Thursday, March 31, 2011

"The year's at the spring..."

With all their canes securely tied to the fruiting wires, Vinoland's vines are on their own reconnaissance for a while. Today I redirected my attention to - weeds! In just one winter it seems that Mother Nature has reclaimed Vinoland as her own; gravel driveways, flower beds, everything is overgrown with weeds. Even the creek has all but disappeared beneath a tangle of brambles (although at least they produce great berries in the summer). Of course, my weeding activity just happened to coincide with warm weather, 82 degrees F today. This time last week I was complaining about the cold and rain, what a turn around.
Needless to say, at the end of the day I was ready for a cold beer. Blue Moon's Spring Blonde Wheat Ale hit the spot.
Spring is most definitely sprung! All's right with the world.

Friday, March 25, 2011


I have finished pruning all of Vinoland's vines; Orange muscat, Pinot gris, Cabernet sauvignon, and Syrah, all done...whoo hoo! And not a moment too soon.
As can be seen in the above photograph, the Syrah vines are on their own schedule and were already experiencing budbreak even though I hadn't finished pruning. The higher than average amount of rainy days we have had in Northern California had me in a panic because I was a bit behind, but now I am done for the year...hallelujah!

Thursday, March 24, 2011


My birthday started with someone cooking breakfast for me and ended with someone cooking dinner for me - a Vinogirl could get used to that.
For dinner, Vinomaker had made reservations at Oenotri an Italian restaurant in downtown Napa. The restaurant's website boasts;
"We celebrate culinary traditions rarely seen elsewhere in California - the specialities of Sicily, Campania, Calabria, Basilicata, and Puglia...and our pasta is made fresh daily...As part of our goal to serve quality artisinal pizza, we imported a wood-fueled Acino oven from Naples to bake authentic pizza Napoletana."
So, Vinomaker and I braced ourselves for a gastronomic tour of all things Italian...oh yum!
The food was pretty good, although the portions were quite paltry (definitely a culinary tradition rarely seen elsewhere in California). The wine list was extensive, but we opted to undertake a self guided virtual-vino-tour of Italy by choosing wines from Oenotri's by the glass list. Vinomaker enjoyed a Collestefano Verdicchio with his quail salad, so much so that he paired a second glass with his main course of scallops. I had a Sartori Roccolo Grassi Soave with my mixed greens salad and a glass of Reversanti Barabresco with my main course, Bucatini all'Amatriciana. Finally, we shared a glass of Fama Fiororange, a dessert wine made from Orange muscat, to wash down a ricotta, pear and pistachio tart.
All in all, it was a pleasant evening. However, I did find it a tad curious that no bread was served with dinner. Now, coming from Liverpool, the city that invented the butty, I felt it my duty to ask the waitress why no bread had been offered. To paraphrase, the waitress told me that there were two reasons for the bread-drought; firstly, the chef apparently believes that to give patrons bread would overload them with too many carbohydrates and secondly, well darn it, people are simply just too wasteful. Okay then!
I'm not sure if I will be visiting Oenotri again, but if nutritional nannyism along with food rationing is your thing, then perhaps Oenotri is just the restaurant for you!

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Happy birthday to me, happy birthday... me. Whoo hoo! It's that time of year again. Aren't birthdays fabulous?
This morning, after I opened my pressies, Vinomaker treated me to breakfast at The Boon Fly Cafe, a part of the Carneros Inn complex on Highway 12/121 between Napa and Sonoma. Oh, fun! Then, fully stuffed with eggs, hash browns and sausages, we went exploring the Carneros AVA. The rain that had been forecast remained at bay until 4 pm, so I was very happy.
Tonight, dinner is at a downtown Napa restaurant, Oenotri, that we haven't tried before. More fun!
Oh...and Happy Birthday John Toshack.
Vinogirl loves birthdays.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Water stress.

The Napa Valley has had its fair share of rain this winter (except for January) and, like most of Northern California, has accumulated more rain so far this month alone than on average for a typical March. As a consequence, there are many vineyards on the valley floor that are partially under water (as illustrated in the above photo of the Swanson Vineyard in Oakville). Thankfully, the vines, whilst in full dormancy are not adversely effected by being water-logged. Conversely, water-logging during the growing season, as a result of summer rains that saturate the soil, can create an anaerobic environment in which the roots cannot survive due to a lack of oxygen. As of Wednesday, State agencies began releasing water from California's reservoirs to make way for a series of storms (the meteorologists word, not mine) expected to last into next week.
Climate is usually listed, along with variety and soil type, as one of the most essential factors controlling the composition of grapes. Whilst sunlight might be the single most dominating climatic factor affecting the makeup of the grape, there is one other essential ingredient - water. The soil underneath a grapevine is a veritable reservoir of H2O, the volume of which is classified as; available, unavailable, gravitational, and superfluous. I don't know about the grapevines, but I would definitely categorise the current amount of water in Vinoland as my well-being!
The dry summers in California are a boon to the wine industry (if not in the least for the fact that arid climatic conditions mean that the vines are less likely to suffer injury from harmful pests and organisms). However, under extreme drought conditions a lack of rainfall may cause the failure of a crop to ripen. Vines, like any other plant, need sufficient water availability for photosynthesis, (photosynthesis begets sugar, which in turn begets alcohol). Soil moisture content is very important.
Napa Cabernet sauvignons, from 2007, are said to be some of the best in recent vintages. Preceded by two relatively dry winters (05/06 and 06/07) the berries at harvest time were notably smaller, meaning the skin to pulp ratio was up, a condition that boded well for a flavourful vintage. I have heard several people in the industry comment that if a winemaker had made a bad Cabernet sauvignon in 2007 then he/she really had no business making wine at all. That is perhaps a tad harsh, but reduced soil moisture content is generally accredited with the success of that particular vintage.
It is possible then that one could be forgiven for assuming that 2011 is already destined to be a difficult vintage. Truth is, studies have shown that winter rainfall in California makes little, or no, difference to the final grape crop as a result of an elevated soil moisture content at the time the growing season gets underway. So, when somebody brings up moisture stress in grapevines they are usually referring to a deficit water situation, not the other way around.
Maybe the only thing water-stressed around here is me!

Wednesday, March 16, 2011


No, don't stop...apparently, little vines, you are right on schedule.
With the change to Daylight Savings Time last weekend, I have been able to do some outside stuff when I get home from work e.g. walk the Vinodogs. Tonight, after returning from our promenade, something caught my eye - budbreak, and the genesis of the 2011 vintage, in the Orange muscat block. I was thinking it seemed a little early this year, but plainly the vines know better than me. The OM's timing in deciding when to awaken from their winter slumber is very close, if not identical, to last year.
Unfortunately, frost is forecast for tomorrow morning. Here we go again!

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Many happy returns V1!

Vinodog 1 is 13 years old today - that's 91 in human years. My old girl is doing great despite her advancing age. Yes, her energy level is waning (understandable at this point in her life), she is a little slower nowadays (until she spots a cat), and she is in need of a new prescription for her gopher-hunting/cat-chasing spectacles. But, what isn't diminishing is her sheer and utter devotion to me: the feeling is mutual V1 - my fluffy, chocolate brown pal.
Happy Birthday V1!

Thursday, March 10, 2011

An apple a day...

...or a snifter of Calvados, keeps the doctor away! Or so believes Vinomaker. It's just as well then that two bottles of the stuff, from Vinomaker's favourite Calvados producer Pere Magloire, recently appeared in the form of a late birthday gift from Thud (the family's other Calvados enthusiast).
Traditionally, Calvados, an apple brandy, can contain the juice from as many as 100 different apple varieties, it is distilled in an alambic pot still, and must be aged in oak barrels for a minimum of 2 years. Calvados production is said to date as far back as the 8th century. However, the first recorded production in Normandy was much later than that, in 1554 in fact, and the status of appellation d'origine contrôlée was not conferred upon the area until 1942. The golden age of Calvados production, and consumption, is said to have occurred in the late 1800s when a distinctly American pest, Phylloxera, wiped out the vineyards of France. Oops!
Myself, I just like apples and I'm currently mourning the end of the McIntosh apple season. Sigh!

Tuesday, March 08, 2011

'Tis as rotten as a rotten post.

I don't know if these vineyard posts are in fact rotten, but the people at the Opus One winery in Oakville have decided to replace nearly every last one in their vineyard. Or at least I think that is what they are doing, I don't really know. All I know is that it makes for a very strange sight when driving by...I'll be watching to see what happens.
Happy Pancake Tuesday!
Photograph courtesy of the Marketing Queen.

Thursday, March 03, 2011

Kept in the dark.

Somewhere, in between working, pruning, cleaning, cooking, dog-walking and sleeping, I have to find time for school.
I am really enjoying the darkroom class that I am taking. I have found that developing prints is addictive, and coaxing my brain to think in black & white (with the emphasis on tone and texture rather than colour) has been quite an exercise. However, I am a little frustrated that my chosen subject matters are somewhat limited, hence the picture above of my pruning shears and gloves. I really should get out more. Ho hum!