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Friday, October 29, 2010

That was that...

It is over. Just like that. You can keep dreaming all you want but it is done. Six inches of rain, 36 degree nights. Remember leaving extra canopy on the Aglianico to keep it shaded into November? So much for that projected November 8th harvest. Idiot.

(not our grapes to the left, thankfully. All of our crop is in!)

2010 will go down as one hell of a year. In the large picture Lake County in fact came out pretty well. Two weeks late sure, but a good consistent dry summer was a winner. We were way ahead of Sonoma County, better off than Southern Napa, and even better off than a lot of Willamette Valley. Nature definitely calls the shots though, and in retrospect the weather may be the best decision maker.

Here is our funny weather snapshot:

October 11-14 was 92, 93, 94 and 94 degrees of sunny warmness leaving us discussing water
October 19th, 86 degrees
October 23rd, 24th, and 28th we got 1.1" + 3.27" + 1.58" of rain
October 27th, heavy frost.

We picked Aglianico (which looks very, very nice despite the relatively early harvest) and all Barbera on Wednesday in one massive push. The real losers were all the things that never ripened this year and will never be harvested. Touriga National, Souzao, and Nebbiolo never reached brown seeds or got above 22 brix. Cabernet was a big if that was all over the board, though that late warm weather really helped. All tanks are wrapped, tarped, and have heaters running around the clock underneath them. The grapes may be in but we are far from done for the year...

Monday, October 25, 2010

10/25 update

Never thought we would say this for a few years more, but we have Sagrantino, Montepulciano, and Nero d'Avola working right now in addition to Primitivo, Greco and Refosco at this moment. Awesome. Thanks go to Jeff Brown in Tracy! So far Dolcetto, Arneis and Sangiovese are done and put to bed. Aglianico and Barbera will be in the next two days as soon as we can drag them through the mud and get them working.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Wine geek quiz time

Here is a copy of the quiz that will be given at Sonoma State University's Lake County presentation and wine tasting tomorrow night.

1. In which region(s) is irrigation not allowed?
Rioja    Brunello di Montalcino    Chåteauneuf du Pape    Piedmont    All 4

2. Which country has more recognized indigenous varietals: Italy or Portugal?

3. This county had the highest number of marijuana seizures in California for three years in a row, has the oldest natural lake in the United States, and 16.8% unemployment.

4. True or False. HR 5034 was written by well-meaning temperate folks who want to protect underage drinkers and the sovereignty of states’ rights.

5. Austrian wine that is the “groovy” next new big thing (again).


6. The most planted grape in the world by acreage is:
Airén    Merlot    Trebbiano    Grenache    Chardonnay


7. True or false. Much valued oak used for barrels in Italy comes not from France or America but Hungary and Slovenia.

8. Ravenswood, Clos du Bois, Robert Mondavi and 59 other wine labels are owned by:
Diageo     E & J Gallo     Constellation Brands     Bronco


9. True or False. Sussreserve is unfermented grape juice added to very acidic wines in Germany, and it used in California to nefariously add aroma to bottled whites and rosé.


10. Cabernet Sauvignon is a cross of Cabernet Franc and ?
Merlot     Sauvignon Blanc     Pinot Noir     Malbec


11. True or false. Napa Gamay is not the Gamay of Beaujolais at all but Valdigué.


12. In California you are allowed to add which of these to a fermentation?

Sugar by concentrate      Acid      Water     Oak      All of them


13. True or false. In the 19th Century Champagne was normally over 8% sugar.


14. True or false. Oregon voluntarily instituted Prohibition three years before the U.S.


15. There were no mentionable plantings of this varietal in California before 1962 and Louis Martini bottled the first varietally labeled example in 1970.
Tempranillo       Grenache      Merlot       Semillon

Bonus Question:

Can you help us find a distributor?

Friday, October 15, 2010

Greco di Tufo - the cutest grapes I ever saw...

   The cutest grapes I ever saw were a surprise.When something is simply called "Greco" you can feel pretty sure that you know where it came from. Most of these Southern Italian grapes have links to Greece, apocryphal or otherwise, but this one just calls it out. (There are other varietals that claim to be Greco as well, offering a more historical aspect than literal ampelographical - Trebbiano comes to mind).

   Here is what can be seen by the naked eye. Greco bunches are extremely small, and painfully cute. These were picked in Dunnigan where they were just reaching ripeness in equal time with Nebbiolo (!!), which is a very late season grape. The Greco canopies were still going quite strong, saying that they took heat, did not mind wind, took sun with glee, and even on sandy soil they miserly mined moisture while other vines had totally shut down. They are susceptible to mildew, but their tough skins resist damage though they may harbor the foul demon. They have very small leaves, that help form a webbing of protection around the fruit, somewhat like Montepulciano though totally different in appearance.

   Here is what they looked like In late August. Vigorous. Having only had a couple of Greco wines the varietal's profile is a little inconclusive. Medium bodied, some mineral finish, some herbal notes and citrus qualities. It certainly holds its acid well. Richly colored. It can also age and dig deep to develop interesting tertiary characteristics. Sort of a core warm-climate Chardonnay quality with a little Viognier thrown in and a touch of cold climate citrus and acid.

Keep your eyes out for the Southern Italian white triumvirate of Greco, Falanghina, and Fiano. Distribution has been increasing with Feudi San Gregorio leading the way. Incidentally they are based in Sorbo Serpico, and if I could be from one place in the universe, nothing could have a cooler name than that.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Wine Yeast

   Fermentations seem really exciting, like the first hour of dinner rush when everything is going well and everything is in the right place and all the dishes are up at the same time. Or that first dinner date full of your clever and witty comments for the first hour. Toward the end fermentations feel like the table that was seated 30 minutes after the kitchen has closed, and they want to do the full tasting menu, or when you made a joke about hating cats and you find out she has 14. Some fermentation are smooth and fairly linear. Some whites have been very nice and clean, just need a little bit of cooling during the peak activity, taper off and let them finish warm at the end and boom. Done. Some reds tends to be fast and hot and leave cab fare the next morning, like Barbera. Sometimes a fermentation is a problem every year, no matter how well you prepare.
   Our Dolcetto, which should be the quickest and easiest wine to make and drink is the biggest headache every year. For three years in a row everything looks fantastic - perfect temperatures, everything healthy, moving predictably, and then all of a sudden at 5 brix it slams on the brakes. That clean 7-day magic just became 12-13 days of nail biting drama, getting bitter and tannic and threatening to produce off flavors.
   Yeast are magical fungi that facilitate a lot of what is wonderful in the world. For example: alcohol (including favorites such as beer, wine, and Old Turkey), bready goodness like ciabatta and the amazing brioche (butter is another wonder), kefir, some stinky cheese rinds and MSG. They also have some evilness, like infections and food spoilage. They are quite a broad range of beasties. For winemaking we are interested in two basic types, and selection are propagated from those that have special features. Some are more voracious than others, some are more sensitive to heat or cold or their nutritional preferences. Some pump out extra goodness in their lifespan, like glycerol that imparts fullness and sweetness - this however is at the cost of greater nutritional fastidiousness and potential difficulty.
   More important though than just choosing yeast from a catalogue is that grapes can come with their own hurdles. High potassium in skins can actually shut down yeast metabolism. Different vineyards carry different microbial loads, and these can interfere with the yeast doing their job. Sometimes there are other organisms that are subtly part of a flavor profile that is accepted as part of "terroir."
   The problem is that yeast are particular, and when they are stressed, scared, or feeling insecure or unappreciated they create flavors and aromas that humans don't care for. Ever smelled rotten eggs, garlic, or farty wine? Yeast did it. One of the most widespread modern afflictions is a yeast called "brett" (Brettanomyces) that can feed off of wood sugar in barrels, residual sugar in wines (there is always some) and is highly resistant to sulfur. It is far more voracious than the yeast that conducts fermentation, and in fact in can ferment on its own as well. The problem is that it produces yucky smells like wet horse, sewage, or other fun descriptors. At a low level it can add complexity (this is common in some Malbecs from Argentina on purpose) and some beer styles actually inoculate for it - far away from the winery hopefully.
   Yeast actually start dying off about 1/3 of the way through a fermentation. They quickly build up a huge population, generate heat (we count on the yeast generally raising a tank's temperature from 68 degrees at the start to 84 at peak fermentation - all by their own kinetic activity), and start dying off and dwindling before they are even half done.  It is pretty amazing to think about. Four tons of grapes can be approximately one ton of sugar. And a few days later it is all ethanol, CO2 and some other stuff. All by a few horny fungi that generated millions of children in a couple of days - joylessly.
   Most winemakers develop a favorite yeast that behaves predictably and cleanly. Getting that wine dry smoothly is the first and most important task. Alice Fiering will tell you that winemakers just pick the yeast they want out of a catalog to give them the flavors and features they desire, destroying all authenticity in one quotidian blow, and to a very tiny limited extent this is somewhat true. You can get a little more passion fruit with one, a little more raspberry with another, but it quickly diminishes over time. Yeast choice is for Sauvignon Blanc, not Cabernet.  Getting the wine fermented cleanly is much more important. Even those wild/indigenous fermentations are in fact from the same family as cultured yeast - and they have been the most successful. Yeast don't make magic. They can catalyze some aromas that are already there yet undetectable to our limited senses (cue discussion of Hume's color theory), but so can "native" yeast. The issue often becomes what is historically correct and appropriate. There will be more said on this later...
   You can always press the wine while it is still sweet and allow it to ferment in barrels or in another tank - and this is common practice these days. People fear tannins and want fruit bombs, so they press the grapes early before they are dry and the ethanol extracts all the tannins from the seeds into your juice. Problem is that it can halt the fermentation by shocking the yeast with a temperature or turbidity change. It also introduces sugar into a barrel which raises the risk factor exponentially. We do not have the ability to keep barrels at a happily fermenting 70 degrees when it is 35 degrees at night outside, so for us it is a difficult option. Not to mention, the Italian historical paradigm that we try to follow is do not press until dryness, and you will notice that Italian reds are always very dry, and this is the reason.
  Anyway, yeast are magic. Stupid, lazy horny magic.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Sangiovese Porn

Oh yes. Was going to keep this all to myself, but it is always better to share.

Amador. Sangiovese. Brunello cuttings. Look at those small tight little bunches. Perfect spacing, hanging loose and free. Firm fleshed yet supple and seductive. Resplendent in radiant warmth, cool and disinterested but you can sense the yearning. A little wisened age here, maybe a little more slap than tickle in that demure package. Round and full beneath those leaves. Heavy on the mouthfeel and grip and a little less lipstick and flash - the kind of stuff that gets better with age.

If Isole E Olena mean anything to you, if you see "Cepparello" and the lips quiver, then you are jealous already. We don't even have pictures of the REAL good stuff. While our own Sangiovese vines continue to grow, we had to find a source for this year. A couple of phone calls, a guy knows a guy, and all off a sudden you have a dream date, twice. This particular three-way hookup was - um, not really sure how to say it but it may be pronounced Ménage à trois.

Half of the Sangiovese was planted according to famed Tuscan consultant Alberto Antonini's direction, here on 3'x6' planting, 420A rootstock, and the budwood was from Isole E Olena's Cepparello vineyard. Though it is called a Chianti Classico clone it actually has IGT status. Tannic, spicy, naturally acidic. Tense and high strung are standard decriptors here. Look at that perfect handful. The other half is the above photographed  Brunello clone - a little deeper and more relaxed, a little less acid and a little more top heavy. Amador fruit tends to be a little light on nitrogen, keeping canopies in check and resulting in good UV exposure and relatively light and balanced crop loads. Stylistically this year's should be very different than the lighter weight (but more fun) Romagnolo clones we usually use. Exciting stuff, currently sitting at 15 Brix and 82 degrees, awaiting its 11pm pump  er pumpover. Daddy like.

Friday, October 1, 2010


Arneis was not on the original road map for this season (see left), but being flexible is part of the fun. Based in the Roero in Piedmont, Arneis translates approximately into little rascal or stubborn one, illustrating its peculiar viticultural needs. It likes the legendary sandy soil that also produces asparagus, and Arneis is one of the go-tos for those difficult asparagus pairings (though they are not really that challenging, especially with sauce, egg, or cheese).

Arneis almost wasn't. By the 70's it had virtually disappeared all together. Arneis does not age, it is not a fruity or particularly hedonistic white, nor is it a stony or minerally and structured drink. Perhaps its greatest claim to fame was that it was also known as Barolo Bianco back in the day when Barolo was given away because no fool would ever buy such a poorly made wine - and Arneis was the diluting additive that tamed the tannin and acid of Nebbiolo.

So what should the Arneis experience be like? Almond is a big marker, as is a straw-ish hay-like component. (This is ironic incidentally because last year's special run white was Tocai Friulano, which has similar charcteristics in some ways though with a radically different nature, and is on sale now, hint hint). If you want mineral, there can be some of a delicate sort, not the bold aggressive stoniness of some though. Delicate flowers? Not really, but again some delicate haunting notes. The paradigm here is more in between a warm, roundish experience and a lean one of unusual nuances. I just say somewhat oceanic, somewhat continental.

Anyhow, if you don't mind leg hair in your wine, we whole-cluster pressed the Arneis, all 80 gallons, and now it is slowly fermenting away, hopefully producing a nice, clean Spring bottling. No battonage, no oak, no trickery. Just Arneis being what it is, and teaching us along the way.