Sonoma County Vineyard

Monday, May 31, 2010

Memorial Day 2010

Today was Memorial Day. Though not everyone has the day off, many people do. And my family was lucky enough to not work today. Naturally, we took advantage of this 'extra' day off work, but not without a few thoughts about the men and women who have paid the ultimate sacrifice to keep us safe and give us freedom. One of my daughters is obsessed with flags right now and I'm sure that we saw (and heard) about every American flag between Sonoma, Kenwood, Calistoga, St. Helena, Napa and back to Sonoma. It's always a patriotic drive with her in the car.

The real reason for the drive was to get out of the house and enjoy this nice weather we've had for only a few days. Unfortunately, today was not as nice as previous, but it was still a good day.

From Sonoma, we drove North to Santa Rosa and headed over Calistoga Road to the northern part of the Napa Valley. We stopped along the way and took some pictures, like this...

This vineyard caught my attention because it appeared to be all one block - vineyards are broken up into blocks with larger row spacing between the blocks making them easier to manage - with no row spacing. I imagine they would harvest (and manage) this vineyard very differently on the bottom than the top because of the slope as well as the sun exposure. Cool stuff. Next time you're driving by a vineyard think about it.

Some small clusters about to bloom....
We're getting close to bloom. This is when the buds begin to flower and pollinate. It can be a very dangerous time in the vineyard. Without proper pollination and set, the grape clusters will contain both grapes that are growing and grapes that never started. Not a good thing.

We also found some pretty flowers today....
I'm not a horticulturist, but I think this is a type of poppy.

I love vineyard pictures with old barns, particularly red ones....
And for some reason, I have a fascination with wind machines....

We stopped in Calistoga and walked around. I found these two shops next to each other....
Who knew I would find two of my favorite things in Calistoga? - wine tasting and candy. Maybe I should think about making a spot in my cellar for candy.

We drove into Castello di Amorosa. We didn't get out, but I thought the girls would like to see a castle. They had some pretty flowers and some flags, of course.
Just looked like a pretty spot up on the hill....
After a quick refresh back at home, we headed over to my in-laws house for a swim and a BBQ dinner. Of course, I brought along some wine.

Unfortunately, the Deerfield Ranch was corked. Corked refers to a bacteria that can live in cork closures and can ruin the wine very quickly. You can read more about it here. It is very easy for humans to detect this taint and once you know the smell, it's something that will generally be easily detectable. The question came up, "what can you do with a corked wine"? I wasn't sure, so a quick search on the web turned up this website. Not sure if it works, but it's worth a shot.
Luckily, my in-laws have a well stocked cellar and pulled out this 2000 Arrowood Chardonnay.
It was quite amazing for a 10 year old Chardonnay. There are plenty of red wines that don't hold up that long, so it was a real treat to have a white that was still full of life at that age.

A foodie shot of the ribs on the BBQ!

Full menu: BBQ pork ribs, corn, rosemary red potatoes, Syrah and flag napkins!
Syrah and BBQ or grilled foods go together like meat and potatoes. This Syrah came from Zaca Mesa Winery in Santa Ynez Valley near Santa Barbara, CA. It had good structure and aromas and flavors of blackberry, raspberry, clove and licorice. The latter coming through on the long finish. The back label said to drink now or within the next 8-10 years. It was a 2003 and I think we hit a sweet spot. A very nice wine, especially when considering the price of about $20.

Of course, no meal is complete with out dessert. On tonight's list was this Mudd Pie from Trader Joe's. It was very tasty.
Sure, we had a great time today. Sure, we ate (and drank) like true Americans. But let's not forget why we received this extra day off. Someone, scratch that, thousands of someones gave their lives so we can continue to enjoy the finer things in life. Time with family.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Old(er) wine

As I sit here tonight drinking a wine from the mid 90's, I wonder how many people out there enjoy older wine. Older is a relative term, of course, and it can depend on where you're from or what style of wine you are used to drinking.

For Americans, in general, they enjoy wines that are younger. There is only a small percentage of the population that "collects" wine and consumes it when it is older. Some don't ever consume it and just collect it. I've never understood that and I think the winemakers out there would be disappointed to see their product go to waste - but that is another story.

Young and younger wines are great for many reasons. For starters, young wines tend to be fruit forward. If you smell wine from a barrel after fermentation, it tends to have very strong fruit flavors. Unfortunately, like many things in wine production, young is not the only factor for fruit forward - hotter climates will produce wines with more fruit aromas as well.

Young red wines also have higher levels of tannin (an astringency that comes from the skins and seeds). This can be great with certain food pairings. For instance, if I'm grilling up a Rib-Eye steak, I want a wine with a high tannin level to counterbalance the fattiness of the steak. A young Malbec works really well.

But most importantly, young wines are what we are used to. Rarely do we order an older wine off a wine list - likely because it's too expensive. But also because it's not often available and we don't like to stray away from the "norm".

So for the few that are patient and able to put a wine away for many years, what are the benefits?

Well, let's begin with what you'll encounter first - the aromas. Smells can change dramatically with age in the bottle. What was once a bright red cherry flavor could become dark cherry or cooked cherries or something completely different from cherries, like licorice. One never knows how wine is going to change and develop, but to me that's the interesting part.

One of my favorite things about older wines is their texture. Once in the mouth, these wines can take on some of the best textures my tongue has ever run across. The tannins have generally faded away and what's left is a velvety smoothness that coats the mouth. Now, let's take that same young Malbec that was paired with the Rib-Eye above. Pair it with an aged wine and the steak will overpower the wine. But, cook a Fillet-Mignon and match it up with an older Malbec and you'll likely have a winning combination. Interesting. As the wine ages, the foods it goes with will change too.

Another factor (an overlooked one, I think), is that an aged wine is understated. It takes a lot more concentration to identify flavors and aromas in an older wine than it does in a younger one. Maybe we're more familiar with the fruit flavors of a younger wine, so they're easier to notice. But I think that most wine is consumed without much thought. Really understanding wine is like stopping to smell the roses - it sounds like a good idea, but most people don't take the time to really do it.

Don't take that last statement the wrong way - it sounds kind-of snobby, I know. But I'm okay with "I like this wine" or "I don't like this wine". In most cases, that's good enough. But if you have taken the time to age a wine (or purchased one that was aged properly for you), you should sit down and really think about it. If you're from the area the wine is from, think about what the weather was like that year - if you can remember. Think about the area and what the terrain is like and how that might affect the wine. But most of all, think about what's in the glass. Smell it. Stick your nose in the glass and really smell it. Taste it. What do the aromas and flavors remind you of? You might be surprised how much you know about wine.

Just a quick aside....not all wine has age-able qualities. How do you know? Well, the best thing to do is to ask the source how long to age the wine, if at all. The top three things that allow for a wine to be aged are acid, tannin and sugar. A wine with high amounts of any of these can usually be aged for longer than one that doesn't have them.

So what am I drinking?

A 1996 Zinfandel from Teldeschi Vineyards in Dry Creek Valley. I bought it a couple of years ago (so it was already aged). It's rare to find a Zin that has age-able qualities, but I think this one shows really nicely. For me, the acid that's still apparent in the wine is the staying quality that worked for this particular one.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Alcohol Part II

We had some visitors to the winery this week from another country and the question came up again about alcohol (as it does on many occasions). The question was, of course, about high alcohol levels. My answer was the same as it has been for a while - we have high alcohol levels because we can.

There are many reasons for high(er) alcohol in California wines, some of which you can find in my first posting on alcohol here.

"Because we can" sounds like a really egotistical reason. And like true Americans, we have a big ego. Not just in Sonoma, but in California, Washington, Texas, New York and all the other wine growing regions in America. Maybe egotistical is a bad word or the wrong word, maybe we're just proud - is that a bad thing?

But there is some truth behind "because we can". There are other parts of the world that only dream about being able to get their grapes to full ripeness and not have to add sugar (yes, this happens) to raise the alcohol levels to decent levels. Decent enough to create wines that taste good enough anyway.

Generally, we don't have to worry about many of the weather problems, including rain at the end of the season. which in turn means we can get our grapes to full ripeness. As a result, we end up with higher alcohol levels.

My favorite reason though, and this is a relatively new one, is this:
Every region has their own style. In my opinion, it's what makes wine interesting. If the juice tasted the same no matter where it was from, then what would be the point? So, my new theory/reasoning goes like this - we have higher alcohol levels creating big, bold wines because it's our style. It's what we're known for. If we did it any other way it just wouldn't be the same.

So, be proud of our high(er) alcohol wines, it's still relatively low compared to many other alcoholic drinks. And please, please stop saying we make wines in a "French" style. I can't tell you how many times I've heard this in a tasting room. It's impossible to re-create the conditions of any place other than where you are. We have our own style, let's be proud.


Sunday, May 9, 2010

The rain

I love the rain. Well, I love it during the late fall and winter, which is when we expect to see it here in Northern California. Of course, my concern for grapes has biased my opinion a little.

So here's the big question - does rain in May cause complications with the grapes?

It depends. Like everything else in growing grapes and making wine, it depends. I know it sounds like a cop out, but it's true. Here's why.

You see, we got a late start to bud break this year because of an extended cool and rainy season. As a result, bloom hasn't happened yet. If we were in the middle of bloom, this rain today could be disastrous. If rain, especially heavy rain or hail, happens during bloom it can seriously effect the number of grapes on the clusters and create what we call shatter.

Shatter is when clusters have grapes that are both pollinated and unpollinated. In most cases, these clusters will later be cut off. If the vineyard workers have to cut off too many of the clusters this can put the vine out of balance or in the worst case, not produce enough tonnage. These are all things that could have happened today, if it hadn't been so cool and rainy this year.

So, the good news is that we are in the clear, so far. There's always a chance for more rain later, but we're pretty lucky here in California. Unlike other regions of the world, like the famed Bordeaux and Burgundy, California rarely has catastrophic rain and hail events. For the most part, it's tough to make bad wine here. In case I mislead you with the last statement, it's also tough to make excellent wine as well - so don't be fooled.

We'll keep crossing our fingers and doing our "no rain" dances from here until we have picked the grapes and they are resting safely (relatively) in their tanks and barrels. Until then, there will be many worried and stressed individuals in the wine industry. Good thing we all have wine in our glasses to de-stress at the end of the day.