Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Tasting in the 'hood: Coombsville.

Napa county contains, within it's geographical boundaries, certain areas that exhibit distinct microclimates and terrains that are said to impress upon the grapes grown within them, definite and distinctively recognisable characteristics. Sort of comparable to the French Appellation d'Origine Contrôlée (AOC) system, these appellations in the United States are known as American Viticultural Areas (AVA). To be even considered for AVA status, supporting data must be submitted to the government which, after requiring applicants to jump through hoops of red tape, decides whether the proposed AVA designation will be granted. The entire Napa Valley is itself an AVA, but within the Napa Valley there exist 15 distinct sub-AVAs.
I work in the Oakville AVA, but I live in a different part of the valley known as Coombsville. I can personally attest to the fact that the microclimate in Coombsville, or as Vinomaker likes to call it, The Tundra, is considerably cooler than the rest of the valley. Coombsville looks like it is on track to be the Napa Valley's newest AVA. It's ironic, considering the Coombsville area has a longer history of winemaking than most of the rest of the valley. Indeed, the Coombsville area gets it's name from Nathan Coombs, the founder of the city of Napa, and historical records show that some of the first vineyards in the valley were planted here prior to 1870.
This afternoon, I was lucky enough to be invited to the Coombsville Vintners & Growers Association's inaugural trade and media tasting. There are currently 38 member wineries in total, 21 showed up for this event. The wineries that were pouring definitely offered up wines that really seemed to display characteristics unique to this area located in the south eastern corner of the Napa Valley. The temperate climate here, the one that Vinomaker so often complains about, effects an extended growing season which lends itself to full phenologic maturation of the grapes. This, in turn manifests itself in medium to full-bodied wines that display true varietal characteristics with fabulously, finessed flavour profiles.
It was a pleasantly eye-opening event. I suppose it took the petition for AVA status to cause many of these wineries, (that I wasn't even aware existed until very recently), to seemingly appear from out of the woodwork. Hats off to whomever was responsible for organising these wineries into one association. Wineries that particularly stood out for me were; Black Cat (Tracey Reichow's wonderful Syrah was, as always, delicious), Daviana, Farella, Inherit The Sheep (adorable label), Porter, and Prime. Working my way around the different stations it was glaringly apparent that this is a collection of like-minded individuals who are in the wine business because they are very passionate about the wines they craft. This is a group of vintners and growers who are very happy to share their wines with anyone who wants to taste them, and you could tell they were loving every minute of it. The whole atmosphere struck me as very different from the sadly jaded attitudes that can often be encountered in many of the upvalley wineries.
I spoke to a lot of people and tasted a lot of nicely, handcrafted wines. One of my favourite comments came from the winemaker for Blue Oak Vineyard, Grant Long. Although the majority of the wines being showcased were Cabernets, Grant was pouring a really bold Merlot. At 200 cases this is a tiny production which apparently was aged in oak for 30 months. I questioned the length of time in oak and the winemaker responded thus: "If you make Merlot, make it memorable." Fair enough.
For me, this was a thoroughly enjoyable event. I wish all concerned the speedy confirmation of their, in my humble opinion, well deserved AVA status.

Friday, September 24, 2010

You say Garnacha, I say Grenache.

Today is International Grenache Day - the first ever. Who knew? Apparently, back in June, a Grenache symposium was held at some French château or another. Co-hosted by British wine writer (and Francophile) Steven Spurrier it was decided, there and then, that September 24th would indeed be a feast day of sorts. It seems only fair seeing as Grenache, one of the component grapes of the venerable wines of Châteauneuf-du-Pape, is said to be the fourth most planted grape variety on the face of the planet.
Well, not needing much prompting, Vinomaker and I decided to imbibe in a glass of Grenache ourselves this evening whilst we feasted. It's still September (Ca. wine month, although I have strayed twice already), so I decided on something domestic - a 2008 'Horse & Plow' Grenache offering from the Alexander Valley. It's nice to get out of Napa once in a while, even if it is only via a wine glass. Whoa Neddy! This wine's got some horse power. At 14.5% alcohol by volume all the soft strawberry flavours and supple tannins that you'd expect to find in a Grenache are gone, maybe they were never there. Yikes! Guaranteed not to improve with age...hate when that happens.
Stateside, September 24th is also National Punctuation Day. You can tell by my run-on sentences and a writing style verging on criminally abusive that I am not celebrating along with the rest of America. (I wonder what these particular revellers are drinking.) I can almost hear my sister, La Serenissima, rolling her eyes across the miles...mixed metaphors permitting.
Sorry sis!

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Tasty, but tart.

Emboldened by yesterdays not too frighteningly low sugar levels in the Pinot gris, today I ventured into the Syrah block to get a quick sugar reading over there. The clusters look fantastic, so I had my fingers crossed. A mere 17.8 °Brix...yikes! When growers normally expect to reach sugar levels of at least 24 or 25 °B before they'll even consider harvesting grapes, it seems like maturity is at least 3 or so weeks behind this year compared to previous vintages.
The rain did not materialise today as forecast, but it remained grey and overcast until late afternoon. We need more sun!

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Sugar sweet?

Not quite.
Today, I felt brave enough to test the °Brix (°B) in Vinoland's grapes for the first time this season. The Pinot grigio clusters look great, but looks can be deceiving. What stage of maturation are we at with the challenging 2010 vintage? And, just exactly where are we with what could prove to be some possibly elusive sugar levels? I took several readings with a refractometer and got an average of 21.2 °B...not bad. But more important, than merely measuring the sugar content, is how the grapes taste. The Pinot grigio still taste rather tart and the seeds are half brown, half green...not even close to being ready for harvest.
With the weather taking on a distinctive autumnal feel, and the first rain since May forecast for tomorrow, Vinoland is in desperate need of an Indian summer or a miracle.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

A little something Italian, and white.

That would describe a nice glass of Soave.
Today was my Friday, so I was feeling in a slight celebratory mood as I drove home this evening. After a long and tiring workday I really didn't feel like drinking anything that had been produced locally. So, I stopped at the local wine store and bought myself a bottle of Inama 2008 Soave.
I love Soave, always have. The teenage Vinogirl cut her wine-swilling teeth on many a good, and bad, Soave...and lots of Frascati too I might add. (As an aside, it seems the wine experts in the two most reliable wine retail locations in Napa have never heard of Frascati..."Is that from the Veneto too?" God's truth, people!)
I buy Inama's Soave quite frequently and always enjoy it. This particular bottle did not disappoint, in fact it performed way beyond my expectation. The wine had a nice aroma of waxy-straw, a hint of honeyed lemon, and a well balanced acidity on the palate. My glass of Soave definitely hit the spot and put me in a better frame of mind.
Grazie Inama.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Leaf by leaf.

A little bit of chlorosis. A little bit of marginal burn. Pretty colours.
Autumn/harvest is just around the corner.

Thursday, September 09, 2010

Stink, stank, stunk.

I spent my afternoon field-budding in the vineyard with no company other than that of the highly malodourous Stinking Goosefoot (Chenopodium vulvaria) - my goodness that weed really does pong! Every single time I passed it by the not unattractive, silvery-green leafed plant reminded of it's location in the vineyard with a ghastly, lingering whiff of rotting fish. Charming! No wonder the Vinodogs stayed out of the way, passing the afternoon by snoozing on the deck.
It was a productive day, and only once did I come close to cutting one of my fingers off.

Monday, September 06, 2010

Happy Blogday.

There is nothing like a celebration to merit a glass, or two, of bubbly. I personally could drink champagne every day and I think it's a shame to relegate it to special occasions only. But, today happens to be a special occasion: it's my second anniversary of blogging.
I had no idea when I started to blog back in 2008 that I would have so much to say - however I think Vinomaker and my family would beg to differ....yikes! So, in honour of a mini-milestone in my viticultural meanderings, a glass of the most sublime Veuve Cliquot rosé champagne was in order.
I just want to say a sincere thank you to those who regularly comment on Vinsanity (you know who you are.) It is always a pleasure to read your comments and I am always grateful for your input. Cheers!
Roll on year 3!

Saturday, September 04, 2010

Green harvest.

Last weekend the vineyard crew in our friendly neighbourhood Far Niente vineyard performed a green harvest on their Chardonnay vines. A green harvest is the removal of immature grape clusters whilst they are still green, with the express intent of inducing the vine to put all its energy into ripening the remaining clusters. Up in the rocky vineyards soils of the east and west hills of the Napa Valley, vine vigour is naturally kept in check due to oftentimes burdensome growing conditions. In contrast, on the valley floor where soil fertility is high, sunlight hours are long and irrigation systems are regularly employed, the pampered vines can beget an over-abundance of grapes that might not be of the desired quality.
This year, in the valley, green harvesting seems to be the rule rather than the exception. Growers, perhaps anticipating the continuance of a thus far cool growing season, are carrying out green harvests at a slightly higher rate than I have witnessed in previous vintages. However, the general consensus is that the 2010 vintage will be satisfactory in this the coolest summer in Napa since 1998. But, they have to say that don't they? After all, who would buy a 2010 wine in 2013 if the growers and producers themselves slammed the vintage now before it is even harvested?
I personally think the 2010 vintage will be just fine, although yields will obviously be reduced. We still have basically two full months before the majority of Cabernet sauvignon grapes will be harvested and Mother Nature generally knows how to get the job done. And lets face it, most French producers would chew off their own right arms to get just one month of a Napa Valley growing season, even in this less than perfect of years.
The Chardonnay grapes in the Far Niente vineyard do look rather handsome: they seem to be progressing through veraison very nicely and really don't look like they are having too difficult of a time in 2010 at all!

Thursday, September 02, 2010


Optimistically, in the remote chance that September and October in Napa will be somewhat meteorologically normal, the folks at Opus One have treated the south-facing side of their vines, in one block of their vineyard, to guard against damage to the ripening grapes. It was 99 degrees F in my neck of the woods today, so maybe they know something I don't.
Surround WP crop protectant forms a barrier film, which acts as a broad spectrum protectant that may decrease damage from insect pests, but more importantly as a protectant against sunburn and heat stress on grapes. Surround is made from kaolin clay, an edible mineral, used in toothpaste and also as an anti-caking agent in processed foods. This product is apparently acceptable for use in organically grown vineyards. Whoop-de-doo!
It may well work, it just looks weird.

Wednesday, September 01, 2010

California Wine Month 2010.

Time flies. It's September already. And once again it's California Wine Month. In celebration of all the wine producing areas of the Golden State, not just the Napa Valley, the Governor has proclaimed a month long Californian bacchanalia...sort of. To have a successful event like this you have to have enthusiastic participants. Unfortunately, with each successive year, interest in California Wine Month within the industry itself has waned. Oh well.
I will, however, be doing my bit by drinking nothing but Californian wines all month, so please join me. So resist reaching for that robust Argentinian Malbec or that powerful Australian Shiraz. Instead, fill your glass with a hearty Californian Zinfandel and toast the Californian wine industry along with Vinogirl. Cheers!