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Thursday, September 25, 2008

Why does Amazon hate us?

Lots of press is spinning over the Amazon wine sales future. But, if everyone takes a moment, deep breath, and realizes that there are already 100 other websites to buy wine from, we might realize that the proper response is: so what, and who cares?
Amazon is a press-spinning whirlwind, eternally full of bluster and pointless press releases about this and that trivial thing. I spoke with the Amazon wine director in Sacramento when we were pouring for our medals in early July. He liked our wines and invited us to join. He communicated with me personally at one point - a decent thing to do. So, why aren't we on Amazon?
1. Amazon requires a $420 fee for each label they carry, which is to say each varietal each year. As a small winery in a bad economy, that, my friends, is a huge amount of up front cash to be renewed each year, each varietal.
2. Early on we were informed that Amazon would be paying a little less that wholesale. What? What! Less than FOB wholesale - what the hell. We do not have a distributor. We are independent and self-distributing. I would be curious to know what sort of price structuring Amazon would stick us with.
3. Rumors swirl as to questionable past dealings with organizer Mr. Gelvin. These are probably open to interpretation and apocryphal - but some say he is not the wonderful man he seems to be.
4. For us, go to They skim a whole 10%, that is it, just a processing charge. Their infrastructure was set up in such a way that even a bunch of computer illiterates (such as ourselves) were up an running in one hour. They are fair, equitable, and the nice lady called us three times when we signed up to see if everything was o.k. They do not warehouse - we ship the package ourselves. But, they do not have the marketing muscle that Amazon has, and this is their (and our) hill to climb, but given the nature of the competition for us and them, we will stay small and honest to the end. No thanks Amazon.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Is that? Could it be?

Yup. Nebbiolo in a barrel. Making Nebbiolo means no more sleeping. It is like raising a child that has a 10% of turning out well. This is also the Lampia clone (FPS 01) which has the least color of all the clones, but according to the man himself, Alberto di Gresy, Lampia has the best flavor but is the most difficult to work with. We are taking our cue from a forgotten book written in the 90's that followed the making of Gaja's Sori San Lorenzo, a modern-styled Nebbiolo but the cellar practices are the focus for me. Nebbiolo has largely failed in California, and whether it is the winemaking or the viticulture no one is really sure (it is probably both). I will just say that the flavor is incredible. Bob Parker would say: huge extract, loaded with glycerol, 45 second finish, low acid, fat, and all other sorts of things that make no sense and are better suited to Coca Cola descriptions.
As for harvest, the Dolcetto hasn't budged past 23 brix and it rained yesterday - hopefully giving a brief rest to the vines before a final push. Everything feels two weeks away, not counting our end of October rain-waiting game for the Aglianico and the rest of the Nebbiolo and (the half barrel above was from Dunnigan, hence the early harvest at a nice 24 brix with great flavor at 3.6pH and the bit of younger old-school complexity we hope to blend back in). In fact I am drinking Graziano's Enotria 2000 Nebbiolo from Mendocino right now, lamenting 36 months in french oak and a 13% Dolcetto addition - an absolute crime and a Nebbiolo disaster to me (but rather shocking at $18).

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Picked Chardonnay today.

Here is the deal folks. The wine industry is full of press-spinning liars. There, I said it. The wine merchandising henchmen proclaimed 2008 a "stellar vintage" a month ago, and I wished a plague of locusts, white flies or aphids on them because nature will always have the last laugh. Here we are, cruising along nicely, everything in tune and on time, and then BAM!, consecutive 105 degree days. We stopped at a vineyard in the Sacramento Valley and saw their Sangiovese already at 24 brix, about 2 weeks ahead. Wilted, dripping Sangiovese, like half-empty leather eggs. Lots of these guys are irrigating constantly, not the ideal solution. Stellar vintage? We will see.
On a brighter note, we picked our measly acre of Chardonnay and crushed a whole ton. Yes folks, a touch over a ton. Frost damage took some, gophers and eutypa took more. This will be an interesting one for sure. Our Chardonnay has a tendency to be rather Viognier-ish, and this year could be over the top. The rest still hangs in the balance. We will have a better picture in a few days.
The media machine wants you to believe that lower yield = higher quality, the frost takes some and we proclaim a grand year. Guess what, balance beats low yield any day, and time will prove it. Wine reviewers have generated this low-yield ideology with Pinot Noir (which truly is yield-dependent) "old-vine" Zin and vegetative Cabernet. Low yield does not necessarily equal quality. Never has, never will. What do you think when you find out that Screaming Eagle 1994 was second growth? That some of the Ridge stuff was over five tons per acre? It is a complicated picture, too complicated to forecast a month before harvest.
Weaving in and out of the subject matter, the not so pretty vine pictured above is a Chardonnay vine that we left the stronger suckers on, and we will trellis these suckers up and eliminate the older cordons that are tired and damaged, maintaining our 14-year old rootstock. Out with the old, in with the old - a nice old-fashioned Italian solution. We'll keep you posted.