Friday, August 30, 2013

The taste test.

The Pinot grigio grapes taste fabulous, good enough to squeeze and just drink as grape juice.  But Vinomaker insists they need more time.  I suppose he's right, as we didn't harvest the Pinot grigio until September 23rd last year.  I'm just being impatient - and thirsty - I suppose.  Coming in at 23.2 °Brix, 3.44 pH, and a TA of 7.70 g/l, the chemistry seems to suggest that the grapes need more hang time. 
I hate it when Vinomaker is right.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Pretty in purple.

The Syrah crop is looking fantastic this year.  And it's beginning to taste fantastic too.  I think Vinoland is going to be in for a bumper crop.  I wouldn't be surprised if the average Syrah cluster weighed in at about 10 ounces.  But first things first, the whites need dealing with before I can even think of messing around with weighing a Syrah cluster.  Tomorrow, I will test the sugar in the Pinot grigio vines to see how they are maturing.  Although August has been a relatively cool month, I have a feeling that my little grey grapes are ready to meet some yeast.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

The wild bunch.

Growing across a few open-topped, gravel-filled steps next to Vinoland's crush-pad is a wild grapevine (and some blackberries).  The vine is not really wild, as it most likely originated from a seed of a cultivated variety that was processed in Vinoland and somehow managed to germinate in an untended corner of the property. 
So what is it?  Well, the berries are spherical, green and tiny - 7mm, 8mm tops - and oh so very tasty.  The vine has had no measurable amount of water since the last proper rain (in the spring), so that could account for the berries being so small.  The clusters are cylindrical with shoulders, but that alone doesn't help to identify this vine.  Looking at the cluster did however narrow the ID down to three varieties; Chenin blanc, Semillon or Viognier - all of which have made at least one appearance in Vinoland (along with Chardonnay, Gewürztraminer, Marsanne, Orange Muscat and Pinot grigio).  No, for that I needed to take a closer look at the vine's leaves.  An ampelography, observations of leaf characteristics, is the only reliable way to properly identify a grapevine, especially one that has been water-stressed all season.  And sure enough, the mystery vine's leaf gave the game away; "...mostly 3-lobed with wide U-shaped petiolar sinus and reduced lateral sinuses; medium-length, sharp teeth; slightly bullate surface; light to moderately tufted hair on lower surface." (Wine Grape Varieties in California, UCANR Publication 3419).  Drum roll...Vinoland now has a volunteer, self-rooted Viognier vine.
No pruning, no sulphur, no water, no love.  This grapevine is just doing it's thing.  I love grapevines.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Un bon raisin.

Last night, when Vinomaker suggested we open a bottle of Buena Vista's French Colombard, (that we had purchased on a visit to the winery this past March), I was a little less than enthused.  It's not that I have anything against French Colombard, or just plain Colombard as the grape is known in France, it's just that the mere thought of Buena Vista's proprietor, Jean-Charles Boisset, brings me out in hives.
Premiering in California in the 1850s, the Colombard grape was first cultivated in the southwest of France.  Nowadays, the French use Colombard mainly in the production of Cognac and Armagnac.  Thought to be the offspring of Gouais blanc and Chenin blanc, this grape variety reached the peak of it's popularity in California during the table wine boom of the 1960s and 70s when it became the most widely planted variety in California.  The grapevine displays high vigour and high productivity and can yield anywhere from 8 - 13 tons per acre.  That's a lot of grapes!  Due to the heavy crop, maturity can be somewhat slow and so French Colombard is usually amongst the last white grape varieties to be harvested in California's north coast vineyards.  The fruit has a winning combination of high acid and low pH, so it produces a fruity, crisp wine that is easy to drink - a wine that should be a popular summer tipple.  But let's face it, French Colombard is just not perceived as a very sexy grape: not many people have even heard of it.
The Buena Vista, 2011, Russian River Valley, French Colombard was a most appealing wine.  On the nose I got a lovely, limey-green apple, spicy-apricot-creaminess and on the palate, well, the elevated acidity had me on the first sip.  With just 50 cases produced (our bottle was no. 339), there is not a lot of this wine to go around.  But if you can find a bottle of it, buy it.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Pizza Azzurro.

Today is my, and Vinomaker's, wedding anniversary.  Happy anniversary to us!
I had to work today, so for our anniversary dinner we decided on something casual for our evening repast.  Pizza Azzurro, located on Main Street, downtown Napa, is a restaurant that Vinomaker has eaten at quite often (usually on business lunches), but I had never been there before tonight.  Vinomaker convinced me that Pizza Azzurro had a great wine by the glass wine list.  Vinomaker loves a good wine by the glass list, it may be an expensive way to go about drinking wine, but it is a good way to try a few wines that one may not necessarily want to buy a whole bottle of.  Or to try a wine from a small producer whose wine you may not even be able to find in a local wine store.
The 'by the glass' wine list was indeed as advertised: not in quantity, but quality.  To pair with my antipasti, Gamberi (a grilled shrimp, white bean, sausage combo), I had a glass of Rococo, 2012, Sonoma Coast Pinot gris, whilst Vinomaker had a Renard, 2012, Lodi Grenace blanc.  We also shared a glass of Anne Amie, NV, Oregon Müller-Thurgau (which actually paired the best with the shrimp).  All nice.  With my main course, a manciata (a handful of just baked dough, topped with salad, steak and Point Reyes blue cheese), I imbibed in a Rhiannon, 2011, a California blend of Petite Sirah, Barbera and Zinfandel - unorthodox, but delicious. Vinomaker's red wine selection was a Terra d' Oro, 2010, Barbera from Amador County which was tasty, but definitely had a bit of heft to it.  Again, we shared a third wine, a Neyers Vineyards, 2011, "Sage Canyon" California Rhône-style blend of Carignan/Grenache/Mouvedre/Syrah - yum!
Yes, the 'by the glass' method is a slightly more pricey way to go about enjoying a glass of wine, or two, with your dinner, but enjoy these six wines I did.  Besides, Vinomaker is worth it.
Happy anniversary Vinomaker.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Main Street Reunion 2013.

Today, I got to cruise Main Street, Napa - on foot.  One of my favourite events of the year, the Main Street Reunion car show was held today and it is a great way to spend a Saturday afternoon.  Yay!  With about 400 cars on display, this event can keep a person entertained for hours.  I saw a lot of cars that I recognised from years past and some fantastic new entries.  The weather was hot (and unusually humid) and my family was not with me this year (as they have been the past 3 years), but I had a great time anyway.
Vroom, vroom!

Friday, August 16, 2013

I say sultana.

A friend of a friend grows grapes that are destined to be harvested and dried, only to be reinvented as golden raisins - or sultanas as they are known in England.  I have never liked sultanas, but I do like fresh grapes and this big bunch of grapes, that arrived recently in Vinoland, were wonderful to snack on even though they were a tad under ripe.
Himrod (Vitis labrusca) is a white table grape, released in 1952 by the New York Agricultural Experiment Station in Geneva.  The grape is a cross between Ontario and Thompson Seedless, it is a seedless variety and is known for ripening quickly and being very productive.  In California, most golden raisins are produced from the aforementioned Thompson Seedless (also known as the Sultana grape in other parts of the world).  For most raisin production, grapes are harvested in early autumn and are sun-dried over a three week period in the vineyards on paper trays.  Golden raisins, however, are oven-dried and treated with the preservative sulphur dioxide to retain their light colour. This form of sulphite has been used for centuries to prevent the darkening of any fruit during the drying process.  (I do like nice, apricot-coloured, dried apricots).
Funny, all of a sudden I am craving a warm, buttered scone.  But made with Zante currants.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

A safety net.

Today, Vinomaker and I performed a tedious, but necessary vineyard operation - we installed bird netting on the ripening Pinot grigio vines.  No offence to my feathered friends, but the wine grapes are off limits to them for snacking, especially when there is about half an acre of blackberries they could be gorging themselves on.  Veraison is proceeding nicely and the crop looks like it's going to be a good size.  The grapes are safe, until harvest.

Friday, August 09, 2013

A noxious weed.

This is a noxious weed, indeed.  And the bane of the Vinodogs.  The spines on the fruit of the puncturevine (Tribulus terrestris) are apparently tough enough to puncture bicycle tyres, not to mention the soft little pawsies of my girls.  This wretchedly, sneaky weed has a prostrate growing habit, so I often don't notice it until a Vinodog comes to an abrupt halt whilst on a walk, pathetically offering up an afflicted paw for help.  Each fruit separates into 5 vile, wedge-shaped burrs and it is the spikes on these that are so treacherous.  Although the burrs may look somewhat like a botanical mace, the weed does not wield them like the medieval weapon, but rather uses them as a device by which to disperse seeds - in tyres, on clothing, or on the Vinodogs.  Ouch!  
In summer these weeds are nuisance enough.  But even in winter, after the plant has died, these nasty little burrs remain on the dried stems, or on the surface of the soil, lying in wait for some poor, unsuspecting soul.  Or at least they were.  Vinomaker was kind enough to don a pair of heavy duty gloves and pull out a few puncturevines he found by our mailbox.  The Vinodogs, and I, thank you!

Wednesday, August 07, 2013

Fumé Blanc.

In 1968, Robert Mondavi released a barrel-aged Fumé Blanc (his take on the Loire Valley's Pouilly Fumé) and with it delivered a swift coup de grâce to a directionless and faltering Napa wine industry.  A wine industry stuck in the oeno-doldrums; old-timers still growing grape varieties such as Golden Chasselas and Alicante Bouschet; producing more kosher and jug-wines than premium table wines.  Wine production and promotion in the Napa Valley would never be the same again - indeed, the Napa Valley itself would never be the same again.  Mondavi was a marketing genius and the driving force behind making the Napa Valley a recognised brand around the world.  But all things must change, since 2004 Robert Mondavi's eponymously named winery has been owned by Constellation Brands.  Constellation is a multinational corporation with a gigantic portfolio of premium wines and the Robert Mondavi Winery is just one of their brands, albeit with great brand-name recognition.
On the nose, the 2011, Napa Valley Fumé Blanc was a real winner with a spicy-lime, kumquat and lychee thang going on, unfortunately, the taste was a bit of a disappointment.  For me, this wine was just a little blah, not bad, it just didn't live up to the fruitiness my schnoz had experienced.  However, it did pair well with the tilapia I was having for dinner.  And I got it for free.

Friday, August 02, 2013

A double Cabernet bottling.

Had a quick bottling event in Vinoland today.  A friend's Cabernet Franc and Vinoland's own Cabernet Sauvignon are now slumbering peacefully inside antique green Bordeaux bottles.  Vinoland's Syrah is still waiting to be bottled, but thoughts are now moving on to all things harvest.  Mumm Napa started their harvest yesterday by bringing in their first Pinot noir for sparkling wine production, so other wineries will not be too far behind bringing in their white wine grapes.  I love this time of year.

Thursday, August 01, 2013

Tenuta di Forci.

I'm sad.  Last night I finished the last bottle of wine that I brought back from Lucca.  The Tenuta di Forci, 2011 Rosso (DOC Colline Lucchesi) was a wonderful wine.  This light to medium bodied red, a blend of 65% Sangiovese, 30% Canaiolo and 5% Colorino, was young, fruity (plum and cherry) and beautifully floral.  Purchased at La Grotta dell' Anfiteatro, on via Anfiteatro, Lucca, for €6.50 (about $8.00) this was a delightful wine that paired brilliantly with the pseudo-Italian dinner on my plate.  I wish I'd bought another, but weight restrictions...blah, blah, blah!  So sad.
I really like Italian wine labels.  They are very straight forward, but informative - I always learn something new from them.  Searches online for the definition of 'tenuta' mostly give 'estate' as a translation of the Italian, but I best like the definition below, which I borrowed from Do Bianchi.  (Thank you, Dr. Parzens.)
"Tenuta, a [land] holding or property, past participle of the Italian tenere, from the Latin teneo, meaning to hold, have, or keepTenuta is a term that you see applied across northern and central Italy. Its relation to the pre-industrial age, when land ownership denoted nobility, is clear."
I love, have always loved, and will always love, Italian wines.