Thursday, June 21, 2018

Summer's here!

Yay!  It's summer and Vinodog 2 has decided to don her ice cream goggles and embrace the change in season.  We haven't had much of a summer yet in the Napa Valley, but "hope springs eternal in the human breast."  Or is that, hope summers eternal...?  Just kidding.
V2 is a very happy little dog despite her often dour countenance in photographs, these silly sunglasses just serve to heighten her rosy outlook on life.  And she makes me extremely happy as she is my ever-present companion in all my viticultural adventures.  However, I hope she doesn't expect to wear those sunglasses out in the vineyard today, that would be just plain embarrassing.  I may love V2 to death, but I'm still English.  Standards, you know, old chap.
Happy summer solstice, peeps!

Saturday, June 16, 2018

Drip, drip, drip.

Napa Sanitation District's recycled water is finally dripping in Vinoland.  Today was the first time the grapevines have been irrigated this growing season.  Well, I think the vines got watered, the wind was so brisk that it was blowing the water dripping from the emitters sideways.
The amount of water the vines get, and the frequency of watering, depends on a number of different factors; soil type, climate, topography, grape variety, cover cropping, cultural practices, etc.  In California's vineyards it is only the water that is held in the soil that is available to grapevines, any rare rainfall during the growing season is lost to surface evaporation, runoff, or used up by cover crops and weeds.  Now, for the first time, due to the abundance of recycled water available, all the vines could be watered at once (instead of block by block).
I will be keeping a close eye on the vines for any sign that they don't like their new source of sustenance as there has been some conflicting data over the salinity of the recycled water.  Grapevines are more tolerant to salt than other fruit crops, but I'm not interested in performing my own mini-experiment.  If there is the slightest hint of a problem, the plug will be pulled and it'll be back to well water for Vinoland's vines.

Friday, June 15, 2018

Bob's your uncle.

A wonderful wine with dinner tonight.  Hmm, I can't exactly remember when I bought this Robert Sinskey Vineyards, 2013 Pinot Gris (Los Carneros AVA), but I'm really glad that I did.
Paired with shrimp for dinner, this wine was just gorgeous.  A light, light brass colour, the nose was filled with a rich honeyed-butterscotchy, orange blossomy, limey-ness.  (I don't believe any of those in reality are legal wine descriptors.)  This slightly spicy, medium bodied white wine had lots of bright lime-citrus, Bramley apple skin tartness on the palate with a slight almondy-bitterness on the finish.  Yum.
And there you have it, a truly wonderful tipple.  He's not my actual uncle, but thank you Bob Sinskey for making a fabulous wine.

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Now that's what I call food!

Subtitle: In praise of the humble jam butty.  I am from Northern England where a 'butty' is very definitely food (especially the two butty varieties, 'bacon' and 'chip').  Simply bread and jam, the individual components of a jam butty are equally as important.  However the star of the butty in the photograph was Thud's homemade damson jam, a jar of which I brought back from Blighty with me in April, and which I just finished this morning.  I am crying as I type.
Incidentally, and I may have mentioned this before, damson is one of my favourite descriptors that I often find in Cabernet Sauvignon.  Of course, I don't get damson in all Cabs, the same way as I don't get violets in all Cabs.  The only person I have met in the U.S. to grasp damson as a wine descriptor was my professor at Napa Valley College, Dr. Stephen Krebs.  Dr. K. had travelled widely in Europe, whilst doing research for Jancis Robinson, and had tasted this type of plum for himself.
Speaking of food, recently all the staff at TWWIAGE, regardless of department, had to undergo a educational training session in food hygiene and safety, (we did last year also).  The Food Safety Modernization Act (FMSA) was signed into law in January 2011 (by President Obama) and made extensive changes to laws governing food safety.  The FSMA focus changed from responding to food contamination to preventing food contamination.  (Everybody agrees that keeping pathogens out of food is a good thing, right?)  Under this new-ish law, even "low risk" facilities, such as wineries, must be inspected within 7 years of the Act becoming law.  That means that for the past 2 years the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has stepped up its inspections of wineries.  Hence our training session: FDA agents may show up at TWWIAGE at anytime.
Now, under Federal law, wineries are considered "food manufacturing plants."  But unlike other food manufacturing, the fermentation process that is the essence of wine is also very efficient in killing the very pathogens that would make folks sick.  Due to wine's elevated levels of acidity and alcohol the only microorganisms that can survive in wine are yeasts, lactic bacteria and acetic bacteria.  My take on food borne pathogens is an over-simplification, I admit, but it is this type of simple stuff that gets caught up in bureaucratic red tape.  All.  The.  Time.
I don't believe wine is a food.  I generally think of food as something you can get your teeth into, like meat and potatoes (or a jam butty).  Man cannot live on wine alone because it isn't food, in fact too much of it will kill a person, or at the very least will give the over-imbiber a very unhappy liver.  Wine is a companion to a meal, not a meal in itself.
Our tax dollars at work.

Sunday, June 10, 2018

Cropping up.

Back in the Cabernet sauvignon vines, still stuffing shoots, bloom is progressing nicely and seems to be on track.  It has been quite a windy spring, breezier than normal, but not too windy as to be detrimental to fruit set.  A little breeze can help distribute pollen form the anthers to the ovaries; quite beneficial as the grapevine's flowers are hermaphroditic (or the 'perfect' flower).  Carry on Mother Nature, you're doing a good job.

Friday, June 08, 2018

Surging Syrah.

Erm, wow!  Apparently, I have been spending too much of my vineyard-time in amongst the Cabernet sauvignon (CS) vines.  For most of the past two weeks I have been stuffing CS shoots like a mad woman.  This time of year the CS gets to the stage where it can get a little unruly.  If not for a little good-natured encouragement, and gentle coaxing of the shoots into the trellising wires, the vines would soon resemble Cousin Itt.  I hadn't noticed that the Syrah vines were about 95% finished with flowering and there are BB-sized grapettes.  Oops.
The 2018 growing season, thus far, has seen bloom in the white and the black grapes much closer together timing-wise than it would be in a typical year: the flowering window has been effectively shortened.  It's all good as it is these kind of differences that make a vintage.

Thursday, June 07, 2018

Downtown at the Uptown.

Last night, Vinomaker and I took ourselves to the Uptown Theatre in downtown Napa to see Brian Setzer and his Rockabilly Riot.  I had last seen Brian Setzer in concert, with the Stray Cats, on the 21st of December 1981.  Yup, quite a while ago, there has been a lot of life in between.  The teenage Vinogirl loved Brian Setzer then and I still love him now.  Always a Rockabilly fan (Johnny Burnette, Eddie Cochran, etc., thanks to Thud), when I discovered that Mr. Setzer was coming to Napa I just had to go and see him play.  And what a treat it was, he was even better than I remembered.
An added bonus to visiting the Uptown is that they have a bar and you can drink in your seat whilst watching a show.  How civilised is that?  Very adult.  So I, and my glass of Mumm Napa fizzy stuff, settled in to enjoy the support band, "Drinkin' wine spo-dee-o-dee!"
The support band, 'Miss Mary Ann & the Ragtime Wranglers' (from the Netherlands.  Dutch Rockabillies, who knew?) were quite entertaining (their double bass player being particularly convincing) and successfully warmed up the crowd up for the main attraction.  And then there he was, in all his pompadour-topped marvelousness, the man himself, Brian Setzer.  Go cat, go!  Simply fab!

Friday, June 01, 2018

No, or Yes, on Measure C?

It's June already and on June 5th Napa County voters will be asked whether or not to approve Measure C.  The entire Napa Valley is in a tizzy over Measure C, so today I sat and read the 'Full Text of Measure C' (Ordinance No. 2018-01) in Vinomaker's copy of the Napa County Voter Information Guide to try and make some sense of the arguments for and against this contentious measure.
Oh my goodness, I could not make head nor tail of it.  Measure C's intent is to amend "the Napa County General Plan and Zoning Ordinance to establish 'water quality buffer zones' on parcels greater than one acre within the Agricultural Watershed zoning district and would limit tree removal, including both oak and non-oak species, withing those zones."  Whaa?  I'm not quite sure what that even means.  There is way too much legal jargon, in the reading of this measure, to have it be understood by normal people.
One of the criticisms of the 'No on C' folks by the 'Yes on C' folks is that the No-folks have more money and so have the wherewithal to mail many more glossy pamphlets to the voting public.  A small, unscientific survey, by me, over a two week period did indeed uphold that grievance; 6 brochures for the No-folks and 2 for the Yes-folks.  (Just this morning, Vinomaker told me he had received even more and had promptly put them straight into the bin.)  Well, Yes-peeps, we don't live in Communist Russia (even Russians don't anymore because Communism doesn't work, well, except for the elite).  It's a fact of life that some people/groups just have more money than others.  Get over it!
If I could vote, and I can't, I would be a NO on Measure C.  The initiative, although well intentioned, is written very badly and is extremely vague.  Can we say, costly lawsuits?  Yes, we can.

Thursday, May 31, 2018

Vintage snapshot.

As I had mentioned in an earlier post, flowering is a little retarded this year.  The Orange muscat (OM) vines are usually (in an average year) further through bloom at this stage of the growing season.  And please, do not be alarmed, the OM flower cluster in the photograph is not upside down: it is a mildly curious fact that the OM clusters point upwards until the baby grapes advance to a stage when they cannot defy gravity any longer.
I had had a tiny internal debate, with my slightly schizophrenic self, about whether or not to post a photograph of Vinoland's OM bloom this year.  I mean, one Vitis vinifera flower looks much like another, doesn't it?  But then it occurred to me that even though, at this point, it is impossible to tell what the finished wine from this vintage will be like the vintage is in the flower cluster right at the moment the photograph is taken, so each vintage's image is unique.  The flowers that I photograph are different every year, one cannot see the vintage, but it is there.

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Too pricey?

This was a lovely wine, the proof is it's all gone.  I purchased this bottle of Quintessa's  2016, 'Illumination' Sauvignon Blanc (SB) when I visited the winery back in January.  I can't remember what I paid for it (there was a small inter-winery discount involved), but on Quintessa's website it says this wine retails for $50.00.  And by my reckoning, that's about $20.00 too much.
Wine pricing is a funny old thing.  The average consumer could be forgiven for asking, "Why is this wine priced thus?"  Well, the wine's packaging is a little upscale, it comes in a Rhone-style bottle (how trite) and there is some flashy gold on the label, but packaging alone shouldn't make a significant impact on the retail price of this wine.  The cost of SB grapes is on the rise in the Napa Valley.  In fact, SB is in danger of becoming more scarce, indeed many growers are ripping out this delightful white grape and planting Cabernet Sauvignon in its place.  Having said that, I looked up the average price per ton of SB grapes (Napa County Crop Report) when I started blogging in 2008 and it was $1,905.91.  In 2017 the average cost had risen to $2,012.00.  That's a whopping increase of $106.09 over a 10 year period.  (By no stretch of the imagination is that a significant price hike.)
Yes, I enjoyed this $50.00 SB, it was a beautiful glass of wine; a little heavier of the palate than most SBs, adequate acid, a lovely grapefruit/mandarin orange citrus-y-ness and a lingering finish.  However, I don't think I enjoyed it enough to pay full retail.
Quintessa is a pretty swanky winery, so I believe it is up to the proprietors to maintain some aura of exclusivity.  I'm thinking the folks that can afford to drink Quintessa wines are Cabernet Sauvignon aficionados who aren't necessarily white wine drinkers (I meet people like that all the time), but might be persuaded to buy an overpriced, in my humble estimation, SB.  I am not Quintessa's audience.
Call me cheap, but I'd rather have two bottles of SB from a Napa Valley producer such as Honig or St. Supéry.  Or even better, three bottles (or, perhaps, four if it's on sale) of that old Kiwi stalwart, Kim Crawford.  My little pea-brain just doesn't understand expensive SBs.  I have tasted the Illumination once, I don't need to try it again.

Friday, May 25, 2018

What a grey May.

Today, I did a Google search on how to spell the sound one makes when blowing a raspberry, as I hadn't the foggiest.  Luckily, others before me had seemingly pondered the same complex, philosophical question and so I learnt that a cartoonist, Berkeley Breathed (Bloom County), had spelled it thus, "PPTHHPTHPFFTHPPPT."  It doesn't sound quite wet enough, if you ask me, but for wont of a better spelling it is the spelling that I am going to adopt on my blog when I need to convey my especial distaste for something.  So here goes: PPTHHPTHPFFTHPPPT! to the month of May.
I had predicted, earlier in the year, that it was probably going to be a rather short winter.  I was wrong, very wrong, it still feels like winter.  It's been a cool and grey spring.  It has been unusually windy for about three weeks now and this past week the temps have been down in the low 60s.  Then, today, it rained.  Sigh.
However, despite the coolness, we finally have bloom in Vinoland.  I'd guesstimate that the Pinot grigio vines are almost two weeks behind their average bloom date.  Not that Mother Nature works on any particular viticultural-schedule, bloom-time is different every year, but the vines do seem to be particularly tardy this year.  Once again,  PPTHHPTHPFFTHPPPT!!!

Thursday, May 17, 2018

The Helix.

My previous post, Four-Buck Chuck, made mention of an "innovative closure."  Meet the Helix.  The brainchild of Amorim (one of the planet's biggest cork producers) and O-I (a rather large bottle manufacturer), the Helix closure combines a grooved cork with a correspondingly threaded bottleneck.  Bronco Wine Company was an early adopter of the Helix cork stopper for several of their value-priced wines.
With the Helix there is no need to look around for a corkscrew, there is also no need to feel like one is slumming it by buying a screw cap closed wine.  Additionally, in some small way, the Helix manages to preserve the romance of opening a bottle of wine and the pleasant pop that a real cork delivers when it is coaxed out of a bottle.
I for one found the Helix to be a little hard to twist in and out (despite multiple printed exhortations suggesting otherwise), but I did find it rather interesting.  And innovative.

Sunday, May 13, 2018

Four-Buck Chuck.

There is a lot going on with this wine; trendy packaging, organic grapes, innovative closure, infamy.  What it doesn't have going on is complexity.  This is a bottle of Two-Buck Chuck, or rather Four-Buck Chuck ($3.99, to be exact, at Trader Joe's), Bronco Wine Company's Charles Shaw ultra value-priced vino.
The biggest selling point of this bottle of wine, perhaps, for those who care about such things, is that it is made from organic grapes. It seems that organic has become a synonym for quality nowadays.  As compared to most other wines that I drink, that are not made from organic grapes, does this wine taste different?  Better?  This is a four dollar wine, people.  Now, if this plonk was produced by a perceived premium winery the fact that it was made from organic fruit may count for something.  Instead, I'm quite sure this wine was produced in 50,000 gallon (or larger) silos.  Whose taste buds are that good to make such a distinction?  Not mine.
My WhiffsNotes for the Shaw Rosé 2017 are; nondescript on the nose except for a generic berry component; Kool-Aid-y berry-ness on the palate; acceptable acid; slight bitterness on the finish.  A beautiful pale, pale salmon, it is a shame that one can't taste colour.  (Or can one?  Synaesthesia?)  Undrinkable?  On the contrary, think a hot summer's day, afternoon garden party, giant galvanised trough of iced wine bottles, good conversation.  Drinkable?  Abso-freakin-lutely!  Besides, one sometimes has to drink the cheap stuff to understand why the good stuff is so, well, good.

Friday, May 04, 2018

Wild turkey.

I was woken up this morning by the gobble gobble of a rafter of wild turkeys: so loud.  The rather significant population of Meleagris gallopavo around Vinoland have been quite active the past few weeks.  I have spotted up to a dozen turkeys hanging out on a neighbours driveway when Vinodog 2 and I have been on one of our walks.  This morning, though, they were right outside my bedroom window.  So loud!
It was a cool, foggy and still morning, so this particular young tom-turkey didn't seem to notice me sneaking up on him, in my pyjamas, with my camera.  However, he wouldn't cooperate and keep still, he just kept strutting his stuff and gobbling - loudly.  I'm just glad that there are no grapes on the vines because a flock of this size could do some real snacking-damage.

Thursday, May 03, 2018

Branching out.

Vinodog 2 and I get a little bored on our regular walk sometimes, so, now and again, we like to branch out and try new routes.  For several months now, we have been ambling, daily, up the hill behind Vinoland.  Well, it's not exactly ambling for me and I'm quite sure V2 finds the extremely steep section at the top a little easier on her four legs than I do on my two.  Phew!
It is on this daily walk that my dog and I just recently became acquainted with Phacelia ramosissima, commonly known as brancing phacelia.  A winsome little weed that is part of the Boraginaceae family (its familiar curving cyme did indeed remind me of fiddlenecks), branching phacelia can be very variable in appearance.  The local phacelia has white flowers, but they can also be blue; it can be prostrate or upright; it can be hairless to very hairy; it can have bell or funnel shaped flowers.  Interestingly, or at least I think it is interesting, like Vitis vinifera, this phacelia species is hermaphroditic.
I have no idea who the tiny interloping insect is.