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Friday, July 31, 2009


Very busy with the viticulture side of life lately. I wanted to have cool photos to engage the audience, but digging hundreds of holes a day isn't really noteworthy, and pretty tricky to get a nice myspace photo out of. 700 new vines in, 400 more spots ready, plus another 400 that just need a few trees removed - irrigation is already complete. Many 100 degree days. Final crop adjustment is taking place, shading bunches on the afternoon sun side and making sure that the crop load is appropriate to the vines. This will be the third time (the fourth for some) that we have touched and clipped/groomed/massaged every vine. The heat requires a bit of extra water, that extra water stimuates a little extra growth, that extra growth requires maintenance like suckering and shoot positioning.

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

Best of North Coast redux

Last year we were fortunate enough to receive "Best of North Coast" at the California state fair for our Primitivo and Barbera. This year, we won it for our Sangiovese and Primitivo - and we are happy with that. If anyone is in Sacramento Thursday, we will be pouring at the Grape and Gourmet fair event that night. No double gold yet, but we are working up toward it.

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.