Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Happy New Year: GMT style.

Although I will miss Vinoland's annual, New Year bubbly tasting it's not like I am going to forego drinking bubbles altogether on this the last day of 2013, am I? No, instead I will be imbibing in a tipple of Thud's choice, a nice little something from Piper-Heidsieck, a good 8 hours ahead of Vinomaker and all my Californian friends.
Have a very Happy New Year everyone!

Monday, December 30, 2013

Back in Blighty.

Yup, I am back home.  My mother was having a special birthday, so I, with the help of Thud, decided to surprise her.  And surprised she was. What was also surprising was that my first two days here were sunny and dry.  I knew the dry weather was not going to last, of course.  A quick drive over to New Brighton today  reminded me, none too gently, of how powerful the winds off Liverpool Bay can be.  I shouldn't complain: Fort Perch Rock has been withstanding the 40 mph winds (and worse), that I had the joy of experiencing today, from it's vantage point on the River Mersey since Napoleonic times. Ten minutes was enough for me.  I really should have had something stronger than coffee.

Friday, December 27, 2013

Where in the world is Vinogirl now?

Where am I?  Well, that all depends upon what time this post is being read.  SFO?  ORD?  MAN?  Liverpool is calling, once again.  I'm en route to home, (...to where I once belonged, Part 5).  See you on the other side. 
Get back JoJo!

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Happy Christmas: 2013.

A very Happy Christmas from everybody in Vinoland...that includes me, Vinomaker, old Vinodog 1 and a festive, poinsettia wielding, Vinodog 2!
Wishing you all a joyful day filled with family, friends, good food and great wine.  Enjoy!

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Eat, drink and be very merry!

Lots of bubbles (including a Prosecco), loads of cheese and charcuterie, a sherry for Vinomaker and some fancy biscuits for the Vinodogs.  Christmas eve is very merry in Vinoland!  Santa (Father Christmas) is in Nicaragua right now (according to NORAD) and he's already delivered more than five and a half billion pressies - makes me tired just thinking about that.  I'm off to bed.  Happy Christmas eve everybody!

Monday, December 23, 2013

Deck the vines...

...with boughs of tomatoes, fa la la la la la la la laEven Vinoland's grapevines are getting into the Christmas spirit. 
Now, I don't normally hang Christmas decorations out in the vineyard and this year is no exception.  I don't have the foggiest idea as to how these two cherry tomatoes (toe-marr-toes, thank you) ended up in the head of this Syrah vine.  But I like to amuse myself by imagining that there are some crazy party animals whooping it up amongst the vines whilst I slumber.  Party on little caroling-critters.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Cliff diving.

Erm, not the Oakville Cabernet Sauvignon one would usually find me quaffing, but an Oakville AVA Cabernet nonetheless.  This is another of Vinomaker's finds from our wine cellar and, as is becoming a very definite trend around here, he has no idea how he happened to be in possession of this particular wine.  What is known is that this bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon hailing from Vine Cliff Winery is a product of the stellar 1997 Napa Valley vintage.  Vine Cliff is located on a rather historic (for California) piece of property above the Silverado Trail in Oakville. Originally part of a Mexican land grant given to George C. Yount (for whom Yountville is named), the Sweeney family are the current owners and have been making wine there since 1985. The winery is considered a boutique winery, as they make less than 10,000 cases per vintage.
Good vintage here, good vintage there.  Blah, blah, blah!  All very well and good, but how did it taste?  Well, that depends on who was drinking it.  Vinomaker really liked it.  Me?  Less so.  I just couldn't get past the oak, lots and lots of the stuff.  Nice body and texture, but this wine is not aging very well.  In my estimation, this wine was overly oaked and out of balance back in 1997 and it's not like it's going to balance itself anytime soon: it's teetering on the edge.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Solstice sunset.

The winter solstice's sunrise wasn't much to look at.  And up I was, looking at it, listening to Jethro Tull, brewing coffee and making cinnamon rolls: I wanted to get my money's worth of daylight on this the shortest day of the year. 
However, whilst walking the Vinodogs late this afternoon I got to enjoy a very impressive sunset which highlighted the neighbourhood vineyards with a deep, amber glow.
Happy winter solstice, enjoy, be happy...for tomorrow it starts to stay lighter, later.
Sing it, Ian!

Monday, December 16, 2013

Winery Christmas Lights 12.

One doesn't have to actually go into Mumm Napa Valley to enjoy their Christmas lights because their twinkling, light-bedecked sign, situated on the Silverado Trail, is in plain sight for all driving past to see.  And rather festive it is too, I might add.  But whilst in the vicinity it would be rude not to pop in and do a  quick bubbly tasting, wouldn't it?  Which is exactly what my TWWIAGE co-workers and I did this afternoon (with a little bubbly-retail therapy to follow).  Always a great way to get in the Christmas mood, I tasted three very different sparkling wines and enjoyed them all.  So, I bought some. 
Sparkle on little lights.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Gaudete, 2013.

Once again it's Gaudete Sunday, so, as is the tradition in Vinoland, a pink wine has been selected for this evening's libation.  My wine choice for this 3rd Sunday in Advent is a 2011 Phoenix Ranch, Bechthold Vineyard (Lodi AVA), rosé of Cinsault.  A pale salmon pink in colour, this saignée is packed full of flavour, big on strawberry-ness, with a really long finish.  Good stuff.
Sing it Maddy!

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Double, double toil and...

...trouble.  A stuck fermentation spells big trouble for a winemaker, as unfermented degrees Brix can be a source of food for unwanted wine microbes which can spoil a whole lot of wine.  Stuck fermentations can occur for many reasons; an incorrect initial yeast selection; competition from other microbes (pediococcus, lactobacillus etc.); high fermentation temperatures. The best way to deal with a stuck fermentation is by avoiding this undesirable turn of events in the first place because restarting one involves a lot of work. 
Down in the bowels of TWWIAGE is a bubbling cauldron of 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon.  A lot of fiddly steps are being followed by the production team to get this particular fermentation going again, but restarting a stuck fermentation essentially involves a new yeast selection and a lot of granulated sugar...and perhaps throwing in the odd "eye of newt" and "toe of frog" for good measure.  The colour in the above photograph is off a little, in reality the fist-sized bubbles are a wonderful blue-purple.  Bubble on little yeasties!

Sunday, December 08, 2013

Bonny and blithe.

I woke up this morning to a very pretty, and seemingly sugar-coated, Vinoland.  And the sweetest news that, during the night, my sister-in-law had been delivered of a healthy baby girl.  A new niece, how wonderful!  Welcome to the (chilly) world little one.

Saturday, December 07, 2013

Hot Havana Nights!

Tonight was the annual TTWIAGE Christmas shindig.  My co-workers and I enjoyed an evening of food and festivity in the historic barrel room (the site of the Groezinger Winery in Yountville, built in 1870).
The theme this year was Hot Havana Nights, so each table was fittingly decorated with Carmen Miranda-like headgear (replete with grapes of course), fresh gardenias for the ladies, chocolate-cigars for the men, and feather boas (I have secretly always wanted a feather boa).  Mrs TTWIAGE's intention was that the polystyrene foam heads would be relieved of their sparkly-fruit salad at some point during the evening.  And that's just what happened: as the evening wore on much silliness ensued. 
Good fun was had by all.  And I got to take a feather boa home.

Thursday, December 05, 2013

Steady mercury.

Well, the mercury had been fairly steady in the high 30s °F all autumn, until this morning when it took a nose-dive and reached 22° F.  And that was recorded on the thermometer that is protected below Vinoland's deck: the lowest temperature recorded in Napa was 19° F, and that's quite chilly for here.
Brrr!  Forget the wine, pass me the Cadbury Drinking Chocolate.

Sunday, December 01, 2013

A tree treat.

Here it is, the 2013 iteration of Anchor Brewing Company's Christmas Ale.  I look forward to this beer appearing in the shops this time of year.  It has become a fast tradition (especially for me and Thud, when he's visiting at Yuletide) that the mere act of purchasing this beer gets one into the Christmas-swing of things. 
The label, adorned with a different tree each year, this year the California White Fir (Abies concolor var. Lowiana), is olde worlde and festive.  The neck label reads thus: "This is the thirty-ninth "Our Special Ale" from the brewers at Anchor.  It is sold only from early November to mid-January.  The Ale's recipe is different every year, as is the tree on the label, but the intent with which we offer it remains the same: joy and celebration of the newness of life.  Since ancient times, trees have symbolized the winter solstice when the earth, with its seasons, appears born anew."  Yikes, I feel all teary-eyed. 
Hoppy-citrusy-yumminess, I must buy more of this ale so that I have some to drink on the winter solstice.  "Ring out, ring solstice bells."  I feel some Jethro Tull coming on!

Saturday, November 30, 2013

One last hurrah!

It is autumn isn't it?  This young Pinot grigio vine doesn't seem to think so.  Working in the vineyard this afternoon, removing clothes-pegs in preparation for removing the bird-netting, I looked up to see this shoot (which has 5-6 inch tendrils a little further down) reaching for the sun.  And sunny it is.  And warm.  It hasn't been below 66° F all week.  I'm loving it.
Now, young vines tend to remain a tad more enthusiastic later into the season than their more mature row-mates, but this is a little unusual for this far along in the year.  Grapevine shoots do not form a terminal bud like some plants, so technically they may continue to grow if there is sufficient heat (yup), available nutrients (apparently so) and adequate soil moisture (questionable).  However, with the onset of veraison a shoot's apical meristem dies back because now there in a new source-sink (point of usage) in town - the sugar hungry cluster.  I did cut the fruit off this vine quite early on in the season, so evidently it took it upon itself to redirect it's photosynthates.  Very enterprising of it, but it isn't half going to be surprised when we get our first frost.  Ouch!

Friday, November 29, 2013

Paper delivery.

Vinomaker is always bringing something interesting home, in the wine department, for me to try - the Paperboy, 2012 Red Blend was no exception.  But Paperboy turned out to be interesting for the packaging only, not the contents.  Read all about it, here.
Truett-Hurst Inc., a wine company up in Healdsburg, released what they are heralding as, "The World's First Paper Wine Bottle."  Well, that may well be the case, and whilst I applaud their valiant attempts at lessening the weight of a case of wine, (I can hear a sigh of relief from thousands of peeps whose jobs involve schlepping around cases of wine), shouldn't the contents of the bottle, paper or otherwise, outshine the packaging?  Just a thought.  Now, whilst I didn't bother to taste the Chardonnay, I did blind-taste the red blend. 
Without knowing anything at this point about the uniqueness of this wine's packaging, I stuck my nose into my glass to get a good, deep whiff.  Up front I got a spicy red-berry thing that was quite appealing at first, but it didn't last.  The wine quickly started to smell slightly pruney and hot, as in high alcohol hot.  On the palate the wine was thin to medium bodied, had a Zinfandel-fruity character, with a touch of flabbiness.  Not very good.  Ultimately, Paperboy tasted like a hastily put together blend of any barrel-dregs that were left over after all the tasty wine had been bottled: uninteresting and simply vinous. 
I won't be subscribing to Paperboy wines any time soon.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Happy Thanksgiving!

Happy Thanksgiving to everyone!
I hope today that every last person I know takes some time to unwind, spend time with loved ones, eat some good food and, of course, drink some delicious wine.  Cheers!
Disclaimer:  This wine was not consumed, it was just a prop used by a trained, professional wino.

Friday, November 22, 2013

The leaves have taken their leave.

After two days of rain (the first of the season, really) and 24 hours of unusually high winds (sustained wind speeds topping 40 mph, with gusts up to 69 mph), I should have known better than to expect a relaxing breakfast this sunny, but still windy Friday morning.  "Would you like more coffee," says Vinomaker, "and by the way, there are 3 deer in the vineyard."  What??? 
Now it's not like deer can do any damage in the vineyard this time of year, but they are still a nuisance.  The vines, that were full of yellowing leaves on Monday, are practically naked after suffering through so much weather the past 72 hours.  There is absolutely nothing in Vinoland for the deer to munch on this time of year.
Initially, we thought the deer had entered through one of Vinoland's front gates.  The wind was so strong last night that the larger of the two gates had been blown off it's tracks, which left ample space on either side that the two does and one yearling could have easily stepped through.  After a few, unsuccessful, attempts at trying to encourage the interlopers to exit Vinoland through the other, now open, gate, the deer led Vinomaker to where they had actually sneaked into the vineyard. 
Timber!  A neighbour's pine tree on our fence line had blown over.  In the process it had peeled open a 6' by 4' hole in our deer fence where, even now, there were more deer standing about contemplating also visiting Vinoland.  I don't think so.  Actually, our unfortunate neighbour had a second tree topple over just outside his backdoor.  He's a lucky man.  Or, isn't.  I expect I'll be hearing a lot of dueling chainsaws this weekend.

Monday, November 18, 2013

If I had a hammer.

So I was thinking further on how the folks at Mer Soleil produce their Silver Chardonnay.  Much is made of how Silver is fermented in "small Nomblot cement tanks" (they've even gone to the trouble of screen printing an egg on the back of the bottle to illustrate this fact).  And Silver is packaged in a ceramic bottle that they say, "continues to preserve the bright, fresh fruit characters" of the wine, I was curious as to whether or not the inside of the bottle was glazed.  Would an unglazed interior continue the whole cement/ceramic/oxygen-aging thingy?  One way to find out...enter Vinomaker with a hammer, (but not before the Vinodogs donned their safety glasses, of course).  One good whack later and the bottle's insides were laid bare.  The inside of the bottle was glazed (with extra glazing in the neck area, no doubt to ensure a cork slips in and out with ease).  There you have it: make of it what you will because I am done thinking about this wine.
Disclaimer:  No normal glass bottles were harmed in the smashing open of this ceramic one.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

...And silver fountains mud.

Until Caymus Vineyards were sued by Napa County, and the amount of wine they actually produce was revealed, most folks, that I have at least spoken to about wine over the years, considered Caymus to be a premium, family owned winery. (For family owned here, read exclusive and small production, that's the common perception).  The details of the lawsuit, made public this past August, revealed that Caymus bottled 830,000 cases of wine in 2012: some 788,000 cases in excess of their use permit which allows for a mere 42,000 cases to be bottle per annum.  Talk about having your cover blown!  I was shocked upon hearing this, after all Caymus is the winery that gave us Special Selection, a wine that frequently scores high with wine critics (don't get me started on scoring).  Really just how special is Special Selection?  In all fairness, under the Wagner Family of Wine, the makers of Special Selection also produce several other wine labels.  Which brings me to a particular Chardonnay I tried recently.
The Mer Soleil, 2011 Silver Chardonnay (Santa Lucia Highlands), is an unoaked Chardonnay.  In fact it is fermented, and aged, in stainless steel and small Nomblot cement tanks.  Then it is bottled in a stone bottle, or as the winery's website puts it, "...unique ceramic bottle is reminiscent of the cement fermenters."  Okay.  Overall, the producers have a very lofty opinion of this wine.  "We believe that the Santa Lucia Highlands appellation in Monterey County is the best appellation in the world for producing Chardonnay."  Of course they would say that, wouldn't they?  But I'm thinking they'd lose an argument, and badly, with the growers of, oh I dunno, let's say Corton-Charlemagne.  Just saying.
Anyway, back to the wine.  I can't began to describe my experience with this wine.  The nose had something a little tropical going on, but it was sort of a clumsy jumble of over ripe fruit.  On the palate I got a sweet-mystery-fruit, hay-baley, briny-flabbiness that sort of flapped around my mouth like a floundering fish.  Briny?  Floundering fish?  Maybe thoughts of la mer were muddying my tasting experience because, in the end, my poor palate was just so confused.  However, I am going to give this wine the benefit of the doubt and I'm going to say that perhaps this was just a bad bottle...because I can't for the life of me believe that the folks at Caymus/Mer Soleil intended the wine to taste this way.  At least I hope not. 
The moral of this tasting?  Not every bottle has a silver lining - and this bottle isn't even recyclable.  Utterly confounding!

Sunday, November 10, 2013

American nightshade.

Working outside this afternoon, doing nothing of particular import except enjoying the fresh air, I was easily distracted when V2 happened by and flushed a grey fox out from a clump of blackberries, adjacent to the Pinot grigio vines, where it was apparently having an afternoon nap.  Always ready to indulge my little terrier mix in any canine-caper she chooses, I joined in hot pursuit of the fox across the creek, behind an oak tree, where it disappeared into another clump of blackberries.  Oh well.  It was then that I spotted a couple of nightshade plants growing at my feet. 
The American nightshade (Solanum americanum) reappears in the same spot beside the creek, next to the pokeweed, every year.  The nightshade is a rather winsome little plant; it's flowers are very pretty; it's immature berries are very shiny and green; it's mature berries are even shinier and black.  These plants can be toxic to animals and humans when ingested as they contain glycoalkaloids, including solanine which can also be found in sprouting potatoes.  However, the degree of toxicity varies depending upon plant population, plant maturity and environmental conditions.  And whether or not a certain little black and white dog's belly is full because she, perhaps, already dined upon a certain Mr. Basil Brush.  Boom! Boom!

Saturday, November 09, 2013

Decline in the vine.


Although tourists may enjoy seeing red leaves on grapevines this time of year, red leaves are not normal and are, in fact, an indication that something is wrong with the vine. Several problems can cause red leaf symptoms in grapevines.  For example, red leaves are one symptom of Syrah Decline (SD), but they are not the only symptom.  And certainly, Syrah is not the only variety to show red leaves.
Several of Vinoland's Syrah vines display varying levels of red colouration in their dying leaves in the autumn.  (Curiously, there are fewer vines displaying redness this year than previous years.)  In the above photograph, the yellowing vine on the right is shutting down correctly - from green the leaves turn yellow, then brown, then drop to the ground - the reddening vine is shutting down not so correctly.  I needed to take a closer look, so out to the vineyard I went. A quick once over of this vine revealed, or not, as the case may be, a few things to me.
The culprit could be SD (more commonly referred to as Syrah Disorder in California), a syndrome that is said to affect particular clones of Syrah more than others.  The graft union of this particular Syrah vine shows no evidence of cracking or pitting (which are two symptoms of SD).  In fact, I'd have to say this particular vine has the prettiest of graft unions.
It can't be Leafroll disease as there is no evidence of, well, leafroll.
It isn't Fanleaf Degeneration as the leaves show no signs of deformation - as in looking like a fan.
Could it be Pierce's Disease (caused by the bacterium Xylella fastidiosa)?  Well, there is some leaf scorching, and there are a few petioles that have remained attached to the cane after the leaf blade has separated, but this vine shows no other symptoms.  No stunted shoot growth - this particular vine has shoots that are up to 8 feet in length.  No raisining of fruit - the vine supported a fantastic crop this year.
So, in conclusion, I don't know what is wrong with this vine.  If I really wanted to know what was going on I could have the tissue tested.  Then again, I could not.  Perhaps it is a hitherto unknown pest...that'd just be my luck. Ho hum.

Monday, November 04, 2013

A blotch on the landscape.

Just a quick post.  It's Monday night and I'm tired.
The Oakville Winegrowers held a meeting, late this afternoon, at TWWIAGE.  On the agenda was a presentation by Dr. James Stamp on Grapevine Red Blotch-associated Virus.  Commonly referred to simply as Red Blotch, this is a fairly new grapevine virus (unexplained disease symptoms were first categorised in 2007, in Oakville) that may have dire economic ramifications for commercial growers and wineries.  And to be quite honest, nobody really knows much of anything about this virus.  For example, it is thought that possible vectors of the disease are leafhoppers, or whiteflies, but the research is ongoing.
The photograph shows a sampling of the handiwork of some of the participating wineries.  Yes, the meeting had a rather serious tone, but that didn't stop the attendees from tasting the goods.  It was quite a who's who of Oakville.  I just hope that none of these vineyards are infected with Red Blotch already.  Yikes.
I'll be attending a seminar on Red Blotch later in the month, so hopefully I'll learn a little bit more about this disease.  Stay tuned.

Friday, November 01, 2013

Selección Victoria.

In 2009, according to the Napa County Ag Commissioner, there were only 302 producing acres of Malbec growing in the entire county.  Malbec, more famous nowadays for it's success in Argentina, is not a widely produced single varietal wine in Napa, although there are a few notable producers, including Antinori and St. Supéry.  This particular Malbec, the Herrera, 2009 Selección Victoria, is perhaps the best of any domestic Malbec I have tasted.  I don't know where these grapes were sourced, I just wish more had been sourced  as only 65 cases of this delicious were produced.
Made by winemaker Rolando Herrera, and named after one of his daughters, this Malbec was full bodied with the deepest purple hue, nicely balanced acidity, bold, but silky tannins and a persistent, moreish finish.  A purple-plummy-raspberryness was followed by the suggestion of blackberries - the floral-perfumey character one gets when one passes by a bramble patch loaded with overly ripe berries - then there was the velvety vanilla vibe that just didn't let go of my taste buds.  Yum! 
Unfortunately, the bottle was only a 375 ml and it disappeared quickly, but not to worry it was sufficient.  And the wine paired well with my Jack-o-Lantern shaped pepperoni pizza (a tradition in these parts).  I'm all about high-end food and wine pairings me.  Double yum!

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Happy Halloween.

My faithful old pal, V1, has decided to get into the spirit of things and has donned a seasonal-themed calabasa-chapeau for the occassion.  Isn't she cute?  Just love her.
Happy Halloween everybody!

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Good old mould.

These Semillon grapes are looking good, or rather bad - which is a good thing when they are destined to become a late harvest wine.  This Coombsville vineyard is the source of Semillon grapes for Far Niente's Dolce, a delicious late harvest blend of the aforementioned grape and Sauvignon blanc. 
It hasn't been the greatest growing season for late harvest wines.  It has actually been too warm and dry - there has been no rainfall in October.  Last week there was heavy ground fog nearly every day, which is a more desirable climatic condition for Noble Rot, but it may be too little, too late.  Last Tuesday, whilst driving to work, I did espy a vineyard crew working their way through the vineyard with 5 gallon buckets, no doubt making one of many picking passes, selecting only clusters that were showing a good dose of Botrytis cinerea.  I hear the Dolce harvest can last up to 6 weeks.  It's not a cheap wine, but it is a great tipple.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Yeehaw! Harvest 2013 is done.

A western-themed harvest party last night at TWWIAGE concluded my harvest season festivities.  I'm not sad, as I was getting a bit tired with so much merrymaking going on.  Lots of fun was had by all party attendees (mainly staff); beer (and wine) was served in Mason jars; the party fare (buffalo chili) was served on tin plates; a mechanical bull had been procurred for entertainment (I didn't participate).  And amongst the party-goers, working the crowd, was a cowboy riding a dinosaur (don't ask).  Fun!
On another note, today in Vinoland we pressed off the last of our fermentations, so harvest 2013 is truly at an end.  It was a good one.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Ne Cede Malis.

Don't give in to misfortune.
Last night Vinomaker went down to the wine cellar to find something that would pair with our meatloaf dinner.  He reappeared with a bottle of older wine that neither one of us could remember buying.  At that point, I didn't know how old the bottle was as Vinomaker decided to blind-taste me on the mystery wine.  I did OK - Napa Valley, red blend (heavy on the Syrah), vintage 2008.  Whoops, wrong!
The Stags' Leap, 1998 Ne Cede Malis, Napa Valley Reserve is a blend of Petite Syrah (their spelling), Carignane, Grenache, Syrah, Peloursin and Mourvedre.  Erm, yes, I was a whole decade off on the vintage - the still deep, ruby hue of this wine belied it's real age.  On the nose I got hearty oakiness, rosy-lavender-talcyness and lots of mellow, red plum.  This wasn't a big wine on the palate, more akin to a lighter Rhône style, but the structure was finely balanced.  Again, red plums, floral notes, confident astringency (suggesting oak tannins to me), not the slightest hint of bitterness, but with the telltale chalkiness, for me anyway, that I often get from Petite Sirah.
This particular vintage, the 1998, was slammed by the wine press upon release.  The Wine Speculator called 1998 the "Black Sheep Vintage," the resulting wines "tough, tannic and expensive."  At 15 years old this wine is aging beautifully.  Take that, Jim Laube!
Unfortunately, the Ne Cede Malis didn't pair that well with the meatloaf, it was just so-so.  But I didn't give in to that little misfortune, besides I had a delightful Cabernet Franc waiting in the wings.
Nice find Vinomaker.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Delicious autumn.

The weather has changed, quite suddenly.  Autumn has well and truly arrived.  There has been heavy ground fog every morning since Monday - today the fog lingered until about noon.  Temperatures have gone from low 80s last week to mid 60s this week, brrr!  But the cooler weather does have it's enticements.  I may not like the shorter daylight hours, but I do like the pumpkin-squash-cinnamon-spicy flavours of the season.  Like, as a case in point, this pumpkin seed brittle, made with pale ale, that Thud sent to me.  Yum!

Sunday, October 20, 2013

A veritable feast of parties.

Harvest parties that is.  Two down, one to go.
Last night I attended the Napa Valley Small Vineyard Association's harvest party.  It was a relatively simple affair, but it was a welcome opportunity to break bread with friends who all share a love of grape-farming.  Tales of crop yields, grape quality and sugar content abounded.  I'm a total geek, so I was in my element.  And I got to eat a lot of dessert; pumpkin pie, pumpkin spice cupcakes, assorted brownies and two slices of a grape decorated sponge cake. Too much?  Leave me alone, I'm stocking up for winter.
I have always liked the idea of celebrating the harvest, any harvest.  I loved harvest festival when I was little, right down to the diminutive bread mouse on the wheat sheaf shaped loaf that was baked each year as part of the harvest festivities.  Good times.

Friday, October 18, 2013

The less said...

A little while back, when a lady-winemaker friend related to me the angst she experienced when having to write tasting notes for each new vintage she released, I started thinking about tasting notes in general.  Over the years I've read some tasting notes that were so silly that they made me laugh out loud, (and not just the poorly translated notes on Eastern European wine bottles).  I commiserate with winemakers who struggle to come up with something original, pertinent and easily understood by the consumer, and have to do it vintage, after vintage.  Even at TWWIAGE the tasting notes are often repetitions of previous vintages - especially when describing a growing season's weather conditions which, to be honest, are not dramatically different one year from the next in the Napa Valley.  Sure, there have been notably cooler and wetter vintages, e.g. 1998 and 2011, but generally speaking the climate here is pretty consistent when it comes to growing wine grapes.
Recently I bought a bottle of wine simply because the tasting notes made me chortle.  The Arrow & Branch, 2012 Sauvignon blanc, Napa Valley was not an inexpensive bottle of wine.  At $35 it was more than I would normally pay for a Sauvignon blanc, as my go-to Sauvignon blanc retails for under $20.  Furthermore, if one happened to be in the market for Sauvignon blanc grapes in 2012, the average price per ton was $1800, so it irks me a tad that Arrow & Branch charge nearly twice as much for their product as some other wineries.  But still, I was curious as to how a $35 Sauvignon blanc tasted.
If the tasting notes for this wine are to be believed, this tipple is an alchemistic-combo of most Sauvignon blanc styles from around the globe; "stone and flint" (from the Loire, maybe?); "grapefruit peel" (New Zealand, anyone?); "new apricots, ripe nectarine" (California, perhaps?)...I'd have been happy with just one style.  The winemaker, Jennifer Williams, claims this wine is "un-muddled and well-delineated", but it succeeded in leaving me a little befuddled.  I liked the wine a little bit more than Vinomaker did: for him there was a component he didn't quite care for, but couldn't quite identify from in amongst the hodge-podge of flavours.  We were both thrown off by the "hints of bouillon" (pass me the gravy boat, please) and the "ground coriander" descriptor had me digging through my spice rack for a quick snort of the aforementioned herb, (I actually did agree with this last element, after initially dismissing it merely as floral).
I am sure there is an art to composing tasting notes, I know I certainly don't possess this particular skill, but I if I was in the business of writing tasting notes, I'd like to think I'd keep the lyric-waxing to a minimum.  Often, less is more.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Harvest 2013 is at an end.

Today was the final day of harvest in Vinoland, but it also happened to be the earliest date that we have ever brought in our Cabernet Sauvignon fruit.  Picking went without a hitch and the grapes looked great - although the yield seemed to be a tiny bit down from last year.
The vines will now begin the process of shutting down for the winter and it seems they'll be getting a helping hand from Mother Nature, temperature wise.  With temps as low as 40° F the past couple of mornings the vines will probably enter dormancy a tad earlier this year than any previous growing season. 
May thy slumber be blessed - see you next spring kids!

Friday, October 11, 2013

Vino inferno.

What a great idea, burning old cordons in a BBQ instead of briquettes.  Today was the annual harvest party that the vineyard workers at TWWIAGE throw for everybody.  It's the best Mexican food, ever!  The hot, bubbled, cordon-toasted tortillas were delicious.  Burn baby burn.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

The happiest of industries.

I love the wine-industry, wine-folks are just so darned happy, and helpful. Whilst quaffing a couple of Pinot grigios, Vinomaker wondered out loud what the TA and pH could possibly be in the two nicely balanced wines before us (a 2010 Swanson and a 2012 Gargiulo).   "Let's ask," I say.  So I emailed Chris Phelps, winemaker at Swanson Vineyards, and Kristof Anderson, winemaker at Gargiulo Vineyards, to inquire if they could give me some specific numbers for their respective wines. Lickety split, both of my emails were answered: neither of these winemakers hesitated when it came to answering my paltry query...and this is their busiest time of the year!  Definitely a healthier display of bonhomie than in my previous career of banking.
Thanks lads, it's so gratifying to know that you both enjoy your jobs so much that you'll share your expertise with anybody.   Happy, indeed.

Friday, October 04, 2013

A Syrah shower.

Vinoland's Syrah is harvested, yay!  Here it is going through the destemmer.  Harvest was quick and painless; fruit looked great and seemed extra juicy; breaking of harvest-bread afterwards with friends was fun and relaxing.  The Syrah came in at 26 °Brix and tastes just lovely. 
Vinoland had some new volunteers (or wineslaves) this year, we warmly welcomed the Lafayette Lushes who fitted right in with the St. Helena Sots and our one, ever reliable, Coombsville Carouser.  It was quite a large group of pickers.  That leaves just the Cabernet Sauvignon to be picked and Harvest 2013 will be at an end.

Thursday, October 03, 2013

Grapes from The Smoke.

It took me a while to find something that I owned from London to photograph for this post.  I finally found this heart-shaped postcard amongst my postcard collection, sent to me by my sister-in-law before she was my sister-in-law.  But this post is not about my postcard collection, thank goodness.
Thud sent me an interesting article that appeared in the Daily Mail about a vineyard growing within a stone's throw of the heart of London, one of the world's largest capital cities.  The Forty Hall Vineyard, in Enfield, has about 7,000 vines of several different grape varieties, including Chardonnay, Pinot noir and Pinot Meunier.  I think it's about time that England finally regained temperatures conducive to grape vine cultivation.  One day, Blighty might even get as warm as it was back in the Middle Ages...snigger, snigger.

Tuesday, October 01, 2013

Best wishes V2!

My puppy is 6 years old today!  Sure, Vinodog 2's black bits might be going a little grey and her veterinarian says she is approaching middle age, but she still acts like a mischievous little puppy.  She is always ready for fun and is a constant source of amusement to me.  First thing this morning, right after her birthday breakfast, she went out and rolled in some unidentified critter-scat, so now her white bits are greeny-brown.  Disgusting, but still funny.
Happy birthday V2!

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Lug this!

The St. Helena Cabernet Sauvignon (clone 7), appeared in Vinoland this morning; in 1/2 ton picking bins; in 30lb lug bins; in 32 gallon Rubbermaid trash cans (that can hold up to about 220 lbs). In fact, the fruit showed up in anything that could transport the larger than expected crop to Vinoland for processing.
It makes sense that the 2013 crop is a tad more bountiful than last year.  Although the actual growing season was a smidgen better in 2012, the perfect conditions that existed last spring (when this years buds were formed, a textbook April and May 2012), made for very fruitful-buds this vintage.  The grapevine is always thinking about the next vintage.  More reds, please...

Thursday, September 26, 2013

On your marks.

This morning, a quick sugar-sampling of Vinoland's black grapes revealed °Brix of 24.4 for the Cabernet Sauvignon grapes and 24.2 for the Syrah (which surprised me a little).  They're almost neck and neck in the race to harvest which presents a small logistical problem in having to organise two, very close together picking days.  But 2013 has been another great year for growing grapes in the Napa Valley, so I'm not really complaining.
However, I think I may have a little bit of wiggle room; the acid in the Syrah needs to come down a little (otherwise the flavours are great); seed maturity is just a tad off (photograph); and the skins are only just beginning to give off good colour.  The Cabernet Sauvignon, although it has higher sugar than the Syrah at this point, is still showing a soupçon of unwanted herbaceousness about it and, at a push, could possibly hang in there for another two weeks.  Just, maybe.  At least all my feathered friends will be happy about the extended hang time in Vinoland.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Out, damned methoxypyrazines...

...out, I say!  The past two afternoons have found me leaf-pulling (east side only) in the Cabernet Sauvignon (CS) vines.  CS tends to have high levels of methoxypyrazines; a class of chemical compounds responsible for the characteristic green, herbaceous, or vegetative aromas found in CS (and Sauvignon blanc).  So in an attempt to banish a little more of those undesirable flavours I have been removing leaves in the fruit zone to maximise UV penetration.  That was until today when almost an inch of rain fell in just 3 hours.  At least here, unlike in England, the rain falls straight down, so one can get out of its way.  So that's exactly what the Vinodogs and I did, stayed out of the rain.
Roll on tomorrow.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

And the winner is...

...the NHW (aka Dennis Tsiorbas). 
In a contest that was just a 50/50 proposition (something like the America's Cup), the New Hampshire Wine-Man was the winning entry pulled from V2's bowl.  (Dogs and wine - that's just the way we roll around here).  The one other contestant, Thomas Pellechia, is busy writing his own book, so I'm sure he won't mind.  The signed copy of James Conaway's Nose will be making it's way, all the way, back east to New Hampshire.  Congratulations NHW, enjoy.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Gris et blanc: Harvest 2013.

Harvest began today, and it was a long day.  Both of Vinoland's white grape varieties are in and are currently having their little bums chilled in preparation for inoculation.  The Pinot grigio crop (I know, I use gris and grigio interchangeably, so sue me) looked fabulous - healthy, tight, juicy clusters.  But hang on a second, have a gander at this cluster, it has both grey (Pinot grigio?) and white (Pinot blanc?) grapes.
This year, a handful of the Pinot grigio vines entirely sported green (white) grapes.  One particular vine had all grey grapes except for the apical shoot position (on just one of it's two fruiting canes) which had two green clusters.  And then there was the cluster above which had about 50% each of both grey and green. 
All grapevines have unique characteristics called transposons, also known as jumping genes, which can express themselves in different growing seasons.  Pinot noir - most likely the parent/origin of Pinots blanc, gris and Meunier - has a really strong proclivity toward spontaneous mutation in the vineyard.  And that's all well and good, I just wasn't prepared for so many instances of the Pinot family's genetic instability in my vineyard.  The grapevines are apparently confused, and so am I.  Oh well, what's new?  Happy harvest!

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Read my Nose.

When a friend, who recently moved to Sante Fe, offered to let me have her (signed) copy of James Conaway's Nose to read I jumped at the chance.  I'd heard it was a tale of wine and mystery, so what wouldn't there be in this book for me to like?  Sigh.  I really wanted to like this novel, I really did.  I have read two other James Conaway books; Napa: The Story of an American Eden and The Far Side of Eden enjoying them both (save for a bit of gratuitous gossiping).  However, those two books were works of non-fiction and, if  Nose is anything to go by, non-fiction is the genre that Mr. Conaway should stick to. 
Nose is a relatively quick-read, the story is set in the fictional, San Francisco Bay Area, wine-centric town of Caterina (a very thinly disguised Napa).  The cast of characters is more or less predictable; the nouveau riche developer who'll stop at nothing to make a killing in the wine industry; the tree-hugging, earth-muffin winemaker with a conscience; the good-living and overly influential wine critic (incidentally the most interesting character, but not for long); and the young, new-comer journalist who is going to expose them all - for good and for bad.  Yeah, again, sigh.
This book held such promise.  But for me the story was somewhat unstructured and the prose often ponderous.  Character development was poor (please, fleetingly meet Esme) and contradictory statements/occurrences abound (well, two glaring ones at least, e.g. pp 241-244, the stacked washer-dryer - it's stacked, one shouldn't be able to, erm, sit on it!).  What this book really needed was an editor.  Apparently, the book did have an editor, but I can only assume that she must have been drinking on the job. (Copernicus, maybe?  Just joking.)  Now I'm no grammarian (although I am the self-proclaimed queen of the dangling modifier), but that's alright because I'm not writing a book for publication and sale.  If I was writing a book I would definitely employ an editor who recognised my weaknesses and who would be subsequently tasked with correcting my grammatical crimes. 
Anyway, enough of all that.  The deal is that this book was given to me with the express request that it'd be passed on to someone else when I had finished reading it.  So who wants it next?  All qualifying requests (in the comment section) will be put into one of the Vinodog's bowls for a drawing.  Good luck.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Grapevine chic?

Well, sort of.  These strips of cloth, stretched along the length of the rows in the Rudd vineyard, at the corner of the Silverado Trail and the Oakville Crossroad, may just well be the viticultural equivalent of a cool pair of designer sunglasses - they are designed to keep the sun out of the eyes (humour me, please) of the ripening grapes. 
There are only a handful of vineyards in the Napa Valley (for now) who have decided to adopt this approach in reducing the damaging effects of periods of high UV light, as it is yet another time consuming (and no doubt costly) vineyard operation.  But installing shade cloth on the west facing side of a vine row (in vineyards planted north/south) is indeed a new and novel approach to protecting a grape crop from the potentially intense heat that can occur at this point in the valley's growing season.  The installation of of shade cloth - on hillside vineyards, on vines on low-yielding soils and rootstocks, on vineyards with deficit irrigation programmes, or even in wide spaced vineyards in which the vines receive no respite from harsh UV light in the form of the angled shade from a neighbouring row - can help to promote phenolic maturity (seed-browning and tannin maturation) and not just spikes in sugar accumulation (as a result of dehydration).  The uniform strip of cloth adds sun protection, but still allows for diffused UV light and air circulation around the clusters.
Leaf-pulling may now becoming passé, but in Vinoland I still perform this particular vineyard operation - but only on the east side of the vines thus ensuring that the clusters on the west side (that may otherwise be susceptible to sunburn and raisining) each have their own individual parasols.  Now, that's chic.

Sunday, September 08, 2013

Getting on the net.

I joke sometimes that I wish I could bird-net all of my vines at once.  Not having to worry about losing one, solitary grape to my feathered friends is a dream of mine.   I have seen whole vineyards (and orchards) netted, but only in books and on video (when I was taking my Vineyard Management class).  I just hadn't seen it in the flesh, or rather polypropylene, until today.
A vineyard, not too far from Vinoland, has been entirely covered in bird-netting: the owners/installers have even utilised a vineyard fan like one would the centre-pole of a circus big top. Wow!  It's pretty impressive to look at.  And it must have cost a pretty penny.   I seem to remember this particular vineyard was for sale a couple of years ago and I believe the parcel was just over ten acres.  I don't know exactly how much of that acreage is planted to grapevines, but I'm thinking that netting even just one acre would be quite an undertaking.  
Dream on Vinogirl.

Friday, September 06, 2013

Happy Blogday.

Happy anniversary to me. 
Happy anniversary to me. 
Happy anniversary, dear Vinogirl. 
Happy anniversary to meeeeeeee! 
I am celebrating my 5th Blogiversary with a glass of Vinomaker's Cabernet Sauvignon rosé.  This is my 761st post.  I can't believe I have had that much to say/rant/complain about, but there are those who would beg to differ.  Anyway, a quick, but sincere, thank you to those who regularly visit Vinsanity.  And an especially big thanks to those who bother to comment.  You rock!
Roll on year 6!

Wednesday, September 04, 2013

Cheap and cheerful.

Was this wine cheap?  Yes, at $3.99 this Vinho Verde may just qualify as the cheapest bottle of wine I have purchased this year.  Was it cheerful?  Absolutely, it's lively spritziness definitely put a smile on my face.  Attracted by the colourful label, I was pleasantly surprised by this non-vintage, fun wine.  Nice flavours of lime, green apple and pear, and low alcohol (9%), made this a very quaffable tipple. 
I've always liked Vinho Verde, it says summer to me.  Hailing from northern Portugal, Vinho Verde is not an actual grape variety: rather, this green wine is produced from several different grape varieties, e.g. Arinto, Azal, Loureiro, and Trajadura (amongst others).  Fresh and fruity, this bottle of Gazela was alright, but I probably wouldn't buy it again.  There are just too many other Vinho Verdes out in the world to try.

Friday, August 30, 2013

The taste test.

The Pinot grigio grapes taste fabulous, good enough to squeeze and just drink as grape juice.  But Vinomaker insists they need more time.  I suppose he's right, as we didn't harvest the Pinot grigio until September 23rd last year.  I'm just being impatient - and thirsty - I suppose.  Coming in at 23.2 °Brix, 3.44 pH, and a TA of 7.70 g/l, the chemistry seems to suggest that the grapes need more hang time. 
I hate it when Vinomaker is right.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Pretty in purple.

The Syrah crop is looking fantastic this year.  And it's beginning to taste fantastic too.  I think Vinoland is going to be in for a bumper crop.  I wouldn't be surprised if the average Syrah cluster weighed in at about 10 ounces.  But first things first, the whites need dealing with before I can even think of messing around with weighing a Syrah cluster.  Tomorrow, I will test the sugar in the Pinot grigio vines to see how they are maturing.  Although August has been a relatively cool month, I have a feeling that my little grey grapes are ready to meet some yeast.