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.  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.
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!

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Piles of prunings.

I finished pruning and tying down Vinoland's Pinot grigio vines today.  The vines are all seemingly healthy and robust, so there was a lot of wood to prune off.  The pruned wood is now neatly piled, at each end of the rows, awaiting Vinomaker and his chipper.
I'm always filled with a moderate sense of accomplishment when I am finished with one varietal, especially when I've had a relatively straight forward time of it.  And happy that I didn't even get a blister.  Phew!
Now on to the Syrah vines...

Thursday, February 01, 2018

Bee spree.

It was a gorgeous day today, the temperature got all the way up to 71°F.  Loved it!  And it seems that there is no rain in the forecast for, perhaps, the next two weeks - love that.  It means that I should be able to proceed with my pruning uninterrupted by unpleasant weather.  I actually got a little too warm whilst pruning the Pinot grigio today.
The local honey bees are loving the warm spell also.  Vinoland's industrious bees are busy filling their pollen sacs with grains of yellowy-goodness from a multitude of weeds and wildflowers that are blooming now.  Vinoland's rosemary plants are teeming with bees.
A particular, famed groundhog may see his shadow tomorrow in Pennsylvania, presaging six more weeks of winter, but the busy-bees and I will not be too concerned.  I feel I can safely predict that winter in California will not be too protracted this year.

Wednesday, January 31, 2018


It is supposed to be winter, however one would be forgiven for thinking otherwise.  Whilst the vines and the trees of the Napa Valley are leaf-free, wildflowers, cover crops and weeds are thriving: a combination of rain and sunshine will do that.  The weather has been mild and the mustard and I are enjoying it immensely.  Although there is a lot of activity and pruning is well underway valley-wide, including here in Vinoland, this, to me, is the most peaceful and contemplative time of the viticultural-year.  Omphaloskepsis, anyone?

Friday, January 26, 2018

PG snips.

I started pruning Vinoland's Pinot grigio vines today.  After two days of rain it was pretty soggy out in the vineyard, and chilly, so I had to talk myself into getting started.  But once I got started, I was immediately reminded of how much I enjoy pruning; it's just me, the grapevines and my trusty Felco 6s.  Oh, and the little black and white dog that couldn't stop barking at a possum, cat, skunk, or something, hunkered down in a drainage pipe, that was trying to avoid her.  Prune on!

Saturday, January 20, 2018

And so it begins.

Pruning has started in Vinoland.  This afternoon, taking advantage of the sunny, but chilly, dry weather I began to prune Vinoland's Orange muscat vines.  I didn't get very far; failing light, and a mouthy little dog who wanted to go for a walk, curtailed my progress.  But I did get started and that is all that counts.  Roll on vintage 2018.

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Pretty Milkmaids all in a row.

I was going to start pruning Vinoland's grapevines today, but it's raining, hmmph!  So, instead, Vinodog 2 and I went for an extra walk, a wet one.  Traipsing up the hill, a steep private road with three homes on it, which runs north from behind Vinoland, I was reminded that last week, whilst doing the same walk, I'd spotted a small white-flowered plant that I'd never seen before.  It goes without saying that I didn't know its name...had to rectify that.  After quite a bit of searching in my modest home-library and on the internet, with no luck, I gave up.
Never fear, I had one last resource at my disposal: Ellen Dean, Curator of the UC Davis Center for Plant Diversity.  I have had the great fortune of being helped in identifying a plant once before by Ms. Dean, so I thought I'd bother her once again in the identification of this weed.  Within 20 minutes I had the identity of my mystery wild flower:
"That isn't a weed!  That is the beautiful milk maids, Cardamine californica - one of our earliest native wildflowers in the mustard family.  How lucky you are to have it!"
I am lucky.  Having such a person as Ellen Dean to bother when I need help identifying the flora that flourishes in my little corner of California makes me very lucky.  I'm also lucky to have a milkmaid now growing in Vinoland - I transplanted one of the pretty little plants.

Monday, January 01, 2018

Party like it's MMXVIII.

Weather, beautiful; Rose Bowl, exciting; Supermoon, impressive; Vinodog 2, festive.  I hope everyone had a very enjoyable and normal first day of the new year.
A happy 2018 to all!