Monday, September 27, 2010

Epona Blackberry Pourt, Phase 2

Why "Pourt"? Because Portugal is very finicky about use of the "port" name in connection with any non-Portuguese product (more finicky, even, than the good people of Champagne, who will let you say "champagne-style" or "Methode Champenoise"). But we can't say "port-style"! Not sure yet if the new name for this wine will be Pourt, Purport, Sport, Blort, Trop, Pohrt, Pport, or something else, but Pourt is the current favorite (you heard it here first!).

The 2010 Pourt looks to be very good. The primary fermentation (in white, food-grade plastic pails) is finished, and now the still-fermenting must is in glass carboys, puffing out bubbles of CO2 every four seconds or so. The must will get a sugar feeding soon, in the continuing drive to squeeze out everything the yeasts can deliver before the alcohol content finally does them in. When the fermentation is finished, the yeast fall to the bottom in an honorable spent sludge. The wine is racked off into clean carboys, and the chemistry is checked again and adjusted. The fortifying liquor is added, along with some French oak (toasted to the "vanilla/caramel" stage in my oven). Then, the wine takes its beauty rest in my cellar. Bottling will be in perhaps 9 months.
We keep learning ways to use less and less added water, and this year's Pourt has a record low water addition. So the flavors should be concentrated, with a thick, unctuous mouthfeel.

The raw wine looks like blood, and is thick like blood. Come to think of it, it IS blood--the Earth's blood. Only from a plant instead of an animal.

When you think about everything a berry bush, or grapevine, has to know how to do, it's pretty amazing. It even approaches sentience. One could be forgiven for thinking that the plant world is pretty much on par with the animal world. Animals cannot take minerals from the soil and turn them into something useful to us (such as food, clothes, and shelter). Animals cannot isolate and release oxygen into the atmosphere. Plants are not just background wallpaper to an animal-dominated planet. They can influence animal behavior towards the plant's advantage. They can terraform the planet on a greater scale than animals can (say, in turning a fresh-frozen volcanic island into a tropical paradise). Arguably they can govern their lives better than we humans can govern ours. Think about that, as you wait for your pourt ;)

Super forecast!

One never knows with extended weather forecasts, but after a late, wet Spring and a cool summer, with too much rain in September, we are into what may be 11+ days of sunshine (Sept 26 through Oct 6 and beyond??), with only a couple of short cloudy/showery breaks, if any.

Whoa. Is this the grapes' salvation, or just a "too little, too late" tease? Stay tuned . . .
The photo is of Rex Hill's vineyards, in the sunshine.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010


I've got an idea: Let's ignore the US Constitution and pass this federal bill that will allow states to prohibit shipments of wine direct from wineries to customers. Let's give the law a cute name (the "CARE" act), so that everybody will vote for it.

After all, it's more important to protect the monopolies of the huge-and-powerful wine and beer distributors! They need more profits, don't they? Who cares that most wineries can't get distribution deals, which leaves direct sales to customers as a primary means of survival? Who cares if consumers won't be able to buy wines directly from the wineries? Who cares if more wineries go out of business, which will cause: lower tax revenues to the states; job losses; mortgage foreclosures; and reductions in property prices? I don't give a hoot about any of that stuff-do you?

Kudos to the bill's sponsor, Democrat Delahunt of Massachusetts. You're really looking out for the common citizen, dude. It's great to know your vote can't be bought by corporate money. Not. Jerk.


Sunday, September 19, 2010

2010 Harvest Hell in Sonoma

On your left, a worker drops Zinfandel clusters in Sonoma, to increase the odds that the rest will ripen this year. Also, note in the pic that many of the berries aren't ripe; I think the pic is from late August, so their harvest is running late, like Oregon's.

Some details about the pickle Sonoma finds itself in:
1. A very cold, late Spring prevented the vines from budding on time.
2. During bloom, there was more cold rain, which reduced the amount of fruit set.
3. The growing season was late and cool, so growers stripped off leaves around the clusters, in order to allow more sunshine and ventilation on/of the fruit. However, in mid-summer, a rogue heat wave struck (hitting 120F in the shade, in some vineyards) and with all that direct sun exposure, many of the grapes shriveled in the heat and were ruined. This effect was worst in dry-farmed vineyards, so much of the old-vine Zin has already failed this year.
4. Then the Fall came early, with lots of rain, cool temps, and heavy fogs. That has prevented normal ripening. If the permanent rains come when they usually come (or earlier) it could be devastating for growers.
5. Against that cruel natural backdrop, the grape economy is awful. About 20% of Sonoma's fruit is still unsold; that is unprecedented. Most wineries face excess inventories, so they have little incentive to boost production, especially in a year when consumers may learn to stay away from the vintage. Any winery that has taken on lots of debt is going to be in a world of hurt this year.

All in all, this isn't a year to "separate the men from the boys;" it's a year to separate the gods from mere mortals. Even a wine god might not be able to make good wine, this year.

Here's the source for some of my info:

1984 all over again

It is 1984 all over again. Everything except Big Brother. Oh, wait--we have that now, too!
That year, the cold, lasting Fall rains came early and often to Oregon, sealing the doom of any hope of grapes ripening.
Beaverton/Hillsboro sits at 1500 cumulative Growing Degree Days (heat units), which is about 25% less than this time last year. We've had weeks now of mostly cool, cloudy, sometimes wet weather, and last night a winter-style storm blasted us for several hours with heavy rain.
Worse, the heat units we've gotten lately are deceiving. It's been warm enough (thanks to the "Pineapple Express" weather from Hawaii), but no sun.
It may already be too late, by September 19, to wish for anything approaching normal ripening. I wish this was just a local phenomenon but sadly this is happening up and down the Pacific coast, from B.C. to WA to OR to CA. Even Walla Walla and Red Mountain have gotten only partial veraison, which is very, very late--and they are in the desert! I was told by several folks in CA last weekend that some growers in Sonoma have already conceded a zero harvest. Wow.
One friend near Salem OR has his chin up. Not mentioning his Pinot noir grapes, he reassures us that his Viognier and Syrah will be OK; they won't be harvested until November. Some growers hold their Riesling until then, too. But I think those varieties have thick, tough skins. Pinot noir does not. There's only so much wet weather it can stand before the berries split, or rot. That point may be coming soon.
If wines are to be made from Pinot this year, and if this weather keeps up, many of them will be roses. I haven't had my first good PN rose yet.
One year does not a climate trend make, but let's lift a glass to hoping that next year is better. And how many debt-extended wineries are going to meet their Maker this year, with a low or zero crop?

Saturday, September 18, 2010

New batch of blackberry port

Our group effort to make port again was kicked off today, in fine form. 74 pounds of frozen berries, 41 pounds of bananas, 15 pounds of raisins, and the powers of chemistry came together as Kenton and Bob enabled the magic of fermentation. Stay tuned . . .

Quintessential photo of the Sierra Foothills AVA

This is a perfect illustration of the Sierra Foothills AVA, perhaps the best undiscovered wine area in America. It reminds me in many ways of Walla Walla, about 10-15 years ago.
Note the dry golden-grassed hill in the background, dotted with majestic white oaks. Black boulders peek up regularly through the grass, to check on the progress of the vines, which luxuriate (with drip irrigation; it's near-desert) below.

Montevina/Terra d'Oro

This is a pretty winery north of Plymouth CA, in the Sierra Foothills American Viticultural Area (AVA). It is a HUGE 200,000 case/year winery. Montevina is the lower label; Terra d'Oro is the premier label. But all their wines are very reasonably priced (and, no tasting fees anywhere in the AVA!).
We liked many of their wines, and they are available here in Portland, through my distributors.


On your left is the view from northern Lake Tahoe, looking south towards the Heavenly ski resort (atop the mountains on the horizon). We stayed at the Cal Neva Lodge, which has slid to the point at which you should NOT stay there. It's been a long time since Sinatra and his Rat Pack frequented that place. But you can still hear them singing and partying, if you listen hard enough . . .

Behold, the view of Lake Tahoe, from the top of the gondola at Heavenly ski resort. This is looking west, showing the southern end of the lake. The town of South Lake Tahoe is spread out from lower right to all the way to the left extreme shoreline, where developers have concocted a "Tahoe Keys" neighborhood where there is a maze of artificially-created waterways, and every house has waterfront/a dock. Nice! Shades of Florida.

Tahoe is the second-deepest lake in the US; its denizens were chapped that it was NOT included on a recent list of Top Ten Lakes in America, whereas Crater Lake was included.

Tahoe is a short drive from Reno NV, where SW Airlines flies cheap flights from Portland (in our case, a sale of just $39 each way ;).

Sutter Creek California

Above are two images of Sutter Creek, CA. This is a well-preserved historical town, with Victorian and pre-Victorian storefronts. Only a few thousand folks live there, but it is vibrant. The restaurants are good and it's a great staging center for wine trips throughout the Sierra Foothills AVA. The right pic shows a car show, which was coupled with a chili cookoff.
Wonder what the old gold miners would think, to see the town now-it's very little changed since the first few decades after gold was discovered in the creek by John Sutter's sawmill in 1844.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Wow! What a great back wine label

Check out this superb article, about Calera's Pinot noir's back bottle label:

The above photo shows only the front label, but the back label is a treasure trove of fascinating information about the wine. And this is a very special wine, by the sound of it (once you've read the back label). My only quibble is that I don't think that less-concentrated vine spacing brings lower yields; in fact I would expect the opposite. I think it is the high-elevation and limestone soil which retard the yield. And I totally agree that his own-rooted vines (as opposed to grafted rootstock) probably would yield more and better flavors.
In case you're interested: I've not heard of this one. It's small production and likely not available at wholesale.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Wines of the Sierra Foothills, Part 2

Jonathan, our host at Cedarville Vineyards, suggested that we stop at his neighbor's place, MV. MV is owned and operated by John Miller. He makes just 600 cases per year. His wines are hand-crafted and I use that term with its fullest meaning. John says he could not make more wines, given all the attention he gives to detail, on these.

Some important folks agree: The French Laundry (America's most-expensive restaurant? in Napa) wanted to buy his entire production, but he refused, saying he must be loyal to his regular customers. He is a very intelligent, quiet, and quietly-proud person. I liked his wines, and one in particular was SO EXCELLENT that I can't wait to offer it to you. I can't believe I actually have access to it. He sells direct from the winery, so we'll have to add about $3/bottle for S&H, but who cares? as this is world-beating wine. And you won't believe the grape, when I tell you. I'm withholding the details now because I don't want anyone else to rush in and seize those wines before you can.

The photo above shows the golden grass on black rock hills, with the stately oaks. Typical view of the Sierra Foothills AVA. Gorgeous.
This is why to travel in search of great wines. You just can't find them all in the grocery store ;)

Wines of the Sierra Foothills, Part 1

We had an appointment to meet Jonathan Lachs, the owner/founder/vineyard manager/winemaker at Cedarville Vineyard in Fair Play, California. He and his wife (fellow owner/winemaker) are both Davis-trained. He worked at HP (before Carly F--the question was raised: how can you get elected in CA if you already have 10,500 people (HP former and present employees) who despise you?). Then once they had saved up the money to start this place, it all unfolded by dint of talent and hard work.

Fair Play is north of the Shenandoah Valley, which is N of Plymouth, CA. It's a hike but worth it. The soils are decomposed granite--it looks like dusty black and white granite but crumbles in your hand.

Jonathan's place is not far past Fitzpatrick, a quirky and fun place with a lap pool, lookout tower, fig trees, art for sale, pizzeria, Irish pub, B&B, and, oh yes, a winery. And all of it in the most-remote gorgeous dry rolling hills. Jonathan's wines are described (aptly) by Parker as "producing some very tasty wines at most intriguing prices . . . well-made, reasonably priced, delicious efforts."

Cedarville Vineyard grows and offers Viognier, Grenache, Cab, Zin and Syrah (those two are the signature wines of the AVA, which is mammoth, extending from Nevada City in the north (NW of Tahoe and our first wine stop) down to Placerville, then Plymouth and Fair Play, then all the way south to Murphys--all old gold mining towns in the golden-grassed, rolling black-rocky foothills of the Sierras), and Petit Syrah and Cab. All the wines are expertly made. My question is how to project what the wines will be in the future, because they seem tight, big and minerally now. Some of the Amador County wines from N of Plymouth have an odd undercurrent that I can't quite describe well--I suspect it's from the reddish soil down there--maybe it's a soapiness/meatiness/funky taste? that I just don't like. But up in Fair Play--1000' higher where the red soils give way to the wonderful crumbly granite--the wines are totally pure; the minerals "just right." I want the Cedarville wines to open up with time, and everyone (even folks from other wineries) assured us that Johathan's wines DO emerge gorgeously after a couple of years. He was so kind as to give us an older bottle, which I cannot wait to taste, once it has rested from its trip from Fair Play to Reno to Portland.
I think Jonathan is highly skilled (aside from a wonderful person to meet, and he just joined the ZAP board, with the big boys in Zinfandel). All the wines here have good acidic structure, which makes them great with food. They are not the jammy wines from Walla Walla which I love so, but they are well made, elegant, big and tasty. And the prices are great! I will offer his wines and if you have the patience to lay them down for a year or two, you will be amazed.

Jonathan adopted some cool trellising methods for his various grapes (he grows all the grapes used in his 2000 case/year production). Above is a pic of his cab sauv (excellent wine!) on quadilateral lyre trellises. Fun!
Finally, the light in Fair Play. O, the light! It is a little like the light in Tuscany, only more intense. And the crumbly granitic soil is very special.

Ione, CA: Preston Castle for boys

That edifice to your right is proof that Old California really knew how to do it right. That gorgeous Potter-inspiring, Hearst-inspired structure was built not for some wealthy family, but as a prison for bad boys. The Preston School of Industry opened in 1894, seeking to rehabilitate youthful offenders and offering a progressive alternative to San Quentin. The Romanesque Revival building has carved sandstone balconies, and lots of wonderful stylistic touches in granite from Folsom and bricks from Folsom and San Quentin prisons.
This place would be so wonderful to live in, that it makes me want to go out and steal a chicken or something ;--)
It's in the tiny town of Ione, not far from Jackson, not far from Sutter Creek where we stayed. The whole area is property owned by the CA prison system, and elsewhere on the campus are other buildings, some ruined like this one, some new and in use.
This castle's roof had fallen in and decades of occasional rain (it's near-desert here) had taken its toll. When I took this shot yesterday, they were having a very swanky wine fundraiser, to raise funds to rebuild it. The new roof (visible) is already on, and now the inside needs to be refurbished.
If you love castles, improbable as their location or history may be, you can contribute to save the Preston Castle. I'm not sure what its future use holds, but I suspect it won't be housing miscreants anymore, save for the occasional winelover like us ;)
And, dig those Tuscan cypresses astride the castle; having seen them all over Tuscany last April, it is somehow reassuring to see them here. Italians made a huge mark on California, as we see again and again.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Extreme Dining in Sutter Creek CA!

I think I am in heaven. Only (and this is the best part) I'm NOT DEAD.
More posts to follow about the Sierra Foothills AVA, our trip to Tahoe and the lovely drive out to these golden-grassed, oak-studded hills so rapidly giving ground to masses of promising vineyards, and about the various gold mining towns here that revel in second lives as tourist destinations for history, fine wines and food. And we saw the most amazing castle today in a town you've never heard of (Ione). And it isn't a castle--it was a prison for wayward boys. Old California really knew how to do it right. And the scads of wineries include some which make great wines.
But I'm in heaven because of Susan's Place. Oh, my! Where to start? Little restaurant in Sutter Creek, where the CA gold rush began. Most of the tables are outside, only covered. Vines trail lazily about. Wonderful ambience. Susan herself interviews you about your wine stylistic preferences, and then she custom blends a glass or a 750ml pitcher of local wines for you. For us, she crafted a combo of local Grenache and an Italian blend called Migliore. Oh, my! This was yummy with our dinner and cost only $20!!!
The food rang the bell. Cream of asparagus soup was divine. My salad was seriously perfect. Jane had a veggie concoction with pesto, over polenta. I had the most scrumptious Mediterranean sauce full of ground beef and pork, with lots of veggies--slightly spicy, tomato-based. Then some angel named Ingrid (local pastry chef) supplied our caramel-walnut tart, which was to die for.
Why should you hop SW Air and get down here now? Because: The custom-blended wine was only $20. The entres were only $15 or $16 each, and the service and owner and atmosphere were SO wonderful. Not to mention the town is only 50 miles from Sacramento or about 100 miles from Tahoe (where we came from, via flight to Reno). This town is lovely. Well-preserved. Stone, simple wood, and fancy Victorian storefronts. Friendly folks everywhere. Tomorrow is a chili cookoff and antique car show. The buildings on main street are jumping from the 1850's right into your mind. If you shop carefully in the little shops here, you can find the most amazing antiques, and even the occasional 1921 Uncirculated Morgan silver dollar for just $25. And if you're a sun lover, it is BRIGHT and HOT here right now. Too hot for this Willamette boy, but with the low humidity the nights are cool.
Our Hanford House B&B is also perfect, with great young hosts who handle all the rooms, plus their organic veggie garden and chickens. Historic brick building. Free bikes which we used to see the town, including a tree just past the Jehova's Witnesses church, which was loaded with small, juicy yellow/orange plums. The "placer" gold (loose, in the creeks) went first, then they dug deep mines, which finally played out. The gold mining stuff (hoist derricks, ore carts, foundries, etc.) is mostly gone now, but a few reminders of that era remain.
Many more posts to follow. We have found many tasty wines, and they are very reasonable. Nary a tasting fee to be had, and the winery owners are marvelous. Napa was never this much fun for such little cost.
Wait! I see another angel outside, watching the tricycle races! Will write more later . . .

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Rain rain stay away

2010 is a tricky year for grapes hereabouts. First they got a late start due to a long winter. Spring was cool and record-wet. Then, flowering was late. Then, after a very hot 2009 summer in the Pac Northwest, 2010 gave us only a few hot days, and way too many cool cloudy days. I think July set a record for lowest average high temps. My nearest weather station calculates that my Growing Degree Days to date (a measure of sunlight hours) is fully 24% behind where we were, this time last year. That is very bad. Veraison (color change) is about 2-3 weeks late, and has just begun, at my 490' elevation site.
All this means that we are running a risk of a sub-par year, or even a disastrous, no-crop year. If the persistent rains come early, then it could wipe out the Willamette Valley's Pinot noir crop.
However, Dick Shea told me this week that persistent Fall rains, starting in the last week of September, occur in NW Oregon only about 20% of the time. If that happens this year, we could have a grape disaster on our hands. The rest of the time, the Rains come in either the first week of October (in which case some PN makers could make a good wine) or the second week of October, or even later (in which case many PN makers should make very good wines, and some should make great wines, in a spectactular triumph of recovery from all odds).
And, in the silver linings dept, even if we have a grape disaster, the winemakers who survive it might benefit from the marked reduction in wine inventories which would ensue, if there simply was no 2010 wine to be had.
Last comment: It is SUCH a shame, but all that winter and spring moisture gave the vines a supercharging. I've had to hedge (trim) them way more often than normal. Their growth is rampant, and they confidently threw out far more than the usual number of grape clusters. But, as the end of the growing season approached with the grapes so far behind, we all had to drop fruit like crazy, in order to try to get some of it ripe. Such a shame. A high yield of fruit, with high quality, is a bifecta which only rarely happens, in this marginal growing environment. These are some of the reasons why Pinot noir is "the heartbreak grape." Stay tuned . . .

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...