Poverty Bay and the Bay of Plenty

Vineyards in New Zealand's Gisborne/Poverty Bay area (photo via http://www.nzwine.com/)

Vineyards in New Zealand’s Gisborne/Poverty Bay area (photo via http://www.nzwine.com/)

This post is totally based on my own curiosity about geography—which pops up at random times during wine studies—such as last night while I was reviewing the wine map of New Zealand. I noticed that Gisborne is also known as Poverty Bay. What place on earth would want to be known as Poverty Bay?

To me, this is a burning question, in need of well-researched answers—and some wine-related context as well! There’s a fine line, it seems, between a wine geek and a geography geek; and we might as well throw history geek in there as well, because the name Poverty Bay, and its (perhaps) better half up the road a bit, the Bay of Plenty, relate back to Captain James Cook (1728-1779), a captain in the British Royal Navy who made three voyages to the Pacific Ocean, and is believed to be the first European to reach Australia and the Hawaiian Islands and to circumnavigate New Zealand.

Poverty Bay


There is a lovely series of bays where the city of Gisborne, on New Zealand’s North Island, meets the South Pacific Ocean.  The largest of these is known as Poverty Bay, which stretches for about 6 miles south to a place called Young Nick’s Head. (This too must be explained…it seems that the area, a headland, was the first land sighted by the crew of Captain Cook’s ship, The Endeavour, on October 7, 1769. A reward of a barrel of rum and the right to name the landmass had been offered to the first crewman to sight land; the reward was claimed by 12-year-old Nicholas Young.)

Later that day, the ship’s crew went ashore.  They encountered the residents of the land, the Maori, and it did not go well. The first meeting led to the death of 6 Maori, and the crew, quite battered themselves, returned to their ship without any of the provisions they had hoped to acquire. For this reason, Captain Cook gave the area the name “Poverty Bay.” Perhaps they should have stayed with Maori name, which at the time was Teoneroa; today it is Te Kuri o Paoa.

From the department of I thought this was a wine blog: These days, Gisborne/Poverty Bay is the third largest producer of wine (in terms of volume) in New Zealand, and yet it seems to be somewhat obscure. Perhaps it’s the out-of-the way location. The area currently has 4,735 acres (1,915 ha) of vines. Chardonnay is the most widely planted variety, at about 2,312 acres (936 ha). Pinot Gris is next, with 950 acres (381 ha). Gewurztraminer, Merlot, and Viognier are widely planted as well. New Zealand’s super-star grape, Sauvignon Blanc, actually comes in around sixth place in Gisborne, with about 138 acres (56 ha) planted.

Vineyards in the Waikato/Bay of Plenty area (photo via http://www.nzwine.com/)

Vineyards in the Waikato/Bay of Plenty area (photo via http://www.nzwine.com/)

Being part of the widest part of the North Island, Gisborne records some of the most sunlight hours and warmest overall temperatures in New Zealand, so much so that the grapes here are often the first in the country to be ready for harvest. Gisborne is also the easternmost part of New Zealand, meaning the vineyards here are the first vineyards in the world to greet each new day.

The Bay of Plenty

After the unfortunate encounter at Gisborne, Captain Cook’s crew sailed north to what is now known as the Bay of Plenty. Here he was able to get the provisions he needed, and noted that it was an area “full of plantations and villages” that was “a bay of plenty.” Bay of Plenty is still a lush area, with orchards of kiwi fruit, avocadoes, and citrus, not to mention the vineyards and abundant seafood nearby. The Māori name for the Bay of Plenty is Te Moana-a-Toi (“the sea of Toi”), in honor of the Maori explorer Toi-te-Huatahi.

In the interest of the “wine” part of this blog: The regions of Bay of Plenty and its neighbor-to-the-west, Waikato, are generally lumped together when discussing the wine of the area. These regions, located just south of Auckland, currently have a tiny but growing wine industry—mainly small vineyards tucked between fruit orchards and dairy farms. Chardonnay is the leading grape variety here, followed by Cabernet Sauvignon and Sauvignon Blanc.


The area is one of the warmer regions in New Zealand, owing to its more northerly location (remember this is the Southern Hemisphere),  the width of the land mass, and the protection of the Hakarimata Mountain Range  The soils are quite fertile, due to the wide floodplain of the Waikato River and several other rivers.  Some areas around Waikato/Bay of Plenty were previously swampland, made accessible for agriculture via large drainage programs implemented by European settlers.

Stay tuned for more on New Zealand’s landmarks—such as Cape Foulwind, the Farewell Spit, and Cape Kidnappers (complete with wine information from the regions of “Sunny Nelson” and Hawke’s Bay).

 The Bubbly Professor is “Miss Jane” Nickles of Austin, Texas… missjane@prodigy.net

The Icy Benguela


I’ve been curious about the Benguela Current for a while. My original curiosity about the Benguela Current was about the name —how did it get that very cool name? It seems it all begins with Portuguese sailors in the 1500s.

In the Age of Discovery, Portuguese Sailors—known for skill and courage in ocean navigation —often sailed the long and arduous ocean journey around the continent of Africa to Asia. During such voyages, they had to fight against two mighty ocean currents: the icy Benguela current that flowed northward along the coast of Africa while they were trying to sail south; then, after they rounded the Cape of Good Hope, they sailed north while fighting the warm and southward-flowing Agulhas Current. If the journey was successful, they reached Asia and accessed the famed Indian Spice Routes. Such accomplishments helped the Portuguese form their empire, which at various times included parts of Africa, the Middle East, India, South America, and South Asia.


The namesake of the Benguela Current (as it is now known) is a city in present-day Angola.  The area surrounding Benguela, due to its location near the coast and a well-traversed deep bay, has been a center of commercial trade since ancient times.  While there is no written record of the history of the area before the arrival of the Portuguese in 1546, it is believed that the area was formerly known as ombaka, which means, literally, “commercial (or ‘market’) port.” When the Portuguese colonized the area, a town was founded and named São Felipe de Benguela (Saint Philip of Benguela) after King Philip II of Spain and Portugal.

So back to ocean current: the icy Benguela Current flows from the Southern Ocean near Antarctica and moves north along the west coast of Africa. It reaches as far north as Angola (close to the city of Benguela, in case you missed that point) before it turns west and heads to South America. The Benguela Current is part of a large circulating ocean current known as the South Atlantic Ocean gyre. The western edge of the gyre is known as the Brazil Current; the Brazil current flows southward down the coast of Brazil, then turns east and flows across the ocean until it reaches Antarctica. From Cape Point in South Africa (at about 33°), the cold portion of the current known as the Benguela current flows northward along the west coast of Africa to the area around Angola/Benguela (about 16°S).


            Cape Agulhas…pick your ocean!

Near Cape Point, where a portion of the cold Benguela Current of the Atlantic meets the warm south- and west-flowing Agulhas Current of the Southern Pacific Ocean, the waters become wild and turbulent. It’s a common practice while on vacation in Cape Town to journey down to Cape Point, take a short hike, get your picture taken by the sign, and stare out to sea at the “place where two oceans meet.” (Hey, I did it.) However, the truth is that the ocean currents actually intermingle for hundreds of miles in either direction—both east and west of Cape Point—and that the “point where two oceans meet” is likely to be anywhere between Cape Point and about 100 miles west at Cape Agulhas (which is actually the southernmost point on the African continent and worth a visit as well).

From the department of I thought this was a wine blog:  Good point. All I can say is that my curiosity concerning Benguela Current peaked while studying the wines of South Africa. The winelands of South Africa’s Western Cape are cooled by the moist fog and gentle breezes generated by the Benguela Current, which also generates the not-so-gentle south-easterly wind known as the “Cape Doctor.”


Super-sharp students of wine might also have perked up with the mention of Cape Point, which is the former name of the Cape Peninsula wine district; and Cape Agulhas, a wine district located in the Cape South Coast. Cape Peninsula is a small area located on a narrow, rugged area just south of Cape Town and east of Constantia (both wine regions are easily accessed via taxi or tour bus from Cape Town). Cape Peninsula produces snappy, cool-climate white wines and is particularly adept at Sauvignon Blanc. The terroir of Cape Agulhas, about 100 miles down the coast, is also markedly maritime—distinctly cool and breezy—and known for a crisp, snappy style of Sauvignon Blanc, apricot-and-lemon laced Semillon, and a unique cool-climate style of Shiraz.


The Bubbly Professor is “Miss Jane” Nickles of Austin, Texas… missjane@prodigy.net






English PDO Wine – Who Knew?


We’ve been hearing a lot about English wine lately – especially sparkling wine. I’ve even heard that wineries in Sussex have applied for PDO status. When I heard that I thought that English wines must have truly arrived – who would have imagined a PDO wine from England!

Little did I know that English Wines have had PDO status since 2007. Welsh wines have a PDO as well. And both regions—England and Wales—have had PGI status for wine, also since 2007. We’re going to have to get used to using terms like Chapel Down, West Sussex, and Hush Heath in relation to quality wine.

Who knew?

The PDO for English wine specifies that the wine must be produced 100% using grapes that are grown in England at a maximum elevation of 220 meters (722 feet) above sea level. Enrichment (chaptalization) is permitted within certain guidelines, as well as sweetening (after fermentation). Acidification is not allowed (although exceptions can be made in exceptional years at the discretion of the Commission). The list of approved grape varieties has about 80 grapes —including both vinifera varieties and hybrids.


English PDO sparkling wine  must be produced using the traditional method.  Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Pinot Noir Précoce, Pinot Munier, Pinot Blanc, and Pinot Gris are the only varieties allowed for use in English PDO sparkling wine.  The wine must spend at least 9 months aging on the yeast lees in the bottle before being disgorged.

The main difference between the PDO and PGI standards seems to be that there are no limits on the elevations for grape growing for PGI wines. Other production regulations are similar, yet a bit less stringent in terms of yields (100 hl/ha allowed as opposed to 80 hl/ha), enrichment, and sweetening. English PGI sparkling wines also have a long list of allowed varieties (as compared to the short list of six allowed in the PDO).

Here’s a few more fast facts on wines from England and Wales:

  • Number of vineyards: more than 470
  • Number of wineries: more than 135
  • Average annual production (2010-2014): 3.77 million bottles
  • Acreage under vine: 4,940 acres (2,000 hectares)
  • Largest single vineyard: Denbie Wine Estate (165 acres/177 hectares)
  • ...

    Style of wines produced (approximate): 66% sparkling, 24% still white, 10% red/rosé

  • Most widely grown grapes: Chardonnay (21%), Pinot Noir (19%) and Bacchus (9%)—followed by Seyval Blanc, Pinot Meunier, Richensteiner, and Müller-Thurgau.

The United Kingdom (which includes England, Wales, Scotland, and Ireland—at least for now) has protected many of its products with geographical indications and designations of origin. They include 62 different foods—including Traditional Cumberland Sausage, Stilton Cheese, and Cornish Clotted Cream—as well as Irish Whiskey, Scotch Whisky, six types of cider and three types of beer (Kentish Ale, Kentish Strong Ale, and Ruland Bitter). Other protected products include Native Shetland Wool, East Kent Goldings Hops, and Anglesey Sea Salt.

Who knew?


The Bubbly Professor is “Miss Jane” Nickles of Austin, Texas… missjane@prodigy.net

Lisbon – Cherry Pits and All

Elevador de Santa Justa

Elevador de Santa Justa

When in Lisbon…when in Rome…what we’re trying to say is, when traveling, its a nice idea to try to do as the locals do! “Going local” is excellent advice for any traveler, and during my short stay in Lisbon I tried my best to act like a local, which to me meant having my morning coffee on the terrace at the Café A Brasileira, riding the yellow trams out to the Belém district to get Pastel de Nata at the Pastéis de Belém, and taking the Elevador de Santa Justa up to Carmo Square. (That last one might actually be a bit touristy – but it was very cool.)

Another thing I learned to appreciate in Lisbon was Ginjinha, the traditional morello cherry liqueur of Portugal. Many shops will serve a drink of Ginjinha to customers and it is often homemade, but the coolest way to drink Ginjinha is at one of the many storefront Ginjinha bars in Lisbon.  If you happen to be new to Lisbon, and suddenly find yourself wondering why everyone is standing around, sipping red liquid from tiny plastic cups, surrounded by a sea of cherry pits – congratulations, you’ve stumbled upon a storefront Ginjinha Bar!

Yellow Trams in Lisbon

Yellow Trams in Lisbon

Ginjinha is made by infusing ginja berries (as sour Morello cherries are locally known) in brandy. Sugar is also added, along with cinnamon and, perhaps, other ingredients. Ginjinha is traditionally served in a shot form with a piece of the fruit in the bottom of the cup. If you didn’t get a cherry in the bottom of your cup – ask for one!

Not surprisingly, there are numerous stories about the origins of Ginjinha, however, most people are content to give credit to Francisco Espinheira, a Galician friar who lived at the Igreja de São Domingos (Church of St. Dominic) in the Santa Justa area of Lisbon. As the story goes, the friar had the idea to soak some cherries in the local aguardente (Portuguese brandy) along with some sugar and spices. The rest, as they say, is history in terms of the popularity of the drink, and the Igreja de São Domingos went on to become the first place in the city to sell Ginjinha.

A Ginjinja in Lisbon (of course)

A Ginjinja in Lisbon (of course)

As a matter of fact, the neighborhood around the church remains one of the best places to sample Ginjinha, for tourists and locals alike. Here, carved into the side of a building across the square from the Teatro Nacional D. Maria II you’ll find a counter front with the name “A. Ginjinha” painted in an arch across the top. Hand the gentleman at the counter a euro, and be sure and tell him “obrigado” or “obrigada” if you are female. You might get a glass shot glass, but if it’s a busy time it will be plastic. Never mind…just find yourself a spot of the sidewalk, sip the delightful cherry liqueur and – don’t be shy – eat the cherry and then spit the pit out on the sidewalk for those who journey behind you to trample upon.

Homemade Ginjinha is common, although there are many commercially produced varieties. Ginjinha Portuguese has been awarded PGI status by the European Union and one particular version, Ginjinha de Óbidos e Alcobaça, has applied for PGI status as well.

The Bubbly Professor is “Miss Jane” Nickles of Austin, Texas… missjane@prodigy.net

Misfits of Alsace



The wines of Alsace are a bit of an enigma. They are truly French, and yet certain aspects of their style, culture, and tradition are strongly Germanic. They are the only AOC-level French wine to have labeled their top-tier wines with the name of the grape variety for the last 40 years. They are also unique in that they have 51 Grand Cru vineyards, and yet not every producer or even every Grand Cru is thrilled about the fact.

Despite its long history of wine production, Alsace was one of the last of France’s major wine regions to be granted AOC status. The AOC was first created in 1962; the delightful sparkling wines of the region – Crémant d’Alsace – were awarded a separate AOC in 1976.

In 1975, Alsace awarded its first Grand Cru to Schlossberg, with more designated in 1983. Another 24 vineyards were promoted in 1992, and one more – Kaefferkopf, the 51st – in 2007. As of 2011, each of Alsace’s 51 Grand Cru Vineyards were awarded their own separate AOC.

With few exceptions – which we’ll discuss below – Alsace Grand Cru must be a white wine produced 100% from a single variety of the four “Noble” grapes of Alsace – Riesling,  Muscat, Gewurztraminer, or Pinot Gris. (Wines labeled as “Muscat” may be made with Muscat’s Ottonel, Blanc à Petits Grains, and/or Rosé à Petits Grains variations.) Alsace Grand Cru wines must be vintage dated, cannot be released until June 1 of the year following harvest, and must be bottled in a traditional, tall bottle – the Flûte d’Alsace. They are typically considered to be dry, although in some years a tickle of sugar can be detected; they may be produced in sweet styles as well. Vendage Tardive (late harvest) and Sélection de Grains Nobles (botrytis-affected) versions must be hand harvested and require an additional year of aging.



Which leads me to the “misfits” of Alsace – meaning those Grands Crus that are delightfully unique and/or unusual.  With 51 Grands Crus, there is a lot of information to corral. (If you’d like to do just that, I suggest this link.) So here are a few of the outliers – the biggest, the smallest, and the three that have exceptions to the “noble grapes only and no blends” rule.

The First and the Biggest: Schlossberg – The Grand Cru of Schlossberg, located on the slopes above the communes of Kayserberg and Kientzheim in the Haut-Rhin, is the largest Alsace Grand Cru – clocking in at 197 acres (80 hectares). Schlossberg also happens to be the oldest of Alsace’s 51 Grands Crus – being the first vineyard to be so designated when the classification first began in 1975. The name “Schlossberg” comes from the 800-year-old castle (“Schloss” in German) located on the western edge of the vineyard.

The vineyard itself is comprised of two parcels, the majority of the area being one large plot of terraced vineyards on the south-facing slope of a large hillside; as well as a smaller parcel across the way. Riesling is the super-star here, with some excellent examples made by Domaine Weinbach, Albert Mann, and Paul Blanck.

The Smallest: Kanzlerberg – The Grand Cru of Kanzlerberg, at 7.5 acres (3 hectares), is the smallest of the Alsace Grands Crus. It also happens to be the most southerly, located in the commune of Bergheim in the Haut-Rhin Département. Kanzlerberg is located at an elevation of 820 feet (250 meters) with a due-south southern exposure, giving the vines wonderful, full sunshine and resulting in richly flavored, complex wines. Kanzlerberg is sometimes overlooked, being located just down the hill from the much larger – and very prestigious -Grand Cru of Altenberg de Bergheim. Tiny Kanzlerberg currently only has two producers – Sylvie Speilmann and Gustav Lorenz – both of whom also produce wines from Altenberg de Bergheim.



Notable for Noir: Altenberg de Bergheim – Altenberg de Bergheim, located in the hills above the commune of Bergheim in the Haut-Rhin, produces typical Alsace Grand Cru wines from 100% Riesling, Gewurztraminer, and Pinot Gris. However, it is unique for two reasons: it is allowed to make Grand Cru blends, and it is the only Alsace Grand Cru wine allowed to contain red grapes (Pinot Noir).  Blends must be 50-70% Riesling, 10-25% Pinot Gris, 10-25% Gewurztraminer, and may contain up to 10% (combined) Chasselas, Muscat (à Petits Grains or Muscat Ottonel), Pinot Noir, and/or Pinot Blanc. Chasselas, either of the Muscats, Pinot Noir, and Pinot Blanc may only be used in the blend if planted before 2005. The Altenberg vineyard has been known for its outstanding wines since the end of the 13th century.

The Latest, the Contentious, and the King of Cuvée: Kaefferkopf – The Kaefferkopf Grand Cru is located in the village of Ammerschwihr in the Haut-Rhin Département. It is the most recently promoted of the Alsace Grands Crus, having just been promoted in 2007. This promotion  was not without its own controversy – producers in the area had declined Grand Cru status when it was first offered to them in 1990, and many once again contested the decision in 2007. The contentious issue was a certain plot of land – 37 acres worth – that was part of the Kaefferkopf Title awarded in 1932, but that was specifically excluded from the Grand Cru. Producers using the grapes from this plot thus lost the right to use the name “Kaefferkopf” on their wines – and have since used the more generic Alsace AOC.

That’s a crazy story on its own, but Kaefferkopf is also unique in that it is (along with Altenberg de Bergheim) allowed to produce Grand Cru blends. The blends of Kaefferkopf must be made using 60-80% Gewurztraminer and 10-40% Riesling; they may also include up to 30% Pinot Gris and up to 10% Muscat.



The Sylvaner Specialist: Zotzenberg – Zotzenberg, located on a series of gently rising hillside slopes above the commune of Mittelbergheim in the Bas-Rhin, produces typical Alsace Grand Cru wines of 100% Pinot Gris, Riesling, and Gewurztraminer. However, this 90-acre (36.5-hectare) vineyard is a traditional growing site for Sylvaner – an also-ran grape of Alsace if ever there was one. The laws of the AOC were revised in January of 2001 to allow Zotzenberg to produce a Grand Cru wine made using 100% Sylvaner. Excellent examples are produced by Domaine Haegi and Domaine Lucas & André Rieffel. Zotzenberg is the only Grand Cru in Alsace allowed to use Sylvaner in a Grand Cru wine.

For more information:

The Bubbly Professor is “Miss Jane” Nickles of Austin, Texas – missjane@prodigy.net

Keeping Santa Cruz Weird

Santa Cruz

Visitors and residents alike (both of which I have been, at various points in my life) agree: Santa Cruz is unique. Witness the surfing santas, omnipresent drum circles, kooky politics, and even the tag line “Keep Santa Cruz Weird” (borrowed from Austin, Texas, which can also boast all of the above). Combine this with incredible natural beauty, a moderate climate, 29 miles of coastline, the University of California at Santa Cruz, the historic Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk with its Giant Dipper wooden roller coaster – and you have a heck of a place.

Viticulture as well has a unique place in this inspired environment. The area has been home to famous winemakers in the past—including Paul Masson, Martin Ray, Randal Grahm, and David Bruce—and it remains a vibrant center of wine production as well as a leader in organic and sustainable winemaking.

The Santa Cruz Mountains AVA was established in 1981. It was one of the first AVAs to be established according to elevation, and largely follows – and sits above – the fog line along the coast. The boundaries of the region encircle the ridge tops of the Santa Cruz Mountain range—which reach over 3,000 (920 m) in elevation. The eastern boundary of the AVA rests at 800 feet (240 m), while the western edge, located close to the Pacific Ocean, extends down to 400 feet (120 m).

Santa Cruz 3However, the area within the Santa Cruz Mountains AVA—which is tucked in betwixt and between several other AVAs—is the only section of the coastal region from Santa Barbara to the San Francisco bay that is NOT part of the larger Central Coast AVA. As a matter of fact, it is “specifically excluded” from both the Central Coast AVA and the overlapping San Francisco Bay AVA.  Sounds a bit tough, doesn’t it?

The story goes as such: When the Central Coast AVA was first created in 1985 (four years after the Santa Cruz Mountains AVA was born), it was much smaller than it is today, and, due to differences in topography and climate, did not include or extend above Santa Cruz. The southern boundary of the Santa Cruz Mountains AVA was (at the time) contiguous with the northern border of the Central Coast AVA.

However, 1n 1999, a petition was made for a new AVA, to be known as the San Francisco Bay AVA. It was proposed that this new AVA would include the counties of San Francisco, San Mateo, Santa Clara, Alameda (which includes Livermore), and Contra Costa, as well as parts of Santa Cruz and San Benito Counties—including the Santa Cruz Mountains AVA. At the same time, it was petitioned that the Central Coast AVA be expanded to include the new San Francisco Bay AVA. The Central Coast AVA would—if all was approved—contain virtually all of the California coastline from the North Coast AVA on down to Santa Barbara.

santa cruz 2However, when the proposal was open to public comment, the TTB received almost 50 comments. Thirty-three of these were opposed to combining the Santa Cruz Mountains AVA with either the new San Francisco Bay AVA and/or the expanded version of the Central Coast AVA.

One comment claimed that combining the established Santa Cruz Mountains AVA—where so many farmers and vintners had worked diligently build the the quality, reputation, and distinction of the area—with the Central Coast AVA would cause “incalculable damage.”

Others stated that combining the areas of the Santa Cruz Mountains with such far-flung regions as Livermore and metropolitan San Francisco would “undermine the meaning of American viticultural areas.” Another respondent made the point that, culturally, people that reside in Santa Cruz do not consider themselves residents of the San Francisco Bay area, and that if Santa Cruz could be called part of the “San Francisco Bay Area,” then the North Coast AVA could be called the “Napa Area,” and the Central Valley could be called the  “Yosemite Area.” It was a vinous version of “hell no, we won’t go.”

Screen shot via http://www.ttb.gov/appellation/us_by_ava.pdf

Screen shot via http://www.ttb.gov/appellation/us_by_ava.pdf retrieved on September 26, 2015

The San Francisco Bay AVA was approved in 1999, along with an expansion of the Central Coast AVA (both were expanded again in 2006).

However, the boundaries of the new and expanded AVAs “specifically excluded” the Santa Cruz Mountains AVA, as well as its sub-region, the Ben Lomond Mountain AVA.  And it remains so – keeping Santa Cruz weird.

Click here to read the official documents relating to the petition and public comments of the: Central Coast Expansion -Federal Register Jan 20 1999

The Bubbly Professor is “Miss Jane” Nickles of Austin, Texas – missjane@prodigy.net

Ten Tidbits on Tasmania

Tasmania VineyardTen Tidbits on Tasmania – Tasmanian Wine, that is!

#1 – The island of Tasmania is the southernmost state of Australia and lies about 150 miles south of the coast of Victoria, across the Bass Strait. Tasmania lies directly in the path of the fierce trade winds known as the “Roaring Forties” and as such, its west coast has a cold, wet climate.

#2 – Tasmania is Australia’s most mountainous state. The highest point is Mount Ossa in the northwest. Mount Ossa reaches peaks of 5,350 feet (1,620 meters) above sea level. The temperature climate necessary for viticulture in Tasmania is made possible by the multiple mountain ranges that criss-cross the center of the island. Most Tasmanian vineyards are located on lower slopes and valleys of these mountains, or in the rain shadow to the east.

#3 – As is to be expected considering its location, Tasmania has a maritime climate. Mild spring and summer temperatures, warm autumn days, and cool nights allow for the region’s grapes to enjoy a long, slow ripening with minimal loses of natural acidity.

#4 – Cool climate grapes dominate the viticultural landscape and include 44% Pinot Noir, 23% Chardonnay, 12% Sauvignon Blanc, 11% Pinot Gris and 5% Riesling. Other varieties include Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Gewürztraminer.  Tasmania’s cool climate makes it a natural for sparkling wines, and many of the sparkling wines produced in Australia are sourced with grapes grown in Tasmania.

Tasmania map#5 – Tasmania’s output is tiny. At last count, the state had just over 3,700 acres (1,500 hectares) of vineyards, and accounted for approximately 0.5% of Australia’s output. They even say that “more wine is spilled on the main land than is produced in Tasmania.” However – Tasmania’s wine production rose by more than 300% over the last decade, and quality is regarded as quite high.

#6 – According to winetasmania.com, 100% of bottled Tasmanian wine retails for $15.00 or more – as compared to only 7% of Australian wines overall.

#7 – Tasmania’s first vineyard, planted in 1788, was a failure. The vines were planted by William Blight at Adventure Bay (on Bruny Island), but when he returned four years later they were gone. Vines were planted again in the early 1800s, and wine was made and sold commercially in Tasmania from 1800 through the 1860s. However, vine disease and the gold rush in Victoria (1851-1870) caused wine production in Tasmania to collapse by the 1870s.

#8 – In the 1830s, wines from Tasmania were brought to Victoria by William Henty. Henty sailed from Launceston in Tasmania to Portland in Victoria on the Schooner Thistle. Among his belongings were “one cask of grape cuttings and one box of plants.” These cuttings became the first vines planted in Victoria. At about the same time, vines from Tasmania were also among the first grapes planted in South Australia; John Hack (in 1837), and John Reynell (in 1837) both planted Tasmanian vines in South Australia.  Some say, based on these facts, that vines from Tasmania founded the wine industries of both Victoria and South Australia.

Map via winetasmania.com.au

Map via winetasmania.com.au

#9 – The beginnings of the modern era of Tasmanian wines can be traced back to the 1950s, when two Europeans, Jean Miguet and Claudio Alcorso arrived in Tasmania and, without knowing each other or what the other was doing, began planting vines and making wine.

#10 – While Tasmania does not have any officially designated wine regions or sub-regions within it, the following “unofficial” areas are generally used to describe those areas rich with vines:

  • In Northern Tasmania: The Northwest Coast, Tamar Valley, and Northeast/Pipers River
  • In Southern Tasmania: Coal River Valley, Derwent Valley, and Huon/Channel Valley
  • Straddling the Two: The East Coast

The Bubbly Professor is “Miss Jane” Nickles of Austin, Texas: missjane@prodigy.net

Now on the Wine Travel Bucket List: Moldova

moldova mapQuick! Tell me everything you know about Moldova!

If you can’t come up with anything, don’t feel bad. As of yesterday, I knew a grand total of about three things about Moldova: one-it was part of the former Soviet Union; two-they make wine there (but I couldn’t tell you anything about it); and three-it is the home of the “Epic Sax Guy.”

Today, though, I can tell you quite a bit more about Moldova. For instance, Moldova is located between Romania and Ukraine, just north of the Black Sea. As part of the breakup of the Soviet Union, Moldova declared itself an independent state – the Republic of Moldova – in 1991. The transition has not been easy and there has been civil unrest and economic woes. But there has also been progress, and in 2013 Moldova entered into an “Association Agreement” with the European Union, meaning that they can work towards aligning their practices with EU standards in the hopes of becoming a member in the future. It should be interesting to see how that unfolds.

This also means that wines of Moldova may soon fall under EU standards, and perhaps that means that more wine lovers may soon become a bit more familiar with Moldovan wines. For starters, here are a few fascinating facts about the wines of Moldova:

It’s ancient: Moldova has one of the oldest wine cultures in the world; there is evidence of wine production in the area as far back as 3,000 BC.

It’s growing: Moldova currently has over 275,000 acres of vines. Of the vinifera grapes planted, about 70% of them are international varieties of the Cabernet-Merlot-Chardonnay type. About 20% are grapes sometimes called “Caucasian grapes” and are widely grown throughout eastern Europe – Rkatsiteli and Saperavi, for example.

"Caves Milestii Mici Moldavie" by Photo: Myrabella / Wikimedia Commons.

“Caves Milestii Mici Moldavie” by Photo: Myrabella / Wikimedia Commons.

It’s indigenous: About 10% of Moldova’s vineyards are planted to the indigenous varieties of the region. Some of these include Feteasca Alba (white), Feteasca Regala (white), Feteasca Neagra (red), Rara Neagra (red), and Viorica (white). These are surely some of the most historic and unique wines of the region.

It’s deep: Moldova is well-known for its historic and extensive wine tunnels. The cellars of Mileștii Mici Winery stretch on for over 135 miles, at an average depth of 250 feet. The cellar, built in the style of a feudal fortress, is understandably one of Moldova’s most popular tourist attractions. With over 1.5 million bottles of wine from all over the world – some dating back to the 1960’s – Mileștii Mici Winery’s “Golden Collection” holds the Guinness World Record for the world’s largest wine cellar and wine collection.

It sparkles: During the time of the Soviet Union, Moldova was a large producer of the sparkling wine known at the time as Sovetskoye Shampanskoye (“Soviet Champagne”). The Cricova Winery, the largest producer of Moldovan sparklers, makes its wines using the “Traditional Method” and ages its wine in its underground cellars. The underground cellars of the Cricova Winery –  stretching on for 45 miles and housing a large wine collection known as the “National Vinotheque” – are almost as impressive as the cellar at Mileștii Mici.

Map via the Wine of Moldova site: http://wineofmoldova.com/en/

Map via the Wine of Moldova site: http://wineofmoldova.com/en/

It has 4 designated regions, including 3 PGIs:

  • The historic region of Balti is the smallest, northernmost and coolest region. The Balti region produces mainly white wines as well as a high-quality brandy known as Divin.
  • The Codru PGI is the largest area, producing over 60% of the country’s wine.  This cool-to-warm-climate region, surrounded by forests, is known for white wines.
  • The Valul lui Traian PGI, located in the southeast of the country, is the leading producer of red wine.
  • The Ștefan-Vodă PGI, located in the basin of the Nistru River, includes the famous Purcari region. It produces both red and white wines. Purcari wines have been renowned throughout Europe since 1878, when Negru de Purcari (a red wine made with Cabernet Sauvignon, Rara Neagră and Saperavi grapes) was awarded a gold medal at the World Exhibition.

For more information, visit the Wine of Moldova website!


Ground Control to Major Dram

Ardberg in Space!In what has just got to be a first for the spirits industry, several servings of Ardbeg Scotch has just returned from outer space.

To repeat: Scotch whisky in space.

How we did not know about this before, I’ll never know, but the story goes like this: In 2011, the Ardbeg Distillery sent several vials of Ardbeg Scotch new-make whisky, along with some wood shavings from American oak barrels, into space.

As part of an experimental partnership between Ardbeg and a US-based space research company called NanoRack, the whisky spent the last three years aboard the International Space Station. The whisky orbited the earth, circling the planet at 17,227 miles per hour, 15 times a day, for 1,045 days.

After the vials of whisky were returned to earth, they were revealed for the first time at a reception held on October 23, 2014 at The Intrepid Sea, Air, & Space Museum in New York City. The vials, which had been insured for $1 Million, were officially returned to Dr. Bill Lumsden, Ardbeg’s Director of Distilling and Whisky Creation. Dr. Lumsdem, we presume, is planning on studying the effects of zero gravity on terpenes, aldephydes, and fatty acid esters; and hoping to discover what, if any, impact of gravity has on the maturation processes  of some of the compounds found in Scotch.

Ardberg scientistsArdbeg’s newest limited malt edition Scotch was released at the reception as well. Named to commemorate the return of the Ardbeg vials from space it is named – wait for it – Supernova 2014.

Established in 1815, Ardbeg is considered to be one of the “peatiest, smokiest, and most complex” of the Islay malts. Perhaps we can now add “most traveled” or “most out-of-this-world” to that list!

The Bubbly Professor is “Miss Jane” Nickles of Austin, Texas   missjane@prodigy.net


Chile’s Southernmost – The Malleco Valley

Chile MallecoChile’s Malleco (pronounced mah-YAY-ko) Valley, located near the 38th parallel, is currently the southernmost “official” viticultural region of Chile. The terrain is rugged, and growing grapes here is challenging – but the area has potential, and since 1994, has been growing a small quantity of grapes that are made into crisp, refreshing wine.

This is an up-and-coming wine region if ever there was one: just shy of 30 acres in total are planted. It’s a bit out of the way – over 300 miles south of the Capital city of Santiago. The area’s main town, Traiguen, has less than 20,000 inhabitants. And, as if that weren’t enough, the climate is marginal, the rainfall is high, and the growing season is short.

The cool climate skirts the limits of what is suitable for viticulture, and defines the grape varieties to that can be cultivated here. The varieties currently under vine include Chardonnay (7 acres), Pinot Noir (10 acres), Sauvignon Blanc (7 acres) and Gewurztraminer (2 acres).

Being so far south, however, has its advantages, just as the northerly latitudes of Washington State and Germany work to their advantage. The southerly (remember, this is the southern hemisphere) locale means the vineyards enjoy more hours of daylight than those areas closer to the equator, and the nights cool down considerably, lending a good diurnal temperature fluctuation that slows down the ripening of the grapes.

The soil in the Malleco Valley is mainly volcanic in origin, and consists of red clay, sand, and alluvial matter. Such well-drained soils are essential in an area that sees so much rainfall, and as a result, the vines become somewhat stressed in the quest for water and nutrients, resulting in concentrated, flavorful grapes with great wine-making potential.

Las Raíces Tunnel - photo by Miguel Millan

Las Raíces Tunnel – photo by Miguel Millan

This is not, by any means, the semi-arid Maipo Valley, and the wines have a fresh, lively acidity to show for it. Most of the grapes grown in the Malleco Valley are currently owned by the Viña Aquitania Winery, which produces their Malleco Valley Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, and Pinot Noir, under the brand name “Sol de Sol” at the winery in the Maipo Valley.

The area around the town of Traiguen is not without its charms, and a good deal of adventure-seeking travelers come to the area for hiking, skiing, and camping. One local attraction is the Las Raíces Tunnel (Túnel Las Raíces), the second longest tunnel in South America. At just shy of 3 miles long, the tunnel, built in 1939, was originally intended to be part of a highway linking the Pacific and Atlantic oceans, however, the rest of the highway was never finished. The tunnel does, however, link the Chilean city of Temuco with the Pino Hachado Pass, and the highway continues towards Argentina.

This tunnel allows only one-way traffic, and averages about 450 vehicles a day. Cyclists must take their chances at finding a kind-hearted truck driver to give them a lift through the tunnel.  Click here for a very cool youtube experience of riding through the tunnel!

The Malleco Viaduct (Viaducto del Malleco), another local landmark, is currently on the tentative list to be named as a Unesco World Heritage Site.   The viaduct was opened by President José Manuel Balmaceda on October 26, 1890. At that time, it was the highest railroad bridge in the world and is still considered one of the largest works of metal engineering in Chile. The bridge was built in France, in the workshops of Schneider et Cie. Interestingly, the workshop of Gustave Eiffel also submitted a bid, but was not selected to complete the project.

The Malleco Viaduct - photo by Marcelo Reston

The Malleco Viaduct – photo by Marcelo Reston

The finished sections of the bridge were transported first by ship and then by railroad and assembled on site.  The bridge is 1,200 feet long and 250 feet high – that’s about as high as a 20-story building – pretty impressive for 1890!

Cool tunnels, towering bridges, beautiful country and (a little bit of) excellent wine – it sounds like the Malleco Valley is an interesting place!

Note: It was not easy finding information on the Malleco Valley – and, as such, I had to (gasp!) veer off the internet and go old-school and use books (remember those?) in addition to a few websites in order to find the information I wanted. As such, I’d like to acknowledge the following resources used to research this post:

The Bubbly Professor is…”Miss Jane” Nickles of Austin, Texas    missjane@prodigy.net