December 2017 Issue of Wines & Vines

Cabernet Meets Fire in Sacramento

Unified Wine & Grape Symposium singles out current popular topics for the industry

by Kate Lavin

Nearly everyone in California’s North Coast winegrowing region was affected in some way by the firestorm ignited Oct. 8. Lise Asimont, director of grower relations for Francis Ford Coppola Winery, was no exception. Four grapegrowers who sell fruit to Coppola were in the fire zone and had fruit still hanging on the vines at the time of the fires.

“At one vineyard, it burned right up to the acreage. It was at the gates, if you will,” Asimont told Wines & Vines. “We couldn’t get to them, and it was so frustrating and scary.”

Asimont said the growers in that case were eventually allowed back into the vineyard, where they were able to harvest the rest of the crop, which Coppola gladly accepted. Similar situations played out differently across the region, however, with some wineries refusing grapes and others having no winery at which to crush fruit, either due to fire damage or road closures.

The situation prompted Asimont, who also serves as program development chair for the Unified Wine & Grape Symposium, and other committee members to reconsider the schedule for the annual event taking place Jan. 23-25, 2018—quite a feat considering harvest was still in progress and some members of the program development committee were under evacuation.

Come January, Unified attendees will have the option of attending two breakout sessions developed in response to the wildfires: one about disaster preparedness and recovery geared toward business and operations professionals, and another titled “Wildfires and Wine: Loss Prevention, Mitigation and Management,” which is part of the winemaking track.

Be ready: disaster preparedness and recovery
The business and operations session about disaster preparedness is scheduled for Jan. 25 at 1:15 p.m. Asimont said the experience of living through the firestorm made it clear how important it is to be prepared for any kind of disaster, whether it be flood, fire, earthquake or hailstorm. Insurance experts who spoke with Wines & Vines in the days after the fires began stressed the importance of having copies of insurance policies and providing agents and appraisers with up-to-date contact information in case of displacement.

The winemaking session related to the wildfires will be the final breakout session of the symposium, taking place Jan. 25 at 2:30 p.m. Tom Collins and Jim Harbertson from Washington State University are developing the session. Collins already has started collecting samples of wine made from grapes subjected to fire or smoke as part of his ongoing research, for which he created hoop houses in 2016 and exposed fruit to smoke in that controlled environment.

King of vinifera
In past years, the symposium has used its joint grapegrowing and winemaking session to uncover regional differences of Sauvignon Blanc, harvesting decisions and extraction for rosé wines as well as cashing in on the growing segments of low-alcohol and blended wines.

This January, the focus will turn to the king of vinifera: Cabernet Sauvignon. According to Asimont, the Program Development Committee looked beyond California while creating this session, inviting speakers from multiple locations including Washington state to take part in the conversation about growing grapes and making wine for three distinct price points: production (up to $15 per bottle), premium ($15-$25 per bottle), and luxury (more than $25 per bottle).

The joint session will discuss grapegrowing practices and winemaking management for different styles of Cabernet, from the bold and tannic Napa Cab to the fruit-forward style of California’s Central Coast to the austere varietal Cabernets created in the Pacific Northwest.

Spanish language sessions
In recent years, the organizers of the Unified Symposium have sought to mirror the focus of the annual event’s sessions in its Spanish language offerings. This year that includes a session titled “Diversity and Trends in Cabernet Sauvignon,” featuring moderator Enrique Herrero, vineyard manager for Inglenook; Gaspar Roby, general manager and project director for Treasury Wine Estates, and Adolfo Alarcon, winemaking technical liaison for Trinchero Family Estates.

Leticia Chacón Rodríguez of Safe Harbor Wines is moderating a grapegrowing session in Spanish about aromatic potential in white wine varieties. Speakers include Montserrat Reece, the winemaker at Pedroncelli Winery in California’s Dry Creek Valley.

“Our Spanish-track sessions are kicking it up,” Asimont told Wines & Vines, adding she may attend the Spanish session about aromatics with a translation app in hand. The session reflects a similar winemaking session taking place Jan. 24 called “Red, White and Sparkling: Optimizing Wine Aromas from Harvest to Bottle.”

The final Spanish breakout session, “Vineyard Practices to Optimize Phenolic Composition,” features Cecilia Aguero from the University of California, Davis, and speakers Federico Casassa from California Polytechnic State University and Johann Martínez-Lüscher of UC Davis. Registrants who attend two of the Spanish sessions are eligible for a certificate of completion, which will be mailed after the symposium.

State of the Industry
Asimont teased that the annual State of the Industry session would be different in 2018, and indeed the speaker lineup contains some changes. “The State of the Industry is the trademark, the hallmark of Unified. It’s why people go,” Asimont said. “We want to keep it pertinent, keep it timely, and keep it fresh.”

An expert in wine industry mergers and acquisitions, Mario Zepponi, principal of Zepponi & Co., is a newcomer to the State of the Industry session who promises to bring information about the market for winery and vineyard property sales, along with current assessment and evaluation rates.

In addition to Jeff Bitter from Allied Grape Growers and Steve Fredricks of Turrentine Brokerage, Danny Brager of The Nielsen Co. will participate in the must-see event. Brager is senior vice president of Nielsen’s Beverage Alcohol Practice, which provides consumer insights about the U.S. wine market. At the 2017 symposium he discussed trends such as millennial purchasing habits, hyperlocalization and the urban consumer. His predictions about sparkling wine and rosé were realized during the 2017 summer months, along with the continuing premiumization trend that has consumers trading in their everyday $8-$10.99 wines in favor of $11-$14.99 bottles at retail.

Mike Veseth, also known as “The Wine Economist,” will return to moderate the State of the Industry address. Veseth told Wines & Vines he plans to do a quick survey of external threats to the wine industry. “The world wine market was blind-sided by Mother Nature in 2017, and the markets are now very tight,” he said. “What else can go wrong? And how can we prepare ourselves?”

To learn more about the Unified Wine & Grape Symposium, or to register, visit The price for full, three-day registration is $315 for members of the American Society for Enology and Viticulture and the California Association of Winegrape Growers and $515 for non-members. One-day registration, exhibits-only registration and Spanish sessions-only options are also available. Attendees can save up to $200 by registering before prices increase Jan. 16.

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