Monday, October 19, 2020


I first became aware of the 2018 J. Lohr Estates Wildflower Valdiguié when I watched the wine being reviewed (well tasted, really) on a wine blogger's Instagram account.  The blogger just loved it, couldn't say enough nice things about it, lauded its drinkability, fruitiness and its worthiness of being considered a 'summer red' wine.  And he mentioned that it sold for about $8.99.  I was intrigued, I don't think I'd ever had a Valdiguié, domestic or otherwise.  I had to get my hands on some.  So I purchased six bottles directly from the winery ($10.00 a pop).  Then, about a week later, the J. Lohr Valdiguié (2019) appeared on an episode of Behind the Wines: host Elaine Chukan Brown and her guests just loved it.  Great, methought, can't wait to try it.  Valdiguié, a native grape of southern France, has been growing here in California for quite some time.  However, it had been misidentified and was known as Napa Gamay.  It took a French ampelographer, Pierre Galet, to definitively identify the (Gamay) grapevines growing in vineyards up and down California as Valdiguié.  Sealed with a screw cap, my first impression of the Wildflower was that it was reduced, it was more than a tad pongy.  Initially on the palate the wine was rather tannic and had a sour finish.  Fruit?  A tiny bit.  The wine seemed awkward and I found myself struggling to describe what, if anything, was going on with this wine.  I had just one small glass, and that was enough.  Wanting to give this wine the benefit of the doubt, I tried it again the next night and it was delightful - had really opened up - all brambly aromatics, warm red fruits and a splendid balance of acid and tannin.  Wow, love when that happens.  A second bottle, more than a week later, paired with a pan seared, oven finished flat iron steak, was simply a joy.  Everything in my glass was amplified; aroma, fruit, balance.  Couldn't fault it.  A third bottle last night, again paired with flat iron steak, proved once more that the Wildflower is a solid quaffing wine.  Three bottles down, three to go.

Wednesday, October 14, 2020

Crushed AND destemmed.

Last harvest in Vinoland.  The Cabernet sauvignon grapes are picked and processed: crushed and destemmed.  
I cannot for the life of me understand the obsession of late with whole-cluster fermentation (WCF).  I have watched a lot of webinars during the pandemic and I would bet my life savings on the certainty that someone on a panel (usually a sommelier) will feverishly ask whilst tasting a featured wine, "Is this whole-cluster fermentation."  WCF is the current ideé fixe amongst those who just drink wine.
Wine, winemaking and wine-drinking continually go through trends, fashions and fads and WCF seems to be the latest craze.  WCF is just one technique available to a winemaker.  The fact that people have to ask if a wine was produced using this particular technique may suggest that they really can't tell if, indeed, it was.  Or not.  
WCF has its place in winemaking, but I don't necessarily think that place is in the production of Cabernet Sauvignon.  Just sayin'.

Friday, October 09, 2020

Little gems.

Leaf pulling in the Cabernet sauvignon vines today (and most of the week) exposing the fruit in preparation for harvest, I came across several little clusters, higher up in the canopy, that looked like little jewels.  Vinodog 2 was my companion, as usual, whilst I performed this particular vineyard op...and then we were joined by the chickens.  Very bucolic.

Thursday, October 01, 2020

Happy 13th birthday V2!

My baby turns 13 years old today, she's now a teenager!  Once again, I ask, how did that happen?  Regrettably, the fluffy-love of my life has slowed down considerably over the past several months.  
During quarantine we have been almost inseparable and I wouldn't have had it any other way.  Vinodog 2 has been at my side in the vineyard all spring and summer long.  She can no longer limbo under the irrigation lines, and is prone to toppling over if she finds herself on a bit of a slope and turns around too quickly, but her determination to be part of the pack hasn't diminshed.  Tonight, I will toast to my poochy's indefatigable spirit.  Love her.
Happy birthday V2!

Sunday, September 27, 2020


Like a mad chemist, Vinomaker has been busy reading up on and researching new selections of commercial yeasts that he may want to try on a Vinoland fermentation.  And this is one he came up with - Lalvin's ICV OKAY.  Cool name, if nothing else, but this specific selection of Saccharomyces cerevisiae, promises rapid alcoholic fermentation and low SO2, H2S and acetaldehyde production in wines.  Vinomaker is planning to use this yeast on one batch of Vinoland's Syrah: he loves experimenting with different fermentations.
Okey-dokey then, we'll just have to wait and see how well this particular domesticated organism performs.  Ferment on, little yeasties.

Saturday, September 26, 2020

My spectacular Syrah.

This morning, starting at the crack of dawn, was harvest-day for Vinoland's Syrah (SY).  And, wow, the fruit looked fabulous and (now that the grapes have been processed) it tastes terrific.  Vital statistics are; 23.6 °Brix, pH 3.63 and TA 4.40 - all in a good range.  To celebrate I opened a bottle of our 2015 SY with dinner - delightful. 
I love farming SY, it is such an easy grapevine to get along with.  Sadly, that's all my SY interaction done with for 2020.  I am going to wait a while before I begin to even think about starting to prune in early 2021.  Besides, I still have to get the Cabernet sauvignon picked.  
Now it's time for Vinomaker to work his magic. 

Thursday, September 24, 2020

Mike & Molly.

Sounds like a sitcom, but in this particular case it isn't.  Instead, Mike & Molly Hendry is a really solid Zinfandel from an old head-trained vineyard (not far from Vinoland) in the Coombsville AVA.  Mike Hendry is nephew to George Hendry of one of my favourite wineries, Hendry.  Must be some good wine-DNA in the Hendry genes.  The 2016, R.W. Moore Vineyard is my type of Zinfandel.  Hailing from a vineyard that is 115 years young, on the nose this Zinfandel is clean and bright with brambly fruits and spice.  In the mouth this wine is focused with candied raspberry, perfumey-blackberry, mulling spices, vanilla essence and acid.  Yes, great acidity which balances the wine really well, so that it doesn't display any hotness on the palate.  A lovely Zin.  Like all Zinfandels, it's not a wine that I would cellar for an extended period of time.  But why would I?  This wine is one to be enjoyed right now.

Friday, September 18, 2020


As the idiom goes, "there's no smoke without fire."  There is also no fire without ash - a lot of it - and everything in Napa is covered in ash.
Venturing into Vinoland's Cabernet sauvignon grapes today to perform a sugar sample (22.8 °Brix, they're on a good trajectory), I couldn't help but notice how much ash is on the fruit.  This fiery-growing season, it seems grape-growers have more to worry about than just smoke taint.  I don't recall ash being this much of an issue in the calamitous fires of 2017.  Always something new in farming.  If it isn't an insidious insect infestation, it's a natural disaster. 
The air quality the past three days has been the clearest and most smoke free since the 18th of August, thank goodness.  However, the wind is supposed to shift and bring the smoke back into the Bay Area on Saturday.  A reminder that a lot of California is still on fire.
As with the Pinot grigo, I will have Vinomaker go through the vineyard with a leaf blower, prior to harvest, and try to dislodge some of the ash on the berries.  Not a vineyard operation I ever could have imagined needing to be performed, but clean fruit is the goal.

Tuesday, September 15, 2020

Grapey-miscellany and stuff, etc.

Two days of doing stuff.  But nothing particularly riveting.  A bit like all of 2020, to be honest.  Sigh.
Yesterday morning, to give Vinomaker a hand, I spent some time rehydrating yeasts for the Pinot grigio and Orange muscat alcoholic fermentations.  (Photo is of Cross Evolution.)  Like a mad professor, Vinomaker is always experimenting with different yeasts, especially for the white wine grapes.  It is rather interesting, and something one wouldn't necessarily have the freedom to do on a commercial scale.  The varied yeast strains really do produce distinct wines.  There were five batches in all and consequently the kitchen smelled like yeast for hours.
I also performed the first Syrah sugar sample of the season - 22.8 °Brix, not bad.  The seeds are almost completely brown and the berries have good flavour.  I ate quite a bit of the stuff as I walked through the vineyard sampling.  Sun warmed grapes are the best snack.
This morning I watched a couple of webinars, one was eminently better than the other.  Today's guest on Behind the Wines was Wink Lorch. Wink (what a simply brilliant name) who is English, is an expert and author of books on the wines and vineyards of Jura and Savoie.  I can't remember the last time I had a wine from either French Alpine region, but it was probably in the Wines of the World class I took in 2012.  The lively discussion on the history, pedigree and DNA of such grape varieties as Savagnin and Mondeuse was great grapey-geek stuff.!

Saturday, September 12, 2020

A short tale of a sherry-sipper.

In my family lore there is the story of how, like the current monarch Queen Elizabeth II, my grandmother had two birthdays.  ER II, like all English monarchs since the mid 1700s, has a real birthday and an official birthday.  The date of the latter birthday, like much in rainy England, is dictated by the weather (too silly not to be true).  The circumstances surrounding the fact that my grandmother had two birthdays were not so, ceremonious.  Or weather related.
The family friend who had been tasked with registering the newborn's birth, on behalf of my great-grandmother who was on bed rest, was unfortunately illiterate.  Exactly one whole week had passed and the poor woman, unable to read or write, was not educated enough to catch the simple clerical error.  So, according to officialdom the date of my grandmother's birth was the 19th of September 1903.  In jest, sometimes my grandmother would insist upon the family observing both anniversaries of her birth.
I only ever knew my grandmother to imbibe alcohol at parties, usually Christmas and New Year's Eve.  And her drink of choice was always a cream sherry, but just a sip.  I'm sure more sherry went into my grandmother's trifles than into her glass.  Her generation weren't big drinkers, they couldn't afford to be.
Today would have been my grandmother's 117th birthday.  And next week she will have another 117th birthday: I will observe both.  Long gone, but not forgotten, she was the best gran a Vinogirl could have.

Friday, September 11, 2020

Vendemmia: 2020.

I spent a lot of yesterday pulling leaves in the Pinot grigio (PG) block, as harvest was scheduled for today.  It was still dark at 6.30 a.m., a bit too dark to harvest (due to marine fog mixed with wildfire smoke), so I had to time to eat breakfast before the morning's viticultural-proceedings began.  The Orange muscat grapes were also picked.  I love the feeling of being up early for harvest, I find it exciting.
Fruit looks fantastic, tastes great.  Perhaps a little less than last year (according to Vinomaker), not surprising seeing as my hungry hens have been helping themselves to the ripening berries for weeks now.  Sugar came in at 26 °Brix - a little high, but one would expect a spike in sugar due to the 107/108 °F temps we had on Sunday and Monday.  
My job is done.  Now it's up to Vinomaker to work his magic.

Tuesday, September 01, 2020

Pandemic pedagogy.

For me, one of the best things to emerge during the Covid-19 pandemic is the advent of online wine-related webinars (mostly hosted on Zoom and Instagram Live/IGTV) that anyone can access - for free.  Of particular note amongst all the video offerings available is a series called, Behind the Wines with Elaine Chukan Brown (in association with the Wine Institute/California Wines).
In today's virtual tasting and discussion, wine writer and educator Elaine Chukan Brown considered some new trends in California wine.  Well, not really trends, but rather innovations and explorations of, and in, grape varieties, growing regions and out-of-the-box winemaking.  Ms. Brown's guests this morning were sommelier and author, Kelli A.White and San Francisco Chronicle wine critic, Esther Mobley.  The discussion that ensued regarding the evolution of California winemaking was informative and thought provoking.  The featured wines were; White Rock Vineyards, Claret, Napa Valley 2016; J. Lohr, Wildflower Valdiguié, Monterey 2019; and Mountain Tides, Petite Sirah, California 2018.  Compelling stuff.  And a fitting way to kick off California Wine Month.

Monday, August 31, 2020

Tasty grapes.

I probably didn't have to get my refractometer out today and perform a sugar sample of the Pinot grigio (PG).  Nope, I really should have known that the PG grapes were very close to maturity, and thus harvest, by simply observing my chickens' behaviour of late.  Yup, my six girls are really enjoying the ripening grapes.  Rather unfortunate, that.
There is a retaining wall at the top of the PG block and Lizzie, Pansy, Maro, Annie, Rosie and Gracie seem quite content to sit there and snack away to their little hearts' content.  The rachis in the photograph is picked clean, absolutely nekkid.  Full clusters on the far side of the vine that they cannot reach are still intact.  And I thought I had problems with the wild bird population.  Hmmph.
I sampled anyway and the PG is at 23.2 °Brix; the grapes taste fabulous and, what's left of them, look great.  Now, if I could train the chickens to poop only in the vineyard I may overlook their thieving of my hard-farmed crop.

Wednesday, August 26, 2020

Getting lighter.

Up a little earlier than is the norm, to deal with the chicklets who have been evicted from the house because they were starting to get a bit whiffy, I saw that Far Niente (FN) were harvesting Chardonnay from the Berlenbach Vineyards.  The morning was dark; the air was cool, foggy and smoky.  It was pleasing to me to witness some floodlit grape-activity in the neighbourhood.  A touch of normality.
I can't remember if they picked this vineyard last year (I missed the entire 2019 harvest in Napa), so this may be the first harvest for these young vines.  Generally, harvest in the valley began a tad early this year, as it has been a nice, steady growing season.  I'm wondering if FN decided to get the fruit in a little earlier because of smoke from the wildfires still burning a little to the north.  I heard that a Merlot vineyard, halfway up the valley on the eastern side, was picked on Monday at 21/22 °Brix.  Seems a little premature, but perhaps the owners/growers panicked a bit.  Stay calm folks, there will be light at the end of 2020.

Monday, August 24, 2020


"The instruction we find in books is like fire.  We fetch it from our neighbours, kindle it at home, communicate it to others, and it becomes the property of all."  Voltaire.
This grainy photograph is from happier times...and apparently, the topic that day was head-training/cane pruning.  Dr. Stephen Krebs (centre back), my viticulture professor at Napa Valley College, unfortunately lost his home in the LNU Lightning Complex Fire.  It was Dr. Krebs who was responsible for sparking my love of all things viticultural.  And writing about my passion on Vinsanity.  A good fire, as opposed to the bad stuff.
At his home on Pleasants Valley Road  in rural Vacaville, Dr. Krebs, a more than keen gardener, had a huge vegetable garden.  I always loved it when he'd go off-topic in class and instead discuss vegetable gardening.  I remember one particular time when he brought in paper bags filled with cloves of assorted garlic varieties to share with the class.  Sadly, his home was in one of the areas hit hardest by the wildfires ignited by dry thunderstorms on the 16th of August.  I cannot imagine losing everything.  Vinomaker and I came close in the firestorm of October 2017, but we were mercifully spared.
I am thankful that Dr. Krebs and his wife escaped unharmed, but it saddens me to think of all that he lost.  He had a rather extensive book collection, a lot of them rare and out of print.  He was always willing to let his students use his library for reference purposes, but it was not a lending library - the books had to stay put.  I can't blame him, I wouldn't have let some of those titles out of my safe keeping either.
The books may be gone, but not before Dr. Krebs was able to communicate their contents to a multitude of wine industry peeps the length and breadth of Napa Valley.  And probably beyond.

Friday, August 21, 2020

Happy Birthday, Thud!

My big brother has a very special birthday today and I am hoping he has a fantastic day.  I would have loved to be with him, and I did try.  But with many airlines not wanting to fly Americans (and people who just live in America, me) anywhere because Yanks have misbehaved a tad with regards to Covid-19, I found myself stuck stateside.
Here we both are in more carefree times.  Thud was having his junior school (primary) photograph taken and was asked if he had any younger siblings in infant school; he did, me.  I remember jumping out of my chair with excitement when he came into my classroom.  Good memory.
So cheers and all the best to the person who got me into wine in the first place.  Bottoms up, Thud!

Tuesday, August 18, 2020

Napa's on fire...

...but not in a good way.
When I sprung the chickens at 6.15 a.m. this morning, I noticed that the coop was covered in a layer of very fine white ash.  A couple of forest fires had started yesterday (sparked by the intense lightning storms of Sunday and Monday) and the air was noticeably smoky when Vinodog 2 and I went on our morning promenade.  The smoke cleared as the day progressed, but by the time our late afternoon perambulation came around the fire was apparently intensifying.
The cloud of smoke in the photograph was much more dramatic when I first began my walk: it looked like a mushroom cloud (known as a flammagenitus, or pyro cumulus).  Unfortunately, I didn't have my camera with me and by the time I had fetched it 20 minutes had elapsed.  Still terrifyingly impressive, though.
By 6 p.m. the Hennessey Fire, burning north of Vinoland, was at 2700 acres - with no containment.  It is one of three fires now burning on the east side of Napa Valley, on the edge of the Vaca Mountains, mostly in rural, hard to access areas.  However, many homeowners, including a friend, are facing mandatory evacuations.  Where does one evacuate to in the age of Covid?  Such a different situation from what folks dealt with during the 2017 fires.  I hope the brave firefighters of Cal Fire get control of these fires sooner rather than later.  Godspeed.

Sunday, August 16, 2020

Slow news week. Or two.

Yup, not a lot going on in Vinoland besides veraison, baby-chicken watching and waiting for harvest.  So I was interested to read this article in the Daily Mail that Thud forwarded to me.
Some enterprising, vino-loving Italians have revived historic, so-called 'wine windows' as a way to socially distance whilst still permitting folks to enjoy a glass of wine.  Apparently there are 300 of these windows in Tuscany, known as buchette del vino, that were traditionally used in the 1600s, in times of plague, to enable that the local citizenry could still get a goblet of their favourite tipple.  Minus the scabs, sores and pustules that come with pestilence, of course.  Quaint and genius.
I can't personally recall seeing any of these windows when I holidayed in Lucca.  And if I had, I probably would have assumed they were religious niches.  Who knew?  I didn't.  But hey, I'm all for walking along the street and a hand pops out of a random window and offers one a glass of wine...a nice Chianti, perhaps?  So civilised.

Tuesday, August 04, 2020

Pay attention!

With the vineyard being sprayed for the final time last Thursday, requiring a 48 hour no re-entry time (or re-entry interval, REI), and being distracted by four little feathery chickies, I hadn't noticed the onset of veraison in the Cabernet sauvignon vines.  Well, here we have it.  Whether I am paying attention or not, the grapevines will carry on doing their thing.  Thank goodness.

Monday, August 03, 2020

New chicks on the block.

I had just popped out with the sole intention of buying chicken feed for Vinoland's six breakfast-laying ladies, but I somehow came home with four new, three day old chicks.  How did that happen?  Look how adorable they are.  How could've I resisted?  Problem is, I don't know what breeds they are.  I'm hoping the brown one is a Sussex and the black one is an Australorp.  The other two?  No clue.  No matter, as long as they are all indeed female (the most important consideration).
Continuing with the theme of naming my chickens after Henry VIII's warships, meet Little Barbara (Babs), Jennet Prywin (Jennie), Magdeline (Maggie) and Katherine Bark (Katie).
Here's to fresh eggs at New Year.