Saturday, December 20, 2014

Happy anniversary ale!

 
This year is the 40th time that Anchor Brewing Company have produced their wonderful, limited edition Christmas Ale.  The recipe might change every year, but it never fails to disappoint.  This year the label is adorned with a charming ink drawing of a Sequoiadendron giganteum - the Giant Sequoia - which is a wonderful choice of tree this year.
Giant sequoias are the world's largest tree and can grow to upwards of 275 feet.  That's a lot of firewood!  To be able to visit a grove of these majestic trees, and stand in the cathedral-like space beneath their lofty bows, is just one of the great things about California.  Big tree.  Big anniversary.  Nice beer.  Well done Anchor Brewing Company, and happy Christmas.  I'm looking forward to your 41st edition.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Winery Christmas Lights 13.

A star, a star, dancing in the night, With a tail as big as a kite.
The folks over at Meteor Vineyard seem to be filled with the Christmas spirit, the gate to their vineyard is very festive.  Meteor's shooting-star fairy lights made me and Vinodog 2 feel very festive on our walk today. 
Grapevines everywhere are naked now.  The onslaught of rain has beaten every last leaf to the ground, but I'm trying not to let it bother me.  I put on a silly, but festive, wooly hat that I purchased when I was home last month to walk V2 this afternoon.  If silly is synonymous with festive, then I am it.
I have never had a Meteor Vineyard wine.  Meteor produce a Cabernet sauvignon (of course) that sells northwards of $225 per bottle, so I probably won't be trying it any time soon.  But I do appreciate that the owners of Meteor Vineyard observe festiveness throughout the year.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

No 'shroom at the inn.

One good thing, and only one, about all the recent rain that has fallen in the Bay Area (seemingly directly onto me), is the amount of fungi that have popped up around Vinoland, and the places that I roam about with Vinodog 2.  There are mushrooms everywhere and the variety is amazing, each one a little more fantastical than the next.
Whilst the Death Cap mushroom (Amanita phalloides) is not particularly weird to look at, it is grotesque in its reputation: the Death Cap is the mushroom responsible for the most mushroom related deaths worldwide.  But what makes this non-native species so interesting to me is the fact that in California the Death Cap can be found growing under cork oaks (Quercus suber).  This Amanita is considered a beneficial mycorrhizal fungus as it lives on the roots of live cork oaks, providing the tree with nutrients - such as magnesium and phosphorous - in exchange for carbohydrates.  It is believed that Death Cap spores were first brought to North America on cork oak seedlings and it has since adapted to living on native California Quercus species.  This particular 'shroom was growing, all alone I might add, under a very large oak tree (not a Q. suber) right next to the house.
Yikes, I suppose I'd better take a good look at the cork that's bunging up this evenings wine offering.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Gaudete, 2014.

It's Gaudete Sunday.  Once again I am paying homage to one particular rose-coloured candle by supping a rosé wine.  This year's rosé selection is a Miner Family, 2013 Rosato of Sangiovese (Mendocino AVA).  Made using the saignée method, this medium bodied rosé is huge on red berry-cherry goodness with a little candied-tropical thing going on (Thud, think Fruit Salad) and a deep, deep pink hue.  Gorgeous.  Today, rejoice with something pink.
Sing it Maddy!

Friday, December 12, 2014

That's all?

The climatic-claptrap from many Bay Area meteorologists on this past Tuesday night's newscasts had to be heard to be believed.  You would have thought that an apocalyptic deluge of biblical proportions was going to wash this particular chunk of Northern California into the Pacific Ocean.  Yes there was quite a bit of rain, beginning at 3.30 am on Thursday morning, but it wasn't nearly as much rain as the storm of last February.  Around the greater Bay Area, as Thursday progressed, a lot of people were hunkered down behind mounds of sandbags, some parking lots were flooded, blocked storm drains caused problems on some roadways, a few trees fell over, a flat supermarket roof crumpled under the weight of standing water, stuff like that.  However, Napa was relatively unscathed.
Here in Vinoland we received 3 inches of rain in just under 24 hours.  By English standards that's just a quick shower, but it isn't bad for California.  Vinoland's creek was flowing swiftly, but wasn't even close to breaching its banks.  We didn't even lose power which is very unusual, as normally one only has to look sideways at a neighbourhood transformer for it to give up the ghost (usually resulting in no power for at least 3 hours).  Vinodog 2 and I were very bored being indoors all day.  I hope the vines enjoy the resulting soil moisture content come the spring.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Quitting time.

All the grapevines in Vinoland have pretty much shut down.  In fact, driving through the valley, there aren't many leaves on vines to be seen anywhere - except for some apparently virused vines that are hanging onto their bright red leaves a little longer.  This particular node that I photographed, although it's a very nice node - nice bud, nice abscission scar, nice tendril - seems to be having a little trouble shutting down, as some of the tissue on this vine has not fully lignified.  The wood of this shoot is still slightly green and soft.  This vine also has quite a few petioles that are still clinging onto their shoot for dear life having abscised their individual leaf blades (the petiole usually separates with the leaf blade still attached).
Now I'm not an expert, and if there is anyone out there that can enlighten me further please feel free to chime in, but I do know that poor lignification of grapevine tissue can be due to a number of factors, among them; virus infection, water stress, deficiency of nutrients (as well as an oversupply) and differing levels of phytohormones such as auxins and cytokinins.
It's just one grapevine so I'm not unduly worried, but it does give me pause for thought.  And something else to research about the life and growing habits of these fascinating plants.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

The St. Helena AVA.

Just above the Rutherford AVA is the St. Helena AVA.  Named after the town of St. Helena, this AVA covers approximately 9,000 acres.  Besides being the home of my dear friends The St. Helena Sots, this storied AVA is home to many notable names/wineries such as; Corison Winery, Dancing Hares Vineyard, Flora Springs Winery and Vineyards, Louis M. Martini Winery, Pride Mountain Winery, Smith-Madrone Vineyards and Winery and Salvestrin Winery - a lot of wineries that mostly produce Bordeaux varietals.  Of course, in my humble opinion, it is getting a little too toasty for the production of Bordeaux varietals up in St. Helena: it is just a tad too far north to benefit from the cooling influence of the San Francisco Bay fog.  But that is just my opinion.
St. Helena is also notable as the home of the first winery in the entire state of California to be founded and run by a woman, Josephine Marlin Tychson, c. 1886, (the winery is now Freemark Abbey). Josephine Tychson is a much more interesting St. Helena story, but that's just my opinion.
Six down, ten to go.

Friday, December 5, 2014

Silver linings.

So much rain this week, I might as well be in England.  California definitely needs rain, but all at once?  Personally, I'd like a little bit of a break from being continually moist.  However, I must admit, grudgingly, that due to the inclement weather there has been some spectacular cloud-action, peculiar (in a good way) light-quality and a few, if fleeting, rainbow goings-on...silver linings.  Pity I kept forgetting my camera.  I had it yesterday though.
Here is an unusual view of Silver Oak Cellars and it's iconic water tower which is not normally this visible whilst driving along the Oakville Crossroad.  There has been a lot of bulldozing activity of late in many vineyards.  Given that harvest is well and truly over, now is the time that winegrowers begin the process of replanting a vineyard.  Not many people realise that the vines that grow in front of Silver Oak are not Silver Oak's vineyards.  No, they belong to Flora Springs.  (Silver Oak grow their Cabernet sauvignon up in Soda Canyon).  And Flora Springs has apparently decided to replant their Oakville vineyard.  And I will get to witness the whole process.  Fun.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Halloween wine?

I know it's a month past Halloween.  But this Transylvanian wine could be just the thing for future Halloween festivities except for one little fact; this wine is in no way scary, despite it's origin.
Whilst I was away in England, Vinomaker did quite a bit of wine-shopping.  The Recas, 2013, Fetească Regală (Transylvania, Romania) was just one of the interesting wines he purchased.  Not one to pass up an opportunity to test my taste buds, Vinomaker poured a glass of this wine for me and waited for me to play our Four Vees (varietal, valley, vintage and value) game.  Well, I failed miserably.  I was able to guess the vintage, but I had not one, single clue as to the wines origin, grape variety or price ($6.49 as it happens).  Opting for a domestic Viognier, for about $18, imagine how surprised I was to find out that I was drinking a Romanian wine.  And a wine made from a grape variety that I have never heard of.
Bright, peachy and delicately floral, this wine was really, really lovely.  Amazingly, I have since read that Romania is one of the world's largest wine producers.  Who would've thunk it?  Not me.  Fetească Regală is a nice little (fright) surprise.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Be happy and thankful.

Happy Thanksgiving to all.  There is a lot of stuff in my life that I am thankful for, I just have to remind myself now and again just how very fortunate I am.
Enjoy family, friends, food and a nice chilled glass of Sauvignon blanc, or any other wine you deem desirable alongside all those Thanksgiving fixings.
Let's get the holiday season started!

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Two bottle night.

I didn't drink a lot of wine on my recent trip home, but one night Thud and I managed to polish off two bottles.  We did have some help, however, as Lord Roby and Miss Roby (his daughter) stopped by for a glass of something red and Sicilian.
The Torretta Di Mondelli, 2013, Nero d'avola (IGP Terre Siciliane) was not a particularly outstanding wine, it wasn't really very complex and only medium bodied, but it had plenty of fruit - various black and red berries - and an attractive liquorice component.  Not too tannic, not too acidic, just a nice wine.  Really nice considering the price was around £6.00 ($10.00), a bargain.
The Torretta was better than the other wine we drank.  The Palastri, 2012, Primitivo (IGT Puglia) was palatable, full bodied, but the fruit was just had a little stewed fruit thing going on.  Actually, I thought the wine was alright, but Thud didn't like it at all.  And the proof of the Primitivo pudding was, although it paired fairly decently with our evening meal of goulash, the bottle did not get emptied.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Back in the U.S. of A.

I'm back Stateside.  After a great holiday, I have returned to the Napa Valley.  The journey back was long and tedious, the only highlight being an Elvis impersonator who was on the flight from Manchester to London.  I lost track of Elvis in Heathrow.  I was hoping he would be on my flight from London to San Francisco, but, alas, he was probably on his way to Las Vegas.
It seemed like I was away for ages.  I don't know why, but I expected all sorts of things to be different when I woke up my first morning back.  The vines are a little more yellow, senescence is well and truly happening, but only the white grape varieties have lost any leaves to speak of.  It's a little cooler, but not cold, so there isn't a need to turning the heating on yet.  Still, it definitely feels like autumn.  Vinodog 2 made a big fuss of me, but she is such a creature of habit that just 5 minutes later it was like I'd never been away. 
Vinomaker was doing wine stuff when I left; racking, barreling down, topping etc., and he was still doing wine stuff when I got back.
Constancy is good.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Chocks away!

Goodbye Blighty 2014, Part 2.
Once again my holiday has come to an end and early tomorrow I will be winging my way back to the US of A.  But not before I have a farewell glass of something domestic, a Spitfire Kentish Ale.
Spitfire bitter (pale ale) was first brewed in 1990 to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Battle of Britain, a limited edition entitled 'The Bottle of Britain'.  Seemingly, the folks at Shepherd Neame Brewery have a good sense of humour.  This particular edition is a partnership with the men's health charity, Movember.  In homage to Movember's annual moustache growing campaign, Spitfire's current label is adorned with a ginger mustache.  Cute.  Quite malty, fruity, hoppy and slightly bitter Spitfire is a very pleasant ale.  And a fitting way to send me off into the wide blue yonder.
California here I come.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Deva.

A quick road trip from Thud Manor today found me in Deva Victrix, or just Deva for short, or simply Chester if you're not an ancient Roman.  Founded by the aforementioned Romans in 79 AD, Chester has always been one of my favourite places to visit, a place with serious history.  I had a lovely time wandering around what is to me a very familiar place, popping into familiar buildings and shops.  Corks Out, although it used to have a different name which I can't remember now, is one such shop.
As the name may suggest Corks Out is a wine (and spirits) merchant.  Located in a 13th century crypt, with a groin vault ceiling, this wine emporium was a place I shopped at fairly often when in search of something unusual as they always had a nice selection of uncommon wines.  I had a little nose about and a quick gander at the California-Napa-Sonoma wine collection (which wasn't much to write home, or on my blog, about).  And a nice chat to the clerk, which brought to mind my last time at Corks Out.  I remember chatting to the clerk then also.  In conversation, I mentioned that I was employed at a Napa Valley winery.  The clerk apparently didn't believe me as with a derisive snort he basically turned his back on me.  Unfortunately, I didn't have a business card with me to prove that I was indeed gainfully employed, so with a shrug I laughed to myself and left without buying any wine.  Vinogirl out!

Sunday, November 9, 2014

The enemy.

Today is Remembrance Sunday.  This year is a particularly special year as it is the 100th anniversary of the start of World War I.  Since I arrived home on the 29th of October I have been wearing my poppy, (the emblem of the poppies that bloomed across the battlefields of Flanders), with pride. 
I used to love Poppy Day when I was a kid and I couldn't wait to place a small, kid-sized remittance in the familiar red collection box, a donation to benefit ex-servicemen and women.  In return I'd receive my red paper poppy with it's black plastic centre that I wore with enthusiasm.  The Royal British Legion raises a lot of money in their annual poppy appeal which funds their work with the Armed Forces community.  The ladybird in the photograph looks like it is sporting a brilliant red poppy on it's elytra in honour of the war dead.  It looks cute.  But looks can be deceiving.
The harlequin ladybird (Harmonia axyridis), a non-native species, is invading the British Isles.  The harlequin was first spotted here in 2004 and has quickly become one of the most common ladybirds in the country. The invasive harlequin is a rather large species of ladybird and it is a voracious predator, it is able to out-compete the native species for aphids and will also eat other ladybirds' eggs and larvae.  Not good.  The harlequins are clustered in large numbers around window and door frames and in any available nooks and crannies where they hope to overwinter.  Their numbers are quite impressive outdoors and inside: my bedroom and bathroom (at Thud's house) have been invaded also.  They're cute, but like The hun they are persona non grata here.  The world is an increasingly smaller place and invasive species hitchhiking around the globe is increasingly problematic.  I will definitely check my bags when I leave here later this week.
Lest we forget.