Sunday, August 30, 2009

White of blacks.

The Pinot grigio vines are basically through veraison. This one vine, although quite young, is carrying quite a crop.
It never ceases to amaze me, with Pinot grigio how 'black-grape' variety-like they look. Of course, anyone who appreciates a good Pinot noir based Champagne will not need York Notes to understand that the majority of grape varieties have white juice.
It is still too early to test for sugar, TA, and pH, but sensory evaluation (eating as I go), says that the grapes are still quite far from maturity.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Leaf pulling time.

I had decided that my vineyard operation for the day would be pulling leaves on the east side of the Syrah vines. Any methoxypyrazines present were to be banished from Vinoland. That was until Mother Nature decided to raise the mercury to 105F. I had only gotten through five rows of vines when the heat got to me and I had to scurry off to the relative coolness of the house. But not before I grabbed a couple of leaves for 'show and tell'.
Look at the size of the leaf from one of our table grapes, Crimson Seedless, compared to an average sized Cabernet sauvignon leaf. Can we say sugar factory? There is a lot of surface area there that one would think would produce more sugar in table grapes than wine grapes...but think again. Can we say alcohol? Yea, baby!

Friday, August 28, 2009


Vinogirl was 17 years old when she first received a copy of Hugh Johnson's Wine as a gift from her brother, Thud. As a novice wine enthusiast, she was enthralled by this simple, yet comprehensive, account of all things wine. Unfortunately, about 11 years ago she was separated from her original copy. But, never fear...Amazon is here.
Oh, the joys of Little did I think that I would own a copy of this book ever again, as it has been out of print for some time. Lo and behold, today in my mailbox there appeared a large padded manila envelope containing a hardback copy, in excellent condition, of one of my favourite wine books of all time...for the grand total of $4.51.
Oh joy, together again!

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

True Wine Lover 7.

Steeped in centuries of maritime history, my city of Liverpool is known worldwide for it's heritage of shipyards, docks, and historic merchant warehouses. We are a seafaring nation, we English. We are also quite fond of the sauce, so it was only a matter of time before I stumbled upon a connection between Liverpool and wine.
In 1773, an enterprising Liverpool merchant, John Woodhouse, fortunately found himself in peril at sea and sought safe harbour in the port of Marsala, on the island of Sicily. I say fortunate because during his sojourn there he experienced the local wine, Marsala. Whilst on the razzle, he realised that his new discovery would probably be popular back home and so, there and then, he decided to go into the wine business.
Marsala is made using a process called in perpetuum which is similar to the solera system used to produce Sherry. The finished wine is classified by colour, sweetness, and duration of aging. To guarantee the stability of the wine, whilst in transit to Liverpool, Mr. Woodhouse fortified each barrel with a good dousing of grape spirit, thus ensuring that his precious cargo was less likely to spoil on it's sea journey...and assuring that it packed an extra alcoholic punch. I like the cut of his jib!
Of course on it's arrival Marsala was a roaring success, in some measure due to the English penchant for sweet wines. (Champagne then, also popularised by the English but as a sweet wine, bares little resemblance to what we would recognise as Champagne today.)
Mr. Woodhouse struck gold when he marketed his concoction to the British navy. In place of the ubiquitous naval ration of rum, 15,000 pipes (a pipe = 105 gals) of Marsala were delivered to victual Admiral Lord Nelson's Mediterranean fleet. Cha-ching! Nelson himself described Marsala as a drink "worthy of the table of any gentleman."
I am quite taken with this little snippet of history. I can relate to this distant tale of a long past Scouser and his passion to introduce the joys of a hitherto unknown wine to his countrymen (or at least Liverpudlians), for I too have a great enthusiasm for wine, and I also have the briny water of the Mersey coursing through my veins.
Down the hatch!

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Veraison invasion.

The methoxypyrazine massacre is in full swing in Vinoland. Those nasty vegetal flavours of green beans and bell peppers, that you sometimes get in wine, are being chased away by Mr. Sunshine. I would estimate that our Cabernet sauvignon vines are about 40% of the way through veraison.
It is an unfortunate fact that Cabernet sauvignon grapes tend to have high levels of methoxypyrazines. However, with a couple of careful farming techniques e.g. performing a green harvest and the removal of leaves in the fruit zone, sun exposure can be optimised to aid in bringing the crop to physiological ripeness.
Of course, pulling too many leaves could possibly result in sunburned fruit, especially on west facing vine rows, so judicious leaf pulling is recommended. It's not as if you can slather Hawaiian Tropic SPF 50 on them and then blame the resulting coconut component, in the finished wine, on the American oak barrel! Well, you could...

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Vinalia rustica.

"The 19th day of August is an especially auspicious day for a wedding, for it is the feast day of 'Vinalia rustica', a day that has a rich place in mythology and ancient traditions. On this day, the people of ancient Rome during the dedication of a temple to Venus, vowed a libation of all the wine of the succeeding vintage. Venus the goddess of love and beauty, was also the goddess of gardens and vineyards. So this is a day when love and nature are in perfect balance..."
I wrote these words three years ago for my and Vinomaker's wedding.
Happy anniversary Vinomaker.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Main Street Reunion 2009.

The Main Street Reunion Car Show was a hit for five years then it took a five year hiatus. Returning in 2008, the show featured 400 pre-1976 cars, 99.9% of which were in pristine, rebuilt condition. Lots of chrome, lots of leather upholstery, some convertibles, some with over the top paint jobs, all of them with a lot of horsepower under the bonnet. Vroom, vroom! Oh sorry, I suppose I should call it the hood, they are after all American classics.
Vinomaker, my family, and I attended in 2008. We all had such a good time that Vinomaker and I decided it was a must-not miss event this summer. Today, we spent 3 hours admiring individual, moving monuments to the automotive heritage of the USA; the eye for design, the pride of workmanship, the quintessence of pure curb appeal. These are all qualities of a bygone era, pushed aside by the computer generated, mass-produced, indistinguishable, environmentally correct skateboards we are all driving today.
We stayed until the sweet end, when in unison, the current custodians of these vehicles (a rather large slice of Americana), unbridled their ponies and let those big bore cylinders thunder through the usually unhurried streets of downtown Napa.
On a side note: On the front page of the Napa Register today is the headline "Harvest Begins." Mumm Napa Valley and Domaine Chandon received their first Pinot noir, for sparkling wine production, yesterday. Yum! Let the grapes begin!

Friday, August 14, 2009

Put a cork in it.

The bottling event today in Vinoland went well.
The filler being faster than the corker meant that there was, at one point, a bit of a pause. Far from this being a problem, it allowed me, and Vinomaker, to do some quick QC checks before continuing.
Afterwards much wine and food was consumed on our deck.
All in all, it was a very pleasant August afternoon.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Naked Ladies.

Ooh la la! Naked Ladies indeed. A flower so naughtily named that it is almost too embarrassing for me to utter its racy sobriquet in the presence of my mother, honestly. I pretended their name was in fact Dancing Ladies for the longest time.
The Amaryllis belladonna are flowering in several, different parts of the vineyard right now; remnants from the former custodians of this bucolic corner of the Napa Valley prior to the arrival of Vinomaker. Each year I intend to relocate the Ladies to a new spot where they will be safe from the odd, marauding tractor or two, only to be distracted, and then reminded of my dereliction, with their reappearance twelve months hence.
These flowers have a very strange life cycle. Dark green, strap-like leaves appear in the spring and then die off, long before a single bloom appears. In mid-summer, the 18-24 inch stalks rise from the seemingly barren earth, each crowned with a cluster of 4 - 10 fragrant trumpet shaped, rosy pink blooms...heralding the run up to harvest here in Vinoland.
It's not just me, the Syrah vines alongside this clump of unclothed madams are blushing too. Of course, the demure vines would call this veraison.

Sunday, August 09, 2009

Never blend a loser.

Vinomaker has declared this Friday a bottling day in Vinoland. With that in mind, we sat down this afternoon and barrel sampled our '07 vintage, attempting to identify blending possibilities.
Blending can be a very under estimated part of the whole wine process. Most wines are a blend as, generally, a small addition of a different varietal may enhance the finished wine experience. In the United States, any wine need only be 75% of a varietal to call it by that single varietal on the label.
On the flip side, it is common knowledge, and common sense, that you should "never blend a loser." Blending in an inferior wine would bring down the quality of an entire batch, resulting in a finished wine diametrically opposed to your original goal. Of course, I'm not a winemaker...Vinomaker just told me to say that!
We will be bottling two different batches of a Sonoma Valley Syrah, clone 877. The grapes are from a grower who wishes to have wine made from his vineyard, but does not have the wherewithal to make that happen himself.
Vinomaker fermented the Syrah with two different yeasts; ICV-D21 and ICV-D254 (both Saccharomyces cerevisae.) ICV-D21 is a yeast strain isolated from the Languedoc, and ICV-D254 a strain isolated from Rhone Valley Syrah fermentations. The two finished wines were very noticeably different from each other. The D21 exhibited in your face pepper and perfume with an extraordinarily long finish. The D254 showed as big, intense, ripe fruit with a full, mid-palate cherry bomb and slightly higher acidity.
These two very dissimilar batches of Syrah will be bottled without blending, their winning differences too good, and too interesting, to dilute their allure by blending them with anything else, or each other for that matter.
Never blend a loser...words to live, and drink, by.

Saturday, August 08, 2009

More veraison.

I must have been snoozing, or messing around with moths or something, the past week or so.   My Syrah is also experiencing veraison and I only noticed it this afternoon.  The Cabernet Sauvignon can't be too far behind. I probably need to start thinking about bird-netting; not one of my favourite vineyard operations, but a necessary one - especially along a tree line in the south east corner.  After all of my and Vinomakers hard work we can't just let our feathered friends get fat and happy...we want wine!

Friday, August 07, 2009

It's about time.

Finally, the beginning of veraison in Vinoland. I had actually noticed it yesterday but I was, erm, otherwise occupied.
The Pinot grigio is readying itself for harvest.
Thank you little grapies.

Thursday, August 06, 2009

Farming can be hazardous to your health.

When I woke up this morning, if anyone had asked me to write down the most bizarre thing that could possibly happen to me today I couldn't have dreamed up this little doozy.
I had been out in the vineyard no more than 30 seconds when a moth flew into my ear. Even though Vinomaker was away at a conference in San Francisco, I did not panic. Mirrors, tweezers, warm water irrigation, and a severe case of vertigo featured prominently in the next half hour or so. My neighbour, a nurse was no where to be seen. I conceded defeat.
Three hours later I exited the local hospital with a sore ear, a bruised ego, and a bottle of antibiotic drops in my hand.
Not exactly the most fruitful of days.

Sunday, August 02, 2009

As plentiful as blackberries.

In spite of an unusually cool summer in Northern California, we seem to have plenty of vigour in the vineyard. The results from the petiole sample I took at bloom, came back within normal ranges (except for a slight Boron deficiency in the Cabernet sauvignon vines.) The combination of available nutrients, ample rainfall last winter, and a fair amount of sunshine, (despite Vinomakers griping that this summer is the coldest he has ever had the misfortune to live through), the vines seem to be finding everything they need to succeed. All in all, the vines appear to be in a fairly balanced state.
However, in a vineyard there will always be a few areas of over achieving vines, so I spent most of the afternoon hedging the enthusiastic sun canes, on the east side only. As I came around the last row I was met with the heady aroma of hot, sweet, luscious brambles. I stopped to admire the abundant crop of blackberries flourishing on the banks and the bed of the small creek that runs along the property line. I invested in a quick snack of sun-warmed, sweeter than sweet berries until my thumb and forefinger were stained a deep purple, a shade not unlike the almost squid ink-like hue of a good Petit sirah.
The Himalaya blackberry (Rubus armeniacus) is the most common, and prolific, non-native bramble in this part of California. It seems to have taken it's reputation to heart and has flourished along the length of the creek, through the wire of the deer fence and is rambling it's way towards the stationary rows of vines. Aside from the fruit being delicious, this tangle of evergreen growth provides another favourable component to Vinoland; the promise of a fatal demise for the Grape Leafhopper (Erythroneura elegantula.)
The GLH is a major pest of grapes, vines can tolerate a fairly large population but left unchecked GLHs can infest an entire vineyard. The GLH feed on the leaves by puncturing leaf cells and sucking out the contents. As injury to the leaf structure increases, photosynthetic activity photosynthesis, no sugar, no alcohol.
The most important natural enemy of the GLH is a tiny, almost microscopic mymarid wasp called Anagrus epos. These wasps are particularly valuable in the vineyard for their amazing ability to locate and attack GLH eggs. The fact that they can parasitise 90% or more of all GLH eggs makes them a very welcome and beneficial wasp to have around. Anagros bolsters it's numbers of egg laying adults in the spring by first parasitising the eggs of the Blackberry Leafhopper (Dikrella californica), thus ensuring it is more than ready to take on the GLH in the summer months. Thank you little waspy.
Phew! That was a long where is that tub of vanilla bean ice cream?