Local writer reflects on CA wine country tour.   View email in your browser

Marathon Tour Makes a Lasting Impression
January 2019

Great communicator: Elaine Chukan Brown

A former academic philosopher, Elaine Chukan Brown now publishes Hawk Wakawaka Wine Reviews, a blog, and lectures widely about wine. She is also the American-wines specialist for JancisRobinson.com and a contributing writer to Wine & Spirits Magazine. In recent years, the Sonoma-based writer has collaborated with Wine Institute on several projects to promote California wines internationally. Last fall, she joined 50 Masters of Wine from 16 countries in a tour of California organized by Wine Institute and the London-based Institute of Masters of Wine. Over ten days, participants encountered 600 wines from 60 different AVAs—a tasting marathon interspersed with informal talks on the state’s progress toward sustainability.

You do a lot of speaking internationally. How does California compare to other wine regions in terms of sustainable winegrowing practices?
The efforts California makes are especially important because of our size and prominence. We’re the fourth-largest producer in the world, so what we do here really leads. Other countries, like Spain, have done important work in encouraging sustainability but on a comparatively small scale, so it doesn’t have the impact that California does. And sustainable farming got started in the state early, in the early 1990s, which placed us ahead of the game. There’s a big community of support and information here that surpasses what’s available in other regions. There are educational programs to help people who are seeking pathways to improvement over time.

At the wineries you visited on the tour, what sustainable practices impressed you most? 
One idea that stood out to me was hearing (vintner) Sashi Moorman speak about how sustainable choices have to be made in context. How do you adapt your farming practices to your environment? On the North Coast, where we get rain in winter, growers have different choices to make in relation to disease pressure and soil health than in dry places like the Santa Rita Hills, where they’re going to have more issues around water management and vine stress. 

What would go on your personal highlight reel of the International Masters of Wine tour?
If I had to pick one thing, it would be the visit to Ridge. It was just really special to have the entire vineyard and winemaking team there, presenting us with the history of such a heritage house. Paul Draper from the beginning was a fan of sustaining older vineyards and their health. When you try to do that, you always have that mindset of “How do I act in harmony with my environment?’

You were traveling with people from 16 countries. What preconceptions did they have about California wine and do you think the tour changed those perceptions?
Unquestionably there were preconceptions. People were expecting tons of ripeness and extraction, and instead they found wines with a lot of freshness in them, and a great variation of style. None of these people were California specialists. Across the board, people realized, “Wow, this is a dynamic winegrowing region. There is a lot to learn here.”

Clockwise from top: Elaine Brown speaks to the Masters of Wine attendees; tasting at Timber Cove Winery; Paul Draper speaks about sustainability at Ridge.

How did the tour change your thinking about covering California wines? Do you think your approach will change in any way?
California has been doing great work in the state and also connecting with international partners to discuss issues like climate change and create an international conversation. For me, the next step is, how do I contribute to making that conversation clearer, about what sustainability is and how it’s relevant globally? One frustration for me is that conversations about sustainability often stay too vague. I think California needs to keep building awareness and showing leadership with tangible examples. There is more happening here than many people realize.

Last but not least, what’s a Hawk Wakawaka?
I got started working in wine while I was still an academic philosopher and I wanted some professional anonymity. The name is entirely made up. It just makes me laugh.

Copyright 2019 Wine Institute

What's New?

Your Seat at the Table:

Beginning next month, please join us at The California Table, a lively new wine and food blog replacing Down to Earth. The blog will feature recipes from the new cookbook, Wine Country Table: Recipes Celebrating California’s Sustainable Harvest, written by Janet Fletcher with photography by Robert Holmes and Sara Remington and published by Rizzoli New York. The book is a lavishly photographed culinary tour of California by region, highlighting California vintners and farmers, their amazing stories and commitment to land stewardship and sustainable practices, and 50 recipes paired with wine.
Subscribe to The California Table
Vineyards and Wineries: Deadline to Apply for Green Medal Award is February 6th

Applications are open for the 2019 California Green Medal: Sustainable Winegrowing Leadership Awards through Wednesday, February 6, 2019. California vineyards and wineries that participate in a sustainability program in the state are eligible to apply in four award categories that recognize outstanding achievement is sustainability: leadership, environmental stewardship, community, and smart business. Apply HERE.
Seasonal Recipes

Enjoy Wine Institute's fresh, seasonal, easy-to-prepare recipes with California wine pairing suggestions HERE.
Chicken-Chipotle Posole with Avocado and Lime
Did You Know? 

Certified California Sustainable Winegrowing (CERTIFIED SUSTAINABLE) continued to see double-digit growth in 2018, and saw improvements in average scores for 60% of vineyard criteria and 71% of winery criteria in the Code Workbook. Find the full 2018 Report and Appendix HERE.
Resources • Publications

California Code of Sustainable Winegrowing Workbook:

Download individual chapters or the entire workbook to learn more about sustainability in your vineyard or winery HERE.

Sign up to receive access to the online portal and use the Code online self-assessment tool HERE.

Feb. 5, 2019 (10 am–11:30 am)
CSWA Webinar: Sustainable Winegrowing & Certification Overview: Learn more

Feb. 20, 2019 (10 am–11:30 am)
CSWA Webinar: Sustainable Winegrowing & Certification Overview: Learn more

Feb. 25, 2019 (9 am–12:30 pm)
CSWA Workshop: Napa CSWA Farm Plan Template/LandSmart Workshop (for Region 2 vineyard WDR): Learn more

Feb. 26, 2019 (9 am–12:30 pm)
CSWA WorkshopSonoma CSWA Farm Plan Template/LandSmart Workshop (for Region 2 vineyard WDR): Learn more

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