Friday, September 25, 2020

How Climate Change's Extreme Weather Events Affect Grapes and Wine:

 We (Epona) joined the Porto Protocol a year or two ago; it's a collaboration of grapegrowers and winemakers, worldwide, who are focusing on "Green" issues--sustainability; adaptation to changing climate, etc. To join, they ask you to write a short case study about what you're doing or have done, to be more "Green" (we used our solar-powered, earth-sheltered winery, and our modern varieties of grapes as our "reasons to beg into the group"). Here's a report I wrote to my winery association:

Today, the PP held a discussion of experts from around the world, on "Extreme Weather Events." The panel included Gregory Jones, a research climatologist specializing in the climatology of viticulture. He is the Director of the Evenstad Center for Wine Education, holds the Evenstad Chair in Wine Studies, and is a professor and research climatologist in the Department of Environmental Studies at Linfield University. He conducts applied research for the grape and wine industry in Oregon. I think he was on the smoke taint panel for the WSU event last week?

Major points:

1. In Australia the hotter temps are causing growers to move to the cool sides of hills (KLE: Note: This is being done in Walla Walla), and to stop all leaf removal, and to adopt new canopy styles which shade the fruit.
2. We need to get politics out of the climate change discussion.
3. A number of major insurers have stopped insuring Oregon grapegrowers, due to increased climate-related claims. They are literally leaving the state.
4. Climate extreme events are being seen in every grapegrowing region. 
5. Mendoza, Argentina sees increasing summer hail events due to climate change.

I submitted this comment: "Growers should consider earlier-ripening modern varieties, which spend fewer days on the vine and thus are a bit less exposed to extreme weather events. Such as, avoiding some of the earlier Fall rains here in the US' Pacific Northwest, because they can be harvested before some of those rains." I also told my grapebreeder friends that if smoke is going to be more common, they should consider putting the tenteurier trait (colored juice in red grapes) into their grapes, as that allows a dark red wine to be made even if we press the juice off the skins immediately after harvest, thereby reducing the risk of smoke taint. Many of these guys are/were  research professors and/or very deep into practical science, and one responded that the tenteurier trait is expressed through a single identified gene and should not be too difficult to cross into grapes. At Epona we have three red winegrapes which are tenteurier: Golubok, VB Labelle, and Delicatessen. All of them are earlier-ripening than, say, Pinot Noir.

Each of us will make her/his own decision about what to change, and when and how to change it, in response to growing environmental threats.


Thursday, September 10, 2020

Wine Country fires are horrible this year

 This article describes the huge, numerous, and threatening wildfires threatening people and grapes. Deaths are already being reported. Huge areas are under evacuation orders.

Epona Farm is presently 17 miles west of the area under an Evacuation Level 2 Order (meaning, "be ready to go if we issue a Level 3 order"), from a large set of fires burning on the west slope of Mt St Helens. The fires themselves are 25-35 miles away from us. The winds, which have brought us so much smoke for 3 days now and at times completely obscured the sun, are about to shift, and by Saturday we should see clear skies again. At times the smoke has been at the "unhealthy" level.

Smoke taint is caused by smoke phenols (from burning wood) attaching to grape skins and binding to sugars. Because the phenols are bound to sugars, they are not detectable in the grape (unless you run a lab test, but the labs are backlogged for weeks and the grapes are ripe now). But once the wine is made, the alcohol splits off the smoke phenol and it re-appears in the wine. At small levels it can add an interesting and nice complexifying element, but at high levels the wine is ruined, and there is no practicable fix for that fault.

Dick Erath, one of Oregon's wine pioneers, just advised me that the Willamette Valley saw more smoke than this, for more days, in a past year, and yet there was no smoke taint in their wines that year. We're in the middle of grape and apple harvest, and we'll find out once the wines are made, whether they have smoke taint. At this moment, I feel fairly confident they will not.

The Willamette Valley (and Napa and Sonoma) are under even denser smoke, so that is a threat to many many high-value commercial wines. The first photo is from Oregon (from the article I've linked here), and the second photo is from our farm (near Woodland WA) yesterday.

Thursday, September 3, 2020

Dutch Tulip Mania story is way overhyped

 The Dutch were one of Europe's first modern nations; they had one of the best economies, and trading systems, in that continent. We all think their tulip bulb mania was a huge economic mess, but actually, it wasn't. Bubbles are to be feared, but this wasn't one!

Friday, August 28, 2020

Epona Vineyard Grape Update - 2020:

 1. I told my Cab Sauv/Cab Franc grower in Yakima that I can't buy this year. Ditto the Syrah grower in Dallesport. Partly due to Covid risk and partly because my (Double Gold) wines from there just aren't selling fast enough. My market is too small for me to run at max production every year. Hoping to get into some local restaurants, but none of them are buying now.

2. It's an off year for apples thank goodness (my trees are heavily biennial); I've learned that my mix of heritage cider apples makes a great apple wine if I age it 3 years, so I'm going that route this year with my apples. If I do it right, you won't be able to tell it's not a good, dry white table wine.

3. My grapes are a bit further along than I expected:

Newer Leon vines: 19.3 Brix average, with a mix of light brown and dark brown seeds. Skin runoff color isn't there yet. Flavor is nowhere close yet. Very optimistic that these will fully ripen this year, and I haven't dropped much of it! Have also learned to never make the red wine style, if the grapes don't have a long, warm summer. If GDD are low, or if grapes don't hit 24B with great flavor, or if it rains before harvest, then 100% of it needs to go to rose (where it performs great). My 2018 Estate Red (Leon) had a too-low Brix of 20.7, and pH was 3.1 (also too low for red wine); I chalked it (Pot Carb) and got the chemistry perfect, but the wine aged to brownish red and I don't like the flavor and I'm having to pour it all out. Lesson learned.  But my 2017 Leon Red was fabulous; much hotter summer and better harvest numbers.

Older Leon vines: Averaging 19.4B. Coming along great.

Mindon: 18.7B; tart; yellow seeds; great skin color.

Jupiter: 16.5B (but it only goes to 19 or 20 tops); flavors getting there.

Monas Muscat: 13.0; ridiculously tart; and low set this year (rainy Spring)

LaBelle: Tiny berries--incredibly small. But I forgot they're tenteurier! Avg is already 20.8B and juice tasting good. This one is so early--maybe earlier than G'bok. Glad I planted more!

Delic: 13.0; tart; great skin color. Needs a long, hot summer. Probably not right for here unless we get a near-record year. And my Labelle can supplant my love of Deli's tenteurier juice.

Zero bird predation so far. Blackberries are fabulous and feeding the birds well. 

Long-range forecast  Looking great. Sunny thru at least Sept 17, with no rain. That gives enough time (probably) to get all my varieties harvested fully ripe.  With this great late heat,  I'll send half my Leon to red wine and half to rose, if the Brix and flavors warrant it, otherwise all to Rose. But I bet the Estate Red will be made, and will be quite good, this year. Smoke in the skies is starting to appear in the forecast, from OR and CA fires, but it should be minor here, this year.

Saturday, August 22, 2020

Here's One Way to Make a Near-Perfect Dinner:

 Wow. We just finished a really wonderful Zoom dinner with our San Francisco younger friends Bob and Coley. What we do for Covid, but we adapt and it works well. Come on, vaccine!

Here's the entree: Pan-roasted chicken thighs with Blackberries and Thyme:

It is stunningly good. Why restaurants only serve chicken breast meat, I will never understand.  Just try it! Cast iron skillet, and everything. It's so simple. So French. So well-calculated (thanks, friend Bob) to go with these wines:

1. 2016 Reserve Comtesse de Lalande (2nd wine of Chateau Pichon Lalande): Wow! is the only word that does it justice: Decanted an hour: It opens with purple fruits carrying lofty notes of oak, cedar, sandlewood--a real wordworker's paradise. As the 2.5 hour dinner goes along (NEVER rush your dinner--it ruins the wine experience and shortens your life!!!), the wine never loses sight of its essence, but somehow its notes become purer and more angelic. This is a stupendous wine, and especially for a 2nd wine of a Super-Second Growth. 94 points, James Suckling. About $50 and well worth it! This is why we buy certain Bordeaux futures. I would grade it this way, over two hours: A- to A. What a great wine. And it's not even the chateau's best wine! This is why I collect more Pichon Lalande, for drinking, than any other Bordeaux (or any other wine in the world). I buy the First Growths for investment, but this is what I buy to drink (on special occasions)! (As you know, because I say it incessantly, you can drink GREAT wine for about $12-15 per bottle; anyone can overpay for wine--it takes no skill; the challenge is finding the many great wines out there which are less-expensive but deliver great quality.)

2. 2016 K Vintners Milbrandt Syrah (Walla Walla WA): 93 points, Jeb Dunnuck: "Dark red with ruby tones. Pungent aromas of cassis, blueberry, prosciutto, licorice, menthol, mint and minerals. Juicy and intense, conveying an exhilarating combination of sweetness and lively acidity to its red and darker berry and spice flavors. A savory element provides a further leavening influence. Finishes long, with firm but suave tannins. Lovely wine with real personality." . About $32. Wow! This opens fast and big. Opulent. Purple robe. If this is a horserace, this wine is first out of the gate. But then, over about an hour, it fades and the bouquet is gone, and there's a note of VA (volatile acidity) that ruins the experience. I'm thinking, "Damn! This blows." The Lalande was really singing, an hour in, while the Milbrandt really sucked. But then (and you live for moments like this) the Milbrandt recovered and the VA was gone, and the wine threw me for a loop with the most-wonderful olive and pickle juice notes, with just the barest hint of bracing acidity and a touch of the bare thought of menthol. I loved it! Its score went from A- to C- to A. What a wild ride! I'm sad that Charles Smith has sold out and there will be no more wines with souls like this, from his shop. Can't we engineer a society where fortunes are not made this way? Why is "a mountain of money" the goal? Sustained excellence, over generations, should be the goal. Let's move toward non-profit corporations, whose purpose is to serve customers and employees, not shareholders. Is that possible?

Just look at these two wines, for everything you need to know about America vs Europe: In the US, we're all about contriving a great experience for NOW (in corporate parlance "this quarter's earnings"), and who cares about the future? This short-changes the children's children and we are curse-worthy for our myopia and greed. In Europe (as in Asia), plans are made for the long term, and the Lalande shows this, with steady excellence throughout its tasting experience tonight. As my friend Nick likes to say, "China's working on its fourth dynasty," whereas there is real question (in my scared opinion) whether the US can survive much longer. I suggest that we find ways to mend our divisions, and quickly. Meanwhile, if you can, get these two wines (probably both still available) and compare them!

Grapegrowers in Europe suffering; harvests being destroyed due to Covid

 What a sad story. Grape growers are being paid to destroy a portion of their crops, in Spain, and elsewhere in Europe. Wine sales are down, due to Covid.

Tuesday, August 4, 2020

Covid hits too close to home:

Milla Handley was a wine pioneer in Anderson Valley (CA). In 1975, she was one of the first woman graduates from the famed wine program at UC Davis. She was one of the first to plant winegrapes in the Anderson Valley, once thought too cold for winegrapes. She was only 68 and just died from Covid.

How Climate Change's Extreme Weather Events Affect Grapes and Wine:

  We (Epona) joined the Porto Protocol a year or two ago; it's a collaboration of grapegrowers and winemakers, worldwide, who are focusi...