Friday, February 04

Wine.Wooters: Let's Party At Scott Harvey's Place In Napa Valley on Sunday, Feb. 20

by Scott Harvey

It seems a contingent of wooters annually go to the Petite Syrah tasting “Dark and Delicious” every year in February. So on the Sunday following the event, we along with our neighbor across Fulton Lane, David Fulton Winery, would like to invite the wooters in for fun and wine tasting. This year we have gone all out.

The event will start at 11:00 AM and go to 5:00 PM on Sunday the 20th of February.

Address: 830 Fulton Lane, St. Helena, CA 94574

RSVP by February 11 via phone to: 707-968-9575

Cost is $20 per person, unless you were one of the fortunate ones to have received one of the 30 “Golden Tickets” in the December case Woot offering. The $20 entry fee can be applied to a six bottle purchase of wine during the event.

My longtime friend and Master Chef Dean Weitz will be cooking up a storm throughout the event.

California State Fair Chief Judge Pooch Pucilowski will be conducting wine judging tests. This wine judging test is a mini version of the test I took to become a judge for the California State Fair Wine Competition back in 1980. I have been a judge ever since. The judging will be conducted every one and a half hours staring at 11:30 AM. So test will start at 11:30 AM, 1:00 PM, 2:30 PM and 4:00 PM. There is room for 12 people per time slot. If you want to participate, you need to call us here at the winery, 707 968-9575 and book a slot. First come, first served. From all those who pass the test, one will be drawn from the hat to judge as a guest judge on my judging panel at the California State Fair Wine Competition to be held this year on Wednesday June the 1st. Check out some previous years' California State Fair Wine Competition results to get yourself in the mood.

In addition, Pooch is running another competition called the Consumer Wine Awards. He will make the Consumer Wine Awards survey available for those people interested in judging at the Consumer Wine Awards Competition. This survey is also available online at ConsumerWineAwards.com.

We will also be hosting a “Guess the Vintage” tasting and a “Guess the Variety” tasting with prizes and discounts for the winners.

The wine cellar will be set up for a “Bring your own Cigar” tasting where the Angel Ice and Forte will be available for you to pair with your favorite cigar.

Remember to RSVP at 707 968-9575 by February 11th. This invitation is only open to Wooters at this time and will be open to everyone after the 11th. Look forward to seeing you there!

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Monday, January 17

Random Ramblings of a Weary Winemaker: 2010 Vintage Report

by Peter Wellington

We're always glad to welcome Peter Wellington of Wellington Vineyards back to the Wine.Woot blog. Here's his report on the 2010 growing season.

The Year They Cancelled Summer

I used to jokingly refer to 1980 as the year they cancelled summer. It was an exceptionally cool and foggy summer in Sonoma Valley, but the harvest went well when we had a protracted “Indian Summer” in September and October. The 2010 growing season started with a very wet El Niño winter and spring. We had over 60 inches of rain here in Glen Ellen, a figure we have reached only one other time (1998) in the 24 years since we bought the vineyard. After some nice warm days in late February and early March the temperatures were substantially cooler than typical all the way into the latter part of August. Daily highs only in the 60’s much of April and May were followed by highs in the 70’s through June and July, when we usually experience 80’s and 90’s. To my memory, we had only two or three days when it even got to 90º...

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Monday, December 13

Bitten By the Wine Bug

by Scott Harvey

Welcome back guest blogger Scott Harvey of Scott Harvey Wines, here revealing his origin story to the world.

When sitting around enjoying a glass of wine with a group of fellow wine people, the conversation invariably comes around to “How did you get bit by the wine bug?” or how did you get into the wine business? Drew Thurman aka WineDrew, a winedavid39 associate, was by the other day and after a few bottles of wine he asked. I told him over another bottle of wine and he goes, “You got to write it down so we can put it on the blog.” So here it is.

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Tuesday, July 13

Random Ramblings of a Weary Winemaker: 2009 Vintage Report

by Peter Wellington

Welcome old friend Peter Wellington of Wellington Vineyards back to the Woot blog for this look back at the 2009 vintage. Take it away, Peter!

Please accept my apology for the long delay in filing this report. My original intention was to write this in November (2009), but some unforeseen issues popped up and I’ve been behind schedule at work ever since then. There were three main topics that dominated local news stories about the wine industry last fall: unsold grapes, the European grapevine moth, and the big storm.

There have always been cycles of grape shortages and gluts, but during my almost 30 years in the wine biz I have never seen anything like the situation in 2009. Wineries were dropping grape contracts and commitments right and left over worries about inventory levels and cash flow. Almost every summer one will see listings for Lodi Cabernet sauvignon, Lake County Sauvignon blanc or Sonoma County Syrah grapes for sale, but this past year any and everything was available, usually at bargain prices. If you were looking for Dry Creek Zinfandel there were multiple choices. The same was true for Oakville Cabernet sauvignon, Russian River Pinot noir or anything else your heart desired. During crush I was offered “extra” grapes from several great vineyards at very low prices. The usual story was that a very prestigious winery had taken the amount stipulated by their contract but didn’t want / couldn’t afford to buy any excess grapes. I was tempted, but refrained from all these offers because of both budget and space constraints. Even behemoths such as Gallo and Constellation weren’t making their usual low-ball offers.

In October, toward the end of crush, the discovery of a “new” exotic pest in a Napa Valley vineyard was announced. The European grapevine moth (EGVM), Lobesia botrana, is the fourth new insect pest found in North Coast wine country in the past decade or so. So far none of them have caused significant losses for grapegrowers here. The first, and most serious, of the four was the glassy winged sharpshooter (GWSS), a very efficient vector for vine killing Pierce’s Disease (PD). Pierce’s Disease destroyed the Southern California wine industry in the 1880’s. PD was known as Anaheim Disease at the time, named for the utopian winegrowing colony founded in Orange County by German immigrants. It also devastated Temecula area vineyards in the 1990’s, after the introduction of GWSS. Quarantine and inspection of plant material (primarily nursery stock) from infested areas has been effective thus far in preventing GWSS from establishing a foothold in the North Coast. Near hysteria amongst growers has subsided into complacency, but a serious threat still exists. There are also quarantines in place for the Light Brown Apple Moth (LBAM), although it is likely more of a nuisance than a serious threat to vineyards. The Vine Mealybug probably falls in between the first two as far as the potential economic damage it could wreak. It can get inside grape clusters and cause bunch rot, and it is hard to kill because it burrows underneath the bark on grapevine trunks. Fortunately, unlike the GWSS and LBAM, it can’t fly, so it spreads very slowly unless moved by people and equipment.

From what I’ve read, EVGM is potentially more damaging than either LBAM or Vine Mealybug. In early April, when I wrote the rough draft for this blog, the only action being taken regarding EGVM was plans for a detection program. Because the discovery was made late in the 2009 season and EGVM is dormant in winter the extent of infestation was hard to determine.

A much more troubling situation has unfolded over the last three to four weeks (during April). The emergence of the first generation of adult moths since a widespread trapping program was instituted has revealed the extent of the infestation and how it may be spreading. Apparently the pest has been in the Oakville / Rutherford area of Napa Valley for at least two years (probably more), but was not identified because the USDA had neither specimens nor DNA in their database. Growers had found the moths, seen the damage, and brought specimens to the Napa County Agricultural Commissioner’s office, but no one could identify them. One of the USDA’s functions is to protect US agriculture from exotic pests; but how can you prevent a new pest from becoming established if you don’t know what it looks like? Shouldn’t they have a library of all significant pests that aren’t here yet?

Tens of thousands of moths were trapped in Napa Valley during April, and trapping there has been suspended so as not to overwhelm the state entomology lab. Eradication efforts are in full swing, with growers spraying pesticides (both “organic” and “synthetic”) on every vine in the infested area. Stray moths have been found in several other counties, and at least one small infestation exists outside of Napa, apparently introduced by a grape delivery from Napa. Quarantines are being formulated regarding shipment of grapes and handling of crush byproducts. We may have to build a hot compost for all our stems and skins this year to lower the risk of introducing the EGVM into our vineyard.

The third story of the 2009 crush is the one I care about most because it affected wine quality. Weather, of course, is the dominant (if not only) factor in vintage to vintage variation. Late August and September weather was quite typical for the North Coast. There were some intermittent heat waves, but nothing extreme, as in 1999 or 2002. My opinion is that the weather was better than in 2008, but nowhere near the ideal conditions of 2007. Quality should be good to very good for most whites, Pinot Noir, and everything else that ripened fully before the big storm. Our El Niño winter started with a bang on October 13th, when over five inches of rain fell here in one day. Everywhere in Sonoma and Napa got at least two inches, and cool weather with showers persisted for another couple of days. I don’t have the stats readily available, but I think this was more rain during harvest than in 1993, 1989, or even 1983.

The harvest pace was frenetic from Oct. 10th to the 12th, as growers and wineries tried to pull in everything that was ripe. We set a record for our biggest crush tonnage day ever on the 12th, processing over 25% of our red grapes in one day. I would never pick unripe grapes because of an impending storm, and we let several vineyards hang for more ripening. We did incur losses, both in tonnage and potential quality, but I think the resulting wine is still better than if we had picked those vineyards before the storm. Even before the storm, certain experts were predicting a below average quality vintage for Cabernet in Napa and Sonoma, based in part on analysis of the phenolic makeup of the ripening grapes. I personally am very happy with the Cabernet we brought in prior to the storm, and okay with what came in later, but it sounds as if it will go down as an uneven vintage overall.

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Thursday, June 10

Do low yielding vineyards necessarily produce better wine grapes?

by Stillman Brown

You all remember Stillman Brown from his epic contributions to the forum discussions when we offered a three-pack from his Red Zeppelin Winery back in April. So we couldn't be more thrilled to have him as the latest Wine.Woot guest blogger. Take it away, Stillman!

Do low yielding vineyards necessarily produce better wine grapes?

Measuring by tons per acre, hectoliters per hectare, or as I prefer to put it, "bottles per vine" (because the first two commonly used measurements don't account for vine density, and because it's simpler and better) doesn't provide an easy assessment of fruit concentration or wine quality, though it is an important factor in most cases. Assuming that the vine is in balance, with the right number of leaves per cluster, optimum canopy and vine orientation for the varietal and area, there are still other complexities. Lower yields from smaller berries that have a higher skin to juice ratio (because of the cube/square law) will be more highly flavored since it is the layer just under the skin that provides almost all of the biochemicals from which aromas and flavors come.

Let's take two examples to show how complex this can be; on a very cool coastal hillside with poor soils, a vine won't be able to ripen more than one or two bottles worth of grapes per vine, so the yields must be kept very low; by thinning, for example. If the vine is an excellent clone of Pinot Noir or Syrah, you may achieve spectacular results. If it's Sauvignon Blanc or Cabernet Sauvignon, the resulting wine may be concentrated but overly weedy and herbal. Now let's consider a much warmer area, perhaps with richer soil. At very low yields, the vine's much larger photosynthetic resources will enable it to ripen the grapes too rapidly, resulting in high sugars but incomplete, simple flavors; though Pinot Noir doesn't belong in the area at all, the other three varietals would benefit from having extra weeks of 'hang time' for the fruit to mature, as the vine has to divide its energies among a score of grape clusters instead of a few.

All of this assumes that the winemaking process has been adapted to the fruit's chemistry and flavors . . . do you see how complex this can be? I have grafted over or planted some fairly extreme vineyard sites over the years, and I always seek to control yields, but it's only part of the artistic and scientific process that goes into making outstanding wine. And here I haven't said anything about wine personality; perhaps my next post . . .

Stillman is also extending an invitation to all Wooters to attend his annual fund raiser and party this August 11-15 in Cayucos, CA. The party benefits the Cal Poly Wine and Viniculture scholarship, and features the musical stylings of both Dread Zeppelin and Meth Leppard. Take a look at at the invitation so you fully understand what you're getting yourself into.

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Thursday, May 13

Sharing the Experience of Minerality

by Clark Smith

Please give a warm Wine.Woot welcome to our latest guest blogger, Clark Smith, chief winesmith at WineSmith Wines. If you enjoy this piece, Clark also writes about winemaking at Wine Crimes and on his GrapeCrafter blog.

Honored and delighted as I am to be posting my first guest blog, I need to start with a caution about wine writing. Wine is a medium of conviviality which works its magic mostly through aroma, taste and touch. This means you really need to be there. Print media are laughably ill suited to exploring its charms. Experience trumps description every time. You can explain to a deaf person that music conveys emotion, but they can never really get what you mean. For the same reason, endless argument about wine sensory phenomena are easily resolved by sharing a glass.

Twenty years ago, newbies learned about wine by taking classes, joining tasting groups, and hanging around experienced people. The internet has made it much more convenient to talk about wine in its absence, often with silly results. The inane discussion about minerality is a great case in point. The scant research that’s been done on the subject shows the word is bandied about without consistent definition, and always will be until we become grounded through shared experience.

I get my definition from Randall Grahm grahm on terroir – santa cruz mountains.pdf and my French tutors at Oenodev, who focused on it as an indicator of longevity and its flipside, reductive problems in youth. In my lexicon, minerality is not an aroma (petrichor), nor is it the wet stone flavor of Semillon, but rather an energetic buzz in the wine’s finish, almost like electricity run through the throat. It is an attribute of limestone and granitic soils, and but can be obtained on any site if living soil principles are applied. German Mosels usually have it, and their California counterparts don’t. It’s often mistaken for acidity, which is similar but occurs in the front of the mouth, not the finish (except for acetic acid). The varieties Cabernet Franc and Roussanne tend to be strong in this attribute. Minerality imparts a liveliness on the palate and a lengthy flavor persistence that sets Chablis apart from other chardonnays and living soil vineyards apart from other New World wines. This sensation is often masked in the New World by the bitterness of high alcohol.

Nobody has pinned down what exactly is happening. French terroiriste Claude Bourguignon believes that mychorrhizal fungi facilitate trace mineral uptake. In his thesis, Tuscan winemaker Paolo DiMarchi measured high iron content in his very minerally Nebbiolos. I worked with CSU Fresno’s Susan Rodriguez and Barry Gump to try to nail down what minerals might be responsible, but we couldn’t find a single simple driver. Hildegarde Heymann at UC Davis speculates that sulfur compounds cause minerality, but I believe this is backwards: minerality causes reduction, not the other way ‘round.

I hope it will not be considered crassly commercial for me to mention that I make some very minerally wines, particularly my WineSmith Cab Franc and Faux Chablis, and you could try them.

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Friday, April 16

Grenache, the untold story

by Gary Gibson

Hey, it's a new Wine.Woot guest blog post! Gary Gibson, Winemaker of Shadow Canyon Cellars (Paso Robles, CA), joins us to dish the real story on Europe's favorite grape, Grenache.

Grenache is one of the most widely planted grapes in the world, occupying more vineyard land in Spain than any other varietal, and one of the major grape varietals grown in France. Grenache can produce wines which range in style from light bodied roses to dense, chewy wines found in France’s Chateauneuf-du-Pape region and in Spain’s Priorat region. Used as the main blending varietal in Chateauneuf-du-Pape, as a single varietal it shines when seen in the wines of Chateau Rayas and Domaine de la Vieille Julienne.

Typically grown in warmer areas of Spain and France, it is interesting that California’s best examples are grown in relatively cooler locations, with lesser quality wines grown in the hot interior. Vineyards such as Alban, growing fruit in the cool Edna Valley, Sine Qua Non in the very cool Santa Rita hills and Saxum on the west side of Paso Robles are defining great Grenache in California. Grenache may turn out to be much like pinot noir when grown in California. Unlike syrah, which seems to do well in any climate, the better examples are being produced in the cooler coastal areas and tend to be very vineyard specific.

The Grenache grape has a thin skin, many times making thin, innocuous wines. But in the right location with controlled yields, the varietal can produce blockbuster wines. Correct viticulture practices along with low yields help balance the varietals naturally low phenolics. Correct handling of Grenache in the winery is also critical, with cold soaks combined with long slow fermentations to help extract color and flavors. With reduced yields, Grenache can develop complex wines exhibiting notes of black currants, black cherries, olives, leather, black pepper and spice.

TMy reference for great Grenache are those beautifully structured, dark, almost chewy single vineyard wines produced in Chateauneuf-du-Pape. California has produced many thin, light, innocuous examples of Grenache in the past, but they are shadows of what we are seeing from the current top tier producers. The best are making intense, full bodied wines, with solid tannins (the nature of the grape) that have wonderful fruit components. Plus the best examples you can easily lay down for 10 years. California’s best wineries are showing what Grenache can do when planted in the right location.

Thanks, Gary! See what our other guest bloggers have had to say in our Experts category.

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Monday, January 04

Scott Harvey on the New InZinerator Blend

by Experts

Guest blogger Scott Harvey of Scott Harvey Wines returns - to ask wooters what they'd like to see in the blend for his upcoming 2007 InZinerator. Anybody who offers constructive input is hereby allowed to list "Wine Consultant" on his or her resume.

Want to thank the woot community for a wonderful 2009. As we come to the end of 2009 we are coming to the end of the 2006 InZinerator and need to produce a new 2007 vintage bottling. Since the wooters are the biggest InZinerator imbibers, I figure you should have the most input for the next blend. There was a big difference between the last two vintages. The 2004 was made in a drier style at about 1% residual sugar. Very similar to the original Menage a Trois blend when I created it back in 2002. The 2006 was made more to be like the Rombauer El Dorado Country Zinfandel at 2% residual sugar.

Both styles have their place and their following, but it’s time to stick with one style and build on it. The blend will be based on Zinfandel, Syrah and one other variety. Not sure which one yet until I get into the lab and start putting it together. The Zinfandel gives you the up front fruit and the broad base of the wine while the Syrah adds tannin and center structure. The third component is always the wild card. After the Zinfandel and Syrah are put together then I’ll experiment with a number of varieties to find the one that best ties the other two together into a full and complete wine. Then comes the part where you come in, the final decision on residual sugar. More like the original Menage a Trois at about 1% or like the Rombauer Zinfandel at about 2%. Now that you’ve had them both it would be great to hear your preferences.

After the wine is put together, then we have to decide on the label. The 2004 InZinerator came with three front labels all in the same case. We named them 1-Batman, 2-Hero on the Mountain, 3-Superman. We had a tremendous out cry from the distributors and retailers complaining that it was to confusing. We also wanted to introduce a female super hero label, so on the 2006 bottling we put just one label which we call the 4-Femknight. For the next 2007 vintage bottling we can use one of these 4 labels or a mix of them or maybe a new label with just the Z from InZinerator on the front. The back label always stays the same and is really what the TTB approves as the main label. What label or labels would you like to see on the new 2007 Vintage?

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Wednesday, September 09

Tasting Terms: Blackcurrant

by Steve De Long

Put down your glass for a second and give a warm Wine.Woot welcome to our newest guest blogger, Steve De Long of De Long's Wine Info, publisher of our favorite wine charts, maps, and books. The wine experts at De Long's are masters at making it easy for the rest of us to fake it. For his debut column, Steve answers a question that's occurred to any American who reads tasting notes: what are "blackcurrant" and "cassis"?

“Everybody knows the blackcurrant bush.”
-Le Nez du Vin, Jean Lenoir

Blackcurrant is the most common flavor descriptor of the most popular grape variety in the world: Cabernet Sauvignon. At least the British think so. American wine writers tend to use the term cassis, which is French for blackcurrant.

You may be asking yourself: wait a minute - what’s going on here? I don’t think I’ve ever tasted a blackcurrant in my life, much less seen a blackcurrant bush. Am I supposed to know this? Is Bacchus once again laughing hideously at my woeful ignorance of wine? And when did American wine writers become such Francophiles that they use a French term over a perfectly good English one?...

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Monday, July 20

Random Ramblings of a Weary Winemaker: Microbes: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

by Peter Wellington

As I started to think about how I would organize this blog I came to the realization that there really should be a fourth category – the “maybe good, maybe bad, maybe innocuous”, with a large aside on the pros and cons of inoculating with pure yeast strains. 

The list of species that can grow in grape juice is quite small, and even fewer can grow in wine.  The low pH and high sugar and/or alcohol levels make for a very hostile environment.  No pathogenic or toxin producing microbes can grow or even survive in wine, which led Louis Pasteur to declare wine the most hygienic of all beverages.  Only two species, Saccharomyces cerevisiae (wine yeast) and Oenococcus oeni (malolactic bacteria), are widely accepted as “good” wine microbes.  Even malolactic bacteria are considered spoilage organisms if malolactic fermentation (MLF) isn't desired...

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