January 29, 2008
Vines are Dormant, Not Growers and Winemakers

Just try to get into a downtown or midtown restaurant this week. With 10,000 grape growers, winemakers and other members of the wine trade in and about the Sacramento Convention Center for the annual Unified Wine & Grape Symposium, the nation's largest gathering of vintners, most restaurants on the grid should be humming. If there's one thing this crowd enjoys as much as making wine it's drinking it, preferably with fine food.

Nonetheless, they got down to business today with workshops on grape diseases, sustainable farming practices, unwanted aromas that can develop during fermentation and the like.

The opening session dealt with how wineries and wine-related businesses, like restaurants, can build their brand to assure a longterm relationship with their customers. There I heard something that made me wish the room was filled with local restaurateurs. Marian Jansen op de Harr, wine buyer for Fleming's Prime Steakhouse & Wine Bar, said the chain's highly regarded wine program stipulates that red wines be kept at 60 degrees Fahrenheidt, whites at 45 degrees Fahrenheidt. Nor are bottles of wine to be left standing on the back bar, where they are bound to warm up. Take the hint, local restaurateurs: Store those wines at proper temperatures so they won't be too hot when served, and just maybe your wine sales will pick up.

She had a couple of other insightful remarks. For one, while 70 percent of the wines at Fleming's are American, 30 percent are foreign, and that segment is growing, in large part because Americans are taking an interest in grape varieties not grown extensively here, such as riesling, malbec and albarino. Curiously, the market looks to be cooling for sauvignon blanc, she said. "A year ago I thought sauvignon blanc would take off," she remarked, "but it seems to be going down. I don't know what's going on."

Australian viticulturist Peter Hayes, of the International Organisation of Vine and Wine (OIV), based in Paris, sounded more ominous in his speech, saying winemakers generally aren't preparing consumers for changes in wine styles due to climate change. Already, he remarked, German rieslings are showing more alcohol and less of their characteristically steely nature because of how global warming is altering grape-growing and winemaking practices, yet few vintners are taking a proactive role in explaining the changes to consumers, said Hayes. Something for his fellow conventioners to chew over besides the steak they'll have for dinner.

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