Random Ramblings of a Weary Winemaker: I Heard it Through the Grapevine

by Peter Wellington

What’s Going On - Wed. June 11, 2008

We had a grafter (not a grifter) here for the last four days. This winter I collected Roussanne budwood and ordered Malbec budwood with the idea of t-budding some Merlot (thanks Miles, you *;;-ωλ!). I planned to do four rows of Roussanne and two rows of Malbec, with the idea of expanding the Malbec a couple of rows a year. After bad late April frost damage in part of the Merlot the potential crop was very small, so I decided to do more grafting. We now have six additional rows of Roussanne, four rows of Viognier and nine rows of Malbec. The man who owns the grafting company, Salvador Presciato, told me his business is way up this year due to the frosts. People who were planning to graft next year or the year after decided to do it this year. This type of grafting (changing varieties on mature vines) typically costs you about 1½years of crop, and it makes sense, if you don’t have much crop anyway to have this be the no-crop year.

We finalized the blend of our Meeks Hilltop Ranch Zinfandel today, after eight tasting trials. All four of us had the same favorite, over other blends that only varied slightly in their make-up. The “winner” was 11 barrels “hilltop” block, 2 barrels “front yard”, 2 barrels low alcohol “front yard”, one barrel “over the hill”, and 25 gallons of Durif (the grape variety commonly known by the misnomer “Petite Sirah”). Final alcohol will be around 14.8%. Next up is the Sonoma Valley Zin; anything that doesn’t go into that blend will be used in a non-varietal blend (The Duke).

Another price increase: dusting sulfur went from $0.19 a pound to $0.44. I use roughly 1000 lbs. a year, so it’ll only cost me about $250, but still, a 131% increase? PG&E just asked the PUC for rate increases due to fuel costs, so at least I can be happy that our solar power is “saving” us even more money.

If You’re Not Part of the Solution, You’re Part of the Precipitate - Fri. June 13, 2008

I coined the above (I think) when I was an undergrad in the early 70’s (too many chemistry classes warp one’s sense of humor). We just lost one of our best restaurant glass pour placements because of all the sediment in our 2003 Sonoma County Cab. It really presents a quandary. I don’t like to treat wines more than is absolutely necessary. We do filter most of our wines tightly enough to insure against growth of Brettanomyces (“brett”), but we don’t fine or cold stabilize. All red wines will throw sediment with time, but some of ours tend to do so within a year or two after bottling, and a couple of them have formed alarming amounts of “muck” in that time.

And Now For Something Completely Different

I’ve been sharing an article from the June 3 NY Times with lots of people because it gives cause for great optimism. Futurist Ray Kurzweil makes predictions using what he calls the Law of Accelerating Returns. He has predicted when a computer would beat the world chess champion, when a handheld device could read a book out loud, and other technological advances, all with amazing accuracy. The cause for optimism arises from some of his current predictions, including: all our energy will come from renewable sources within twenty years and life expectancy will be increasing one year per calendar year fifteen years from now (making us statistically immortal!). Fun stuff to think about, and a welcome respite from the doom and gloom in most of our news.

Three Faces of Eden  Tues. June 17, 2008

When I was growing up we used to visit family friends who had a walnut orchard in Napa. As far as I was concerned it could have been Appalachia (sorry if this offends anyone). I thought the locals were real hicks, goin’ fishin’ barefoot down by the crick, etc. Napa County was populated mainly by farmers and blue-collar workers. There were cattle ranches, dairies, cherry and walnut orchards, and, oh yeah, old vineyards. I can remember feeling sorry for native Napans starting about twenty years ago – they had become second-class citizens because of all the new money moving into their own hometown.

Santa Rosa was even smaller than Napa when I was a kid. It was a two-hour drive from San Francisco (longer on summer weekends) because the freeway only went about 8 miles north of the Golden Gate. Santa Rosa’s population has grown about twenty fold in 45 years while Napa’s has only tripled. Santa Rosa is much more accessible by freeway now, and most of Napa Valley has been protected from development since the late 60’s. Santa Rosa isn’t dominated by wine like Napa is, but I did see a Riedel billboard on the freeway there on Sunday.

When I moved to Sonoma Valley in 1971, it was still a quiet, out-of-the-way small town with little local economy. There were no commuters, and only a few tourists came to look at the Mission and taste wine at Sebastiani Winery. There were a lot of retirees and “hippie refugees” from the Haight Ashbury. It seemed like half the people in the grocery store used food stamps, and it was rare to see anyone of other than white skin color. At one time or another I was told by various people that Boyes Hot Springs (my current home) had the highest per capita rate in California of: a) paroled felons, b) venereal disease, c) heroin addictionJ

Sonoma is so different now. It’s not as gentrified as Napa, but there is a lot more class distinction than there ever was before. House and land prices have been driven sky high by newcomers buying “lifestyle”, and there is a large, predominantly Mexican, immigrant population that fills most of the lower paying jobs: restaurant, retail, factory, house cleaning and childcare, gardening, and vineyard and winery production jobs of course. There are locals who “blame” the grape and wine industry for the influx of Hispanic immigrants, but it really is a national phenomenon, not a local one. Most of the riffraff have moved away because it’s expensive to live here and hard for them to get jobs, so maybe we’re a little better off in terms of STD’s, ex-cons and smack freaks.