Thursday, January 30, 2020

I work pretty hard to weed and mulch the Epona Vineyard. So, why mulch a vineyard?

You can't make great wine from shoddy fruit. One of the benefits of owning a small, hand-tended vineyard is that you can do many things to improve fruit quality, and hopefully that shows up in the wine. Just go look at other vineyards, and you almost always see weeds/grass growing right up to the grapes' trunks. Not mine. I work hard to keep the "vinerows" weed-free and mulched. 

Heavy rains aside, I've been weeding and mulching the Epona vineyard this week. First, I weed each row by hand, then spread mulch from the trailer, by hand. The ground is so wet that even on a rare sunny day, it is making bubbling/leaking sounds, probably relating to the little passageways carved underground by the earthworms. The mulch helps the grapes in many ways: it prevents weeds that compete for nutrients; it holds moisture in the soil on hot sunny days; it keeps the soil cool on hot days, which the roots like; it eventually decomposes and adds nutrients to the soil. The mulch would last for 2-3 years if it weren't for the moles, which throw huge piles of dirt on top of the mulch (the moles are after the worms that I'm trying to grow--the worms are the big secret in an organic vineyard). I've tried metal mole-traps--they occasionally work and are a big pain to set correctly. I've not tried the shotgun-shell traps. I have tried using road flares to fill the mole tunnels with sulfur gas, which sometimes makes the moles leave for another home. 

But the best mole-trap is one invented many millions of years ago: It's this thing called a "gopher snake" ;) . I was lucky enough to see the back half of one, here, once, as it desperately fled me into a big logpile--I said, "You cannot be a rattlesnake--no way, not here." So I researched what those rattler-like splotches were, and the answer was clear: Gopher snake! They have all my best wishes and support. I am fairly sure they are active in my vineyard, even though I've never again seen one. I know this because many other nearby places have thousands more mole mounds than we have. I know  why other places don't have gopher snakes: Those other property owners are killing animals, including snakes, with inorganic fertilizers, insecticides, and herbicides. Just go organic! and let Nature help you.

We also have a few black racers, but 99% of our snakes--and we have many thousands of these--are garters, which eat many bugs but alas can't control moles. 80% of the garter snakes are "yellow-stripes," and about 15% are "red stripes," and 5% are "blue stripes"--vivid teal-blue stripes and I can prove it ;)

(Photo credit of non-venomous, "scaredy-cat" gopher snake (and doesn't it look a bit like a rattlesnake?):

Wednesday, January 29, 2020

Washington state relief map!

This is pretty cool. You can see the state's wine valleys very prominently.

Though the Columbia River cuts through it, the extreme northern end of the Wilamette Valley is where our vineyard is. We're on the south side of an East-West little mountain range that extends SW from Mt St Helens. That little mountain range plunges to the Columbia around Kalama WA.

Thursday, January 23, 2020

The wonder of grapes

Are you amazed at the complexity of grapes? I am. To my knowledge there is no other fruit than can do what grapes can do: A grape can taste like hundreds of other fruits and vegetables and herbs. I've been searching for a word that decscribes this ability: The best word might be "mimicry."

Mimicry: The close external resemblance of an animal or plant (or part of one) to another animal, plant, or inanimate object.

I'm not sure that a Cab Franc grape's aroma only has a "close resemblance" to green bell pepper's aroma. I think it is the SAME aroma, made by the same chemical compounds (specifically, one of the pyrazines). This is why I'm still searching for the right word. Might have to invent one.

Getting back to the incredible complexity of grapes: This article in Nature describes how we are slowly unraveling the specific genetic basis for the vast array of grape aromas. Check this out from the article:

"The predominate compounds contributing to the aroma profile of grape berries fall into the following categories: mono- and sesquiterpenes, methoxypyrazines, furan derivatives, lipoxygenase pathway products, and phenylpropanoid pathway products... During winemaking and subsequent aging processes, volatile compounds and their precursors can undergo enzyme-catalyzed modifications and spontaneous chemical transformations. "

Each of those families of aromatic chemicals contains many specific chemicals that can be discerned by our olfactory systems (noses). 

Help me come up with this word! Join me in admiring this ability of grapes. Does this mean the grape is the most-advanced fruit on our world, given that a fruiting plant's goal is to make the best-tasting fruit, in order to induce an animal to eat the fruit and then poop out the remains of it elsewhere, thereby spreading the seeds and helping the grape survive via new offspring?

Thursday, January 16, 2020

Spectacular 1985 Washington Cab!

I went to Roland Winery, in Longview WA, for my first time last night; it was owner Mark's granddaughter's 21st birthday; they have a pizza oven (and the pizza and salad were GREAT). It's a cute space; cozy; everyone knows each other; I liked the Roland Barbera. In summer the fun spills out onto their outside crush pad area. My kind host Steve is a favorite customer there, and gave me a great tour of the wines/space.

But this post is about a wonderful old wine that one friend of the winery, Jim, brought: 1985 Columbia Cabernet Sauvignon, made by David Lake.

1. Columbia was the 1983 successor to Associated Vintners, a Univ of Wa-professor-based organization that was one of the very first winemaker groups in this state. I have a bottle from about 1975, of an Ass'd Vintners wine. (Alas, I received the bottle already empty, but I kept the bottle for its historical importance. Hey! WA needs a wine museum. This bottle belongs in it.)
2. This 1985 Cab was still young and vibrant! The color indicated it, and then the nose, and finally the palate. The wine was no doubt made in a cooler year than optimal, as the dominant fruits were cranberry and red berries (whereas it should be black currants), but the flavor was fresh and clean, and the wine was well made. It even had a nice sagebrush note. Very impressive aging.
3.Best of all, I noticed the bottle carried a $2.89 price sticker, so I asked Jim if that was really the price. "Oh, yes," he said. "These bottles were sent back by a distributor, and got dumped onto a retailer, who priced them to go quickly." Wow is all I can say. Living history! A special moment.

This was Otis Vineyard, Yakima, and David Lake was a big deal-a reknowned winemaker. He was the first to plant Syrah in Washington state.

Monday, January 13, 2020

Wine review: Persona Non Grata 2013 Lake County CA red blend

This is from just north of Napa/Sonoma. Their estate red grapes include Zin and Syrah.

I have nothing against a Syrah-Zin blend. Why not? But this wine has a limited appeal. The nose is actually pretty good-it harkons to darker fruits and a nice balance, and in a world where some winemakers don't achieve (or even care about) any aromatics at all (??? the nose discerns 10,000 aromas, and the tongue, six. Duh!), this bouquet is nice to have. But at 14.8% alcohol, the wine is too hot--it doesn't have enough flavors to stand up to all that alcohol. What flavor there is comes off as very dark fruits, and admittedly I'm not a huge fan of black fruit flavors (I tend like the red-to-purple space; for my palate, these grapes are grown in a place too hot for them). I had a filet mignon left over from our first winemaker dinner this past Saturday--so much work--we cooked an 8 lb beef tenderloin, encrusted with dijon-rosemary-cracked pepper, with barley risotto and roasted root vegetables, and served it with my Double-Gold Cab Franc (2019 Seattle Wine Awards) and this was a leftover piece.  It went well enough with this wine--the leftover beef was great, and the wine was just OK with it.

The winery markets this wine as "Persona Non Grata" (meaning, "Napa Valley gets all the attention; BS on that!"), and, as much as I support that sentiment, and as much as I'd love to support any winemaker who makes wine away from the trendy places (as I do), and suffers from the comparison, and enviously eyes Napa's overrated reputation, this wine is just not all that good.  But it's always good to try new wines!

Tuesday, January 7, 2020

Death of a major figure in Beaujolais: Georges DuBoeuf

A sad day. Georges DeBoeuf had a huge impact on his wine region. Beaujolais Nouveau celebrations (the first of the year's wine releases) have spread worldwide due to his efforts to drive both wine quality and wine marketing. We visited his winery/museum/wine town, and were very impressed. Tasting there, we found many high-quality wines that never make it to the US, all made from the overlooked Gamay grape.

Even in the Willamette Valley, growers tend to plant Syrah, not Gamay, as the climate warms, whereas the natural order (with increasing climate warmth, as you head south in France) is Pinot Noir, then Gamay, then Syrah.  This is unfortunate.

Coincidentally, as he was dying, we were hosting a Beaujolais Nouveau dinner party (with a great duck ragout dish), and that wine was widely perceived, around the table, as a great wine. So fascinating, that a wine could be so good after just a months after harvest.

Here is a nice short article mentioning DuBoeuf's contributions.

Saturday, January 4, 2020

What a dinner! Review of J. Drouhin 2019 Beaujoais Nouveau, with duck ragout

Wow! Just finished a dinner party.

I cooked: Duck Ragout (Epicurious recipe), served over egg noodles.

I served: 2019 Joseph Drouhin Beaujolais Nouveau, from Winebow. We loved the 2018, so we happily bought the 2019 and were not disappointed. What a great wine! Enough acid to marry with the food; great cherry flavor; just a near-perfect wine. Astonished that it could be so good after just a few months from harvest. If you haven't had this at a B.Nouveau party, do it!

Later courses were baguettes with a Brittany Brie, and then Vosges Chocolates (OMG!)  from a wizardess in Chicago--highly recommend haute cuisine!--and then I made cocktails from Angeleno Amaro and Sprite and orange slices. What an evening! This is how you cement friendships.

Wednesday, January 1, 2020

Review of 93-point Castelli Martinozzi 2012 Brunello di Montalcino

I've been drinking and collecting fine wines for more than 40 years, and have been making wine for more than 25 years. Wine Spectator gave this wine 92 points in 2017, saying:

"Underbrush, scorched earth, dark spice and grilled herb aromas slowly take shape on this full-bodied red. The chewy, enveloping palate doles out mouthfuls of fleshy black cherry, juicy blackberry, ground pepper and clove while ripe tannins provide support. The lingering finish closes on a mocha note. Drink 2018–2026."

Wow. And we drank it tonight inside its drinking window. It was pretty bad.

It is NOT full-bodied. Way too thin. It has the right acid, but no fruit. Makes me wonder who spiked the bottle that Spectator tasted, because usually they are trustworthy.

This kind of evening makes one wonder if cellaring good wines for years, under proper conditions, is worthwhile. Seriously, you can buy $12 Sangios that deliver more fun than this (and this was $45). 

It takes no skill to overpay for wine. Any fool can do it. And we're all made fools when an expensive wine that's supposed to be good, isn't.

You can't trust all wine shops to carry wines that are all good

Total Wine is a huge retail chain of wine stores, with probably the largest variety of wines in my state.

I had a coupon for Total Wine, and used it to buy six different sparkling and Prosecco wines. Each one had a long, detailed tasting note sheet (a "shelf talker") praising the wine. Total Wine is so large that it has the resources to provide such (usually helpful) shelf talkers.

But, the first bottle was awful. A pour-out. A Prosecco, and too sweet for my taste, which I wouldn't blame Total Wine for, except their shelf talker didn't make any reference to the Prosecco's being a sweet one and it should have said so), and it was also poorly made and entirely disjointed. Very disappointing. It makes me wonder if Total Wine has a practice of over-hyping a doggy wine, in order to move it out the door. That is an unethical practice and they need to make sure they don't do it.

If you want a 100% honest wine retailer, join my email list and buy from me ;)  (photo credit: Shutterstock)

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