Wednesday, December 31, 2008

The Snowman.

One family tradition is watching 'The Snowman' every Christmas. A teenage Vinogirl watched the very first airing in 1982...and I haven't missed a year since. Some things have changed; I've located to a different continent for one and the American version of the very popular short animation doesn't include David Bowie as the adult James, but the whole experience is just as magical for me. I was a little behind this year and have just watched it now with Vinomaker, accompanied by a bottle of Roussanne (Domaine La Bastide), and a bowl of pistachios.
Next up, a selection of cheeses and a bottle of 'The Widow'.
Happy New Year!

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Berryessa Reflections.

I was invited to an 'End of Year' party held in a beautiful big home in the Berryessa Highlands last Sunday. Plenty of food, plenty of wine and plenty of unbelievable California, December weather...I spent most of the evening on the deck.
The highlight of the event for me though was meeting the maker of one of my very favourite Napa wines. I had spied a bottle of the 2005 Smith-Wooton Cabernet franc on the bar and had made a bee line for it. It is a wonderful wine, more in the tradition of a fine Chinon, but definitely a new world rendition of an old world classic. To my surprise the host informed me that Gary Wooton was also a guest and proceeded to introduce me to him. I followed him around the kitchen, behaving like a gushing teenage fan, or stalker (you decide), but I wasn't about to let him out of my sight. I told him that I always sent my brother home to England with a least one bottle of his fine wine and he seemed genuinely impressed. He shared some of his winemaking philosophies with me, including a very interesting barrel protocol and then I learned the source of his grapes...right next to the vineyard in the Oak Knoll District where Vinomaker gets ours. Small world.
As the party drew to a close, I was left reflecting on how great the wine was, how great the entire Northern California wine community is, how great is the talent of the winemakers that I know and how wonderful it will be in 2009 to meet more...and drink their wine of course.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Happy Christmas.

Merry Yuletide wishes from Vinogirl, Vinomaker, the Vinodogs and The Widow.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Santa Claus is Coming to Town.

As I write this, Father Christmas has already visited all my relatives in England. I know this as I am tracking his progress on NORAD. It looks like he is already in Napa, if this antique shop window on Second Street is anything to go by. I rushed home, after seeing this, to put out the traditional mince pies and milk that I always offer St. Nick, until Vinomaker reminded me that only the pies had been eaten on previous occasions. He suggested we should perhaps put out an empty glass and a bottle of our 2004 Cabernet franc on the hearth, with some mulling spices, and let the jolly elf entertain himself. If indeed there is any wine left over, we can finish it off for him on Christmas Day.
Seeing as California is almost at the end of his run, he can stop and have happy hour with the Vinodogs before he hits Hawaii and jets off back to the North Pole. Cheers Santa!

Monday, December 22, 2008

Winery Christmas Lights 3.

In comparison to my last post, the lights at this winery are positively understated, but very tasteful. Tucked away on the Oakville Crossroad I nearly missed this staid display of electric merriment. The Groth winery is stylised California mission, based on the architectural impact the Roman Catholic church had on early 'Alta California'.
Over a period of 54 years, beginning with Mission San Diego, established in 1769, 21 missions were established by the Spanish stretching 650 miles along the 'El Camino Real'.  All were established near the coast and were designed to be one days walk apart.
Franciscan monk Junípero Serra is generally credited with planting the first grapes for wine production in California at Mission San Diego. Father Serra's grapevines, of uncertain genetic heritage, had originally been introduced from Spain to Mexico. The original European strain having been lost, the grapes were simply called Mission grapes since the Catholic missions were where they were generally grown.
The final mission at Sonoma, in the Sonoma Valley, has proved to be an ideal location for grape production; fertile soil, maritime fog, and a mild and sunny climate.  And over the hill, here in Napa, Vinogirl is enjoying a glass of wine and her own Christmas lights.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Winery Christmas Lights 2.

Famous for their White Zinfandel, Sutter Home winery should get more recognition for the sheer number of fairy lights they fire up every Christmas. Look at those palm trees! So Californian.
Besides the obvious amount of wattage their fairy lights consume, Sutter Home should be commended for the volume of White Zinfandel they sell worldwide. I have had people visit me in the past and they have wanted to visit Sutter Home, not Caymus, not Phelps...Sutter Home. I'm just glad people are drinking wine and keeping me in a job!

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Buckfast Abbey.

In honour of what would have been my maternal grandparent's 85th wedding anniversary, I thought I'd cast my minds eye back to a place we all visited together on family holidays.
My Devonian auntie Dot lived in Totnes, a wonderful Elizabethan town on the River Dart, and each summer we would all pile into our Ford Consul and head south-west. It was a long journey. To the tiny Vinogirl, Totnes was the best place in my little universe and I couldn't wait to get back there every summer, (the family sometimes managed it twice)...and back to Bonzo the dog, as my canine love affair had started early.
The Tonic Wine that the wonderful monks at Buckfast are famous for is not for everyone. I'm sitting here drinking a fab Mi Sueño Syrah right now, which in contrast to that dark, viscous elixir, the thought of which sends shivers down my spine, is fruit forward, spicy and easy to drink. But, monks, an abbey, a tonic wine, how fabulous that such a throwback exists in this day and age.
That's it, I'm off to listen to my 'Carols from Buckfast' CD, a tonic for the soul this Yuletide.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Winery Christmas Lights 1.

There are just two roads that run the length of the Napa Valley, north-south. Highway 29 on the west and the Silverado Trail on the east. A quick drive up the Trail and down Hwy 29 this time of year delivers 'fairy light' gratification to Vinogirl.
Now some wineries just don't photograph well so I am just going to post a few that do.
This winery is quite new, (18 months old), and quite frankly, their wine is nothing to, well, blog about...but their fairy lights are quite fetching. In true Napa Valley style, the trees are not Christmas trees, but olive trees...but I think they look brilliant anyway. Look at the shadow the 'Black Stallion' casts, it's almost as big as the one V2's ears create!

Thursday, December 18, 2008


Vinodog 2 is enjoying an early morning snack of...frost. That dog will eat anything.
It's 23 degrees F right now, unseasonably cold for Napa. The leaves on the vines from a couple of posts ago are now all on the vineyard floor, having been blown off in brisk winds on Tuesday. Last season's wood, trained up through the trellising wires, is white with frost. The scene from my window all looks very festive...if only a robin red breast would appear and bob through this tableau.
Alas, I just have V2, (V1 is in her bed, the old dog is not so daft).
Look at those ears!!!

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Let it snow.

This was the scene that greeted me this morning as I ran into the post office at Oakville with a couple of Christmas parcels. Straddling two counties at the head of the Napa Valley, Mount Saint Helena, (elevation 4,344 ft), was looking very pretty with a dusting of the white stuff. After two days of clouds it was nice to see the sun again. It was a spectacular December day.
The vines in the foreground? They belong to Opus One.

Sunday, December 14, 2008


27 degrees F out right now...this is the coldest day so far this season. My poor vines are white with frost, so much so that it almost looks like a sprinkling of snow. The vines don't mind these low temps, they are mostly dormant now. The same cannot be said for Vinomaker however. He's eating breakfast with a wooly hat on!
Cold, but so Christmassy. I love it.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Just Because 3...

I will be wearing these wine coloured shoes for my work place's Christmas party when I spill wine on them, no one will notice. If I ever stooped to drink Chardonnay I would have sought out a pair of gold shoes for the party, perhaps, but as you know with me and that particular varietal...actually, no you don't know yet...that's for a future post.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Prune in haste, repent at leisure.

Vinodog 1 and I just took our daily constitutional, (V2 went for a ride with her dad). I took along my camera as I had noticed yesterday that the vineyard over the road was undergoing an annual ritual, pruning, or rather pre-pruning. I was surprised when I saw this for two reasons. Firstly, most vineyard workers have already left for Mexico for a month long Christmas holiday but there some were, pruning and chatting away. Secondly, pruning before the winter rains have even begun in earnest can invite nasty pathogens, e.g. Eutypa lata, that are delivered onto the pruning wounds by the aforementioned precipitation. Admittedly pre-pruning means the skilled pruners will come back late in the winter or early spring and make the final cuts/selections so that any infected wood would be removed. Still, it all seems a little hasty, especially for Far Niente, whose Chardonnay vineyard this is. Considering their lofty reputation, and the price of their wines, I would have thought they would have delayed pruning as late as possible. I would expect most high end wineries to employ cultural practices that aid in the reduction of disease or damage to their vines. I do, but my vines are not cordon trained like theirs, they are head trained, a training system that further minimises infection. I believe delaying pruning would probably be the better farming practice but then again, I just may be lazy.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

True Wine Lover 4.

"They have no wine". John 2:1
In keeping with the Advent season I thought I would pay homage to perhaps the greatest winemaker of all time.  No offence Vinomaker!
Most people have heard the story of how Jesus turned water into wine at the wedding in Cana.  His mother was mortified that the guests had run out of vino, (much as my mother would encourage me to nip down to the cellar and open another case, or two), and urged her Son to do something about it. Voila!  JC's tenth miracle.
What I hadn't heard of, until fairly recently, was that there are people out there that insist biblical wine was non-alcoholic and mis-translate the Greek word oinos as...grape juice.  As if the ancient Palestinians had forgotten the art of wine making passed on by the Greeks!  At least the naysayers, with their heads in the sand, would like us all to think so.  All those amphorae, regularly unearthed in archaeological digs, must have contained Evian water.
Now Vinogirl likes a bit of chemistry and marvels at the little miracle that happens almost as soon as grape juice introduces itself to the native yeast on the grape skin.  Fermentation, and it's byproducts, numero uno being alcohol, (CO2, SO2, H2S etc.), is going to happen with the intervention of a winemaker or not.  These ancient people did not have the means to arrest fermentation, by using copious additions of potassium sorbate, or the technology to remove yeast, sterile filtration, or alcohol, reverse osmosis, so it is without a doubt that biblical wine got people tipsy.
Thank God I am Catholic!!!  We imbibe.  Take no notice of religious fundamentalists, science is good.
So please, "use a little wine for thy stomach's sake." Timothy 5:23.  And people, wine happens!

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Educating Vinogirl.

It's Advent and I should be enjoying the run up to Christmas already. Instead, I am studying for finals. This coming Monday I have to stand up in front of 40 plus other students and convince them my protocol for making a crisp, bright Viognier is going to be successful...right down to the exact mg/L of yeast assimilable nitrogen content required for a healthy fermentation. Am I nervous? Nah, but where on earth did I put those sick bags and adult diapers?

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Happy Lamb Day.

On the first ever Thanksgiving Day, English settlers, who were a little short on vittles, were greeted by the indigenous people of the New World with a lamb casserole. In honour of that first holiday, I am preparing a traditional lamb casserole, (cooked in a copious amount of red wine), for my guests.
Well we know it didn't really quite happen that way but I only cook turkey at Christmas and so if Americans want to break bread with Vinogirl on Turkey Day, they have to accept something other than the traditional fowl. I do confess that I love pumpkin pie, so I appease the natives with that. So Lambanana and Vinogirl wish you a very Happy Thanksgiving.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Bottle it up!

At last, all viticulture and wine making operations for 2008, are at an end for Vinomaker and me. That is except for topping barrels and general housekeeping in the cellar. I won't have to be out in the vineyard, pruning, until February or March and all the 2008 wine is snoozing in barrels (or still going through malolactic fermentation).
Today we bottled our remaining 2006 Cabernet sauvignon and Syrah. It's a little later in the year than we intended but we had moved it into neutral barrels so it hadn't picked up any additional oak. It all tastes rather nice...we are both pleased with how the 2006 vintage turned out. Now we just have to wait until it settles down from bottle-shock before we can imbibe. Can't you hear me tapping my fingers?

Thursday, November 20, 2008

True Wine Lover 3.

"I think it is a great error to consider a heavy tax on wines as a tax on luxury.  On the contrary, it is a tax on the health of our citizens."
Thomas Jefferson is generally regarded as America’s first fine wine connoisseur.  The third president of the United States had a distinct penchant for wine, French wines in particular.  Historical documents reveal that in his first term as President he spent $7,500, (approximately $120,000 in today's currency), on wine...mainly Lafite, Margaux and Chateau d'Yquem.  It is said that most of the founding fathers were partial to quaffing a good claret or Madeira, but none were as fervent or methodical in their appreciation of oenology as old Tom. A truer case of Vinsanity I have never heard of.  He surely would have been saddened to see his fabled wine collection as the target of one of the biggest, if not the biggest, wine scams ever.  His prescient observations on the dangers of over taxation and the health benefits of drinking wine, (more than 200 years before anyone had ever heard of resveratrol), should be heeded by us all.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Roll me over in the clover.

If you had visited the Napa Valley as recently as 5 or 6 years ago, you would have noticed the absence of any vegetation in the vineyards except for the foliage of the vines themselves. Thankfully that's changed. The majority of farmers have now adopted a 'no-till' policy, choosing to plant cover crops or allow native vegetation to proliferate. Even a vineyard floor covered in dandelions would be preferable to a 'scorched earth' approach to farming.
This year I chose to plant a clover mix in our vineyard. Clovers are legumes, belonging to the Fabaceae family, and so are capable of fixing nitrogen from the air. Through a symbiotic association with bacteria from the genus Rhizobium, they convert nitrogen gas (N2) in the atmosphere to ammonium (NH3) that can be readily used by crops. Because rhizobia occur naturally at low levels in most soils, the bacteria must be present on the legume seed at planting, hence the uniform look of the seed in my photograph. They are coated with everything they need to perform this amazing feat of alchemy.
There are arguments for and against the planting of cover crops. On the pro side; they are very beneficial to overall soil health, add organic matter to soil, retard soil erosion and provide shelter for beneficial predatory insects, amongst other things. Naysayers fear; competiton for available groundwater, too much nitrogen fixation (that could result in too much vigour), and the over-wintering of problematic insects...but seeing as I am a proponent of cover cropping, and it's my blog, I'm not going to dwell on the negatives. There is a lot more to this subject than just tossing out a few seeds and calling it good. Cover crop management is quite complex and is a science in itself, but the positive aspects of this practice are to me incontestable. Besides, it was a great day to be outdoors. The weather was fantastic (84F) and V2 accompanied me as I worked...or at least I think she did, if the huge shadow of her large ears just to my side was anything to go by.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Good moon rising.

It only happens a couple of times a year, but tonight was one of those times. At 5 pm when I left the winery and headed south towards home, the sun was setting over the western hills of the Napa Valley to my right, (and the Pacific Ocean beyond), and the full Beaver moon was rising over the eastern hills to my left. It's a little distracting as you drive along, admiring the glowing sunset and the silvery moonrise at the same time, but ultimately, it's awe inspiring.

Saturday, November 08, 2008

R is for Race.

Even though we had over 3 inches of rain last weekend, just 2 inches beneath the surface, the vineyard soil is extremely dry.  It's the same every year, the first rainfalls just run off and drain away.  However, there is a peculiar, evolutionary phenomenon going on outside at the moment; the r-selection species of weeds, (as opposed to the k-selection which is for a future blog), are unearthing themselves after being entombed in the inhospitable California summer soil. These plants display traits that make them highly adaptable to, and exploitative of, the current moisture/temperature conditions. The ability to reproduce quickly is perhaps the most crucial as they must go through an entire growth cycle in a highly unpredictable and unstable environment. It's a race for survival. Combined with small body size, early maturity, high fecundity and the ability to disperse their offspring, they must take advantage of what Mother Nature has to offer them, right now, to endure. Very opportunistic little guys and gals.
It's fun having a walk with the Vinodogs as there is a lot of new stuff to entertain Vinogirl. Viewed from a certain angle, there is a verdant green haze covering every flat surface...even my coconut front doormat has a germinated burr medic clover seed, happily reaching up to the autumn sun.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Get a Grip...ple.

Yesterday Vinomaker and I attended the Napa Valley Viticultural Fair.  It's not a huge event, as trade fairs go, but it gives you a good opportunity to see the latest innovations in vineyard equipment, frost protection, pest management, water systems etc.  Held at the fairgrounds in town, it is none the less, very informative and entertaining.  Some of my favourite exhibitors include; the grapevine nurseries (where baby vines are conceived), the pest management companies (whether using chemical or biological control methods, they always bring a live sample of a creepy crawly with them, the stars this time were spider mites...yikes), and last but by no means least...Gripple.  I love this device and can't imagine putting up trellising wires without them.  Gripples have really saved vineyard developers a lot of time and a lot of money.   And the best thing about this little's made in England.  The young man manning the booth was initially encouraged by my enthusiasm for his product, but seemed increasingly disturbed when I insisted on keeping a Gripple, a key ring...and his pen.
The afternoon concludes with a complimentary wine social, where you can catch up with friends in the wine industry and share tales, or horror stories, of the harvest past. Fun!

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Just Because 2...

...this picture is pretty and I just wanted to use it.
The vines seem to be quite resilient this year and appear to be shutting down rather slowly. All the better to store nutrients for next season I'm sure. The rain we just had knocked a lot of dying leaves to the ground and the vines are starting to look a little bedraggled.
The more seasonal temps, and the smell of damp leaves, reminds me that it is Bonfire Night in dear old Blighty. This, with the exception of Christmas of course, is an extremely difficult time for Vinogirl to be away from home, sigh! You just can't beat the olfactory delight of gun powder, hanging in the damp autumn air, insinuating itself into your nostrils. So fellow countrymen, light up the sky with Standard Fireworks and think of Vinogirl.

Monday, November 03, 2008

Just Because...

...I'm a girl, a Vinogirl, and I like grapes and shoes.
These are my favourite shoes of the moment and the last bunch of Crimson Seedless from the garden. They are very, very tasty...and the grapes aren't bad either.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Have your cake and drink it too!

Never say never. Just when I thought harvest 2008 was over, Vinomaker decided he wanted to make a late harvest Zinfandel. Ho hum!
The day began with Vinomaker and I barreling down a batch of Syrah. Then, we processed the aforementioned late harvest Zinfandel, (from a friend's vineyard). And finally, we pressed off our own Cabernet sauvignon, which had fermented to dry, and is now settling for 24 hours before it is barreled down. It is a distinct pleasure to sit down and enjoy a bottle of wine, (especially one that you have vinted yourself), but there is a lot that goes on between vine and glass that most people don't get to see. For instance, disposing of the cake, (above picture). The 'leftovers' of wine production include a lot of skins and seeds which need to be dealt with. They make a fantastic soil conditioner and are no doubt a source of food for many an insect, flying or otherwise. Overall it was a good day for wine making and the environment...that includes happy Vinodogs with purple feet, I kid you not!

Saturday, November 01, 2008

K Fertilisation.

No, this photograph isn't meant to be in soft focus, nor did I have too much to drink last's just teeming down. 'Out of the Window' Vinogirl is sitting at the dining table with a cup of Earl Grey gazing out at a bleary, sodden vineyard. The Vinodogs curled up in their beds, periodically eye me askance, disapprovingly, like the rain is all my fault. They will be deprived of their walk today. Poor V2 hasn't had many instances of rain in her short life so she's a little confused.
What is not confusing is the propitious timing of Napa's first significant rainfall since February. Vinomaker and I have been busy out in the vineyard applying Potassium sulphate (K2SO4) around the vines. Placing the fertiliser near the root zone in large amounts, is the best means of overcoming soil fixation as Kalium, (K), is particularly immobile in the soil. It moves so slowly in fact that the results may not be seen until the second season after the application. Though it is an expensive procedure, it is an absolutely necessary one. The potassium needs of a grapevine are high, comparable to the demand for nitrogen, and a deficiency would result in poor vine growth and lower crop yields. However, one application will last at least 5 years.
So Mother Nature continues to smile on Vinogirl and Vinomaker, albeit in a different way, and helps move the fertiliser into the up, cover cropping.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Happy Halloween.

This evening, I have been invited to a soiree that will double as a Halloween party and a housewarming.  There will be bucket loads of wine available, as many of the invitees are my winery co-workers, but Vinogirl is going to down a couple of Cape Cods and call it good.  To that end, I have bought the hostess this scary looking bottle of vodka...woooo!!!  A very festive spirit.  Apropos, don't ya think?  Happy Halloween to all.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Up, up and away.

The past two mornings, whilst driving to work, I have been treated to the sight of cheerful, corpulent, multi-coloured balloons high above the valley floor.  Gondolas brimming with visitors, envelopes swollen with hot air, they glide silently along until the ride is over and they alight at a predetermined destination or, in some unfortunate cases, in a vineyard on top of vines where they are really not welcome.  I took this photograph on an early morning flight in a friend's Luscombe in June.  We were careful not to get too close to the balloons.  I love them, others do not, but what would the postcard manufacturers and fridge magnet makers do without them?

Tuesday, October 28, 2008


Sunday evening heralded the end of the 2008 harvest at my place of employment. The winery actually received their last Cabernet sauvignon fruit today, harvested overnight under floodlight. If the people that sign my pay cheques want to call the end of harvest a little prematurely, then so be it. Sunday night was the night they wished to celebrate, so Sunday it was. A good time was had by all. For Vinogirl it meant a night off from wine. I imbibed in a pleasing malted beverage called 'Death & Taxes'...dark, lucious and bitter. Wonder what old Ben Franklin would think of the current election season? Dark? Bitter? Prophetic? I hope not.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

And Mother Nature continues to smile.

Vinomaker and I just finished a simple, but fabulous grilled salmon dinner out on the deck. The temperature is splendid...who would believe this is October 25th? It feels more like a July evening. Good fish, (cooked perfectly by VM), great Pinot grigio and a Sauvignon blanc, good company, including the Vinodogs...who could ask for more. Napa life at it's best.

True Wine Lover 2.

Le Petit Corporal undoubtedly quaffed a lot of bubbly after the English exiled him to the island of St. Helena.  Defeat must have been hard for the Emperor to swallow.  His trouncing, at Waterloo, when washed down with a few good glasses of champers probably made the whole ordeal seem a lot more tolerable.  I'm sure being a Corsican, of Italian descent, and supreme leader of France, predisposed him to indulge in a lot of still wines too.  I even hear that he was fond of Cognac.
Boney was probably a right plonky.  The hand tucked into his waistcoat stance? It conceals a corkscrew no doubt...look, you can even see a couple of corks in the hand behind his back.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Mutant Ninja tomato.

I spent a long relaxing, celebratory lunch with my co-workers today at Auberge du Soleil.  It is my, and Vinomaker's, favourite restaurant in the valley.  Unfortunately he couldn't join me. What fantastic food.  What a fantastic location with splendid views of the valley.  What fantastic weather. The past week's mid 80's temps could lull one into a false sense of it still being summer.  I have to remind myself that as well as the grapevines, everything else is shutting down also, even my vegetable garden.
I ate, drank and was merry.  So much so that a simple dinner was in order tonight.  I opted for a plain chicken salad.  The Lycopersicon above did not make it into the salad because Vinomaker and I thought it too aggressive looking for consumption.  How would that thing digest in my stomach? More to the point, how would I slice it?  More like duel with it...where is a Samurai sword when I need one?  Still, methinks it is quite magnificent in a bizarre, tomato-ey sort of way!

Thursday, October 23, 2008

The party's over?

No, it's only just begun, but it is time to put the picking knives away until harvest 2009. We brought our own Cabernet sauvignon in last Sunday. Vinomaker was ready this morning for the last batch of a friend's Cab, but it didn't materialise...Mother Nature had other ideas. Timing, in life, is everything. Whilst Vinomaker and I were enjoying 90 plus degree temps last May, the grapevine flowers were not. Things got hot, the flowers did not pollinate properly, a percentage of berries did not form thus resulting in poor fruit set and consequently a reduced crop. It's a condition called shatter. Hence not enough Cab to go around, (same problem with the Cabernet franc two weeks ago). We will have to be content with the Cab, Syrah, Pinot grigio, Semillion, Orange muscat and Viognier we already have...hic!

Saturday, October 18, 2008

The essence of senescence.

Things are starting to look a lot different around here.  Things are looking more...yellow. It's a good job that I think yellow is a very nice, happy colour because every vineyard around here is not so green anymore.  The grapevines have given up their crop for this vintage and are now shutting down for their long winter nap, a process called senescence.  A grape leaf lives for approximately 150 days and so the first to give up the ghost and fall to the ground is usually the first one that grew in the spring.  The vine, however, first removes any goodies it can from the leaves and stores what it can in it's root system.  This way it is assured a kick start in the spring when the ground begins to warm up again.  The correct colour sequence is green, then yellow and finally brown...and down, not the autumnal colours depicted on postcards all over the Napa Valley.  Red leaves mean the plant is virused and will eventually die.  I must confess that I love to see the horrified look on visitors faces when I tell them that.  My grandmother would have said that the 'divil' was in me.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Le Chat Noir.

I have no intention of turning my blog into a wine review venue. Boring! Alas, here I am pontificating on a 'must have in your glass' Napa Valley potable.
Tonight, Vinomaker and I spent the evening at Black Cat Vineyard where we were treated to an advance tasting of their '06 vintage, (they were releasing a Cabernet sauvignion for the first time). Hitherto, proprietor and wine maker, Tracey Reichow, has concentrated on a stunning Syrah, which she grows herself, and a Syrah/Cab blend, (her Family Cuvee). With the '06 vintage, Black Cat has achieved a wine industry trifecta. I can't imagine wanting any red wine combo other than this trio, they are that good.
It was however a little freaky without the Vinodogs around. Anyone out there want me to review their Black Dog wine? I am more canine, than feline, inclined.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Tarnished medals.

There are lot of competitions out there, a lot. Actually hundreds in California alone that commercial wineries and home winemakers alike can enter. They vary from well recognised contests and those in vastly distributed industry publications to small, regional local fairs. They seemingly have a million categories that all and sundry can enter...and everyone seems to be a winner. In fact Vinomaker has won two gold medals in consecutive years at a Sonoma County fair for his Syrah. (He's very modest. A 'friend' entered him both times).
The irony is that the Vinodogs made the wines, they're smart poochies. The one judge, in 2007, with the "try again" comment, must have known!

Sunday, October 12, 2008

True Wine Lover 1.

Winny loved champagne...and Pol Roger loved him. So much so that they produced special pint sized bottles (20 fl oz) just for his consumption and named a special blend (cuvée) after the great Statesman. I love the stuff too, it's just a pity it's made by the French.
"Remember gentlemen, it's not just France we are fighting for, it's Champagne."  Churchill said it best, there is nothing Vinogirl can add!

Friday, October 10, 2008

Kites rise highest against the wind, not with it.

It's extremely windy in Napa right now, the entire Bay Area actually. It would be a good day to fly a kite. I took this pic of my English Bull Terrier weather vane, (thanks Vinomaker), a little while ago. You can't really tell but the cups were going like the clappers. I'm happy because the Cab grapes will definitely benefit from the airing they are getting after last weeks rain. They may also experience a little dehydration so the Brix may look elevated when I take a sample tomorrow. Of course sugar is not the only prerequisite for timing harvest, I will be tasting the grapes too.
V1 is not bothered by the wind but V2 is a little unnerved, as are the weather forecasters who warn of the fire danger Santa Ana winds can wreak. Maybe I should keep the hosepipes at the ready...otherwise I may be harvesting raisins!

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Drop some acid?

What's so good about acid, man? If you read the definition of the word acid in a dictionary, it really doesn't sound like anything you'd want to put in your mouth. Chemically, it's a sour-tasting water-soluble compound that can react with a base (alkali) to form a salt. But show me a wine without adequate acid, and I'll show you a wine that's flabby and not very appealing. While too much acidity can be terribly sour, a touch of acid gives wine an appetising, mouth-watering characteristic that can be described as bright, or crisp, or fresh. Of course balance is important, and that bright component must be matched by fruit, but the fact remains that acid is not a negative term when it comes to wine. There are a number of different acids in wine, primarily tartaric (shown above), malic, citric, succinic, and lactic. The sum of these is the total acidity (TA) of a wine which winemakers generally express in grams of acid per 100 millilitres of wine. You don't really need to know all this chemistry to appreciate a good glass of wine but the fact that it exists will make your tongue extremely happy.

Sunday, October 05, 2008

The rain it raineth.

It's been pretty quiet here the past week. Our little Cab vineyard doesn't look like it was adversely affected by Friday night's rain. I shouldn't complain, we haven't had any real rain since February, but the timing, so close to harvest, could've been problematic. Fortunately, the past 2 days have been rather breezy so the clusters should have dried out nicely. The Syrah we picked last week is almost dry, (it was a quick fermentation), and the Viognier, that has been undergoing a slow, cold fermentation, is at -2.5 Brix. That doesn't necessarily mean it's dry, but we racked it off the lees today and hit it with 33 ppm SO2 to inhibit MLF. Tomorrow Vinomaker is anticipating the arrival of a lot more Syrah. The crusher/destemmer is at the ready, Vinodogs will be on duty, and I'll be out of harms way...selling wine.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Happy Birthday V2.

Yup, today is V2's birthday, she's a whole year we gave her the day off. We didn't expect her to punch down the Syrah, sample the sugar in the Cab, or chase out the neighbour's horses that wandered into the vineyard this morning, she was free to do as she wished, which was not much apparently. This evening we toasted the beginning of her second year with a good glass of Cab whilst she, and V1, chewed on her pressies. Happy Birthday V2.

Monday, September 29, 2008

We've got gas!

Carbon dioxide that is...which is a good thing. During primary fermentation the sugar in the grape must is converted, mostly to ethyl alcohol and carbon dioxide (CO²). What does this mean? Well, for one thing the CO² creates an extremely inhospitable environment for nasty microbes that may want to populate the surface of the fermentation...for Vinogirl and Vinomaker, it means the above Syrah will taste really good in a glass on the deck.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Now you see them... you don't! Today was our Syrah harvest, (as the above 'before & after' piccy shows). Vinomaker had recruited two reliable 'Wine Slaves' to help us relieve the vines of their crop, but it still took rather a long time. This is probably the earliest Vinomaker can remember harvesting Syrah. The past weeks warm temps had brought the fruit on beautifully; nice ripe, sweet flavours and softened hint of green beans at all. I must admit I took pride in the crop and I gave myself a well deserved pat on the back for my pruning prowess. Well, I would have if my glove hadn't been stuck to my hand with sugary juice. The grapes are in Vinomaker's capable hands now...mine are too sticky!!!

Saturday, September 27, 2008


Last Saturday afternoon, as you may recall, I toiled away in the vineyard ensuring Vinomaker a supply of raw materials for future vintages.  I spent today enjoying the fruits of somebody else's labour.  A premium up valley winery released a much anticipated Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon after an absence of 5 years.  It was worth the wait. Complex, layered, luscious and bold, without being overbearing like so many other Napa Cabs, the Groth 2005 is a treat for your tongue.
Reserve wines are not regulated by any governing body, unlike most things in the wine industry, and quite honestly some wineries just cheat.  Michael Weis and his staff have produced a wonderful tipple and have gone above and beyond to create something which is quite extraordinary.  Obviously just one technique of theirs, gravity-flow racking, results in a very cherry, and Vinogirl merry, libation.

Friday, September 26, 2008

King Krebs.

In Vinoworld, this man would be the anointed monarch of all things Vitis.  Alas, he's just a Ph.D!  Dr. Stephen Krebs knows more wine industry people (and bad jokes) in Napa than anyone else I know.  Probably Sonoma too.  Nay, the entire state of California.  As Programme Co-ordinator of Viticulture & Winery Technology at Napa Valley College, it's safe to say he has probably trained many of the viticulturists and winemakers, currently working in the valley, during his 20 plus years of tenure.  At the very least, most have passed through a class or two of his.  Isn't Vinoworld great?  One can be an academic and play in the dirt.  Lucky sod!

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness.

John Keats was waxing lyrical about autumn in England but this season is equally as special in the Napa Valley. If you have never visited here this time of year you have deprived yourself of a exquisite sensory experience. Each season has it's uniqueness, but this time of year you can actually feel the excitement of the season valley wide. It's as if the valley has been snoozing all summer long and has now awakened to fulfil it's oenological promise. Witness the acquiescing of the patient vines to the will of the winemaker, the singing of field workers harvesting tiny orbs of captured sunshine, the humming of tractors laden with bins of fruit, the heady smell of hungry yeast, the olfactory delight of hopeful fermentations. All of these things, and more, combine to make autumn an enchanted time in the valley. Not a time to mourn the passing of summer, nor a time to dread the oncoming winter, but a time to take a moment, feel the mist, breath in the smells and look forward to a glass of Mother Nature's elixir.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Not more grapes.

Here she is, Vinodog 1, acting as usual in her supervisory capacity.  She is never too far away, (unlike Vinodog 2 who is usually off somewhere doing her own thing), she is always just close enough to keep an eye on me.  At one point though, when they were both nearby, I do think I heard them discussing why the bi-ped wasn't grafting the rootstocks over to something useful like dog biscuits instead of stupid grapes.  I'd better watch my back whilst I'm bending over, there may be a 'Canine Mutiny'.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Ouch, that hurts!

This looks worse than it actually is, or at least I hope so.  The vine has not had a serious accident, although it looks like it's sporting a giant bandage. This rootstock has just been grafted to Syrah.  I tend to be a bit anthropomorphic so if I thought in the least that my poor vines felt anything during field budding I would be devastated.  The process involves using an extremely sharp knife to cut a bud from a lignified shoot of a chosen cultivar, making a corresponding cut on the rootstock, taping with a special tape, whacking off most of the rootstocks summer growth and covering the whole thing up under a mound of dirt...until April.  Yes, you have to wait a long time to see if your work was fruitful. It's a great way to spend a Saturday afternoon and at least this year I didn't almost cut my pinkie off!!!

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Size matters?

It does if you are a grape, a wine-grape to be more specific. A small berry has a larger surface area-to-volume ratio, and so more skin to juice. Beyond sugar accumulation other important developments in the berry are the production of compounds such as anthocyanins, tannins and flavanols. Many of these compounds are more abundant in the skin and seeds and when embraced by phenolics they contribute colour, astringency and flavours. The above picture illustrates this ratio difference with the comparison of a table grape (Red globe) to a wine-grape (Syrah -Durrell clone). We do not stress our wine-grapes here, we want them to mature at their own pace. So c'mon boys, be mature about it, admit that size does matter...and in this case, less can be more!

Monday, September 15, 2008

Give a dog a Rhone.

Here is the QC queen performing an invaluable task during the pressing off of a batch of Viognier today. Her job was to make sure that Vinomaker wasn't overly pressing the grapes, extracting unwanted green and bitter tannins. She seemed pretty pleased with the results...until she got distracted by a wasp and chased after it, (which isn't in her job description).
And where is Vinodog 1 whilst all this activity is going on? Sunning herself of course...somebody has to supervise the workers.