Thursday, December 31, 2015

Joie de vivre!

This year, in homage to the people of Paris, I went 100% Français in the selection of wines for my traditional New Year's Eve bubbly event. Real Parisians, one and all, demonstrated remarkable stoicism in 2015 when faced with abominable barbarism.  Three cheers to freedom!
The wines?  Of the three Champagnes in tonight's tasting, the Perrier-Jouët was, unquestionably, my favourite.  A perfectly delightful tipple.
It had been quite a stressful day, with my little Vinodog 2 spending most of it at a veterinary clinic having an emergency surgical procedure, but, thankfully, the prognosis is good.  So tonight, in celebration of life, I had an extra glass of the Perrier-Jouët.  Tchin-tchin to 2016.
A Happy New Year to you all!

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Sweetly doing nothing, or a lot.

Yesterday, I spent almost 2 ½ hours running errands for the owners of TWWIAGE.  I am not complaining, whilst I was out and about, I got to visit some of the most iconic, and prettiest, wineries in the entire Napa Valley.  And high on the pretty-o-meter is the driveway leading to the Far Niente Winery.
The driveway, that wends its way up to the gates of the Far Niente grounds, is impressively lined with more than one hundred Ginkgo biloba trees which look good not only in the summer months, but are very striking even now in the winter. Well done, Far Niente, well done.

Tuesday, December 29, 2015


Choosing stocking fillers can be fun, especially if said stocking fillers are for wine-lovers because there are so many to choose from.
In Vinomaker's stocking this year was the Capabunga, an innovative, liquid tight, silicone closure for partially used bottles of wine, so that they can be stored on their side in a refrigerator. The folks at CapaBunga also came up with the CapaBubbles a product which turns a partially emptied sparkling wine bottle into a screw cap, (a product absolutely not necessary in Vinoland).  But this post is not about how useful, and fun, CapaBunga's products are.  No, this post is about the fun, whimsical, bottle-shaped UPC code on the Capabunga's packinging.  I just love it, it's a great design.  God is in the detail.

Friday, December 25, 2015

Happy Christmas: 2015.

A very Happy Christmas to all from Vinoland.  I might possibly remember Christmas Day 2015 as my first ever white Christmas in Napa: the frost was so heavy this morning that everywhere was indeed white.  No doubt due to the elevated humidity, from all the rain we have been having of late, there was just more moisture than normal to freeze.  It was just gorgeous.
Wishing you all a joyful day filled with family, friends, good food and great wine.  And a happy, healthy and prosperous New Year to all.

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Christmas Eve, 2015.

I spent the entire day baking and preparing food; two different types of bread; two batches of mince pies (thanks to Thud for the new mince pie tin); and a massive amount of 'Puppy Chow' (aka Chex Muddy Buddies).
I had so much fun as I mixed and stirred, whilst listening to, and singing along with, my favourite Christmas carols ('Once in Royal David's City' being my all time fave).
A happy Christmas Eve to everyone.

Monday, December 21, 2015

Winter Solstice, 2015.

Looking north from Oakville on this the winter solstice, except there is nothing much to look at besides the rain and clouds.  A grey, rainy morning gave way to a grey, rainy afternoon.  So, yes, not much to see and even less to photograph on this winter-solstice sunset.  Except there was no detectable sunset.  And the solstice is not until 4.48 a.m. GMT (which will be the 22nd December PST) - which is about four hours from when this photograph was taken.  But you get my drift.
Happy winter solstice, everyone.
Sing it, Ian!

Sunday, December 20, 2015

The rain and wind beat dark December.

A rainy December day called for something robust with dinner.  The Mi Sueño, 2011 Tempranillo, Rancho Chimiles (Napa Valley AVA), was just the wine to banish the rain-blahs away.  Lots of red plum and spicy red currant, and with great tannins, this Tempranillo was a great California rendition of an old Spanish classic.
I had actually tasted this wine before, although in a very different stage of the wine's development.  Usually, I don't care for barrel samples, as I am not a winemaker and I don't have a crystal ball that will tell me what to expect of the finished product.  However, I remember the barrel-sample of this wine as being quite stunning, even in its infancy.  Now that this Tempranillo is all grown up, I'm enjoying it once again.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

The final.

Tonight was the final week of my wine marketing class - and the night I had to take the final exam.  I think I did alright, it was a fairly straight forward test on all of the topics covered over the entirety of the semester.
At the end of the exam, there was a question for extra credit.  The question was: Who said, "The medium is the message"?  Well, I could not for the life of me recall who had rambled off that particular, little expression.  I had written the quote down, but not the author, Marshall McLuhan.  I can't remember whether or not that I had felt that it wasn't important at the time to jot down a name.  Or that perhaps at that particular moment the instructor was speaking faster than my note taking ability.  Or even if I simply did not know how to even spell McLuhan, (Mc and Mac names can, at times, be bothersome).  I do know I won't be getting that extra point.  And I'll remember Mr. McLuhan from this point forward.
Anyway, school's out.  Whoo hoo!  Now the Christmas festivities can begin in earnest.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

A bauble for my tree.

Another early Christmas gift, this time from my English family.  A lovely, surprise parcel arrived yesterday.  On opening the parcel this morning, (after first checking with my sister-in-law to make sure that I wouldn't spoil any surprise), I discovered this fantastic Liverbird adorned Christmas bauble.  I love it, it's brilliant and it's now on my tree.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Gaudete, 2015.

It's Gaudete Sunday.  As is the tradition here in Vinoland, the wine of choice for the third Sunday of the Advent season is always something pink.  I have to say, I am absolutely tickled pink with my wine selection this year. (Sorry, couldn't resist).
The Richard Grant, NV Cuvée Rosé Brut (North Coast AVA) may not be the best California sparkling wine I have ever had, but it is definitely a very pleasant tipple.  And it may not be the bubbliest methodé champenoise wine that I have ever had: this Blanc de Noirs has the level of fizz one would more commonly associate with a Crémant.  The nose is delicately floral, the mouth-feel is balanced and the sour-cherry-strawberry-red-apple-skin thing on the palate is quite moreish.  Whilst this sparkling wine may be average, the story behind this wine is anything but average.
Grant is the middle name of  Dr. Richard Peterson.  Dr. Peterson may have had one of the more storied Napa Valley wine industry careers, but now he owns, and farms, a Christmas tree farm just north of the city of Napa.  Dr. Peterson is the winemaker of my 2015 Gaudete rosé selection, a wine he produces from 2 acres of his property which is reserved for a Pinot noir (PN) vineyard.  The backstory of this particular PN clone is great stuff.
Dating back to Roman Britain, a mere 2,000 years, the Wrotham (pronounced root-um) clone of PN was discovered growing in a churchyard in the village of Wrotham, Kent.  Said to be naturally disease-resistant, the leaves of the Wrotham clone apparently have a covering of fine white hairs on the upper surface of the leaf blade - I shall have to try and see this for myself next spring.  Dr. Peterson's website has more information on this most unusual of Vitis vinifera clones.  Good stuff.
Rejoice with something pink.
Sing it Maddy!

Saturday, December 12, 2015


There was just a single directive on the invitation to TWWIAGE's 2015 Christmas party - Attire: Dazzling.  And a dazzling night it turned out to be.  This evening, all my coworkers, along with their guests, dazzled in their finest gladrags at our annual Christmas shindig which was once again held in the historic Barrel Room at Vintage Estates in Yountville. The dazzling, diamond strewn table tops were a particularly nice touch.
A good time was had by all.

Friday, December 11, 2015

Winery Christmas Lights 14.

Just to keep things interesting, I sometimes take a different way to and from TWWIAGE.  Call me crazy.  There is so much going on this time of year in the valley that I had forgotten that Trefethen Family Vineyards always has a fun Christmas light display on the corner of Highway 29 and Oak Knoll Avenue.  I saw Trefethen's Christmas lights on the way home from work on Wednesday night; a rustic buckboard with brightly illuminated Christmas packages.  Thanks, Trefethen Family.
I finally got my own Christmas tree up today.  I had wanted to get my tree up last week, but stuff got in the way.
Let's get this party started!

Thursday, December 10, 2015


I may have mused once or twice before that the English language is a funny old thing.  An example: about ten years ago, when I first started taking viticulture classes at Napa Valley College, I happened to mention to Vinomaker that I was revising for an exam.  "You are changing something?" he asked.  Pardon?  Americans generally use the word revision in the context of altering something.  Whereas, the British typically use the word revision to describe the process of going over something in the vain hope that one understands the subject matter sufficiently enough to pass an exam. Americans would simply use the word study.
Tonight's wine marketing class was a review of all the topics covered over the 16 weeks that the class was in session.  I hardly remembered any of it. So pardon me, I am off to do some revision, and panic: next week will be the final examination.

Wednesday, December 09, 2015

Anchor Christmas Ale: 2015.

Yay!  It's that time of year when Anchor Brewing Company's Christmas Ale is available in the shops.  This is the 41st time that Anchor has released their Christmas Ale, a tradition the company began in 1975.  And drinking it is a tradition I started for myself some years later.  I really look forward to the release of this ale, to me it means Christmas is coming.  The recipe is different each year and it is always kept a secret. This year, Anchor decided to add less spices, a throwback to earlier iterations when the ales malty-ness was more prominent.  And yes, the ale is quite malty this year, very fruity and very smooth.
The tree depicted on the 2015 label is a Deodar Cedar (Cedrus deodara), better known as the California Christmas Tree.  Evidently, this cedar "has been a San Francisco favourite for over 150 years."  Did not know that, but now I do.

Sunday, December 06, 2015

True Wine Lover 16.

Mon Docteur le Vin may have been an early Christmas present, but it was not my first.  This past Tuesday, one of the owners of TWWIAGE surprised me with a copy of  'The Winemaker' an autobiography by Dr. Richard G. Peterson.  But not just any old copy, she had had Dr. Peterson sign it with a personal message to me, (not Vinogirl).  So thoughtful and kind.
There is nothing that I can say about Dick Peterson that hasn't been said before, the man is a Napa Valley living legend, a true pioneer of the California wine industry.  And now there is a whole book about him for the rest of us to enjoy. Peterson has led a very accomplished life, but, perhaps, as viewed by a younger generation, his accomplishments have been partially eclipsed by those of his talented daughters; Holly Peterson Mondavi and, of course, Heidi Peterson Barrett.
And why exactly is Dick Peterson one of my True Wine Lovers?  Well, Dr. Peterson loved his chosen line of work so much that upon inventing a barrel rack, specifically designed to securely cradle wine barrels and protect them from mishaps, he decided not to patent his design (and therefore profit from it).  No, as an act of complete altruism, he offered his design to the entire wine industry as a gift.  Peterson's steel barrel pallet has been extremely beneficial to the wine industry, especially in earthquake-prone California.
Dick Peterson - a true wine lover.

Thursday, December 03, 2015

Mon Docteur le Vin.

Tonight's marketing class began with all the students being given an early Christmas present of a book: Mon Docteur le Vin.  I thought that was very nice of our instructor, although I'm positive he was given them for free by a client, but nevertheless much appreciated.  (It almost made up for him placing us in groups again, this time to write a press release for an upcoming Napa Valley College event.  I said, almost.)
The book was originally published in 1936 by Gaston Derys who was apparently a well-known French gastronome, (aren't they all?).  One could be forgiven for thinking, by having a quick gander at the 'Contents' page, that the subject matter of this book was rather tongue in cheek. Rather, Derys collected a lot of supposed scientific quotes that alluded to the healthful properties of wine consumption.  My favourite chapter has to be chapter two, I mean who doesn't love the radioactivity of wine? Vinodog 2 says it is her favourite chapter also.
A sample:  "Exactly because of its radioactive properties, wine stimulates the vital functions, organs and glands, increases the vitality of the tissues, augments the red blood cell count, positively influences the nutritional process, and regulates the tone of the vagosympathetic system."
Doctor F. Dougnac.
Good stuff, think I'll pour myself a glass of wine.

Tuesday, December 01, 2015

Ta-ta tomatoes.

It is the 1st of December already, wow!  How did that happen?  It is the Christmas season already and day one of my advent calendar is already open.
Although it is still technically autumn, there have been some rather cold days this past week and we have had several frosty mornings. Enough frost events to finally finish off my tomato plants: this is my last handful of tomatoes for 2015.  There isn't going to be any more photosynthesis now that most of the foliage has been damaged by the frosts, the plants are done.  I'm going to make the most of my last homegrown salad of the year.

Monday, November 30, 2015

Napa Thanks.

Not wanting to do the stock 'what wines I will be drinking with my Thanksgiving Day turkey dinner' blog post, I decided upon doing no Thanksgiving post at all this year.  However, whilst walking Vinodog 2 at the river yesterday, I decided I did want to write a post about how thankful I am to live in such a pretty place.  It was high tide down at the river and, with the assistance of a little bit of a weather front moving in, the sunset was spectacular.  Vinodog 2 and I thoroughly enjoyed the show.  Or at least I think V2 did, my faithful poochie was a little distracted looking around for jackrabbits. Thanks, Napa.

Friday, November 27, 2015

The mark of a good wine.

A few nights ago, Vinomaker and I polished off this bottle of Markham Vineyards Petite Sirah. If I hadn't seen Vinomaker pull the cork with my own eyes, I would not have believed that this wine was from the 1994 vintage.  As is fairly common place in Vinoland, Vinomaker had no idea when, or how, he had acquired this wine - I'm just happy that he did.
Yes, I know Petite Sirah is usually big and bold, exhibits deep, inky pigmentation and is redolent with robust chalky-tannins, but I had no idea that this wine varietal could age so well.  A well made and balanced wine ought to age gracefully (if cellared well, of course), but unfortunately this is not always the case.  Still very fruit forward, and with a lovely spiciness, this wine did not betray its age, it was simply fantastic. And it paired wonderfully well with our dinner of Beef Stroganoff.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

The nose knows.

Over the years there have been some wines that upon smelling Vinomaker has stated that, "this wine smells just like Necco Wafers".  Having no idea what a Necco Wafer smelled like, let alone tasted like, I would just humour him and nod like I knew exactly what he was talking about. The same way I suspect that he always humoured me when I would declare that some particular Cabernet Sauvignon "smells just like Parma Violets". (Parma Violets were one of my favourite sweets when I was little.)  The nose on our recent bottle of Barefoot Zinfandel just happened to elicit the, almost reflexive, Necco Wafer statement from Vinomaker. Unfortunately, having only ever tasted Necco Wafers once, I do not have the same olfactory memory to draw from, so thank you to Mr. Pellechia for validating Vinomaker's nose-nostalgia.
There aren't a lot of places in the San Francisco Bay Area that sell Necco Wafers, in fact I have never seen them for sale anywhere local.  I bought this packet of Necco Wafers in a petrol station in Utah on one of my trips there.  Necco Wafers are made by the New England Confectionery Company, (the oldest candy company in the United States and founded by Englishman, Oliver Chase), and a roll of Necco Wafers contains eight different flavours.  I'm thinking that it is a combination of five of those flavours, specifically clove, cinnamon, wintergreen, licorice and chocolate, that may be responsible for a cheap glass of red wine smelling like a candy/sweet.
Each one of us will have different descriptors for wine depending on our individual life experiences.  Apparently, Vinomaker and I associate certain aromas and flavours with candy/sweets from our respective childhoods. Considering that one's sense of smell is more closely linked with memory than any other sense, it is not surprising that certain smells can evoke particular memories.  I may not be exactly sure how that all works, I'm just glad that it does.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Double Gold.

Whilst reading wine-writer Dan Berger's column in this past Friday's 'On Wine' section of the Napa Valley Register I noticed that his 'Wine of the Week' was a Barefoot, NV, Zinfandel (California).  Hmmm, interesting.  I like Mr. Berger's columns and I like Zinfandel, so, with the wine's suggested retail price of a mere $8.00, I resolved that I had to try this wine - which proved to be easier said than done.
I went to three different supermarkets, but there was not a bottle of Barefoot Zinfandel to be found.  Each store carried a different selection of Barefoot wines, including; Cabernet Sauvignon, Sauvignon blanc, Merlot, a Rich Red Blend, a Sweet Red Blend (perhaps wanting to steal Conundrum Red's market share), Pinot noir, Pink Moscato (ouch!  Just typing that makes me wince), Pinot grigio and a White Zinfandel (erm, no thanks). Undeterred, I finally found the Zinfandel in a CVS drugstore - for $5.00.  Five, dollars, people!
In the same section of the Register it was reported that Wine Spectator had recently named their No. 1 wine of the year: a Cabernet Sauvignon from Peter Michael Winery (Sir Peter, actually), the 2012 Au Paradis (Oakville AVA).  Incidentally, just in case anybody is interested, the Au Paradis garnered a 96 on the Speculator's scale.
Do these two wines have anything in common? Yes, both wines are wet, red, Californian and alcoholic.  However, one of these wines would set the consumer back about $160 - $180 (if you could even find it, which is highly unlikely), and the other is currently a fiver at CVS (though, almost just as hard to find if my experience is anything to go by).  And how did the Barefoot Zinfandel taste?  One would be justified in expecting this wine to taste fabulous, after all it won Double Gold at the '2012 Ultimate Wine Challenge'.  (Please, don't get me started on the merits and demerits of wine competitions.)  This perfectly quaffable wine proved to be very fruit forward with an abundance of sour-cherry, a slight ripe-raspberry component and a nose-pleasing pepperiness.  Vinomaker commented that the nose reminded him of Necco Wafers, a candy from his youth. Although a tiny bit low on acid for my liking, and with perhaps the faintest suggestion of residual sugar, I nevertheless ended up pouring myself a second glass.
WWRPD, or think?  No matter, it's a fait accompli.  And besides, I don't really care.

Friday, November 20, 2015

As my Whimsy takes me.

A bit of whimsy.  The past few days have been lovely.  Enough of harvest, work and academic pursuits.  Sometimes one just has to stop and smell the roses.  And whilst my tomatoes may have come to the end of their fruitfulness for 2015, my roses, including this Pristine hybrid tea rose, are still blooming.  Autumn in California; a rose by any other name, maybe summer, would smell as sweet.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

The 100-Point Rating System.

I have said it before, and I'll say it again, I do not like the 100-point rating system of reviewing wine.  The 100-point scale - which, in reality, is a only 50-point system as anything with a score below 50 doesn't even seem to be considered wine - was of course popularised by the powerful wine critic, Robert Parker Jr.
The Parkerization of wine, especially Napa Valley wine, is not a new topic.  Nevertheless, my wine marketing instructor started tonight's class with a video; 'Robert Parker's Bitch' (written and directed by Tina Caputo in 2009), which elicited an enquiry from the back of the classroom, "Is it about his wife, or his dog?"  Titter, titter.
The video was interesting and was, appropriately, more about marketing than anything else, and fittingly contained an appearance by my instructor, Paul Wagner.  The classroom discussion that followed was rather thought-provoking.  I may deride the 100-point system, (and the so-called millennials may regard the system as a dinosaur from their parents era), but unfortunately the system still wields a lot of clout among distributors who often won't even consider adding a particular wine to their portfolio if said wine simply does not have enough 'Parker Points'.
Don't be sheep, people.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Closing up shop.

Autumn is well and truly here.  In fact, I'd have to say that it was really quite wintry when I left for work this morning as everywhere was white with frost.  The vines are all busy shutting down and are losing their leaves.  Triggered by decreasing daylight hours, senescence begins in the mesophyll cells located in the margins of the grape leaf and slowly advances inward.  (The leaf above is a great example).  Temperature does not play a part in the onset of senescence, but frosty mornings will definitely speed up the whole process.  And yesterday, I harvested my last batch of tomatoes, so I think it is finally time to admit summer is over, sigh.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

The label.

Tonight our instructor was back in class, returned from his jaunt to New York and Spain (Rioja).  A review of last week's 'Shark Tank' was first on the agenda.
Apparently, our instructor has it on good authority that the Sharks were simply "blown away" with all four student-presentations last week.  How special. On a more personal note though, the powers that be at the college are seriously interested in trademarking my group's redesign of the college's wine label.  From the comments my group received during both presentations of our business plan, I could tell that the new concept-label we came up with was a real contender for being considered as the new brand for Napa Valley College.  Fame at last. Yea, right.

Monday, November 09, 2015

The last word.

Besides being a fairly high scoring play in a game of Scrabble, the word zymurgy also has the distinction of being the final alphabetical entry in a volume of the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) that I own.  Zymurgy literally is the last word in my dictionary and it can be found on page 1666 (it is, after all, the concise OED containing a mere 240,000 words).  I only discovered this new (to me) word because, having no other particularly pressing engagement at the time, I allowed myself a moment to muse, "I wonder what is the last word in this dictionary."  And what exactly is the definition of zymurgy one might ask? The OED's definition is this: the study or practice of fermentation in brewing, winemaking or distilling.  Did not know that, but now I do.
This Scrabble game has been a dramatization: do not try this at home.

Sunday, November 08, 2015

Last of the summer vines.

It rained this morning as was forecast.  In anticipation of Mother Nature's waterworks, I spent most of yesterday afternoon turning over my compost bin and spreading the resulting nutrient-rich humus around the bases of my Cabernet Sauvignon vines.  I hope the vines appreciated my effort because by the end of the day I really appreciated being done with this particular vineyard operation.
The amount of kitchen scraps that Vinomaker and I manage to produce never ceases to amaze me.  I think that if we were to put it all the food waste that we put into the compost bin into the rubbish bin we'd quickly run out of space for actual rubbish.
Besides being good for the vineyard, I must admit that I like to observe all the goings-on in the compost bin: not in the least the antics of the red wiggler worms (Eisenia fetida).  And I also find fascinating the number of things that spring to life in the dark of the bin; sprouting potato eyes, onion-ends, tomato seeds and even the single leaf of a ZZ plant (that I had tossed into the compost simply to dispose of it).  It's like magic.
Composting is not without its dangers, however. This morning, after breakfast, I took a small bag of  food items down to where the compost bin resides (behind the barn); bits and pieces of vegetables from last night's dinner, sundry coffee grounds and tea bags, and a few eggshells. When I lifted up the lid the first thing I spotted was a black widow spider luxuriating, full-stretch in her web across one corner of the bin - just where I had had my fingers.  Never fear, madam has been composted into cobweb-heaven.

Thursday, November 05, 2015

Shark Tank.

This evening's wine marketing class was rather intense and I couldn't wait for it to be over.  As threatened, all four groups in the marketing class had to once again present their midterm projects.  This time however, we had to present them to a panel of five big-wigs which included, e.g., the President of Napa Valley College and a highfalutin Napa lawyer (whose inclusion was decidedly apropos, methinks).
It was all a bit chaotic and nerve-racking.  The Sharks wasted no time in finding fault with some of the ideas being proffered, at times even interrupting the student-presenters mid-sentence (that doesn't happen on the telly).  And some of the comments were really quite brutal, or, as the head of the Viticulture & Winery Technology programme, (a panelist himself), described them, candid.  Ouch!
By the time it came to my groups turn (now down to just three bodies as our fourth member was away on a business trip), it was already after 9 pm. Last week I had made the decision that my group would present our business plan first. However, this week I definitely felt that it was in our best tactical-interest to go last.  Standing at the front of the class, facing all the other students who now looked shell-shocked and tired, I knew I had made the right decision.  By now, it was patently obvious that everyone just wanted to toddle off home and that included the Sharks.
That's not to say that because of the late hour that my group's presentation was not well received; once again, our business plan was the least criticised of the four and the Sharks absolutely loved our redesign of the college's wine label.  One tiny criticism though, from the lawyer-Shark, was that the font on our blog was too small and it was strongly suggested that we look up somebody called Guy Kawasaki on the internet.  In return, I suggested to Mr. Lawyer-Shark that he should have brought along his opera glasses.
Hopefully, I won't have to think about this midterm project, or swim with sharks, ever again.

Wednesday, November 04, 2015

Hail, Mother Nature!

With the flick of a switch, and coinciding with the end of Daylight Saving Time, autumn has well and truly arrived in the Napa Valley. Halloween's daytime warm 82° temps, gave way to heavy rain on the night of November 1st; then thunder, lightning and hailstone on November 2nd. Cosily warm in the tasting room at TWWIAGE, me and a number of my coworkers gathered and watched Mother Nature's rather protracted spectacle of rampant precipitation. Yountville, just south of Oakville, seemed to be hardest hit during the storm, as there were widespread power outages.  There was still plenty of hail along the Silverado Trail, just north of the Yountville Crossroad, when I drove to work the next morning.
The past few days have been rather cool, so tonight I gave in and fired up the wood stove: it felt good.  It also felt like winter is just around the corner.

Saturday, October 31, 2015

Happy Halloween! Quoth The Liverbird.

This Liverbird might have been frightened out of his feathers, but he has managed to hold on to a small cluster of Cabernet Sauvignon mummies.
Hope everybody has a fun and safe Halloween.
Eat chocolate!  Drink red wine!

Friday, October 30, 2015

One of my favourite tipples.

The weather continues to be spectacular in Napa.  A few of cool mornings have given way to afternoon temperatures into the low 80s: a threat of rain did not materialise this past Wednesday.  So Vinomaker and I continue to quaff chilled white wines, one of which is the ever pleasant Laird Family Estate, 2014 Pinot Grigio.  With screw cap-ease, sunsets are appreciated, navels are contemplated and all is right with the world.  Sigh.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

The Midterm Presentation.

Tonight, my little group of marketing-classmates and I presented our midterm assignment to the entire class.  And ours was indeed the littlest group.  I hadn't noticed before, but one of the other groups was comprised of seven people, (in theory, that's almost twice the man-hours that the larger group had to dedicate to writing their marketing project), so we were at a little disadvantage from the start.  And start we did, as I volunteered for my group to go first.  I wanted to get it over and done with. But I also wanted to be the first group to present our marketing ideas; wine pricing, label redesign, promotion, events, social media, etc., because I had a feeling that the three other groups would probably have the same sort of ideas that my group had come up with.  Tactics, tactics.
Speaking in public is not my favourite thing to do, but I can make myself do it.  As it turns out I didn't have to say much.  One member, a mere 25% of our motley crew, who is the lone American and the only one taking this class for a grade, (yes, 75% of my group are not Americans, or taking the class for a grade), did the majority of the presentation.  However, I didn't just stand around twiddling my thumbs, (no, I left that particular presentation skill to the two men in our group).  I busied myself with manning the class computer.  I had decided that the visual vehicle of our presentation should be driven by a blog that I had set up for that very purpose. (Thank you Blogger/Google for free blogging). The blog proved to be a great tactical coup because the other groups, as I had anticipated they would, used PowerPoint (boring) to present their visual content. Our instructor loved the blog format.
The fifteen minutes allotted to us flew by, thank goodness, and the feedback was very positive. Phew!  Then the instructor dropped a bombshell - we have to do it all over again next week for a couple of Napa Valley College-bigwigs, Shark Tank-style.  Not good.

Saturday, October 24, 2015

NVSVA Harvest Party, 2015.

Vinomaker and I have just returned from the annual Napa Valley Small Vineyard Association's harvest party at Phoenix Ranch Vineyards.  I missed it last year (as I was double booked for harvest parties that night), so I was really looking forward to attending this year.  I got to catch up with a bunch of people I hadn't seen in a while and also meet some new folks.  A good time was had by all.
I was a little disappointed that the Thingwall Tipplers (you know who you are) were not present, but it seems they flew back to Merseyside on Wednesday.  I was hoping to make my apologies in person for being a lousy emailer.  Sorry!
Great evening, great food, great wines.  Happy harvest season everyone!

Friday, October 23, 2015

Going snorkelling.

There is a new tool in Vinoland.  Meet, The Snorkel.
For years now, Vinomaker and I have been using a home-made apparatus to separate the free-run juice from the pressed juice.  Our DIY jobbie was made from food grade plastic and performed the task fairly well, but it was difficult to clean, and therein lies the problem.  Anything, absolutely anything, that is used in the winemaking process from beginning to end has to be cleanable.  There are a lot of ways to spoil wine and using dirty equipment is right at the top of the list.  The most important thing to remember about microbial spoilage - from yeasts and bacterium - is that it is a whole lot easier to prevent the development of these microorganisms in the production of wine than it is to deal with the adverse effects of spoilage once it has happened.
Not exactly a cheap item, The Snorkel's retail price is $290.  Vinomaker was considering another home-made gizmo, but when he did a little bit of research he found the cost of the materials alone would have been about $150. Much easier, and time management efficient, to just buy one that someone else manufactured. The Snorkel made the whole pressing operation, along with the fact that our hydraulic basket press was feeling better today, much more expeditious.
Harvest and winemaking 2015 is complete.  Yay!

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Social media.

Tonight, being that our instructor is still out of town, my marketing-classmates and I had a guest speaker.  Andrew Healy, a native of Ireland, is the founder of 3 Rock Marketing.  3 Rock Marketing is a small marketing company based in Napa that specialises in social media. Mr. Healy's presentation was really interesting and he had a lot of good tips for those marketing-type folks who already use social media in their workplace.  In fact, he had so much to say that the class ran a little bit late, but nobody seemed too bothered.
Although Andrew's main focus was on Facebook, (and how to optimise your company's online presence - for a relatively small amount of money), Andrew covered most social media applications like; Instagram, Pinterest and Twitter.  Now, of late, I had been thinking that Facebook was a little passé, but apparently I am wrong.  It seems Facebook is still the go-to platform for companies who want to reach the most people...and translate eyes-on-the-page into dollars.
Nowadays, one cannot escape the ubiquitous, highly recognisible, stylised, little social media icons that appear on just about everything. The Facebook icon was even on a bottle of San Pellegrino that I took out of the refrigerator when I got home from class.  I'm left wondering who are the people who have the time to go to San Pellegrino's Facebook page and read about sparkling water, albeit Italian.   I am not one of those people.  I barely have time to post on this blog.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Vinsanity: Another new logo.

How about this Liverbird for Vinsanity's logo? Cool, eh?
A co-worker of mine at TWWIAGE is quite a good doodler - he is always scribbling away at something or other.  Taking advantage of  The Doodler's talent, I asked him if he could draw me a Liverbird with grapes. Of course, I first had to explain to him exactly what a Liverbird was, but, after a couple of internet searches, it didn't take him long to come up with this sketch of my newest feathered-friend.
Fierce looking, with a bunch of grapes in its beak and a picking knife in its claw, this Liverbird looks all set for harvesting action - a bit like me...yeah, right.

Friday, October 16, 2015

A pressing matter.

Two weeks have passed since we harvested Vinoland's Syrah, so today it was time to press off the grapes.  Just one little problem though, we could not use our large hydraulic, stainless-steel basket press as it was feeling under the weather.  With the hydraulic press out of commission, (incapacitated by a temperamental capacitor), Vinomaker and I had to resort to using an old basket press that he had purchased back when he started making wine in the late 90s.  It took us forever.  But, looking on the bright side, although the process was long it did give me plenty of time to reflect upon how much I love electricity.
Tomorrow, I must see if I can borrow the neighbour's horse, hook up a plough and get the vineyard whipped into shape for the winter. Just joking.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Sell, sell, sell!

Tonight, in my wine marketing class, I got to meet with my group of classmates and work on our mid-term project as our instructor is out of town.  He will be out of town next week also, as he was on October 1st (attending a conference in Spain).  Mr. Wagner is a busy man.  In lieu of a proper class, we were supposed to watch a film called Crazy People (about an advertising executive who goes mad), but we only got to see the opening credits as something was wrong with the DVD and nobody could get it to work. So, with nothing else scheduled for the evening, I had to meet with my group.
I have to say, my group is an interesting mix of people.  Originally the group was made up of 5 people, but then number 5 simply disappeared for a couple of weeks.  In the meantime, our instructor had given us an additional group member, number 6.  Then number 5 dropped the class and number 6 informed us that she didn't want to be in our group (ouch!) and so we became 4.  Only one member of our group is an American, so communication is a bit of a challenge.  Nevertheless, we put our heads together in an attempt to come up with a 5 year financial plan for selling the wine that the college produces.  (Our mid-term paper is due October 29th).  After 45 minutes I could stand getting nowhere no longer: I made my excuses and left.  Hopefully, my group and I will be able to come up with something feasible, (something better than the business plan I came up with on my own), over the next fortnight.

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Harvest 2015 is complete!

Harvest 2015 in Vinoland is done (and it was the earliest harvest ever). Hooray!  Whereas the size of Vinoland's Syrah crop was about normal, the Cabernet Sauvignon (CS) crop was, perhaps, 25% down.  The CS harvest numbers are; 24.0 °B, a pH of 3.82 and a TA of 5.15 (a little low).
I had actually decided upon the harvest date a few weeks back due more to logistics than anything else.  Vinomaker was concerned that the fruit would not be ready, but, by the way in which harvest had been progressing valley wide, I really felt that harvest wouldn't be late in Vinoland.
Besides it being the earliest harvest in Vinoland it was also the fastest pick - which meant that the harvest lunch/afterglow got going a little sooner than expected; wine, food and more wine abounded.
A surprisingly enjoyable wine at lunch, brought along by Mrs. St. Helena Sot who had been given the bottle by the proprietor of the winery, was a Fantesca, 2012 Chardonnay (Russian River Valley AVA).  Yes, a Chardonnay! An absolutely beautiful wine, made by Heidi Barrett (whoo hoo! for women winemakers), this Chardonnay was balanced, delicately fruity and was possessed of an ethereal quality that was simply too hard to describe. A fun quote, from Margaret Thatcher, printed on the cork (Fantesca Fortune Corkies) just added to my enjoyment.
Harvest 2015 is done, just ask this woman.

Thursday, October 08, 2015

The three-tier system.

So Vinomaker and I have a fairly frequent conversation that goes something like this;
VM: "Hey, it's Whatchamacallit's birthday, can you send him/her a bottle of TWWIAGE Cabernet Sauvignon?"
VG: "No, I can't."
VM: "Why can't you?"
VG: "Because I'd be committing a felony if I shipped a bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon to Whosit in, e.g., Pennsylvania."
VM: "Well, that's stupid!"
Yes, it would be a felony for me to ship wine into Pennsylvania and, yes, it is stupid.  But that is the current state of affairs when trying to navigate the shipping/distribution laws in the US.
Tonight's wine marketing class concentrated on the unique, and arcane, wine distribution system in the United States.  Simply put, the 'three-tier system' came into existence with the repeal of Prohibition (in 1933) which gave each state control over the sale and distribution of alcohol, (the three-tier system refers to the producers, distributors and retailers of wine).  And that is the way it continues to work to this day, with no real incentive to change the system in the states where the distributor has a monopoly (and the politicians like the status quo).  So, no, Thingamajig cannot have a birthday bottle of wine: I like my liberty too much.
It is much less complicated, in the US, to make wine than sell it.

Friday, October 02, 2015

Vinoland's Syrah Harvest: 2015.

The Syrah grapes are in, and I have to say the fruit looks gorgeous.  Look at the colour of that drop of juice on the berry to the lower left of the photograph: getting good colour extraction of of Syrah grapes is never a problem.  There was quite a bit more bee-damage than bird-damage this year which is a little unusual.  But I like bees, so it's alright.  Harvesting and destemming went smoothly.  And so did the party afterwards, (which is always a lot of fun).  A good harvest.
Syrah by the numbers, 26.5 °B, a pH of 3.56 and a TA of 5.75.

Thursday, October 01, 2015

Happy 8th birthday V2!

Vinodog 2 turns 8 years old today - and she is clearly not impressed.  At least that is the feeling I am getting, as she looks like she is blowing a raspberry at the very thought of being so old. And the fact that her black bits are increasingly becoming more grey.  Of course, she did enjoy her extra helping of dog biscuits after breakfast and unwrapping her new squeaky toy (Sid the shark), but now she is outside napping in the Napa sunshine clearly underwhelmed by the day's events thus far.  I'll take her for a walk down by the river, she'll like that.  She's a great dog.
Happy birthday V2!

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Other people's stuff.

Published weekly, Wine Country Classifieds (WCC) is not just about other people's stuff: the distinctive, bright yellow advertisement-mailing is a very helpful wine industry resource/tool.  Of course, WCC does include lots of ads about stuff for sale, e.g., barrels (new and used), macro bins (used) and bottles (hopefully, new).  But WCC also includes a diverse selection of services that are available to wine industry peeps, like; custom crush facilities, mobile bottling services, barrel storage and bulk wine storage.  It's an interesting read for any wine geek - and it's free. I love it.

Friday, September 25, 2015

The cost of wine.

When the bird netting goes up on the grapevines I do my very, very best to make sure that none of my feathered friends can sneak in through a gap, that I may have inadvertently left, and become trapped.  I walk through the rows often to make sure that not one single bird is caught in the canopy. But it's not a perfect system.  Just last weekend, I had to free a rather annoyed female Western Tanager (Piranga ludoviciana) from one of the Pinot grigio (PG) rows.  Not a particularly easy task with V2 on the other side of the vine snapping away, (she takes her partial terrier-heritage very seriously).  The PG vines having been harvested already are now sans nets, so the birds are at liberty to go about their business as usual.
Today, on the way out for our morning walk, V2 drew my attention to a house finch that was trapped in the Orange Muscat (OM) vines.  I pulled open the netting quickly and the finch flew away, seemingly unscathed, into a nearby tree.  A little later in the morning, when Vinomaker and I were finally organised enough to get around to removing the netting on the OM prior to picking, I found the remains of a little house finch (hanging in the netting by its spine and the teeniest little ribs).  I am so sad to have one less house finch in Vinoland: I hate to be the cause of the demise of even one precious bird. 2015 may prove, in a way, to be an expensive vintage.  Sigh.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Label it drinkable.

More on  wine labels.  In tonight's wine marketing class we discussed what exactly constitutes a wine brand's shelf appeal.  And how a winery can make their brand stand out from all the hundreds of other wine bottles on the supermarket/wine shop's shelf.
The initial impact that a label can make on a consumer is very important: the right design can act as a 'billboard' that will catch the consumer's eye and make an immediate and favourable impression. Besides all the legal mumbo jumbo that must be included on a wine label, a label should make a strong statement and be conspicuous and snazzy.  But at the same time a label should be smart, tasteful and classic - something that says that the wine inside the packaging is, after all, ultimately drinkable. The copy in the textbook says; "...create a label that is big, bright, stylish, bold, elegant, loud, sophisticated, flashy..."  So I am thinking that just a touch of schizophrenia can be a desirable thing in a label designer.  Yikes!
My label is striking, is it not?  But I'm afraid it may get pigeon-holed as a critter wine!  Double yikes!

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

It's a miracle.

Not quite in the same league as the two proven miracles required to become a Catholic saint, I returned home from work today to find that Vinoland's Pinot grigio grapes had been harvested.  It is indeed a small miracle, as I didn't think harvest 2015 was ever going to get started here at home.  I think it is only fitting that today - the day that Pope Francis canonized Father Junípero Serra, the first winegrower in California - a few grapes were picked in Vinoland; grapes destined to become a little bit of California wine.  (And it is California wine month, besides.)
Like the St. Helena Cabernet Sauvignon, the Pinot grigio yield was down by about 50%.  Pinot grigio by the numbers; outrageous 32 °B, a pH of 3.94 and a TA of 5.30.  Next up, Orange muscat.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

The 2015 lowdown.

With the arrival of the St. Helena Cabernet Sauvignon grapes, this morning in Vinoland, the 2015 winemaking season has begun.  One small problem though: the yield is down about 50% on the previous vintage.  Most wineries, including TWWIAGE, are reporting that crops are on average about 30% down.  With the 2012, 2013 and 2014 vintages being very bountiful, some folks have been taken by surprise at the reduced size of the crop this year.  (In all honesty, this years crop size is probably closer to normal. Whatever normal is, that is.)  Vinomaker will deal with it.  The Cabernet Sauvignon grapes looked, for the most part, like their usual beautiful blue-velvet-selves.  Vital statistics were; 25.2 °B, with a pH of 3.75 and a TA of  5.85.
The 2015 growing season has not been without its problems e.g., poor fruit set and persistent drought conditions.  In addition, this particular vineyard (the source of the Clone 7), is slowly succumbing to Pierce's Disease.  I am hopeful, however, that this vintage will more than make up for what it lacks in crop with the quality of the finished wine.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

It is still a conundrum.

Another blind wine tasting in tonight's wine marketing class.  My classmates and I were told to simply rate the mystery wines, 1 through 6, in our order of preference.  Now, none of the wines were anything I'd personally want to swallow, but two stood out as particularly undesirable to me.  The first was a Meiomi, 2013 Pinot noir - with a really funky nose, I didn't even want to taste it, but I did.  As an aside, this brand just sold to Constellation Brands for $315 million making Joe Wagner, at 33 years old, a very rich young man.  The second wine was a Conundrum, 2012 California Red Wine - it had a nonspecific red-fruit nose and, upon tasting, it was cloyingly sweet.  I had actually commented to the person sitting next to me, who happens to be a co-worker at TWWIAGE, that the wine was disturbingly reminiscent of Conundrum.  I nailed it!  I am guessing that I just don't like Wagner Family wines.
After the unveiling, the entire class acted as a mini-focus group and we discussed the merits and demerits of the labels.  I don't know if I need to visit an optician, or if I need to take a design class, but my idea of what constitutes 'shelf appeal' in a wine label was quite different from the majority of the class.  We all did, however, agree that the label on the Napa Valley College wine left something to be desired.  Someone commented that the pale blue, circular label looked like it had been printed at home for a baby shower.  My favourite label was the Parducci, 2012 True Grit Reserve Red (Mendocino AVA).  Clean and unfussy, with a sort of Wild West-meets-Bordelais-charm, the True Grit label was to the point; proprietary name, wine type, origin, vintage and producer. Besides, I'm a sucker for anything with cowboys boots on it.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Lake County Goats.

More goats.  Not the fat and happy, valley-floor-living Napa goats I photographed this past April. No, these poor goats had the misfortune to find themselves in the midst of one of the most destructive wildfires in the history of California. I copied this photograph from the Facebook page of one of my co-workers, the Balancing Queen (BQ), who unfortunately lost her home and all of her possessions, and most likely her cats, in the Valley Fire which is currently burning to the north of here in Lake County. And tragically, the BQ is not alone in her predicament, at last count some 600 homes have been destroyed.
Wineries and vineyards have been lost.  Many vineyards, although not directly affected by the fire, remain unpicked as access to them is restricted.  Regretfully, wildfires, earthquakes and drought are all apart of life in California. The goats survived.
Photo credit: JoAnn Saccato

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Syrah is wild.

One could be forgiven for thinking that this photograph of grape flower buds was taken earlier this year, but nope, I took it earlier today. I was out in the vineyard checking the progress of grape maturation when I came across this particular over achiever.  It didn't surprise me in the least, as Syrah is my little wild child.
A quick berry sampling of the Syrah today revealed the vital statistics of; 25.0 °Brix, a pH of 3.30 and a TA of 8.5.  Things are looking good.
And I just realised that I missed my 7th Blogiversary (the 6th of this month), oops!  I have been so busy, I simply failed to remember my anniversary. Thanks to those who read and comment on Vinsanity, I really appreciate your input.
Roll on year 8!