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 slightly less green versus grapes going from green to purple, 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, withing 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.

Monday, April 23, 2018

Happy St. George's Day, 2018.

In honour of England's patron saint, St. George, last night I imbibed in a Georgian wine.  (That's the country of Georgia, not the U.S. state.)  It seemed appropriate, as St. George is also Georgia's patron saint.
The 2015 Tbilvino Qvevris, made from the Rkatsiteli grape, is a wine produced in the traditional method that Georgian's have employed for God knows how long.  Some say 8,000 years.  The juice, skins, seeds and even some stems are fermented and aged together in amphora-like terracotta pots, qvevri, that are buried in the ground for up to six months.  The resulting orange, or amber, wine is quite tannic due to the extended skin contact.
The wine?  My WhiffsNotes are; a deep, deep gold in colour; not much on the nose, a bit of pear perhaps; thought I could taste the clay, probably the power of suggestion, and there was a creamy/honeyed element; low, low acid.  An unusual wine, but a wine style that I have been wanting to taste for decades.
I have been fascinated by the thought of trying a Georgian wine since 1989, when I remember watching Hugh Johnson's series on the history of wine, Vintage.  The first episode began in Georgia - the birthplace of Vitis vinifera.  The image that has stuck in my mind all these years, besides the grey, muddy Georgian day, was Hugh being served wine, ladled with a hollowed out gourd, right from a qvevri buried in the ground (think mud).  Hugh tastes the wine and then says, "It's like nothing I've ever tasted before, really."  I'd have to agree with him.
Happy St. George's Day to my family, friends, and anyone who loves England as much as I do.

Saturday, April 21, 2018

"Man's oldest drink."

This is a great little book.  Making Mead was first published in the United Kingdom in 1968.  This expanded edition, Making Your Own Mead, was updated in 2013 by Dan Vallish.  It's a very welcome addition to my little wine-library.  Thanks to Fox Chapel Publishing.
The book begins with a quick, but comprehensive, romp through the history of mead, putting Bacchus right back into Bacchanalia.  It seems that the ancient Greeks, the Romans, the Vikings, the Elizabethans, even British soldiers of the Napoleonic era, and others, were all enthusiastic mead drinkers.  Included in the book are 43 recipes for making mead, a list of the equipment needed to make homemade honey wine and the basic techniques to get started.  And now, one eureka moment later, I finally understand the difference between the ale-like meads and the wine-like meads that I have tasted in the past.  It's the yeast, stupid.
I'm feeling the need for mead.  The recipe for 'Ale Mead' calls for just one pound of honey.  I may have to have a go at making mead myself.  Move over, Vinomaker.

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Swiss swill.

The few times in my life that I have flown first class, I have been delighted by the selection of wines available to the traveller, me, and the fact that the cabin crew will open a full 750 ml bottle of anything one desires.  So civilised.  Usually airplane wine is substandard and uninspiring.  I generally only bother drinking on a plane if I think it will make me fall asleep.  It never does.
I was so impressed by this Swiss wine that I was offered, to and from Zurich, on my recent trip home to Blighty, that I took an empty bottle off the plane with me because I didn't want to forget it.  (I suppose a photograph would have sufficed.)
I don't know, and can't find, too much information about the producer of this wine except for the obvious on the label; the producer seems to be Merveilles, a co-operative out of Basel.  Made from the Chasselas grape, this medium bodied, lower acid, yet refreshing wine was a very pleasant surprise.  Chasselas, the most common white grape variety grown in Switzerland, is thought to have originated in Egypt (what a waste!)  I'm just glad it made it onto my Swissair flight.

Monday, April 09, 2018

The Ag Preserve.

On this day, 50 years ago, Napa County Supervisors unanimously enacted into law a controversial zoning ordinance: the Agricultural Preserve District (AP).  The Napa Valley, a viticultural-Eden, only exists due to the foresight of a small group of people who dreamt of protecting the valley from falling victim to urban sprawl.  And for the most part, they succeeded.  Napa has not succumbed to the same fate as, e.g., Orange County or the Santa Clara Valley, thank goodness.  The AP will hopefully succeed in protecting 31,609 acres of farmland from urban development until 2058.
There are plenty of people who live in the Napa Valley who absolutely despise anything do do with the wine business, (I've personally met a few).  These folks complain that there are too many wineries, too much winery related traffic, too many tourists, etc.  And now, too many agricultural burns.  This letter, which was published in last Friday's Napa Valley Register, was penned by one such Napa resident.
I think I can safely assume that, from the tenor of her letter, the authoress is not a fan of agriculture.  Astute, me.  There is no personal information to be gleaned from Ms. Methven's missive.  Not her age, whether or not she is a native Napan, a beer-drinker, or a teetotaller, nothing.  She is a bit of a fibber, however.  She can't really care for wildlife, as she claims (albeit sarcastically), if she thinks paving over paradise is a more suitable habitat for deer, coyotes, foxes, turkeys, skunks, raccoons, etc., etc.  If truth be told, I'm not really interested in learning anything about Ms. Maniac, as I'm a  firm believer in having as least contact as possible with crazy people.
Anyway, happy anniversary AP, you're looking good at 50!

Saturday, April 07, 2018

The blushing bud.

I may have missed budbreak in the Syrah vines this year, but my buddies in the Cabernet Sauvignon block waited for me to get back to Vinoland before doing their thing.  Thanks pals, much appreciated.
I just love spring.  The vernal equinox, which occurred this year as I was winging my way over the Atlantic, conventionally heralds the beginning of spring.  As a child, it also meant that my birthday was the next day (GMT-ish).  What is there not to like about spring and the rebirth, rejuvenation and regrowth of...every weed in Vinoland?  Yup, did quite a bit of weeding this afternoon (and planted my first tomato plant), but I barely made a dent in the lushness that is Vinoland right now.  Oh well, keeps me busy and out of trouble.

Friday, April 06, 2018

The grey area.

I am back in Vinoland.  Yes, I returned from my holiday to England last night.  It was dark by the time I got home, so I knew I would have to wait until morning to survey the amount of new growth on the grapevines.  I was excited to go outside first thing, but I had to be patient as my tour of the vineyard was delayed due to an extremely grey start to the day accompanied by very heavy rain.
I have to say, I think I was expecting a bit more progress in the leaf-department.  Vinomaker had told me that there had been some very cool weather in the first week that I was away, followed by some warmer days.  However, it is the ground temperature, not the air temperature, that determines when and how quickly the vines begin to do their thing.  Of course, five to six inches of growth in the Orange Muscat vines is nothing to be sneezed at.  Besides, there is plenty of growing season remaining.

Sunday, April 01, 2018

Happy Easter, 2018.

Happy Easter!
Lots of chocolate, cake making, pie baking, happy kids, extended family, my first cup of coffee since February the 13th and a good Barolo with dinner; is there a better way to celebrate the culmination of Holy Week?  I think not.
This 2011 Peironte Barolo was showing a little age, but still had plenty of perfumey-plummy polish which paired beautifully with dinner.  Followed by Thud's blackcurrant pie and a slice of carrot cake (made by me), my tummy had a very satisfying Easter Sunday.  However, I still see lots of chocolate in my immediate future.  Yum!

Thursday, March 22, 2018

A very British birthday.

I'm having a birthday in my native time zone.  Birthdays at home are the best.  Whoo hoo!
Thud was as good as his word, in regard to his wine stash, and found something appropriately festive in his cellar for me.  The 2013 Hindleap, Bluebell Vineyard Estates Rosé sparkling wine, a Pinot Noir/Pinot Meunier blend, was a bit of a red fruit bomb.  Redolent with strawberry and Red delicious apple, the Hindleap was tasty and structured.  But, unfortunately, if I had one criticism it would be that I thought the wine was a tiny bit oxidised.
However, the real problem with this bottle of sparkling wine was the packaging.  No sooner had Thud removed the foil from the neck than the cork positively exploded from the bottle.  Not good, and the first time that either of us had ever experienced that.  The muselet had only been twisted, I'd estimate, barely a half-turn and was therefore totally ineffective at holding a cork in at high pressure.  Gave poor old Thud a bit of a start.  Still enjoyed the bubbles though.
Oh...and Happy Birthday John Toshack.
Vinogirl loves birthdays.

Monday, March 19, 2018

Get back... where I once belonged, Part 12.
Lured by the promise of some good stuff from Thud's wine stash, I am on my way back to Blighty tonight.  He'd better not be kidding me.
I am really looking forward to spending some quality time with my family.  And going back into winter, although it will technically be spring a day after I arrive.  I've packed accordingly.
Get back JoJo!

Sunday, March 18, 2018

Hello there handsome!

Voila!  At a little more than two weeks behind budbreak 2017 (which in turn was a bit behind budbreak 2016), Vinoland's Orange muscat vines have now made the commitment to get a start on the 2018 growing season.  This is exactly the same bud that I photographed on March 8th.  There are a few vines that are a little more advanced, but this vine is displaying a good average of all the vines.  Looking good little buddy.
Unfortunately, we have been experiencing severe frosts the past three mornings: neighbouring vineyards have been starting their (frost protection) fans anywhere from about 3.00 a.m. to 5.00 a.m.  Having no frost protection in Vinoland, I can only cross my fingers and hope that the vines won't be impacted negatively.  You're on your own little buddies, mummy loves you.

Saturday, March 17, 2018

Give me a hand.

I am finished!  Pruning for 2018 is at an end in Vinoland.  And not a moment too soon, I wore out the left thumb of my favourite Stanley pruning gloves.  What a shame, they're so soft and supple.
I dodged rain showers, determined to be finished today, until I finally refused to stop further for Mother Nature and continued pruning and tying the canes down in the rain.  Dedicated, me.  I didn't need any assistance pruning this year, but I will take a round of applause.

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Dopey proposition.

Speaking of TWWIAGE field trips, back in January my coworkers and I went on our annual Recon Day.  Two of the three wineries we visited were repeats, Quintessa and Robert Sinskey, both pleasant wine-tasting experiences.  The other winery we visited was Piazza Del Dotto, hmm.
Piazza is the third winery in the Del Dotto family, proprietor Dave Del Dotto made a small fortune in the infomercial business and it was that small fortune that allowed Mr. Del Dotto to pursue his dream of going into the wine business.  And he did, but not without some controversy.
Piazza Del Dotto was originally going to be called Ca' Nani Winery which is Italian, apparently, for 'house of dwarfs' (in reference to an Italian folklore story related to Mr. Infomercial by his grandmother).  Del Dotto's daughter, Desirée, was quoted in a 2013 magazine article about the family's new venture as saying, "We do plan on having some little people working there."  Well, you can imagine how that was received in politically-correct California.  By 2015 the plans for the dwarf-manned winery had been scrapped.
It was interesting to watch the new winery take shape.  I remember that one the first features to be completed was the entranceway on Highway 29, resplendent with dwarf-topped pillars.  Varietal wines had already been released with different short-limbed characters on the labels; jovial, wine-loving characters, but dwarfs just the same.  You just can't make this stuff up.
On our visit to the winery, when I questioned our young host about a vague recollection I had of drinking a Sauvignon blanc with a dwarf-adorned label he totally denied it.  Sore point, perhaps?  I didn't think too much more about it, until I remembered where I had tasted the wine.  A few days later, taking a little detour with Vinodog 2, I called on a neighbour and asked if they had any bottles of Del Dotto Sauvignon blanc left.  "Sure," my neighbour said, "let me get you one."  Titter, titter.
Whilst it is in part true that the Napa Valley is rapidly in danger of becoming a theme park, I, for one, am not ready for it to become Disneyland just yet.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Seguin Moreau.

This morning some of my TWWIAGE coworkers and I took a quick field trip to Seguin Moreau Napa Cooperage (SMNC).  I can't believe that I haven't visited a cooperage before today (Vinomaker has visited both SMNC and Demptos).  SMNC don't normally host tours at their Napa facility, however TWWIAGE purchase quite a few barrels from this particular cooperage, so special dispensation was granted.
Visiting SMNC was absolutely fascinating.  I have read plenty about the forests where the oak is grown and harvested; how the timber is aged, exposed to the elements for at least 2 years; the stages of wine-barrel construction and the whole toasting process.  But all that reading did not prepare me for just how interesting it was to witness the entire smoky, aromatic operation in person.
SMNC can produce about 100 barrels a day.  If the process is done entirely by hand SMNC can only make 30 barrels a day: it takes 7 years of making barrels by hand before one can be considered a master cooper.  Brilliant.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Having a swell time too.

Not to be outdone by the Orange Muscat, bud swell is now proceeding nicely in the Pinot grigio (PG) vines.  I had meant to have a look at the PG vines on Sunday, but I simply run out of daylight (despite the beginning of Daylight Savings Time).  Then yesterday, when I got home from work, it was raining so heavily that, after taking V2 for a quick walk, I wasn't sufficiently interested in bud swell to warrant hanging around in a soggy vineyard.  So today it was: and, lo and behold, I once again have some enthusiastic little PG buddies.

Thursday, March 08, 2018

Having a swell time?

I finished pruning, and tying down, Vinoland's Syrah vines this past Sunday and then immediately started pruning the Cabernet Sauvignon vines.  Busy, busy, busy.  Just as I finished pruning for the day today, I had a quick look in the Orange muscat vines to see if anything was happening.  Sure enough, my little buddies are awakening and the buds are beginning to swell open.  Exciting.

Monday, February 26, 2018

The saddest vineyard in Napa.

There might possibly be a worse tended to vineyard in the Napa Valley than this one, but I doubt it.  Developed in two phases, beginning in the summer of 2015, this vineyard began life as a couple of horse paddocks and continued that way for more than 30 years.  (Horses destroy soil texture through compaction.)  The soil was ripped to a depth of 5 feet with a bulldozer and then planted to Petit Verdot (clone 1058) on 1103 Paulsen rootstock.  And then, nothing; no love, no training, no water.  No water!  To say these vines are a tad physiologically delayed is a bit of an understatement.  So sad.
The property recently changed ownership and the new owners aren't quite sure what they want to do with their new vineyard.  Frankly, this poor vineyard may be beyond resuscitation, it's in such a bad condition.  And I have real doubts that Petit Verdot could ever ripen in chilly Coombsville.  We'll see.

Monday, February 19, 2018


There was a semi-interesting article from The SOMM Journal being circulated around TWWIAGE last week.  Dr. Paulo Lopes, Research and Development Manager at Amorim Cork, recently published the results of research he has been conducting into the merits of cork as a wine bottle closure.  Without going into the nuts and bolts of the process of oxidation, the gist of the article was that cork does not breathe; the only oxygen that diffuses into wine is the air trapped in a cork's nooks and crannies.  In a nutshell, or a screw cap, perhaps, the article asserts that it makes no difference if a wine is stored upright or lying on its side.  Furthermore, the article claims that it is very "liberating" when wine-myths are debunked by science.  Aah, I feel so free now.
Dr. Dick Peterson, an early California-wine industry innovator, has always maintained, well, at least since the early 1960s, that sound corks do not breathe air.  Dr. P even has a great quote about the breathlessness of cork, "Show me a cork that breathes and I'll show you a bottle of vinegar."  I'm a little sceptical of the whole premise, but I'll trust the good doctor on this.
My illustrative photograph is of a sparkling-wine cork that came out of a bottle of Chandon étoile that I popped open last Friday night.  I had assumed that the cork had done its job and had sealed the bottle perfectly, and anaerobically.  (The article states that, "the classic mushroom shape of a sparkling-wine cork is formed by its contact with CO2."  Now that's interesting.)  This particular mushroom-shaped cork had managed to transfer something to the wine though, not air but 2,4,6-Trichloroanisole (TCA).  I reluctantly poured the entire, tainted bottle down the sink.  Hate when that happens.  Still, there is a happy ending.  Celebrating Vinomaker's birthday last night, a day early, I ordered a bottle of étoile at a restaurant and it was delicious.
So what does all this fuss about the oxygen transfer rate (OTR) of cork mean to the average consumer?  In my opinion, not much.  None of the information in the article is going to change anything about my wine buying/storing/drinking habits.  Some people just love to do studies and write definitive articles about their findings.  And it always helps when their findings reinforce the science behind the product they are promoting.  Ta da!
Oh, and Happy Birthday Vinomaker!