Monday, October 17, 2011

Grand Cru debate?

Grand Cru of French wine is a wonderful name and one that means plenty in terms of value to the properties allowed to use the designation.  But it can be kind of confusing for wine lovers. In Bordeaux, Premier Cru is the top designation, while in Burgundy Premier Cru means the second best vineyard sites, just below the Grand Cru designation.  The Grand Cru term can be found on many labels in Bordeaux, while in Burgundy it is only allowed on the top 30 vineyard sites. The Premier Cru term is only found on the top 20 Château in Bordeaux (15 in St-Emilion plus 5 in Medoc) not including the 12 in Sauternes.   
Confused yet?  I am and I’m writing it, and the reason I am writing this is because of two ‘newsish’ bits about the term.  First I saw a blogger ‘complaining’ about a California producer’s use of the term for his vineyard in Southern California.  The Sea Smoke Vineyard can be found in the Sta. Rita Hills AVA.  This AVA is relatively new and within the larger regions of Santa Ynez and Santa Barbara County.   The next thing was the INAO approval of a new Grand Cru vineyard in France, Quarts de Chaume will be the Loire Valleys first Grand Cru designation and along with that the surrounding area of Coteaux du Layon Premier Cru Chaume.  Please pardon my wine ignorance, but I believe, yet am not sure if that would also be a Loire first for a Premier Cru designation…I’ve never heard of another, but it is wine and I could be wrong.
So given all this confusion of the term, even by the French themselves, I am not sure how to react to the term Grand Cru being stolen and used by a Pinot Noir producer in California.  And I haven’t even gotten into the strange legal battles that Saint-Emilion has gone through with its use of Premier Cru and Grand Cru Classe since 2006!  It is an odd choice and I am not certain I’d do it, but…
By the way Sea Smoke is a great site (aka Cru) for Pinot Noir, that has been discovered by many Pinot Noir lovers, including Dick Doré and his partner(s), Bill Wathen and JennyWilliamson Doré of Foxen Vineyards which are in Santa Maria Valley... an AVA just north of Sta. Rita Hills.  Bill was hired by Sea Smoke to help with the planting of the vineyards in 1999 and because of his consulting, Foxen is still the only producer allowed to produce some Pinot Noir from this great site.  And as of yet Dick, Bill and Jenny don't put Grand Cru on the label, since that particular wine sells out immediately, I kind of doubt they will.  By the way, if you want to try Sea Smoke it can be found at some better wine stores and restaurant, but you'll have some serious difficulties finding Foxen's version.  If you can't find it, I highly recommend the Foxen Bien Nacido Block 8, which is more readily available, less expensive and from vineyards in their home appellation of Santa Maria Valley. As for finding something closer to the Sea Smoke vineyard, try the soon to be released Foxen La Encantada Vineyard Pinot Noir.

Wine and nobility?

I started working in the wine industry in the mid to late 1980’s and have been involved in the industry in most aspects (Sales Rep, Restaurant Buyer, Retail Buyer, Wine Educator, Chef, Sommelier…more about me), in 1999 I began a company that I intended to be an internet wine business named  This has evolved over the years, but the reason for the name and the concepts I believed in then, are still intact and important today.  These concepts are based around the idea that wine is a passion based, land based product rather than a commodity (heading towards a commodity).
There is a bit of a quiet battle happening between what the wine industry calls ‘terroir’ and commercially produced wines and those that support each.  Oddly enough I do not stand on either side of this battle, I firmly believe that commercially produced wines are important to the expansion of the wine industry and culture.  I do however prefer drinking wines produced with what I call a ‘noble’ sensibility, this might be easier to understand as of a sense of place, aka terroir.  I also believe that it is the ‘noble’ wine producer who needs (and deserves) the most help reaching the right market for their wines. 
The power of the wine critic is still intact, but it is beginning to wane a bit.  That power has caused issues for noble wine producers, they had to make wine making/growing decisions with the critics in mind.  If only the producer could just concentrate on making the best damn wine from their piece of land as possible, wine would be a much purer and more interesting product.  For those producers that have reached that wonderful place, congratulations, to the other 99.9%, let’s find a solution.
As a refugee from the restaurant industry and especially small fine dining kitchens, I was lured into the wine business by the passion, diversity and intimacy that noble wine offers. I view wine as a similar business to restaurants, there are successful restaurants from the hot-dog vendor to the Michelin four-star places that require a second mortgage to dine at plus everything in-between, so both businesses are incredibly diverse.
We categorize restaurants by the type of cuisine (Italian, Asian, Continental, Vegan, Organic, etc) and by the cost of dining there. But any serious foody knows that regardless of category or pricing, the greatest discoveries are the restaurants that are run with passion and intimacy…where the owner is on-hand and committed to the customers experience. It is the wine producers that approach their craft in the same manner that I feel deserve the noble label.
Though these two businesses are related in several ways and serve each other, they have distinct business models and business problems that require different solutions. It is much easier to be artisanal and intimate with your customer when they are coming into your house for a meal.

Just a bit of background, I have posted many things in various forms, blogs, twitter, facebook and even in print publications.  Now I am working on a strategy to combine all my forms of content into a single concept, those dealing with what I term a noble thought, here, wine content and information that don't fit that will be posted to McSnobbelier, my evil alter-ego).  This is the beginning of a consolidation effort.

Monday, December 11, 2006


This is my first attempt at a blog, so bear with me as this is brand new to me. Wine however is not new to me. I have created two web-sites for wine, one strictly about wine education and my consulting issues - found at and the other an online wine store for a client - found at

Given my background both sites are heavily based on wine knowledge and information. My background? Well after owning a restaurant, working as a Chef in Switzerland, Austria and Manhattan, I joined the wine industry and ended up working in various aspects of the industry. All this BS can be found on either of my sites, but the highlights include being a Sommelier at The '21' Club, Wine Educator for Winebow Imports, Martin-Scott Wines, and Sherry-Lehmann Wine Merchants and a wine consultant for several Hamptons, Long Island restaurants including The American Hotel in Sag Harbor.

I still consult for Sherry-Lehmann but I also am working with restaurants and wine retailers in Long Island. Sunset Wines in Westhampton and I are working closely on this blog and other exciting projects.

Those of you in the wine industry on Long Island might know me from teaching The Sommelier Society of America Courses on Long Island and in Westchester or from my wine columns in either