Thursday, December 24, 2009

Endangered Species: The Successful Corporation?

Get this:

The natural average lifespan of a company could be 2 or 3 centuries or more, but there are only a few examples of that (Sumitomo is one). Shockingly, however, the average life expectancy of a Fortune 500 company is only 45 years, and ONE-THIRD of the Fortune 500 companies in 1970 had vanished by 1983! Those are our largest companies, which are thought to be the most stable ones.

Just in this past decade, look at the ten largest companies which went bankrupt, causing their shareholders to lose absolutely incredible amounts of money: Enron, Worldcom, GM, Chrysler, Pacific Gas & Electric, Conseco, Washington Mutual (the largest S&L), Thornburg Mortgage (a large mortgage REIT), CIT Group (a large business lender), Lehman Bros (a 158-year-old investment bank). Then, consider that there are hundreds more companies of smaller size, which failed. Talk about lost jobs and lost investments!
Companies are managed in such a way that they tend to fail rather quickly. It seems odd to me that a corporation, which is granted PERPETUAL existence and is supported by dozens, hundreds, or even thousands of dedicated, talented people who are committed to its success, nevertheless has a significantly shorter lifespan than we frail humans.

Of course, the case may be made that the primary cause of company failure is poor management at the top. If upper management, on average, performs so poorly and causes companies to fail, why are CEO's receiving $100million bonuses and salaries that are 300x the lowest-paid workers? I'm just asking.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Just for the Halibut

Gentle Readers,

I am YET ANOTHER resource in your food-wine pairing dilemmas. A customer asks:

"I am serving pan seared halibut with a cranberry tomato chutney and chipotle peppers. What kind of wine would you serve with this dish?"

Accessing the incredible potency of the World's Library, I respond:

In researching this, I find answers all over the map.

The most obvious answer is: Sauvignon blanc, and probably the crisper, more minerally style that one finds in France or the US, as opposed to the fruitier, softer style of New Zealand.

But you could also do a Grenache (or Garnacha, in Spain); it would match the robustness of the chutney and peppers. It could push past the delicacy of the fish a bit, however. It's risky but I love the concept for its boldness. I think I would not serve just the Grenache with this dish, however.

If you're feeling daring, you could pour both an SB and a Grenache, and let your guests each find their own balance. That would be fun.

If the topping is spicy and hot enough, you could pour a Gewurztraminer.

One writer suggests a nice dry French rose. I can see that.

Or, you could do a White Burgundy (or good Oregon Chardonnay); I think you could go with either a Fume blanc (aged in a charred barrel, which might match the Chipotle well) or an unoaked one with lots of structure.

Have fun!

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

2005 Mount Eden (Santa Cruz Mountains) Estate Cab

Mount Eden builds their Cabernet sauvignons for longevity. The old vines sit atop a mountain, at 2000', where only a thin layer of topsoil overlies a mountain's worth of slate. The wine is tannic and shut down now, but it should age into a real beauty.

93 points from Wine Enthusiast: "Rich in black currants, mocha, and cedar. The score could rise considerably, after 2011." Parker: "Dense, ruby-hued cab boasts a sweet nose of incense, toast, charcoal, and red and black fruits. Elegant, with a first-class Bordeaux-like structure."

K&L Wines is selling this gem for $55. They are a great retail shop in the Bay Area; ordinarily, their prices are very good. But my local Portland distributor put this wine on special (because everybody's inventories are too large now), and thus I can sell this wine for just $32. Given California's more-favorable wine laws and taxes, this is a real coup. But Matt Kramer (Oregonian's wine critic) recently praised the wine, so it will probably disappear quickly.
Just remember to let this one sleep. There is no comparison between what it is now, and what it will become, given time. Think of it as a geologically-slow butterfly, metamorphosing in a glass cocoon . . .

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Art and Science

It is sometimes said that, in winemaking, first you learn the science, and then you learn the art. The grapegrowing winemaker must be a skilled artisan--botany and chemistry will get you only so far. But could it be that deeper and deeper understanding of science starts to invade the territory of art, much as our modern understanding of germ theory replaced the former superstititous belief that plagues were sent by an angry deity?
Some winemakers taste a sample and just intuit that it needs more oak. Others would approach that result through very complex objective testing. Is the first an artist, and the other a scientist?
Surely "artists" have no monopoly on the creation and enjoyment of art. Is there more science in art than most artists realize? The very process of creativity can be chased down to the firings of neurons in the artists' brains. As we learn more about the science of creativity, will we learn everything there is to know about the inspiration of the most creative artists?
Could a robot paint something breathtaking?

I will try to form some more-impressive thoughts on this topic, instead of the above disjointed, rambling musing. Stay tuned.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Scoring the scorers

Anyone who thinks analytically is easily swayed by measurements. If an expert tells us that this is a 92-point wine, we tend to believe there is some difference, however faint, between it and a 93-pointer. After all, we can acccurately measure temperature, brassiere sizes, and the speed of a fullback---why should wine be different?

Well, wine IS different. Indeed, we can measure the wine's total acid, the pH, the residual sugar, and even the tannins and sulfites. But there are countless other factors, working away in the deeper biochemical levels. Altogether, this myriad of elements drives what we think when we taste and smell a wine. And many of those factors change over time, as the wine sits in its glass, or is rudely jostled during a trip to the wine judging event, or even as our own olfactory nerves' sensitivity changes, from hour to hour.

As a result, the process of scoring wine cannot be totally scientific. It gives us at best a snapshot of what one expert thought, at one time. But we will all keep using scores. Let's just remember what they are: rough approximations of what one person thought a wine was, at one moment in time.

It's OK if you don't like a 95-point wine. It's fine if you love a wine that some critic gave only 82 points. All you really have to do is to learn what you like, and perhaps learn which advisors to trust for YOUR palate!

Let's give scoring its place, but we all know that the poetry of wine is entirely subjective. Science, and even language are utterly incapable of capturing it.


Here is the article which inspired this blog:

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Phenolics in Wines

There are more than 4000 Phenolic compounds. All are naturally-occurring in plants. Phenolics are formed from the essential amino acid phenylalinine (FEE-null-AL-uh-neen). Some phenols protect plants from UV radiation; others form pigmentation (the anthocyanins, in the flavanoid sub-group of Phenolics, impart colors); and yet others protect plants from diseases. The potential life-lengthener, resveratrol, which is rich in red grapes, is a current hero amidst the Phenols. A generic phenol molecule is shown at left. Those hexagons are benzene rings (don't worry--these are naturally-occurring chemicals comprised mostly of carbon).

In the human perception of wines, Phenolics are associated with wine color and tannins. If the winemaker presses and re-presses white grapes enthusiastically, the last bit of juice extracted from the skins and pulp is richer in Phenolic compounds. If used, this can result in overly-tannic wine (bitter!). In a red wine worthy of aging, it's not such a problem, because over time, the tannin molecules will chain up, which the palate perceives as "softer" tannins--a good thing. In white wines, the final pressings are best never even created--by the decade or so needed to smooth the wine out, the fruit will be gone.
Fewer than half the Phenolic compounds have been analyzed and understood, in case you or your kids are in search of a fascinating and wild frontier of scientific knowledge to explore. 140-year lifespans might be the payoff! How would you feel about having your first child at, say, 88 years old?

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Winetasting: Pulling out some gems

I held a tasting last Saturday. There were 23 people here, many with very good palates.

My no-question favorite was the 1983 Gruaud Larose. This is a Super-Second Growth Bordeaux, right up there with Leoville las Cases and Cos d'Estournel, knocking on the First Growth door. After a 2-hour decant and another couple of hours sitting in bottle, it offered the most delightful bouquet of mixed fruits and touches of spice, flowers and leather. More elegant than rich (surprising for Bordeaux); not overpowering; smooth tannins. Such a pleasure! This is why we should all lay down good Bordeaux-style wines. And, unlike old Haut Brions I've had, this one wasn't overpowered with smoky essences. Oh, my goodness, it was great.

The 1998 Leonetti Cab (decanted an hour) was, as I feared, still a baby. Way too young to drink it yet, even after eleven years! Even still, however, it was beloved by all. Mr. Figgins makes wonderful wines, if you can live long enough to enjoy them ;)
2004 Maryhill Proprietor's Reserve Serendipity (their highest-price wine) is a Bordeaux blend. It was marvelous. I can get their reserves at a wonderful discount from retail; the winery is very generous that way and almost all their reserves are great wines.

The PN lineup:
1. mag of 1999 L. Latour Gevry-Chambertin Clos St. Jacques: This impressive bottle was very kindly brought by one of the guests, a special friend. For me, it was too austere; not enough fruit. I'm not at all sure that I would consider PN successful in Burgundy. I know that's heresy, so burn me. I know that many experts would say that I just don't understand.
2. 2000 B.Freres: past its prime; barely good; it did open up and got a bit better, but still not up to their reputation. See my other posts: Good Pinots from good years should last longer than 9 years!
3. mag of 1999 Archery Summit Premier Cuvee PN: Total disappointment. This is the only bottle that didn't even get finished as the tasters got sauced and less discriminating. I bought it in '02 when I didn't yet know the better PN makers. This place is a great facility and some of their wines are good, but for the high prices it is just not a good fit for the discriminating consumer.
4. 2002 Van Duzer: I didn't know this one (it was brought by someone else). It had a light nice bouquet and was OK.
5. Anderson Family Vineyards 2002 PN: best nose of the bunch; great balance; a real treat. The crowd favorite. Disclaimer: I used to volunteer there, and "cut my Pinot teeth" on their style. Cliff Anderson's wines are well-made and they seem to age better than do most others, which is a huge plus for anybody with too many wines in the cellar. And when his wines are "on," they give up the most wonderful Pinot nose you can find anywhere in the world.



Sunday, October 4, 2009

Grape lover's heaven

Most folks who love wine will keep within the comfortable confines of their wineglass. They seldom think, however, of what lies behind the wine --grapes!
The history of grapes is so vast and complex, and has contributed so much to human history, that it should be required reading in the public schools.
In the grape/wine business, people are incredibly helpful and kind to each other; even though they are competitors, there is so much shared suffering (and shared passion) that the participants develop close bonds, and they tend to willingly share their own experiences and wisdom. I'm fortunate to have several friends with large vineyards, who do not laugh at the tiny size of my own plot.
One of these is Lon Rombough, who grows what must be the widest variety of grapes in any vineyard in the Pacific Northwest, if not the country. Most of those are generally considered to be table grapes, although some are winegrapes, and many of the former have chemistry which suggests wine possibilities. That's his book, above, which I highly recommend to anybody with a grapevine. Lon's formal education included PhD work at Cal Davis, but he also has a lifetime of botanical experience and attention to detail, including relationships with many of the great grape breeders of our time. His passion extends to many other fruits, as well, such as a long line of different quinces, or plums.
But, oh, the grapes! Dozens, if not hundreds, of varieties, more different from each other than even we humans are. Most of the grapes are hybrids, the product of our mimicking an entirely natural process in which the female flower parts of one variety are brought together with the male flower parts of a different variety. Sometimes it results in an improved product, so some fall in love, so to speak, with that Holy Grail. (Plant sexuality is an incredibly complex topic, beyond my present understanding.) This is how we get grapes that ripen earlier, or taste better, or resist diseases. It is work that, when spread across all our food sources, can be rightly seen as saving the very continuance of our civilization. (And this is not "genetic engineering" in the sense Luddites fear it--this is not slicing chromosomes and recombining DNA. It is merely touching two specially-prepared flowers together at the right time, and then spending years evaluating the outcome, which has been done for centuries, ever since the monks of the middle ages began to learn how it could be done.) Some of the grapes have an incredibly-long genetic parentage (including many earlier hybrids, as parents). The topic of hybrid grapes will receive a suitable blog post on its own, but suffice it to say, now, that I believe hybrid grapes will move into the limelight, as their environmental advantages (less spraying, and less tractor fuel used because of less spraying, and more-reliable ripening) become better-recognized. The true test will be whether the market will buy wines made from these newer grapes. I am certain it will. I am proud to be conducting experiments in that area, along with many more-accomplished winemakers nationwide. At this moment, I have Cayuga and Ravat wines fermenting, thanks to Lon, and should be making Regent wine, this time next year, thanks to Steve Snyder and a certain most-kind doctor in Sequim WA (again, the helpfulness of folks in this industry).
In this time of massive urbanization, it is good to keep some roots in the land, lest we not lose what has been gained through so much hard work by others. When you stand before the impressive remains of Hadrian's Wall in Scotland, or when you read about the Great Library of Alexandria, you can't resist a wave of angst, thinking about all the effort made so long ago, and learning, lost for so long. Learning, lost, may be the greatest disaster we can imagine.
Check out Lon's website, and his list of grapes (with cuttings offered for sale), at

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Behold the humble yeast

Behold the humble yeast: They turn sucrose (table sugar; C12H22O11) and water into CO2, heat, and alcohol (C2H5OH).

Without yeast, there would be no wine (though I suppose one could distill hard alcohol and add it to grape juice, but I don't see that product clogging the grocers' shelves).

Without yeast, no wine.
Without wine, chaos (surely).
Ergo, without yeast, chaos!

I've been studying yeast, preparatory to making some Viogner wine, and you know what? They are really just like goldfish. Like pet fish, they come in many forms, and have been bred (hybridized) for particular properties. Just within the ambit of enology, there are dozens of specialized yeast varieties that one can buy and use--some are for cooler ferments, some express fruits better, some are good for high residual sugars, some don't mind concurrent malo-lactic fermentation, etc. There is even K1-V1116, a "killer yeast" that engenders comparisons to piranhas; I'm using it on some Cayuga grapes right now (the yeast, not piranhas). And if you add in the myriad naturally-occurring yeasts that rest in their trillions upon the skins of grapes and elsewhere, the sheer number of types might boggle the mind.

Unlike pet fish, yeast can remain dormant in a dry environment, but they are most at home in water, such as the sweet and boundless sea contained in a single grape! They have a set of requirements, if they are to be able to function. Behold, the needs of wine yeasts:

1. They must be stored cool. Mine are by the butter dish in the fridge.

2. They need to be re-hydrated carefully. Not too hot and not too cold. Not for too long. Not with water containing chlorine. Not with must (grape juice) containing too much SO2 (sulfites).

3. The right quantity of yeast must be added to the must (the fruit juice). Too little, and it could take too long to spread throughout the must, allowing other organisms to reach the bounty first and make vinegar, acetone, or bitter wine out of your precious juice.

4. Like fish from the pet store, yeast must be introduced carefully to the must. If the must is too much hotter or colder than the yeast, it can shock the yeast into creating "petite mutants," reducing the rate of fermentation, or causing it to produce hydrogen sulfide (think rotten egg smell). And the must temperature must be at least a certain temp.

5. Like pet fish, yeast must be fed. In addition to sugar, they like nitrogen and phosphates. No french fries or pizza for your pet yeast, mind you.

Then, when the alcohol level is finally too high for them, they quit working, and go dormant. They sink by their millions into sludge at the bottom. They could be used again, but in practice (due to their contamination with undesirable stuff), they are sent to the septic tank or the sewage treatment plant. Almost makes you wonder if somebody will pick up the banner for them: "Prevent Yeast Abuse!" Give them pensions, or something.

And get this: Their mere existence in winemaking poisons their own environment, not unlike overpopulated humans in that way. They die as victims of their own success. Is the universe cold, or what?

But that is the life of wine yeasts. They sleep, dormant, forever if need be, but then are suddenly thrust into absolute Heaven, but only for a few days. For us, they make their Heaven into a Hell. One person's Hell is another's Heaven! Reflect on that, the next time you lift a wineglass.

Here's an article:

Grape and Wine Glut!

Check out this article on msnbc. As one might expect in a recession, there is a widening excess of grapes and wine.

It is made worse by the rapid influx of newbies to the business. Here in Oregon, we've seen hundreds of Californians sell their homes in the Golden State for a small fortune, and then they use the cash by moving to Oregon and opening a vineyard/winery. Others, like me, plant small vineyards and dream of planting commercial vines. This is fine, so long as the demand can meet the supply. But Oregon Pinots have always been priced high (some say, too high), and there are more and more wines elsewhere in the US and the world (even Pinots, say, from New Zealand or CA) that provide similarly high quality for less cost. The Willamette Valley's continued success will depend on the stability of the luxury market demand. It's nice when you serve the rich, so long as they keep buying. So long as they keep rich.
We may see an increase in winery failures. We are already seeing reductions in grape sale prices, and land prices.

Friday, September 25, 2009

The Emperor of Wine's clothes

I recommend that you read the following article, on (if you're a subscriber):

We're All Wine Critics Now: How the Internet has democratized drinking.

By Mike Steinberger

Posted Friday, Sept. 25, 2009

The upshot:

1. Robert Parker and his fellow wine critics/writers have, allegedly, not always held to the high ethical standards that they have long espoused (standards, the widespread belief in which helped catapult them to the top of the world's wine review scene):

a. They have allowed people in the wine trade to pay for their trips;

b. They have allowed wineries to hand-pick the bottles to be tasted (if you have ever tasted a peach slice at a farmer's market, and then bought the supposedly same peaches, only to get home and find them much less sweet than the piece you tasted, you know what I mean);
c. He doesn't buy all the wines he tastes; this is economically understandable, but I think he used to claim that he never tasted wines that were given to him by the wineries.

2. A senior employee at KL Wines in San Francisco told me that Parker does NOT blind taste his wines. Allegedly, he knows beforehand what he's drinking. I suspect that is why the First Growths in Bordeaux tend to receive consistently higher scores than the others; one can only wonder how the scores would shake out if all the wines' identities were kept in cognito.

3. The internet, and the growth of massive numbers of amateur wine critics (ahem, like me, and, perhaps, like you) have blown the doors off the emperor's clothes, to mix a metaphor. This is all to the good: It will keep the great critics more honest. What we need is the benefit of their tremendous experience and tasting skills, unmarred by any resemblance of ethical impropriety.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Oktoberfest in Cincinnati!

Well, I can tell you that Cincinnati OH (which now employs our elder daughter) has the US' largest Oktoberfest. And why not, with its many German immigrant neighborhoods, including one we walked called "Over the Rhine?"
Where else can you sample Goetta, a grain-pork-beef-spice concoction that is really quite tasty, as well as challenging haggis for the title of supreme weird national food item. We had Goetta on a stick, no kidding. And sauerkraut balls, which were awesome: breading around kraut and bits of sausage. Yum! The many, many sausages are just too divine--I recommend the "Mett" ones; far better than simple bratwurst. And all kinds of strudel, including pumpkin. Many bands were there, doing the Chicken dance and polkas, but also including impromptu late-night rock songs by guys with accordians and trumpets and voices, but they were fantastic. A few cops around, but no rules and lots of fun, spread out over six huge city blocks. Nobody cared if we brought in our own beers. Norm (from "Cheers") was there to lead a beer trivia contest. There were more beer stands and beer types than I have seen anywhere except Portland's beer festival and the beer fest in Boonville CA.
If you can't make it to Munich's Oktoberfest, or Mt. Angel's (where it's kind of fun, but they are so uptight and you can't even carry a beer down the street), you might consider Cincy's, someday. It is the real deal, transported to the US.
PS-I just found this pic online, but I actually saw that couple!

Heart + Wine = Healthy, part 17

In yet another finding of better living through wine, a new study concluded that older citizens can ward off dementia, diabetes, disability, heart disease, and stroke, by indulging in a beer or glass of wine, daily. Alcohol thins the blood, raises "good" chloresterol, and keeps clots from forming. But if you already have dementia, wine makes it worse, so start drinking early! ;)
And 11% of seniors admitted to hospitals exhibit symptoms of alcohol addiction, so if you're older, watch your dosage of wine. Older folks can't metabolize alcohol as quickly, so they need to be very careful to monitor their dosage of it, as well as the time between drinking and driving or other physical activities.
And did you know that moderate wine drinkers tend to get more exercise, weigh less, and be overall healthier than the non-drinking and excessively-drinking population?
Source: Oregonian, Sept 23, 2009, page D2.
PS-Isn't the human heart beautiful? Just think of what it does for us. The brain, for all its inner glory, is much less extroverted than the heart-it is content to function without any discernible motion at all, like a black cat sitting in a dark corner, watching a party. Little wonder that our recent forebears (say, the Classical Greeks) ignored the quiescent cauliflower in our skull and thought the heart, with all its wild gyrations, must be the center of the soul, thereby giving us the immortal Valentine heart motif. We indicate love by gesturing to our hearts--maybe we should start pointing to our heads instead, only without making any circular motions or L-shapes with our fingers ;)

Trains, Planes and Automobiles

We two tepid travelers took a slow train (the Empire Builder) through two nights and two mountain ranges. The train started (in Portland and Seattle) in two parts which merged in a 2am Spokane hookup. Our "Superliner Roomette" cost two hundreds more than coach fare (including meals and newspapers), and had two bunk beds in its too-small quarters. Each dining table hosted two pair of tasters at a nifty afternoon winetasting, at which we enjoyed two pairs of wines and cheeses, each, somewhere near Twin Falls. The train tooled not too smoothly on two silver rails to to-morrow, with many too-ts of its horn, passing through lands settled by Teutonic peoples. Two volunteer naturalists boarded, to tu-tor us on the wildlife (pronghorns, bighorn sheep and foxes) and history. Don't forget your too-thbrush, and have fun if you go!

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Vino Began in Azerbaijan

In the beginning of an agricultural renaissance that began tens of thousands of years ago between the Caspian and Black Seas (modern day Azerbaijan), grapevines were brought to the villages from the forests where they parasitized trees. Before the first bronze-age vineyards were established, wine was made by collecting less-than-ripe fruit from the boughs of trees and large bushes. It was a race to get the berries before the critters — so nothing much has changed for some of us. The wine was likely low in alcohol and high in acid, and may well have been mixed with water when drunk. Bringing the production from the trees to the village (trellising with crude teepee-shaped structures, the villagers found keeping the vines in the sun increased sugar and made better wine. The result was the first viticultural revolution — western culture would never be the same after wine became commonplace in Europe. And wherever Europeans went, wine followed. Now we have entered the 21st Century and we have been blessed to live at a time when more advances in winegrape growing have emerged than in any other period of history.

This is excerpted from the (really excellent) Winemaker Magazine, to which I subscribe:

What is a Duckhorn, anyway?

I tasted some Duckhorns last night. Duckhorn was co-founded by Dan and Margaret Duckhorn in 1976. They certainly built a pretty building. I'd guess they are somewhere near the middle, in terms of popularly-perceived wine quality. Spectator gives their wines a tremendous range of scores, from the 70's and even a 68 score (those are failing grades, folks) to lots of 80s and some few 90s.

But, guess what? Just look at Duckhorn's per-bottle charges, and you'll be amazed; I guess they're marketing to damn fools, because nobody else would pay these prices for such low quality:
Their 2005 Goldeneye Pinot noir is $60: I disliked the wine down there (although the setting is gorgeous and the patio tasting service is top-rate), and I disliked it again last night. No varietal bouquet or flavor. For this kind of money, buy the 2008 Beaux Freres or any number of good Oregon pinots!
2006 Napa Merlot: $59. ($59???) Very plain. No nose. Not worth $12. Hell, not worth $2.
'05 Napa cab: $69. Way too tannic--you can't even drink it. Too little bouquet.
'03 Napa cab: $99. It gets only 87 points from Spectator and they want $99 for it? Hey, dudes! You can buy an 87 point cab for just $10-15--why would you waste money on this stuff? It's just as over the top with tannins. I don't see any fruit in there. Maybe it will drink in 20 more years? If they're going to make wines like this, they should do us all a favor and cellar them for 10-20 years, and then sell them when they can actually be consumed.

I'll say it again: Head for Yakima, Red Mtn, Tri-cities, and Walla Walla. Drink the cabs (and syrahs and cab blends, and Lemberger) from there, and notice all the change in your pocket afterwards, and marvel at how good the wines are, and how clueless many of the CA winemakers are. Ultimately, the damn fools will die off or quit buying-overpricing your wares on low quality is not a successful strategy.

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Friday, September 4, 2009

Mars vs Venus? Hogwash!

In non-enological matters (admittedly, a small topic ;), I would argue that there are far more similarities than differences, between men and women. One could even claim that the differences are so few as to be surrounded by the following statements:

1. Women need iron supplements and men don't (men tend to eat more red meat and they don't lose blood regularly).
2. Women and men have the same pituitary hormones, but in different ratios.
3. There are a few anatomical differences (such as, in the 1970's and 1770's, many men wore their hair longer than the women did. And such as, women do the whole PG, L&D thing, while men either smoke cigars outside or catch spears inside while marveling at the elasticity of the cervix).
4. Women are now achieving more in education than men are, particularly in college and grad school, but also in high schools. And men are paid more for the same job, in some places, but I think that may change faster now, given the women's advantage in school.

There. That's about it. The similarities include everything else, and it's a big world out there, so there are millions upon millions of similarities.

You think I'm wrong? OK--you wanna talk shopping? I can't stand the mall, but you should see me in a garden store, or with a wine catalog. Whether it's a young woman in the mall, or a 50-something guy in Home Depot's tool bin, shopping is really only research, isn't it? Or, you wanna talk about staying at home, versus pushing papers in an office? For the first time, there are more women employed than men in the US. Or, how about math and logic and using the left brain? There are plenty of women who prove every hour that those are emphatically not a male domain. And the number of men who know how to listen to their "feelings" is probably, oh, 100%, though maybe not enough of them know how to talk about it.

So why would wine be any different? I know some manly guys who prefer rose and white wines. Ditto for ladies who want a red so tannic it can curl teeth. Maybe more women than men prefer sparkling wines (aphrodisia is far beyond the scope of this note), but how often do you see a guy turn down a free glass of Moet Chandon?

Monday, August 24, 2009

Creatures Called "Men"

I gave blood today to Lydia Of The Red Cross, who was named for the Biblical woman who played some part in the Judeo-X'ian story; she was also the dyer of the royal robes, I was told. So, I told this Lydia about Murex (a seashell with a violet inner layer) and its discovery by the Phoenicians as the sole source of a purple dye so precious that only royalty could afford it. That's why purple is associated with royalty, by the way.

So, having bonded with this historically-aware blood-taker, she taught me something important about men and iron. Whereas women lose blood monthly and need to replace it, which requires prodigious quantities of iron, men do not lose blood monthly (unless they live in a leech-infested lagoon, or are REALLY clumsy with a kitchen knife ;). We men get plenty of iron from red meat and other sources, and if we are lucky enough to reach our 50's or 60's, and if we diligently take multivitamins that contain iron, we often work up an iron excess, which can be VERY bad for our continued survival. Seems the body is not able to reduce its iron level. I had my blood tested last week, and it was OK, but my doc confirmed that iron excess in men is a problem and is to be avoided. Donating blood is one way to work off an excess of iron. Switching to a "men's" multivitamin, which does not contain iron, is another way. So, meat-eating men, check your vitamins for content!

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Belknap Springs; Cougar Lake

That fortunate image is of Cougar Lake. Wow! It's not really as pretty as my picture indicates, but it's great to see, regardless. We found it on our drive to Belknap Hot Springs. Belknap is on the McKenzie River, which is COLD, shallow, broad, rushing, and gorgeous. The hotel dates to the late 1800s. They have cabins, RV sites, campsites, and rooms in the lodge. It's kind of a middle-class place but the setting is terrific. There are good hiking trails, and a hidden formal garden that, depending upon your view, is either breathtakingly beautiful or hydrologically fascinating (it channels water from a stream in creative ways). Seriously, that garden is somebody's masterpiece. We drove up the McKenzie Pass, where there is an expansive lava field with scattered dead and live trees framing a fantastic panaroma of the Sisters mountains. Wow. Eat at Takoda's, about 10 miles west of Belknap--it's awesome food and beer, and have you ever seen a living lungfish before?--it practically proves evolution all by itself, but don't eat at the Rusty Skillet or whatever it's called. Don't say I didn't warn you.

Too far South for Pinot noir?

We visited King Estate last week (pictured). It's in the boonies, about ten miles west of Cottage Grove.

What a grand winery! It must have been Oregon's most expensive (and expansive) place, until Dom. Serene was built. The tasting alcove is in the restaurant, which is inside and outside. Very elegant indeed. In fact, the architecture makes it worth a trip.

They have about 600 acres of grapes, and over 300 of them are in Pinot gris (their "signature grape," according to Kevin, one of the best-informed, brightest wine pourers I've yet met. They have three labels of gris. I liked the middle one (Signature) the best; it's $17 retail and has a nice nose and is good on palate. I can get it for you at wholesale if you like. The Domaine gris ($25) was Jane's favorite of the three. The Pinot noirs were OK, but I don't recommend them. I think K.E. is too far south and hot for Pinot noir. Also, the trellis high wire seemed too low to me (you can see it in the photo)--PN grapes need about 12 leaves per cluster to reach full ripeness. Maybe it's different in the hot semi-desert (kidding, but it seemed like it) down there, but I suspect the the viticultural practices limit the wine's quality (though I'm sure the vineyard workers would protest with reasons why the trellises are OK).

We also visited Ch. Lorane, which has a great deck high above a pretty lake. Most of the wines are not recommendable, but we found a rose from Tempranillo and a Viognier that were OK. I went there because they make some wines from hybrid grapes, but sadly they're not going to convert any vinifera lover. I still think that is possible, just not at Ch. Lorane.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Disappointment + sadness = old Oregon Pinot

Man. I have HAD IT with disappointing older Oregon Pinot noirs. So many times have the big names (and big bucks) let me down.

The latest: 2001 Bergstrom. The bouquet was just alcohol. No fruit on the nose or in the palate. No whiff of barnyard (which is a customary element with Pinot). True, this was from four younger vineyards, but they are good ones (Arcus, Corral Creek, Bergstrom, Mahonia) and Bergstrom is a major Pinot noir player in Oregon (their wines are sold mostly to Manhattan and LA restaurants, if I recall correctly). Moreover, 2001 was a very good year. I didn't want to finish my glass; usually, we'll rip through a whole bottle. Direct and repeated experience does not lie; this is a damnation of practically an entire industry (just of its older wines, to be clear--I'm not criticizing the great younger ones from here). But this stings. When I was in Burgundy, and talked up Oregon's Pinots (I know, that was a dumb thing to do--did I have a death wish or something?), the Frenchies' universal response was, "Yes, but it doesn't age well and you don't have our terroir."
If you can't cellar a wine for a few years, then what good is it? I buy prosecco to drink in a month or two, sure, but I don't schedule my reds that tightly. They should be able to wait for me, and shine brightly when I'm ready for them. A Pinot from a good year should be able to last eight. And you will hear many winemakers from around here say that their Pinots last much longer than is commonly believed. Don't be so sure.

Previously, it was 1999 Archery Summit and Erath, a 2000 Domaine Serene, and some 2000 Ken Wrights that were worn out by year 7-10. All these wines were cellared impeccably.

My list of Willamette Pinots that truly can improve for years is fast shrinking. Here is my list: Beaux Freres and Domaine Drouhin (in a great year), and Anderson Family Vineyards (in good years), and some wines from JK Carriere, in great years. There may be others; God I hope so. Otherwise, I recommend drinking our Oregon Pinots up by 3-4 years from release. And don't even think about investing in them--with rare exceptions, they do very poorly at auction. There are better ways to lose money.

Sorry to have to post this. Please, Oregon, prove me wrong.
10-2-09 update: One 2000 Beaux Freres (Beaux Freres Vineyard) was a little disappointing (not bad, but down the curve's backside a ways), but another from the same case was very good.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Wine regulation, or how poor Oregon is screwed

Arggh! I find some wines for sale, at retail, in California, at prices awfully close to the WHOLESALE prices I can buy at, and, today, even below my wholesale purchase price, in one instance.

So I call my distributor, who listens patiently, then explains, for his thousandth time:

1. CA allows volume discount pricing to distributors, so the big ones can sell to their bigger retail customers at lower prices. This is how K&L, a giant online and brick-and-mortar retailer in the Bay Area, can offer such great prices (though, if you buy from them, you must pay shipping to get the wine up here, and by the time you do that, I can ALWAYS give you a better price). In Oregon, by state law every sale of a wine to a wholesaler (large or small) must be at the same price. So my distributors can't get discounted pricing even if they buy large volumes.

2. Most wine that gets to Oregon comes into the US in, or comes through, California. To get wine up to Oregon, shipping costs of approximately $2-3 per bottle must be paid. This increases Oregon's wine prices over California's big-city wine prices (the California boondocks face the same shipping price adder as Oregon does).

3. California, being a state with high income and property and sales taxes, has very low taxes on wine purchases. In contrast, Oregon, with its (pardon the editorial comment: stupido refusal to enact a sales tax and thereby raise some money from our tourists, who comprise Oregon's largest industry) has pretty high taxes on wine purchases.

Taken together, the Oregon consumer is disadvantaged compared to the California consumer. But, then again, how many of us would want to live in California, just to get cheaper wine? C'est la vie!

Among thorns

Picking Blackberries 101:
Do you know how fast a rock thinks? Move your hands at that speed, and no thorn can touch you. The thorn knows only how to rip fast flesh; against slow flesh, the thorn has no power. Work at the cadence of the thorn, and even the most sensitive skin is safe. Laugh at the barbed points! They cannot hurt you, no matter how often you touch them. Weave your hands, zen-like, through the bush, and pluck the berries, letting them fall into the basket of your palm.
Amidst the distant bleating of a goat, you stand, working, alone with fruit and sky, in the delirious minefield that you alone can traverse.
Now, you know. Please pick up your graduation certificate at the administrative office, and enter the real world, to apply your newfound knowledge.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Two cheers for French wine? Well, maybe.

There's a article supporting French wines. Many of the writer's excellent points cannot be intelligently disputed, but some statements are pretty ridiculous:
1. "France continues to churn out most of the planet's truly great wines." Come again? I haven't counted, but I see hundreds of non-Gallic wines that win 95+ scores.
2. "No other place comes close to matching France for sheer number of benchmark wines." Given France's longer history of fine winemaking (dating back to the Romans, and possibly earlier), one might expect this to be true. But is the number of great wines the best measure of wine greatness for a nation? How many 95-100 point French wines have you enjoyed in the last year? I submit that a country's wine greatness is more about producing, across the board, bottles of wine that are well-made, delightful to drink, and can be had at a fair price. From long personal experience, I can tell you that France is not so great by this standard. Oregon and Washington, in contrast, simply blow France away in that regard, with the huge numbers of their very good wines, mostly at relatively low prices, and with tremendous variety as well.
3. "There is no other bubbly that can rival a premium Champagne for complexity and pleasure." Wrong again. Try Roederer (admittedly a French family) in CA's Anderson Valley, or Argyle in Dundee. Roederer's vintage sparklers are awe-inspiring, truly celestial in their perfection.
4. "You will meet scores of people who were once hooked on Napa cabernets or Australian shirazes but who have now partially or completely sworn them off in favor of Bordeaux, the Rhône, and other things French."
For every person who moves towards French wines (and many do it, I suspect, are motivated more from wanting to appear sophisticated than through a true understanding of wine), there must be three who discover the pleasures of a well-made wine from somewhere else. Try an old-vine Garnacha from Borsao, or a reserve Malbec from Argentina, or any of a number of great everyday wines from Italy.
I find too many French wines poorly made. They are too thin, too tart, too something, and stories abound of horrifying winemaking conditions there, borne of centuries of arrogance or apathy, that only now are being improved as a result of losing market share to the better winemaking of other countries. Too often I have been disappointed by the so-called "great wines" of France, and by lesser French wines as well. Although many French wines are good, I tend to distrust most French wines now. I'm sorry that the country is wounding itself eneologically; we can all grieve for that. But for me, the fruits of the "terroir" are simply better elsewhere.

[Mike Steinberger is Slate's wine columnist. He can be reached at His book, Au Revoir to All That, is about the rise, fall, and future of French cuisine.]

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Longer life through wine!

A new study confirmed wine's health benefits.

Moderate consumption of wine (1-5 small glasses of wine per day for men, and half that for women) is the greatest single influence behind the longevity that results from a good diet. Eating meats and dairy products is a negative, but not a huge one. Eating fish is NOT a plus at all. Eating more fruits, veggies, and legumes, and using olive oil as the main fat source, are positives, and they are fairly large ones. But moderate wine consumption is king!

Let's all see each other in our 90's!

Monday, July 13, 2009

Lopez Island Vineyards, San Juan Archipelago

Here's the view from Lopez Island Vineyards, on Lopez Island in the San Juan islands in NW Washington. We just got back yesterday.

I love it that you can find a winery almost anywhere. Although there are over 700 islands in the archipelago, there is only one winery, and it was located about 0.3 miles down the gravel road from our B&B. They grow two white grapes that make a good blend (Madeleine Angevine and Siegerrebe); the former is a disease-prone vinifera grape from the Loire Valley in France, although it's grown there as an eating grape, not a winegrape, and the latter is a German winegrape. They also buy fruit from Yakima to make red vinifera wines. Brent the winemaker trained at Cal Davis.

A stream of tourists came in and out, so they get good business in the summer, even on this remote island, one of the lesser-traveled, harder-to-get-to places I've been. The winery overlooks gorgeous vineyards, and somebody has planted a row of poplars which you can see in the photo; that makes one feel like they're in France.

For further reading:

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Maturity Curves

Maturity curves . . .

No, I'm not talking about your grandmother's hips;)

This piece is about how a wine changes over time. You need to understand wine maturity curve theory, in order to drink your wines at the right time.

If you graph wine quality (vertical scale) vs time (horizontal scale), you will see this: Almost all wines rise in quality after bottling. The time needed to reach the plateau is about the same as the time that the wine spends on the plateau, so if a wine needs 3 years or so to reach its "peak" (its plateau of highest quality), it will likely remain on the plateau for about three years. (for very long-lived wines, this rule isn't always true.)
Typically, the time spent on the plateau is shorter for most whites (just a few months, in the case of a Prosecco), and longer for most reds, and then the wines fall off as the wine finally deteriorates (it can lose its fruit, or it can be oxidized). The shape of the maturity curve and its length depend on the varietal, the bottle size, the storage temp and humidity, and the wine's unique chemistry, as affected by the vintage's weather, the soil conditions, and the winemaker's practices. Most whites will hang at their peak for only a year or three (exceptions are certain sweet wines and some sparkling wines). Reds typically last much longer--if a red has a lot of tannin, the bottle likely will last a long time. Certain Bordeaux can hang on the "plateau" for decades; the question with them is whether the fruit will still be there when the tannins have finally softened and integrated. Ports and, especially, madeiras, with their higher-alcohol content and heat treatment, last the longest--centuries, perhaps. Also, most wines' quality curves will tail off gently, so if you're a year or two late in the case of a red, it's probably still OK.
A warning: If your wines are stored hotter than a cave (a cave being about 55F in this latitude), that will age the wines prematurely, so the maturity curve will have to be shortened accordingly.

Here are some wine-aging tips, from

If you want to know what stage a wine is at, open a bottle, drink part of it over two hours and try to see how it evolves during this time. Then, do not protect it from oxidation and retry it the next day.
- If it has improved in the first two hours and got even better the next day, let it sleep at least another 5 years and try it again.
- If it has improved in the first two hours and declined the next day, drink it in the next 10 years with occasionall re-tests, to know how it actually evolves.
- If it declines within the first two hours, drink the rest of it up quickly.

Friday, June 26, 2009


Our existence is thick with interconnected layers. Some are physical, like geologic blankets on an Earthen bed. Some are incorporeal, but no less momentous, as when our slightest actions weave a most complex web of effects upon others. The complexity of these effects is so startling, the more you think on it, that it almost makes one afraid to exhale. Each of us drives the entire world. The bee dance seems primitive, random, until you understand its utility and beauty, and then you see that a single bee drives its entire world. If the bee does not perform its dance properly, the other bees will not find the blooms. If the far-flung flowers are not pollinated, then there is no fruit. If there is no fruit, then the village goes hungry. If the village goes hungry, then the young people leave. If the young people leave, they make revolution in the city . . . and this all springs from the ability of a single honeybee to do its dance?

The simple view of my wine business is that I recommend wines to friends, who may or may not buy them. But that ignores a universe of complexity that lies beneath. If you buy a wine, enjoy it, and comment favorably, that reinforces my belief in the wine. and I may tend to recommend similar wines. If you don't like it so much, that affects my view, too. Our puny West Portland wine buzz might be picked up by a wine writer somewhere, and suddenly our little-known darling wine is in the national spotlight. And so much of this is random. The most amazing thing can happen, but is anybody listening? Wine scores are silly. What do you like? And if you don't buy a wine, is that just the weak economy, or full cellars, or should I change my recommendations? Is it the frailties of our language, which is so utterly unable to describe a wine? So many questions. Should the artist make what she sees as beautiful, or should she make what will sell? Ah, the layers.

And yet all our palates are ever-changing, layered in ever-swirling strata affected by our mood, by the weather, by a glass. We are not machines--our senses' sensitivity ebbs and flows. Today just might not be a good nose day. There are so many variables that a supercomputer could not be programmed to account for them all.

Thinking of three very good wines offered this year, one sold like hotcakes for $8.75, one sold darn respectably for $25, but the third one-heartily pumped thrice by yours truly--hardly sold at all for $8.50. Explain that to me.

We humans are so impressionable. If we notice what we see and hear and feel, it makes us either more assured in our beliefs, or more curious about changing them. As much as we revel in each other's unique personality, as much as we love to buy land (what? own the Earth?) and construct boxes of our own on it, in which we take refuge from others, we are still community animals. We affect each other in ways we cannot imagine. Simply occupying the same space makes us all brothers and sisters, in an incredibly intimate sense. Sharing air, sharing future memories, sharing wine.

Sharing layers of meaning that enrich our lives.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Quick Trip to Willamette Valley Wineries

I took a business friend (from New Hampshire; he's an ex-MIT inventor who chairs the school board; his wife is a judge) to Dundee yesterday. We went to:

1. Duck Pond (photo on left): Surprisingly good wines; "smoothness" describes all of them except for the ones trying to be French, which are much more acidic and crisp. This winemaker is skilled. I didn't know much about DP. Very pretty landscaping and comfortable tasting room. Very friendly pourers (may I say "good ole girls"?). Take a date or spouse to this place and you won't be sorry!

2007 P. gris: OK; too tart. $10 retail

2007 Chard: Very nice; well-made $10 ret

2006 Pinot noir: Good nose and very smooth and fruity; this is a definite buy! Good Oregon pinot character and cheap! $20 retail

2005 Sangio: Good; balanced. But nothing to write home about. $12 ret

2007 Syrah: no, no, no. $12 ret

2006 Syrah, Desert Wind Vineyard: Still no. $28 ret.

2004 Port (Cab franc): Very good; super balance; smooth; rich. Rings the bell. $40

Duck Pond's "Desert Wind" label:

2008 Viognier: Very French; crisp, minerally, almost clear. Enticing. $15ret

2006 Semillon: Very nice, but that's it. $12 ret.

2006 Merlot: No. $18 ret.

2006 Cab (Desert Wind): Oh, yeah! Leather nose with desert minerals and spice; super fruit; well-made; fulfilling. Only $18 retail. This is a must-have wine.

2007 Barbera: Nope. $20 retail.

2. Argyle. Rollin (winemaker, from Texas) is a master, at least with the sparkling wines. One should never go to Dundee without visiting Argyle. It is a true Oregon gem.

a. 2005 Brut: good; silky; impressive. $30 retail

b. 2000 Blanc de Blancs: Great. Awesome. Fabulous. 100% Chardonnay, and for my money this is the best way to drink that grape. Come up with a reason to celebrate, with this stuff! 92WS but I'd give it 94. $40 retail and they're almost out of it.

c. 2006 Black Brut: Dark red sparkler, Australian style. Very spicy. Strange, frankly, but good. Black currant is VERY dominant, which I love, but again it's weird for a bubbly. $30 ret.

d. 2008 Riesling: 1%RS. Good nose; warms to fields of honeyed flowers. Zesty. $25 ret.

e. 2006 Willam Valley Pinot noir: Just OK. $25 ret.

f. 2005 Nuthouse Pinot noir: No nose. Disappointing. 93 points in WS, but I don't see it. It is more concentrated than the cheaper PN, and it's fun to drink, but still . . . $60 retail.

3. Dobbes Family Estate: This also includes the lesser "Wines by Joe" label (but unless marked "WBJ" below, it's Dobbes label). Nice landscaping and tasting room. Worth a visit.

a. 2007 WBJ P.gris: Euro style; very crisp and tart. $14 ret.

b. 2006 Viognier: Rogue River; volcanic soil. Nice complex nose. One of the better wines from S. Oregon grapes that I've ever had, and that includes all of Abacela except for their Reserve Tempranillo, which is King of the Umpqua/Rogue. Dry. Juniper berries predominate, which is kind of cool. When you're drinking this, you're standing on bone dry, gravelly soil, with bright light on the hillside across from this stark gully before you, as the sun sinks behind you, and the only scattered plants are the tough ones that can make it in this harsh landscape . . . This keeps up to five years. $22 ret.

c. 2005 Cuvee Pinot noir: Great Oregon nose. Strong cherries. But $52 ret; whoa!

d. 2005 Grand Assemblage Syrah: Rogue Valley. Has 2% Viognier, for aromatics. Nose is earthy, like a desert. Wine is tart. $26 ret.

e. 2005 Fortmiller Syrah: Strong port aroma, which suggests raisined grapes--I bet there was tons of heat on the vineyard. A heavy, dark purple wine. Pretty good, but give me Walla Walla for this price. $45 ret.

I can get any of these at wholesale by driving back to Dundee, and some of these are available at Portland distributors. Let me know if you're interested. Your price would be about 15% less than the above retail prices; let me know if interested, and I'll tell you.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Thoughts on Wine Collecting


Many of us collect unintentionally, as our inventory of wines accumulates faster than we consume it. Some of us intend to build a collection. Either way, we need to plan, and we need to work towards a goal.
Your wine goal might be only to buy wines today that will be perfect for drinking in a few years' time. The inherent disappearance of fine wines from the market over time makes this a commendable plan. And likely future price increases for a given vintage of a given fine wine also make this form of collecting very smart. Just don't buy more than you will need, unless you are pretty certain you can sell any excess on acceptable terms.
Another worthy collecting goal may be that you want some great wines that you can take to restaurants. Even when paying a $15 or even a $30 corkage fee, you can save a lot of money in a year's time by taking your own bottles to the dining establishment. Until restaurants cease the offensive practice of marking up their wines 200% to 300% from retail (and this is particularly offensive, because they buy at wholesale, as I do), we all need to rebel by taking our own wines, and telling the staff why we are doing so. Also, in a bid to reduce cost, many restaurants no longer maintain enormous wine cellars that were so much more common decades ago, and as a result most of the wines offered by eateries today are very young, sometimes so young that they should not even be consumed. (A tip: Some places ask that you not bring something that they have on their winelist, so you can bring a couple of wines that you think are fairly obscure, and that way you can bring one out that you see is not on the winelist.)
Another goal worthy of small-scale collecting is the purchase of fine wines for some future event, such as a 25th or 50th anniversary, or a child's 21st birthday. In almost every year, there is a vintage wine somewhere that is worth holding onto for years. And if you decide 21 years from now to buy a great 2009 wine, you will pay through the nose. So collecting those now can be a very astute move.
Finally, you might be as crazy as I am, and think that you can make money someday by collecting fine wines over a long period. Here are some some tips, borne from painful experience:
1. Some wines are just not very collectible. For example, few if any Oregon Pinots will realize higher prices at auction down the road. Even most of the better California cabs are in that category, too. These wines should be bought only for drinking or as gifts, so don't buy more than you need for those purposes.
2. However, the CA "cult" cabs do very well at auction--Screaming Eagle costs about $750 per bottle if you are on the mailing list, and it auctions for $1200 and up, immediately; after some aging, it might sell for $2500.
3. And the great Bordeaux wines (first and second growths, from great years) have generally proved to be good investments. After all, once the 2005's were bottled, there will never be any more of them made, and over the years they will be drunk off, making the survivors more and more rare and valuable. Those Chinese and Indians who are reaching the middle and upper classes are now buying fine wines, which is making them more rare and expensive. If that trend continues, you will be glad to have some wines in your cellar that you bought when prices were lower. The dollar's continuing decline in the face of our giant deficits also augurs well for purchasing now, rather than in the future, when prices for imported goods will be much, much higher.
But sometimes a year is initially seen as good, but later is re-cast as a more-average year. So, this is not a riskless enterprise.
To sell collectible wines, you must either find a private buyer, or pay a substantial commission to an auction house. Your bottles need to be in good condition (good fill into the neck, or if the wine is very old, high shoulder is acceptable; label in good condition, cork not pushed out). Some firms will buy your wines but offer such an abysmal deal that it makes you sorry to contact them: Brentwood Wines is a local firm that holds online wine auctions; they say they offer 75% or so of recent auction prices, but I have received many quotes from them which indicate this number is more like 50-60%, which means you are likely giving up all your profit, and more, if you sell to them.
To collect, make sure that you are choosing wines that will improve in bottle long enough that they will still be good when you, or your children, or your grandchildren (I'm not joking) sell them someday. Although certain Bordeaux and cult cabs qualify, so also do the better vintage ports and madeiras, which can last a long, long time with good storage. And some sparkling wines are well worth aging.
You also will need an adequate storage space. Without it, wines held for more than year or two will plummet in value and drinkability. Many people convert a closet or a part of a room or a crawlspace to a wine cellar. This may require only some insulation and a vapor barrier, with some interior-finished surfaces, or you might need to put in a cooling system (many models, in different sizes, are available, and are fairly easy to install). Wine wants darkness, stable air (no sudden temp changes) in the range of 55-65 degrees F, and humidity in the range of 60-75% (any lower, and the wine will evaporate past the cork too quickly, lowering the fill level and the wine's value, and any higher, and the cork and label may get moldy and the label can come off). Or, you can rent wine storage space, where temp and humidity are controlled, and access is secure.
I provide wine cellar and wine collection consulting services, and I can sell you most wines at a small markup from wholesale prices. If you are a good purchase customer, I'll gladly come check out your cellar or possible cellar space for no charge on the first visit. (And if you want to put in a small vineyard, I have one and can help with that, too.) Give me a call or email!
Kenton Erwin Consulting
Portland OR
h: 503-622-8181

Monday, June 8, 2009

Over Memorial Weekend I visited Anderson Family Vineyard. It was great to see Cliff and Allison and their family again. Cliff is a great scholar of all things grape and wine, and is a great teacher, too. Allison is so warm and friendly and also very knowledgeable. Their vineyard is on a very steep, rocky hill, spread out over three of the major compass directions. Their winery and barrel house, atop the hill, are perfect, classic Oregon architecture, fitting in perfectly with the trees and vines. The Chardonnay tends to the crisp French style, with nice balance between fruit and minerals. The Pinot noir usually sports a great Oregon Pinot nose of red or black fruits and a hint of earth, and is rich and full on the palate. They converted some Chard to Pinot gris, by grafting--a fascinating process that isn't as harsh on the plant as it looks--and have added that grape to their repertoire.
They sell fruit to the likes of Bergstrom, Lemelson, JK Carriere, GC Cellars, Boedecker Cellars, and August Cellars, but I for one am very glad that they also make wines under their own label. If you visit the winery, they offer very nice discounts from their retail prices.
Come Thanksgiving and the twice-annual winetasting pilgrimage, you should go to AFV and taste their wines! Oh, and the view is to die for. Go west of Newburg on Hwy 240; turn left onto Red Hills, then right onto Herring Lane.
Anderson Family Vineyard
20120 NE Herring LaneNewberg, Oregon 97132
(503) 554-5541
Tasting:By Appointment and Memorial Day and Thanksgiving weekends

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Strawberry Wine Redux: Dreams of Summer

You should smell my wine cellar: I have 3.5 gallons of Oregon Albion strawberries (and some chopped golden raisins and bananas, for body) fermenting. The smell is divine; I wrote a Sociology paper once on the power or aromas, and in that I wrote about a poet who got his inspiration from "smelling a bowl of over-ripe strawberries." If this is good, you should bug me to try some of it. I'm hoping it will scale up to commercial quantities, someday, if it's good enough. Some s'berry wines are too thin; that is why I macerated these before fermenting (such a rich, wonderful beyond-red syrup!) and used apple and pear juice instead of water. Fingers crossed!

Oregon Liquor

Check this out: The OLCC has a website that allows you to enter your address and the kind of hard liquor you want, and the site will tell you which stores carry it, and how much it costs:

Monday, May 25, 2009

Oh, the French! The view from Departure

Went to a French winetasting last week, for the trade. Ah, the trade! It was hosted by three large distributors, on the rooftop patio of the old Meyer & Frank building (now, it's The Nines Hotel, with the bar "Departure" on the roof with the patio. Left is a pic of the inside of Departure; here is some more info:

"The long-awaited lounge named Departure had its debut on floor 15 of The Nines hotel in early April 2009. Designed by renowned local architect Jeff Kovel of Portland's Skylab Architecture, Departure anoints the SW corner of the Nines with floor-to-ceiling glass views of the central city and Pioneer Square."

Sadly, I'm hearing that The Nines is having trouble booking as many as nine hotel rooms a night, so maybe you should run, not walk, to check out the Departure Lounge, in case it's in trouble already. What a great view!

The best part of this tasting was that owners from about 20 French (and one Italian) winery were there, pouring. Aside from collecting Bordeaux and having visited Burgundy, Alsace, Bordeaux, and the Loire Valley, I'm really pretty ignorant about French wines. Some of my questions initally drew surprised looks, but then the pourer/owner quickly recovered composure and politely gave me an answer. Maybe I supported their stereotype of Americans as ignorants; I don't know.

I have a bias against most French wines, and that bias was supported at the tasting. The vast majority of the wines (and they ranged from cheap to very spendy) were too thin, too sharp, too little nose, too unbalanced. Surprising, for a nation with so much wine history. I think it's partly the sub-optimal weather there, and partly the French's resistance to change (although that is changing).
Let us all be grateful for the fantastic wines that are findable in Walla Walla, Tri-cities, Yakima, and the Willamette Valley. You can find unbelievable quality at low prices, there.

As you might expect, the French didn't completely lose their national honor at the tasting; here are some of my faves from the Departure trade tasting:

1. Sommariva Prosecco di Conegliano: $15.50
As fate would have it, this was the only non-French wine there. This is Italian prosecco, and it is BY FAR THE BEST PROSECCO I HAVE EVER HAD (and I have had quite a few by now). It was poured by Cinzia (Cynthia?) Sommariva, with whom I spoke for quite a while--she is passionate about why their Prosecco is so good. Her family's vineyards are in the hills 50 km north of Venice, in the official DOC for Prosecco. Many other Proseccos are made from flatland grapes, or, worse, from outside the DOC. Her family picks the grapes by hand. The wine is made in stainless steel vats, and bottled monthly, enough freshly bottled each month to handle the demand. When you get the wine, you will first notice the classic and delicious yeasty bread aroma, coupled with lemon gelato--that bread aroma is found only in the best champagnes. In the mouth, it is fresh like you're picking fruit right in the orchard--green apple and some citrus--and oh so smooth! Nice finish. This one should figure heavily in your summer plans! And with lower alcohol and fewer calories than other sparkling wines, this is great for summer.

2nd favorite:2006 Jobard: Bourgogne Blanc: $27
Poured by Antoine Jobard himself, of Domaine Francois et Antoine Jobard. This is pure Chardonnay in the classic French style: minerals along with crisp fruit. Chardonnays were the order of the day at the tasting, and as you know, I usually won't choose a Chard for myself. I disliked almost every one of them I tasted. But this one was so utterly excellent that I must recommend it to you. It is so fruity--simply rampant with fruit--that it seemed slightly sweet, so I asked Antoine how much residual sugar it had, and he answered, "less than one" [gram per liter]. That is utterly dry, but it is a common palate trap--great fruit can fool you into thinking sugar. This is a rich, elegant wine, crisp with a looonnnnngg finish; to my mind a much better wine than their next-higher wine, which costs over $50! I think any California chard that could best this one would easily cost two or three times as much as this. Dive in! And if you're in the ABC club ("Anything But Chardonnay"), you should nevertheless give this a try.

3. 2006 La Tour Vieille, Banyuls Vendanges (500ml): $25
La Tour Veieille was poured by Christine Campadieu, who told me that her family's lands "plunge with the Pyrenees into the [Mediterranean] sea."This is a red dessert wine, made from Grenache and Cinsault. It has a great port nose, but it tastes fresh and alive; no oxidation whatever. I tell you, this would be DIVINE after dinner with a plate of assorted expensive cheeses and maybe some nuts and a little fruit, and Christine confirmed that that is exactly how she would enjoy this wine. It is not high-alcohol as port as (this wine's not fortified); it is just delicious.

4. 2007 Meyer-Fonne, Gentil d'Alsace: $14
Poured by Felix Meyer. He told me this is Pinot gris, Riesling, Pinot blanc, and Muscat. It has a fantastic, complex, multi-fruit and floral nose and is silky smooth and crisp and wonderful on the palate. It's $17.64 (plus S&H) at retail.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Ahh! Memorial Day Weekend tasting in the Willamette Valley

Just avoid the parking lot which is known as Highway 99, and you'll be fine. Scholls Ferry Rd to Hwy 210, to North Valley Road is a great route into wine country. Today, along North Valley Road, there were at least six signs for new wineries of which I've never heard. What is the upper bound of all this grape development, I wonder? Is this a grape juice bubble? Is the unending rush of people and their gold into grape and bottle going to finally implode, sending much of the industry into ruin?

For the answers to these questions, tune in again in, say, three to ten years.

2007 here started late--bud break and bloom were a full month late . But most of the summer was warm and many vines caught up somewhat, so that nearing the typical harvest date range, they were only a couple of weeks late. But then early and torrential rains came. Some growers panicked and picked unripe grapes. Others picked during the rain, which diluted flavors. Some few, however, waited it out, and were rewarded with a very unusual long, warm second summer. In sites where the grapes could drain well and were allowed to hang until mid-to-late October, the fruit was OK. Otherwise, it was a decidedly sub-par year. So selection is critical; if you choose poorly, the wine is thin, the color weak, even for a pinot.

I've tasted many 2007 Pinots. With few exceptions, there is only so much a talented winemaker can do with non-idyllic grapes. The White Rose Dreamcatcher is a special find; those vines are very old and on rather steep slopes; the wine offers up a complex nose and good fruit. Some say that "leaner" pinots need time to reveal their fruit, and I hope that is so. But aside from Dreamcather, I'm not buying the '07s. Hold onto your wallet until the 2008s are available. I will be watching the Beaux Freres 2008 Pinots, and will advertise them next March and June. They are fabulous now, even though bottling is months away. I suspect there will be many fantastic pinots from Oregon sporting the '08 vintage on their labels. When they're more widely available, my glass and I will soldier through a number of them, so that we can all load up on quality pinot.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Sulfites in Wine Get Unfair Rap

The Wine Wizard wrote the following great response to yet another person who erroneously believes he has a sulfite allergy and thus cannot drink red wine. A model of sulfur dioxide is shown to the right.

Wine Wizard replies: It is impossible to make a sulfite-free wine, because wine yeast produce sulfur dioxide (SO2) during the fermentation process. Wines with no added sulfite contain from 6 to 40 ppm of sulfite, according to most experts. Check with your physician to make sure that you really are allergic to sulfites. Only a small percentage of the population (approximately 0.01%, or 1 in 10,000) is truly allergic to sulfites. These people lack the digestive enzyme sulfite oxidase and therefore can’t metabolize sulfites. This small percentage of the population is also asthmatic, so many doctors test their patients for sulfite allergies when a diagnosis of asthma is made. These individuals typically know they’re allergic from childhood and so know to avoid all foods and beverages that contain sulfites including, but not limited to, lunchmeats, processed salami, processed fruit juices, packaged seafood and dried fruits, as well as wine.
Sulfur dioxide gets a bad rap because of the government warning label plastered on wine bottles that is only targeted to this select group of consumers. Furthermore, many people blame sulfites for the group of symptoms commonly called the “wine headache.” These symptoms are often simply caused by the alcohol in the product. There has been some speculation in the medical community that histamines — a naturally occurring substance found in foods like canned tuna and wine — are a possible culprit of this “red wine malaise,” but there has been no conclusive evidence so far. Ironically, many consumers drink white wine, thinking red wines have more sulfites, when white wines typically do.
At the end of the day, using sulfites in winemaking is usually not a health issue. Judicious use of sulfite use can significantly increase the quality of your wine. International regulatory boards usually set legal levels at around 350 ppm total sulfur dioxide and most commercial wines are bottled with totals between 50-100 ppm. A little bit of SO2, used wisely, goes a long way and won’t hurt 9,999 out of 10,000 of us.

Chateau Montelena tasting

Just look at that winery! It was built in 1882--perhaps Napa Valley's first?--and has stone walls 12 feet thick in places. Famous for the 1976 "Judgment of Paris" in which its Chardonnay beat out the best French wines in a blind tasting, Montelena is famed for its cabs as well. So it was with great anticipation that I accepted David's very kind invitation to taste their reds at a event in which Montelena's Jim Barrett was the speaker.

Located high on Mt. St. Helena and in the high north end of the Napa Valley, it gets fogs and cool breezes spilling over from the Russian River Valley. This leads to night-time temps of just 50F, versus day temps as high as 100F, and that diurnal difference gives the wine more acidity, which you can taste. Also, we learned that not so long ago, wines would top out at about 8% alcohol, but the yeasts used today can push that to 12-15%, so wines have become much more powerful in the past few decades.

I thought their Chardonnay ($46 retail) was firm, fruity, and had good grip. The 750's can age for seven years. The '06 Zin ($27 retail; head-trained on 6' trunks and planted in 1972) was sharp with no nose at first, though later it opened to a nice bouquet. But it cannot quite stand up to one of California's super-zins, such as a Turley or a Hartford.

Then we jumped into the various estate cabs, from 1999 to 2005. I found some a bit acidic or thin. The '05 had a better nose than the other 2000's, with dark fruit and tobacco notes. The '99, though, was amazing: with an awesome bouquet, sweet tannins, and still tastes young.
I can buy these at Columbia Distributors, if you are interested.

Thursday, May 14, 2009


Not a word you see every day. The Eastern Towhee is a ground bird, a "large New World sparrow." He's a beaut. Ours loves to dig up the bark mulch in my vineyard, presumably looking for worms. I will begrudge him a few of those, so long as he doesn't take an affinity for grapes.
This bird's call is "drink your teeeeeee," which isn't bad advice.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Pop! Book!

This is off-topic for wine, but here it is:

1. A soda suggestion:

If you drink soda and know about the health dangers of artificial sugars and corn syrup and phosphoric acid, then give Pepsi Natural a try. It uses real sugar, kola nut, water, some naturally-occurring food acids and colors, and not much else. I found it hiding behind the refrigerated section, at Costco. It's good stuff; I hope it survives. It's much more like a real food, in huge contrast to mainline Coke, Pepsi, etc. It IS a sugar drink, to be sure, but if you're already drinking diet soda or corn syrup soda, you could benefit from avoiding the corn syrup (artificial; does not exist in nature; some think it can't be digested as sugar and is instead laid down as fat; in fact, some think it's partly responsible for the obesity epidemic), the aspartame (linked to seizure disorders), and the phosphoric acid (leaches calcium out of your bones) that are in the classic sodas. I'm not a doctor; do your own research.

2. A book recommendation:
If you like: mystery; cannibalism; cargo cults; goddess worship; fast action; aging, mistake-prone protagonists, organ theft, airplane theft, ocean maroonings; minefields; and extramarital sex, then I recommend a great book: It's "Island of the Sequined Love Nun" by Christopher Moore. It's awesome.

You Gotta Be Kidding: 32 wineries in Tennessee?

and at least one of them is a good one! We went to Jackson TN to visit some of Jane's friends, and found two wineries nearby: One was imminently forgettable, but the other, Crown Winery, is well worth a blog post:

If you often wonder: "Who are these people who found new wineries?", here is an answer: Peter Howard is a "British gas physicist" whose ancestors include the gent who named the types of clouds, and also include the shipbuilder to Peter the Great. Peter Howard married a former Miss Tennessee, and there you go.

The new winery building has a spacious tasting room and is built in the California Spanish style. It sits amidst a hilly former dairy farm. The winemaker is quite talented. Because of the humid summers (and the resulting disease pressure), they grow mostly hybrid grapes (please recall my earlier missives about the undeniable--and green--trend towards hybrids). I took a special interest in their Chamborcin, because that is a parent of Regent, which is taking a foothold in my own vineyard. Their Chamborcin is very nice: Bright fruits, good balance, very drinkable.

So, if you find yourself halfway between Nashville and Memphis, check out Crown Winery! And you have to go there, because it is a CRIME for them to ship wine outside of TN. You can thank some of the most corrupt politicians in the country for that little (unconstitutional) gem.

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...