Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Coombsville granaries.

The recent rains in Napa were accompanied by high winds strong enough to bring down lots of twigs, small branches, various lichens, oak apples and the remainder of last year's leaves.  The wind also brought down this rather large tree limb that had been converted into a fly-in larder - no doubt the handiwork of numerous Acorn Woodpeckers (Melanerpes formicivorous).  I had photographed such a tree as this before, but the fortuitous delivery of this particular branch onto my driveway meant that I could get up close and personal with a piece of avian artfulness.
Generations of woodpeckers will use the same tree, which is called a granary tree, year after year.  Acorns are such an important source of food for the woodpeckers that they will often nest and breed in the autumn to take advantage of autumn's crop of acorns. Western Scrub Jays and squirrels may also visit the granary trees to take acorns, but the woodpeckers are generally very aggressive, and very vociferous, in the defense of their particular tree.
Woodpeckers can be a bit of a nuisance to homeowners as they'll also peck holes in the wooden bits on ones house.  In Vinoland, the local woodpecker population seem to be quite smitten with the fascia right above my bedroom window, which is a bit of a problem as they get up and about a lot earlier in the morning than me.  I do wish they'd stick to storing their victuals in the furthest oak trees from the house.  Tap, tap.  Tap, tap.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Never buy just one bottle.

Words to live by:  Never buy just one bottle - for a number of reasons.  I would recommend, when you are wine shopping, if it's possible, buy at least two bottles of the wine that you are interested in.  How disappointing would it be if you had been cellaring a much anticipated bottle of wine, only to finally open it and find it was, say, corked.  
I generally buy two bottles, but especially when I am curious as to how a particular wine will age.  Of course, that doesn't mean I go around everyday buying bottles of P├ętrus by the brace, I don't have that type of wine-buying budget, but when I come across an affordable wine, which I think has potential of some sort, I more often than not buy multiple bottles.
In the case of this Madrigal 2005 Zinfandel Vinomaker and I bought a dozen.  We have liked Madrigal's Zin for a number of years now and with an inter-winery discount it was very affordable by the case.  Just as well, because the first bottle we opened last night was indeed corked - a nasty, musty affair - so we opened a second and it was delightful (even if it is getting a little long in the tooth).
Think of it this way, purchasing two bottles of the same wine at a time is insurance against disappointment.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Pruning in earnest.

Last week's rain events delivered approximately 4.5 inches of the wet stuff to Napa, prompting a temporary pause to pruning activities in vineyards the length and breadth of the valley.  The weather is once again sunny and is forecast to be that way for at least the next five days, so the resumption of this essential vineyard operation is already underway - except in Vinoland.  It will be another couple of weeks yet until I get started, and like last year I will start with the Orange muscat vines.  Meanwhile, I have a lot to keep me busy as I decided to continue with my photography classes.  Smile!

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Winter rain.

It started to rain this afternoon, sigh...
I shouldn't complain, it has been a spectacular winter so far.  We haven't had any heavy rain since Thanksgiving.  There were two minor rain events in December, each no more than mere tenths of an inch, but that was it.  Napa has been basking in glorious sunshine, under heavenly blue skies and springlike temperatures, for weeks now.  It's been great.
Unfortunately, there are consequences to such fantastic, yet uncharacteristic, winter weather.  There has been no snow up in Lake Tahoe (and I do feel for the ski resort operators) and, from a viticultural perspective, the pathetic, non-existent growth of vineyard cover crops.  
Normally this time of the year one would expect vineyard cover crops to be perhaps knee high, but the poor cover crop in the above photograph looks like it's been napalmed.  Cover-cropping is not an exact science and the successful germination of a cover crop is entirely dependent on the timing of the first autumn rains. Napa had early rains last year, but we haven't had any rain since to sustain vigorous growth.  
I'm glad I didn't plant a cover crop this winter.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

And my rant continues...

...fueled by Vinomaker who handed me this cartoon today, which appeared in last Sunday's Napa Valley Register, after he read my post from yesterday.
It could be me;  nice frock, glass of wine, pearls, gas mask...except for the Vinocat!
Actually, it looks more like the Wartime Housewife.
Thanks to cartoonist Roberto.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Agriculture happens.

Today was apparently an agricultural burn day in the Napa Valley. As I drove away from work this morning I spotted a few vineyards practicing open burning, including this one on the Oakville Crossroad.  Each pyre, of twisted vines and vineyard stakes, was burning so hot that very little smoke was being produced, the centres glowing a vivid red even in the bright, morning sunshine. I could feel the intensity of the heat from the bonfires on my face some 75 yards away, and across the passenger seat of my car, as I sat taking this photograph.
Agricultural burning is the practice of using fire to reduce or dispose of vegetative debris from an agricultural activity, in this instance the disposal of dead grapevines ripped out last November.  Prescribed fire has long been an efficient management tool for the grapegrowers of the Napa Valley to aid in clearing old vineyards to make way for new vines.  However, it is a tool that is infrequently used.  Vineyards only account for about 9% of the entire acreage of the county.  And, these vineyards are only, perhaps, replanted on an average of every 25-30 years, and even then not all at the same time.  The Valley's grapegrowers aren't a marauding horde of pyromaniacs advocating slash-and-burn agricultural practices: they are generally responsible custodians of the land on which their livelihoods depend.
Fortunately, to ensure that the Valley's farmers refrain from becoming environmental hooligans (and also save them from committing agricultural operations that have been deemed criminal), the Bay Area Air Quality Management District (BAAQMD) was founded in 1955 by the California legislature - just one more bureaucratic agency which then had to be funded and staffed - to aid in the squandering of tax payer's dollars.              
Now, I understand that steps should be taken to protect air quality in the Napa Valley and, thankfully, there are already in place Federally mandated air emission thresholds set by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA); which in turn are then implemented by California's Agricultural Commissioner, and finally enforced at a local level by the County of Napa.
Presently, grapegrowers must apply to the County of Napa for a permit, at least five days in advance of a scheduled agricultural burn.  However, the county then must submit the permit for approval  to BAAQMD which ultimately confers burn day-status upon the farmer who has been patiently waiting to replant his land.
Leave it to the San Francisco Bay Area to have it's very own busybody, authoritarian agency to make sure that the citizens of all nine Bay area counties behave as they ordain. This is the same agency that called for Spare The Air (STA) days on Thanksgiving and Christmas 2010 - cozy, family time when loved ones usually gather together to roast chestnuts on an open fire - only to admit later that those two particular days were not in fact STA days: They had manipulatively fabricated the existence of poor air quality conditions, making folks refrain from having log fires, just to get the public's attention.  Up to this same point in the winter season last winter BAAQMD had issued 4 STA notices.  But, this winter, mostly due to the lack of rain since Thanksgiving, the Bay Area has already had 14 STA days.
The EPA, on behalf of the entire United States, seems to be already dealing with the ever increasing challenges we are told our planet is facing.  Meanwhile, back in San Francisco, BAAQMD's mission statement proclaims:  "To protect and improve...the global climate" - lofty aspirations indeed!
Piddling local government at its finest.  Or, worst? 

Sunday, January 15, 2012

A touch of Tempranillo.

On Friday afternoon, I was very fortunate to be invited to participate in a blind tasting of Tempranillo.  Well, it wasn't quite that way, I really just tagged along with Vinomaker whose presence at the tasting had actually been requested.  The tasting was being hosted by a winemaker friend of Vinomaker's who has two vintages of a Napa Valley Tempranillo in barrel, a 2010 and now a 2011, but doesn't know quite what to do with it now that he has it.  Therefore, the objective of the tasting was to get to know Tempranillo, discover the characteristics of this grape cultivar originating from Spain.  Seven wines from various wine-growing regions, foreign and domestic, were up for evaluation so I dove in, nose first!
Growing up in England, I always liked the odd bottle of Rioja (wine from the Rioja region of northern Spain renowned for red wines predominantly made from the Tempranillo grape), as a nice alternative to the Bardolinos and Chiantis I generally preferred. So, being semi-familiar with this wine varietal's flavour profiles I had some preconceived expectations going into the tasting; strawberry, plum, licorice, acidity, minerality and well structured tannins.
The number 2 wine in the lineup was corked, so it was immediately disqualified.  All the wines displayed many of the characteristics that I was anticipating, including the deep garnet hue one would expect from this grape variety.  One wine was a little thin.  One wine was a little reductive.  One wine was too oaky, whilst another was too tannic (vintages varied from 2006s to 2009s and the tannic wine was a 2009).  
At the conclusion of the tasting the scores we had given each wine were tallied up...and there was no real winner.  Although, of the seven of us tasting, three (me included) chose as our favourite the Dare 2008 Tempranillo from Viader (retail price $40.00).  It was, overall, a beautifully balanced wine with sublime acidity, nuances of baked plum and rhubarb tart, a hint of sweet vanilla-oak and the deepest red-purple, eye-pleasing countenance one could ever hope for in a glass of red wine.  Yum!
Towards the end of the tasting the talk, somewhat predictably, veered towards pricing strategy and the subsequent marketing of the as yet unfinished wine (the winemaker now had a lot to ruminate on, whereas my, and Vinomaker's, job was done). Marketing phrases like branding, demand-pull, price points, profit margins  and loss-leaders were bandied about the room (there were two CPAs in attendance) and it was all way over my head, so I just poured myself some more wine.
Cheers to the noble variety of Spain, Tempranillo.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

The other cider the Atlantic.

I have mentioned before that Calvados is one of Vinomaker's all time favourite tipples (Thud's also), so I am constantly on the lookout for different ones that he might enjoy.  I bought this bottle on my trip home to Liverpool last spring and Vinomaker just finished it (I don't know when he opened it).  Seeing as my plane tickets are now booked for my next visit home I thought I'd start making a list of things that I want to buy when I'm on my hols.
Purchased from Tesco, this VSOP apple brandy comes from the appellation Pays d'Auge which is considered the finest amongst Calvados producing areas.  Double distilled from fine Normandy cider, this particular offering had a rich, appley-bouquet and some well integrated vanilla on the palate, probably from the oak casks it was aged in.  Or so Vinomaker tells me, I never touch the stuff.  I think I may have bought myself a packet of Winegums in Tesco that day.  Yum!

Friday, January 6, 2012

Git the water, Gunga Din!

And quickly, even if it is 'arf-a-pint o' water green - anything would taste better than this, the first wine that I have ever had from India.  
A gift from Vinomaker's friend, Sky King, this bottle of Sula Vineyards 2008 Shiraz (hailing from the red hills of Nashik) was extraordinary, but not in a good way.  I have to admit that the nose was very fruity, but the fruit proved to be rather unidentifiable which is always a bad starting point when tasting a wine.  On the palate this wine was borderline undrinkable, it was almost like there was ground up charred-wood in the mix.  I just couldn't get past that, although there was some tannin structure. Laughably, maybe, the label on the back of the bottle describes the wine as having "nuances of oak".  Hmm!
Would some people find this wine palatable?  Of course.  Just as some dogs like to quaff out of toilet bowls, conceivably somebody might find this wine drinkable - everyone's tastes are different.  But this wine is most definitely flawed.  I sometimes wonder why wineries would bother to bottle something this undrinkable in the first place.  Perhaps it is simply a bad bottle, but I don't think so. Vintage is not even an issue: I can't see this wine as having been any better right out of the barrel, and it certainly is not going to improve with age.    
The back label also states that the wine is 'For Overseas Export Only'.  Aren't we lucky?

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Roll on vintage 2012.

From a grape-growing perspective, I am glad to see the back of 2011.  Rain, rain and more rain.  Cooler than average temperatures.  Persistent marine fog.  Powdery mildew running amok through Vinoland.  Just one of these trying climatic conditions would have been perhaps a tolerable nuisance, but all of them in a single, abbreviated growing season?  One would have been forgiven for expecting a plague of locusts of biblical proportions next.  Besides all that, it was quite a good year.  But 2012 will be better.
A happy, healthy and fermented-grape juice filled New Year to everyone.