Wednesday, December 30, 2020


To abdicate is to renounce the throne. Why anyone would abandon their claim to the monarchy is beyond me, I'd love to be Queen.  However, not all abdications are negative in nature.  Let's face it, if Edward VIII hadn't let his libido get in the way of his duty to old Blighty we (the royal we?) wouldn't have been blessed with the unparalleled 68 year reign (thus far) of HRH ER II.  Rather, in my humble opinion, an abdication with a negative impact would be the act of usurping the employment of a crown cap closure on my favourite Grüner Veltliner (GV).  And it happened.  This particular abdication, probably of no consequence to most, has caused me quite a bit of consternation.
I loved the old closure on the H&M Hofer GV, I found the crown cap snappy and interesting.  Starting with the 2018 vintage, the Hofer GV is now sealed with a boring old screw cap.  It is my suspicion that using a crown cap on wine, when the consumer expects this type of closure to be reserved solely for beer bottles, negatively impacted the sales of this Austrian wine in the United States.  It is fair to point out that Hofer also changed the bottle shape (more Bordeaux-ish now) and the glass colour, but those two items are not nearly as distinct as a crown cap and, to be honest, probably would go unnoticed by the consumer.  Ho hum.  Alas, nothing remains unchanged.  I'll survive, I suppose, but perhaps I need to buy myself a tiara and wear it whilst enjoying a glass of this GV in the future.

Tuesday, December 29, 2020


Of course, Vinogirl is only a nickname, it is not the name that I answer to.  There are only two people in my life, one for years, one more recent, who frequently call me VG.  Yet, I have been known to create a website account using the Christian name, Vino and the surname, Girl.  That's Ms. Girl to those who don't know me well.
I have had a few different nicknames throughout my life.  My first ever nickname was given to me by my maternal-grandfather, my Pop.  Pop dubbed the baby Vinogirl, Beatie.  When my Vinomum asked him, "Dad, why Beatie?" he replied, "Because she was born in the Beatle-age."  (It's also fitting at this point to mention that I was born with a complete Beatle mop.)  This bottle of wine is also nicknamed Beatie.  Why?  Because it too was born in the Beatle-age.  Apparently, 1964 was a great vintage.
The 1964 Le Mouton Baron Philippe was a very special, long ago birthday gift from my Vinomum and Thud, but I only just recently decided that it was time to open this aged bottle.  The low fill, or ullage, suggested perhaps that this bottle should have been consumed a long time ago.  Over the past 56 years, although stored correctly whilst in my custody, some wine had been lost through cork-absorption and evaporation.  So how exactly had Beatie aged?  After all, middle age is not always kind to wine.  Or humans, for that matter.
The capsule posed a bit of a problem in that the lead had fused to the top of the cork.  The cork itself came out in three pieces, which was a nice surprise as I was expecting it to crumble like a McVitie's digestive biscuit.  The colour of the wine was extraordinary, dark and opaque like a Turkish coffee, not even the slightest hint of red or purple.  On the nose, Beatie displayed a slightly oxidative character (which I'm not overly fond of in any wine, red or white), but here it was more agreeably akin to a nutty sherry.  Although, lurking somewhere behind the nuttiness, there was a definite shy tree-fruit element.  
I took my first sip with great trepidation, I wasn't expecting much, except I was blown away, and how!  Caramelised rhubarb, dried green tea leaves and baked plum vibes took control of my taste buds - so delightful and definitely Cab-like.  What dominated was the acid that, after more than half a century, was precise and linear.  And the best part?  The beautiful, lingering finish - it went on and on.  
After another 20 minutes the wine had opened up further and was even more interesting.  I kept revisiting and sniffing, as there was an aroma I just couldn't quite identify.  It seemed so familiar, yet I just couldn't pin it down.  The smell was of a vegetative nature, but not the capsicum, asparagus, celery notes that I am accustomed to in a green wine.  No, this was a freshly bruised stemmy aspect that I just couldn't quite grasp.  So intriguing.  Wow!  
Beatie, you were a bit of an enigma.  But a beauty until the end.  And everything I love about wine.

Friday, October 30, 2020

Shiver me timbers!

I have often thought about how stable of a career I might have had if I had chosen to become a meteorologist.  I am more than capable of licking my finger and holding it up into a prevailing wind; I can molest a piece of seaweed to assess its dampness; I can delight in, along with some random shepherd, a beautiful sunset.  I can do all those things, I'm a veritable amateur-augur.  So I hold that being a precipitation-prognosticator on the telly not only seems to be a really cool career, but it is perhaps the only job I know of that any person working as one can be wrong 50% of the time (forecasting the weather) and they won't get the old heave-ho.
High winds forecast for October 14th did not materialise. (Although, as a precautionary measure, PG&E did shut off the power to most of the county of Napa for a total of 46 hours and 31 minutes).  A similar forecast for October 25th seemed like an non-event: that was until about 7 pm in the evening.  I was busy making dinner when all of a sudden the roof felt like it was being lifted off the house, the timbers creaking and moaning.  Vinodog 2 was very disturbed.  My poochie does not like wind.  
The extremely high winds continued throughout the night and were very, very loud.  So loud, in fact, that I did not hear the demise of a large deciduous oak that was toppled on the edge of Vinoland's creek.  At first, it looked like it had missed the bottom row of Cabernet vines.  However, on closer inspection, when V2 and I returned from our walk, I was able to see that the fallen tree had landed on the first seven vines.  Bummer.  It was only later, when Vinomaker had performed a bit of chainsaw-surgery, that I discovered only one vine had bit the dust, snapped off near the base.  Bad, but it could've been worse.  Sigh.
Hard life being a farmer, I really should have become a meteorologist.

Saturday, October 24, 2020


Despite many attempts to shoo away this honeybee from the wine press, the little sot kept coming back for yet another slurp of Vinoland's 2020 Cabernet Sauvignon.  Can't really blame the bee for wanting to do a little wine tasting, the new vintage tastes lovely, hot out of the press.  Which begs the question.  Can bees get hangovers?  At the very least, this bee is going to have a bad headache come morning.
This particular pressing shows lots of promise having a concentrated cherry vibe and solid framework of tannins.  The addition of a little bit of aging in oak, with its contribution of vanillin, will no doubt round out this juvenile pandemic-vintage.  And that's it.  I'm done! 

Monday, October 19, 2020


I first became aware of the 2018 J. Lohr Estates Wildflower Valdiguié when I watched the wine being reviewed (well tasted, really) on a wine blogger's Instagram account.  The blogger just loved it, couldn't say enough nice things about it, lauded its drinkability, fruitiness and its worthiness of being considered a 'summer red' wine.  And he mentioned that it sold for about $8.99.  I was intrigued, I don't think I'd ever had a Valdiguié, domestic or otherwise.  I had to get my hands on some.  So I purchased six bottles directly from the winery ($10.00 a pop).  Then, about a week later, the J. Lohr Valdiguié (2019) appeared on an episode of Behind the Wines: host Elaine Chukan Brown and her guests just loved it.  Great, methought, can't wait to try it.  Valdiguié, a native grape of southern France, has been growing here in California for quite some time.  However, it had been misidentified and was known as Napa Gamay.  It took a French ampelographer, Pierre Galet, to definitively identify the (Gamay) grapevines growing in vineyards up and down California as Valdiguié.  Sealed with a screw cap, my first impression of the Wildflower was that it was reduced, it was more than a tad pongy.  Initially on the palate the wine was rather tannic and had a sour finish.  Fruit?  A tiny bit.  The wine seemed awkward and I found myself struggling to describe what, if anything, was going on with this wine.  I had just one small glass, and that was enough.  Wanting to give this wine the benefit of the doubt, I tried it again the next night and it was delightful - had really opened up - all brambly aromatics, warm red fruits and a splendid balance of acid and tannin.  Wow, love when that happens.  A second bottle, more than a week later, paired with a pan seared, oven finished flat iron steak, was simply a joy.  Everything in my glass was amplified; aroma, fruit, balance.  Couldn't fault it.  A third bottle last night, again paired with flat iron steak, proved once more that the Wildflower is a solid quaffing wine.  Three bottles down, three to go.

Wednesday, October 14, 2020

Crushed AND destemmed.

Last harvest in Vinoland.  The Cabernet sauvignon grapes are picked and processed: crushed and destemmed.  
I cannot for the life of me understand the obsession of late with whole-cluster fermentation (WCF).  I have watched a lot of webinars during the pandemic and I would bet my life savings on the certainty that someone on a panel (usually a sommelier) will feverishly ask whilst tasting a featured wine, "Is this whole-cluster fermentation."  WCF is the current ideé fixe amongst those who just drink wine.
Wine, winemaking and wine-drinking continually go through trends, fashions and fads and WCF seems to be the latest craze.  WCF is just one technique available to a winemaker.  The fact that people have to ask if a wine was produced using this particular technique may suggest that they really can't tell if, indeed, it was.  Or not.  
WCF has its place in winemaking, but I don't necessarily think that place is in the production of Cabernet Sauvignon.  Just sayin'.

Friday, October 09, 2020

Little gems.

Leaf pulling in the Cabernet sauvignon vines today (and most of the week) exposing the fruit in preparation for harvest, I came across several little clusters, higher up in the canopy, that looked like little jewels.  Vinodog 2 was my companion, as usual, whilst I performed this particular vineyard op...and then we were joined by the chickens.  Very bucolic.

Thursday, October 01, 2020

Happy 13th birthday V2!

My baby turns 13 years old today, she's now a teenager!  Once again, I ask, how did that happen?  Regrettably, the fluffy-love of my life has slowed down considerably over the past several months.  
During quarantine we have been almost inseparable and I wouldn't have had it any other way.  Vinodog 2 has been at my side in the vineyard all spring and summer long.  She can no longer limbo under the irrigation lines, and is prone to toppling over if she finds herself on a bit of a slope and turns around too quickly, but her determination to be part of the pack hasn't diminshed.  Tonight, I will toast to my poochy's indefatigable spirit.  Love her.
Happy birthday V2!

Sunday, September 27, 2020


Like a mad chemist, Vinomaker has been busy reading up on and researching new selections of commercial yeasts that he may want to try on a Vinoland fermentation.  And this is one he came up with - Lalvin's ICV OKAY.  Cool name, if nothing else, but this specific selection of Saccharomyces cerevisiae, promises rapid alcoholic fermentation and low SO2, H2S and acetaldehyde production in wines.  Vinomaker is planning to use this yeast on one batch of Vinoland's Syrah: he loves experimenting with different fermentations.
Okey-dokey then, we'll just have to wait and see how well this particular domesticated organism performs.  Ferment on, little yeasties.

Saturday, September 26, 2020

My spectacular Syrah.

This morning, starting at the crack of dawn, was harvest-day for Vinoland's Syrah (SY).  And, wow, the fruit looked fabulous and (now that the grapes have been processed) it tastes terrific.  Vital statistics are; 23.6 °Brix, pH 3.63 and TA 4.40 - all in a good range.  To celebrate I opened a bottle of our 2015 SY with dinner - delightful. 
I love farming SY, it is such an easy grapevine to get along with.  Sadly, that's all my SY interaction done with for 2020.  I am going to wait a while before I begin to even think about starting to prune in early 2021.  Besides, I still have to get the Cabernet sauvignon picked.  
Now it's time for Vinomaker to work his magic. 

Thursday, September 24, 2020

Mike & Molly.

Sounds like a sitcom, but in this particular case it isn't.  Instead, Mike & Molly Hendry is a really solid Zinfandel from an old head-trained vineyard (not far from Vinoland) in the Coombsville AVA.  Mike Hendry is nephew to George Hendry of one of my favourite wineries, Hendry.  Must be some good wine-DNA in the Hendry genes.  The 2016, R.W. Moore Vineyard is my type of Zinfandel.  Hailing from a vineyard that is 115 years young, on the nose this Zinfandel is clean and bright with brambly fruits and spice.  In the mouth this wine is focused with candied raspberry, perfumey-blackberry, mulling spices, vanilla essence and acid.  Yes, great acidity which balances the wine really well, so that it doesn't display any hotness on the palate.  A lovely Zin.  Like all Zinfandels, it's not a wine that I would cellar for an extended period of time.  But why would I?  This wine is one to be enjoyed right now.

Friday, September 18, 2020


As the idiom goes, "there's no smoke without fire."  There is also no fire without ash - a lot of it - and everything in Napa is covered in ash.
Venturing into Vinoland's Cabernet sauvignon grapes today to perform a sugar sample (22.8 °Brix, they're on a good trajectory), I couldn't help but notice how much ash is on the fruit.  This fiery-growing season, it seems grape-growers have more to worry about than just smoke taint.  I don't recall ash being this much of an issue in the calamitous fires of 2017.  Always something new in farming.  If it isn't an insidious insect infestation, it's a natural disaster. 
The air quality the past three days has been the clearest and most smoke free since the 18th of August, thank goodness.  However, the wind is supposed to shift and bring the smoke back into the Bay Area on Saturday.  A reminder that a lot of California is still on fire.
As with the Pinot grigo, I will have Vinomaker go through the vineyard with a leaf blower, prior to harvest, and try to dislodge some of the ash on the berries.  Not a vineyard operation I ever could have imagined needing to be performed, but clean fruit is the goal.

Tuesday, September 15, 2020

Grapey-miscellany and stuff, etc.

Two days of doing stuff.  But nothing particularly riveting.  A bit like all of 2020, to be honest.  Sigh.
Yesterday morning, to give Vinomaker a hand, I spent some time rehydrating yeasts for the Pinot grigio and Orange muscat alcoholic fermentations.  (Photo is of Cross Evolution.)  Like a mad professor, Vinomaker is always experimenting with different yeasts, especially for the white wine grapes.  It is rather interesting, and something one wouldn't necessarily have the freedom to do on a commercial scale.  The varied yeast strains really do produce distinct wines.  There were five batches in all and consequently the kitchen smelled like yeast for hours.
I also performed the first Syrah sugar sample of the season - 22.8 °Brix, not bad.  The seeds are almost completely brown and the berries have good flavour.  I ate quite a bit of the stuff as I walked through the vineyard sampling.  Sun warmed grapes are the best snack.
This morning I watched a couple of webinars, one was eminently better than the other.  Today's guest on Behind the Wines was Wink Lorch. Wink (what a simply brilliant name) who is English, is an expert and author of books on the wines and vineyards of Jura and Savoie.  I can't remember the last time I had a wine from either French Alpine region, but it was probably in the Wines of the World class I took in 2012.  The lively discussion on the history, pedigree and DNA of such grape varieties as Savagnin and Mondeuse was great grapey-geek stuff.!

Saturday, September 12, 2020

A short tale of a sherry-sipper.

In my family lore there is the story of how, like the current monarch Queen Elizabeth II, my grandmother had two birthdays.  ER II, like all English monarchs since the mid 1700s, has a real birthday and an official birthday.  The date of the latter birthday, like much in rainy England, is dictated by the weather (too silly not to be true).  The circumstances surrounding the fact that my grandmother had two birthdays were not so, ceremonious.  Or weather related.
The family friend who had been tasked with registering the newborn's birth, on behalf of my great-grandmother who was on bed rest, was unfortunately illiterate.  Exactly one whole week had passed and the poor woman, unable to read or write, was not educated enough to catch the simple clerical error.  So, according to officialdom the date of my grandmother's birth was the 19th of September 1903.  In jest, sometimes my grandmother would insist upon the family observing both anniversaries of her birth.
I only ever knew my grandmother to imbibe alcohol at parties, usually Christmas and New Year's Eve.  And her drink of choice was always a cream sherry, but just a sip.  I'm sure more sherry went into my grandmother's trifles than into her glass.  Her generation weren't big drinkers, they couldn't afford to be.
Today would have been my grandmother's 117th birthday.  And next week she will have another 117th birthday: I will observe both.  Long gone, but not forgotten, she was the best gran a Vinogirl could have.

Friday, September 11, 2020

Vendemmia: 2020.

I spent a lot of yesterday pulling leaves in the Pinot grigio (PG) block, as harvest was scheduled for today.  It was still dark at 6.30 a.m., a bit too dark to harvest (due to marine fog mixed with wildfire smoke), so I had to time to eat breakfast before the morning's viticultural-proceedings began.  The Orange muscat grapes were also picked.  I love the feeling of being up early for harvest, I find it exciting.
Fruit looks fantastic, tastes great.  Perhaps a little less than last year (according to Vinomaker), not surprising seeing as my hungry hens have been helping themselves to the ripening berries for weeks now.  Sugar came in at 26 °Brix - a little high, but one would expect a spike in sugar due to the 107/108 °F temps we had on Sunday and Monday.  
My job is done.  Now it's up to Vinomaker to work his magic.

Tuesday, September 01, 2020

Pandemic pedagogy.

For me, one of the best things to emerge during the Covid-19 pandemic is the advent of online wine-related webinars (mostly hosted on Zoom and Instagram Live/IGTV) that anyone can access - for free.  Of particular note amongst all the video offerings available is a series called, Behind the Wines with Elaine Chukan Brown (in association with the Wine Institute/California Wines).
In today's virtual tasting and discussion, wine writer and educator Elaine Chukan Brown considered some new trends in California wine.  Well, not really trends, but rather innovations and explorations of, and in, grape varieties, growing regions and out-of-the-box winemaking.  Ms. Brown's guests this morning were sommelier and author, Kelli A.White and San Francisco Chronicle wine critic, Esther Mobley.  The discussion that ensued regarding the evolution of California winemaking was informative and thought provoking.  The featured wines were; White Rock Vineyards, Claret, Napa Valley 2016; J. Lohr, Wildflower Valdiguié, Monterey 2019; and Mountain Tides, Petite Sirah, California 2018.  Compelling stuff.  And a fitting way to kick off California Wine Month.

Monday, August 31, 2020

Tasty grapes.

I probably didn't have to get my refractometer out today and perform a sugar sample of the Pinot grigio (PG).  Nope, I really should have known that the PG grapes were very close to maturity, and thus harvest, by simply observing my chickens' behaviour of late.  Yup, my six girls are really enjoying the ripening grapes.  Rather unfortunate, that.
There is a retaining wall at the top of the PG block and Lizzie, Pansy, Maro, Annie, Rosie and Gracie seem quite content to sit there and snack away to their little hearts' content.  The rachis in the photograph is picked clean, absolutely nekkid.  Full clusters on the far side of the vine that they cannot reach are still intact.  And I thought I had problems with the wild bird population.  Hmmph.
I sampled anyway and the PG is at 23.2 °Brix; the grapes taste fabulous and, what's left of them, look great.  Now, if I could train the chickens to poop only in the vineyard I may overlook their thieving of my hard-farmed crop.

Wednesday, August 26, 2020

Getting lighter.

Up a little earlier than is the norm, to deal with the chicklets who have been evicted from the house because they were starting to get a bit whiffy, I saw that Far Niente (FN) were harvesting Chardonnay from the Berlenbach Vineyards.  The morning was dark; the air was cool, foggy and smoky.  It was pleasing to me to witness some floodlit grape-activity in the neighbourhood.  A touch of normality.
I can't remember if they picked this vineyard last year (I missed the entire 2019 harvest in Napa), so this may be the first harvest for these young vines.  Generally, harvest in the valley began a tad early this year, as it has been a nice, steady growing season.  I'm wondering if FN decided to get the fruit in a little earlier because of smoke from the wildfires still burning a little to the north.  I heard that a Merlot vineyard, halfway up the valley on the eastern side, was picked on Monday at 21/22 °Brix.  Seems a little premature, but perhaps the owners/growers panicked a bit.  Stay calm folks, there will be light at the end of 2020.

Monday, August 24, 2020


"The instruction we find in books is like fire.  We fetch it from our neighbours, kindle it at home, communicate it to others, and it becomes the property of all."  Voltaire.
This grainy photograph is from happier times...and apparently, the topic that day was head-training/cane pruning.  Dr. Stephen Krebs (centre back), my viticulture professor at Napa Valley College, unfortunately lost his home in the LNU Lightning Complex Fire.  It was Dr. Krebs who was responsible for sparking my love of all things viticultural.  And writing about my passion on Vinsanity.  A good fire, as opposed to the bad stuff.
At his home on Pleasants Valley Road  in rural Vacaville, Dr. Krebs, a more than keen gardener, had a huge vegetable garden.  I always loved it when he'd go off-topic in class and instead discuss vegetable gardening.  I remember one particular time when he brought in paper bags filled with cloves of assorted garlic varieties to share with the class.  Sadly, his home was in one of the areas hit hardest by the wildfires ignited by dry thunderstorms on the 16th of August.  I cannot imagine losing everything.  Vinomaker and I came close in the firestorm of October 2017, but we were mercifully spared.
I am thankful that Dr. Krebs and his wife escaped unharmed, but it saddens me to think of all that he lost.  He had a rather extensive book collection, a lot of them rare and out of print.  He was always willing to let his students use his library for reference purposes, but it was not a lending library - the books had to stay put.  I can't blame him, I wouldn't have let some of those titles out of my safe keeping either.
The books may be gone, but not before Dr. Krebs was able to communicate their contents to a multitude of wine industry peeps the length and breadth of Napa Valley.  And probably beyond.

Friday, August 21, 2020

Happy Birthday, Thud!

My big brother has a very special birthday today and I am hoping he has a fantastic day.  I would have loved to be with him, and I did try.  But with many airlines not wanting to fly Americans (and people who just live in America, me) anywhere because Yanks have misbehaved a tad with regards to Covid-19, I found myself stuck stateside.
Here we both are in more carefree times.  Thud was having his junior school (primary) photograph taken and was asked if he had any younger siblings in infant school; he did, me.  I remember jumping out of my chair with excitement when he came into my classroom.  Good memory.
So cheers and all the best to the person who got me into wine in the first place.  Bottoms up, Thud!

Tuesday, August 18, 2020

Napa's on fire...

...but not in a good way.
When I sprung the chickens at 6.15 a.m. this morning, I noticed that the coop was covered in a layer of very fine white ash.  A couple of forest fires had started yesterday (sparked by the intense lightning storms of Sunday and Monday) and the air was noticeably smoky when Vinodog 2 and I went on our morning promenade.  The smoke cleared as the day progressed, but by the time our late afternoon perambulation came around the fire was apparently intensifying.
The cloud of smoke in the photograph was much more dramatic when I first began my walk: it looked like a mushroom cloud (known as a flammagenitus, or pyro cumulus).  Unfortunately, I didn't have my camera with me and by the time I had fetched it 20 minutes had elapsed.  Still terrifyingly impressive, though.
By 6 p.m. the Hennessey Fire, burning north of Vinoland, was at 2700 acres - with no containment.  It is one of three fires now burning on the east side of Napa Valley, on the edge of the Vaca Mountains, mostly in rural, hard to access areas.  However, many homeowners, including a friend, are facing mandatory evacuations.  Where does one evacuate to in the age of Covid?  Such a different situation from what folks dealt with during the 2017 fires.  I hope the brave firefighters of Cal Fire get control of these fires sooner rather than later.  Godspeed.

Sunday, August 16, 2020

Slow news week. Or two.

Yup, not a lot going on in Vinoland besides veraison, baby-chicken watching and waiting for harvest.  So I was interested to read this article in the Daily Mail that Thud forwarded to me.
Some enterprising, vino-loving Italians have revived historic, so-called 'wine windows' as a way to socially distance whilst still permitting folks to enjoy a glass of wine.  Apparently there are 300 of these windows in Tuscany, known as buchette del vino, that were traditionally used in the 1600s, in times of plague, to enable that the local citizenry could still get a goblet of their favourite tipple.  Minus the scabs, sores and pustules that come with pestilence, of course.  Quaint and genius.
I can't personally recall seeing any of these windows when I holidayed in Lucca.  And if I had, I probably would have assumed they were religious niches.  Who knew?  I didn't.  But hey, I'm all for walking along the street and a hand pops out of a random window and offers one a glass of wine...a nice Chianti, perhaps?  So civilised.

Tuesday, August 04, 2020

Pay attention!

With the vineyard being sprayed for the final time last Thursday, requiring a 48 hour no re-entry time (or re-entry interval, REI), and being distracted by four little feathery chickies, I hadn't noticed the onset of veraison in the Cabernet sauvignon vines.  Well, here we have it.  Whether I am paying attention or not, the grapevines will carry on doing their thing.  Thank goodness.

Monday, August 03, 2020

New chicks on the block.

I had just popped out with the sole intention of buying chicken feed for Vinoland's six breakfast-laying ladies, but I somehow came home with four new, three day old chicks.  How did that happen?  Look how adorable they are.  How could've I resisted?  Problem is, I don't know what breeds they are.  I'm hoping the brown one is a Sussex and the black one is an Australorp.  The other two?  No clue.  No matter, as long as they are all indeed female (the most important consideration).
Continuing with the theme of naming my chickens after Henry VIII's warships, meet Little Barbara (Babs), Jennet Prywin (Jennie), Magdeline (Maggie) and Katherine Bark (Katie).
Here's to fresh eggs at New Year.

Wednesday, July 29, 2020


As I expected, the onset of veraison in the Pinot grigio vines was not too far behind the Syrah.  About a week earlier than in 2019, walking through the vineyard this particular cluster caught my eye due to the dramatic contrast between the deep, grey-blue and the verdant green of some adjacent grapes.
I love the randomness of the change in colour of the grape berries in a given cluster.  Of course, there are some vines that are more advanced than others (they tend to be the strongest vines in perhaps better areas/soil in the vineyard), but that doesn't make veraison's progress any more predictable.  Nope, the vines know the exact sugar accumulating-schedule they are on: it just appears to be haphazard to the casual observer.  Like me.

Saturday, July 25, 2020

Rock 'N' Roll Wine School.

I did something a bit out of the ordinary today: I went wine tasting.  What?  Is that really that unusual for Vinogirl?  No, not really.  But please, let me elucidate.  I went wine tasting with an in the flesh, genuine rock star - and his lovely family.  Yup, I went drinking with the stars (sounds like a TV show, maybe it should be) at Black Cat Vineyard (BCV).  Being a bit starstruck, it would all have been a bit of a blur if I hadn't been roused out of my reverie by the fabulous, expertly crafted wines at BCV.  A truly fun, and tasty, event.
When it comes to producing fine wine, Tracey Reichow is a bit of a rock star in her own right.  Winemaker and proprietress of BCV, Tracey is a brilliant person to taste wine with, very engaging and terrifically passionate about her art.  Our little, socially distanced group was schooled on the wonders and trials of making wine; the challenges and rewards that different vintages can bring; and the varying approaches and skill sets needed to work with fruit sourced from different AVAs across the Napa Valley.
Our tasting began with a 2018 Napa Valley Chardonnay.  Focused and crisp (lots of Granny Smith apple), aromatic and generous with just a touch of oak (quite Mersault-esque).  The rest of the tasting was comprised of red wines all from the 2017 vintage; the Winemaker's Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon, the Family Cuvée, the Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon and the Rutherford Cabernet Franc.  All beautiful and distinctive.
My favourite amongst the lineup was the Cabernet Franc (CF).  At once intense and subtle, the fresh yet super-ripe-perfumey-raspberry component was delightful.  As the wine opened up in my glass the telltale vegetal characteristic of the varietal began to pop, but not in a bell pepper-like way.  No, the green character in the CF was more like gently bruised grape leaves, sun-warmed and earthy.  Stunningly complex, the CF went from strength to strength, palate-pleasing with supple, polished tannins and just a hint of dark chocolate.  Yum!
Overall, the entire tasting was a lesson in quaffability.  #funfortracey and everyone else.

Thursday, July 23, 2020

Get ready, get set, ripen!

Yup, it's that time of year, again.  I know, I start posts about veraison off with the same thing every year.  But really, there is nothing that I could write that would better illuminate the onset of veraison than a snapshot of the little marvel that Mother Nature visits upon grape-growers year after year.  I love it. 
These are the very first berries to begin veraison in Vinoland and, as usual, it is the Syrah (a particular old, gnarly vine on 110R.)  I'm a little more on top of things than last year when I was a little tardy to the party.  Be sure, the Pinot grigio won't be far behind.

Monday, July 20, 2020


Waterberry sort of sounds like a quaint hamlet in a fairy tale of old, but it's not.  No, waterberry is a grapevine disorder that interrupts the development of ripening berries.  Waterberry is known to manifest itself in two distinct ways; one occurs on the very tip of the rachis (which I've observed over the years in Vinoland's Cabernet sauvignon); the other, as photographed in the Pinot grigio above, can impact berries anywhere throughout the cluster.  The affected berries become flaccid, shrivel and eventually turn raisin-like.  Certain grape varieties are more susceptible to the disorder than others.
What causes waterberry?  Hmm.  Studies have shown that there is no clear relationship between the disorder and irrigation practices, although heat stress is thought to be one likely cause.  It is possible that waterberry occurs when grapevines are overcropped, giving rise to competition in the vines for a limited amount of the nutrients and materials needed for both fruit and tissue development.  Possibly the xylem vessels in the pedicels become plugged up with tyloses (tyloses are outgrowths of parenchyma cells: parenchyma is soft cellular tissue) thus obstructing the movement of goodies to the berries.  It also has been noted that in growing operations were girdling is practiced there seems to be elevated instances of the disorder.  Who knows for sure?  I don't.   
It's not like I see this phenomenon every growing season.  In fact, I had to actively seek out a Pinot grigio cluster with waterberry damage for this post.  Growing conditions are different each year, one vintage is not like the next.  And the relatively small occurrences of waterberry in Vinoland's grapevines do not negatively impact the overall crop.     

Friday, July 17, 2020

Some privacy, please!

I love butterflies.  I recently heard a character on a television programme describe them as, "Worms with wings."  And I suppose they are, really, but I still think they are beautiful.  A favourite butterfly from my childhood is the Cabbage White (Pieris rapae).  They were frequent visitors to the nasturtiums and stock that my mother had planted outside the living room window and could be spotted all summer long fluttering over the lawn from flowerbed to flowerbed.
The cabbage white is so named because it is rather fond of all cruciferous vegetables.  Too fond, actually.  This small butterfly is probably one of the most successful invasive species on the planet.  Having been spread from Europe to all over the globe (by human travel mostly), it is considered a very worrisome pest when it comes to agricultural crops.
There are a lot of cabbage whites around Vinoland right now, they seem to be especially partial to hanging around a few stands of mallow that are flowering.  Problem is, for me, they don't alight with their wings open (unlike the Pipevine Swallowtail and Common Buckeye) and they are constantly flitting to and fro, so they are hard to photograph.  And that's why I disturbed the privacy of this couple (wings closed, but stationary), who were busy working on producing a whole new generation of mustard munching caterpillars.  Sorry, don't mind me.  Carry on.

Monday, July 13, 2020

The new house white.

I love Sauvignon Blanc (SB).  I think I drink more SB than any other varietal wine.  And especially when the weather is toasty, which it has been this past week.  The right SB can simply hit all the spots.
I had almost exclusively been drinking one particular producer's SB for the past 15 years. (I'm a creature of habit, so sue me.)  Not anymore.  Some relationships just need a clean break.  So, without further adieu, let me introduce my new SB crush: the 2019 Laird Family Estate (Napa Valley).  Love it!
The Laird SB is primarily fermented in stainless steel tanks, with just 15% fermented in neutral oak barrels, so it is clean and crisp.  Floral and citrus aromas on the nose, with some tropical and melon notes on the palate.  Winemaker Brian Mox does a great job with all of Laird's wines.  Vinomaker is partial to Laird's Cold Creek Ranch Chardonnay, whilst I have been a fan of their Cold Creek Ranch Pinot Grigio for years.
New love affairs are so exciting.  I think I can foresee my Laird liaison lasting for quite some time.

Saturday, July 04, 2020

Independence Day: 2020.

Happy 244th birthday, America!
Being in the midst of a pandemic may have dampened this year's festivities for most Americans, but not for Vinodog 2.  Donning yet another pair of patriotic, but cheap, sunglasses she is ready for any fun today will bring (which may include a little ZZ Top).
Around the USA, Independence Day celebrations have been drastically curtailed this year, but I hope everyone can find some joy in the spirit of the holiday.
And remember, be grateful and gracious.
Oh...and God Save the Queen.

Wednesday, July 01, 2020

A few words from the Goode doctor.

Yay!  It's my 1500th post on Vinsanity.  Whoo hoo!  This time last year I didn't think I wanted to continue blogging.  But here I am, still going on about nothing much in particular.  Today, however, I have something special to post.  Something quite particular, in fact.  An interview.
Dr. Jamie Goode PhD is a scientist, newspaper columnist, award winning author, wine judge, lecturer and an expert on all things oenos.  He travels extensively and is much in demand as an authority on wine-grape growing regions around the globe - places the rest of us just get to read about in books.  Sigh.
I am currently reading his book  I Taste Red (2016) which is a study of the science of tasting wine.  The title refers to synaesthesia which is a condition that muddles up the senses.  I experienced synaesthesia myself once.  The experience was, to say the least, bizarre.  It's a good book, intense, but interesting.
During the Covid-19 pandemic, Dr. Goode has been hosting web-forums on Instagram (@drjamiegoode) and Zoom which I have been thoroughly enjoying.  He also has a daily wine review series called Wine on Camera (Instagram).  Sometimes the internet connection leaves a little to be desired (illustrated by the fuzzy screenshot above), but it's only a minor bother.  
Anyway, here is what the doctor had to say:

Vinogirl:  Are you drinking wine right now?  If so, what is it?
Jamie Goode:  No, I had a big night with friends last night (socially distanced and outside in a garden, of course) with some amazing bottles, and it was very late. So I’m rather tired today.

VG:  You're a scientist.  Is it hard for you to enjoy a glass of wine and not always be tempted to break it down into its chemical components?
JG:  I think there are different levels of enjoying wine. Sometimes I examine what I’m drinking in a sort of scientific way. Other times, I drink. Some wines have something interesting to say, and then I pay attention. Other times, the wine is just wine. Science is good at answering some questions, but wine needs more than science to understand it. I’m also not so keen on reductionistic approaches to wine. A chemical analysis of a wine can’t tell us much about its quality. Breaking a wine down into its components doesn’t tell us what the wine is like – the wine is a whole.

VG:  What is your take on writing reviews of bad wine?  The less said the better?  Or full disclosure?
JG:  The problem with reviewing bad wine is that if you get it wrong, then you might have damaged the reputation and feelings of a producer. A false positive is much less problematic than a false negative. Our perception is not always right. If you taste a wine and it seems to be really bretty, for example, sometimes it’s best to just say nothing about that wine rather than pan it. Some writers enjoy saying negative things, but there is a person behind the wine, and often a small business. We have to be careful here.

VG:  During the shelter-in-place, I've watched a lot of your Instagram/Zoom presentations.  I like the virtual-access afforded to the consumer of some really great wines, producers and regions.  Is this something that you'll continue in the future?
JG:  Yes, I enjoy doing it. The tasting wine on camera videos have been very well received. Producers have approached me about getting their wines tasted live. The interviews with producers have been great, but internet issues can make them a bit tricky: you just don’t know how good other peoples’ connections are.

VG:  You seemed to be having a blast with Ernie Loosen. Do you have a favourite amongst the online presentations and virtual tastings that you have hosted thus far?  
JG:  I really enjoyed chatting with Ernie, who is great value. It was also good to connect with Elaine Brown, and it was super fun to chat with Anna Jorgensen in the Alentejo: she’s just taken over her sizeable family property and is making some really interesting changes, especially in the vineyard.

VG:  You actually contracted Covid-19 early on and spoke about losing your sense of smell and taste.  How scary was that for someone who earns his living smelling and tasting wine?
JG:  It’s pretty scary when your career is potentially over! Fortunately it came back. But for quite a while I was having to ask deep questions of myself. What would I be without my career? There was a lot to process.

VG:  I was recently re-reading Wine & Philosophy (2008).  Twelve years on, how are your orbitofrontal cortex and amygdala holding up?
JG:  I’m really fascinated by perception, which is why I wrote a book on it. You can only really make sense of perception with a multidisciplinary approach. The brain really is remarkable.

VG:  It is a little unusual for a wine-writer to be so philosophical.  Wax lyrical about which dead philosopher you'd like to share a bottle of wine with?
JG:  I guess I am unusual, but I like to think deeply. Sharing a bottle of wine with a dead philosopher? I’d go big and right back to ancient Greece, and have a night out with Plato. There’d be a language barrier, but with a Babel fish in my ear, I think we’d have some interesting discussions. I’d be pretty curious to taste the wines he drinks, too – wine back then would have been quite different, but maybe not as different…. Hmmm. It would be great to catch one of the symposia, too. Lots of smart people drinking wine together and musing on deep issues. 

VG:  I am impressed that you seem really interested in viticulture, again a tad unusual for a wine-writer.  Where does that interest spring from? Is it just part of the holistic and scientific way in which you approach your work?
JG:  I did a PhD in plant biology, and I have a love for all things botanical. Viticulture is at a very interesting place right now. It’s incredibly hard to do good experiments in vineyards if the readout is wine quality, and so if you rely on the scientific literature you probably won’t get a very good understanding of what’s going on in the vineyard. I find travelling and talking to people is a great way to learn.

VG:  You've traveled all around the world and been in some fabulous and storied vineyards.  Do you find it difficult to stop yourself from hugging the odd vine, or two?
JG:  I have this bizarre affection for good vineyards, and I’ve seen some famous ones. But the vine should just be part of the vineyard, not the whole focus. It should be seen as part of an agroecosystem. I love vineyards that are full of life. It’s also amazing to see vineyards where the vines are incredibly old. There’s something special about an old vineyard, even if they look a bit raggedy sometimes.

VG:  I know you used to grow a little back garden Pinot noir.  If you produced your own wine, what grape variety would you pick?
JG:  It depends where I am in the world. I’d love to work with Palomino, Trousseau, Pineau d’AunisAlbariñoPinencTintaBarocca and Pais

VG:  Although I know you love dogs, I don't take you for a critter-wine-label type of person.  What type of packaging do you think gives a wine shelf-appeal?
JG:  It depends on the segment, but for fine wine, good typography, simplicity and elegance, and wax.

VG:  And a name for your virtual wine?
JG:  Tetraphis pellucida. It’s the latin name of the moss I first grew in sterile culture when I began my PhD.

VG:  Besides yourself, who is your favourite English wine writer?
JG:  Andrew Jefford.

VG:  I personally don't believe it is possible, but do you love Hugh Johnson as much as I do?
JG:  His writing is effortless and a joy to read. But I’m guessing you win here.

VG:  When the travel ban is lifted, where will you be off to first?
JG:  Maybe Canada.

VG:  Next time you visit Napa, are we going to hang out and dish the dirt on some wineries?
JG:  Totally. I think we’d hit it off.

Thank you for indulging me, Dr. Goode.  
For more from Dr. Goode, go to

Wednesday, June 17, 2020

A Tale of Three Wineries.

Or, perhaps:  Love (Ethics and Betrayal) in the Time of Covid.
When the Governor of California shut down all Napa Valley tasting rooms on March 16th, no one knew what to expect.  It was an unprecedented situation and the response to the immediate cessation of all hospitality business varied greatly from winery to winery.  Here are three tales, two uplifting, one of woe, of how a few wineries handled the financial, and mental, well-being of their personnel.
Winery no. 1, family owned, kept all of their staff working.  They found their employees lots of different things to do; telemarketing, shipping (because ecommerce went through the ceiling), filing, stuffing envelopes, cleaning, etc.  My source (and I do have one) did not lose a single hour of pay.  From now on, I will be buying this winery's wine in support of their admirable commitment to their staff.
Winery no. 2, a large international concern, simply paid all of their staff through June 1st to stay at home.  And stay safe.  Sure, the parent company of this winery has plenty of money and could afford to take this approach, but they didn't have to.  (So much for the big, evil corporations widely vilified in many media outlets.)  I already buy a lot of this winery's product and I will continue to because I think they cared for and treated their team in a very honourable way.
Winery no. 3, another family owned winery, sent some of their hospitality staff packing on March 16th and then...crickets.  When the restrictions on tasting rooms were lifted, the furloughed staff only learned that the tasting room was reopening when the winery posted about it on social media.  A few days later their employment was terminated, one staff member just 51 days shy of working for the family for 15 years.  Classy.  Not one drop of this winery's wine will pass my lips ever again, it would leave a very bitter taste.
It was difficult coming up with a photograph with which to illustrate this post.  How does one capture in a picture an example of a loathsome and heartless business practice.  The image of a big, steamy dollop of chicken manure popped into my head (I have a lot of it around nowadays).  But chicken poop is chock-a-block with goodies -  nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium - it's great stuff.  No, winery no. 3 is just plain chicken s**t.  So I went with another avian themed photo instead, the bird.

Sunday, June 14, 2020

Drip, drop, dribble.

I spent the entire day up close and personal with every single vine in Vinoland.  Tomorrow the vineyard is being sulphured so I needed to get all the shoots stuffed up under the trellis.  I also spent some time removing some laterals in the fruit zone.  Wow, there seems to be plenty of extra vigour this season.  All that surplus greenery just gets in the way of where the sulphur needs to go, so it was, "Off with their heads!"  It's okay, they don't feel a thing.
The vines also got their first watering of the year.  That meant checking every emitter, two for each vine, to make sure that they weren't clogged up with gunk.  All in all not bad, only a handful needed to be replaced which is much better than some past years.  The recycled water we are now using is much easier on the emitters than Vinoland's well water.
Drink up kids!

Friday, June 12, 2020

All five words.

Thus concludes my mini series of 'Wine Word Association'. 
In psychology it is believed that words can reveal something about a person's subconscious mind.  So then, what did my whimsical word game reveal?  In summary:
Well, fancy that!  Titter, titter.
Alright, I'm finished with all that nonsense, fun though it was.  I need to return to writing more meaningful posts.  For example, stuff about my loyal Vinodog 2, all things flora and fauna and, of course, viticulture - after all, there is no wine without wine grapes.

Thursday, June 11, 2020


One word: History.  Groth Vineyards & Winery made Napa Valley history when their 1985 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon received the first 100 point score (for a domestic wine) from wine critic Robert Parker Jr.  There is only ever one first time for anything, just one.  The first perfect score is a great history to have and Groth owns it.  In reading histories of the Napa Valley, it bothers me when I read articles about some or other bog-standard Napa Valley winery and the way in which said winery has helped shape the valley that both locals and visitors see today.  Groth is never mentioned.  (In the same way it irks me when a German, Charles Krug, is credited with producing the first commercial wine in Napa, when historical documents quite clearly show it was an Englishman, John Patchett.)  I always believe credit should be given where it is due.
Groth also have a history of making varietal wines that taste like what the label purports to be in the bottle: 38 years of that particular accomplishment to be exact.  (One would think that was a simple ask, but not every Napa Valley winery can claim that feat.)  Personally, my favourite Groth wine will always be any vintage of their Oakville Estate Cabernet Sauvignon  The Oakville is my go-to cab when I want to drink something that truly tastes like a cab.
Groth most recently proved that they are not the new-kids-on-the-winemaking-block when it comes to producing wonderful Cabernet sauvignon.  Groth's 2016 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon was named no. 4 in Wine Spectator's top 100 wines of 2019 (an international list).
So what's the wine like?  Gorgeous.  The nose, redolent with blackcurrant, black cherry, lavender and mint is everything one would want in an Oakville AVA Cabernet sauvignon.  The mouth has more black fruit, red current, raspberry, elegant tannin structure and perfect acid (that is on point, like the acid in cranberries).  Those peeps at Groth know a thing or two about making a winning red wine...again, and again, and again.
Groth is history.

Wednesday, June 10, 2020


One word: Tannins.  I cannot count the number of times that I have been told, in almost a folkloric way, that a Mayacamas Vineyards Cabernet sauvignon when young is so tannic that it is almost impossible to enjoy.  It is advised that one ages this wine for 20 to 25 years before drinking it.  (Hmm, that would take a lot of forethought.)  I have tasted a few vintages of this winery's Cabernet sauvignons (CS) in the past and, yes, I found them to be tannic.  I have also tried a barrel sample of their CS (and Chardonnay) when I visited the winery for a hillside viticulture class (as part of my degree programme at Napa Valley College) and it was, of course, very tannic.  So I was very curious to try this, not quite, 26 year old bottling from one of the classic wineries and much lauded producers of CS in California.
Tannins are naturally occurring phenolic compounds (technically, they are plant derived polyphenols) found in wine-grape skins, seeds and stems.  Tannins in wine are felt, not tasted - they are the textural component of a wine that has that astringent, tooth enamel stripping effect on the mouth.  CS as a wine-grape variety is inherently high in tannins.  And this particular wine is made from mountain fruit, so tannin extraction is elevated.  In addition to contributing texture, tannins act as a preservative enabling the cellaring of wine for an extended period.  So how tannic was this 2½ decades old wine?  Drum roll, please.
The 1994 Mayacamas Cabernet Sauvignon was simply fabulous.  The cork was a little dry and broke on removal, usually not a good sign.  The colour was amazing, a deep garnet, showing very little age in the meniscus.  On the nose, cedar, blackberries, blueberries and an appealing savouriness.  On the palate, cedar again, woodsy, red currants, black fruits and vanilla.  Amazingly long finish.  Amazing!  Velvety and silky, but firm and precise structured tannins, pepper and other spices.  Delicious.  Despite how tannic this wine may have been upon release, right now it is elegant, luscious, classy, refined and mind blowing.  I'd predict that the 1994 still has many years of ageing ahead of it.  Thank goodness for polyphenols.
Mayacamas oozes tannins.

Tuesday, June 09, 2020


One word: Olé.  I have to admit, 90% of the times that I have enjoyed drinking a Herrera wine it has been at a party; a blessing of the winery, Cinco de Mayo celebrations, release parties, a child's christening.  Just name a special occasion and I have been there enjoying wine.
In the same manner as hearing Greek music transports me back to the idyllic island of Ithaki, or the aroma of French roast coffee firmly plonks me down amid the boulevards of Paris, drinking this particular wine has me conjuring up some convivial, festive event in my head.  Herrera is a second label from winemaker Rolando Herrera, co-founder of Mi Sueño Winery.  Each small production wine in the Herrera portfolio is named for Rolando's wife and their six children.  Meet Lorena, the matriarch.
The 2017 Herrera Selección Lorena, Red Wine is not a shy wine: it is bold and spirited like its namesake.  On the nose, hot sagey-undergrowth (a descriptor I never could have understood back in England), black cherry, plum, vanilla and cedar abound.  On the palate, perfect acid, candied raspberry, berry compote, vanilla (could be a mixed berry pie, but it isn't) and smooth, lush tannins.  This wine is a wine-blanket for ones senses, nothing is left out, everything is covered, more than delivers on the quaffability-quotient.  Party in a bottle.
Herrera embodies olé.

Monday, June 08, 2020


One word: Restraint.  Farella have always practiced the art of producing finessed wines that age well and pair beautifully with food.  (Indeed, the winery's motto is 'Farella with food'.)  Pioneers of the planting of Cabernet sauvignon grapes in, what is now, the Coombsville AVA (2011), Farella's winemaking philosophy hasn't changed since the winery was founded in 1985.
Not every wine has to be a big, bold Napa Valley red, sometimes a more sober approach to wine making is more appealing.  Farella wines are excellent because of their subtlety.  The 2019 'La Luce' Sauvignon Blanc is a fair representation of the restraint that Farella exercise in all their winemaking.  I've had this wine many times before.  Lovely hint of grass on the nose with pear, mango, pineapple and honeysuckle - clean.  A little green apple skin on the palate, gooseberry, a soupçon of minerality and a trace of bitter almond on the finish.  In my honest opinion, if I was going to age this wine I would have liked a tad more acid.  But who am I kidding?  The wine was gone with one meal.
Farella shows restraint.

Sunday, June 07, 2020


One word: Gratitude.  Actually this word is not necessarily about the wine, but rather the wine's proprietors.  Mountain Tides (MT) is a wine project headed up by Scott Kirkpatrick and his wife Allison Watkins (best photography teacher ever, hence the cool label).  Remarkably, although a very small concern, MT have been offering a 30% discount on their wines since the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic if purchased by, or for, a health care worker.  (The discount code is the first thing that comes up on their website.)  Amazing, I don't know how they do it, their wines are so value priced to begin with.  (Simply explained to me, they both have health care workers in their families and they are very appreciative of the sacrifices that doctors and nurses et al., are making during these difficult times.)  Wines with a purpose.
Concentrating on one grape variety Petite Sirah (PS), with which to produce the entire MT line up of wines, Scott and Allison source all of their grapes from more affordable vineyards and grape growing areas (i.e., more accessible fruit pricing than in Napa and Sonoma).  Smart.
The 2019 Carbonic Petite Sirah is a fun wine.  A beautiful ruby hue (packaged in a clear glass bottle), quite light bodied, low in alcohol (11.5%), pepper, cranberry, plum, perfume, earth and with a hint of those unmistakable PS chalky tannins on the finish.  It was suggested that I chill the wine before trying it, so I did, but I much preferred it when it warmed up to room temperature.  The MT Carbonic (yes, like Beaujolais) PS is a fresh take on a wine varietal that people don't often consider trying.  Go try it.
Mountain Tides has gratitude.