Saturday, September 29, 2012


I used to blame the appearance of the lurid purple splodges that show up on my car this time of year on birds bingeing on ripening Syrah grapes and then dumping their highly pigmented excreta onto my unsuspecting vehicle's paint-job.  I now know that the source of the purple-black splatter is instead courtesy of my feathered friends scoffing down the berries of Common Pokeweed (Phytolacca americana).
In the southern states, young pokeweed shoots are prepared and consumed as a vegetable despite the fact that the plant contains, amongst other harmful compounds, oxalates that can be fatally toxic to humans.  Also known as inkberry this is a relatively tall plant, much taller than me, whose foliage has a rather objectionable pong.
Thank goodness there is only one pokeweed growing in Vinoland, otherwise there would be no room for vines, dogs or anything else for that matter.  And I can't imagine what else would get peppered by poop!

Thursday, September 27, 2012

A racy tasting.

Week 6 and my taste buds are aching!
Eastern Europe was the destination of my Wines of the World class tonight.  I, somewhat stoically I might add, tasted my way through the wines of Georgia, Ukraine, Croatia, Serbia, Romania, Hungary, Bulgaria and Moldova.  Oh, and Israel - 21 wines in all.
Some of the wines were quite nice, for instance, a 2006 Yarden Merlot hailing from the Golan Heights region of Israel was rather decent.  Some of the wines were truly awful, here, a special mention has to be given to Serbian producer Rubin ad Krusevac for two of their wines, Czarina Milica and Czar Lazar, both non-vintage reds.  The highlight of the evening for me was a 2007 Royal Tokaji Aszú 5 Puttonyos - smooth, unctuous and just plain delicious. Interestingly, the evening's wine selection also featured a 2010 light, dry white table wine from producer Olympia, which was made from the Furmint grape variety, a grape more famous for being the botrytised grape that goes into Tokaji's dessert wines.  This easy drinking white was pleasingly palatable.
I and my fellow students really had to race our way through the Eastern Bloc as the first 30 minutes of tonight's session featured a special presentation of some methode traditionnelle champenoise bubbles from the Lombardy region of Italy.  Paul Wagner, an instructor at NVC and owner of Balzac Communications, has amongst his clients the sparkling winemakers of Franciacorta. With all the oily glibness of a used car salesman, Mr. Wagner took us on a fuel-injected, Ferrari-like, PowerPoint aided tour of the Franciacorta region, it's people and it's wines - including a speed-tasting of four wines.  Twee comparisons of Renault automobiles and Champagne versus Lamborghinis and Franciacorta were thrown about with reckless abandon.  It was all a bit too much, but I must admit I did find a Berlucchi 2008 Brut Rosé to be a very, very nicely put together wine, followed by a La Montina NV Brut.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Move over California.

I just couldn't do it.  I could not limit myself to only drinking California wines this month.  I've gone Français, yet again.
California Wine Month 2012 has been a non-starter.  What had the potential of being a great marketing tool for California wines fizzled and sputtered into oblivion.  This blog was perhaps one of only a few places to even mention California Wine Month's existence.  The whole concept was generally met with great apathy the few times I brought it up in conversation with various folk.  I won't bother mentioning it next year.  So jettisoning my well meant intentions, I reverted to imbibing in an old favourite rosé when I was craving something pink the other night.
The 2011 Château Routas Rouvière is a blend of 45% Cinsault, 35% Grenache and 20% Syrah.  With a pleasing aroma of red currant, pear and fresh mint leaves this really is just a wonderful wine.  At 13% alcohol and with wonderfully balanced acidity I treated myself to 2 glasses.  And to be had for the paltry sum of $9.07 at BevMo it was a steal.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Once more unto the breach.

Yes, it's that time of year again.  A gorgeous autumnal day, albeit a slightly longer and busier day than anticipated, heralded the beginning of the 2012 harvest in Vinoland.  A day that saw Vinogirl and the Vinodogs in all their gloriously, sticky foolishness.  And Vinomaker happily employing his new Zambelli destemmer.
All good fun!

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Happy Autumn.

Today is the autumnal equinox.
I don't usually like to participate in an England versus USA spat, but I really, really dislike the word fall - it's so infantile.
Fear not little Orange Muscat grapes, you may look a little worse for wear, (but you taste great) for tomorrow we pick.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Sprechen sie wein?

It's week 5 of my Wines of the World class.  Tonight found me and my fellow students traipsing through the cool-climate vineyards of Austria and Germany.  With 17 wines being poured again this session, I had some exploring to do.  After allowing myself a brief, internal titter in reminiscing about the Austrian wine industry's diethylene glycol scandal of 1985, I immersed myself in the task at hand.  It's a tough job but somebody's got to do it!
Even though these two countries more or less share the same language, I found the wines of Austria and Germany to be quite different, at least that is what seemed to be the case in the sampling of Teutonic wines being offered.  You don't have to be conversant in the lingo to understand German weins although one particular German word did keep popping into my mind.  Not surprisingly, that word was zucker.
Overall, the German wines displayed just a tad too much sweetness for my palate.  I did however enjoy a Mönchhof 2009 Spätlese Riesling which showed a perspicaciously finessed balance of sugar and acid.  My favourite wine of the evening turned out to be Austrian, a Laurenz 2011 Grüner Veltliner which was clean and fresh with a subtle white peachy-spiciness.  And it was dry.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Just desserts?

I spent yesterday performing some odds and ends in the vineyard operations department - sugar-testing and field-budding - but today I spent a little time in the oenology department - bottling Vinoland's small batch of 2011 late harvest Orange Muscat.
This little pet-project of Vinomaker's has resulted in a very agreeable late harvest tipple (as opposed to a dessert wine).  It is a well balanced marriage of sugar and acid that is not in the least syrupy, or cloying, as one might expect of a wine with residual sugar.  Instead, this wine is fresh and lively with a distinct aroma of, well, orange blossom - fancy that!  We decided to put it in 375 ml  bottles...a little goes a long way.

Saturday, September 15, 2012


I lied.  I drank something other than a Californian wine last night. Couldn't help myself.  With all this talk of my Wines of the World class I just felt I had to go Français with dinner.  
My favourite winemaker, that'd be Vinomaker, is a huge Viognier fan and had recently procured a single bottle of (long story) a Mathilde et Yves Gangloff, 2010 Condrieu. Vinomaker has been dying to try this wine for a while, but our schedules have been hectic. Finally, last night the stars aligned and the time was ripe for our Condrieu event.  Wow! What a great wine. Luscious, ultimately very drinkable, apricots and creamy-custard loveliness, all in all very typically Viognier.
I can't imagine any of the students in my class turning their noses up at this little fruitily-aromatic marvel, or describing it as too thin or too acidic.  I would think they'd at least recognise the new and slightly excessive cooperage on the bouquet which, in my estimation, is this splendid wine's only (minor) flaw.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Whines of the World.

My ears hurt!  And it's only week 4 of my class.
One would think that after tasting 17 wines, selections from the Loire Valley and the Alsace region of France, that Vinogirl would have been feeling no pain.  On the contrary.  After a couple of hours of listening to my fellow classmates bemoan the fact that the French wines we were tasting were 'thin,' 'under-ripe,' 'acidic' and ultimately 'not fruity enough', I was feeling a little battered in the hearing department.  Let me translate for the reader: what they were really saying was that the wines weren't Californian.  And there in lies a bit of a problem when one is taking a Wines of the World class.
My goodness.  I can't imagine what they'll say when the class ventures further north into Germany.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Just because 7...

...Today would have been my grandmother's 109th birthday.  My brother, Thud, posted this picture on his blog.  It is a photograph of the tenements in Liverpool city centre where my grandparents began their married life.  I fondly recall my gran's fabulous stories about all the Irish-Catholic immigrant families - with a smattering of Italians thrown in (for a little spice).  My gran was a great storyteller.
I still think of my grandmother nearly every day.

Sunday, September 09, 2012


Today, I decided to test the sugar in Vinoland's grapes.  So I got out my trusty refractometer and off I went in search of sucrose. Measured in degrees Brix, one can ascertain with a refractometer the volume of sugar, a percentage by weight, in an aqueous solution - in this case grape juice. Primarily, I wanted to know how advanced the Pinot grigio grapes were. I knew they were tasting pretty nice, but who am I to gauge whether or not they are ready to harvest by taste alone. The Pinot grigio came in at, a rather surprising, 24.6 degrees.  Erm, Vinomaker, I think we ought to put some thought into harvesting here soonish. However, the Pinot grigio's seeds were not fully brown, so a little more physiological maturity is needed - that'd be hang time.
With 2010 and 2011 being such cool vintages, one could be forgiven for thinking that harvest was still a way off.  But this growing season has been nigh on perfect and all the different grape varieties in Vinoland seem to be maturing at a more normal rate. The Cabernet Sauvignon weighed in at 18.6 degrees and the Syrah was at 19.6 - both varieties' seeds were still partially green. Whilst the Cabernet Sauvignon still displayed the expected vegetal character associated with this variety the Syrah tasted simply marvelous. The 2012 vintage holds such great promise.

Saturday, September 08, 2012

Dr. Dick.

Another person who I'd like to give credit to for trying to help me identify the common flax flower recently is, Dr. Richards P. Lyon. Dr. Dick, as he is known around these parts, is a weekly contributor to the Napa Valley Register's  'Home & Garden' section in the capacity of their wild flower expert.  I look forward to Dr. Dick's column every Saturday and I was sad to see that this week's piece is his last for the season.  Whilst Dr. Dick was unable to help with a definitive ID of the flax, he did inspire me to get off my backside and finally find out, once and for all, just what my mystery weed was.
Dr. Dick himself wrote about this specific weed, pictured above, a few weeks back.  Birdsfoot trefoil (Lotus corniculatus) has been spotted two years in a row in Vinoland and exists in a particularly arid part of the property.  The small amount of foliage that exists is rather insignificant, understandable giving the growing conditions, and is now mostly buried due to gopher activity.  But it is the perfectly formed  flower that draws my eye to this little, yellow beauty.
Dr. Dick and I have been trading emails and wildflower photographs for the past few weeks.  The good doctor happened to mention that he had sort of been André Tchelistcheff's unofficial, personal physician towards the end of the pioneering Napa winemaker's life.  I wonder if Dr. Dick would let me pick his brain on this subject - I feel another installment of my True Wine Lover series coming on.

Thursday, September 06, 2012

Teacher's pet.

What's that "giant sucking sound" I hear?  It's the sound of me kissing-up (i.e. what the school-age Vinogirl would have called a suckhole), to my college professor, Dr. Krebs.  Knowing that we would be tasting grapes from the student vineyard in class tonight, I channeled my inner sycophant and decided to take some July Muscat (JM) table grapes along to class with me.  The budwood for my JM came from a table grape demonstration section in the college's student vineyard.  Sadly, that section of the vineyard is no longer in existence, so I thought it would be nice to reacquaint my professor with his babies.
The other grapes we tasted were slip-skin varieties; Golden Muscat (a complex hybrid) and Concord (Vitis labrusca), both grown as demonstration vines on the walls of the tractor shed at the college.  The point in tasting these two grapes was to identify certain flavours - the linalool character of the Golden Muscat and the foxy character of the V. labrusca.  We then went on to taste Cabernet Sauvignon (Vitis vinifera) grapes, grinding the skins between our teeth for the astringency and grinding the seeds for the oily bitterness.   After the professor asked me to give the back-story on the JM (also V. vinifera), the class again tasted for the linalool character which this time was a little more pronounced than in the Golden Muscat.
Just a little off true ripeness, my JM grapes showed very well and looked the picture of grapey-goodness.  JM is considered to be an heirloom variety of table grapes, because one would never find this grape in supermarkets nowadays as consumers prefer seedless grapes.  JM would indeed ripen closer to July in California's hot and arid Central Valley - it's ripening is just a little retarded in the relative chill of the Napa Valley.
Extra credit, anyone?

Monday, September 03, 2012

California Wine Month 2012.

Happy Labor Day!
California's Governor Moonbeam has once again proclaimed September as California Wine Month.  Yes, the great state of California - once described as "the world's largest outdoor mental asylum" - is promoting a  month long celebration of all things fruits and nuts, well, specifically wine-grapes.  I did my bit last night and kicked off the festivities by imbibing in a home-grown and homemade 2006 Syrah.  I'll be drinking nothing but California wine all month - except in my wine class, as academia trumps wine-marketing every time.  Now, kind readers, do your bit and keep Vinogirl gainfully employed.

Saturday, September 01, 2012


One of these things is not like the others.  Not that I'm a control freak, but the problem with bench grafts is that this kind of thing can happen:  a white amongst the almost-whites.  If I had been responsible for the grafting of scion to root stock, when Vinomaker and I decided to increase our Pinot grigio block, this type of thing wouldn't have happened.  I want my money back.