Friday, July 31, 2015

Records are made to be broken.

Yes they are!  Yesterday I joined all my co-workers (at TWWIAGE) for a celebratory luncheon at Auberge du Soleil.  A good time was had by all. The occasion for the celebration was a record second quarter of sales - a cool $3.2 million!  It is the fourth such event since I started working at TWWIAGE (just on 10 years ago), and the owners of TWWIAGE pointed out to us all that a celebratory lunch could be had every month for the rest of the year if we keep exceeding our goals.  Just as well that I like carrots.

Monday, July 27, 2015

And last, but not least...

...veraison in the Cabernet Sauvignon vines has begun, albeit very sporadic.  Caught in all their blushing glory late yesterday afternoon, this particular cluster of grapes includes a few shot berries, the odd dead flower part and lots of pesky powdery mildew cleistothecia.  Lovely, (not).

Saturday, July 25, 2015


Resting in Vinomaker's palm (he makes a great hand-model, doesn't he?), are dozens of garden snail eggs.  These eggs were a 'gift with purchase' courtesy of a bag of Miracle-Gro Potting Mix. Sigh.  As a result, Vinoland has now been inadvertently inoculated with hundreds of these little snaily-gems. Some large, some small, some so ripe that they popped when I touched them (I hate when that happens).  Now, I'm no conchologist, so they could actually be slugs eggs.  But regardless of which particular gastropod these eggs belong to they are most definitely French. How do I know this?  Because one just winked at me.  Sacrebleu!

Friday, July 24, 2015

Hens and chicks.

Hurrah!  Veraison in the Syrah.  I actually noticed the onset of veraison yesterday and it's quite irregular, but it's happening.  I also noticed that there is quite a bit of poor fruit set, or millerandage, in the Syrah (not shown in this photograph).  Sometimes referred to  as 'hens and chicks', I am used to seeing this phenomenon in the Orange muscat vines, but not usually in the Syrah.
Millerandage is a problem that affects fruit set in grapes and can be caused by a number of things; unfavourable climatic conditions, difficult fertilization, genetics, etc.  With millerandage, flowers that fail to fertilize remain on the cluster, (unlike with coulure, another form of poor fruit set, in which the flowers abscise and fall off), becoming small, seedless berries commonly known as shot berries.  Methinks the culprit was most likely wind, as I think this has been a rather windy spring/summer in the valley. Whoosh!  Bye-bye, crop.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

It's never too early.

A mere five days later, and just look at that colour.  My Pinot grigio grapettes are rushing with reckless abandon through veraison.  Within the next week or so, I'm thinking, the bird netting will have to be installed. As of now, it seems that the harvest of these grapes will be earlier than last year.  Not as early as harvest at Mumm Napa Valley though, where harvest began yesterday.  Yikes!
It seems that some 12 tons of Pinot noir grapes decided that they were done with idly hanging around in the vineyard and decided it was harvest time: the earliest harvest ever, by one day, for Mumm (but not a valley record, apparently).  Like I always say, we are all on Mother Nature's schedule.

Saturday, July 18, 2015

It's ripening time again.

When I got back from San Francisco on Thursday I did a quick detour into the Pinot grigio to check on the progress of a couple of baby vines, (I had taken their milk cartons off before going to England).  The babies are doing fine, in fact, they're growing like weeds.  And I'm happy to report that the rest of the vines are doing well also, as they are beginning to go through veraison, and right on Mother Nature's schedule.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

San Franciacorta.

Yesterday, I chose to venture out of Napa. Jeremy Parzen (aka Do Bianchi) was hosting a Franciacorta tasting in San Francisco and I decided that I wanted to attend.  So I trekked across the bay, and quite a trek it was, (note to self: public transport is only as good as the parking availability at the terminals/stations), to participate in what turned out to be a fun and very informative tasting.
Alongside importers, distributors, professional winewriters and Franciacorta enthusiasts, I tasted through 16 wines (or "16 skus" in wine-promotion parlance) from about 10 different Franciacorta producers.  All four categories of Franciacorta were represented; Brut, Satèn, Millesimato and Rosé.  Made by the metodo classico, but with only 4.5 atmospheres of pressure instead of the traditional 6 atmospheres, all of the wines had less fizz than one would normally associate with a bottle of bubbly, (more reminiscent of a Crémant), which meant the wines showed a little more softness and elegance on the palate.  There were several standouts in the Franciacorta line-up for me. Here is a selection of my WhiffsNotes;
Best nose:  Barone Pizzini Satèn, NV - Wow! Baked apples and toast. Soft fizz.  Easy to swallow.
Best mouthfeel:  Il Mosnel EBB Extra Brut, 2009 - At once clean and complex.
Best finish:  Montensia Brut, NV - Nice.  Opened up beautifully.  Long, long finish.
Overall drinkability:  A tie between - Il Mosnel Satèn, 2010 - Super soft, ozoney-alpiness. What a mouthfeel!  And, Berlucchi Brut '61, NV - Dry, clean, toast, nice finish.
Special mention:  Camossi Brut, NV - Fruity, soft with unexpected Turkish Delight/rose petal vibe.
It is not without a soupçon of irony that I acknowledge that some of the most appealing wines to me at the Franciacorta tasting were 100% Chardonnay.  Yes, Chardonnay. Surprising, considering I usually avoid Blanc de Blancs wines, both French and Californian, like the plague.  But never say never.
Thanks for the invite 2B!

Tuesday, July 14, 2015


Such a winsome, little periwinkle-blue wild flower could not have a worse name - hello, skunkweed!  Yes, I found a new blue weed.  However, I discovered this little cutie, Navarretia squarrosa, not in Vinoland this time, but instead up at Berlenbach Vineyards, (all my other finds have been home-grown).  Also known as California stinkweed, I chanced upon this diminutive plant as I was taking a photograph of some old farm equipment.  Actually, I nearly didn't see the skunkweed at all because none of  the plants were taller than 4 inches in height.  And thankfully, seeing as I was so much taller than this tiny weed I didn't even have to smell it.  Phew, methinks.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Ten thousand saw I at a glance.

I don't really know if my guesstimate of the number of young Chardonnay vines waiting to be planted at the Berlenbach vineyard is correct, but let me just say that it certainly looks like there are 10,000 vines.  Of course, if I new how many acres are being replanted it would help with my calculations.
What I do know is that the folks at Far Niente have selected Chardonnay FPS 72 (on 3309 Courderc rootstock), a clone of Chardonnay that was donated to the FPS public selection at UC Davis by the Wente family (from a production block in the Arroyo Seco AVA, Monterey County).  I know this because I am nosey and I looked.  In fact, I gazed - and gazed, tee-hee.

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Bye-bye, Berlenbach Vineyards.

The end of an era.  Today, Far Niente Winery, who lease quite a bit of land in the Coombsville AVA, bulldozed out the aged Chardonnay vines at Berlenbach Vineyards.  (This is the vineyard that UC Davis were not interested in owning.)  I climbed up to the top of Vinoland and watched as a Caterpillar D6 uprooted the vines and pushed them into huge, gnarled heaps.  Always sad to see.
Later in the afternoon, when the dust had all settled, Vinodog 2 and I took a stroll up to the vineyard to have a peep at what was going on.  It's a fabulous site, the soil seems to be of great quality - a gravelly loam (no tuff, like Vinoland), with wonderful western sun exposure.  Far Niente have already had the new Chardonnay vines delivered for the replanting.  In a fenced enclosure, with shade cloth for roofing, I'd estimate that 10,000+ green-growing bench-grafts await their moment in the sun.  Vinodog 2 and I introduced ourselves - after all, we will soon be watching their development, from Vinoland, on a daily basis.

Friday, July 10, 2015

Tuff stuff.

A small excavation in Vinoland has revealed a friendly, neighbourhood igneous rock (everybody should have one).  Tuff, or ash-fall tuff, is extremely variable in its chemical and mineralogical composition.  Vinoland's tuff happens to be extremely light in weight and texture, but there exists some historical references (The Structural and Industrial Materials of California, Bulletin No. 38, State Mining Bureau, 1906), to a brecciated tuff, mined just a mile or so from here, that "...for many years has been used for macadamizing the streets of Napa."  Now, that's tough stuff.
Tuff is a fine grained rock composed of volcanic ash which fell upon this part of the Napa Valley millions of years ago, (vulcanism reached the valley about 7 million years ago), which later hardened into beds of tuff.  Vinoland's tuff is really light in colour (it resembles diatomaceous earth in appearance, though it is denser), includes no clasts (volcanic detritus), rubs off on your fingers like chalk and is usually high in silica. 
Tuff is only found in a small area in the south end of Vinoland, (some Syrah is planted in it, tough stuff for a grapevine to deal with).  I know that at least one of our neighbours over the hill behind Vinoland has a large amount of it, but I don't know how extensive it is in the neighbourhood as a whole.  Some folks claim that the volcanic rock in the Napa Valley is responsible for certain characteristics in the grapes and resulting wine.  However, due to the huge diversity in the types of volcanic rock deposited in the length and breadth of the valley, I am of the opinion that there is little significance you can attribute to just one specific lithology.

Saturday, July 04, 2015

American Independence Day, 2015.

Happy 239th birthday America.
I have only been back in Vinoland for about 41 hours and I'm already getting ready to attend my second Independence Day do.  Last night, I enjoyed some bubbling rosé at Phoenix Ranch Vineyards whilst catching up with friends and watching the 3rd of July firework display at Silverado County Club.  And in just a few hours time I will join even more of my colonial cousins for a festive afternoon of patriotic merrymaking - hopefully washed down with more bubbles.  Problem is, I'm feeling particularly English right now.  But Vinodog 2 wanted to wish a happy 4th of July to all.
God bless America.
Oh...and God save the Queen!

Wednesday, July 01, 2015

Last night wine.

Goodbye Blighty, 2015.
That's it, my holiday at home has come to a close.  A trip to the beach; a nice meal with all my family; a lovely English white wine.  What a wonderful last day of my stay.
This bottle of Denbies, 2013 English White Lily, which I purchased in Marks & Spencer for £10.00, was delightful.  Although I would have liked a tad more acid, this white blend of Chardonnay, Müller-Thurgau and Seyval blanc was a real hit at dinner.
California here I come.