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?