Saturday, October 10, 2015

Harvest 2015 is complete!

Harvest 2015 in Vinoland is done (and it was the earliest harvest ever). Hooray!  Whereas the size of Vinoland's Syrah crop was about normal, the Cabernet Sauvignon (CS) crop was, perhaps, 25% down.  The CS harvest numbers are; 24.0 °B, a pH of 3.82 and a TA of 5.15 (a little low).
I had actually decided upon the harvest date a few weeks back due more to logistics than anything else.  Vinomaker was concerned that the fruit would not be ready, but, by the way in which harvest had been progressing valley wide, I really felt that harvest wouldn't be late in Vinoland.
Besides it being the earliest harvest in Vinoland it was also the fastest pick - which meant that the harvest lunch/afterglow got going a little sooner than expected; wine, food and more wine abounded.
A surprisingly enjoyable wine at lunch, brought along by Mrs. St. Helena Sot who had been given the bottle by the proprietor of the winery, was a Fantesca, 2012 Chardonnay (Russian River Valley AVA).  Yes, a Chardonnay! An absolutely beautiful wine, made by Heidi Barrett (whoo hoo! for women winemakers), this Chardonnay was balanced, delicately fruity and was possessed of an ethereal quality that was simply too hard to describe. A fun quote, from Margaret Thatcher, printed on the cork (Fantesca Fortune Corkies) just added to my enjoyment.
Harvest 2015 is done, just ask this woman.

Thursday, October 08, 2015

The three-tier system.

So Vinomaker and I have a fairly frequent conversation that goes something like this;
VM: "Hey, it's Whatchamacallit's birthday, can you send him/her a bottle of TWWIAGE Cabernet Sauvignon?"
VG: "No, I can't."
VM: "Why can't you?"
VG: "Because I'd be committing a felony if I shipped a bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon to Whosit in, e.g., Pennsylvania."
VM: "Well, that's stupid!"
Yes, it would be a felony for me to ship wine into Pennsylvania and, yes, it is stupid.  But that is the current state of affairs when trying to navigate the shipping/distribution laws in the US.
Tonight's wine marketing class concentrated on the unique, and arcane, wine distribution system in the United States.  Simply put, the 'three-tier system' came into existence with the repeal of Prohibition (in 1933) which gave each state control over the sale and distribution of alcohol, (the three-tier system refers to the producers, distributors and retailers of wine).  And that is the way it continues to work to this day, with no real incentive to change the system in the states where the distributor has a monopoly (and the politicians like the status quo).  So, no, Thingamajig cannot have a birthday bottle of wine: I like my liberty too much.
It is much less complicated, in the US, to make wine than sell it.

Friday, October 02, 2015

Vinoland's Syrah Harvest: 2015.

The Syrah grapes are in, and I have to say the fruit looks gorgeous.  Look at the colour of that drop of juice on the berry to the lower left of the photograph: getting good colour extraction of of Syrah grapes is never a problem.  There was quite a bit more bee-damage than bird-damage this year which is a little unusual.  But I like bees, so it's alright.  Harvesting and destemming went smoothly.  And so did the party afterwards, (which is always a lot of fun).  A good harvest.
Syrah by the numbers, 26.5 °B, a pH of 3.56 and a TA of 5.75.

Thursday, October 01, 2015

Happy 8th birthday V2!

Vinodog 2 turns 8 years old today - and she is clearly not impressed.  At least that is the feeling I am getting, as she looks like she is blowing a raspberry at the very thought of being so old.  And the fact that her black bits are increasingly becoming more grey.  Of course, she did enjoy her extra helping of dog biscuits after breakfast and unwrapping her new squeaky toy (Sid the shark), but now she is outside napping in the Napa sunshine clearly underwhelmed by the day's events thus far.  I'll take her for a walk down by the river, she'll like that.  She's a great dog.
Happy birthday V2!

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Other people's stuff.

Published weekly, Wine Country Classifieds (WCC) is not just about other people's stuff: the distinctive, bright yellow advertisement-mailing is a very helpful wine industry resource/tool.  Of course, WCC does include lots of ads about stuff for sale, e.g., barrels (new and used), macro bins (used) and bottles (hopefully, new).  But WCC also includes a diverse selection of services that are available to wine industry peeps, like; custom crush facilities, mobile bottling services, barrel storage and bulk wine storage.  It's an interesting read for any wine geek - and it's free.  I love it.

Friday, September 25, 2015

The cost of wine.

When the bird netting goes up on the grapevines I do my very, very best to make sure that none of my feathered friends can sneak in through a gap, that I may have inadvertently left, and become trapped.  I walk through the rows often to make sure that not one single bird is caught in the canopy. But it's not a perfect system.  Just last weekend, I had to free a rather annoyed female Western Tanager (Piranga ludoviciana) from one of the Pinot grigio (PG) rows.  Not a particularly easy task with V2 on the other side of the vine snapping away, (she takes her partial terrier-heritage very seriously).  The PG vines having been harvested already are now sans nets, so the birds are at liberty to go about their business as usual.
Today, on the way out for our morning walk, V2 drew my attention to a house finch that was trapped in the Orange Muscat (OM) vines.  I pulled open the netting quickly and the finch flew away, seemingly unscathed, into a nearby tree.  A little later in the morning, when Vinomaker and I were finally organised enough to get around to removing the netting on the OM prior to picking, I found the remains of a little house finch (hanging in the netting by its spine and the teeniest little ribs).  I am so sad to have one less house finch in Vinoland: I hate to be the cause of the demise of even one precious bird.  2015 may prove, in a way, to be an expensive vintage.  Sigh.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Label it drinkable.

More on  wine labels.  In tonight's wine marketing class we discussed what exactly constitutes a wine brand's shelf appeal.  And how a winery can make their brand stand out from all the hundreds of other wine bottles on the supermarket/wine shop's shelf.
The initial impact that a label can make on a consumer is very important: the right design can act as a 'billboard' that will catch the consumer's eye and make an immediate and favourable impression. Besides all the legal mumbo jumbo that must be included on a wine label, a label should make a strong statement and be conspicuous and snazzy.  But at the same time a label should be smart, tasteful and classic - something that says that the wine inside the packaging is, after all, ultimately drinkable. The copy in the textbook says; "...create a label that is big, bright, stylish, bold, elegant, loud, sophisticated, flashy..."  So I am thinking that just a touch of schizophrenia can be a desirable thing in a label designer.  Yikes!
My label is striking, is it not?  But I'm afraid it may get pigeon-holed as a critter wine!  Double yikes!

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

It's a miracle.

Not quite in the same league as the two, proven miracles required to become a Catholic saint, I returned home from work today to find that Vinoland's Pinot grigio grapes had been harvested.  It is indeed a small miracle, as I didn't think harvest 2015 was ever going to get started here at home.  I think it is only fitting that today - the day that Pope Francis canonized Father Junípero Serra, the first winegrower in California - a few grapes were picked in Vinoland; grapes destined to become a little bit of California wine.  (And it is California wine month, besides.)
Like the St. Helena Cabernet Sauvignon, the Pinot grigio yield was down by about 50%.  Pinot grigio by the numbers; outrageous °B, a pH of 3.94 and a TA of 5.30.  Next up, Orange muscat.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

The 2015 lowdown.

With the arrival of the St. Helena Cabernet Sauvignon grapes, this morning in Vinoland, the 2015 winemaking season has begun.  One small problem though: the yield is down about 50% on the previous vintage.  Most wineries, including TWWIAGE, are reporting that crops are on average about 30% down.  With the 2012, 2013 and 2014 vintages being very bountiful, some folks have been taken by surprise at the reduced size of the crop this year.  (In all honesty, this years crop size is probably closer to normal.  Whatever normal is, that is.)  Vinomaker will deal with it.  The Cabernet Sauvignon grapes looked, for the most part, like their usual beautiful blue-velvet-selves.  Vital statistics were; 25.2 °B, with a pH of 3.75 and a TA of  5.85.
The 2015 growing season has not been without its problems e.g., poor fruit set and persistent drought conditions.  In addition, this particular vineyard (the source of the Clone 7), is slowly succumbing to Pierce's Disease.  I am hopeful, however, that this vintage will more than make up for what it lacks in crop with the quality of the finished wine.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

It is still a conundrum.

Another blind wine tasting in tonight's wine marketing class.  My classmates and I were told to simply rate the mystery wines, 1 through 6, in our order of preference.  Now, none of the wines were anything I'd personally want to swallow, but two stood out as particularly undesirable to me.  The first was a Meiomi, 2013 Pinot noir - with a really funky nose, I didn't even want to taste it, but I did.  As an aside, this brand just sold to Constellation Brands for $315 million making Joe Wagner, at 33 years old, a very rich young man.  The second wine was a Conundrum, 2012 California Red Wine - it had a nonspecific red-fruit nose and, upon tasting, it was cloyingly sweet.  I had actually commented to the person sitting next to me, who happens to be a co-worker at TWWIAGE, that the wine was disturbingly reminiscent of Conundrum.  I nailed it!  I am guessing that I just don't like Wagner Family wines.
After the unveiling, the entire class acted as a mini-focus group and we discussed the merits and demerits of the labels.  I don't know if I need to visit an optician, or if I need to take a design class, but my idea of what constitutes 'shelf appeal' in a wine label was quite different from the majority of the class.  We all did, however, agree that the label on the Napa Valley College wine left something to be desired.  Someone commented that the pale blue, circular label looked like it had been printed at home for a baby shower.  My favourite label was the Parducci, 2012 True Grit Reserve Red (Mendocino AVA).  Clean and unfussy, with a sort of Wild West-meets-Bordelais-charm, the True Grit label was to the point; proprietary name, wine type, origin, vintage and producer.  Besides, I'm a sucker for anything with cowboys boots on it.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Lake County Goats.

More goats.  Not the fat and happy, valley-floor-living Napa goats I photographed this past April.  No, these poor goats had the misfortune to find themselves in the midst of one of the most destructive wildfires in the history of California.  I copied this photograph from the Facebook page of one of my co-workers, the Balancing Queen (BQ), who unfortunately lost her home and all of her possessions, (and most likely her cats), in the Valley Fire which is currently burning to the north of here in Lake County.  And tragically, the BQ is not alone in her predicament, at last count some 600 homes have been destroyed.
Wineries and vineyards have been lost; many vineyards, although not directly affected by the fire, remain unpicked as access to them is restricted.  Regretfully, wildfires, earthquakes and drought are all apart of life in California.  The goats survived.
Photo credit: JoAnn Saccato

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Syrah is wild.

One could be forgiven for thinking that this photograph of grape flower buds was taken earlier this year, but nope, I took it earlier today.  I was out in the vineyard checking the progress of grape maturation when I came across this particular over achiever.  It didn't surprise me in the least, as Syrah is my little wild child.
A quick berry sampling of the Syrah today revealed the vital statistics of; 25.0 °Brix, a pH of 3.30 and a TA of 8.5.  Things are looking good.
And I just realised that I missed my 7th Blogiversary (the 6th of this month), oops!  I have been so busy, I simply failed to remember my anniversary. Thanks to those who read and comment on Vinsanity, I really appreciate your input.
Roll on year 8!

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Something smells fishy.

At the end of last week's class, the instructor gave me and my classmates a homework project.  Our assignment was to find the silliest wine review we could.  Simple, right?  Well, not really.  Over the years, I have read dozens of weird reviews that were chock-a-block with outlandish wine descriptors, I just had to pick my favourite.  Problem was, now that I needed one I couldn't recall any (and I certainly hadn't kept any).
A quick search on the internet proved to be quite fruitful.  One particular wine review - and it was a doozy - repeatedly popped up no matter how I phrased my search question.  Bizarre descriptors? Strange bouquets in wine? Pompous wine reviewers?  Hmm, but wouldn't all of my classmates also come across the very same glib review by merely Googling 'silliest wine reviews'?  Yup, I had to do better.
Vinomaker suggested I use one of my own reviews.  Not funny.  Then I thought perhaps I should use a review of a wine made from a native American grape (always amusing on the palate, no?).  Scuppernong (Vitis rotundifolia) is, just simply a silly grape and the review I found of wine made from this muscadine grape was rather amusing.  But, on a serious note, I wasn't brought up to make fun of the less fortunate, snigger, snigger.  So as a last resort, and I'm ashamed to admit it, I decided to seek professional help.  (Yes, I know Thud, it's long overdue.)  I sent a quick email to Dr. Jamie Goode, English wine columnist, author and wine scientist begging for a favour.  Good enough (hee, hee), Dr. Goode answered my email and then followed up with another email.  The second email included an attachment; an Air Canada Business Class wine list, with a note that said, "...they are totally meaningless." And I understand what he means.  Trite, vinous descriptors abound, e.g., "bold aromas; luscious texture; full bodied; velvety mouthfeel; complex bouquet; subtle notes of (fill in the blank); lingering finish; bright and complex; exquisitely balanced." And there were more.  If someone had removed the varietals and names of these wines I wouldn't have known, through such generic and interchangeable descriptors, if these wines were indeed red or white.  Meaningless, yes, but probably sufficient for when one is hurtling through the sky at 550 mph at 38,000 feet.  Many thanks for your input, Dr. Goode.
As it happens, I did eventually find a few silly reviews by myself.  I remembered a particular blog that I used to read years ago and recalled that the gentleman whose blog it was had a rather flowery way of writing wine reviews.  How does "a sort of red cherry licorice-cigarette paper element" sound?  It actually makes me feel a bit ill.  The same blogger is big on descriptors such as, "talc-like" and "lithic".  And "propulsive" seems to be used frequently whether it is in the describing of energy or acidity.  And I particularly like, "potent and seductive ferrous and sanguinary nature," and "chiseled and scintillating limestone elements." This blogger has received many Wine Blog Awards.  And he apparently also received a Roget's Thesaurus for Christmas.
And what was the one silly wine review that repeatedly surfaced on my web search?  It was a review by Robert Parker Jr., (I wasn't going to name names, but Bobby's a big boy he can handle it), that described a Pouilly-Fumé as having "notes of shrimp shell reduction and iodine."  Of course, the first person called upon in class read out this very review.

Wednesday, September 09, 2015

Time machines.

Grapes are coming in at a frenetic pace all over the Napa Valley.  The 2015 harvest is proving to be a very early vintage.
At TWWIAGE the Chardonnay harvest is already complete.  On Monday the first Cabernet Sauvignon (CS) reserve grapes (clone 15) were picked. September 7th is a very early date on which to have already started to bring in CS, considering that in the relatively cool growing season of 2011 that TWWIAGE did not finish harvesting CS grapes until November 4th.  On Tuesday TWWIAGE picked both Merlot and Sauvignon blanc - the first time ever that red and white grapes had been brought in on the same day.
Even here in chilly Coombsville (remember, Vinomaker calls it The Tundra), Far Niente have already picked their vineyard that is closest to Vinoland: the eastern block was harvested in the early hours of Monday morning and the western block in the early hours of Tuesday morning.  It looks like the vineyard manager at Far Niente opted to once again hand-harvest their Chardonnay grapes.  Last year (photographed on September 19th 2014) the western block was machine-harvested which, at the time, I surmised might have been an experiment of a sort.
Machine harvesting is very efficient, as it can save a lot of time and it can be very economical (less payroll).  However, machine-harvesting is very tough on the grapevine and, in my opinion, can cause more trouble than it's worth.  Machine-harvesters pick every, single last grape off the vine; they also harvest small rodents, old bird nests, little snakes, lounging lizards, curled up caterpillars, etc., etc.  (Not just earwigs, Thud.) Collectively known as MOG, material other than grapes, all that detritus has to be sorted out from the grapes before the fruit is fit to be turned into wine.  Not to mention that, because the berries are more roughly handled, there is more rupturing and subsequent juicing which can be a big problem with white grapes (think, oxidation).  And leaving the rachis on the vine can promote grapevine diseases like a possible early season Black Rot (Guignardia bidwellii) infection.  I could go on, but I won't because I don't have that much time before Vinoland's grapes are ready for harvest.

Friday, September 04, 2015

Meet Penelope.

Or Peanut to her family and friends, (her name could actually be P-Nut, I'm not sure).  Anyway, I took a day off today and went wine tasting with the Wisconsin Winos (WWs).  And Vinomaker, of course.  The WWs have not visited the valley for a good few years, so I was really looking forward to touring some wineries with them.
First stop was Black Cat Vineyards (where Penelope tasted alongside us), a favourite producer of mine, but one that I'd never actually done a formal tasting at.  I say formal, but proprietor and winemaker Tracey Reichow couldn't have made our happy little group feel any more comfortable and at home whilst we enjoyed her wonderful, small production wines.  A particular stand out for me was a 2012 Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon, just beautiful.
Next we visited Laird Family estate which is located just north of the city of Napa, (off a frontage road along Highway 29).  Built specifically as a custom crush facility, winemaker Brian Mox hosted our tasting and tour which was fun and very informative.  With the (white grape harvest) in full swing, the entire facility was abuzz (like a bee hive on steroids) with lots of folks making wine.  And that was it, we visited just two wineries.
Two wineries doesn't sound like a lot.  However, the time spent tasting and touring just those two wineries was just under 5 hours (they were serious, in depth tastings).  I had lots of fun hanging out with the WWs.