Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Happy St. George's Day, 2014.

 "There is a forgotten, nay almost forbidden word, which means more to me than any other.  That word is England."  Sir Winston Curchill.
Happy St. George's Day to my family, friends and anyone who loves England as much as I do.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Happy Easter, 2014.

V2 is all ears today, as she heard there are a lot of Cadbury Creme Eggs knocking about Vinoland.  V2 is a quick little dog, but not quick enough to get between me and my Creme Eggs.
Happy Easter to all.
Eat chocolate!

Saturday, April 19, 2014

A little Easter Saturday salsify.

Every spring, in amongst Vinoland's landscaping (such as it is), up pops one, or two, Common salsify (Tragopogon porrifolius) plants.  Whereas I'd normally weed out other interlopers (such as vetch, burclover or bittercress), I have come to recognise this rather alien-looking, Mediterranean-native biennial when it is young, so I leave it be.  Salsify, with it's tap root that is cultivated as a culinary vegetable (reportedly tasting mildly like an oyster), has a solitary purple flower that opens in the morning and tracks the progress of the sun until it closes up at around midday - which is the reason why I couldn't get a photograph of this flower yesterday afternoon because, by the time I got my camera, it was already done for the day.
When salsify goes to seed the fruiting head resembles that of a dandelion with a large, fuzzy ball of seeds that disperse on the wind.  This efficient dispersal of seed accounts for the success of salsify's reappearance, and rebirth, every spring.  Appropriate for Easter methinks.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Mr. Beakly.

I am sad.  This spring all the usual feathered-suspects have returned to Vinoland (some never left); Mr and Mrs Brown-headed cowbird, a mélange of assorted sparrows, a veritable throng of titmice, the ever quarrelsome scrub jays...chestnut-backed chickadees, white-breasted nuthatches, mourning doves, quail, bluebirds, finches and towhees - to name but a few.  All these tweeting, hopping and fluttering visitors stop by our deck, several times a day, to grab a snack from the seed-smorgasbord that Vinomaker puts out for them.  Ever present are the dark-eyed juncos (Junco hyemalis), a small bird widely distributed in the United States usually having a pinkish bill, dark ashy-grey head and conspicuous white lateral tail feathers that they flash in flight.  But three particular juncos of note have routinely come and gone for the past few years.  Until this year.
First, there is 'Necklace' - a junco with a very exaggerated ring of light-coloured feathers, akin to a mayoral chain of office, on his chest.  Then there is 'Spectacles' - a dapper little fellow with a pronounced ring of lightly pigmented feathers around each eye, just like he is wearing a pair of reading glasses.  And last, but not least, my favourite, 'Mr. Beakly' - a curious little birdie with muddled pigmentation on his chest and a Mallen Streak on his head.  But most notable of Mr. Beakly's somatic-anomalies is his malformed beak (a junco's beak should be almost finch-like).  And it seems like his beak is continually growing because when last I saw him his lower mandible seemed even larger than usual.  My little mutant isn't at all shy and lets me get quite close to him as he scoffs up seeds with a peculiar sideways action.  I just think he's great.   Alas, I have eagerly awaited his reappearance for the past few weeks now, but to no avail. 
Who knows how old Mr. Beakly was when I first noticed him: unfortunately, nature may have just simply run it's course and Mr. B is now swapping seed-plundering stories and perfectly pigmented wing feathers with avian-angels.  I just miss my little twitterer.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Wine stewardship.

If each of us had a crystal ball life would be so simple.  And predictable.  Without a crystal ball, one thing that isn't predictable is at what age is the best age to drink a favourite wine one may have been saving for a special occasion.  A crystal ball would allow one to drink all wine at it's peak, not too late and not too soon either. 
Today, I was reminded of my crystal ball/wine theory when a co-worker at TWWIAGE read me an email that she had just received.  The gist of the email was this: a man and his wife had recently opened a bottle of TWWIAGE wine for their anniversary.  They had owned the wine for at least ten years.  The wine was "spoiled" and they were very disappointed.  In the interests of good consumer relations, they expected TWWIAGE to make the unhappy situation good by sending them a replacement, gratis, as they were sure that the winery would want them to enjoy TWWIAGE wine at it's most palatable.  And by the way, they had poured the wine down the drain and thrown the bottle away.
On hearing this my first reaction was, well, disbelief.  It took me a little while to process the absurdity of the situation.  What a cheeky request.  What if this was a scam?  What if this gentleman sent a similar email to 300 Napa Valley wineries and just 10% of those wineries took the bait and sent him a free bottle of wine for fear of getting a bad 'Yelp' review, or something.  The whole thing smacked of extortion.
If, on the other hand, the email was legitimate it raised the question: is the wine-drinking public justified in having the expectation that any bottle of wine is guaranteed by a winery indefinitely?  To what extent is the consumer responsible for the spoilage of a long cellared bottle of wine?  I've racked my brain, but I can't think of any other perishable food item that is guaranteed for life.
A reply email was sent from TWWIAGE apologising for the disappointment caused; inquiring as to what vintage the wine had been, where had it been purchased, but regretfully declining, in the nicest possible way, without the option of the winery being able to do a chemical analysis on the dregs, the expectation that the wine was going to be replaced.  Of course, Mr. Cheeky emailed back to say he was astounded that a winery with such a high reputation wouldn't replace his bottle of wine - a bottle that he couldn't prove existed in the first place.  Brazen to the last.
I can, however, guarantee that the wine with the grotty cork, in the above photograph, is past it's best.  And I decided that without the benefit of a crystal ball.  Easy peasy.

Friday, April 11, 2014

A pretty bloom.

Once again, just when I thought I had uncovered every last blue (and purple) wildflower in Vinoland I have found another.  I think I have mentioned it numerous times before that blue (and purple) flowering plants are my favourites and I find them all as enchanting as one another, so it made me really happy to find this little blossom.
Identifying this particular wildflower turned out to be a little difficult.  Of course it is obviously very iris-like, but the two most common native Californian irises that I identified, in a couple of native plant guides I possess in my smallish reference library, happen to be the Douglas Iris (Iris douglasiana) and the Western Blueflag Iris (Iris missouriensis).  Neither of these irises are really considered to be wild flowers as often they have simply just escaped cultivation.  So I turned to the internet to do some further research and I am 99% sure that my, quite diminutive, iris is the Bowltube Iris (Iris macrosiphon).  Found on slopes and in woodlands, the flowering stalk on the bowltube is much shorter (and stalk-less) than the attending leaves, a feature which distinguishes this iris from the aforementioned two.  The iris in the photograph is rather close to the ground, it's leaves being more than twice it's height.
One interesting snippet of information about this iris is that it was a source of fibre for Native Americans who harvested the leaves to produce cordage that they used to make bird nets, fish nets, deer snares and other useful items.  I am not going to be ripping the foliage from this agreeable little flower any time soon, as I want it to reappear next year (and I think it may be the only one of it's kind in Vinoland).  So flower on little weed.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Spray day.

Today, at last, and for the next 5 day extended weather outlook, there is no rain in the forecast.  So, and not a moment too soon, the vines received their first application of sulphur for the season.  I was starting to get a bit worried about the Orange muscat vines which have a good 10-12 inches of growth already - they should have had two, preventative sulphur treatments (to ward off powdery mildew infection) by now, but the weather has not been cooperating.  Ho hum.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Grape Pearls.

Grape pearls, or sap balls, are tiny sap-filled droplets that are exuded from surface cells of rapidly growing grapevines.  Often mistaken for insect eggs, which is what I thought they were when I first saw them, grape pearls are a curiosity (to me at least) found on grapevine shoots, and the underside of leaves, in the spring only.  In fact, I had to look under several leaves before I found a node displaying these slightly opaque sap balls: they were much more evident a week or so ago, but I was too busy elsewhere to stop and take a photograph. 
The technical name for this phenomenon is guttation.  Grapevines experiencing rapid spring growth can exhibit guttation under high moisture conditions - diffusion pressure builds inside the plant because of high soil moisture and a low rate of transpiration due to high humidity.  The built up pressure is released by exuding water and minerals from specialised cells...voila, grape pearls.  Apparently, pearls occur on some grape varieties more than others, which probably explains why I have seen then mainly on the Orange muscat vines.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

My Cab's here.

It's a good job my livelihood isn't dependent on me predicting things correctly.  Four or five days until budbreak, indeed!  Today I noticed that the Cabernet Sauvignon vines are experiencing budbreak - albeit sporadic - but budbreak it is.  Infact, there are quite a few adventitious buds that have developed on the vine's trunks that have already unfurled into rosy-pink, baby leaves.  Go little buddies!

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Past due.

It rained for most of today, most of the week actually.  Just enough drizzly rain to make my hair annoyingly curly, but not enough to put a dint in California's water shortage woes.  However, the amount of precipitation has been sufficient to make the first application (for the season) of wettable sulphur impossible.  The Orange muscat vines have about 10 inches of growth already and look fantastically healthy, but they are at the stage were they should be due a second application of powdery mildew killing sulphur, not awaiting their first.  Mother Nature is not cooperating.  So, besides my tonsorial-tribulations, I have running through my head tortuous images of the unfettered sporulation of Uncinula necator slowly creeping over my pretty, green, succulent Orange muscat shoots.  Hang in there buddies.

Friday, March 28, 2014


Vinished, that's Vinoland lingo meaning I have finished tying down every last cane in the vineyard. Yay!
It was a pretty easy process as the Cabernet sauvignon vines are still slumbering.  The cooler weather this week has slowed things down a bit, so I'm predicting that budbreak won't happen for another 4 or 5 days yet.
Also, got a couple of dead vines removed (thank you, Vinomaker) and filled the holes (that Vinomaker dug) with new, baby vines.  The photograph shows, but not very well (I should have used a different background), one of the extracted vines which has a deep, 11" split along the lower half of it's trunk.  Did this split cause the death of this vine?  No, I'm sure this vine had just run it's natural course and the split occurred postmortem.  Hate when that happens.  But I love it when I have finished pruning.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Birthday bevvies.

I am having a busy week and I am only now getting around to posting about my birthday dinner.
As is our tradition, Vinomaker and I like to surprise each other with a visit to a new restaurant on the other one's birthday.  My surprise eatery this birthday was Lulu's Kitchen at 1313 Main.  1313 Main is a wine bar/lounge located at 1313 Main St. in downtown Napa.
And as is our tradition, our wine choices for the evening were from the 'Wine by the Glass' wine list - not as extensive as at some other restaurants, but nevertheless we found enough variety to keep us entertained.  And the wines were;
Weingut Knoll, "Lobiner" 2012 Grüner Veltliner, Federspiel, Wachau, Austria.
Terre Rouge, 2012 Viognier, Amador County, California.
Xarmant Txakolina, 2012 Hondarabbi Zuri, Arabako Txakolina, Spain.
Gamling & McDuck, 2010 Cabernet Franc, Napa, California.
Lioco, "Satira" 2011 Carignan, Mendocino County, California.
Muga Reserva, 2009 Tempranillo, Rioja, Spain.
The tapas-style small plates we paired with these wines were all fairly decent, but really nothing to write home about.  I enjoyed myself, but I'm not in a hurry to revisit Lulu's, there are so many more restaurants in the valley to try.
Thank you Vinomaker for an enjoyable birthday evening.

Sunday, March 23, 2014


I finished pruning.  Whoo hoo!  My trigger finger is a bit sore, but my trusty Felco No. 6 secateurs performed admirably.  Still have to tie down about 50% of the canes, but I have time as there is no real sign of budbreak in the Cabernet vines yet.  Phew!

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Happy birthday to me, again!

Yes, I'm having another one!  And as much as I have enjoyed my day thus far, I don't think I need anymore birthdays after this one.  Who exactly do I contact to cancel the annual anniversary of my birth?  Never mind, I'm just joking.
Oh...and Happy Birthday John Toshack.
Vinogirl loves birthdays.

Friday, March 21, 2014


The first full day of spring has come and gone.  But for several distractions, I spent most of the day pruning in the Cabernet vines.  I think I'm on schedule to be finished the actual pruning, but not the tying down of canes, on Sunday.
One distraction was a huge cluster of California poppies (Eschscholzia californica) that just looked so splendid I had to get a closer peep.  The poppies got going a little later this year, because of the lack of winter rain, but they are now blooming spectacularly en masse.  And they are everywhere: this year's crop is perhaps the most prolific display of full-on-poppy-goldiness I have ever seen.  There should be plenty still blooming by California Poppy Day, which is April 6th.
Then I got distracted by a crab spider (Misumenoides formosipes) who in turn was distracted by a small, pollen covered beetle.  The beetle flew off and I went back to pruning.