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Sunday, October 30, 2011

Vintage 2011 - rot, redemption, rookdom

Did you like that last post? You thought I was all like boo-hoo and wah but then I was like all right on, it is all cool 'bro, want a slurpee? Well, some of it was lie. The rain has left an indelible mark. The pictures below are of Barbera presorting for rot control. I go through the vines before the pickers come and cut out the bad stuff, leaving a trail of tears in my wake. Barbera is a late-season thin-skinned grapes with large berries, which pretty much a triple strike out. Any cluster that touched another or touched the vine itself, canes or trellising had rot. The positive is that at least what we crushed after the sort looked pretty good, but the loss can seem pretty heavy from the ground though.

It is particularly painful because pre-rain Lake County had the highest potential for a Grand Vintage I had ever seen (in my few years here) with more moderate heat and high humidity, no frost damage, early start and typical low pest pressure other than mildew and some early unusual botrytis. If you were up on your mildew control it was looking like a beautifully structured old-world inflected possibility. Many of us never even touched water until Mid-August. Unfortunately limited labor is affecting this vintage just as much as the weather.

In keeping with the general theme of 2011 the alcohol will be below 14% for the Barbera, which is nice for everyone in theory and the acid is good, though not as great as the wack-job press would lead you to believe. In fact, for these late-season cultivars acid is nowhere near screaming high from the numbers I have seen. For the early season stuff like Russian River Pinot and Chardonnay, sure, but everything from the Central Valley is  about where it normally is due to the longer growing season (ah ha, the press misses that part). Napa Valley Cab at 3.4pH just is not going to happen (except for Corison of course). American Tartaric as far as I know is reporting no huge loss in sales - in fact tartaric acid is also at an all-time record high price this year, over $200 per 25kg. sack! Painful.

Aglianico canopy going strong
In better news the Aglianico bit was all true though, looking great. An interesting side note is that Aglianico has one of the lowest forming/hanging bunches in the Vitis Vinifera world, meaning that the clusters are extremely exposed and swinging in the breeze. Often the first bunch forms below the very first leaf which is quite unusual, leaving it very exposed - a freaky proposition for sunburn but an absolute blessing for drying out after rain.

The last thing worth mentioning is this piece right here about hiring unskilled non-immigrant picking crews and the current labor shortage. All you pasty suburban kids staring at Facebook, stop taking pictures of yourself, go outside and do some worky work. You are not special. You are not unique or beautiful snowflakes...
Aglianico clusters freeballing

Sunday, October 23, 2011

2011 - fall colors

This post was originally about how bad it all is. How the pickers took four days to pick one acre as it fell from 25.5 to 21 brix in the sticky clay mud, berries went red to pink, bloated with water and exploding. The labor shortage was clearly in effect here in Lake County as in other places, so little operations such as ours were out of luck. Then the early season reds started to come in and they were all skanky and screwed up from the two inches of rain while trolling, self-important wine columnists heralded the low-alcohol, high-acid vintage without  understanding that rain deadens acidity and ruins tannin maturity. They will be the first to complain about thin, astringent wines too. More than a half-inch is bad in Bordeaux too you weenies. Look back over your vintage charts and get a life.

And suddenly, it was very cold. Outdoor tanks without heating. Ever wonder how long it takes to heat six tons of grapes ten degrees with a propane burner? I know the answer.

But, then the sun came out. And it stayed out. For two weeks the weather has been perfect. Wife-beater and flip-flop perfect. And then the Primitivo came through beautifully while the Muscats finished up their fermentations more nicely than expected. Three small lots of Sangiovese, three different chances, three different clones, three different faces. Nebbiolo just came in looking amazing and a few more goodies are working. Montepulciano is still to come, the Barbera is back on track for another five days in the 80's and the Aglianico could not possibly look any better.

It still does not feel like true fall, but the vines are slowly starting to shut down. One of the interesting things this time of year is how pretty the virused vines are. Of course, viruses are bad, though sometimes scurrilous sommeliers talk of them as convenient crop limiters and retarders of overripening. There are many types within each family and often the greatest mystery is how. Nematodes are a big problem/vector for fan leaf, as are mealybugs for leaf roll - of which there are at least seven types. Fleck is always out there too. Newly planted vines from clean, safe and certified sources show viruses. All of the Petite Sirah we planted is showing virus in its third year. But, they are also very pretty.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Salinas Valley Food and Wine Festival - Saturday

Feeling a little outclassed but excited. 

The 2011 judging panel includes five judges along with several apprentices. The judging team will be led by Master Sommelier, Catherine Fallis. Catherine Fallis is the first woman in the world to have earned both the Master Sommelier diplomafrom the International Court of Master Sommeliers and theAdvanced Certified Wine Professional diploma from the Culinary Institute of America. She is a contributing editor for Sommelier Journal. Catherine Fallis will be joined by several other sommeliers, including Randy Caparoso. Randy Caparoso is afounding partner of the Roy’s restaurant group and also acontributing editor for Sommelier Journal. He has his advanced certificate from the Court of Master Sommeliers. Also joining Catherine Fallis as assistacts will be Certified Sommelier and Wine Maker, Shauna Rosenblum; Certified Sommelier and Wine Maker, Pietro Buttitta and Certified Sommelier and Director of Judging, Sheila Taylor. The sommelier assistants include Certified top Sommelier award recipient, Wade Stephens; Certified Sommelier, Angela Lo Barnett, and Certified Sommelier, Thamin Saleh.

Randy Caparoso

Current Bottom Line editor for Sommelier Journal, Randy Caparoso has 30+ years in pairing wine and food. He has achieved an Advanced Certificate in the Court of Master Sommeliers, and served on many judging panels, includingSanté’s annual national Grand Awards. One of the Founding Partners of the Roy’s restaurant group, Caparoso has also spent time producing his own wines (Caparoso Wines LLC) and continues to speak and write regularly on the subject.

Pietro Buttitta

A third-generation grape grower, Pietro Buttittia is a court-certified sommelier who currently works as the winemaker for Rosa d’Oro Vineyards. Buttitta has also served as a chef at several renowned restaurants, including the Michelin-rated Terra Restaurant in Napa, California. He most recently served as co-chair for the prestigious Lake County Wine Competition.

Thamin Saleh

A passionate sommelier with a wide spectrum of experience, Thamin Saleh has been involved in food and particularly in wine in the Monterey County for over a decade. Currently the Food & Beverage Manager at Solage Calistoga, Saleh can list stints as the Director of Wine at Bacara Resort and Spa, Sommelier/Cellar Master at Park Hyatt-Highlands Inn in Carmel, Marinus General Manager at Bernardus Lodge in Carmel Valley, and G.M and Sommelier at the Quail Lodge Resort and Gold Club. A food and wine expert, he has served on many judging panels.

Wade Stephens

Wade Stephens is a Certified Sommelier from Vino Tabi Winery in Santa Cruz. He is a graduate of the Sommelier program at the French Culinary Institute and has an extensive background in the retail business.

Angela Lo Barnett

Catherine Fallis aka grape goddess®

America's premiere female Master Sommelier.

A popular and entertaining speaker and host for corporate and private events, and the world's only Master Sabreuse, Catherine is founder and president of Planet Grape LLC (, for wine consulting, and of Sabering Champagne! (, for wine entertainment.

Fallis is the only person in the world to have earned both the prestigious Master Sommelier diploma from the International Court of Master Sommeliers and the Advanced Certified Wine Professional title from the Culinary Institute of America. She is also a French Wine Scholar and an instructor at the San Francisco Wine School..

Shauna Rosenblum

Raised on her family’s renowned vineyards, Rosenblum Cellars, Shauna Rosenblum now carries on the family tradition as winemaker for Rock Wall Wine Company. She is a certified sommelier and frequent judge at lauded competitions such as the Orange County Wine Competition, Connoisseur’s Guide to California, and Lake County Wine Competition. Her love of winemaking has won her many awards, including “Best Zinfandel in California.”

Sheila Taylor

Sheila R. Taylor is the Director of Wine Judging for the Salinas Valley Food and Wine Festival. Sheila attained her Certified Sommelier education from the French Culinary Institute, and is a Certified Sommelier at Thomas Fogarty Vineyard and Winery, Viva's in Los Gatos, and Michi's Catering Events. After graduating less than 4 months ago Sheila worked with Gary Danko, Grgich Winery, The Red Cross, Breast Cancer Research, Ferrari Owners Group Charities, The Lake County Wine Competition, and poured at the Duveneck Humanitarian Awards honoring Norman Y. Mineta, Sid Espinosa (Mayor of Palo Alto and Director of Corporate Citizenship at Microsoft) and Susan Ford Dorsey (President of Sand Hill Foundation).