Thursday, November 27, 2008

Happy Lamb Day.

On the first ever Thanksgiving Day, English settlers, who were a little short on vittles, were greeted by the indigenous people of the New World with a lamb casserole. In honour of that first holiday, I am preparing a traditional lamb casserole, (cooked in a copious amount of red wine), for my guests.
Well we know it didn't really quite happen that way but I only cook turkey at Christmas and so if Americans want to break bread with Vinogirl on Turkey Day, they have to accept something other than the traditional fowl. I do confess that I love pumpkin pie, so I appease the natives with that. So Lambanana and Vinogirl wish you a very Happy Thanksgiving.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Bottle it up!

At last, all viticulture and wine making operations for 2008, are at an end for Vinomaker and me. That is except for topping barrels and general housekeeping in the cellar. I won't have to be out in the vineyard, pruning, until February or March and all the 2008 wine is snoozing in barrels (or still going through malolactic fermentation).
Today we bottled our remaining 2006 Cabernet sauvignon and Syrah. It's a little later in the year than we intended but we had moved it into neutral barrels so it hadn't picked up any additional oak. It all tastes rather nice...we are both pleased with how the 2006 vintage turned out. Now we just have to wait until it settles down from bottle-shock before we can imbibe. Can't you hear me tapping my fingers?

Thursday, November 20, 2008

True Wine Lover 3.

"I think it is a great error to consider a heavy tax on wines as a tax on luxury. On the contrary, it is a tax on the health of our citizens."
Thomas Jefferson is generally regarded as America’s first fine wine connoisseur. The third president of the United States had a distinct penchant for wine, French wines in particular. Historical documents reveal that in his first term as President he spent $7,500, (approximately $120,000 in today's currency), on wine...mainly Lafite, Margaux and Chateau d'Yquem. It is said that most of the founding fathers were partial to quaffing a good claret or Madeira, but none were as fervent or methodical in their appreciation of oenology as old Tom. A truer case of Vinsanity I have never heard of. He surely would have been saddened to see his fabled wine collection as the target of one of the biggest, if not the biggest, wine scams ever. His prescient observations on the dangers of over taxation and the health benefits of drinking wine,(more than 200 years before anyone had ever heard of resveratrol), should be heeded by us all.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Roll me over in the clover.

If you had visited the Napa Valley as recently as 5 or 6 years ago, you would have noticed the absence of any vegetation in the vineyards except for the foliage of the vines themselves. Thankfully that's changed. The majority of farmers have now adopted a 'no-till' policy, choosing to plant cover crops or allow native vegetation to proliferate. Even a vineyard floor covered in dandelions would be preferable to a 'scorched earth' approach to farming.
This year I chose to plant a clover mix in our vineyard. Clovers are legumes, belonging to the Fabaceae family, and so are capable of fixing nitrogen from the air. Through a symbiotic association with bacteria from the genus Rhizobium, they convert nitrogen gas (N2) in the atmosphere to ammonium (NH3) that can be readily used by crops. Because rhizobia occur naturally at low levels in most soils, the bacteria must be present on the legume seed at planting, hence the uniform look of the seed in my photograph. They are coated with everything they need to perform this amazing feat of alchemy.
There are arguments for and against the planting of cover crops. On the pro side; they are very beneficial to overall soil health, add organic matter to soil, retard soil erosion and provide shelter for beneficial predatory insects, amongst other things. Naysayers fear; competiton for available groundwater, too much nitrogen fixation (that could result in too much vigour), and the over-wintering of problematic insects...but seeing as I am a proponent of cover cropping, and it's my blog, I'm not going to dwell on the negatives. There is a lot more to this subject than just tossing out a few seeds and calling it good. Cover crop management is quite complex and is a science in itself, but the positive aspects of this practice are to me incontestable. Besides, it was a great day to be outdoors. The weather was fantastic (84F) and V2 accompanied me as I worked...or at least I think she did, if the huge shadow of her large ears just to my side was anything to go by.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Good moon rising.

It only happens a couple of times a year, but tonight was one of those times. At 5 pm when I left the winery and headed south towards home, the sun was setting over the western hills of the Napa Valley to my right, (and the Pacific Ocean beyond), and the full Beaver moon was rising over the eastern hills to my left. It's a little distracting as you drive along, admiring the glowing sunset and the silvery moonrise at the same time, but ultimately, it's awe inspiring.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

R is for Race.

Even though we had over 3 inches of rain last weekend, just 2 inches down the vineyard soil is extremely dry. It's the same every year, the first rainfalls just run off and drain away. However, there is a peculiar evolutionary phenomenon going on outside at the moment; the r-selection species of weeds, (as opposed to the k-selection which is for a future blog), are unearthing themselves after being entombed in the inhospitable California summer soil. These plants display traits that make them highly adaptable to, and exploitative of, the current moisture/temperature conditions. The ability to reproduce quickly is perhaps the most crucial as they must go through an entire growth cycle in a highly unpredictable and unstable environment. It's a race for survival. Combined with small body size, early maturity, high fecundity and the ability to disperse their offspring, they must take advantage of what Mother Nature has to offer them, right now, to endure. Very opportunistic little guys and gals.
It's fun having a walk with the Vinodogs as there is a lot of new stuff to entertain Vinogirl. Viewed from a certain angle, there is a verdant green haze covering every flat surface...even my coconut front doormat has a germinated burr medic clover seed, happily reaching up to the autumn sun.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Get a Grip...ple.

Yesterday Vinomaker and I attended the Napa Valley Viticultural Fair. It's not a huge event, as trade fairs go, but it gives you a good opportunity to see the latest innovations in vineyard equipment, frost protection, pest management, water systems etc. Held at the fairgrounds in town, it is none the less, very informative and entertaining. Some of my favourite exhibitors include; the grapevine nurseries (where baby vines are conceived), the pest management companies (whether using chemical or biological control methods, they always bring a live sample of a creepy crawly with them, the stars this time were spider mites...yikes), and last but by no means least...Gripple. I love this device and can't imagine putting up trellising wires without them. They have really saved vineyard developers a lot of time and a lot of money. And the best thing about this little gizmo...it's made in England. The young man manning the booth was initially encouraged by my enthusiasm for his product, but seemed increasingly disturbed when I insisted on keeping a Gripple, a key ring...and his pen.
The afternoon concludes with a complimentary wine social, where you can catch up with friends in the wine industry and share tales, or horror stories, of the harvest past. Fun!

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Just Because 2...

...this picture is pretty and I just wanted to use it.
The vines seem to be quite resilient this year and appear to be shutting down rather slowly. All the better to store nutrients for next season I'm sure. The rain we just had knocked a lot of dying leaves to the ground and the vines are starting to look a little bedraggled.
The more seasonal temps, and the smell of damp leaves, reminds me that it is Bonfire Night in dear old Blighty. This, with the exception of Christmas of course, is an extremely difficult time for Vinogirl to be away from home, sigh! You just can't beat the olfactory delight of gun powder, hanging in the damp autumn air, insinuating itself into your nostrils. So fellow countrymen, light up the sky with Standard Fireworks and think of Vinogirl.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Just Because...

...I'm a girl, a Vinogirl, and I like grapes and shoes.
These are my favourite shoes of the moment and the last bunch of Crimson Seedless from the garden. They are very, very tasty...and the grapes aren't bad either.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Have your cake and drink it too!

Never say never. Just when I thought harvest 2008 was over, Vinomaker decided he wanted to make a late harvest Zinfandel. Ho hum!
The day began with Vinomaker and I barreling down a batch of Syrah. Then, we processed the aforementioned late harvest Zinfandel, (from a friend's vineyard). And finally, we pressed off our own Cabernet sauvignon, which had fermented to dry, and is now settling for 24 hours before it is barreled down. It is a distinct pleasure to sit down and enjoy a bottle of wine, (especially one that you have vinted yourself), but there is a lot that goes on between vine and glass that most people don't get to see. For instance, disposing of the cake, (above picture). The 'leftovers' of wine production include a lot of skins and seeds which need to be dealt with. They make a fantastic soil conditioner and are no doubt a source of food for many an insect, flying or otherwise. Overall it was a good day for wine making and the enviroment...that includes happy Vinodogs with purple feet, I kid you not!

Saturday, November 1, 2008

K Fertilisation.

No, this photograph isn't meant to be in soft focus, nor did I have too much to drink last night...it's just teeming down. 'Out of the Window' Vinogirl is sitting at the dining table with a cup of Earl Grey gazing out at a bleary, sodden vineyard. The Vinodogs curled up in their beds, periodically eye me askance, disapprovingly, like the rain is all my fault. They will be deprived of their walk today. Poor V2 hasn't had many instances of rain in her short life so she's a little confused.
What is not confusing is the propitious timing of Napa's first significant rainfall since February. Vinomaker and I have been busy out in the vineyard applying Potassium sulphate (K2SO4) around the vines. Placing the fertiliser near the root zone in large amounts, is the best means of overcoming soil fixation as Kalium, (K), is particularly immobile in the soil. It moves so slowly in fact that the results may not be seen until the second season after the application. Though it is an expensive procedure, it is an absolutely necessary one. The potassium needs of a grapevine are high, comparable to the demand for nitrogen, and a deficiency would result in poor vine growth and lower crop yields. However, one application will last at least 5 years.
So Mother Nature continues to smile on Vinogirl and Vinomaker, albeit in a different way, and helps move the fertiliser into the soil...next up, cover cropping.