June 20th, 2017 | By Mike Raven
This past April I flew up to Providence, Rhode Island to meet with Ed Korry for an interview, at the College of Culinary Arts, Johnson & Wales University where he is an Associate Professor and Department Chairman at the Center for Culinary Excellence. Ed is also a Certified Hospitality Educator (CHE), Certified Specialist of Spirits (CSS) and a Certified Wine Educator (CWE). He is also on the Board of Directors and a past President of the Society of Wine Educators.
Ed has become a friend of mine through the years and is a regular contributor for in the Mix. He is also one of the most knowledgeable people I have gotten to know in my lifetime of dealing with wine and spirits. As we toured the state-of-the-art facility at JWU, we could look into the glass-enclosed teaching laboratories and watch the students learning their trade. I even attended a spirits class, which was interactive and fascinating.
JWU is a first-class operation offering top of the line hospitality education with campuses in Providence, North Miami, Denver and Charlotte. Programs are offered in culinary, hospitality, business and more. They also offer online education.
Interview with Ed Korry
Mike: You’ve travelled all over the world visiting wine regions and wineries. What was the most unusual one you can remember?
Ed: Two places come to mind. One that I visited recently is Pico, which nobody has ever heard of. I had only read about it in a book about the 19th century wine trade. It’s an amazing, surreal place that’s a Unesco World Heritage Site, where they built all these little walls to protect two, three or four vines. If you juxtaposed all these little lava rock walls they put together manually in the 15th, 16th and 17th centuries, they would circumnavigate the globe twice! That’s 50,000 miles of walls, encompassing around 12,000 acres of vineyards! Nothing else grows there; it’s just lava rock. They actually brought dirt from neighboring islands and put a little bit in the holes in the rocks. The walls are there to protect the vines from the sea salt air. The salt would burn them. The walls also trap the heat; without them, there wouldn’t be enough heat for the vines to develop.
The other amazing thing about Pico, in terms of wines, is they make Vinho Licoroso, which technically means “fortified wines,” but most of them are not fortified. What is amazing to me, when I tasted some of them, they are 19 percent to 20.5 percent alcohol, unfortified! It’s the yeast — they’ve adapted to the sea salt air and the environment. They can keep fermenting up to 20 percent alcohol without fortification! Not all the wines are that way obviously, but what this means is that within the walls, you can really super-ripen and late-harvest the grapes, if you want to.
The wines are amazing; they tend to be dry but they have some sweet. And I really like their exceptional minerality, and I mean almost salty, electric, acidic, tart wines that still have flavor — not just citrus but stone fruit and flowers, and flavors like that; even seaweed sometimes.
Then the other place, Bordeaux, showed me we have this false paradigm of Old World/New World. New World wines are fruitier and less alcoholic, which probably generally speaking is true because they’re in sunnier climates. People draw conclusions like, “Ah, you know, Bordeaux. Starchy. Just look at their labels with the etchings” — and this and that. I went into some wineries that are hitting the 22nd century compared to others. They’re using things that I thought were going away, like more and more concrete vats. Because of thermodynamics of fermentation, you get better evenness. But then there’s other really cool stuff. As you know, fermentation produces CO2 and they’re trying to be carbon neutral. So the CO2 gets pumped into stainless steel water channels that are in the winery; the water is now carbonated and they use that for cleaning. They can use less water because the carbon dioxide from the fermentation is now integrated into the water.
EK: Yes — that kind of thinking, using technology to make it sustainable.
MR: Any particular wineries that come to mind?
EK: Yes. I’m thinking of the bright orangey-colored winery of Lafon-Rochet. It’s the only one that has a sort of Mediterranean orange-yellow color. Maybe because it’s off the main road and it attracts attention. (Laughs) The cool thing is these people are doing biodynamic agriculture. A lot of it is “out there” in one sense, but they want sustainability and here you are in a highly fungus-pressured environment, where they traditionally dumped fungicides and pesticides. And now they say we can’t do this because our grandchildren won’t be able to use this land if we keep going this way. So they’re going back to the way they did it before all the pesticides were invented. That was amazing to me, and the fact that in fairly lousy vintages like 2012, they made good wines. Not spectacular wines but they were really good wines. Twenty years ago after a bad vintage, you’d say, “I don’t know how they’re going to sell this stuff.”
Then there’s Ninxia Province, China — a place that has gone from nothing 20 years ago to 40,000 hectares of vines (almost 100,000 acres) and about 100 wineries. I saw one winery — wow! I was talking to someone from Napa and asked him how much would it cost if you built this winery in Napa. He said $150 million to $200 million.
MR: How was the wine?
EK: It was okay. It’s coming along and I think the Chinese wine market is as well.
MR: Are there a bunch of odd varietals we can’t pronounce, like Greece has?
EK: No, no. The ones that are doing well are Chardonnay, Riesling, Cab, Merlot and Cabernet Franc.
MR: So standard viniferous grapes?
EK: The two that are different are Cabernet Gernischt that German Jesuits brought into China in the late 19th century because they needed red wine for Mass. Cabernet Gernischt is believed to be Carménère. Then the other grape, Marselan, which is from France but very secondary, is also producing some interesting wines. So those are two different grapes.
MR: That was three unusual wine regions.
EK: Oh, okay. I love all wines. (Smiling)
MR: What was the most beautiful wine region you’ve ever seen?
EK: I don’t want to insult anybody but what comes to mind is MacMurray Ranch in Sonoma. It’s so American, and it’s so bucolic, and it’s such a great setting. I could open the windows to the old Fred MacMurray house and see that view every day for the rest of my life. On the other hand, there’s a place like Santorini in Greece. And then there’s Italy — what’s better than being in Tuscany and seeing those cypress trees in the background of Castello Banfi? It’s gorgeous!
MR: How about the town of Montalcino? It’s classic. You feel like you’re 400 hundred years in the past.
EK: Absolutely. It’s the wealthiest little town in all of Italy!
MR: What area were you most impressed with — the place where you walked away and said, “Wow.” Sounds like it was the one in Ninxia Provence, China.
EK: No, that was over the top; it was kind of Hollywood-ish. You look at some of the Bordeaux chateaux — they’re so impressive, pure splendor — Château Pichon Longueville, for example. On the other hand, there’s nothing like being at a small producer in Burgundy where you’re in an old cellar and it’s just the cask, the guy or gal, and the glass, and you’re listening to the passion. He could tell you about every vintage for the last 30 years, whether it rained on Thursday and if we hadn’t got that rain. (Laughs) You just listen to these folks, these passionate vintners.
MR: So France is one of your favorite wine producing countries?
EK: I will admit I can relate more easily to a lot of France. For one thing, I was born there from American parents. French was my first language. Call me a Francophile in certain ways, but no one can be more critical of the French than me. I don’t fall for it. To me, what differentiates the French in one sense is the way they take sensual pleasure in everything. Even the intellect is kind of a sensual pleasure when talking about ideas, not for just the sake of the ideas, but the whole argumentative approach, the engagement. The same thing with their wine; there’s just something about it.
On the other hand, there is Italy. I don’t know Italian (language) well but I can understand a lot of it. There’s no better language to express emotion than Italian. You listen to the voice and you can understand what they’re trying to tell you, even if you don’t understand the words! Italian wines, back when we started in the business, we knew Chianti and it wasn’t good — it was in a straw fiasco. We could get our hands on an Amorone that wasn’t expensive and kind of good, and a Barolo that wasn’t expensive either and could be good or not. Then you had Soave Bolla and all that stuff. But today, the qualitative jump is huge.
It’s like Greek wines. I’m fascinated with Greece. Do they have good Cab? Yes, but it’s about the varieties that may have been around 3,000 years ago. You’re tasting things that have survived that long, having almost disappeared and been brought back and they’re delicious! They’re really good now. The challenge today is, you want a really good wine and people are saying you have to spend $50 to $100. No, you don’t. There are really good wines for less. What do I mean by “good”? They have a distinctive quality taste and flavor and leave an impression on you you don’t forget, in part because of the persistence and the length of it. These are wines you can still taste five minutes after you put the glass down. It’s balanced; it’s not all about one thing or the other. That’s why I’ve gotten to like Greek wines so much.
MR: You are going there soon and will have been there before this interview is published. You’re very excited for it. Do you think Greek wines stand a chance of getting into the American mainstream?
EK: I don’t know about mainstream but they are definitely in restaurants.
MR: Do you think people know enough about them to walk into a wine shop and look for a Cabernet from Greece?
EK: We have an increasingly sophisticated audience. And Millennials want to know stuff. They may not spend a lot of time reading about it, but they’ll go on their phones to some website and ask what’s the equivalent in Greece stylistically to Sangiovese. Something will pop up and they will find it interesting. Agiorgitiko — they don’t know how to pronounce it, so they click a button and get the pronunciation (ah-gee-or-gee-tee-ko). (Laughing) Say they’re doing a Greek lamb recipe and they want a Greek red wine. The wine store clerk may ask, “You want one with more fruit, or more acid?” “Well, I really like Barolo.” “Oh! I got a wine for you that’s like Barolo; it’s called Xinomavro.” “Okay, I’ll try it.” And they may say that was delicious; and they didn’t pay $70 for a good Barolo, they paid $30 or $40 for this Xinomavro that they’ve never heard of before. I think people are willing to try wines when they go to stores where somebody knows what the hell they’re talking about, because they’re hiring people like Johnson & Wales students!
MR: Let’s talk a bit about beverage education today.
EK: I have a vision that beverage education was all wrong, in general. It used to be that the only route to having a career in beverage was an apprentice-type system, where you would work for a retailer or restaurant. You could sell, you have an interest in the beverages you were selling at the time, and then maybe a distributor will come along and say, “Work for me. You can make more money and you don’t have to work these lousy hours and holidays and whatnot.” So they’ll go off and work for them and prove themselves.
MR: That’s exactly how I did it.
EK: There you go. Or you went to an MBA program and you could learn marketing — sell soap or cases of wine, it didn’t matter. The product was really incidental, no real passion or real connectivity whatsoever. If you don’t have passion, then your work life becomes work. If you really enjoy what you’re doing, work is not work, it’s just a fun thing to do you get paid for. That’s why a lot of students come to Johnson & Wales at the Culinary, because they have a passion.
I always said beverage education is all wrong. It’s taught mostly in a formal way at hospitality schools and colleges that have teachers with the requisite graduate degrees, terminal degrees that have no real world experience. So 15 or so years ago, I had this idea we could change the model for teaching future generations on the beverage track. What I wanted were people who have worked both on- and off-premise, including distributorships. So I have faculty that have worked in restaurants, management positions, retail and distribution sales; all these elements understand the business. But at the end of the day, what they really, really loved was the product itself, the stories. No matter how much one studies, you wouldn’t learn it all. There is always another hurdle to jump over in terms of knowledge. Whenever there is a chance to improve your validated knowledge, do it. It’s about staying current. When a student asks you something, you know what you’re talking about. The minute you stop, you’re falling back.
MR: Why do you think all you hear about is Prosecco, Prosecco, Prosecco in the bubbly category lately? Why has it become so widely popular and Cava hasn’t caught on with the new drinkers to that level?
EK: First of all, there’s always been a strong Italian market here with Italian restaurants. There isn’t the same parallel with Spanish restaurants and markets. You have a Latino market but it’s not Spanish. The biggest challenge for Cava is that they were dominated by two houses, Codorniu and Freixenet. They are world players, all coming from this dusty little town that proves how capitalism can really work — two competing against each other and becoming global players. The challenge to them became about unit cost and efficiency; and along the way, I think the product at the base level was not particularly qualitative. It was fine, but nothing to write home to anybody about. It’s ironic that Raventós, who’s a great, great grandson of the founder of Cava, decided to drop Cava from the label and started a movement to disassociate themselves from Cava. In response to that, Cava has re-written all of its rules and regulations. To do what? To increase the quality level and to tier it in such a way that it will force producers to provided greater quality.
It’s there — you have a Gramona Grand Reserva that has 9 years of aging on the lees. Put it up against anything that Champagne can do! It’s what, $130 to $140, retail? People are looking at Cava for that price? No. They’re asking, “What about my Freixenet for $8.99?” That’s the disconnect.
MR: What regions are you excited to see that you haven’t been to?
EK: There are plenty of places I would like to go visit. At some point, I would like to go to Croatia. I hear some very interesting things about it. But really what’s high on my bucket list is Georgia (the Republic of Georgia, not the U.S. state). I want to be able to see what I sort of consider the birthplace of wine. When I teach an Old World wine course, I take the class on a virtual “historical trip” because I try to make wine contextual. That is, you can’t divorce it from history. You really can’t truly appreciate it and understand what it is unless it’s in a historical perspective. In an Old World versus New World wine class, we actually start with wine from Georgia, Lebanon, Israel and Cyprus before we go to Greece. Once I had a wine director of winemaking in the class who had never had a Georgian wine made in a quevri.
MR: Explain what a quevri is.
EK: A quevri is an earthen jar handmade from special clay and fired in a special way that they’ve done for thousands of years. The jars are buried in the ground. You tread on the grapes and put them all in, de-stem them pretty much but not completely, and they ferment in the ground in these huge gourds.
So, when I offered tastings of that quevri wine to a head winemaker of a large California winery it was side-by-side to a modern stainless steel-fermented Rkatsiteli, the oldest variety we know, and a traditional quevri wine, and he loved it. He had never tried it before; he thought the wine from a quevri was really good. And it was, it was different. It was kind of an orange wine.
MR: What do you mean, an orange wine?
EK: A white wine on the skins going through some oxidation in part. But it was still very fresh.
So I would really like to go to Georgia; it intrigues me a lot. I’d also like to go to the Tokai region of Hungary; I’ve never been there. And also New Zealand and Australia, “down under.”
MR: I’m surprised you’ve never been there!
EK: It will be done! It’s far away but I’ve been to China so it can’t be too bad. I’d like to go to Australia and New Zealand when I retire, so I can spend six weeks or more there. Also, mainland Portugal.