Category Archives: Wine

Autumn Weather, Always Torn

This time of year is always tough for me. I’ve never been a warm weather person and when the Autumn breeze picks up and the vineyards start to turn beautiful colors it makes me happy. But this is nearly always the time of year that is the most difficult for grape growers and winemakers – especially for those grapes that need the extra time on the vines.

Why? Well, for starters the moisture content in the air gets higher and usually we start to have cloudy days and certainly heavy morning fog. This can induce botrytis on the grapes leading to moldy clusters. Not good. In addition, with the shorter days there is limited amounts of sunlight which means it takes even longer to get the grapes ripe.

So as much as I want to light a fire, sit on my couch and get lost in a great wine…I’m torn. I want to enjoy this time of year and all the things that come along with it (like eating more), but I’m always concerned about the grapes. When the vineyards have been picked I feel so much better.

But it is about so much more than just getting grapes ripe. It’s also about developing flavors. Generally speaking the longer the grapes are on the vine, the more depth and character are developed. There is always a give and take when it comes to wine though. During the growing process sugars rise as acid levels fall – at some point the two intersect at the perfect time and that is when the orders are given to pick. There’s a little more to it than that, but those are two very important factors. But wait too long and the wine can be too alcoholic leading to a ‘hot’ character.

All reports I’ve heard is that this year has been a banner year. Quality is really great and quantity has been higher than expected. After two semi-rough years it’s a relief to see one where winemakers are really happy. The last two vintages have certainly had their challenges (cool summers, heat spikes, rain), but the great winemakers have taken the time to provide higher levels of care and sorting to bring out the best qualities.

I live in an amazing place to grow grapes and with very few exceptions the climate is perfect. We aren’t plagued with many of the issues that Europe deals with. It’s not uncommon for France to have rain in the summer and very cold weather early on requiring picking sooner than is desirable. Often I have customers ask me what my favorite California years are and I can truly say nearly all of them. Sure, they each have their nuances (some providing more fruit forward wines or others earthier) but we are lucky that we have these nearly perfect conditions turning out an excellent crop year after year.

Cheers!

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Filed under 2012 Growing Season, Napa, Sonoma, Wine, Wine Country

Eat, Live, Run: How I Started My Blog

Back in 2009 when I worked for Matanzas Creek we were visited by a group of food bloggers. At that point in time I actually had no idea what a blog was and my curiosity was spiked. These gals seemed to be making a difference on the food front and I thought soon after meeting them that maybe I had a knack for writing about wine. Funny since English and writing were subjects I avoided at all costs in high school and college. I guess I just hadn’t found the right subject.

So, one of these bloggers was Jenna Weber of the blog Eat, Live, Run. This is the post from her visit that day. At one point my face was on the post, but as time goes on the blogs get purged of some pictures to save space. I didn’t even know about the blog and probably wouldn’t have checked except one of my friends happened to be an avid follower and saw me on the post the next morning.

These gals were telling me that some of them saw upwards of 1-2,000 people visiting their blog each day. WOW! I haven’t been anywhere near that, but I also don’t update as much as I want to. Anyway, I’m getting side tracked. A few months later my inspiration finally turned into reality with my first post. That was on Blogger, but I learned within the year that Word Press was much more suited to adding pictures and had an easier interface. I’m coming up on 3 years of blogging this January and I still love it. I wish I had more time to dedicate to it, but life is busy and I update when I can.

The reason I bring up Jenna Weber now is that I just finished reading her book White Jacket Required, a look into her life before, during and after culinary school at Le Cordon Bleu. The book was a dream of hers an I think she did an outstanding job. I’m thinking it won’t be her last book and I look forward to reading future projects – maybe one about her time in wine country? If you like food and more importantly good stories about people, I definitely recommend the read. The book is full of suspense, heartbreak and joy and even a trip to Sonoma’s wine country!

Don’t get any ideas readers, I won’t be writing a book anytime soon! Although you never know what the future will hold – I never thought I would be blogging either.

Cheers!

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Filed under Books, Wine, Wine, Food, Sonoma

A new wine adventure awaits!

Tonight I lie in bed awake waiting for tomorrow to come. Tomorrow brings with it opportunity, new experiences and more time with the family. You see, last Friday was my last day at the place I spent 5 days a week at for the last year plus. Through no fault of my own, the business closed. I was working hard to make it a success; however there were too many factors stacked against us. But that is the past and the past can not be changed. What can be changed is tomorrow (and now – but tomorrow and now are pretty close to the same thing).

I’m already interviewing for my next adventure in this ever-changing industry. And I really mean an adventure. Each place I’ve worked for in the past 5 years has had its own character, history and customers. It has been a lifetime of experiences in a short period of time full of awesome co-workers with unlimited knowledge of wine. All of whom were willing to share with me and impart a real understanding of this complicated business. I’ve also had the pleasure of taking some great classes through leading organizations in the wine industry leading to even more knowledge.

It all sounds so easy: grow some grapes, crush them, bottle the product and sell it to consumers. So simple, I forgot the part about fermentation! But this is an intricate business that has countless steps to ensure the quality of the finished wine matches up with what the winery’s customers have come to expect. As one of the funny ecards floating around Facebook said recently: “you mean I can get paid to help people drink wine? Where do I sign up” It’s true. When all is said and done, that is what we do – although each of us plays a unique role in the process.

So while I don’t know yet what the next adventure for me will be, I do know that it will be exciting. I do know that it will bring with it new challenges and experiences. I also know that I will meet new people with unique perspectives hearing about some of the same processes in new ways. I’m excited for what the future holds and I look forward to where this career path will take me next.

So while I type this and think about all the experiences I’ve had, I know only one thing for sure; this is the only thing I want to do with my life. There are no other jobs or career paths that fit with my lifestyle. In addition, the beverage I have come to not only enjoy daily has provided for my family for nearly half of my post-college years. Good stuff. You’ve heard people say it, but do what you love and the money (and happiness) will come. I’m trying. And if the money doesn’t come at least there’s wine!

More soon on my next steps….

Cheers!

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Filed under Wine, Wine Country, Wine Tasting

#CabernetDay – bringing back good memories

For those who didn’t know, Thursday was officially #CabernetDay on Twitter, Facebook and other social media outlets that I’m sure I haven’t discovered, but will waste plenty of my time in the future. So, what is #CabernetDay? And why does it have that number sign (#) in front of it? Cabernet Day is hosted each year by Rick Bakas, a local Sommelier. He also hosts several other ‘days’ throughout the year. That number sign is what they call a hashtag and in Twitter speak it is used to group tweets together. So, everyone who was tweeting about #CabernetDay could do a search for other people participating. Thus, creating a special place for all the #CabernetDay tweets.

So now that you’re fully aware of what a special day it was for Cabernet yesterday, I’ll share what I was drinking…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

If only I could actually share it with you! This is one of my all time favorite wines. It also carries some special meanings to me. For starters, it is the Cabernet vintage we were pouring when I first was working at Arrowood. It was also my first job in the wine industry – pouring wine and conducting tours at the Arrowood estate. But for me, Cabernet goes much deeper than that.

Cabernet was the first wine I remember drinking. My parents didn’t drink much when my sister and I were growing up (at least not to our knowledge) except when we were at parties and family gatherings. If the Manhattans weren’t flowing, then I remember my dad drinking Cabernet. Now, I have a terrible memory so this could all be wrong, but makes for a good story. So, of course when I’m first offered the opportunity to drink I choose Cabernet. Can’t recall whether I was old enough to consume legally, but let’s just say I was. I liked Cabernet for its boldness. Although not right away. Like most alcoholic drinks wine is an acquired taste.

The first bottle I remember sharing with a group of friends (a big milestone in a wine lover’s life!) was a 1995 Beaulieu Vineyard Georges De Latour. For me it was a bottle I’ll remember forever. But it wasn’t until I started working at Arrowood that I fell in love with Cabernet. And until recently it has been my favorite varietal. While I still love it, Zinfandel is quickly catching up and may have even surpassed. Although my wine cellar tells a different story with Cabernet being the most common varietal and consuming almost 25% of the space. Of course, much of that has to do with my time at Arrowood.

I only have a few bottles left of the wine above and I look forward to enjoying them in the near future. Likely those will be enjoyed with company. And there really isn’t any reason to hang on to them much longer as it tasted great now. I would be very disappointed if I let them go much longer and then didn’t enjoy the flavors. Hope you do the same with your favorite wines. #CabernetDay was fun, but I’m also looking forward to the other #days coming up. Maybe Rick Bakas will do a #ZinfandelDay – that would be great!

Cheers!

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YardWine – are you in on the trend?

Most of you are probably aware that during the late Spring and Summer I spend many Tuesday evenings on the Sonoma Plaza enjoying a couple glasses of wine and picnic food (most of the time – of course, last night was burritos) while the kids run around. The event is really the Tuesday Night Sonoma Farmer’s Market, but it is way more than a regular farmer’s market. Most of it, for me anyway, is about socialization and a feeling of community. Sure the fresh flowers, veggies and goods offered by the vendors are great, but so many people flock to the plaza to meet friends and family that evening.

Much like these folks are doing on Friday nights in Rossmoor (Southern California). Dan and Nancy Roddy started the concept of “YardWine” more than 25 years ago. The idea is really simple. Sit in your yard, your front yard people!, open some wine and invite a few neighbors over. Sounds easy, right? I can hear the excuses already: “We’re just so busy right now”, “Maybe next week, we have plans tonight”

Neighborhoods just aren’t what they used to be. And why do you think that is? Because we don’t do the things we used to do. It used to be on Friday nights there weren’t any TV shows worth watching – though I’ll argue there likely still aren’t. We weren’t captivated by our electronic devices. Now we have to come home and feed our fake fish, check facebook 10,000 times before bed, run through all the Pinterest posts, etc. We are so ‘busy’ these days we don’t have time to talk with our neighbors. That is why neighborhoods aren’t the same. And nothing is going to change unless we get out there and change it.

This year my wife bought some Adirondack chairs for our front porch…

 

 

 

 

 

 

My hope was that we would sit out there more this year maybe meet some of our neighbors and enjoy this great area we decided to live in – like we do on Tuesday nights. The reality is that by the time we eat dinner, the kids go to bed (they are almost to the age we can just let them play in front of the house) and we are ready to sit out there it is too windy or chilly to fully enjoy. Likely I should have added that to the excuses above. The wi-fi reaches out there so our electronic leashes are not an excuse for us to stay inside. Although that defeats the purpose of the YardWine concept.

Sonoma has great weather, but one of the reasons it is such a perfect climate for grapes is that it’s warm during the day and cool overnight. It can sometimes get in the way of evening outdoor plans. We still have some ‘summer’ left in us and I plan on sitting out there more this year. Maybe even some of the neighbors will stop by to enjoy a glass of vino with us. Maybe.

Cheers!

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Napa Valley Cabernet, too high in alcohol?

Thanks to my father-in-law for emailing me this article in the Chronicle about Napa Valley Cabernet and it’s ascend to very high alcohol levels in recent years.

It’s no secret (as this article also states) that higher alcohol wines generally bring higher score from the critics. But if you’ve been following this blog, I’m pretty blasé about wine ratings and critics. Why should anyone tell me what to drink based on their own evaluation? And why should I put effort into following what they have to say when their ‘high scores’ just lead to me and you paying a higher price for that now coveted bottle of fermented juice?

I’ve long said the only place ratings should come into play is when you have a specific wine in mind and specific price point and you are standing on the wine aisle. Ratings can help you decide between one wine and another. If the price point is the same, go with the higher rating, right? But I live in one of California’s areas for great wine and generally drink wine from these regions and can decide for myself what I like and don’t like.

Anyway, let me step down from my soap box for a moment (because I could go on for a long time about the above topic and that’s not what I specifically set out to write about, although I’m having fun!).

This article brings up so many topics, it’s almost impossible to cover with just one post. For starters, I love that Randy Dunn has stuck to his core values of making a certain style of wine. So many wineries change what they are doing based on consumer polls and data and swings in purchasing. How can we ever know what to expect in the bottle if the winery changes style and direction with every new trend? We can’t. There are many wineries I have grown to love because I know what to expect from them. Some of them have specific wines that I really like and others that I don’t. I just buy the ones I like. But when I get a wine from a trusted source and it has changed to suit what some marketing person decided was better for their customers that’s where I draw the line.

But see for the general wine drinking public (who by the way is only 14% of Americans on a regular basis) they often times don’t know that the winery changed direction or can’t tell for whatever reason. Or maybe they just don’t care. There are a lot of wine drinkers that just want a ‘glass of red’ and never really think about the wine. So this trend will continue. You can count on it.

I just love this quote from Randy Dunn:

“I’ve been in many conversations with people that have been selling their wines for $150 a bottle for 15 years, and I was at $65 or something. They go, ‘What are you doing? You’re making us look like fools,’….And I said, ‘You know, I’m quite profitable at this level.’ Here’s a concept called greed.”

Interesting, he’s making them look like fools. I’m all for capitalism though. If they can sell it at that price (and trust me $150 is starting price for many Cabernet wines in Napa Valley) good for them, but they are certainly past the price range I’m comfortable in. At that price I’ll buy a nice Irish Whiskey or Scotch and drink it over an entire year. I have heard people say, “What’s the difference between a $150 bottle of wine and a $50 bottle of wine? ….$100.”

There’s also this concept in here about how the higher alcohol levels have led to the wines all tasting the same. I think I’ll have to do some research to further discover the real answer on this, but it used to be that you could easily distinguish the different growing areas of Napa Valley – mountains vs. floor, east facing regions vs. west, Rutherford Dust comes to mind. I guess I could see how the higher alcohol could mask some of these unique characteristics by making it all about the alcohol and less about the sense of place. That terroir is so important to me. I want to taste, smell and hear (you mean you don’t listen to your wine?) and feel where the wine and grapes came from.

I’m very curious (and will keep following this story) what the research Mr. Dunn is doing will suggest about how to taste wines of lower and higher alcohol. It makes sense that if you taste a higher alcohol wine first, the lower one will taste watery, or at least lighter. If that is the case, if his wines are tasted alongside the higher alcohol versions from Napa Valley then he never will see those higher ratings. Either way, I look forward to tasting his commitment to a standard and ability to not conform with the ever-changing wants of the general public.

Cheers!

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Filed under Alcohol Content, Napa, Napa Valley, Wine, Wine Study, Wine Tasting, Winemaking

Champagne and Sparkling Wine Methods

So, I’m taking some wine business classes right now and we just had to write about the different methods sparkling wine and Champagne producers use. It occurred to me while writing that most people probably don’t even know there are multiple ways to achieve the similar (or not so similar) result of bubbles in the wine. I’ll share parts of the paper below…enjoy!

Method Champenoise vs. Other Methods for Sparkling Wine Production

 Many of us think of Champagne or Sparkling Wine as a beverage for special occasions, toasts, weddings, New Year’s Eve or anniversaries. If the bubbly beverage is being poured if must be an extraordinary event. Most probably never think about how those tiny bubbles got there in the first place, but there are several methods and the processes and finished products are as different as Chardonnay and Coca-Cola.

First, let’s tackle the traditional Method Champenoise. This wine is generally made with high quality Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier or Pinot Blanc grapes from cool regions. In the Champagne region of France the first three are almost exclusively used. In California Pinot Blanc is generally used instead of Pinot Meunier. In all sparkling wine production the grapes are picked earlier than still wine to retain higher acidity and to have sugar levels that are low. As grapes mature on the vines acidity drops and sugar increases, so it is important not to pick too late. From here the grapes are pressed and the juice fermented into still wine. The next step is really what sets Method Champenoise apart from the other approaches. Sugar and yeast are added to the tank to start the second fermentation. Immediately this wine is added to bottles where the fermentation will occur over the next 30 days. This process called tirage sets the stage for the quality of the wine. The bottles are sealed with a stainless steel cap (like a beer bottle) and left to age sur lie – on the dead yeast cells – to create richness, depth and flavors. This part can take anywhere from 1-4 years depending on the producer.

The dead yeast cells do create some solids that must be dealt with prior to the final closure (typically a special cork) can be affixed. The process to remove the yeast cells is called riddling. This is most commonly done by machines nowadays, but it used to be done by hand. Riddling requires the bottles to be placed at an angle with the neck side down so the lees can collect near the cap. Prior to the installing the final cork and cage closure, the neck of the bottle is frozen, then the wine is heated slightly to push the yeast out. All of this is labor and time intensive leading to a higher cost, however from a wine-lovers viewpoint the outcome is far superior to other methods and well worth the extra money that is paid.

There are two other methods that are used to create sparkling wines. The first called The Transfer Method basically uses the same process as Method Champenoise, but uses special equipment to remove all the wine from the bottle and filter out the yeast before replacing the wine back in the bottle. This process is not common and is being phased out in favor of Method Champenoise.

The other method is called Charmat and is different from start to finish. The first difference is in the grapes that are used, generally high production grapes like French Columbard or Chenin Blanc and grown in warmer areas to capitalize on larger crop sizes. Those grapes are harvested (earlier as usual) and made into still wine. Then that wine is pumped into specialized temperature controlled pressurized tanks for secondary fermentation. The huge difference here is of course that the second fermentation is not taking place in the bottle. Once that fermentation is over, the sparkling wine is then put into bottles for minimal aging and sent into the market. The producers of these wines feel that their method works well for their target market and I guess at the end of the day that is what’s important. To me though they are as different as Chardonnay and Coca-Cola.

Cheers!

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Filed under Champagne, New Year's Eve, Sparkling Wine, Wine