Friday, August 15, 2008

Croatian Wine Professionals Visit The Wine and Spirit Archive

This summer we again worked with the USDA Cochran Fellowship Program to host a group of international wine professionals and introduce them to American wines and winemaking practices.  This year's crew included three Croatian wine professionals: a wine-interested botanist and two government employees responsible for evaluating and ensuring wine quality.

I kicked off our two day program with a class on American wine history, grape varieties, and winemaking.  The class included a tasting of typical American wines.  Zinfandel, which originated in Croatia and is thought to be a descendent of the Croatian grape Crljenak Kastelansnki, of course made an appearance (in its red form, not it's more popular "white" version).  Surprising to me, the Oregon Pinot Noir I poured (one which I personally think is fabulous) was probably the least popular wine of the day.  The fellows found the alcohol to be too high for the wine's relatively light body (I tried not to hold it against them).  

I turned the afternoon over to Peter Bos, Northwest Wine Academy's winemaker and instructor.   Peter led us through some fabulous tastings, my favorite of which was a comparison of a single wine: one sample unfiltered and two samples sent through two different filters (the differences in flavor and texture were astounding).  Peter also poured a Washington wine (which shall remain nameless) that had been picked too late: the fruit tasted burnt and the alcohol high enough to appeared fortified.  Demonstrating the process of "water backing," Peter had us add water (equal to 10% of the wine's volume) to the glass.  The wine still tasted of scorched fruit, but the balance was significantly improved.  

On our second day, we headed across the lake to Woodinville to tour a few of the area's wineries and taste some wine.  At Ste. Michelle, enologist and WSA alum David Rosenthal toured us through the winery's massive facility and walked us through a tasting of Ste. Michelle wines.  For someone like myself used to visiting small Northwest operations, the tour was a fascinating contrast in scale.  Ste. Michelle's Compliance Specialist, Zib Marshall, then met with us to discuss the government regulations that control how wine is made, sold and distributed.  Here, the differences between American wine regulations and Croatian wine regulations became clear, with American regs more focused on how wine is sold and labeled and Croatian regulations more strictly controlling wine quality and how wine is produced.  And finally, we wrapped up our day with Linda Conklin, Columbia Winery's hospitality manager and current WSA student, for a tasting and discussion of Woodinville's winemaking history.    

A big thank you to those who helped create this program with us, particularly our alums David and Linda!