Our guest this evening is an Associate Professor of English at Colby College in Maine and she has a winemaking certificate from the University of California at Davis.
She is also the author of the New York Times bestselling “oenobiography” The Widow Clicquot: The Story of the Champagne Empire and the Woman Who Built It, among other wine books.
Five years ago she emigrated to British Columbia where she is the owner and winemaker at her family’s winery, Parsell Vineyard, in Saanichton.
… and that’s where she joins me now live: Welcome to the Sunday Sipper Club Tilar Mazzeo!
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Please fill in some more details that I didn’t include in your introduction and tell us one thing about you that would surprise most people.
Why did you decide to write about Veuve Clicquot?
What was the most challenging part of writing the book?
What research did you do?
What would surprise us about Veuve Clicquot?
Tell us about the other books you’ve written, and one surprising point about each.
What’s the most memorable thing someone has ever said about your writing?
What was something you were wrong about as it relates to making wine?
Tell us about your family vineyard in BC.
What’s been the most difficult thing in running the vineyard? Do you have some odd or amusing stories?
Which winemaker do you admire most in the world? Why specifically other than he or she makes great wines, is attentive to terroir etc?
Describe the downright weirdest wine pairing you’ve ever had? Where were you? Describe the food in detail and the flavours? Which wine? Did it work or not as a pairing?
Tilar J. Mazzeo is the Clara C. Piper Associate Professor of English at Colby College, in Waterville, Maine. She is the author of numerous works of narrative nonfiction, and several of her books, including the “oenobiography” The Widow Clicquot, have been New York Times, San Francisco Chronicle, and Los Angeles Times bestsellers. She was a nationally prominent wine writer in the United States before emigrating to Canada, and her writing on wine has appeared in venues such as Food & Wine magazine and in her guide book series The Back-Lane Wineries of Sonoma, The Back-Lane Wineries of Napa, and the forthcoming The Back-Lane Wineries of New York.
She holds a certificate from the winemaking program at the University of California at Davis ad is currently the proprietor and winemaker at her family’s estate project, Parsell Vineyard in Saanichton, British Columbia.
Tilar J MazzeoHi Gillian–definitely come by! We’ll have a glass and would love to show you around. We’re 2838 Lamont Road in Saanichton, and I’m terrible with social media updates etc. so just shoot an email to parsellvineyard at gmail dot com if you’re coming up and we’ll make sure we’re around.
Gillian Dawe-Taylor39:32 If you love biodynamic winemaking, checkout Alvaro Espinoza of Antiyal in Chile. His wine is amazing and I learned so much from him about biodynamic practice. Really he’s an incredible, humble man who is a true artist that is so connected to his land.
Tilar J MazzeoHi Lori, we found a property that had about an acre of vines already planted (those are now about 10 years old) so we had a bit of a head start with trials, but we’ve put in the rest since then, and they are between 0 (in my fridge bareroot waiting for spring LOL) and 4 years. It’s about 3 years to the first crop, so it’s not for the faint of heart!
Kimberly Windle7:04 That’s a great story. Love Clicquot!
So you’re probably familiar with this champagne, Veuve Clicquot iconic egg yolk label. Are you familiar also with the story behind the champagne; in fact the woman who built, not only this prestigious luxury brand, but also, really, the champagne empire was a large part of that.
Well that’s exactly what we’re going to learn about tonight with our guest here on the Sunday Sipper Club. I’m Natalie MacLean, editor of Canada’s largest wine review site @NatalieMacLean.com and you’ve tuned in where we gather every Sunday at 6 p.m. to talk to the most interesting people in the world of wine.
Now before I introduce our guest, in the comments below or to the side, wherever you’re watching from. Have you ever tried Veuve Clicquot champagne? I’m guessing many of you have but I’d love to know; just yes or no, have you tried this champagne? Let’s get warmed up, shall we, with that.
All right so as I mentioned our guest this evening, she is an associate professor of English at Colby college in Maine and she has a wine making certificate from the University of California Davis. She’s also the author of the New York Times best selling enow biography: The Widow Clicquot: The Story of the Champagne Empire and the Woman who Built It among other fine books and five years ago she emigrated to British Columbia where she is the owner and wine-maker at her family’s vineyard Parsell Vineyard in Saanich town and that’s where she joins me now live: welcome to the Sunday Supper Club Tilar Mazzeo.
It’s so nice to be here.
Terrific thank you for joining us and I was fascinated by the book you wrote but let’s start at the beginning shall we? Where did you get the idea to write about Veuve Clicquot, because there are other widows but you were intrigued by this woman, why was that?
Yeah. I’ve been a long time fan of wine but really the story started when I had a not very happy job at one point in the Midwest and some girlfriends and I agreed that Veuve Clicquot is our favorite champagne. So we used to get together and drink a bottle of wine over the evening and have our husbands drive us home and we were talking one day and I remember that veuve in french is widow and it really started with a question where I said ‘was there really a widow Clicquot’. And ended up doing research and found this amazing story about a woman who not only became history’s first international business woman but who invented a process which I know we’ll talk about a little bit called recollage that is still used in the wine industry today. And it really was the thing that moved champagne from being a luxury product that was so expensive that only the kings and queens of France could afford it, to a luxury product that those of us who are lucky on the weekend can take a sip of.
Wow good synopsis, it’s like you’ve given that before.
I’ve talked about that once or twice before.
Absolutely so, take us to the beginning then. How did she manage to do this, get this going? What was some of her innovations and what was she most remarkable for?
Yeah, a part of the really remarkable aspect of her story, I think, is the fact that by all rights, she should never have run this business. So she was married, and it was an arranged marriage, although they were lucky enough to genuinely fall in love. She was married to a young (inaudible), whose father, like her, was an entrepreneur in the textile business in the Champagne and sometimes, in order to round out shipments, they would add the local wine if the boat was already not quite full. And so her husband Francois decided that he really wanted to develop a wine industry and his father, Philippe, said: don’t do it, there’s no money in the wine industry. Tell me about it and he insisted and his father let him and he ended up driving the company to the brink of bankruptcy. Some people said he committed suicide because he disappointed his father so terribly and then after her husband’s death she said to her father-in-law, “Can I take a crack “at running this wine business?” And amazingly her father-in-law, because she has no business experience, women in that time don’t run businesses.
What year was this?
This would’ve been in the 1780’s, 1790’s.
Wow and how old was she?
She was in her mid 20’s.
Mid 20’s okay.
Yeah and she hadn’t been educated. She had no education in business and so her father-in-law said sure and he agrees to bank roll her basically the equivalent of a million bucks. But he says, you have to do an internship and so he sets her up to do an internship for four years with a partner and at the end of four years that business is bankrupt again and she goes back to her father-in-law and says I know that didn’t work out so great, but any chance you give me another million bucks and he did. I mean for me as a writer and as a winemaker, the most amazing part of that story is the fact that her father-in-law saw something in her where he was willing to take a gamble, not only on an inexperienced business person, not only on a woman, not only on somebody in their 20’s, but on somebody who had already failed. And she does and within 10 years of that it’s in the final stages of Napoleonic War and she has this idea because Jean-Remy Moet of Moet and Chandon is her arch rival and he doesn’t believe that a woman can run a wine business. And so as the Napoleonic War is coming to a conclusion she has the idea that if she can smuggle some of her champagne from what she knew was the 1811 vintage was one of true great vintages of the 19th century. She knew that if she could smuggle it in she’d beat Jean-Remy to the Russian market and could capture market share so she does and she also knows that if the ship goes down, if it ends up getting confiscated which of course is still in the middle of a war. Then she will go bankrupt that it is all over. But amazingly her agent gets there, it’s the first champagne and within months she is world famous. The Czar is declaring he won’t drink anything else and the name of the widow Clicquot is just an international phenomenon, she really never looks back from that.
Wow what a power story, I love that, I love there’s a little rivalry; I never realized there was that head to head to Moet. And now of course they’re all owned by the same company; but yeah; the luxury brands.
Well folks we’re just getting started here with Tilar who is the author of The Widow Clicquot, great story. Please comment in the post – comment if you ever tried this champagne Veuve Clicquot very iconic. I’m just checking over on Facebook to see if I can see your comments ’cause Facebook is always doing little wonky things. But please do comment and let us know if you’ve tried it or if you can see and hear us. Anyway, we’ll keep going here on this discussion while we wait for people to check in. So okay, so she beat…
Moet, yes, to the courts, so was that during the Napoleonic blockades, the shipping blockades is that happening?
Exactly, that’s right.
Okay so she had to bypass all of that and then what was her next big step, what did she elevate next?
So then what happens, so she captures this huge market share, everybody wants Veuve Clicquot champagne and the problem is that she can’t process the product fast enough. ‘Cause champagne I mean even a non vintage is a minimum 18 months really, a vintage champagne, she had just exported all of her vintages, maybe three, five, even seven years depending on the house and so she had to find some way to speed up the production of bottling in the cellars and there was just a bottleneck if you’ll forgive the pun, in the production process, because the old process was something called transvasage which was a fancy French term for pouring the wine from one bottle to the other and trying to leave the yeast behind.
Because when we do a classic second fermentation, if you know, probably some of your listeners know, you take a still wine that is already made, you put some sugar and yeast back in the bottle, you cork it and then what happens is, the yeast ends up consuming the sugar, creating carbon dioxide bubbles and creating more alcohol. But then the problem is: what do you do with the yeast because the consumer typically doesn’t like yeasty floaty bits in the bottom of wine bottles. Although as a raw winemaker personally, I’m enamored of this process, but most consumers don’t want yeast and aren’t willing to tolerate it. So how do you get rid of the yeast?
So they used to just pour it from bottle to bottle and then she had the idea, well what if I took my kitchen table down into the cellars and popped some holes into it and turned the wine bottles upside down, wouldn’t gravity work with me and everybody said that is a crazy idea it’s never going to work. She said take my kitchen table down to the cellar and drill me some holes and that is still, that is a process known as remuage and when you see those riddling racks now.
Right they’re always shaped like this and they have holes like two tables.
That is her table with the hinge in the middle.
I love it.
And that allowed her to expedite the process, and it was a great story with the rivalry because Jean-Remy Moet was going crazy, he couldn’t figure out how it was that she was speeding this up and in a real sign of her employees loyalty it was years before he was able, in small town environment, to find out. Because her employees were so loyal to her.
That’s fantastic and I love that she’s such a practical woman, yeah, take the kitchen table, take it down here we’ll just fix things up, we don’t need the table. We’ll have T.V. dinners on our lap or something.
That’s great, awesome. So now the comments are pouring in, I’m glad we’re connected I’m going to relay some of these to you Tilar. Lori Kilmartin said, “It’s really interesting to hear “how riddling came about.” And Kimberly Windle is here, “Great story love Clicquot.” Gillian Dawe-Taylor, “I live for bubbles.” Paul and Patty Hollander here from Virginia, “That’s our favorite champagne and the one we have “for special occasions.” So folks if you love the champagne you should read the book, do you have your book with you there Tilar?
I do have a copy.
Excellent, hold it up, if we can see it. Yeah, absolutely, its got that iconic egg yolk.
Yes lady Clicquot behind the bottle.
It’s actually a color known as Clicquot yellow.
And the company very kindly let me have permission to use the actual color which was pretty neat, yes.
And I’ve been to Clicquot winery as I’m sure you have many times but they’ve got a whole sort of museum of counterfeits over there, don’t they?
And that’s fascinating: golf balls, bubble baths, everybody who has tried to steal that color or the name Clicquot – it’s fascinating. Let’s see who else is here, Beverly Asleson has tried the Clicquot champagne, excellent, and I assume you like it.
So okay folks, all right, so she discovers riddling and that helps her up her production. Was she known for anything else beyond though? Those are major innovations, getting it to the court, branding it, being first to market, getting through the blockade, sort of a direct sampling program. Then the riddling, the technical innovation, was there anything else she did?
Yeah. I mean, the other thing that, there’s two other things I think are really interesting about her. One of them is that she effectively begins what we think of today as modern wine tourism. So, she lives a very, very long life and at the end of her life, she’s known as the le Grand Dame and still the vintage Veuve Clicquot is called Le Grand Dame in her honor.
She was also known locally as the queen of France and she became, especially for North American tourist, she became a destination. So she, late in her life bought a chateau at Bousomme and the train stopped right at the bottom of her chateau just by coincidence and so everybody wanted to come and get a glimpse of the Grand Dame and she said sure. Come and visit my chateau and you’re welcome to buy my wine. So she really… along with another one of the great widows in Champagne, Louise Pommery, who was a younger generation. And Louise Pommery really modeled herself after the widow Clicquot and picked up on this idea and so Louise Pommery built her chateau right in the middle of downtown.
And the story, the second thing I think is so interesting to go back to the colour, the story of the colour is one of the few mistakes that, Barbe-Nicole was her name, the widow Clicquot. One of the few business mistakes that she made in that time, champagne was very, very sweet; something sweeter than the sweetest Saltare that you’ll find in the market today. A very, very sugary high residual and so Barbe-Nicole, when she found out that Louise Pommery was making a brut champagne, a dry champagne, she said that will never sell, that’s a crazy idea Madamme Pommery is wrong. Well Louise Pommery had gone to boarding school in England and she knew that the English taste really was not for something quite so sweet and so Louise Pommery also becomes, very quickly, spectacular financial success. A kind of legendary figure, Barb-Nicole had the grace to admit she was wrong and the yellow label is for the brut, it’s still for the Veuve Clicquot brut. That was the colour she invented at that time in order to develop a product that could compete with Madamme Pommery’s brut champagne.
Wow I love it, wow these ladies were rocking back then. Yeah and does brut mean brutal as in ‘it was a brutally dry taste at the time’, does that connect at all.
It probably does through the Latin. I think it’s in French, so the sense is strong right? But I suspect strong and brutal, I’m not a Latin scholar Natalie.
I suspect it’s probably Greek, somebody will write and they’ll know way more than we will.
My guess, I’m just going to say ‘yes’ and wait till we’re corrected by somebody who knows more.
It will be coming along shortly though.
Thank you all.
Louise Pommery – I’ve been to that chateau as well. She’s got all of the – is it 11 miles or something, kilometers of caves underground in Champagne?
Yeah, well there’s hundreds of miles of Champagne, like Cattier, the caves that run under and they go back to Roman times; but yeah, Louise Pommery was one of the people who first opened those up to tourists and she named them after cities in England in order to sweeten her.
Ah, what a marketing genius.
She was a very good business woman, wasn’t she.
And these were big caves; like they have street signs underneath or like naming all the streets. It’s really worth visiting Champagne for all these Grand Chateau; they’re beautiful works of art.
And it’s such a, it’s not a highly touristed part of France, it’s one of my favorite parts of France because even though it is 45 minutes on the fast train out of Paris, people don’t go. So you kind of get a secret part of France that is not overrun, I love it.
It’s fantastic; wow.
I welcome Elaine Bruce, sorry Elaine Peters has just joined and Mateo Cavatce; sorry I’m going to brutalize everybody’s name Mateo; I think I’ll just say; but Lori is asking, did she remarry, did the widow Clicquot remarry?
She never did remarry but there is pretty clear evidence that she did have love affairs.
Oh excellent, how crazy.
But she never did remarry but she seemed to have a thing for handsome young German cellar workers.
So yeah; and so she nearly did; at one point; disastrously sign and control of the company over to one on of the employees and then ultimately another employee did take over the company.
But she lived to be a very old lady, so no, she didn’t remarry but she did love the gentlemen.
That’s great! I love all this human aspect to this story. Now you’ve also written about Chanel Number Five, the… So do you have a fascination for these powerful women? Is that a thread going through your writing?
It is. I mostly tend to write about strong women and I have a real interest, for some reason, in strong business women. I’m not totally sure why that is. I guess as a business woman maybe that’s part of it. And I have a particular interest in French culture, European culture and in wine.
For me the perfume book, I had written a book on the… not a biography of Coco Chanel; but biography of that perfume because it really was a perfume that had a life of it’s own in the world. A whole series of really interesting legal battles, but part of what I had wanted to know in that book was what’s the connection between perfume and wine, right? I mean, when we appreciate wine most of what we’re appreciating is really the smell. What we think of as taste is mostly smell and really it’s aromatic volatiles in wine, aromatic volatiles in perfume it’s just – you don’t want to drink the alcohol that’s in the perfume ’cause you’ll do your liver in really quick.
Yeah but there are so many parallels like I’ve read that book the Making of a Perfume, there were two perfumes. Sarah Jessica Parker’s and Hermes or something.
That holds a special fascination for those of us who love wine because the scents of the smells is so powerful in both and nose is in both industries.
I was invited when I was working on the research lab book to go and spend some time at a perfume lab with a perfume professor named Ron Windgram, who is a fabulous perfume professor at IFF which is International Flavor and Fragrances. That’s the company that was involved in helping the development of the perfumes in that book you’re talking about, and one of the things I thought was incredibly interesting was, you learn about esters, and aldehydes. You know, I hadn’t understood until the perfume book, that there were a range of aldehydes that have different carbon and they really have very clear different smells. So now, when I, I mean, it’s a very wine geeky but now that I smell a wine I think that’s a aldehyde. That’s, no, that’s an ester and it’s a whole other… of thinking about wine ’cause you know sometimes the adjectives get a little sideways, but it’s very interesting to think about it that way at least for me I learned a lot about wine studying perfume.
Oh I would love to know what’s an aldehyde and an ester. I would love to be able to separate those and know it as opposed to that’s an aroma, that’s an aroma, that’s an aroma, interesting. So I’m just going to pause briefly folks, if you’re enjoying this conversation which I hope you are. Please take a moment to share this video with your friends and if you do so we will be drawing next week for a signed copy of Tilar’s book, The Widow Clicquot. So get sharing and get commenting. When you share, please tell your friends why you’re interested, why they might be interested and also take a moment to follow. And then you’ll know when we go live every week, at the end of this conversation I will be announcing the winner of last week’s draw.
All righty, so Tilar, you have also, oh, I’ll just acknowledge some comments before I move on to your other wine books. So Doug Stager has joined as has Alejandro Aguiar, again apologies if I’m mispronouncing here. Kimberly Windle says: there is a big football game on today or I’m sure you’d be getting more questions on this interesting story, thanks for sharing and a lovely story I never knew this wine had such drama attached to it. I would love to meet her. I’m not sure if you mean Tilar or the Veuve Clicquot widow but I’m sure you mean both Kimberly.
I’d love to meet the widow too. I think that would be great.
I know! Wouldn’t that be great to share a bottle with her, that’s actually one of my questions. So that might be what your answer would be. But so, awesome, you have also. We’ll come back to the widow but I also wanted to mention that you’ve written other books You have a series of books called Back Lane, Wineries in Napa, you’re working on one for New York – tell us about that series.
Yeah, exactly, so I had lived in Sonoma County, California for quite a long time in a little village, Cotati, and loved it; but when I first moved there, although I was a pretty confident wine drinker, I would drive around in my first year there and see these little hand written signs and it would say wine tasting down this dirt road. And I admit I was intimidated. I thought, oh I don’t want to go, I mean who’s down there, I’ll make a fool of myself, it will be embarrassing. I don’t have the money to go buy like a thousand dollar bottle of wine if it’s screaming eagle by mistake. Which of course it wouldn’t be, you’d know. But, so I got the idea that there should be a guide book for people like me, and like you, who are confident wine drinkers who know a lot but still are a little bit intimidated at the idea of actually showing up at a winemakers collage and being like, hey you, what are you doing?
So I did, I started out with a guide book too called Back Lane Wineries of Sonoma and it was exactly that it was; small artisanal family owned wineries was my focus. All under 10,000 cases but in many cases most of the wineries in the book, and there’s about 70 in each. Most of them make under a thousand cases, so these are really small production. They’re mostly not distributed and then Paul Holly, at Holly wines, up in the dry creek, is a friend and he’s also a great photographer. He agreed to come and do the photographs. It was great having somebody do photographs who is himself a winemaker and knew a lot about that. So, did first the Sonoma and that did really well, so we went on and did Napa and actually I could show you the cover.
It’s not out yet so this is the pre-release cover of the Back Lane Wineries of Napa.
Hold it up right in front of your face if you don’t mind.
Yes there we go, awesome thank you.
That one I’m now doing with another writer named Nishkara and then a man named Peter Vabruga is our photographer who also does some great photographs.
I think next there maybe needs to be one of California, Santa Barbara, thinking champagne, maybe one in Ontario.
Yes and how about B.C, Ontario and B.C. Please do that.
Yeah, I think that would be a great idea.
Yeah and what a nice segue. Now, you and your husband have a vineyard in B.C. on, I’m going to mispronounce it again. Saanichton?
Saanichton it’s a First Nations word, yes.
Saanichton sorry. So locate that in relation to Vancouver? Where is this?
So we are on the little island known as Vancouver Island.
Okay where Victoria is.
Yeah where Victoria, we’re about 20 minutes north of Victoria.
So, on what’s known as the Saanich peninsula, so most people, when they think about wines on Vancouver Island still think about the Cavichton which is a little bit older, a little bit more established. Has maybe you know 30 wineries, I don’t know. Cavichton will yell at me and they’ll tell me I have that number wrong, but I’m not from the Cavichton I’m from the Saanich peninsula which we argue is the up and coming wine retail and it’s much closer to Victoria. There’s maybe a half dozen wineries up and we are the most recently licensed I think of them.
Congratulations, that’s fantastic.
So up till now have you been providing grapes to another winery or are the plans to bottle your own now?
Yup, we did so early on. We sold to a couple of different neighbors who are winemakers. We got licensed in July so my first vintage is in the cellar right now and will be, we’re waiting for final construction to finish on our tasting rooms. So hopefully we’ll be open by July.
Okay, all right so that’s exciting. And you were gracious enough to send me a bottle of your…
Unlabeled as you’ll see.
Unlabeled yes, that’s okay, I’m sure you know all about branding having written about Veuve Clicquot. You’ll be an ace at it but this is a Marechal Foch that you’ve sent me.
It is and I don’t know your… I didn’t know until I moved to Vancouver Island, I didn’t know a lot about Marechal Foch because not a vinifrom it’s a combination of vinifrom and a Native American root plant but it’s a real cult wine on Vancouver Island and also, to some extent, out still to the Okanagan and so this one we’ve done through full carbonic maceration.
The thing about Marechal Foch is that it’s really grippy and tan but at the same time because it’s not benifaran it’s not something you’re going to put down in your cellar for a decade, right. It’s not, it’s a pizza and burger’s wine. I think kind of like a Zinfandel, a little bit lighter. And so what we did is, we did that with a full carbonic maceration which drops a lot of those tienen out and makes it much more fruit forward, has those lovely…
Yeah thanks, we really like it.
I can’t believe it like you just bottled this for me to send me a sample, it’s already got it together.
Yeah and that’s from this fall, so I mean that’s the other advantage of course, we call it Saanich Nouveau. And we’re going to have a big party.
Of course in December, but one of the reasons it’s not bottled, you and I had talked about is that we got permission from the ministry of environment in B.C. to sell our wines in Growlers.
Which are what, are they big jugs that the beer comes in?
I’ll show you, it’s this, this is what we’re using, is these flip top bottles and they have our logo on them and so the idea is that so much of the environmental impact of the wine industry is either water or glassware. I can’t do anything about the water. I have to clean my winery but the bottle, if we go to a Growler system, kind of like the breweries do, then the consumer can not only have a great bottle and I can reduce the price ’cause I don’t have to charge the cost of a bottle that gets thrown away. But it has a really significant environmental impact so, we’re going to not be putting it actually in bottles. Our sparkling would have to but the Marechal Foch we’re selling to local market primarily. Bring me your Growler back we’ll fill it up and have wine for the week.
So you’re going to be a celler door winery where you sell locally?
That’s right we probably won’t distribute off island, I mean if somebody in Vancouver needed, I could put something on a ferry but we’re making raw wine.
Define that raw wine as opposed to natural wine. Is there a difference between those two?
I don’t think so, in my mind raw and natural are the same, but the key thing is that… so we’re farming bio dynamically so we’re not using any synthetic fertilizer, we’re not using any Round Up, we’re not using any fungicides except we do use baking soda and sulfur, always a challenge. And then that means it’s very low, radically low intervention winemaking and I don’t put sulfides in when I bottle unless somebody wants me too. I can kill my wine if you want me to do it but otherwise we’re really fans of the ways in which the raw enzymes contribute to the flavor and aromatic profiles.
So you believe the added sulfite, cause sulfite, already exist naturally in wine. But added sulfite kills those natural enzymes and therefore flavours?
Yeah exactly, I mean that’s the idea of sulfite is that I couldn’t possibly bottle it and send it anywhere without putting sulfur in it ’cause, exactly, it sterilizes the wine, it kills the organisms that are alive in it and it’s not and I mean, I do need to do that for my sparkling wine or else I would have an exploding cellar. So there are really good reasons why people use sulfur. But for us we’re just a little crazy about the winemaking thing and we’ve gone radically raw wine. And for us we love it, for us that’s an exciting thing.
That’s fantastic, all right well Mike Welling has joined us here and Gillian Dawe-Taylor says, what is the name of your winery and do you… yes, she does produce her own wine. But remind us the name of winery is it Parcell or Parcel?
It is Parsell Vineyard and it’s my husband’s family name, we’re the Parsell’s and they were involved in the 1920’s and ’30’s in the Vancouver Island Loganberry Wine industry. So we’re starting up an old family brand, we’re reinvigorating. My father-in-law is giving us all the old wine equipment which is pretty neat. It has buckets with the names on it from the ’30’s and that way we can joke that we’re fourth generation winemakers, we just skipped two generations.
That’s great you did learn from the widow Clicquot.
Come and visit us we’ll be open by July anybody who is thinking of visiting Victoria.
That would be lovely, absolutely that would be a lovely trip. Now Lori says, what is the name of your winery. I was on the Island a few years ago and there weren’t too many others, yes, it’s a developing area. Jillian: where do we find you the next time we’re in the area? Are you close to the little town?
So we’re really close to the ferry and the airport. We’re about I think eight kilometers south of the ferry, we’re about 20 kilometers north of Victoria. If anybody wants to shoot me an email, I’d be happy to put them on our grand opening blast list and keep them on there. We won’t spam anybody I promise.
Well wine doesn’t pair well with spam but…
That’s fine and we could put those details in the comments after this video is over so that people can connect directly with you, Tilar. That’s awesome, all right so in terms of the winery, what’s your role in it now? Are you and your husband both winemakers, how does it work there?
We have a marital division of labor.
I love that!
He is the master of the vineyard.
So he does, we’re both fully involved in it. I especially do the pruning but we’ve agreed for marital reasons that final decision in the vineyard is his decision and I am the goddess of the winery so, I’m the winemaker, I make all the decisions in the winery. I mean of course we’re married and this is a labour of love, so we do all of that together but yes we did learn early on that one of the great debates that we have is till or no till in the vineyard. I’m a no tiller I think he’s going to end up being a tiller. You know it’s a philosophical divide between us.
And what are the pros and cons without getting too deep into the technical stuff of tilling the earth?
So really for my argument as a no till advocate for farming, is that every time you turn the soil over you disrupt the anaerobic micro organisms. The whole idea of bio dynamic farming is the micro biome. His argument, on the other side, is that we’re recuperating lands that was not bio dynamically or organically farmed for a long time and he’s having a hard time getting the nutrients into the soil that he needs for the vines to do really well. So there are good arguments on both sides but in order to avoid the argument we’ve decided he can make the final decisions there and that I’m the winemaker, I run the winery.
That’s awesome, wow, good negotiating skills. I think you guys will last.
I hope so.
We’re having such a good discussion. So folks if you’re enjoying this please take a moment to share this video with people you think will enjoy it, tell them why and click follow. Next week we will also be drawing for a signed copy of Tilar’s book The Widow Clicquot, or the, yes, The Widow Clicquot and for sharing. So do it even if you’re watching the replay, ’cause I know a lot you catch this on the replay as opposed to live. You can still comment below and we’ll respond but also the draw doesn’t happen till next week and at the end of this session I’ll be drawing for last weeks winner so stay tuned on that. All right Jillian says: “being the goddess of the winery is the best title”, okay.
Maybe I should put that on my business cards.
You should, you should. I should’ve adjusted the name plate beneath you. All right so let me just go back to some things about… I want to make sure we got to your vineyard and the other books, but maybe some more general line questions now Tilar. Oh, I don’t want to forget about this because you do have something interesting, what is your favorite wine gadget?
Oh yes you had asked me to think about that. Okay. I have no idea who makes it, but personally, I mean again my husband will never forgive me saying this. Personally I don’t have any trouble opening champagne bottles and not… we have glass skylights in our kitchen and I watched my husband open champagne bottles and it fills me with fear. I was taught by a very handsome Frenchman once who told me, if it’s not too risqué for your listeners, that the way to open a champagne bottle is, of course, you hold the cork in your hand and then you twist the bottle and then it should make a sigh like a woman who is enjoying her date. Only a Frenchman would tell you, right. So of course I practiced many times and can now open it appropriately but my husband does tend to be a menace with opening champagne bottles. He says it’s because I don’t let him do it often enough. So I found, one day in a thrift store in Sydney, and I had no idea who makes it again, but it’s called a champagne wrench. And so what it is, it’s this little wrench that you just put over the top of a champagne bottle like this.
Hold it up a little bit more.
Yeah, you do this and just turn it and it loosens it but it also has, because it’s closed on the top, the champagne cork can’t fly away and you have complete control over opening it.
So it’s different from a nut cracker? I was thinking: can you just take a walnut cracker or something, but it’s different.
If you look at it, I don’t know if you can see, it’s got that thing in there. So yeah it’s the coolest thing ever. You just do it and you’re at a dinner party and you have to stress about whether you’re going to make a fool of yourself opening it. So yeah, I paid two bucks for it at the thrift store. I had no idea where they come from, it was still in the packaging so it must be modern. But yes that is my wine guerrilla tip of the week.
Well that is fantastic, I love that. We’ll have to look at Amazon to see if they’re available anywhere else but I love that.
So we were sort of alluding to this and I’m not sure, maybe your answer is Veuve Clicquot, but is there any person living or dead that you would love to share a bottle with, a bottle of wine, who would that be?
Yeah she’d be great but you know, you also asked me who my favorite winemaker is and do you know about. I’m not going to pronounce their name right is it Lalou Bize-Leroy?
She is just the coolest lady, if I were to write a biography of a really cool lady in the wine industry, that’s who it’s going to be. I also want to be like that, I think she’s going to be a little older than I am but when I am a little bit older, I want to be a cool lady like her.
She is crazy in a good way. I met her for my first book and she cooked me this chicken dinner. Roast chicken in the oven that was making my eyes water ’cause it was smoking and we talked about the foolishness of wine writers and I just had to nod and agree. ‘Cause she’s talking about fruit salad description and I’m like ugh!
Present company included I’m sure.
I don’t think she cared and then she took me out back where all her astrological signs were and she has all these rocks… and she’s fascinating, you got to meet her in person.
I love her, I’d love to meet her and then I saw that documentary where she’d been interviewed talking about burgundy wine because she does the biodynamics and she was out talking to the vines and I’m like ‘oh my God I’m not the only one who talks to the vines’.
Vine whisperer really. And of course she used to work at Domaine de la Romanée-Conti so first I met Aubert de Villaine, and then over to there, what a contrast in personality’s but still some of the fundamental principles were so similar, you’ve got to sit down with her.
I would love to meet her, so that’s the person I would love to have a glass of wine with. I would have to chose between her and the widow Clicquot.
Well Lalou Bize-Leroy she is getting on in age so get on with that, but yeah she’s fantastic. She’s very smart, very snippy in a good way, interesting way like your sharpest school teacher who just womped you for every dangling participle but you loved her in the end for it.
Luckily I’m not snippy at all.
‘Cause you are an English professor, I’ve been conscious about leaving prepositions at the end of sentences.
Terrible isn’t it.
My mother and my grandmother were both school teachers and English was a passion. So maybe you can share with us perhaps the weirdest wine pairing you’ve ever had?
Yeah so the weirdest I’ve ever had is red sparkling wines. I remember I was in Sonoma at one point and I was doing research for the Back Lane wineries in Sonoma and it was coming up on Thanksgiving and I’m pretty sure that one of the wines, and it was Wattle Creek, makes a sparkling Chardonnay and it was really neat. And so after that I had done a tasting, at one point with a bunch of different sparkling reds, especially since at Thanksgiving or for fall kind of winter holiday feast, you’re kind of looking for something that sparkling with all those connotations and celebration but that is a little bit more robust than a white wine. So for me I’m a fan of that, I have no plans to make it. I’m pretty sure it’s hard to make, I think ’cause getting that balance right is really, really tricky. I think if somebody’s great and has really the right fruit you can probably pull that off. But yes so for me if you haven’t ever had a sparkling red wine I suggest trying that especially around the fall holidays.
Okay, so, and your pairing would be then with a turkey dinner or…
This was with a turkey dinner exactly. It was a turkey dinner and the stuffing and you know it was all those, especially the richness of a stuffing. Sometime the champagne I find is a little bit too light you can do something that, vintage champagne of course can hold up to anything, but you know I mean if you’re really in the kind of Prosecco or non vintage price point, you need something sometimes a little bit more sturdy to hold up, I find, to the kinds of fats and butters that are in all of my dressings.
That’s great, awesome. Kind of… as we’re wrapping up here on the wine questions, what’s the best piece of wine advice you’ve ever received?
Tasting or growing?
Let’s do both.
Both, let’s see, the best advice I ever got about tasting which I try to remember now that we’re coming up on having a tasting room as well, is how really subjective wine tasting is and that there are a lot of studies. And I’ve done, as you mentioned, I’ve done the winemaking certificate program at UC Davis and in fact my husband and I just started the viticulture program at Washington State as well, so we’ll see. I never fought so hard for B’s in my entire life as in organic chemistry as a winemaker. But really, one of the things that you learn in a winemaking degree program, is that all the studies show that tasting wine is hugely suggestive. So that’s why, when you go out to a winery and you’re sitting there in front of palm trees and it’s the Tuscan Palace and everybody’s happy, everything tastes better, everything really does taste better. But that also means that if we, well at least for me, if you think at home about making, drinking wine that kind of experience, not only does your appreciation of the wine automatically go up, but your evening is improved as well. So for me, tasting, that was important to remember before I was making wine. Like you, I was writing about wine, not criticizing wine. I was really careful. Wine is different, people have different taste and so I saw my job as wine writer really to describe the wine and then leave the consumer to make his or her own judgements about whether that was your style or not. It had to be a good wine but there’s a lot of good wines that some people just don’t like ’cause it’s not their taste. So for me I always try to remember that. That if I went and something didn’t taste good to me I needed to think about whether I was being unfair to that winemaker and whether, maybe, I was having a bad day or maybe we hadn’t gotten off on the right foot or maybe it was too hot and to remember to try again when I was in a good mood.
Yeah it’s true. It’s contextual.
Yeah, really, it’s so contextual, right. And then for me in the growing, in the winemaking side of it, is people always say ‘it’s a truism that wine is made in a vineyard’ and especially when you come through a wine making program it’s really easy to imagine that with all that organic chemistry we can control what happens in the winery. And one of the things that I’ve come to learn is that if I have to control things in the wineries, something probably went wrong somewhere. And that it is really true that I think good winemaking is learning to get out of the way of good fruit and that if you’re not obsessed about your fruit, you’re not obsessed about your wine. So we’re on a steep learning curve as farmers.
I like the way you put it, get out of the way of good fruit and yeah, absolutely. So we are going to wrap up here Tilar. Folks I’ve got some important announcements though so stay with me for another 10 minutes, but Tilar this has been a fantastic discussion. You’ve shared all kinds of great stories and tips and values that people want to connect with you. What’s the best way to get in touch with you? Is it a website, is it Twitter, is it the winery site, emails?
So probably the best would be either to send me an email which is firstname.lastname@example.org or twitter which is @parsellvineyard and I’d be delighted to hear from anybody, especially if you’re coming out. If you’ve got questions about Clicquot or I’m always happy to talk wine. It was great talking with you all here and with your listeners out there in the ethernet.
Absolutely, fantastic, thank you again Tilar and I will send you a link to this so that you can also read all the comments, lots of comments pouring in now. I guess people are bored with the game but we’re getting more and more recruits all the time. But thank you again for sharing your stories with us it was an absolute delight.
Thanks for the invite, take care.
Take care, bye