Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Still wine.

Vinomaker is always trying new wines on me blind, as in I haven't got a clue what the wine is.  Handed a glass of mystery wine recently, I had a sniff, I had a taste, I had another sniff.  Hmmm.  Nice aroma (couldn't fault that), pretty nice mouthfeel and flavour (all good there), but it did have a bit of a weird finish.  I was fairly sure that I hadn't had this wine before.  And I hadn't, at least not as a still wine.  The wine turned out to be a Pinot Noir Blanc: a white wine made from a black grape.  And why not?  Some of my very favourite wines on the planet are white wines made from Pinot noir grapes.  But with bubbles.
The Eclectic Wines, 2013 Pinot Noir Blanc (Los Carneros AVA), really opened up the more I tasted it, even the weirdness on the finish went away.  With a quick look at Eclectic's website, I learned that the winemaker is Mike Trotta, who is also the winemaker at Elyse (and I already love their wines).  Eclectic's winemaking philosophy is "less is more" which is quite refreshing when lots of Napa Valley wineries want to bombard the consumer with too much of this and that.  I also like that Eclectic state that they, Mike and his wife Wendy, are suffering from "chronic Cabernet fatigue" - love it!  Eclectic also make a Viognier that I must procure for Vinomaker to try.  Blind, of course.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Et tu, Budus?

Ahem!  I think the Pinot grigio vines are trying to seek their revenge on me for sneaking up on them with a sharp pair of Felcos.  Methinks, I'd better watch my back.
I started pruning the Cabernet sauvignon vines today.  They're still dormant-ish, although the pruning wounds are bleeding profusely. Hopefully, in this battle of Vinogirl versus budbreak, I started pruning early enough this year that I'll be finished before the Cabernet, and Syrah, vines wake up, get organised and gang up on me.  "Cry 'havoc,' and let slip the dogs of war."  Or something like that.

Friday, February 20, 2015

Buddy, you're back!

Yup, budbreak in the Orange muscat vines is underway.  My little buddies are returning for another vintage of grapey-goodness and I am happy to see them.  Only about a week earlier than last year, I actually think this is the very same vine that I photographed in February 2014. What an overachiever!
Vinoland's white grapes are all pruned and tied down, (I finished them on Tuesday), and tomorrow I will start on the black grapes.  Weather permitting, I plan to prune all this weekend which should keep me on track to get all the pruning done in a timely fashion this year.  Well, that's my plan anyway.
Bud on little buddies!

Thursday, February 19, 2015

An urban winery.

Today is Vinomaker's birthday.  Whoo hoo!
I actually managed to get Vinomaker to take some time off work to go and do a quick wine tasting with me, something we haven't done for a few years.  And we didn't even have to go very far, just a quick drive into downtown Napa.
St. Clair Brown Winery is located in a light-industrial area of the city of Napa.  Surrounded by sheet metal fabrication shops and auto repair businesses, St. Clair Brown is truly an urban winery.  Currently, the winery produces about 200 cases each of nine different wines of which Vinomaker and I tasted four (their 4 Wine Sampler).  The winery has a permit to serve food and I originally had intended to have lunch there, but with a fairly tight schedule we decided to just do a tasting.  The wines were all very pleasant; a 2011 Coombsville Chardonnay (a tad too oaky), a 2008 Coombsville Syrah, a 2010 Oak Knoll/Atlas Peak Merlot and a 2010 Oak Knoll/Atlas Peak/St. Helena Cabernet Sauvignon.  Our host, the son of one of the owners, was delightful, the wines exhibited a distinct winemaking style, the urban environment was fun and a chat with owner Laina Brown was interesting - an enjoyable experience.  The winery does not, however, offer complimentary tastings to the other wine industry folks.  Now, I'm not cheap, and I was only too happy to pay the $20.00 tasting fee, but I do believe it is a little short-sighted of St. Clair Brown. What better marketing/advertising is there than to make other winery personnel ambassadors of your brand?  It is my belief that a 2 fluid ounce pour can go an awfully long way in promoting a winery.  On to dinner.
Vinomaker had not been to R&D Kitchen in Yountville, so that is where I decided to take him for his birthday dinner.  R&D does have a rather limited menu, but I sort of like that about this restaurant.  More important to Vinomaker, perhaps, was R&D's 'wine by the glass' wine list.  I just had one glass of Schramsberg Brut Rosé because I was driving, but Vinomaker had a glass of white wine and a glass of red wine.  The white was a 2013, Cowhorn Spiral 36 (Applegate Valley AVA, Oregon), a blend of Viognier, Marsanne and Roussanne, (the Marsanne really popped in this wine). The red was a 2012, Page Wine Cellars/Revolver Wine Company 'The Fury' Cabernet Franc (Napa Valley AVA), really nice, lots of dark berries, dried flowers and dried herbs on the nose.  And that's it: yet another anniversary of Vinomaker's birth done and dusted.  Oh, and Gung hei fat choi!
Happy birthday Vinomaker!

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

I was wrong.

Lately, I have found myself out and about in Napa with some unusual items in my handbag, items that I wouldn't normally carry around with me.  Stuff like, a pound of minced beef, a glass and bronze fruit bowl, a woollen jumper, a baguette (I felt so Parisian) and a rather snazzy, reflective flea collar (not for me, obviously).  I wasn't carrying all of these items at once - my everyday handbag is big, but not that big.  No, each item represented a single trip to a store on a day when I had forgotten to take a reusable bag with me.
As of January 1st 2015, single use plastic bags have been banned in the city of Napa.  There are a few exceptions to the new ordinance e.g., bags for prescription drugs and take-out food are exempt, for now.  But if one happens to need to transport groceries home, and have forgotten to bring a bag, the store is required by law to charge the customer at least 10 cents for a paper bag.
I thought that alcoholic beverages were something that had to be bagged.  I buy quite a bit of wine at wineries and they will not let you leave the premises without bagging the bottle first, so when I recently bought a bottle of wine at Vallerga's Market in Napa I patiently waited for my purchase to be bagged.  And I waited.  Then I asked for a bag. Well, to cut a long story short the cashier and I had a bit of a barney, in fact he was still shouting at me as I left the store. Great customer service, eh?  I won't be shopping at that store any time soon.
I did a bit of research and apparently I was wrong, I have to admit it. Neither the city nor the county (where most wineries are located) of Napa require alcohol to be bagged: the same goes for the entire state of California.  Whilst California does enforce a strict "no open container" law, that prevents any alcoholic beverage being unsealed in public, or in a car, the California Alcoholic Beverage Control Act (as of November 2011) does indeed allow folks to walk down the street with a naked bottle of hooch in their hand - as long as it is unopened.  This is a difficult concept for me to get my head around. 
In puritanical America - the only country in the world that has been able to enact a law such as the Volstead Act, and even in this day and age does not legally allow an adult to consume an alcoholic beverage until they are 21 years old - am I right in assuming that I would be able to walk down a busy street in broad daylight with a screwcap-bottle of wine, albeit unopened, in my hand?  Call me old fashioned, but I don't think the local constabulary is going to endorse that sort of behaviour any time soon.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Happy St. Valentine's Day: 2015.

I tried to make a heart out of some of the old wood that I am pruning off the grapevines, but it was a disaster.  I had to use this one I'd bought instead.  I'm not very crafty.
Love dogs!  Love wine!  Love life!
Happy St. Valentine's Day to you all.

Friday, February 13, 2015


Whilst out to dinner last night with some friends at Morimoto, I saw somebody that I hadn't seen in a couple of years - we actually used to work together for a little while.  Vinomaker and I don't eat out very often but when we do I usually bump into someone I know.  It was lovely to see my old coworker and have a quick catch-up.  And it reminded me to drink a bottle of CADE Sauvignon Blanc that's been sitting in my wine cooler for a while, because CADE is the winery where my ex-coworker is currently employed.
I liked the 2012 vintage of this wine, so I expected to like the 2013, and I did.  For me, this wine had lemon drops and a subtle hint of flowering rosemary on the nose, a lovely mouth-filling texture, lemon and orange peel on the palate and a winning acidity.  Nice.
Just in case anyone was wondering, with dinner I drank a TWWIAGE Sauvignon Blanc and a Hill Family Estate, 2012 Albariño (Napa AVA), of which the latter paired really well with my cold, dead fish.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

About that Franciacorta stuff.

Everything one could possibly want to know about Franciacorta, the sparkling wine that hails from the province of Brescia in Lombardy, can now be found at 'franciacorta: the real story'.  Jeremy Parzen, Ph.D. (aka Do Bianchi) has recently been tasked with getting the word out about this wonderfully elegant bubbly.  In a recent post on Jeremy's blog there are several links to the Franciacorta consortium's new Facebook page and Twitter account, etc., where one can read the 'real story' behind this intriguing wine/appellation.  Or just look at some rather pretty photographs.
In my wine cooler, at this very moment, I have a bottle of Contadi Castaldi Stile Franciacorta Brut which will be quaffed this coming weekend.  I have had this particular wine before and although I'd like to try a Franciacorta from a different producer, alas, this one was all that was available in my local-ish BevMo.  (But at $19.99 - regular price, not sale - I am not complaining.)  Hopefully, further promotion of this delightful wine will lead to more Franciacorta wines being available in the U.S.  Go 2B!

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Fish Friendly (wine) Farming.

Last week I noticed a couple of new signs in the neighbourhood, (I think they are in two different vineyards).  The first time I spotted them, as I whizzed by on my way to TWWIAGE, I saw the drawing of the fish. The next day I saw the word friendly.  Fish-friendly wine?  A Sauvignon Blanc, perhaps?  There isn't a creek on either of these vineyards, but they each do climb a little up a gentle slope, so I was intrigued by the brightly coloured signs.  On my day off I decided to stop and have a better look and do a little research.
The Fish Friendly Farming (FFF) programme is run by the California Land Stewardship Institute (CLSI).  The CLSI is a non-profit organisation that works with farmers and landowners to design and implement environmental projects that will help reduce the amount of fine sediment entering the waterways of Napa, Sonoma and Mendocino counties.  The CLSI believes that the declining population of coho and chinook salmon and steelhead trout in California is an indication of the overall health of the ecosystem.  The CLSI's blurb says that they are; "Encouraging practices that protect the endangered coho salmon and steelhead trout.  Because premium food and wine comes from a pristine environment." Well now, I love good food and good wine so I feel that this programme is something I could get behind: good stewardship of the land is after all the responsible thing to do.
I don't know how much it costs to be certified 'fish friendly' (it probably isn't cheap) and one has to be re-certified every 5 years and one has to buy the metal signs, still it may all be worth it if rivers, streams and the fish in them benefit from farmers who perform Best Management Practices (BMP).  But - and there is always a but for me - I'm afraid that being certified fish friendly for some winegrowers and wineries would just be another marketing tool to sell more wine.  Consumers nowadays are bombarded with green-labeled products and a lot of those products don't stand up to what they claim to be.  Greenwashing is the term that has been coined to describe the use of misleading marketing about the purported environmental benefits of certain consumer goods.  And I'm pretty sure that wine, as just another consumer product, isn't immune to such deceptive practices.
Caveat emptor!

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Bucket of bungs.

New French oak barrels come with rough hewn oak bungs, held securely in the bung hole with a disc of cotton or hessian, which are generally discarded (in favour of silicone bungs for barrel aging).  I salvaged a bucketful of these bungs that were being thrown away at TWWIAGE.  Why, you might ask?  Because they make great kindling, that's why.  There is no better wood to start a fire with, on a cold winter's night, than wood from 200 - 300 year old trees that has been air-dried for up to 48 months.  It's my own version of toasting oak.
Most of the trees that are felled for the production of French oak barrels (predominantly Quercus sessiliflora and Quercus petraea) come from a handful of forests (e.g., Allier, Limousin and Tronçais) that were planted during Napoleonic times for shipbuilding.  Call me old fashioned, but I always feel warm and toasty when I think that some of the wood intended for the French navy meets its Waterloo in my hearth.  Ouch!
Happy St. Trifon's Day everyone!

Saturday, January 31, 2015


Well, here we are on the last day of January and it has not rained once this month.  And I think I can safely predict that it will not rain before midnight tonight.  In fact, we have had no rain since Christmas Eve.  As I write this post the current temperature outside is 79°F.  I was pruning in the Pinot grigio block (which I started today) and I had to come in for a drink of water because I was getting too toasty.  I also made sure that V2 had fresh water in her bowl, but she was too busy off somewhere up the hill digging for gophers (her water bowl will undoubtedly be full of mud later).  Actually, V2 has several water bowls dotted around the property which she very generously shares with some nocturnal visitors to Vinoland.  I know this because I discover fresh new offerings of raccoon and skunk scat each morning when I take V2 for her morning constitutional.
Vinomaker is the person around here responsible for taking care of the avian population, (although it is me who is trying to nurse a house finch back to health at the moment).  I cannot tell you how many pounds of seed the birds go through in a month, but it's a lot.  However, the reward for Vinomaker schlepping all that bird seed around, and making sure that they also have lots of fresh water, is that I get to enjoy some very cheeky feathered friends who are enormously entertaining. 
Necklace, the dark-eyed junco (Junco hyemalis), is definitely my favourite.  A contemporary of Mr. Beakly (may he R.I.P.), Necklace, with his distinctive ring of light coloured feathers, is a feisty little fellow and must wield some seniority over his other junco pals as he is always noisily chasing them away from the smorgasbord that Vinoland's deck-railing becomes every morning and afternoon.  Necklace is always the first to appear when the seed is put out and will even sit in a big oak tree above the deck protesting if his next repast does not appear in a timely fashion.  Love it! 
California is in desperate need of rain, as this is the 4th drier than average winter in a row.  (However, this dry spell is nowhere near as bad as the one California was experiencing when I first moved to the US - that particular drought was 7 years long).   I can't help thinking to myself though that if I was stuck indoors due to inclement weather, I'd really be missing some great stuff going on outside.  Just a thought.

Friday, January 30, 2015

The Calistoga AVA.

There is no doubt that the Napa Valley is a very picturesque place.  However, a lot of visitors I run into do complain of being disappointed with the town of Napa itself.  I point out to them that Napa is a functioning town that has to support a fairly sizeable population (approx. 80,000 peeps) and therefore it has to service that population with such untouristy features as an auto row, big-box stores and strip malls.
Of all the AVA sign photographs that I have posted up till now, this Calistoga AVA sign, on the corner of Highway 29 and Larkmead Lane, has to have the most unlovely of dispositions.  There are other Calistoga AVA signs that I could have photographed in much prettier settings, but this one makes me laugh.  Like some cavalier afterthought, this sign was plonked down in the most unprepossessing of locations.  I think the oval wine-coloured AVA signs are of a rather fetching design, but this Calistoga sign is being outcompeted by a slightly mangled chain-link fence, the yellow safety shield on a guy-wire (stabilizing a utility pole) and a red sign warning of an underground telephone cable (which I cropped out).  Funny!
Grapevines were first planted in Calistoga (also known for its sparkling water, hot springs and mud baths) in 1862 by Samuel Brannan, a Mormon settler and businessman.  Dominated by a single soil type - volcanic (or, as the successful petition for AVA status reads, "volcanic bedrock overlain with lava flows, ash-fall tuffs, welded tuffs, pyroclastic flows and mudflows"), Calistoga was listed in a viticultural census as long ago as 1893.  Calistoga, in the summer months, has the most dramatic diurnal shift in the Napa Valley, a 50°F (often more) day-to-night change in temperature.
Calistoga was granted AVA status in 2010.  The  contentious petition to the Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) was initially proposed by Bo Barrett (of Chateau Montelena and Judgement of Paris/Bottle Shock fame) in 2003 and resulted in the temporary cessation of all AVA petitions until the TTB could complete a top-to-bottom review of AVA rules.  Sheesh!  Some people can get so tetchy over alcohol, money and politics.
Notable wineries for me in this AVA are; Clos Pegase Winery, Frank Family Vineyards (I recently had their sparkling wine, they call it Rogue Champagne, which I didn't even know they made and it was delicious), Larkmead Vineyards, Madrigal Family Vineyards, Schramsberg Vineyards and Vincent Arroyo Winery.
Eight down, eight to go

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Early pruning.

This is the earliest I have ever started to prune the grapevines.  The weather has just been so nice, low 60s, warm sunshine, that I thought I'd get an early that I can panic later!  The ground must still be cold though because the vines were not bleeding from the wounds so they are not yet drawing up water.  With no rain forecast for at least a week, the wounds should dry out quite nicely (and be safe from airborne infection).   
I love pruning, it never gets old for me.  Making pruning decsions that determine this year's, and next year's, crop is thought provoking and an awful lot of fun. 

Saturday, January 24, 2015

The Ritual.

The annual January ritual of the cleaning of the Felcos is underway.  My pruning shears were put away at the end of last season in less than spectacular condition (sorry, Vinomaker), so they are undergoing a very intensive cleaning in anticipation of the 2015 pruning season getting underway very soon.  How soon?  Erm, like, tomorrow.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

The Apostle of California.

I bought these rosary beads at the Vatican whilst on a family trip to Rome in 2000.  The beads are made from rosewood and in place of the more traditional crucifix there is a replica of one of the panels on the porta santa, or holy door, which is the north entrance to St. Peter's Basilica.  The porta santa was open when my family and I descended upon The City of the Seven Hills (not cemented closed as it usually is), as 2000 was a Jubilee year.  My family and I spent our days in the Eternal City sight-seeing, shopping and eating.  The evenings were spent soaking up the character of areas like Trastevere, laughing our bottoms off at news coverage of the 'hanging chad' debacle unfolding back in the United States and eating.
Watching the news the other day, I was happy to hear that Pope Francis has decided to canonize Father Junípero Serra when the pontiff visits Washington D.C. later this year.  Beatified by Pope John Paul II in 1988, Junípero Serra, a Majorcan missionary, is credited with the planting of the first grapevines in California (at Mission San Diego) for the production of sacramental wine.  Father Serra was the primera vineyard manager in California history.  I don't know if  Blessed Serra will ever have patron saint status conferred upon him, there are already a bunch of other saints that have winemaking and viticulture covered, but he's still one more for the team.  Siempre adelante, nunca retroceder.