Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Late Spring Grape Predators

Gophers are our enemy, first and foremost. They love the well-drained Kelsey Bench soil. They will feed off of roots, clustering around the vines, slowly devouring it and crippling it below ground. Eventually the vine just gives up and will simply die with little warning. Pure evil. They also like to cluster around endposts, loosening the soil so that they all pull.
Ground squirrels. More of a nuisance than a direct threat, they still can cause serious burrowing mayhem, damaging whatever might be in their way. Their burrowing is impressive, often sinking above-ground objects into their tunnels.


Deer, we really hate deer. They will buzzsaw through a vine in no time. Now that all of our vines have been shoot thinned, the deer damage is even worse. These canes might throw some lateral shoots to compensate for their wanton emasculation, but they are eunuchs at this point with little point in living this year.

Yeah, it is May 23rd, what the hell? Frost damage with June just around the corner? This is frozen Aglianico found while shoot thinning.


Last night the wind machine ran from 11:30 until 6am. On May 23rd - that is right, almost June. Fortunately, frost damage has been minor, just a few shoots here and there, often in the center of dense spurs where air was stagnant and the vine just sort of gave up that particular cane.

Summer threats: birds, turkeys in particular in Lake County which clean every single berry off a vine in neat fashion, sunburn, orange tortrix (largely under control in Lake County now), and the dreaded European moth at this point. For some reason Lake County has yet to trap one, even though we are surrounded by quarantined counties. It is inevitable that it will appear here, but we keep fingers crossed.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Gravity

Gravity is one of the few things that is still free. Though it makes many winery functions difficult for us, racking is one of the few that it really helps out. For the last year we have been gravity racking barrel to barrel for the most part. Now, most of the classier wineries used compressed nitrogen to pump their wines around when they are gently handling a delicate varietal, so what we are doing is only new to us. We use the simpler ghetto version by simply using a bit of compressed carbon dioxide to start the flow from barrel to barrel, and then lift the draining barrel by forklift so that it can transfer to a new barrel at its own silent leisure. The Sangiovese likes delicate handling, so it is being racked into new barrel through a long pipe that fills from the bottom without splashing or really aerating it. More tannic varietals like Dolcetto, and especially ones that need to be exposed to oxygen like Cabernet can be splashed around as well. The nice part is that it is very quiet, you can do it almost anywhere, and only minimum equipment is necessary. The downside is that when you are busy away somewhere multitasking you will find out that those 2004 Kadar Hungarian barrels are a different size than the French Chateau Ferre and your precious wine is silently overfilling and running away. Won't make that mistake again.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Austria Uncorked 5-3-2010

If you like your whites minerally and your reds on the delicate side, Austria is for you. Villainized in 1985 for yet another anti-freeze sweetening scandal (it wasn't actually ethylene glycol that was used), Austria's wine industry really tightened the belt and set up a rigid quality control system. Like Germany, Austria measures sugar ripeness as means of categorizing their wines, and they share the same terms such as Kabinett, Spätlese, Auslese, etc. to indicate the oeschsle (brix) level at harvest. Being South of Germany, the minimum levels of ripeness in each category are generally higher than the equivalent German sugar levels, placing the wines somewhat between those of Alsace (not as unctuous though) and Germany (not as rigid or austere). Botrytis is extremely common in some areas, leading to some fantastic dessert winemaking. One other thing that Austria does well for consumers is that like Alsace, they label their wines varietally, making consumer selection that much easier.

The poster child for Austrian wine right now is Grüner Veltliner, and with good reason. G.V., if you are unfamiliar, is an extremely minerally wine, very angular and structured in a pleasing way that tends to be a little light on fruit with a nice white pepper finish, in other words it makes a tremendous food wine. Modern versions are moving into green apple territory with slightly later harvesting that produces a more accessible wine that still retains acid and structure. And you can find very good ones in the $15 category. Also of note are the Rieslings, several Muskatellers (Muscat) and Pinot Blancs that are very nice, as well as some dry Gewurztraminer, and then of course are the stickies and ice wines.

The red I really enjoyed is from the St. Laurent grape (although Austria is famous for their Blaufränkish/Lemberger that produces a slightly darker and fruitier wine that did not move me quite as much.) It is generally believed to be a Pinot Noir descendant with an unknown cross that has some undeniable similarities, but it ripens earlier, and has thicker skin that helps prevent the perpetual rot problem. With careful vineyard management it can actually take oak nicely and remain terroir driven. It could also be compared to a very well made Passe-Tout-Grains (a Pinot/Gamay blend) in that it retains a fruit character in addition to the Pinot-like element. Pricing is not as friendly or as easily available as the Grüner Veltliner, but a restaurant wine list might feature one at a reasonable price when no one orders this obscure varietal!

Because tasting notes are painful and boring, and I already recommend that you go out and buy just about any Austrian white you find in the $15-20 range, just a brief note on one producer is reasonable. Weingut Neumeister was pick of the day for me, and you won't find it on the West Coast and he doesn't make very much for export. They are located in Styria at the Slovenian border, famous for huge rainfall and warm summers. Their basic bottling was great, and it all improved from there. Christoph Neumeister's approach is that his wines are so structured that he can add extra skin contact (36 hours), barrel fermentation (in 2000 liter barrels, not the little standard guys), and year-long lees contact and still have a rigidly structured wine. His Sauvignon Blancs are fantastic, fat and lean at the same time, incredibly structured with no flavor of oak, something that blows away most any Fume Blanc. The fat is not oak, but fleshy grape with a very strong spine. We finished with his Gewurztraminer - a barrel ferment with 18 months lees contact - and it was fantastic. It had the best palate ever. It was the opposite of an Alto Adige Gewurz., which generally have the most phenomenal noses but the palate is flat and can not deliver. This one was the opposite with a delicate, subdued lychee aroma, and then flavors and texture just exploded in length. Just really beautiful and quite dry for Gewurz. Hopefully some of his production will make it out here in the future.

All  in all, an exceptional tasting, and very nice, hospitable people as well eager to talk details openly - very cool.