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Francoise le Calvez Interview

"It's a family business!" 
 
We spoke with Francoise le Calvez as she poured and discussed five of her wines under the Coupe Roses label.
 
 
Francoise and her enologist husband, Pascal Frissant, work Coupe Roses in the Minervois Appellation with passion and state of the art technology. But in the end, as Francoise reminds us, a "it's family business."
 
Francoise began her journey into wine with her father. The PH of the soil in the vineyards was not optimum. Her father found a soil researcher who concluded that "the roots were not going deeply enough to have the best expression of the soil." The problem was resolved but it is a constant labor of love. "We are always working on the soil," says Francoise, because when you get right down to it, "it's all about the soil."
 
At Coupe Roses, in the village of La Caunette in Minervois, Francoise and Pascal make authentic wines, "wines of the soil,"  and"wines that express the "slow work of nature." Francoise describes her wines as an "expression of the terroir" and a "universe of sensory poetry."
 
Champs du Roy Blanc is an aromatic, dry blend of Grenache Blanc and Muscat. 
Francoise says the grapes for this wine are chosen "because of the chemical composition of the soil."
 
Fremillant Rose is based on 40% Mourvedre blended in equal parts of Cinsault, Grenache and Syrah. "Each grape gives character to the wine." The wine has an interesting color leaning, as Francoise says "toward violet!"
 
 
Ahhhh, Bastide. "The nose is quite strong." Bastide, made of equal parts Carignan and Grenache with about 5% Syrah, pairs with food or can go alone. "It's a Bistro Wine!" Francoise says there is a lot of discussion in France about Carignan. Noting that French wines in Languedoc are most often Syrah based, Francoise reminds us that there was a time "when wines were up to 90% Carignan." The varietal is, Francoise says with determination, "very good when it's young" and "we must save Carignan!" 
 
Vignals is a "rich and intense" wine made in steel tanks to bring out "the best in the grapes."  Vignals is 60% Syrah with 30% Grenache and a touch of Carignan. "Varietals are vinified separately to determine how the varietals will perform."
 
Pouring the Grenache, Francoise says: "This is a perfumed wine. The strong aromas come from the herbs, rosemary, thyme and lavendar, growing in the soil." A blend of Grenache with 10% Syrah, the  wine is aged in oak barrels making it a bit, Francoise says,"more subtle."   A lot of aromas and flavors here. I even found tobacco on the nose. Francoise likes the "cherry finish."
 
Orience is mostly Syrah with 10% Grenache. Aged in 30% new oak barrels, this is the heavy hitter but in no way too much. Francoise finds "Szechuan pepper notes on the finish."
 
As Francoise pours, discusses her philosophy and the characteristics of each wine, she often repeats with a smile as well as conviction, whats in her heart and what it's really all about at Coupe Roses:  "It's a family business." And that says it all.
 
You can find Bastide on the menu at AMBROZIA.
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Bruwer Raats Interview by Skype

I met Bruwer Raats two years ago at a wine pairing lunch. His commitment to his winemaking was immediately obvious but, as the conversation went on, his commitment to his land, his community and his family were equally obvious. And by the time that last Cabernet Franc blend crossed my palate, you could say with certainty that RAATS Wines and RAATS were class acts.
 
We talked with Bruwer Raats on travel by SKYPE from Stellenbosch @MetroWines on April 2nd.  He, with his son in tow, had pulled over on a tree lined road to take the call and talk with his fans. Now, that's dedication and just down-right nice! Bruwer lead us through a tasting of Chenin Blanc Original, Old Vine Chenin Blanc, Red Jasper, Cabernet Franc and his mega-HIT, Compostella. 
 

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. 

 
In his Cape Fearless article in The Wine Advocate, Neal Martin scored RAATS Wines between 89 and a whopping 95.  WOW! And Wine Spectator listed RAATS as one of the Top 100 Wineries in the World. See what I mean? What more could we say.
 
So RAATS wines are great but what about the winemaker? You probably already know that the original partnership was between Bruwer, his brother Jasper and their father Jasper Senior, and that he trained at esteemed South African estates as well as Cakebread in Napa, California, and that he sources his grapes from very specific soil types from vines 25 years old or older, and that he believes that "The best viticultural soil for Chenin Blanc in all the land is undoubtedly located in and around Stellenbosch," and that all grapes are hand picked and that there is "extraordinary attention to detail" in the making of RAATS Wines. EXHALE.......

But you might not know Bruwer, as a result of and testimonial to his winemaking skills, has been the winemaker for Indaba since 2008. Indaba says "He brings extensive knowledge and personal devotion to Indaba, aiming to create handcrafted wines that are stylistically fresh, juicy and approachable."
 
That's great too. But what Bruwer wanted us to know about his association with Indaba is that Indaba has taken their "commitment to education in the vineyard" up to the next level with the WELL Project (Winelands Education of Living and Learning) in South Africa. The project will support child development by providing infrastructure, learning materials and teacher training at schools established for wineland worker's children.
 
And that kind of concern extends to his philosophy of winemaking. Bruwer said he will not, I repeat, will not cut corners. "When you put your name on a bottle, you represent yourself, the generations before you, your family and what you stand for."
 
As for style, Bruwer summed up what he says separates RAATS from a lot of winemakers: "At RAATS, we do not make monster wines. There are enough monsters in this world!" 
 
And that style all started with Bruwer's passion for Cabernet Franc. When he started working with Cabernet Franc, Bruwer says his father, who eventually came around to see his vision, said "why can't you just be normal and plant shiraz?"  While Bruwer will tell you that it is his goal to produce the "pure expression of Cabernet Franc," on some level, his father was right because"everything that can go wrong will go wrong with Cabernet Franc." Bruwer's blockbuster, best selling Cabernet Franc Blend, "Red Jasper," is named for his father.
 
We asked Bruwer if he hoped his son would be a winemaker. Bruwer said he wanted to avoid imposing what is really "a parent's vision" on his son. "I would tell him what my father told me "to think for himself, to follow his heart."
 
And all that, commitment, dedication and yes, heart, are in a bottle of RAATS.

 
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Interview with Robert Fiore Kral of Robert Walter Selections

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.

 

 

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Tupaq, Bob Marley and Rotie's Sean Boyd

 

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A significant number of wine customers as well as critics believe that winemakers just plain take themselves too seriously. It's not like winemakers are navy seals trying to capture ISIS leadership or emergency room doctors trying to save a child victim of a drive by shooting.  Customers are starting to want to know more about who made the wine. So, what we try to do in Unfiltered is reach the real winemaker, to go beyond the wine tech talk and website dry goods, and let you know who made the wine.
 
A winemaker is, in the prurist form, a farmer, and then an agricultural chemist and finally a marketer. Tonight we meet Sean Boyd, owner and winemaker for Rotie in Walla Walla, Washington, who has his hand in every step of the process.
 
While both the appearance and demeanor of Sean Boyd might surprise you, his wines will delight and engage you. Sean was @MetroWines to discuss his wines with a group of about 40 very interested customers. Before Sean introduced his wines, we tried to get inside the real Sean Boyd. Here we go...........
 
John Oliver did a piece on his HBO show last week joking that "Americans are so casual and they prove it by drinking wine out of a box." Will there ever be a day when Rotie is in a box? "No. The wines are my babies. My babies get the best. The best is a cork." 
 
OK but what about selling to restaurants? "I do offer kegs to restaurants but this is high quality, fresh and straight from the barrel."
 
I share with Sean our philosophy @MetroWines that wine is about food, family, friends and community. He agrees but puts it a little differenty. 
Sean: "Wine is secondary to people. What I mean is that a wine can taste bad to you but that same bottle shared with friends will taste great. So the wine hierarchy is friends, food, wine - and we are the stewards of the wine."
 
Before being a steward of wine, you were a geologist working in oil and gas exploration. Do these two endeavors have anything in common. Here, I am expecting Sean to say something about the soil but....
Sean: "I need action. I need to be constantly working. Chasing big projects. Constantly learning.(Sean does address the soil later in his presentation. Very interesting about that "glacial lake," the "volcanic soil", the "good drainage" but back to our search for Sean..)
 
OK. As stewards of the wine, I ask if we should label wine bottles to indicate if there are any additives or any substances used in the processing. 
"Yes. Label it." Sean says making wine is a long process from planting to bottle and can sometimes, often, maybe always be "a money pit."
 
Noticing the bottle of Three Legged Red from Dunham Cellars, another Walla Walla Winery, Sean says: "Eric Dunham was one of the biggest influences on me as a winemaker." This makes me smile as we here @MetroWines had Eric Dunham on skype from his cellar for nearly an hour and felt like we knew him. "Eric was one of the most awesome dudes in the world." More smiles. "He was always helping people. He was really about people." 
 
It's pretty obvious that Eric had more than just a professional influence on Sean, it's personal too. "Sometimes I think," says Sean, "I am going to pull an Eric. And by that I mean...you know how you are at the airport set for a business trip that you need to take to Boston or wherever but your mind wanders and you start thinking maybe I will just go to Costa Rica today instead. Well, Eric really would go to Costa Rica!" Now Sean smiles.
 
Who else had a real impact on your winemaking? "Claude Gros. I was working as an assistant winemaker and the winery owner brought in Claude Gros to consult. I took copious notes for 3 years! Claude still consults with Sean at Rotie. "He is almost a therapist." (About Claude Gros from Jancis Robinson: http://www.jancisrobinson.com/articles/claude-gros-chameleon-consultant)
 
Anyone else?
"Definitely. Rich Funk of Savaia." (http://www.saviahcellars.com/)
 
Your wines are in the Rhone Style. Do you speak French? "Maybe I should. When I was a kid, my father worked in Libya and he and my mother, who was French Canadian, took me on trips to the south of France quite often." The red table wine there, as it is throughout most of France and Italy, was great. It's a reflection on the chef so it's usually great." So, you became used to the good stuff at an early age? "Yes"  
 
You can have dinner with anyone past or present? Who? What wine?
"Bob Marley and Tupaq. These are the leaders of our time."  What wine? "I would start with a White Burgundy and then whatever Bob wants."

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. 
 
We can find out the details about your wines on your website and, as you said, you will talk wine tech in your presentation so let's take a quick step off the farm to get a better picture of Sean Boyd. I like blue but it is too sedative to really catch my attention. Orange is nice but it screams. What color highlighter do you use? "I only read manuals." OK. But if you wanted to highlight parts of the manual what color highlighter would you use? "I don't use one."
 
Ok. How about this one...Which one of your wines works with Chicken McNuggets? "Oh come on."
 
OK. You just gotta laugh. You really do.
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Dinner with Valle Dell'Acate

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Unfiltered2: "Dinner with Valle Dell'Acate
 
It is rare to sit down to dinner with a winemaker, even more rare the winemaker being Italian, and extraordinarily rare for your winemaking dinner guest to be a sixth generation Italian woman winemaker from Sicily, a place Eric Asimov called "one of the most exciting wine regions in the world." 
 
But so it was on one recent night at Cucina 24 in Asheville. I had the honor and pleasure to share a bottle of Grillo and Frappato with Gaetana Jacono Gola, the owner of and winemaker for Valle Dell'Acate in Sicily. Gola divides her time between her home in Milano that she shares with her husband, an architect in the city, and "the farm in Sicily."
 
A former pharmacist, Gola returned to the family business with a plan to focus on indigenous varietals. "We live in a land rich in history, where wine enjoys long standing traditions. We are in a faraway place, rife with beauty and mystery, where we planted vines before phylloxera arrived, and again after it passed. How could we help but enthusiastically embrace our own varietals and our own wines."  
 
Her decision to venture out and her successful efforts working the wine world room have put Sicilian wines front and center on the international table. Gola is proud to say that the biggest market for her wines is "The United States followed by Japan."
 
And, after thinking about it, the two wines we shared that evening would be perfect for Japanese cuisine. Both pair with vegetables and fish as well as lighter meats. And the Zagra, Gola points out, "even works with asparagus!"
 
Versatility, besides old vine varietals, is one of the great advantages of Sicilian wines. "As you move north through Italy,  says Gola,"the wines tend to be heavier and less versatile than a varietal such as Frappato which pairs comfortably with meat or fish." 
 
In addition to the harvest!, as brand Ambassador for Cerasuolo di Vittoria, serving as a member of The Wine Business Executive Program, and traveling the world representing Valle Dell'Acate, Gola spends a lot of nights away from home. When asked what would be a comfort meal at home, Gola said "a flaky white fish and a bottle of Zagra". "But," she said, "depending on the rest of the dish, Frappato works very well too."
 
What does Gola want us to know about her wines? "The soil in Sicily makes all the difference. Frappato vines are grown in clear red soil and Grillo in yellow soil. In fact, there are seven soils for our seven wines." Gola invites us to read more about the soil on the Valle Dell'Acate website HERE.
 
Italy has, since time began, always been known for great wine but Italy is now stepping up to take a leadership role internationally on issues of sustainability. And Gola is a part of the well recognized effort. "If you can," she says, "come to Expo 2015, called Feeding the Planet. Energy for Life. in Milano."  
 
The Expo will showcase more than 140 countries who will offer solutions for issues concerning health, safety and providing sufficient food for everyone. "Over the 6 month show," Gola enthusiastically tells us, "Expo expects 20 million visitors." 
 
The Expo is particularly important to Gola as she supports and her winery follows sustainable farming practices. And as the recently appointed Ambassador for "Women for WE-Expo" a project of Expo Milano 2015 in connection with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Gola will have a substantial role in spreading the message.
 
To summarize her philosophy about wine, Gola says: "Wine leads you out on an adventure to discover new places and people, new territories and history "
 

Click HERE to read all about Valle Dell'Acate.

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Mike Merriman Interview

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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?

    Mike: Economics. 

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.

 

 

 

 

 

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