Calling all oenophiles, grape nuts and wine lovers. You'll want to mark Friday, June 7, down in your calendar. That's when the Arkansas Times Celebrate the Grape is happening in downtown North Little Rock, in the Argenta Farmer's Market space, at Sixth and Main streets. There'll be more than 200 wines (see a full list here) representing all the major categories and varieties, from buttery chardonnays from Napa to rustic malbecs from Argentina. Think of it like a liquid buffet — a chance to sample a good slice of what's on the market for the price of one nice bottle of wine. Even better, the ticket price includes delicious food from Argenta Market, Cafe Bossa Nova, Crush Wine Bar, The Italian Kitchen at Lulav and Reno's Argenta Cafe, and music from Rodney Block & The Real Music Lovers and The Rex Bell Trio featuring Kasie Lunsford.
The event runs from 6 to 9 p.m. Tickets are $25 in advance, or $30 at the door. Buy them at celebratethegrape2013.eventbrite.com.
Arkansas Times Celebrate the Grape is sponsored by Mercedes of Little Rock, Riverside Subaru, and EGP PLLC Accounting Firm and benefits the Argenta Arts District.
Read on for a look at industry trends in Central Arkansas and short profiles of some of the key wineries participating in Celebrate the Grape.
Combining the winemaking passion of the Old World with the unique grapes of Argentina, Alta Vista made a huge splash with the release of its malbec in 1998; the entire production sold out within a few hours and helped to spark a new tradition of top-quality Argentine wines. The d'Aulan family traces its roots to 13th century European nobility and owned a prominent Champagne house for more than a century. Count Patrick d'Aulan joined forces with Jean-Michel Arcaute, the late Bordeaux winemaker widely considered a visionary genius in the trade, to seek out interesting terroirs (the climate and geography of a place that make for distinctive grapes). They purchased vineyards in the Mendoza and Salta regions in Argentina, with exquisite conditions for the emblematic malbec and torrontes grapes. Based in the heart of Chacras de Coria, a small town just south of Mendoza city, the winery was originally built in the 19th century and was fully restored in 2003. Employing classic aging techniques and cutting-edge vine-growing technology, Alta Vista has managed a perfect French-Argentine fusion. In addition to malbec and torrontes, they'll be pouring cabernet sauvignon and chardonnay. DR.
Bell Wine Cellars
The signature wine of Bell Wine Cellars in Yountville, Calif., Clone 6 Cabernet, first crushed in 1991 by viticulturist Anthony Bell, will be poured at Celebrate the Grape. Bell developed Clone 6 as part of a cabernet sauvignon clone trial at Beaulieu Vineyards, where he worked more than a decade before founding Bell Wine Cellars in the Napa Valley. The Clone 6 rootstock (history available at bellwine.com) was found in an overgrown and abandoned wine grape experimental field station. Clone 6's aging process begins in the barrel for two years. The Napa Valley vineyard's claret, blended from select barrels of its cabernet, and its rose, produced from syrah juice, will also be poured. The vineyard's production has grown from 500 cases in 1991 to 15,000 today; Arkansas is Bell's biggest market outside California. LNP.
Charles Smith Wines
Sure, you can't judge a book by its cover. But Charles Smith certainly does not look the part of "respected winemaker." He's not the tanned, perfectly coiffed patriarch with the top three buttons undone on his very expensive shirt, smiling and looking off into the distance, surveying the glorious vineyard over which he presides. No, Smith is more like the enfant terrible of American winemakers, brash and bold, clad in a black T-shirt and jeans, unafraid of the sort of heroic partying that would flatten lesser men. Makes sense, though. Dude used to manage independent rock bands and he takes a similarly punk-rock, no-BS approach to winemaking, summed up by a quote featured prominently on the company's website: "It's just wine, drink it." But don't let that seeming nonchalance fool you: Smith loves wine deeply, and many of his creations have earned big-time accolades from wine-world heavyweights like Robert Parker. His Modernist Project wines are made to be consumed "without delay" and usually fall in the $12-$20 range. The popular Kung Fu Girl Riesling "kicks ass with tons of complexity," and the Boom Boom! Syrah's "fruit explodes in your mouth!" Both of these will be poured at Celebrate the Grape, along with the Eve Chardonnay, VINO Pinot Grigio, Velvet Devil Merlot, Chateau Smith Cabernet Sauvignon, Secco Bianco and Secco Sparkling Moscato. RB.
With diverse holdings in the U.S., Canada, South America, Europe, New Zealand and Australia, Constellation Brands is the leading premium wine producer in the world. Based in upstate New York, the company recently acquired the iconic Italian brand Ruffino, which has produced wine from 600 hectares of illustrious Tuscan vineyards for more than a century. Don't miss the famous Ruffino Chianti, and also be sure to sample its prosecco. Made from glera (Prosecco) grapes from hilly Valdobbiadene, it was introduced for the first time just two years ago and is already a hit among enthusiasts of bubblies from Italy's cooler northern region. Among other wines that Constellation will be pouring: Rex Goliath's great-value pinot noir; chardonnay from Simi, a winery with family roots in Tuscany that has been producing wine in Sonoma County since the 19th century and the Estancia cab, from vineyards in Paso Robles, Calif., one of the country's premier locations for cabernet sauvignon grapes. DR.
Delicato Family Vineyards
As anybody who loves a glass of wine knows, wine is always better when it's paired with a good story, and they don't come a whole lot better than the one behind Delicato Family Vineyards. After immigrating to the U.S. alone and penniless in 1919 at only 16, Gaspare Indelicato moved to California. Eventually he bought a dairy in Manteca, Calif., and planted his first vineyard there, selling his grapes to home winemakers during Prohibition. Once Prohibition was repealed, Indelicato decided to sell his vino commercially, and in 1935, with the help of his brother-in-law and their twin-sister wives, he set up a press in a hay barn and turned out the first, 3,400-gallon batch. It's the humble rootstock from which an empire has grown. Now run by third-generation winemakers, Delicato Family Vineyards is the parent company of a dozen premium wineries, in addition to the Delicato label. Four DFV brands will be featured at Celebrate the Grape. Noble Vines will feature its cabernet, merlot, red, pinot noir, sauvignon blanc and chardonnay. Massimo Prestige Vineyards will be pouring a sauvignon blanc from New Zealand, rioja from Spain, and malbec from Argentina. Napa Valley boutique winery Black Stallion Estate will be pouring its cabernet and chardonnay. Meanwhile, Handcraft Artisan Collection, featuring wines created by vintner Cheryl Indelicato, will be pouring its cabernet, petite sirah, chardonnay and pinot noir. DK.
If you are of a certain age, the E.&J. Gallo label may conjure up jug Chablis and wine by the tanker trailer, instead of the slim 750 ml corked bottle of artisanal pinot grigio. After all, Gallo also makes Thunderbird and Night Train Express. But some years back, the 80-year-old winery, which enjoys a full 25 percent of the entire American wine market, decided to lift its glass (and its profile) to wines grown by small wineries in the Napa Valley and internationally. It now owns some 60 labels, giving small vintners the juice they needed to stay in business. For example, in 2011 Gallo bought the Central Coast winery Edna Valley, which will be represented at Celebrate the Grape with a cabernet, a chardonnay, a sauvignon blanc and a pinot noir. The globe's vineyards are also represented in Gallo labels to be poured: the Italian sparkling wine La Marca Prosecco, a dry Spanish white (Martin Codax Albarino) and a Spanish red (Las Rocas Garnacha), and a sweet German riesling from Polka Dot. Also from California: Gallo's Mirassou Sunset Red blend, Louis Martini Cabernet, Red Rock Merlot and The Naked Grape Pinot Noir. LNP.
Sean Minor Wines
An education may require a fine vintner to be a bit nomadic. The resumes of the best show them bouncing from winery to winery and region to region as they pick up skills and techniques. Sean Minor of Sean Minor Wines is definitely one of those nomadic winemakers. Born in Kansas, Minor got his start at Napa's Beaulieu Vineyards, then moved on to King Estate Winery in Oregon. In the cool Pacific Northwest, Minor learned what he calls "site-specific viticulture," working with the land and climate to create unique and flavorful wines in what would seem like less-than-ideal conditions. In 2001, Minor and his family returned to California, where he managed Renwood Winery. In 2005, Minor felt he was finally able to do his own thing, and started Sean Minor Wines. Later, he started the Four Bears label. Headquartered near Sacramento, Minor pulls grapes from small vineyards in cooler areas along the California coast and processes them at a cooperative production facility in the Napa Valley. Critics and diners seem to think he's learned a thing or three in all that traveling. The April 2013 issue of Wine & Spirits Magazine listed two Sean Minor wines among the top 50 best-selling restaurant wines of 2012, and its pinot noir earned the 17th spot in a poll of more than 200 fine-dining restaurants. Best of all, most Sean Minor Wines retail for less than $20 bucks a bottle, which makes them taste even better. At Celebrate the Grape, Sean Minor Wines will be offering its Red Blend, Napa Cabernet Sauvignon, and Carneros Pinot Noir, while Central Coast pinot noir, Paso Robles cabernet sauvignon, Central Coast chardonnay and sauvignon blanc from Minor's Four Bears label will be poured. DK.