purple fruits and vegetables. Although anthocyanins by themselves are odorless and nearly flavorless, they do interact with aroma substances during the vinification process to enhance the flavor of the completed wine. Because of its lower level of anthocyanins, Pinot Gris is seldom made into a red wine. 

You Say Rosato

In recent years, I have seen more Pinot Gris being made into rosé (or rosato in Italy). That was actually how I found out that Pinot Gris is not a white grape. SMAK, a woman-owned winery in Walla Walla that makes rosés exclusively, has a summer blush that is 100% Pinot Gris. Depending on the vintage, the color ranges from light copper to pink hue. But it is always crisp, with notes of peaches and melons as well as delicious minerality. I have since tasted other pink Pinot Gris and generally prefer it to the dry white expression.

SMAK Summer Ro

I Say Ramato

Last year, I had a taste of the 2020 Holocene Pinot Gris that blew my mind away. It had a beautiful deep orange-red hue and the aroma was a juxtaposition of smoke, cigar, and stone fruit all at once. On the palate, it was vibrant yet smoky and complex with notes of whiskey.

Is this a red, pink or orange wine? As I savored the wine, I knew this much - that was not a white wine! I would have pegged it as an orange wine except that it was not made with white grapes. Holocene website describes their Pinot Gris as a “great balance between a ramato-style orange wine and a rosé.” 

2020 Holocene Pinot Gris
So what exactly is ramato? Wine scholar Lynn Gowdy of Savor the Harvest described it best when she wrote “(o)range wines are made from white grapes, rosé from red grapes, and ramato only from Pinot Grigio.” Ramato style of Pinot Grigio originated from the Friuli-Venezia-Giulia region of Italy. It was the traditional way of making Pinot Grigio till the 1960s when white Pinot Grigio was popularized and exported.

Because Pinot Gris (or Grigio) is technically a red grape, one could argue that ramato is closer to a rosé or rosato than a traditional orange wine. However, the length of skin contact for a ramato sits somewhere between that of a pink wine and an orange wine. Depending on the winemaker’s style, maceration may last from 24 hours to two weeks and hence the wine develops the kind of complexity that is more commonly found in an orange wine than a pink wine.

My Verdict: Why limit yourself to dry white Pinot Gris? In my opinion, Pinot Gris blush and ramato are far more interesting and delicious. Give it a try this summer and prepare to be wowed. The grape next door does not always have to be plain. 

Wednesday, March 30, 2022

Behind a Great Winery is a Carrie Alexander

I first met Carrie Alexander of Force Majeure Vineyards three years ago. Carrie was and still is the Director of Sales and Marketing, and I was among a dozen people attending the winemaker dinner. An unforeseen construction delay at the winery’s new facility in Milton-Freewater led to a last-minute change in the dinner venue. Carrie moved the dinner to the lovely home she shared with her husband and winemaker, Todd. 

Force Majeure winemaker dinner at Carrie and Todd's home
That night, from the pre-dinner social to the seated affair, Carrie made sure our wine glasses were never lacking and each course was served and timed flawlessly. Her goal was to showcase the carefully curated wines while crafting a memorable dining experience. She achieved both with the grace and finesse that came from years of experience in fine dining.

Today, Carrie wears many hats. In addition to her work at Force Majeure, she also plays a pivotal role at The Walls Vineyards, Pasxa Wines, and Holocene Wines. I am stoked when Carrie agreed to let me interview her for the blog. Let’s get to know Carrie.

You've been somewhat of a veteran in the wine industry from Napa to Walla Walla. How did you first get into the wine business? 

I got my start in the late 90’s working as a server at the Napa Valley’s Rutherford Grill and Bouchon. I had access to many amazing wines during the weekly staff tastings with winemakers. It was an opportunity you can’t get just anywhere. Later, I became a restaurant manager and wine buyer. During my time at the Arizona Inn in Tucson, I achieved the AAA Four Diamond Award for the restaurants at the Inn, a first in its 70-year history. I also elevated the wine list, which gained recognition from the New York Times.

Carrie in Molly Chappallet’s garden
After many years working in restaurants, and with my children being school-age, I made the transition to the wine industry. I managed the tasting room and marketing for Chappellet Winery. That was life changing.

Molly Chappellet is an unparalleled woman whose attention to detail and creativity had a major influence on me. When my staff think I’m being overly specific about how I want things done at the winery, I have been known to mention that Molly would make us measure all of the edges of a table cloth to ensure they were perfectly even on all sides. 

People tend to romanticize working in a winery, and yet the business part of running a winery is just as important. Tell me how you developed your business skills.

While in the the Napa Valley, I worked for Chef Cindy Pawlcyn of Mustard’s Grill fame. What an amazing business woman she is. Her partner Sean Knight was instrumental in developing my skills as a manager. He took time to train me on financials and really seemed to believe in my potential.

Carrie with Chef Cindy Pawlcyn
What is it like to be a female in the wine industry, and how has it changed over the years?

I think it’s really common for women to deal with gender-related challenges at some point in their career. I have been extremely fortunate because I have worked with, and for, some truly amazing and inspiring women - and men, for that matter.

In recent years, I have observed that “women in wine” is being used more frequently as a marketing angle. It’s certainly a driver for consumers, who are particularly interested in supporting wineries with female winemakers.

In your experience, what has been done to champion women in the wine industry?

There are winery owners out there who really champion women in the wine business. Mike Martin, owner of The Walls, is one of them. Early on in our discussions about my joining The Walls, he expressed an appreciation of my experience and knowledge in the wine industry. He was really the first person in Washington who didn’t see me as Todd Alexander’s wife, but as an individual with her own set of skills and accomplishments. 

Carrie showcasing The Walls wine
I can understand why some might see my position in the industry as having to do with being married to a very well-respected winemaker. There are certainly benefits to being so close to someone so talented, creative, and dedicated. But we both work very hard and have our own set of skills contributing to our overall success in this industry. 

To me, feminism is about equality. It may be somewhat controversial, but I actually don’t try to involve myself in groups that are specifically for women. I prefer to be a part of groups that are diverse and then work toward improving women’s recognition within those groups. 

Is there one woman in the industry who has inspired you throughout your career? 

Absolutely. I don’t even have to think for two seconds about who it is. Blakesley Chappellet is someone I admire and whom I consider a mentor. I worked with Blakesley at Chappellet in the Marketing Department. Her uncompromising quest for excellence in experience and aesthetics are an inspiration to me. I will never forget her saying, “Fine is NOT fine.” That is, if it’s “fine,” it is not good enough. 

What is your advice for young women who want to venture into the wine industry? 

Find people who care about purpose-driven businesses. A purpose-driven business is one that cares not just about gender equality, but about equality for all. It cares about economic and environmental sustainability and providing a living wage to all those along the supply chain. Sustainable, purpose-driven businesses are inherently going to care about your future within them. 

Also, try to find people who inspire you and believe in your potential. Those who work with me know that I care about their careers, not just the job they do today and for our winery. I try very hard to nurture their passions and their skills so that they can go on to create a life they love. Sean Knight, Cindy Pawlcyn, Blakesley Chappellet, Molly Chappellet, and Mike Martin have all done that for me, and for that I am eternally grateful.

"Find people who inspire you and believe in your potential" - Carrie
Outside of work, you are also passionate about giving back to the community. Can you tell me about your volunteer work?

I sit on the Executive Board of the Walla Walla Alliance for the Homeless, and that is currently the main focus of my volunteer work. The Alliance is celebrating its 5th anniversary on May 22nd with a fundraiser at The Walls. The goal is to raise money to create fifteen transitional shelters for those who have demonstrated that they are ready to take a step toward housing. It provides an opportunity to practice more independent living before being assisted to move into an apartment or a house.