Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Mystery wine.

Vinomaker has an acquaintance who works for the Napa Wine Company. The Napa Wine Company (NWC) has been in the wine business longer than most other wineries in the Napa Valley, in fact it was the 9th bonded winery in California.  As well as farming 600+ acres of their own vineyards and having their own brands of wines, NWC serves as a custom crush facility for a lot of smaller brands that do not have their own winemaking facilities.  It is in this capacity that Vinomaker's pal is employed at NWC.
In the past, the aforementioned friend has shown up in Vinoland with a mixed case of wine, some good, some bad, in exchange for cash for nappies.  It's a deal that works for all concerned parties: for $100 Vinomaker gets a value priced case of wine and the NWC worker's current baby gets Pampers.
Last week, Vinomaker came up from the cellar with an unlabeled bottle of something red.  It was not until we pulled the cork that we could see the brand name, Rock & Vine, and taste what seemed to be something that very strongly resembled a Cabernet Sauvignon.  So, I emailed the proprietor of Rock & Vine, James Harder, to see if he could identify the mystery wine with what little information I had.  Within 3 minutes Mr. Harder had emailed me back from his iPhone with the identity of the wine.  It was a 2007 Rock & Vine Cabernet Sauvignon.
This wine was fantastic, delicious, superbly well balanced and very varietal-like...and at around $24 a bottle, it's almost an everyday drinking Cab.  I wonder if they offer an inter-winery discount.
A happy Leap Day to everyone!

Monday, February 27, 2012

Weird roadkill.

I don't think these two wild pigs (Sus scrofa) are actually roadkill. It's just a hunch, but I'm guessing that if a vehicle hit two wild pigs, who just happened to be crossing the road hoof in hoof, a little more of their carcasses would be left behind - not just their heads. It's more likely the heads were discarded by a hunter.  
The Vinodogs and I came across them whilst we were out promenading yesterday, so I took my camera with me on my way to work today to get a picture.  It is a very weird sight, and a little odoriferous.
I hope the carnitas turned out good.

Sunday, February 26, 2012


Although they are very pretty, acacia trees - as they are commonly referred to in these parts - do play havoc with my nasal passages, causing my body to produce copious amounts of antibody immunoglobulin E.  I have hayfever.
Silver Wattle (Acacia dealbata) trees are blooming all around Vinoland right now.  The flowers are so yellow and bountiful they can be seen at a great distance - everywhere.  Vinomaker's current outdoor project is ridding Vinoland of a small forest of 15 foot tall Silver Wattle that have taken over the creek, a task also performed a mere 2 years ago.  They grow like the proverbial weeds.
Hurry up Vinomaker, they're blooming awful!

Friday, February 24, 2012

Strings and bubbles.

Last night, a co-worker of mine at TWWIAGE, I'm going to call her the Balancing Queen (or simply BQ), the winery's bookkeeper, treated me to a show at the Napa Valley Opera House.  BQ is a huge acoustic/classical guitar enthusiast and if any guitarists happen to venture into these neck of the woods, she's there.
The Guitar Masters, the evening's offering, turned out to be three guitarists - Andy McKee,  Antoine Dufour and  Stephen Bennett - who each did a set of their own songs and then three songs together for the finale.  Now being of a certain age, when I think of guitarists I enjoy, the ones that most readily pop into my mind include such musicians as Johnny Thunders (may he RIP), Johnny Ramone (may he also RIP) and Angus Young (thankfully, he's still with us), thumpingly accompanied by their friends Marshall, Peavey and Vox.  The Guitar Masters were, all three, very talented and entertaining instrumentalists.
This was the first time I had ever taken in a show at this venue. Construction began on the Opera house in 1879 and was completed in 1880.  The first show there, on February 13th 1880, was a performance of Gilbert and Sullivan's H.M.S. Pinafore. Sadly, the Opera House closed it's doors in 1914 and remained closed for nearly 90 years.  In 2003, after extensive reconstruction, it once again opened to entertain Napans beginning with a run of, you guessed it, H.M.S. Pinafore.  The Opera House's auditorium is rather intimate and is probably best suited to certain performances over others.  I mean, I wouldn't want to see AC/DC perform there - it'd just hurt too much.
We arrived at the Opera House a little early, but BQ being a veteran attendee suggested we have a glass of sparkling wine before we take our seats.  One flute of Chandon's Brut Classic later, I was ready to rock 'n' roll, well, sort of.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Hold on to your plate!

For Vinomaker's birthday dinner I made reservations at Eiko's, a Japanese restaurant in downtown Napa that opened last summer. Eiko's has received some good reviews in local publications, most notably for their table-side preparation of liquid nitrogen ice cream lollipops. Yes, really.
Eiko's doesn't just offer sushi.  Vinomaker and I shared a tasty calamari, with spicy aioli, appetizer.  For his entrée, Vinomaker ordered seared scallops, atop a sunchoke puree, which he seemed to enjoy.  Both of these dishes paired very nicely with a bottle of 2007 Chimney Rock Elevage Blanc, that we ordered after a little difficulty, which was an unusual blend of Sauvignon blanc and Sauvignon gris.
The decor is rather quite pleasant, though a tad utilitarian, but is unfortunately spoiled by a large flat screen TV that was showing a college basketball game.  Sure, a feature like that would be right at home in a sports bar, but Eiko's seems to be striving to be more than just another, average eatery.  I could not ignore the TV as my seat faced a mirrored wall that reflected the screen right back at me. Eiko's seems to be a restaurant with an identity crisis, a feeling that was blatantly reinforced by the blaring 80s and 90s rock music.  Would madam care for a side of Guns N' Roses with her sashimi?  By far, the most interesting feature for me was the koi fish painted on Eiko's otherwise plain cement floor.
Overall the quality of the food was good, however, I would like to offer a cautionary word of warning - hold on to your plate.  As Vinomaker took a sip of water, and I gazed out of the window at the trees blossoming on First Street, our busboy breezed in and cleared away the calamari dish without asking Vinomaker if he had finished, which he hadn't.  Oh well, it's one way to diet I suppose.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

The mole had been working very hard.

Today is Vinomaker's birthday. Whoo hoo!
For one of Vinomaker's birthday treats, as is tradition, I arranged for a winery tour and tasting for the two of us.  This year I thought I'd pick a winery closer to home, so I chose Palmaz Vineyards which is located in the recently minted Coombsville AVA.  So, this past Friday, we drove the 2 minutes up the road from Vinoland to Palmaz and entered through their vineyard gates to what turned out to be a fascinating visit.  Neither Vinomaker or I had ever visited Palmaz before, nor tasted any of their wines, so we had no idea what to expect.
The property, originally settled by Napa winemaking pioneer Henry Hagen, was the site of a winery called Cedar Knoll Vineyard Company which Hagen founded in 1881.  The Palmaz family bought and began restoring the original Hagen estate house and vineyard in 1997 - not a small, or inexpensive, undertaking as the site had remained abandoned for some 80 years.  A native of Argentina Dr. Julio Palmaz invented the Palmaz Coronary Stent, so he isn't short a bob or two.
The restored property, and new buildings, are spectacular.  The view from the area outside the tasting room is breathtaking, looking down upon Coombsville below us and to the south, and in the distance to the west, Mt. Tamalpais and the San Francisco Bay.  The 100,000 square foot winery is a massive feat of engineering.  Built entirely underground and spanning the equivalent of an 18 story building, I am afraid that any description I could attempt to make of this facility would not do it justice.  Fortunately, there is a short video on the Palmaz Vineyards website that gives you some idea of the enormity of this project - and they only produce 6,000 cases annually.  I can only conclude that a heart-stopping amount of money was spent to create this engineering marvel.
The food and wine pairing at the end of our tour was a lot of fun. Our host for the visit was pleasant and informed.  All in all, the two hours we spent at Palmaz Vineyards were highly enjoyable, even if I did feel a bit like a mole when I stepped back out into the daylight.
Happy birthday Vinomaker!

Thursday, February 16, 2012

A word from a friendly, local winemaker.

It is not often that a winemaker will take time out of their busy, wine-filled day to address the idle inquisitiveness of a nosy blogger, in this case me.  But, that is just exactly what Chris Phelps, winemaker at Swanson Vineyards, did when I inquired as to why they had decided to rip out Swanson's Pinot grigio vines on the Oakville Crossroad.  Here is his reply in its entirety:

Dear Vinogirl,
Alas, we were disheartened, as well, to realize we had no choice but to pull some of the Pinot Grigio vines in our Oakville Vineyard.
Leafroll virus had taken a serious toll on the vines,  dropping yield down to an unsustainable 1.25 tons per acre, and preventing the crop from fully ripening.
We hope that your Pinot Grigio yields remain high, or at least sustainable, and may your vines continue to be virus-free and live forever!
We do remain dedicated to producing Pinot Grigio, in spite of the fact that the variety is notoriously low-yielding.
Thank you for your concern, and please do let us know if you have more questions.
Chris Phelps.

So, the culprit was leafroll virus, curses! 
Seeing as I can't do anything about it I have decided to open a bottle of 2009 Swanson Pinot grigio (a staple in Vinoland) to toast the memory of those grand old vines in Oakville.  And, instead of me waxing lyrical about the virtues of the wine in hand, I suggest you watch this clip of Mr. Phelps describing his own handiwork.
Thanks Chris.  

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Pruning: Opus One.

The relatively small block of Opus One Cabernet sauvignon vines, on the corner of Hwy 29 and the Oakville Crossroad, was in the process of being pruned this morning.  A solitary vineyard worker, to my right, was busy removing last year's growth.  I could hear the trellis wires twanging, like some giant untuned guitar, as he yanked at the stubborn shoots, with their vice-like tendrils, to remove them from the trellising.
It made for a very pastoral scene (if one could just ignore the busy traffic a couple of hundred yards away), and I wished I was at home pruning in Vinoland.  

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Happy St. Valentine's Day: 2012.

Love grapevines.  Love wine.  Love dogs.  Love life.
A very happy day to you all!

Saturday, February 11, 2012

2011: Post-mortem.

I should make this my last post about Harvest 2011, I really don't want to remember it due to it's coolness and nastiness.
I borrowed this graphic from the front page of today's Napa Valley Register which is reporting that the California Department of Food and Agriculture has just released it's 2011 harvest report. As expected, crop yields were diminished, as compared with the yields from 2010, meaning that Napa's grape crop was only worth a paltry $412,000,000.
One bright spot, however, was that the 2011 Chardonnay crop was the smallest since 1984....yippee! 

Thursday, February 09, 2012

What wine goes with...No. 6.

...goulash?  This one is fairly easy:  I'm pairing a spicy beef goulash with a Napa Valley Syrah.
A gift from the grower of the very vines that make up this Syrah (crafted as a homage to the wines of the Northern Rhône), this bottle of Phoenix Ranch 2005 Syrah was a more than worthy contender for this particular food pairing.
Redolent with dark berry fruits and hints of dried herbs, the wine partnered successfully with the goulash as it complemented the dish's spicy-sweetness whilst adding an earthy element all of its own (beyond that of the paprika).  A surprisingly, racy acidity ensured the pairing remained lively until the last morsel of food, and drop of wine, had disappeared.
Good job Phoenix Phamily.

Wednesday, February 08, 2012

So sad.

It rained today, but I don't think it was your average rain.  Mother Nature, perhaps commiserating with me, was saddened that Swanson Vineyards decided to rip out their Pinot grigio vineyard on the Oakville Crossroad. Why am I so downhearted about the fate of these particular vines one might ask?  Over the course of my short blogging career I have written numerous posts about vineyard rip-outs with nary a tear shed. And, although all rip-outs are sad, this one is particularly joyless to me because I have a personal connection to these grapevines.
Vinoland's original block of Pinot grigio vines happen to be the progeny of the forlorn looking vines in the above photograph. Facilitated by a now retired vineyard manager of Swanson Vineyards, I drove up to Oakville and harvested the budwood myself.  Then I stood and watched, with great anticipation, as a friend of Vinomaker's painstakingly field-budded each and every rootstock we had planted earlier that spring (2005, I believe).
Alas, now Vinoland's Pinot grigio vines are orphans.  Sob.

Sunday, February 05, 2012

A new beginning.

I started pruning today.  The weather was forecast to be beautiful (and at 69 degrees F it turned out to be just that), so I wanted to spend most of my time outdoors.  I couldn't think of a better way to spend my time than pruning Vinoland's small Orange muscat block.  Tying the canes down is always a separate vineyard operation, so the vines look a bit spiky and alien right now.  But with a little bit more attention, an addition of water, sunshine and heat, they will look very much like vintage 2012 wine.

Friday, February 03, 2012

What goes with mint sauce?

Lamb paired with a well aged Burgundy perhaps?
The un-winter-like weather continues in Napa.  And, the appearance of spring lambs does nothing to dispel the rumour in these parts that winter may never rear its ugly head this season - and that's fine by me.
A pleasant diversion, on my drive home from TWWIAGE this week, was two small fields, on the Silverado Trail, full of nursing ewes and their lambs. I feel bad for pairing them with wine.