Sunday, September 24, 2017

The future is mechanical.

As I've said before, I am not a fan of the mechanical method of harvesting grapes; the vines get beat up, the rachis is left behind along with a lot of grapes/raisins (all of which could become inoculum for, e.g., Black Rot) and all that shaking gathers up anything else that may be hanging around in the canopy.  (I noticed that one of Napa County's pest-traps was a casualty of mechanical harvesting in my neighbour's vineyard - it was ripped into shreds.)  However, the local bird population is ecstatic. They probably cannot believe their good fortune in the discovery that someone prepared a giant fruit salad for their delectation.
Ultimately, with labour costs rising at a rate that is not sustainable, in the near-future the mechanical harvesting of grapes will be de rigueur in the vineyards of the Napa Valley.  Rumour has it that, in one or two years from now, when TWWIAGE starts to replant certain blocks of their vineyard the vines will be trained harvester-friendly, i.e., bilateral cordons.  Machines don't make demands.
On a happier note, I worked in the Cabernet Sauvignon vines for a little while this afternoon - checking for any second crop I may have missed, taming errant shoots and assessing the leaf-pulling situation.  And I took a grape sample to see how sugar accumulation is progressing.  Not bad, at 23 °Brix the fruit tastes lovely and sweet, the seeds are browning nicely and the crop seems to be of average size.  I'd better sharpen my picking knife.

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Stunning Syrah.

The Syrah grapes just look beautiful.  Gorgeous.  Yes, there is a little tiny bit of puckering of skin on the west facing rows.  And my feathered friends have been helping themselves to the clusters hanging closest to the tree line.  But, generally, the crop looks fantastic.
A grape sampling today revealed that the sugar is at 24 °Brix: climbing nicely despite the cool weather of the past week.  Vinomaker did a quick chemical analysis and the pH is at 3.48, which is a good range for it to be.  The seeds are all brown, so they are mature.  Time to start thinking picking-logistics.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Far from finished.

This time of year, harvest time, The Napa Valley Register includes in its weekly 'On Wine' section an additional feature: a harvest report.  The harvest report details harvest goings-on in the entire Napa Valley American Viticultural Area (AVA); including all 16 sub-AVAs from Carneros to Calistoga.  Being a vine-geek I love to read it, especially since the Coombsville AVA has been in the mix since harvest of 2012. TWWIAGE's winemaker is a frequent contributor for the Oakville AVA. I had always assumed the reports were accurate, however there was a bit of an oversight in this week's dispatch.
Reporting on week 3, a local Coombsville vintner (who shall remain nameless) was quoted thus: "All the whites are off in our neighborhood..." Really?  Well, his white grapes might have already been harvested, as have Vinoland's, but just several hundred yards from his vineyard is another, rather sizable vineyard with a not insignificant crop of Chardonnay - that's still hanging.  Can't miss it. Titter, titter.
The past two days, the folks at Far Niente have been busy preparing to pick their Chardonnay. And tonight seems to be the night.  Well, it'll be overnight, Monday morning, actually.  I'll probably hear the picking crew and their tractors in the early hours.  And tomorrow, when I leave for work, I'll see that the fruit has been harvested.  Only then, perhaps, will the neighbourhood be devoid of white grapes.
I shouldn't believe everything I read.  I usually don't.  Ho Hum.

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Bitter sweet.

Lurking in the upper canopy of the Syrah vines, like a tiny gathering of purple Christmas tree baubles, are a few small bunches of 'second crop' grapes: mini-clusters of grapes that have developed on lateral shoots.  I thought I'd removed most of these little fellows earlier in the season, but apparently not.  The second crop, that I missed when they were green and under ripe, are now purple, but still under ripe.  However, they are so much more visible now.  The sign of a healthy and vigorous vine, albeit a tad out of balance, in an ideal world, I'd have caught these unwanted clusters earlier in the growing season and dealt with them then.  (In my defence, I am only 5' 5".)  Sigh.
I noticed this particular clusterette today as I performed my first sugar sampling of the season in the Syrah vines.  Visually the fruit is looking great; the sample had about 75% brown seeds and the skin is beginning to give off a little colour.  The sugar came in at 22.8 °Brix.  The Syrah is getting close.
Meanwhile, Vinomaker spent most of his day in mad professor mode, working with the white juice from yesterday.  The Pinot grigio's vital statistics came in at - 26 °Brix, 3.61 pH and 5.25 TA.  Vinomaker has some work to do.

Friday, September 15, 2017

Isn't harvest grape?

Today, Vinomaker and I did what we did exactly one year ago today: we picked our white grapes.  Yes, harvest has begun in our modest corner of the Napa Valley with the picking of Vinoland's Pinot grigio (PG) and Orange Muscat grapes.
Everything was progressing along nicely, until the destemmer decided to stop working, the capacitor had failed.  Not being able to destem the fruit before placing it into the press slowed things down considerably.  We were left with no option but to whole-cluster press the grapes.  We got it all done in the end, it just took a little longer.
I was going to use a photograph of a PG cluster for this post.  Instead, I decided on an image of the one, solitary honey bee that showed up to sample the PG juice.  I must apologise, I photographed a sugar-supping bee last year also.  However, he was just so cute, I couldn't resist a repeat.  Anyhow, the buzz on the street is that Mr. Bee thinks the juice is delicious.  He's right, it is.
Whites down, reds to go.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

All nets are off.

This humble, weathered clothes peg (and, believe me, this clothes peg has experienced some extreme atmospheric conditions over the past two weeks) has done its duty for the 2017 growing season.
Today, I unfastened the bird netting from below the Pinot grigio grapes and pulled leaves from around the clusters, as tomorrow is the first harvest day of 2017 in Vinoland.  Whoo hoo!
See you again in August of 2018, Mr. Peg.

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Bright, sparkling diamonds.

These are some of the biggest tartrate crystals I have ever seen on the underside of a cork.  Not surprising, I suppose, considering the age of this Sauvignon Blanc (SB) and the fact that it has been stored upside down in a cool cellar for the past 5 years.
Tartrate crystals, also known as wine diamonds, are a harmless, flavourless by-product of winemaking.  When tartaric acid, an acid naturally found in grapes, binds with potassium (under low temperatures) potassium bitartrate (cream of tartar) is formed.  If not removed from the wine, by a process called cold stabilisation, excess tartaric acid will solidify and form crystals when wine is chilled in a refrigerator. Voila, wine diamonds!
The bejeweled-wine, in this instance, was a Kobalt Wines 2011 Sauvignon Blanc (Knights Valley AVA).  At the grand old age of 6, this is the oldest SB I have had in a quite a while. It's not that I don't like older white wines, I just tend to drink whites when they are young and fresh. One of my favourite things to do with Thud, on visits home, is share a bottle of an older vintage Sancerre (Ladoucette Comte LaFond, an absolute favourite, springs immediately to mind).  I just don't think New World white wines age as well as those from the more traditional wine regions of the world - yet. Having said that, the Kobalt SB was a delightful wine, very food friendly and very moreish.

Friday, September 08, 2017

When they're brown, they're done...

A very misty, damp morning (that, once again, wasn't really forecast) did not deter me from taking a sample of Pinot grigio grapes for a quick refractometer measurement.
I'm thinking that the slightly high reading of 25.2 °Brix  is perhaps due to the 106/108° temperatures last weekend that could have resulted in a little bit of dehydration.  The grapes are not raisined, the fruit looks absolutely beautiful this year, so I am not too concerned with the elevated sugar level. Besides, some of the seeds are a lot greener than those in the photograph.  And the juice is tasting fabulous. We are very close.  I'd better start thinking logistics.

Thursday, September 07, 2017

Excuse me?

What do you think you're doing, Mother Nature? Stop being a nuisance.
I had planned to be out in the Pinot grigio vines early this morning; testing sugar and finalising a plan for harvest.  But no, I woke up to the pitter-patter of not so tiny raindrops.  Today's forecast, for the Bay Area on the news last night, was for a small amount of cloud cover first thing in the morning, with the possibility of sprinkles at the coast.  (Which begs the question: Why don't meteorologists ever get fired?)  Hmmph!
Vinodog 2 and I went for our morning constitutional and got a bit soggy. My ever-happy poochie didn't actually seem to care about the rain, but I did.  The grapes will be fine.  They look very healthy this year, so I don't envision any problems with secondary invaders, e.g., Aspergillus niger or Penicillium spp.  The heatwave last weekend did not seem to have a negative effect on the clusters.  Still, rain, this early in the season, is such a bunch of rot!
On another note, yesterday was Vinsanity's 9th anniversary.  Forgot all about it, I'll celebrate tonight. Whoo hoo!

Friday, September 01, 2017

Brix basics.

Perhaps the most common criteria in determining when to harvest wine grapes is sugar content.  With that in mind, I performed my first °Brix refractometer reading of the Pinot grigio (PG) grapes this morning.  The specific gravity of the soluble solids in a couple of drops of juice (from a random sampling of the PG block) came in at a reading of 23.4 °Brix. Harvest is just around the vino-corner.
Sugar content, however, is not the only determining factor in when to harvest wine grapes.  Visual indicators include the browning of the stems and seeds, both signs of physiological maturation of the berry.  And flavour: old style winegrowers still use taste as a determining factor of grape maturity.  The PG seeds are, I'd estimate, still 25% green.
California is experiencing a bit of a heatwave, so I am aware that my sampling may have had a slightly higher reading due to dehydration. And that's another reason why a °Brix reading is merely one aid in determining when grapes are ready to be harvested.  Stay tuned.

Thursday, August 31, 2017

Ah So!

Happy International Cabernet Sauvignon Day (ICSD).  I think.  It's hard to tell if all these so-called 'Wine Days' are international, or just national. With respect to ICSD, I just read that this specific varietal-feast day is supposed to be observed on the last Thursday before Labor Day. That's great, but it's not international, is it? Why?  Because Labor Day is only celebrated in the US of A.  Ah, so, in truth, probably none of these this, that, or the other days are officially recognised.  But that's alright with me, I'm more than happy to jump on the celebratory, ICSD Cab-wagon.
And speaking of Cabernet sauvignon (CS), I have been fortunate enough, of late, to have tried quite a few old bottles of CS: two were from 1988. Thankfully, I didn't have to pull the corks on any of the older bottles.
Old corks can be a pain in the bottom to get out of a bottle.  I've been told on many occasions that the two-pronged Ah So cork puller is the only thing to use to extract a vintage cork, specifically any wine that is 10 years old, or more.  I would generally agree, except that sometimes, when a cork is particularly compressed, the prongs of the Ah So will push the entire cork into the bottle.  In my humble experience, every older bottle of wine is different because the condition of the cork can vary dramatically.
On attempting to open a bottle of Altvs, 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon (Napa Valley AVA), I could immediately tell that the cork was not going to cooperate.  I was right.  At only 10 years old, the cork was past its best and I had to use an Ah So to coax it out of the bottle.  The cork broke into three pieces.  Fortunately, the wine had not been compromised.  The two bottles of CS from 1988? They were opened with a traditional corkscrew.

Friday, August 25, 2017

Lolling about.

The Syrah vines are now fully through veraison and, yes, the grapes seem to be lolling about just waiting for harvest 2017 to begin.  This particular cluster, being rather on the large side, has decided to take the weight off its feet, or should I say peduncle, and is chilling out on an end post.
It looks like harvest is not too far away, despite the fact that August has been a rather cool month and has slowed things down a little.  I haven't started testing sugars yet, perhaps next weekend, but I wouldn't be surprised if the °Brix are a little more advanced than my tasting of the grapes would indicate.  We shall see.

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Main Street Reunion 2017.

A pleasant afternoon was spent at one of my very favourite annual events, the Main Street Reunion car show (MSR).  I just love it.
This year, at the behest of the new, but not yet open, hoity-toity Archer Hotel the MSR event was moved to Third and Main Streets in downtown Napa.  The Archer did not want the temporary closure of First Street to impact their guests (again, the hotel is not yet open and won't be until November).  The event did not seem quite as intimate as those of years past.  Third Street is rather wide, so the crowd seemed more dispersed and, in some way, less festive.  No matter, it is the pageantry of classic American automotive history that I wanted to see, not the crowd. Of course, I always bump into someone I know.  There were some beautiful cars and trucks being exhibited and I would have happily driven away in any of about a dozen of them.
And today was my and Vinomaker's anniversary to boot (or should I say, to trunk?), so I was determined that I was going to have a good time on whichever pinhead-designated street.
Vroom, vroom!

Friday, August 18, 2017

Up a creek.

I don't normally purchase wine that I have read about in a review, but never say never.  Catching up with some wine industry reading at breakfast this morning, I came across an article on Sauvignon blanc (SB), and its many styles, by wine columnist Dan Berger.
I have rarely met a SB that I didn't like, so I was intrigued by Mr. Berger's description of the "herbal charms" of SB grown in cooler climes. The problem was that Mr. B was reviewing the 2016 Dry Creek Fumé blanc and I could only find the 2015 vintage when I went out wine-shopping.  Buying wine at a retail location can be frustrating when that retailer doesn't sell enough of a particular vintage, or producer, to facilitate cycling into the next vintage in a timely manner.
It's all good, I was having salmon for dinner and it actually did pair with the fish quite nicely. Yes, it was a little vegetal and it could have done with a tad more acid, but my only quibble is that I can purchase TWWIAGE's SB for quite a bit less than the $17.99 I paid for the Dry Creek. And, quite frankly, the TWWIAGE SB is a more pleasing tipple. Sometimes it is alright to stick with the tried-and-true.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Water, water, everywhere...

...Nor any drop to drink.  Purple water, that is.
Yup, the maturing Cabernet sauvignon and Syrah vines aren't the only purple things in Vinoland of late.  There are pipes, tape, markers, valve boxes and signs and, yes, all of them are purple.  And not a very attractive shade of purple at that.
Due to the fact that there is not a lot of water in Coombsville, Vinomaker opted, a few years back, to receive recycled water from the Napa Sanitation District.  So, some two plus years on; after permit approval, the signing of a water-use agreement (the Recycled Water Users' Guide is 40+ pages of the usual governmental-twaddle), the handing over of a not inconsiderable amount of dough, having the physical connection to the main pipe installed and dealing with a mucky little dog who is inexplicably drawn to mounds of dirt (though it is possible that V2 thinks we have giant gophers), we are almost to the point where the recycled water can be connected to Vinoland's irrigation system.  But, hang on, it's not that straight forward. Regulated by Napa Sanitation District, the San Francisco Regional Water Quality Control Board and the California Department of Health Services the entire process has to be inspected and reinspected numerous times to make absolutely sure that not one drop of recycled water comes into contact with potable water: hose bibs are not to be installed on any part of the recycled water system. Really? Can't wait to hear what some pinhead bureaucrat thinks of me filling my water bottle up under an irrigation emitter.