Friday, October 13, 2017

Fire and water.

My grandmother was oft heard quoting Aesop, "...fire and water, they are good servants but bad masters."  Even as a small child I got the gist of what she was saying.  However, growing up in Liverpool, I didn't think I was in imminent danger of burning up, or being washed away.  Fire is mostly great; a cozy wood burning stove, a candlelit dinner, toasting s'mores round a fire-pit.  Better still, chestnuts.  Good servant stuff.  What could possibly go wrong?  Well, now I live in tinderbox dry California and wildfires happen.  The bad master stuff.
One week ago, I was going about life in a normal manner, e.g., picking Cabernet franc.  Exactly one week later things are not quite normal.  In fact, I'd go as far as to say they are abnormal.  I went to bed last Sunday night ignorant to the fact that there was a wildfire raging just a few miles from here.  Without going into detail, except to say that what ensued was quite dramatic, at 3.45 a.m Monday morning Vinomaker and I had to quickly evacuate Vinoland.  I grabbed Vinodog 2, my passport, my green card, my wedding ring, my rosary beads (from the Vatican) and my purse - and I was gone! We returned about 7 hours later.  Everything just as we'd left it, but now covered in a grey and black layer of ash.
Six days later, we still have no power, but thank God we have everything else.  In an area just about 3 miles from Vinoland, an entire street is gone.  I don't have that voyeur-bone in my body that some folks have.  People suffering horrible loses are not there for my entertainment.  I would want to grieve the loss of a home, a pet, or all of my possessions in private.  Yes, I'm curious, but this cat doesn't have nine lives.  I'll survive without witnessing, first hand, the misery of others.
Speaking with neighbours who have been in this area since the early 60s, I have learned that wildfires ravage this area about once every 20 years.  One neighbour recalled for me the calamitous fire of 1964, the year he moved to Coombsville.  And an even more destructive conflagration in 1981.  So, it seems, we were overdue.  Everything in life is cyclical and that includes wildfires.  It's just that now there are more people and homes in the way of Mother Nature (when she takes it upon herself to do a little housekeeping).  And vineyards.
Last winters heavy rains only exacerbated the intensity of these wildfires, as there is plenty of fuel to keep them stoked.  The charred hillside, from where I took this photograph, is now mostly clear of brush and shrubs, a lot of the larger trees are blackened but still standing.  Just like the neighbourhood itself: a little singed, but mostly unscathed.  I wish I could say the same for all Napans.  Fuel for thought.

Friday, October 06, 2017

Good morning, Franc!

It's been several years since Vinomaker has had the chance to make Cabernet franc (CF), his favourite varietal wine to make.  The owner of the Oak Knoll District CF vineyard, from where we sourced the grapes, had decided to replant after suffering years of declining vine health.  So when Vinomaker got the call that there was some fruit available he hopped at the chance.
It was fun to get out early in the morning to harvest the fruit.  The valley is a hive of activity right now and you can't turn in any direction without seeing fruit laden picking bins and gondolas.  Replanted on 101-14 Mgt rootstock, grafted to CF clone 214, there really wasn't much fruit on the young vines.  On arrival in back Vinoland, the fruit was destemmed and became a field blend with a batch of St. helena Cabernet Sauvignon.
Hopefully, in 2018, the owner of the vineyard will once again let us have some grapes; a lot more grapes, perhaps.  Picking-knives crossed.

Thursday, October 05, 2017

The birds and the bees.

The birds and the bees are in busying themselves with reducing Vinoland's Cabernet Sauvignon crop.  It's not that I begrudge my avian and apian friends a little fresh fruit now and again.  It's just that I can't help but feel a little pang of disappointment at the fact that some of my lovingly pruned and farmed grapes will not get the chance to fulfill their destiny by becoming wine.  I already knew that the minute the local animal population becomes this interested in the fruit, the fruit is ripening.  I really should have taken a sugar sample before today, but I've been a bit busy.
The birds and the bees were correct.  The fruit is rather ripe; the sugar is at 25 °Brix and the seeds are mostly brown.  However, Vinomaker thinks the juice tastes just a little green still.  I don't.  I think the juice tastes simply delicious, typically Cab-like.  Apparently, so do the birds.  And the bees.

Sunday, October 01, 2017

Terrific and 10!

It is Vinodog 2's 10th birthday today - that's 70 in dog years.  Wow!
V2 has had a great day so far; bacon for breakfast, a new squeaky toy (to destroy) and a nice morning walk.  She is now having a snooze next to me.  It's a dog's life.
And here is my favourite, fabulous, fun poochie (in a recent photograph) channeling her British heritage.  Look how grey she is getting: her black bits used to be jet black.  Oh well, it happens to us all.
Happy birthday V2!

Friday, September 29, 2017

Rah-rah for Syrah!

When I left for work this morning the Syrah grapes were hanging around in all their resplendent purple-gorgeousness.  When I got home I discovered that the fruits of my labour had had the bejesus squished out of them.
The St. Helena Sots harvested their Cabernet sauvignon this morning and were then bringing their grapes to Vinoland for processing.  Ever efficient, Vinomaker had arranged for our Syrah to be picked today, so that everything could be processed together.
Vinomaker was surprised at the size of the crop, a little larger yield than normal.  I knew the quality of the 2017 fruit was good, but quality and quantity don't always go hand in hand.  I don't have the Syrah's vital statistics yet, but the juice tastes lovely, very sweet.
A great growing season in Vinoland.

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Bad Week.

I'm so glad that TIME magazine (September 25, 2017 issue) summed up the 2017 growing season for its readership in one small sentence, albeit in a large red dot.
Yes, admittedly, it did get a little toasty earlier this month.  The mercury climbed to 108 °F in Vinoland and got as high as 114 °F up in Rutherford.  Grapevines do not thrive in extremely hot weather, not many plants do. However, with careful canopy management and an effective irrigation programme - throughout the entire growing season, not just when it is hot - most vineyards fare quite well.  The vast majority of Napa's growers will have planned ahead to ensure that their vineyards could withstand a heatwave.  Consequently, because of these best management practices, vineyards valley-wide saw very little raisining.
My sense of the 2017 growing season is that it has been a rather average one, more normal in many respects.  It isn't that unusual to experience changeable weather in any growing period.  The vineyards of the Napa Valley may, or may not, encounter bud-killing frosts in late spring, rainy days in early summer and the occasional spell of exceptionally high temperatures, and survive it all.  The sky is not falling down.
Curious as to what passes as a 'Good Week' in TIME?  Fast food chain, Chipotle, is now serving up a spicy cheese at all of its restaurants.  Very hot news indeed.

Sunday, September 24, 2017

The future is mechanical.

As I've said before, I am not a fan of the mechanical method of harvesting grapes; the vines get beat up, the rachis is left behind along with a lot of grapes/raisins (all of which could become inoculum for, e.g., Black Rot) and all that shaking gathers up anything else that may be hanging around in the canopy.  (I noticed that one of Napa County's pest-traps was a casualty of mechanical harvesting in my neighbour's vineyard - it was ripped into shreds.)  However, the local bird population is ecstatic. They probably cannot believe their good fortune in the discovery that someone prepared a giant fruit salad for their delectation.
Ultimately, with labour costs rising at a rate that is not sustainable, in the near-future the mechanical harvesting of grapes will be de rigueur in the vineyards of the Napa Valley. Rumour has it that, in one or two years from now, when TWWIAGE starts to replant certain blocks of their vineyard the vines will be trained harvester-friendly, i.e., bilateral cordons. Machines don't make demands.
On a happier note, I worked in the Cabernet Sauvignon vines for a little while this afternoon - checking for any second crop I may have missed, taming errant shoots and assessing the leaf-pulling situation.  And I took a grape sample to see how sugar accumulation is progressing.  Not bad, at 23 °Brix the fruit tastes lovely and sweet, the seeds are browning nicely and the crop seems to be of average size.  I'd better sharpen my picking knife.

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Stunning Syrah.

The Syrah grapes just look beautiful.  Gorgeous. Yes, there is a little tiny bit of puckering of skin on the west facing rows.  And my feathered friends have been helping themselves to the clusters hanging closest to the tree line.  But, generally, the crop looks fantastic.
A grape sampling today revealed that the sugar is at 24 °Brix: climbing nicely despite the cool weather of the past week.  Vinomaker did a quick chemical analysis and the pH is at 3.48, which is a good range for it to be.  The seeds are all brown, so they are mature.  Time to start thinking picking-logistics.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Far from finished.

This time of year, harvest time, The Napa Valley Register includes in its weekly 'On Wine' section an additional feature: a harvest report.  The harvest report details harvest goings-on in the entire Napa Valley American Viticultural Area (AVA); including all 16 sub-AVAs from Carneros to Calistoga.  Being a vine-geek I love to read it, especially since the Coombsville AVA has been in the mix since harvest of 2012. TWWIAGE's winemaker is a frequent contributor for the Oakville AVA. I had always assumed the reports were accurate, however there was a bit of an oversight in this week's dispatch.
Reporting on week 3, a local Coombsville vintner (who shall remain nameless) was quoted thus: "All the whites are off in our neighborhood..." Really?  Well, his white grapes might have already been harvested, as have Vinoland's, but just several hundred yards from his vineyard is another, rather sizable vineyard with a not insignificant crop of Chardonnay - that's still hanging.  Can't miss it. Titter, titter.
The past two days, the folks at Far Niente have been busy preparing to pick their Chardonnay. And tonight seems to be the night.  Well, it'll be overnight, Monday morning, actually.  I'll probably hear the picking crew and their tractors in the early hours.  And tomorrow, when I leave for work, I'll see that the fruit has been harvested.  Only then, perhaps, will the neighbourhood be devoid of white grapes.
I shouldn't believe everything I read.  I usually don't.  Ho Hum.

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Bitter sweet.

Lurking in the upper canopy of the Syrah vines, like a tiny gathering of purple Christmas tree baubles, are a few small bunches of 'second crop' grapes: mini-clusters of grapes that have developed on lateral shoots.  I thought I'd removed most of these little fellows earlier in the season, but apparently not.  The second crop, that I missed when they were green and under ripe, are now purple, but still under ripe. However, they are so much more visible now. The sign of a healthy and vigorous vine, albeit a tad out of balance, in an ideal world, I'd have caught these unwanted clusters earlier in the growing season and dealt with them then.  (In my defence, I am only 5' 5".)  Sigh.
I noticed this particular clusterette today as I performed my first sugar sampling of the season in the Syrah vines.  Visually the fruit is looking great; the sample had about 75% brown seeds and the skin is beginning to give off a little colour.  The sugar came in at 22.8 °Brix.  The Syrah is getting close.
Meanwhile, Vinomaker spent most of his day in mad professor mode, working with the white juice from yesterday.  The Pinot grigio's vital statistics came in at - 26 °Brix, 3.61 pH and 5.25 TA.  Vinomaker has some work to do.

Friday, September 15, 2017

Isn't harvest grape?

Today, Vinomaker and I did what we did exactly one year ago today: we picked our white grapes. Yes, harvest has begun in our modest corner of the Napa Valley with the picking of Vinoland's Pinot grigio (PG) and Orange Muscat grapes.
Everything was progressing along nicely, until the destemmer decided to stop working, the capacitor had failed.  Not being able to destem the fruit before placing it into the press slowed things down considerably.  We were left with no option but to whole-cluster press the grapes.  We got it all done in the end, it just took a little longer.
I was going to use a photograph of a PG cluster for this post.  Instead, I decided on an image of the one, solitary honey bee that showed up to sample the PG juice.  I must apologise, I photographed a sugar-supping bee last year also. However, he was just so cute, I couldn't resist a repeat. Anyhow, the buzz on the street is that Mr. Bee thinks the juice is delicious.  He's right, it is.
Whites down, reds to go.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

All nets are off.

This humble, weathered clothes peg (and, believe me, this clothes peg has experienced some extreme atmospheric conditions over the past two weeks) has done its duty for the 2017 growing season.
Today, I unfastened the bird netting from below the Pinot grigio grapes and pulled leaves from around the clusters, as tomorrow is the first harvest day of 2017 in Vinoland.  Whoo hoo!
See you again in August of 2018, Mr. Peg.

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Bright, sparkling diamonds.

These are some of the biggest tartrate crystals I have ever seen on the underside of a cork.  Not surprising, I suppose, considering the age of this Sauvignon Blanc (SB) and the fact that it has been stored upside down in a cool cellar for the past 5 years.
Tartrate crystals, also known as wine diamonds, are a harmless, flavourless by-product of winemaking.  When tartaric acid, an acid naturally found in grapes, binds with potassium (under low temperatures) potassium bitartrate (cream of tartar) is formed.  If not removed from the wine, by a process called cold stabilisation, excess tartaric acid will solidify and form crystals when wine is chilled in a refrigerator. Voila, wine diamonds!
The bejeweled-wine, in this instance, was a Kobalt Wines 2011 Sauvignon Blanc (Knights Valley AVA).  At the grand old age of 6, this is the oldest SB I have had in a quite a while. It's not that I don't like older white wines, I just tend to drink whites when they are young and fresh. One of my favourite things to do with Thud, on visits home, is share a bottle of an older vintage Sancerre (Ladoucette Comte LaFond, an absolute favourite, springs immediately to mind).  I just don't think New World white wines age as well as those from the more traditional wine regions of the world - yet. Having said that, the Kobalt SB was a delightful wine, very food friendly and very moreish.

Friday, September 08, 2017

When they're brown, they're done...

A very misty, damp morning (that, once again, wasn't really forecast) did not deter me from taking a sample of Pinot grigio grapes for a quick refractometer measurement.
I'm thinking that the slightly high reading of 25.2 °Brix  is perhaps due to the 106/108 °F temperatures last weekend that could have resulted in a little bit of dehydration.  The grapes are not raisined, the fruit looks absolutely beautiful this year, so I am not too concerned with the elevated sugar level. Besides, some of the seeds are a lot greener than those in the photograph.  And the juice is tasting fabulous. We are very close.  I'd better start thinking logistics.

Thursday, September 07, 2017

Excuse me?

What do you think you're doing, Mother Nature? Stop being a nuisance.
I had planned to be out in the Pinot grigio vines early this morning; testing sugar and finalising a plan for harvest.  But no, I woke up to the pitter-patter of not so tiny raindrops.  Today's forecast, for the Bay Area on the news last night, was for a small amount of cloud cover first thing in the morning, with the possibility of sprinkles at the coast.  (Which begs the question: Why don't meteorologists ever get fired?)  Hmmph!
Vinodog 2 and I went for our morning constitutional and got a bit soggy. My ever-happy poochie didn't actually seem to care about the rain, but I did.  The grapes will be fine.  They look very healthy this year, so I don't envision any problems with secondary invaders, e.g., Aspergillus niger or Penicillium spp.  The heatwave last weekend did not seem to have a negative effect on the clusters.  Still, rain, this early in the season, is such a bunch of rot!
On another note, yesterday was Vinsanity's 9th anniversary.  Forgot all about it, I'll celebrate tonight. Whoo hoo!

Friday, September 01, 2017

Brix basics.

Perhaps the most common criteria in determining when to harvest wine grapes is sugar content.  With that in mind, I performed my first °Brix refractometer reading of the Pinot grigio (PG) grapes this morning.  The specific gravity of the soluble solids in a couple of drops of juice (from a random sampling of the PG block) came in at a reading of 23.4 °Brix. Harvest is just around the vino-corner.
Sugar content, however, is not the only determining factor in when to harvest wine grapes.  Visual indicators include the browning of the stems and seeds, both signs of physiological maturation of the berry.  And flavour: old style winegrowers still use taste as a determining factor of grape maturity.  The PG seeds are, I'd estimate, still 25% green.
California is experiencing a bit of a heatwave, so I am aware that my sampling may have had a slightly higher reading due to dehydration. And that's another reason why a °Brix reading is merely one aid in determining when grapes are ready to be harvested.  Stay tuned.

Thursday, August 31, 2017

Ah So!

Happy International Cabernet Sauvignon Day (ICSD).  I think.  It's hard to tell if all these so-called 'Wine Days' are international, or just national. With respect to ICSD, I just read that this specific varietal-feast day is supposed to be observed on the last Thursday before Labor Day. That's great, but it's not international, is it? Why?  Because Labor Day is only celebrated in the US of A.  Ah, so, in truth, probably none of these this, that, or the other days are officially recognised.  But that's alright with me, I'm more than happy to jump on the celebratory, ICSD Cab-wagon.
And speaking of Cabernet sauvignon (CS), I have been fortunate enough, of late, to have tried quite a few old bottles of CS: two were from 1988. Thankfully, I didn't have to pull the corks on any of the older bottles.
Old corks can be a pain in the bottom to get out of a bottle.  I've been told on many occasions that the two-pronged Ah So cork puller is the only thing to use to extract a vintage cork, specifically any wine that is 10 years old, or more.  I would generally agree, except that sometimes, when a cork is particularly compressed, the prongs of the Ah So will push the entire cork into the bottle.  In my humble experience, every older bottle of wine is different because the condition of the cork can vary dramatically.
On attempting to open a bottle of Altvs, 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon (Napa Valley AVA), I could immediately tell that the cork was not going to cooperate.  I was right.  At only 10 years old, the cork was past its best and I had to use an Ah So to coax it out of the bottle.  The cork broke into three pieces.  Fortunately, the wine had not been compromised.  The two bottles of CS from 1988? They were opened with a traditional corkscrew.

Friday, August 25, 2017

Lolling about.

The Syrah vines are now fully through veraison and, yes, the grapes seem to be lolling about just waiting for harvest 2017 to begin.  This particular cluster, being rather on the large side, has decided to take the weight off its feet, or should I say peduncle, and is chilling out on an end post.
It looks like harvest is not too far away, despite the fact that August has been a rather cool month and has slowed things down a little.  I haven't started testing sugars yet, perhaps next weekend, but I wouldn't be surprised if the °Brix are a little more advanced than my tasting of the grapes would indicate.  We shall see.

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Main Street Reunion 2017.

A pleasant afternoon was spent at one of my very favourite annual events, the Main Street Reunion car show (MSR).  I just love it.
This year, at the behest of the new, but not yet open, hoity-toity Archer Hotel the MSR event was moved to Third and Main Streets in downtown Napa.  The Archer did not want the temporary closure of First Street to impact their guests (again, the hotel is not yet open and won't be until November).  The event did not seem quite as intimate as those of years past.  Third Street is rather wide, so the crowd seemed more dispersed and, in some way, less festive.  No matter, it is the pageantry of classic American automotive history that I wanted to see, not the crowd. Of course, I always bump into someone I know.  There were some beautiful cars and trucks being exhibited and I would have happily driven away in any of about a dozen of them.
And today was my and Vinomaker's anniversary to boot (or should I say, to trunk?), so I was determined that I was going to have a good time on whichever pinhead-designated street.
Vroom, vroom!

Friday, August 18, 2017

Up a creek.

I don't normally purchase wine that I have read about in a review, but never say never.  Catching up with some wine industry reading at breakfast this morning, I came across an article on Sauvignon blanc (SB), and its many styles, by wine columnist Dan Berger.
I have rarely met a SB that I didn't like, so I was intrigued by Mr. Berger's description of the "herbal charms" of SB grown in cooler climes. The problem was that Mr. B was reviewing the 2016 Dry Creek Fumé blanc and I could only find the 2015 vintage when I went out wine-shopping.  Buying wine at a retail location can be frustrating when that retailer doesn't sell enough of a particular vintage, or producer, to facilitate cycling into the next vintage in a timely manner.
It's all good, I was having salmon for dinner and it actually did pair with the fish quite nicely. Yes, it was a little vegetal and it could have done with a tad more acid, but my only quibble is that I can purchase TWWIAGE's SB for quite a bit less than the $17.99 I paid for the Dry Creek.  And, quite frankly, the TWWIAGE SB is a more pleasing tipple. Sometimes it is alright to stick with the tried-and-true.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Water, water, everywhere...

...Nor any drop to drink.  Purple water, that is.
Yup, the maturing Cabernet sauvignon and Syrah vines aren't the only purple things in Vinoland of late.  There are pipes, tape, markers, valve boxes and signs and, yes, all of them are purple.  And not a very attractive shade of purple at that.
Due to the fact that there is not a lot of water in Coombsville, Vinomaker opted, a few years back, to receive recycled water from the Napa Sanitation District.  So, some two plus years on; after permit approval, the signing of a water-use agreement (the Recycled Water Users' Guide is 40+ pages of the usual governmental-twaddle), the handing over of a not inconsiderable amount of dough, having the physical connection to the main pipe installed and dealing with a mucky little dog who is inexplicably drawn to mounds of dirt (though it is possible that V2 thinks we have giant gophers), we are almost to the point where the recycled water can be connected to Vinoland's irrigation system.  But, hang on, it's not that straight forward. Regulated by Napa Sanitation District, the San Francisco Regional Water Quality Control Board and the California Department of Health Services the entire process has to be inspected and reinspected numerous times to make absolutely sure that not one drop of recycled water comes into contact with potable water: hose bibs are not to be installed on any part of the recycled water system. Really? Can't wait to hear what some pinhead bureaucrat thinks of me filling my water bottle up under an irrigation emitter.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

A trio of chicks.

Just wanted to report that Vinoland's California towhee chicks are doing really well.  All three eggs hatched, the chicks are feathering up nicely and I'm sure that they will fledge this week.  I took this photograph with a long lens, atop a very rickety old chair, whilst mama and papa towhee protested, one Syrah row over, perched beside each other on an irrigation line.  Not wanting to agitate the parent birds too much, I decided that any photo I had already managed to snap of the chicks would have to suffice.  I would feel horrible if the nest was abandoned because I was too nosy.  I carefully climbed down, very carefully, and went about my business in the Pinot grigio vines.  I hope to see these little chaps, or chapesses, eating seed on my deck rail very soon.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Net worth.

It may be my least favourite vineyard operation, but putting on the bird netting is worth the effort if I want any grapes to harvest at the end of the growing season.  I must say, the Pinot grigio crop looks beautiful; all that rain I suffered through last winter has, admittedly, had a beneficial effect on the grapevines.
Harvest 2017 has already begun.  Mumm Napa picked their first Pinot noir grapes, from Green Island Vineyards in the Carneros AVA, on Monday the 7th of August.  The Napa Valley sparkling wine producer is expecting a slightly larger than average crop.  I'm not surprised, the crop looks bountiful in Vinoland also.  I'm just hoping that Mother Nature behaves herself between now and harvest.

Saturday, August 05, 2017

Toe of frog.

The American Bullfrog (Rana catesbeiana) is an invasive species in California.  Native to the southern and eastern United States, Mr. B. Frog, although he may not belong here, appears to be quite happy in his adopted irrigation-runoff-drainage-pipe habitat.  In fact, he seems to have quite a secure foothold in his aqueous abode which overlooks the Far Niente Chardonnay vineyard.  My BF has been in residence since the winter and shows no intention of moving on to greener pastures: they'd be far too dry.  Perhaps someone should tell him that he is persona non grata in The Golden State.  Not me, I quite enjoy his presence.  I just hope my neighbour's irrigation system keeps this little guy in the liquid-lifestyle he has grown accustomed to.

Friday, August 04, 2017

Bringing up the rear.

I was kept busy all day today pulling leaves in the Pinot grigio vines in preparation for the installation of bird-netting.  About mid-afternoon, feeling a bit peckish, I took a break and wandered over to the bramble patch to have a quick snack of sun-warmed blackberries.  Lo and behold, I discovered that the Cabernet Sauvignon vines had started to go through veraison.  In fact, some of the clusters are far more purple and advanced than the one I photographed.  Go grapies!
And please ignore the cleistothecia in the photo, I am.  (Until next spring, that is.)

Thursday, August 03, 2017

Syrah show-off.

Seven days on, the Syrah grapes are progressing through veraison quite nicely.  A bit more advanced than the rest of the Syrah, this specific vine has always been a bit of an overachiever.
One of the original vines planted in Vinoland (circa 2000), the scion (Durell clone) was grafted onto 110 Richter (berlandieri x rupestris) rootstock.  Arguably the worst rootstock for the soil type in Vinoland, tuff and clay, the 110R-grafted vines eventually failed and the Syrah block had to be replanted.  The replant, though, was to 101-14 Millardet et de Grasset (riparia x rupestris), a much more suitable rootstock. There are approximately eight vines surviving from the first planting, my little poser vine being located in a particularly poor area of soil, I mean shockingly bad. Regardless, the vine seems to have tapped into something it likes below ground and it continues to thrive.  Crazy teenager.

Tuesday, August 01, 2017

International Albariño Day, 2017.

Happy International Albariño Day.  I'm sitting here, with a cup of tea, amusing myself with the thought of  the many Albariños that are, perhaps, being quaffed at this very moment in the different time zones across the globe.
The Albariño that I picked to drink with dinner tonight is already chilling in the fridge.  I have shared a glass, or two, of this particular Albariño, on a few occasions, with a neighbour who claims that the La Caña Albariño is his favourite all time Spanish Albariño.  And he was born in Spain, so who am I to argue with him.
The 2015 La Caña (Rías Baixas, Galicia DO) is a beautifully crisp, white peachy rendition of the Albariño grape, a grape thought to have been brought to the Iberian Peninsula by Cluny monks in the 1300s.  Hmm, monks.  I'm planning on being decidedly un-monkish tonight by not denying myself a glass, or two, of La Caña.

Monday, July 31, 2017

Wine meld.

There are no shortcuts in the making of a fine wine; it is a long, slow, laborious process.  Whilst not as vulnerable to the capriciousness of Mother Nature as is the grape grower, the winemaker must nevertheless practice patience and, to a certain extent, let nature run its course. Blending, like winemaking, is an exacting endeavour.  And like winemaking, it is an undertaking that cannot be rushed along.
The week before last, I was thrilled to be able to get a small insight into the art of blending wine. For several weeks, the production team at TWWIAGE had been hard at work determining the base blend of the 2016 Cabernet Sauvignon. Taking into consideration some 30 possible candidates for the blend, the winemaker, his assistant, the oenologist and others - not quite a cast of thousands, but several more folks, including the owners of TWWIAGE - had painstakingly, and through trial and error, agreed upon four finalists.  It was these four wines that the production team now presented to the rest of the staff to taste, even though the final final blend had already been decided upon.
It was an extremely interesting, fun, informative and educational tasting. The majority of the staff, myself included, concurred with the winemaking team by choosing the same finished blend.  Great.  But that's not the end of this long, drawn out exercise.  Now the winemaking team will start tasting trials anew, as they decide upon how much Merlot will make it into the finished wine.  Hope I get an opportunity to try those blends also.  I, for one, am glad that the production team take their sweet time: a great glass of wine should never be hurried.

Saturday, July 29, 2017

Napa nest 7.

I've been working in the vineyard the past few afternoons.  Well, actually, today I got distracted by Vinoland's bountiful blackberry crop. Wow, all that winter rain has paid off.  I'm going to be consuming a lot of vanilla gelato in the next few weeks, just sayin'.  But back to the grapes. Everything is looking good; healthy canopy; nice crop.
On Thursday, a California towhee alerted me to the presence of her nest whilst I was working in the Syrah vines.  Momma towhee's usually mellow, but bright, single-note call was whipped-up into a frenzied chip-chip-chip as I got closer to her nest which was hidden in the top of the canopy. Momma-bird got even further agitated when I got out a step ladder so that I could take a photograph.  Sorry Momma, just had to get a photo of this horse hair-lined, luxury Napa nest.
I am happy to report that Momma and the eggs survived my interloping: the past couple of days she has been dutifully sitting on the nest doing the stuff that birds do best.  So adorable.

Friday, July 28, 2017

Black measles.

What is happening with this bunch of Cabernet Sauvignon grapes has me both excited, and sad. Excited because I have never seen this particular grapevine disease before.  And I must admit that it is extremely interesting to see it in person, rather than in the pages of a text book. However, it also makes me sad because it means this grapevine (located upvalley in a favourite vineyard) is infected with a disease that will seriously impact its longevity: Black Measles. Measles refers to the purple/black blemishes found on the fruit.  Look at the spots on those grapes.  Grab the calamine lotion, quick!
The cause of black measles, sometimes called Apoplexy (severe infections), or Esca (in France), is not fully understood.  But it is has been established that the disease is closely correlated with vascular fungal infections and pathogens that cause other vine-trunk diseases/rot.  All vines are prone to disease, but black measles starts to show symptoms in infected vines that are 10 years old, or older. Whilst this particular vine was not exhibiting foliar symptoms; i.e., interveinal chlorosis (in white grapes), or reddening (in black grapes) followed by necrosis, a nearby vine had a couple of shoots that were entirely dried up and had raisined fruit.  The economic impact due to crop loss could prove devastating to a grape grower.
There really is no treatment for a measles infected vine.  Applications of sodium arsenite, a recognised carcinogen, seemed to keep the spread of black measles in check, but its usage is no longer acceptable.  Now, with infections becoming more widespread in grape growing regions across the globe, researchers are studying possible causes, such as bad pruning practices, poor propagation of plant material (in grapevine nurseries) and plain, old-fashioned water stress.  Farming is hard.
Like I said, I have mixed feelings about witnessing this particular grape malady, literally, in the flesh.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

On the turn.

I suppose I should have checked the Syrah vines before the Pinot grigio (PG) vines, but it just so happens that the PG vines are closest to the house and I pass by them more often.  The Syrah vines, like the PG vines, are indeed going through veraison, forming anthocyanins and dumping said pigment into the grapes. Veraison, to me, is a particularly wondrous physiological change in the vine's life cycle and it never ceases to amaze. Carry on, grapies!

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Veraison: PG-17.

Whilst on my way out to walk Vinodog 2 this evening, after I got home from work, I noticed the first blush of veraison in my Pinot grigio vines.
It is that time of year again: the onset of ripening that signals the imminent culmination of the growing season.  The Pinot grigio vines are transitioning from berry development to berry ripening - getting nice and juicy.  And sweet.  It is about time that Vinomaker and I break out the bird-netting.  Sigh.  Not one of my favourite vineyard operations.
Must have a look-see in the Syrah vines tomorrow and check if veraison has started there.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

A vicennial.

Last night, Vinomaker and I headed upvalley to join the Herrera family, and about 100 other people, to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the founding of Mi Sueño Winery.
The event was held at Auberge du Soleil which is the restaurant where winemaker Rolando Herrera took a job, (as a dishwasher on the night shift), to support himself when he was just a teenager.  Twenty years later, now an accomplished winemaker, the owner of a successful winery, and with six children in tow, Rolando was celebrating a major milestone with family and friends in a private dining room at the restaurant.
Highlights of the evening included little speeches from Warren Winiarski (of Stag's Leap Wine Cellars) and Marketta Formeaux (of Château Potelle), who had both employed Rolando in his formative years.  However, for me, the real highlight of the night happened to be a food and wine pairing.  My appetizer of sautéed 'Day Boat' scallop, with corn purée, English peas and vanilla oil, was paired with a 2010 Herrera Perla, Chardonnay (Sonoma Mountain AVA), which made for a truly amazing palate-pleasing-phenomenon.  (Yes, I know, I just put Chardonnay and amazing in a sentence together.)  The vanilla component of the food made the fruit and vanilla in the wine just explode, or at least I think that that was what was going on.  It was just superb.  The experience was enhanced further by the little gem of a tablemate seated to my right: none other than the effervescent Miss Perla Herrera.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Oh, Deere me! Part 2.

Not content with his new John Deere 35G Compact Excavator, Vinomaker (VM) decided he needed something with a little more muscle: his new 50G arrived this morning.  Vinoland's newer John Deere will assume the 35G's sobriquet of Digger Deere (DD). Thankfully, VM is not keeping both excavators.  Phew!
As Vinodog 2 and I were leaving for our morning perambulation, I heard VM saying to Mr. Papé Machinery, who was cheerfully unloading DD's extra buckets and accessories from the bed of his pickup truck, "You can never have too much power. You can always throttle back, but..."
Hmm, I wonder what will turn up next.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Oak axe.

I haven't had much red wine lately.  In fact, I haven't had much wine of any colour, I've been too busy.  Vinomaker and I did, however, try this 94% Tempranillo/6% Petite Sirah blend recently.
The 2012 Acha, by Mark Herold Wines, was a big, ripe-berry-fruit, soft-on-the-palate wine that was very easy to drink (and paired well with a homemade pizza). Unfortunately, in my opinion, the wine was over-oaked - it was as if someone had took an axe (acha is hatchet in Spanish, apparently) lopped off a limb from an oak tree and lobbed it into the stainless steel tank with the fermenting wine.  I have always thought that oak should not be the dominant, primary bouquet/flavour/descriptor in wine: this bottle of Acha just reinforced my belief.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Tan lines.

Tan is not a good colour descriptor for wine; tawny for a port, perhaps, but definitely not sunburn for a Cabernet Sauvignon (CS). However, the sunburn issue here, rather, is heat damage on CS grapes not the hue of a finished wine.
The Napa Valley experienced a rather cool spring (I think I've mentioned that before), coupled with the elevated moisture content of the soil, due to California's excessively wet winter, the grapevines have had a fine start to the 2017 growing season.  In such conditions the vines tend to experience a period of rapid growth, putting all their energy into leaf, shoot and grape making.  A sudden hot spell, like that which arrived in the second week of June, caught the vines unawares and they were not well prepared to deal with, or quick enough to react to, the ensuing heat stress.
The heat damage to the photographed cluster of CS grapes is minor and occurred due to the fact that that particular grapevine is always a little weak and thus cannot produce a better canopy with which to shade the immature clusters.  It is likely that this cluster will raisin and I'll have to drop it (and any others displaying similar heat damage). Wine made from fruit that is sunburnt can be bitter, raisin-like and have issues with VA; all of which are characteristics found in bad wines, made from poor fruit, that are persona non grata in my glass.  So, off with their heads.

Friday, July 07, 2017

Oh, Deere me!

Vinomaker (VM) took delivery of a new toy yesterday, a John Deere 35G Compact Excavator.  More rolling stock in Vinoland, oh joy!
About two weeks ago, VM decided that his full-sized New Holland excavator was just too big for most jobs around Vinoland.  My husband works quickly; he found what he wanted (although he said, needed) at Papé Machinery up in Rohnert Park and ordered it.  Within minutes of the delivery of the new John Deere, the old New Holland (which we affectionately referred to as Jumbo), was unceremoniously loaded onto a lowboy trailer and driven off by the new owner. I must admit, I was a little teary-eyed.  Sigh.
As I sit here typing this post, I can hear VM outside playing with his new toy - a machine that henceforth will be known as Digger Deere (or just DD) - the back-up alarm blithely beeping away.  Boys!  

Tuesday, July 04, 2017

Independence Day, 2017.

Happy 241st birthday America!
Vinodog 2 and I want to wish everyone a very happy 4th of July.  This adorable American poochie, of British heritage, will be partying alongside her English mum and her American dad.
Nowhere is perfect, but the U.S. of A. still seems to be the destination of choice for the "huddled masses yearning to breathe free."  I'll add just one small caveat: one should love America once one is here.
God bless America.
Oh...and God save the Queen!

Friday, June 30, 2017

The Nurseryman's Tale.

In the same, Trump administration and the wine industry piece that I remarked upon in yesterday's post, under the sub-heading 'What's normal farming?' the author of the column writes about "what seems to be a case of government over-reach."  John Duarte, owner of Duarte Nursery in Modesto (a grapevine nursery that I have purchased grapevines from in the past), is in deep manure with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).  The EPA is seeking $2.8 million in fines from Duarte that the agency says were incurred when Duarte tilled 450 acres of wetlands near Red Bluff, CA, in preparation for planting wheat.  The saga is a convoluted tale of what Duarte actually did and what the Army Corps of Engineers said he did. In addition to the $2.8 million in fines, the EPA wants Mr. Duarte to purchase up to 132 acres of "wetland mitigation credits" which would set Duarte back some tens of millions of dollars.
So, let me get this right, it seems that if one pays exorbitant fines to the government and purchases 'carbon credits' to mitigate a perceived indiscretion against Mother Nature, then one can do whatever one wants with, in this case, the wetlands.  Sigh.  Common sense may yet prevail, as two House members, Michael Conaway and Bob Goodlatte, are arguing that Duarte's field work should qualify as "normal" farming practices under a Clean Water Act (1972) exemption.
It is curious to me that in the same article, Kathryn Hall, of Hall Wines and a former U.S. ambassador, waxes lyrical about her goal of certifying all of her vineyards as "green" by 2020, despite, that is, these "green-decisions" not making "financial sense in the short term." That's so altruistic and earth-friendly of her.
Mrs. Hall and her husband, Craig, are developing a new 209 acre vineyard, Walt Ranch, on a 2,300 acre parcel they own in the eastern hills of Napa County.  The Napa County Board of Supervisors approved the new vineyard last December, but opponents (the neighbours of the vineyard, first proposed 10 years ago) are fighting it all the way.  It is not a densely populated area, but the people that live there not happy with, amongst other things, the fact that 14,000 trees (down from an original 28,000) will have to be removed to make way for the vineyard. Green, indeed.
Everyone in the United States needs to eat, but they don't necessarily need to drink wine.  I suspect the Halls have friends in high places: friends much more rarefied than any of  Mr. Duarte's farmer-buddies.

Thursday, June 29, 2017

The Golden State.

Despite having an extremely wet winter, the golden hills that California is famous for have arrived for the season, albeit a little later in the year than is the norm.  Them thar golden hills are indeed one of the reasons why California is nicknamed The Golden State.
At breakfast this morning, I was reading a piece in last week's 'On Wine' section of The Napa Valley Register about climate change.  The headline of the article read: Trump administration and the wine industry.  Under the guise of a business related feature, the column contained a comment from some Harvard professor or other who said, "that the land suitable for grapegrowing could shrink 23 to 75 percent by 2050."  I am assuming the good professor, who was a panelist at the recent Vinexpo in Bordeaux, is referring to existing grape-growing regions and the fact that they could, in the next thirty-odd years, be rendered un-replantable due to global warming.
On the other hand, if the Ivy League scholar is alluding to the planting of new vineyards I'd posit that the Napa Valley has already reached its saturation point, or is very close to it, so it's a moot point.  There isn't much available land left; there is no new valley floor being created and there is an on-again, off-again moratorium on hillside vineyards.  No land, no planting, no problem.  Besides, not every available postage stamp-sized piece of land should have grapes planted on it.  Napa needs more housing, open spaces, expanded infrastructure and services for its existing residents.  And, of course, dog parks.
And, speaking of dog parks, here is Vinodog 2 surveying her gilded, off-lead doggy-domain which, incidentally, is surrounded by vineyards that until about 14 or 15 years ago used to be cattle grazing land.  Progress due to a shift to a preferable, and more profitable, industry?  Or a land-use change due to "emissions of heat-trapping gases from fossil-fuel burning...?" Vinodog 2's dog park, and the vineyards surrounding it, may well revert to a more pastoral use of the land, oh, in about 30 years from now.

Sunday, June 25, 2017

I give a fig.

Yesterday, I noticed this little fig on one of three fig trees that I have growing in pots.  Today, on further inspection, I noticed two more smaller figs on the same plant.  I'm so excited, yay!
Years ago, Vinomaker was given a Mission fig (Ficus carica) as a gift; it was planted out in a low spot in Vinoland, down by the creek, where it was promptly killed by the first frost of the winter.
The next spring, I noticed three small plants growing under a large oak tree by the house with leaves that looked suspiciously fig-like.  As I do with 99% of all growing things I find that pique my interest I potted them up and put them in the nursery, alongside an assortment of potted grapevines (my emergency reserves).  And there they have remained for the past four or more years, protected from severe, low temperatures by their proximity to Vinoland's barn.  I have made a promise to the fig trees that from now on I will take better care of them.
Everything seems to be thriving in Vinoland.  I picked my first ripe tomato today and it looks like I should have enough for a salad by next weekend.  The figs are going to take a bit longer.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Gazela.

The Marketing Queen at TWWIAGE recently gave me a copy of a Japanese magazine to read in which TWWIAGE was featured.  I say read, but there was not one, single word of English in the current issue of What-Wine!? (their punctuation, not mine) magazine.  So I just looked at the pictures.  And very nice pictures they were: it is a beautifully produced publication.  However, something other than photographs of TWWIAGE's vineyards and winemaker caught my eye.
The first time that I tasted Gazela's Vinho Verde, I remember thinking that it was pleasant, but that I had had better.  Well, I have since had to eat my words (or rather, drink them).  I drink Gazela all the time and I can still buy it at my local supermarket for $3.99 (if I buy six bottles at a time, which I do). The photograph that intrigued me in Wine-What!? was that of a Gazela wine called 'Frutos Do Mar' (seafood). Although I did notice the initialism 'DOC' in the write-up of this wine, I gleaned no information from the magazine's text.  So off, onto the internet I went.
Apparently, last year Sogrape, the producer of Gazela and Portugal's largest family owned winery, decided to repackage their Vinho Verde specifically for the Japanese market.  It seems that 'Frutos Do Mar' is the same wine, but packaged to let the Japanese consumer know that the wine is seafood friendly.  Can we say, sushi?  Yes, we can.
I had noticed that Gazela had changed the label this year/batch (remember, it is a non-vintage wine) from the old clear label to a new silver label.  I'm just wondering if  the seafood-friendly-marketing-move will make it to the USA in the future: does America need idiot-friendly labelling?  Actually, I don't care - I'm going to continue to drink Gazela no matter what the packaging looks like.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Dr. Jezza.

Vinomaker and I had the pleasure of hosting Dr. Jeremy Parzen Ph.D. in Vinoland the past two days.  It wasn't really a social visit, although we did have a lot of fun and good conversation on Friday night.  No, Jezza was in California to work on a very exciting, new project for him, so he was just passing through.
And he departed Vinoland just in time.  It go to 104° F today: it was stinking hot.  Of course Vinomaker had picked today to be a bottling day. The St. Helena Sots, thankfully, showed up in Vinoland early and the bottling event went smoothly, quickly and without incident.  It was so hot that there was, unfortunately, no afterglow-luncheon - it was just too uncomfortable to be outside.  Don't know about anyone else, but I for one didn't want to be the BBQed meat!

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Green, green grapes of home.

The weather has turned hot, finally!  We have had three days of mid 90s temps.  I'm loving it, but the grapes probably aren't as enthusiastic about it as I am.  So, to make the little grapettes feel better, they have been treated to their first watering of the season.
Watering the vines is not as easy as just turning on a tap, of course, nothing is that straight forward.  The vineyard drip irrigation lines have to be flushed of any deposits that may have collected in the lines over the previous growing season - deposits that could clog the emitters.  In Vinoland, the main culprit is the iron bacteria that is in our well water. The intense orange colouration of the water that blasts out of the end of the lines, (always my end of the line, Vinomaker is always upstream), is fantastic.  Stay hydrated, little grapies!

Friday, June 09, 2017

California quailettes.

It's hard to take a good photograph of a moving target, or targets.  What I initially thought was an army of cavorting frogs, turned out to be covey of, at least, ten baby quail bopping about under the watchful eye of their ever alert dad.  (Two to Mr. Quail's right side, one behind his tail and seven bringing up the rear.)  I got as close as I could, but dad was getting more and more agitated by my presence.  Mum was no where to be seen.
This might have been the little 'uns first time out of the nest: they are tiny. Mr. & Mrs. Quail have been hanging around Vinoland for weeks now, but I couldn't quite work out where they had decided to make their nest.  I know now, so no work in the Syrah block for a while.

Thursday, June 08, 2017

California calyptra.

It rained today; heavy at times, but mostly a miserable, stubborn drizzle that lasted all-the-grey-day-long.  And the temperature climbed to a whopping 65° F.   Hmmph!  Not exactly optimum conditions for bloom in the grapevines - which seems to be going quite slowly this year. Come back, California-sunshine.
The number of days that the grapevines are in bloom is dependent upon the weather.  When conditions are favourable bloom can take about 8-10 days, (but it can take as long as two weeks under cool conditions like the Napa Valley is experiencing now).  And, of course, the flower clusters on a grapevine will not all bloom at exactly the same time, so that spreads bloom out a bit.  Still, I think bloom is more protracted this year.  I have also noticed that there are more clusters per shoot and that the clusters seem to be a bit bigger than the past two years.
Do not be alarmed by this picture of detached grape flowers from one cluster of Cabernet Sauvignon at TWWIAGE (and hand-modeled by a coworker).  Although it looks like a lot of dead material; anthers, calyptra, stamens, etc., it is quite normal.  As few as 20 to 30 percent of the flowers on a cluster will develop into berries, most will fall from the cluster during the initial stages of berry growth.  Furthermore, a significant number of flowers will drop from the cluster about 8 to 12 days after full bloom: a stage commonly known as shatter.  Fruit set is not complete until after shatter.  Phew!  It's a jungle out there.  Fruit, set, now!

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Bloomin' 'eck!

Yesterday, when I was working in the vineyard, stuffing shoots and suckering trunks, I noticed that bloom is rather advanced in the Cabernet Sauvignon vines.  How did that happen? There didn't seem to be much going just this time last week.  The weather was warm at the beginning of the week, but temps have cooled to the low 70s and it's been a bit windy. Whatever is going on the vines seem to like it.  Carry on buddies!

Friday, May 26, 2017

Still loving them thar hills.

Last week, due to an event that was held at TWWIAGE, I was able to taste this incredible wine, the 2014 Smith-Madrone, Cabernet Sauvignon (Spring Mountain District AVA).  The Wine Institute of California was holding its third international 'California Wines Summit' and I was lucky enough to be involved, albeit in a microscopic capacity.  The Summit was a week of tastings and events meant to showcase California wines to key wine-media and trade folks participating from 10 different countries. (Yes, the United Kingdom was well represented.)  There were a lot of great wines in attendance also.
I don't think the  2014 Smith-Madrone has been released yet, perhaps I shouldn't even be blogging about it, but it was just so spectacular I can't not write about it.  Whilst I personally think it's insane that some producers are releasing their 2014s already I just couldn't put my glass of this 2014 Cabernet Sauvignon down.  And over the past 10 days I haven't stopped thinking about this wine.  (I'd estimate that only half a dozen wines have had that effect on me in my entire life.)  Abounding with black fruit and spices this wine is certainly, in my humble opinion, not ready for drinking yet.  But, if my experience with a 1985 Smith-Madrone is anything to go by, I am predicting that this wine is going to be magnificent, oh, about 29 years from now.  Can't wait.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Bloom is bustin' out all over.

Everything is blooming in Vinoland, except for the Cabernet Sauvignon. But that is not surprising, as the Cabernet Sauvignon is always the last variety to go through bud break and bloom.
The wonderful weather we have been having in the Napa Valley of late is absolutely ideal for bloom. Vitis vinifera generally likes the temperature to be about 85°F during bloom and will quite happily bloom away in the heat - until temperatures reach above 95°F when, like me, the vines get a little toasty.  Temperatures above 95°F can result in bloom, and fruit set, being adversely affected.  The grapevines and I are so sensitive.

Friday, May 19, 2017

Just because 9...

...Today would have been Joey Ramone's 66th birthday.  And also because it is 40 years to the day that Thud actually met The Ramones, in Liverpool, on May 19th 1977.  That particular day was Joey Ramone's 26th birthday.  Thud still owns The Ramones t-shirt he bought that same day from Joey's brother, Mickey Leigh.
It's not a secret that The Ramones are perhaps my favourite band ever, thanks to Thud, and it is no surprise to me that I enjoy their music now just as much as I did when I was a teenager. What has been a surprise to me is that, 40 years later, we now have a new generation of Ramones fans in the family.  Thud's nine, almost ten, year old daughter possibly knows more about The Ramones than me and her dad combined.  It's amazing to witness and it's a constant source of amusement to me.
Thud can be seen in the photograph on the right, or at least his leather jacketed-back can be seen, talking to Joey.  Great memories.  Happy birthday Joey.  And RIP.
Photographs courtesy of Ian Dickson.