Saturday, January 31, 2015


Well, here we are on the last day of January and it has not rained once this month.  And I think I can safely predict that it will not rain before midnight tonight.  In fact, we have had no rain since Christmas Eve.  As I write this post the current temperature outside is 79°F.  I was pruning in the Pinot grigio block (which I started today) and I had to come in for a drink of water because I was getting too toasty.  I also made sure that V2 had fresh water in her bowl, but she was too busy off somewhere up the hill digging for gophers (her water bowl will undoubtedly be full of mud later).  Actually, V2 has several water bowls dotted around the property which she very generously shares with some nocturnal visitors to Vinoland.  I know this because I discover fresh new offerings of raccoon and skunk scat each morning when I take V2 for her morning constitutional.
Vinomaker is the person around here responsible for taking care of the avian population, (although it is me who is trying to nurse a house finch back to health at the moment).  I cannot tell you how many pounds of seed the birds go through in a month, but it's a lot.  However, the reward for Vinomaker schlepping all that bird seed around, and making sure that they also have lots of fresh water, is that I get to enjoy some very cheeky feathered friends who are enormously entertaining. 
Necklace, the dark-eyed junco (Junco hyemalis), is definitely my favourite.  A contemporary of Mr. Beakly (may he R.I.P.), Necklace, with his distinctive ring of light coloured feathers, is a feisty little fellow and must wield some authority over his other junco pals as he is always noisily chasing them away from the smorgasbord that Vinoland's deck-railing becomes every morning and afternoon.  Necklace is always the first to appear when the seed is put out and will even sit in a big oak tree above the deck protesting if his next repast does not appear in a timely fashion.  Love it! 
California is in desperate need of rain, as this is the 4th drier than average winter in a row.  (However, this dry spell is nowhere near as bad as the one California was experiencing when I first moved to the US - that particular drought was 7 years long).   I can't help thinking to myself though that if I was stuck indoors due to inclement weather, I'd really be missing some great stuff going on outside.  Just a thought.

Friday, January 30, 2015

The Calistoga AVA.

There is no doubt that the Napa Valley is a very picturesque place.  However, a lot of visitors I run into do complain of being disappointed with the town of Napa itself.  I point out to them that Napa is a functioning town that has to support a fairly sizeable population (approx. 80,000 peeps) and therefore it has to service that population with such untouristy features as an auto row, big-box stores and strip malls.
Of all the AVA sign photographs that I have posted up till now, this Calistoga AVA sign, on the corner of Highway 29 and Larkmead Lane, has to have the most unlovely of dispositions.  There are other Calistoga AVA signs that I could have photographed in much prettier settings, but this one makes me laugh.  Like some cavalier afterthought, this sign was plonked down in the most unprepossessing of locations.  I think the oval wine-coloured AVA signs are of a rather fetching design, but this Calistoga sign is being outcompeted by a slightly mangled chain-link fence, the yellow safety shield on a guy-wire (stabilizing a utility pole) and a red sign warning of an underground telephone cable (which I cropped out).  Funny!
Grapevines were first planted in Calistoga (also known for its sparkling water, hot springs and mud baths) in 1862 by Samuel Brannan, a Mormon settler and businessman.  Dominated by a single soil type - volcanic (or, as the successful petition for AVA status reads, "volcanic bedrock overlain with lava flows, ash-fall tuffs, welded tuffs, pyroclastic flows and mudflows"), Calistoga was listed in a viticultural census as long ago as 1893.  Calistoga, in the summer months, has the most dramatic diurnal shift in the Napa Valley, a 50°F (often more) day-to-night change in temperature.
Calistoga was granted AVA status in 2010.  The  contentious petition to the Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) was initially proposed by Bo Barrett (of Chateau Montelena and Judgement of Paris/Bottle Shock fame) in 2003 and resulted in the temporary cessation of all AVA petitions until the TTB could complete a top-to-bottom review of AVA rules.  Sheesh!  Some people can get so tetchy over alcohol, money and politics.
Notable wineries for me in this AVA are; Clos Pegase Winery, Frank Family Vineyards (I recently had their sparkling wine, they call it Rogue Champagne, which I didn't even know they made and it was delicious), Larkmead Vineyards, Madrigal Family Vineyards, Schramsberg Vineyards and Vincent Arroyo Winery.
Eight down, eight to go

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Early pruning.

This is the earliest I have ever started to prune the grapevines.  The weather has just been so nice, low 60s, warm sunshine, that I thought I'd get an early that I can panic later!  The ground must still be cold though because the vines were not bleeding from the wounds so they are not yet drawing up water.  With no rain forecast for at least a week, the wounds should dry out quite nicely (and be safe from airborne infection).   
I love pruning, it never gets old for me.  Making pruning decsions that determine this year's, and next year's, crop is thought provoking and an awful lot of fun. 

Saturday, January 24, 2015

The Ritual.

The annual January ritual of the cleaning of the Felcos is underway.  My pruning shears were put away at the end of last season in less than spectacular condition (sorry, Vinomaker), so they are undergoing a very intensive cleaning in anticipation of the 2015 pruning season getting underway very soon.  How soon?  Erm, like, tomorrow.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

The Apostle of California.

I bought these rosary beads at the Vatican whilst on a family trip to Rome in 2000.  The beads are made from rosewood and in place of the more traditional crucifix there is a replica of one of the panels on the porta santa, or holy door, which is the north entrance to St. Peter's Basilica.  The porta santa was open when my family and I descended upon The City of the Seven Hills (not cemented closed as it usually is), as 2000 was a Jubilee year.  My family and I spent our days in the Eternal City sight-seeing, shopping and eating.  The evenings were spent soaking up the character of areas like Trastevere, laughing our bottoms off at news coverage of the 'hanging chad' debacle unfolding back in the United States and eating.
Watching the news the other day, I was happy to hear that Pope Francis has decided to canonize Father Junípero Serra when the pontiff visits Washington D.C. later this year.  Beatified by Pope John Paul II in 1988, Junípero Serra, a Majorcan missionary, is credited with the planting of the first grapevines in California (at Mission San Diego) for the production of sacramental wine.  Father Serra was the primera vineyard manager in California history.  I don't know if  Blessed Serra will ever have patron saint status conferred upon him, there are already a bunch of other saints that have winemaking and viticulture covered, but he's still one more for the team.  Siempre adelante, nunca retroceder.

Friday, January 16, 2015

What ifs.

The photograph on this Vinsanity post is meant to illustrate how I imagine our great-great-grandchildren will enjoy their Napa Valley wines.  I envision a future where Riedel may have been forced out of the glassware business because all wine will be being quaffed from coffee mugs, (in this case, a rather fetching Robert Mondavi mug - adorned with Bob's mug).  I came to this rather alarming conclusion after reading a stunningly unscientific article in the January issue of Scientific American, 'Will We Still Enjoy Pinot Noir?'  The article is written by Chicken Licken, sorry, I mean, Kimberly A. Nicholas who is an associate professor of sustainability science at Lund University in Sweden.  Ja, that Sweden.
Ms. Nicholas writes to educate us all about climate change and its effect on wine-growing regions around the globe and seems to be on a crusade to save the wine styles that we know and enjoy today for the benefit of the palates of future generations.  I dunno, personally, I am glad that the Bordeaux wines that I can enjoy today do not resemble any of the wines being produced in that particular wine region during the (approximate) 300 year period when Bordeaux was owned by England: they were most likely horrid by today's standards.
Wine was not being produced commercially in the Napa Valley 200 years ago (as it was in most European countries), and even if it had been would it have tasted like, oh, let's say the Saddelback, 2011 Merlot (Oakville AVA) that I am going to drink with dinner tonight?  I doubt it.  There are a lot of variables that have contributed to the evolution of wine production through the centuries, not just heat.  Obviously, temperature brings out different characteristics in grapes (ergo, wine), but focusing only on the influence of heat ignores the importance of things like soil composition and topography, etc.
There is no real research documented in this article other than a graphic which cites the work of Lee Hannah (of Conservation International) and Patrick Roehrdanz (of U.C. Santa Barbara), which suggests that climate change will force the wine industry to "migrate" to survive.  A sidebar claims, "California growers in Napa and Sonoma are experimenting with ways to compensate for climate change, preferable to moving to new locations."  How preposterous (and alarmist) is that statement?  I personally know a few Napa growers and not one of them has mentioned moving their operations elsewhere.  I don't know about Messrs. Hannah and Roehrdanz, but Ms. Nicholas hails from Sonoma, so I am assuming that she has noticed, first hand, the very current lack of plantable acreage in the Napa Valley and is aware that, basically, there is a moratorium on hillside planting.  Oh, and there is a tiny paragraph that mentions some sunlight analyses that Ms. Nicholas conducted with her "colleagues at Stanford and U.C. Davis," which showed "that for every 1 percent increase in light, there was a more than 2 percent decrease in desirable tannins and anthocyanins." Not one "desirable tannin" (and its subsequent disappearance) was named in the article.  Well, there goes the neighbourhood...and the palates of the wine drinkers of 2080!  (Wonder where Ms. Nicholas bought her crystal ball, because I want one.)
There is one thing in the article, right near the end, perhaps as a meagre attempt at objectivity, that I agree with, but it is nothing Ms. Nicholas proposed.  Jason Kesner, of Kesner Wines (producers of mainly Chardonnay and Pinot Noir), believes "that the most outstanding vineyards in the region may still be generations away."  How dare he be so optimistic and so audaciously uninformed!  But I happen to agree with him.  With new techniques, equipment, plant materials, philosophies and, yes, even conservation, I think Napa wine-growing has a rosy future.  The Antinori's, the Italian wine dynasty, who began making wine in the really toasty middle ages, have even invested in Napa's future.  I am not filled with doom and gloom.
Nobody knows whether or not global warming is fact or fiction, man-made or a natural and cyclical phenomenon and to pretend (with no facts to back up that pretense, especially in fact-free articles like the one in Scientific American), is just irresponsible and journalistic-sensationalism at its worst.
My own empirical data suggests, nay screams, that after about a decade of trying to get Cabernet sauvignon, clone 4, ripened in chilly-Coombsville I am not likely to achieve a desirable level of ripeness in 2015 either.  Not this year, not 100 years from now.  Sigh.  I should have planted clone 169, and that's a fact.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Still, Grenache.

I just keep on coming back to this wine varietal.  The Miner Family 2012, Sierra Foothills, Grenache was really, really nice this past Friday night (with homemade pizza) and still nice, two days later, last night (with chicken and roasted vegetables).  A medium-bodied Grenache, this grape variety is probably more suited to the growing conditions in the Sierra Foothills than here in Napa.  A very easy to drink wine.
I find that Miner Family do a very consistent job with all of their wines, (except for a bottle of their Sangiovese I had once).
I bought this Grenache, one bottle only, just before Christmas at a 50% off industry only sale at the winery.  I wish I'd purchased more, but I know where there is more to be had.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Oh. Thank. God!

My viticultural-lifeline has not been severed.  I had been afraid that with the retirement of Dr. Stephen Krebs, director of the viticulture programme at Napa Valley College (NVC) and guru of all things grapey, that I would be ever deprived of the opportunity to pick a real-life viticultural-legend.  When left with only the internet, my (albeit extensive) coursework notes and my modest library of reference books, what would a Vinogirl do, for the love of Bacchus, when faced with some hitherto unfamiliar pruning perplexity?  Panic, probably.  Even last summer I had the occasion to run over to the 'Ag Lab' (Dr. K's domain) to seek guidance from the good man himself on some clonal considerations for a bit of replanting I was doing.
Thankfully, Dr. Krebs has decided to continue working, part-time, in the industry as a consultant: his services will no doubt be in great demand.  An email blast from Dr. K, on December 30th, let everyone know of his intentions to stay involved with the industry he clearly views as a true vocation, not just a job.
A letter in yesterday's Napa Valley Register lauds Dr. K's skills whilst at NVC rather as "gifts," and I couldn't agree more.  Those gifts will make it extremely difficult for NVC to find his replacement as programme coordinator.  I can't think of another individual who is more respected in this valley. 
I feel I was gifted the invaluable experience of having completed an A.S. Degree in Viticulture under the guidance of Dr. Krebs.  And now, blessed to have not been left up pruning creek without a paddle.

Tuesday, January 06, 2015

A sensory epiphany.

This morning, as I walked from the south building to the north building at TWWIAGE I got a whiff of a familiar smell, (something is rotten in the state of Oakville). With the temperature reaching 70° F today in Oakville I tried to find any excuse to be out of doors, it was just gorgeous.
There is a very definite seasonality to the wine industry.  Of course many peoples day jobs are cyclical; there are often tasks that need to be performed on a daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly, yearly basis etc., but no occupation is quite as seasonal as farming.  Unlike an office job, where ones immediate environment changes little, if at all, especially with HVAC, working at a winery one is fully immersed in the daily changes in ones immediate environment - there is constant awareness of exactly where one is on the viticultural calendar. My olfactory epiphany today was triggered by the smell of compost in the air: a neighbouring vineyard was spreading composted grape pomace amongst the vines, a typical vineyard operation this time of year (to take advantage of the winter rains). It's not a bad smell, (it reminds me of being on a Greek island after an olive harvest/olive oil pressing), but it is strong and evokes in me an almost tangible awareness of the passage of time.
This past Sunday, Vinomaker and I bottled a 2013 Chardonnay, (grapes from the Carneros AVA, all stainless steel fermentation and sur lie aging) and it smelled great.  Wineries often have very definite bottling schedules, we don't.  Sometimes our day jobs just get in the way.
Happy Epiphany!

Friday, January 02, 2015

A layer of frosting.

My traditional New Year walk through the vineyard was delayed by a day, but better late than never.  Of course, I did choose the coldest morning so far this winter, it was a nippy 26°F.  But V2 and I braved the cold and went for a brisk morning constitutional.  The vines, weeds and fallen grape leaves all looked very pretty with their slight sugar-like coating that sparkled in the rays of the rising wintry-sun.
It's a little too early to be thinking about pruning yet.  A lot of local vineyards are already pre-pruned and I noticed a Chardonnay vineyard, a quite sizeable one at that, close to downtown Napa that is already fully pruned.  I, myself, would be a tiny bit concerned about the pruning wounds and infection of those wounds, especially on cordon pruned vines.  But then, what do I know?  Besides, I always like to wait until the last minute, and then panic.
A happy 2015 to all!