By Renee B. Allen
I attended the 2012 Mohegan Sun Winefest early on Sunday hoping to avoid some of the thirsty throngs at this popular wine tasting event. Armed with my stemware, I filed in at 11:00 am with other trade and press members and surveyed the room for a plan of attack. I was met with a mouth-watering display of fresh Connecticut grown fruits and vegetables displayed by Sardilli Produce and Dairy, a foretelling of the bounty that lay within.
I delved into my first tasting at a booth across from Sardilli called “PEEL” that was touting fine liqueurs made in Connecticut with fresh fruit. The lemons in the Limoncello may not have been grown locally, but the libation was refreshing, delicious and beautifully bottled just the same.
Always on the lookout for wineries embracing biodynamic, organic and sustainable farming methods, I was pleased to see some of my favorites in attendance. The wines of Grgich Hills Estate made from 366 acres of organically and biodynamically farmed grapes are always a pleasure to taste. Slocum & Sons brought along one of my favorite new discoveries, a tannat from Bodegas Carrau of Uruguay. This winery is doing some wonderfully innovative work in sustainable and organic farming. Their wines made from the lesser-known tannat grape are worthy of exploring. For those seeking something closer to home, the sole representative of the Connecticut wine industry in attendance was Jonathan Edwards Winery. In addition to pouring their Connecticut cabernet franc and chardonnay, this local farm winery was serving up some of their well-known wines made from Napa Valley grapes.
By 12:45 the thirsty throngs had indeed arrived and sipping space was at a premium. I decided to make my way to calmer territory and headed out to Todd English’s Tuscany for a wine seminar given by Aurelie Botton of Marnier Lapostolle. Lapostolle is an organic and biodynamic winery in Chile. Held in the intimate setting of a private dining room, the seminar was attended by 22 guests seated at a banquet table complete with cheese platters, table settings and 4 pre-poured glasses of Lapostolle wine. Lapostolle was founded in Chile in 1994 by Alexandre Marnier Lapostolle, the creator of Grand Marnier, and is now run by his great granddaughter, Alexandra. Ms. Botton told the history of the carmenere grape in Chile, at one time mistaken for merlot, and how carmenere fell out of favor in its native Bordeaux because there are too many clouds there. Apparently, a large amount of UV rays are required to dissolve the substantial quantity of pyrazine present on the skin of carmenere grapes. The climate, coupled with the fact that carmenere was virtually annihilated by phylloxera in France in the 1800’s, has rendered this grape all but extinct in France. Chile on the other hand is the perfect home to this deeply crimson red, smoky, spicy variety with hints of green peppers. In fact, the introduction of carmenere vines into Chile predates the phylloxera outbreak in France and therefore Lapostolle’s vines retain their original roots rather than having been grafted onto phylloxera resistant roots, as is the common practice throughout the world today.
As I soaked in the history, I sipped delightful sauvignon blanc, chardonnay and carmenere wines. The wines tasted all the better knowing that the vineyards are organic and biodynamic. It is the belief among biodynamic winemakers and their followers that biodynamic viticulture results in a wine that is a truer reflection of the earth in which the grapes are grown as well as of the vines’ surroundings – often referred to as terroir. Ms Botton may have lost a listener or two as she briefly described the preparations and unusual rituals that are the heart of the process, but I soaked that in as well. Some of the best wines I have tasted are created using biodynamic viticulture. For those seminar participants who may not have been buying into the concept, there were still other wonderful and innovative techniques being employed at Lapostolle about which they could get excited such as the use of indigenous yeasts and the introduction in 2005 of their state-of-the-art 100% gravity flow winery, Clos Apalta. With the discussion about the newer winery came the grand finale, a glass of Clos Apalta wine. This blend of carmenere, cabernet sauvignon and merlot is made with whole cluster fermentation, a process similar to carbonic maceration in Bordeaux, and hand-destemmed grapes. The result is magnificent. A frequently awarded wine, Clos Apalta earned a place on Wine Spectator’s 2008 Top 100 list and was named Best New World Winery 2008 by Wine Enthusiast.
The Mohegan Sun Winefest has something for everyone. Here you can consume delicious food, rub elbows with celebrity chefs, or experience the thrill of a live oyster-shucking contest. Wines can be found in a range of prices beginning with savvy selections for under $10 in the Grand Tasting to some of the finest wines in the world at the Elite Cru Tasting. If wine is not your passion, bourbon and beer tastings can be enjoyed as well. The Grand Tasting is a great way for the uninitiated, truly patient and/or truly thirsty to sample many different wines. For the well seasoned and less patient wine drinkers out there (I consider myself both), the seminars and special events provide more detailed information and the opportunity to engage in deeper conversations with winemakers and wine educators.
Just pick your poison.
Renee B. Allen, Founder and Director of the Wine Institute of New England (WINE) and a Certified Specialist of Wine, is a regular monthly contributor on the topic of local and sustainable wines. WINE’s “Connecticut Corkers” blog features wineries, winemakers, and wine events throughout the state, with an emphasis on wine education and appreciation.