This post is the first one this year of the women in wine series. My interview with April Cullom, a friend and Spanish wine guru, is pretty timely as she is just launching two new wine lines, Alma de Vino and Casa Abril. For family reasons I missed her tasting yesterday at K&D but I am sure she will be holding others in the coming months around New York City and other locals.
We started the chat with the same question I always ask: how did she start out in the wine business?
After experiencing September 11th I decided I wanted to “go back to my Spanish roots” where I had lived for 10+ years to start a new business marketing what I loved about Spain – food, wine and travel. My favorite memories were spending Sunday mornings in the kitchen with my Spanish Mother Charo, learning how to cook traditional dishes for Sunday lunch with the family. The wine was always part of the meal even if what was in the decanter came from a box. The experience was about sitting around the table with loved-ones sharing a meal and lots of conversation.
Back in 2002, I realized not many Americans knew much about Spanish wine so I started organizing Spanish wine tasting classes in New York City to promote the category. I noticed once consumers learned more about the wines and tried them they would ask their local wine store for Spanish wines. The more I learned about wine the more I wanted to know, and hence went on to get certified at the International Wine Center where I received with honorable mention WSET Intermediate and Advanced certificates. I later worked for Spanish wine importers opening accounts in New York and New Jersey and also consulted importers on selecting Spanish wines for their portfolios. Finally, I went on to promote and educate the press, trade and consumers about several Spanish wine regions such as D.O. Navarra and D.O. Ribera del Duero, the last region serving as their U.S. Trade Liaison and Brand Ambassador.
What has been the hardest part of the wine business for you in terms of gender issues, if any?
Gender hasn’t been much of an issue here in the US but at times it was in Spain given the cultural differences and a male-dominated industry.
What trends and changes have you seen since you started? What do you see happening in the next 5-10 years?
Spanish wines have increased their presence in the States. I’ve noticed more wines made with indigenous grapes and lesser-known wine regions. Packaging has improved immensely
I foresee more of a global market as consumers around the world start to embrace wine and include it as part of their meal. Asia and Russia are good examples where having wine with the meal was not traditionally part of their daily life but now that more and more people are traveling I believe it’s influenced their purchasing decisions.
What do you see happening in the Spanish wine world in the coming years?
A divide between large producers and boutique wineries – some will focus on volume and consistency in “taste” and others will focus on vintage uniqueness and terroir.
More indigenous varietals with a focus on terroir will make their way to USA thanks to demand for “something different” given an increase in sophisticated wine drinkers in key urban markets who have been exposed to well-known varietals and regions with a desire to discover something “new”.
Are people interested in different varietals? International varietals?
Yes, especially since many people who love wine also enjoy traveling and the quest for discovery. However, some consumers are “purists” and seek authentic varietals from the region and others embrace the new additions of international varietals as a way of complementing the blend.
What wines from Spain are truly interesting to people these days?
I’m seeing more people get excited about “minerality” not only in white wines but also reds. Well-balanced, not as much presence of oak and conservative levels in alcohol volume. It’s as if the pendulum is swinging back to “moderate” or perhaps even slightly to the other extreme. Fortunately, in Spain there’s something for everyone.
Wines from lesser known regions and native varietals.
What do you think about the level of wine education in general in the US about Spanish wines?
In general, I’d say “basic” level. They’ve heard of Tempranillo, Albariño, Garnacha at best. I believe there is a true need for education at all levels and it would be wonderful if the Spanish government could launch an educational program for professionals via ICEX.
What secrets can you share about pairing Spanish wines with food?
I learned one basic trick a long time ago “what grows together, goes together” such as seafood and Galician white wines or “Fino” and “Pata Negra” Iberian pig ham, so go local.
I also like to look for contrasts in textures such as pairing a creamy Arzua Ulloa cheese with a high-acid white wine.
What is going on with sustainability in Spain?
Given most of the vineyards are dry-farmed, soils and climate are ideal environment for grape vines. Coupled with the traditional mentality of what goes in the soil eventually is absorbed by the grapes, you’ll find many wineries practice sustainability, however it’s only been recently they’ve realized the importance and value of these practices as a way of maintaining terroir and uniqueness in such a crowed market. I’ve also noticed there’s a surge in wanting to promote and defend these “eco-friendly” viticultural practices, as each year there’s a wine show “FIVE” (Feria Internacional de Vino Ecologico) dedicated to organic and biodynamic wines which has been growing year by year.
Tell me about Casa Abril and Alma de Vino?
After almost 15 years working with Spanish wines, I’ve made quite a few friends as winemakers who also have their own vineyards albeit more like “parcels” of vines. In a collaborative way, we make wine together focusing on the unique expression of terroir in the vineyard. The difference between the two brands comes down to the kind of experience you want with the wine. If we were in Spain, let’s imagine we walk into a restaurant/bar, and we decide if we’re going to have lunch either at the bar with tapas or sit down at a table for the “menu del dia”. It depends on what you’re in the mood for and the kind of food you want to enjoy.
Casa Abril wines are easy-drinking, go with many dishes and are easy on the wallet and made from recognized Spanish varietals such as Tempranillo and Garnacha for example.
Alma de Vino wines strive to surprise an educated palate and are focused on working with blending wines from various parcels with century-old vines or using lesser-known varietals such as Caiño Blanco or Bobal.