Sunday, June 26, 2016

True Wine Lover 17.

I have just finished reading Vineyards in the Sky a biography about pioneering California vintner Martin 'Rusty' Ray.  The book, which reads like a novel, was written by his second wife Eleanor (herself, in a small way, a contributor to California's wine history - y'know, behind every successful man...).  It tells of the interesting life of Martin Ray; a man whose persistence, and passion, in championing for strict varietal wine regulations, and the establishment of identifiable viticultural areas in California, made him quite a controversial character.  And, nowadays, hardly anyone in California has ever even heard of Martin Ray.
Martin Ray, a protégé of Burgundian transplant Paul Masson, railed against the production of cheap blended wines - wines whose producers then passed off, onto the unsuspecting consumer, as varietal wines.  (Let me just say, Ray despised Thompson Seedless grapes.)  In 1936, Ray purchased Paul Masson's La Cresta vineyard and winery (2000 feet up in the Santa Cruz mountains).  Six years later, after selling La Cresta to Seagrams, he developed his own vineyard on another crest to the northwest: his very own vineyard in the sky.
Ray made a bit of a nuisance of himself by insisting that California vintners should make 100% varietal wines - wines that he believed could compete with any of the wines coming out of Europe.  He was a bit of a stickler.
Martin Ray was also perhaps one of California's earliest advocates of the use of clonal selections in winegrowing, himself identifying and then propagating Pinot Noir and Chardonnay clones that were originally brought to America by Paul Masson.  Interesting reading - if you're a vine-geek like me.
Today, June 26th, would have been Martin Ray's 112th birthday.  Happy birthday Rusty!

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Meet David Brown.

Yesterday, I went for a walk down memory lane.  Actually, I took Vinodog 2 for a walk along the Napa River, but on the way home I did stop off at the Napa Valley College (NVC) student vineyard to pay a quick visit to an old friend: a David Brown Selectamatic 990 tractor.  And, I must say, old DB looked quite fabulous and just like his old self.
During the time that I was studying for my A.S. in Viticulture at NVC, I cannot recall a single instance when upon bringing the old DB out for a little student hands-on instructional tractor time that Dr. Krebs did not comment to my classmates and me, "You know, the electrical system on this thing is terrible".  I didn't take it personally, being English and all.
David Brown Engineering Ltd., is an English company that was founded in 1860 by, of course, David Brown.  The first tractor produced by the company was a joint venture with Henry Ferguson (perhaps better known for Massey Ferguson tractors) in 1936.  Business boomed after World War II and the company became one of the biggest tractor manufacturers in the UK.  (The company also made gears for Spitfires - so cool.)
I simply love this tractor, it is just so utilitarian and that appeals to me.  I just wish that I could have a conversation with the Selectamatic 990 and ask it a few questions like; How's your wiring harness feeling?  How did you end up in the Napa Valley?  And now that you are here, do you like the weather?  Just wondering.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Water works.

I think I may have mentioned it already, but this has been a relatively cool spring.  It is, however, forecast to be more than a tad toasty for the next several days.  Just in time for the summer solstice.  Yay!
With warm weather imminent, Vinomaker decided that it was time the vines got a little water, starting with the Syrah up on the hill (always the first to show a little stress).  But first we had to perform one particular vineyard operation - the clearing of the irrigation lines.
As I waited (at the end of a Syrah row) for Vinomaker to give me the go ahead to open the small, inline ball valve at the end of the line, I noticed a winsome little moss: the conversely named Largetooth Calcareous Moss (Mnium spinulosum), growing on a leaky pressure gauge.  It made me smile.  Mother Nature is great.

Saturday, June 18, 2016

Pinot grigio peekaboo.

The other day, during a friendly chat, the vineyard manager at TWWIAGE asked me if I had had any problems with fruit set this year.  He mentioned to me that he'd noticed that there were a lot of "singles" in the Cabernet sauvignon vines, i.e., one cluster per shoot when there normally would be two. Nope, I hadn't noticed this particular phenomenon in Vinoland.  But then I have mostly been concentrating my suckering/shoot thinning and stuffing efforts in the Pinot grigio and the Syrah blocks.  I will be working in the Cabernet sauvignon tomorrow, so I will have a closer look.
This partial Pinot grigio cluster, caught up in the sinus of a leaf (a mini viticultural-hammock), seems to be following normal morphological progress, as does the entire vine.  There wouldn't be such a thing as a vintage if every growing season was the same.

Friday, June 17, 2016

Buying bottles.

Whilst I have been rather busy with the usual late-spring vineyard operations (suckering, stuffing shoots, hedging, shoot thinning and more suckering), Vinomaker has been busying himself with getting things organised for a couple of upcoming bottling events to be held here in Vinoland.  At the very top of Vinomaker's bottling-to-do list was the acquiring of new glass: in other words, bottles.  So today, we took a quick trip out of Napa (to a warehouse in Benicia, which was chock-a-block with pallets and pallets of the things) to purchase the Bordeaux style bottles needed for bottling the St. Helena Sot's Cabernet Sauvignon next week.
It rained a little on the drive back to Vinoland, not ideal weather for transporting a butt load (technical term) of bottle-filled cardboard boxes. Tut-tut, Mother Nature!

Wednesday, June 08, 2016

Continuing education.

Today, in work, I had to take a test as part of a continuing education programme, (a contrivance of The Wine Institute, lobbyists for the California wine industry).  A new-ish manager had decided that it was important for TWWIAGE to have the most informed staff in the Napa Valley.  "Here is a link, take the test and then give me your certificate," I was told.  No discussion, no training, no follow-up.  I am positive that my co-workers and I are now all experts in the field of sustainable winegrowing.  Yeah, right.

Saturday, June 04, 2016

Wine into cheese.

Inspired perhaps by my recent purchase of a bottle of Blue Nun, Vinomaker disappeared into the bowels of Vinoland only to reappear with this litre bottle of Doktor Itschner, 1983 Liebfraumilch (Rheinhessen). Yet another gem from the remnants of his father's wine cellar - which surely must be reaching exhaustion by now.  (One can only pray.)  Older wines can be peculiar.
Recently I tasted an older red wine that brought to mind beetroots.  A winemaker (actually the winemaker at TWWIAGE) told me that the specific organic compound that causes wine to taste/smell like beetroots is a terpene called geosmin.  However, wine-fault aside, the wine still tasted like, y'know, wine.  Unfortunately, this was not the case with the almost 33 year old Liebfraumilch.  No, it tasted like liquid cheese - yes, cheese.  There was not one clue that this liquid had ever been wine.  Not even the Madonna on the label could save the integrity of this aged wine.

Thursday, June 02, 2016

Take me to church.

Vinomaker loves wine.  Vinomaker also loves tennis.  But when he doesn't love playing with a particular tennis racquet he'll barter said tennis racquet for a really nice bottle of wine.  Really nice.  And I always benefit.  Hallelujah!  This bottle of Long Meadow Ranch Winery's E.J. Church, 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve (Napa Valley AVA) was one such bottle of wine. And it was simply fabulous.
Produced from fruit grown at 1300 feet, relatively high in the Mayacamas (yes, the same Mayacamas as in my last post), this wine was young, but oh-so-flavourful.  With abundant sweet vanilla, red fruit and white pepper I found it a little hard to believe that this wine was 100% Cabernet sauvignon.  But what do I know?   And I did't even care.  The E.J. Church paired well with my meal of dead-cow (piled high with mushrooms and onions).  So moreish.  I'm a believer.

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

The Mount Veeder AVA.

I had intended to leave my exploration of the Napa Valley's mountain AVAs until Thud arrives this summer, but last Saturday I found myself up in the Mount Veeder American Viticultural Area (MVAVA).
Nestled high in the Mayacamas Mountains (which were once a seabed), the MVAVA is a relatively small AVA of around 25 square miles with approximately 1,000 acres planted to grapevines.  Some of the steepest vineyards in California, certainly in the Napa Valley, are to be found here: farming on a  30° slope is, to me, the very definition of hillside viticulture. Difficult to farm, the shallow volcanic soils mean that crop yields can be a full 50% less than what a grower could expect to harvest from a valley floor vineyard (for Cabernet sauvignon that could mean a mere 2 - 2½ tons per acre).  The Mayacamas range can receive nearly twice the amount of rainfall than the valley floor, a rather soggy 35 - 40 inches a year. Abundant with firm tannins, brambly is a word quite often used when describing the red wines of the MVAVA. And apparently the wines age very well.  I have had a few MVAVA wines, but not a lot.
Notable wineries (to me) are; The Hess Collection (in part for being on the site of the former Christian Brothers winery, Mont La Salle), Rubissow (I had a wonderful hillside-viticulture field trip up there once) and Mayacamas Vineyards and Winery (where my NVC viticulture professor Dr. Krebs was once employed as the vineyard manager.  And also where A Walk in the Clouds, starring Keanu I-couldn't-act-my-way-out-of-a-paper-bag Reeves, was filmed).
Ten down, six to go.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

National Wine Day.

Happy National Wine Day!  Who knew?  Not me.  Well, not until Vinomaker mentioned to me when I was on my way out to work this morning that it was indeed National Wine Day.  Nor, apparently, did every other person I spoke to today (at TWWIAGE) know that it was an official wine day.  So, to appease the wine Gods, I found as much wine as I could (at TWWIAGE) and drank it all.  Calm down Bacchus, I'm just joking.
Wine marketing at its finest.  Or, perhaps, worst.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

The Judgement of Paris.

I could not let the 40th anniversary of the Judgement of Paris pass by without saying something about it.  However, I don't have much to add to this forty year old tale about the wines of the Napa Valley beating the French at, what the French considered was, their own game.  
The only French prop I could find in the house was this mini Arc De Triomphe (have no idea where it came from), which is quite ironic really because the French lost.  Vive le vin!

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Blue Nun.

I cannot recall going to a 'cheese and wine' evening in the 1980s and there not be at least one bottle of Blue Nun present (with the odd bottle of Black Tower thrown in for good measure, of course).  Yum, cubed-cheddar on cocktail sticks and Liebfraumilch, tasty.  Yes, the Blue Nun of my youth was labelled as Liebfraumilch (or beloved Lady's Milk), and was usually a blend of Riesling, Silvaner and Müller-Thurgau.
Blue Nun is no longer labelled as such, now the producers value their reputation.  These days, calling anything a Liebfraumilch is considered a negative when it comes to marketing.  (Think cubed-cheddar on cocktail sticks.)  The bottle of Blue Nun in the photograph is simply labelled "Authentic White" (as opposed to...?) and is now made from Rivaner (so says the back label), a.k.a. Müller-Thurgau.  At only 10% alcohol, this sweet white wine, in its oddly blue-hued hock bottle, actually tasted better than I remembered.  The wine had a wonderful nose, truly deep snort-worthy, and although the palate was well balanced it was cloyingly sweet. And what possessed me to purchase a bottle of The Nun after all these years? And let me tell you, this wine was not easy to find, it took some effort.
I was inspired to once again taste Blue Nun because I have just finished reading The Secrets of My Life: Vintner, Prisoner, Soldier, Spy by Peter M. F. Sichel.  Herr Sichel is the man credited with making Blue Nun a runaway international wine-brand success story.  What an interesting life this man has led; escaping Nazi Germany, schooling in England, spying for the Central Intelligence Agency and creating one of the most recognisable wine brands on the planet.  It was a great book, written in an easy conversational tone that almost felt like I was sitting with Peter Sichel in his living room.  Sharing a bottle of Blue Nun, perhaps.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

To bloom betimes.

I think 2016 is going to be an unusual vintage.  I say this because today, whilst I was out in the vineyard stuffing shoots, I noticed that Vinoland's Cabernet sauvignon (CS) is further along in bloom than the CS at TWWIAGE.
It is fun to live (and farm) in a relatively cool AVA e.g., Coombsville and work (and observe) in another, noticeably warmer AVA e.g., Oakville. And why do I consider this year's earlier bloom, in spite of a cooler-than-normal spring, unusual?  Because from my personal experience, CS, Clone 4, in Coombsville is normally a bit of a slowcoach in the flowering department.  This year my little mutants apparently want to get an early start.  Go little girls and boys!

Sunday, May 15, 2016

From vA to aZ.

It seems that I'm on a mini wine tour of the 50 United States, well, if a paltry pair of states, Virginia and Arizona, can be considered a tour.  I've said it before and I'll say it again, it is good to get out of Napa now and then, (wine-wise that is).  Except I didn't, Vinomaker did (a business trip to Arizona) and he brought back a bottle of Passion Cellars, 2013 Grenache, Cochise County.  (My grandmother loved Jeff Chandler as Cochise in Broken Arrow, but I digress.)
I couldn't find out much about this wine as Passion Cellars don't provide much information on their website, but their description of the wine was spot on: "Strawberry aromas give way to subtle hints of vanilla and smoky herbal notes in this soft but complex Grenache."  For the most part I would agree with their tasting notes, except I would add that this wine (of very low colour extraction, really not much deeper hued than a rosé of Syrah perhaps), had a slightly medicinal quality that was a little off putting.  And was possibly slightly oxidised.  And wasn't very complex. The wine fared a little better with food (a homemade sausage and pepperoni pizza), but, ultimately, this wine falls into the category of a one-glass-is-enough tipple.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Don't dump on Trump.

Don't dump on Trump Winery, that is.
It is no secret that Vinomaker loves Viognier, so I thought I'd try to find something a little out of the ordinary for him to drink.  The Trump Winery, 2015 Viognier (Monticello AVA) fit the bill perfectly.  (Yes, that's correct, I did indeed type T.R.U.M.P.)  Obviously, anything to do with the name Trump is very controversial at the moment, but, please, don't shoot the messenger.
Winemaker Jonathon Wheeler (who, according to his bio, has worked in wineries in Sonoma, CA) has crafted a really pretty Viognier from fruit grown on the Trump Winery estate which is located in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains.  Planted to 200 acres of Vitis vinifera varieties, the Trump Winery's vineyard  is Virginia's largest vineyard and the largest planting of V. vinifera on the East Coast.  (That's huge.  Huge.)
A fairly typical Viognier, this wine had oodles of orange blossom, honeysuckle and apricot on the nose, and a strange (but strange in a good way) caramel-apple lollipop richness on the palate.  The wine was a tiny bit flabby, but was otherwise well-balanced.
I bought this wine on Amazon as it was slightly less expensive to buy the wine through Amazon than directly from the winery.  However, it was still shipped from the winery in Virginia. Vinomaker and I paired this wine with a chicken salad, not Hispanic food (titter, titter).