Award-winning winemaker Rianie Strydom of Haskell Vineyards has just returned from Napa Valley, where she was the first South African delegate to an annual get-together for women in wine, previously limited to those from Bordeaux and California. When I reported in Alliance Française on their last event in Bordeaux in January 2009, they had no name. Now they have chosen the name Wine Entre Femme and this year also included Asli Odman from Kavaklidere in Turkey, Ayana Misawa from Grace winery in Japan and four delegates from Switzerland as well as 15 from such Bordeaux enterprises as Chx Kirwan, Angélus and Coutet. As chief organiser Sharon Harris of Amici Cellars puts it, ‘this event is about sharing and learning so we improve the wines we make and our ability to grow the market for wine worldwide’. Below are Rianie’s impressions of her trip.‘
It was an honour to be nominated. I learnt a great deal and made many new friends from whom I will continue gaining knowledge as well as sharing it. The Napa woman are very proud of their businesses and are very informed about their field, a true inspiration to anyone who attended. I hope that I will stay part of this organisation in the future to take up the opportunity to explore and learn about other parts of the world where women share the same passion and commitment I have just experienced. It would be a loss if this organisation cannot continue and grow in the future.
What I learnt started with the Napa Green initiative, which is similar to what we do in South Africa with IPW but in the Napa Valley there is also an initiative designed to protect land for agricultural purposes only. The latter is something that we are not doing yet, or not as far as I know. This is something that can become of great importance in the future.
Green innovations covered fish-friendly farming and biodynamic farming. The former is to test all run-off water from farms before it reaches the rivers and tiny streams. This initiative claims that if the fish are happy and the populations in the rivers as expected, then all farming practices are done well. The interesting thing they discovered was that most sediment was dust coming from unused dirt roads instead of pesticide sediment. It seemed to me that wherever we went, biodynamic farming was the main aim. Robert Sinskey Vineyards uses sheep to graze on the grass from the cover crop. This keeps the cover crop down and also prevents excessive frost. It seems that all growers use a mixture of peas, grass, wheat, etc put together, depending what the needs are for the soil. Cover crops will also stretch to right under the vines whereas we would only have it in the working row. We grow mostly only one kind of grass. Cover crop is mowed down instead of being sprayed by weed killer.
All aspects of vineyard management were covered by Linda Neal, Remi Cohen, Mary Maher and Jennifer Williams. Nothing goes untouched and without careful thought.
The most interesting talk on the Saturday afternoon was presented by Thibaut Scholasch from Fruition Science on ‘sap flow’ as a means to determine the vines’ need for water rather than the other older alternative methods. I have not seen this been used in South Africa. This is technology that has been around for quite a while, but before it was quite a lengthy process to determine the flow in the vine. New technology and a better machine make this now more accessible.
The Sunday morning we were treated to some of the most spectacular small wineries I have ever seen, Ovid and Dana (the old Livingstone winery which has recently been renovated and where this photograph of the group was taken). Seeing all the thought and technology that had gone into the planning of these wineries made me want to start harvesting immediately. The tasting at Robert Mondavi, conducted by Genevieve Janssens, gave a great perspective on the styles of wine that were made a couple of years back and what is made at present.
We had a very interesting talk on tannins and the ripening cycle prior to picking by Steve Price. This is definitely something I will discuss with our lab in SA to establish this tool as part of our quest to make better wine by picking at better phenolic ripeness. The panel discussing this tannin management in real practice consisted of Pam Starr, who covered practices to prevent any unnecessary extraction prior to crushing, Genevieve Janssens, Celia Welch, Ashley Hepworth and Sandi Belcher. Other topics included the automation of pump overs and the systems they have put in place over the years and pressing. All these women have a great knowledge of their field and know what practices work best for the grapes and the areas they work in.
The visit and tasting at Chateau Montelena was the highlight of the day.
The last day covered all aspects of marketing and I think most of us got the most out of this day. It is a field that, maybe because of the positions we have as winemakers, we do not spend a lot of time on. After this day I realised that this should not be the case.
I cannot write about all the aspects, but I surely was impressed with all that was done for us. It will be a tough one to improve on, but I do hope this will continue in the future.