Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Harvest 2009

Yes, folks, the 2009 harvest has begun in California. So far in Napa, it's mostly been Sauvignon Blanc and grapes for sparkling wine coming in. In general, 2009 is relatively late, probably a week or two behind normal, if normal means anything in this era of weird weather.

The Napa Valley Grape Growers Association recently filmed several winemakers and grape growers discussing the 2009 growing season and harvest. We thought you would enjoy these talks, so we present them here. The talks are more technical than anything you would hear in a tasting room, but we think the speakers are clear and you should have no trouble following. Of course, if you have any questions about the discussions or want to know more about any particular issue, ask away.

First off, Jon Ruel of Trefethen Vineyards talks about Trefethen's sustainability efforts, including creekside habitat restoration.

Next, we have Matt Taylor, from Araujo Estate, talking on the first day of their harvest about the joy--and mania--of the harvest season.

Michael Beaulac, from Pine Ridge, is up next, speaking candidly about the influence economics has on farming decisions.

Merryvale's Remi Cohen follows, talking about how she adjusted the vineyard management techniques based on the season's weather.

Thanks to the Napa Valley Grapegrowers for sharing these videos with us.

Of course, the harvest season also means that we are about to become quite busy, of course. We shall do our best to keep the posts coming. We are excited about what we have already in the works but if we go silent for a spell, please know that we are doing our best to make some great wine for you to enjoy.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Pedroncelli Shines

Our welcome kit at the 2009 Wine Bloggers' Conference (here and here) included all sorts of goodies, from chocolates to thumb drives, and one half-bottle of wine, a Pedroncelli 2005 Dry Creek Valley Merlot Bench Vineyards.

The conference was a few weeks ago now, but we only just opened the bottle. We honestly did not know what to expect, but we were quite pleased with what we tasted. We were still more pleased when we learned the price. The 2005 we enjoyed is no longer available, but the 2006 retails for $14 (for a full bottle). We would not have been surprised to learn that it retailed for twice as much, or even more.

Two things set this wine apart. First, it tasted like a Dry Creek Valley wine. We have long enjoyed the wines from Dry Creek, although we associate it more with Zinfandel and Rhone varieties. We are now extremely curious to try Pedroncelli's versions of those wines, but this Merlot holds it own. What comes through as Dry Creek is a sort of dustiness, and perhaps some black olive.

The second thing that sets this wine apart is the spiciness. Not long ago we did an experiment with some bland wine. We took 10-oz. apple juice jars (empty), and filled them with the bland wine and a pinch of different spices from our cabinet, from ginger powder to Chinese 5-spice. We waited a couple of months to let the spices integrate into the wine, and then tasted them. Do try this at home--it's a great way to learn how to identify spice notes in wines.

Extremely large fennel bulbs

This Merlot had pronounced notes of clove and allspice, with a touch of nutmeg and even coriander, which we found delicious. Whether or not those spices appeal to you, they were fascinating in this context. And context is everything. For example, fennel is not our favorite spice in the world, and we are not huge fans of anise liqueurs, but we love an anise note in our wines, at least on occasion.

We look forward to trying more Pedroncelli wines, and encourage you to do the same.
(Reminder: as stated at the head of this post, the reviewed wine was a free, if unsolicited, sample.)

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Wine Brats Book Review--Part 2 (end)

Good readers that we are, we have finished The Wine Brats' Guide to Living, with Wine. (See here and here if you missed our earlier posts on the book.)

Our overall take remains the same: Bravo to the Wine Brats for their efforts to demystify wine and make it more accessible. If the book is overlong and strays a bit off-topic, it nevertheless has some strong pieces that are well worth reading. Here's what Parts 3 and 4 of the book have to offer.

Part 3 is entitled, "Gettin' Dirty with the Winemakers," and the first piece finds Gina Gallo describing her history and how she came to be a winemaker (it was more than family ties). It's a sweet and well-written entry.

Next up is Stewart Dorman's "diary" (in quotes because we are pretty sure it's not really taken from his diary) chronicling the genesis of his successful wine brand, Adrian Fog. We found the piece a bit contrived, and it contains too many winemaking canards, such as that rain dilutes wine flavors and "ripeness." Dorman may well have so believed at that stage of his career, but we hope he does not now. Nevertheless, it's a pretty interesting account of starting up a winery and all the work that is involved.

Joe Naujokas follows with a description of a huge home winemaking co-operative in Modesto, the Woof Woof Winery, which appears to still exist (they have a Yahoo group although there is little activity since 2006). The group sounds like it would be a lot of fun to belong to, and Naujokas makes the whole process of en masse home winemaking sound interesting enough that it might inspire readers to follow suit.

The last part of the book is called "The Eternal Search for Knowledge," and is in essence a reference section. We are afraid this is the weakest portion of the book. Its information was outdated soon after publication. There is a guide to wine-friendly restaurants and wine bars, for instance, few of which were likely to exist more than a year or two past publication. The section on using the Internet to find wine is now of interest only to Internet historians. Of course, these are tough criticisms to level at a book that was published ten years ago and meant for immediate consumption.

While the guide to wine books and periodicals is still mostly relevant and of some use, the list of winegrape varieties contains surprising errors. Viognier, for instance, is often blended into red Rhône wines from Côte-Rôtie, not Châteauneuf-du-Pape. Although some 13 varieties are allowed into red Châtueaneuf wines, Viognier is not among them.

All in all this was a fun read. We wish the Wine Brats were still around to update the book, and to make more mischief while spreading the gospel of wine.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Boxed Wines, once again

Wyoming hills from train window

We recently traveled by train. One of the many advantages of rail travel compared to air is that riders can bring drinks along with them. With the train selling Cavit Pinot Grigio for $13/half-bottle, bringing your own wine is the way to go.

The bottles we brought for the trip out contained good enough wine, but they were heavy and took up a lot of space. For the return trip, we decided to try wine packaged in TetraPaks. We found French Rabbit wines on offer for $6.40/500 mLs or $9.50/1 L. Naturally, we went for the larger option, grabbing a 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon and a 2007 Pinot Noir, both from France's Languedoc region.

We were a little leery of the Cabernet because of the vintage date. 2005 and 2007 were both fine years in Southern France, but we understand that the TetraPak may not offer the ideal aging environment. The age did not seem to matter, however. Both the Cabernet and the Pinot were disappointing: overly simple, and almost a little tinny.

In every other way the TetraPak packaging was a hit. If only someone could put some better wine inside!

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Wine Brats Book Review--Part 1

We are traveling at present, and internet access is spotty. Thank goodness for books. We have been enjoying the Wine Brats' Guide to Living, With Wine mentioned in an earlier post. Herewith our thoughts on the first half of the book.

The Wine Brats divided their book into four sections covering education, parties, winemaking, and knowledge (reference). Below, our thoughts on the first two parts of the book. Naturally, this post will be followed by a post on the latter half. Here goes:

* We love the Wine Brats. Their mission, clearly stated, is just about exactly what we have set out to do ourselves: Break down any barrier standing between anyone and their enjoyment of wine. Bravo to the Wine Brats for stepping up to the plate ten years ago with this book.

* The book is a glimpse into the early history of today's wine “elite.” Okay, they probably would not call themselves that, but most of the current generation of wine writers and educators had a chapter in this book. As Joel Quigley told us, the Wine Brats were thrilled to get bylines to talented writers such as Leslie Sbrocco, whose careers blossomed thereafter.

* Demystifying wine through writing about it is hard. As if we did not already know this ourselves! The biggest problem is the paradox—how many people intimidated by some aspect of the wine book are going to read a book (or a blog) to learn to get over it? And here's the big secret: all we and our compatriots are saying is, Don't be afraid. A good message, but a pretty short book. Heck, it's a pretty short blog post, even.

* The revolution(tm) should be inspired by ideas, not facts. Yes, it's hard to fill up a chapter, but is advice on proper serving temperature germane to a book dedicated to bringing wine to the people? We agree that too much red wine is served too warm and too much white wine too cold, but we'd much rather have people grabbing a glass of wine at any temperature than not grabbing the glass for fear that it might not be at the proper temperature, or worse, that they might not know what the proper temperature is.

* Tim Hanni, MW, might just be a genius. Hanni's chapter on pairing food and wine does what we hope the rest of the book does. It makes the reader thirsty, while telling them why all the received wisdom on food and wine pairing is bunkum (so you don't need to learn it), and gives a lot of ideas for how to pursue your own taste into happy food and wine pairing.

* Bob Blumer, aka The Surreal Gourmet, is another genius, and funny to boot! How did we miss this guy 10 years ago. We will certainly be investigating his current activities. His chapter on how to throw a dinner party should certainly help anyone doing so, whether it is their first or their thousandth party. Blumer's advice on keeping the party out of the kitchen is practical, e.g. keep wine bottles and snacks where you want the guests to be, and, well, practical, i.e., section off the kitchen with POLICE LINE tape.

* Tina Caputo's chapter on wine theme parties is brilliant, and we would happily run it verbatim on Wines for the People. We'll get on calling her agent for the reproduction rights. The parties she describes would be a great way to tackle a particular subject in depth, whether it is a particular variety or region, or a comparison of styles, while having a great time. Not every learning experience has to involve taking notes. Who said you can't have a party while broadening your wine horizons?

* Winemakers ourselves, we love S. Duda's description (p. 103): “You'll be amazed at how eccentric [winemakers] are (way more spaced-out than musicians; think inferior genetic bonding between a painter and a sugar-beet farmer).”

* Joe Naujokas has an interesting chapter about using wine in mixed drinks. Some simple substitutions, such as Pinot grigio in lieu of gin in a Martini, and other more ambitious drinks such as the Port Milkshake. Great ideas in their own right, these are still more uses for wine that might have disappointed (see earlier blog post).

* Despite these great contributions, the Party section still has a bit too much instruction. Tina Caputo's piece was great for the basic idea of a wine theme party and for her theme suggestions to get your imagination going. She did not condescend to tell you how to throw a party in the first place. We suppose that some readers might want the guidance found in chapters on delegating responsibilities for fundraisers, hosting large (100s+) events, or even conducting a blind tasting. Nevertheless the book might have been snappier and even less intimidating without these chapters.

We'll report on Parts 3 and 4 of this delightful book shortly. Stay tuned!
Wine Blogger Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported License.