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.

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Now that's what I call food!

Subtitle: In praise of the humble jam butty.  I am from Northern England where a 'butty' is very definitely food (especially the two butty varieties, 'bacon' and 'chip').  Simply bread and jam, the individual components of a jam butty are equally as important.  However the star of the butty in the photograph was Thud's homemade damson jam, a jar of which I brought back from Blighty with me in April, and which I just finished this morning.  I am crying as I type.
Incidentally, and I may have mentioned this before, damson is one of my favourite descriptors that I often find in Cabernet Sauvignon.  Of course, I don't get damson in all Cabs, the same way as I don't get violets in all Cabs.  The only person I have met in the U.S. to grasp damson as a wine descriptor was my professor at Napa Valley College, Dr. Stephen Krebs.  Dr. K. had travelled widely in Europe, whilst doing research for Jancis Robinson, and had tasted this type of plum for himself.
Speaking of food, recently all the staff at TWWIAGE, regardless of department, had to undergo a educational training session in food hygiene and safety, (we did last year also).  The Food Safety Modernization Act (FMSA) was signed into law in January 2011 (by President Obama) and made extensive changes to laws governing food safety.  The FSMA focus changed from responding to food contamination to preventing food contamination.  (Everybody agrees that keeping pathogens out of food is a good thing, right?)  Under this new-ish law, even "low risk" facilities, such as wineries, must be inspected within 7 years of the Act becoming law.  That means that for the past 2 years the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has stepped up its inspections of wineries.  Hence our training session: FDA agents may show up at TWWIAGE at anytime.
Now, under Federal law, wineries are considered "food manufacturing plants."  But unlike other food manufacturing, the fermentation process that is the essence of wine is also very efficient in killing the very pathogens that would make folks sick.  Due to wine's elevated levels of acidity and alcohol the only microorganisms that can survive in wine are yeasts, lactic bacteria and acetic bacteria.  My take on food borne pathogens is an over-simplification, I admit, but it is this type of simple stuff that gets caught up in bureaucratic red tape.  All.  The.  Time.
I don't believe wine is a food.  I generally think of food as something you can get your teeth into, like meat and potatoes (or a jam butty).  Man cannot live on wine alone because it isn't food, in fact too much of it will kill a person, or at the very least will give the over-imbiber a very unhappy liver.  Wine is a companion to a meal, not a meal in itself.
Our tax dollars at work.

Sunday, June 10, 2018

Cropping up.

Back in the Cabernet sauvignon vines, still stuffing shoots, bloom is progressing nicely and seems to be on track.  It has been quite a windy spring, breezier than normal, but not too windy as to be detrimental to fruit set.  A little breeze can help distribute pollen form the anthers to the ovaries; quite beneficial as the grapevine's flowers are hermaphroditic (or the 'perfect' flower).  Carry on Mother Nature, you're doing a good job.

Friday, June 08, 2018

Surging Syrah.

Erm, wow!  Apparently, I have been spending too much of my vineyard-time in amongst the Cabernet sauvignon (CS) vines.  For most of the past two weeks I have been stuffing CS shoots like a mad woman.  This time of year the CS gets to the stage where it can get a little unruly.  If not for a little good-natured encouragement, and gentle coaxing of the shoots into the trellising wires, the vines would soon resemble Cousin Itt.  I hadn't noticed that the Syrah vines were about 95% finished with flowering and there are BB-sized grapettes.  Oops.
The 2018 growing season, thus far, has seen bloom in the white and the black grapes much closer together timing-wise than it would be in a typical year: the flowering window has been effectively shortened.  It's all good as it is these kind of differences that make a vintage.

Thursday, June 07, 2018

Downtown at the Uptown.

Last night, Vinomaker and I took ourselves to the Uptown Theatre in downtown Napa to see Brian Setzer and his Rockabilly Riot.  I had last seen Brian Setzer in concert, with the Stray Cats, on the 21st of December 1981.  Yup, quite a while ago, there has been a lot of life in between.  The teenage Vinogirl loved Brian Setzer then and I still love him now.  Always a Rockabilly fan (Johnny Burnette, Eddie Cochran, etc., thanks to Thud), when I discovered that Mr. Setzer was coming to Napa I just had to go and see him play.  And what a treat it was, he was even better than I remembered.
An added bonus to visiting the Uptown is that they have a bar and you can drink in your seat whilst watching a show.  How civilised is that?  Very adult.  So I, and my glass of Mumm Napa fizzy stuff, settled in to enjoy the support band, "Drinkin' wine spo-dee-o-dee!"
The support band, 'Miss Mary Ann & the Ragtime Wranglers' (from the Netherlands.  Dutch Rockabillies, who knew?) were quite entertaining (their double bass player being particularly convincing) and successfully warmed up the crowd up for the main attraction.  And then there he was, in all his pompadour-topped marvelousness, the man himself, Brian Setzer.  Go cat, go!  Simply fab!

Friday, June 01, 2018

No, or Yes, on Measure C?

It's June already and on June 5th Napa County voters will be asked whether or not to approve Measure C.  The entire Napa Valley is in a tizzy over Measure C, so today I sat and read the 'Full Text of Measure C' (Ordinance No. 2018-01) in Vinomaker's copy of the Napa County Voter Information Guide to try and make some sense of the arguments for and against this contentious measure.
Oh my goodness, I could not make head nor tail of it.  Measure C's intent is to amend "the Napa County General Plan and Zoning Ordinance to establish 'water quality buffer zones' on parcels greater than one acre within the Agricultural Watershed zoning district and would limit tree removal, including both oak and non-oak species, within those zones."  Whaa?  I'm not quite sure what that even means.  There is way too much legal jargon, in the reading of this measure, to have it be understood by normal people.
One of the criticisms of the 'No on C' folks by the 'Yes on C' folks is that the No-folks have more money and so have the wherewithal to mail many more glossy pamphlets to the voting public.  A small, unscientific survey, by me, over a two week period did indeed uphold that grievance; 6 brochures for the No-folks and 2 for the Yes-folks.  (Just this morning, Vinomaker told me he had received even more and had promptly put them straight into the bin.)  Well, Yes-peeps, we don't live in Communist Russia (even Russians don't anymore because Communism doesn't work, well, except for the elite).  It's a fact of life that some people/groups just have more money than others.  Get over it!
If I could vote, and I can't, I would be a NO on Measure C.  The initiative, although well intentioned, is written very badly and is extremely vague.  Can we say, costly lawsuits?  Yes, we can.

Thursday, May 31, 2018

Vintage snapshot.

As I had mentioned in an earlier post, flowering is a little retarded this year.  The Orange muscat (OM) vines are usually (in an average year) further through bloom at this stage of the growing season.  And please, do not be alarmed, the OM flower cluster in the photograph is not upside down: it is a mildly curious fact that the OM clusters point upwards until the baby grapes advance to a stage when they cannot defy gravity any longer.
I had had a tiny internal debate, with my slightly schizophrenic self, about whether or not to post a photograph of Vinoland's OM bloom this year.  I mean, one Vitis vinifera flower looks much like another, doesn't it?  But then it occurred to me that even though, at this point, it is impossible to tell what the finished wine from this vintage will be like the vintage is in the flower cluster right at the moment the photograph is taken, so each vintage's image is unique.  The flowers that I photograph are different every year, one cannot see the vintage, but it is there.

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Too pricey?

This was a lovely wine, the proof is it's all gone.  I purchased this bottle of Quintessa's  2016, 'Illumination' Sauvignon Blanc (SB) when I visited the winery back in January.  I can't remember what I paid for it (there was a small inter-winery discount involved), but on Quintessa's website it says this wine retails for $50.00.  And by my reckoning, that's about $20.00 too much.
Wine pricing is a funny old thing.  The average consumer could be forgiven for asking, "Why is this wine priced thus?"  Well, the wine's packaging is a little upscale, it comes in a Rhone-style bottle (how trite) and there is some flashy gold on the label, but packaging alone shouldn't make a significant impact on the retail price of this wine.  The cost of SB grapes is on the rise in the Napa Valley.  In fact, SB is in danger of becoming more scarce, indeed many growers are ripping out this delightful white grape and planting Cabernet Sauvignon in its place.  Having said that, I looked up the average price per ton of SB grapes (Napa County Crop Report) when I started blogging in 2008 and it was $1,905.91.  In 2017 the average cost had risen to $2,012.00.  That's a whopping increase of $106.09 over a 10 year period.  (By no stretch of the imagination is that a significant price hike.)
Yes, I enjoyed this $50.00 SB, it was a beautiful glass of wine; a little heavier of the palate than most SBs, adequate acid, a lovely grapefruit/mandarin orange citrus-y-ness and a lingering finish.  However, I don't think I enjoyed it enough to pay full retail.
Quintessa is a pretty swanky winery, so I believe it is up to the proprietors to maintain some aura of exclusivity.  I'm thinking the folks that can afford to drink Quintessa wines are Cabernet Sauvignon aficionados who aren't necessarily white wine drinkers (I meet people like that all the time), but might be persuaded to buy an overpriced, in my humble estimation, SB.  I am not Quintessa's audience.
Call me cheap, but I'd rather have two bottles of SB from a Napa Valley producer such as Honig or St. Supéry.  Or even better, three bottles (or, perhaps, four if it's on sale) of that old Kiwi stalwart, Kim Crawford.  My little pea-brain just doesn't understand expensive SBs.  I have tasted the Illumination once, I don't need to try it again.

Friday, May 25, 2018

What a grey May.

Today, I did a Google search on how to spell the sound one makes when blowing a raspberry, as I hadn't the foggiest.  Luckily, others before me had seemingly pondered the same complex, philosophical question and so I learnt that a cartoonist, Berkeley Breathed (Bloom County), had spelled it thus, "PPTHHPTHPFFTHPPPT."  It doesn't sound quite wet enough, if you ask me, but for wont of a better spelling it is the spelling that I am going to adopt on my blog when I need to convey my especial distaste for something.  So here goes: PPTHHPTHPFFTHPPPT! to the month of May.
I had predicted, earlier in the year, that it was probably going to be a rather short winter.  I was wrong, very wrong, it still feels like winter.  It's been a cool and grey spring.  It has been unusually windy for about three weeks now and this past week the temps have been down in the low 60s.  Then, today, it rained.  Sigh.
However, despite the coolness, we finally have bloom in Vinoland.  I'd guesstimate that the Pinot grigio vines are almost two weeks behind their average bloom date.  Not that Mother Nature works on any particular viticultural-schedule, bloom-time is different every year, but the vines do seem to be particularly tardy this year.  Once again,  PPTHHPTHPFFTHPPPT!!!

Thursday, May 17, 2018

The Helix.

My previous post, Four-Buck Chuck, made mention of an "innovative closure."  Meet the Helix.  The brainchild of Amorim (one of the planet's biggest cork producers) and O-I (a rather large bottle manufacturer), the Helix closure combines a grooved cork with a correspondingly threaded bottleneck.  Bronco Wine Company was an early adopter of the Helix cork stopper for several of their value-priced wines.
With the Helix there is no need to look around for a corkscrew, there is also no need to feel like one is slumming it by buying a screw cap closed wine.  Additionally, in some small way, the Helix manages to preserve the romance of opening a bottle of wine and the pleasant pop that a real cork delivers when it is coaxed out of a bottle.
I for one found the Helix to be a little hard to twist in and out (despite multiple printed exhortations suggesting otherwise), but I did find it rather interesting.  And innovative.

Sunday, May 13, 2018

Four-Buck Chuck.

There is a lot going on with this wine; trendy packaging, organic grapes, innovative closure, infamy.  What it doesn't have going on is complexity.  This is a bottle of Two-Buck Chuck, or rather Four-Buck Chuck ($3.99, to be exact, at Trader Joe's), Bronco Wine Company's Charles Shaw ultra value-priced vino.
The biggest selling point of this bottle of wine, perhaps, for those who care about such things, is that it is made from organic grapes. It seems that organic has become a synonym for quality nowadays.  As compared to most other wines that I drink, that are not made from organic grapes, does this wine taste different?  Better?  This is a four dollar wine, people.  Now, if this plonk was produced by a perceived premium winery the fact that it was made from organic fruit may count for something.  Instead, I'm quite sure this wine was produced in 50,000 gallon (or larger) silos.  Whose taste buds are that good to make such a distinction?  Not mine.
My WhiffsNotes for the Shaw Rosé 2017 are; nondescript on the nose except for a generic berry component; Kool-Aid-y berry-ness on the palate; acceptable acid; slight bitterness on the finish.  A beautiful pale, pale salmon, it is a shame that one can't taste colour.  (Or can one?  Synaesthesia?)  Undrinkable?  On the contrary, think a hot summer's day, afternoon garden party, giant galvanised trough of iced wine bottles, good conversation.  Drinkable?  Abso-freakin-lutely!  Besides, one sometimes has to drink the cheap stuff to understand why the good stuff is so, well, good.

Friday, May 04, 2018

Wild turkey.

I was woken up this morning by the gobble gobble of a rafter of wild turkeys: so loud.  The rather significant population of Meleagris gallopavo around Vinoland have been quite active the past few weeks.  I have spotted up to a dozen turkeys hanging out on a neighbours driveway when Vinodog 2 and I have been on one of our walks.  This morning, though, they were right outside my bedroom window.  So loud!
It was a cool, foggy and still morning, so this particular young tom-turkey didn't seem to notice me sneaking up on him, in my pyjamas, with my camera.  However, he wouldn't cooperate and keep still, he just kept strutting his stuff and gobbling - loudly.  I'm just glad that there are no grapes on the vines because a flock of this size could do some real snacking-damage.

Thursday, May 03, 2018

Branching out.

Vinodog 2 and I get a little bored on our regular walk sometimes, so, now and again, we like to branch out and try new routes.  For several months now, we have been ambling, daily, up the hill behind Vinoland.  Well, it's not exactly ambling for me and I'm quite sure V2 finds the extremely steep section at the top a little easier on her four legs than I do on my two.  Phew!
It is on this daily walk that my dog and I just recently became acquainted with Phacelia ramosissima, commonly known as brancing phacelia.  A winsome little weed that is part of the Boraginaceae family (its familiar curving cyme did indeed remind me of fiddlenecks), branching phacelia can be very variable in appearance.  The local phacelia has white flowers, but they can also be blue; it can be prostrate or upright; it can be hairless to very hairy; it can have bell or funnel shaped flowers.  Interestingly, or at least I think it is interesting, like Vitis vinifera, this phacelia species is hermaphroditic.
I have no idea who the tiny interloping insect is.

Sunday, April 29, 2018

Space invaders.

Invasive species are a problem in our ever shrinking world.  And this harlequin ladybird, also known as the Asian ladybeetle (Harmonia axyridis), is invading my personal space by hanging out in the Pinot grigio block.  Identifiable by a distinctive 'M' on their pronotums, harlequin ladybirds seem hell-bent on world domination; I have become very well acquainted with them over the last four years on my trips home to Blighty.
This particular ladybird did not follow me back to California from England.  No, harlequin ladybirds were introduced to the Golden State, back in the 70s and 80s, by the U.S. Department of Agriculture in an attempt to control agricultural pests.  And they have been quite successful in that respect, but they have also been successful in out-competing native North American ladybirds whose numbers are dwindling.  Sad, really.  However, I still like them in the vineyard, they're pretty to look at and I'm assuming that they will be useful in fending off any other invasive aliens.   

Thursday, April 26, 2018

Fuzzy wuzzy.

Somewhere in this photograph, amongst all that sucker-y nonsense, is a Pinot grigio vine.  Yup, left to their own devices, whilst I concentrated on taming the weeds in the greater Vinoland area, the PG vines have produced suckers upon suckers.  I kid not: I have never seen such fuzzy goings-on.  Same is happening in the Syrah vines, living proof that there is plenty of soil moisture for such vegetative-exuberance.  So I suppose I have my entire weekend planned out for me.  Sucker on.