Undiscovered Gems: Wine Regions of Africa 

push pinned in madagascar

By: Hanifa Sekandi

Some say that South Africa is the only wine region in Africa that you should venture to if you ever make it to this beautiful continent. Is this true? It might be if you are unaware of the breathtaking vineyards in other countries. Viticulture in Africa has barely scratched the surface. It is not as widespread compared to North American and European wine markets. Both continents have lucrative and renowned wineries. As winemakers strive to tip the scale in competition, it is not surprising that wine savants have their eye on what many call the Motherland, where all things began. There is no question that the climate in many African countries is ideal for vines to grow. And harvesting biodynamic wines is also possible since an existing diverse ecosystem permits this with ease. Also, life in Africa is deeply-entrenched with nature. In addition, there is an understanding that all species must live in harmony. The great vineyards in Africa do not rule those lands. They become a part of its history as they plant their roots in ancient mineral-rich soils.

  When people think of diversity in viticulture, they generally stay within the framework of wines made in North America or Europe. Entry into the wine market on a global scale is easier for these regions. The dominance of such wines has nothing to do with quality at times. Although, one cannot say that a vintage bottle of Bordeaux made from a prestigious winery in France is not worth every penny. South African and Moroccan wines have created a buzz, but there is still more to discover.

  Thanks to the evolving times, social media and the internet document many undiscovered gems. This allows one to see that the wine industry has barely touched the edge of exploration and possibility. It is also a surprising notion since a form of wine has been made for thousands of years in many countries worldwide. What brings all these nations together? European travelers bought their vines and their winemaking to them, thus planting an interconnected web of vines and winemaking traditions globally. 

  Come along and explore just a few undiscovered, breathtaking and small but mighty wine regions in Africa. The first stop is Madagascar, and finally, Ethiopia on this new adventure. They are contenders for sustainable, organic and biodynamic winemaking. Sustainable practices exist in these regions out of necessity. As this movement takes hold globally, winemakers who want to cut down on waste while still producing wines that respect the land and allow nature to flourish freely may also adopt these sustainable practices.

Wines Of Madagascar

  Winemaking in Madagascar started with the French colonialists. The first vineyards are said to have been established by Jesuit missionaries. The intention for growing wine initially was not for commerce or how one enjoys wine today. Records from this time show that the sale of wine at the Maromby Monastery was a source of income for

the monks. Large-scale wine sales in this region did

not occur until after the emancipation from the French in the 1960s. The Swiss saw an opportunity on this island. They intended to rebuild through a development aid program in the mid-late 1960s. Some would say it was a short-lived enterprise since they withdrew from this program in 2011. Unfortunately, even with the aid, they did not make significant headway in the wine industry. Their exit left a big gap for winemakers who have not been able to gain the momentum needed to compete on a large scale. The wine produced in Madagascar is geared towards the local market and tourists. Rum is the main export.

  Vines are planted on the highlands on steep slopes and in areas with cooler altitudes. This helps prevent fungal disease and high levels of alcohol in the grapes that have not reached the ideal ripeness for harvesting. Pineapples, rice paddies, bananas and sugar cane are also planted nearby. The plant diversity among the vines demonstrates that vines can co-exist and thrive. The need to clear lands simply for grapes is not necessary. Perhaps, this is a great initiative to model for newer winemakers considering biodynamic practices. It is also an opportunity to increase their profit margins by selling other fruits grown on their land at local farmers’ markets or having an on-site shop. Yes, Madagascar is behind and nowhere near being considered successful in the wine market. But this wine region does provide a gateway to new ways to create biodynamic vineyards. Rice paddies are situated in the low-lying, damp valleys below vines nestled on the hillsides. Both benefit from the placement since the terraced slope runoff allows the rice to thrive.

  Since Madagascar is off the East coast of Africa in the Southern Hemisphere, grapes are harvested in the rainy season during February. The process of winemaking here is unique. Winemakers here allow their senses and instincts to determine when grapes are ripe—a simple yet effective method to replace a refractometer. From here, grapes are fermented in large concrete vats, where a mechanical press is used for extraction. The liquid is transferred to another concrete vat that contains sugar and preservatives. It will further ferment for approximately six months. The richness of color in the red wines made here is due to the skin remaining on the grapes during fermentation. Ready-to-bottle wine is bottled in previously used bottles by hand. The entire bottling process is done by hand, including labeling and corking. Wasting bottles is not an option. The labels of old bottles are peeled off, and bottles are cleaned and reused.

  Seven of the eight wineries on this island use a French-American hybrid grape. Only one winery, Clos Nomena, uses Vitis vinifera, a European grape varietal touted by sommeliers, who say that the finest wines are made with these grapes.

The Growing Vines Of Ethiopia

  Tej is a traditional Ethiopian wine once consumed by the nobility and that dates back centuries. It consists of water, gesho and honey. Gesho is a plant that is similar to hops. Although this drink does not contain grapes, it is still classified as wine in this region. Many liken it to mead, an alcoholic beverage made by fermenting water, grain, spices, fruits and honey. Although wine in this country has existed since the first millennium A.D., the presence of large-scale vineyards with methods attributed to European wine cultivation only began in the late 1950s. The oldest and most well-known vineyard in this region is Awash Winery. It was established in 1956 under the helm of real estate developer Mulugeta Tesfakiros and politician Ras Mesfin Sileshi. In 2013, it was acquired by the Blue Nile company and partnered with 8 Mile, a company chaired by legendary musician Sir Bob Geldof. This partnership aims to expand its global reach and scale of production by building another distillery.

  Approximately 10,000 million bottles of wine, primarily consumed within Ethiopia, are produced annually by Awash Wineries. The second winery, Castel Winery, produces the remaining bottles, approximately two million bottles annually. It was established in 2007 and located in Zway, south of Addis Ababa. Awash Winery is in Awash Merti Jersu. The proximity to the equator allows for harvest to occur twice a year due to a shorter vegetation cycle. Harvest occurs from June to July and from November to December. This is a great benefit that European vineyards do not get to experience. Perhaps this makes up for some of the other shortcomings that the Awash vineyards must navigate. Harvested grapes are transported for seven hours down the vineyard winery path. It is a somewhat long journey that leaves them vulnerable to the scorching sun burning their skin. Even with a protective shield placed on top, the sun’s powerful rays can still permeate this barrier. To ensure that the grapes are cool enough before pressing, they are left overnight in the truck, a method that offsets the day’s travel under the beaming sun. At the Awash Winery, there is a small selection of wines offered. Axumit Sweet Red Wine is a much-loved wine by Ethiopian locals. Similar to Madagascar wineries, the bottles are recycled for rebottling purposes. The bottles themselves are collectibles since some have been used for over five decades – true history in a bottle indeed.

  Castel Winery is a partnership between the Ethiopian Government and the Castel Group. Partnering with a company responsible for making and distributing premier beer and wine brands is a formidable venture. Both parties believe that this winery will be able to compete with South African wineries since it is in a region located 1,600 meters above sea level and where temperatures sit evenly at around 25 degrees Celsius each year. The sandy soils also benefit from the approximately 650 millimeters of annual rainfall. Bordeaux vines were imported and planted in this region and occupy most of the space in these vineyards. There are two ranges of wines produced at Castel. The most notable wine is Rift Valley. It is a premium wine aged in French oak barrels. With the help of the European Union’s Everything But Arms program and AGOA program, Castel Winery plans to expand into European and North American markets.

  The undiscovered gems for African wineries do not stop in these two countries. As you know, when a seed is planted, growth is inevitable. Other African countries are taking note. So, this journey into the unknown world of the Motherland’s wineries will continue. Like the bottles that have circulated in the hands of many, there is more to this story. For now, dream of an evening in Antananarivo, Madagascar spent drinking Clos Nomena-made wine or a day in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia having your first sip of Tej.

Hunting the Great White Grape 

2 glasses of wine

By: Tod Stewart

So, what if, as a winemaker or grape grower, you could create the “perfect grape.” Since it’s summer, we’ll narrow it to the perfect white grape (assuming that more people purchase white wine during the summer and that purchases ensure you remain a winemaker or grape grower). Where would you start?

  Okay, how about yields? If your business model is based on high volumes of drinker-friendly wines, a vigorous vine delivering impressive volume would probably be desirable. Modern fermenting techniques would help you deliver white wines that, while lacking real complexity, would give you a decent, quaffable light white wine that may be just the right background in a blend with more assertive varietals.

  However, if your aim is also to craft lower volumes of wines that will impress the true connoisseurs, you’d want this same grape to behave slightly differently when crop volumes are reduced. So, this super-grape would have to double as both a workhorse and vinous royalty. It should also be able to thrive in various climates, be they those of California’s Central Valley or the upper (and lower) wine belt limits. From Northern Europe to South America and New Zealand.

  Since winemakers around the world vinify a plethora of styles, übergrape should be up to being treated much differently in different hands. Light and dry. Dry and complex. Sweet across the spectrum – from barely off-dry to rich, unctuous, and lush. Sparkling as well, from dry to sweet. And depending on the audience, it should give wines that can be consumed young but that can also age and develop with both short and long-term cellaring. Let’s throw in an ability to reflect the nuances of various terroir just to up the ante a bit more. Oh, and good wind and disease resistance, right? It would be a great grape indeed.

  The good news is that you don’t have to run off to your nearest viticulturist to plot which currently existing grapes could be cross-pollinated, hybridized and grafted onto which rootstock to result in this Frankenfruit. It’s already here. Say hello to Chenin Blanc, probably one of the most underrated and under-appreciated white grapes out there.

  I had the opportunity to learn about – and taste the wines made from – this “magical chameleon of a grape” (as Jancis Robinson, MW calls it) during a three-week journey through France, starting in the Loire Valley – the ancestral home of Chenin Blanc.

  If first-hand confirmation is in order, let me confirm: traveling in/out/through Toronto’s Pearson International Airport has been pretty much akin to traveling through Dante’s Fifth Circle of Hell as of late (though you’d probably still have your luggage in the Dante’s Hell scenario). I suppose I got off lucky in that I was only delayed an hour flying to France and only had to sit on the tarmac for 45 minutes or so upon returning before spending only about another hour or so clearing security. As luck would have it, my luggage actually made it back with me (a good thing in that it was packed with wine, pastis, marc, olive oil and all sorts of other things). It probably helped I wasn’t flying Air Canada (though Air France was running out of in-flight food on the return leg).

  Anyhow, what brought me to France in the first place (other than several thousand gallons of jet fuel) was a media trip (“Val de Loire Millésime”) sponsored by InterLoire (Interprofesssion des Vins du Val de Loire – in long form) – the body responsible for the promotion and development of the wines from the regions of the Nantais, Anjou-Saumur, and Touraine. Now, before going any further, I think it’s important to set the record straight with regard to “media trips.”

  Being media comes with some perks (a robust – or even steady – paycheck is typically not one), and media trips – certainly in the eyes of non-media types – fit the bill. Airfare is generally covered, as is ground transportation. As are accommodations. As are meals. But let me assure you, these trips aren’t vacations. No way. You’re on someone else’s schedule and someone else’s dime. So, prepare to work.

  Early morning educational seminars and visits to numerous estates and vineyard sites (which may include a “hike” through said vineyards) are the order of the day. (As an aside, I’ve become wary of the word “hike” when followed by “though the vineyards.” These excursions can literally be a walk in the park or reach survival training endurance levels. The phrase, “Please ensure you bring suitable footwear” often indicates that the latter will transpire). Also, there are back-to-back tastings. Sampling over 100 wines per day (minimum) isn’t uncommon. It’s all tiring and sometimes exhausting, day after day.

  The look on your face suggests I’m not drumming up much sympathy.

  Anyway, over the course of my four-day Loire adventure, I was able to experience Chenin Blanc in all its vinous incantations and learned more about the variety’s lineage.

  I was based in the town of Angers, which is pretty much smack-dab in the middle of Chenin’s birthplace. Also known as Pineau de la Loire, Chenin Blanc is thought to have originated in the vineyards of Anjou, likely sometime in the ninth century, before spreading to vineyards in the neighboring Touraine region by the 15th century. In fact, the name Chenin Blanc likely came about due to plantings in vineyards near Mont Chenin near the famous Château de Chenonceau. Over the course of history, plantings of Chenin Blanc waxed and waned, largely due to the dictates of consumer tastes, but it has remained the white grape of the Loire.

  I had the opportunity to taste Chenin-based wines representing an extremely broad stylistic range. Susceptible to Botrytis cinerea (aka “noble rot”), the sweet, late-harvest wines of Anjou and Vouvray – and specifically Coteaux du Layon, Bonnezeaux, and Quarts de Chaume – I tasted showed layers of waxy, honeyed, spiced baked apple and, in some cases, an earthy, mushroom-tinged nuance. As glorious as many of them were, what intrigued me the most were the dry Chenin Blancs, some of which were like nothing I’ve ever really tasted before.

  The Saumur Blanc wines of Domaine Arnaud Lambert – including the Coulée de Saint Cyr 2018 Blanc, Clos de la Rue 2018 Blanc, and Brézé Bourguenne 2018 Blanc – deserve (I think) special mention. All were gorgeously complex, dripping with floral/mineral/smoky/lanolin and stone fruit aromas and flavors, with rich, ripe, concentrated and beautifully balanced flavors to match. One thing about Chenin Blanc is that, even in some of the least expensive examples, an undeniable richness can be detected. Alas, Lambert’s wines are hardly the least expensive examples. At closing in on 50€ per bottle, the Brézé Bourguenne 2018 Blanc was (I think) the most expensive wine I tasted while in the Loire. That being said, I’ve tasted plenty of wines costing far more that delivered far less.

  Another property that caught my attention was Domaine des Fontaines. Vigneron Rousseau Vincent explained to me that the appellation his winery resides in – Bonnezeaux – was certified an AOC for the production of sweet wines only. Dry wines were not (yet) able to carry the Bonnezeaux AOC distinction. Vincent – and others caught in a similar predicament – are pushing for a change. Personally, as a consumer, I’d question if AOC status really matters (I’m sure there’s a reason it does), especially having tasted the Domaine’s outstanding Cuvée Landry 2020 Blanc (which carries the broader Anjou appellation designation). This was an amazingly concentrated and deeply flavored wine, with a full, ripe and viscous texture and of considerable length. At 10.50€, this wine was a steal. If it were crafted from a different grape, country, or region, it could likely command double that price (or more).

  Though top-quality dry Loire Chenin Blanc wines are becoming more the norm these days, some have been known for quite some time as perhaps the pinnacle of the dry style. And here I’m talking about those of the Savennières region. Comprised of three AOCs – Savennières, Savennières-Roche-aux-Moines and Savennières-Coulée-de-Serrant. The total area under vines for all three regions combined is less than 400 acres. Savennières-Coulée-de-Serrant in itself is home to a single estate managed by Nicolas Joly. It covers a mere 17 acres. But it’s within these boundaries that Chenin Blanc shows what it can deliver when planted within a very particular terroir. In fact, the wines are typically so influenced by the schist soil, vineyard exposure, and relatively cool temperature of the region that “earth,” rather than “fruit,” is the most defining characteristic of these wines.

  Taste traditionally-made Savennières young wines, and you’ll wonder what the fuss is all about. When young, these wines typically fail to really impress (at least me). Sure, there’s lots of body and weight (many Savennières wines routinely top 14% ABV, some hitting 15%), but the screamingly high acid levels (typical of cool climate Chenin; maybe Chenin in general) and lack of any really opulent fruit makes them a little hard to warm up to.

In one session, I tasted 17 Savennières, mostly from young vintages (2019 and 2020). Some were pleasant enough (and some were obviously made to be a bit more approachable young), but it wasn’t until I hit the Loic Mahe Savennières Les Fougeraies 2016 that I found what I consider to be “classic” Savennières. The nose was nutty, with hints of caramel and buckwheat honey, underpinned with some mildly mushroomy notes that all wrapped around a distinctly mineral spine and buttressed by still crisp, dry acidity. If heavily-oaked Chardonnay is your thing, stay far away from Savennières. However, if you are looking for distinctive, age-worthy Chenin Blanc, step right up. I have some Savennières of the 2002 vintage in my cellar that are starting to show beautifully.

  Of course, the Loire Valley isn’t the only place you’ll find Chenin Blanc. I found it planted in the vineyards of Mas Cal Demoura in the Languedoc – the polar opposite end of France from the Loire (yes, I chose to extend my “tour de France” well after I left the Loire). It’s also the most widely planted variety in South Africa, where it covers at least three times (maybe more) the acreage planted in France. Traditionally, it was called Steen until it was discovered in 1965 that it was actually Chenin Blanc (for whatever reason, this made it even more popular). And all the attributes listed at the beginning of the story have resulted in it being planted far and wide.

  No matter where it sets its roots, Chenin Blanc is typically a cooperative and reliable vineyard addition that will do, vinously speaking, pretty much anything you want it to do while retaining a personality and uniqueness all its own.

Portugal: Tip-to-Toe

aerial view of Portugal

By: Tod Stewart

When it comes to wrapping art, history, culture and, perhaps most importantly to people like me, gastronomic and vinous excellence, into a (relatively speaking) small chunk of real estate, you can’t really beat what Portugal has to offer.

  I’ve had the extreme pleasure of touring the country tip-to-toe – including a stopover in the Azores – and if you are looking for a country that’s geographically diverse, visually stunning, and, well, extremely civilized, a visit to Portugal should be high on your “to-do” list.

  My Portuguese travel memories were rekindled just the other day when I took part in a virtual tasting of some of the wines of Quinta da Aveleda located in the Vinhos Verde region. If you’re going to travel Portugal’s many wine zones, this area in the northern Minho province is as good a place to start as any.

  Known for its ultra-drinkable, low-alcohol, slightly effervescent white wines that are essentially perfect with anything at any time, the wines of Vinhos Verde have a more serious side, one that Isabel Abreu e Lima, wine educator at Quinta da Aveleda, and Vitor Cardadeiro, owner of Reguengo de Melagaço, let me try first-hand.

  I still recall sitting on the patio of the Reguengo de Melagaço hotel, sipping one of the most exceptional aguardientes I’ve ever experienced. Across from the south bank of the Minho river, I took in the somewhat surreal sight of the woods of neighboring Spain’s Galicia region burning and lighting the night.

  Dinner saw me well out of harm’s way, enjoying the company of Reguengo’s genial owner, Vitor Cardadeiro. In Canada, we are still adjusting to the concept that the white wines of Vinho Verde can be “serious.” Light, spritzy fun, we are told. Try again. The wines of Reguengo de Melagaço are nothing but. Made from 100 percent Alvarinho, these are white wines to rival the world’s best. Spritzy and light? No way. If you’re more familiar with Spain’s Albariño wines, you’re sort of getting the profile. Sort of. Reguengo de Melagaço’s 100 percent Alvarinho 2017, with its mineral/tropical, fruit/floral notes, wrapped itself seductively around a traditional seafood meal, its mineral-tinged profile bringing out the briny best of the fresh, local catch.

  On the drive south down the A-52 the following day, I saw more of the devastation caused by the previous year’s wildfires – similar to those ravaging Spain the night before. Huge tracts of the charred forest looked alien and surreal and spoke of the natural tragedy that took lives and decimated the countryside.

  Winding my way into the visually stunning and oenologically legendary Douro Valley, I mused on the incredible variety of everything in Portugal, all within a short(ish) drive. Spectacular and varied scenery, sophisticated, historic cities and towns (many with vibrant nightlife scenes if that’s what you’re into), top-notch food, wine and hospitality. You’ll get the last three of these in spades if you’re traveling through the Douro, especially if you visit estates like Quinta da Foz and Quinta do Silval, which is where I was ultimately headed.

  That night I bivouacked at the cool Casa de Santa Cruz Hotel. I was the only guest of this recently upgraded and modernized boutique lodging. Heading out in search of sustenance, one of the friendly staff handed me the front door key, noting that she was locking up soon and instructing me to re-lock the door on my return and that she would see me in the morning for breakfast. I thought I must have come off as extremely trustworthy. It turns out that this is pretty common practice in smaller European towns. This is not generally something you experience in Toronto, probably a good thing.

  I pulled into Quinta da Foz the next day. If the Douro is famous for one thing, it’s port – perhaps the world’s most recognized fortified wine. And if there was a better way to get a sense of the valley, the river and the surrounding vineyards and wineries than by boat, I couldn’t imagine it. Relaxing with a glass of wine in the back seat of the “Syrah Régua,” with the afternoon sun glowing in a cloudless sky, I almost drifted off as we languorously drifted along the Douro river.

  Dinner and accommodations that night were provided courtesy of Alexandre Magalhãs at Quinta do Silval. Surrounded by the Douro’s famous terraced vineyards and sporting a very welcome pool, the quaint hotel/winery crafts outstanding wines and serves some pretty mean chow. Over a minor feast that night (featuring possibly the best octopus I’ve ever eaten), I asked Magalhãs (who seriously reminded me of Javier Bardem) about the rise in importance of Douro table wines and if this was an indication that the region’s historic fortified wines were falling out of favor.

  “Some new categories of port wine were introduced into the market, like Ruby Reserve and Ruby LBV,” he said. “Port wines in these special categories are increasing their market share, but interest in entry-level categories is decreasing.” He noted that Douro table wines continue to perform well, in no small part to the region’s historical reputation. We tasted a few exceptional wines with dinner (including the Dorna Velha Grande Reserva 2014, a particular highlight). Still, the Magalhãs 2004 Vintage Port, tinged with aromas and flavors of sultana, graphite and dense blackberry, served as a potent reminder that the Douro’s traditional wine star should not be overlooked.

  Admittedly, I was a bit on edge. This is probably a natural condition for anyone facing a potentially life-altering experience. Or a life-ending one.

  Lest anyone imagine that a “drive through a vineyard” is a scenic and tranquil affair, I offer you a drive through the vineyards of the Quinta do Covão winery in the Dão region with owner Filipe Ferreia. Without the consultation of a compass, I ascertained that we were traveling due south – as in south on about a 75-degree angle – and due for what I worried might be my last vineyard visit. Ever.

  It turns out Ferreia could (though I prayed it wouldn’t) do this tour with his eyes closed and, returning me in one un-mangled piece back to his digs, plied me with food and examples of what his region could conjure from local grapes. These included a crisp Cohleita Selecionado Dão 2016, its mineral/melon/citrus aromas and clean, balanced elegant taste profile calming my still-edgy nerves. I also knocked back a few reds, including the Quinta do Covão Tinto 2014 and Quinta do Covão 2015 Tinto Reserva Touriga Nacional. The former offered elegance, vanilla, smoke and bing cherry nuances. The latter, from 25-year-old vines, was complex, concentrated and rich, yet with the elegance typically associated with Dão reds. Consummate “food wines,” maybe a bit angular on their own, but with the wonderful home-cooked Portuguese lunch I was indulging in, perfect.

  With my ultimate destination, Lisbon, edging near with each kilometer driven, I decided I was still thirsty enough to hit a couple of the regions in and around the city first.

  I stopped in to say hello to Márcio Ferriera, export director at Casa Ermelinda Freitas-Vinhos. Most of the wineries I visited on my excursion were small to mid-sized. CEF-V is, well, big, with extensive vineyard plantings, state-of-the-art facilities and a wide range of wines covering all styles, from sparkling to sweet.

  I tasted about ten of them, and rather than reprint all my tasting notes (which would be as boring to read as they would be to rewrite), I’ll offer this observation: if it’s a quality-driven winery, its wines will (in theory) also be high quality. In the case of CEF-V, the theory was born out in the tasting. Keep an eye out for the flinty, crisp Alvariñho 2016, the bold, succulent Dona Ermalinda Reserva 2015 and the intense, menthol and lead pencil/gunflint-driven Dona Ermalinda Grande Reserve 2011. The tasting was also proof that quality and quantity can actually co-exist.

  Swinging south of Lisbon for a final visit and lunch, I was given a crash course in the wines of the Alentejo region by Morais Rocha, proprietor of the eponymously named winery. We dined that day at País das Uvas, and it was like sitting down to a meal with most of the local population. To say it was served “family style” would be something of an understatement.

  As we share food, wine, laughter and song, I sipped Rocha’s crisp, floral peach-scented JJ Verdejlho 2017 before hunkering down (about six wines later) with a topped-up glass of the Cabernet/Syrah-based Morias Rocha Reserva 2013. Packed with ripe, concentrated, smoky dark plum and tobacco notes laced with cedar, mocha and vanilla, it was a 15 percent ABV blockbuster. Given the superb quality of his wines, I was surprised when, back at the estate, Rocha admitted: “I make more money off olive oil than wine,” a statement that’s the complete opposite of what you typically hear from those who make and sell both liquids.

  The streets of Lisbon are alive. I’m taking in the revelry after an astounding seafood feast at the wildly popular and world-renown Cervejariia Ramiro (check out Anthony Bourdain’s filmed visit on the usual internet sites).

  When you have dinner around midnight, the night tends to run late, like into the next morning late. But in keeping with what I found everywhere that I visited on my tour of Portugal, the people of Lisbon, it seemed to me, to live life in high gear, a state that was vivacious yet relaxed, intense and passionate, and, ultimately, completely civilized. Those living in the more raucous neighborhoods of Lisbon are actually paid “overtime” if street noise carries on later than warranted. Party hard. Sleep well. As it is with Portugal’s wines, the key to pleasure is all in the balance.

The Okanagan: British Columbia’s Vine Valley

a vast vine valley

By: Tod Stewart

Man, did I need this,” was the thought that went through my mind as I opened the blinds and took in the morning view from my luxurious suite at Spirit Ridge Resort. Under an azure, late fall sky, vineyards stretched down to the sun-sparkled cobalt surface of southern Osoyoos Lake, whose waters stretched towards the hills in the distance. Though late in November, the Okanagan Valley in the British Columbia interior was experiencing a glorious, prolonged fall, with temperatures in the mid-50s. As I’d been in a COVID-induced semi-lockdown seemingly forever, a chance to escape my Toronto condo was just what the doctor ordered (along with face masks, vaccines, tests, social distancing, and an “abundance of caution”).

  This was my second visit to Spirit Ridge. The first time was back in 2005 on my first trip to Brit-ish Columbia. At that time, the resort had yet to be fully completed (doors officially opened in 2006), but the evidence of what was yet to come was apparent. Today, Spirit Ridge offers a range of stunning accommodations, activities, fine dining and the Indigenous-owned Nk’Mip (In-ka-meep) Cellars winery mere steps away. It also serves as the perfect base for exploring the numerous wineries that pepper the landscape, from the town of Osoyoos in the south to Salm-on Arm in the north.

  This time, what brought me to the Okanagan was an invitation to visit the stunning Phantom Creek Estates winery, tour the facility, taste some wines, and dine in its acclaimed restaurant. While there, I could also spend some of my own time checking out a few other establishments in the area.

  Nestled between the Cascade and Columbia mountain ranges and meandering on a roughly north to south tack for some 124 miles, the Okanagan Valley was forged by glacial activity about 10,000 years ago. The landscape is as rugged as it is beautiful. I’ve toured a few wine regions in my travels, and, as far as scenery goes, the Okanagan ranks up there with the best of them. Though undoubtedly appreciative of their daily view, Winemakers in the area face a few challenges – some familiar, some not so much.

  To begin with, there’s the climate. To call it extreme would be an understatement. For example, the summer of 2021 saw temperatures in south Okanagan hit upwards of 120 degrees Fahren-heit. In the midst of this was a twelve-day stretch where some vineyards experienced tempera-tures over 100 degrees Fahrenheit for more than 12 hours each day. Come January, the mer-cury plummeted to a bone-chilling -13 degrees Fahrenheit.

  The region is also very dry. The southern part of the valley – where I was stationed – is Cana-da’s only desert and the second driest climate in the country outside of the Arctic. Irrigation in the vineyards is a must. A bit of a pain, but not something to stop dedicated vineyard manag-ers. What could stop a dedicated vineyard manager is some of the local wildlife.

  If, as a winemaker, you think birds are a problem, tending vineyards in the Okanagan could prove to be somewhat unnerving. Bears, cougars, wolves, rattlesnakes and Black Widow spi-ders are all present to varying degrees and can be more than a tad annoying. With their insa-tiable appetite for ripe berries, the bears will gladly decimate row after row of vines (and are probably indifferent to the nuances of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot). This can have some unfortunate economic consequences for a vineyard owner. Still, there’s not much that can be done outside of letting them have their fill, given that they can also decimate those interfering with their dinner. Encounters with the other beasties are rare but not unheard of. As an aside, I asked a local Bordeaux-trained winemaker if he faced similar challenges from wildlife while working in France. “Well, there were French people,” he said.

  If you can deal with these challenges, the south Okanagan is, by all accounts, a truly remarka-ble place to craft world-class wines.

  Vancouver-based businessman Richter Bai, whose background involved mining in China, thought so, too. He saw the south Okanagan as the perfect place to craft the Bordeaux-inspired blends that he personally favored. And so, armed with nothing more than a dream and about $100 million (Canadian, I’ll assume), Bai secured some prime wine-growing real estate and set to work.

  Fortunately, the land he bought came with a trifecta of highly-acclaimed vineyards: Phantom Creek Vineyard, planted in 1996; Becker Vineyard, planted in 1977; and the Kobau Vineyard, planted in 2005. The Evernden Springs vineyard – planted after Bai’s purchase – in the neigh-boring Similkameen Valley added a fourth vineyard to the estate’s holdings. The region’s dry climate ensured that utilizing organic and biodynamic vineyard practices was more than doa-ble. To alleviate any possible hiccups along the way to organic and biodynamic certification, the talents of Olivier Humbrecht were enlisted. Humbrecht, owner and winemaker at Domaine Zind-Humbrecht in Alsace, was brought on as Consulting Winemaker. France’s first Master of Wine, Humbrecht is known as a leading proponent of biodynamic winemaking.

  The 78,884 square foot winery Bai built has a 35,000 case capacity and is at once a showcase for art, architecture, gastronomy and, of course, wine. It sports a 500-seat amphitheater, a first-class restaurant, and numerous objets d’art, including a Dale Chihuly-designed chandelier hanging over the Founder’s Cellar tasting table.

  I was shown around the place by the very hospitable Andrew Young, Phantom Creek’s Hospi-tality Manager. He also took me through a thorough tasting of the winery’s vinous treasures. The Bordeaux blends and house cuvées (that often saw both Bordeaux and Rhone varieties in the mix) certainly displayed both power and elegance, as well as complexity, as did a very solid Syrah. The whites – including Riesling, Pinot Gris and Viognier – were immaculately balanced and varietally true to character. Even the Viognier, a grape that tends to veer off into blowsi-ness in the wrong hands, was elegant and restrained.

  An additional benefit when visiting Phantom Creek is partaking in some of the winery’s other assets, of which there are plenty.

  Over a superb, multi-course dinner at the winery’s on-site restaurant, creatively prepared by Chef Alessa Valdez, I was poured a number of additional Phantom Creek wines that married perfectly with the various dishes. Poached Lingcod with crispy grilled saffron polenta, grilled green cabbage, ‘nduja beurre blanc, and almond gremolata…O.M.G. And things were just get-ting started.

  It was a bit of a change of pace going from the opulent lavishness of Phantom Creek Estates to the elevated vineyards of Osoyoos Larose. I admired the view of the Okanagan Valley stretched out about 1,300 feet below me as I looked over the nearly 80 acres of vines. I was in the vineyard because it wasn’t possible to visit the winery, mainly because, at the time of visit-ing, Osoyoos Larose didn’t have a winery.

  Since its inception in 1998, the estate has availed itself of various “borrowed” facilities. This should be changing over the next couple of years as a permanent production home has finally been secured. Yet, despite what many might see as a definite setback, Osoyoos Larose has managed – vintage after vintage – to craft red wines based on the classic Bordeaux blend that have been hailed by connoisseurs and critics as among the best in Canada.

  Owned by France’s Groupe Taillan (owner of Chateau Gruaud-Larose in Saint-Julien, among others), Osoyoos Larose, like most Bordeaux estates, makes but two wines (both red); its Le Grand Vin flagship, and Pétales d’Osoyoos. However, the estate is in the process of planting white varietals for a Bordeaux-inspired white counterpart. About two and a half acres have been planted to date, with an additional 20 acres slated for planting next year. Until then, con-sumers will have to content themselves with the Osoyoos Larose reds. A vertical tasting of vin-tages 2009 through to 2018 went a long way in convincing me that there’s plenty with which to be content.

  It should be exciting times ahead for a winery that, without hype, without a huge advertising and promotional budget, and without even an actual winery, has managed to secure a top spot in the echelon of the world’s great wines.

  Before catching a morning flight back to Toronto, my final meal was at the whimsically named The Bear, The Fish, The Root & The Berry restaurant at Spirit Ridge. The name derives from a story told by the Syilx People of the Okanagan Nation describing the Four Food Chiefs, each representing above-ground animals, water-dwellers, underground edibles and above-ground plants. I settled on the Bring Me Hasenpfeffer, mostly because it sounded (and, in fact, was) delicious, and also because “hasenpfeffer” was a word etched into my brain since my Bugs Bunny cartoon days. It paired nicely with the ripe, densely-structured, slightly smoky Nk’Mip 2018 Syrah from the adjacent winery.

  For wine markers south of the border looking for stunning scenery, fantastic hospitality, and some pretty incredible wines, a visit to British Columbia’s Okanagan Valley will prove to be en-tertaining, educational and eye-opening.

Is Wine Culture Nature’s Saving Grace?

woman holding a wine glass

By: Hanifa Sekandi

If the vines could speak, they would tell stories of the scorching sun burning the skin of grapes, winter’s frigid temperatures and frost forcing them to surrender to the elements. At any given time, the vines in vineyards neatly planted around the globe have to adjust to mother nature; sur-vival depends on adaptation. There is no better teacher than nature.

  If you understand viticulture and viniculture, you know there is always something to learn – from the moment the seed is planted to the time the vines grow, and the grapes are harvested. Just like vines, we are students of nature. And, to grow, we must pay attention. As one immerses them-selves into wine culture, they quickly learn that there is more to a bottle of wine than finding a splendid pairing. We cannot simply live in blissful ignorance all that time. When we do, life shocks us back to reality. The reality is, as much as we are sovereign beings, we are also a part of a larger ecosystem. One that we love to enjoy yet, at times, fail to understand.     

  Viticulture could be that saving grace since the thing we love reveals what has always been right before us.

  It seems like viniculture and viticulture are experiencing a backward renaissance. The renais-sance was a period when change and innovation fueled both old and new industries. Out with the old and in with the new; the common consensus. Wine cultivation during this time saw great leaps. Tradition needed to be forgotten to open doors for new production methods that yielded more fruit and profits. The modern revolution, the golden age of wine, left no stone unturned. Change is good, they believed. Even disruptive change met with a “yes we can” ideology. Somewhere along the way, the relationship between nature and winemaking ruptured. Although deeply interconnected, the two, at times, became separate in modern winemaking. Recently, however, the resurgence of biodynamic wineries and organic wines is making a wave in viticul-ture. This circular leap to the past, yet still firmly planted in present-day winemaking, is a rebirth needed for nature and viticulture. Wine is a beverage that has endured many turbulent times and has reached its tipping point. It is time to turn back.

Is Organic Wine Farming New?

  Sometimes we borrow things from the past and forget to give credit where it is due. We cannot discredit organic winemakers. They have shown the wine industry that perhaps it has gone too far with innovation and reminded it that wine is dependent on nature. Soil quality, respect for the habitat, and all organisms living in it are components one must not ignore. Organic wine is not a niche sector. It is the culture. Biodynamic farmers are not reinventing the wheel; they are ex-panding on traditional wine practices.

  So what is organic grape farming? How does it nurture nature and wine culture? For starters, it is about quality above anything else. Therefore smaller batches are the norm. Crafting these wines requires patience and an understanding of the land. It includes pesticide-free vines growing on nutrient-dense soils. It gives a home to different animal species and organisms. It brings together components that foster an enriching habitat and encourage the growth of rich grapes in nutrient-dense soils. It is a life-sustaining ecosystem where the sum of its parts completes the whole.

  Most people do not think of the little intricacies that make up a bottle of Chardonnay. Nor do they question if one sip contributes to the detriment of viticulture. Even imbibing wine slowly and with ease has lost its way. Does this mean we cannot enjoy ourselves? Of course not! But we must be mindful. And in turn, we challenge ourselves to do more than exist. So when we look at the science of wine and how this can shape a better future. We must return to its roots. It is the same viewpoint that people are taking in sustainable farming. Although tedious, the old way of working the land respected culture and nature. We do not need to consume more simply because we can. We certainly do not need to cut corners for more low-quality wine because of better technology. Drinking wine was never meant to be a sport.

Does Conventional Farming Need A Shake-up?

  Conventional farming practices grow vines with the help of pesticides which we now know are not beneficial to your health. Alas, we cannot blame wine growers who deal with unpredictable terrains, weather conditions, pests, and plant diseases for looking for remedies. Who would not jump on something that could help their vines grow? Owning a vineyard is hard work and re-quires a lot of mental strength to adapt to the unpredictability encountered at any given time.

  The routinization of farming has found its way into winemaking, perhaps due to people’s desire for consistency in their favorite wine. Therefore, now is not a time to point fingers or argue about what is right or wrong. Nature speaks louder and determines what must be done. For example, when Phylloxera ravaged vines in the late 19th century, French winemakers’ solution of planting American disease-resistant vines, which led to grape hybrids, proved successful. There is flexi-bility in change. It is okay to take a few steps back without significantly altering your operations to preserve both nature and viticulture.

  Monocropping, a farming practice where high yields of one plant varietal are grown, has found its way into winemaking. This method is commonly used in corn, soybean and wheat farming. The problem, however, is that growing limited grape varietals reduces plant diversity within an ecosystem. To make matters worse, an influx of toxic pesticides and fertilizers is necessary to increase and sustain the growth of desired staples. Once met with praise, the negative impact this practice has on the environment, animals and organisms is now evident.

  For vineyards, plant biodiversity is an adjustment that can slowly be incorporated into small or large vineyards lacking in diversity. Creating a healthy and robust ecosystem within a vineyard does not require giant leaps. Nor will it impact the bottom line. Steps can be as small as adding a few new plant species close to where vines grow. As a result, the ecosystem blooms and other species thrive within this environment. Birds, microorganisms, bees and other insects, for exam-ple, contribute to a robust ecosystem. Every animal and organism in nature is perfectly placed so that the entire system functions accordingly.

  Producing more of what we desire should not kill what we essentially need. A reliance on toxic fertilizers and pesticides while favoring mass consumption and lucrative simple production prac-tices will only cause the wine industry to suffer in the long run.

For The Grace Of Wine

  The beginnings of wine were biblical and mythical. The lineage of wine has long roots starting in the Mesopotamian Era. Wine has also symbolized togetherness. There was a time when families would spend their Saturday with their feet planted in a larger barrel grape-treading. Owning a vineyard was a family and a community affair in some wine regions. Harsh weather conditions or vine disease that ravaged a season would truly break hearts. Wine represents not just liveli-hood but a dream brought into existence after the perfect harvest, demonstrating that hard work yields great things. Centuries past, wine also opened a pathway to the New World when it was traded for coffee. Wine is unifying and polarizing at the same time.

  There is more to a wine tasting than just sipping and spitting. It is an art in and of itself. Here, sommeliers worldwide can tell you stories of the vineyards where grapes grow. How a bottle of wine is best served and why it should be slow sipped or appreciated with grilled fish. Wine is meant to be enjoyed over stories with those we love. Wine is the gatekeeper of legends waiting to be told.

  The seeds that have been planted around the world have traveled miles. How did a French oak barrel make its way to South Africa? What makes a local Moroccan wine different than a Bordeaux in France? Think of the perseverance of a German winemaker who could not let frost ruin his harvest. They complete the story. Wine is the hands of the people that make every bottle possible.

  So when we drink wine, we touch the hearts of the people and the region a bottle originates. We experience mother nature in her diversity and what she gives us, from the mineral-rich soils and terrain in Africa to the sweeping valleys of Germany. We share a beverage once used for medicinal purposes when freshwater was scarce in the Middle Ages. Indeed, wine culture is worth nurturing and preserving. To do so, we mustn’t run too far away from the past. Instead, a little time travel could restore all that is good, so we can experience it for years to come.

A Brief History of the Malbec

Excerpt from Malbec Mon Amour.  By: Laura Catena and Alejandro Vigil

2 people holding rocks

In Argentina, many people think of Malbec as a local variety. And those who know a little more about its history see the grape as an immigrant whose splendid adaptation makes her Argentine through and through. This would be all well and good if it weren’t for the fact that Malbec has been so extensively documented in France’s wine bibliography. It is impossible to deny the grape’s glorious European past.

  Malbec’s long, eventful history in France is reflected in the number of different names it was given over the years. In the mid 1960s, the French ampelographer Pierre Galet identified more than a thousand different terms for Malbec depending on where it was grown or whomever introduced it to the region in question. For instance, it’s known as Côt in the Loire Valley, Malbec or Malbec Doux in Gironde, Luckens or Lutkens in Médoc, Pressac in the Libourne area of Bordeaux, Côte Rouge in Entre-deux-Mers and Lot-et-Garonne, and Auxerrois or Côt Noir in Cahors, capital of the former province of Quercy.

  In the 18th and early 19th centuries, Bordeaux clarets were light and almost pink in color, as opposed to their competition, Burgundian Pinot Noir, which was dense, fruity and deeply colored. It is likely that Malbec was a catalyst for the transition of Bordeaux wines into the more concentrated style we know today. These days Pinot Noir is the lighter, paler and more delicate of the two.

  DNA analysis carried out in France in 2009 determined that Magdeleine Noire was the mother of the Malbec, and Prunelard its father. The former, which also gave birth to Merlot, comes from the Charentes region, about 80 miles north of Bordeaux, while the fruity and tannic Prunelard hails from Gaillac, located between Bordeaux and Cahors. The cross-pollination probably occurred on the banks of the River Lot in Cahors, perhaps before France was conquered by Roman legions or later, in the Middle Ages.

  Around 150 A.D., the city of Cahors, which was known as Divona at the time, was the Roman capital of the province of Quercy in what is now France. It was here that the first mention of the grape was recorded, although its precise origins continue to be a mystery. Malbec might have come to Divona from Italy, brought by the Roman invaders, or perhaps it was already in France when the Romans arrived in Gaul, and they simply adopted it and continued its cultivation. It is also featured in literary history: praise for the ancient wine of Cahors can be found in the Odes of Horace and in Virgil’s poems.

  Historians agree that in spite of the foreign invasions that occurred during the decline of the Roman empire, Malbec retained its reputation and continued to be grown.

  When we get to the Middle Ages, the story of Malbec becomes inextricably entwined with that of Eleanor of Aquitaine (1122–1204) the only woman ever to be queen of both France and England. Eleanor inherited a third of present-day France, the Duchy of Aquitaine, from her father. Malbec plantations are thought to have extended beyond Cahors down to the Pyrenees (Madiran) in the South and across the eastern bank of the Dordogne River from Saint-Émilion to Côtes de Bourg.

  Eleanor preferred the wine from her region over the offerings from the Loire and Burgundy generally chosen by the Parisian aristocracy. At age fifteen, she was married to the man who would soon become Louis VII of France. Later on, the “black wine,” as Malbec would come to be known, most likely flowed at Eleanor’s Courts of Love, festivals of music and poetry where Malbec grew to be appreciated as the wine of the nobility.

  According to oral tradition, the Malbec grape expanded from its native Cahors to Bordeaux in the 18th century, introduced by a Hungarian winemaker called Malbeck or Malbek. In Bordeaux, producers used it to lend more color to their clarets.

Why is the Malbec known as “the black wine?” The exact origin of the term is unknown. The epithet could be related to the belief that harvesting the grapes at night improved the quality of the wine, or to the fact that Malbec’s intense color left dark stains on teeth and tongue.

  After fifteen years of marriage, Eleanor divorced Louis VII and renounced the French crown to marry Henry II of England. Their wedding was most likely drenched in Malbec, the royal wine, as chronicled by the era’s historians.

  The union allowed Aquitaine, now under English rule, to sell the Cahors wines alongside those from Bordeaux across the channel. Malbec now was served at tables across England and Ireland. The children of Henry II and Eleanor who came to the throne, Richard the Lionheart and King John, continued to trade with Cahors and promote the wine.

  But an enterprising bureaucrat also played a major role in the growth of wine exports from the Cahors region. In having the boulders removed from the River Lot, which runs through the area, he ensured that circulation and shipping from the interior would be greatly facilitated, much to the benefit of local wine producers. The move also spawned the birth of a rivalry with Bordeaux, whose officials introduced new taxes and restrictions to limit the spread of Malbec from Cahors. To stem this, Henry III of England placed Cahors wine under his personal protection, meaning that Bordeaux officials could not restrict its transport or sale.

  English traders soon recognized a good business opportunity at hand, and turned Cahors into a major urban and financial center. The main thoroughfare to foreign markets was the port of La Rochelle, which also flourished as an economic powerhouse. Centuries later, Alexandre Dumas would choose the port as setting for his classic The Three Musketeers.

  The grape’s prestige continued to rise, and by the 16th century, France’s Francis I, who was originally from Aquitaine, took such a great liking to Malbec that the grape came to be known as the Plante du Roi (the King’s Plant). The sovereign planted Malbec around his Palace of Fontainebleau and at his favorite retreat, the Vauluisant Abbey north of Dijon. It was also the dawn of the French Renaissance, and the king’s influence made itself felt in the art world. He brought none other than Leonardo da Vinci to his court. It is thanks to Francis I that the Mona Lisa hangs today in the Louvre Museum.

  And let’s not forget that the Catholic Church uses wine in its central act of worship: the Mass. History records that when a cobbler’s son from Cahors was chosen to be Pope John XXII (1244–1334), he declared Malbec to be the preferred communion wine. When the Pope was living in Avignon during the Schism with Rome, he grew Malbec at his palace. That’s not all: By the end of the 17th century, the variety had also become the sacramental wine of the Russian Orthodox Church. Tsar Peter the Great had chosen it as a cure for his stomach ulcers. In fact, Peter had Malbec vines brought from Cahors to Russian Crimea, where it became known as Caorskoie.

  Malbec’s storied past is marked by historical serendipity, territorial alliances, sacred uses and healthy attributes. Popes, kings, and nameless bureaucrats all had a role in establishing the grape as one of the most important varieties on the European viticultural stage.

The Splendor Of Moroccan Wine

By: Hanifa Sekandi

shadowed tropical trees

On a robust Saturday afternoon in Morocco, you wander through the souk looking for a stand that brews Maghrebi mint tea. You can feel the history of this land, rich with culture and spirit. Each artisan in this market holds ancient skills, and you know that rare treasures purchased here are indeed worth more than their weight in gold. Time has shown us that sometimes, as people strive for progress, what was once good eventually becomes lost. The souks and riads of Moroc-co allow you to step into the past where time moved slow and living in the moment was the only choice; that life is a series of moments meant to be seized. 

  When we imbibe, sometimes we get lost in the fun, but the true celebration occurs when we al-low our imagination to wander. Time-travel with the fermented grapes of a bottle of Moroccan wine, and ask questions: How did it get across the world to your local wine store? What is the journey and the untold story of the people whose hands brought it to life? Everything created has a story. Allow yourself to get lost in exploration as you travel to northern Africa for the splendor of Moroccan wine.

Slow Growing Vines in the Desert

  Like South Africa, Moroccan winemakers benefit from the favorable weather and terrain. Their proximity to the Atlantic Ocean and high mountains, coupled with cooling trade winds, allow low-lying vineyards to flourish in the foothills of the coastal Atlas Mountains.

  Although Morocco has been making wine for over 4,000 years and is the second-largest producer of table wines in Africa, it does not have a robust wine industry or a history comparable to South Africa. The beginning of viticulture in Morocco originates with the Phoenician settlers who ush-ered in trading colonies. Still, it was not until the arrival of French colonialists in 1912 who brought with them winemaking that the wine industry began to take form. Although this was the start of large-scale wine production, it was not a fortuitous upward venture. The Moroccan inde-pendence in 1956 saw a slump in wine production. When the French left, they took their wine-making expertise, leaving approximately 55,000 hectares of wine unattended. Morocco’s wine industry underwent a significant decline.

  Another roadblock for Morocco’s wines was in 1967 with the introduction of European Econom-ic Community quotas. Now, wines with the label made in France, for example, could not contain grapes from other countries. In turn, this exponentially reduced the exportation of wine to EEC countries. During this time, Moroccan vineyards were unable to thrive, with limited entry to time-honored markets. In addition, surplus production from Mediterranean wine-producing countries made it hard to measure up.

  Further, the infrastructure and the resources needed to scale production like its competitors proved uneconomically feasible for Moroccan vineyards. This led to vineyards planting and har-vesting different crops. In the early 1970s to the mid-1980s, vineyards were taken over by the state, and new protocols further diminished wine production. Additionally, vineyards could not compete due to fixed grape prices that were not determinant on the quality of the grape yielded. Most vineyards were deemed poorly operable due to insufficient production and management.

  The turning point for Morocco’s wine industry began in the 1990s under the rule of the second king of Morocco, Hassan II of Morocco, a graduate of the University of Bordeaux in France. He was known as the peacemaker for foreign relations in northwestern Africa, and, as a result, he parlayed the return of French investments and prowess in winemaking to Morocco. French inves-tors were offered long-term lease agreements for vineyards owned by the state agricultural com-pany. This offer was also extended to other foreign investors who could improve the Moroccan economy with industrious ventures. Tailan, William Pitters and Groupe Castel, well-known Bor-deaux-based wine companies, seized this opportunity and rejuvenated Morocco’s wine industry. It has proven beneficial on the world stage since Morocco’s Boulaouane a Castel is now a best-selling wine in France. Hassan II of Morocco’s efforts have been attributed to the revival of Mo-rocco’s wine industry and becoming the second-largest producer of wine in the Middle East. This accomplishment is worth mentioning given that Morocco is a predominantly Islamist governing country that prohibits the consumption of alcohol and sale of alcohol locally. Wine is sold at ho-tels and restaurants and contributes to keeping up with tourism demands.

What We Plant Grows

  The international wine export industry has helped Morocco gain recognition. France is the top consumer of Moroccan-made wine exports, followed by Belgium and England. There are five wine regions in Morocco, with fourteen AOGs and three AOCs. The difference between AOC, appellation d’origine contrôlée, and AOG, appellation d’origine garantie, is the grape quality control measures utilized. Popular and familiar tourist wine regions are Casablanca, Boulaouane, and Meknes. Since 75% of wine production is red wine, wine lovers will find an array of red grape Rhône varietals. Vin Gris makes up the remaining percentage of wines along with white wine and the beloved Moroccan Rosé. Vineyards grow Syrah, Merlot, Grenache, Cabernet-Sauvignon and the traditional Carignan grapes which once dominated. Other grape varieties in-clude Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay and Chenin Blanc. Vin Gris is a greyish-pink-hued wine blended with rosé and white wine.

  A blue-black grape table wine that is indigenous to Morocco is Taferielt. Its origin traces to the Moroccan wild vines that once cloaked the Rif mountains in the sixties. Before pre-phylloxera, where disease plagued vineyards, this vine, called Farrana Noir, could be found in the Balearic Islands. It has yet to make a name for itself but is known by those who visit Morocco. As with all hidden gems, it will have its moment in the sun as Morocco slowly gains recognition in the pres-tigious wine market.

  Wine revelers will note that the cost of Moroccan-made wines is reasonably cheap, but this does not denote the quality. However, some will say that since it is still a burgeoning wine market, people in Morocco are not as discerning about wine as they would be in Europe or North Ameri-ca, where wines are scaled differently.

  Only about 5% of the approximately 40 million bottles produced annually in Morocco are ex-ported. This number is quite eye-opening given the parameters around alcohol consumption in the country. The mystery of who is consuming these wines will only be revealed to those who consume them. That said, this staggering number demonstrates a demand for wine in Morocco even though it is not heavily promoted within the country. It could be a new generation of wine consumers, similar to Germany, where millennials are reviving the viticulture landscape. Those who study abroad return home with a palate that enjoys a glass of wine when dining. Further, they recognize that Morocco houses vineyards with delightfully good wines.

  The stories of Moroccan vineyards are waiting to be told. It is the people who own the land and are responsible for bringing the wine to life who hold what is still unknown. These vineyards are more than just land that grows vines. They demonstrate that what we plant grows, and growth is painful yet beautiful.

Notable Moroccan Wines Domaine des Ouled Thaleb Estate

Zenata Rosé – Domaine OTB

    Zenata Rosé – Domaine OTB is a crisp and refreshing plump cherry and cranberry wine with floral notes. It is made by the Domaine Ouled Thaleb Estate, the oldest and most well-known winery in Morocco. Established in 1923, the winery is named after the tribe that works the winery and owns the land. The composition of this concrete tank-fermented rosé is 30% Syrah, 20% Cinsault and 50% Grenache. This vineyard, known for its exceptional rosé, is located in the northeast Casablanca wine region.

Les Celliers De Boulaouane

Thalvin Boulaouane Vin Gris

  Vin Gris is a popular wine that is a beautiful blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cinsault and Grenache. This is an airy, refreshing wine with floral notes and hints of fresh berries that remind you of hot summer days. Smooth caramel, citrus and honeysuckle notes provide a nice overall finish. This is a popular Moroccan wine for tourists.

Winery Bonassia

Bonassia Cabernet Sauvingon

  Fruity, sweet, and warm with a hint of spice is the   best way to describe this smooth, rich red wine. It pairs well with flavorful Moroccan dishes such as Tagine. Aromatic notes of nutmeg and vanilla enhance the flavor of spices without overpowering the palate.

Why Everyone is Talking About Organic Wine

By: Hanifa Sekandi

2 red wine glasses

Is organic wine a hangover cure? Could this be the answer you have been looking for to quell your day after Reisling’s woes? If it is possible to imbibe and wake up early without the thunderous plus of a headache to remind you of the night before, then surely everyone wants in on this vino du jour. Eating organic greens, grass-fed meat, and poultry and reading the labels of packaged or premade foods to see if they contain preservatives has become ever more pressing. Understanding the connection between what goes into our body and how this impacts one’s overall well-being is at the forefront of consumer goods. It is not just the food industry but also the beverage, wine, and spirits sectors. The scientific revolution ushered in a lot of excitement where increasing the shelf life of food with the use of additives seemed like a promising endeavor.

  Sometimes novel ideas have a downside. In the case of preservative-laden consumer goods, things are not always as they seem. The zealous approach to preserve anything and everything did not take into account the impact such ingredients may have on individuals on a long-term basis. Yes, one could argue that not all additives are bad for you and are necessary. Particularly when one thinks of vintage wines that would indeed spoil without the use of sulfur dioxide (SO2). You are certainly not going to find an organic aged Bordeaux or Pinot Noir that is organic. Alas, most wine enthusiasts understand this and know when purchasing organic wines that the lifespan is short therefore, these wines are meant to be enjoyed upon purchase. The distinction of what constitutes an organic wine is not universal and differs from country to country. The United States has taken on a more stringent approach than Europe and Canada.

What is Organic Wine?

  Since the designation of organic wine varies around the world, it is a case of it depends on where you live. This requires consumers to do their due diligence and research to understand that not all organic wines, although placed in the organic wine section, are made the same. Some organic wines may contain sulfites. If an allergy or sensitivity is a concern, then knowing how to read wine labels is essential. You might be wondering, what exactly are sulfites? Sulfites are preservatives used to maintain freshness and prevent bacteria growth, and in the case of wine, to reduce oxidation.

  Sulfites also influence the taste and appearance of wine and increase shelf life. So that well-aged full-body vintage wine contains this preservative. For some people, sulfites are a sensitivity or allergen that may result in side effects. This ranges from a headache to a rash, hives, stomach pain, swelling, and in severe cases anaphylaxis. Wine free of added sulfites is favorable for individuals with this concern. Keep in mind that even organic wine contains a small amount of naturally occurring sulfites.

  In the US, wines that are labeled organic must be made with organically grown grapes. Winemakers adhere to the rules and regulations of organic farming therefore, the use of fungicides, pesticides, chemical fertilizers, and herbicides is not allowed. The same standard used to evaluate organic foods by the United States Agriculture department is used to assess organic wines. There is no acceptance for simply using organic grapes. It also extends to how the wine is harvested and the yeast utilized for fermentation. Also, how the wine is stored must follow organic processing standards to receive a USDA organic certification. Before storage potassium metabisulfite is used to sterilize and sanitize non-organic wine barrels which would, in turn, impact an organic wine and hence is not permitted. Another rule is that additional sulfites cannot be added to organic wine and if so, it will not be deemed organic by the National Organic Program.

  A wine bottle labeled as “Made with Organic Grapes” signifies that this vintner used organic grapes for their wine but there are added sulfites. Winemakers who choose to produce wines with preservatives are permitted to use non-native yeasts (yeast that is not organic) during fermentation. They may also use up to 100 parts per million additional sulfites. In Canada and Europe, sulfites are allowed and this distinction is made on wine labels. If you see a wine labeled “100% Organic” in Canada, this means that it is made with certified organic grapes and does not contain added sulfites. A regulation distinction that falls in line with the regulations found in the US. A wine with this certification would be permitted for sale in the US since it meets the strict requirements. 

Not All Wines Are Made Equal

  The European Union has allowed the terminology “organic wine” on wines made with organic grapes but contain sulfites. Whereas organic wine in the US must contain less than 20 parts per million of total sulfites to get an organic seal of approval. This departure in regulation has limited European wineries who consider their wine as organic to enter the US market and be designated as such. Vintners in France and Canada, for example, countries that both allow for some leniencies. Argue that additives permit stabilization and longevity of wines. No preservatives mean these wines have a short lifespan — only a few years after bottling. 

  The solution would be to pivot the same way the food industry has and look for organic preservatives to maintain the integrity of the wine. It is hard to change a processing practice that has proven fruitful and effective. Further, this niche wine selection is still in its infancy. Perhaps the growth in organic wine consumption in places like France, where the drinking of organic wine has seen a dramatic increase in the last few years and continues to grow. May usher in an innovative way to preserve wines. Germany is the leading organic wine-growing country.  Vintners in Germany could take the helm and steer this aim in the right direction. If it can be done in the food industry, it is only a matter of time before an expert winemaker finds the solution or middle ground.  So there can be a fair import and export of organic wine trade with European, Canadian, or other organic winemakers worldwide who have a strong desire to enter the robust organic wine market in the United States.

  As more vineyards in France convert to organic they may take the lead as premier organic wine producers and surpass Germany who has the most amount of organic vineyards. With an increase of organic wine producers in France, which houses approximately ninety percent of the global organic wine-growing regions. France has a surplus of wine reserves more than the percentage of organic wine drinkers in its country could possibly drink. Hence, getting access to more consumers in this niche is essential. The US, with its strict regulations, has a high demand for this niche market. But, it lags considerably behind other organic wine-producing regions in production.

An Organic Viniful Future

  By 2023 an estimated 1 billion bottles of organic wine will be consumed. Germany takes the lead with the consumption of the most organic wine consumed. But this might be due to availability more so than popularity; proximity and ease matter. And setting a high standard for quality and wine cultivation has been the norm for German vineyards for decades. 

  Whether or not wine-producing countries will agree on what makes a wine organic. The reality is there is a demand for wine producers to not only take on sustainable cultivation methods but also consider what goes into each barrel of wine they make. As trendy as hangover-free wine may be, it is more than just about staving off a headache it is about the food and beverage industry’s responsibility to their consumer. Understanding that there need to be options. There is a fine balance that can be met.

  Further, organic wine enthusiasts are not necessarily bidding adieu to classically-made wines; they simply desire choice. If organic wines could be the answer to hangovers or possible side effects for some, it is worth exploring for those looking for an alternative. Of course, there is no direct evidence to support the notion that organic wine is the answer wine drinkers have been looking for to solve a dreaded hangover.

  It cannot be argued that people are finding that organic wine does not have the same side effects as its older sibling wines that contain additional sulfites. This is why it has gained a lot of popularity among health-conscious consumers who tout this day-after pleasant effect.  Another step that organic winemakers are moving towards is producing wine with lower sugar content. This coupled with no additional sulfites could be a winning strategy since high sugar content in alcohol is also responsible for the horrible day after feeling that many feel after one too many.

  As the organic wine industry grows and consumers demand cleaner options. The old school way of making wine and the new school approach will need to find a happy medium. So, wine drinkers can continue to experience the rich history of a slowly-aged oak barrel wine while welcoming a fresh organic wine that compliments a modern lifestyle.

Notable Organic Wines

Dry Farm Wines: This vineyard goes a step further and calls its wines pure Natural Wines. They take on a purist approach when it comes to farming and harvest pure natural wines that are not only lower in sulfites but are sugar-free, vegan, biodynamic/organic, free of toxins, contain lower alcohol and keto, and paleo-friendly. Sounds like wine magic, right?! This winery offers a great selection of reds, whites, rose, and sparkling wine. They offer you an opportunity to try a box of different wines and if you would like monthly subscriptions.

Frey Vineyards: As the first US winemakers to be certified organic and biodynamic, Jonathan and Katrina Frey have been crafting organic wines for over forty years. A standout quality of the vineyards where their wines are made is that they use a biodynamic farming method which means that the natural habitat where their vines grow is cared for with consideration of the animals and plants that inhabit the land. The 2018 Biodynamic Chardonnay with a smooth vanilla creamy finish is a delightful organic selection.

How’s Your Mouth Feel?

By: Tod Stewart

couple drinking wine

The latest vintage of Domaine de la Bon Bouche sets the lips tingling as if tickled by the eyelashes of an angel as it flits on gossamer caresses, coming to alight gently on the tongue. Resting its silky wings, it envelopes the palate in a cocoon of velvety, glycerol-induced unctuousness. Wrapped in a creamy, viscous robe, it perches supplely on the papillae, mustering the steely resolve required to resume an ultimately suicidal (though heart-arrestingly warm and generous) slink down…down…down. Without gritty tannin, without harsh heat, without even a suggestion of chalkiness, it bids, adieu mon amour to my spent taste muscle and departs in a gush of crisp, crunchy yet at once satiny tactile replay.”

Sick of this yet?

Me, too. So let’s get on with it.

  Obviously Domaine de la Bon Bouche is not a real wine, winery, or marketing gimmick (okay, hold that last possibility). Nor is the “review” the product of a real “wine writer” (though considering some of the reviews I actually have had the displeasure of reading, it’s not much of a stretch to think it could be).

  However, if you study that exercise in vinopomposity you’ll notice something interesting. Not once…once…were aromas and flavours ever mentioned. Coincidence? I think not (mostly because I wrote it that way on purpose).

  The point, insofar as there is one, is that there’s a dimension to wine (and spirits and beer and all the other goodies that slide over your palate) that goes beyond smell and taste. It is the middle ground between light and shadow, between science and superstition, and it lies between the pit of man’s fears and the summit of his knowledge. This is the dimension of imagination. It is an area which….(Sorry, but I’ve been dying to shove the “Twilight Zone” intro into one of my bits.) Actually, it’s the dimension of the tactile and it is the zone where those elements that give wine textures roam. The things that make them “silky” or “furry.” “Gritty” or “velvety.” “Round” or “sharp.”

  A highly extracted Alsace Gewurztraminer can come off as almost oily or “creamy” on the palate. A brisk, unoaked Chablis can be steely. A raw young Cabernet will be puckeringly astringent. These non-flavour components are responsible for what the cork dorks generally call “mouthfeel.” When a wine has a particularly noteworthy mouthfeel you tend to resist the urge to swallow it right away. Instead, you hold it in your mouth, roll it around, maybe even chew on it a bit before sending it on its way.

  Some of you, perhaps a very few of you, might care to know where these textural elements originate. Given that I fall into the latter group, and I’m writing this, I’ll give it a brief once over then let the truly curious Google the night away.

  Rumour has it (or maybe it’s actually the truth, who knows, but I’ve got a deadline pending and can’t waste too much time researching), that two French dudes named Semichon (which, translated, means “half chon” and shouldn’t be confused with Semicornichon, which, translated, means “half little pickle”) and Flanzy (whatever) suggested (to whom nobody is sure) that substances called pectins produced tactile sensations in the mouth. (Actually, a fellow named von Follenberg discovered these things in 1914, but it’s harder to riff on his name.)

  Pectins fall into the larger phylum of polysaccharides, and within this party of “Ps” reside a few interesting members including Arabinogalactan proteins (AGP’s – originating in a galaxy far, far away populated – secretly – by those of Arabian descent), Type II Rhamnogalacturonas (RG-IIs; sung, albeit with difficulty, to the tune of The Knack’s My Sharona) and Mannoprotiens (MP’s; typically found dozing in Canadian parliament but also, apparently, found in wine – or into wine, as the case may be.) By the by, I’m not making this stuff up, at least not the names; the descriptors are, however, proudly my own.

  I’ve never really been a “leg man” when it comes to wine (and let’s just call them “tears” instead of legs), but the thickness of those somewhat syrupy-looking trails that slither down the inside of the glass point to the presence of glycerol (and alcohol). The more glycerol the “oilier” or more viscous the wine will feel on the palate.

  Anyway, numerous tests concluded that these fine thingamajigs do, in fact, combine to alter the textural nuances of a wine. And efforts have been made, usually by the pointy-heads, to analyze, categorize and compartmentalize tactile variants. The results, for good or for ill, being “texture wheels” (similar to the oft-cited UC Davis “aroma wheel”).

  So now we know what creates texture in wine. But what causes textures to differ? The answer is found in both nature and nurture. 

  “But how is this going to impress my dinner guests/date/boss/Arabinogalactan-in-waiting?” you whine annoyingly. To which I answer, “All good things in time, grasshopper.” But seeing as there’s no time like the present, here we go.

  If you think about it, texture factors largely in how a wine will tango with a particular morsel of food.

  The zesty, electric acidity and mild sweetness of a kabinett level German Riesling offers the perfect foil for a creamy/salty dish, while the cleansing sparkle of a fine glass of fizz drums down the oily character of smoked salmon. The drying astringency of an austere young Bordeaux can be quelled by the proteins in a rare steak. And like the flavours and aromas of a wine, its texture can change with age.

  Some feel that the texture of a wine is the most important aspect of the whole experience. David Ramey of Sonoma’s Ramey Wine Cellars is one of those types. How important is texture to him? “From my perspective, it’s huge. I don’t care if a wine smells like apples, peaches or whatever, but I really care that it feels good in my mouth. Focusing excessively on a wine’s aroma is like focusing on cologne while making love – it’s not the main event.” I’ll take his word for it.

  Here’s something you can try at home (where else these days?) with minimal cash, fuss and planning that will show you how wine and food can both complement and contrast, and how important the textural aspect can be in making food and wine matches work.

  Get yourself a brisk, zesty Sauvignon Blanc (Loire Valley, Niagara, California, New Zealand, etc.). Hit up the cheese monger for a creamy/crumbly young goat cheese, and the fish monger for a few fresh East Coast oysters. Don’t mess with the purity of the oyster by adding gloopy condiments; knock it back au naturel on the half-shell and follow it with a gulp of the wine. The bracing acidity of the wine marries nicely with the briny bivalve creating a sensation of textural lightness. Now try the same routine with the cheese instead of the oyster. The tang of the young cheese matches the zippy grapefruit zing of the wine, but its palate coating creaminess welcomes the wine’s cleansing quality. A great textual match, but on an entirely different level.

  I recently (finally) got out of the house to celebrate the reopening of Chef Daniel Boulud’s Café Boulud in the swanky Four Seasons Hotel Toronto. Not only was I treated to a rather spectacular lunch (with some to-die-for duck), I also had the extreme pleasure of matching the various dishes with wines from one of my favourite Champagne houses: Ruinart. I asked the hotel’s Wine Director and Sommelier, Julie Garton, what her views were on the importance of textural elements in wines.

  “Texture in wine can be very important for pairing,” she informed me, “especially with red wine as it tends to have higher tannin levels. Many factors contribute to the texture/tannin level of wine, including the thickness of the grape skins, ripeness of the grapes, length of maceration and the vessels used to age the wine. Together, these factors can create different textures which can be described as silky, firm, plush, or grippy. As a result of the texture, the wine can pair better with different foods and cooking methods. White wines aren’t without textures either. Certain wines are known for having a creamier or oily texture despite having tannins.”

  She also mentioned that texture helps to balance the respective weights of both the wine and the food matches. Champagne, she assured, made for a fantastic food-pairing partner, notably due to its textural elements. I nodded in agreement (as it is rather bad manners to talk with your mouth stuffed).

  “The bubbles can certainly help to add a creaminess to the texture of the wine. However, often the production method, for example, barrel fermented and aged, along with the dosage level and the type of grapes used tend to have the largest impact on the weight and texture of a Champagne. An Extra Brut Blanc de Blancs will often feel leaner on the palate than a Blanc de Noirs, or a Vintage Champagne, which with age will show more richness.”

  Favourite matches? “A pairing I’ve always loved is Champagne with fried chicken,” she admits. “Champagne is great with fried foods because of its high acidity. The acidity and the bubbles help to cleanse the palate and cut through the fattiness and oiliness of the dish.” Which also confirmed another wine and food rule: simple wine with complex food; complex wine with simple food.

  In the end, writing about wine textures can be a bit difficult, mostly because it’s writing about something we feel. And what we feel, as we all know, often goes beyond words. 

Don’t “Blow Off” Cybersecurity

person wearing a black jacket

By: Mark Sangster, Vice President and Industry Security Strategist, eSentire

Martin Luther, the famous German theologian and religious reformer, is credited with saying “Beer is made by men, wine by God.” Had he lived another 475 years, he likely would have added that “Cybercrime is made by the Devil.”  And, he wouldn’t have been too far off.

  Cybercrime is insidious: It knows no borders and as we’ve seen, knows no bounds. In fact, a report from Cybersecurity Ventures predicted that the global cost of cybercrime will reach $6 trillion USD this year. According to the 2019 Cost of Cybercrime study by Accenture and the Ponemon Institute, the average cost of cybercrime to a U.S. organization was $13 million — a significant sum. And, a report from my own company eSentire found that cybercriminals netted more than $45 million in the first four months of 2021 alone. But before you start thinking that means cybercriminals only go after the big guys, consider the fact that it’s small and medium-sized businesses (SMB) that are the primary targets for data breaches (Data Breach Investigation Report, Verizon 2020).

  To be sure, there are threat actors that are out to make trouble, whether it’s disrupting critical fuel pipelines or, like the modern-day equivalent of sleeper agents, quietly accessing classified systems to gather top-secret information or cripple it at a later date. However, what most companies encounter comes as the result of unadulterated greed from a run-of-the-mill cyber crook. Just like your average street criminal, these people attack businesses because that’s where the money is. And like it or not, SMBs, such as family-run wineries and vineyards, make for low-hanging fruit. Cyber attacks on the wine, spirits and beer industry have ramped up in the past year including hits on Brown-Forman, E & J Gallo Winery, Molson Coors, and the Campari Group.

The Earth Is Mine. (What About Your Network?)

  On the one hand, it’s a brave new world for the farming and production aspects of winemaking, thanks to automation advances. But on the other hand, a great deal of manual labor is involved, and despite advances, the wine industry is still considered very much old-school, lagging behind other industries when it comes to the use of technology.

  When you consider the production process from grape to glass, some of the greatest risk of cyber exposure lies on the farming side. Growing the perfect grape comes with a lot of moving parts, and like other production businesses, enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems are in place to track a variety of processes, from what pesticide was applied on which date,  to the costs involved, etc. Whereas how these things are tracked will vary from vineyard to vineyard, the common denominator is that in most cases the people interacting with these systems are predominantly field workers who might not be the most tech-savvy. Add to this the fact that many front-line remote systems are loosely managed and run on personal field laptops or mobile devices, and you have an ideal attack vector.

  Regardless of whether you are operating a small, family-run vineyard or have a large-scale wine operation, you face an even greater risk each time you sit down at your desk. The vast majority of cyberattacks begin with malware, typically embedded in an attachment sent with a seemingly innocuous email. Maybe it’s an invoice from a distributor you work with, maybe it’s your bookkeeper asking you to review a document, or maybe it’s a complete stranger, hoping you’ll slip up, open his attachment, and launch a malware script that will encrypt your data until you give in to his demands.

  While unsecured computer systems and mobile devices are common attack vectors, it’s safe to assume that as your operation grows, so too does your attack surface. Now wine operations have barcoded, inventory-tracking devices that are used on a remote workflow in the field. That information is fed into a central ERP system that’s tied to another automation system, and so on throughout the production process, as tank temperatures and acidity levels are monitored. Then, too, consider the controls that regulate humidity levels inside a facility or the transfer of wine from tank to tank. Any and all of these systems can be tampered with and if they are, it can negatively affect the end product and your business.

Data, Decanted

  Outside the confines of your vineyard or winery lie even further risks. Supply chains are attractive targets not just for the information they hold but the damage they can inflict if disrupted. Distributors, especially smaller ones, often track depletions manually and share updates via email. Consider the example of a small warehouse in Kansas City that might have 20 pallets of your wine and little to no security solutions in place and then consider how quickly a threat vector could spread via a spreadsheet attachment.

  On the retail side of wine operations, both on- and off-premise operations, offer up other strike zones. Each of these channels has its own supply and inventory management systems that track activity all the way out to individual shops, bars, and restaurants, which again, may or may not have the strongest security posture.

  Nor can you overlook the direct-to-consumer aspect. Customer relationship management(CRM) systems that are used to manage your wine club or market tasting events hold a wealth of personal information, not to mention credit card numbers. They’re gold mines for those looking to sell that information on the Dark Web for a tidy profit and scarily enough, you might never know you’ve been compromised.

Just Enough Rain to Stress the Vine: A walk in the cloud(s)

  In the face of myriad risk and attack vectors, it’s tempting to take the path of least resistance, and send up a prayer that you’ll be among the lucky ones to not suffer a cyber breach. But in today’s climate, that’s risking a lot more than bottle shock. Companies today, regardless of their size or industry, need to assume that it’s not a matter of if they will be targeted by cyber crime, but when. Depending on your size and budget, running a full-scale Security Operations Center might not be in the cards, but there are steps you should be taking to protect your business today and in the future:

●    Suspicious emails should trigger the same reaction as a wine that’s corked. Avoid it at all costs. Phishing emails are a popular attack vector, and unless you know what to look for (and how), you are putting yourself and your company at risk each and every day. Educate your staff on what to look for and make sure that whatever training they receive is specific to the vineyard/wine industry. People like to think they won’t fall for the “Congratulations! You’re a winner” emails, but are they prepared to investigate those emails from your attorney or best vendor? Additionally, you should ensure that your department systems are segmented, preferably using the principles of Zero Trust. That way, if one person accidentally opens a malicious email, they won’t be granting a hacker access to the whole system.

●    Maintain Security Hygiene: Network systems need to be maintained and cared for just as you would oak barrels. Security  hygiene is a critical component of cybersecurity and at the very least should include:

1.   Regularly patch and update your software You’d be surprised at the number of breaches that could have been avoided simply by keeping software systems patched and up-to-date. It’s estimated that a third of all data breaches come as a result of unpatched vulnerabilities when patches were available. (Looking at you, Equifax).

2.   Two-Factor Authentication Is a MUST . Make sure to implement two-factor authentication around all of your company’s key software applications and systems, providing an additional layer of security. Never, ever reuse passwords across accounts or devices, and if your budget allows, implement solutions that employ a Software Defined Perimeter (SDP) approach. Be aware, however, that while these solutions offer advanced security, because they are more complex they are costlier; plus, there are the added costs associated with hiring staff who have the proper expertise to manage them.

3.   Operate on a need-to-know-basis. In general, it’s a good idea to limit the amount of network access your employees have — compromised accounts can be used to create shadow employee accounts which in turn can be used to move around a network. It’s especially important that top-level executives and owners aren’t given the full set of keys to the kingdom just because they’re the boss. Senior-level employees and owners are prime targets for cybercriminals looking for ways to infiltrate a system and move around with impunity. Someone might ask why your front-desk staff is nosing around a payroll system, but no one will question the boss.

4.   Virtual private networks (VPN) are more than a good idea. They provide secure and encrypted connections between systems (files shares, email servers, etc.) and ensure that your communications can’t be intercepted.

5.   Lock down your operational technology (OT) systems and ensure that they are not left internet-facing.

●   Automation technology is complicated and protecting it, even more so. You can’t assume that everyone further down the supply chain is taking a serious approach to cybersecurity or even knows where to start. It’s incumbent on you to protect your business, so talk to the experts. Be sure to talk with your insurance providers, legal team and other key vendors to ensure you have a plan in place for when the inevitable happens.

Something to Think About

  Too often, companies fail to adequately protect themselves against cybercrime, because they are laboring under a trifecta of misconceptions:

●   “We’re not a bank or even a household brand name so we aren’t a target.” This is a prime example of absolutist thinking and the harm it can cause. To the thief, even the poorest person has something worth stealing.

●   “We could never defend ourselves against massive ransomware gangs and state-sponsored actors so why even try?” When it comes to the average cybercriminal, Thomas Crowne they are not. That said, there’s no reason to stand up when the bullets are flying. By carrying out basic cyber protections you can reduce your risk by up to 80 percent.

●   “We never saw it coming.” In the world of cybersecurity, by the time you see the red flag, it’s too late. Heed the little signs. They won’t all pan out to be cyber attacks, but when things go bump in the cybernight, it usually means there’s a monster there. It just hasn’t struck yet.

  The wine industry has a long and storied history and holds an important place in culture and daily life. From small vineyards to wine conglomerates, there are financial gains to be made for the hacker looking to grow his ill-gotten gains. By following some basic steps, you can ensure that cyber criminals are the only ones claiming sour grapes.

About the Author

  Mark Sangster is vice president and industry security strategist at eSentire. He is the author of No Safe Harbor: The Inside Truth About Cybercrime and How to Protect Your Business. Mark is an award-winning speaker at international conferences and prestigious stages including the Harvard Law School and RSAConference. He has appeared on CNN News Hour to provide expert opinion on international cybercrime issues, and is a go-to subject matter expert for leading publications and media outlets including the Wall Street Journal and Forbes when covering major data breach events.