Saturday, April 28, 2012

The boy's toys.

I eventually made it home to England after surviving being served a loathsome glass of 2002 Lanson Gold Label Brut on my transatlantic flight, and a tortuous 5 1/2 hour layover in Frankfurt...phew!  It's good to be finally home; familiar faces, places and foods.  
The main purpose for this trip was the celebration of my nephew's first birthday.  Baby Thud has been walking for four months now and those little feet must've been getting tired, so something peddle-powered was just what the boy needed.  And, on the off chance that I was feeling a tad homesick for Napa, Thud provided a smattering of a familiarly distinctive, green and yellow hardware about the courtyard.
Cheers, John Deeres all round!

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Get back... where I once belonged,  Part 3.
Oh, to be in England
Now that April's there,
And whoever wakes in England
Sees, some morning, unaware,
That the lowest boughs and the brushwood sheaf
Round the elm-tree bole are in tiny leaf,
While the chaffinch sings on the orchard bough
In England - now!
Home thoughts from abroad, indeed.  Soon.  Tomorrow to be exact.
Get back JoJo!

Monday, April 23, 2012

Happy St. George's Day, 2012.

Vinogirl: British by birth, English by the grace of God.
Happy St. George's Day to my family, friends and anyone who loves England as much as I do.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Ol' Blue-eyed.

Just when I thought I'd discovered every last blue-coloured weed growing in or around Vinoland, I came across  this little beauty. The Californian Blue-eyed Grass (Sisyrinchium bellum) is not a true grass although it does resemble one, inasmuch as it grows low to the ground and has long, thin leaves.  In fact, when I walk the Vinodogs in the mornings the two Sisyrinchium plants on our route are hard to spot amongst all the other grass varieties.  It is not until our late afternoon walk that I can easily espy their location as they are by then in full bloom.  These simple, blue-purple flowers are so pretty that I love to look out for them as the girls and I promenade by.  I think the spotted cucumber beetle (Diabrotica undecimpunctata) in the photograph loves these pretty little blossoms too.  Of course, he can get a little more up close and personal with the flowers than I can.

Saturday, April 21, 2012


Perhaps, in an effort to make up for bringing a Charbono to Vinoland's recent Zinfandel tasting, Sky King appeared last night for a BBQ rib dinner with a fairly decent bottle of the aforementioned wine-tasting varietal.  The Trecini 2007 Rockpile (Rocky Ridge Vineyard, Sonoma) wasn't the most typical Zinfandel I have ever tasted, and at $40 it wasn't the cheapest either, but when it came to pairing it with pork ribs it performed rather admirably.
To further redeem himself, Sky King also brought dessert, a Raspberry Frangipane tart from the Basque Café (Sonoma's 'Bistro on the Square'). But wait, Sky King wasn't finished - he paired dessert with a Fritz Winery 1998 Late Harvest Zinfandel (also Sonoma) which was delightful.  Oh yum!
Sky King - he's a good lad!

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Love me tendril.

Now that the Orange muscat vines are at enough of an advanced stage that one can discern some distinct features of the grapevine, I thought I'd take a closer look at the various goings on at the tip of the new shoots.
In botany, plant morphology is the study of the specific forms and shapes of an organism.  A tenet of plant morphology is that there are three basic components of a higher plant (those having a vascular system); stem, leaf and root - all other plant structures are modifications of this trio of fundamental building blocks. Morphologically speaking Vitaceae, the family to which the grapevine belongs, is characterised by the occurrence of tendrils and inflorescences (both homologous organs) that emerge opposite leaves. The tendril of a grapevine is in actual fact a modified leaf whilst the inflorescence (or flower cluster) is a modified tendril.
The tendrils themselves are extremely interesting structures: pressure-sensitive modified leaves that reflect the climbing habit of the grapevine and occur in a repeating pattern (two on, one off) along the entire length of a shoot...blah, blah, blah!  It is the appearance of the modified tendrils, that usually form at the second and third position on a shoot, that I am most interested in and happy to see.  The modification of a tendril into a grapevine's flower cluster, and the successful pollination of those flowers, is the little miracle that translates into a future glass of wine.
Morph on little tendrils!

Friday, April 13, 2012

My cab just arrived, gotta go!

That's it, all Vinoland's grape varieties are up and running.  Now, if the Cabernet vines can just put on a few inches of growth without damage from a severe frost, the 2012 vintage looks like a go.  Of course, it's early days yet, but with the production of more and more green tissue the grapevine increases it's cold hardiness.  The accumulation of soluble sugars, which actually begins the preceding autumn, acts as a type of antifreeze.  These reserves of carbohydrates, stored in the roots and the dormant buds of the grapevine, are what the winegrower, who has no frost protection system in place, relies on to avoid frost damage.
Among soluble sugars, raffinose appears to be the most important to cold hardiness.  The elevated concentration of this carbohydrate in the basal tissue of a grapevine, exactly where the new budettes appear, apparently increases the tolerance to freezing temperatures in Vitis species. The nascent leaves then begin the process of photosynthesis with gusto, producing additional soluble sugars that further help to stave off tissue death and, additionally, synthesise light energy to accelerate vegetative growth.  An amazing process.
Go little buddies!

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Mondavi's folly.

Have you ever woken up in the morning and thought, what I really need is a life-size statue of legendary Napa winemaker André Tchelistcheff?  No? Me neither.  But, just on the off chance that you have, beginning this Saturday the 14th of April, you might be in luck. Copia:  The American Centre for Wine, Food and the Arts, closed since December 2008 due to bankruptcy, is about to auction off the entire contents of the mothballed 80,000 square foot centre.
What was Copia?  Well, no one was really ever sure exactly what Copia was, or aimed to be.  Conceptualised by Robert Mondavi, who gifted some $20 million in seed money, the not-for-profit (and therein lies a problem) discovery centre struggled to define it's mission.  With a 700 seat outdoor amphitheatre, 13,000 square feet of gallery space, a demonstration kitchen, a 3.5 acre edible garden and a restaurant named for famed chef Julia Child (I ate there, once) Copia potentially had a lot to offer the community.  However, what Copia did not have was a supporting foundation, an endowment, or incontrovertibly any funding to keep what was a lofty enterprise afloat.
When Copia filed for bankruptcy it had amassed a staggering bond-financed debt of more than $78 million.  The centre had struggled financially since day one.  The projected 300,000 annual visitors never materialised and the support of Napa Valley residents was virtually non-existent: for many locals the lure of gourmet salt and internationally sourced mustard tastings did not prove to be a strong enough enticement to get them through the doors in any great numbers.  
As part of the bankruptcy process, the administrators of the Copia liquidation trust are holding onsite and online auctions to rid themselves of everything - from the gift shop's retail inventory and the centre's 4,000 bottle wine collection to serving dishes and office equipment - and in the process perhaps put a small dent in that $78 million debt. In order to facilitate a good turn out on auction day, many Napa residents were sent a large postcard in the mail advertising the " of a kind collection of assets to be sold to the highest bidders."  I won't be bidding on anything. For instance, I can't imagine wanting any white wine from Copia's bottle collection.
Copia was an ego driven idea with no concept of reality.  From the onset, there was really no way this particular business model could work.  A shrine to wine (amongst other things), really? With approximately 175 tasting rooms in the valley, beginning a mere 2 miles from Copia's downtown location, I think most visitors would want to pay homage to a living and breathing wine at it's source.  Copia, was plainly a folly.
Of course, there is that life-size statue of Mr. Tchelistcheff (although I read that it may not actually be included in the auction), just in case you need one.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

What's up buttercup?

Having seemingly exhausted the supply of blue-flowered weeds in Vinoland, my favourites, I am moving on to weeds with yellow coloured corollas.  I suspect, however, that there will be some little blue beauty that will catch my eye later in the year. There are plenty of lilac/lavendar coloured weeds flowering right now, like filaree, wild radish and mallow, but it's on to the yellow weeds I go.
First up for spring is the California Buttercup (Ranunculus californicus).  Bright and cheery, this unassuming little blossom is currently dotting the hillside that extends behind the Vinoland residence.  Not to be confused with the familiar Creeping Buttercup (Ranunculus repens) that is invasive in English lawns, this California Ranunculacea can grow up to 70 cm in height and has as many as 7-20 petals per flower.  Very cheery indeed.

Sunday, April 08, 2012

Happy Easter, 2012.

Happy Easter to everybunny!
Eat chocolate!

Friday, April 06, 2012

Frost season.

Having a cover crop in a vineyard is generally a good thing for the vineyard's health.  However, a tall cover crop (like the 5' tall mustard in the above photograph) can artificially raise the vineyard floor, thus encouraging frost to settle on the new plane which is what the top of the cover crop has now effectively become. Unfortunately, that can be right in the bud/fruit zone. Napa had a fairly hard frost event yesterday. Currently, it's 31 degrees F as I type and the roof of Vinoland's barn is white with frost - it faces west.
The folks at Far Niente mowed down their cover crop yesterday. Just when the bell beans, field peas and vetch had started to bloom and look very pretty, the rain ended, took the clouds with it and opened the door to usher in frost season.  A disked, vegetation free, dark-soil vineyard floor is the best condition in which to capture the sun's daytime warmth.  In my opinion, a cover crop is essential to soil health, but for frost protection the timing of mowing down a vineyard's cover crop is crucial to saving the grape crop.  And, that's the conundrum of cover cropping.
By the way, Happy California Poppy Day!

Sunday, April 01, 2012

Beginnings and ends.

This morning, after I had finished clearing up last night's tasting score-sheets, wine-sticky pencils, runaway corks and a seeming million grains of rice (that, inexplicably, the Vinodogs had not hoovered up) I, and the aforementioned canines, went for a walk.
Whilst enjoying our promenade I noticed that the nearby Far Niente Chardonnay vineyard is experiencing budbreak - the exact same timing as last year.  Far Niente's vineyard fans were running long before daybreak, but with the temps only getting down to 36 degrees F the little budettes were not in danger of frost damage.
I was going to go back and take a photograph of the Chardonnay vines this afternoon, but I noticed Vinoland's Syrah is well and truly on it's own way through budbreak, so I photographed one of my own little buddies instead.
Also today, I finished tying down all the Cabernet sauvignon canes. That means I am finished with pruning.  Whoo hoo!  I am sitting here with a glass of bubbly as I type.
Go grapes!