Sunday, December 13, 2009
Sans soufre. It sounds even nicer in French, but a wine claiming to be sulfur free sure seems more, well, serious and committed. And it looks so simple and neat. Sulfur, or potassium metabisulfite in our case, does not really seem like something we should ingest in quantity anyway, though chemical names never really sound very tasty. Contentious winemakers always like to point out that there is always some sulfur in any wine; it is a natural byproduct of yeast fermentation and it usually sits around 6 to 15 parts per million (ppm), though it can be higher. This is equivalent to 26-68 drops in a barrel. That bottle of Brunello you had last night, with its extensive barrel time and likely aging in the bottle probably had around 100ppm of bound sulfur and maybe 65 ppm as free sulfur to protect it during bottling and into years of bottle aging. The formula above works out to about 750 drops of a 50% aqueous sulfur solution in a 225 liter barrel. A little at the crusher helps keeps bad bugs way, while reductively made whites can swallow hundreds of grams a ton. Make no mistake, sulfur is the most important tool in preserving wine quality. It is very predictable, and when conscientiously applied, pretty benign. How can something so boring be so important and contentious, or is it?
Ethically, wines without sulfur additions are fascinating, and virtuous in a dangerous and exciting way. They make a statement. Wines oxidize, and things can grow in wine that cause off flavors (though the acidity keeps them pathogen free, so even though I don’t know where your mouth has been I certainly will try a sip of that Barolo). But, do you want to drink oxidized wine that tastes like nail polish? Sulfur additions used properly can help prevent this. In 1487 royal Prussian decree allowed sulfur additions. The Romans as we know burnt sulfur in various storage vessels, though they also added sea water to overly bitter wines, so maybe sulfur just ain’t all that. Sulfur levels are usually monitored pretty closely in wineries, often with the thought by responsible parties that less is better for the natural evolution of wines. There are also farmer-John types who add so much sulphur that it bleaches the wine color out (which is reversible by the way) thinking that if a little is good, etc.
Without dwelling in numbers too much, we should note that according to the FDA .4% of the population (1,200,000 people) are considered highly allergic to sulfites, though levels vary and 5% of asthmatics are particularly at risk. This is a large number of people to me, and they would very much be a target market. And, contrary to most oldtimers, not everyone interested in unsulfited wine (a more correct term) is a weenie. But, like the MSG monster, a lot of people with a hangover sometimes think they are having a sulfur reaction. Life can be complicated, and my wife’s whole family is clearly sulfur sensitive. But, it is generally accepted that wine ranks quite low on the sulfite danger list
Making a wine without sulfur additions is technically challenging because you do not have an antimicrobial agent to afford wiggle room. In Mendocino County, Frey Vineyards is certified Organic and Biodynamic (that discussion is for another time) and sulfite additive free. They are family owned and operated, great people, and their wines are always interesting and below $20. Frey does not barrel age their wines, the barrels are too much of a microbial and oxidative risk for them, so they are tank-made with oak adjuncts (another discussion for later). Even this is not insurance enough, and the last time I spoke with them, they had just gotten rid of an entire varietal vintage that had gone wrong. These are the risks, and they are very real.
Winemakers around the world are experimenting. In Italy Friuli’s Radikon is a poster member of the new smart kids club, making wine in historical modes without sulfur addition. Many are lowering sulfur levels, eschewing any addition after crushing. These wines are not simply victims of a philosophical notion of naturalness. These wines are also palate-driven. Earlier this year we ran our own little sulfur experiment with two barrels of our Primitivo. One received its inaugural dose after we decided malolactic fermentation had finished. The next evening a sample was pulled from each barrel and evaluated. The result is why this boring entry is being written. The sulfured sample had much broader palate feel, a sense of cohesion and overall integrity. In the mouth it had a sense that it was a real wine with all the trappings of predictability and stability. The nose was focused and as expected. But, the unsulfured sample was fascinating. It lacked palate cohesion and felt like it was completely out of synch with itself in the mouth but it was vibrant and tensely alive. It was thinner, tart, almost unpleasant in its angularity except for its bizarre behavior. But the nose, that was the clincher. It had treble and bass notes that the sulfur completely wiped out of the other sample. It was much more unpredictable and at the same time mineral driven, which is something we have been striving to bring into focus with our Primitivo. It had bizarre candy and earth tones at the same time that just did not exist in the other sample. But, the palate was arguably better, or fuller anyway, with sulfur. We can only imagine how differently a white might present. The sulfur issue is also most likely varietally dependant. Some claim that Sauvignon Blanc without sulfur would be a disaster as its signature aromas are too delicate and would oxidize into off flavors.
Frey’s recently tasted Syrah and Sangiovese seemed to verify our little experiment. But, here Frey is a good example, there is a tendency to conflate sulfur discussions with organic certification, moving what may be a technical stylistic argument into that sticky green quagmire that gets so much marketing mileage right now. From a winemaking point of view unsulfited wine can very easily be made from non-organic grapes in a non-organic certified facility. There are a few orange-colored non-organic white wines from Sicily that are examples of this. It is clearly a stylist approach arguably less holistic than producing organic unsulfited wines. It is a quest for flavor within the winery.
It is interesting to note that many texts and technical articles claim that sulfur enhances both palate and aroma in definitive tone. That may be good if incorrect advice for students, but like cooking all pork to 165 degrees, it is tragically misinformed and brutally anhedonic. Risk management is a completely different type of argument all together. For example, we grow most of our own grapes, we know how safe they are. Our size allows a certain level of risk to be assessed, and we have the luxury of experimenting. We have had a couple of vintages have never seen the light of day, but this is accepted risk with small lots of “boutique” wines (gak, what a horrible word when you are knee deep in mud all winter or working another 14-hour day). When your winery looks like an oil refinery, risk management moves ahead of stylistic experimentation, as does inter-vintage consistency, something anathema to risky wine making.
Will our winery risk an unsulfited red wine attempt next year? Hell no. We can not afford the risk and we do not yet have the knowledge to manage it wisely. Will one be attempted in the future? Yes, absolutely. A tank rosé might be a good candidate. Progress demands it. Knowledge through experimentation requires it. One can experiment with it without committing to a wholesale ideology like biodynamicism. Weird wines need to be made, especially when the market is still recoiling from an overoaked safe and tame homogenization of overripe styles. Authenticity seems to be reestablishing itself, and even failed experiments can be part of this movement.
Friday, November 13, 2009
Friday, November 6, 2009
If this all seems dry and boring - it is. But very necessary and probably the most important time in any wine's life. If it all goes well, you can drain the wine, press the skins, mix it together, put it in a tank overnight to settle out any junk, then fill barrels by gravity at a toasty seventy five degrees, starting malo-lactic fermentation quickly and cleanly so that it finishes before Christmas dinner - nice, clean and stable.
Most of our 2008s are bottled now, with exception of a long term project or two. I can say with confidence that the Barbera is a monster, the Dolcetto is great and meaty 2005-style and the Primitivo is very high strung and developing more mineral depth with every passing vintage. We have sown a good amount of cover crop this year, but the rain brought the volunteer weed crop out strong, and the drippers on our new plantings look like they are hiding a riverbank. Hard to believe this was barren red earth in June. With the exception of the Sangiovese, it looks like we had almost 100% success. Lets hope next Spring's Negro Amaro and Nebbiolo fare as well.
Monday, October 26, 2009
Yeah, we all would have had better grades if every 10:00am class started with 20 wines. Last week we intended Vinitaly in San Francisco, one of two PR campaign stops on Vinitaly's U.S. tour. This is sort of a marketing outreach that preludes Vinitaly in Verona in April, an event with 4200 exhibitors. That is not a typo, 4,200. This brief tasting was entitled Italian Wines for Today's America. We started off with several very nice Proseccos, presenting from the very simple (and enjoyable) classic single-dimension fun quaffing, to a more layered and nuanced one with five month Charmat ageing, and then a Ribolla Gialla Spumante, showing the low acid delicate side. A fat, almost Alsatian Pinot Gris followed, then a Marche Verdicchio with barrel ageing and a ripe 14.5%, again showing the diversity of styles and a fluid competence in execution (all of these below $20 retail). A couple of nice Chianti's followed, one with a touch of Merlot and an attractive $8 price point followed by a big, long maceration Toscana Sangiovese, textured while still retaining the high-strung nature of Sangiovese. Then La Togata Brunello 2004 (great, old-school low oak, high acid) then a blockbuster Amarone Riserva, full of juniper, blasamic notes, meat, all in balance and harmony with almost Bordeauxish tannins. Whew. - The point here is diversity, quality, depth, and QPR.
The second half focused on Sicily, and the details are too numerous but real eye openers where Corbera's superb Catarrato at $10ish and a wide variety of Nero d'Avolas and Nero blends again illustrating depth of price and quality. Wines of the Marche followed, and then the industry tasting followed that. In quaffing all of this Italian wine I was glad to see oak taking a step back and honest tannin remaining. The 2004 Brunello tasting was marred for me abused oak and lack of acid, these wines, mostly 2007 and 2008, seemed to be more centered with an honest identity. There were several highlights for me - particularly the Nero d'Avolas (which we still are dying to plant) and some of the more funky Southern reds like Salice Salento and some Uva de Troia. All in all, educational, enjoyable, and still being processed.
(Removed a long rant here about how bad the wholesale market is and how evil the hypocritical distributors and gatekeepers are with their mountains of Rombauer and Sonoma-Cutrer while they talk about too much oak. Suffice to say, out of about eighty good wines had last week, almost none are available in Sonoma or Napa counties. Sad, sad world. And, this affects us as a small producer as well.)
Tuesday, October 6, 2009
Friday, October 2, 2009
Saturday, September 26, 2009
People, we live in a three dimensional world. Growers, your trellisses and growing patterns should respect the fact that the earth revolves, the sun turns, and your static two-dimensional trellis is garbage. Vertical shoot positioning (VSP for short) was all the rage for a while, but it does not work if the entire vineyard is not properly laid out. Growers, do it right, we try to, you can too! Position those canes, shade the fruit!Oh yeah, look at this beauty. The trellis is North-South on a flat vertical plane, but the sun roles over the trellis from East to West, and the afternoon sun just toasts everything because it has no foliage protection. Rookie junk here.Anyway, after spending HOURS picking and shaving all of the sunburned berries, the press is loaded to the top, with some rice hulls to facilaitae pressing. The bladder is slowly filled to fourty pounds psi, dripped ry, and then remixed and repressed, three times in this case. Eventually, all one ton is compressed into the press, and called the "cake".The leftover grape skins are then takien out to the field and worked into the soil. The juice then settles for two days and is pumped into another tank and starts fermenting with a bit of yeast. These Sauvignon Blanc-type varietals produce a ton of nasty junk that produces off flavors. We had a good fifteen gallons of gross sludge at the bottom of the tank, a loss of about 10%!So, now, the Tocai is sitting inside the winery in front of the air conditioner, sitting at about 62F, fermenting away about one degree of sugar a day, right on track. I float two frozen milk jugs each morning and each evening in the tank. Right now, at eighteen brix, it tatses like iced tea - this is good but anxiety inducing.
Monday, September 21, 2009
Sunday, September 20, 2009
One of the worst parts of making very small lots of wine with limited equipment is the constant cooling and heating management of tanks and drums with miniscule amounts of fermenting wine in them. The tank in the picture behind has barely 500 liters of Tocai Friulano in it, not enough to come up to the cooling jacket. It is cold settling and wants to be at 50 F, but is at 70 F, and we went through eighty pounds of ice on the floating lid to bring it down. Notice the two milk jugs in the photo. Those are frozen jugs that will go into the two drums of fermenting Refosco. Right now, at 11:15 at night, we are trying to cool the first ton of Dolcetto, which I need to go stir again, so at least things are starting to happen...
Thursday, September 17, 2009
This is one of two rootstock fields, this is what they actually look like in their true ungrafted form. Like Ivy they are opportunistic climbers, spreading in all directions until a tree gives them a trellis to climb. These could be St. George (though they usually have a touch of red at the edges), 110R, 101, 5C imagine all the possibilities! But the cool part is the two hundred rows of clones from which the budwood is taken to be grafted onto the rootstock.
Almost each of these rows has something different growing. Right now I think they have six different clones of Sangiovese. That means you could personally observe (and taste!) the differences between Brunello, Lamole, Vino Nobile de Montepulciano, two clones of Romagnolo, and another one I can't remember. Of course the terroir here affects the grapes, sandy soil, hot climate, lots of irrigation (these are for wood remember, not necessarily wine) leads to intense aromatics, but little body or color. Nova has a good hold on the Italian market (we have most of our vines through them), and they are producing whatever disease free clones Foundation Plant Services approves, so I will be keeping my eye on their Ribolla Gialla, Negro Amaro, etc... All those cool new things.
This is a row of Nebbiolo, clone FPS 11. (Dropped fruit allows for more shoot growth and budwood). FPS 11 is the new shizzle, supposedly the real Lampia clone that 01 pretended to be. It is about a month from ripeness, the tannins where enamel stripping, but notice the growing habit, its spindly canefulness must be cane pruned, not cordon because of its low basal bud fertility (Wikipedia that one). Nebbiolo is a bizarre world unto itself, and even a month from ripeness, there where clear differences between the three clones in flavor.
This is the Negro Amaro row. We have 500 on order for next year, and they will come from this row, so I thought a picture would be informative. It is similar to the Nebbiolo in its cane growth, but a very different cropper. Notice how different the foliage is. Worlds apart flavor wise, and geographically in Italy. I could have taken 100 more pictures and bored you with the new Cab Franc clone I found and tasted, or how heat resistant the Fiano was, or how they have Teroldego now, or how, I'll just say it, "charming" the Grignolino was. Imagine a world-wide wine tasting - this was a grape tasting. Carmenere, different Grenache clones, the saline Rousanne and the bassy Montepulciano. I think it is just awesome. While we were there we scavenged our meager barrel and a half of Refosco with a touch of Lagrein while our vines grow. Our first red crush of the year, so finally some action is beginning.
Tuesday, September 15, 2009
Tocai Friulano - another confusing grape with a juicy Italian name and an nefarious French connection. Tocai seems to be related to Sauvignon Blanc, and by extension possibly identical to Sauvignon Vert, which is the supposedly shameful clone that has caused Chile to reexamine all of its Sauv Blanc. Others believe that it is related to Hungary's Furmint, hence that confusing conflation of Hungarian Tokaji and Tokai names, and the TTB issuing new labeling guidelines in that vein. If it is considered a "lesser" form of Sauvignon Blanc, the Italian Tocai provides a nice white, relatively low in acid but with some of Sauvignon green melon and passion fruit flavors minus the cat pee and asparagus. I also find a bit of Pinot Blanc-ish light-in-the-loafersness plus some honeyedness depending on how it is fermented that I go crazy for (in the right hands). It can take a touch of oak in fermentation. Sounds like a winner right? I thought so too as I sampled random grapes from Lowell Stone's vineyard in Napa. The decision maker was a bottle of Larkmead's Tocai from their own plot of 100-year-old vines, a nicely balanced, elegant Napa take on Ital/French white that I just can't argue with. Long story short, we get a ton on Friday!
Incidentally, there are three VCR clones now, meaning that if it is just Sauvignon Vert, the Italians are taking it awfully seriously. It is the white complement to Refosco in Friuli, insert shameless plug for a varietal we make when we can, and by the way, our 200 newly planted Refosco vines are doing quite well, don't think we lost a single one. An ironic twist is that generally the red Refosco is higher in acid than than the white Tocai, supporting the notion that understanding Italian wine is for those with too much time on their hands.
Friday, September 11, 2009
The moon on a foggy night? That totally awesome Iron Maiden show a decade ago? How about a tank of Chardonnay so low that it can't reach the cooling jacket and I am dumping dry ice in, living out my air guitar fantasies at the same time. Harvest has started, and I swear to be a better blogger...
Tuesday, August 11, 2009
The important thing is that the Dolcetto is about 85% through veraison, the Barbera about 50%. This picture is of the Primitivo (you can see how similar it is to Zinfandel in this picture) sitting in between. The Aglianico is still green 95% - darn late season varietal. We picked it in NOVEMBER last year! Anyway, veraison means that it is wine time. Purple grapes means get winery together, clean the picking tubs and get ready. Things are about to happen. The Chardonnay will be ready in about four weeks! And then everything starts moving really fast.
As a side note, if you are in our area, we will be pouring in San Rafael on the 15th at the Food and Wine Fest and Nick will be pouring at the Orange County Wine Society on the 16th. If you are in Lake County come by to say hi at the Middletown farmer's market on Thursday or see us in Lakeport on the 21st!
Friday, July 31, 2009
This is where we start to get apprehensive/excited. Veraison is starting and I am starting to shuffle tank space in my mind, how do we find more bins to ferment in, and am I really going to wake up in the middle of the night to perform punch downs? (Right now I say yes.) Every year needs to be better than the last, and all of last seasons lessons need to be integrated into this year's protocol.
But what is really important right now is cork. We are doing a bottle redesign - not too drastic mind you - but enough to raise the cork specter. Do we want to pay more for real cork? Is it worth it, does the consumer care? Fact is, no one I know of has ever commented on or asked about our corks. We have been using Ganau agglomerated - a composite cork granule center with a solid cork disc on both ends. Affordable (did I mention affordable?), reliable, and just plain fine in every way. Corks are graded fino, 5, 10, 15... to 45. A middle grade cork costs twice what we pay now for an object that one person out of a hundred MIGHT notice, but is arguably less predictable. But, there is this thing, this corkiness, this ne plus ultra of using a true cork. As winemakers (and partially certified sommeliers) we look at every single cork we pull out of a bottle. We also, quite embarrassingly in public, look deep into the punt to find out if Bruni or Gallo made the glass, then we look at the capsule. Ridiculous wonkery, I know, but the question is, does anyone really care if we use real continuous cork over a technical cork closure??? This where that weird aesthetic/historical thing appears. A nice red wine has a nice cork. Is it just French cultural hegemony? Just our own tempocentrism to assume it must be this way? 300 years ago it would have been oiled rag in the neck of a bottle - would we be agonizing over the thread count or the origin of the oil, trampled by virgins and sopped up by 300 TPI Egyptian cotton? The pieces of the puzzle must fit, and as we create better wines, we want a better closure. There, I said it. Problem is, it really isn't better, just prettier. We hope to live in a world of Vino-Locks soon, trust me. Those are the bomb. I welcome your comments.
Tuesday, July 7, 2009
On the viticultural side, if you have ever wondered what dormant grapevines look like when they start waking up - here you go. Those little yellow buds are new signs of life on the grafted Sangiovese scion that is plugged into 110R rootstock. Funny to think that 200 vines are only half filling a small bucket, but here they are, yawning and waking up. These are VCR (Vivai Cooperativi Rauscedo) 6 clones, known as the Brunello clone, which means that Rauscedo, who has been selecting and propagating clones for thirty years in Italy, created this selection, and Nova Vine in Santa Rosa (or their growing grounds in Dunnigan) put the two parts together with some love and care.
Their home will be in here. Remember that project I was mentioning, removing 56 walnut trees for an acre and a half to plant? I know it sounds like nothing, but two old guys doing all the work can really drag it out. We put up the drip lines today, and are about two days away from digging holes and starting to plug in vines.
This year's growth has been ridiculous. Shoots that should be three feet long are eight, but crop is moderate. We need to remove laterals to open up the inner canopy, but in general everything looks extremely promising - like I am excited promising. Very dry year here, but as long as the heat stays moderate, this should be really a great year. I guess if anything goes wrong it will be our fault, unlike like last year's double frost and lack of tank heating.
Tuesday, June 23, 2009
Just spent two weeks in Southern California peddling our wares, and I'll tell you it is TOUGH out there. Combined with the normal June/July slow down, wine shops, probably literally half of those I visited, flatly stated that they weren't buying anything for at least a month. Most of them can't move anything over $14.99 retail, and the only pricey stuff going is the boring junk like Silver Oak. This filters down to the consumer, and unless you have a newsletter to sell that odd Cotes de Luberon, buying trends are pretty much all by the numbers 10-15 dollar Malbec, Zin, etc. There is a homogenizing effect going on, and as someone who makes oddities like Refosco and Aglianico, this is very, very bad news for us as the retailers are pushing people to be less and less adventurous rather than more exploratory like they should be. I'll have more to say on this in the near future.
The vineyard has been in overdrive. Last years double frost and a hard, cold winter with some May rain has the canes breaking six to eight feet when we only want them at three! A huge amount of handwork will be necessary again to remove laterals and open the canopies back up, even though we already shoot thinned everything. This type of growth is the down side to planting exclusively on drought-tolerant rootstock - you can't have deep rooting without excessive vigor.
Monday, May 25, 2009
Folks, I'll be honest with you, grapevines are stupid, they are greedy, thoughtless and selfish. Grapevines are weeds and we make weedjuice and there seems to be a whole industry passionately devoted to fermenting weed schmutz into overpriced liquid poetry. Our vines are in the awkward 12-year old stage; stupid, ugly, stinky and gangly, all pimples and elbows, tripping and whining. They will eventually become restrained and wisened, like those regal old vines that are in balance with their environment. Crop will be light, vegetative growth diminished, but quality will grow. The 10-25 years are the best for quality versus productivity, and then after that quality rises but yield goes down - just like those perfect grandparents, or Monica Bellucci.
Anyway, everything is thinned, at least for now. This means that all shoots we do not want to retain are removed. Some are productive and some aren't. The Dolcetto throws a huge number of fruitless suckers, called watersprouts, that suck up energy and produce nothing. In contrast, the Barbera is extremely fruitful, no sterile shoots to be found.
This picture is of the Aglianico (ignore that weeds in the background, we are still buried in work to do), which is a bad example because it is not a dramatic overproducer. This is what it looked like before thinning. There is a visual density that indicates there is too much growth. You need dappled light and airflow to keep the system humming bug and mold free.
This is after thinning, and you get the idea.
Tuesday, May 19, 2009
Tuesday, May 12, 2009
1. Pulling out walnut trees to plant Refosco, Brunello clone Sangiovese, and some Nebbiolo. Most of the stumps are out, then we rip after refilling and start the layout process.
2. Pour concrete slab so we can actually use the forklift to move barrels instead of our backs. Install swing doors, lay concrete.
3. Pouring wine simultaneously at Ghirardelli's Uncorked event in S.F and the Tiburon pouring on May 16 (come see us at either!!!)
4. Partner up with Inertia Beverage group so that we can actually ship wine to New York, Illinois, etc. for wholesale. Exciting!
5. Shoot thin and sucker EVERYTHING.
6. Remember to update blog more frequently in spare time.
Oh yeah, the just-released 2007 Primitivo won a Gold Medal at the Taster's Challenge, and the Sangiovese is up to three silvers! Two silvers for the Muscat Canelli, chronic underachieving varietal.
Tuesday, May 5, 2009
Please join us in celebrating
Mother's Day at
Rosa d'Oro Vineyards’
Saturday May 9th
and Sunday May 10th
from 10:30 am – 5 pm.
Enjoy complimentary tasting
as we celebrate moms
and the release of our
2007 Estate Grown Primitivo
and the long awaited
2006 Estate Aglianico
Rosa d'Oro Vineyards
3915 Main Street Kelseyville
Monday, April 20, 2009
Much thanks to Barrie Cleveland - a great resource at California Winery Advisor. Too bad he interviewed such dorks.
(click link to see video)
Wednesday, April 8, 2009
This is the Barbera, racing ahead of the Chardonnay, headlong into inevitable frost season. The variation between rootstock and planting location is always pretty interesting this time of year. Looks like a heavy sucker season after last year's frost damage, so a lot of handwork will need to be done, but maybe we will wait until the wind machine is shut down for the year...
Saturday, April 4, 2009
First off, we will be back next year. For us it was a good event. People were friendly, and we are making a few sales, so the ranch is safe for another day. Met several great winemakers and some nice folks. It was a bizarro social situation though. Twittering was encouraged, so people meandered around staring into their iphones, alienated automatons while being part of a virtual community - a bit of Theodore Adorno's nightmare or Baudrillard's dream, but I digress. People talked openly or marketing, business models and the like, an etiquette faux pas where I come from. Generation Y (I refuse to call you all "Millenials", you don't get to pick your generational moniker, sorry) and its drive to try new and exciting rather than stale and boring like the baby boomers, is very good to us. We don't make Cab. or Merlot. We are what is known as a hand sell in that we make dry Muscat, Refosco, Aglianico, etc. Those are cool code words if you are deeply into Italian wine, but meaningless to the general purchasing population. Generation Y-ers say "Cool, I'll try it!" And, we like that. Many friendly people, wanting to talk, asking questions. Did it fulfill its high tech portion? I don't know, we are pretty lo-tech and tend to shy away from such stuff, but from a wine angle, minus ideology, it was enjoyable and no more obnoxious than a regular pouring full of drunk folks looking down their noses.
I do want to make a special note - if you go through Kenwood, stop at VJB cellars, but be sure to stop at Muscardini for some Sangiovese. My find of the night though was Berryessa Gap Vineyards in Winters. They are 100% estate grown, their Tempranillo is to die for, and they are super nice, down to earth, serious folks. Excellent wines, seriously. Check them out, their prices are great too.
Monday, March 30, 2009
I know, I know. Why would I want to attend something that sounds like an operating platform? I am not really cool enough to know all the details myself, but we will be pouring at Wine 2.0 this Thursday in S.F., and if you are interested in attending go to www.winetwo.eventbrite.com, and enter the promo code: wine for 10% off admission. I am curious just to see Crushpad!
Thursday, March 26, 2009
What did you do today?
I killed trees. Never done much logging. After living in Portland for well over ten years, and having a mother-in-law from Aberdeen, Washington, you would expect a certified tree killer. But kitchen work and philosophy studies don't tend that way, and sure I've chopped a bit here and there, used to cut up dead prune trees for fire wood, etc. but, taking out acres of walnut trees is real, serious work. I love walnuts, don't get me wrong. They may not be as sexy as pistachios or as versatile as hazelnuts, they don't have the ego of chestnuts or the devious falsehood of peanuts, but I am a defender of their tradition and that twist of savory bitterness. But I like wine more, and these trees need to go. We have vines coming and vines to order, and these derelict trees just aren't pulling their weight. Nebbiolo or walnuts, hmmm, you decide. The burn piles will be fun though. The backhoe guy comes in next, then we clean it all up again, rip, disk, lay irrigation for our pathetic well to keep the newborns alive...
The most important question: what will be going in? Well, secrecy aside, we will be trying our hand with Nebbiolo like idiots. I am also thrilled to announce that Sagrantino is on order along with Negro Amaro and several Sangiovese clones...;
Here is our obligatory "spring is coming" bud shot of the Chardonnay variety. We were worried that March 15th was likely, but the freezing nights have slowed it down. In other news of vineyard work all the new trellising is up and shiny - we are pleased with that. Wine wise, all of the reds have had first a racking now, and everything seems to be on track - no surprises, which is the best surprise of all. Barrels cleaned out and rotated, everything topped, a good feeling to not worry about it for a little while. We are working on a bigger project right now...details to follow!
Monday, March 16, 2009
Our bottling "line" moves from right to left in the picture: the weird looking box with two prongs on the far right is the sparger, blowing compressed air into the bottles to remove any foreign debris (when we get really cool we will use nitrogen instead). Next to it with the six spigots pointed in the air (wrapped in cling wrap for cleanliness) is our filler. It is a nice, simple design with a float that controls the fill height in the reservoir and then simple gravity feed into the bottle. Our overworked 3/4" diaphragm pump moves the wine from the tank to the filler at nice low and gentle pressure. Sparging two bottles at a time and cycling through six bottles on the filler times out just right with corking six bottles on our snazzy new corker (the big chunk of metal in the middle of the picture) that is air operated, nice and clean. It has a large cork reservoir in the top with a wheel that feeds them into a tube as the two operating buttons are pushed. The cork is compressed and punch into the bottle. From the corker bottles are passed finally to capsuler, which is basically just a little platform that is operated by a lever that moves the neck of the bottle up into a heated element, and the PVC capsules then shrink around the top (we don't use foil which requires a much more expensive machine). Grgich does 350 cases an hour/2000 a day, we can do 200 in a day, 150 if there are only two of us. This does not include any labelling either - which is presumably performed for them at the same time. On the other hand, I think Grgich spends about 35 days a year bottling; we only spend eight or nine days a year with our little production of 2000 cases a year. Grgich has earned every bit of their fame, and I hold them in very high regard, but no way am I gonna spend a month bottling every year!
Friday, March 13, 2009
While we are in PR mode here, we will be offer a $99 6-bottle intro sample pack to anyone who is interested. Our website is undergoing a bit of work and will be available to order from in about six days.
Wednesday, March 11, 2009
Tiburon, we will be there (Six Sigma too) May 16th, while the other half of the family will be pouring at Ghirardelli Square's Uncorked! that same afternoon. Come on down!
Thursday, February 26, 2009
Thursday, February 5, 2009
Thanks to the unnervingly dry weather pruning is mostly done, with the exception of the Chardonnay that gets it last (pictured left). We are already seeing some bud swell, and it has been so dry that we have a sprinkler on the olives right now, in February! The last odds and ends of trellis are going up, and all of the 2007 Primitivo has been labeled and is quietly sitting and waiting for the right moment. We are even getting ready for the arrival of 200 Refosco Nostrano vines in a few months. On the fun event side, Rosa d'Oro will be at the Wine & Chocolate Festival at Konocti growers on Valentines day and the tasting room will be holding a Carnevale Di Venezia Masquerade party on Feb. 21 from 6pm to 9pm.
We had the good fortune to attend the Benevenuto Brunello 2004 tasting in San Francisco last month, and after having had a bit of time to digest, some interesting parallels between Brunello orthodoxy and Lake County wine got me thinking. Brunello’s aging requirements are easy to find on the web, so there is no real need to repeat them here. But, we should remember that Brunello as a DOCG wine is a very new beast. Many producers admit that they have no clear vision of what it should taste like in general, only their own representing their vision of their terroir in particular. In 1960 there were only 200 acres, now it is over 5,000. This is roughly the same size as the Diamond Mountain District in Napa Valley, which is pretty darn small. A lot of that growth was propelled by Banfi Vintners (an American company) purchasing a third of that acreage. In short, the modern style Brunellos coupled with archaic oak aging requirements are just wrong in many ways, not because oak is bad, but because many of these Brunellos have pHs in the 3.65-3.7 range and a surprising number hit 15% alcohol. International style with traditional aging requirements can be pretty ho hum. The 2004 vintage is very highly rated, often pegged at 95 points, so why would such a stunner seem so blah? The less-ripe higher-acid traditionalists seemed to fair much better without exception. I even found one person whom I respect with corroborating impressions.
Until 1998 three years in wood was mandatory for Brunello, and that was wisely been rolled back to two. But, it has become a bit of a contest in Montalcino to age longer and longer in oak anyway. Traditionally the wines are released 50 months after harvest, so a good amount of barrel time is standard. We were tasting the 2004s in 2009. Three-plus years in grand botti in a low-acid vintage is questionable, let alone three or four in barrique. Although Sangiovese Grosso's pedigree is beyond question, the aging restrictions and ensuing barrel abuse promote that sort of archaic, old-school Bordeaux mentality where brown wine is good because the English grew up on Port and like it that way. The older the better, even if that is often not the case. The king of Italian wines should be aged the longest, for it is the biggest and best. Sure, the biggest part of Brunello is marketing Brunello, much of which is for the American market. The aging is part of the mystique when trophy hunting.
The tasting for me showed the superiority of Rosso di Montalcinos (and their undeniable QPR) when made in this modern fruit-forward style. They had greater clarity in intent, showcasing fruit without frippery. Speculating about aging potential is always a touchy thing to divine, but estimating the amount of baby fat in a wine that is already over four years old should is fairly clear. Generally the lack of acid softened structure, bringing into question what was underneath it all. Tannin in many modern style bottles was so polished as to be overly soft now which was shocking when you expect something tightly wound and tense. These were very international indeed.
One possible problem is that a vintage rating is often too fixated on heat. In some areas the hotter it is, the better the wine is rated, regardless of its effect on typicity. While marginal climates can benefit from some heat, like all those great 2005 Loire reds, the Brunello zone is on the cusp of heat steadiness (2002 being the lone exception). Going for extra ripeness in a hot vintage is a modernist wine making choice, and it is at the core of some of these disappointments.
The point here is not to bash the percentage of fruit bomb 2004 Brunellos or their elegantly-suited producers (who did a good job of damage control after the scandal). It is more important to draw a parallel with what we wine producers in Lake County face as we struggle in our own marketplace. Obviously we do not face the same technical challenges that they do in Europe. Anything goes in California: you can add acid or chaptalize with concentrate at will. Not enough color? Buy a pail of concentrate. Got VA? Ten different companies will drive out to remove it by reverse osmosis. Oak adjuncts? Add at will. There are no guidelines for cropping or picking here either, just as there is no minimum dry extract and certainly no cooperage requirements. We pretty much do whatever the hell we feel like, and in Lake County, that usually means adding a lot of water to 30°Brix must. But, just like Brunello, if Lake County is going to survive as a marketable wine producer with an identity, it must develop some vision of cohesion and some sense of typicity or terroir. We need an identity.
We have a vision of our land: volcanic, relatively high altitude, a lot of talk about high UV light with dry summers and no coastal influence. We like to talk about obsidian quite a bit and red rocky soil. We are known for Sauvignon Blanc, but the long dry summers also allow ripening for late red varietals. Heck, we picked our Aglianico before November this year. But, just like the Brunello paradigm, we would be hard pressed to define what Lake County wine tastes like. Steve Heimoff blogged about his involvement in the first Lake County People’s Choice wine awards and his observations are instructive: Chardonnay – pass. Zinfandel – too fruity. Pinot Noir – pass. Cabernet – has potential but has failed to deliver. Syrah – pedestrian. He found Petit Sirah and Sauvignon Blanc to be the stars, and this is usually verified in tastings. The Lake County Tempranillo may develop in the future, but right now it is atypical cooked out black fruit with none of the sophistication seen in a Ribera del Duero or even a Toro. The basic charge: Lake County makes fruit bombs.
This criticism is not an insurmountable problem. It will be necessary to develop some sense of cohesion in the future for us to move forward though. The geography is vast but the growing conditions are relatively similar throughout the county. Either a sense of terroir will need to develop (mineral driven for example) or a stylistic unity/diversity. Diversity is a defining feature of Sonoma County, and this is a strong asset and element to that county’s identity rather than a hindrance. Dry Creek Zin and Russian River Pinot coexist happily, and they have unique attributes that are signature traits. Lake County Sauvignon Blanc is identifiable, and the Petit Sirah is getting there, but our diversity of varietals is still climbing out of the bulk wine stage. Many growers here still deliver sunburned fruit on VSP trellising without a thought. On the positive side a few of our vintners are receiving stylistic recognition now, and this is all to good effect. It will be necessary to move forward with a few traditionalists as well to expand our identity beyond merely fruit driven.
The traditionalist/modernist battle is a necessary element in giving a more complete accounting of a region’s possibilities and inherent characteristics. New or old style, few could claim that the stylistic diversity in Piedmont Nebbiolo is a bad thing. In fact it has given a much more full accounting of exactly what is possible with Nebbiolo there. The Brunello tasting was eye opening in this way. The boundaries were defined by the diversity, allowing varietal identity to emerge. In Lake County, we have no idea where our boundaries are yet, leaving a picture of ourselves fuzzy at best. It is incumbent upon us to use this freedom to good effect and not allow it to evaporate into a second-rate free for all that homogenizes our identity in the wrong way. Sure, it will be hard work, but what could be more of an honor than forging your own traditions at the new frontier?
Thursday, January 15, 2009
Thursday, January 8, 2009
Refosco is grown primarily in Friuli, it is also found in Slovenia, Istria, and Greece. Refosco dal Peduncolo Rosso is regarded as being the superior strain, but Refosco Nostrano, d'Istria and del Terrano are recognized, as well as the possibly related Cagnina in Romagna. The big story though is that DNA testing has refuted the claim that it is related to Mondeuse Noir in the Savoie region of France (however, it has been linked to the infamously mediocre Marzemino). The most promising zone is Colli Orientali in Friuli, and now, Rosa d'Oro Vineyards.
At the turn of the century, Refosco was well known to California. Famed To-Kalon vineyard was half planted to Refosco (though this may have actually been Mondeuse Noir). It was a major part of Beaulieu Vineyards "Black Burgundy" wine after Prohibition. In 1971 there were 396 acres recorded in California, and in 1985 it disappeared from the radar. The true heritage of Californian Refosco is certainly in question.
But today, Foundation Plant Services has cleared only one clone of Refosco as FPS 03. What was thought to be Refosco FPS 02 turned out to be the Mondeuse Noir relative. We will be receiving 200 vines of FPS 03 (VCR 05) "Refosco Nostano" on St. George rootstock this summer. Our bottling was picked from Nova Vine's mother block which propagated our clonal material, so a comparison in the future should be quite interesting terroir-wise.
Refosco is a fairly light cropper with, as you can see, nice open bunches that are rot resistant. It has (in warmer California anyway) a plummy unctuousness, with a twist of licorice and nice fine tannins. We didn't adjust the acidity, leaving it a little richer and less acidic than our other wines. It produces a vividly purple wine with a touch of Syrah/Mourvedre lightness on the nose. It will be available through our tasting room soon, and we are looking forward to getting our 200 vines in the ground. The last figure I heard was maybe twenty acres still planted in California, now we can make that twenty and one half!