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Columns – Norm Roby

Going Rogue: Exciting Diversity and Outright Exellence in Oregon
Norm Roby
Dec 21, 2021

Taking its name from the Rogue River, the Rogue Valley wine region wears that rogue title well. Approved as an AVA in 1991, the Rogue Valley is the southernmost growing wine region of Oregon. Today, this high elevation (1,000-2,300-foot level) growing area is home to 100 wineries. While most of these wineries started after 2000, the Rogue Valley is Oregon's oldest wine region, with first vineyards planted in the 1850s. And it is home to the State's first operating winery opened in 1873. Vineyards have been expanding recently and now cover around 5,000 acres, growing no fewer than 70 varieties. Yes, from Albariño to Zinfandel, the roster includes the obligatory Chardonnay and Cabernet and, no surprise, Pinot Noir. But with vineyards planted at different elevations with different aspects, the Rogue is no Willamette.

Outliers, Mavericks & Free Spirits
Norm Roby
Nov 2, 2021

Before the pandemic, the wine world was generally taking itself far too seriously, becoming too elitist, and had lost touch with the fact that wine is at best 'an elegant extra' in life, far less essential than, let's remind everyone, TP. I also found it kind of creepy when visiting a tasting room (salon or lounge) that the server or sommelier wants to tell guests what the wine tastes like before they taste it. And with details and layers...that really seem to take away from the fun of discovering and discussing something you like or dislike. When winery tasting room experiences are like this, they do more harm than good. Talking down to people is never a good idea. A few new wineries with active and successful wine clubs have come to my attention recently as they build strong brand loyalty by connecting with people and bringing wine back down to earth. This approach seems to apply to four wineries that are focusing on unpretentious wines for wine novices and young drinkers.

The Okanagan Valley: Making Canadians Proud
Norm Roby
Sep 21, 2021

The Okanagan Valley accounts for 90% of all wines made in British Columbia. As a wine producing region, it is home to just under 10,000 acres and over 275 wineries. Looking at what is planted, the breakdown is interesting in that four red grapes--Merlot, Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc--account for about 75% of the total. And a similar pattern emerged for white varieties with four accounting for 70%: Pinot Gris, Chardonnay, Gewurztraminer, and Riesling. Only seven wineries try to make an Icewine, and It was a surprise to see that hybrids like Baco Noir and others which are thought to thrive in cold climates have pretty much disappeared. With a little digging, I found out why.

Revisiting Walla Walla
Norm Roby
Jul 27, 2021

Granted AVA status in 1984, Walla Walla is unusual in many, many ways. First it is a rare AVA straddling two states, Washington and Oregon. About 60% is within Washington. Defined by the Blue Mountains to the southeast, the Palouse to the north, and the Columbia River to the west, Walla Walla is said to be the size of Napa but contains only 3,000 vineyard acres. But, for surprise #2, there now are about 120 wineries calling Walla Walla home. Nothing much happened vineyard-wise after the Repeal of Prohibition as the region expanded its orchards and wheat growing. In 1974, Gary Figgins planted a small vineyard and by 1978 his Leonetti Cellars was the first new winery. Figgins, who was interested in Italian reds like Sangiovese, made a 1978 Cabernet that by the early 1980s won so many awards and earned so many high ratings that it was being talked about as a cult wine. Walla Walla had awakened with a bang.

A New Take on Terroir
Norm Roby
Jun 8, 2021

'Terroir' in wine talk has been around for years but it is more often brought up today in discussions of French wines. When it comes to California wines, it is only occasionally mentioned in the popular press probably because it seems so obviously pretentious and ultra-geeky. After all, it comes from the French phrase, 'gout de terroir,' and was always a bit too complicated to explain. But I'm now seeing signs that several new, small wineries are going all out to make wines that are 'terroir driven,' ones that capture a sense of place. With so many new wineries trying to make a name for themselves in today's crowded market, it seems reasonable for them to set their sights on making wines that stand out from the crowd by capturing what is best described as 'terroir.' At last count, according to the Napa Vintners Association, there are 475 wineries, 1,000 different brands and 700 growers-in Napa alone. If you add the many private labels making Napa Cabernets from bulk wines, the number of brands soars much higher.

The Other Cabernet's Time to Shine
Norm Roby
Apr 6, 2021

Cabernet Franc, cultivated over the last 700 years, has recently become newsworthy. Not splashy, front-page stuff, but trends of genuine interest to wine lovers. Out of Bordeaux, vignerons are re-thinking the varietal mix in reaction to global warming and Cabernet Franc is getting serious consideration. Recently highly successful vintages (2015, 2017, 2018) in the Loire Valley have Roger Voss, a colleague, writing, "It's a great time to enjoy Cabernet Franc from the Loire.' And in California. where acreage is on the increase, the Lang & Reed Winery in Napa Valley is celebrating its 25th vintage as Cabernet Franc specialists.

The Roussillons are Coming! The Roussillons are Coming!
Norm Roby
Feb 9, 2021

So many winery projects, plans and promotions were put on the back burner in 2020 that it feels like we all were in the twilight zone. But now that wineries are opening for business and wine clubs are being more creative than ever, this is a good time to focus on a Rhône wine project that is about to relaunch. It was created by a few small wineries, mini Rhône Rangers not horsing around. Here is some background: 'The GSM Rhône Society is a distinctive collection of premium wineries in the southern Silicon Valley area dedicated to crafting exceptional Rhône style wines from locally grown grapes.'

Eden Rift: Historic Vineyard, Fresh New Outlook
Norm Roby
Dec 8, 2020

On a sunny day, before 2020 went to hell in the proverbial handbasket, I've reached the highest point in a beautiful terraced vineyard. At roughly 1,600 feet, I can see the Monterey Bay off to the west. To the south, there's a distant peak that I'm informed is a limestone outcropping and in the background there's a dolomite quarry also rich in limestone.

Online Wine Shopping, Part 2: Best Websites for Daily Wine Deals
Norm Roby
Oct 6, 2020

With so many now working from home and not concerned about 'NSFW' issues, websites offering daily wine specials have upped their game in response. In fact, if you are looking for good deals on hard-to-find wines normally sold in restaurants or winery direct, daily deals are where the action is. Just this morning I was surprised to see wines from Ridge, Spottswoode, and Rombauer being dangled before my eyes. If you are a serious wine shopper, my best advice is to have a list of your top needs because the best deals sell out quickly. If you are simply curious about wine trends and want to see what's out there, or just want to learn more, then several of these sites are surprisingly informative.

Online Wine Shopping: A Guide to the New Normal
Norm Roby
Sep 15, 2020

Whether you call it 'the new normal' or 'the new abnormal,' the way we go about our daily lives has changed in 2020. Although home wine deliveries aren't new, they have become a game-changer for many producers and importers, a life saver for sheltered-in-place wine drinkers, and collectors and a way to remain in business for small, Mom & Pop wineries. Over the last five years, I've been following, evaluating and writing about the major online wine retailers and wine clubs as well as buying wines online. Wine clubs such as Winc, Vinesse and nakedwines pushing subscription box memberships have done nothing much to distinguish themselves, whereas the virtual wine store/retailer types like wine.com and wineexpress.com have upped their game in response to the new stay-at-home normal. As a result, exceptional wines once allocated to restaurants and many cult wines once limited to sales direct from the winery are now becoming increasingly available in the e-commerce world.