Sunday, December 09, 2018

A Christmas dear.

Today, I had intended to festoon and bedeck Vinoland in copious amounts of Christmas finery.  But, alas, the fairy lights on my pre-lit, artificial Christmas tree decided not to light.  I really hate when that happens.  (Aforementioned tree is now in the garbage.)
So, to infuse some Christmas cheer back into my unilluminated-mood, I decided to decorate Vinodog 2 instead.  Isn't she a little dear?  I feel better already.  Ho, ho, ho! 

Sunday, December 02, 2018

Advent wine.

The first Sunday in Advent called for something a little celebratory in the wine department: enter this lovely little Spanish Albariño.  The Xión, 2016 Albariño (Rías Baixas DO) was just the thing for a crisp and chilly December day.  An intensely massive nose of tutti frutti-peachiness led into a superbly balanced, medium weight wine redolent with more stone fruit and tropical yumminess.  A lovely tipple.  Besides, who, in their right mind, could resist a label that looks like it is adorned with Christmas deccies and stylised snowflakes?  Not me.

Saturday, December 01, 2018

A spot of tea.

It's December 1st, my Advent calendar is up, the first window is opened and I'm feeling pretty festive (even though it's very early in the season).  I'm sitting in a cozy chair enjoying a mug of Earl Grey tea with a baked doughnut (yes, baked, it's really nothing more than a ring-shaped cake).  And I'm contemplating some Yuletide list-making; a to-do list, a to-eat list and, of course, a to-drink list.  Cheers to that!

Friday, November 23, 2018

Yesterday's wine.

I had two wonderful wines with Thanksgiving dinner yesterday. 
A 2017 H&M Hofer, Grüner Veltliner (Weinviertal DAC), paired perfectly with my roast turkey and herby potatoes.  This crisp white wine even with the notoriously-difficult-to-pair brussels sprouts, sautéed with pancetta and onions, that are Vinomaker's favourite.  Delicious. 
For dessert, a traditional pumpkin pie with whipped cream, I imbibed in a 2007 Errazuriz, Late Harvest Sauvignon Blanc (Casablanca Valley DO).  Again, delicious.  I gave thanks that my taste buds were having such a good time.

Sunday, November 18, 2018

Why did the chicken cross the crush pad?

To get to the Cabernet sauvignon, duh!
Harvest 2018 is officially over in Vinoland.  This afternoon, I assisted Vinomaker with the pressing-off of our Cabernet sauvignon (CS), but before we could proceed we had to shoo a neighbour's chicken away from the press, pump, etc.  Miss Henny Penny may have simply been being  inquisitive about the whole process, but she was still in the way. 
The CS looks, smells and tastes great.  I had missed the CS harvest because I was in England, so it was important for me to participate in this final step.  The fruit came in on October 27th, its vital statistics were; 26 °Brix, a pH of 3.5 and TA at 7.2. 
Harvest 2018 is done and dusted, whoo hoo!  No chickens were harmed in the making of this wine.

Thursday, November 15, 2018

Nouveau vin.

It's here, the third Thursday in November, Beaujolais Nouveau Day (BND).  Whoo hoo!  Often lost amidst the Thanksgiving brouhaha, there are 5 Thursdays in November this year (like in 2012), so BND has a Thursday all to itself this year.
The marketing spectacle that is BND happens to be one of my earliest vino-memories.  The race to get the first bottles of Gamay Noir à Jus Blanc across the English Channel, a.k.a. La Manche, to Blighty's Nouveau enthusiasts, always made it on to the national news broadcasts.  The challenge usually took the form of differing forms of transportation all earnestly employed in the conveyance of the new vintage, as tout de suite as possible.  I seem to remember that one year a Mini and a Citroën 2CV, both laden with cases of Beaujolais, competed for the distinction of being the first to arrive on Albion's shores.  Unfortunately, I can't remember who the victor was.
And why shouldn't the villagers of Beaujolais enjoy their vin de primeur as early as they wish?  The modern day contrivance of a red wine languishing in an expensive Limousin oak barrel, for perhaps 2 years and upwards, in some respects is just a fashion.  However, the average consumer now expects, nay demands, oak characteristics in wine.  I could happily drink Vinoland's 2018 Syrah, that was pressed off last Sunday, now - it is simply an unoaked wine.  Beaujolais Nouveau is a fun, inexpensive wine with no pretensions of being anything other than that.  I love it, I even respect it, as it takes almost the same amount of effort to farm, harvest and vint the Gamay grapes as any other red wine varietal.  It is a celebration in a glass.
So how was the wine?  I could only find one Beaujolais in Napa (BevMo), ideally I would have liked to compare at least two.  The Georges Duboeuf, 2018 Beaujolais-Villages Nouveau (AOC Beaujolais) was delightful.  On the nose, a heady whiff of defrosted-strawberries, cherry, bubble gum and pear drop (Isoamyl acetate) gave way to a subtle blue-floral element.  A more than acceptable amount of grape tannins gave the wine a nice mouthfeel, even if the finish was a little abrupt.  At $11.99 this new-wine was a marvelous midweek tipple.  À votre santé!

Sunday, November 11, 2018

The seed deed.

I was back at it today, doing a good deed in assisting Vinomaker with the pressing-off of a fermentor of our 2018 Syrah.  Vinomaker is always experimenting with different yeasts and this particular batch of Syrah was fermented with the aid of ICV D21™.  Vintage 2018 gave Vinomaker a lot of juice to work with, so he has had an opportunity to use and evaluate a couple of new yeasts.
D21 is one of Vinomaker's favourite yeasts to employ.  Isolated from vineyards in Pic Saint-Loup Languedoc, by the Institut Coopéaratif du Vin, D21 is known for maintaining a fresh acidity and floral and fruity volatile compounds, whilst also delivering a robust mid-palate tannin structure.  At the same time, D21 is adept at banishing those horrible, unpalatable stewed/jammy characteristics often found in warm climate wines. 
The 2018 Syrah is already tasting very nice, oodles of black cherry and spice, even before it has had the distinct pleasure of being introduced to the seasoned, Monsieur Chêne Français.

Friday, November 09, 2018

Golden hour.

I arrived back in California yesterday afternoon descending into SFO through a thick, ugly, brown pall of smoke courtesy of the Camp Fire (Paradise, CA).  Sigh, California is afire again, so nothing really changed in the fortnight that I was away.  Oh, hang on a minute, Vinoland's Cabernet Sauvignon was harvested in my absence, October 27th to be exact, I was sad to miss that.  And most of the leaves have fallen from the white grape varieties: the colour of the now chlorophyll-free leaves accentuated by the perpetual golden hour-like light quality that goes hand in hand with an out of control conflagration.  As a consequence, things do look a little different out in the vineyard.
I had an interesting wine on my flight back to America (on United Airlines - Swiss Airlines, inexplicably, cancelled my flight to Zurich with extremely short notice and I was rerouted through Heathrow.  Hmmph, so much for Swiss efficiency).  The wine, a 2017 Mac Andrews, The Haven Chardonnay-Viognier,  NSW Australia, was quite lovely (for an in-flight wine).  Crisp, appley, honeysuckle loveliness, in fact.  I can't find any information on this wine online, so I can only assume that it is exclusively bottled for United.  What I, in my little geeky way, found interesting about this wine was that it came in a full 750 ml plastic bottle (with screw cap).  Of course, I am very familiar with the small plastic bottles that airline-wine routinely comes in (187 ml), but I'd never seen wine, on a flight, being poured from a plastic 750 ml (in first class, they have glass).  So, I asked the male flight attendant if I could possibly have an empty bottle to take with me.  "No," was the prompt reply, "We recycle them."  Even when I promised I'd make sure it was recycled in a responsible manner I was still denied.  Alrighty then!

Monday, November 05, 2018

A rocket ride.

It is Bonfire Night (or Guy Fawkes Night) here in Blighty.  I see lots of fire, fireworks, goodies and wine in my very near future.
The Wanted Zin, a 2017 "Italian Zinfandel aged in American oak," is Thud's choice of wine for this evening's festivities.  Vinified from grapes sourced from Puglia (the 'heel' of Italy's 'boot'), The Wanted Zin is produced by Orion Wines (a company based in Lavis, Trentino), whose business plan is to "produce the best and most interesting wines possible at fair prices."  What is there not to like about that?  Sounds good to me.
The back label exhorts the imbiber to, "Be daring and let this wine take you for a ride."  Seems like I may be in for a bit of a vinous-voyage with this one.

Saturday, November 03, 2018

Pizza, beer and wine.

Thud's pizza oven gets awfully hot.  I risked life and limb to get this photograph, as it was super, super toasty.  And that high heat is the reason that the pizzas are ready to eat after just 90 seconds of cooking.  Simply fabulous.  Copious amounts of Peroni aided Thud and his culinary-accomplice, Monkey, in the making of a dozen pizzas, mostly with all different toppings.  I polished off a bottle (well, not the entire bottle) of Amalaya, Blanco De Corte, 2016 Torrontés-Riesling (Calchaquí Valley, Argentina) with my pizza-dinner.  The wine paired well with most of the pizzas, but not the Thai Chicken one.  But that's OK, there were plenty of other pizzas that did pair with this Argentine-quaffing wine.  Yum.

Thursday, October 25, 2018

Get back...

...to where I once belonged, Part 13.
Yup, I'm on my way back to Blighty this evening, I'm excited.
Apparently, it is 'British Spirits and Sparkling Wine Week' in the U.S.A., it is a shame I'll miss some of it.  I received a nice email (from Shari Mesulam, I don't know her) that informed me that October 22nd to 28th is a celebratory week of campaigning by the British government (you'd think they'd have more important stuff to do), as part of their 'Food is GREAT' showcase.  In the email, I learned that "whisky is the largest food and drink global export for the United Kingdom, and the United States is the largest export market for both British Gin and English Sparkling Wine."  I could find neither aforementioned tipples in the pantry, so I had to make do with an old bottle of Vinomaker's Drambuie.  It's the spirit that counts, titter, titter.  So I'm going to export myself over to Blighty and hopefully do some catching up with the English bubbles bit.
Get back JoJo!

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Just a quick Cab drive away.

The Cabernet sauvignon (CS) fruit looks good this year, but it's not the best I've ever seen it.  (That distinction belongs to the 2010 crop.)  The CS fruit definitely doesn't look as good as the Pinot grigio, or the Syrah.  A quick sugar reading today showed that the CS is at 24° Brix.  The weather has cooled down considerably, and even though there is warmer than average temperatures forecast for this weekend, the fruit is as mature as it is going to get.  It's time to get the CS in.  Taxi!

Saturday, October 20, 2018

Syrah shuffle.

It usually gets a little bit hectic around here as harvest time approaches.  This year seems to be a little more chaotic than usual.  Vinomaker and I had to put our heads together and come up with a date for our Syrah harvest.  And today was the day.  All went smoothly, the weather was perfect and the harvest celebration afterwards was a lot of fun.
The Syrah fruit looked gorgeous and tasted great too.  The yield, as I suspected, was greater than average - about 30% more.  The Syrah's numbers are: 24° Brix, a pH of 3.58 and TA at 7.2.

Thursday, October 11, 2018

Diseased!

This morning was Pinot grigio harvest day in Vinoland.  The fruit looked beautiful and the numbers came in at 27° Brix, a pH of 3.55 and TA at 6.75 - all in a good range.
The 2018 fruit may be in Vinomaker's capable hands now, but I am already thinking ahead to next year and some critical vineyard operations that will ensure a 2019 harvest.  Pruning, of course, is next up, but there is also a bit of replanting to be done.
Alas, there is evidence of Pierce's Disease (PD) in some vines (nine, one right after the other, in one row and at least one vine in the row above them).  The PD symptoms first appeared last year, but this year they are more definitely pronounced; foliar scorching, irregular bark maturity and raisining of the fruit, or, (as demonstrated in the above photograph) miniature clusters (a mere 2.4 inches).
Oh well, it'll give me something to do next spring.

Monday, October 08, 2018

One year later.

This morning, as the sun rose from behind Napa's eastern hills, I was greeted with the same charred vista that has greeted me for the past 364 days.  A year after the fires that ravaged Wine Country, what was once a solid ridge line of trees and vegetation across from Vinoland is still a blackened, skeletal-shadow of the verdant skyline it once was.  The ridge will eventually green-up again, it is just going to take a while.   

Monday, October 01, 2018

Happy 11th Birthday V2!

I can't believe it, Vinodog 2 turns 11 years old today.  Again, I ask, how did that happen?  Tempus fugit, etc.
After a decade of silly birthday hats, I seem to have exhausted the options available to me in the local shops, so I'm recycling a hat this year.  I hope V2 doesn't mind.  Actually, I know she doesn't.  My little fluffy-bundle of fun is more interested in toys, treats, walkies and, the aforementioned, fun.
Happy birthday V2!

Sunday, September 30, 2018

Who are you calling Stinkwort?

I thought I'd end the month with a weed.  Why not?  Meet, the diminutive-flowered, stinkwort (Dittrichia graveolens).  A native of the Mediterranean, I have noticed that stinkwort has, over the past few years, become more and more common in the valley.  Maybe I just hadn't noticed before, but now stinkwort seems to be everywhere.  And this time of year is their bloom period, so they could have been making seeds as I type.  I said, could have.
Stinkwort is a little stinky (like camphor) and sticky, not really a weed that one would want around.  (I did read, though, that stinkwort has a claim to fame: it was once traditionally used to treat lice in chickens on the island of Crete.)  Mainly found along roadsides, stinkwort had decided a disturbed area of Vinoland was just the place to take up residence.  That was until I came along with a shovel.  The mature plant can be quite large, so it took me two different days (getting a nasty blister each time), but now the stinkwort is no more.  The weed in the photograph is a neighbour's stinkwort.  The neighbours are on their own.

Thursday, September 27, 2018

A mechanical-mess.

This past week saw the harvest of a neighbourhood Chardonnay vineyard (one half of the vineyard was harvested just last night).  It's about time something got picked around here; it has been such a cool growing season.
I noticed this year that the trunks of the vines got rather beaten up by the whole process.  The harvester looked like a brand spanking new model from Pellenc, a French company.  Perhaps there are just some teething troubles with working with new technology.  Mechanical-harvesting is the way of the future, so I just hope the vines can survive the abuse.

Sunday, September 23, 2018

Secondly, Syrah.

I was out and about with my handy dandy refractometer again today, sugar-sampling Vinoland's Syrah grapes.  The fruit looks fantastic, but it isn't ready for harvest yet.  I got a reading of 21 °Brix, and seeing as we don't harvest until the grapes are close to 25 °Brix, we have a bit of a way to go still.  Acidity is lovely, however there's still a little green component in the flavour.  I think it's going to be a good Syrah season.

Friday, September 21, 2018

Through the refractometer window.

Today was the first sugar-sampling of the season.  Using my trusty refractometer, to ascertain the level of sugar in a small sample of Pinot grigio juice, I got a reading of 23.2 °Brix.  A good start, but the flavours aren't quite there yet.
My handheld refractometer is a very useful instrument to have around, it helps makes my job easy.  A large proportion of the soluble solids in grape juice are sugars and it is the ripeness of the fruit (the percentage Brix) that I am trying to determine.  (Fructose and glucose are the main sugars in grape juice, combining as the disaccharide, sucrose.)  The sweeter the juice, the more it will bend the light that passes through it (refraction).  It is the angle of the light, the refractive index, that when viewed through the eyepiece of the refractometer, gives the level, or measurement, of sugar (i.e., grams of sugar per 100 grams of juice) in the sample.  See, easy peasy.  I'll leave the harder part to Vinomaker; determining the acid content and pH.
It is almost harvest time.  I predict I have a busy month ahead of me.

Thursday, September 20, 2018

The ruler of Vinoland.

If I'm not careful, I may become the victim of a viticultural-insurrection.  The majority of Vinoland's grapevines look like they are on track to yield their biggest crop ever this season, however, the Syrah vines look like they are vying for domination of the entire vineyard.  Whilst there are lots of average-sized clusters in the Syrah block, the vast majority are simply massive (the photograph doesn't do the largeness of the front cluster justice).  I'll probably be sleeping with one eye open until it's time to harvest the Syrah and put paid to their Machiavellian-maturation.

Saturday, September 15, 2018

Behind the bunker.

Neither pink nor blue, this dainty little flower seems to be just surviving in one particular part of Vinoland's Pinot grigio block.  Tall annual willowherb, Epilobium brachycarpum, isn't usually as delicate as are the specimens I frequently pass as I am working in the vineyard.  I'm sure the extremely dry environment that these willowherbs find themselves in explains their lack of vigour.  It was hard to get a photograph of this delicately stemmed flower in today's breezy conditions.
When I hear, or see, any mention of willowherb, it instantly reminds me of being little.  Rosebay willowherb, Chamaenerion angustifolium (a sister genera to Epilobium), was probably one of the very first weeds that I identified all by myself.  (I had to take myself up to the local library in those days.).  There was always a single, rather tall example of this weed, with its fluffy seeds, to be found thriving behind the coal bunker of my childhood home.  Willowherb always evokes fond memories for me.

Friday, September 14, 2018

The story of wine-history.

In some respects, Vintage: The Story of Wine is the companion book to the masterful 1989 Hugh Johnson television series, Vintage: A History of Wine and it is what I am currently reading.
I just love the way Hugh Johnson writes, I really do.  Hugh's inimitable style of wine-writing (once again, I can hear him narrating this book in my head), is simply a joy to read; it is articulate, conversational, learned, eloquent and fun.  Mr. Johnson's writing is, dare I say it, intoxicating.  I don't think there will ever be another wine-writer as good as Hugh.

Thursday, September 13, 2018

Welcome to Vinoland.

I nearly trod on this little fellow this afternoon whilst I was out promenading with Vinodog 2.  Midstride, just as I was about to put my toe down, he darted under the front of my big, cumbersome vineyard-boot-shod foot.  Whoa!  Then, when I bent down to see if Master Sceloporous occidentalis was alright, he didn't display any signs of life.  So, very carefully, I carried the tiny lizard all the way back to Vinoland.
Vinoland's newest addition, to its native western fence lizard population, has now took up residence in the space between two old pieces of concrete and, thankfully, is quite active darting hither and thither.  I hope he likes his new home.  And I hope that all of Vinoland's other lizards like him.

Thursday, September 06, 2018

Happy 10th Blogiversary to me!

Vinsanity has reached double digits.  It's true, today marks a full 10 years since I started waffling on about nothing in particular - with a little bit of viticulture thrown in.  I had no idea that I had so much to ramble on about, but apparently I do.  This is my 1391st post, whoo hoo!
Thank you to the two peeps who regularly comment on Vinsanity (you know who you are), your contribution to my humble blog is much appreciated.  Discuss...
Roll on year 11!

Saturday, September 01, 2018

Just because 10...

...I love dogs - love, love, love, love, love - they're great.  And baby dogs are simply unbeatable.  Happiness, indeed, is a warm puppy.
Meet Shasta, one of a litter of five Entlebucher Sennenhund puppies, who is one calendar month old today.  All boys, Shasta and his littermates are named after mountains in North America; Rainier, Denali, Teton and Lassen complete the quintet.  Cuteness overload.
I love dogs.

Sunday, August 26, 2018

Napa Valley Wine Library Association.

Today, I represented TWWIAGE at the 56th annual Napa Valley Wine Library Association (NVWLA) tasting.  Held in the Grove at Silverado Resort & Spa, this years theme was 'Designated Vineyard Wines of Napa Valley.'  It was a fun afternoon. 
The NVWLA is an organisation dedicated to the preservation and dissemination of information regarding all things wine; oenology, viticulture and wine lore, particularly as it pertains to the Napa Valley.  Membership of the NVWLA is in part responsible for maintaining and curating a "collection of popular, technical, rare, and current wine-related materials," which are a valuable resource for the "historian, vintner, writer, designer, wine buff and more."  Hmmm, I'm  wondering if I paid the George and Elsie Wood Public Library, in St. Helena, where the collection is housed, a visit would it improve my writing.  (That would probably take a miracle, not just a visit to a library.)
A well attended event, approximately seventy wineries were gathered together in the Grove pouring wines from specific vineyards throughout all of Napa's 16 American Viticultural Areas.  I had managed to procure a guest ticket for Vinomaker and, although I was the only one who was technically working, it was his job to bring me any interesting wines he thought I might like.  Which he did.  Good man!

Friday, August 24, 2018

Shake it off.

Today marks the 4th anniversary of the 6.0 earthquake that shook the Napa Valley to its core.  I'm still mourning the loss of the magnum of Havens, 2001 Syrah that I had been saving for a special dinner with friends.  I know Vinoland was lucky to get away with very little damage, just three bottles of wine in total broke, but still I find myself almost shedding a tear over spilt wine.  Sigh.

Thursday, August 23, 2018

Square peg in a Walmart hole.

You say clothespins, I say clothes pegs, but I have no idea what they call the wooden things one uses to fasten laundry to a washing line on Mars.  Although I should because, apparently, I am now a Walmartian (that is, according to Vinomaker).  Sheesh!
I started to install the bird netting on the Pinot Grigio vines this past Sunday.  Halfway through this particularly tedious job, I noticed that I was getting low on the amount of clothes pegs I had left and guesstimated that I wouldn't be able to finish that day.  It wasn't until today that I had a chance to got out and buy more pegs.  But could I find any?  No.  And that's how I ended up at Walmart.  Double sheesh.

Saturday, August 18, 2018

Main Street Reunion 2018.

I may have mentioned this before, so forgive me, but the annual Main Street Reunion (MSR) classic car show, held downtown in the city of Napa, is one of my very favourite yearly events to attend.  Or, should I say, it was.  The MSR is now a shadow of its former self.  The event was greatly diminished last year: this year I felt like I was watching the event in its death throes.
This year, I'd guesstimate that there were only about 50% of the number of cars that used to exhibit.  The cars in attendance were all spectacular, but I missed some of the cars that had over the years become familiar entrants.  There was no draft beer for sale (Vinomaker will not drink out of cans) and there was no food items (well, kettle corn if you can call that food) available to purchase.
Whomever is responsible for the banishment of events in the city of Napa, e.g., the Chef's Market, Food Truck Fridays, is doing a great job.  There is barely anything left that is recognisable in downtown Napa, to a local that is.  Napa has become a huge tourist mecca.  Understandably, how can local politicians look the transient-occupancy-tax-gift horse in the mouth?  I could go on...
Signed,
Disgusted in Napa.
A feeble and, possibly, final:
Vroom, vroom!

Thursday, August 16, 2018

Tomato-tormentor.

Grapevines aren't the only things growing in Vinoland's vineyard.  Besides vines and weeds, a volunteer tomato (toe-mar-tow) vine has decided to grow right next to a Syrah vine.  The location, chosen no doubt so that the tomato can avail itself of the vineyard's irrigation system, poses a bit of a problem for me.  Being so anthropomorphic, I am sure the tomato will suffer if I leave it in the vineyard.  However, if I transplant it into the vegetable patch, being so late in the season, it'll probably never bear any ripe tomatoes.  Or I could just yank it out and put it in the compost bin.  Slow day.

Sunday, August 12, 2018

The Daily Globe.

In today's news, Vinoland's table grapes are also going through veraison.  The Red Globe grapes are enthused.  It just occurred to me that I have never posted a photograph of the Orange Muscat vines doing their veraison-thing.  Well, there's a good reason for that.  Veraison in white grapes is just not as dramatic as veraison in black grapes.  Grapes going from green to purple, versus grapes going from green to slightly less green, is way more paparazzi-worthy.
Veraison, read all about it on Vinsanity.

Saturday, August 11, 2018

Colour me purple.

A little further along than I thought, the Cabernet Sauvignon (CS) vines are busy going through veraison.  A little bit of hens and chicks, but otherwise the crop looks good.  I've been preoccupied with the Syrah and the Pinot Grigio and hadn't really given the CS vines a thought.  That's all about to change, tomorrow the CS will have my undivided attention.  Well, that is until I have to put the bird-netting on the Pinot Grigio.
A woman's work...

Friday, August 10, 2018

Vineyard angel?

I don't think so.  This praying mantis may look harmless and angelic, but Stagmomantis californica is more adept at preying than praying.  Happy hanging about amongst my courgettes, this miss, or mister, looks more like a mischievous green devil than a cheery cherub. 
One of the most successful hunters in the animal kingdom, mantises will eat just about any insect they come across - including other mantises.  However, being so indiscriminate about what they snack on means that they will also prey upon other insects beneficial to a vineyard.  Oops!
This is the second mantis, in less than a week, to pop up out of nowhere and commune with me as I go about my business.  However, it didn't have much to say for itself, its mouth was full.  But that's alright, I'm just happy that Vinoland has such a diverse ecosystem.  Hopefully, this mantis will cooperate and help me keep a happy balance in the vineyard.

Thursday, August 09, 2018

Smoke gets in your eyes.

The wonderful view that usually greets me and Vinodog 2 when we reach the top of the hill behind Vinoland on our daily walk doesn't exist right now.  Well, the view is there, but at present it isn't visible due to the amount of smoke that is in the air.  My Mayacamas Mountains vista is in hiding, I can barely see it at all.   Also the overall light quality is very odd making everything yellow and muted.  However, I'm thinking a photographer would probably see some benefit to the perpetual golden hour the Napa Valley is experiencing.
There are two major wildfires burning in Northern California right now.  The Mendocino Complex Fire is now the largest wildfire in California history (recorded history, that is), it has currently burned over 300,000 acres and is still not contained.  The Carr Fire in Shasta County, at present the 6th largest fire in California history, at approximately 180,000 is a mere tiddler in comparison.  And all the resulting smoke is drifting south to wine country.
I'm not really worried about smoke taint in the grapevines, but the possible reduction in light- and temperature-dependent photosynthesis is a little bit of a concern.  When it is this smoky, and it has been for the past 10 days, or more, the chlorophyll in the vines cannot absorb enough sunlight to synthesis the sun's energy into carbohydrates.  Bit of a problem when Vinomaker needs those carbohydrates (think sugar) to synthesise into alcohol.  It has already been a cool growing season, so lack of good quality sunlight now is an ongoing concern of mine.
Of course, my first thought is for the safety of anyone, or any animal, in the path of the many conflagrations burning around the entire state.  Godspeed firefighters.

Friday, August 03, 2018

Hey presto!

Ta-da!  Just like magic, veraison has also begun in the Pinot Grigio vines.
Generally, the crop looks good this year except for a little millerandage which is no doubt due to the cool, windy weather we experienced all spring long.  And especially when the grapevines were flowering.  The under-developed berries shouldn't be a problem in the resulting Pinot Grigio wine, but they could be an issue, giving undesirable green-flavours, in the Syrah and the Cabernet Sauvignon.  It's all good: this is the stuff that goes into making one vintage very different from another.

Thursday, August 02, 2018

The times they are a-changin'.

Or at least the grapes are, veraison is upon Vinoland once more.  It is very early in the process, but veraison has to start somewhere and that somewhere is usually in the Syrah vines (this year is no different).  I will be checking in the Pinot Grigio tomorrow for signs of veraison there.
I love the cyclical nature of farming grapes and the influence Mother Nature exerts over the whole affair.  Veraison 2018 is about a week behind last year which doesn't surprise me one bit.  After all, it has been a cooler than normal growing season.

Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Wine of the hour.

Every two weeks, the entire staff of TWWIAGE get together to partake in themed blind tastings.  Fundamentally educational, the tastings are often of a comparative nature, i.e., comparing a TWWIAGE wine to that of a peer (of the same vintage, but not necessarily the same AVA).
A recent Sauvignon Blanc (SB) tasting had TWWIAGE's  SB up against eight other producer's wines.
To cut a long story short, my favourite wine of the tasting did turn out to be the TWWIAGE SB (in all honesty I probably have a bit of a house palate), but the best of the rest, in my opinion, was a 2017 Hourglass (Napa Valley AVA).  The Hourglass had a really nice fruity nose, lots of lemon/lime/pineappley-lychee on the palate and wonderful mouthfeel.  However, at $44.00 retail, I am glad that the owner's of TWWIAGE footed the bill, not me!
It is nice to try something different now and then, as I tend to get myself stuck in a vinous-rut sometimes (besides, it is important to my job to be familiar with competitor's wines).  Even so, it can be quite difficult to pull myself out of aforementioned rut, as I just don't have a problem with drinking a wine, that I really enjoy, again and again.

Friday, July 27, 2018

Winemaking t'ain't what it used to be.

Last night, I attended a Napa Valley Small Vineyard Association (NVSVA) meeting that was held in the barn of Phoenix Ranch Vineyards.  I don't get to attend all of NVSVA's meetings, but when I do I relish the opportunity to catch up with friends and acquaintances.  The guest speaker at this session was Sue Langstaff who is a sensory scientist, an international consultant to beverage manufacturers and the creator of the Defects Wheel.   Sue's business, Applied Sensory LLC, provides analytical sensory services for the wine, beer and olive oil industries.
Sue began the evening by outlining the role a sensory scientist plays in the wine industry and described the process of how she trains panelists in the sensory evaluation of wine - to include qualities and defects.  Besides being distressed on being reminded that my taste buds only live for 30 days (R.I.P. little buddies, I'll miss you), there was a good discussion about wine drinkers and their ability, or inability, to identify what they are actually tasting.  Interesting stuff.
As the evening progressed talk turned to the wildfires of October 2017 and the presence, or not, of smoke taint in the wines of that vintage.  The offending compounds that contribute to smoky off-flavours in wine have been identified as guaiacol and 4-methylguaiacol.  To complicate matters, it turns out that these two compounds are also found in toasted oak barrels and are responsible for the lovely spicy, toasty aroma characters one enjoys in, e.g., a nice Cabernet Sauvignon.  Mind.  Blown.
In a brief moment of levity, one NVSVA grower asked if a 2017 wine should carry a smoke taint disclaimer label.  "Not if," quipped another NVSVA member, "you want to sell your wine."
There are many resources and services, including sensory and chemical analyses (photographed graphs, above) available to the modern day winemaker.  It's going to be interesting over the coming months, perhaps even years, to see exactly what wineries decide to do, if anything, with their 2017s.  I'm expecting smoke taint will be the hot topic of conversation for quite some time to come yet.

Thursday, July 26, 2018

Sunny-flower Days.

Yesterday was another beautiful, sunny day in the Napa Valley: Oakville to be exact.  For the past few weeks I, and every other commuter and tourist traveling north and south on the Silverado Trail, have had the pleasure of espying an entire vineyard (a vineyard awaiting a replant, I assume) brimming with sunflowers.  Located on the northwest corner of the Oakville Crossroad, Rudd Winery have cultivated a veritable sea of Helianthus (much more impressive in person) for everyone to enjoy.  Or perhaps the folks at Rudd planted these flowers, of sunny-disposition, to pay homage to proprietor Leslie Rudd who passed on to greener pastures this past May.  A nice tribute, I hope Mr. Rudd is enjoying them too.

Thursday, July 19, 2018

A little something missing.

Oh, I really wanted to like this wine; the concept was very appealing, that of a bottle-aged white wine (and a Semillon to boot) made by a woman winemaker.  The 2014 Little Frances Semillon, Luchsinger Vineyard (Lake County) produced by Aussie, Erin Pooley, promised to be something I would enjoy on many levels.  Alas, the wine, a gift from a neighbour, was undrinkable.  There was something a little funky on the nose, a little too heavy-handed of an approach to acidulation and, most unfortunately, little to no fruit.  A real shame.

Saturday, July 07, 2018

Napa nest 8.

This is the second set of chicks this spring for one very busy house finch mother.  Right next to my front door, balanced on the top of a pair of outdoor lights, the nest of the Haemorhous mexicanus is looking a little worse for wear.  The four, fluffy chicks, huddled together in the nest, don't seem to care about the droppings accumulating around the edge of their weed, grass and horsehair-lined penthouse, so I suppose I shouldn't let it bother me either.  Both Vinomaker and I have stopped using the front door, as much as we normally would, so as to not unduly disturb the materfamilias in the raising of her brood.  I just love having baby critters around Vinoland.

Wednesday, July 04, 2018

Independence Day, 2018.

Happy 242nd birthday America!
Vinodog 2 (looking a lot like the cute canine-superheroine she is) and I would like to wish all American peeps a very joyous Independence Day.
Before composing this post, I took a quick look at Vinsanity's 'Independence Day' posts all the way back to the first one in 2009.  The overwhelming sentiments in each post are ones of pride and patriotism, both admirable qualities that this particular Englishwoman recognises in most Americans.  Last year's post, however, is still, if not even more, relevant this year.  If anyone living in America right now would prefer to exist under the tyrannical regimes of North Korea, China, Russia or Iran, please, feel free to go and try to live a life of personal liberty in one of those godforsaken countries.  Just sayin'.
God bless the United States of America.  (I'll even, albeit hesitatingly, include California and New York in my humble benediction.)
Oh...and God save the Queen!

Sunday, July 01, 2018

Fire season.

California is already well into fire season.  In reality, the time of the year that isn't considered fire season, here in tinderbox dry California, is lamentably short.
Yesterday afternoon, in what were eerily familiar conditions, the sun became obscured by smoke, the light quality changed dramatically, the temperature dropped 6°F in a matter of minutes and ash began to fall like snow.  Vinomaker and I sat for a little while, just watching as a thick grey smoke plume headed our way from the northeast, until the ash became too heavy to remain outside.  The fire, now known as the County Fire, began in Yolo County and grew overnight from 8,000 to 16,000 acres.
When I woke up this morning everything was covered in ash (very messy).  I worked for a bit in the Syrah vines this afternoon, but each time I reached for a shoot above my head I was showered with huge flakes of ash.  Not very pleasant.  A strong wind would rid the grapevines of their ashy-coating, but, alas, strong winds are the last thing firefighters need right now.
The fire, as I type, has now burned 32,500 acres and is 0% contained, and it has now spread to Napa County.  Godspeed to the first responders.

Saturday, June 30, 2018

How green is my valley.

I don't know if it's me, the light quality today, or the fact that Vinoland's grapevines got a little extra TLC last night, but everything in Vinoland just looks wonderfully verdant today.  The Pinot grigio grapes are definitely a little shinier: I'll explain.
In the never ending quest to produce good quality grapes from disease free vines, preventing pests from damaging the grape crop calls for a combination of techniques, or integrated pest management (IPM).  Along with cultural practices, sometimes chemical control, the use of pesticides, can be more effective in controlling pests (in the greater context of a broad IPM strategy).  Yesterday evening was the first time Stylet-Oil (SO) was used on the grapevines (with a little Mettle® fungicide thrown in for good effect).  SO is a little more effective against powdery mildew (Uncinula necator) (PM) in cooler growing seasons (like the one the Napa Valley is experiencing this year) versus the more conventional use of sulphur.  Sulphur needs warmer temperatures to volatize (65°F is the recognised minimum temperature required for sulphur activity against PM), whereas SO is not temperature dependent and so it acts as an eradicant, protectant and, most importantly, an antisporulant 24 hours a day.  In layman's terms, SO stops spores from growing, and insects from breathing.  And it makes baby-grapes shinier.

Sunday, June 24, 2018

Happy Midsummer's Day.

A very cheery, yellow flowered weed currently blooming in Vinoland is perforate St. John's wort (Hypericum perforatum) a flowering shrub native to northern Europe and thus named because it can be found flowering on the feast day of St. John the Baptist, which is today. 
The longest day of the year in the northern hemisphere, falls on June 21st (or thereabouts, depending on GMT) and is the occurrence of the summer solstice, whilst Midsummer's day is traditionally observed on the 24th of June.  (The discrepancy in the date is said to have been exacerbated by variations in the Julian Calendar, only to be further confused by the Gregorian Calendar. Oh, those wacky Romans and Popes.)  The two days are often confused; as are the somewhat dubious medicinal benefits attributed to St. John's wort.  Methinks just looking at this sunny yellow flower would promote a positive mood in the biggest of whingers.
Have a dreamy Midsummer's day, and night, everyone.

Saturday, June 23, 2018

The Virginians.

Thomas Jefferson once said, "I have lived temperately...I double the doctor's recommendation of a glass and a half of wine each day and even treble it with a friend."  Perhaps he was waxing lyrical about his fondness for the Montepulciano grape which he considered, "most superlatively good."  I doubt he would have said the same about either of these two wines from Blenheim Vineyards, located just seven miles from Jefferson's Monticello plantation.
Although not that bad, these wines were not that great.  Both 2017s, the Albariño (Monticello AVA) and the Chardonnay (Virginia) were no Rías Baixas or no Chablis, respectively.  But then again, they're not supposed to be, these wines were grown and vinted in Virginia, so one should expect totally different results.  Both wines seemed to have quite a bit residual sugar, the Albariño being the most quaffable of the two. The slightly cloying sweetness just made the Albariño a little heavy and merely succeeded in masking the degree of acidity I was expecting.
Blenheim Vineyards produce around seven varietal wines (their website shows that they produce some proprietary blends also), including a Rkatsiteli which I'd like to try, seeing as I had this varietal fairly recently.  Alas, I procured these wines second-hand, so for now I will have to make do.  The Rkatsiteli might be something I seek out in the future though.  Tonight, I will definitely be looking in the refrigerator for a wine, to pair with dinner, with a little more acid: my taste buds need reviving.

Thursday, June 21, 2018

Summer's here!

Yay!  It's summer and Vinodog 2 has decided to don her ice cream goggles and embrace the change in season.  We haven't had much of a summer yet in the Napa Valley, but "hope springs eternal in the human breast."  Or is that, hope summers eternal...?  Just kidding.
V2 is a very happy little dog despite her often dour countenance in photographs, these silly sunglasses just serve to heighten her rosy outlook on life.  And she makes me extremely happy as she is my ever-present companion in all my viticultural adventures.  However, I hope she doesn't expect to wear those sunglasses out in the vineyard today, that would be just plain embarrassing.  I may love V2 to death, but I'm still English.  Standards, you know, old chap.
Happy summer solstice, peeps!

Saturday, June 16, 2018

Drip, drip, drip.

Napa Sanitation District's recycled water is finally dripping in Vinoland.  Today was the first time the grapevines have been irrigated this growing season.  Well, I think the vines got watered, the wind was so brisk that it was blowing the water dripping from the emitters sideways.
The amount of water the vines get, and the frequency of watering, depends on a number of different factors; soil type, climate, topography, grape variety, cover cropping, cultural practices, etc.  In California's vineyards it is only the water that is held in the soil that is available to grapevines, any rare rainfall during the growing season is lost to surface evaporation, runoff, or used up by cover crops and weeds.  Now, for the first time, due to the abundance of recycled water available, all the vines could be watered at once (instead of block by block).
I will be keeping a close eye on the vines for any sign that they don't like their new source of sustenance as there has been some conflicting data over the salinity of the recycled water.  Grapevines are more tolerant to salt than other fruit crops, but I'm not interested in performing my own mini-experiment.  If there is the slightest hint of a problem, the plug will be pulled and it'll be back to well water for Vinoland's vines.

Friday, June 15, 2018

Bob's your uncle.

A wonderful wine with dinner tonight.  Hmm, I can't exactly remember when I bought this Robert Sinskey Vineyards, 2013 Pinot Gris (Los Carneros AVA), but I'm really glad that I did.
Paired with shrimp for dinner, this wine was just gorgeous.  A light, light brass colour, the nose was filled with a rich honeyed-butterscotchy, orange blossomy, limey-ness.  (I don't believe any of those in reality are legal wine descriptors.)  This slightly spicy, medium bodied white wine had lots of bright lime-citrus, Bramley apple skin tartness on the palate with a slight almondy-bitterness on the finish.  Yum.
And there you have it, a truly wonderful tipple.  He's not my actual uncle, but thank you Bob Sinskey for making a fabulous wine.