Sunday, August 13, 2017

A trio of chicks.

Just wanted to report that Vinoland's California towhee chicks are doing really well.  All three eggs hatched, the chicks are feathering up nicely and I'm sure that they will fledge this week.  I took this photograph with a long lens, atop a very rickety old chair, whilst mama and papa towhee protested, one Syrah row over, perched beside each other on an irrigation line.  Not wanting to agitate the parent birds too much, I decided that any photo I had already managed to snap of the chicks would have to suffice.  I would feel horrible if the nest was abandoned because I was too nosy.  I carefully climbed down, very carefully, and went about my business in the Pinot grigio vines.  I hope to see these little chaps, or chapesses, eating seed on my deck rail very soon.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Net worth.

It may be my least favourite vineyard operation, but putting on the bird netting is worth the effort if I want any grapes to harvest at the end of the growing season.  I must say, the Pinot grigio crop looks beautiful; all that rain I suffered through last winter has, admittedly, had a beneficial effect on the grapevines.
Harvest 2017 has already begun.  Mumm Napa picked their first Pinot noir grapes, from Green Island Vineyards in the Carneros AVA, on Monday the 7th of August.  The Napa Valley sparkling wine producer is expecting a slightly larger than average crop.  I'm not surprised, the crop looks bountiful in Vinoland also.  I'm just hoping that Mother Nature behaves herself between now and harvest.

Saturday, August 05, 2017

Toe of frog.

The American Bullfrog (Rana catesbeiana) is an invasive species in California.  Native to the southern and eastern United States, Mr. B. Frog, although he may not belong here, appears to be quite happy in his adopted irrigation-runoff-drainage-pipe habitat.  In fact, he seems to have quite a secure foothold in his aqueous abode which overlooks the Far Niente Chardonnay vineyard.  My BF has been in residence since the winter and shows no intention of moving on to greener pastures: they'd be far too dry.  Perhaps someone should tell him that he is persona non grata in The Golden State.  Not me, I quite enjoy his presence.  I just hope my neighbour's irrigation system keeps this little guy in the liquid-lifestyle he has grown accustomed to.

Friday, August 04, 2017

Bringing up the rear.

I was kept busy all day today pulling leaves in the Pinot grigio vines in preparation for the installation of bird-netting.  About mid-afternoon, feeling a bit peckish, I took a break and wandered over to the bramble patch to have a quick snack of sun-warmed blackberries.  Lo and behold, I discovered that the Cabernet Sauvignon vines had started to go through veraison.  In fact, some of the clusters are far more purple and advanced than the one I photographed.  Go grapies!
And please ignore the cleistothecia in the photo, I am.  (Until next spring, that is.)

Thursday, August 03, 2017

Syrah show-off.

Seven days on, the Syrah grapes are progressing through veraison quite nicely.  A bit more advanced than the rest of the Syrah, this specific vine has always been a bit of an overachiever.
One of the original vines planted in Vinoland (circa 2000), the scion (Durell clone) was grafted onto 110 Richter (berlandieri x rupestris) rootstock.  Arguably the worst rootstock for the soil type in Vinoland, tuff and clay, the 110R-grafted vines eventually failed and the Syrah block had to be replanted.  The replant, though, was to 101-14 Millardet et de Grasset (riparia x rupestris), a much more suitable rootstock. There are approximately eight vines surviving from the first planting, my little poser vine being located in a particularly poor area of soil, I mean shockingly bad. Regardless, the vine seems to have tapped into something it likes below ground and it continues to thrive.  Crazy teenager.

Tuesday, August 01, 2017

International Albariño Day, 2017.

Happy International Albariño Day.  I'm sitting here, with a cup of tea, amusing myself with the thought of  the many Albariños that are, perhaps, being quaffed at this very moment in the different time zones across the globe.
The Albariño that I picked to drink with dinner tonight is already chilling in the fridge.  I have shared a glass, or two, of this particular Albariño, on a few occasions, with a neighbour who claims that the La Caña Albariño is his favourite all time Spanish Albariño.  And he was born in Spain, so who am I to argue with him.
The 2015 La Caña (Rías Baixas, Galicia DO) is a beautifully crisp, white peachy rendition of the Albariño grape, a grape thought to have been brought to the Iberian Peninsula by Cluny monks in the 1300s.  Hmm, monks.  I'm planning on being decidedly un-monkish tonight by not denying myself a glass, or two, of La Caña.

Monday, July 31, 2017

Wine meld.

There are no shortcuts in the making of a fine wine; it is a long, slow, laborious process.  Whilst not as vulnerable to the capriciousness of Mother Nature as is the grape grower, the winemaker must nevertheless practice patience and, to a certain extent, let nature run its course. Blending, like winemaking, is an exacting endeavour.  And like winemaking, it is an undertaking that cannot be rushed along.
The week before last, I was thrilled to be able to get a small insight into the art of blending wine. For several weeks, the production team at TWWIAGE had been hard at work determining the base blend of the 2016 Cabernet Sauvignon. Taking into consideration some 30 possible candidates for the blend, the winemaker, his assistant, the oenologist and others - not quite a cast of thousands, but several more folks, including the owners of TWWIAGE - had painstakingly, and through trial and error, agreed upon four finalists.  It was these four wines that the production team now presented to the rest of the staff to taste, even though the final final blend had already been decided upon.
It was an extremely interesting, fun, informative and educational tasting. The majority of the staff, myself included, concurred with the winemaking team by choosing the same finished blend.  Great.  But that's not the end of this long, drawn out exercise.  Now the winemaking team will start tasting trials anew, as they decide upon how much Merlot will make it into the finished wine.  Hope I get an opportunity to try those blends also.  I, for one, am glad that the production team take their sweet time: a great glass of wine should never be hurried.

Saturday, July 29, 2017

Napa nest 7.

I've been working in the vineyard the past few afternoons.  Well, actually, today I got distracted by Vinoland's bountiful blackberry crop. Wow, all that winter rain has paid off.  I'm going to be consuming a lot of vanilla gelato in the next few weeks, just sayin'.  But back to the grapes. Everything is looking good; healthy canopy; nice crop.
On Thursday, a California towhee alerted me to the presence of her nest whilst I was working in the Syrah vines.  Momma towhee's usually mellow, but bright, single-note call was whipped-up into a frenzied chip-chip-chip as I got closer to her nest which was hidden in the top of the canopy. Momma-bird got even further agitated when I got out a step ladder so that I could take a photograph.  Sorry Momma, just had to get a photo of this horse hair-lined, luxury Napa nest.
I am happy to report that Momma and the eggs survived my interloping: the past couple of days she has been dutifully sitting on the nest doing the stuff that birds do best.  So adorable.

Friday, July 28, 2017

Black measles.

What is happening with this bunch of Cabernet Sauvignon grapes has me both excited, and sad. Excited because I have never seen this particular grapevine disease before.  And I must admit that it is extremely interesting to see it in person, rather than in the pages of a text book. However, it also makes me sad because it means this grapevine (located upvalley in a favourite vineyard) is infected with a disease that will seriously impact its longevity: Black Measles. Measles refers to the purple/black blemishes found on the fruit.  Look at the spots on those grapes.  Grab the calamine lotion, quick!
The cause of black measles, sometimes called Apoplexy (severe infections), or Esca (in France), is not fully understood.  But it is has been established that the disease is closely correlated with vascular fungal infections and pathogens that cause other vine-trunk diseases/rot.  All vines are prone to disease, but black measles starts to show symptoms in infected vines that are 10 years old, or older. Whilst this particular vine was not exhibiting foliar symptoms; i.e., interveinal chlorosis (in white grapes), or reddening (in black grapes) followed by necrosis, a nearby vine had a couple of shoots that were entirely dried up and had raisined fruit.  The economic impact due to crop loss could prove devastating to a grape grower.
There really is no treatment for a measles infected vine.  Applications of sodium arsenite, a recognised carcinogen, seemed to keep the spread of black measles in check, but its usage is no longer acceptable.  Now, with infections becoming more widespread in grape growing regions across the globe, researchers are studying possible causes, such as bad pruning practices, poor propagation of plant material (in grapevine nurseries) and plain, old-fashioned water stress.  Farming is hard.
Like I said, I have mixed feelings about witnessing this particular grape malady, literally, in the flesh.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

On the turn.

I suppose I should have checked the Syrah vines before the Pinot grigio (PG) vines, but it just so happens that the PG vines are closest to the house and I pass by them more often.  The Syrah vines, like the PG vines, are indeed going through veraison, forming anthocyanins and dumping said pigment into the grapes. Veraison, to me, is a particularly wondrous physiological change in the vine's life cycle and it never ceases to amaze. Carry on, grapies!

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Veraison: PG-17.

Whilst on my way out to walk Vinodog 2 this evening, after I got home from work, I noticed the first blush of veraison in my Pinot grigio vines.
It is that time of year again: the onset of ripening that signals the imminent culmination of the growing season.  The Pinot grigio vines are transitioning from berry development to berry ripening - getting nice and juicy.  And sweet.  It is about time that Vinomaker and I break out the bird-netting.  Sigh.  Not one of my favourite vineyard operations.
Must have a look-see in the Syrah vines tomorrow and check if veraison has started there.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

A vicennial.

Last night, Vinomaker and I headed upvalley to join the Herrera family, and about 100 other people, to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the founding of Mi Sueño Winery.
The event was held at Auberge du Soleil which is the restaurant where winemaker Rolando Herrera took a job, (as a dishwasher on the night shift), to support himself when he was just a teenager.  Twenty years later, now an accomplished winemaker, the owner of a successful winery, and with six children in tow, Rolando was celebrating a major milestone with family and friends in a private dining room at the restaurant.
Highlights of the evening included little speeches from Warren Winiarski (of Stag's Leap Wine Cellars) and Marketta Formeaux (of Château Potelle), who had both employed Rolando in his formative years.  However, for me, the real highlight of the night happened to be a food and wine pairing.  My appetizer of sautéed 'Day Boat' scallop, with corn purée, English peas and vanilla oil, was paired with a 2010 Herrera Perla, Chardonnay (Sonoma Mountain AVA), which made for a truly amazing palate-pleasing-phenomenon.  (Yes, I know, I just put Chardonnay and amazing in a sentence together.)  The vanilla component of the food made the fruit and vanilla in the wine just explode, or at least I think that that was what was going on.  It was just superb.  The experience was enhanced further by the little gem of a tablemate seated to my right: none other than the effervescent Miss Perla Herrera.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Oh, Deere me! Part 2.

Not content with his new John Deere 35G Compact Excavator, Vinomaker (VM) decided he needed something with a little more muscle: his new 50G arrived this morning.  Vinoland's newer John Deere will assume the 35G's sobriquet of Digger Deere (DD). Thankfully, VM is not keeping both excavators.  Phew!
As Vinodog 2 and I were leaving for our morning perambulation, I heard VM saying to Mr. Papé Machinery, who was cheerfully unloading DD's extra buckets and accessories from the bed of his pickup truck, "You can never have too much power. You can always throttle back, but..."
Hmm, I wonder what will turn up next.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Oak axe.

I haven't had much red wine lately.  In fact, I haven't had much wine of any colour, I've been too busy.  Vinomaker and I did, however, try this 94% Tempranillo/6% Petite Sirah blend recently.
The 2012 Acha, by Mark Herold Wines, was a big, ripe-berry-fruit, soft-on-the-palate wine that was very easy to drink (and paired well with a homemade pizza). Unfortunately, in my opinion, the wine was over-oaked - it was as if someone had took an axe (acha is hatchet in Spanish, apparently) lopped off a limb from an oak tree and lobbed it into the stainless steel tank with the fermenting wine.  I have always thought that oak should not be the dominant, primary bouquet/flavour/descriptor in wine: this bottle of Acha just reinforced my belief.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Tan lines.

Tan is not a good colour descriptor for wine; tawny for a port, perhaps, but definitely not sunburn for a Cabernet Sauvignon (CS). However, the sunburn issue here, rather, is heat damage on CS grapes not the hue of a finished wine.
The Napa Valley experienced a rather cool spring (I think I've mentioned that before), coupled with the elevated moisture content of the soil, due to California's excessively wet winter, the grapevines have had a fine start to the 2017 growing season.  In such conditions the vines tend to experience a period of rapid growth, putting all their energy into leaf, shoot and grape making.  A sudden hot spell, like that which arrived in the second week of June, caught the vines unawares and they were not well prepared to deal with, or quick enough to react to, the ensuing heat stress.
The heat damage to the photographed cluster of CS grapes is minor and occurred due to the fact that that particular grapevine is always a little weak and thus cannot produce a better canopy with which to shade the immature clusters.  It is likely that this cluster will raisin and I'll have to drop it (and any others displaying similar heat damage). Wine made from fruit that is sunburnt can be bitter, raisin-like and have issues with VA; all of which are characteristics found in bad wines, made from poor fruit, that are persona non grata in my glass.  So, off with their heads.

Friday, July 07, 2017

Oh, Deere me!

Vinomaker (VM) took delivery of a new toy yesterday, a John Deere 35G Compact Excavator.  More rolling stock in Vinoland, oh joy!
About two weeks ago, VM decided that his full-sized New Holland excavator was just too big for most jobs around Vinoland.  My husband works quickly; he found what he wanted (although he said, needed) at Papé Machinery up in Rohnert Park and ordered it.  Within minutes of the delivery of the new John Deere, the old New Holland (which we affectionately referred to as Jumbo), was unceremoniously loaded onto a lowboy trailer and driven off by the new owner. I must admit, I was a little teary-eyed.  Sigh.
As I sit here typing this post, I can hear VM outside playing with his new toy - a machine that henceforth will be known as Digger Deere (or just DD) - the back-up alarm blithely beeping away.  Boys!  

Tuesday, July 04, 2017

Independence Day, 2017.

Happy 241st birthday America!
Vinodog 2 and I want to wish everyone a very happy 4th of July.  This adorable American poochie, of British heritage, will be partying alongside her English mum and her American dad.
Nowhere is perfect, but the U.S. of A. still seems to be the destination of choice for the "huddled masses yearning to breathe free."  I'll add just one small caveat: one should love America once one is here.
God bless America.
Oh...and God save the Queen!

Friday, June 30, 2017

The Nurseryman's Tale.

In the same, Trump administration and the wine industry piece that I remarked upon in yesterday's post, under the sub-heading 'What's normal farming?' the author of the column writes about "what seems to be a case of government over-reach."  John Duarte, owner of Duarte Nursery in Modesto (a grapevine nursery that I have purchased grapevines from in the past), is in deep manure with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).  The EPA is seeking $2.8 million in fines from Duarte that the agency says were incurred when Duarte tilled 450 acres of wetlands near Red Bluff, CA, in preparation for planting wheat.  The saga is a convoluted tale of what Duarte actually did and what the Army Corps of Engineers said he did. In addition to the $2.8 million in fines, the EPA wants Mr. Duarte to purchase up to 132 acres of "wetland mitigation credits" which would set Duarte back some tens of millions of dollars.
So, let me get this right, it seems that if one pays exorbitant fines to the government and purchases 'carbon credits' to mitigate a perceived indiscretion against Mother Nature, then one can do whatever one wants with, in this case, the wetlands.  Sigh.  Common sense may yet prevail, as two House members, Michael Conaway and Bob Goodlatte, are arguing that Duarte's field work should qualify as "normal" farming practices under a Clean Water Act (1972) exemption.
It is curious to me that in the same article, Kathryn Hall, of Hall Wines and a former U.S. ambassador, waxes lyrical about her goal of certifying all of her vineyards as "green" by 2020, despite, that is, these "green-decisions" not making "financial sense in the short term." That's so altruistic and earth-friendly of her.
Mrs. Hall and her husband, Craig, are developing a new 209 acre vineyard, Walt Ranch, on a 2,300 acre parcel they own in the eastern hills of Napa County.  The Napa County Board of Supervisors approved the new vineyard last December, but opponents (the neighbours of the vineyard, first proposed 10 years ago) are fighting it all the way.  It is not a densely populated area, but the people that live there not happy with, amongst other things, the fact that 14,000 trees (down from an original 28,000) will have to be removed to make way for the vineyard. Green, indeed.
Everyone in the United States needs to eat, but they don't necessarily need to drink wine.  I suspect the Halls have friends in high places: friends much more rarefied than any of  Mr. Duarte's farmer-buddies.

Thursday, June 29, 2017

The Golden State.

Despite having an extremely wet winter, the golden hills that California is famous for have arrived for the season, albeit a little later in the year than is the norm.  Them thar golden hills are indeed one of the reasons why California is nicknamed The Golden State.
At breakfast this morning, I was reading a piece in last week's 'On Wine' section of The Napa Valley Register about climate change.  The headline of the article read: Trump administration and the wine industry.  Under the guise of a business related feature, the column contained a comment from some Harvard professor or other who said, "that the land suitable for grapegrowing could shrink 23 to 75 percent by 2050."  I am assuming the good professor, who was a panelist at the recent Vinexpo in Bordeaux, is referring to existing grape-growing regions and the fact that they could, in the next thirty-odd years, be rendered un-replantable due to global warming.
On the other hand, if the Ivy League scholar is alluding to the planting of new vineyards I'd posit that the Napa Valley has already reached its saturation point, or is very close to it, so it's a moot point.  There isn't much available land left; there is no new valley floor being created and there is an on-again, off-again moratorium on hillside vineyards.  No land, no planting, no problem.  Besides, not every available postage stamp-sized piece of land should have grapes planted on it.  Napa needs more housing, open spaces, expanded infrastructure and services for its existing residents.  And, of course, dog parks.
And, speaking of dog parks, here is Vinodog 2 surveying her gilded, off-lead doggy-domain which, incidentally, is surrounded by vineyards that until about 14 or 15 years ago used to be cattle grazing land.  Progress due to a shift to a preferable, and more profitable, industry?  Or a land-use change due to "emissions of heat-trapping gases from fossil-fuel burning...?" Vinodog 2's dog park, and the vineyards surrounding it, may well revert to a more pastoral use of the land, oh, in about 30 years from now.

Sunday, June 25, 2017

I give a fig.

Yesterday, I noticed this little fig on one of three fig trees that I have growing in pots.  Today, on further inspection, I noticed two more smaller figs on the same plant.  I'm so excited, yay!
Years ago, Vinomaker was given a Mission fig (Ficus carica) as a gift; it was planted out in a low spot in Vinoland, down by the creek, where it was promptly killed by the first frost of the winter.
The next spring, I noticed three small plants growing under a large oak tree by the house with leaves that looked suspiciously fig-like.  As I do with 99% of all growing things I find that pique my interest I potted them up and put them in the nursery, alongside an assortment of potted grapevines (my emergency reserves).  And there they have remained for the past four or more years, protected from severe, low temperatures by their proximity to Vinoland's barn.  I have made a promise to the fig trees that from now on I will take better care of them.
Everything seems to be thriving in Vinoland.  I picked my first ripe tomato today and it looks like I should have enough for a salad by next weekend.  The figs are going to take a bit longer.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Gazela.

The Marketing Queen at TWWIAGE recently gave me a copy of a Japanese magazine to read in which TWWIAGE was featured.  I say read, but there was not one, single word of English in the current issue of What-Wine!? (their punctuation, not mine) magazine.  So I just looked at the pictures.  And very nice pictures they were: it is a beautifully produced publication.  However, something other than photographs of TWWIAGE's vineyards and winemaker caught my eye.
The first time that I tasted Gazela's Vinho Verde, I remember thinking that it was pleasant, but that I had had better.  Well, I have since had to eat my words (or rather, drink them).  I drink Gazela all the time and I can still buy it at my local supermarket for $3.99 (if I buy six bottles at a time, which I do). The photograph that intrigued me in Wine-What!? was that of a Gazela wine called 'Frutos Do Mar' (seafood). Although I did notice the initialism 'DOC' in the write-up of this wine, I gleaned no information from the magazine's text.  So off, onto the internet I went.
Apparently, last year Sogrape, the producer of Gazela and Portugal's largest family owned winery, decided to repackage their Vinho Verde specifically for the Japanese market.  It seems that 'Frutos Do Mar' is the same wine, but packaged to let the Japanese consumer know that the wine is seafood friendly.  Can we say, sushi?  Yes, we can.
I had noticed that Gazela had changed the label this year/batch (remember, it is a non-vintage wine) from the old clear label to a new silver label.  I'm just wondering if  the seafood-friendly-marketing-move will make it to the USA in the future: does America need idiot-friendly labelling?  Actually, I don't care - I'm going to continue to drink Gazela no matter what the packaging looks like.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Dr. Jezza.

Vinomaker and I had the pleasure of hosting Dr. Jeremy Parzen Ph.D. in Vinoland the past two days.  It wasn't really a social visit, although we did have a lot of fun and good conversation on Friday night.  No, Jezza was in California to work on a very exciting, new project for him, so he was just passing through.
And he departed Vinoland just in time.  It go to 104° F today: it was stinking hot.  Of course Vinomaker had picked today to be a bottling day. The St. Helena Sots, thankfully, showed up in Vinoland early and the bottling event went smoothly, quickly and without incident.  It was so hot that there was, unfortunately, no afterglow-luncheon - it was just too uncomfortable to be outside.  Don't know about anyone else, but I for one didn't want to be the BBQed meat!

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Green, green grapes of home.

The weather has turned hot, finally!  We have had three days of mid 90s temps.  I'm loving it, but the grapes probably aren't as enthusiastic about it as I am.  So, to make the little grapettes feel better, they have been treated to their first watering of the season.
Watering the vines is not as easy as just turning on a tap, of course, nothing is that straight forward.  The vineyard drip irrigation lines have to be flushed of any deposits that may have collected in the lines over the previous growing season - deposits that could clog the emitters.  In Vinoland, the main culprit is the iron bacteria that is in our well water. The intense orange colouration of the water that blasts out of the end of the lines, (always my end of the line, Vinomaker is always upstream), is fantastic.  Stay hydrated, little grapies!

Friday, June 09, 2017

California quailettes.

It's hard to take a good photograph of a moving target, or targets.  What I initially thought was an army of cavorting frogs, turned out to be covey of, at least, ten baby quail bopping about under the watchful eye of their ever alert dad.  (Two to Mr. Quail's right side, one behind his tail and seven bringing up the rear.)  I got as close as I could, but dad was getting more and more agitated by my presence.  Mum was no where to be seen.
This might have been the little 'uns first time out of the nest: they are tiny. Mr. & Mrs. Quail have been hanging around Vinoland for weeks now, but I couldn't quite work out where they had decided to make their nest.  I know now, so no work in the Syrah block for a while.

Thursday, June 08, 2017

California calyptra.

It rained today; heavy at times, but mostly a miserable, stubborn drizzle that lasted all-the-grey-day-long.  And the temperature climbed to a whopping 65° F.   Hmmph!  Not exactly optimum conditions for bloom in the grapevines - which seems to be going quite slowly this year. Come back, California-sunshine.
The number of days that the grapevines are in bloom is dependent upon the weather.  When conditions are favourable bloom can take about 8-10 days, (but it can take as long as two weeks under cool conditions like the Napa Valley is experiencing now).  And, of course, the flower clusters on a grapevine will not all bloom at exactly the same time, so that spreads bloom out a bit.  Still, I think bloom is more protracted this year.  I have also noticed that there are more clusters per shoot and that the clusters seem to be a bit bigger than the past two years.
Do not be alarmed by this picture of detached grape flowers from one cluster of Cabernet Sauvignon at TWWIAGE (and hand-modeled by a coworker).  Although it looks like a lot of dead material; anthers, calyptra, stamens, etc., it is quite normal.  As few as 20 to 30 percent of the flowers on a cluster will develop into berries, most will fall from the cluster during the initial stages of berry growth.  Furthermore, a significant number of flowers will drop from the cluster about 8 to 12 days after full bloom: a stage commonly known as shatter.  Fruit set is not complete until after shatter.  Phew!  It's a jungle out there.  Fruit, set, now!

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Bloomin' 'eck!

Yesterday, when I was working in the vineyard, stuffing shoots and suckering trunks, I noticed that bloom is rather advanced in the Cabernet Sauvignon vines.  How did that happen? There didn't seem to be much going just this time last week.  The weather was warm at the beginning of the week, but temps have cooled to the low 70s and it's been a bit windy. Whatever is going on the vines seem to like it.  Carry on buddies!

Friday, May 26, 2017

Still loving them thar hills.

Last week, due to an event that was held at TWWIAGE, I was able to taste this incredible wine, the 2014 Smith-Madrone, Cabernet Sauvignon (Spring Mountain District AVA).  The Wine Institute of California was holding its third international 'California Wines Summit' and I was lucky enough to be involved, albeit in a microscopic capacity.  The Summit was a week of tastings and events meant to showcase California wines to key wine-media and trade folks participating from 10 different countries. (Yes, the United Kingdom was well represented.)  There were a lot of great wines in attendance also.
I don't think the  2014 Smith-Madrone has been released yet, perhaps I shouldn't even be blogging about it, but it was just so spectacular I can't not write about it.  Whilst I personally think it's insane that some producers are releasing their 2014s already I just couldn't put my glass of this 2014 Cabernet Sauvignon down.  And over the past 10 days I haven't stopped thinking about this wine.  (I'd estimate that only half a dozen wines have had that effect on me in my entire life.)  Abounding with black fruit and spices this wine is certainly, in my humble opinion, not ready for drinking yet.  But, if my experience with a 1985 Smith-Madrone is anything to go by, I am predicting that this wine is going to be magnificent, oh, about 29 years from now.  Can't wait.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Bloom is bustin' out all over.

Everything is blooming in Vinoland, except for the Cabernet Sauvignon. But that is not surprising, as the Cabernet Sauvignon is always the last variety to go through bud break and bloom.
The wonderful weather we have been having in the Napa Valley of late is absolutely ideal for bloom. Vitis vinifera generally likes the temperature to be about 85°F during bloom and will quite happily bloom away in the heat - until temperatures reach above 95°F when, like me, the vines get a little toasty.  Temperatures above 95°F can result in bloom, and fruit set, being adversely affected.  The grapevines and I are so sensitive.

Friday, May 19, 2017

Just because 9...

...Today would have been Joey Ramone's 66th birthday.  And also because it is 40 years to the day that Thud actually met The Ramones, in Liverpool, on May 19th 1977.  That particular day was Joey Ramone's 26th birthday.  Thud still owns The Ramones t-shirt he bought that same day from Joey's brother, Mickey Leigh.
It's not a secret that The Ramones are perhaps my favourite band ever, thanks to Thud, and it is no surprise to me that I enjoy their music now just as much as I did when I was a teenager. What has been a surprise to me is that, 40 years later, we now have a new generation of Ramones fans in the family.  Thud's nine, almost ten, year old daughter possibly knows more about The Ramones than me and her dad combined.  It's amazing to witness and it's a constant source of amusement to me.
Thud can be seen in the photograph on the right, or at least his leather jacketed-back can be seen, talking to Joey.  Great memories.  Happy birthday Joey.  And RIP.
Photographs courtesy of Ian Dickson.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

I doff my calyptra to you, Pinot grigio.

I noticed last week that the Pinot grigio vines were starting to bloom, just a little bit here and there.  A week later, I am estimating that they are probably about 60% through bloom, (or anthesis).  Just look at those calyptra coming off.
There is a lot going on out in the vineyard right now; flowering, shoot stuffing, suckering, sulphuring, weeding, mowing, etc.  Phew!  The vines are busy, so am I, but I am not too busy to pause and acknowledge that the vines are doing most of the work.  Go buddies!

Sunday, May 14, 2017

A tale of two bottles.

I was just saying to someone recently that, of late, I rather enjoy it when I open a bottle of wine that I can't drink.  That is, undrinkable for a variety of reasons; cork taint, over the hill, etc. And then it happened the very next night.
The wine on the left, the Henry Earl Estates 2013 Merlot (Red Mountain AVA), was totally oxidised and, yes, undrinkable.  Down the sink it went. I suspect that the wine was in this state when it was bottled, probably having been produced poorly.  (The cork appeared sound, no leakage.) This bottle of Merlot was a gift, which probably contributed to my rapid rejection of this wine.
The wine on the right was a quick replacement - simply, the next bottle at hand - as dinner was being served.  The Goosecross 2014 Amerital (Napa Valley AVA) was tasty, quite moreish and not oxidised.  And, being a blend of 57% Cabernet Sauvignon and 43% Sangiovese, it just so happened to be a much better pairing with my Bolognese.
Life is too short to drink oxidised oenos!

Thursday, May 11, 2017

The old and the new.

New Cabernet sauvignon leaves, old Cabernet sauvignon tendrils.
Vinoland's grapevines are enjoying a fantastic start to the 2017 growing season.  All four grape varieties are flourishing right now; lots of vigour in the vines, so lots of shoot stuffing for me to perform.
The weather has been a bit up and down, mid 90°s last week, mid 60°s the past two days.  I hope we are not going to have another cool growing season like that of 2011.  Only time will tell.

Saturday, May 06, 2017

Afternoon in the Vineyards: 2017.

This afternoon, Vinomaker and I ventured out of Vinoland, but we didn't go too far.  Staying fairly close to our Coombsville home, we decided to attend Afternoon in the Vineyards the annual event hosted by the Napa Valley Vintners.  And, for the first time, Vinodog 2 came along with us.
The folks at Faust, our vineyard of choice, farm approximately 112 acres in Coombsville's gently, rolling hills.  The vineyard is planted to five grape varieties; Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Petit Verdot, Syrah and Sauvignon blanc.  And all the vines, from what I could see, are head-trained and cane-pruned.  The weather was a tad cool, the scenery was beautiful and V2 had a poo.  Not much more to say really.  Oh, except that I did taste a Faust 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon, but didn't think an awful lot of it; too plummy and one-dimensional, not a lot going on.

Monday, May 01, 2017

¡Trabajadores del mundo, uníos!

Happy May Day!  By which I mean a cheerful May Day to all, but only in the ancient-spring-festival-laudatory-way of celebrating the first day of May.  I love a bit of paganism now and again.
Yes, it is spring and, like me, Vinoland's grapevines are suitably enthused.  I spent most of the past four days making sure that the new, rapidly elongating shoots are securely tucked up behind the trellis wires. I love viticulture.  I love farming the grapevines in Vinoland, but, at this stage in my life, I wouldn't want to pursue viticulture as a full time job. Things, and people, change.
TWWIAGE is in the process of hiring a viticulturist.  The vacancy was just posted on Winejobs.com.  It is a new position, as TWWIAGE has never had a dedicated viticulturist before.  Instead, the owners of TWWIAGE went the traditional route of employing a vineyard manager who oversees all things grapey.  But things change.
I would not be an eligible candidate for the job. Neither would my young coworker, The Doodler, who is in the process of working his way through UC Davis and has designs on making a career out of viticulture. Why? Well, The Doodler, like me, doesn't speak Spanish and, furthermore, has no particular desire to learn Spanish.  But speaking Spanish is a requirement of being considered qualified to perform the job of viticulturist.  As The Doodler commented, in wry observation, "California [Napa] is the only place where one has to learn a foreign language in order to get a job in one's own country."  Thought provoking.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Happy St. George's Day, 2017.

Who is this international dog of mystery?  It's just my faithful Vinodog 2 celebrating St. George's Day.  Yes, today is the Feast of Saint George, so V2 and I are dressed appropriately for the occasion.  And I've been singing Jerusalem all day.
I wish I had timed my holiday a little bit better, so that I could have celebrated St. George's Day in England this year.  Unfortunately, I departed "England's pleasant pastures..." 48 hours too soon.  Perhaps next year.
Happy St. George's Day to my family, friends and any dog who loves England as much as I do.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Brimstage Brewery.

Today, I went for an informative tour of a small brewery located close to where Thud lives. Situated in a modest building in the yard of a dairy farm, Brimstage Brewery produce about 5 different beers - including my favourite offering of theirs, Trapper's Hat.
Brimstage Brewery's head brewer, Adam Williams, gave me and my fellow Trapper's Hat fan, Monkey, a fantastic tour of the compact brewing facility and walked us through the entire beer making process. So interesting.  I even got to taste a few different types of malt and smell several different varieties of hops. Wonderful stuff, thoroughly enjoyed myself.

Monday, April 17, 2017

The takeaway.

I love cheap and cheerful, in almost anything, and at £5.00 a bottle (approximately $6.50) this wine was definitely cheap - and quite cheerful.
Purchased at Sainsbury's, The Takeout, 2015 Sangiovese (Rubicone IGT) was just the wine to pair with Thud's pasta bake; a hearty dish of baked ziti, meatballs and tons of cheese - which we ate in.  Whilst I would have liked a little bit more acid (though, unfortunately, I think I did detect a bit of volatile acidity), The Takeout was smooth, plummy and, ultimately, quite easy to drink.  
The label on the bottle (funnily enough, most info about this wine is on the front label), recommends drinking this wine with tacos and burritos, amongst other things.  Good English fare?  Hee, hee, I think not.  Saying that, it is a commonly held misconception that English people do not like spicy food.  On the contrary, Mexican food may be eaten in England now, but the English have been shovelling down curry for more than 250 years. But marketing is marketing and the whole, "Enjoy fine dining from the comfort of your couch" and "Great wine to take away" is this wine-peddler's schtick. Especially when paired with the slightly silly food pairing suggestions, (see what I did there?)
Oh, and happy International Malbec Day.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Happy Yeaster, 2017.

Sorry, but I couldn't resist using the pun, Yeaster, supplied by the manufacturer of this Easter egg.  Titter, titter.
It is Easter Sunday and, as is the tradition in England, a lot of chocolate eggs have been exchanged: big, tasty chocolate Easter eggs.  My Lenten fast ended just before breakfast this morning with my first taste of chocolate since February.  Yum!
I may not have had a lot of fermented grape juice since I have been home, but Thud wanted to make sure that I still had something yeasty. So he bought me this Marmite egg to try.  Marmite is a spread made out of yeast; it is dark, sticky, smelly and extremely salty.  Lots of people love it, or hate it.  Thud and I never had Marmite when we were growing up, it wasn't something our Vinomum liked even, so we never acquired a taste for it.  I had cousins who liked Marmite and they would eat it spread on top of buttered bread.  Yuck!
The Marmite Easter egg tasted bizarre.  I wouldn't say that I hated it exactly, but Marmite flavoured chocolate is not something I would really want to eat again, (but I'll try anything once).  It was intensely salty.  If I wanted to be pretentious about it, I'd describe the taste as umami-like. Titter, titter, again.
Eat chocolate!

Saturday, April 15, 2017

A bunch of rosés.

Although there hasn't been much rain since I have been home it has been extremely blustery. Extremely blustery.  In other words, the weather has been anything but rosé-weather.  I was hoping that whilst I was here I could perhaps enjoy a glass, or two, of a nice pink vino with a leisurely lunch, or dinner.  No such luck. (Although I did have a nice glass of Frascati after the Grand National.)
If the weather had been nice, and a tasty rosé had been in order, I would probably have had a hard time picking just one to buy.  The selection of rosés available in the local Sainsbury's supermarket is rather extensive, I wish it was like that in my Napa supermarket.
I may still have time to partake of something pink, but only if the weather cooperates.  For now, I will just imagine that I am sitting in the Napa sun with a glass of a nicely chilled rosé in my hand and my trusty poochie, V2, who I am missing like mad, by my side.

Saturday, April 08, 2017

The National.

Simply say The National to any English person and they will know exactly what one is referring to: just the greatest steeplechase in the universe, that's all.  The Grand National is an annual horse race which is held at Aintree Racecourse in Liverpool.  The race is famous for having larger, and deeper, jumps than the common or garden steeplechase and it is run over a much longer distance, i.e., over 4 miles.  The race is a big event for Britons - even if one doesn't usually bet on the gee-gees, one will have a wager on The National.  The race has been run since 1839 and there have been a lot of winners.  But the 2017 race will mark 40 years since Red Rum, the most famous of all National winners, in an unsurpassed and historic feat, won his third and final Grand National.
I was excited to be home for The National this year, I love the spectacle of it all.  The entire family, even the 3 year old, got in on the act and placed bets (two horses each).  In fact, the horse the toddler picked came in first, a horse called One for Arthur.  (How did she do that?) Another niece and I both picked the horse that placed fourth, so we broke even money-wise, meanwhile the 3 year old is a big winner.  I still love the race, whether I win or lose.

Tuesday, April 04, 2017

Jefferson's Reserve.

I am always on the lookout for something unusual in the bourbon-department to buy for Thud.  I think this particular bottle of Jefferson's Reserve Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey fits the bill.
Jefferson's Reserve specialise in small, one-off batches of bourbon whiskey, or "very uncommon" and "ridiculously small batches" as the distillery likes to put it.  This particular small batch was finished off in retired French oak barrels that once held Groth Vineyards & Winery Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon.  I thought this would be a fun bourbon for him to try because of Thud's, and the bourbon's, connection to the Napa Valley.
I hope he likes it.

Monday, April 03, 2017

Get back...

...to where I once belonged, Part 10.
Yes, this evening I will be once again headed for home.
I love spring in England, in my opinion there is no prettier place on earth than the English countryside when the flora, and fauna, is fresh and renewed.  Hopefully, the weather will cooperate and I will actually be able to get outdoors and enjoy it.
A quick trip to Marks & Spencer is in order, at the beginning of my holiday this time, so that I can buy a bag of wine.  Yes, wine, in a bag.  I spotted this California Rosé in Marks & Spencer near the end of my last trip.  In the grey and damp of an English November, it didn't seem half as appealing to me as it does at the prospect of a warm, spring day.  And yes, the bag, a pouch really, does have a handle (Thud was holding it, so that I could photograph it).  I just have to try it.
As one can see, the bag also has a spigot, so no wine glass required.
Get back JoJo!

Sunday, April 02, 2017

A fortnight later.

It has been two whole weeks since I finished pruning in Vinoland, but today, finally, I noticed budbreak in the Cabernet Sauvignon vines.  It's not that budbreak is behind this year, it's just that I have a very definite schedule of my own this spring.  The vines are all behaving well. Well, perhaps all except the Orange Muscat vines which have about 8-9 inches of growth already - the little whippersnappers!  Growing season 2017 is definitely upon us.

Saturday, April 01, 2017

Footie.

Whilst my favourite football Liverpool FC was busy beating rivals Everton FC 3-1 in today's Merseyside derby (on the other side of the pond), I was getting ready to attend a footie game a little closer to home.  Myself and a group of soccer enthusiasts from TWWIAGE had decided to spend our Saturday evening at the local high school's football stadium (hence the gridiron), cheering on the National Premier Soccer League's newest expansion team - Napa Valley 1839 FC.
With the splendid vista of Mt. George, the eastern hills and Coombsville in the background, my co-workers and I watched Napa's very own football team, playing in only the second match of their inaugural season, lose 0-2 to Sacramento Gold FC.  Oh dear.   I'd estimate that Napa Valley 1839 FC had a longer time of possession of the ball, but they just couldn't score. Better luck next time, boys.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

I love pie!

On Monday, I got a lovely surprise from my TWWIAGE co-worker, The Doodler, (the same co-worker that drew a Liverbird for me), and his better half, Pie-girl: a wonderful, Liverbird-adorned, apple-cranberry birthday pie.  It is absolutely delicious.  Yum!  I tell ya, it is a real pity that this photograph isn't scratch'n'taste.
The Doodler's better half has toyed with the idea of going into the pie-making business.  I don't know how feasible a pie-making business would be.  I would imagine there could be a problem with scalability, (i.e., supply and demand, and dealing with competitors), but I would invest in her because Pie-girl's products are scrumptious. Besides, I can't imagine that Pie-girl would be in danger of getting too many orders for Liverbird-pies.

Monday, March 27, 2017

I love Groth!

I blame it all on my sister, La Serenissima, who played a little bit of tennis in grammar school (with nuns!), but who, come British summertime, was glued to the telly for the entire fortnight of Wimbledon. I mean, nonstop.  And being 10 years younger, what was a little Vinogirl to do?  La Serenissima soon had me hooked. Nowadays, if I am not watching the news, or something English on PBS, I am watching tennis. Only now, I get to blame my fondness for the game on Vinomaker, who does actually play tennis 3 or 4 times a week.
I tried learning to play tennis a few years ago (a funny story in itself), but I wasn't very good, as, alas, most English people aren't.  So, in lieu of having countrymen and women to cheer on, I gravitated towards the Australian players who were all just so good at chasing that little white ball - I'm showing my age - around the court.
Tennis is hard, really hard, and that's why I appreciate a player like Sam Groth, a current Australian player on the ATP tour.  Sam has the distinction of having the fastest serve on record, (that's serve, actually getting the ball in play), which was clocked at an incredible 163.4 mph.
I love tennis.  And I have it on good authority that Sam is, "a big wine fan."
Go Grothy!
Photograph courtesy of Samuel Groth, professional tennis player.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Happy Mother's Day, mum.

It is Mothering Sunday in England, or Mother's Day as it is more commonly known.  And here is my mum, all smiley and young.  In her day, my mother used to be fond of a glass of Merlot, or a nice Rioja, but she doesn't drink much anymore. However, her real poison was Cognac, preferably Martell, although she did have a soft spot for Louis XIII (Rémy Martin), thanks to Thud.
In England, Mothering Sunday falls on the fourth Sunday in Lent and, as it has its origins in Christianity, is not really related to the American Mother's Day, which is celebrated in May (other than honouring mothers, that is). Of course, I am partial to the English Mother's Day because I am English. But also because it signals that the end of my Lenten fast is now only three weeks away.  All things chocolate be warned.  But, I digress.
Happy Mothering Sunday to all (English) mothers.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

It's birthday time.

Ta da!  Another birthday, what fun!
I had a great day, thanks to Vinomaker.  A wine tasting at Reynolds Family Winery (interesting), lunch at The Oxbow (duck taco, followed by a passion fruit cupcake) and dinner at Eiko's (lots of sushi, yum).
At dinner, I took advantage of Eiko's Wine Wednesday wine list and enjoyed a very refreshing glass of Albariño; a 2014 Calavera Wines, Dragone Vineyard (Calaveras County AVA).  And a few sips of some other good stuff. A very agreeable day.
Oh...and Happy Birthday John Toshack.
Vinogirl loves birthdays.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Don't rain on my Syrah.

A fine first day of spring this turned out to be: the rain is back.  It seems that I really did finish pruning in the nick of time.
At breakfast this morning, as I sleepily gazed out of the window, I thought I noticed a little fuzz of green in the Syrah vines.  Sure enough, this evening, upon closer inspection, in the rain, with V2 in tow (who had the expectation of going for a walk when I got home from TWWIAGE, not looking at some upright twigs in a downpour), I can confirm that budbreak is happening in the Syrah.  I am happy that the vines are having a great start to growing-season 2017, but they do look a little forlorn and soggy.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Tied and tired.

I'm done!  I achieved the goal I set for myself and pruning is finished for 2017.  It took a lot of effort, I ignored a lot of other stuff I could've been doing and my hands are sore, but all the vines are pruned and the canes are tied down.  It feels great to be finished.  Whoo hoo!
Meanwhile, one week later, the Orange Muscat vines seem to be growing before my very eyes. The baby shoots have lengthened about 3 inches in the past six days.  The nascent inflorescence are now clearly visible.  I love this time of year, but I'm just a bit tired to enjoy it right now.