Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Happy Halloween: 2012.

Nothing says Halloween like a cheap, plastic skeletal-hand adorned wine glass filled with a chilled to the bone Sauvignon blanc.
I scare myself sometimes.
Happy Halloween everybody!

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Seeds of success.

Vinomaker and I pressed off our Syrah today and I am happy to report that the young wine looks great - fantastic colour extraction - and has a very fruit-forward aroma.  The general consensus in the valley this year, now that the majority of grapes have been harvested, is that 2012 is going to be a stellar vintage.
Perhaps, one more indication of how fantastic 2012 has been as a growing season is to take a quick peep inside, in this case, a Syrah berry.  Whilst four seeds is considered the perfect number of seeds in a grape, two is more normal - at least here in Vinoland.  Climatic and nutritional conditions at bloom can really affect the success of fertilisation in the embryonic grape, so to see four seeds is evidence that the vines were loving life at that particular stage of their development.
Of course, double the number of seeds also doubles the potential amount of seed-derived compounds in wine, some of which are undesirable in higher concentrations   That is why, when pressing off wine, it is important to press as gently as possible to avoid breaking the seeds and releasing any compounds non grata. Pity I can't personally squish every single berry by hand.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Give a dog a Côte de Beaune.

Tonight was week 10 of my Wines of the World class.  I got to explore wines from a rather large geographical area this evening: Champagne all the way down to the southern end of the Rhône Valley, but not before I had taken a mid-term examination - yikes! Not to worry, even by Dr. Krebs own admission the academic requirements for this class are the least of any other class in the entire Napa Vallege College viticulture programme - hic!  The mid-term taken, a Charles Heidsieck NV Brut Champagne was poured for the class to enjoy during an episode of  Hugh Johnson's Vintage: The History of Wine series titled 'The Slopes of Gold'.
Beginning with a clean, crisp Chablis my classmates and I were soon thoroughly immersed in all things Côte-d'Or.  My favourite amongst the Chardonnays was a Joseph Drouhin, 2007 (AOC Bourgogne) - a wine that by Burgundian standards is considered inferior to the Chardonnays of perhaps Meursault and the Montrachets, Chassagne and Puligny - it was simple, but delightful. Next up were the Pinot noirs, however there was not a single Romanée Conti to be had. The top wine in this flight was a Domaine Xavier Monnot, 2008 (AOC Volnay) Premier Cru.  Light-fruity-strawberryness, pleasant and innocuously drinkable there isn't too much for me to say about these wines, except one was a Brett-bomb.
And last, but not least, into the valley of the Rhône.  After a very moreish Domaine Faury, 2010 (AOC Saint Jospeh) - a fine blend of Marsanne and Rousanne - and a quaffable Chateau de Trinquevedel, 2011 (AOC Tavel) - I love a nice rosé of Grenache - we were off into the reds.  The reds included representations from the AOCs of Gigondas, Châteauneuf-du-Pape and Côte Rôtie, all really nice and really drinkable - notable was the Grandes Serres, 2010 (AOC Châteauneuf-du-Pape).
Only 19 wines tonight, but 19 good 'uns!

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Read the label.

Something a little different in work today - I labelled TWWIAGE's Premiere Napa Valley auction lot.  
Held back in February, Premiere Napa Valley is The Napa Valley Vintners (NVV) non-profit trade association's annual wine futures auction.   This year's auction saw 200 premium Napa Valley wine lots bring in $3.1 million in just 3 hours of bidding.   The proceeds from the auction are used by the NVV to promote and protect the Napa Valley AVA -  you know, they need ready cash for the usual stuff; law suits, lobbyists etc.
I think it's the sixth or seventh time I have volunteered to do this particular little job of applying labels supplied by NVV to 10 cases of shiners - bottles without labels - of a unique batch of TWWIAGE's wine.  I originally volunteered because nobody else wanted to do it, but I rather enjoy the process and don't mind doing it one bit.
Names have been removed to protect the guilty.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Fermentation Frenzy: Part 2.

That's it, harvest 2012 is at an end - we picked our Cabernet Sauvignon today.  And not a moment too soon, I might add, as Vinoland is running out of places in which to ferment grapes. Photographed is just one of the rooms that Vinomaker has set aside for fermentations, in the off-season this room doubles as storage for winemaking equipment.
A great growing season has resulted in slightly larger yields than expected.  In addition to the bigger crop the fruit is of fantastic quality, so there is a lot to ferment.
Go little yeasties, do your stuff!

Friday, October 19, 2012

Fermentation Frenzy: Part 1.

There are a lot of fermentations ongoing right now in Vinoland, including a 30 gallon batch of Chardonnay that was gifted to Vinomaker by a commercial winemaker friend.
It's not a secret in these parts that Vinomaker just loves Chardonnay.  I don't understand his fascination with this particular grape variety, but then wouldn't the world be an extremely boring place if we all had the same taste in wine? Vinomaker's yeast of choice to ferment the Chardonnay, is a Saccharomyces cerevisiae hybrid yeast from a unique breeding programme of the Institute for Wine Biotechnology at the University of Stellenbosch in South Africa - Cross Evolution. Known to increase the mouthfeel component of white and rosé wines, Cross Evolution also enhances varietal characteristics and in Chardonnay tends to accentuate fresh fruit and floral aromas. Sounds good so far.  I have seen this yeast in action at TWWIAGE and it really gives quite a dramatic performance, working itself up into a veritable, bubbling frenzy.  But just look at the bubbles in the photograph, they are very small and uniform - most different from the other yeasts that Vinomaker has awakened from their freeze-dried slumber - appearing rather docile and really do not resemble the frothing, fermentation-fiend it is about to become.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

A butt of Malmsey.

Week 9.  Portugal.  Number of wines, 23.  I'm not only tasting the wines of the mainland tonight, but also wines from the island of Madeira.
The evening started off with two very recognisable wines from producers Mateus and Lancers who happen to make more wine each year than all the other wine producers of Portugal combined. Next, a tour of white and red table wines revealed passable tipples that were quite fruity with low alcohol levels.
Unlike George Plantagenet, the 1st Duke of Clarence, who is said to have drowned in a butt (477.3 litres) of Malmsey, I was in no danger from the flight of Madeiras - with just a once ounce pour of each.  Considering how pleasant the 'aged 10 years' Malmsey proved to be, I must say that I can almost see the merit in choosing this way to meet ones (wine)maker, perhaps.
However, I really rather enjoyed the flight of Vinho do Porto (or just plain port to the English speaking world), especially a Porto Rocha, 2003, Vintage offering.  At 20% alcohol by volume one couldn't consume a lot of these ports, unlike the 9% alcohol by volume Vinho Verdes poured earlier in the evening.  But the wines of Oporto left me in no doubt as to why the English made such an effort, when faced with the scarcity of French wine imports into England, to go in search of wines elsewhere - and found the wines of the Douro. Clever lads!

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Change in all things is sweet.

Indeed it is.  The metamorphosis from grape juice to wine is a sweet thing unto itself.  Just look at that colour extraction - and this Syrah juice is not even 24 hours old yet!  I just love Syrah, the grapevine and the wine.  And the grape juice's specific gravity? See for yourself.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

The long and short of it.

Vinoland's Syrah is harvested!  After two sunless days, the weather today couldn't have been more perfect for picking.  A little chilly to begin with, the morning quickly warmed up to a very pleasant 74° F and stayed that way for the post harvest festivities.
The fruit is perfect this year and seems to be juicier than previous vintages.  The clusters also seem to be a little larger and more dense this year.  Of course, not as big as the clusters of Vinoland's Red Globe table grape (which I have photographed before), but then again, what is?

Friday, October 12, 2012

Last of the summer wine?

Most people know that English weather can be dreadful, right? Well, apparently 2012 - the entire year - will go down as one of the wettest and coolest years in history.  I know this first hand, as when I was home in April/May of this year the weather was abysmal.  And from regular emails from my brother, Thud.
So it didn't really surprise me when I was forwarded this article, which appeared in the Daily Mail about UK wine production, from Thud with an added personal note about his dairy-farming neighbour's predicament: "The news is full of farmers showing their rotten crops etc.  Donald's maize here is under water and he has no idea how he will feed his cows over the winter..."  When we have had such a great 2012 growing season in Northern California, it makes me sad to think of any English grapegrower struggling all summer long to tend to grapes whose ultimate destiny is to become compost.
I have had several different English wines, including a sparkling wine from Nyetimber, and I think English winemakers do an admirable, palatable job - especially when thwarted by unsavoury climatic goings-on that must be trying any year when compared to the mostly reliable conditions here in the Napa Valley.  Good luck next year folks.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Vinos de España.

Oh tonight I'm off to sunny Spain...
It's week 8 of my Wines of the World class and this evening I did indeed partake of the wines of Spain.  Tonight's tasting was a straight forward affair. The 24 Spanish wines selected for my oenological tour of Spain - a country which has more land under vine than anywhere else in the world and is yet only ranked third by production volume - ran the gamut from light, dry white wines to heavy, alcoholic reds.  And then there was the sherry flight.
My favourite amongst the whites was a Condes de Albarei, 2010 Albariño (DO Rias Baixas) and amongst the reds an Artazuri, 2008 Garnacha (DO Navarra).  My fellow classmates generally seemed to be happy with the selection of DOC Riojas, no doubt due to the liberal use of oak, whilst in that particular flight I preferred a 100% Tempranillo from the Ribero del Duero DO.
The sherry flight, comprised of 6 wines, was eye-opening: these were not my grandmother's chosen Christmas tipple of Harveys Bristol Cream. Ranging from pale, fruity, crisp and dry - a Lustau Manzanilla - to tawny, smooth, nutty and superbly balanced - a Lustau East India Solera - these wines were, above anything else, highly aromatic.  I have to confess, I would never have thought to try a glass of sherry of my own volition, so I'll always have this class to thank for broadening my horizons.  Of course, like the rest of me, my palate may just be maturing.

Sunday, October 07, 2012


At seemingly the same rate that the sugar in Vinoland's grapes is increasing, the local avian population are increasingly looking fat and happy.  But the realisation that the number of grape clusters available to Vinomaker, to make into wine, is going down at almost the same pace that the °Brix in the grapes is going up, is not actually my eureka moment.
No one will remember, but back at the beginning of 2011 I had a viticultural epiphany.  I decided I would focus all my pruning know-how towards altering the relative maturation rate of Vinoland's Clone 4 Cabernet Sauvignon (CS).  I planned to do this by flipping the order of pruning the CS with that of the Syrah.  I had no idea at that point that 2011 would turn out to be such a peculiarly cool year in which to try such an experiment.  Roll on 2012.
This year has been the perfect growing season thus far - and it's nearly at an end.  The past two weeks of sugar sampling has revealed a not before seen phenomenon in Vinoland: the °Brix in the CS is ahead of that in the Syrah.  Today saw 24.2 °B in the CS and only 23.4 °B in the Syrah - the Syrah that is usually ready to harvest at least two weeks prior to the CS. Both grape varieties had progressed exactly 2 °B since this time last week.  Of course, sugar is not the only factor in determining when the fruit is ready to be harvested, but it is a very useful indicator.
So eureka!  Pruning a little earlier does indeed seem to bring about earlier phenological maturity.  At least it does in my mini Petri dish that is Vinoland.

Friday, October 05, 2012

Stripped off.

The folks at Far Niente were busy diligently leaf pulling today in preparation for their Chardonnay harvest (or at least in this vineyard).  It's a tiny bit earlier than last year, but then 2012 overall has been a more even growing season compared to that of 2011.
The beginning of this week saw temperatures in the high 90s here in Vinoland.  Today it was just 75°F, partly overcast and rather breezy - what a difference.  The cooler weather will slow the sugars down a tad in our Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah vines, but I won't have any specific data until I do a sugar sampling on Sunday.

Thursday, October 04, 2012

My mini Vinitaly.

Week 7.  Tonight my class and I went Italia!  From sparkling to fortified, we had 26 wines to taste through.  So after a short film about Phylloxera, accompanied by a Spumante and a Moscato d'Asti, we were off.
The grumblings began with the very first still, white wine which was a 2010 Sardinian Vermentino from producer Arigolas which was just charming - or so I thought.  Dr. Krebs, yet again, had to point out that not all wines of the world are made in Napa's image. And that, like the wines of Spain and Portugal, Italian wines are really intended as an accompaniment to food.  So someone piped in and suggested that the Vermentino might pair well with calamari, at which point the professor regaled us with a story of meeting a model, down in San Diego in the 70s, who had posed for the International Calamari Council's (or something like that) industry calendar wearing nothing but calamari.  He never did find out which month she had been!
There were several standout wines for me tonight.  Amongst the whites, besides the Vermentino, I enjoyed a Sicilian Notalusa, 2009 Grillo and a Campanian Feudi di San Gregorio, 2010 Falanghina. My preferred reds of the evening included; a Terre dei Sicani, 2008 Nero d'Avola (IGT Sicily); a Luisi, 2010 Barbera (DOC Asti); a Zenato, 2007 Amarone (DOC Valpolicella); a Fattoria del Cerro, 2008 'Vino Nobile' (DOGC Montepulciano);  and, last but not least, my favourite of the night, a Rivetto, 2008 Barolo (DOCG Serralunga).  Not surprisingly, the majority of the class enjoyed a Ponti, 2009 'Super Tuscan' (IGT Toscano) priced at $120.99.  Of course they did, it was the wine that was most Napa-like!

Monday, October 01, 2012

It's V2's birthday!

Today is Vinodog 2's 5th birthday, whoo hoo!
V2 is a wonderful dog and deserves to have an enjoyable birthday. She's quirky, funny and very intelligent.  I'm sure she'll enjoy the couple of squeaky toys I got her as birthday pressies.  She's a great dog.
Happy birthday V2!