Friday, December 20, 2019

UC Davis releases five new modern grape varieties

These are the kinds of grapes that will save the wine world. Read their description here.

None of these are early-ripening enough to grow here in the PacNW. Instead, they were bred (and it took 20 years!) to resist Pierce's Disease, a bacterial catastrophe that kills vineyards in the SE US and also in southern CA. As far as I know, these new varieties don't have immunity against powdery mildew, so that's another reason they wouldn't do well here (unless they were treated with soil fauna-killing inorganic sprays or expensive organic sprays).

The commentator in the linked article thinks the wine drinking public won't cotton to these new grapes. I think he's wrong. Although maybe half of  my wine customers aren't open-minded and don't order or even come to taste my wines made from modern grape varieties, the other half are interested, and will taste and often buy the wines.

In order to save the world of wine from the effects of climate change and environmental degradation, we growers and winemakers need to work hard to make great wines from these new grapes.

Tuesday, December 10, 2019

Surprise, surprise! Insurance companies refuse to cover "smoke taint" in wine, from forest fires

Read this article about it.

If Smoke taint is severe, it ruins a wine. Who knows whether the insurance companies specifically excluded smoke taint, but I doubt it. Another interesting example of how having insurance does not mean you are protected. I wish I could say something nicer about insurance companies.

(photo credit: Getty Images)


Monday, November 25, 2019

Climate Change Challenges Napa Wineries

It's not just the heat. it's the early Springs, late freezes, early Fall rains, wildfires, and power outages (as PG&E shuts down the grid to avert fires, even as wineries need power then).

This article makes it clear just how daunting it is to be a winery owner now, especially in a region such as Napa Valley, where wineries are losing fruit, business, and profits to accelerating climate change.

It's a bit easier up herein the PacNW. In most summers it doesn't get too hot, though we are seeing early rains in Fall, which are bad news. We haven't seen many killing late frosts, but we sometimes have late budbreak. Irregular weather presents many challenges. 

But we are an adaptable species. We'll see what happens. Meanwhile, all of us should be doing more to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. (photo credit: JIBC)

Thursday, October 10, 2019

2019 Grape Harvest Report, SW Washington

Harvest 2019: The Good, The Ugly

1. The Ugly: 
a. Bud break was two weeks late here on the Wet Side (of the Cascades), and summer was cooler, so we didn't make up the late start. Then, we had rains come three weeks early and they were record heavy rains (at our farm, we saw 6.8" rain between Sept 7 and Sept 22, when normally lighter rains wouldn't start until after Sept 22). We all saw record bird damage, as the birds were starving due to the early rains' rotting the wild blackberries. Other area growers have told me that even with nets, they lost over half their crop, as birds found ways in but couldn't get out, so they just hung out inside the nets and ate more and more. Wasp damage was also very high, and some clusters saw some rot--wasp and rot berries had to be hand-removed from each cluster, greatly slowing harvest speed.
b. I've learned which modern grapes can hang through rain, and even resist some bird damage, and which cannot. But every grape saw its Brix fall (a very bad thing here) when the rains came.
c. Many growers on the Wet Side abandoned their grapes this year, or harvested only about 25% of normal yields with far-reduced ripeness. Higher-elevation vineyards fared the worst of course.
d. On the warm side (east of the Cascades--as in Walla Walla, Yakima, TriCities, and Red Mountain), it was a nice-but-cool summer. They had more rain than usual (Yakima saw 1.5" in a day, in early September, when they get only about 8" in an entire year! But their worst issue has been early frost: 24F tonight in Yakima and Tri Cities (Walla Walla is being spared that).  Grapes can withstand some freezing, as sugar-water freezes at a lower point than just water, though any heavy frost will kill the leaves, ending any further ripening. Growers there couldn't harvest early because it was a cool summer, and are scrambling to get their grapes in before the berries freeze and burst. 
e. This is a year when you will need to be a very careful consumer. Look for wineries/sellers who are frank about their wines--try to look past the marketing BS. I pledge to you that I will be as honest as I possibly can, to tell you what my wines taste like. I am pretty optimistic about this year's wines, given the horiffic circumstances of their birth. Perhaps grapes are more adaptable to wine than I knew.

2. The Good: 
a. At our Epona Vineyard, I picked my Leon Millot and Labelle at pretty good chemistry, the day before the heavy rains hit; they hit 22 Brix and had great flavors, and will make good wine. The advantages of my steep-south-slope vineyard, coupled with my choice of early-ripening grapes, made a huge difference in this cooler, shorter year. My Cayuga hung through the heavy rains and avoided most of the bird and wasp damage, and while its sugars were less than normal, it has a wide range of good flavor profiles, depending on the weather. This year, it's showing grapefruit and good nuance and zing. 
b. All of us winemakers on the Wet Side are honing our rose-making skills. I picked many red grapes at about 16-18 Brix (when you want 21-24), and so far it appears they will make a nice, big, darker rose wine. 
​c. Some growers on the Wet Side saw their varieties hang well through rains; these included Marechal Foch and Cayuga. The ability to hang through heavy rain is a prize attribute in a year like this.
d. The Cab Franc I just got in Yakima (Noel Vineyard) is great. 25 Brix and magnificent flavors--as in 2017, I was "last one out" of the vineyard, and all that ​hang time let the fruit shed its green bell pepper notes (pyrazines) and attain fantastic fruit flavors.
e. I also bought Cab Sauv from that vineyard. Was a bit skeptical because the great Cab Sauv usually comes from further east, in W.Walla or Red Mountain. But I read there have been many great Cab Sauvs from the Yakima area. The Cab Sauv I just bought is known for its rosy/floral notes and softness--still fruit-forward and fairly big, but more restrained than a big, powerful Cab. It also hit 25 Brix and had loooonnnnggggg hang time. Can't wait to work with it.


Thursday, October 3, 2019

US slaps 25% tariffs on European products including French wine, olive oil, cheeses, Scotch

Oh, now this has gotten personal. Trump hit European products with a 25% tariff, reacting to their tariff on US airplanes. This affects many products that we cannot easily find elsewhere: olive oil, French wine, Scotch, many cheeses! But French wine? Really? Ugh. I don't see how anybody wins, in a tariff war.

Sunday, September 8, 2019

Dona Paula 2005 "Selecction de Bodega" Malbec

The dinner we made was outstanding: Cuban-style pork, slow-cooked with lots of onions, garlic, carrot, celery, tomato, and enough smoked paprika to outfit the Hungarian army for a year. Over our own potatoes smashed wtih our chives and some vegan butter and roasted our garlic. Bueno!

But the (expensive) wine didn't rise to the occcasion:

Here is Robert Parker's 94-point review of it:

"The 2005 Malbec Seleccion de Bodega received 24 months in new French oak. It has a splendid nose of pain grille, pencil lead, plum, black cherry, and earth notes. This is followed by an opulent, rich wine with gobs of flavor, incipient complexity and a 45-second finish. This wine will develop for another 6-8 years with prime drinking from 2015 to 2035."

All I can say is that, in 2019, with the wine 14 years old, is that none of that review is true. It may have been true once, but not tonight.

Be careful, my friends! If you lay down a plethora of wines with high scores, be prepared for the fact that not all of them will age well. You know that I like finding good wines that aren't so expensive. I wish I had a dollar for every time I carefully researched a wine and laid it down, only to find later that it doesn't do it for me.  This one didn't have much fruit, even thought its color suggested it's still young. It had a faint whiff and taste of wet newspaper (probably a little Brett). It just didn't come together. What's wrong with me? I found a similar result in another Walla Walla big red that I opened last week after years of cellaring. 

Could it be that it's better to find good cheaper wines, and drink them within a year? I think so. I think the lure of laying down great wines is not quite all it's cracked up to be. Yes, there are glorious successes. When I turned fifty, we had a party where I opened fifty-year old Lafite and Haut Brion; both were very interesting (though not great), and what was REALLY interesting was how different each of them were, when both were made in 1957 only miles apart. Old wines see the fading of fruit, and tertiary flavors come forward. Did you see Parker's reference to burnt toast and pencil lead? How much do you want to pay for pencil lead and burnt toast in your wine? Just asking. I had a fight once in elementary school, and the other guy jammed his sharp pencil into my hand. The tip broke off in my skin. I asked the teacher, "If it's lead, isn't it poisonous inside me?" and she said we call it lead but it's just carbon. Until a few years ago, you could still see its green spot in my knuckle. Fun memory, but in your wine????

To be fair, Jane liked this wine. I guess the further I go, the pickier I get. That dish was GREAT! And tomorrow, or the next day, the wine will be, too...

(Photo Credit: Cookpad)

On sheds

Somehow, it is true that we live in shed country. My Vancouver neighborhood was built in the 1930s, with large lots. Plenty of space for auxiliary construction, and nature abhors a vacuum!

When we lived in (fill in the blank:) Tulsa, or Houston, or Nashville, there were a few sheds in those cities (maybe; not sure), but not two in every yard! I love my neighbors, because they are great friends and cool people. But also because they have a lot of sheds. It's a new way of life to me. It's a way of expanding your reach over your land. It's a way of making a CAMPUS of what would otherwise be, well, a HOUSE. Jeff told me that in Vancouver you can built a shed, up to 200 square feet, without a permit, and I suppose that rule feeds Shed Fever. It doesn't hurt that he and Jose have excellent construction skills. They have constructed what might be called Taj Mahals, but for that pesky 200' requirement. Such attention to finish detail! Straight lines; good materials. Over the fence, I see: a massive grape arbor/outdoor patio, a huge and lovely grape-covered patio, yet another (uncovered) outside patio, and a shed that served as a teen boy hangout, and a shed that is a fine artist's studio (with a vew of the Fremont Bridge!), and a high-ceilinged garden shed to die for, and two detached garages, and a new wraparound deck that's covered and has surround benches, and the list goes on. That is just in TWO properties.

I built a carport (to ward off hot summer sun and bird poo). Sort of like a shed. We're building a metal shed now, from a kit (as the many sheet metal cuts to my hands can attest). Because the outdoor table and chairs, and the fire pit, and the wheelbarrow need a place. That kit has about 10,000 parts, so shedbuilding is not a matter to be undertaken lightly.

You get to the point where any open space starts screaming for a new shed. Just so, there is another space where I could build a 10x20 shed, tricked out as a spare bedroom, with electricity and a chamber pot and wraparound deck. It could even have a secret door to an underground wine cellar. And a rooftop sun lounge! Maybe a small antenna to listen for extraterrestrial signals! ("Is anybody out there?" thank you, Pink Floyd).

It's not like we don't have nice homes. Each of us has a very nice home. If we were normal like you, we could just sit inside our homes and not even think about sheds. But there is a Lure of the Shed here, be it She-shed, or He-shed, or They-shed. It's enough to make you shed a tear. It beckons the hammer, the saw. You get your dream juices flowing. You are charmed by the Siren Call of The Home Depot (is that a rail stop for houses who travel by train?), or the Lure of Lowes. Eagerly you reach for the bait, only to find the hook in your mouth. The new shed rises. It's almost like San Gimignano, where it was fashionable to make your home as tall as you possibly could, only here it's about making the campus of your dreams, a network of locii for your luxurious livification.

We climb mountains because we can (well, some of us can). We "shed" because we can. Some say that experiences are worth more than "stuff," and there is the truth of it. Building a shed is about the design, the building, and the pride in a job well done. The fact that you can store stuff in it is ancillary. Right? Right?

But build it well. Because the World is Watching. And, who put the "shed" in "dashed," as in, "the shed failure dashed his hopes?"

(photo credit:

These heavy rains: What's it mean for the 2019 grape harvest?

1. Is this a good or a bad year for grapes, here on the wet (west) side of the Cascade Mountains? That is still hard to say for sure, but there are many large problems facing us grapegrowers now, that we don't see in a year with dry weather all the way to ideal harvest time.

Here are the factors:

a. Weather: If a great year has a long, dry summer, then the weather for grapes is TERRIBLE this year. First, the grapes budded out about two weeks later this year than last, due to a late, cool Spring. (And, even last year, another cool year, the grapes budded out later than normal.) Second, we didn't have enough heat in this short summer to let the grapes catch up, so they stayed behind. Third, these heavy rains we're getting yesterday, today, tomorrow and Tuesday are super-early -- about a week earlier than last year (which was also very early) and three weeks earlier than the end-of-Septembe/early-October rain return date that we grapegrowers hope for. Heavy rain prevents further grape ripening and dilutes the grapes' flavors (the water content rises inside the grape). That can throw the desired sugar/acid balance out of whack. And it can even split the grape, which ruins it.

If you like numbers, look at Growing Degree Days (GDDs), which use temperature as a proxy for sunshine: Through today, my vineyard (Woodland, WA) has had 1,940 GDDs year-to-date, whereas in the warm year of 2015, we saw about 2,100 GDDs through this date -- a huge difference.

b. Grapes' defenses against predation: When it is cloudy or rainy, the birds take it as a signal to come in and eat the grapes. I saw that start up big-time a few days ago. It doesn't take many birds to eat out a good-sized vineyard in just a few days. Even nets don't totally protect the fruit. Also, wasps need to eat sugar before the winter, and they love grapes. Wasps have trouble piercing thick-skinned grapes, but thin-skinned grapes are easy prey. A grape like Riesling can hang into November wtih its tough skin, but a grape like Regent is toast after heavy rains and wasps. Pinot Noir is not very tough, either, and neither are some of my modern varieties.

c. Grapes' defenses against disease: I don't have to spray for fungus because my modern grape varieties are resistant, but a susceptible grape can succumb to fungus during a rainy spell when the farmer can't spray. Grape disease pressure rises very high, with high humidity.

d. Vineyard and grape variety factors: In an average summer, if Fall rains come early, I can have most of my grapes already picked and safely in the winery, because my vineyard has steep South-facing slope (which receives more solar radiation then a flat vineyard), and because my varieties ripen very early. But the grapes budded out so late this year and the rains came back super-early, so I was able to pick only two varieties so far, just before this deluge (half my Leon Millot and all my Labelle). I have many very-early varieties, but they are all way behind, so outside they sit, with my fingers crossed. Surely the most-common vinifera varieties (Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Pinot Gris) are also way behind, because they ripen long after mine.

All of that sounds pretty bad, for this year.

However, if the grapes survive these rains, it looks like there are still many sunny days probably coming, after next week's two-day return of yet more rains. That is why it's so tough to say, now, whether this is a good or bad grape year here. The big question will be: Does anybody still have healthy grapes, with good flavors, after the rains, birds, wasps, and fungus have all done their worst? I am not very optimistic that most vineyards will do well this year. I know that I will lose a lot of my remaining fruit.

Many grapegrowers put such a heavy spin on late-season rain that they begin to lose credibility. They want you to think it's not so bad, because they have wines to sell. I've heard remarks like, "Oh, we needed some rain, because the grapes were very dry." Maybe, if the vine was so drought-stressed that there was danger the fruit wouldn't ripen. But usually a super-dry summer will result in great fruit, as the plant (pardon my anthropromorphism here) is worried about the drought conditions, and is in fear for its own survival, and tries extra hard to make its grapes the most-delicious-possible so the grape-eating predator will scatter the seeds for the mother plant. Irrigated vineyards might water during the summer, but by about mid-August they shut off the watering, because the fruit is best when it finishes dry. That is the plain truth.

On the hotter, dry side of the Cascades, it is probably still looking good.

This kind of summer makes me very glad that my vineyard is small and I don't need the wines from this year's fruit to be able to pay the bills. And yet, I have to say that the wines I'm already making should turn out good. But overall yield could be quite low this year, and overall quality could also be low, depending on the above factors for each specific location and variety.

(photo credit: Tanzania)

Thursday, August 22, 2019

Let's talk Grape Genetics and Selfing, and look at what sprouted in our potatoes!

Many thanks to Jon, one of the grapebreeders, and to Jean in Quebec and Troy in New Mexico for helping me understand this topic:

Most of you who are gardeners or farmers know that some seeds grow true and some do not. I've been told that a wild plum whose fruit I love wouldn't grow true from seed, so I was lucky to be able to root a cutting of it, and now the new tree is in a better spot (more sun, in our Middle Orchard). 

Grapes also don't grow true from seed. A grape's offspring will be different from their parent--maybe better, maybe worse. If an offspring is successful, it will tend to produce better offspring than its less-successful siblings. That is how evolution works.  

So, I found a grape seedling growing in one of our raised vegetable beds, amidst some potatoes. This was a very healthy young vine. I traced its unique leaf shape, color, and veining pattern to one of the grapes in the Epona Vineyard: the Delicatessen grape, one of my favorites. I've potted it up, and plan to raise it and see if and how its fruit is different. Growing a plant from its parent's seed is calling "selfing."

Here's Jon's response to my genetics question: 

"Yes, when you "self" a grapevine you will end up with new combinations of alleles, and the seedling is likely to be different in some respects to the parent.  There are some old American cultivars that are selfed seedlings of older cultivars. 

Here is a very basic summary of what is going on. Most cells in a grape vine have two copies of each chromosome, and thus can have two different copies of each gene. Consider a simple Mendelian scenario, where you have a dominant allele for big berries ("B"), and a recessive allele for small berries ("b"). You can have three genotypes: BB, Bb, and bb.  Since B is dominant, BB and Bb will both have big berries, and bb will have small berries. Now, when a  plant makes pollen and eggs, they only get one copy of each gene. So, with eggs and pollen from a parent with a heterozygous genotype (Bb), some will get B, and others will get b. When the plant fertilizes itself, depending on the combination of alleles inherited from the eggs and sperm, you could get embryos with any of the three genotypes, BB, Bb, or bb.  So, you can see how a parent that is heterozygous for big berries could produce big or small berried offspring.

Grapes are heterozygous for most genes, so in a selfing scenario, you have the above mechanism playing out countless times at the various loci (locations in the genome). This is what people mean when they mention that selfed seedlings get a "reshuffling" of their genes; No new genes can come into play, but new combinations of existing alleles surely will. 

So, your Deli seedling will surely have some differences, but will likely be very similar to the parent. One thing that is reputed to happen a lot with selfing is the production of runty, weak seedlings, resulting from the expression of normally masked recessive alleles, but it doesn't sound like you have one of these."

My hope is that this vine might bring some advantage compared to its parent Possible improvements (which I'll either see, or not see, in this offspring) are: greater vine vigor; more fruit yield; more complexity in flavor; earlier ripening.  We'll see. This is a "long game"--it will take 3-5 years to learn what we have here. It's the chase that fascinates growers. There's a tiny chance that this vine is something big, but it's far more likely that it will be so close to its parent that it doesn't deserve to be considered different. 

Thursday, August 1, 2019

France and Spain moving quickly now to modern grape varieties, to minimize poisonous spraying

THIS is great news. We continue to see reason take hold over senseless attachment to the old ways. Lives of vineyard workers are at stake, not to mention the lives of billions of beneficial worms and microbes in the soil, which inorganic sprays have been killing for decades now.

When France allows modern grapes (after a century of senselessly prohibiting them), you know the tide is turning. Read my book! Modern Grapes for the Pacific Northwest (on Amazon).


Friday, July 19, 2019

Morning Musings

1. Jane's taking vacay today. On the ridiculous side, we're going to get a dewormer for the dog, and on the sublime side we're going kayaking on the lower Lewis River during the slack neap tide. In between, there will be the last labeling of the 2018 Syrah-Malbec blend that is going to be great.

A neap tide occurs when the moon is about half full; that means it's at right angles to the earth-sun line, and the sun and moon are NOT working together to maximize the tides. So the difference between high tide and low is less, in neap tides, and therefore there is less flow from high to low tide. The perfect time to kayak a river. And the slack tide is the period before and after high or low tide, when the water is not flowing much. (Yes, even when a tidally-influenced river is flowing downstream, it will flow upstream during high tide.)

2. Coffee! My nose, tongue, and I have traveled CoffeeWorld together, and I keep returning to the beans from Guatemala. Sure, there is excellent coffee from Mexico and Peru (my other two faves), but for me Guatemala has the perfect combination of chocolate, nuttiness, and smoothness. If you get the best quality, there's no weediness/herbal notes either. Highly recommended. Try Trailhead, or Luckman's in Woodland. I found to be low-priced but fairly low quality-quite weedy.

3. Story recommendation: Check out "Gondoliers" by Karen Russell, published in her book of short stories "Orange World." I love the setting (post-climate change southern Florida, which is now underwater), and the setup (four sisters operate gondolas, ferrying survivors around the various wrecked underwater buildings), though the ending is a bit ambiguous and weak for my taste.

4. Wines: I hope you are all drinking a lot of rose wines now. Tis the season!

Tuesday, July 9, 2019

Epona Wine joins the Porto Protocol

Epona Wine is committed to organic and other sustainable practices in bringing both classical and modern grape variety wines to discerning consumers. It recently joined the important Porto Protocol, an international effort led by famed Port producers in Portugal, committed to addressing climate change through such steps as installing solar power, conserving water, insulating winery buildings, planting trees for shade and carbon capture, sourcing fruit locally instead of bringing it in from far away, and other similar means..

"The Porto Protocol initiative was started by Taylor Fladgate, a major Port house in Portugal,” explained Kenton Erwin, Epona's CEO. “It is being joined by numerous worldwide wineries and vineyards, and even heavy industry, with the shared goal to find and implement new ways to fight climate change."

"Grapes and wine are one of only a few branded fruits--where fruit is converted into a finished, branded product, such as Epona wines. Because of this branding, the wine industry has a special connection to its consumers, which puts us winery and vineyard owners in a unique position to address climate change with individual consumers. We can be important leaders in fighting climate change. And there is an economic upside to it: There is a large and growing market for Green products.”

For more information about Epona, go to

Read more about Porto Protocol here.

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

Epona stemless wine glasses for sale! Check this out:

Wine friends, I bought 144 wine glasses and had them monogrammed with Epona's name and logo. 15 oz stemless glasses. $5 each.

I bought 144, in order to get the volume discount price of $4 each, and I used 72 of them at the recent Farm Party. Trying to sell the other 72 of them. I'm marking them up just $1 each.

Dishwasher safe. I chose this size and shape because I like this one. A stemless glass is a bit trendy now, and it's less likely to tip over, making it good for outdoor use (and indoor use).

Please contact me at , to get yours! And THANK YOU for helping me with some indirect marketing.


Monday, June 17, 2019

Sobering thoughts (pardon the pun) on Millenials' wine consumption

There are reasons to think that wine consumption will slowly decline in the US, according to this article by Rob McMillan.

Crushing student loans are keeping Millennials from owning homes at the same rate as Boomers when they were that age. This means that Millennials don't/won't have as many wine cellars to fill as Boomers do. And, because premium hard liquor is a bit cheaper than premium wine, thrifty Millennials tend to drink the hard stuff instead. And the anti-alcohol movement is momentarily succeeding in vilifying all alcohol, using bad science to dispute the long-proved notion that moderate wine consumption has health benefits.

All this, coupled with the aging of the Boomers, will tend to reduce wine consumption in the US. Wineries need to be careful about expanding, and lower-cost premium wines may win out over wines that are clearly-overpriced.  Epona (both the winery and the virtual wine shop) focuses on making/finding good wines at lower prices, and so we hope we're well-positioned for these trends. Three Epona wines just won Double Gold, Silver, and Silver at the state's-best Seattle Wine Awards. And of course we're one of the most-sustainable "Green" wineries in the country, with modern grape varieties that are grown organically and never need spray or netting, that don't see fruit having to be trucked over the mountains, to get wine to consumers. And we are 100% powered by solar energy. You just cant get more "Green" than that!

Sunday, June 9, 2019

A sad day-Robert Parker retires

Read about it here.

Parker was any lawyer's success story-he had a passion for wine and used it to "escape" the stressful, and often-unrewarding legal profession. He popularized the 100 point rating scale, and the concept that critics must be neutral and honest.  He was one of my idols in wine reviewing. I came to understand later (perhaps as his own taste preferences changed) that his high rankings didn't correlate well to wines I liked, but that is not a knock on him--we all must use our own perceptions to honestly state what we think. Everyone's palate and preferences are different.

Kudos to Robert Parker!

Monday, May 27, 2019

Wine from LaCresent, an obscure modern grape variety, wins overall top prize at major wine competition!

Read about it here.

I love this David-vs-Goliath story! A white wine from a modern grape almost nobody has heard of, beats the best vinifera wines from around the country. Even better, the winning winery is a tiny place that doesn't have a tasting room.

Epona Winery doesn't have a tasting room either. The government makes it almost impossible to have one--they can require traffic studies, and parking lot watershed studies, and they say you can't use well water to wash the wine glasses (which requires you to install a super-expensive water treatment facility), and the list of such rules goes on and on. The result is that it costs a fortune to open a tasting room. And your reward is to have limos full of drunk people come in to continue their party, while not buying much. And it increases your risk of a customer driving drunk, then blaming you for their own misconduct.

Anyway, a huge achievement for a small winery, using an obscure modern grape variety. Congratulations!

Friday, May 17, 2019

Two huge disappointments: In search of a good Spanish wine

No clue why both of these came out so awfully from the bottle:

1. 2006 Anares Reserva Rioja: $25 or so, and 90 points scores here and there. What a huge disappointment! This wine should be elegant, big, with fine oaky tannins and with its fruit still lively. In reality, it is thin, acidic, with no fruit. Just a disaster. A good Rioja should easily last this long.

2. 2016 Altovinum evodia Garnacha: An Eric Solomon import. Old-vine Spanish Garnacha should show forward purple fruits and great balance while still impressing with its heft. This wine (a gift to me) was also thin, with no fruit character and nothing positive enough to make us want to drink it. Another stunning disappointment. Yet it got 91 points by Jeb Dunnuck (Wine Advocate). Not an expensive bottle, but there are good $10 Garnachas. This just isn't one of them. Shame on the well-respected Solomon house for importing such a poor wine.

So this was a good Spanish dinner that saw no even halfway-decent wine served.

It goes to show: Don't assume a gift wine is a good one. Don't assume a high-scoring wine is a good one. The safest approach is to buy more than one of a wine, and the week before your event, open one to see how it's showing, and then (hopefully) you can open its twin for the big show, and all will be well.

Friday, May 10, 2019

K Vintners 2013 "The Creator" - review

There was a time when I thought Charles Smith, at K Vintners, could almost do no wrong. He moved speedily up the quality curve, passing large and small WA wineries alike with wines that came to garner routine high-90s scores from the likes of Robert Parker. Say this about Charles Smith: He is a genius. The few times I spoke with him (starting with a tasting at his Walla Walla farm tasting room when HE was pouring, in about 2000), I quickly saw that his mind is truly exceptional: He spoke at 99 mph and I couldn't perceive it all, but I could tell it was special. For a guy who managed R&R bands in Europe, he sure did understand wine.

A few years ago, I put him, and Cayuse's Christophe Baron, as the only wineries in WA that deserved to be "First Growths" (comparing WA wineries to Bordeaux's classification system for Grand Crus). I also added the white and rose wines of Barnard Griffin in that category. But (and isn't the way with the USA?), those rankings change radically, in just a few years, unlike Europe where generations of family carefully tend their estate's reputation.

Fast-forward many years. Now, Charles has sold most of his labels for many millions (more than $10m? more than $100M?). Most people would stop working so hard, to achieve greatness, if they were worth ?$10M or ?$100M. Charles is still making wine I think, but it's hard to imagine how his heart can still be "hungry" in it. Or maybe he is bored with what worked before, and is exploring new avenues that most of us think are misplaced.

I opened his 2013 "The Creator" tonight with grilled thick pork chops, sauteed squash, and a salad. Check out the label, where he casts himself as an angelic God. That is just too much. I'm not religious, but I think I know a god when I see one, and this is no god. It is a good wine. Maybe not the great wine I used to think it was, but it's a bit complex and interesting--certainly drinkable. But is it worth $60 or $80? (I forget)? No way. Not even close. I'm making a Syrah that is way better than The Creator (a Cab-Syrah blend), and I'll sell my Syrah for about $15-$20 probably. Charles is a genius--he was able to mold his environment (as C. Baron does) into a frenzy of demand for his wines. I'm not jealous; I'm in awe.  But send some of his wines to CA into the auction market, and you will quickly learn (as I recently did with his supposed-best Royal City Syrah, costing about $100+), that current wine buyers do not see value there, despite high scores from some well-known critics. Royal City Syrah is spurned by buyers; I dropped the price three times--way below my purchase price- and still no bids. Live and learn. I disengaged from Charles' mailing list; it wasn't worth it. I finally decided his wines didn't serve me what I deserved, from all my years of supporting him with my purchasing dollars.

I will say again: Anyone can overpay for wine. It is the easiest thing to do and takes no skill at all. What is really difficult is to find good wines for lower cost. That is the hunt worth pursuing.

And I hope that Washington fine wines will reach the point where they can maintain quality for generations, as in Europe.

Kenton Erwin, Epona Wines

(photo credit: K&L Wines, the finest retail wine store in CA and maybe the country)

2018 Bordeaux - a perplexing vintage that just might be the best since '82 and '59?

Fascinating. What do you think when you know (1) the 2018 Bordeaux wines are high-alcohol, high-tannin, and low-acid, from a "hellish" vintage (meaning stark contrasts of too cold/wet and too hot); but (2) the critics say the wines don't taste that way at all, and are magnificent, perhaps on par with '82 and '59? I confess I can't make much sense of it unless #2 is pure marketing lies, which is very unlikely given the fine reputations of the critics. But this points up the complexities of appreciating fine wines. Wine chemistry is amazingly complicated.

This is an email to me from Philip Bohorfoush:

The 2018 Bordeaux en primeur has begun and the vintage is receiving tremendous accolades.  James Suckling calls the 2018 “an exceptional vintage” and Antonio Galloni comments “the best 2018s are positively stunning.”  2018 is a dark fruited vintage with intense, concentrated fruit, great freshness, and significant tannins.
James Suckling
  • “Most people agree that it is a great year and can be compared in quality to recent excellent years such as 2016 and 2015. I think it could turn out to be an all-time great, similar to 2010, 2009 and 1989 or even such classics as 1982 or 1959.”

The finest wines are beginning to release.  I have included a table below with our top choices and their scores from James Suckling, The Wine Advocate, and Antonio Galloni. 
If you would like me to make sure you see the new releases first including first tranche pricing, please let me know.  Also, please feel free to reply with your wish list for ease. 
Many thanks!
James Suckling: 2018 Bordeaux – An exceptional vintage
  • It is a unique vintage for Bordeaux not only because of its hellish grape growing season but because it created wonderful wines with a beautiful depth of ripe fruit and polished, strong tannins. These wines have an impressive underlying freshness despite one of the warmest and driest late summers and harvests on record.”
  • The majority of the 2018 reds in my tastings were beautifully structured with ripe fruit and potent tannins, yet there is an impressive drinkability to them, which is a great sign of quality.
  • I remember the first vintage I tasted from barrel as a young wine critic in Bordeaux – the legendary 1982 – and the wines were so good to taste from barrel that I drank some for lunch with the likes of Alexis Lichine, Hughes Lawton, Daniel Lawton, and Anthony Barton. In fact, I drank some 2018 L’Évangile with lunch last week!”

Antonio Galloni: 2018 Bordeaux – Back in Black
  • “As for the wines, the best 2018s are positively stunning. I don’t see the consistency of 2016, for example, but 2018 offers a tremendous amount of choice for the consumer, from everyday gems to the rarest of collectibles.
  • One of the most fascinating aspects of the 2018s is that, with a few exceptions, the wines do not taste at all like what the analyses look like on paper. The numbers show wines with high alcohol, off the chart tannin and, in most cases, low acidities. It may seem hard to believe, but the wines don’t taste like that all.
  • The best 2018s are aromatically intense, deep, dark wines that beautifully marry fruit intensity with structure.
  • The intense ripeness of 2018 notwithstanding, there is a very clear and conscious move to harvest earlier than in the past, which is resulting in wines of greater freshness. Extractions are generally gentler, while the impact of new oak has come down markedly in many wines. Terra cotta amphoras, casks and other fermentation/aging vessels that are not traditional in Bordeaux are present in an ever-growing number of cellars. I am seeing an increase in trials with whole clusters in fermentation, another technique that is not at all common here.
Saint-Estèphe is one of the unquestioned overachievers in 2018, the best and most consistent vintage here since 2014. So many wines are brilliant. Cos d’Estournel and Calon Ségur, in particular, are extraordinary. Montrose and Lafon-Rochet aren’t too far behind.
Pichon-ComtessePontet-Canet and Latour are the most exciting wines in 2018, while Grand Puy LacostePichon Baron and Lynch Bages are just behind.
Saint-Julien is another star in 2018. Granted, the appellation is small, quality is often fairly homogenous. Nevertheless, I was deeply impressed with what I tasted. Léoville Las Cases and Ducru-Beaucaillou are off the charts
Margaux is arguably the appellation on the Left Bank with the widest separation of quality and style of wines. Yields were especially impacted at properties that farm biodynamically. Rauzan-SéglaPalmer and Durfort-Vivens all boast off the chart unctuousness and concentration, while wines like GiscoursCantenac-Brown and Brane-Cantenac are more gently shaped by the growing season. Château Margaux turned out a brilliant performance across all three of their wines.
Pessac-Léognan is one of the most variable appellations in 2018. Among the reds, Les Carmes Haut-BrionDomaine de ChevalierHaut BaillyPape ClémentMalartic Lagravière and Haut Nouchet are among the highlights. Haut-Brion and La Mission Haut-Brion are less exciting than they usually are, while Smith Haut-Lafitte (Rouge) was not well put together on both occasions I saw it.
Pomerol is one of the real sweet spots in 2018. Petrus has never been so sensual, inviting and arrestingly beautiful from barrel. Lafleur is utterly magnificent, as are TrotanoyLa Fleur-PétrusLa Conseillante and many others. Vieux Château Certan is deeply intriguing for many reasons, including the high percentage of Cabernet Franc relative to the recent past, but it remains a somewhat enigmatic wine at this stage.”
Moreover, the stylistic shift under way to make wines with more freshness and energy than in the past is heavily centered around Saint-Émilion. Specifically, I am thinking about Troplong-Mondot, Canon and Beauséjour Bécot, Figeac, Millery and Le Prieuré are all wines that emphasize finesse over power. Experiments with large casks at Angélus are fascinating and yet another example of how much things are in a state of evolution in Bordeaux.  Cheval Blanc is another star…the 2018 Cheval is sensual, creamy and incredibly inviting.”

2017 is a vintage port year!

Unusually, it follows the 2016 vintage year. Usually declarations of a vintage port year (when the port is bottled with a vintage year, instead of bottled NV or non-vintage) are fairly infrequent.

Friday, April 5, 2019

Should Lodi Ca go back to the grass?

So, for years I've enjoyed Seven Deadly Zins. Tonight we drank a 2016 7 Deadly Zins, Lodi Old Vine Zinfandel. Friends, I tell you what: Climate change is real! As parts of Australia and Lodi CA are learning, there is only so much you can do in the winery--if your fruit is being blasted by too much sun and heat, your wines will suffer, and I am very afraid that has now happened to Lodi Zins.

Already, it was super-hot there. For Goshsakes, they harvest their Zins as early as late August!  So much sun and heat. But this 2016 Old Vine Zin was way too black for us--gone are the ripe purple fruits, and though this wine was always lower in acid, now there is very little, and the wine seems too high-alcohol, too flabby, too black. This is very sad. MOVE NORTH! All growers must adjust to this continuing climate change. Maybe Lodi should be growing only Cab Sauv, and let the Zin grape migrate up the map.

Just sayin.

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

...But it depends on which wine you are drinking:

Recently, I was burned by two Cayuse wines, and I blogged about that, and also about some disappointing K Vintners wines. But everything in life is complicated--tonight I opened a 2014 K Vintners "The Deal" Syrah, and it is very drinkable. Dark purple; nose is muted but at first I thought I noticed purple fruit and cola. OK--later I smell definite purple fruits and that nice "smoothness" aroma. It's a fairly big wine, but has good structure. Good with my Cuban stew. Not as much fruit on the palate as I'd like. But my point is that it is not a disappointment. At about $35, it probably doesn't make sense to buy it--most likely better Syrahs are out there at less cost. But at least this won't disappoint you.

A distributor told me that Charles Smith has now sold off most of his wine labels. For huge bucks. I'm happy for him--he turned nothing but a dream and some money, and a passion for learning about wine, into a fortune. That is great. My first meeting with him was wonderful-he spoke at about 120 mph and I couldn't catch it all but what I heard was brilliant. I guess this raises the question: How well can you continue with the nitty-gritty of making great wine, when you're so wealthy? I hope he can.

And this is a Robert Parker story. Parker was one of my wine heroes, but over the years I learned that many of the wines he gave high 90s scores to (like K Vintners' wines), were not as good as their scores. Now I trust Spectator, and James Suckling, and Wine Enthusiast, much more. It can be argued that it was Parker who made Charles Smith a multimillionnaire. OK; I can live with that. But just know that if you're willing to search for them, there are many many wines at relatively low cost, that are better than many of super-high-priced wines from the likes of K and Cayuse...

Saturday, March 9, 2019

Dissing on two Cayuse wines

There is a huge benefit in following the wines from a long-established great European wine house (like Eschezeaux in Burgundy or Pichon-Lalande in Bordeaux) --they (many of them) have been in business for decades, if not centuries, and each chateau (usually) has developed and zealously maintains its own typical favor profiles and high standard of quality.

But in this infant nation we call America, most wineries don't have that kind of history. We don't see generations from the same family taking up the family wine mantle. And, here, winery fortunes rise and fall faster than the success or failure of the Seattle Seahawks. My favorite wine distributor's owners think, for example, that K Vintners' Charles Smitth, having sold out for $120M or so, is no longer able to reliably make mind-blowing wines (and I agree, having left his wine club recently for that reason--I don't mind $80 wines if they are mind-blowing, or if they perform well on the resale market, but if they seem too ordinary, or (perversely) too innovative, they leave me feeling shortchanged).

Just so, with Cayuse. I've learned the hard way that too many of their spendy wines don't perform well on the resale market. I've learned that, five or six years on, they just don't perform well enough on the palate to merit their $80 or $90 price tag.

It hurts to say all that. For years I thought Washington's two best wineries--its "First Growths"--were those two. But stuff changes. This is not Old Europe. It is necessary to stay on top of "the good wineries of today."

Tonight, we dined at the The Hammond in Camas WA, and opened our 2014 God Only Knows Grenache. It's retailing for $150 now, and got 97 points from Robert Parker. It should've been mind-blowing, but it was undrinkable. Not flawed, but just a bad wine. Both of us thought there wasn't enough fruit evident, and the wine was thin, and the finish was bitter. That bitter finish was the death knell for me, so we defaulted to our backup bottle: 2013 Foundry Malbec, which was "very good-but-not-great."

Last night, we took a 2013 Cayuse Armada Syrah to Elements in downtown Vancouver, and we made ourselves drink it, but didn't enjoy it. It also was thin and had a bitter finish. Not a very good wine. Yes, there was some bull's blood in it, and if you strained really hard, you might imagine some blueberry, but it just wasn't good or interesting. And yet Robert Parker gave it 98 points (!) and it's retailing now for $150.

When I can get much more enjoyment from a $20 or $40 bottle made elsewhere, why wouldn't I? What a disappointment.

So, who will be the next fleeting "First Growth" from Washington? I say that Cayuse and K Vintners are no longer First Growths. Maybe Thirds, if they are lucky.

Tuesday, March 5, 2019

Rivetto 2006 Barolo del Commune di Serralunga D'Alba

I (OK, and the winery) held this for 13 years, and now I understand why Barolos need that time. Younger Barolos can be not so great--fairly thin, and maybe disjointed--just not attractive. With age, I thought they turned bricky and had fascinating secondary flavors. But last night we opened this Barolo with Jane's fantastic veggie lasagna, and wow! The wine was very young-plenty of smooth tannins, with a bright purplish-red edge that's the hallmark of a young wine, not a bricky-brown edge that tells of an older wine. This wine was so seamlessly fantastic that you sort of got the overall sense of real excellence, instead of being able to pick out individual flavor notes. That said, Brian and I thought there was black cherry; I thought there was eucalyptus or menthol, and we thought there was just a hint of Brett, which great winemakers sometimes induce in tiny quantities, for complexity, whereas lots of Brett is a huge flaw.

Long time since I've enjoyed a wine this much! Just wow. Costs about $50 and well worth it!

I see that the pros like it too:

95    #16 of the Top 100, and 95 points, Wine Spectator: "Like its macerated black cherry and plum flavors, this is both sweet and intense, taking on a bittersweet chocolate richness as it powers its way to a long aftertaste. The ripeness is supported by a dense core of tannins. Best from 2014 through 2035. Tasted twice, with consistent notes. 1,600 cases made."
Wine Enthusiast
"Rivetto has delivered an impressive portfolio this year with vineyard-designate Barolos and a stellar Riserva. This Serralunga expression is ripe with generous, velvety fruit tones and loads of mineral, cola and spice. The wine shows balance and personality and definitely has the qualities needed for long aging."

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Important new links between American grapes and European grapes

Lenoir (sometimes called "Black Spanish") is a grape grown in South Texas, where it has excellent disease resistance and makes good red port wine. But DNA analysis reveals it is the same grape as "Jacquez Madeira," an old hybrid grape with both European and American roots.

Herbemont (named for an important early American grape breeder) is a white grape that also derived from Jacquez Madeira, and also makes a (white) Madeira-like wine in the SE United States.

Jacquez Madeira's Vitis vinifera parent appears to be Cabernet Franc, and its other genes are from two American grapes (aestivalis and cineara). Apparently that cross occurred in the wild in the SE US, and the grape was taken to the Madeira Islands in the early 1700s!

So Madeira, a classic European winegrape (which might make the world's most-ageable wine, with many examples still tasting good after 300-400 years!) apparently arose in the US and contains significant US grape genes!

Read the story here.

(photo credit: iStock)

Friday, February 8, 2019

What does the recent cold in the Midwest mean for grapes?

It means if they are Vitis vinifera, they are probably all dead now. The classic European winegrapes have little resistance to extreme cold (or to various fungal diseases). But their sturdier American and Asian grape-friends have excellent cold resistance--often down to -40F!, whereas vinifera will die off at about 0 degrees F (and the Amer and Asian grapes have excellent disease ressistance, too). This is why I'm supporting grapes that are crosses between the classic winegrapes (vinifera) and the American and Asian grapes. These modern grapes also ripen earlier. The modern grapes are a win-win-win in every sense.

If you want to talk about foolishness, real foolishness is the expensive and time-consuming planting of Vitis vinifera in the Midwest, when those grapes just cannot live there. Those growers should be planting modern grapes instead. Modern grapes make great wine. When will they learn? It's a little hard to feel too sorry for them.

photo credit: alamy

Thursday, January 10, 2019

Review of Domaine Pouillon "Katydid" 2014 Rhone blend

This blend has about 32% Grenache and Mouvedre, versus just 20% Syrah, and the rest Counoise and Cinsault. The winery's near Lyle WA. All the fruit's from Horse Heaven Hills (WA), a great AVA.

In style this is more French than American, but has characteristics of each. The nose was good, with dark fruits, but was fleeting. The palate likewise had good balance and nice flavors, but the flavors fade fast in the glass. What hits in the finish, reveals the problem: I think my bottle was Bretty. Brettanomyces is a spoilage yeast which, in small concentrations, is valued for adding complexity to wine, but in larger amounts it's a flaw. It robs wines of their aroma and flavor, and I think that happened here. I had Brett issues in some of my Epona wines once, and learned how to minimize the risk. So far, I've avoided Brett since that learning time. Once this winery identifies the issue and learns how to avoid it, wines like this one will be very good.

Exotic Grapes, for winelovers who need a change

Check out this article.

Glad to say I know something about most of these grapes, but it's true they are not well-known generally. Blaufrankish is called "Lemberger" around here, and is fairly well known (I've sold it several times). Ditto for Menci, a neat Spanish native grape that grows on riparian hillsides so steep that the grape is tended and harvested by boat!

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...