Seven Small Family Wineries to Visit in the Umpqua Valley of Oregon

The small family winery is alive and well in the fairytale Umpqua Valley. Often overlooked with the mad rush to the Willamette Valley just one hour north, or the warmer Rogue and Applegate Valleys of Southern Oregon, the Umpqua wine region is located in the center of Oregon where two rivers converge into one of the most picturesque mountain valleys in the West. The word “Umpqua” is based on the Native Americans who lived in the area, and is thought to mean “thundering waters.”

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The Umpqua Valley of Oregon – View from Cooper’s Ridge Winery

The main town is Roseburg, with a population of 22,000, and is a great place to stay for a few nights while checking out the local wineries. Roseburg has a charming old downtown district complete with hometown shops and restaurants. Two of the great restaurants we visited were True Kitchen where some of the food is served in a skillet, including one of the best ice cream desserts I ever had, as well as Parrot House, located on the outskirts of Roseburg in a beautiful old Victorian House.

About Umpqua Valley Wine Region

With a winegrowing history from the 1880’s when Germans first brought vines to the region, today there are over 30 wineries and 1500 acres of vineyards in the Umpqua Valley. Most of the wineries are small friendly family-run wineries focusing on Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Tempranillo and Riesling, but also experimenting with many other grape varietals. I had a chance to visit for three days during the Greatest of the Grape Celebration, and was pleased to stop by and taste at the following seven wineries — all located within a short 20 to 30 minute drive of Roseburg. A map of the wine trails can be found HERE.

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Location of Umpqua Valley in Oregon. Photo Credit: OregonWine

Seven Umpqua Valley Wineries to Visit (Listed in Alphabetical Order)

Abacela – probably one of the largest and most famous wineries of the Umpqua Valley, Abacela produces around 10,000 cases and owns 77 acres of vines with 17 varieties planted. Owners Earl and Hilda Jones, great fans of Rioja, had a vision to establish a winery that could produce world-class tempranillo, along with other Spanish varieties such as Albarino.  They found the perfect location a few miles outside the town of Roseburg. Today their tasting room is large and filled with wine lovers who are attracted to their many award winning wines. This was my second visit to Abacela, and once again I was impressed by the wines, as well as the beautiful vineyard and picnic grounds just outside the door. Two of my favorites this time were the 2018 Albarino with refreshing lemon-lime notes, minerality and crisp acidity, as well as the 2008 Ten-Year Colheita Port made from the five classic port grapes in a tawny style with caramel, fig and a faint touch of cherries – truly mesmerizing and delicious.

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Hilda & Earl Jones of Abacela Winery. Photo Credit: Abacela.com

Bradley Vineyards – with vineyards first planted in 1983, the Bradley family were one of the first to plant grape vines in this upper region of the Umpqua Valley, and still sell grapes to many of the local wineries. Located in Elkton, their small winery is north of the central town of Roseburg. Producing only 1000 cases, the young winemaker, Tyler Bradley, enjoys experimenting with natural winemaking. From this he crafts a delicious 2018 Pet Nat Riesling, with a fresh floral nose, juicy white peach, nectarine, lemon and tiny bubbles. Another great wine was his 2017 Aligote with a bone dry palate of lemon, mineral and juicy acidity on a long and complex finish.

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Tyler Bradley of Bradley Vineyards

Brandborg Vineyards – one of the larger and more well-known wineries of the Umpqua, Brandborg was established by the very friendly and fun husband/wife team of Terry and Sue Brandborg. They specialize in award-winning single vineyard Pinot Noir, producing around 8500 cases annually, of which they sell 30% direct to consumer in their charming tasting room located in the little town of Elkton. A great place to stop by and taste wine, and then have lunch across the street at Tomaselli’s. Two of my favorites here were the 2014 Pinot Noir Ferris Wheel Estate with a seductive floral nose with a core of sweet raspberry, cola and earth on the palate. The 2015 Riesling was also extremely delicious with classic diesel, juicy peach, star fruit, and refreshing acidity. Yum!

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Terry & Sue Brandborg of Brandborg Vineyards

Cooper’s Ridge – Nestled in a beautiful valley with a great deck overlooking a magnificent view, Cooper’s Ridge is just a short drive out of Roseburg. Owned by Robin and Lesa Ray, the winery is named after their son, Cooper. They produce 2500 cases from 12 acres of vineyards, with seven different varietals. What makes this winery unique is the fact that they have become a community center for people to gather after work, have a glass of wine and appetizer, and enjoy the lovely view on the deck. This is because they stay open until 7pm.  Two of my favorites here were the 2016 Gruner Vetliner with ripe pear, clover and a hint of marmalade on the semi-sweet finish, as well as the 2015 Reserve Merlot with classic cassis, fruitcake, spicy oak and good concentration.

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Robin & Lisa Rey of Cooper’s Ridge Winery

Delfino Vineyards – with a last name that means “dolphin,” Terri and Jim Delfino adopted this symbol as the logo for their darling winery situated a few miles outside the town of Roseberg. Also sporting small guest cottages and a beautiful pond near the vineyards, this small winery is a relaxing place to visit and enjoy a glass of wine on the lawn. With 18 acres of vines, the Delfinos sell some of their grapes, but maintain enough to produce 1000 cases. My favorites here were the 2016 Tempranillo with a floral nose, notes of black cherry and tea followed by velvety tannins with very long finish; and the 2015 Forza – a dessert wine similar to a port made from Tempranillo with dark fruit, black chocolate and a rich long satisfying finish.

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Jim & Terri Delfino of Delfino Vineyards

Marsh Anne Landing – “Grenache sings here,” states Greg Cramer the owner of Marsh Anne Winery. Named by combining his middle name of “Marsh” and his wife’s middle name of “Anne,” this charming little family winery employs a “Space and Martian” theme, using images from the Hubble telescope on many of their labels. “The photos are actually in the public domain,” explains Greg. Producing only 700 cases per year, they sell all of their wine direct to consumers from the winery. With 17 acres of vineyards in back of the winery, it is a relaxing place to stop to taste wine or attend their summer jazz wine concerts and view their art collection. Two of my favorites here were the 2015 GSM with 70% bright and cheerful red Grenache bursting with cherries and berries, as well as an elegant 2015 Cabernet Franc with a perfumed violet nose and earthy black fruit.

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Greg Cramer of Marsh Anne Landing

Melrose Vineyards – this winery was managed by some of the friendliest people I’ve met in a long time. Situated in an old barn overlooking the vineyards, owner Wayne Parker rode up on his tractor to greet us. With over 200 acres of vineyards, Wayne primarily sells most of his crop to other wineries, but keeps enough back to produce 5000 cases per year. Two of my favorite wines here were the 2012 Parker’s Pinot Noir which was a big bold pinot brimming with red cherry, root beer, and cinnamon, and the 2015 Baco Noir with ripe jammy marion-berry, juicy acidity, and a long delicious finish.

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Wayne Parker of Melrose Vineyards with Sister-in-Law Janelle Parker

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Beautiful Old Oregon Barn – Tasting Room of Melrose Vineyards

Which Famous Global Wine Region Prohibits Swearing in the Vineyard?

(June 2019) Though vineyards can be very beautiful with their lush green foliage and jewel-like clusters of grapes, anyone who has worked amongst the vines knows that it can be back-breaking work with long hours of suckering, thinning, and sculpturing the vines.  Obviously on certain occasions, this could result in some exhausted workers letting loose a few swear words. However, there is one famous wine region of the world where the vineyards were considered to be so sacred and a gift from God that anyone caught cussing could be fined.

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Sacred Vineyards of Tokaj, Hungary

“The fine was actually doubled if you were a noble man,” explained Dr. Peter Molnar, General Manager of Patricius Winery and President of the Council of Tokaj.  Yes, the region was Tokaj, Hungary, and the timing was probably between 1631, when the sweet noble wine of Tokaj was said to be discovered, through the mid 1700’s, when the Church held so much dominance over the region.

“Our special Tokaj Aszu and Eszencia wines were coveted by kings, queens, and priests,” stated Peter. “From the beginning, these wines were so special that they were considered to be the wines of royalty.” Still called “liquid gold or liquid luxury today,” the rarest Eszencia’s are only produced in special years, each single berry picked individually by hand, and are so expensive that they are often served in a crystal spoon.

Tokaj Eszencia in Crystal Spoons

Tokaj Eszencia Served in Crystal Spoon

Given this background, it only makes sense that swearing in the vineyard was outlawed.  Indeed the “vineyard was like a church” and they had to be protected. This may be why Catherine II of Russia sent members of her royal army to guard the vineyards for more than 90 years. Yes, the history of the Tokaj region is rich, fascinating, and delicious.

Historical Tokaj Tasting at Buena Vista Winery

I heard all of these fascinating stories from Peter Molnar when I attended a historical winetasting at Buena Vista Winery in Sonoma, California on June 22, 2019. Peter, along with a delegation of Hungarian dignitaries, winery executives and guests, all enjoyed a tasting of four exquisite wines: a dry Furmint and 2008 Aszu under the Buena Vista label, but produced in partnership with the Patricius Winery in Hungary, and two rare Eszencias.

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Tokaj Wines Served at Historical Buena Vista Winery Tasting

Tokaj Eszencia is a special wine only made in certain years when the conditions are right to produce grapes of great sweetness in the small village of Tokaj in Hungary. Then it is aged in small demi-johns for years where it only ferments to about 5% alcohol, creating a drink of exquisite sweetness with notes of honey, apricot, marmalade and brown sugar. According Peter, it has excellent health properties with beneficial anti-oxidants. In the old days, it was used as medicine and served in a small spoon.

Buena Vista winery, owned by Jean-Charles Boisset, established this special partnership with Tokaj, Hungary to celebrate the history of Buena Vista, which is California’s oldest premium winery formed in 1863 by the Hungarian Count Agoston Haraszthy.

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A Photo with Dr. Peter Molnar, President of the Council of Tokaj

The “Terroir Whisperer” at Domaine de Villaine in Bouzeron, Burgundy

(May 27, 2019) It was only a 45 minute drive from my hotel in Vougeot to the small village of Bouzeron in the Côte Chalonnaise where I had a 10am appointment at Domaine de Villaine. I was greeted by winemaker, Pierre de Villaine, a slim man with a goatee and calm grey eyes. Even since tasting his Aligote several years ago in Beaune, I have been wanting to meet him, because he has an intriguing reputation of being a “terroir whisperer,” with strong beliefs in the benefits of organic and biodynamic farming, as well as the use of numerology to impact wine quality and energy.

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Entrance to Domaine de Villaine in Bouzeron, Burgundy

About Domaine de Villaine

The winery was started in 1971 by Aubert de Villaine, also general manager of Domaine de la Romanee Conti. Located in the village of Bouzeron in the Cote de Chalonnaise, Domaine de Villaine is a classic small Burgundian winery famous for focusing on Aligote – Burgundy’s other white grape, as well as the traditional Chardonnay and Pinot noir. Today they produce around 110,000 bottles per year, and own 30 hectares, as well as hold a lease on 6 more hectares. They focus on the appellations of Bouzeron, Satenay and Rully.

In 2001, Aubert persuaded his grandson, Pierre de Villaine, to take over daily operations. At first reluctant to leave his job as a lawyer in Paris, Pierre eventually got “infected by the wine bug” and agreed to take over as General Manager. He became fascinated by organic and biodynamic farming, as well as ancient numerology.

A Unique Cellar Designed According to the Divine Number

Pierre explained that they expanded the winery in 2015 to include a state of the art cellar based on the numerology wisdom of the ancient Egyptians, as well as the writings of Leonardo da Vinci. The ceiling of the cellar is filled with graceful arches “designed to link the ground to the sky,” and built according to the divine number of God, which is 1.618. The Great Pyramid of Khufu was also designed according to this number. This was all news to me, and is the first wine cellar I’ve ever visited that has been designed in this fashion. However, I looked it up online, and discovered that this is well-documented. See more information HERE.

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Barrel Cellar Designed According to the Divine Number

Winemaking at Domaine de Villaine

We toured the cellars first, and I was surprised to learn that Pierre ferments and ages all of his white wines, Aligote and Chardonnay, in large neutral oak foudres – meaning the whites are primarily unoaked with loads of pure fruit and terroir expression. He explained that the reason he does this is because the CO2 gases inside the foudres move around the wine forming an eternity pattern like the figure “8”, which is better for the wine and provides a higher level of energy.

Whites are produced in a non-interventionist fashion with a gentle pressing and then settling out in stainless steel tank overnight, before transfer to the large wooden foudres where they ferment with natural yeast and age on the gross lees for 12 to 14 months. In general he does not do battonage, but tops the tanks as needed. Minor additions of SO2 are made so that the total usually results in 25 to 35 mg/l – very low for white wine.

Pinot noirs are made in the traditional Burgundian fashion with fermentation in large open top oak barrels, pigeage twice a day, and then transfer to and aging in 30 to 40% new French oak for 12 to 18 months. Pierre said they usually do around 60% whole cluster. Again natural yeast is used, and very minimal SO2 — usually around 25 mg/l total for reds.

Before bottling both whites and reds spend time in a stainless steel blending tanks to marry wines from different plots and/or vineyards. This can last several weeks to several months. Then the wine is bottled and left to rest in bottle for a while before being sold around the world. Pierre said they export 65% of the wine to multiple countries, with the rest sold to restaurants and fine wine shops in France. In the US, Kermit Lynch is their importer.

Foudres for White Wines and Large Wooden Vats for Red Wines

Linking the Four Energies

Pierre spoke with passion about metaphysical properties that go into producing the wine. He explained that there are four energies that need to work together to allow both the fruit and the terroir to shine in the wine. These are: mineral energy, water energy, animal energy and vegetable energy. He said some of this is based on the ancient Celtic philosophies.

Though I did not understand a lot of his explanations, I could taste how everything seemed to come together in the wines. Both the whites and reds were vibrant, with amazing aromatics as well as ripe fruit and complex earthy terroir notes. Where oak was used, it was well-integrated, and all of the wines had both texture and energy. Following are my tasting notes and scores:

  • 2017 Bouzeron Aligote – very aromatic with lemon zest and minerals notes on palate with a touch of salinity; textured with a refreshing zippy acidity and a light finish. Delicate and delightful – 91
  • A side note on Aligote. Pierre explained that the only AOP for Aligote is Bouzeron. At the domain they use a 115 year old clone of Aligote that is pre-phylloxera. He has created a nursery to continue the cultivate the clone because the vine is already well-adapted to the terroir. It is “ massal selection,” and grows well on the hillside vineyards composed of limestone, clay and silt.
  • 2017 Cote Chalonnaise Les Clous Aime – 100% Chardonnay from multiple vineyards, pale straw in color with nose of honeysuckle, apple and lemon. Very fresh and juicy with enticing texture on the palate and zesty acidity. A wine of great energy and happiness – 92
  • 2017 Rully Les Saint Jacques – 100% Chardonnay from single vineyard. Aromatic floral nose, fresh kiwi on palate with a long juicy grapefruit finish and a touch of salt. Wow! This wine has lots of energy and personality. Pierre said it shows a “memory of the sea” that existed in the area in the past. Fell in love with this wine, but they were sold out – 95
  • 2016 Rully Premier Cru Les Margots – 100% Chardonnay from single vineyard. Ripe yellow apple on nose with creaminess on palate; rich and seductive with wet stone notes and a juicy high acid finish. Pierre said this wine is “digesting the fruit and letting the terroir come through…but the wine decides when it wants to do this.” – 92
  • 2017 Cote Chalonnaise La Digoine – 100% Pinot Noir from a monopoly vineyard. Very pale ruby color with a perfumed nose that reached out a hand to pull you down to a raspberry body with electric flashes of minerality. Light bodied and elegant but with exciting energy – very intriguing. 93
  • 2016 Rully Premier Cru Les Champs Cloux – 100% Pinot Noir from a single vineyard. Medium ruby purple; closed nose; black cherry and rhubarb palate; concentrated; tannic and young. Needs more time – 90 (Note: Pierre said I should come back to taste this wine the next day when it would have had the time to open up.)
  • 2016 Santenay Premier Cru Passetemps– ripe red maraschino cherry nose and palate; dipped in delicious dirt, with velvety tannins, rounded and concentrated body, and a long finish. A big and satisfying wine – 94
  • 2007 Aligote Domaine de Villaine – golden hue with pink tinge, butterscotch nutty nose, fresh and juicy on the palate with complex straw, oatmeal and a hint of white pepper on a long dry finish – 92
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Two of My Favorite Wines at Domaine de Villaine

Concluding Thoughts

This was a delightful visit and tasting, and Pierre was the ultimate gentleman host. I requested to purchase two bottles of wine to take home. Since I had already purchased the Aligote at the Hospices de Beaune wine shop, I decided to opt for a Chardonnay and Pinot noir that I thought could fit in my suitcase (later had to pay a penalty to Air France because my suitcase was too heavy). Since the Rully Saint Jacques Chardonnay was sold out, I opted for the 2017 Cote Chalonnaise Les Clous Aime, which I found delightful — especially since Pierre told me it was the local name for a happy wine.

I had already fallen in love with the monopole 2017 Cote Chalonnaise La Digoine, so I purchased this as well. It is rare that you can find such a light-bodied Pinot noir with so much character and flavor. The last one I had was a very expensive Faiveley. Pierre validated my choice by telling me a story of a famous British wine critic who had come to dinner at the domaine years ago to dine with Aubert and his wife. Aubert served an old La Digoine with an old DRC Echezeaux Grand Cru. At the end of the dinner, the wine critic admitted he had mixed up the two wines and thought La Digoine was the Echezeaux.

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The Winery Dog at Domaine de Villaine – Actually Quite Friendly!

 

Wine on Safari in South Africa – What is Available?

(January 2019) Going on safari to witness the majesty of the big five animals (lion, leopard, elephant, rhino and buffalo) is a dream held by many people, but for wine lovers there is also the question of “how is the wine on safari?” Fortunately in South Africa, the answer is “great,” because with more than 700 wineries in the country, South African safari lodges can afford to be generous with wine, and they are rightly proud to show off the delicious and well-balanced wines of their country.

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Elephant Sighting on Safari in South Africa

I am lucky to have just returned from a great safari that I booked with Siyabona Travel Agency, based in South Africa. They handled all details flawlessly, including booking lodges, meals, transportation between lodges and flights within the country.

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Giraffe Sighting on Safari in Kruger National Park

Wine at Imbali Safari Lodge in Kruger National Park

My favorite safari lodge was Imbali, located in Kruger National Park, where the hospitality is warm and friendly, and wine, beer, and cocktails are complimentary. Indeed, in my luxury suite complete with a comfortable bed draped with mosquito netting, there was a small refrigerator stocked with South African sauvignon blanc and pinotage, as well as all types of beer, sodas, and spirits. Guests can help themselves to a drink in one of the 12 private luxury cabanas this lodge provides, and then soak in their private plunge pool on the deck, while overlooking the river to see elephants, impala, and wildebeest foraging nearby.

Beautiful Bed and Private Plunge Pool at Imbali Safari Lodge

During lunch and the three course gourmet dinner each evening, a selection of 10 to 12 different South African wines, including sparkling, were available. Therefore during the three days I was there, I was able to sample a little of each of the wines and found them to be refreshing with crisp acidity, fruit-focused with some minerality, and lower alcohol – around 12%. My favorites were the dry chenin blancs, fruity pinotages, and crisp sauvignon blancs. I was also impressed with their very generous pours – usually around 6 ounces. Since the weather was hot, they often served white and rose wines with ice on the side, which I thought was a nice touch.

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Wine Served with Ice on Side During Hot Months in South Africa

Elephant Plains Lodge – Wine Served in a Silver Chalice with Rhinos

The second lodge we visited was Elephant Plains, which was equally luxurious but with more discrete professional service, rather than the overflowing friendliness of Imabli. Alas they also charged for wine, but the prices were very reasonable – as I found throughout South Africa. A glass of wine was usually $3 to $5, and a bottle ranged from $15 to $25. This was also the case in restaurants in Capetown. I love a country that doesn’t try to gouge consumers with ridiculous wine prices, and South Africa is one of the few places that makes wine affordable on-premise.  Due to this, I saw many people drinking wine in restaurants and bars during my visit, which is a positive way to highlight their unique and delicious cuisine –often featuring exotic farm-raised meats such as warthog, kudo, impala stew, ostrich, and buffalo.

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Lunch is Served Poolside at Elephant Plains Resort in South Africa

However the best part of wine at Elephant Plains Resort is the silver chalice they use to serve it on safari. It is lovely to be standing near your guide watching rhinos in the distance at a watering hole, and holding a chilled pewter wine glass filled with refreshing South African sauvignon blanc. Now that is a wine experience!

Drinking Wine and Watching Rhinos on Safari in South Africa

Gin & Tonic – A Common Safari Sundowner Cocktail

I must admit that due to temperatures hovering in the 90’s F (32 Celsius) most days that I often indulged in a gin and tonic for a “sundowner” – the term the South Africans use for happy hour. They also specialize in many types of gin, as well as unusual tonics, including pink or blue tonic. Our guide told us that gin and tonic was used as a means to ward off malaria in the past because mosquitoes do not like the taste of a person who drinks “quinine” used in tonic. Though I was taking malaria pills, I decided that it didn’t hurt to adopt the old fashioned method of drinking tonic water – even though medical doctors now say it will not help, because you must drink 67 liters of tonic per day for it to work!

Wine, Gin Tonic and Appetizers on Safari at Sunset

The Alluring Rhythm of a Safari Day Schedule

One of my favorite aspects of going on safari was the daily schedule. It felt like going back in time to a more gentile period when nature and the temperature ruled the day. The schedule is based on animal time, so you venture out of the lodge in the early morning and evening when the animals come out to drink water, eat, and play, and then sleep or relax during the heat of the day. It is a gentle rhythm that is addictive, and I find I miss it now that I am back into my regular exhausting work schedule. Here is the timetable that is followed by most luxury safari lodges:

  • 5:00am – someone knocks on your door to wake you up
  • 5:15am – coffee and biscotti served in the main lodge
  • 5:30- 8:30 – game drive with a coffee break mid-point, usually laced with Amarula – a South African liquor that tastes like Irish Cream –yum!
  • 8:30 – 9:30 – breakfast back at the lodge, usually a generous buffet
  • 9:30 – 1:00pm – relax (have a massage, exercise, take a nap, read a book, etc.) No television to distract and very spotty cell phone service, so you can truly relax
  • 1:00 – 2:00 – lunch, usually elaborate buffet with wine
  • 2:00 – 3:30 – relax some more
  • 3:30 – 4:00 – high tea with sandwiches, cakes, cookies, etc.
  • 4:00 – 7:00 – game drive with a cocktail break midpoint, where you have a choice of wine, beer or gin & tonic
  • 7:00 – 8:00 – relax, have a glass of sherry or juice handed to you with a chilled hand towel by a smiling server when you return to the lodge
  • 8:00 – 10:00 – gourmet three course dinner with wine and candlelight
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Kudo Venison Steak with South African Pinotage and Rose Wine

Luiz Argenta – A Must Visit Winery for Design, Architecture and Wine Cuisine in Brazil

Have you ever seen a wine bottle that takes your breath away? That is what happened to me when I was visiting a wine shop in Bento Gonçalves, Brazil and saw two wine bottles snuggled together with curving necks in an elegant embrace.

“Which winery produces these wines?” I asked.

“You will visit there at the end of the week,” responded our host, Diego. “The name of the winery is Luiz Argenta, and they are known for their artistic wine bottles and unique architecture.”

Diego was correct, because when we finally arrived at the entrance to Luiz Argenta Winery seven days later at 10am, I caught my breath in delight at the lovely sloping roof of the winery that clearly emulated the rolling vineyards that surrounded it. A long driveway snaked its way through verdant green lawns with tall trees in the distance. It was an incredibly stunning approach to a winery, and reminded me of how I felt when I first saw their embracing wine bottles – entranced!

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Winding Driveway to Luiz Argenta Winery in Brazil

We were greeted by Daiane Argenta, Marketing Director and daughter of the owner. “Welcome to Luiz Argenta Winery,” she said with a smile. “Please let me show you the view of the vineyards.”

We followed her up a curving set of stairs to a balcony the looked out over the vineyards. I caught my breath because it seemed like a sea of vines was laid out before more, winding their way up and down the rolling hills as far as the eye could see. For a wine lover like me, it was a mesmerizing view, and I couldn’t wait to taste the wines produced by these undulating vines.

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The Rolling Vineyards of Luiz Argenta Winery in Brazil

Vineyards and Wines of Luiz Argenta Winery

Daiane explained that the winery is located outside the town of Flores da Cunha, and boasts 55 hectares of vineyards that are part of the first large planting of vitis vinifera vines in Southern Brazil in 1929. There are 17 different grape varietals planted in the vineyard, and all wine is 100% estate produced. The property sits at 800 meters high (2400 feet), and has 27 different soil types. Each vineyard plot is named after a famous Brazilian musician.

Today Luiz Argenta Winery produces around 180,000 bottles per year, employs 31 people, and sell 25% direct to consumers who visit the winery. They can do this easily because of their well-known Clô Restaurante with stunning views across the vineyards. They also have a wine bar, offer tours and tastings, and even have a children’s play area. The tasteful wine shop offers not only wine for purchase, but local honey, jam, and juices also (see photos of restaurant and wine shop below).

They offer three-tiers of wines: 1) Joven – at an entry-level price point; 2) Classico – for the mid-tier; and 3) Cave – for their high-end wines. Wine styles range from sparkling to still wines, such as merlot, cabernet franc, chardonnay, gewürztraminer, sauvignon blanc, shiraz, and red blends. Sadly none of these wines are yet exported to the US market.

Architectural Design of Luiz Argenta Winery

Probably the most unique aspect of the property is the stunning architecture. Daiane explained that her family purchased the property in 2000, and decided to hire famous female architect, Vanja Hertcert, to design the state of the art winery and restaurant.

Vanja wanted to create a winery that would “match the rolling hills,” so she designed the spectacular curving roof, as well as curving staircases, domed wine caves with music, and conical fermentation tanks. The beautiful wine bottles with their embracing curves were created in Italy, and are so unique that each label must be hand applied. But the workers don’t mind, because soothing Brazilian Bossa Nova music winds its way around the cellar.

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Daiane Argenta Next to Conical Fermentation Tanks

A Lazy Three-Hour Wine Lunch at Luiz Argenta Restaurante Clô

After our tour of the cellars, Daiane led us upstairs to the restaurant on the third level of the winery. Our party of six was seated at a large table overlooking the vineyards. During the amazing three-hour lunch that followed, we were treated to eight different wines – several with unique bottle designs.

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Our Lunch Party at Clo Restaurant at Luiz Argenta Winery

The food was expertly prepared. We started with a fresh green salad, and then I had Ahi Tuna with black rice. Dessert was a delicious Brazilian flan.

Wine Tasting Highlights at Luiz Argenta Winery

Though all of the wines were expertly crafted by their Italian trained winemaker, my favorites were:

  • Luiz Argenta Cave Sparkling Rose Nature 2013 – 100% pinot noir, with 36 months on lees in bottle. Notes of strawberry, lemon and brioche with a creamy palate and refreshingly dry finish. Very elegant. 92 points
  • Luiz Argenta Cave Brut 2012 – 100% chardonnay, crisp yellow apple with contrasting minerality of wet stone and toast; Creamy lemon brulee notes with refreshing high acid finish. 48 months on lees in bottle. 93 points
  • Luiz Argenta Joven Gewürztraminer 2017 – classic floral notes with honeysuckle and jasmine. Dried apricot on palate with citrus. Refreshing bone dry finish, light and easy drinking. Comes in one of the beautiful curving paired bottles. 90 points
  • Luiz Argenta Classico Cabernet Franc 2014 – cassis, clove, and cinnamon with earthy notes; good concentration and complexity. 9 months aging in French oak. A top seller for the winery. 92 points
  • Luiz Argenta Cuvee Ripasso 2009 – a fascinating blend of merlot, cabernet franc and petite verdot made in the ripasso style. Inspired by his time in Veneto, the Luis Agento winemaker also makes an amarone style wine, and adds some of the left over pomace to this blend. Nearly black in color with a garnet edge, this wine delivers black plum, blackberry, earth and stewed fruit compote. With is massive tannins and long concentrated finish, it is truly magnificent. 95 points
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A Parting Photo with Daiane at Luiz Argenta Winery

Aurora Winery – A Disneyland of Sparkling Wine in Southern Brazil

(June 2018) It was raining lightly when we arrived at Aurora Winery in the town of Bento Gonçalves in southern Brazil. However, this did not matter because as soon as we entered the wide double doors we were transported into one of the top wine tourism experiences of the country. Beautiful women dressed in long red gowns from the glory days of 1800’s Brazil welcomed us with gentle smiles and gestured for us to enter the massive wine cellars.

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Golden Bacchus Statue at Aurora Winery in Brazil

About Aurora Vinicola – Largest Winery Cooperative in Brazil

Established in 1931, Aurora Vinicola (winery) is not only the largest winery in Brazil, producing more than 24 million bottles of wine per year, but is also the largest winery cooperative with 1100 families farming grapes for the venture. The winery pays the farmers 50% more than market price for their grapes at around 50 cents per kilo.  All grapes are hand-harvested from 2900 family vineyards, and the winery operations are certified ISO 9001, 14001, and 22000.

Today the winery employs 457 people, and holds 33% of wine market share in Brazil. In addition they export to 20 countries. Their specialty, like the majority of the wineries in Brazil, is producing sparkling wine, but they also produce some nice still wines as well. Because of their strong reputation, they attract more than 150,000 visitors each year to the winery, and amazingly do not charge a tasting fee. Visitors go on a guided tour with one of the beautiful women in the long red traditional gowns, and then are allowed to taste several wines along the way – ending in the very large wine shop so they can purchase something to take home.

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Tour Guide at Aurora Winery in Traditional Red Gown

A Winery Tour with Head Winemaker, Flavio Zilio

We were honored to have head winemaker, Flavio Zilio, export manager, Rosana Pasini, and enologist, Vitor Mizevski, escort us on a private tour through the massive cellars. The tanks were so tall in some rooms, that it seemed as if we were walking through a forest of giant trees. They had also maintained a museum of their original wooden tanks made from brazilwood, though they no longer use them to age wine.

                                                            Flavio and Rosana at Aurora Winery

Flavio allowed us to taste some of the base chardonnay wine from tanks, and explained that they produce all types of sparkling wines – ranging from traditional method with secondary fermentation in bottle, to charmant, and the Asti method. I was impressed to learn that they actually make sparkling Asti muscat wines all year long. Flavio said that fermentation lasts anywhere from 7 to 20 days, and they use nitrogen and CO2 to minimize oxygen impact.

As we explored the massive cellars, I was pleased to see many tour groups, as well as magnificent golden statues of Bacchus and grape chandeliers.

Tasting of the Wines of Aurora

We had a wonderful tasting of 13 different wines, along with an informative presentation. Everything was very professional, and I ended up identifying several wines that I thought were exceptional:

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Professional Wine Tasting at Aurora Winery in Brazil

  • Aurora 2018 Reserve Rosé   – made with merlot and tannat, it was very crisp and fresh with notes of cranberry and lemon. A very sophisticated rosé, it reminded me a bit of a dry cosmopolitan.  90 points
  • Aurora Prosecco NV – made in the charmant method, this was a classic sparkler with floral nose, white nectarine, and made from the prosecco grape grown in Brazil. Fresh and satisfying. 89 points.
  • Aurora 2017 Chardonnay Procedencias – complex toasty nose with lemon brule on a creamy palate. Aged 6 months in French oak, it was very enjoyable. Procendencias means “origins.” 91 points
  • Aurora Pinto Banderia Extra Brut NV – made in the traditional method, aged 24 months on the lees, this complex sparkling wine was filled with green apple, yeast, and a very high acid. Extremely refreshing, lemon-lime on palate with a very long finish. 60% chardonnay, 30% pinot noir, and 10% Italian Riesling. 92 points
  • Aurora Sparkling Moscatel – simple and very pleasing with floral, apricot, spice, and honey. Crowd pleaser – perfect for Sunday brunch. 90 points
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Our Group at Aurora Winery in Brazil

Casa Perini – Like Finding a Perfect Italian Wine Region in Brazil with 50 Shades of Muscato

(June 2018) Nestled deep in the rolling hills of Southern Brazil is a sleepy little valley filled with vineyards, Araucarias pine trees, wildflowers, and an old Italian styled winery called Casa Perini. Not only does the landscape look like Italy, but the home-made food spread out on the lunch table speaks loudly of the Italian heritage of father and son team, Benildo and Pablo Perini.

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Entrance to Casa Perini Winery

“My great great grandparents arrived here from northern Italy in 1876,” explains Pablo. “At first they planted a small vineyard and produced wine at a local coop, but in 1970 we started our own family winery.”

As Pablo and export manager, Barbara Ruppel, toured us around the property, we were impressed to see how large the winery had become. Today they produce 12 million liters of wine per year from 80 hectares of vineyards, as well as purchased grapes. They employ over 100 people, and specialize in sparkling muscato.

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Modern Production Facility of Casa Perini with 100 Employees

Fifty Different Shades of Muscato

“Casa Perini is located in the special appellation of Farroupilha GI. In this region, we produce 50% of all the moscato in Brazil,” stated Pablo, “and have more than 50 different clones of moscato in our vineyards. Indeed, we have been told that we have the largest diversity of moscato in the world, including some that was lost in Italy and now only survives here.”

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Some of the Sparkling Wines of Casa Perini

Tasting the Wines of Casa Perini

During my three hours at Casa Perini, I was able to taste 10 different wines, including a variety of sparkling moscatos, ranging from bone dry to very sweet. In addition, there were some lovely reds, including a Barbera, Marselan, Pinot Noir and a red blend. Probably most unusual was a 2007 sparkling rose, which was an orange color and tasted like “Tokay with bubbles.” Fascinating – who would think to age sparkling muscat!

Some of the highlights of the tasting for me were:

  • Casa Perini Nature – made in the traditional method with 56 months on the lees, this was a classic sparkler made with 60% chardonnay and 40% pinot noir. It had lovely notes of lemon meringue and cream brule with a very long luscious finish. 92 points
  • Casa Perini Ice – all the rage in France right now, this specially designed bubbly was made to add ice and enjoy as a cocktail. We tried it first without ice and it tasted intense and bitter, but with the ice it was softly sweet, fruity, and absolutely delightful. 89 points
  • Casa Perini Sparkling Moscatel – seducing the nose with notes of peach and soft berry, this semi-sweet moscato is a crowd pleaser with honey and nectarine on the palate followed by a crisp refreshing finish. 80 grams per liter sugar. 93 points
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Papa Perini with Son Pablo Onzi Perini

An Old Style Italian Lunch with Papa Perini in Brazil

“We need to hurry,” said Barbara, looking at her watch. “Papa Perini always likes to eat lunch right at twelve. We are a few minutes late.”

Sure enough, as soon as we rushed into a low stucco room filled with scents of tomato sauce, garlic, and basil, we saw Papa Perini already seated at the table with a large glass of Casa Perini Brazilian Barbera and a fresh green salad. “It’s time to eat,” he announced, beckoning to us.

As soon as we were seated, large platters of pasta, chicken cooked in herbs, fresh breads, and vegetables were brought to the table. We helped ourselves, family style, to the food, and tasted through some more wines at lunch, including the Casa Perini red grape juice, which is a favorite in Brazil.

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Our Group Having Lunch at Casa Perini

During the meal, Papa Perini peppered me with questions, in Brazilian Portuguese, about Trump. It was an interesting exchange, as Pablo translated his questions into English for me, and I could sense the quick intelligence and humor behind some of his statements.

Ending with a Classic Brazilian Dessert

Dessert was the classic Brazilian bowl of vanilla ice cream with fresh berries on top, and served with a chilled glass of pink sparkling moscato. Yes – the Brazilians really know how to do dessert right!  I left Casa Perini with a warm feeling, not only due to all of the comfort food I ate during lunch, but the authentic hospitality and friendly environment I encountered while visiting the enchanting little valley owned by Casa Perini in the rolling hills of Serra Guacha, Brazil.

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Classic Brazilian Dessert of Ice Cream & Berries with Sparkling Pink Muscat

Salton Winery – Started by Seven Brothers in Brazil with a Link to Scotland

(June 2018) Salton Winery is considered to be the oldest wineries in Brazil, and is also one of the largest. Established by seven brothers in 1910 in the city of Bento Gonçalves, Salton specializes in Brazilian sparkling wine production, but also produces still wines as well as tea. After my visit here at the end of June, where I met with Gregorio Salton, a member of the 4th generation of the family, I left truly impressed with all of the investments they have made in quality control, including ISO9000 and 14000 certifications for the winery.

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Entrance to Salton Winery in Southern Brazil

About Salton Winery

As is the case with many Brazilian wineries, Salton was established by emigrants from Northern Italy who came to the Serra Gaucha wine region. In this case it was the year 1878, when Antonio Domenico Salton, came to Brazil to seek his fortune. Like many emigrants, he planted grapes and made home wine, but established Salton Winery much earlier than others – in 1910, with the support of his seven sons.

Today Salton produces 25 million liters of wine and makes 60 to 70 different labels. They purchase 70% of their grapes from local grape growers, but also own 50 hectares of their own vines in Serra Gaucha and another 115 hectares further south in the Campanha region. They employ 500 workers and export their wine to 24 different countries.

The winery headquarters is just outside of town, and is a very large impressive white stucco building with mosaics inside and out. In the front is a small demonstration vineyard.  The winery offers daily tours and tastings for visitors.

Linkage to Scotland

When I asked Gregorio the origin of the name, Salton, he replied that it was a small town in the middle of Scotland. Definitely not an Italian name, he thought that perhaps his ancestors from Italy had married into a family from Salton.  Regardless the name Salton is great name for a winery, being that it is easy to spell, pronounce and remember. An intriguing question is – how many people in Scotland are buying Salton wine from Brazil?

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Salton Winery Visitor’s Center and Wine Shop

How to Make Sparkling Charmant in Brazil

Gregorio and Cesar, International Relations Manager (see photo below), took us on a tour of the very large and impressive cellars. We traversed a catwalk winding through a forest of massive stainless steel tanks where the majority of the sparkling wine is produced.  Gregorio explained how they produce their sparkling charmant, which is a different method from secondary fermentation in bottle (Method Champenoise), because the second fermentation takes place in a large tank.  This is a faster process, and the way that much Prosecco is produced (though some high-end Prosecco uses second fermentation in bottle).  In fact, Salton does produce a “Prosecco” made with the Glera grape, just as is still done in northern Italy. This is the process they use:

  1. Harvest the grapes early at lower brix so they are fresh.
  2. Destem and then press as whole cluster
  3. Transfer 60% of the pressed juice to stainless steel tank for a 1-2day cold stabilization.
  4. Transfer to new stainless steel tank, add selected yeast with a neutral character and ferment at 16 degrees Celsius for 7 to 10 days. No malolactic fermentation.
  5. Clarify the still wine with filters and centrifuge.
  6. Create blend – may use still wine from an older vintage (making NV) or can also produce vintage charmant.
  7. Transfer to new stainless steel tank; add yeast, sugar and nutrients for secondary fermentation in tank to create bubbles. Leave space at top of tank, and keep temperature at 10 – 12 C.
  8. Continued secondary fermentation for 1, 3, 6, or 12 months, depending on style and price point of the charmant being produced.
  9. Add dosage to tank and stir before bottling.
  10. Lower temperature to zero degrees for bottling.

Wine Tasting at Salton Winery

After the tour, we were escorted to a private tasting room where we tasted nine different Salton wines, beginning with three charmants and then six still wines.  Following are the highlights from the tasting:

  • Salton Natural Brut Sparkling Rose NV – Fresh and fruity with strawberry, watermelon and crisp lime notes (charmant method). 88 points
  • Salton Sparkling Reserva Ouro NV – A complex cuvee with creamy mouthfeel and citrus and nutty notes. Made from chardonnay, pinot noir and Riesling. Aged 12 month sur lie with battonage, but still made in charmant method. Quite impressive. 90 points.
  • Salton Marselan Intenso 2016 – oozing with blueberry and mocha; rich and satisfying – amazingly no oak! Delicious.  91 points

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Charcuterie & Charmant in a Magical Cave before Departure

At the end of the tasting, Cesar surprised us, by leading us down a staircase to a dark cellar with many tunnels leading in different directions. We wound through the tunnels, which were filled with Gregorian music of chanting monks and beautiful angel statues in different corners. It was quite enchanting, and Cesar said that tourists loved it.  So did I!

Eventually the tunnel opened into a stone room with a fireplace, and a large round table with an inlaid geometric design. It reminded me of the round table of the Knights of King Arthur and Queen Guinevere. Sitting on the table was a large platter of charcuterie, which we were invited to enjoy along with another glass of delicious sparkling Salton charmant.  As we raised our glasses in a toast, I thought it was a great way to conclude our magnificent tour of Salton Winery.

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Lidio Carraro Winery – Boutique Producer of Pure Natural Wines from Brazil

(June 2018) If you enjoy visiting small boutique wineries where you are invited to taste wine in the family home, then Lidio Carraro Winery in the Serra Gaucha wine region of Brazil is for you. Even better is the fact that Lidio Carraro is the Brazilian leader in producing natural wines, based on their purist philosophy of winemaking with no additives, no filtration and not even any wood on red wines! The result is fresh and delicious wines with distinctive personality.

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A Visit to Lidio Carraro WInery in Southern Brazil

Background of Lidio Carraro

The Carraro family emigrated from the Veneto region of Italy in 1875 to Bento Gonçalves, in the heart of Brazilian wine country. For many years the family grew and sold grapes, but in the 1990’s, Mr. Lidio Carraro decided to focus on cool climate Merlot with a vision to produce very high quality low-interventionist wine. Soon the whole family was involved, with sons Juliano and Giovanni involved in winemaking and daughter Patricia and Mama Carraro devoted to marketing and hospitality. With this dynamic family team, Lidio Carraro Winery launched in 2001, inviting customers to visit them in their small charming home to taste wines.

Today Lidio Carraro produces around 400,000 bottles per year, and exports wine to 28 countries. They sustainably farm 8 hectares of vineyards in Serra Gaucha and another 50 hectares of vineyards further south in the Serra do Sudeste wine region. They have six tiers of wine, beginning with the entry level Faces brand, to the mid-priced Agnus, Dadivas and Elos labels, and culminating with the luxury tier of Singular and Great Harvest – only produced in the best years. Styles and varietals ranges from sparkling, cool-climate merlot, chardonnay, pinot noir, tempranillo, malbec, teroldego, nebbiolo, and tannat.

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Wine Tasting at Lidio Carrano Winery

“I Don’t Want to Make Coca-Cola Wine”

So how did Lidio Carraro become the leader in Purist Natural Wine in Brazil? According to daughter, Patricia Carraro, who welcomed us to their small charming home to taste wine, “In the 1990’s my father, Lidio, became upset with the types of wines that were being made globally.  He called them Coca-Cola wines and said he didn’t want to produce wines that all tasted the same.” Therefore, the family decided to adopt a very purist philosophy, similar to what was being made in northern Italy in the 1800’s.

Today this purist philosophy fits perfectly into the “natural wine movement,” because Lidio Carraro produces their wines in a very natural fashion.  The vines are farmed organically with all work done by hand. Grapes are picked by parcel and fermented with natural yeast. There is no fining, filtering, or additions, and all wines are aged without oak. This results in wines with very pure fruit and earthy notes, and sometimes with the slightly cloudy texture that is desirable in natural wines. Each vintage is unique, and so the wines exhibit the influence of each year’s distinctive climate.

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The Carrano Family in their Vineyard. Photo Credit: LC Website

A Team of Powerful Wine Women

Though I have visited wineries all over the world, and have received extremely friendly welcomes, I must admit that Lidio Carraro was one of the friendliest wineries I’ve ever encountered. As I walked up the short flight of stairs to the old family home and into the living room, which was set up as an informal tasting salon, I was literally welcomed with open arms by four women. These included Mama Carraro, daughter Patricia, Export Manager, Monica, and Hospitality Manager, Leticia. They proceeded to entertain us with stories of the winery, their travels, and a fabulous line-up of wines to taste.

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A Warm Welcome from the Lidio Carrano Team

I was extremely impressed with the overflowing passion and enthusiasm of Patricia Carraro, as she described the deep symbolism that was expressed in the logo of the winery and the individual names of the wines:

“Our logo is a bunch of grapes in the shape of Brazil,” she explained tracing her fingers over the delicate Lidio Carrano logo, “and the red color is to express the life blood of wine and the beat of passion in our hearts.”

“The name of each wine is also very relevant,” she continued. “For example, our Dadivas line, comes from the Latin ‘Da Divas ‘and means “a gift from heaven’ and ‘to celebrate life.’”

Highlights from the Tasting

We tasted through a delicious selection of very unique wines. Following are some of my favorites:

  • Dadivas Espumante Brut Lidio Carraro NV – a 100% chardonnay with tart apple, lemon and yeasty notes. The official sparkling wine of the World Cup in Brazil.  Refreshing. 90 points
  • Faces Rose of Pinot Noir Lidio Carrano 2016 – a beautiful pale pink rose with soft strawberry, zippy citrus and a slight yeasty note. Lovely. 89 points
  • Lidio Carrano Merlot 2011 Grand Harvest – a superpower of a merlot with dark plum, chocolate, herbs, and structured tannins. Very complex and long. 94 points
  • Lidio Carrano Quorum 2008 Grand Harvest – masterfully crafted red blend of merlot and cabernet sauvignon, with complex black cassis, anise, forest floor and fine-grained tannins. It is pretty difficult to believe that there is absolutely no oak in this wine! 93 points

Miolo Winery – One of the Most Beautiful Wineries in Brazil

(June 2018) The first view of Miolo Winery almost takes your breath away. It seems like a fairytale winery with its impressive gates and tall tower, all nestled amongst flowing vineyards and sleeping mountains filled with fog. I took this photo of Miolo Winery from my hotel room on the first morning of my visit to Brazilian wine country. Since I arrived late at night, I had no idea what I would see when I opened the curtains in the morning, but this was the view. At the time, I didn’t know it was Miolo Winery, but was very pleased to learn I would visit it the following day.

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Miolo Winery in Southern Brazil, Serra Gaucha Wine Region

Miolo does not disappoint, because it is a very professional winery, ranked as one of the largest in Brazil. Due to its size, Miolo produces a wide variety of wine, ranging from high-end luxury brands, to mid-priced premium, and entry-level wines. They make a wine for every pocket book. Indeed their tasting room is packed with visitors everyday, who arrive on buses to enjoy winery tours and tastings, thus allowing Miolo to achieve over 300,000 wine tourists per year.

The View from the Top of Miolo Tower

We were welcomed to Miolo by Anderson Tirloni, Export Manager, who provided a tour of the facilities beginning with an elevator ride to the top of the tower. The view of the vast property with picnic ground and lake was very impressive. So were the demonstration vineyards, which included a wide variety of different grape varietals for visitors to examine.

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View of Miolo Grounds from Top of Tower

Impressive Winemaking Facilities

Due to its large size, the winemaking facilities at Miolo are quite expansive. We donned protective clothing, including head covers and smocks for the tour, but I don’t think we would have won any fashion competitions (see photo). I was especially impressed with the size of the laboratory, where we met one of the enologists.

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Dressed to Tour Miolo Winemaking Facility

Altogether Miolo farms over 1200 hectares of vineyards and produces around 15 million liters of wine per year. They have four different winemaking facilities, and multiple winemakers. Michel Rolland has been a consulting winemaker in the past. Miolo also owns the old Almaden winery that was established in Brazil in the 1970’s. They continue to produce some of the original brands from that facility.

Expansive Tasting of Miolo Wines

Anderson had organized a large tasting of Miolo wines, which allowed us to understand the wide range of their wine brands and styles. Some of my favorites included:

  • Miolo Milliseme Brut 2008 – a beautifully crafted sparkling wine with ripe apple, toast, creamy persistent mousse, crisp acidity, and a touch of minerality. Chardonnay and pinot noir made in the traditional method – 90 points
  • Miolo Quinta do Seival Portuguese Blend 2015 – a blend of Tinta Roriz and Touriga Nacional. Black in color with mixed dark berries, spice, tobacco, cedar, and violets. Concentrated and complex – 91 points
  • Miolo Cuvee Giuspepe Red Blend 2015 – A blend of cabernet sauvignon and merlot aged in 100% new French oak. Richly textured with ripe cassis, red plum, and tobacco – 92 points

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