We have finally had a few days with temperatures near 100° F. I figure we need some of this kind of weather to move the crop toward ripening. I spent an hour and a half this morning walking the Estate vineyard looking for signs of veraison. I found it it a few vines of the young-vine Pinot Noir 37 (Mt. Eden) at the top of the slope. I usually figure sixty days from first color to harvest. I’m not ready to start the countdown just yet—I’d like to see some color in the middle of the mature Pinot blocks before I call the ball.
The other day I came across this fact sheet: “Reducing Alcohol Levels In Wine” published by the Australian Wine Research Institute (AWRI). Directed at the professional winegrower, this is the best agenda-free piece on wine alcohol levels I have read, period. It’s worth the interested reader’s time.
All of my own efforts to manage alcohol levels in our wines are mentioned here. Continue reading →
The crews have been working for the last week hedging and making our first pass of lateral removal and leaf thinning. Ordinarily I don’t ask for much leaf removal in the fruit zone but Jean-Marie and I think this year it might be a good idea, given the amount of crop out there. We plan to delay crop thinning until after veraison and need to get make sure we get good penetration of our early prophylactic spray for Botrytis. There will be lots more canopy work as the season progresses.
We have had surprisingly mild weather: while the east of the country swelters, the mid- to high-80s we have experienced for the last 10 days are forecast to persist for the next 10 days.
A couple weeks ago Joe Roberts (1WineDude) queried on Twitter “Curious: I keep hearing about a low alcohol wine trend in the US, but does any consumer data exist to back it up?” Tyler Thomas (winemaker for Donelan Wines) replied on Twitter with a link to a page of statistics compiled by Wine Institute and Gomberg, Fredrickson.
The data show US wine consumption per capita from 1940 through 2010, along with figures for total gallons consumed and gallons consumed of “table wine” (defined as wines under 14% alcohol by volume).
I pulled these figures into a spreadsheet and subtracted the table wine gallons from the total wine gallons, to calculate the gallons of wine consumed that is (by definition) greater than 14% ABV. Then I expressed this as a fraction of the total wine consumed, and graphed it: No question that today we are drinking wines with lower alcohol than we were in 1948. Six decades ago more of the wine Americans drank was fortified, compared to what we drink today; the fraction of wine consumed qualifying as “table wine” (under 14% ABV) exploded after 1968. There is definitely a trend to lower alcohol from 1968 through 2000.
What’s interesting is that the fraction of wine consumed in the US that is over 14% ABV has been increasing steadily over the last decade. So it’s safe to say that if there is some trend to lower alcohol, consumers in general don’t know about it yet. (Click here to see the complete spreadsheet.)
At the end of May, the organizers of Hospice du Rhône announced the end of the big annual event in Paso Robles. Predictably, the announcement prompted expressions of sadness and angst over the cancellation of what was a long-running, successful and popular international celebration of wines made from Rhône varieties.
In reading through these reactions, I was struck by the similarity between incidental comments by two professional wine writers. Stephen Eliot of CGCW commented: “[i]t has been some years since I made my way to Paso Robles for the festivities…” and Steve Heimhoff said:”…I haven’t been to HdR for a couple years (I keep meaning to go, but something always comes up)…”
These comments are telling—that an event with the repute and record of success of HdR has ceased to be a draw for some in the trade. The organizers acknowledge that ticket sales for HdR were good, and that financial considerations were not the reason for discontinuing the big event in Paso. So what is up? I think we are in the middle of a paradigm shift…
Inside the trade, the luster is off of big wine events.
The HdR organizers say they plan to “…seek out new audiences through smaller events in more accessible locations.” Along similar lines, a couple months ago I expounded on the position that the large wine festival is a singular waste of time and resources for small wineries trying to build a brand and a loyal customer base. In the comment thread on that article I said:
“I would rather fly all over the country every week pouring for private groups of 30 or less, where I have motivated, interested potential customers all to myself (or sharing them with one or two other producers) than waste another dollar on a regional association’s festival event.”
Becky Tyner and Ramon Sandoval, aka “Small Lots Big Wines” (among others) are pursuing a great idea for offering in-home wine tastings. It does not take much extrapolation to predict that, soon, winemakers will be coming to a home near you.
Things at the vineyard are hardly as final as my title would suggest, but I’m a little anxious because the forecast is calling for a cold, rainy low pressure system to swing through on Monday—and that sort of weather is never welcome during bloom.
And we are right in the middle of bloom. In the Pinot, many of the clusters have set and berries are beginning to size. Weather should not be a problem for Pinot. But Tannat and a little Mourvedre at the top of the slope, Marsanne and Rousanne, and even the partners’ Cabernet, have all started to bloom. Rain and a big swing in temperature might decimate the set, or worse.
Fortunately the Syrah, Grenache, Counoise and most of the Mourvedre are still closed up tight. A close look shows that the pollen on the flower stamens is starting to mature under the calyptra—the little caps that cover and protect the nascent flowers. Grape flowers often self-fertilize before cap fall, so these varieties might be fine so long as the rain doesn’t promote the growth of Botrytis. We’ve put out a prophylactic spray in any case.
In the meantime, I’m enjoying one of the sublime joys of being a grower—I get to wander the vineyard in the stillness of the early morning hours and stop to smell the flowers, literally. Grape flowers may not have petals, but they do have perfume—and each grape variety has its own subtly distinctive aroma.
I’m calling the start of bloom at our Estate vineyard. This is what I saw uniformly throughout the block of HVS Pinot today. In fact, pretty much all the blocks of cane-pruned heritage selection Pinot looked like this. The precocious Dijon clone 943 was not far behind, and bloom was starting in the cordon-pruned Dijon clones 115, 667 and 777.
In contrast none of the Rhône varieties have popped, nor has the Tannat. About a month ago, budbreak in the Tanant was uncharacteristically ahead of all the other varieties but with respect to bloom it has taken its proper place in the scheme of things. At this point it looks as though the Grenache could bloom before the other varieties. The Counoise is still bringing up to the rear.
My best guess at this point is that based on the number and size of flower clusters, the Pinot and Grenache could yield heavier than average this year. The Syrah and Mourvedre will be lighter than average. The Tannat and Counoise look to have thrown an average set of flower clusters.
The crew was out today finishing up crown and trunk suckering. They are starting to lift the lower trellis wires, and doing some shoot thinning for excess density. I’m looking for just two fruitful canes per spur position on the cordons, and just one upward-pointing shoot per bud on the canes.
Anybody recognize this? Hint: it’s not Pinot, or a Rhône variety. We will see if it can actually set this much crop—this variety tends to shatter and shell if the weather cools suddenly.
Aye, and there’s the rub; the weather forecast calls for a late-season cold front to blow through Friday. Temperatures, which have been in the 80s, won’t get out of the low 60s, and there is a chance of showers, thunderstorms, and even hail.
Today I feel like writing about semantics, because the words we use matter (“natural” wine, anyone?). A month ago Jon Bonné put up a piece on “The Bay Area’s incredible shrinking wine lists” where he commented:
Years ago, restaurants like Square One and Zuni Cafe pioneered that balance of fancy and fun. Later came Nopa, with its wildly diverse collection of more than 250 wines assembled by wine director Chris Deegan, with everything from Swiss Chasselas to Santa Cruz Mountains Pinot Noir. It had all the length of a fancy list, with none of the pretense, yet it now feels big by comparison to the svelte lists at, say, Piccino or Bar Tartine.
That reflects another theme mirrored in our dining habits: a communal fatigue with endless choices. The success of focused wine shops like Biondivino in Russian Hill or Dig in Dogpatch shows that we’re ever more content to let someone else curate for us.
So while the list at Perbacco remains an encyclopedia of Barolo and Barbaresco, it has always seemed beholden to expense-account Financial District customs. When Barbacco opened just two doors down in 2010, then-wine director Mauro Cirilli devised an avant-garde selection – on iPads, no less – that veered toward Slovenian Ribolla Gialla and Oregon Gamay Noir.
This piece generated a mild furore over short vs. inclusive vs. comprehensive wine lists among the thirty or so people who actually read and comment on the wine blogs I follow.
Thursday, a wine rep acquaintance re-tweeted a consumer’s lament: “ack! so sick of ‘_____ curated the wine list.’ no they didn’t. they made the wine list.”
My response was: “‘Curating’ is 1 way to make a wine list. Letting the SWS rep write it for u is another. I’ll take curated.” Continue reading →
It’s been a while since I posted a vineyard update; I’ve been focused on processing our current wine club shipment for the last couple weeks. Plenty has been happening at the vineyard, including our first sulfur applications, cover crop mowing, and lots of crown suckering. We’ve had a couple drizzly days, but no rain to speak of. In fact, the weather has been really nice—alternating warm and cool (rather than hot and cold) every three or four days, with pleasant breezes. Let’s hope it continues—knock wood.
I am getting a bit tingly about the nascent crop I am seeing out there: Above is Pinot clone 943. I’ve been so used to seeing these vines throw clusters like tiny hand grenades that this is quite a surprise—they are long and straggly for a change. This is potentially the largest Pinot crop I’ve seen at our vineyard since 2006, and the most uniform ever.
Several weeks ago I thought the Grenache was preparing to throw a short crop. No longer: We are going to have plenty of thinning options. I’m thankful to see a potential increase in yield for the Pinot and Grenache after two very short years. The Syrah and the Mourvedre appear to be throwing an “average” crop. The Tannat and Counoise look a little light, as of today. Next steps at the vineyard:
- continued sulfur applications, timed according to disease modeling,
- complete all crown and trunk suckering,
- start the first pass of shoot thinning for density and position, and
- start lifting the lower trellis wires into position as the shoot thinning is completed.
It is hard for me to believe the vineyard is already over a decade old. I’m seeing a little Eutypa in the Mourvedre which we need to manage. Since the very heavy crop load in 2006 we have seen some early decline in Syrah—a vine here, a vine there. The worst affected block was the Tablas Creek A selection on 420A rootstock. The 420A is slower than other stocks to develop a deep permanent root structure, so the timing of the heavy 2006 crop was especially unfortunate for this block, where the vine root system simply was not developed well enough to keep up with the demands. We have been grubbing out the dead vines and replanting for a couple years: This is what came out of the TC/420A block this year.
Overall I am guardedly optimistic that the 2012 growing season is going to be better than 2010 and 2011 were. I’m not alone in this assessment. Kimberly Hatcher of Morgado Cellars sent me in an email the other day:
I am so excited about this weather and how all of the vineyards are looking. I feel so strongly that 2012 is going to be an awesome vintage…
A friend posted on Facebook the other day: “In Hungarians’ eyes an optimist is a person who is poorly informed.” I’m feeling like I could be a bit “poorly informed” regarding this season; perhaps Ms. Hatcher is a little more so.
This question occurred to me the other day as I was reading a Newsweek/Daily Beast article about the increasing number of measles cases in the US. Author Kent Sepkowitz wrote this little nugget regarding people who refuse to vaccinate their children:
For these folks, and their 200-year-old forebears, vaccines are bad because they are not “natural.” This is true, but isn’t the point of civilization to rise above the blunt cruelty of nature? To arrive at some higher ground where we, and not Mother Nature, can call a few shots? … One of nature’s charter members is measles, which, even with WHO’s impressive efforts, still kills hundreds of thousands of children annually. Its victims die a slow, miserable, natural death as the virus overwhelms every organ within a few weeks, culminating in respiratory failure. Vaccination has saved tens of millions of lives, more than any other medical invention. It is one of the few health-care heroes out there. Wouldn’t it be more natural for us to be thankful?
This got me thinking about the insistence in some quarters that un-inoculated wine is “better” wine. I am in no way equating the importance or consequences of choosing whether or not to vaccinate children with whether or not a winemaker chooses to add yeast to a wine, or with a consumer choosing to only drink wines with no added yeast.
I AM wondering if there is any intersection between the set of “natural” wine advocates, and the anti-vaccination set.
If there is strong overlap, it would clarify things for me a bit. If there is little or no overlap, that would raise questions for me of coherence and consistence in the philosophy held by “natural” wine advocates.