Metro Wines Blogs
Not to be short but nothing more could be said about RAATS Wines than has been said with accolades by respected wine publications worldwide including Wine Spectator, Stephen Tanzer of International Wine Cellar, Riscura Red Hot Wine Awards and Wine Advocate.
How does a bottle of wine go from a small French farm to a small retail shop in Asheville? Robert Fiore Kral of Robert Walter Selections tells all.
“Pairing wine with the right food and creating a total experience. This is my passion.” That’s what Robert Fiore Kral of Robert Walter Selections, an Asheville wine import company that focuses on wines from small family farms, said when asked why he does what he does.
Robert was always around good wine. “My mother is German and my father is Austrian. I was raised in Germany where wine is part of the fabric of the country,” Robert says of how his interest in wine started. “We traveled around Europe and wine was just part of life.”
Robert began his wine career in Asheville working at GreenLife. “I found myself gravitating toward the wine section,” he said. “Soon, my professional evolution was completed and I was all in for a career in wine!”
To further his knowledge, Robert worked seven years with a local wine distributor. He then took his expertise to Bouchon where he selected wines for the menu. “Six years later, I began to seriously consider starting an import business.”
Robert saw a hole in the market. “There were very few German red wines,” Robert observed. “All you saw on shelves from Germany was Riesling. I thought German Reds could be my niche!”
But Robert soon found that bringing a wine to market is not for the faint of heart! In North Carolina, retailers and restaurants must buy wines from a North Carolina Distributor. When a wine is imported, it is either turned over to a Distributor to sell or the importer wears two hats and also handles distribution.
“Both require financing,” Robert said. “That’s when reality set in.” “Passion can sometimes get in the way of the best business choice.”
So despite his enthusiasm for German Red wines, Robert knew a small market like Asheville could not support a little known new entry. “A small importer could not buy enough wine to meet the distributor’s demands and, worse,” Robert realized, “the small family farmer could not produce enough wine!”
While he still imports German Reds, Robert decided to also import wines from other countries. “I find wines by attending trade shows, visiting wineries, recommendations from industry people, and from wineries seeking an importer.”
After a wine is selected to import, Robert must submit the label for federal government approval. Once approved, Robert says smaller loads are shipped from LeHarve, France, to New York then trucked to Asheville. “An entire palette of wines would ship from Marseilles directly, usually to Charleston.”
But what makes all this work worth it? Robert talks of a recent trip to France. “I don’t speak French,” he says, “I am usually accompanied by an associate to translate.” But on a recent trip to the Loire Valley, Robert was on his own.
Robert was invited to lunch at Chateau de L’Aiguillette, a small family winery that produces “muscadet,” which is to oysters what Chianti is to red sauce. “There was a table with eight family members, none of whom spoke English.” Robert said. “We both spoke as much of the other language as we could and filled in with drawings on post it notes to communicate!”
“These are wines that you will only be able to taste because a small family produced it with care, a small importer committed to bring the wines to this country,” Robert summarizes, “and a small independent retailer invested in making the wines available to the community.
If a film was to be made of my chaotic life, I see Kristin Wiig playing me. Who plays Sean Boyd in "The Washington Wine Story?" "No one would be interested in that story." OK, but let's just say someone did make the movie, who plays you? "Someone dead hot sexy." Sean laughs but I think he means it.
Mike Merriman was @MetroWines on February 19th. He poured his Chenin Blanc and Pinot Noir. The very first barrel of wine bottled by Merriman received 90 points from Wine Spectator. And his wines have just continued to garner higher ratings and smashing reviews.
Mike was a good sport and agreed to an interview. In what we hope will become a regular feature here @MetroWines, check out the first interview for "UNFILTERED":
Interview with Mike Merriman, owner of Merriman Wines. He joined us here @MetroWines in Asheville, North Carolina, for a tasting of Merriman Chenin Blanc, Cummins Road Pinot Noir 2012 and Merriman Estate Pinot Noir 2012. His beard was gone and he had new glasses. Here’s the rest of the story:
Thank you for pouring at MetroWines in Asheville, North Carolina. We are a neighborhood wine shop but also the home of The Asheville School of Wine and The Blind Tasting League.
Do you blind taste?
Mike: I love to blind taste.
What’s in this bottle?
Mike: Could be Eucalyptus but I’m going to say Frankincense.
Unbelievable. You must be one amazing blind taster!
Mike: Not really. Blind tasting is tough. A group of Oregon Winemakers get together periodically in Portland, sit around a table, and blind taste each other’s wines. Not one of us can self identify. One night, one of the winemakers described a wine as the most amateurish swill he had ever tasted. It was his wine.
Let’s talk about how a highly regarded winemaker like you got started. Did you go to U.C. Davis?
Mike: SMU in Dallas.
No way! Me too. I have a degree in Communications. What does a wine guy study at SMU? Botany? Punnett Squares? The Medici?
I see. But then you went to U.C. Davis?
Mike: No. Eastman School of Music in Rochester, New York.
Wow. Is that what you would be doing if you were not making wine? Some kind of music?
Mike: Definitely. I am a composer. I would probably be a music theory teacher.
Without getting too technical, music theory, as I understand it, is the study of the elements of a composition all the way through to what constitutes music.
Mike: Pretty much.
And word is that you make your own music. They say that you play a mean piano. Besides your own compositions, whose work makes you turn up the volume?
Mike: John Adams. I like post minimalist work. More developed than minimalist pieces by composers like Philip Glass. Don’t get me wrong, I like Philip Glass. I just like Adams better.
But did you know that you can get a Philip Glass ringtone?
Mike: No. Adams wrote three operas. You have probably heard of “Nixon in China” about Nixon’s 1972 groundbreaking trip to the country or “Death of Klinghoffer,” the opera based on the hi-jacking of the passenger liner Achille Lauro.
Me? I’m struggling to tell the difference in Mozart and Beethoven. But I trust you. Back to wine. So then you went to U.C. Davis?
Mike: No. I did income tax.
So, your economics degree came in handy after all.
Mike: Came in handy a couple of times. I had joined the “Beer Revolution” in Texas and began brewing. This took me to a Fermentation Science course at the University of Oregon in 1997. But, along about this time, beer industry revenues were trending down. I got lucky. On a class field trip, I met David Reilly there who owns Owen Roe. He took me to a harvest. I loved it. The rest is history.
Are you the winemaker?
Mike: One of two. I work with Eric Brasher, a trained oenologist and viticulturalist, who was the head winemaker at Owen Roe.
What do you want consumers to know about your wine?
Mike: The way the wines are made. The grapes are hand picked and hand sorted and the wine is made in small quantities. Even the wax on the bottle is hand dipped. We use only sustainable viticultural practices. And we are certified Salmon Safe which means our farming practices help to protect streams and rivers and control soil erosion.
Speaking of soil, some say your soil is what gives your Pinot Noir its distinct taste
Mike: We have willakenzie soil which is sandy and rocky. You could say that the marine influences in willakenzie certainly contribute to deeper blue fruit but there are many factors in addition to soil that account for aromas and flavors.
Now that you are solidly a part of the wine making business, if you could, what would you like to change about the industry? For more information, check our website.
Mike: The three tiered system. I would like to sell directly. Give consumers more options.
Who would you like to know drinks Merriman Wines?
Mike: Sponge Bob. I like him.
Do you ever think about brewing again
Mike: No, but I still love a good saison.
A good saison goes with what movie?
Mike: “Godfather Part One,” “Pee Wee Herman’s Big Adventure” or “Tommy Boy” with Chris Farley.
Your first wine received 90 points from Wine Spectator and the ratings and reviews have just gone up since then. Congratulations. Anything else we should know?
Mike: I never went to U.C. Davis.