Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Overachievers in Oakville.

No sight of veraison in Vinoland yet, but up in Oakville (at TWWIAGE) the onset of ripening in the Cabernet Sauvignon vines has definitely begun.  It's not a question of commercial farming over amateur farming (me, being the amateur), it is quite simply a matter of climate - it's quite a bit toastier 15 miles north of Vinoland in Oakville.  The first signs of veraison in Vinoland is usually in the Syrah vines, so I will keep an eye on them.  It's an exciting time of year if you're a grape because Mother Nature has decided that you need filling up with sugar, yum!
Posts have been a bit scarce on Vinsanity as my family arrived from England last Thursday.  I have had 5 fun-packed, but tiring, days.  I intend to do some wine related outings with Thud, so hopefully I will have some fresh material to write about.  Stay tuned.

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Home Winemakers Classic 2016.

I have only ever had a wine made from the Sagrantino grape just once before (Jacuzzi Family Vineyards), and I remember quite enjoying it.  So imagine my surprise when I spotted a homemade version at the 33rd annual Home Winemakers Classic which was held yesterday at the Charles Krug Winery.  Made from grapes grown in the Dunnigan Hills AVA, it was very nice wine (I believe it won best of show).  I also like the label.  Well, the 'Friendly Lion' on the label.
There were a couple of other reds I liked; a Nathan Cellars, 2013 'Beth' (Napa Valley AVA) and a Bunnell Family Vineyards, 2013 Cuvée (Atlas Peak AVA).  The white wines were all pretty dreadful.
As is our wont, Vinomaker and I bid on a wine-lot in the silent auction (which is always a feature of the event.  All proceeds go to the Dry Creek-Lokoya VFD).  We limited ourselves to just one lot, and we won it; four 750ml bottles of Pott, 2013 '20M3' Stagecoach Vineyard, Viognier (Napa Valley AVA).  Haven't tried it yet - that's a future post, perhaps.

Friday, July 08, 2016

Pine Ridge in my fridge.

This Chenin blanc-Viognier from Pine Ridge Vineyards is a wine that I have always found to be a pleasant tipple.  Well, nearly always.  I seem to recall that I really didn't care for the 2007 vintage (or, was it the 2008?) as it was simply just too sweet for my liking.  A mere $10.00 at my local supermarket (actually, I paid $9.89) this wine is great value.  As a matter of fact, this wine is cheaper to buy at the supermarket than it is at the winery with my inter-winery discount.
A blend of 80% Chenin blanc and 20% Viognier, the lovely floral-honeyed-citrusy-peach characteristics one would expect from these two grape varieties marry well in the bottle (and even better in my mouth, tee-hee).  A slight hint of residual sugar gives the wine a little bit of oomph in the body department and serves to lengthen a crisper than one would expect finish.  The 2014 is a nice, very reasonably priced wine for summer.

Monday, July 04, 2016

Independence Day, 2016.

Happy 240th birthday America!
Never one to miss an opportunity to be festive, Vinodog 2 says, "Put on your glad rags, get some meat (lots of it) on the barbeque, pour yourself a nice glass of something red and party like it's 2016." Clever poochie.
God bless America.
Oh...and God save the Queen!

Friday, July 01, 2016

Midyear report.

It's the 1st of July already, wow!  Everything in the vineyard looks good. Fruit set in the Syrah, Cabernet sauvignon and Pinot grigio vines looks normal.  The berries are small and hard - still more than a full month away from the onset of veraison.  The past 12 days of toasty weather were not quite hot enough to end the risk of infection from powdery mildew. High temperatures can harm the fungus, but only two days got over 95° F, so sulphur applications will still be necessary for a little while yet.  All in all, I'm pretty pleased with this growing season.  So far, so good.

Thursday, June 30, 2016


The sole topic of any meaningful conversation that I have had with Americans over the past week has been about Brexit.  Like I'm some sort of expert because I'm English.
Exactly a week ago, when all polls showed no reason to suspect that the citizens of the United Kingdom would vote to the contrary, the European Union (EU) was comprised of 28 member nations.  Perhaps voting with their hearts, instead of their heads, my countrymen decided a divorce from Europe was in order. What happened?  I don't know. Nor, seemingly, does anybody else.
The confusion surrounding the debate, about a Brexit vote to seperate from the EU which dominated the news when I was home in April, apparently continued right up until the June 23rd referendum. One thing that is now known, (besides the fact that all politicians are perniciously untruthful), is that Brexit will wreak economic-havoc on my fellow Britons for a long time to come.
On record as wanting to remain in the EU, the UK's wine trade group, the Wine & Spirit Trade Association, issued a statement calling for calm among its members.  Just when English wine production, especially that of sparkling wines, was on the increase a sudden rise in prices (due to the devaluing of the British pound) is the last thing the burgeoning industry needed.  I mean, who, in their right mind, would voluntarily pay more for their favourite bottle of Château Trotanoy, Tenuta San Guido Sassicaia, Domaine Vacheron or Billecart-Salmon? Or even a delicously aromatic, home-grown Nyetimber Rosé.  Not me.
What a mess!

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.