Sunday, January 31, 2010

Bread and wine.

I avoid going to the shops at all costs on Sundays...just because they are open doesn't mean they should be patronised. But what do you do when you want fresh bread with your evening repast? Well, you simply pull from the pantry the Hovis flour and yeast your brother brought all the way from England for you, and get cracking!

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Who stole all the vines?

It has been extremely foggy the past two mornings. Not the marine fog that haunts the San Francisco Bay Area all summer long, but true radiation fog, (or Tule fog as they call it here after the winter fogs that form in the expansive, low-lying San Joaquin and Sacramento Valleys). I love it.
This up valley vineyard looks a little forlorn in the misty gloom of a late January morning. I am fairly certain that this vineyard, belonging to Swanson Vineyards, was formerly planted to Merlot. But whether or not the vines were diseased, no longer economically viable, or simply just old, they are history. Only the blossoming mustard and an incomplete trellising system remain as silent witnesses to the crime.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Malt vinegar.

What could be worse than drinking a less than stellar brand of American beer? How about drinking a 1986 Liebfraumilch perhaps, from the same company?  Yikes! I'm not even going to waste the energy opening this one.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Une pute!

You may think that I am being a bit harsh by casting aspersions on the character of this bottle of wine. I don't. It's not just this particular bottle of wine with it's trashy packaging that I am railing against, but the entire French wine industry and it's bully boys in the EU.
Now I enjoy a chilled Sancerre, a crisp Graves or even an obscure Bergerac as much as the next wine drinker, but when that's what I want then that's what I buy. It's not that this confusing rendition of a Sauvignon blanc was a bad wine, in fact it worked quite well with dinner, even if it was a trifle flabby. It's just that the entire premise is a tad patronizing: The pretensiousness of old world French masters marketing wine to the varietal-obssessed neophytes of the New World. As it turns out this bulk wine from the reknowned Languedoc region is purportedly made by a local winemaker for Kendall-Jackson.  And the less said about the naff label the better with it's feeble attempt at nudge, nudge, wink, wink titillation.
Why would a US wine company perpetrate such an unprincipled business practice when EU regulations are so prohibitive of trade in the opposite direction? (The EU only finally condescended to recognise the Napa Valley as a 'Geographical Brand' in 2007).
One example of an EU edict asserts that; "US wines which display the terms 'chateau', 'classic', 'clos', 'cream', 'crusted/crusting', 'fine', 'late bottled vintage', 'noble', 'ruby', 'superior', 'sur lie', 'tawny', 'vintage' and 'vintage character' will be blocked from entering Europe." Well, that just about excludes nearly everything you could possibly put on a bottle of wine doesn't it?  Now, I'm all for free trade.  I simply cannot abide double standards and all this regulatory nonsense.  Is it all just nonsense?  Non en fait, c’est des conneries!
Disclaimer: Obtained this wine in a mixed lot at a charity event. I didn't buy it, I'm not a total idiot.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Escape from Far Niente.

It has been well over a month since I last posted anything about Far Niente and I don't want the folks over there to think that I have given up stalking their vineyard.
The cover crop in the FN vineyard is looking fabulous right now and it's growing like, well, weeds. The vineyard crew seem to choose the same mix of plants each autumn; bell beans, field peas, vetch, and some weird wheat/barley hybrid like Juan Triticale, all high in nitrogen content. In the spring the cover crop will be disked into the soil. A green manure cover crop, such as this, can add 150 lbs or more of nitrogen per acre, which could possibly cause excessive vigor in the vines, particularly on highly fertile soils. The Chardonnay vines that are grown here don't seem to be overly vigorous, so I can only assume the vineyard manager knows what he is doing.
What's different about this picture though, is the fact that a heavy rainfall last November 20th resulted in some of the cover crop seed being washed out into a low corner of the vineyard. Deposited against the roadside fence, and the culvert that runs alongside it, some escapees are opportunistically flourishing in the nooks and crannies where they came to rest.
Can you blame these poor little fava beans and field peas for wanting to abscond? I'd do a runner too if I knew I was going to be disked into oblivion.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Water into wine?

Now this is more like it. Here is a Napa wine that claims it is an impossibly low 12.5% alcohol. I don't know how PB Hein brought in their Napa Valley 2004 Charbono under 14% alcohol, especially seeing as they harvested so late into the growing season (November 30th 2004), and the sugar came in at 24.9 Brix. Maybe I should ask the winemaker. Possibly it was an honest to goodness miracle.
I actually have never met a Charbono I didn't like, although that's not saying a lot seeing as there aren't that many wineries that produce this particular varietal, so perhaps it was predestined that I would find this wine delightful. It has quite pronounced acidity admittedly, but it worked well with food...and without.
Not quite sure about that label though!

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Field Marigold.

I love this little weed. The Calendula arvensis is blooming all around the Napa Valley right now, looking for all the world like a blanket of sunshine on the unmowed vineyard floors. It is such a pretty and cheery looking little plant, much more pleasing to look at than the straggly mustard growing, in many instances, right alongside it.
The field marigold primarily inhabits disturbed coastal and urban sites, but it is expected to greatly expand it's range in California. I hope so: I'd be quite happy to have it inhabit every square inch of Vinoland.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

I hate Wine Spectator.

Hate is a bit of a strong word, I admit, when used to describe how I feel about a magazine, especially one so evidently esteemed as Wine Spectator. Let's just say instead, that I am extremely disdainful of the aforementioned publication, so much so that Vinoland's subscription was cancelled more than a year ago.
I have never seen particular merit in their 100 point wine rating scale. I have no interest in their reviewers' palates (I have my own). The entire magazine's pages, front to back, are filled with wines that are either unobtainable and/or unaffordable. The wineries with the smallest case productions get the highest scores: can we say cult? James Laube is a pompous ass! Shall I go on? No, I'll spare you any further ranting on this subject.
Apparently my employer feels the same way. In a fit of pre-spring cleaning, she clearly found it necessary to dispose of not one, but two Wine Spectator accolades awarded to the winery. It is interesting to see how the over-inflated subscription price charged to WS disciples is put to good use in producing tastful wood and brass pieces of rubbish...I mean plaques!
Note: The name of the winery has been obscured to protect the guilty.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Wine diamonds.

This is what happens in a bottle of wine if cold stabilisation has NOT taken place. It is not essential for wine to be cold stabilised, as evidenced by the underside of the cork in the photograph above (from a bottle of Chenin blanc), but it does make it more palatable to the consumer.
Crunchy wine, anyone?

Monday, January 11, 2010

Chill out!

Chilled down to 27F, this 3000+ gallon stainless steel tank full of delicious Sauvignon blanc is undergoing cold stabilisation. I love passing through the tank room at the winery whilst this process is underway. This particular winery operation never ceases to amaze me as I always find it interesting to see the gunk (technical term), collect in the bottom of the 375ml sample bottle as the fining agents work their magic, leaving the beautifully clear wine above. Strange, but I suddenly feel thirsty.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

English mummies.

Oh no! Mummies have been spotted skulking around in the English countryside by Thud. The undead are seemingly everywhere.
I visited this vineyard myself when I was home last May. Enquiring in the local farm shop as to who owned the vineyard, and which grape variety was planted there, was an almost surreal experience. Actually, it was like being in a scene from a Hammer horror film. You know, the scene in which all the villagers give each other furtive looks when an unwitting visitor in their midst starts asking awkward questions. Denying all knowledge of the nearby vineyard, the girl in the farm shop cafe promptly served me my lunch and disappeared into the kitchen. I ate my quiche, drank my latte and quickly left...whilst it was still daylight.

Saturday, January 09, 2010


What do you do when you open a bottle of wine and find that it is undrinkable? Now I understand that taste is a very subjective matter, one man's vino is another man's poison after all, but in the case of the Jack Larkin 2006 Merlot the consensus here in Vinoland was that it was much too high in alcohol. The bottle claimed that the alcohol was 14.5% but it tasted higher, (or the wine was extremely out of balance.) My everyday Sauvignon blanc regularly clocks in at 14.6 - 14.9% alc. (depending on vintage), but you would never know it as it still displays the wonderful citrus and alluring tropical notes one would expect from a well crafted, balanced wine.
So what did I do? It just so happens that I had just read a column, only last week in the local newspaper, in which Dan Berger advocated a little 'tabletop chemistry' at home. Mr. Berger suggests that the addition of a tablespoon of spring water to an offending glass of wine will make it a little more palatable whilst not diminishing the aroma. He was spot on about the aroma, but my attempt at amateur alchemy did not produce the desired result...for my palate. It was very unfortunate because this wine showed great promise, very spicy and fruity, but I just could not get past the burn. I suspect that this wine will not age well.
I will try Mr. Berger's trick again...I mean, it's not like there is a shortage of high alcohol, out-of-balance wines in the Napa Valley now, is there?

Sunday, January 03, 2010


Do not be afraid, Vinoland has not been overrun by marauding, undead creatures with names like Kharis, Imhotep and suchlike. Having said that, there are indeed mummies ominously lurking amongst the vines.
My New Year's Day walk through the vineyard was delayed due to rain. Today was sunny, an almost balmy 57 degrees, and was the perfect day to get out in my wellies with the Vinodogs and have a look-see in the vineyard in order to evaluate the pruning to be done. Everything looked good, but now that all the grape leaves are on the vineyard floor the mummies hanging about, in the tangle of last year's wood, could be clearly seen. Oh no...the curse of the bunch rot!
The primary pathogen causing bunch rot is the fungus Botrytis cinerea. Botrytis overwinters in the vineyard in a structure called a sclerotium which is associated with mummified clusters of grapes left over from the previous harvest, and thus can be an important source of inoculum in the spring. In a well-managed vineyard (mine), these mummies are completely removed from the vines at pruning time. The mummies fall to the vineyard floor where soil microorganisms attack the sclerotia and kill them. Yikes, that actually does sound a little scary!
I saw perhaps a dozen such clusters in the Cabernet big deal. The best control of Botrytis is achieved through good vineyard sanitation and the disposal of grape mummy clusters in the winter dormant period...which is now.
Mummies! Spooky!

Friday, January 01, 2010

Take a seat.

Sit down, relax. It's time to take the weight off your feet and enjoy New Year's Day. There aren't many days throughout the year when you get quite as much time to do, well, nothing.
I had intended to get out in the vineyard today and have a quick look at the vines and figure out when I should start pruning, but as soon as I came back from walking the Vinodogs it began to I watched the Rose Bowl instead.
A happy, healthy, mellow and bubble filled 2010 to you all.