Sunday, November 27, 2011

Don't let the grass grow under your feet.

I didn't: I let the grass grow on top of my boots.
After a whole summer of seeds apparently collecting in amongst the laces of my trusty Timberlands, it only took one rain event, followed by sunshine, to bring forth a small crop of miscellaneous vegetation. These old vineyard boots were destined to be retired anyway (I don't normally leave my boots outside), so there is no pressing need for me to mow my impromptu, mobile cover crop.
The same opportunistic weeds take advantage of the first available moisture every year. It's just that this is the first time I have seen it happen on an article of footwear.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Thanksgiving tipples.

The selection of wines for Vinoland's Thanksgiving festivities.
A 2005 Mumm Napa Devaux Ranch (available only at the winery), a 2007 and 2008 Herrera Selección Esmeralda Russian River Pinot noir, and a 2006 Truchard Botrytis Roussanne (brilliant with pumpkin pie).
I wish everyone a healthy and happy Thanksgiving.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Autumn leaves.

This is the last in my mini-series of posts about autumn colours.
There aren't too many deciduous trees in these neck of the woods, evergreens are much more abundant. However, the dozens of American Sycamore (Platanus occidentalis) that line the north side of the Oakville Crossroad are a reminder to me, as I drive to TWWIAGE on a cool, grey autumnal day, that even in California the seasons do indeed change.
Roll on winter!

Sunday, November 20, 2011

In praise of anthocyanins.

I had to wander around in the Cabernet vines for a while, with the Vinodogs in tow, before I found a red leaf amongst the canopy to photograph.  I actually found three, all obscured by their surrounding yellowing leaves, but this one was the most red.  The reds, oranges, and yellows we see in autumn foliage are due to a group of natural chemical/phenolic compounds called anthocyanins, carotenoids, and xanthophylls respectively.  The red, with which this post is mainly concerned, comes from the pigment found in anthocyanins.
Anthocyanins are valuable to plants giving fruit shades of red, purple and blue (cyan, like one of the ink cartridges we periodically replace in our inkjet printers).  Anthocyanins also provide photoprotection for plants whilst attracting pollinating insects (not necessary for grapevines of course), birds and other grape-munching creatures that can aid in the dispersal of seed.  And, of course, it’s anthocyanins we see in all their glory each autumn as the leaves on deciduous trees change colour before dropping.
The thing with grapevines, though, is that it is the grapes that are supposed to change colour, not the leaves.  Grape clusters begin to change colour with the onset of veraison with red varieties deepening to their characteristic purple.  The grapes are also undergoing other complex changes that are not visible to the eye, but that result in an accumulation of sugars and other desirable compounds prized by winemakers and wine-imbibers alike.

The anthocyanin content in a wine ranges from zero in a variety devoid of skin pigment (e.g. Pinot blanc versus Pinot noir), to a maximum of about 2,500 to 3,000 mg/kg in a teinturier variety, such as Alicante Bouschet. In a good glass of Cabernet sauvignon, like a glass of wine from the vine in the above photograph, one could expect an anthocyanin content of about 890 mg/kg.  I am not a chemist, so I am not going to get into how the pigment in grape juice is influenced by acidity, pH, tannin, flavones, co-pigments, iron and other metals - not to mention a dozen environmental factors.  The main anthocyanin (not to be confused with anthocyanidins, their dietetic counterparts) in most V. vinifera varieties is malvidin-3-monoglucoside.  I know, it's hard for me to pronounce too. But, unless you are a winemaker, the actual knowledge that anthocyanins are anthocyanidins that have been modified by the attachment of a molecule of glucose matters little.  What matters most to the average wine-lover is the beautiful purple-blue hue that one espies in the miniscus of the young wine about to be consumed from one's glass.
So, raise a glass of a little something luxuriously red (a squid ink black Petite sirah, perhaps?) and join me in a toast to the attributes of the not-so-lowly anthocyanin.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Going viral.

Long before viral became a marketing buzzword to describe how thoughts, information and trends move into and through a human population, the Napa Valley's grapevines were going viral without any help from social media.
The are many viruses that cause diseases in grapevines, and due to the woody nature of much grapevine tissue, it is often difficult to purify such tissue. New vineyards planted from infected cuttings or budwood will be diseased from the time they are established. That is why a programme such as the Foundation Plant Services (FPS) at UC Davis is so vital to the wine industry. FPS is a self-supporting service department in the College of Agricultural & Environmental Sciences and is very instrumental in the detection and elimination (using heat treatment techniques) of grapevine diseases.
Grapevine leafroll is probably the most wide-spread virus disease of grapevines and there are currently 9 different viruses associated with leafroll. Leafroll spreads slowly from vine to vine and impacts both vine health and grape quality, in some instances reducing yields as much as 50 percent or even more, depending on the severity of infection. Typical leaf symptoms include reddening of the leaves between major veins in red varieties. Thus, we can assume that the vivid dark red of the vine in the above photograph, and the reddening of its neighbouring vines on the Silverado Trail, indicates that it is indeed a red variety.
A green leaf is green because of the presence of a pigment known as chlorophyll. When chlorophyll is abundant in the leaf's cells, as they are during the growing season, the chlorophyll's green colour dominates and masks the colours of any other pigments that may be present in the leaf. Consequently, the leaves of summer are characteristically green, but in the autumn and at harvest time the entire vine takes on a reddish cast. It's very pretty, but it's very unhealthy.
When a virus is present it disrupts the normal physiological function of the vine's cells. A healthy vine will efficiently remove pigments leaving the dying leaf to become yellow, then brown, followed by the detachment of the petiole from the shoot and leaf drop. The red pigment in the leaf, anthocyanin, is usually the most difficult pigment to remove when the vine's phloem has been compromised by a virus. Exactly how leafroll affects the anthocyanin pathway through the vine's vascular system remains a mystery and is the subject of ongoing research. Curiously, a way of checking if a particular vine is infected with leafroll virus is to graft a bud from the suspect vine onto a healthy Cabernet franc vine. This vinifera cultivar is very sensitive to the disease, showing strong symptoms sometimes within as little as 18 months of grafting.
Because leafroll virus does not kill vines, but instead causes reductions in yield, maturity and quality, infected vines are rarely removed from otherwise healthy and productive vineyards. The only effective control of leafroll, or any other grape virus disease, is to ensure that healthy propagating material from virus-tested stock is used to plant vineyards.
Red coloured foliage, although the result of disease in a vine, really is very attractive. I, along with the valley's tourists, really enjoy the show.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Out with the old.

Do not worry, nobody was harmed in the making of this photograph - especially me! However, these poor, old vines definitely took a beating.
I spotted these vines being pulled out last night on the way home from work. This morning, camera in hand, I was fortunate enough to actually get a photograph of the bulldozer operator pushing the old vines into huge piles. By the time I left work this afternoon all the vines were piled high into 6 or 7 gigantic, tangled mountains of vegetation and steel vineyard trellising stakes - which will ultimately become funeral pyres.
With harvest 2011 well and truly over (and believe me, there has been a resounding, collective sigh of relief heard throughout the entire valley), it is now time to plan for future harvests and replanting old vineyards is often on the agenda.
In with the new.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Poppy Day.

Please, raise a glass of wine and join me in a toast to all the courageous men and woman of the armed forces who perished in wars gone by. Furthermore, let us not forget those who, still to this day, are prepared to perhaps make the ultimate sacrifice of their own lives so that the rest of us may live in freedom.
Remember, freedom isn't free.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

There's no such thing as a free lunch.

It's not everyday that you get to have a $600 bottle of wine with lunch, and for me lunch this past Monday was no exception. It was Vinomaker who shared a bottle of 2007 Domaine de la Romanée-Conti Échézeaux during a business lunch at Celadon in downtown Napa. Vinomaker, altruistically, took time away from his busy day job to help facilitate the smooth installation of a new Chief Financial Officer at a winery that he regularly works with. What a sacrifice!
I have always been a firm believer in the maxim that states that the best expensive wine that one might enjoy is the expensive bottle of wine that one didn't pay for oneself (of course, I just made that up). Yet, Vinomaker, not known for being much of a Francophile, was left relatively unimpressed by the contents of this expensive bottle of DRC. The two of us are not huge Pinot noir fans on the best of days, but I was at least curious as to how this wine tasted.
I am not ashamed to admit that I pulled the cork from the empty bottle, that Vinomaker had teasingly brought home, and poured the 3-4 ml of wine, that had collected around the punt, onto my tongue. The wine was definitely Pinot-like, surprisingly very spicy, quite oaky (I'm sure due to this wine's obvious youthfulness), but showed great acidity and balance. I gleaned all this from mere dregs, so I'm thinking a whole glass of this very expressive wine must've been quite a treat. Instead, the reality is that Vinomaker went to lunch...and all I got was this lousy bottle!

Friday, November 04, 2011

Spotted recently in...

...St. Helena, an out to lunch sign that displays a bit of a sense of humour. Pennaluna doesn't really carry any merchandise that I would particularly want to own, but the shop is entertaining in a mindless-browsing sort of way. I just like the fact that on a busy Friday afternoon the proprietor deemed that perhaps walking the dog was of more import than servicing tourists. I wholeheartedly understand. I always prefer to be walking my Vinodogs over any other activity - followed by drinking wine, counting money, then smelling roses :)