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Friday, April 29, 2011


The ooey gooey sticky icky first racking of barbera is done. We are thinking quite a bit about barbera these days with the #barbera2 event coming up in two weeks - Nick will be on hand pouring our's as one of five US producers in Nizza in about two weeks.
We have talked barbera before on this blog, but its unique challenges are worth mentioning again. It is in a way a simple grape that can be very complicated, just like cooking a simple dish: proper technique and product are that much harder to nail. It can be very productive, an asset for bulk wine but requiring tons of handwork and management for high quality. It really suckers like crazy, throwing horrendous shoots and trunk suckers. It will actually strangle itself with its own tendrils. As the above barrel lees clearly show, it is very gunky and mucilagenous. While many/most grapes have two seeds per berry, barbera often has three and we have one clone that seems to produce four pretty often. Barbera is a low tannin grape, but with the high seed count when barbera ferments nearly dry it can suddenly pick up a characteristic bitterness as the ethanol starts to break down the seed coat. Barbera is naturally a high acid grape, and this is part of its characteristic purity - it is most often a bright wine with little tannin and maybe some reductive funk in the background from cooler climates. Unfortunately the lack of tannic structure is like a welcome mat for egregious over oaking, and it welcomes that sort of treatment to an extent. It also accepts blending well, but only with a compromise of purity. Barbera in California is a high brix grape; 29 in Lake County is not at all unusual, and we struggle to keep ours in the 14% range as it ripens late at the end of October. Oddly enough, barbera for a bright wine tends to be pretty reductive. Remember our 2006? It lived in a tank for six months and ended up tasting like syrah - barbera needs to breath, which is unusual for a tannin-less grape. Try that with grenache and you will end up with brown wine. Strangely to me, people really liked the meaty reductive tones, and now we sometimes hold back a few barrels from racking to get a bit of the dark characteristics with the signature bright tones. Barbera, and this is the coda, can show minerality (and some of those Sierra Foothills wines are cases in point), and as such it has a higher level of terroir transparency.

Incidentally, the above picture show the newest barrel in our barbera line up - 2005 from Larkmead. We go neutral all the way back to 2000 Seguin Moreau for the Barbera this year. Thin stave French Bdx is the choice to get the most oxygen in ageing, even still it is only May and this 2010 already has a healthy hint of reduction. The purple is always beautiful from barbera, even after the four inches of rain we had before it was harvested...

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Rosa d'Oro Vineyards, history and Lake County

Nice video of Nick giving some Rosa d'Oro history and Lake County information, produced by the Lake County Winegrape Growers.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Olives, pruning, budbreak, miscellaneous projects

We are running maybe a few days late, 14 days or so behind Mendocino and Sonoma, but nothing like last year we hope. Full break is still lagging

Chardonnay to be grafted to Greco


3rd year Sangiovese VCR 6

Few more trees to remove

Our protector
Rocks from vineyard finally in place

Friday, April 15, 2011

Fetzer, Heimoff, Appellations and Ambiguity - An Empathetic Response

Because I fear Mr. Heimoff's tattooed and sleek gym-toned forearms reigning blows upon me I will simply link to his blog exchange with Jacob Fetzer entitled The Box of Being in an Unknown Appellation. To summarize, Jacob Fetzer lamented the situation of selling wine from an unknown appellation and the lack of recognition and buzz that seems to slow sales - ironically early bottlings were not actually in this appellation anyway, and should be fined by the TTB for false labeling (I could be if I put Red Hills on a bottle) but I digress. Ultimately, we in Lake County have the same problem as Fetzer. I personally just poured over three cases of samples at Fort Mason in San Francisco this weekend at one ounce pours (36 bottles x 25 ounces each) equals 900 samples poured, and I can safely say that fewer than three dozen Bay Area residents had ever heard of Lake County two hours away. If they had heard it was because their parents went to Konocti in the 80's to rock the night away kid free. In short Lake County, you and I are screwed, and we are still failing just like Fetzer's misplaced Redwood Valley, either because we lack the names, or we lack the quality or uniqueness. We are still in the box, and we just barely realize that we have some control over how the box is shaped and what it can hold. We are at the frontier, and we can either play to the market or forge our own way. An AVA will not save us with its brief press-release buzz and may indeed condemn us if we cannot live up to it.

Steve's response was interesting and he wisely called out Lake County by name. His recognition requirements were a little odd: a region must be coastal (North Rhone, Burgundy, Austria anyone?), it must be famous for a family of varieties (Douro, Alsace, South Rhone anyone?), and there must be buzz factor. Number three redeemed the silliness of the previous two. It is all about the buzz from the sales viewpoint.

In a previous post a couple of months back I used a very well done video produced to promote the Cahors region (right here) as a foil for our own infantile yet growing sense of place in Lake County. Lamenting the lack of any food culture or unique agricultural aspects - though Lake County pears come/came close - the question of what we are and where we are going as a wine region is a daily dilemma. We have great growing conditions, but no definable style, no clear elements like minerality, and the (insert gagging noise) most important grape, you know - Cabernet, has largely been a failure due to lack of modest temperature hangtime - with a few notable exceptions such as Obsidian Ridge at 2700 feet. So stop planting more of it! We don't really have any risky/unique winemaking styles (Ceago comes the closest), and no local crazies like Sean Thackrey or Gravner with real vision. Some of the vineyards really are unique and will evolve into terroir-driven typicity; lets just hope we can hang on that long. Clay Shannon could probably lead us in a line dance but no one is capturing hearts and minds here, ourselves included. We need vision.

Where does buzz come from? Unique qualities and value. Value in this economy implies prices under $15 bottle shelf retail, and most of us can't go there. So we better go unique, and this is indeed underway as Rhone whites are gaining traction, and Petite Sirah still seems to be rising. But in a short few years Lake County Sauvignon Blanc has gone from value-priced darling to hospice patient. The fantastic Merlot grown here has no market because, well, that damn movie. We could suffocate ourselves with overdiversity as well and end up in bulk wine hell. Uniqueness is no guarantee in and of itself. There is still much work to be done here. My hunch: Montepulciano and Zinfandel.

Now, we love AVAs. We at Rosa d'Oro are salivating at the thought of putting Kelsey Bench on our labels this year, but we all need to be honest: AVAs, though geographically defined are sometimes bullshit. This is not a European system specifying grapes, blends, or yields. An AVA can range from 62 acres in size (Cole Ranch) to the Ohio River Valley at 26,000 square miles, different marketing strategies for sure. Anything within that AVA goes as long as 85% of the grapes are grown in it, whether is French Colombard or Touriga Nacional. It is just a place where grapes are grown, not particularly indicative of anything in itself. Sometimes the name itself is a problem, like when we get Kelsey Bench we may have to explain that Andrew Kelsey was a horrible human being who more than deserved being killed by the Pomo to those who are curious.

Fetzer's response is awesome and transparently reproduces the problem beautifully - we will just make our own AVA! Problem solved. Redwood Valley buzz is dying, start again. We will dilute the system even more, poison the well with geopolitical gerrymandering in the name of sales. AVAs are great, but they also had better represent something real in climate, typicity, and the resulting wine produced beyond super fine grained distinctions.  But, even with AVA status, your wine may still be crap, there may be no "thereness" to it at all, and when it is price gouged frontline to move old units you may be hurting everyone in the area. AVAs are not an easy or self-evident answer and most casual customers really do not seem to care much at all about them. The very first comment to Steve's post was a woman who almost did not purchase a bottle because it said Lake County and Fetzer uses a Redwood Valley PO Box. Thanks lady, we almost would have given up - a deep thank you for overcoming your fear of the unknown and trying something new, and we are thrilled to deliver. If more people say "I don't know the place so I am reluctant to try it" then we are all screwed. AVAs can hurt just as much as they help branding in the market place.

And that is just the point in some of these cases: maybe the AVA didn't fail you, perhaps we have failed our AVAs through by-the-numbers winemaking and grape growing. Some of us don't even really have a useful one (Clear Lake - Lake County).

We must make better wine and grow better grapes that show how good an AVA can be.

For those who are interested, here is a good overview of AVA regulations and problems from Practical Winery and Vineyard Magazine:

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Oregon Live blog

Big big thanks to for this very kind coverage. Marc Hinton's piece can be accessed  RIGHT HERE. And yes, it is true, those 2009s are smokin' now and will be even better when they are finally released.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Tim Hanni - The Swami is in
Tim Hanni is a special kind of dude. He was the second American to be awarded the Master of Wine designation. As the Swami of Umami, and a former chef,  he was one of the first to really delve into the "fifth taste" beyond the embarrassingly simplistic sweet, sour, salty, and bitter conundrum - a fantastic overview is here. His recent research has involved categorizing consumer taste profiles into four phenotypes: sweet, hypersensitive, sensitive, and tolerant (in descending order of sensitivity). He is also looking at behavioral models and how they interact with taste bud physiology.

So if you go to or you can gorge yourself on high-strung nerdy stuff of the contentious sort.

If you are in the San Francisco Bay Area he is hosting a seminar with Swanson Vineyard on June 4th (the first flyer). If you are really ambitious you should probably attend the two-day conference in Lansing, Michigan on May 4-5th,

He is a love or hate kind of guy, and there are plenty of people on both sides. However, his wine knowledge and understanding of food and wine interaction is above reproach, and his research and consulting are having an impact on wine culture already. And if he helps people drink more wine (responsibly, of course), we are all for that.

What is the brouhaha you ask? Here are choice morsels from the naysayers on the internet:
·         "you are - in my opinion - an idiot."
·         "Seriously, your argument is ridiculous."
·         " more pathetic than anything else. Hanni should know better.”
·         “…this is utter bunk…this theory gets what it deserves: F” The Connoisseur’s Guide to California Wine

Obviously, this is worth serious investigation.