Tuesday, May 31, 2016

The Mount Veeder AVA.

I had intended to leave my exploration of the Napa Valley's mountain AVAs until Thud arrives this summer, but last Saturday I found myself up in the Mount Veeder American Viticultural Area (MVAVA).
Nestled high in the Mayacamas Mountains (which were once a seabed), the MVAVA is a relatively small AVA of around 25 square miles with approximately 1,000 acres planted to grapevines.  Some of the steepest vineyards in California, certainly in the Napa Valley, are to be found here: farming on a  30° slope is, to me, the very definition of hillside viticulture. Difficult to farm, the shallow volcanic soils mean that crop yields can be a full 50% less than what a grower could expect to harvest from a valley floor vineyard (for Cabernet sauvignon that could mean a mere 2 - 2½ tons per acre).  The Mayacamas range can receive nearly twice the amount of rainfall than the valley floor, a rather soggy 35 - 40 inches a year. Abundant with firm tannins, brambly is a word quite often used when describing the red wines of the MVAVA. And apparently the wines age very well.  I have had a few MVAVA wines, but not a lot.
Notable wineries (to me) are; The Hess Collection (in part for being on the site of the former Christian Brothers winery, Mont La Salle), Rubissow (I had a wonderful hillside-viticulture field trip up there once) and Mayacamas Vineyards and Winery (where my NVC viticulture professor Dr. Krebs was once employed as the vineyard manager.  And also where A Walk in the Clouds, starring Keanu I-couldn't-act-my-way-out-of-a-paper-bag Reeves, was filmed).
Ten down, six to go.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

National Wine Day.

Happy National Wine Day!  Who knew?  Not me.  Well, not until Vinomaker mentioned to me when I was on my way out to work this morning that it was indeed National Wine Day.  Nor, apparently, did every other person I spoke to today (at TWWIAGE) know that it was an official wine day.  So, to appease the wine Gods, I found as much wine as I could (at TWWIAGE) and drank it all.  Calm down Bacchus, I'm just joking.
Wine marketing at its finest.  Or, perhaps, worst.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

The Judgement of Paris.

I could not let the 40th anniversary of the Judgement of Paris pass by without saying something about it.  However, I don't have much to add to this forty year old tale about the wines of the Napa Valley beating the French at, what the French considered was, their own game.  
The only French prop I could find in the house was this mini Arc De Triomphe (have no idea where it came from), which is quite ironic really because the French lost.  Vive le vin!

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Blue Nun.

I cannot recall going to a 'cheese and wine' evening in the 1980s and there not be at least one bottle of Blue Nun present (with the odd bottle of Black Tower thrown in for good measure, of course).  Yum, cubed-cheddar on cocktail sticks and Liebfraumilch, tasty.  Yes, the Blue Nun of my youth was labelled as Liebfraumilch (or beloved Lady's Milk), and was usually a blend of Riesling, Silvaner and Müller-Thurgau.
Blue Nun is no longer labelled as such, now the producers value their reputation.  These days, calling anything a Liebfraumilch is considered a negative when it comes to marketing.  (Think cubed-cheddar on cocktail sticks.)  The bottle of Blue Nun in the photograph is simply labelled "Authentic White" (as opposed to...?) and is now made from Rivaner (so says the back label), a.k.a. Müller-Thurgau.  At only 10% alcohol, this sweet white wine, in its oddly blue-hued hock bottle, actually tasted better than I remembered. The wine had a wonderful nose, truly deep snort-worthy, and although the palate was well balanced it was cloyingly sweet. And what possessed me to purchase a bottle of The Nun after all these years? And may I add, this wine was not easy to find, it took some effort.
I was inspired to once again taste Blue Nun because I have just finished reading The Secrets of My Life: Vintner, Prisoner, Soldier, Spy by Peter M. F. Sichel.  Herr Sichel is the man credited with making Blue Nun a runaway international wine-brand success story.  What an interesting life this man has led; escaping Nazi Germany, schooling in England, spying for the Central Intelligence Agency and creating one of the most recognisable wine brands on the planet.  It was a great book, written in an easy conversational tone that almost felt like I was sitting with Peter Sichel in his living room. Sharing a bottle of Blue Nun, perhaps.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

To bloom betimes.

I think 2016 is going to be an unusual vintage.  I say this because today, whilst I was out in the vineyard stuffing shoots, I noticed that Vinoland's Cabernet sauvignon (CS) is further along in bloom than the CS at TWWIAGE.
It is fun to live (and farm) in a relatively cool AVA e.g., Coombsville and work (and observe) in another, noticeably warmer AVA e.g., Oakville. And why do I consider this year's earlier bloom, in spite of a cooler-than-normal spring, unusual?  Because from my personal experience, CS, Clone 4, in Coombsville is normally a bit of a slowcoach in the flowering department.  This year my little mutants apparently want to get an early start.  Go little girls and boys!

Sunday, May 15, 2016

From vA to aZ.

It seems that I'm on a mini wine tour of the 50 United States, well, if a paltry pair of states, Virginia and Arizona, can be considered a tour. I've said it before and I'll say it again, it is good to get out of Napa now and then, (wine-wise that is).  Except I didn't, Vinomaker did (a business trip to Arizona) and he brought back a bottle of Passion Cellars, 2013 Grenache, Cochise County. (My grandmother loved Jeff Chandler as Cochise in Broken Arrow, but I digress.)
I couldn't find out much about this wine as Passion Cellars don't provide much information on their website, but their description of the wine was spot on: "Strawberry aromas give way to subtle hints of vanilla and smoky herbal notes in this soft but complex Grenache."  For the most part I would agree with their tasting notes, except I would add that this wine (of very low colour extraction, really not much deeper hued than a rosé of Syrah perhaps), had a slightly medicinal quality that was a little off putting. And was possibly slightly oxidised.  And wasn't very complex. The wine fared a little better with food (a homemade sausage and pepperoni pizza), but, ultimately, this wine falls into the category of a one-glass-is-enough tipple.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Don't dump on Trump.

Don't dump on Trump Winery, that is.
It is no secret that Vinomaker loves Viognier, so I thought I'd try to find something a little out of the ordinary for him to drink.  The Trump Winery, 2015 Viognier (Monticello AVA) fit the bill perfectly.  (Yes, that's correct, I did indeed type T.R.U.M.P.)  Obviously, anything to do with the name Trump is very controversial at the moment, but, please, don't shoot the messenger.
Winemaker Jonathon Wheeler (who, according to his bio, has worked in wineries in Sonoma, CA) has crafted a really pretty Viognier from fruit grown on the Trump Winery estate which is located in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains.  Planted to 200 acres of Vitis vinifera varieties, the Trump Winery's vineyard is Virginia's largest vineyard and the largest planting of V. vinifera on the East Coast.  (That's huge.  Huge.)
A fairly typical Viognier, this wine had oodles of orange blossom, honeysuckle and apricot on the nose, and a strange (but strange in a good way) caramel-apple lollipop richness on the palate. The wine was a tiny bit flabby, but was otherwise well-balanced.
I bought this wine on Amazon as it was slightly less expensive to buy the wine through Amazon than directly from the winery.  However, it was still shipped from the winery in Virginia. Vinomaker and I paired this wine with a chicken salad, not Hispanic food (titter, titter).

Sunday, May 08, 2016

My favourite brunette.

My brown-headed cowbirds (Molothrus ater) are back!  Two male cowbirds made their appearance the other morning and availed themselves of the seedy-smorgasbord that Vinomaker spreads on the rail of our deck. Usually, just one male and one female will show up, but there have been no sightings of lady cowbirds as yet.  Personally, if I were them, I would have stayed down south, in warmer climes, a bit longer this spring as the weather up north has been cool and damp for the best part of a week now. They are extremely skittish birds and so it is very hard to get a decent photograph of them.
Cowbirds got their name from hanging around herds of grazing cattle and taking advantage of the myriad of insects that the cattle would flush from the vegetation.  Like cuckoos, cowbirds practice brood parasitism, so they are of dubious character when it comes to their reproductive habits.  Still, I love their quirky brown head-held-high strut and all the chitter-chatter they make.  Welcome back to Vinoland, cowbirds.

Saturday, May 07, 2016

Afternoon in the Vineyards: 2016.

Of the six vineyards to choose from for the annual Napa Valley Vintners community event that is Afternoon in the Vineyards, Vinomaker and I opted to visit Chimney Rock Winery.  I had never been to Chimney Rock before - though I drive past this winery all the time on my way to TWWIAGE - so this seemed like a great opportunity to try somewhere new.  It was a grey, drizzly morning and I did have second thoughts about attending the event altogether. It would have been really easy to just stay home, but in the end I dragged myself, and Vinomaker, out into my trusty Vinovehicle and headed up north.
The event started well as upon arrival I was handed a taste of Chimney Rock's 2013 Sauvignon Gris (Napa Valley AVA).  Sauvignon Gris is an unusual grape variety for the Napa Valley.  The wine was a fairly pleasant quaff, but had a tad too high alcohol-burn thing on the finish. Viticulturalist Doug Fletcher, apparently a long time employee of Chimney Rock, (I think he even mentioned that he had been the winemaker at some point), was our vineyard tour guide for the event.  I say tour, but a quick stroll across 25 yards of tarmac to the first vine in sight, in my mind, does not constitute a tour. The talk started well as Doug seemed like he was going to address such viticultural specifics as soil composition, grape varieties and clones.  But he strayed off topic when someone asked him about the use of Roundup in the vineyard (the whole glycophosphate debate).  And that was it, in short shrift my group was hustled from the edge of the vineyard back onto the tarmac to make way for the next group.  I had a quick look at the tasting room and then departed.
All in all, this year's Afternoon in the Vineyards, and perhaps it was just this particular venue, Chimney Rock, was a bit of a disappointment.  Sigh.

Friday, May 06, 2016

Bloomin' lovely.

Getting a slightly later start than last year, the Pinot grigio vines are finally starting to bloom. (The Orange muscat vines are just starting to flower also.)  Spring, thus far, has been cool, windy (very windy) and the past two days have even been showery.  I'm not surprised that the grapevines seem somewhat reluctant to bloom, thereby subjecting their delicate little flowers to the less than perfect current climatic conditions. Sigh.  But bloom they must.
There is a lot of good, viticultural stuff going on in the above photograph: not the least of which is the brilliant mechanism that is the unfurling of the calyptra.  I love grapevines.
Oh, and happy Sauvignon blanc day!

Thursday, May 05, 2016

Each to their clone.

Lately, (if almost two years to the day can be considered lately), I have become very interested in the different characteristics that can be attributed to specific clonal selections of Vitis vinifera.  But what exactly is a clone?
Hortus Third offers this definition of a clone: "A plant propagated by asexual or vegetative means, including divisions, buds, cuttings, layers etc...Clone is a horticultural rather than a taxonomic term."
In regards to the grape/wine industry, a clone is a variant of a grape variety that is unique in some detectable way, whether by changes in the way a grapevine expresses a particular gene, or minor mutations in the grape variety.  Each clone, in this case let's say a clone of Cabernet sauvignon (CS), will taste like the parent variety, but with slightly varying characteristics, e.g., higher acidity, more concentrated fruit, firmer tannins.  Nowadays, it is common practice for growers, and winemakers, to utilise a variety of different clones, much like a cook will select different herbs and spices, to achieve certain flavour profiles in a finished wine.
The fact that I am interested in geeky viticultural goings-on would not come as a surprise to anyone who knows me.  But something that surprised me was the scarcity of information available about this particular subject matter.  I discovered this (yes, almost two years ago), when I attempted to do some research prior to purchasing some grafted grapevines to fill in the spaces where several vines had died in Vinoland's CS block.
There is a lot of anecdotal information to be had by talking to folks who are interested in viticulture, but a lot of it is useless.  Just recently, an acquaintance of Vinomaker mentioned to him that he thought CS clone 169 was a great clone to grow in the Tundra (aka Vinoland, Coombsville AVA).  I happen to be familiar with this clone, as Vinomaker used to make wine for a couple we know who used to grow this particular clone.  Clone 169 did indeed ripen in a timely fashion in Coombsville.  It is a pity we have clone 4 (a veritable retard, in the nicest possible sense of the word) planted here in Vinoland, (and oh, how I wish we didn't).  But it is what it is.  The little bit of information on clones that is available in written form comes from research conducted by John Caldwell and Anthony Bell of Bell Wine Cellars.  (Hmmm, perhaps someone should seriously consider compiling a reference work.) I eventually settled on clone 337 for my replants.
As for the wine in the photograph, this CS claiming to be made solely from clone 337 was an unremarkable, quotidian quaff.  To be fair, I did not do a comparison tasting of this wine with another made from a different clone.  However, I have comparison-tasted in the past; I have tasted clone 4 (Vinoland), clone 7 (St. Helena Sots) and clone 169 (North Avenue Negociants) side by side and they were quite distinct from one another.
Interesting stuff, I need to know more.