Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Wineries quietly up for sale

Spectator reports that as many as 50% (fifty percent!!) of the west coast wineries are quietly up for sale, or should be:

8. West Coast Wineries Are Up for Sale—Quietly 
With buyers snapping up leading California wineries QupĂ©AraujoClos Pegase and Mayacamas over the year, and other players investing in Oregon and Washington, it seemed like the market for wineries is suddenly hot again on the West Coast. But it's an under-the-radar market. Plenty of wineries, faced with tough finances or generational change, are looking for buyers. But they're not advertising the fact. One of the buyers, Charles Banks, estimates that between 30 to 50 percent of California wineries are either in financial difficulty or aren’t as profitable as they could be. “And everyone is trying to be quiet because they’re not broke and their name may be on the winery.”

Monday, December 30, 2013

Champagne glass styles

As we swing towards the new year, it's a good time to talk about the popular styles of champagne glasses. Check out this photo:

The glass on the left is the coupe style, popularized in Britain and purportedly based on a mold of Marie Antoinette's breast. While that is an enchanting story, it is scientifically a poor glass style for sparkling wine, as it over-aerates the wine and allows any bouquet to escape, and dissipates the bubbles too quickly.

The glass on the right is what you want for all sparkling wines. Note that the opening is smaller than the widest diameter of the bowl; this aids in trapping and concentrating the aromatics, thereby making them more detectable by the nose. And the taller, narrower bowl shape encourages and prolongs the formation of bubbles.

And this last bit is old hat for most of you readers, but please remember than Champagne comes only from that region in France. All other wines are called "sparkling wines" or, in some cases there is a different regionally-based name, like "cava" in Spain.

Happy New Year!

Thursday, December 12, 2013

2013's triple whammy of record weather for grapes in the Pacific Northwest

What a year this 2013 has been, for grapegrowers!

1. Some sites in the PacNW saw record heat in July. Above 90 or 95F, a grapevine suspends the fruit ripening process, so very hot days are "lost time" and they can impair the production of fully ripe fruit.

2. The entire region had record rainfall in September, which had heavy impact on a small portion of regional vineyards. Ripening earlier, many of the modern varieties were harvested before the rains, but most of the vinifera had to keep hanging. Fortunately, most of those were able to "hang through" into a dry late September and October. But too much water can dilute the desired flavors in the grapes.

3. In December, we saw very frightfully cold (and suddenly cold) weather: Hermiston OR got down to -8F, Ephrata WA and Yakima WA saw -2F (breaking a record held since 1972), and even sheltered Hillsboro OR (just west of Portland) saw a low of 9F with two weeks of all-day sub-freezing temps. These sudden, extremely cold temps can kill vinifera grapevines, especially younger ones.  Modern varieties of grapes (hybrids) are fine at these temps, however--a real advantage of growing them, as they have hardier American grapes in their lineage.

Fingers crossed for milder weather in 2014!

(image credit: Kendall Jackson winery)

Monday, December 2, 2013

Why we need sustainable farming practices

Check this out.

The fabled migrations of Monarch butterflies to the central highlands of Mexico are ending, as populations of the insects dwindle. Numbers are falling because more and more farmland in the U.S. is being managed non-sustainably--factory farms that use massive quantities of inorganic chemicals to kill plants, insects, and other forms of life.

This is a global emergency, but likely very little will be done about it.

Think globally, and act locally. So: Ditch the killer sprays; compost; support local flora and fauna. Search for harmony in nature. Think like a steward.

And, if you grow grapes, grow modern varieties, which don't need any spray in drier summer areas like the PacNW, and don't need as much spray in the more-humid regions.

(Modern grape varieties are crosses between earlier-ripening, more disease-resistant American grapes and classical European grapes.)

Friday, November 22, 2013

Red Mountain's last land grab

This article announces a sale of the last open tracts in the tiny, and justifiably famous, Red Mountain AVA in Washington.

John Williams planted first on Red Mountain in 1975 (that land is Kiona Winery now), and since then the area has seen more and more superbly-high quality grapes grown by many wineries.

Note that Duckhorn (a Napa winery with overpriced, substandard wines in my view*) is one of the bidders; I sure hope they don't win the Red Mountain land, as I fear that would drag down the quality, and push up the wine prices, out there. Fingers crossed, everyone, for a quality purchaser!

*I may be the only person alive who dislikes Duckhorn wines. Spectator gives them (overall) a bunch of scores in the 90s, but also many scores in the low 80s, and in the 70s, and even one score of 68! 68! Would a respectable winery issue a wine like that? All I know is that when I went to a Duckhorn tasting at Zupans once, the wines were shut down and terrible. Maybe that only means they don't know how to train a sales rep to make sure the poured wines are good/ready, but even that is a sign of a substandard winery.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Spectator's Top 100 wines of 2013:

It's always a list of some nice wines, but it's also good for finding some wines we hadn't heard of.

Here are Oregon Pinots on this year's Top 100 list:

#3 Domaine Serene 2010 Evanstad Pinot Reserve ($65, 95 pts)

#17 Alexana 2010 Pinot Noir Revana Vineyard (Dundee Hills) ($42, 94 pts)

#55 A to Z Wineworks '2011 Pinot Noir ($18, 90 pts) - 90 points and it makes the top 100?

#79 Ken Wright 2010 Savoya Vineyard Pinot Noir ($55, 93 pts)

Certainly we could name some equally-good (or better) Oregon Pinots that are not on this list. I wonder how a 90 point Pinot made it on the list! Maybe Spectator is flabbergasted that any decent Oregon can be found for less than $20 ;)


Friday, November 8, 2013

Better to go hungry in Hungary,

. . . than to be a thief:

Read this:

In Hungary, a winemaker fed up with thefts of his wine, laced some bottles with antifreeze, and six people were poisoned as a result (the thief, and five friends). The thief died and the winemaker is in prison.

This was reminiscent of an incident years ago in Hungary, when winemakers added antifreeze to their wines, to contribute body and sweetness (from the propylene glycol), but that was in such small amounts that one would die from alcohol poisoning long before drinking enough to get sick from the antifreeze. Still, it was illegal and the winemakers were punished.

And: years ago, a Hungarian cucumber farmer, fed up with thieves of the oblong green fruits, electrified his fence with 220 volts and killed a human thief as he climbed over the fence. "I didn't know that 220 volts would be so lethal," said the farmer.

Clearly, nobody should mess with Hungarian winemakers or farmers . . .

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Kishmish Vatkana

This grape, from Uzbekistan, is vinifera but has developed powdery mildew resistance.  And what a fine-looking cluster!

(See this article)

It may be that the genes responsible for the fungal resistance can be classically bred, or genetically engineered, to make other vinifera grapes fungal-resistant. Until that happens, I will continue growing Modern varieties (vinifera-American grape hybrids) for disease resistance.

Life, and knowledge, keep changing. Thanks to the poster "Anonymous" who informed me about this grape on Oct 28 through a comment to my earlier post.

Found some good wines lately

Of my recent good finds, these wines stand out:

1. Tamarack '09 Syrah: 94 points and well-deserved. Great dark fruits; great complexity.

2. Kir-Yianni Akakies Rose: This dry pink wine, made from the Xinomavro grape in Macedonia (NW Greece), has full body and great flavor, and is far superior to most rose wines of the world. "Akakias" are the acacias that grow near the vineyard.

3. '08 Elyse Morisoli Vineyard Zinfandel: Mind-blowingly rich. Unctuous, drippingly heavy Zin. Curtains of velvet.

4. Vietti 2010 Nebbiolo Perbacco: One of the faves at my recent tasting event. A youthful cousin of Barolo.

5. Scholium Project's NV "Gardens of Babylon": Wonderful wine (Napa fruit: Petit Syrah with Zin, Syrah, and Cinsault) made by a professor of Greek and the Classics. Tremendous effort! Violet nose, raspberry glass.

Record winegrape harvest in Washington for 2013

Can you believe it? One winery (OK, three affiliated ones: Chat. St. Michelle, 14 Hands, and Columbia Crest) produces two thirds of all Washington's grapes, and their harvest was up 10% this year from last year's record harvest.

So 2013 will see another record for grape production in the Evergreen State.

Read the article here.

Note, in the photo from the above article, how mechanical harvesting is used--much more sophisticated (IMO) than the machinery needed to harvest wheat! That vineyard is in the Columbia Valley's Wahluke Slope.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Resurrection is indeed possible in the Holy Lands:

Only this story is not about a Jewish carpenter whose death founded an obscure sect that burst into prominence with the conversion of Emperor Constantine in the 4th Century. No, this story is about Judean Date Palms.

How cool is this?  Ancient seeds were unearthed in a clay pot, and this date tree, driven to extinction millennia ago, sprouted and lives anew!

Pardon my saying so, but that is cooler, in real science and in our real lives, than similar stories that are not supported by scientific evidence.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Vineyards Marching North

This article says that French wineries are buying up land in southern England, in preparation for the continuing climate change which would make it difficult to continue growing Bordeaux varieties in SW France and Rhone varieties in SE France. Those climate changes are already noticeable but the point of Bordeaux leaving Bordeaux is surely not very imminent.  But perhaps it's not as far off as one might think.

We see the same threats mentioned as to Napa Valley in California, and I hear more and more about Syrah planted in the Willamette Valley. Another way this is manifested is the planting of grapes higher and higher up the mountains; as the mountain slopes warm and undergo fewer deep freezes in winter, they become more favorable for grapes. There are wonderful grapes being grown in New Mexico's mountains (check out Gruet sparkling wines), so perhaps we can look for quality vineyards in Colorado's mountains someday? Can you imagine Chardonnay being grown here:

And (this sounds impossible to one who has grown Pinot Noir here in NW Oregon, and so often could not get it fully ripe), could it be that someday NW Oregon will produce a great Cabernet? No, surely that cannot be--Cab is one of the sun-hungriest grapes--but who knows? If a trend continues for long enough, strange things will finally happen.

Monday, September 30, 2013

Record rains for September are most decidedly impairing what was a very good vintage year

This article describes the effect of our recent heavy rains at harvest time on Pinot Noir. That variety has thin skins and can't resist rain as well as, say, Cabernet Sauvignon can.

Portland saw more than 6" of rain in September, against an average of just 1.5." That makes a big difference to fruit quality. Although Pinot is early-ripening among vinifera, it ripens later than modern varieties do. I harvested Leon Millot two weeks ago with near-perfect chemistry numbers, whereas most of the Pinot is still hanging in the vineyards, under duress from all this rain. But we won't know what the Pinot does until it's been in bottle for a while. 2007 was a very wet, cool year, and yet the high-end Pinots turned out very good.

But clearly, if the winemaker had her choice, she would choose grapes that had hung for a long, sunny, dry harvest season.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Good Gracious! The rain!

It is rare indeed to see rains this heavy come so early in the Fall. We've had a LOT of rain over several precipitative spells this month, whereas usually September is fully dry for at least the first 2-3 weeks. And the first rains are usually little affairs, whereas today we're facing two or three waves of a dying typhoon.

I think that most of the Pinot Noir is still hanging in the vineyards. It should stop raining by next Thursday or so, and a few days of sun will help, but this is simply too much rain.

Modern varieties, however, ripen earlier and all mine are picked (Cayuga was the last; it came in yesterday, whereas Leon Millot was picked two weeks ago and is already finished not only with primary fermentation but also with MLF!).

Every year is different. Just look at our current radar image:


Friday, September 20, 2013

Sad 2 Say, But Sonic Sux

When I was a young man working in the oil and gas fields in Oklahoma, New Mexico, and Texas, or (even before that) working on a U.S. Army Corps surveying crew in those states plus Arkansas and Missouri, every little town had a drive-in burger place that likely as not was the center of that town's youth social scene. Likely as not, that place was a Sonic.

The food was good then.  Yes, I know that once you have eaten at your share of great restaurants, your tastes can become more discriminating, but that is not the whole story. There is no reason that fast food cannot be good. Having spent my adult life working in corporations, it's clear to me that Sonic has succumbed to one of the greatest mistakes a company can make: Driving down quality in an effort to pump up profits. 

Talk about short-sighted!  

Today, their food (from their Wilsonville OR location) sits in my stomach like a mild form of poison. The bun (of course it was a crappy bun made with over-refined white flour and corn syrup) was stale. The condiments on the burger were cheap. The tots smelled like fish, and broke apart before I could even dip them in ketchup (and the ketchup was a cheap corn syrup kind). Even the iced tea tasted off. I'm sure that Sonic (like McDonalds, Burger King, and the other national chains) has legions of food scientists working to find cheap substitutes for older, better ingredients, so that they can increase profits. About 70 years ago the Nazis did the same thing--they invented pseudo-foods made from coal tar and stuff like that, and fed it to their concentration camp prisoners. Unlike the Nazi food delivery service, the server at Sonic today was fantastic, but she has no control over the food. 

The tomato on the burger was barely pink, much less ripe and red. And right now it's the height of fantastic local ripe tomato season! So the company doesn't care enough to exert the effort to increase quality.

Ice cream needs only a few ingredients: Milk, cream, sugar, and vanilla. Maybe eggs. Now look at modernpaleo.com's list of Sonic's ice cream ingredients: 
The ingredients in the ice cream are: Milkfat and Nonfat Milk, Water, Sugar, Buttermilk, Whey, Corn Syrup, Less than 1% of: Mono & Diglycerides, Cellulose Gum, Tetrasodium Pyrophosphate, Carrageenan, Artificial Vanilla Flavor, Annatto. (Whey? Corn syrup? Pyrophospate? And: "artificial vanilla flavor? Would it kill them to use vanilla?)

Good food reveals the soul and spirit of the chef. But when you cook cheap ingredients in a slapdash way, the food is lifeless, worthless, poisonous. 

When the operational strategy is to cheapen the ingredients and hope that most people won't notice, it is time to say sayonara to Sonic. In the Portland Oregon area, if you want to know what a great burger, fries and shake taste like, head to the Cruise Inn Country Diner (past Aloha), where you'll enjoy local healthy beef (grass fed), local potatoes fried in nearly-local healthier oil (rice oil from Sacramento), and local ice cream made from better ingredients. You won't pay much more but the food is great.

Meanwhile, please don't put Sonic food in your stomach, or your friends', or your kids or grandkids'. If enough people stop buying that crap, maybe the company will notice. Maybe.

Thursday, September 19, 2013


Egads! Just look at the yellow jackets on a cluster of grapes in British Columbia:

I harvested near Aurora last week, and there it was honeybees all over the fruit, extracting the precious high-sugar water.

Growing grapes isn't easy. Here is an article with some of the insect-related reasons why it's difficult.

The 2013 harvest is going well. Many good wines will be made in the PacNW, but yields are down due to rains during bloom, which lowered the number of berries that set. As a grower or winemaker, it's maddening to time your harvest, because we get periods of rain that can bring in disease and birds, and given that rain stalls or even backwardizes the ripening process, it is a tricky process. We're getting 4-5 days of rain starting Friday night, but after that we expect a full week of sunny days.

Many of the earlier-ripening Modern Varieties (hybrids of vinifera and American grapes) have been harvested already; the later-ripening Moderns will likely be taken at the end of next week's sunny period, as will a good bit of the vinifera, I suspect.

Monday, August 26, 2013

How to protect a red wine's color

The juice of many "modern varieties" of grapes (hybrids), and the juice of some vinifera grapes can have extremely deep and vivid purple coloration--glass-staining purple in fact,which is kinda cool. But during the winemaking process, sometimes the color fades to cherry red or even a pinkish rose. What happens?

First, this information is provided by my friend Alex Fullerton, a winemaker:

Anthocyanins (the main pigment in red wine, red cabbage, blueberries, and many other things) are responsible for both the blue color in the grapes' skins and the purple color of the wine. Anthocyanins have a double bond that is formed at one of two different locations of the molecule depending on which location is more favorable, resulting in the molecule having two very different shapes it can take. In high pH it is more favorable for most of the molecules to twist one way resulting in blue hues, while in low pH it is more favorable for most of the molecules to twist the other way resulting in red/pink hues. 

The skins on the Monastrell grape, for example, are alkaline, resulting in a blue color while the wine is more acidic (but not extremely acidic, maybe around pH 3.8) causing a purple color (roughly half of the pigment is blue and the other half is red, red + blue = purple). A very acidic Burgundy, on the other hand, with a pH under 3.5 will appear very red.

And, from Wiki:

Anthocyanins (from the Greek words for "flower" and "blue") can appear red, purple, or blue, depending upon the pH. In flowers and fruits, anthocyanins make the color red, blue, or purple, in order to attract pollinating insects (in the case of flowers) or predators (in the case of fruits, which need predators to eat and then disperse the seeds in the fruit).

OK. but why do some wines see their color fade during winemaking?

This is from an Iowa State article:
In young red wines, the bright red (with purple tint) color is due to monomeric anthocyan pigments which are extracted from the skin during fermentation. During maturation, these pigments are progressively replaced by the polymeric form, which results from the combination of anthocyanin pigments with tannin. Monomeric anthocyanins occur in various forms, such as the red colored flavylium cation, quinoidal base (blue), carbinol pseudo-base (colorless), chalcone (nearly colorless), and as a bisulfite addition compound (colorless). The various forms of anthocyanins are present in equlibrium, which is influenced by pH and other factors. An important point to note is that monomeric anthocyanins are susceptible to bleaching by S02 and with a lowering of pH, the equilibrium shifts from the colorless to colored form.
During maturation, the wine is exposed to air. Oxygen (from air) plays an important role in the condensation reaction between anthocyanins and tannins, which results in the gradual loss of free anthocyanins and the formation of stable polymeric (anthocyanin tannin) pigments. It has been observed that the poiymeric pigments account for 50% of the color density in one-year-old wine. As the wine matures and more polymeric pigments are formed, the color shifts from red to orange and brick red.
The condensation reaction between anthocyanins and tannins is accelerated by oxidation. If condensation continues (due to oxidation), precipitation of coloring matter occurs.
The condensation reaction mechanism includes participation of acetaldehyde under aerobic conditions. The polymerization of pigments also occurs in the absence of air. Oxygen is not involved in this reaction. In the absence of acetaldehyde, copigmentation between anthocyanin and d-catechin has been noted by many researchers.
Summary of all that: So, adding too much SO2 (sulfite) bleaches wine color. pH also plays a role in color (higher pH leads to blue/purple color; low pH leads to red color). When anthocyanin combines with tannin, that reduces color intensity. Oxygenation spurs the process of anthocyanin-tannin combination, which degrades color, but that color loss can occur without oxygen. I note that many winemakers work to limit oxygen exposure during and after primary fermentation; color protection may be one goal of such a practice.
Second, winemakers can add color concentrates to the wine, to darken and enrich its color. Such products (made from richly-tinted grapes) are expensive, and past a threshold they impart objetionable aromas/flavors, and they raise the sugar level too high.
Another method, common in the vinification of Syrah, is to add 5% or so of white grapes to the red grapes during fermentation. It is not intuitively obvious, but this helps to fix the deeper color. (It is also done to improve the Syrah's bouquet.) 
Biochemists continue to try to unlock the winegrape's color mysteries; I am sorry that I cannot find more useful information at this time, but perhaps the above info will be helpful . . .

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Venus grapes

I was out checking chemistry at the Rombough Vineyard in Aurora yesterday. Look at these:

Those are Venus grapes: Seedless, large berries in large clusters. They reached 14.9 Brix in Aurora OR (140' elev) on August 24, 2013. They will get a bit riper but are very edible now. Mild pleasant flavor.

That's an early harvest for this area. Everything will be early if the weather pattern holds, though it has been cooler and  more humid of late. We're at 1643 Growing Degree Days YTD, and it's likely we'll top 2000 but unsure by how much. 2100 or 2200 is in reach if it warms back up.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

US winegrape plantings not keeping up with demand, so should you jump in?

This article is pretty interesting:

The romantic notion is that it'd be fun to buy and run a winery, to grow your own grapes. Vineyard vistas. Bucolic splendor. A delightful "working retirement." Yes, that is extremely seductive, but like a lot of things, it's an idea which, in actual practice, requires a ton of work (way more than any reasonable human would expect) and throws up constant surprises, many of them negative (grape predators; unforeseen costs; regulatory hassles; difficulty to make good wine; how to sell your wine?, etc.). Many growers say it's a lifestyle you choose, not something you do for profit. For every winery that achieves cult status and can sell its wines at crazy high prices, there are several hundred that struggle to sell their wines at all. Most of them can get along, but a few fail.

Consistent with that backdrop, the US saw an excess of winegrape plantings in the 1990s, which squeezed grape and wine sellers' profits. There has been a dearth of plantings as a result, and so the US will be unable to meet its own rising wine demand. As a result, foreign winemakers are increasing their sales to US consumers. Unfortunately, there are many very good foreign wines that are sold in the US at prices so low that it adversely impacts the US winemakers' abilty to compete.

Over the years I think I've learned some of the reasons why foreign producers can price so low for their U.S. sales. Let's use the Farnese Montepulciano d'Abruzzo as an example--it's priced at $8 or $9 retail in the US, for a good Sangio-like wine, and that includes shipping it from Italy, and markups through our corrupt three-tier distribution system, so you can only imagine how low the price is that the winery receives. So how do they do it?:
a. Sometimes they get government subsidies (New Zealand);
b. Usually the land's been in the family for generations and there's no debt on land or equipment;
c. Usually the extended family members all work in the vineyard and winery, which depresses costs;
d. The "recipe" is locked in and the winemakers fully understand the range of vintage climate, winery situations, and can make quick and correct adjustments without having to defeat mystery;
e. Perhaps the European producers have had enough time to be better at shaving costs and finding synergies; and
f. Sometimes the family has done a good job of marshalling wealth over many generations, and thus can ride out economic downturns, even if it means several years of losses. 

So, might it be a good time to plant grapes in the US? Maybe. But make sure that you can find a market for your wines, at prices you can live with. And too many enthusiastic newbies to grapegrowing just dive in and make numerous mistakes. They plant whatever their neighbor is growing, or, worse, whatever they want to grow (despite the fact that it may not be suited to that climate or soil). They buy too much new equipment. They don't know how to keep young grapes alive. They don't know how to make good wine. They underestimate the costs. They haven't a clue how to market and sell. The best advice is to start a city or suburban vineyard and grow grapes and make wine that way, on a small basis, and learn that way.

Then, if you are confident you can avoid all those obstacles, and if you are ready for 10x the amount of work that you can possibly imagine, and if you've done all your homework and have enough knowledge in all the required areas (viticulture, winemaking, marketing, regulatory, project planning), then OK. Go for it!

Regarding which grapes to plant: Consider hybrid grapes (modern varieties). These are vinifera grapes crossed with American grapes. The result is earlier ripening and better disease resistance. Earlier ripening means less bird predation and (in the Pac NW) a better chance to get the fruit in before the rains return. Disease resistance means less spraying, or (here) no spraying, which saves a lot of time and money as well as being better on the environment. If you pick the right modern varieties for your site, you can make wine that is liked by your customers, and there are dozens of promising modern varieties available. The American grapes sometimes have flavor profiles that take getting used to, but with many of the modern varieties this is only a small step and the vinifera flavors predominate. Also, it is likely that there will be restrictions on spraying (in France and elsewhere, inorganic sprays have rendered vineyard soil completely poisoned and lifeless), and if that happens it will complicate the growing of vinifera. 

Compared to the CA vinifera described in the above article, hybrids are cheaper to grow, but is that enough of a difference to make U.S. winegrape plantings profitable enough? I'm not sure. I'm glad U.S. wine demand is rising but it's unfortunate that it's being met mostly through inexpensive foreign wines. Perhaps the "buy local" movement is a strong enough force that a local customer will pay, say, $12 for your wine instead of $8 for that Farnese Montepulciano.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Bottle Shock

I've been reading about bottle shock. It's relevant because we just finished bottling our group effort 2012 Leon Millot (Epyllion Vineyard). I know that the wine is probably "off" in the bottle now, but after some time it will wake back up.

Pinot Noir is notoriously finicky with bottle shock, or perhaps there are other reasons that it varies in bottle from good to bad to good again.

But science has yet to catch up. What is bottle shock, what causes it, and how long does it last? Is there anything we can do to minimize it?

Articles about bottle shock are all over the map:

This is one of best articles I've found, from winebussiness.com.  But the range of advice is so vast that it only proves that many winemakers are totally clueless about bottle shock (or perhaps the author of the article missed some of their statements). E.g.,
a. Bo Barrett (Ch. Montelena) thinks that putting wine in bottle deprives it of the oxygen that it had received through the pores of the oak barrel, and the result is a growth of Brettamyces (a spoilage organism common in wines in varying amountst) in the bottle. Or,
b. Jeff McBride at Benziger believes that filtering the wine removes phenolic and color compounds which causes bottle shock and takes time to recover through the oxidative process (note: I do not see how removed wine components can recover with time; also, there is a lot of evidence that even sterile filters (with pores small enought to remove yeast) do not have any effect on wine molecules. Or,
c. Stefano Milgotto of WineTech (a mobile wine filtration service) thinks that the culprit is the addition of too much oxygen during the winemaking process. He thinks that filtered wine, right after filtration, sees a loss of varietal character (I would argue that it's not the filtration, it's the oxygenation during filtration, that is the issue.) And:
d. Gordon Burns of ETS Laboratories, seems to have it right: He thinks there is no one cause, but instead there are many root causes, some of which are not understood yet.  He thinks that if the free SO2 in a wine is stable, then bottle shock will be minimized.

Dr. Waterhouse, at UC Davis, says that little research has been done on bottle shock, and this is probably because most winemakers don't worry overmuch about bottle shock because it's always (or almost always) "cured" by passage of time.

He also says that, during bottle shock, bouquet (aroma) is lost because aldehydes are formed from ethanol in the presence of the added oxygen from bottling.

Dr. Boulton, also at UC Davis, thinks that peroxide is the culprit, not oxygen.

And, as to bottle shock associated with wine shipment (or even travel across town for dinner): This may be due to heating and cooling of the wine, which can move air (which is 20% oxygen) in and out of the wine bottle.

And this article suggests that six weeks is a fairly safe time to wait, to see the effects of bottle shock worn off. But some think it's worse with filtered wines, or worse with white wines. Clearly, more research is needed.

Bottom Line: Always let a wine mature before you drink it. This, BTW, is why many restaurants, in their zeal for cash management and lean inventory, commit a double cardinal sin when then offer wines that are too young to drink at prices that are 2.5x to 3.5x normal retail prices. You are overpaying for wine that is too young to drink. Take your own well-aged bottle to dinner, and pay corkage!

Monday, August 12, 2013

Kill Your Lawn

Check this out:

The lawn in the Western U.S. is fast becoming a thing of the past. Water is in such short supply, and Western populations are growing so fast, that many cities are paying residents to take out their lawns. Hundreds of millions of dollars have already been spent by cities in this effort.

This is a wise move, for it conserves scarce fresh drinking water. Keeping a green lawn is a relatively new phenomenon. In nature, grass goes dormant in summer and it greens back up when the heavier rains return. Watering it all summer is contrary to the natural cycle. And using treated drinking water to irrigate grass is doubly wasteful.

And there are many gorgeous drought-tolerant native plants you can choose from, instead.

Have you ever been to the Sierra Foothills AVA (wine region in California) in late summer? The golden (dormant) grass, and green oak tree leaves, and black boulders make for a beautiful sight. The trick is to learn that the natural, seasonal colors of Nature are beautiful.

Dormant grass is not dead; it's just waiting for rain. Fresh water is a scarce resource. Come on! Get with the "Green" mindset. And learn to love the natural colors of nature.

(And a huge benefit: less grass mowing!)

Friday, August 2, 2013


Veraison ("VAY-ray-zaw(n)"--swallow the "n") is the French word for "change." There is no English equivalent, so we use it also.

It refers to the change from the berry-growing phase to the berry-ripening phase.

Normal veraison for winegrapes in the Willamette Valley is about August 12, so having it on August 2 is early. That is consistent with our warmer year in 2013.

So far, so great! for Oregon winegrapes.

The photo is of my Cascade grapes, showing their first turn to color. Regent is also starting to turn. And on the vinifera side, Pinot Noir is turning color in the Valley. Very exciting stuff.

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Organization promotes hybrid winegrapes in Europe

Here is the group's website. Its name, PIWI, is an acronym for the German name for fungus-resistant grape varieties.

The problem in Europe is that the cherished vinifera winegrape varieties are losing out to fungal attacks. The grapes haven't been allowed to evolve fungal defenses and thus they require more and more chemical sprays to fight fungus. This has rendered many vineyards sterile--devoid of life. A shocking result, considering that in healthy soil there are thousands if not millions of beneficial fungii, insects, worms, etc. in a cubic foot of earth.

France (and to a lesser extent other wine countries) has been fighting hybrid grapes for over a century, as they were perceived as a threat to the classical vinifera varieties. But as attention is directed to this looming environmental catastrophe, those rigid countries are starting to open up to hybrids.

Hybrids are crosses of vinifera grapes (which have desirable flavors) with modern grape varieties (which can provide disease resistance, winter cold tolerance, and earlier ripening). It's classical crossing, not modern genetic engineering: The pollen from one grape is put on the egg of another grape, and the resulting seeds collected and sprouted, to see if a better variety has been created. The process takes many years, but has already given us a number of winegrapes which not only resist fungal disease, but also ripen earlier and make great wines.

So it is pretty big news when countries like France are starting to realize something must change.

In the U.S., vinifera don't have disease pressure in very dry climates, such as Walla Walla WA. But in many states, growing vinifera requires a heavy spray program. Even if the sprays are organic (those are more expensive), spraying still requires a lot of tractor fuel, so growing disease-resistant hybrid grapes is quite "Green."

Here is a quote from Mark Hart, of Mt. Ashwabay Vineyard and Orchard: "The writing is on the wall that these PIWI grapes will play a larger role in European viticulture as restrictions on pesticide use tighten."

It's a fascinating issue that bears close watching. Meanwhile, everyone should be trying hybrid (modern) winegrapes' wines frequently. If you haven't, you may be surprised at their variety and quality!

Friday, July 19, 2013

Life lessons from a master winemaker

Mike Martini, the third-generation winemaker of that name, speaks from his family's 80 years of experience when he offers the following life wisdom:

1. Great creations reflect the personality and strengths of the person who created them. Your strengths shine through when you’re passionate about something. Whether it’s your secret-recipe barbecue sauce or the way you play a favorite song on a guitar, your own style will make something not just great – but uniquely your own.
2. There are many different paths to the same goal. Not everyone approaches their work the same way – and that’s OK. As long as the goal is the same, keep an open mind about how to reach those goals, particularly when working with others.
3. You’ve got to learn to make your own mistakes. While you can learn from others’ mistakes, sometimes the knowledge that comes from making your own mistakes can be just as valuable. Don’t be afraid of mistakes; instead, see them as an opportunity to improve.
4. The most fundamental skill is patience. With winemaking, you get one shot a year at harvest, and just about any good wine is worth waiting for. Develop your patience as you would any other necessary skill and in the end, you’ll be happier with the result.
5. If our neighbors succeed, we all succeed. There’s a saying that you’re as only as strong as your weakest link, but if you flip that, you can also be as strong as your strongest link. Over time, the success of any one of us brings all of us up.
6. Perseverance pays off. There will be times in life when giving up seems like the best option – but really, it’s only the easiest option. Stick to your plan through the difficult times and you’ll be rewarded in the end.
7. To master anything, you need to learn everything that goes into it. When times do get tough, you need to rely on more than just surface-level information. A deep understanding will make it easier for you to think creatively, find solutions and excel.
8. If you’re passionate about what you do, the clock doesn’t matter. How many golfers check the clock while they’re on the course? How many surfers abandon the waves to go see what time it is? Not many. If you have a passion for something, it’s no longer work but a pursuit of doing what you love. If your job is something that you enjoy as much as a hobby, putting in the time and effort won’t ever feel like a burden.

(Quoted from a story at eldoradospringsmo.com)

PS-That is a little town in SW Missouri, where I spent summers sometimes as a youth. It has water that is so sulfurous it is undrinkable to some outsiders' palates, but it's a pretty little American town with a bandstand in the park. And they made "lemonade" from that water: Folks come from miles around to drink it and bathe in it, believing it is healthy. Here's a photo of the bandstand; it housed brass bands in the late 1800s.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Aussie Ouch!

Penfolds, Beringer, and Lindeman's are about to destroy up to two million cases of old wines held in the US because they can't sell them. Their owner, Treasury Wine Estates, saw a sharp dip in its stock price as a result of this news. Wow.

The article is here.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Cooper Blooper

Makers of wine barrels have seen sales fall over 20%, due to a worldwide trend towards unoaked wines.

Here is an article about it.

But using barrels introduces many possible headaches: leaks, infections, high cost, need to throw away after a few years and buy new. I prefer to add the oak to the wine instead! That is also more "green" as it uses much less oak.

Of course, the ability of a "cooper" is truly amazing. The construction of wine barrels is a very complex process requiring a high level of skill.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

OMG! Vineyard spraying in Champagne and Bordeaux is creating sterile deserts

This is just wrong, folks. Vinifera grapes have gotten so weak against natural funguses that they require massive spray programs. In France the sprays are so many and so deadly that vineyards have become dead zones (except for the grapes, of course).

There will be a growing backlash against this crazy practice. There is an alternative: modern grape varieties (hybrids), which are crosses of vinifera grapes with disease-resistant American grapes (we have more more native grape species than any other country, I think). In the successful crosses, you get the taste of vinifera and  the disease resistance of the American parent. Easy. All we need is for talented winemakers to keep making and marketing the new wines, and someday the worms, birds, and insects can breathe a sigh of relief.

read about it here.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

An interesting article about modern varieties of grapes/wines in Vermont, and how successful they are becoming:

Read about it here.

We are seeing a wave of modern winegrapes moving over the country. They are much Greener than the classical vinifera wines whose genes they carry (along with the genes of hardy American grapes): less spraying, less tractor fuel, more cold hardiness, earlier ripening. The wines are the true test, though, and the wines can be really excellent.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

2013: A warm start to the vintage, in the Pac Northwest:

Weather Underground is a good source of historical weather info. I use it to check on Growing Degree Days (base 50F), which is a measure of the amount by which the average daily high and low temps exceed 50 degrees F. It's a rough proxy for sunshine, and thus it correlates with grape development and ripeness.

Year to date 2013, we've had 534 GDD's near our place. Compare that this time in 2012 (a warm year for grapes), which was only 381! And in 2011 (a cool, wet year), it was only 216! It's early, but it looks like it may be a warm year, great for grape ripening.

Friday, June 7, 2013

Yet another reason why modern varieties of grapes are better than the old vinifera varieties

Napa is going to replant about 15% of the whole valley, due to the surprise inability of a rootstock (promoted 20 yrs ago by UC Davis) to withstand Red Blotch Disease.

Read about it here.

This is yet another reason why modern varieties (sometimes called "hybrids", with American grapes in their parentage) are better than vinifera. American grapes have evolved to keep up with the attacks by fungi and viruses, whereas for 2000+ years we have prevented vinifera grapes from evolving (by cutting and rooting them, instead of allowing them to make seeds, and then growing the seeds), so vinifera grapes have not been allowed to develop defenses against new microbe attackers.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

How winemaking got to France

I'm sure the French would like to think they invented winemaking, but that occurred somewhere in the vicinity of Persia in about 5000 B.C.E. Winemaking came to France in about 500 B.C.E., and it came (drum roll, please) - - -  from Italy! From the Etruscans, to be precise, who made wine and infused it with herbs, probably as a medicine.

Read the article here.

The article is published with this photo, taken at VinItaly in Verona (photo credit to Business Insider; VinItaly is the world's largest wine exposition).  I must say I have been to VinItaly but I never saw anything quite like this there ;)

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Thoughts on Inflation

I believe that true inflation is higher than reported inflation in the US. The federal gov't has several reasons to under-report inflation, chief among them the benefits from artificially restricting COLA (cost of living) increases in Social Security payments, which are ruinous to the deficit. We can see this in real life, as the gov't practices "substitution," which embraces the fallacy (this is just a hypothetical example) that if milk is expensive, consumers will switch to orange juice instead (so the gov't drops high milk prices from the CPI). 

However, if consumers aren't buying goods and services, that exerts a downward force on inflation. Also, any government dealing with a deficit wants inflation very badly, as outstanding debts become cheaper (easier to repay) as a result of inflation.

So presently there are competing forces acting on inflation: gov't wants it higher (but reported artificially lower); and low demand pulls it down.

Here is a fascinating article arguing another reason that inflation is low:  http://seekingalpha.com/article/1448811-why-inflation-never-came

M x V = P x Q, where M is amount of money, V is velocity of money, P is price (inflation or deflation), and Q is quantity of all transactions. You can see that if V and Q are fixed, then an increase in Money supply will cause inflation. That is the classic model, and it's what I've been expecting for years now.

The author argues that while M has been moving up significantly (this is the fed's Quantitative Easing, which, classically, suggests that inflation will follow), in fact there has been subdued inflation because the velocity of money has fallen so much. There are new proxies to money (GLD and SLV and bitcoin), which have zero velocity and thus displace currency and thus reduce its average velocity. (I'm not smart enough to be able to confirm that these new forms of money have zero velocity.) Also, the big banks have more competition now in the creation of money, and the new forms of pseudo-money are arising from different financial institutions, and the quantity of paper money is lower now, compared to the past; this also prompts velocity to fall.

I'm going to nibble from all these cakes. I conclude:
a. Inflation is higher than as reported by our government;
b. But money velocity is low, which is a drag on inflation; and
c. Demand for goods and services is relatively low, which is a further drag on inflation.

Another point worth making is that with interest rates stuck so low, holding cash is likely a losing proposition (actual inflation rate is most likely much higher than the 0.1% or whatever that your bank is paying you), so the present economy is impoverishing savers, even with a low inflation rate! Solid dividend-paying stocks to the rescue!

My final point is that indeed who knows when rates will finally rise, but heaven help the folks holding long-term bonds, when they do.

My FINAL final point is this: No one can predict the future accurately. Even if we can see the WHAT (which, the above analysis shows, is doubtful due to complexities that we do not yet understand), we cannot know the WHEN, as there are just too many variables. So, diversify!

Further thoughts on health risks associated with inorganic spraying of vineyards

A laboratory published a study on the health risks of inorganic pesticides/fungicides used in vineyards. Now, that lab says its results were misunderstood: Wine drinkers are not at risk from the chemicals, but vineyard workers are:

The lead author said that chemical residues in wine are too small to have an effect on drinkers, but he added that vineyard workers are being exposed to a significant health risk.

"You'll consume much more pesticide residue eating apples and strawberries than drinking wine," said Pascal Chatonnet, Ph.D., owner of Excell laboratory, which works with wine and food industries in several countries, and runs labs in France, Argentina, Spain and Chile. "Your liver will be completely destroyed long before you'll have toxicity from pesticide residue in wine."

According to his analysis of 325 French wines produced between 2008 and 2010, 90 percent of the wines showed traces of up to nine molecules related to pesticides and fungicides. None of the molecules are known carcinogens, and the vast majority of wines had levels significantly below legal limits. Only 0.3 percent of the wines did not meet current regulations. "There is no health problem in drinking wine in terms of pesticides," said Chatonnet. "We have no reason to believe there are high levels of pesticides in wines."

Kenton again: It is nevertheless important to minimize or avoid inorganic chemical sprays in vineyards. The cultivation of winegrapes which contain American grapes in their parentage ("hybrids" or "modern varieties" of grapes) is the obvious answer to this problem.

Read the article here.

2013: The grape year so far in the Pac Northwest

It is early and anything can happen (in fact, hail is forecast this week), but the year for grapes so far in the Portland area has been excellent:

1. Early budbreak
2. Warm, dry, sunny weather (several days in the mid-high 80s)
3. No late freezes
4. Fast start for the shoots; many of mine have grown more than a foot by mid-May

We're in a multi-day cool/wet spell now but no worries, at least for now. There is every reason to be optimistic for a good grape vintage.

photo credit: Google images

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

And while we are focusing on apple trees,

here is a shot of one of our MANY old apple trees at our Woodland WA place. Finnish immigrants planted these trees up to 100 years ago. They are standard trees (when did dwarfing rootstocks come into use?) so they are too tall, but wow just look at those flowers!

Friday, May 3, 2013

Wine Inflation

Wine's up in price by 8.4% in restaurants over the past six months.

And yet interest paid on savings is less than half a percent, and the published inflation rate is less than 1%.

The runup in the cost of a glass of wine is mostly due to the economic recovery and a growing shortage of wines. That is surprising, as there was a large glut of wine until recently.

Read the article here.

You can still save a lot by taking your own bottle to the restaurant and paying corkage. Even with corkage as high as $25, you will likely save money. And don't let the server fill your glasses--that is your job. You are the best person to know if and when you and your guests want more wine; if your server just pours the wine arbitrarily and repeatedly, it can waste some wine and prevent the opening in the glass that you may be waiting for.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Wine as a living thing

Wine as a living thing? Well, yes, it is born and it dies and it can get sick and it has personality, but it can't pay taxes or make babies (on second thought, sometimes it can make babies ;)

I mean it's a living thing in the same sense that the Constitution is a living document: It is always changing over time.

And before we castigate only poor Mr. Pinot Noir for its ephemeralissitude, its changeability, let us realize that most wines change over time. Long-keepers will climb, slowly, into greater balance and harmony, their fresh fruit flavors subtly morphing into non-fruit flavors, and finally they begin the long, majestic march into decay. A sprightly white wine will settle down and come together in its first few months in bottle, and if it is a short-keeper (think Viognier, or Prosecco), its freshness will fade into blah within a year or two. And every wine with big tannins will get smoother as those tannins find each other and chain up into lengths so long that our tongues can no longer detect them (think about that! getting bigger, in order to become invisible!)

And some wines are like the screwballs uncorked from the pitcher's mound: they change in unexpected directions, and sometimes identical bottles will diverge from each other and then come back together, inexplicably.

This is why we must view wine scores as approximate snapshots in time. It is why a 92 point wine might seem unimpressive when we drink it, whereas an 82 point wine might blow us away before or after it's scored.

Is there volition in Evolution? Can we do anything but be amazed, and keep trying to learn?

Happy Spring!

Monday, April 22, 2013

2012 Bordeaux futures, and why the Chinese "Lafite Bubble" popped

The 2012 Bordeaux futures are coming out, at great discounts from previous years. This is happening for two reasons:
a. The 2012 growing season saw poor weather in SW France, and many of the lesser chateaux made poor wines. However, early scores for the better wines (First and Second Growths, and some others) are surprisingly high (such as 95-98 for Lafite).
b. Wealthy Chinese businesspeople  and people in government there are under pressure to stop spending a lot for wine at business and government functions. Whereas, a few years ago, they would drink several Lafites at a business lunch (!), now they buy at that level occasionally or not at all, and are asking their wine brokers to find them good wines for $6-$20 (which is a space I have worked hard to develop, for my own customers).

There are some (relatively) good values in 2012 Bordeaux. I'll search for them and offer some, as the price is not likely to go any lower in this improving economy.

Read the Spectator article here.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Siberian Apple

Most apple blossoms are white, but on this Siberian Apple they are pink. Very pretty. The apple is small and tubular/elongated with red skin and dark pink flesh.

Friday, April 12, 2013

The rebirth of Spring!

Lest we forget what is the miracle of the rebirth of Springtime, I attach a photo of my New York Muscat vine budding out, in Portland OR in 2013. From within the dead-looking stick, the juices of life flow to meet the sun. Through these tiny leaves will erupt many feet of shoot growth, and clusters of fruit! Little wonder there is a grape variety (not the one in this pic) called "Phoenix"! 

Let's all take a moment to dwell on how lucky we are to be a part of this rebirth, and let's think on how we can rebirth ourselves, and what we can do to help preserve a healthy Spring for all (humans,and flora and fauna).

P.S. - Notice how the bud erupts above that darker ridge running perpendicular to the cane? If you are rooting a grape vine cutting and you aren't sure which end is the "leaf" end and which is the "root" end (and it absolutely does matter, critically), you can figure it out easily just by knowing the leafbud is above that crossing ridge in the cane. Stated another way, from that crossing ridgeline, the leaf's bud is on the "leaf end" of that ridge, so the roots will emerge from the other end of your cutting.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Growing grapes? Consider hoyos.

Look at this:

(photo credit: canarywinecompany.com)

Yes, those are holes dug out of volcanic soil, in the Canary Islands, which protect the grapes from wind and also collect some dew and the occasional raindrop.  This is yet another fascinating example of adapting to local conditions in grapegrowing. Just don't try it in western Oregon ;)

And: That is a Malvasia grape, a popular white grape that is almost unknown in the US.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Ecological effects of vineyards pushing into new places

See this article.

As the heat builds in the southern climes, vineyards are pushing northward. Whereas the Romans grew winegrapes in southern Britain, for 2000 years afterward it wasn't possible, until starting about 10-20 years ago, winegrapes are making a comeback there. In southern British Columbia, vast areas have been planted to winegrapes, with great success, in areas that were formerly just grassland/desert. Places like Greece and southern Spain will be the losers (as might also be Napa Valley).  In the Willamette Valley our grandchildren may see  Pinot Noir give way to Syrah, and Pinot might become more successful around the Puget Sound.

It would be wrong to bet against such trends.

Meanwhile, the planting of vineyards in former wild places does have an impact on flora and fauna. That can be mitigated somewhat by use of modern hybrid grapes, which require less or no spray to control fungal and other diseases, and by using organic practices and avoiding irrigation. But the grapegrower must fence to keep out animals like deer, and this changes the ecological system. Study is needed to learn how to minimize the adverse effects of such changes. Perhaps vineyard areas need to remain surrounded by woodlands and grasslands that remain accessible to wildlife. This is what we have at our Woodland WA vineyard, the Epona Vineyard.

(the photo is of a vineyard in Cornwall, England. Photo credit: The Guardian, UK.)

Monday, April 1, 2013

Bloomberg wrong on wine

John Mariani writes wine for Bloomberg. I think this piece by him is way off base:

He mentions just a few higher-priced Washington reds and finds them one-dimensional, too big, and too hot (alcohol too high).  My inference (perhaps he didn't quite mean this) was that he dismissed all WA reds with a broad brush.


I have had so many great WA red wines. They are nuanced, deep, not too alcoholic, and a great value compared to the CA or French wines which Mariani probably prefers. I've never thought much of Woodward Canyon's wines--every time I try them I come away underwhelmed. And for Mariani to refrain from mentioning some of Charles Smith's greater wines, while making an offhand reference to his $10 Riesling, is the height of ignorance, as Smith's top-end wines are outstanding. And why no mention of Cayuse or Quilceda Creek wines? It's almost as if this guy was hired to do a hatchet job on WA wines. No one who understands good wine could fairly write what this guy wrote.

Keep drinking WA wines! Maybe if the arrogant outsiders stay away for a little longer, we can continue enjoying great wines at lower prices!

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Finding wines that you will probably like: a step in the right direction

A company has created software which aggregates your and other wine tasters' scores on a wine, and uses the data to predict whether you will like certain other wines.

That is a step in the right direction, but a better predictive product would merely use our personal preferences for the following spectrums:

Fruit Ripeness: from banana/green/peppery through red fruits, through purple fruits, through black fruits, to raisins and tar.

Body: from thin to rich/fat

Residual Sugar: from bone dry to super-sweet

Acid (quantity of acid): from flabby to sharp

pH (strength of acid): from weak to strong

Complexity: from simple to layered

Aromatics: from none to faint to lush olfaction

Finish: from none to long

Tannins: from young and sharp to aged and subtle

These would be adjusted differenly for white and red wines, of course. And some of those spectra are matters of personal preference, whereas others are more clearly "good" or "not as good," but you usually can't find a long finish in a super-cheap wine. At any rate, once we knew our own preferences on those spectrums, then if each wine label were labeled to show those spectrums with that wine's marker in each category, we would have a good chance of knowing if we would like that wine. We will always know the price, of course, so we can compare price to the various qualitative data points, and voila! we are out of the wine woods and we are an educated wine consumer (as to that wine).

Compare this pipe dream to today's wine label, which often tells us almost nothing about the above criteria. The winemaker knows all that info; why not share it with us?

You can read the article here.

Friday, March 22, 2013

2012 Bordeaux Right Bank (St. Emilion): Mixed Bag

In the Portland, Oregon area, where 2012 went down as a very good vintage, and the Pinot Noirs are expected to be full of fruit and rich, due to great summer and harvest weather (though with some drought stress/raisining, in some vineyards). However, in France it was quite different:

The weather there was "appalling" at the beginning of summer, with hailstorms in April, rain for most of June, and a heatwave in week 3 of August, during which temps in Bordeaux reached 42C (116F) which caused the vines to shut down and the fruit to burn. Then it rained on the harvest.

Yet many of the better chateaus will make wine that is very drinkable. But it is not a year for Bordeaux futures.

The occurrence of a year like 2012 in France (or 2011 in Oregon) makes the great years (2008 and 2012 here, and 2009 and 2010 in France) all the more special. There is a reassuring harmony to the ebb and flow of good and poor grape years, which serves to remind us of what is good in life, what is special, and what is worth holding onto.

The entire article can be found here.

The photo is of St. Emilion, the queen village of the Right Bank. So lovely to visit (we have, and fell in love with the old buildings, the hilliness, and the people), and the Merlot-dominated wines can be exquisite there. (Photo credit: TripAdvisor.com)

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Smoke from 2012 wildfires in Washington state a factor for wine quality?

This is interesting: Wildfires in eastern Washington last summer (2012) put a smoke haze over parts of the state for days. Smoke particles can come to rest on grape skins, and thus end up in the finished wine (I suppose the smoke could be rinsed off, but that is not practicable in the case of many tons of grapes and it could dilute the wine flavors, and if the smoke somehow binds to the grape then you have an unremovable flaw.

However, the Walla Walla wineries don't think they were impacted by this; I'm not sure where the smoke clouds were located.

Apparently the effects of smoke on wine will increase with the wine's age, so any damage won't be known right away. The damage would be worse with red grapes, where the smoke flavor could obscure the fruit flavors. However, since some white winegrapes are aged in burnt barrels (that's behind the name "Fume Blanc," for example), smokiness in a white wine can be a plus. And in a small amount it's just another beneficial flavor in a red wine.

We should know, over the next few years, whether and to what extent any WA wineries were impacted. Meanwhile, funding for remote firefighting is dropping, and the number of fires is increasing . . .

Read the article here.

[photo credit: Al Feldstein. Amazing artworks of his can be seen here.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Pesticides in Wines; this is another reason why we should move to hybrids!

(Source: The first part of this post is lifted verbatim from portlandfoodanddrink, which can and should be found here)

We’re all gonna die! Nine out of ten French wines contain pesticidesAccording to a study in the wine trade journal Decanter, pesticide residues were found in the vast majority of 300 French Wines. 90 percent of samples contained traces of at least one of the chemicals.
Some wines contained up to nine separate molecules, with ‘anti-rot’ fungicides the most commonly found. These are often applied late in the growing season.
…Since 2008, France’s Ecophyto national plan (involving the study of the ways in which organisms are adapted to their environment) has sought to cut pesticide use by 50% by 2018.
Encouragingly, all of the individual pesticide residues appeared at levels below limits set by the French environmental agency. But some samples turned up with as many as nine separate pesticides. And as I’ve written before, groups of pesticides may have so-called “cocktail” or “synergistic” effects—that is, a pesticide mix may be more toxic than the sum of its parts. As Pascal Chatonnet, head of the research firm that conducted the test of French wines, told Decanter, “There is a worrying lack of research into the accumulation effect, and how the [pesticide] molecules interact with each other.”
Plus, as Chatonnet pointed out to Decanter, “we should not forget that it is not the consumers who are most impacted by this, it is the vineyard workers who are applying the treatments.”
The class of pesticides that showed up most often were fungicides. According to Decanter, vineyards occupy just 3 percent of French farmland, but account for 20 percent of the nation’s overall pesticide use and 80 percent of its fungicide use.
A 2008 study found similar amounts in wines from Australia, South Africa and Chile. Interestingly, the author didn’t find any studies of the pesticide levels in American wines.
[Kenton writing:] The hybrid grapes (or "modern varieties") I'm working with don't need antifungal sprays in the PacNW. Thus, there is no chance of fungicide residue in the wines from such grapes. Yet another reason to switch from vinifera to hybrid winegrapes!

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...