A Visit to the Southern Rhone, Chateauneuf du Pape
Winemakers, Jeff Murphy (Johnson Estate) & Sam Sheehy (Winery of Ellicotville)
After attending a trade show in Montpellier, we travelled to Avignon, the small French town set upon a hill in southern portion of the Rhone Valley where the “Pope’s New Castle” was built in the thirteenth century. It housed eight popes over the course of 70+ years before the Pope moved back to Rome. But it was the popes of the era who first encouraged the growing of grapes and the production of “vin du Pape” in the nearby countryside. Chateauneuf du Pape, where we traveled during much of our visit to France, is one medieval village located near vineyards, some of which are over 100 years old.
The Appellation d’Origine Controlée for Chateauneuf du Pape was established in 1936 and fifteen varieties of grapes are allowed to be planted in the appellation. Grapes must be hand-picked to make the approved appellation wines (sometimes with stems, sometimes not). Today the area with roughly 6,000 acres of vineyards has about 250 growers/wineries. Grenache is by far the most popular grape variety planted in the region (roughly 75-80%), along with Mourvedre, Cinsault, and Syrah. –In old vineyards, these varieties might be mixed to provide field blends, but today are often used to blend the famous red fruity, lush wines of the region which are very drinkable young and may also be successfully cellared. Only five percent of the region’s production is white wines – from Roussane and Grenache Gris – but these more rare white wines were some of the most interesting which we sampled during on our visits to several of the regions wineries.
We use the word “terroir” to describe a wine region’s climate, geology, and wine culture. Most of the wineries we visited had educational “displays” of the terroir of the region, illustrating the importance of terroir and the differences amongst the wineries in the Rhone Valley Yes, in sometimes cases, the displays were very elaborate set-ups in which a winery would display “dirt” - the soil, sand, clay, and stones/pebbles characteristic of different vineyards. Old vineyards were a source of pride and are pruned very short to protect them from the “mistral winds” which are an integral part of the region’s terroir – which is otherwise features sunny, hot, dry Mediterranean summers and mild winters. BUT, we will say that during our visit, that the region had its first snow in ten years! It was not what we were expecting!
We were very impressed with the size and quantity of the concrete tanks we saw in this region. Fermentation occurs in these tanks as well as in stainless steel ones. And aging, of course, done in large even giant, French oak barrels.
Cheese and sausage!!! Every meal, it seemed, came with a cheese and charcuterie board, with soft cheeses, like Brie, predominating.
What is Quince Paste?
Quince trees (Cydonia oblonga), of the apple or “pome” family, are native to the Caucasus mountains of Georgia, Armenia, and northern Iran/Persia. The hard, sometimes fuzzy, fruit is apple or pear-shaped and the green skin becomes bright yellow when ripe. Its whitish-yellow flesh turns a beautiful ruby color when cooked. Quince fruit is high in pectin and has a unique sweet-tart, floral flavor which is perfect in preserves, jams or jellies, and quince paste. Known as “dulce de membrillo” in Spain, quince paste is a thick, sliceable jam, often served with Manchego cheese.
The Story of Quince at Johnson Estate:
Fred William Johnson was an orphan from England who immigrated to Saskatchewan at the age of 14 and worked as a cowboy until making his way to Cornell in the late 1800’s. He bought the farm in 1908, planting orchards of cherries, peaches, apples, and pears. He grew quince for his own consumption and both Fred Sr. and Fred Jr., founder and current owner of Johnson Estate respectively, grew up eating poached quince. Although quince trees were popular in England and the colonies, quince orchards are now somewhat rare in the United States. Fred and Jennifer Johnson have planted three varieties: Van Deman, Orange, and Aromatnaya, providing quince not only for Fred’s dessert with cream, but sufficient quantities for Jennifer to make quince paste to pair with cheese and wines and to sell in the winery.
How to Serve Quince Paste:
With a small knife, gently pry the quince paste out of the glass jar and onto a plate or cheese board. It will hold its shape and may be cut into slices to accompany cheese or charcuterie. In Spain, quince paste is traditionally served with Manchego, a salty sheep’s milk cheese, but the paste is delicious paired with a large variety of hard and soft cheeses.
Serve as dessert with cookies or crackers; pair with Johnson Estate Vidal Blanc.
Gitane, Tom or Palimino from Reverie Creamery, Mayville, NY (Riko Chandra, Owner)
Various sharp cheddar cheeses (Yancey Fancy & Cabot brands available in the winery)
Parmesan and other hard cheeses; goat and soft cheeses
There is a story behind this event.
Last year, Jennifer saw one of Brenda McCutheon's origami "stars" at her booth at the Westfield Farmer's Market. After some discussion of the possibilities, she commissioned Brenda to make ornaments for the winery Christmas tree using cream cardstock and the winery's old labels. The new ornaments make the live Christmas tree (grown and supplied by the Knapp family who live nearby) a deserved focal point in the tasting room for the month of December and a source of pride and delight as we upgraded the winery's made-in-China "ornaments" for something much more meaningful. Yes, we've asked Brenda to make extra ornaments which we will be selling in the winery so that you may have one too!
So this year, we'd like to celebrate properly. With a tree lighting. And the other activities that make our Christmas holidays special:
We hope that you can join us. No reservations necessary.
Last week, another harvest was completed; today the first flakes of snow swirl, but melt as they touch the golden leaves. It is time for giving thanks. Thanks to our creator and shepherd who has given us the most glorious fall in many, many years. Not only that, but a growing season that has delivered the cleanest, ripest, most luscious bunches of grapes; bunch upon bunch, ton upon ton. It should be a memorable vintage.
We owe abundant thanks too, for the loyalty of our customers, the steady, unstintingly cheerful work of our teammates in the vineyards, cellar, and wine-shop. We are grateful, as well, for the community that surrounds and supports us, and we wish all good cheer.
As is our custom after harvest, we are again pleased to offer free shipping to customers nearby and far away. We know that many of the people who visit us during the season have roots in our community, but either now live at some distance or have family or friends that do. It is with this broad, western New York 'diaspora' in mind that we reach out in gratitude with this humble offer of wine transport - free as Santa’s sleigh, if not so magical!
As the first bands of snow march off Lake Erie, I am warmed by the memories of summer just past: the vineyard walks with cheerful, interested and interesting visitors, the golden sunsets out over Lake Erie, the planting of our newest Pinot vineyard block, the breathless unloading of our newest wine tanks and barrels, and the raising of a new barn among the vineyards. I eagerly look forward to tasting the wines of 2017. I forecast that they will be excellent.
Jennifer and I wish you all a wonderful Thanksgiving among family and friends. We thank you for your interest and support and may your holiday season be joyful. May you return to visit us, preferably in person if you can, or on-line in the meantime!
You may have heard that in the wine business, it takes about seven years to figure out if you made a good (or bad) decision - because that's how long it takes to plant grapes, wait for adequate production to make wine, and then to sell that wine - and to see if your customers like it!
Likewise, we rely on Mother Nature. And sometimes, as in February of 2015, you get a surprise. In this case, it was 30 degrees BELOW zero, which was cold enough to damage some tender vines (Riesling and Traminette) and to seriously reduce production in some vineyards. SO, that was a long way of saying that we sold out of some vintages unintentionally - because we did not have the necessary grapes/juice to produce planned quantities. But now, they are back!
Black Locust Dry Riesling
Pinot Noir (first estate vintage)
Vidal Blanc Ice Wine
Chambourcin Ice Wine
Sparkling Rosé Ice Wine
One of the summer's best stories is that we had been sold out of Vidal Blanc Ice Wine for some time and were looking forward to the bottling and release of the 2016 vintage. Winemaker, Jeff Murphy, had already entered sent some wines in the 2017 San Francisco Wine Competition, but knew that he wanted to include Johnson's 2016 Vidal Blanc Ice Wine - and as it had just been bottled, he had to ship it to California via overnight Federal Express to insure that it arrived in time for the wine judging June 30 - July 2. Are we glad that he did! The 2016 Vidal Blanc Ice Wine was awarded 97 Points!!!
Another point of pride is the accolades given to our May Wine. The 2016 vintage was the second of this new product inspired by Germany's spring May Wine celebrations with a white wine punch laced with sweet woodruff and strawberries. Here's what the Beverage Testing Institute had to say:
"Bright yellow straw color. Fruity aromas and flavors of grape jelly, wild lemon, and preserved peach with a round, crisp, fizzy, off-dry light-to-medium body and a seamless, medium-length roasted nuts, dried pineapple, and cream soda finish with coating, silky, soft tannins and a suggestion of oak. An exemplary sparkler with terrific effervescence and a nuanced approach to Vidal Blanc."
OTHER AWARDS EARNED DURING 2017:
2016 Traminette - Gold & Best of Class, 2017 NY Food & Wine Classic
Exceptional/90 Points, Tastings.com
2016 Sweet Riesling - Exceptional/90 Points, Tastings.com
2016 Black Locust Riesling - Highly Recommended/89 Points, Tastings.com
2016 Dry Riesling - Highly Recommended/89 Points, Tastings.com
2016 Semi-Dry Riesling - Highly Recommended/89 Points, Tastings.com
2016 Vidal Blanc Ice Wine - Double Gold, 2017 San Francisco Int'l Wine
2015 Seyval Blanc - Double Gold, 2017 NY Food & Wine Classic
2015 Ives - Double Gold, 2017 Finger Lakes Wine Competition
2016 May Wine - 94 Points, Gold/Exceptional, Beverage Testing Institute, Tastings.com
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