Wednesday, January 30, 2013

An Englishman's home... his castle.
Good bye old house, you served the family well.  Farewell, I'll miss you. Sigh...

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Ripped from the headlines.

Headlines can be alarming if taken out of context.  At first I thought this article, in today's Napa Register, was advocating the removal of wine-grapes to make way for other crops.  For a brief moment, I had visions of the vineyards at TWWIAGE being ripped out and planted over to spuds. But fear not, banishing Vitis vinifera from the county of Napa is not the type of agricultural alteration the reformers in the article have in mind. Phew!
A group of local chefs, growers, residents and local government officials (including the Napa County Agricultural Commissioner, Dave Whitmer) have banded together to form a Local Food Advisory Council whose goal is to advance a more sustainable approach to the local food system.  I'm all for promoting local produce, for me it means fresher and tastier food on my plate.  But let's also continue to promote wine-grapes, those precious little berries that bring in a whole lot of revenue.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Carnitas and tequila?

Carnitas and tequila?  That was Vinomaker's proposition to me earlier in the week.  How could a Vinogirl refuse?
Well, I'm always up for carnitas, but the tequila?  I think I'll pass. Besides, there was plenty of great wine on offer at the 'Carnitas and Tequila' event at Mi Sueño Winery this afternoon.  Dead pig - with tortillas, frijoles, pico de gallo and spicy sauce - was available in abundance, as was a plethora of Cabernet Sauvignons, Syrahs, Pinot noirs and red blends.  Rolando Herrera is not only the proprietor of Mi Sueño, but he also is the winemaker for a butt-load (technical term) of other wineries, amongst them Baldacci, Coho, Longfellow and Spotted Owl.
What a pleasant way to spend a couple of hours on a sunny, January afternoon.  Olé!

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Shroom for one more fungus?

The diversity of flora  in and around Vinoland never ceases to amaze me.  I don't think I could ever become bored with the aggregation of biota in my small part of the world.  Maybe, if I live to be 200, there will come a day when I could not care less about some new botanical specimen, or creature, that I sometimes, literally, stumble across.  But for now I am quite happy to revel in the wonder of it all; from that which is the tiniest Haircap Moss, to the colossus that is the Giant Sequoia.  Although, I must admit I know very little about trees.  I must rectify that.
My latest find is another fungus, which is growing under some sort of pine tree just outside the gates to a neighbourhood vineyard. When I first spotted these somewhat homely 'shrooms a few weeks ago, I initially thought they were dollops of deer poop.  However, I noticed that the dark, repellent looking mounds were coming up from beneath the pine litter, not deposited upon the surface. It was only when I got closer that I realised that the rather unprepossessing heaps were indeed plant life.  My eureka moment was confirmed by a total lack of interest on the Vinodogs behalf: the Vinodogs know and love their cervine excrement, in fact, my beloved dogs are experts in all kinds of scat.
Back in Vinoland, a quick search on the internet revealed the identity of the mystery mushroom, the Black Elfin Saddle.  Helvella lacunosa is the most common of all Helvella species in North America and is usually found, just where I found it, growing under Pinus trees.  And apparently, unlike the Common Roll-rim, the Black Elfin saddle is edible (when cooked).  Personally, having first identified this particular organism as animal fecal matter, I don't think I'm inclined to want to consume them - I'll stick with store bought, thank you very much.  Besides, even the Vinodogs turned their noses up at them, so they must taste like they look, ugly.

Monday, January 21, 2013


Whilst I have been busy of late with activities that have frequently taken me away from Vinoland, Vinomaker has been hard at work down in Vinoland's cellar.  He has been filling his spare time with the fining and cold-stabilisation of the white wines he made last autumn and he has also been testing the red wines to see if they have completed malolactic fermentation (MLF).  MLF is over when all of the malic acid in the wine has been converted to lactic acid with the aid of malolactic bacteria.
The easiest way to assess whether or not MLF is complete is to perform a paper chromatography (PC) test.  PC is a relatively simple test which is done by placing tiny drops of wine, (and control samples of tartaric, malic and lactic acids), onto chromotography paper which is then placed in an eluting solution. The solute, which is rather smelly, wicks up through the paper separating out the acids from the wine samples by virtue of their differing molecular weights.  Each acid will move a characteristic distance up the chromatography paper thus making it fairly easy to identify the presence one of the aforementioned acids.
One could, of course, send samples of wine to a laboratory which specialises in these types of things for an enzymatic assay.  But where's the fun in that?  This is winemaking and having physical evidence of a small natural wonder, albeit in the form of a tie-dyed piece of blotting paper,  is one of the more entertaining aspects of turning grape juice into wine.

Friday, January 18, 2013

GRA 2.

It happens sometimes that Vinomaker will go down to the cellar, to fetch a bottle of wine for dinner, only to reappear with a bottle of something that neither of us can remember buying.  Or being given.  Or stealing.  Or having acquired in some other way.  Not a clue.  Last night's dinner wine was one such bottle.
The Traza, 2006, Graciano has a very informative label, so I'm not totally in the dark as to this wine's origin.  For instance, I know the name of the winemaker, David Sampedro.  I know it's 100% made from the Graciano grape and it's from the La Rioja region in Spain.  And that's just the front label: the back label is chock-a-block with info like, for example, this wine has seen "no oak".
In my Wines of the World class, I learned that the Graciano grape, of unknown origin (here we go again), only accounts for 1-2% of the total grape acreage in Rioja, where it usually blended with Tempranillo and Carignane.  Interestingly, Graciano has a slightly unusual growth cycle with a late bud break, so late ripening, and it's leaves turn red and drop off late in the season - which would have me thinking, virus!
Initially, the wine tasted a little metallic, but showed splendidly with food; nice colour extraction; nice tannin structure; nice fruity aroma; could have done with a bit more acid.  On the whole, rather enjoyable.  I'm left wondering if there is another bottle of this particular wine downstairs that I also don't know about.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

A spot of gold.

Freezing temperatures are proving to be persistent; I'm enjoying the cold spell immensely, especially when walking the Vinodogs.
Not much happening with me.  Not at work, not in the vineyard - except some of my favourite weeds are starting to bloom.  Field marigolds have been blooming up in Oakville for over two weeks and I have enjoyed spotting them in various vineyards on my drive to, and from, TWWIAGE.  Here in Coombsville, 15 miles to the south, it is much cooler and these sunny little flowers are just thinking about making an appearance.  Infact, this is the one, solitary bloom thus far in Vinoland.  C'mon little Calendula.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

White out.

It is white with frost this morning.  The temperature is down to a rather chilly 27° F and everywhere looks so pretty.  I love it.  However, the past two mornings the Napa Valley experienced very heavy fog.  Not the marine fog (advection fog) that the nearby Pacific Ocean bestows upon the Napa Valley in the summer months, thus ensuring that Vitis vinifera thrives here, but radiation fog; damp, dense and with rather poor visibility.  Or 'proper' fog as I call it when speaking with my family about the vagaries of Bay Area weather to better differentiate it from the marine layer. I love foggy mornings too.  Morning weather like today's evokes childhood memories of walking to school cloaked in a thick fog - alone, but surrounded in the gloom by other neighbourhood kids heading in the same direction as me.  I really looked forward to those rare mornings.  Yes, rare.  Contrary to most American's beliefs, the English do not live in a constant pea soup.  Now, instead of school children appearing from out of the murk, it is the apparitions of leafless trees, skeletal vines and the yellow hint of the burgeoning mustard crop that loom in the near, but hidden, distance.  And I'm not walking to St. Augustines anymore, I am driving to TWWIAGE.

Monday, January 07, 2013

First Bubbly of 2013.

I'm having a bit of a slow beginning to 2013 (except for work, housework, cooking etc., that never slows down), so forgive my lack of posts.  Haven't been out in the vineyard and I've barely drank any wine.  And the only bubbly I have had so far this year was a bar of Cadbury's Bubbly which arrived in a care-package, just before Christmas, from Blighty.  Notice I wrote was:  like 2012 it's history.  Very nice it was.

Tuesday, January 01, 2013

Spurred on for 2013.

The fair weather continues, so this afternoon I was able to take my traditional New Year's Day walk through Vinoland's vines.  My little promenade, with the Vinodogs in tow, allowed me to make a quick assessment of what I need to do, coming up here shortly, pruning-wise.  This time last year I was hoping that 2012 would be a better growing season than 2011, and it was.  In fact, it couldn't have been any better if it'd tried, so I'm hoping for more of the same in 2013.  Greedy? Absolutely.
As Vinoland's Cabernet Sauvignon vines mature my job becomes simpler.  Of course, it has taken me several years of pruning to convince the young vines' canes and spurs to go exactly where I'd like them to go. And now, for the most part, each vine is beginning to exhibit the ideal model, or at least how the ideal vine exists in this pruners mind.  Thanks little buddies.
A happy, healthy and fruit of the vine filled New Year to everyone.