Saturday, October 29, 2011

Days of Wonder

And we get YET MORE days of late October sun. The leaves on the vines are turning yellow now, and starting to fall, and STILL some of the Oregon Pinot Noir has not been picked. It is a long season to beat all long seasons. I now look for late-harvested PN to be CAPABLE OF (not necessarily to have, in all cases) surprising richness and variety/depth of flavors. Sugars at harvest might be low, but who cares? It is mature flavors we want, and I think we will get them in 2011, from growers who dropped a lot of fruit and waited until record-late dates, to pick.

A minor miracle, right here in 2011.

2008 Harford Zinfandel Jolene's Vineyard

This is a WONDERFUL Zinfandel. After it opens up, it yields the most incredible wealth of aromas and flavors. It will any Zin lover cry or laugh. I believe the vineyard is placed very high, at the headwaters of the Russian River, which (I think) is just over the ridge from Chateau Montelena (which itself is near the upper end of Napa Valley).

90 points from Spectator: Rich and dense, with aromas of plum and boysenberry that lead to complex flavors of blueberry, dried brown spices and fresh herbs. The tannins big but ripe and well-balanced. Best from 2011 through 2016. 275 cases made.

This is worth the $55 retail price, but I can get it cheaper at wholesale, of course.

Friday, October 28, 2011

On Companies

It's little said now, but in the beginning corporations were created at the state's discretion, granted privileges by the state, and they owed duties to the state (i.e., you and me). Now, in many ways, corporations control the state. What a sea change in our society. Consider:

1. The financial industry wrote its own deregulation, over the past two decades, and we have now all seen the results. It is hard to argue today that the large U.S. financial institutions will operate conservatively and carefully, if left to make up their own rules. In contrast, look at the (heavily regulated) banks in Canada. Not one of them expanded into mortgage derivatives; instead they just continued to do what they do well: take deposits and make loans. Today the Canadian banks are healthy--they never even got sick!--while many of our larger banks such as Citi and B of A are still struggling in the quagmire they helped to create. WaMu and Wachovia and Lehman and Merrill Lynch--huge names--are gone. Really? Gone? (Note: several of our banks, including Wells Fargo and US Bank and most of our credit unions, managed to resist the siren call of overleverage and greed, and they deserve our business.)

2. A recent US Supreme Court decision grants unlimited election spending to corporations (because they are "people"), but the larger companies can easily outspend 99.9% of the individuals who may want to support a candidate. There is a clear correlation between election winners and money spent on campaigns, and of course an elected official cannot forget her or his largest donors! Little wonder, then, that we have thoughtful people believing that this has become a country for the corporations' benefit, not for the citizens' benefit. Little wonder that we have farm subsidies for giant corporate farms that are making nice profits already, or that we build even more nuclear missiles without any clear idea of exactly whom we might shoot the missiles at, or that we subsidize corn ethanol despite the fact that it is a financial disaster, hiking the prices of grains and costing more than the benefits obtained from the resulting fuels. If you dissect most of the recent laws you will find they result in significant benefits to some group of large businesses. Meanwhile, the protests against the decline of America's Middle Class, against the overinfluence of corporate lobbyists, are frail. I have worried about the growing risk of class conflict for some years now, yet I think most people will just grow poorer in silence; this country has more than enough armed police to kill and imprison all those who would complain too strenuously about the ruination of America.

3. Look at Fast Food. The major chains do not even sell, anymore, the kinds of things that we used to call "food." It is alleged that Taco Bell's "beef" contains only 15% cow meat. Flavor-enhancing additives are everywhere, and some have been linked to nervous system disorders. Trans fats (fats not known to nature) are everywhere in fast food, even though we know they clog our arteries. Soda contains phosphoric acid that leaches calcium out of our bones, and so much sugar that it may someday be linked to the diabetes epidemic. Preservatives in meat are known to be harmful to us. A diet of nothing but McDonalds would probably kill a person within a year. An entree salad at a fast food place might contain 1200 calories; there are Starbucks drinks containing more than 800. But fast food is convenient and incredibly profitable, especially as the companies continue to find ways to use cheaper ingredients while making the flavors more irrestistible. Is there a lump of paper pulp in our future, that tastes great? Our palates are being dumbed down because we are all too busy to cook and too unable to resist mass marketing. There are islands in the stream: Burgerville, Chipotle, New Seasons cafe, the turkey sandwich at Subway . . . but you have to really hunt for them.

4. Too much regulation is also not the answer. I haven't seen an American electric utility yet that can approach, even remotely, the efficiency of a smartly-managed Chinese company. But calls for "removing regulation, to allow more jobs" are shortsighted. See #1, above.

5. Corporations have many of the features of people: They can be born (chartered), marry (merge), get divorced (disposition), and die (dissolution). They can own property. They can have personalities (cultures) as distinct as those of individual humans (think Intel, or Nike). They can commit crimes. They are guaranteed the equal protection of the laws. However, they cannot vote (they cannot vote per se, though they can buy all the influence they desire). And they are perpetual; they can live forever (I believe the reigning champ is Sumitomo, at over 300 years old). I could write a book on the amazing dilemma of our giving companies the best minds, unlimited access to opportunity in a free market, low taxes, and STILL more than two-thirds of the S&P 500, as it existed 20 years ago, are no longer in business? Really? It would seem that something is very wrong in corporate America. I submit it is, generally speaking and excluding my own company, a failure in the quality of management. That is pretty ironic, given that many U.S. CEOs earn 50x-100x what their lowest-paid employees earn. What do you think the Netflix CEO is earning this year, while his or her stupid decisions have eliminated about 65% of that company's value? If we are overpaying for failure, there must be a better way.

6. We can argue that our nation's dependence upon consumerism (buying things we may not need) is a direct result of modern marketing practices, honed by companies to drive sales. An extension of that is for us to admit that large companies own our brains--they can make us do almost whatever they want. Is that the world we want to live in?

7. An interesting argument can be made that many corporate employees put themselves into a modern form of slavery, by incurring debt for cars, furniture, homes, second homes, and then they have to work forever to make the payments. A more-rational approach might be to save the cash needed, before buying the item, be it an old car, a used sofa, etc. and to save as much as 25% of your take-home pay. And invest it away from those companies who would "help" you by taking eggregious fees for mismanaging your money. This country would become very different if we all converted from spenders to savers. That might allow many more people to retire earlier, thereby freeing up good jobs for younger people and raising general happiness. It would send most companies scrambling to find overseas markets, but they would probably adjust. Google requires its engineers to spend 20% of their worktime on anything, anything at all that seems interesting to them; the company backs that effort by funding such diverse projects as high-voltage transmission lines to offshore wind farms, and high-speed rail. That is either extreme folly, or brilliance.

8. Gone are the days when employees were viewed as a company's greatest asset, when employees would remain at one company for a lifetime. Now if a company has one bad quarter, the most intelligent decision of which it is capable is to axe 10% of the workers. That is lame; any layoff is proof of poor management; why should the rank and file suffer when the management reveals its inadequacy, yet does not suffer itself? We need better processes for identifying and empowering talent throughout an organization. Few managers know how to motivate people.

Please don't take this piece as criticism, from me, about all companies. I have worked (so far) for eight of them, and for that I am very grateful (they were Gates Hardware, Chevron, Hall Estill, Williams Cos, Destec Energy, Enron, FEI Corp, and VTech). I do think, however, that modern business has not yet found the structure and processes that can maximize the happiness and contributions of its employees. How many of us who are lucky enough to work at a good job, would keep working there if we won $20M in the lottery tonight? Why should we not all strive to create a better form of business, which would make most employees want to stay, no matter what? There is a vision worth fighting for.

There has been too little time passed since most of us were serfs working in the fields. A better way is coming, but it will take a long time to arrive.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Latest harvest ever for NW Oregon winegrapes?

I learned this week that Owen Roe won't harvest their FIRST grape in Oregon until possibly Monday, October 24, 2011. That is amazing. In some years, harvest is going on a month earlier.

These past few weeks, though not without rain, have been warm enough, with enough scattered sunshine and a couple of marvelous full-sun days, that the grapes have benefited greatly. I think we can call it a small miracle.

I expect Pinot noir from lower vineyards, if it's picked late (which requires nerves of steel when big money is on the line), will make very good Pinots this year. In contrast, the early word from Walla Walla is that they had a very cool, wet summer, and those grapes just don't like it. There was high disease pressure there, resulting in major crop loss and small yields.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

"Lesser-known winegrape varieties to try before you die"

A bucket list for wines? Why not? Here are 18 wines from varieties that may mostly be new to you. Both vinifera and hybrids are on the list. The author horribly botched the descriptions of some of the grapes (making my grapebreeder friends cringe), but you could chase down some wines from these grapes, from better wineries, and be very happy and better-educated at the same time.

The fun part is that I am growing many of the hybrids mentioned in this article.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

More on Northern Oregon 2011 harvest

OPB had a great radio panel, with call-ins, last night. The primary speakers included Sam Tannahill (of A to Z Wines, Oregon's largest (and most virtual) winery and also of Rex hill) and a pair of academics. Everyone involved is VERY knowledgeable and experienced on the subject of Oregon grapes and wines; in fact, they are impressive as hell and I am proud to live in a state which has so many experts involved with grapes and wine. We should all be proud.

Our pride, however, cannot make the summer warmer.

Against a year with a long, cool, overly wet winter, and a late Spring, with mostly below-average summer temps, and more cold rains in late Sept and early October than we usually see, and a Growing Degree Days total that is well below our average, one might expect this could be one of the worst years ever for the Willamette Valley, as is being widely reported.

And, when industry leading lights argue persuasively that they have figured out how to make good Oregon Pinots from years such as this, we want to believe them, we want them to succeed, we want them to be right. But we also know that their jobs (or at least their bonuses) depend upon customers' believing that the wines from 2010 and 2011 are good, so how much credence should we give their words? We will see what the critics say, although "score creep" is a disease that has overtaken every independent critic, and the sale of their newsletters depends on their depicting large wine markets and vintages as good wines to buy; I think the pro critics' ability to cry "awful" at large numbers of wines and years is limited by their own economic needs.

So, where can each of us turn for a true assessment of the 2010 and 2011 wines? The answer lies inside each of us: we look to our own olfactory nerves and tastebuds. They should tell true, if we approach them in a neutral, curious manner. To thine own self be true . . .

See the interview/article here.

Monday, October 10, 2011

2011 Willamette Valley Grape Harvest the Worst Ever?

This article from Oregon Public Broadcasting suggests that 2011 could be the worst grape harvest in northern Oregon since the commercial winegrape industry began here.

We had a very late Spring, a very cool summer, and, unfortunately, apparently an early and wet and cool Fall. Those are three daggers that spell failure, at least in all non-ideal vineyards (meaning if a vineyard is too high, or too shaded, or doesn't slope down to the South, that vineyard might be a failure this year).

1. I picked several hybrid varieties, for winemaking, near Aurora OR, and while they had low sugars, some of them did have mature flavors, mature seeds, good impartable skin color, and lignified stems. We had a decently warm September, to which I give credit for those pluses.

2. In my own little vineyard, I harvested Regent grapes yesterday. I used very tight netting, more netting on the ground, hung lots of compact discs (rotating reflecting light), and put up scads of fake snakes, and as a result I was able to let the grapes hang much longer than in previous years, with only 15-20% loss to birds. The sugar level of the must was ridiculously low (14.2 Brix) but the seeds were uniformly dark brown, the skin color is good and readily rubs off dark red, and the juice flavor seems excellent. As the (ever-optimistic) winemakers say, "You can add sugar, but you can't add flavor."

The hybrids I'm targeting all ripen earlier than vinifera, and in a year like this that makes a HUGE difference.

Final thought: If the commercial harvest is mostly toast, then some of the indebted newer wineries might have to close, after all (there has been much speculation about that, but they seem to hang on).

Final final thought: Rains are forecast for today (Monday), and Tues, Wed, Fri, and Sat this week. Ouch.

Friday, October 7, 2011


Drove through Dundee, Oregon today. The (Pinot Noir and Chardonnay) grapes are all still hanging, despite the days of rain and fog . . .

All leaves have been stripped away (far away--the forlorn clusters sit totally exposed to whatever sunshine may fall that way), and it looks like a lot of crop has been dropped. What else can they do?

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Sweeter and sweeter

I've been telling you that more Americans want a sweet wine than those who prefer a dry wine.

Well, it's getting more that way.

Sales of (sweet, and red or white) Moscato are up 91% this year, and the linked article (S.F. Chronicle) describes how major wineries are making more and more sweet red wines, to satisfy the average wine drinker. These new reds are not trash wines; they are balanced and well-made from quality fruit.

I say bravo! Why exclude the greater part of your potential market? A wine is not bad because it has some sweetness in it. But labeling needs to be very clear; nothing worse that buying a wine expecting dry, but when you open it, it's sweet!

Here is the article.

Cool Wine Map of France!

Thanks to Conor for this fun wine map of France. It takes the various wine regions and treats them like subway lines.

The link is here.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Allure Moscato

Found a fun sparkling wine: Allure Moscato. it is off-dry (you can taste the sweetness), a rich pretty pink color, and it has a fascinating creaminess to it in the mouth. I think of "champagne ice cream." It's only about $9 (through me). It's well made and perfect for a party, especially if many at that party are not "serious" wine drinkers.

Why do I say that? Because it's been shown many times that far more than half of the wine drinkers in the U.S. prefer a wine with noticeable sweetness.


Growing Degree Days update: Harvest 2011

Through Sept 30, 2011, we've had 1670 GDD's at our place. That compares to 1638 through that day in 2010, and 2063 in 2009 through that day.

(GDD's measure average heat, so they're a proxy measure for sunshine; they are a tool to learn just how far your grapes are from being fully ripe ;)

So, this past September was warmer than last year's, but way, way off of 2009 (a slightly-above average year).

With plenty of rain forecasted over the next few days, all those who want to wait 2-3 more weeks before they to pick will be sorely tested.

I harvested some great hybrid grapes in Aurora this past weekend. Thank you to Lon the grower, and to my wonderful "grape widow" who patiently put up with it, as it takes hours to process grapes and run chemical tests, etc.

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...