On the Trail

On the Trail in Louisville

David Driscoll

It is night in Louisville. We are drinking Bourbon: first Blanton's, then Johnny Drum, then Rowan's Creek, and then on to Maker's Mark. We hit up the local CVS for my traditional 1.75 liter of Very Old Barton. We stop to inhale the essence of the evening. It is a happening Monday night at the Garage Bar, my all-time favorite Louisville locale. The old pump station that now houses a full-scale whiskey bar with a custom-built wood-fired pizza oven is just the place for me. The beer is cold. The room is full. The vibe is electric. There are families here. There are lovers. There are first dates, too. There are skaters, hipsters, nerds, and Louisville University jocks. There is a complete cornucopia of cultures. It's the full gambit. This is not a scene, my friends. This is an institution. It's a place to let your hair down and relax, not merely somewhere to be seen. This is real life. This is where I want to be right now.

We are staying at the old Seelbach Hotel downtown. Founded in 1905 by the brothers Louis and Otto Seelbach, the aim was to bring the best of swanky European living to America—to Kentucky, no less. Sitting in the lobby, sipping a glass of fine Kentucky Bourbon, that splendor lives on today more than a century later. To think: F. Scott Fitzgerald was inspired to write The Great Gatsby while staying here! Elvis slept on these beds while playing in town! The Stones threw parties in these rooms while touring the states! Al Capone played illicit poker games in these halls and was even chased out by the police on one occasion! That's where I am right now. I'm sitting in the middle of an American pop culture landmark. I'm drinking whiskey in a den of vice and venom. It's not just the hotel that's of legend, it's also the in-house watering hole. With a list of Bourbons that spans multiple menu pages, you can have it your way just a few footsteps away from the main lobby. This is where Roosevelt, Kennedy, and Clinton drank while manning the White House! This is where they plotted and planned! This is where Fast Eddie Felson stayed while downing a few glasses of JTS Brown. This is the pride of Louisville, in a nutshell. It's the epitome of everything great and grand from Bourbon's lascivious lore.

We were back in town with my buddy Scott from Maker's Mark, along with my Beam-Suntory rep Glen to make a new batch of Maker's 46 at the distillery. We did the standard facility tour, dipped our fingers in the mash, tasted the new make, and dug deep into everything wheated. I don't care how jaded you are about big business—Maker's Mark is an outstanding Bourbon. The Maker's 46 custom barrel program is also pretty damn cool. Here's how it works: there are four additional seasoned staves alongside the standard Maker's 46 French Oak plank, for a total of five different oak choices. Each barrel of Maker's 46 gets ten planks, which means you can choose your own combination of wooden staves; a total of 1,001 different combinations. You preview the variant choices by blending whiskies aged with only one type of stave to a test run of 100ml, each stave getting 10ml in the blend.

In the middle of our blending exercise, who should walk in but Bill Samuels Jr. himself—the man who invented Maker's 46 and took over the distillery from his founding father before the Beam takeover. As if that wasn't enough, he was joined by a pair of Kentucky (Republican) state senators—Jimmy Higdon and Damon Thayer. We took a real shine to "Big" Jimmy Higdon from the 14th District. This guy was pure gold; as smooth as they come and a real character. He was larger than life—a storyteller with a big personality and true grit. It was an experience, to say the least! But we didn't come to Maker's Mark to shake hands or kiss babies. We came to make some dynamite Kentucky Bourbon.

I've really come to love Louisville over the years, but as anyone in Kentucky will tell you: it's like another country compared to the rest of the state. Less conservative than say Lexington or Bardstown, it's become a beacon for urban-oriented Kentuckians who value the perks of big city living while maintaining a bit of that small town Americana feel. It's for that reason—just like we're seeing in San Francisco—that businesses (and distilleries) are moving back into the Louisville center. Tourism is up. Whiskey Row is coming back to life. People want the amenities of the city, and travellers from all over the country are being attracted and pulled by Louisville's charm, history, and eclectic offerings—much of which, of course, is centered around Bourbon. We kicked off our final evening in town by meeting up with my old pal Joe Heron for a few gin and tonics in the Copper & Kings distillery courtyard. The weather was warm and somewhat balmy, and by that point Julio and I were craving anything cold and refreshing without whiskey in it. 

Having your mindset challenged and changed is a big part of traveling. Hell, I might say it's the best part. Not only does leaving your own backyard allow for introspection, meeting people with different points of view is vital to discovering more about what's possible in our world. Joe was making gin and tonics with his own Copper & Kings gin, a product made more for his own consumption needs than to be sold. "We're focusing on brandy; there are already too many people making gin," he told me, waving off the idea of expanding production. "But Joe," I said contradicting him, "I think this is the best thing you've ever distilled! I could drink this every day! Sometimes you have to go with what works." Distilled from apples, the clean and savory herbs meshed beautifully with the slight fruitiness of the spirit, lifted by the small bubbles in the tonic. While I love the C&K brandies and respect some of the unique offerings Joe's coming out with, the gin to me stood out as a sure-fire hit. I felt like Carl Weathers in Happy Gilmore telling Adam Sandler to give up hockey and focus on golf. After a great hour of conversation, Joe dropped us off down the road on Frankfort Ave where Julio and I hit the night life. The Bourbon was flowing fast and freely into the late hours of the evening. After a too many shots and too many beers, we stumbled back to the Seelbach, but not before snagging a bag of chips and a few bottles of water to protect our stomachs against what was surely coming. 

Louisville is a great time. Especially if you love Bourbon. But even if you don't.

-David Driscoll

It All Started in a Bathtub

Olivia Ragni

Loire Valley’s region of Montlouis-sur-Loire is just across the river from the famed Vouvray and—unbeknownst to many—some of the most exciting new winemakers are coming out of this region. Take Xavier Weisskopf of Le Rocher des Violettes, for example; he is a part of a small, yet growing number of producers in the appellation who are motivated to make a name for the wines of Montlouis. Tasting through the line-up of wines with him is an unforgettable experience.  Xavier is soft-spoken, yet captivating and charming; the same can be said for his wines. His wines are classic old world style wines, reserved, intriguing, and reflective of the terroir. He is a Burgundian-trained winemaker, but his entry into the field is anything but conventional. Unlike most producers in France, Xavier does not come from a family of winemakers. While renting a flat in Chablis, he and some friends you could say ‘procured’ some grapes from Chablis and made wine in their bathtub. The rest is history.  

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In 2005, Xavier founded Le Rocher des Violettes where he has just nine hectares of land, much of filled with pre-WWII vines, planted mainly to chenin blanc, cabernet franc, côt, and gamay. Although situated just across the river from Vouvray, Montlouis producers have been banned from using the Vouvray designation, even if they purchase grapes from Vouvray. Chenin blanc is the grape of the region and while overshadowed by those of Vouvray, the chenin wines of Montlouis rivals the wines of Vouvray any day; especially those of Xavier. His ‘Touche-Mitaine’ is concentrated yet elegant and mineral driven and bone dry. Compare his ‘Les Borderies,’ a demi-sec version of chenin blanc, to a typical Vouvray demi-sec and you would think the ‘Les Borderies’ is dry, the balance of acidity and sugar provides for a complexity that is mind blowing.  Xavier’s love of chenin blanc is what drove him to the region, but curiosities push him to experiment with other varietals able to bottle under the Touraine appellation. Xavier makes elegant reds from grapes like côt, the regional name for malbec, and a bright, yet savory red from gamay

While it all started with homemade Chablis in a bathtub, it’s the underrated region of Montlouis-sur-Loire where Xavier found a home—in an old, forgotten appellation where Xavier hopes to help revive the reputation by making truly gorgeous wines.

-Olivia Ragni

A Visit from Yquem

Alex Schroeder

Last week Jean-Phillipe le Moine, the marketing director for Château d'Yquem, stopped by our Northern California locations to pour a surreal six-vintage tasting of the chateau’s incredible dessert wine from Sauternes, as well as their dry 2015 Y (pronounced ee-greck in French).  The Y is impressive in its own right, a blend of sauvignon blanc and late-picked partially-botrytized semillon. The grapefruit and orange flavors are vibrant and intense with a velvety phenolic texture from the ripe semillon. The wine has expertly-balanced acidity without any bitterness. It was perfectly crafted and has great ageablity.  

However, the dessert wines promptly stole the show. We tasted the 2011, 2010, 2009, 2007, 2006 and 2005, in that order.  Because they are made from individually picked berries that are dried out and concentrated by the botrytis fungus, the wines are intensely aromatic and complex. The 2011 had fresher flavors of orange peel, honeycomb, orange blossom and pineapple, with a viscous texture and great acidity to hone it in. The 2009 was very powerful!  Notes of baked pastry, honeycomb, white cherry and cream melded perfectly with the higher sugar content and acidity for a very complex and cerebral experience. The 2006 was the opposite, with higher acidity and slightly lower sugar levels. The fruit was fresher and more vegetal with tropical notes like mango and pineapple with just a hint of spice. Finally, the 2005 was starting to show what a beautifully-made aged Sauternes is capable of: dried apricots, preserved peaches and bold tropical notes were intense with a thick, round texture and notes of saffron spice and coriander starting to develop. It had incredible complexity and intensity, and a finish that wouldn’t stop. 

They say that after-dinner wines are falling out of fashion, which is a shame.  From the first whiff of that intensely aromatic, deep gold elixir to the last drop, Yquem is providing wine-lovers everywhere with surreal, other-worldly drinking experiences. It's a luxury that's well worth the price of admission.

-Alex Schroeder

The Secret of St. Aubin

David Driscoll

Pulling into the sleepy little village of St. Aubin, off the main drag through Burgundy's Côte de Beaune, nothing in the nearby vicinity gives the impression of prime real estate. The stone buildings still show the remnants of once-painted placards and advertisements, while the streets are empty and silent as the rocks crunch under your feet. Don't let the environment fool you, however: St. Aubin is Burgundy's next Brooklyn. It's like Oakland just across from Chassagne and Puligny-Montrachet, the San Francisco of chardonnay. St. Aubin was once a source of value and overlooked potential, but it's now a hot spot for wine drinkers in the know and the secret isn't all that safe anymore. From Beaune down to Santenay, the main road runs like the 101 freeway down to Palo Alto, with nothing but high-end properties everywhere you look: Pommard, Volnay, and Meursault until you get to the twin Montrachets, But jutting out to the west, a little off-shoot valley with limestone rich soils has quietly been making some of the best white wine values in all of Burgundy. Of course, that was until the word began to spread. Today, there are still a number of great St. Aubin deals, but you have to act a little faster than before and perhaps buy a bit deeper.

We rolled into the commune of Gamay and over to St. Aubin this past February as part of our trip through the region and I made sure to pay extra attention to the 2015 expressions. In the best vintages, like 2014, the wines have a clean and vibrant acidity with a delicate streak of minerality and medium weight. They are elegant wines. They have depth, nuance, and they taste expensive. Wines like the 2014 Marc Colin 1er Cru "Clos de Meix" and the "En Monceau" have been my prized secret weapons for the past few months. I've rolled into dinner parties and gatherings with a chilled bottle of St. Aubin and said nothing, only to have people approaching me minutes later after tasting their first swig. "This is incredible!," they exclaim. Yeah, I know! That's why I have a refrigerator full of this stuff, waiting to be unloaded when in need. With the talk of 2015 being a warmer vintage, I was worried the St. Aubins might not have that same trademark finesse. Luckily, most of what we tasted quickly put to bed any of that fear. While 2015 doesn't have the zip of the previous harvest, the wines don't lack freshness and the extra baby fat they've put on only adds to their charm. 

When we talk about value in St. Aubin, we're still talking about $40-$50 bottles of chardonnay. If you need daily drinkers, you need to check out our fantastic direct-import Mâcon selections, but for a Friday night splurge these wines are still in reach. Contrast the premier cru selections against the neighboring Montrachet expressions and you should be paying about half the price (most of the 1er cru Chassagne and Puligny editions are in the $70-$100 range). Not only are you not sacrificing much in terms of quality, you're buying in before the rush really hits. One of the best examples of 2015's continued quality is the 2015 Pierre-Yves Colin "Le Banc," a wine that showcases the talents of perhaps the region's most popular winemaker (the descendent of the aforementioned Marc Colin). Pierre-Yves has become renowned for his snappy and focused flavors, choosing not to stir up the lees for added richness so as to let the terroir's true character shine through. The "Le Banc" has a bit more oak, but it's still carrying that limey and lemony acidity right to the finish; there's almost a mineral residue on your palate minutes later. Again, you'll pay double for Colin's Montrachet expressions, but you won't necessarily get more out of them. Considering Pierre-Yves's hipster street cred, I'm surprised the wine wasn't more expensive.

But that's the secret of St. Aubin: high quality white Burgundy with more reasonable prices for everyday folks like you and me. Just don't tell too many people. These are my secrets, too.

-David Driscoll

On the Slopes of Côte-Rotie

Keith Mabry

Earlier this year, I added the buying duties for Loire Valley wines to an already full plate of Rhône and French Regional responsibilities and set out for a grand expedition through France. It was an exciting opportunity, as many of my favorite whites and reds in the world come from the communes outside of Bordeaux and Burgundy. After a recent two-week journey beginning in the Rhône Valley and finishing in the Loire, there is much to discuss. One of our great new finds this year came from our visit to Christophe Billon in Côte-Rotie. Residing in the lieu-dit of Côte Rozier, Billon has flown under the radar for far too long. In 1991, while working at Guigal, Christophe and his wife Maryline began their winemaking side project by planting their own plots . He eventually left Guigal in 2008 to dedicate his full time to those estate vineyards. Christophe now makes three different Côte-Roties along with an entry-level syrah, viognier and a beautiful Condrieu. When we visited, he took us on a little cellar tour, climbing up and down barrels to pull tasting samples with his wine thief.

His 2015 Christophe Billon “Les Elotins” Côte-Rotie (currently available to pre-order for $44.99) will bottle in September. The fruit all comes from their Côte Brune vineyard. The wine has a gorgeous core of concentrated cherry fruit. Persistent on the palate, it finishes with a panoply of baking spices. The 2015 Christophe Billon “Côte Rozier” Côte-Rotie (also a pre-order at $59.99) is the first vintage this wine has been bottled as a single lieu-dit (designated vineyard site). It is everything one could hope for in a Côte-Rotie with its aromas of grilled meats and crushed rocks. The wine is superbly complex but will require a little patience with its firmtannins.  We finished the round of 2015s with a peek at the 2015 Christophe Billon “La Brocarde” Côte-Rotie (pre-order $69.99)Coming from his most select parcel in Côte Brune, the young tannic structure was present but it could not conceal the aromas of blueberry, potpourri and leather. It was highly expressive and an exceptional way to finish this round. We left the cellar incredibly smitten with the Billon wines and we cannot stress enough that it’s time to get on board before this train leaves the station.

-Keith Mabry

Araujo Rises Again to Honor Napa's Past

David Driscoll

It was around eleven AM on Tuesday morning when I pulled into Wheeler Farms off Zinfandel Road, the site of the new winery and custom crush facility in St. Helena where the Araujos are now making wine. I'd already spotted Bart and Daphne Araujo looking out over the property in the distance from my car. I think they were expecting me to enter from the main entrance, but I managed to sneak in through the service gate with an incoming delivery. I parked, grabbed my camera bag, and set out across the lot to say hello. I had never met the famed husband and wife duo (I'd talked with Bart on the phone), but I've seen them in pictures over the years, so I recognized them immediately. We shook hands and commenced with introductions, an acquaintance I've been eager to make since I first visited their previous estate last year—the Eisele Vineyard, now a part of François Pinault's Château Latour empire. The couple sold the iconic estate to the French portfolio back in 2013 after twenty-three years of stewardship over one of California's most heralded and historic properties—a move that signaled a sign of the times in Napa. "We've had a lot of offers over the years, but selling wasn't ever on our mind," Bart told me; "However, when this offer came we knew Pinault's group would respect the vineyard and its integrity. For almost a quarter of a century we worked at one of the great single vineyard properties in Napa—a first growth. We were only stewards, however. We always saw ourselves as just passing through. We had a responsibility to find the right fit even if we weren't quite ready."

Bart went on to explain that he had always considered making wine after selling Araujo, but building a brand new, state-of-the-art winery in order to do so was never a part of that original post-Eisele plan. The Wheeler Farms project, however, was a fascinating proposal, especially as it had already been granted the permits for a new winery on site. After careful thought and speculation, the Araujos erected a modern, green, technologically-advanced super lab that was built on the experience and the wisdom of more than two decades of winemaking. "We got the chance to go back and change some things based on what we learned previously," Bart continued; "We've built one of the great winemaking facilities in all of California. I don't think we knew what we were missing at Araujo until we saw what was possible here." While our tour began with a walk through the site and an explanation of its abilities, I had to backtrack a bit with my questioning, beginning with what had inspired the Araujos to make such an investment at this point in time. I saw Bart's eyes light up at the inquiry.

"I went back to my formative experiences with California cabernet—the great Inglenooks of the sixties and the Mondavi Reserves from the late sixties and early seventies. I thought: wouldn't it be great to try and replicate those wines?" he said.

I had to admit; I didn't fully understand the distinction. Weren't the Araujo wines from Eisele Vineyard already considered the benchmark for the region? Bart explained further: "The Eisele wines were great, but they were all from a single vineyard, whereas the wines that inspired me initially were blends. They were blends of multiple sites. I wanted to know: could we make a wine that's the equivalent? Could we achieve that?" This was an unprecedented development, especially considering that the industry is moving in the exact opposite direction. Everything in California's modern food and wine scene right now is focusing on terroir, locality, and the pureness of single expression wines. The current fashion of all drinks is rooted in singularity. What Bart was proposing was no different than a famous single malt distillery proclaiming a return to blended Scotch! On top of that, here were the Araujos speaking romantically about California's glorious past, yet touting the achievements of their modern facility with all the accoutrements of the Napa's future. I was intrigued and simultaneously puzzled. However, to understand the Araujos' quest to recreate Napa's former glories, you have to start in the winery. 

"We had previously purchased fruit from a number of vineyards as part of our Altagracia label at Araujo," Bart explained as we entered the building. The Araujos were interested in exploring the same regions of Napa from which the legendary Inglenook and Mondavi wines had sourced their cabernet grapes. "We had friends who owned properties in Rutherford and Oakville and were able to sell us some cabernet; each site had its own unique personality," Daphne added. We were joined in the winery by Sarah Donley, the production manager at the Wheeler Farms facility. She was excited to showcase the many bells and whistles of the new complex. "It's a winemaker's dream," she said with a beaming smile. To start, the new Araujo center has a cold storage room to keep the grapes cool once they've been harvested and picked. "Cold fruit de-stems easier, whereas hot fruit tends to get beat up," Sarah added. There's a cutting-edge cluster sorting table that can automatically scan each individual berry with a camera, as well as stainless steel fermentation vessels that can control the temperatures in various parts of the tank via an iPad.

"There's an old saying in the wine business that 10% of the job is winemaking and the other 90% is cleaning," Sarah continued to explain, "but here it's 90% winemaking. You can actually focus on the job at hand." Attention to detail has never been more important to the Araujos because of the fact they're now working with various component wines rather than single vineyard entities. In order to understand the ingredients of the blend, they need to make sure the wines represent each vineyard's character to the fullest potential. "The winemaking system here allows us to keep the single vineyard integrity intact," Bart added. "We're doing it out of respect for history—we're chasing it. It's exciting and it's challenging." You could say the Araujos have their eye on the past by maximizing the efficiencies of the future. Everything at Wheeler Farms is centered around gentle production methods. 

While great winemaking in the lab requires clean and controlled conditions, many folks—including the Araujos—believe that every great wine begins in the vineyard. It's for that reason that Bart and Daphne's new wine label—Accendo Cellars—continues their commitment to organic and bio-dynamic practices in their own vineyards, as was the case at Eisele. A number of the vineyards they're sourcing from are farmed sustainably. "We're working with a half-dozen vineyards right now," Bart pointed out, "and we've planted a new site in Oakville that will come online this year." Managing a cabernet vineyard is old hat for the Araujos at this point, but the blending of various wines is an entirely new art for the winemakers. It's for that reason they retained the services of one of the industry's best consultants: Michel Rolland, the well-known and influential Bordeaux oenologist who has decades of experience with that very task. "Michel began working with us back in 2000 and he wanted to continue on with Accendo," Daphne explained; "He's keen on having multiple vineyards to work with because you can blend the best parcels from the vintage." Accendo Cellars launched its first cabernet sauvignon release with the 2013 vintage, an advantageous year to begin as it's widely considered one of the best harvests in California in over a decade. "It was a good one to start with," Bart said with a laugh; "Mother Nature did all the work." We exited the winery and walked across the patio towards the new hospitality room where a tasting of the recent Accendo releases was awaiting us. I was excited to finally sit down with a glass of the wine after a morning's worth of build-up.

The first thing that grabs you about the 2013 Accendo Cellars Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon is how un-Napa it comes across—at least in what we think of as standard Napa character today. There's no heavy-handed oak or overbearing ripeness to coat your palate like cough syrup. It's been replaced by restraint and grace with layered fruit and finely-tuned tannins. "Texture is important to us," Bart said as I swirled and contemplated my glass a bit more; "We want to make a wine where you want to finish the bottle. We want to make wines you want to drink." I smiled and nodded, a wave of appreciation moving through my body in that moment. As someone who has grown tired of the aficionado's game that is alcohol appreciation, I'm well beyond having someone lecture to me about a wine's complexity or its vast and detailed tasting notes. I drink wine because I like to drink, not because I'm studying for a test or cataloging my experiences. In the Araujos, I had found a fellow pair of kindred spirits. There was no pretense in that room that morning. Bart and Daphne talked about their wines with both humility and respect. "It's somewhere in the middle of California and Bordeaux," Daphne added as I remarked upon its lithe character and elegant balance. Is this what the great wines of Napa used to taste like? Not having the experience with my home state's classic vintages, I asked Bart how he thought the wine held up against his beloved Inglenooks. "I don't know if we can make a wine that good," he stated honestly looking down at the floor with some trepidation; "They're some of the best wines I've ever tasted. They're perfection. All we can do is give it our best shot."

As I left Wheeler Farms and headed back down the Silverado Trail, I drove pensively thinking about the dichotomy that makes up our world of wine and spirits—the Burgundian idea of the single climat versus the Bordeaux mindset of a cuvée, or the uncut single barrel of whisky versus the carefully-crafted blend. In my ten years of experience in this industry, I've found that my curiosities were stimulated early on by the idea of place and of singular expression, but as I've grown older I've gravitated more towards harmony of flavor. There's a part of us that's easily excited about the potential for greatness as designated by terroir and the idiosyncrasies of a unique locale. Yet, the more we learn about these individual characteristics, the more we're interested in harnessing their potential for further complexities. I'd liken it to the difference between having a fascinating discussion with someone one-on-one versus engaging in a more dynamic conversation as a group. Sometimes the combination of additional voices adds more depth and intrigue to the exchange, much like a string quartet adds nuance to the solo violin performance. After more than twenty years of a brilliant virtuoso, the Araujos want to see what it's like to conduct the full symphony.

-David Driscoll

Winemaker Dinner at Mathilde in SF this Friday

David Driscoll

Anyone interested in eating some fois gras, drinking a bunch of good Rhône wines from Château Montfaucon and Moulin de la Gardette, and sitting on the lovely back patio at Mathilde in San Francisco with our owner Clyde Beffa, the winemakers from both properties, and the rest of the K&L staff? If that sounds like fun to you, then grab a ticket here for this Friday's soirée:

Winemaker Dinner w/Montfaucon & Moulin de la Gardette, Friday April 21st @ 7 PM - $110 

The part actually starts at 6 PM at the San Francisco store where we'll taste: the 2014 Gardette Tradition, 2015 Baron de Montfaucon CDR Blanc, 2010 Ch Montfaucon CDR out of magnum, and the 2014 Château Montfaucon. 

Then we'll head over to Mathilde (a two minute walk from the store) where you'll have your choice of quail or duck confit for the mains of our three course affair along side a bevy of great wines like: the 2014 Montfaucon "Madame de Comtesse" Clairette Blanc Vieilles Vignes, 2014 Moulin de la Gardette Tradition, 2013 Baron Louis Lirac, 2014 Moulin de la Gardette Ventebran, 2014 Baron de Montfaucon CDP, 2009 Baron Louis out of magnum, 2007 Baron Louis, and the 2015 Moulin de la Gardette Tradition.

There's still plenty of space so grab your ticket and come drink wine with us!

-David Driscoll

A Very Particular Sense of Place

Ryan Woodhouse

I recently hosted an in-depth “Wines of New Zealand” seminar for our staff in Redwood City. The idea was to dig a little deeper into the intricacies of this stunning country. We isolated a few key regions (Marlborough, Hawke’s Bay and Central Otago) and then broke each one down further to look at sub-regionality within them. I wanted to explore the sensory nuances that changes in topography, aspect, climate, soil, etc. can have on wines even within a specific region. One of the best illustrations of this concept was the flight of Central Otago pinot noirs. Central Otago is a highly complex region with a multitude of these different factors or variables affecting the expression of grapes grown in a special locale. 

The most markedly different expressions of pinot noir came from two wines that were actually the same vintage (2015) and grown only sixteen miles apart. However, as you can see in the map above, these two vineyard sites are separated by some very significant geography. The vineyard site for the 2015 Akitu “A1” Central Otago Pinot Noir is just outside the picturesque town of Wanaka. It lies on a north-facing slope in quite close proximately to the glaciated mountains of the Southern Alps. is range is known as the “main divide" separating New Zealand’s rugged, wet west coast from the arid, high desert that is Central Otago. The site is very exposed to cold air flows and prevailing bad weather coming from the west. Beyond its exposed physical location the geology here is characterized by very hard schist bedrock. Akitu’s vines sit on the lower slopes of Mount Barker. This outcrop of rock is actually a roche moutonnée, essentially a piece of particularly hard bedrock that defied glacial abrasion. In summary, Akitu’s vines are situated on hard, bony, schist soils on a cold, exposed aspect. As a result the wine is defined by elegance and compact precision. It has beautiful oral, high-toned aromatics, a nely tuned linear presentation and spicy, bramble nuances. A very seductive wine, it’s made from 70% Abel clone pinot noir, a pinot clone with a heritage tracing back to Domaine de la Romanée-Conti’s “La Tâche” Vineyard. The Akitu A2 is grown from the exact same vineyard site as the A1 (Black Label), and made and matured in the same fashion, but is comprised of a broader clonal and block selection across the entire site. Whereas the A1 focuses predominantly on the Abel clone from one particular block that has a unique expression; the A2 is more representative of the site as a whole. The A2 is a little more open, and generous than the A1 whilst still retaining the elegance and focus that the site produces. I don’t see these wines as better or worse than one another, simply different expressions of place and season.

In contrast, the site for Rudi Bauer’s 2015 Quartz Reef pinot noir, only sixteen miles southeast of Akitu, is in one of the warmest subregions of Central Otago, Bendigo. This area has long been synonymous with deep, brooding, powerful wines with considerable structure. Bendigo also faces north (the sunny aspect in the southern hemisphere) but is farther from the Southern Alps main divide. In fact, another set of mountains, the Pisa Range, runs between Akitu and Quartz Reef’s site, providing an additional layer of weather defense to Bendigo. Sitting on a steep slope on the eastern banks of Lake Dunstan, Quartz Reef’s vines also enjoy the direct heat of the afternoon sun while vineyards on the west shores are shadowed by the towering ranges. The soils here are composed of arid clay, fine sandy loams and fragmented quartz. These heavier soils lend themselves to a more generous palate weight in the resulting wines, quite different to the more compact, layered expression of pinot grown on schist. The 2015 Quartz Reef “Bendigo Single Vineyard” pinot noir from Central Otago is packed with dense, rich, dark fruits, perfectly judged ripeness, a broad texture and exotic spice notes. is is quite a generous wine but it has plenty of robust structure to last a decade-plus in the cellar. Farmed and made according to Demeter-certified biodynamic protocols. 

-Ryan Woodhouse

On the Whisky Trail in Detroit

David Driscoll

I had heard that Detroit was coming back before I got to Detroit. When I arrived in Detroit, I noticed that everything was geared toward continuing that uplifting message. It's on magazines, billboards, store fronts, and bumper stickers. It's even in the air. You can feel it. As I walked around downtown, the Tigers game just getting out, people were jubilant and—more importantly—outspokenly friendly. 

"I'm feelin' that jacket," a young guy said to me with a swagger as he walked by with a smile.

That's the other thing: the young people are dressed up. They care. It's all part of the rebirth here it seems—to beautify the downtown area in everyway possible, starting with themselves. You can feel the history in downtown Detroit because many of the original buildings from its glory days are still standing. They have character and integrity, and they're now being reformatted into modern workspaces, albeit with much of the original integrity retained. I was reading about a newer upstart this morning called Detroit Denim and how the owner wanted to bring manufacturing back to the city. "I couldn't have done it if I'd tried in Chicago, New York, LA, or San Francisco," he said of the enterprise; "I'd be dead in the water trying to pay rent." That's the call of Detroit right now. I'm wondering how many people are answering it, considering it's in places like Detroit that I think the future of drinking lies—cities where creativity and passion haven't been suppressed by skyrocketing rents and coastal pretense.

There wasn't much time for sightseeing unfortunately. It was the last Pistons game ever at the Palace of Auburn Hills—a sentimental night for Detroiters—and our group had a private luxury suite courtesy of the powers-that-be in the booze industry. There were people lining up outside, reflecting in the moment, collecting T-shirts, taking memorial photos, and basking in the last vestiges of a bygone era in Detroit. Me? I was merely an outsider, drinking a few Lot 40 rye whisky cocktails, eating the limited hot plate courses, and taking in the season's final match-up between Detroit and Washington. That is until I met Nakita Hogue who was standing in the hallway next to our suite while her family sat along the row in front of us. Apparently there wasn't enough space for them all to sit together, so she decided to buy a separate ticket, but stand next to the row in order to be near them. Questioning her about her situation and talking casually for a few minutes, I convinced her to join our suite party and sit behind her family comfortably. After completely falling for Niki and her husband Tim, along with their kids, I invited the whole family to come join us in the suite. We spent the rest of the evening talking about life in Detroit, hopes for the future, and the difference between our home cities. I thoroughly enjoyed the entire Hogue family and I appreciated their candid perspectives. They were real, open, and genuine people.

But, as much as I enjoyed my time in the up and.coming city, my primary business wasn't in Detroit. Just across the river, actually south of the city, is Canada—Windsor, Ontario, home to Hiram Walker distillery, the largest in all of North America. I'm not sure anything can prepare you for the sheer size and scale of the facility, a historic whisky center that's been operating in Canada longer than Canada has even been a country. The campus is absolutely gigantic and the volume at this point amounts to more than fifty million liters a year of proof spirit, a decent amount of which is contract work. There's not a major booze player in the U.S. that isn't contracting some amount of whisky from Hiram Walker, as the facility runs the full gambit of grains from barley, to corn, to wheat, to rye, each of which can be distilled individually or as a mash. Canadian whisky, however, is obviously the specialty. It's what built the Hiram Walker distillery into what it is today. According to Don Livermore, the master blender at the site, it was Canadian whisky as a whole that built the infrastructure for the former British colony early on. In 1867, when the provinces were aligned under one self-governing body, there was no income tax levied upon the newly-anointed Canadian citizens. The money needed to build the country's future roads, railways, and government enterprises came from taxes levied on the young nation's largest businesses; companies called Corby, Wiser, and, of course, Hiram Walker—the leading whisky producers of the time.

Hiram Walker today is owned by Pernod-Ricard who still allows Beam-Suntory, the owner of the Canadian Club brand, to produce the widely-known whisky onsite. While we were mainly there in support of HW's fantastic Lot 40 rye whisky, a brand that along with Whistle Pig and Masterson's has helped to change the reputation of Canadian whisky in the states, most of us were definitely interested in understanding the distillery's production methods entirely for a better understanding of the Canadian whisky category. The first observation that just blew my mind was how much grain Hiram Walker is going through on a daily basis. They have a number of gigantic grain silos near the entrance that only hold enough grain to get through a mere three days of operation. Standing next to the mountains of freshly-milled corn, the sight was truly jawdropping. The other facet of the HW production I find interesting is that all the grains are stored, milled, fermented, and distilled individually using various methods. You've got single column-distilled spirits (like American Bourbon and rye) and double-column-distilled spirits (distilled to about 94% near-neutral, just a step below vodka, like Scottish grain whisky). Considering the four grains being used, that's eight different whiskies right there. Then add a pot-distilled version of each grain, which bumps up the number of whiskies to twelve. Then add the sour mash formula and various other custom recipes and you begin to understand the flexibility of their operation.

Remember the thirteen-plus possible whisky types I mentioned above? Get ready to add a few dozen more possible permutations. Much like Scotland, Canadian producers do not have to use new oak barrels like Bourbon distillers do. There is a volume limit, but no standardization as to type (they can't use giant foudres or huge oak vats, for example). So now take your thirteen-plus Hiram Walker recipes and put them in new charred oak, refill oak, and refill Bourbon casks. That's basically three types of potential aging vessel for each style of whisky, not counting sherry-finishing, rum-finishing, virgin oak, etc. You can see where I'm going here. I'd advise you to drive out to Pike's Creek if you visit, the warehousing facility for Hiram-Walker about twenty minutes from the distillery. There you'll find more than 160 football fields...excuse me...ice hockey arenas worth of whisky warehouses, piled to the ceiling with upright, palletized barrels. They drill new bung holes right in the top in Canada and you can forget about dipping in the whisky thief. They have a tap that gets inserted right in the hole to pump out all that amazing juice! We tasted Lot 40 straight out of the barrel at full proof today and it was incredible. I hear there's a limited edition version of this coming out later this Fall. Get your wallets ready.

The nice part about traveling with other booze industry professionals is that it gives you the chance to hear about what’s happening in other markets, to share ideas, and cross reference your observations. Later in the evening at Wright & Co. in downtown Detroit, I had dinner with a number of other reps and suppliers who work in large markets and we chatted about everything from whisky to cocktail culture to bar experiences and beyond. I wasn’t alone in my earlier prediction; there are other people out there who feel the end of alcohol’s cultivated and over-complicated connoisseurship is near. We've gone a bit too far towards one side of the spectrum. “It’s going to swing back over to dive bars again,” one guy told me, “but this time around you’ll be able to get more than shitty draft beer or a vodka tonic.” That made total sense to me. The only reason I ever left the dive bar in the first place was because I discovered more interesting and flavorful drinks outside its comfortable confines. If you told me I could get a Four Pillars gin and tonic, a Lot 40 Sazerac, or a pint of Stiegl all while keeping my rock and roll jukebox, pool table, and diverse group of drinkers, I’d be there in a heartbeat. The problem is that you usually have to trade quality for comfort, or vice versa.

While Detroit is still considered up and coming, it's definitely on the forefront of this modern movement. The city's young entrepreneurs are updating its classical roots, creating comfortable drinking spaces with a bit of style and panache, while across the river, the Hiram Walker distillery is redefining its whiskies for the new era of drinkers. There's a lot to take in and a lot to learn from what's happening here. But that's why I'm constantly traveling, talking, drinking, and asking questions. I want to know what's next.

-David Driscoll

Krug – Always Something New to Report

Gary Westby

I have been very lucky to visit Krug on many occasions over the course of my career, a destination that no wine lover could ever tire of. There is a strong argument that Krug makes the best wine in the world here. Since 1843, they have been blending not just across the greatest terroirs of Champagne, but also across time. Unlike the great Burgundy wines that are sold far too young to drink, or the great Bordeaux wines that are sold before they are even in bottles, Krug is sold with its drinking window open after long ageing in their cellars in Reims.

On this visit, I sat down with Olivier Krug for a tasting of their current releases. The youngest wine that we tasted was the 163rd edition, which has wine from 2007 in it, along with eleven other vintages going all the way back to 1990. We also did a very interesting tasting of the 2002 releases, with Clos du Mesnil, Vintage 2002 and the 158th edition, which has 2002 as its youngest element. The wines went from authoritatively great to beguiling, and the 158th edition proved once again how much these wines can do with more age.

After the tasting, we were welcomed as the very first guests into the still-under-construction Krug house next door to the production facility. We enjoyed an aperitif and sat down to dinner with Maggie Henriquez, the CEO of Krug. I was blown away to find out that none other than Arnauld Lallement, the chef of L’Assiette Champenois would be cooking for us. Dishes like the blue lobster with gnocchi paired with the 159th edition of Krug (the youngest part coming from 2003) I will never forget!

Maggie informed us that in the future, they will be expanding the Krug Collection range. Currently, they are selling the spectacular 1990 Krug "Collection" Brut Champagne at twenty-seven years old. We tasted it, and it was still utterly fresh and vibrant, but it also delivered on the savory white truffle promise of old Krug. They have been saving some of the Grand Cuvee for longer sur-lee ageing, and once Eric Lebel thinks that they are ready, they will release them as Collection Editions. This is going to be very special, but as with all things at Krug, will take time. We also learned that Krug will be releasing their 2004 vintage in late fall. We did not taste it, as they do not think it has had enough time on the cork yet. Now, nothing leaves the house until it has had a year to rest after disgorgement. I am looking forward to this 2004, as I have found so many Champagnes from this vintage to have similarities to the lithe 1988’s. As vintages like this balance the vinous power of Krug so nicely, I can’t wait to try it!!!

-Gary Westby