Friday, December 01, 2017

Oh, life.

Erm, hello.  As months go, November was a bit of a bust and I am happy it is over.  December is now here, thank goodness.
Time marches on and the Napa Valley is still busy with harvest.  However, it is not grapes that are being harvested right now.  No, it is the other crop, olives.  The olive harvest is in full swing and, at least to my untrained eye, it looks like it is a bumper crop this year.  Harvesting olives doesn't look like much fun, plain tedious if you ask me.  And the rewards are not as plentiful as from the positively-bursting-with-juice grape, although just as delicious.  I was talking to the gentleman whose crew was harvesting the above olives and he told me that he only expected a yield of 15 gallons of oil from each half ton bin.  No wonder good olive oil is so pricey.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Muscat's last stand.

Vinogirl is back in Vinoland.
I may have returned from my trip to Blighty, but Vinoland's grapevine leaves are currently in the process of, well, leaving.  The biological aging of the vines, senescence, is very definitely taking place.  Whilst the leaves were mostly green when I left, just over three weeks ago, they are now, for the most part, yellow.  In fact, the leaf in the photograph is one of the very last leaves on the Orange muscat vines.  Theory holds that it is decreasing day length that triggers the biological process of senescence.  I really can't blame the leaves for departing, I do not like the nights closing in myself.  But I'll survive: I'll patiently wait for the reappearance of Vinoland's grape leaves next March.

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Remembrance Sunday.

My visit home has been a rather trying trip, but, as always, it is coming to a close.  It is with mixed feelings that I leave England now.
I did manage to slip in a little bit of English pageantry this afternoon, a Remembrance Sunday parade and the laying of wreathes of poppies at a local war memorial.  Although a sombre event, it did put the faintest of smiles on my face.  Lest we forget.
Bye, bye Blighty.

Thursday, November 02, 2017

There can be smoke without fire.

This photograph was taken on the 16th of October, the day I returned to work at TWWIAGE (after missing a week due to the wildfires that raged through my neighbourhood and the greater Napa Valley).  Whilst my home was by this time safe, the fires continued to burn around the valley (like here on the western Oakville hills, above the Robert Mondavi Winery), the air was still thick with smoke and people's nerves were worn a little thin.  Thankfully, the calamitous fires are now history: albeit recent history.
I've been busy since I arrived home, family stuff, but last night I was able to catch up on some wine industry news reading, e.g., Karen MacNeil's Winespeed newsletter.  I generally like Winespeed, it contains short, snappy wine-factoids. (If I want to know more about a particular wine varietal, region or industry news I can look further into the topic myself.)  In the October 27th issue, in a piece subtitled 'From the Oh No Files - Smoke Blunder', Ms. MacNeil takes umbrage at San Francisco restaurateur Michael Mina on the opening of his new restaurant, International Smoke.  Editorialising that the opening of the grill is ill-timed, MacNeil deftly succeeds in making smoke a trigger word.  Really?  How long will this imposed moratorium on uttering the word smoke last?  Are the words fire, flame, burnt or singed included?  Is there a geographical boundary, i.e., if Mina was opening his restaurant in San Jose, some 80-plus miles farther to the south, would it be permissible for him to use smoke in the naming of his eatery?  MacNeil's premise is specious and her 'Oh No Files' item is merely a silly, column inch filling, fluff piece.  Yes, silly, except for the fact that it is rather irresponsible in its criticism of Chef Mina and the naming of his new enterprise.  I think some of the wildfire smoke must have addled Ms. MacNeil's cranium.

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Happy Halloween: 2017.

I started the month off with a photograph of Vinodog 2, so I'll finish the month off with another.  My adorable little imp is probably going to enjoy some California sun this afternoon, whilst I go out trick-or-treating with some little imps over here.
It's not exactly cold right now in Blighty, it is quite mild, but it's not exactly California either.  This morning, Thud, Mrs. Thud and I enjoyed a very pleasant walk along the beach at New Brighton, a town across the River Mersey from Liverpool.  New Brighton, once a seaside-resort destination for Liverpudlians, is nowadays blessed with the singular advantage of having a superb riverfront view of Liverpool.  There was no wind, which was unbelievable, so we did not get blown all over the place.
Our sandy perambulation was enhanced by a RAF fly-by (the pilot navigating along the shoreline, no doubt headed to RAF Valley on Angelsey) and the rumble of distant machine-gunfire (soldiers training) from Altcar Rifle Range, some 15 miles north of Liverpool.  Cool.
Happy Halloween, ghoulies and ghosties.

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Friday night wine.

My journey to England was fantastic.  Well, the connections and timing, that is.  The transatlantic portion of my trip was super bumpy.  I have never experienced such turbulence on a flight, it didn't bother me at all.  After decompressing for a couple of days, Thud treated me to a really nice wine on Friday night (paired with the best wood-fired oven pizzas).  He'd purchased it from my favourite shop, Marks & Spencer.
The Amalaya, Blanco De Corte, 2016 Torrentés-Riesling (Calchaquí Valley, Argentina) was delicious; crisp, fruity, aromatic and refreshing.  Ever so slightly off-dry, the blend worked well with the acidity of the tomato sauce and especially with the crispy pancetta pizza.  Yum and yum.
It's good to be home.

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Get back...

...to where I once belonged, Part 11.
"Off I go into the wild blue yonder..."  I have retrieved my passport and green card from the bag that I stuffed them into during my evacuation from Vinoland (due to the October 9th wildfire) owing to the fact that I'll be in need of them later today.  Yes, once again, I am off home to Blighty.  Just me, my passport, my green card, a canine-adorned credit card, some hard cash and a fairly large suitcase chock-full of spicy-cinnamony-pumpkiny-goodness.  Excess baggage, here I come.
Get back JoJo!

Sunday, October 22, 2017

A pressing moment.

This afternoon, Vinomaker and I pressed off the Cabernet franc (CF) that we picked October 6th.  It seems like an age since we harvested those grapes.  The entire week of October 9th-15th is a complete blur: being in a constant state of emergency can have that effect, I suppose.
Vinomaker had decided to co-ferment the CF with a a batch of Cabernet Sauvignon (CS) from a vineyard on Zinfandel Lane, St. Helena.  It turned out to be a great fermentation - steady and very aromatic.  The taste of the young blend did not disappoint.  Throughout pressing, it's a good idea to sample the wine periodically to ensure that squishing the skins, seeds and stems does not negatively impact the finished wine, i.e., elevating astringency or bitterness.  (The different levels of pressing are called fractions.)  When possible, Vinomaker keeps the free-run and the pressed juice separate, affording him blending opportunities in the future.  The free-run and the pressed juice from this wine both tasted wonderfully full, rounded and supple.  And very cherry.  It's a pity that it will be about 2 years until I get to drink this wine again.  Roll on 2019!

Friday, October 20, 2017

Please rain on my parade.

I normally dislike rain, I may have mentioned that once or twice in the past.  Actually, I'm positive that I have.  Vinodog 2 and I spend a lot of our time in the great outdoors, which means that when water does fall from the sky it unfailingly curtails our al fresco activities.  Not usually a pleasant scenario, as VinoCur does not like to have a wet tail and I don't like to have curly hair.  However, I have to admit that the rain that was forecast for last night, and appeared right on schedule, was just what the length and breadth of the scorched Napa Valley was thirsty for.  Wine Country was desperately in need of some moisture - other than that which came out of a fire hose, or a helicopter equipped with a Bambi bucket.  I was more than willing to sacrifice my desire for straight hair.
There are charred leaves all over Vinoland; on the vineyard floor, on the crush pad, on the driveway, on the hill, on the deck and on the doormat.  The intensity of the fire, the ferocity of the wind and the accumulation of combustible vegetation meant that embers, ash and the aforementioned charred leaves were deposited far and wide.  (Though not far enough away, the fire raged less than a half mile from my doorstep.)  My and V2's morning parade, past our neighbours' homes that were mercifully spared the ire of Mother Nature, was crisp and fresh.  Sadly, the now moistened blackened hills look gloomily blacker.  Sigh.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

The show must go on: Part 2.

I returned to work yesterday after a forced, week long natural disaster furlough.  But it wasn't exactly business as usual.  Nope, it was an all hands on deck situation, or rather all hands on the sorting table.  Yep, I helped sort 40 tones of Cabernet Sauvignon yesterday.  Then today, 12 tons of Cabernet Sauvignon and 28 tons of Merlot.  TWWIAGE's harvest is now finished.
After suffering a little bit of motion sickness - I had no idea that the progress of the moving fruit would have that effect on me - it was simply eyes down and sort out the MOG (material other than grapes).  Leaves, twigs and raisins begone!  It was tedious work, I wouldn't want to do every day, two days was plenty, but I was more than happy to be able to help get the 2017 crop in and sorted.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

The show must go on.

Wildfires be damned!  Vinoland's Cabernet Sauvignon (CS) needed to be harvested, but Mother Nature seemed to have other ideas.  Vinomaker and I had planned to harvest our CS this past Friday, the 13th, problem was most of our usual picking crew were unavailable due to voluntary or mandatory evacuations.
Grateful that Vinomaker and I had kept an eye on the neighbourhood in their abscence, many of our neighbours kindly offered to help us harvest (we couldn't have managed it by ourselves).  Our pleasant group of pickers showed up early and prepared to get the crop off the vines.  I had spent the day before pulling leaves, so the fruit was exposed and the pick went smoothly.  Although it was still very smoky nobody complained.
This evening, our cheery little band of harvesters reconvened on Vinoland's deck for a celebratory repast of pizza, beer and, of course, wine.  Happy end of harvest 2017.  Finally!

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.