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Columns – Miranda Franco

Ownroot Collective: Championing the Undiscovered Underdogs of Wine
Miranda Franco
Feb 22, 2023

Feb. 22, 2023: It's a Monday evening, and I'm fixed to Zoom listening to a burgeoning young winemaker, Ben Matthews of Terratorium Wines, discuss leaving a comfortable corporate career to start from the beginning as a winery intern. The opportunity to connect with Matthews is a perk of being part of the Ownroot Collective community. The Ownroot Collective is a unique wine club concept where members can join talented winemakers for virtual tastings and access and purchase high-quality wines that are only available in small quantities and have primarily been undiscovered. Winemakers like Matthews, who join forces with the Ownroot Collective, are offered a platform to showcase their craft. This inspired platform was launched by Terra Jane Albee in 2020 with a mission to promote winemakers whose production may be small, but whose impact on the wine industry could be significant.

De-Alcoholized Wine to Get You Through 'Dry January' and Beyond
Miranda Franco
Jan 12, 2023

Jan. 12, 2023: With an ever-increasing number of people taking part in seasonal events like Dry January and resolving to make lifestyle changes - there's a demand for de-alcoholized wine that intrigues the palate just as much as their alcoholic counterparts. It's not just Dry January initiatives sparking sales of no- and low-alcohol wine; consumers have helped spur the impressive growth of the category year-round, as evidenced by the sheer breadth of quality products now available. In the past, non-alcoholic wine seemed an anathema and devoid of flavor. Now we are beginning to see complex options, the use of quality grapes from storied varieties and terroirs, and the use of aging and occasionally oak. Further, recent advancements in de-alcoholizing technology have helped to revolutionize the no- and low-alcohol wine market.

Rediscover Cava This Celebration Season
Miranda Franco
Nov 30, 2022

Dec. 7, 2022: Cava was established as an official Denominación de Origen (D.O.) in 1986, shortly after Spain joined the European Union. The D.O. was created to protect all Spanish sparkling wine rather than one specific region. However, this approach, while well-intentioned, had no sub-regions and no category system to recognize quality level, thus lacking the ability to provide consumers the guarantee of quality and origin. Unfortunately, as a result, Cava's reputation has been weighed down over the years by loose regulations and production of mass quantities. Few consumers know how fine Cava can be, or how reflective it can be of its place of origin. Many see it as merely a cheap alternative to Champagne. Cava has always deserved better, and there are indications that Cava's fate is changing largely due to several high-end producers seeking to distinguish themselves outside the Cava D.O. over the last decade. They believed they could more effectively market the prestige and quality of their sparkling wine brands by distancing themselves from Cava's mass-produced image. These estates, including Gramona, Llopart, and Recaredo, to name a few, broke ties and left the D.O. to bottle their wines under the brand name Corpinnat (roughly meaning 'heart of Penedès' in Latin).

Asking 5 D.C. Sommeliers the Questions You've Always Wanted to Ask
Miranda Franco
Oct 12, 2022

Oct. 12, 2022: Enjoying a glass of wine is one of life's most simple pleasures. Yet, for a drink ostensibly all about pleasure, it can be pretty intimidating. The world of wine is filled with nuance and vocabulary that might be confusing unless you're an expert in the subject. So, where do you start when you're looking at a massive wine list? What if there is a flaw in a particular bottle? How should you taste wine when the sommelier pours a bit in your glass for sampling? Buying wine can feel as opaque as Mourvèdre. Luckily, there are highly trained and passionate sommeliers to help guide us along the wine journey. Five of the best sommeliers in the exceedingly vibrant wine market of Washington, D.C. agreed to share their perspectives on the qualities that define a good sommelier, indicate how they got started, and provide their expertise to answer some of our burning questions. So, grab a glass, and drink in the wisdom of our wine experts.

Take Note of England's Top-Quality Sparkling Wines
Miranda Franco
Aug 17, 2022

August 17, 2022: It's easy to forget that plenty of other countries and regions beyond France take on the task of crafting delicious sparkling wines. Franciacorta in Italy, for instance, is a sparkling wine from Lombardy that deserves far more attention than it receives. And yet, the world's most striking example may be England, a nation with a thriving, fast-growing sparkling wine industry that has risen from recent obscurity to become a serious contender on the world sparkling stage.

The Perfect Summer Sipper: Txakolina
Miranda Franco
Aug 11, 2022

With temperatures soaring across the country, you'll need a cold drink to lull you out of your heat-induced stupor. Look no further than Txakolina (pronounced chock-oh-lee-nah) an effervescent, incredibly crisp, refreshing wine that can cut through the hottest summer days. Txakolina (also called Txakoli or Chacoli) by no means is exclusively a seasonal drink; however, it's hard to deny that it is an ideal wine to enjoy on a summer terrace. The Basque region's answer to Vinho Verde, most Txakoli wines have relatively low alcohol (typically 10-11 percent), making them perfectly refreshing for hot summer days. A hint of salinity and ample acidity also make these wines perfect for social drinking over shared plates on a warm afternoon.

The "Second Wines" of Bordeaux's First Growths: Anything but Second Rate
Miranda Franco
Jul 5, 2022

July 5, 2022: I just returned from Bordeaux, spending the week tasting some of the world's finest wines. I had this great fortune thanks to Ronald and Margaret Rens, Founders of the Bordeaux Wine Experience, who perfectly curated a trip highlighting the region's quality, heritage, and pedigree. It was the first and likely last time I will enjoy all the first growths across multiple vintages in a week's time. It was a remarkable, eye-opening, and educational experience I could have never attained on my own. As my budget does not often allow me to taste these icons of wine with stratospheric price tags, I will look to Bordeaux's leading château's less expensive "second wines." Second wines offer Bordeaux lovers an excellent opportunity to buy wines from first growths at a fraction of the price of a chateau's Grand Vin.

Meet the Women Producing Some of Mexico's Most Sought-After Wines
Miranda Franco
May 17, 2022

May 18, 2022: Mexico's Valle de Guadalupe wine region continues to gain international prominence. The Valle has been referred to as the Napa Valley of Mexico, and for a good reason. This emerging region can yield world-class wines, blessed with a perfect climate, a centuries-old winemaking tradition, and surrounded by two seas. And yet, perhaps even more remarkable than the excellent wines coming out of the Valle de Guadalupe is the number of women producing them. The influence of women on Mexico's wine industry is profound, and some of Mexico's most exciting and coveted wines are being produced by a cadre of women winemakers.

Wine Proprietor Uses an Artist's Touch to Make Exceptional Pinot Noir
Miranda Franco
Mar 30, 2022

Mar 30, 2022: Thomas T. Thomas has long loved music, and he loves wine. He is a self-taught guitar player from the outskirts of Toledo, Ohio, who studied music at Ohio University (shout out to all my fellow Bobcats) before transferring to the University of Cincinnati's College-Conservatory of Music to study voice. However, Thomas knew music was not the most lucrative career direction, so he earned an MBA and took a position with GE Capital in the Corporate Finance Division. Later, he became a finance executive at the biotech company Genentech. A fortuitous trip to Burgundy in 1999 would change everything. Thomas was taken by the French soil and those superb Pinots. He became intoxicated with the thought of recreating that experience. So, in 2001, Thomas and his wife bought property in Anderson Valley - a region in western Mendocino County that routinely produces exceptional Pinot Noir.

The Jewel of Napa: Diamond Mountain District
Miranda Franco
Feb 8, 2022

If Diamond Mountain District doesn't sound familiar, you need to know more. This little-known region, nestled in the Mayacamas range on the western side of the Napa Valley, far away from the traffic of the valley floor, produces some of the region's most exquisite wines. It also has stunning views from an appellation that ranges from 400 to 2,200 feet above sea level. The region's fine-grained, ash-like soils contain shards of reflective volcanic glass, which inspired its name.

Spain's Best Kept Secrets: The Winemakers and Regions of Tomorrow
Miranda Franco
Nov 29, 2021

Rioja is typically at the forefront of Spanish wine understanding and sales. However, I'd like to cast the net further afield and explore a few regions and producers that are awakening Spain's wine industry. I've rounded up a few of my favorite emerging regions, bottles, and winemakers, as the fun is not only selecting the style of wine you like drinking but also the names you like to drink. Let's get started in Galicia, in northwestern Spain, just north of Portugal. It includes five wine appellations (Denominacion de Origen, or D.O.): Rias Baixas, Ribeiro, Ribeira Sacra, Valdeorras, and Monterrei.

The Georgian Wine Revival, as Explained by the Experts
Miranda Franco
Oct 26, 2021

Whether amber-colored skin-contact wines pique your interest, or a full-bodied Saperavi sounds more your style, Georgian wine has something for every wine lover. The country has all the makings of a great wine destination - the longest-running wine tradition with wines fermented and aged in clay qvevri, over 525 indigenous grape varieties, and stunning landscapes with the Caucasus Mountains to the north and the Black Sea to the west. Despite a winemaking tradition spanning 8,000 years, Georgian wines have come onto the world wine stage only recently, as geographical and political isolation from Europe meant that a rich wine heritage remained largely unknown to the West. A new generation of Georgian winemakers is preserving the old winemaking traditions while bringing new life and energy to the wine industry and propelling it forward to keep up with today's growing demand.

Pathbreaker: Dan Petroski, The Massican Winemaker Pushing Whites to California's Forefront
Miranda Franco
Sep 21, 2021

The Napa Valley wine industry is rich with winemakers producing premium Cabernet Sauvignon as economics continue to drive the prominence of the variety. So, it was a thrill to sit down (via Google Meet) with winemaker Dan Petroski as he pushes the pendulum of Napa Valley wines toward white wines that combine the sunny Mediterranean with an intellectual appeal. Petroski is the founder and owner of Massican, which serves as an ode to Mediterranean wines. Massican's name comes from the coastal mountain range in Southern Italy. His entire production is white wines (and vermouth), producing several distinctive Italian varietals like Ribolla Gialla and Tocai Friulano that don't often get the attention they deserve and are seldom seen in Napa. His focus on white wines makes Massican the only all-white wine project in the Napa Valley.

Wine Doldrums? It's Time to Break Out of Your Comfort Zone
Miranda Franco
Aug 10, 2021

Are you in a stale relationship with your go-to wine? Let's face it - sometimes relationships go stale. When that happens, it helps to inject something new and fresh into the routine, especially in a year that limited our possibilities and cramped us within our comfort zones. Shaking up our usual wine drinking could go a long way toward getting us back to the adventure of life again. So, while there is nothing wrong with having favorites, if you'd like to explore wine's diversity, here are some ideas to veer ever so slightly into new territory and prevent tongue tedium. You can always go back to the same old, after trying some fresh alternatives, but odds are good that your wine horizons will be broadened.

We Should All Be Drinking More Portuguese Wine
Miranda Franco
Jun 15, 2021

Portugal's winemaking heritage is well-established. For starters, the country produces nearly 50 percent of the world's cork. Porto, made with grapes sourced from the Douro Valley, is the world's oldest regulated wine region, and other areas like Alentejo, Dão, and Bairrada have been producing wine for centuries. Though Portuguese winemaking dates to ancient times, demand for Portuguese wine reached its height in the 17th and 18th centuries, upon Britain's "discovery" of Port wine. However, political struggle throughout the 19th and most of the 20th greatly hindered modern winemaking. It wasn't until Portugal joined the European Union in 1986 that truly modern Portuguese winemaking began. Adventurous consumers will find much to love about the wines of Portugal, its colorful history, and its diverse pool of indigenous grape varieties.

Consider Lesser-Known Wine Regions for Your Post-Pandemic Travel Plans
Miranda Franco
Apr 13, 2021

or more than a year, we have been forced to stay grounded. Now, more than ever, the possibility of traveling again feels less elusive. Vaccinations are on the rise, and restrictions are slowly lifting. In other words, the hope of reclaiming travel is on the horizon. For those who wish to combine their love of wine with wanderlust, wine travel is the way to go. And while your mind may flash to vineyards in Napa or France, many unsung wine regions are also worth exploring. From Pico Island to Traverse City, below are some lesser-known wine locations to consider for your next trip. For those not quite ready to travel, wine recommendations are also provided so that you may explore these regions using your "liquid passport." You don't have to get on a plane to learn the history, culture, and traditions of a place if you are open to listening to the tales in your glass.

An Interview with Jason and Flora Chang of Family Owned and Operated Nine Suns and Plinth
Miranda Franco
Mar 3, 2021

Visitors to Nine Suns are treated to spectacular views and in the tasting room engage in a casual, down-to-earth experience with wines that merit serious attention. Hospitality is the focus here. You will not experience a host rattling off statistics about oak percentages and discussing pump-overs while pouring wine for ten other visitors. Instead, you will be privately toured by either Jason or Flora, who oversee the winery. Their focus on personal interaction and relationship development has allowed Nine Suns to thrive in an area that is home to Colgin, Bryant Family, Chappellet, Continuum, David Arthur, and Ovid. Jason and Flora recognize that wine is not just about quality and craft but about people and their experience with the wine, which, in part, inspired their new passion project - Plinth.

Interview with Congressman Mike Thompson: California Wine Country's Foremost Advocate
Miranda Franco
Nov 11, 2020

Congressman Thompson can be found working hard in the halls of Congress … or in the rows of his vineyard. He recently won re-election, and next year will begin his 12th term in the U.S. House of Representatives, where he will continue to advocate vehemently for the wine community. Thompson serves California's 5th Congressional District, including all of Napa and parts of Contra Costa, Lake, Solano, and Sonoma Counties. The Congressman was born in the Napa Valley and continues to reside there with his family. He also owns a 20-acre vineyard in Lake County.

VIK Wines: A Story Like No Other
Miranda Franco
Oct 20, 2020

The story of VIK begins with Norwegian entrepreneur Alexander Vik. In 2004, he envisioned a luxury retreat and vineyard that would produce world-class wines. The pursuit led him about two hours south of Santiago to 11,000 acres in the Millahue Valley, between the Pacific Ocean and the high-altitude Andes Mountains. For those fortunate enough to visit, it is an unparalleled experience.